Personal Finance Basics: Live Below Your Means

Last week I started a series called “Personal Finance Basics“.  In the series I plan on talking about basic concepts of personal finance, going back to the simple concepts that we sometimes forget or ignore.  Last time I talked about the idea of paying yourself first in order to ensure that your savings grow – instead of having your money mysteriously disappear.

This time I want to talk about another important concept – living below your means.

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The Lure Of Easy Credit

One thing that this generation has done is to forget the basic concept of how you create and grow wealth.  The ideas of easy credit and buying things before you have the cash have taken  hold.  Whereas our parents  would save up and pay cash for the things they bought, when we have a whim and desire something – we just buy it.

The average age at which a U.S. consumer under the age of 35 first adopted a credit card is 20.8 years. The average age of credit card adoption for a consumer over the age of 65 is 40.6 years. (Source: “The 2008 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice,” Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)

The average age that we started using credit has dropped as time has gone on.   Using credit and going in debt has become more acceptable.  Millions of people have acquired debt and gone thousands of dollars in debt.

Total U.S. revolving debt (98 percent of which is made up of credit card debt): $852.6 billion, as of March 2010 (Source: Federal Reserve’s G.19 report on consumer credit, March 2010)

So revolving debt in the U.S. has grown to near 1 trillion dollars.  That can’t be a good thing!

So what can you do about it?

Spend Less Than You Earn And Live Below Your Means

Thomas J. Stanley in his book “The Millionaire Next Door” talked about millionaires and what the greatest factors were that lead to their creation of wealth. Contrary to the picture that many people hold of the wealthy, the picture of the lavish spending, expensive cars and expensive homes, most millionaires  that he interviewed were rather frugal.  They lived well within their means – and most lived below their means.

He said that the average millionaire doesn’t have material things just to have them:

We wear inexpensive suits and drive American-made cars. Only a minority of us drive the current-model-year automobile. Only a minority ever lease our motor vehicles.  Most of us (97 percent) are homeowners. We live in homes currently valued at an average of $320,000. About half of us have occupied the same home for more than twenty years. Thus, we have enjoyed significant increases in the value of our homes.

Millionaires don’t feel the need to display their wealth, or show off by living in fancy neighborhoods and drive a fancy car. They live below their means, make thoughtful homemade gifts, buy quality things, and don’t focus on brand names or status symbols. They enjoy the good things in life, but also know good value. They know how to live on less than they make. In fact, for many of them, their frugality and living below their means is one of the primary reasons why they have created their wealth.

So what do you think – is living below your means an important piece of creating and growing wealth? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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I’m a thirty-something Christian Midwestern father of one son, and have been happily married for 9 years to my beautiful wife. I love playing tennis, shooting hoops, or taking part in the occasional flag football game. Of course, I love writing and financial topics as well, and that's how this site came into being! Check me out on Google +!

Last Edited: 3rd December 2010


    Share Your Thoughts:

  1. says

    Spending less than I am making has been the single most important rule that I have followed. No matter how little I made in my life, I have always been able to save some money.

  2. says

    Living beneath your means takes courage at the deepest levels. Our culture screams “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” and it takes discipline and conviction to resist.

    To be able to accumulate a million dollars probably means being a non-conformist, part of which means not worrying or even caring what others think about your standard of living. Maybe it means being a little…different!

  3. says

    I think that living below your means is probably the most sure way to build wealth! It seems like such an easy principle – spend less than you earn and save the difference – but yet it seems to be a secret that only few Americans “discover” later in life.

  4. says

    Living below your means is by far the #1 avenue to create and grow wealth. The problem is that it requires extreme discipline and must also be accepted and embraced by your spouse. Outside pressures make this new way of thinking very difficult to pull off in today’s society. I thank God every day that we began living below our means way back when!

  5. says

    In essence it seems easy, but with the increase in money comes the increase in demand for material things. You want to be able to afford yourself something for your hardwork.

    • says

      I agree that there is temptation to engage in lifestyle inflation when you get an increase in income. I don’t see a problem in spending a little bit of money to buy things that you want, but the problem comes in when you spend everything you have that’s extra on things you want because “you deserve it “. That can short circuit your future prosperity!

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