Thursday, October 3, 2013

what does it mean to live within your means anyway?

The question what does it mean to live within your means? may be a no-brainer, but to be completely honest, as I look around at American culture and the way that many, many are living, I would argue that people don't understand what it means to live within their means. Either that or they simply refuse not to.

means  (mi╦Énz) - noun
resources or income

Simply put, to live within your means is to live within the income that you bring in and the that resources you have. 

I feel like, and of course correct me if I'm wrong, that my generation in particular just doesn't understand this concept. Maybe it's because their parents gave them so much. I'm not saying we were all spoiled. I know we weren't. Of course some were, but I know I wasn't. But I was given a lot.

I'm going to speak from the perspective of middle class families because that's where I'm coming from, what I experienced, what I've seen. And that's a lot of America.

Our parents made sure we were not in want. I always had new clothes on my back for school. We had a variety of food in our cabinets and refrigerator at all times. We had a pool. We were sent to summer camp every single summer. When the time came for me to get my license, I was allowed to drive my parents' third car, although I was never given a car of my own. For Christmas we were always given nice gifts, although never anything too extravagant. But I'd say, all in all, we were taken care of. We had a lot.

And I know when I say that, a lot of you are shaking your heads in agreement.

And none of that is bad. It's not horrible that my parents gave to us. It's not horrible even for the parents who did give their child a car. But I think, over time, without ever intending for it to, it began to instill in my generation's minds an entitlement mentality. Our parents gave us as much as they could because their parents weren't able to give as much to them. It's not uncommon to hear a parent say that they hope to be able to provide for their children a better life than they had as kids. And that sounds good. The intentions are good. But I'm not so sure the outcome is a good one.

And here's why: Sally grows up in a home where she has a TV in her room with all the channels. She gets a cell phone at the age of 10. Every month she gets to go shopping for new clothes. For her 16th birthday she gets her own car. It's not brand new, but it's hers and she didn't have to work for it. When she graduates from high school she gets to go to college at the school of her choice, even though it will cost $40,000/year and she doesn't have to pay a dime. Her parents gave her all these things because as kids they couldn't have them.

The result? Sally only understands a world where she has a nice TV, a current phone, a car all to herself, and a good education. But what she most likely doesn't understand is that it took lots and lots and lots and lots of work on the part of her parents in order for her to have those things.

But, there's no such thing as free lunch.

Now that Sally is an adult, in her 20's and married, she expects to have all the things her parents gave to her, all the things her parents had when she was growing up and she expects to live the lifestyle they lived. All she expects is to maintain the lifestyle that she has always lived. Keep in mind, her parents were not in their 20's when Sally was in her teens and observing all of these things. They had to work hard for several years, if not decades to get to a place where they could provide what they did for their beloved daughter.

But since that is all Sally ever knew, that is what Sally expects. And so, enter the credit cards, the student loans, and the personal loans. In order to drive the nice car, she has to lease it. It order to have the nice bedroom set, she has to finance it. In order to wear the beautiful diamond wedding ring, she has to finance it. In order to get her Master's degree she has to use student loans. In order to take the Hawaiian vacation, she has to finance it. And before she knows it, Sally is up to her ears in debt.

What Sally is refusing to do is live within her means. She refuses to accept that it will take time, hard work and saving in order to reach the point where she can live the same lifestyle that her parents were living and that they provided to her. 

Did her parents ruin her? No. But is there a hard lesson for her to learn here? Yes.

And I can say that because I had to learn that lesson. And to be totally honest, God is still guiding me through that lesson on a daily basis: money doesn't grow on trees. Hard work and dedication are the only things that will afford you more means with which to live (unless, of course, you hit the jackpot or suddenly learn of a rich relative who left you an obscene inheritance. neither of those is likely).

In the midst of that hard lesson the Lord is guiding us through, while we are waiting for the days to come, when our income is more than it is today (and I say that lightly because I know very well that we are not guaranteed that. never ever ever ever. so please don't depend on that!), we are learning to live within our means, within our current income and our current resources.

That means no credit cards, no personal loans, no car payments, and may I even go so far as to say no school loans? If you have to borrow money, then you are living outside of your means. It's that simple.

Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
And as I'm writing this an idea popped into my head for a post on how to go to college without a single loan. So check back for that.

So, as we continue on into this 31 days of how to live within your means, please know that this is going to be a mix of lessons I've learned, tips I want to share, spiritual truths that have been pressed onto my heart, q&a's on the topic at hand, budgeting how-to's and just bare-it-all-about-what-we're-going-through posts. I may stumble through this challenge and some posts may just be a hodge podge of thoughts, but I'm looking forward to what comes out of this exercise. 

On that note, if you ever have questions about how we do things or anything at all related to this topic, please feel free to ask. I'm keeping a list and will be answering all questions in a post later this month.

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