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Margin

This is part three of a series on financial stability.  Look further up the blog for more entries on this topic.  

    I believe that quantity makes room for quality.  When raising children, I cannot just make a “moment” happen.  You know what a moment is.  A special memorable occasion that is remembered by child or parent or both.  A moment of connection, of power.  I can’t just walk in after work, sit down and say, “Okay son, I have 10 minutes before I have to leave.  Let’s have a special moment that you will remember forever.  Go.”  That is not how life works.  What actually happens is that you are with your kids in a lot of everyday humdrum.  Mowing the lawn, wrenching on a car, giving the kid a bath.  Just everyday monotonous stuff.  And in the middle of all that normal stuff, moments happen.  They occur.  Like lightning choosing a tree in the midst of the forest, a moment strikes.  I give my children a lot of quantity knowing that in the midst of all they will forget, there will be moments in there that will shape a life.  I give quantity to find the quality.  I create space for life to happen.  There is margin. 

    I live this way relationally and I live this way financially.  Just like there is room for my children to ask questions and to have conversations, there is space between what I earn and what I spend.  I have a financial buffer so that I am able to pivot and move if an opportunity arises. 

    A relative suffers an injury and is out of work for a season.  Their life is in turmoil and there is great financial distress.  If you have margin, you can be generous and give freely.

    A business opportunity presents itself, and requires a certain financial investment to be a part.  You have not been living check to check, and you have the money to invest if you so choose.  You jump on the opportunity and are able to chase the dream without begging and without fear.

    The car breaks down.  The kid needs braces.  You get pulled over and owe the state some “stupid tax.”  It’s not awesome, but you can take the hit.  You have margin built into your life.

    Now, most Americans live at 100% of our income (or more).  What we make is what we spend.  We consider it a win if we can pay our bills every month.  Now, that is good.  But if every dollar you make is needed for every bill you owe, then what if something goes wrong?  What if you want to go on vacation? What about retirement?  What about saving for a new car or a new roof?  What about generosity?  What about an emergency?  Having no margin means having to life in fear and hoping that nothing goes wrong.  And if something does go wrong, we are scrambling to charge a credit card or borrow money from family.  

    If you live with margin, you have room to breathe.  Room to just go away for a weekend.  Room to bless those you love.  Room to chase the dreams of your heart.  I have lots of dreams.  This blog is one of my dreams.  Writing and sharing is a part of what I do.  And I spend money to make it possible.  I pay for server fees every year.  Margin allows the dream to continue.

    I have made my case.  But many hear this and have a story as to why you can’t have margin.  I say this.  I know not your situation.  But many middle class families have many bills that can be cut to create margin (cable TV is not a necessity).  The first thing we had to do was just look at what we made.  How much is coming in?  Then we looked at how much we were spending.  And we happened to be at 98% of our income.  So we tightened the belt.  We shopped at Aldi instead of Meijer.  I cut back on my hobbies.  We cancelled some memberships that were luxury, not necessity.  And we got down to 75%.  Now, it tries to creep back up every year.  That is why every January I go through and cut things back to keep us in the black.  Even when my earning power changed moving from the suburbs to the inner city, I still found a way to keep us at 85% of our earning.  It wasn't ideal… but it is a value we carry.  

    I encourage you.  Create margin.  Tighten the belt.  Don’t live hand to mouth.  Work hard, make money, and then be wise with the money you are making.  Don’t just give it away blindly to the many hands that want to take it.