Live Your Life With Margin

Stones balancing outdoorsFor our purposes we’ll define margin as anything that’s left after all expenses or costs are deducted.

The natural inclination is to think of margin in strictly monetary terms, but I believe that’s too small a box to put it in. It should also apply to other areas of our life, such as — the way we manage our time, relationships, even our careers and professional lives, among other things.

Sadly, I don’t think most people take the importance of having margin in their lives seriously enough. The benefits are far reaching.

The key to living your life with ample margin really all comes down to the choices you and I make. It gets down to how intentional we are in the way we live our lives.

The Case for Margin

When you have extra left over, and you haven’t spent it all — in any area of your life you have a certain freedom that those without margin typically don’t have. I realize that some folks reading this aren’t going to agree with that. That said, I often find that those who don’t, are those who typically don’t have any margin in their own lives. To that, I’d suggest not knocking it till you try it 🙂

Please know that I’m not picking on anyone. I’m just saying, as someone who has experienced both sides of this in my own life, having lived with and without margin — living a life filled with margin is the path I want to continue on.

Don’t blame outside sources for your lack of margin if any exists

Whatever you do, don’t blame things outside your control for why margin isn’t a part of your life. It discounts the important part you and I get to play in our lives. We are active participants, not just robots being controlled. Perhaps you didn’t directly contribute to it — even if that’s the case, you don’t have to stay there. Create a plan to free up your time. Build in extra time between appointments. Keep a calendar where you track what you need to do each day. Be sure to build in free time. That’s how easy it can be to introduce margin into your life. Consider picking up a part time job, or one of the countless things that can be done to earn extra money. It doesn’t mean doing so will be easy, but the fact that others make that sacrifice means that you and I can too if necessary.

Track your expenses. It can be as simple as saving all your receipts and looking back over them. I’m not here to beat you up or make you feel bad for how much you spend. Just to say that if you’ve never done this simple exercise of looking back on what you spend it may surprise you just how easy it would be to spend a little less — and in doing so end up with more financial margin in your life.

When you have savings, when you haven’t spent it all, you have options that those who haven’t gone this route don’t always have. It’s easy to feel trapped. Notice I said “feel” — because ultimately, you’re not really trapped. Still, the feeling of being so is very real when faced with the uncertainty of wondering how you’ll make it financially when you don’t have any savings to fall back on.

Margin, makes it easier to be a blessing to others

It’s important that you understand I’m not saying you must have margin to bless others. Far from it, in fact, there are countless ways to do so which don’t involve any resources at all. That said, I’m just pointing out that in some cases, it’s easier to do so. For example, if you want to be a blessing to someone financially, if you have a good amount of margin in your finances you can give to others without your doing so potentially having a negative impact on your day to day life.

Giving, when you are living paycheck to paycheck can be a real challenge. The same is true of your time. If you are always rushed, running from one appointment to the next, with little time in between, it’s going to be hard to give your undivided attention to the countless opportunities which pop-up all the time. Stress and overwhelm lurk in the shadows and prey on those who choose to live their lives with little margin.

How to begin living a life of margin

There isn’t really a magic key that unlocks a life of having more than “just enough” — whether in your work or personal life, finances, or wherever you find yourself needing more margin. It’s more of a lifestyle. A commitment to living your life in a way where you will have some left over — where you don’t “spend it all.”

Here are a few practical ideas you can do that will help:

If your lack of margin is in your finances — get a grip on what you spend each month. Commit to spending less. I realize this is easier said than done, but really, once you know where your money is going, if you’ll be honest with yourself, you will find things you spend on that aren’t truly necessities. Then the choice is up to you whether to continue the same pattern you’ve been doing, or change. I’m not here to lecture you, just to offer options. Ultimately the choice is yours.

If you want to change, then in many cases that’s going to require a change in your habits. Initially, it may be a shock, but if you stick to the changes you make, before long you’ll emerge a better version of yourself for having adapted. There are also countless people you can learn from that are in the personal finance arena. Many of these people’s resources are readily available online. Here are two that you might look into. Mr. Money Mustache and Dave Ramsey. If neither of these folks resonate with you that’s fine. Just look around and find someone that you can learn from in this area. Margin is something that’s worth having, and the best way to get there is to learn from those who already have it, and can show you the path.

If it’s a lack of time you have, or you’re experiencing overwhelm because of all your daily commitments, I’d strongly suggest making greater use of a calendar. That may sound very unsophisticated in this day and age of fancy gadgets. However, it can make a real difference.

The main reason a calendar works is that it’s always nearby. Sure, if you keep a print version you have to make sure it’s in a convenient place. That’s done easily enough. I happen to make use of a digital calendar (Google calendar to be exact — you can use whatever works for you), I put everything that needs doing in my calendar. Both work and personal items. If it needs doing, or may need doing, or remembering in the future, then I put it in there. It’s incredibly freeing to no longer have all those “to do” items rolling around in my head, hoping I can remember them all myself. No more fear of missing a deadline.

I do keep a separate action items list in addition to my calendar, but that’s for very short term things. The great thing about my calendar is it syncs to whatever device happens to be handy. So whether I’m on my computer, tablet, or phone it’s always nearby. And when it’s handy, I get to experience the joy of margin in my time and schedule.

Those are just a few practical things you can do to start living a life filled with margin. Apply what you’ve learned, but more than that adopt this way of thinking. It’s a mindset worth developing fully, and one which can have a profound impact on your life.

It’s Your Life, LIVE BIG!
Josh Hinds