Living below your means
My wife and I recently spent the weekend with my first business partner and his wife in Bentonville, Arkansas. We have been friends for nearly half a century. The real estate development business that we started in Atlanta when we graduated from college was the foundation for all of our subsequent investments. The experience that we gained as small business owners at the age of twenty-one has proven to be invaluable.
As we reminisced, I reminded Abe that his mom had given us both a great piece of financial advice that I have followed all of my adult life.
Mrs. Schear brought us into her living room and sat us down to hear what she felt we needed to know. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what she said was, “Boys, always live below your means. That way when the tough times come, and they always come, you won’t have to adjust your lifestyle.” I didn’t know then how right she was. We took her advice to heart even though we thought then that with our superior skills we could avoid economic down turns.
Life proved to be filled with difficulties and my imagined superior skills proved to be every bit as fallible as anyone else’s would, but the wisdom of living below our means insulated us from the worst of the various problems and economic cycles we experienced.
Therefore, as a banker, I continue to follow her advice and I recommend that our customers and friends do the same thing. Live below your means.
If you find yourself spending what you make, or even more, do not lose heart. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck with little or no reserve. But, it does not have to be this way. Regardless of what you make, you can and should spend less. The first question should be “Can I afford it?” instead of “Do I want it?”
If you need something, do you need it now? Can something less expensive substitute for it? Is this the best deal? Resist the temptation to purchase impulsively. One way to do that is to skip shopping. Instead of shopping, only go on buying trips to find the best possible option for something that is an absolute necessity.
We often talk about diets and fasts. I have a friend who conducted a thirty-day experiment to see if he and his girlfriend could go thirty days without buying anything but fresh produce from the farmers market. They did not quite make it, but they got very close and actually enjoyed the challenge.
Our consumer culture is designed to make us spend money. You can resist the urge to spend. It is not easy, but it is possible. The decision to live below your means can be quite liberating. Once you make the decision, you can quit buying things to keep up with family members and neighbors. You will know that you are building a financial future and not a mountain of consumer debt.
No matter where you are, or what you do for a living, live below your means. That way, when the tough times come, and they always come, you will be prepared.