I was fortunate enough to study abroad while I was getting my undergraduate degree. I went to Cambridge University in England, which was one of the best experiences in my life. If you need some proof, just look at the view I saw every day.
Cambridge was about a 45-minute train ride from London. My classmates and I would make the trip somewhat frequently (as often as our budgets would permit) to visit the British Museum, see the sites, go to shows on West End (England’s equivalent to Broadway), and watch Shakespeare plays at the historic Globe Theatre.
In order to get around, we would use the extensive subway system in London, known as the “Tube.” Before the arrival of the train at the station, I grew accustomed to hearing the phrase “mind the gap.”
It didn’t matter who you were, everyone needed to mind the gap between the train and the platform. Of course, some people would be more impacted by not being watchful such as small children, elderly people, and even people with particularly small feet; but realistically any unattentive traveler could potentially stumble and fall if they neglected to heed this simple advice.
Mind your budgetary gap
I have discovered that this is sound advice outside of the Tube. We all need to “mind the gap” for our household budget by ensuring that our spending does not surpass our income.
This issue isn’t just for the low-income folk out there. Surprisingly, it’s often the people with the most money who need to be the most vigilant. I’m an avid sports fan, and I’ve heard of far too many professional athletes who have blown their millions. Sports Illustrated did a great write-up on this issue:
Athletes from the nation’s three biggest and most profitable leagues– the NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball– are suffering from a financial pandemic. Although salaries have risen steadily during the last three decades, reports from a host of sources (athletes, players’ associations, agents and advisers) indicate that:
- By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL player have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
- Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.
According to USA Today, nearly 70% of lottery winners end up broke.
And even our favorite celebrities aren’t immune. Take Johnny Depp for example, one of our beloved pirates. In a recent lawsuit he filed against his business managers, some truly incredible details were exposed about his budget.
Depp spends $2 million a month. Some of his monthly expenses are $30,000 on wine, $300,000 for his 40 person staff, $150,000 for security, $200,000 for his private jet. He’s spent $75 million to improve 14 residences, owns 45 luxury cars, owns an $18 million yacht, and owns over 70 luxury guitars.
I wonder if all that stuff makes him happy…
Most of us will never have millions like these people. But one thing should be abundantly clear– you will never make so much money that you can’t blow it. Unlike the Tube in London, we all want the gap to be as large as possible in our personal budget.
The greater that gap between your income and your expenses, the less reliant you are on a boss and a paycheck to meet your basic needs.
Here are a few tips that I use to grow the gap in my finances.
1. I use Personal Capital and Mint to view and track transactions
Using these programs makes it easy for me to stay on top of my spending. It helps me to quickly observe problem areas like- are we spending too much eating out? Am I paying for subscriptions I don’t actually use? Not to mention, I see my net worth in the same place, so it really makes me question whether the spending today is worth missing out on growing my net worth, shortening my time to FI.
2. I think in terms of total dollars, not payments
No money down, no payments for 6 months, no interest for 12 months, low-payments, 100% approval!
It’s become too easy to spend our money, and that’s exactly what most people do. Rather than looking at the lifetime value of loans people instead opt to make sure they can add one more payment to their ever-tightening budget. Your house, two leased cars, ATV, boat, cable, Netflix, Hulu, Internet can totally strip you of your ability to build future wealth.
Don’t fall for a low payment, think instead of the opportunity cost of what you can do with that money instead. That’s why my wife and I drive paid off vehicles– a 2003 Pontiac and a 2012 Honda Civic.
We would rather take the extra money we would spend on nicer vehicles that are “within our budget” and put it to work for us in the stock market. Freedom is more important than a nice car.
3. I have a “Discretionary Fund”
My wife and I save around 70% of our income, and sometimes it’s hard to justify spending money on non-essentials. But I know that’s no way to live. We should be able to spend money on things we value, as long as we have the means. My wife and I discovered the trick of a “Discretionary Fund,” as we call it, about a year into our marriage. Basically, we pull out cash at the beginning of the month and we can do whatever we want with that money, no questions asked.
This fun money allows us to live today, while not feeling bad about not saving everything we possibly could. This will also help you to stay on board with your budget because you have some money to have fun with.
By following these 3 tips you’ll know where your money is going, avoid adding big “money sucks” into your budget, and still have fun along the way. These steps will allow you to grow your gap and help prevent you from falling prey to the tricks and ploys that affect so many others.
The bigger the gap, the sooner you can live the life you’ve dreamed of, not the life society has outlined for you.