When we experience financial strain, it’s easy to blame rising prices, stagnant wages, or even politicians in office for our struggles. Anytime something infringes on our standard of living, our first instinct can often be to push back harder to maintain the lifestyle we’re used to. After all, your standard of living determines your quality of life, right?
Wrong. That’s actually a lie our culture has taught you to believe. In reality, chasing a certain lifestyle is a slippery slope. It’s a habit that’s rooted in comparison, envy, and greed. Not only that, but it also becomes a cycle that can be incredibly difficult to break. As soon as you reach your desired standard of living, the goalpost moves further away; there’s always a bigger house, a nicer car, or a trendier outfit. Jesus gives a stern warning against this kind of thinking in Luke 12:15:
“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Jesus illustrates this point with a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’” (Luke 12:16-20).
“Then who will get everything you worked for?” What a sobering question! It reminds us that our possessions are temporary. According to the Bible, our stuff isn’t even our stuff to begin with. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” This ultimately means that our income belongs to God, and the way we handle it reflects our heart for him. Matthew 6:21 puts it best: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” When we chase a standard of living, God gets pushed to the side.
This all means that our quality of life cannot be determined by our standard of living. Once you embrace this truth, you’re one step closer to experiencing peace amid financial pressure! When a standard of living is no longer the end goal, you have the opportunity to create more margin in your budget.
What is margin?
With your personal resources, margin is the space between your absolute limit and what you use. There are all kinds of things that threaten to eat up margin in our lives. A demanding job, for example, can take up margin with your time. Similarly, the pursuit of a standard of living can shrink margin with your finances.
Margin is the key to financial peace. Margin is where a broken refrigerator or a costly car repair won’t freak you out. Margin is where you can give freely and generously to a cause you care about. Margin is where you find true quality of life.
However, margin requires intentional decisions, and hard ones at that. Creating margin in your budget will require you to say no to things that your friends and family might be saying yes to. It will require committing and recommitting to sacrifices, but the peace that awaits you in the margin will be worth it.
Now, let’s talk about how you can create more margin in your finances today:
Determine how much you’re going to live on
The first step to create margin in your budget is...to create margin in your budget. If you’re used to living up to (or even past) your limits each month, you need to make a choice about how much of your income you’re going to live off. This may feel daunting, but keep in mind that margin is the only thing that will move you toward more peace of mind with your finances. It doesn’t matter how much you make if you keep spending right up to your maximum – you’ll still feel the pressure!
Set a budget
Once you’ve decided how much money you’re going to spend each month, it’s time to decide how you’re going to spend it by creating a budget. Make a list of all your expenses each month and add up the total. It may be helpful to look over your past bank statements or receipts to get accurate figures.
Next, subtract the expenses from the amount you decided to spend each month: if you get to zero, great! That’s a budget you should be able to stick to easily. If your expenses wind up exceeding your spending limit, that’s a signal to look back over your expenses and see where you can cut back. This is where choosing quality of life over standard of living comes into play: your most essential expenses will need to stay the same, such as housing, food, transportation, and basic clothing. The things you pay for that are “nice to have” but not essential will probably need to be trimmed down. If you’ve added up your totals and still have extra money left over, you may choose to build savings, give, or pay off debt.
Spy on your money
After you’ve created a budget, it’s crucial to keep track of your daily spending to make sure you’re staying on track. It sounds like a lot of work, and it can be, but simply deciding on a budget can’t actually help you create margin and improve your quality of life. Think of it this way: if you set a fitness goal but don’t keep track of how many times you’ve worked out or the nutritional contents of your food, you won’t have any way to check your progress or make sure your decisions will move you toward your desired outcome. Remember, everything we have has been given to us by God as a responsibility to manage. You can’t manage what you don’t watch over.
The choice to create margin in your finances probably won’t be an easy one. After all, the pursuit of a higher standard of living can be a tough instinct to separate yourself from at first. But rest assured, when you invite God into your finances and make decisions that will move you toward the life he desires for you, you’ll set yourself up to experience more peace of mind and a quality of life you’ve never seen before.
You're not on your own in your journey to create margin and experience a better quality of life. We’ve gathered some resources to help you make wiser financial decisions:
Sign up for Financial Peace University
Financial Coaching Ministry
The How & Why of Starting a Budget
How to Connect as a Family on a Budget
Budgeting Hacks to Make You Financially Successful
LCBC stands for Lives Changed By Christ. We are one church in multiple locations across Pennsylvania. Find the location closest to you or join us for Church Online. We can’t wait to connect with you!