JMT Certified

Creating Margin

Riding on black ice.  

Some years ago I used to commute to work on a motorbike in all weathers.  I recall one particularly snowy winter’s day I became aware that there was probably a stretch of black ice hidden under the snow I was riding on. 

All of a sudden I felt really very vulnerable and that any sudden change of direction or speed would cause the tyres to lose grip and I’d end up falling off.  As it happens I managed to avoid crashing out, but the feeling of vulnerability is something I remember to this day.  I had s a similar feeling as a young father looking after the family finances.  I had a feeling of vulnerability where everything could come crashing down.

“Whatever my income, I always had a little bit of month left at the end of the money.”

It seemed that however much I tried to budget wisely, the money always seemed to run out just before the end of the month.  The strange thing, however, is that happened even after I had a pay rise, the money still ran out just before the end of the month.  Of course what had actually happened was that I had increased my spending along with the increased income.

It was the pain that I experienced at the end of the month (also known as overdraft and interest payments) that caused me to rein in the expenditure. I allowed the family expenditure to rise to just beyond that pain barrier before I would pull back and rein it in.  When I received a pay rise, I ended up allowing my spending to increase until the pain point appeared once again.

It wasn’t until I hit my first “rainy day” that I learned that I would need to take better control.  We had a “rainy day” one Christmas where the freezer broke just when it was all full of everything we had bought to feed the family and visitors on Christmas day.  Not only was there a new freezer to find, there was also a full load of food to replace too. 

“The method of living at home modestly and within our income, laying a little by systematically for the proverbial rainy day which is due to come, can almost be listed among the lost arts.”
~ George Washington Carver

We need to have space in our finances to accommodate for a rainy day, we need to have a similar space in our lives in several other areas too.  I like to call that having “margin”.  We need some margin to expect the unexpected. 

I suspect that I’m not alone in rarely getting to the end of the week to reflect, “I totally forgot to eat this week”.  Somehow we don’t have trouble finding time to fit in some eating quite regularly, and several times every day.  That’s called a priority.  Eating often only becomes a priority when we are feeling hungry though.  just after a meal it’s really low down on the priority list.  Somehow we don’t seem to have a problem making room for eating when we’re hungry. 

There is wisdom in using this model of a rainy day fund, of having margin, in our calendar as well as in our wallet. There will, of course, be priorities that need to be accommodated, like finding time to eat, but there is wisdom in making space for unexpected urgent events to have space too, without having to compromise on our priorities. 

“There are 24 hours in every day, and that’s just enough.”

The only way to be able to have space for the unexpected is to expect the unexpected and plan some margin into the weekly schedule.  The alternative is to sacrifice something that is actually quite important but is just not quite so urgent just at the moment.  That’s when we hit the time overdraft, and we pay the price in overdraft and interest payments.  Just as with the financial overdraft, we can cope occasionally with an overdraft, but all too easily it can become a regular feature of the week, and then some priorities will get sacrificed regularly along the way. 

To live an effective and productive life we need to be intentional about building some margin into several areas of our lives, and our finances and our time are two key areas.  We need to have space between our limits and the load we are carrying.

“Margin is the space that exists between our load and our limits … Margin is the opposite of overload.”
~ Richard Swenson

Next time someone asks to make a withdrawal on your time, make sure to consider if you are living with too much month left at the end of the money, or if you are riding your motorbike over a patch of black ice, and any sudden change of direction or speed would cause you to come crashing down.

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.