Life is a bumpy road. The potholes, ruts and rubble of circumstance come at us fast as we motor along, especially when it comes to our personal finances. Unexpected car and home repairs, promised bonuses that never arrive, increased cost of living, and steep medical costs and higher insurance premiums - all these jolt our financial lives and drain our bank accounts.
What we need is some padding under our seat to absorb the bumps. We need the financial shock absorber called margin to help us through.
What is margin? Not something you put on your bread (that would be margarine). Margin is, put simply, "more than enough." Financial margin is more than enough money to cover the needs. Schedule margin is more than enough time to get to the next appointment. Relational margin is more than enough love and to cover the stupid things we sometimes do.
Most Americans have not had any financial margin in years. The last decade can be best described as “Keeping up with the Joneses,” buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know. One big driver of this margin-free lifestyle was the idea that home equity would always grow, and one could always refinance their house to pay off the credit card bills. This was true from 2002 and 2006, when many saw their homes increase in value by 60-100%. People thought they had home equity margin, so they neglected the margin in their bank accounts: the savings rate from 2004-2008 was nearly 0%.
The troubles of margin-free living spill over into the other areas of our lives. The number one cited reason for disputes and divorces in families today is money. Many corporations in America today claim that the number one reason productivity is down is financial stress. When people are worried about paying their mortgage and making ends meet, they are not as creative and focused on production. Buying lots of stuff, and living on the financial edge may bring an initial rush or short term enjoyment, but the side effects are destroying our families and hurting our businesses.
Rather than being driven by a mindset of consumption, it's time for us to switch to a pattern of contentment. Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound very fun. Success coach Brian Buffini once told how MSN was trying to get him to come in for a series of interviews discussing contentment. He let them know that was like going into a maternity ward and preaching abstinence. It's a little late, and not much fun to hear.
But it's not too late to start adding to the padding. You have to ask yourself, how much true pleasure do we get buying things on credit when we can’t afford them? Does the thrill of spending give us more pleasure than the pain of paying, with interest? No, it doesn't. Now is the time for us to start thinking different when it comes to our lifestyle. Spending beyond our means leaves no margin when life comes at us. When emergencies strike with no margin, life is very chaotic and stressful. A simple blow-out of a tire or dish washer breaking or washing machine needs replacing becomes a national emergency. No, we don't need to live like that anymore.
What would happen if you had margin? What would happen if you had three months of expenses in savings? The bumps and chatter of financial emergencies wouldn't hit us so hard in the seat of our pants. Margin is "hind-end padding" for the road of life, that allows for options and choices and dramatically reduces stress.
Here's a way to get some margin: get a group together and go through Breaking Free, the debt-elimination small group system we just released. It saves the average family about $300 a month, immediately, with some simple changes in thinking and behavior.
Give yourself, your family, and your church a big healthy dose of financial contentment and margin in the months ahead!