Living within your means” means that what you spend every month is less than or at least equal to the amount of money you make on a monthly basis. Over the years, experience with the realities of unlimited human wants and ‘scarce resources’, have taught people to adopt this financial cliché.
This advice makes a lot of sense because, how do you expect to live on what you have not made. How do you reap where you did not sow? Yet for some reasons, many people manage to live way above and beyond their means. “How is this possible?”, you may ask. Well, it is possible because of a thing called DEBT.
Although there are other ways people manage to live above their means such as fraud, embezzlement of public funds, generous gifts, and lots more; the most common is debt. In the credit economy we live in, every month, millions of people are able to borrow billions of money to finance their lifestyle beyond what their total income allows for. They can borrow from family and friends, banks, cooperative, credit card companies, loan sharks, or their salary advance.
Whatever way you look at it, living above one’s means is a recipe for financial disaster. It takes discipline to be content with one’s income. It takes an even greater discipline to live within one’s means, especially when there are always flashy things to buy. This Balance article provides important tips on how to successfully live within your means.
If you have been able to build this discipline such that you are currently debt-free, CONGRATULATIONS! You are among the very few people on earth who can be said to be financially secure, less stressed and happy – or so we were made to believe.
You will be doing yourself and future generations a great disservice if you allow your “means” to limit or twart your mission.
Permit me to ask;
Now that you are living within your means, are you truly happy and contented with your life?
Is your means still enough to finance your lifestyle today as it did two years ago?
If given the choice and the means to live a large and luxurious life, would you take it?
The truth is: The “means”, which refers to resources available to you to achieve what you want, exists in abundance waiting for you to tap into it.
I strongly believe that our lifestyle should be defined by our values and purpose in life, and not by our means only. Your personal vision and mission in this world should be your driving force, not your means. You will be doing yourself and future generations a great disservice if you allow your “means” to limit or thwart your mission.
In this article, we are going to examine why the “live within your means” mantra is now outdated advice that should be tossed in the trash can.
Why Should You Stop?
Before I begin to expound on why you should stop living within your means, I want to remind you of the true meaning of the quote. I will also clarify what I mean by saying you should stop following the advice.
I am asking you to challenge the rationale behind that advice and explore how you can live your best life, inspite of your means.
The real meaning of “living within your means” is that you should spend less on your lifestyle than you generate in earnings. Your “means” is your income. To live within that threshold, you need to spend less than you earn. I agree to this.
Now when I ask you to stop living within your means, I am not asking you to get yourself into bad debt by brainlessly living extravagantly above your means.
No! Rather, I am asking you to challenge the rationale behind that advice. Take charge and explore how you can live your best life, inspite of your means.
Having said that, here are the reasons you need to challenge this advice:
1. Your Means Diminishes Daily
The person that created this popular quote never took into consideration that fact that there are a number of economic factors that impact the cost of living. These factors make living within one’s “stunted means” unsustainable at best and impossible at worst.
How do you live within your means when inflation is high or your currency is being devalued so much that your real income of today is half the value it was two years ago?
In this scenario, you cannot blame the victim for getting into bad debt or exceeding their means for the sake of survival. Understand that these economic factors increase the cost of living and make it hard to live within your means. If your means does not increase alongside your cost of living, it becomes hard to live within it.
2. Engenders Scarcity Mindset
Scarcity mindset is the poverty virus that makes you think of the world from the perspective of limitations. You believe that resources are scarce and as such, you have to hoard as much as possible so you don’t exceed your means. Because you cannot afford something you really want, you resort to envy instead of striving to get it. It takes someone who is willing to challenge the limitations of his means to see abundance in life.
3. Kills Your Vision
You don’t have to write off million-dollar opportunities simply because judging from your present circumstances, you cannot afford it.
This is closely related to the previous point. When you strive so religiously to live within your means, you are likely to miss life-changing opportunities that could help you execute your personal vision. You don’t have to write off million-dollar opportunities simply because judging from your present circumstances, you cannot afford it. Instead you see how to ensure you take advantage of them. Where there is a will, there will be a way.
4. Makes You a Victim
When you ask them why they are suffering, they reply, “do I have a choice?”
Many people get stuck on boring, unhappy jobs because they are not motivated enough to challenge the limits of their means. They cannot even negotiate for a better pay because they don’t want to leave their comfort zone even when they are scrimping to survive. When you ask them why they are suffering, they reply, “do I have a choice?”. Victimhood is not a good place to be just because you want to live within your means.
5. Makes Life Boring
To me, “living within your means” is only as good to the extent that your life is full of joy and adventures. If your means is such that you cannot afford to take good care of your health, entertain yourself, go on a vacation or have fun, then you have to reconsider if following this advice is the best option for you.
6. Minimizes Your Potential
Your potential should never be limited by your means.
Besides making you a victim, this poor mindset boxes you in and limits your potential, your freedom of thought and your expression. It subjects your mind to thinking within the box of your means. If you are to live your life to the fullest, you need to unleash your potential by challenging the philosophy behind the “live within your means” quote. Your means should never limit your potential.
Now you have seen why you should stop living within your means, how do you go about challenging this parachronistic mindset? I will answer this question in the next section.
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How to Expand Your Means
The perfect antidote for the limitations of “living within your means” is “expanding your means”.
Given the fact that economic factors such as inflation, the time value of money and currency depreciation are working hard to increase your cost of living and diminish your means on a daily basis, you should also be working hard to grow or expand your means – sources of income – so that you will not run into bad debt. By doing so, you can guarantee a steady stream of income or means to finance you preferred lifestyle, instead of limiting your lifestyle to your means.
When you begin to think in terms of expanding your means, your mind is liberated and you become unstoppable. Opportunities begin to open up and you’ll receive beautiful ideas on how to maximize them.
The following tips can help you expand your means.
1. Embrace the Abundance Mindset
The first step to expanding your means is having a change of mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance.
An Abundance mindset refers to a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determines somebody’s abundant (productive, high worth, fertile and wealthy) outlook on life.
Abundance mindset understands that the first goal is to gain a surplus of resources. Then, to use that surplus to accelerate things. Accelerate education. Accelerate a business or accelerate the next generation. Whereas, scarcity mindset immediately sees a surplus as an opportunity for consumption.
Also, an abundance mindset is willing to delay gratification and invest resources on ventures with great potential even when there is seemingly no reward right away.
To expand your means, you have to believe that the sky is big enough for all the stars in the world to shine without obstructing one another. You have to believe that there is an abundance of resources – money, knowledge, relationships, information – available for you to achieve whatever you desire in life.
2. Ambition and Self-advancement
How big is your ambition?
Expanding your means will definitely involve some stretching which has to start from within you.
I wrote an article sometime ago with the title, “We Are All Motivated By Greed – Own It!” where I made the argument that some level of healthy ambition (or what ignorant people mistake for greed) is needed for any kind of advancement in life. You have to be angry enough with your current uncomfortable situation in other for you to take steps to change it. You cannot do this if you are obsessed with living within your means.
Self-advancement includes investing in yourself, acquiring knowledge, building skills and developing your talents so that you can earn more. There are self-help books to read, online courses to take, seminars to attend and videos to watch when you want to grow your capacity. Expanding your means will definitely involve some stretching which has to start from within you.
3. Boost Your Income
Boosting your income is a critical step in expanding your means and direct result of self-advancement. If your monthly salary is your only means of income, then you should consider a side hustle or a higher paying job that can help you create another stream of income.
It will take almost the same amount of energy you use to live within your means – so you can save enough money to finance your lifestyle – to expand your means.
For instance, if your monthly income is N100,000 and you discover that in other to finance your desired lifestyle or your vision, you will need N150,000, then you need to create multiple streams of income to make up for the extra N50,000 gap.
4. Establish an Emergency Fund
Experts recommend that an ideal of three to six months of living expenses should be set aside as an emergency fund to take care of unforseen circumstances. A car breakdown, a health emergency or a unexpected expenditure will not throw you into debt if you have an emergency fund in place.
It takes someone with an “expand your means” mindset to see the importance of establishing a resilient emergency fund from their income. You need this fund to buffer to your living expenses.
5. Savings and Investment
While an emergency fund is important to meet urgent needs outside your budget, savings is different and very important too.
Savings is money you set aside for a particular purpose. It could be education, housing, marriage, child care or investment. Typically, 10-25% of your income should go into your savings account. You can even automate your savings using Fintech applications like Piggyvest.
You cannot get rich on savings alone and you cannot invest what you have not saved.
Savings is important because there is a limit to how far you can “expand your means” by using your time and energy to generate what we call active income. To achieve financial freedom faster, you will need your money to keep on making you more money whether you are working or not (passive income). This is where savings and investment come in.
Similarly, investment refers to any of the vehicles you employ to make your money work for you. Several investments exist such as small business, paper assets (stock market, mutual funds, ETF, forex), real estate, commodities, intellectual property and cryptocurrencies. You cannot get rich on savings alone and you cannot invest what you have not saved. So both of them work together.
If by living within your means, you take control of your finances and structure your life, imagine how much more savings you will be able to achieve by expanding your means. The money that you’re saving and investing is going to be the cornerstone of achieving all of your financial goals.
6. Leverage Other People’s Money
By leveraging other people’s money through debt or equity, you have access to funding beyond your means to drive your vision.
Leverage is the ultimate strategy you can use to expand your means. It is the use of borrowed funds with a contractually determined return to increase the ability of a business to invest and earn an expected higher return, but usually at high risk. You can use leverage in the form of debt or equity.
Debt is money borrowed from a bank or lender to finance a business which must to be returned with an interest in the future. Whereas equity refers to the value of company shares offered to an investor in exchange for funding to build a business. Typically, the investor expects to be paid dividends as return on investment.
By leveraging other people’s money through debt or equity, you have access to funding beyond your means to drive your vision. This is what many entrepreneurs use to either startup or scale their businesses.
Therefore, if you have a million-dollar business idea, know that with the right knowledge and guidance, this idea could be your ticket to not only solving a problem but also expanding your means with the ultimate goal of achieving financial freedom.
I am of the school of thought that it is high time we ditched the advice to “live within your means”, and instead talk about expanding our means in other to really optimize happiness and emotional well-being.
In summary, it is safe to say that “live within your means” is an outdated strategy for those who want to achieve financial freedom. How do you live within your means when that “means” is being made smaller everyday through inflation, currency depreciation and other factors beyond your control? A better strategy is to constantly “expand your means” through prudent investments so you can live the life you deserve.
So what do you think about this “stop living within your means” approach to achieving financial freedom? Do you agree with the need to expand your means instead of managing to live below your ever diminishing means? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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