Building flexibility and margin into our lives is one of the hardest things to do. The demands of work, family, entertainment, church, friends, etc. eat away at our schedules and our wallets. Often times, the failure to build margin and flexibility into our lives sets up a clash between materialism and faith.
We desire to live lives that honor God with our time and money. Simultaneously, we don’t want to miss out on the many things that our culture tells us will bring us happiness. Often the two stand in stark contrast. We, as Christ-followers, struggle to reconcile what it means to be in the world but not of the world.
This struggle indicates our larger struggle, especially in our finances. What is the balance between simplicity and enjoyment of resources? What is the balance between faith and prudence in our financial decisions? What is the best way to care for our families and to steward what God has given us, simultaneously?
I believe that help in all of these struggles can be found in the concept of margin. Building margin into our lives – whether in relationships, schedules, or finances – allows us the space and freedom to maintain our perspective. For example, if we build time each day to spend with the Lord, we are able to hear His voice on the issues that burden us. Correspondingly, when we have a financial cushion, we can make more intentional and measured decisions, without feeling as flustered by the immediacy of needs.
How much financial margin? Well, I (along with most financial advisors) recommend having a plan for building your margin. First of all, you need to pay off any credit card and short-term, high interest debt. Second, build an emergency fund of three to six months’ living expenses. After that, you save for the longer-term goals that you have, such as increased giving, retirement, major purchases, college funds, etc.
In my experience, the only way to create any margin in life is to plan for it. My wife and I plan our calendars to put free space into them. Similarly, we save first (after our giving), before we designate money into spending categories in our budget. As the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.” If you do not save (both time and money) on the front end, it is highly unlikely that you will have any extra left at the end.