Are you finding the times hard too?

Times are hard. I mean economic times of course. You do not need anybody to tell you that. Not long ago, my brother called, telling me how he just got three letters within one week: one announcing house rental increase, another on increase of his children’s school fees, followed by another one from his house maid asking for a raise. Now given the limited resources, how do you make the most use of your income?

You see, everyone puts their money into three basic groups: necessities, luxuries, and saving for the future. Obviously, the pile that will get you in the best shape over the long term is the “saving for the future”, but that’s only the first piece of the problem. The reason so many of us are in poor financial shape is that we put more than we should into one of these areas to the detriment of others. Let me explain what I mean.

Some put money in the “luxuries” pile instead of the “saving for the future” pile. These are often the same people who argue that you only live once and that you are wasting your time saving for the future when you could be enjoying the high life now. Quite often, these people realise what they are doing—they know that they are spending money on luxuries. The catch is that they just don’t care. I myself was in this group of people not too long ago.

Others put money that should be in the “luxuries” pile into the “necessities” pile. They identify things like top of the range cars and smart phones as necessities in their life when the truth is that most of these things are luxuries. I have several friends in this group—they are barely gliding and they are putting a little money away, but they continually tell me that they are doing everything they can and are living “bare bones” as they surf the web on their Samsung Galaxy S5 or iphone 5.

The recipe for success that I have found in life with these three piles is this:

First, go through everything in the necessities pile and determine if it’s really a necessity. In other words, go through every bit of your spending for a while and figure out whether you really need this item. I am not suggesting going without the item, but merely determining whether you truly need the item now. For example, is that complicated cell phone which you only use less that 10 percent of its functions really a necessity to you? For some people it may be, but are the unlimited text messages a necessity, or the web access features on it? Is that giant curved television screen a necessity? In these hard times, is a case of beer or a cask of wine a necessity (they both are often included as “food” for some people)? When you start asking honest questions like these, it often becomes clear that many things in life are luxuries. Also, you begin to find that frugality is pretty cool— it shrinks the cost of many things in your necessities pile.

Then, try to keep a balance between luxuries and saving for the future roughly in balance. Financial discipline is not about denying yourself everything enjoyable in life. It is about finding a balance between the things you enjoy now and the things you will need later. And it is also about finding value in all of the luxuries in your life rather than just treating them as things you do naturally.

Have a blessed week-end as you strike a balance between luxuries, necessities and saving for the future.

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