I’ve got great parents – I mean it. They taught me a lot. But one thing they didn’t teach me was how to live within my means. Growing up, debt was a regular part of our lives. This wasn’t the normal sort of debt – debt to get by. This was luxury debt. I was never short on food, clothes, or toys. Sometimes we didn’t have power, car insurance, or something else, but it never lasted long. We always had cable, a computer, and cars. Our family, with our house and two cars, was living the American dream – debt and all.
In college, a friend shared Dave Ramsey’s teachings with me, and it became the catalyst for some major life decisions for me. Over the next couple of years, I worked hard to pay off my credit cards and car loan. At the time of graduation, I was debt-free. And I’ve been debt free ever since.
It feels great to be free from all debts – to owe no-one anything. Of course, I didn’t do it all on my own; I’ve only been able to reach financial independence through the generosity, love, and support of others. A stranger (to me) actually paid my entire way through Azusa Pacific University because he felt God told him to. Wow. So I mean it when I say I couldn’t have done this on my own.
But as much as we now live within our means financially, we (I) still struggle to live within our means in other ways. When it comes to work, for example, I often over-extend myself. I over-commit, over-work, and over-think. I realize that some people are really good at leverage – at borrowing now to exponentially increase output later. But whether it’s money or time, I’ve found I’m not particularly good at borrowing. If I take a little time from my family today to get some work done, I simply do not pay it back later. I’ll just keep working.
So if I suck at borrowing time, why do I keep doing it?
This is a huge realization for me, just like it was when I read Dave’s Total Money Makeover. It doesn’t matter that I could be more successful if I leveraged; the reality is I won’t be – at least not now. It makes no sense to keep taking out loans when you’re deep in debt. And I’m deep in debt when it comes to time.
One of the first steps in Financial Peace University is establishing an emergency fund. The idea is that, before you start paying of debts, you need to create some padding. The program uses (rather successfully, in my opinion) the snowball effect to build momentum and make progress. So I’ve been thinking about what an “emergency fund” of time might look like. How do I create some padding while I get things in order?
On this past vacation, I made a point to stay at home for a week after traveling. While it wasn’t necessarily restful, it was incredibly productive and made me feel much better. I had a lot of to-do items around the apartment, and a whole lot of personal emails to sift through (I went through 12,000 emails, in fact – mostly spam/marketing emails). If I took one week every quarter to do the same, I’d feel a lot better about the little things I have to let slip during my busy school/work seasons.
But once a quarter, as helpful as it is, isn’t enough. I need more margin than that. I need margin – monthly, weekly, and daily. I wrote a little bit about this before in my post, Two Weeks Isn’t Enough, but there I was speaking mostly of rest. Here, I’m speaking about margin for work – time which can be sacrificed if absolutely necessary. Just as an emergency fund provides money when a crisis hits (the A/C breaks, the car won’t start, or a sudden health problem arises), so I need some emergency time every week when interruptions come (a meeting goes long, a friend needs a visit in the hospital, or a last minute project pops up).
Of course, you can’t plan for everything. And unfortunately there is no time insurance to bail you out on the really big things. But that’s where I want to build a substantial emergency fund of time – to become self-insured – at least for what’s reasonable.
So how much margin do I need each day? Each week? Each month? I’m not totally sure, but here’s what I’m thinking right now:
- 2 weeks/quarter
- 4 days/month
- 1 day/week
- 1 hour/day
Again, I’m not talking about vacations or Sabbaths; I’m talking about marginal work time. I’m talking about intentionally assigning work hours toward unknown purposes – scheduling in the emergency space.
So I’m gonna try this for the next few months and see how it works. In the end, it will have been worthwhile if I can look back and say that my work never intruded upon my non-work time (devotions, personal writing, school, family, Sabbath, and sleep).