Financial margin: that pleasant and sometimes rare, financial distance between income and expenses. Some of us ask, “Where did it go?” and “How do I get it back?”
As adults, we make the conscious decision to take on our monthly bills, some out of necessity and some from want or impulse. When we take on an obligation based on the monthly payment amount, we slowly squeeze out margin and begin the squeeze of financial pressure and stress.
We become servants to our bills and begin declining many worthy opportunities and even callings, because we “cannot afford them” with all our bills.
Richard A Swenson, M.D. writes in his book Margin, “Margin exists for the needs of the kingdom, for the service of one another, for the building of community. It exists just as we exist, for the purpose of being available to God.”
Do you desire to establish, or perhaps restore margin in your finances, so that you may be more available to the kingdom, and to your family?
Let’s look at five steps that will help us build financial margin:
1. Fully Honor the Lord with the Tithe
While this may sound counter-intuitive (If I give more, I’ll have less) God promises to more than provide for us when we trust Him and return to Him the firstfruits of our increase.
Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.—Proverbs 3:9–10 (emphasis mine)
“Filled with plenty” and “burst out” speak of abundance—more than enough.
When we avoid the tithe, or return a fraction of the tithe, “I’ll start with two percent,” we frustrate our financial efforts because we are doing it our way instead of God’s way. Haggai 1:6 reminds us of the futility of doing things our way, rather than trusting and honoring the Lord: “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes”
2. Eliminate an Unnecessary Bill (or Bills)
How many of us are still paying for Cable or Dish TV? The average household pays $103 per month for hundreds of channels, of which they view 3 to 4 on a regular basis. With today’s technology, much of our preferred viewing can be done at no charge or very cheaply.
Most news services have an app which provides timely updates to satisfy our curiosity as to what is happening in the world, and many streaming services can be viewed free of charge (with commercials) or with a much smaller fee than cable—uninterrupted by commercials.
Many households could re-capture $80 to $90 of margin per month by cancelling cable or satellite TV.
3. Intentionally Avoid Over-spending
How often do we run to the store because we need that one item, and leave with several other items? Not only is it easy to over-spend at the grocery store, it is likely to happen by default, if we are not intentional in our buying.
During normal, weekly shopping trips, it is realistic that families over-spend by $20-$30 per week. That’s $80-$120 per month that can be recaptured for margin, by mindfully creating a specific shopping list and being self-disciplined to stick with the list.
4. Eat and Fellowship at Home More, Dine out Less
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $3,154 eating away from home in the course of a year. I do not believe they included Baptists, as we love our food and fellowship!
Given this figure, if we allowed ourselves to eat away from home, but cut the frequency in half (two meals out instead of four?) we would recapture about $130 per month to add to our margin. Individual family amounts will vary. The key is to look at your bank statements and identify the amount you spend each month on eating away from home and choose a lower amount (if applicable) and stick with it.
5. Sell Some Stuff
We Americans love our stuff! Storage is a $24 billion industry in the U.S. We not only fill storage bays but also our cabinets and our garages with stuff, stuff we may need someday. I would venture to say that the average family could collectively inventory the stuff they have not used and sell it for another $1,000!
The list may include, your last smart phone model (sell it on eBay for $150?), video game consoles collecting dust, exercise equipment doubling as a clothes hanger. How about the collectible items that have been collected, and collected, but never redeemed as the investment they were intended for (Beanie Babies, Starbucks mugs etc.). Sell them!
A good cleaning and purging could net several hundred dollars which would provide that needed cushion to begin your margin savings, or pay off that nagging credit card balance.