One of the most important financial lessons that I have learned in the past few years is the importance of living below your means. If you are unfamiliar with this term, it simply means to spend less than you earn. In today’s culture and the numerous everyday expenses that come up (like insurance, rent, food, transportation, etc.), it can seem almost impossible to stay within your budget.
I know from personal experience that this can be difficult. My wife and I live in one of the most expensive regions in the United States. We make very modest salaries while both of us also go to graduate school. Despite the apparent difficulty of living on less money than you earn, it isn’t impossible.
How My Family Lives Below Our Means
As I mentioned, my wife and I live in a region of the U.S. with one of the highest costs of living. If I were to tell you how much we pay for rent (for a 1 bedroom apartment without laundry or a dishwasher), you would probably faint. In fact, when we moved here so that I could pursue my graduate studies at a seminary, I nearly did the same thing. Considering that my wife and I had just graduated from college with little or no professional experience in the workforce, I knew it was going to be difficult to earn enough money to pay all of the bills.
Even though the primary purpose was for me to go to graduate school, I knew that in order to make ends meet, I would have to work part-time to help with the expenses. I ended up getting a part-time job on campus for 30 hours a week. This meant that I would have go to school part-time and extend my degree 1 year. While extending my degree an extra year was not my favorite thing in the world, it meant that I could graduate without any college debt.
We ended up both securing jobs and finding as cheap of an apartment as possible. My wife’s job was horrible (she was a street canvasser who was force to work regardless of whether it was raining, snowing, or over 100 degrees outside), but it ended up having some nice benefits that helped us through this time. Even with both of us working, we were forced to bring lunches to work, eat out only 1x per month, and limit our entertainment options.
What Living Below Your Means Offers You
It takes a lot of work to begin spending less than you earn, but living below your means offers you a lot of benefits. Here are some of the basic things it gives you:
- Ability to Save: One of the most basic ideas is that if you are spending less than you earn, you will have extra money to save for the future. This is important because we all experience “rainy days” and need to have some sort of emergency fund to protect us from a financial disaster.
- Financial Freedom: Living below your means allows you some financial freedom. Because you are not strapped for cash and have some cushion, it means you can pursue things that seem really important to you without having to worry about not paying all of your bills. This is especially important because some people feel tied to a corporate job that is doing more harm to the world than good. Spending less money than you earn allows you the personal freedom to resist these oppressive systems without worrying about having food on your table.
- Ability to Give Freely: One of the most important things, in my opinion, is the ability to give to those in need. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, you aren’t in a great shape to give to those in need. By limiting your spending, this frees you up to contribute towards making this world a better place.
Living below your means is important because it not only takes away the stress of paying your bills, but allows you the freedom to follow your dreams and help others. If you constantly struggle with giving generously, as I have in the past, it might be time to reconsider where you are spending your money.