Why Living Within Your Means Is Not Enough (Personal Finance)

Ryan Petty

People with financial goals often suffer from setting them too low.

Few of us manage to live within our means. Instead, we aspire to do so - and sometimes fail - and burden others with our failures or go into debt - and burden ourselves.

We budget and scrimp and live from paycheck to paycheck (those of us with jobs), trying to live within our means in ways that leave us obviously vulnerable, even if we are successful.

And most of us are burdened by a load of debt from mistakes and life’s unfairness and the sudden, obsessive urge to buy things that leave behind a trail of clutter.

This is a tough love, personal finance perspective:

Even if we achieve our aspiration and live within our means and even if we do that debt free, the sad, hard truth is, it’s still not enough.

It’s not enough because we set the bar too low.

We asked ourselves the wrong questions.

We left out some of our own foreseeable needs.

We set aside no margin to see us through emergencies.

We’re caught in the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.

Living within our means sounds good, but it means we’re still like the Grasshopper,  enjoying the summer while setting aside no provisions for surviving the tough winter months.

Unlike the Ant, we put nothing back for the expenses of the future.

Nothing back for a rainy day.

Nothing back for the catastrophe of ill health, accident, or layoff.

Nothing back for higher education, continuing education, or self-education.

Nothing back to help your children transition to adulthood as productively and humanely as possible.

Nothing back for retirement and the good life of ease.

We’re living within our means but not well within our means.

We’re living like amateurs when the rewards all flow to professionals:

To those who make bigger and longer-term commitments.

To those who think life through to its feathered edges.

To those who remain practical and alert for all the wonder and glory of spectacular summer days.

To those who build capacity in themselves and their families.

To those who set money aside for foreseeable expenses including, of course, “the unforeseen.”

That is why living within your means is not enough. 

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