We often hear the expression to live below ones means. But what does it really mean? And who does it apply to? I was giving this some thought yesterday and this is what I came up with as my interpretation:
Live a comfortable life that suits you. Do not live to impress others. Do not live worrying about money. Do not live trying to fool yourself into thinking your status makes you who you are. Live comfortably for your situation, and everything will be OK.
What do I mean by this? I guess what I am trying to say is that what you own, what you drive, where you live, what your job is, or where your kids go to school should not be important to anyone else but yourself. Your money and your lifestyle is yours and yours alone, and you should never let other people dictate how you live. People that should be driving Honda Civics are driving BMW 3 Series and people that should be renting an apartment “own” $700,000 houses. Eventually this Keeping Up With The Joneses is going to catch up with these people.
Living below your means does not mean just cutting out pizza once a week or buying fewer lattes. It is an overall way of life, to live below your means. It means that your experiences shape who you are, not your bank account. Fighting the urge to participate in the mass consumerism is a choice that allows you to live below your means. Why work 70 hours a week in order to afford that big house? Sure, you can afford it now with all those hours, but isn’t there something you would rather be doing with your time, like hanging out with your significant other or going to your kids baseball games? Would a smaller, more affordable house make you happier because it would free up some of your time? Just because you make a high salary does not mean you need to spend it all. I know people feel like they have to…but that is only because we as a society feel the need to impress everyone else. To one up them…to “have more”. No matter how high your salary is, if you are making all the money to boost your ego or buy a mansion or drive a new Ferrari every year, you are not living below your means, even if you can afford it. You are living at or above your means, spending your earnings as fast as they come in the door. And for what? So people will like you and you think it will make you happy. Or so you think.
Lest you think I am anti-money or anti-work, I am not. I enjoy my work and I enjoy making a decent salary. It is just that I am not concerned with impressing anyone with things that I can buy. If my friends and peers did not enjoy my company because my suits are not from Versace, what do I need them for? Not much really.
I guess what it boils down to for me is that my means are higher than my living costs, and I like it that way. I like the thought that I might be able to retire earlier than my peers because I didn’t lease a new Audi every 3 years or spend $30,000 on my wedding. I think towards the future, where I might be able to help my child pay for college instead of making him or her borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to school. These things mean a lot to me, and I guess for my wife and I, we are truly living below our means in order to be comfortable now with who we are, and happy later on when we aren’t saddled with junk we could not afford in the first place.
It’s not the lattes or the pizza. Its living comfortably with what you have that makes it work, along with being secure in your own situation. Have millions of dollars? Buy a Ferrari, live it up. Why not, you have millions! Make $22,000 a year? You don’t really need to lease a car you can’t afford for your ego, do you?