Living Below Your Means
By Mary Hunt
Founder and Editor of Debt-Proof Living
You hear it all the time, but do you know what it means to live below your means? More importantly, have you figured out how to do that?
To live below your means is to create a lifestyle you can pay for with money left over.
Living below your means in this high-pressure, credit-based, gotta-have-it-all-right-now society is not exactly easy. It takes skill and determination to go against the tide and buck a system that encourages spending all we have now plus what we hope we'll get in the future.
Here's the secret for living below your means: Buy what you need, want what you have. That's it. Eight words that could change your life forever. Eight words that point the way to contentment.
Have you ever considered that contentment is every credit card company's worst nightmare? It's no secret that they spend bazillions of dollars every year on marketing and ad campaigns to create discontentment and dissatisfaction because that translates to huge profits. They want us to believe we cannot be happy without the stuff they say we deserve, even if we cannot pay for it now. From the looks of things, their efforts are succeeding quite well.
Advertising has become such a part of our culture we are mostly unaware of the ways it influences our desires, the ways we spend our money, and to what extent we're willing to legally obligate money we've not yet earned.
A while back, I read in the New York Times that the average American adult is the target of some 3,500 commercial ads in a single day. How outrageous is that? Sure, we live in a highly commercialized society, but 3,500 ads? In a single day? I figured that had to be a gross exaggeration.
I decided to conduct my own test. I would count the ads I heard or saw in my typical day. I knew it wouldn't come anywhere close to 3,500.
The next morning the radio alarm sounded, and before I could even open my eyes, I needed to put two hash marks on my score pad. So prolific were the ads on television I could barely keep an accurate count and get ready at the same time.
Of course, I had to count every message, banner, business placard, real estate sign, billboard, license plate frame, bumper sticker, commercial vehicle and bus I saw on the way to work, all the while being careful not to miss any radio ads. Good thing I wasn't driving.
Reading the newspaper boosted my count significantly, as did flipping through a few magazines. Have you ever counted the ads in a typical woman's magazine? Try it sometime.
Logging onto the Internet shot my count through the roof. The mail arrived at 10:00 a.m., and that's when I surrendered. Not only was it impossible to get anything done while counting the commercial influences on my fairly low-key, ho-hum kind of a day, I couldn't keep up with the pace. It was a mind-boggling exercise.
Thirty-five hundred ads per adult per day? Easy! Needless to say I became a believer.
So how can we practice contentment, embrace the eight words, and in so doing counteract commercial influences that attempt to sabotage our efforts to live below our means?
Insulate. When, with genuine gratitude, you choose to want what you have, you build a layer of insulation around your life that will protect you from the harshness of over-commercialization. Reading the fine print, analyzing what clearly is too-good-to-be-true, and questioning outrageous commercial messages are also good ways to increase that protective insulation.
Isolate. If you are easily dissatisfied or prone to impulsive behaviors, identify your weak spots and then isolate yourself from them. Turn off the television. Skip past the magazine ads. Ban the use of vending machines. Isolate yourself from mindless shopping. Throw mail order catalogs in the trash unopened (and I mean the smelly trash so you won't be tempted to retrieve them). Put distance between you and places you are most likely to slip back into your old ways of spending beyond your means.
Self talk. Confronting yourself is a great way to build your strength against the strong current of commercialization. Ask yourself these kinds of questions and then expect honest answers:
Do I need this?
Don't I have something already that will do just as well?
Am I sure this is a good value?
Do I have the cash to pay for it?
Could I delay the purchase for a few weeks?
Am I willing to sit on my decision for 24 hours before acting?
Never feel you must apologize for choosing the high road when it comes to managing well the money that flows into your life.
Living below your means is a way to build wealth, reduce stress, create options, and find peace of mind.
Living below your means is an honorable way to conduct your life.
Mary Hunt is the founder and editor of Debt-Proof Living newsletter, the new finance columnist at Guideposts magazine, an AOL Money Coach and a contributing editor of Woman’s Day magazine. She is the author of 16 bestselling books, and her syndicated Everyday Cheapskate column can be found online and in newspapers nationwide. .
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