Half of Americans spend more than they earn, but only 10% say they’re living beyond their means (source). That should scare us. But “living within your means” isn’t just for money, it’s for time as well.
What exactly is living within your means? (money)
From a money perspective, living within or beyond your means is pretty straightforward: at your income level, there are some things you can afford and other things you can’t. For discretionary income, you can pick some things to prioritize over others. Maybe you’d like to go on vacation more but it means you eat out less. Maybe you want to save, or perhaps you don’t. It’s all about what lifestyle is within your reach.
Which is great, until the comparison game shows up. You’re not just comparing your lifestyle to others at the same income level, you’re comparing your lifestyle to everyone else. Once the comparison game hits, the fact that you’re choosing to not travel the world so you can save more money, it’s not just a choice, it’s now frowned upon and socially unacceptable. You desire both lifestyles, and thus overspend.
Living within your means, however, means realizing that money isn’t infinite and that boundaries are a thing. It says no to the pressure from comparison, to the addiction to certain lifestyles that aren’t sustainable for you.
When we see people living beyond their means (money-wise), it’s pretty much universally frowned upon. Someone living paycheck-to-paycheck but insists on driving a brand-new Lexus, and we’ll think they should trade the car for a cheaper one. A celebrity with a multimillion dollor mansion who goes bankrupt, we wonder how that was possible.
Do we apply the same criteria to ourselves? Often not. It’s called Fundamental Attribution Error, and it makes you a jerk. (basically, if someone else cuts us off in traffic, we say it’s because they’re a bad driver, but if we do it, well, we nearly missed our exit but we’re still a good driver)
We understand it for money. But do we for time?
What exactly is living within your means? (time)
Time, like money, is finite. Time, like money, needs to be budgeted so you make sure you have enough for what you need and not just a bunch of things you want.
One major difference is that while income varies from person to person, time does not. We all have the same number of hours in the day.
However, we don’t have the same responsibilities. A parent of small children of course has more demands on their time than a college student. Think of that like the “have-to” items on a money budget, which leaves more time for the “want-to” (discretionary) things.
Living beyond your means (time-wise) means spending more time than exists. You want to go to all the social things and so don’t sleep and are an irritable jerk all the time. You want to do the same number of fun things as friends despite the fact that you’re going to grad school and they’re not. Like with money, living beyond your means with time centers around comparison of lifestyle.
Some lifestyles are only accessible if you have a certain amount of time, just like some lifestyles are only accessible for a certain amount of money. And even if something’s accessible, you might choose something else that you value more highly.
How many times in the past few months have you felt burnt out? Too busy? Perhaps you’re living beyond your (time) means. And that’s not a fun way to live.
So how instead do you want to live? What are your “means” and what kind of lifestyle is possible for it?
P.S. Be a hero today