I majored both in Banking and Finance from the University of Nebraska. (I don’t talk much about it as my career took a different route shortly after graduation.)
And yet, despite having a college degree in money, I lived most of my life with financial discontent, always surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, despite several pay increases early in my marriage.
When more money came in, more money went out. My credit card statement seemed to often be simply a mirror of my paycheck.
As the cycle continued year after year, I found less opportunity to blame my financial stress on an entry-level income. Sure, money is tight when you’re just starting out. But at some point, the reality of my financial pinch had to be blamed on me—not employers, not rising housing costs, not previous generations, not failed political leadership.
I was solely responsible for my financial well-being. And clearly, my existing habits were not working. If I was ever to get ahead, something would need to change.
There are, of course, only two possible remedies for an unsustainable financial situation: 1) Either you make more money or 2) You spend less.
Most of us automatically assume the former is the key to improvement. If we could make more money, we’d get ahead financially. And while there is some truth hidden in that statement, I stand as proof that’s not always the case. Maybe you do too.
I would like to submit that the latter option is most often the easier to implement and longer-lasting in positive effect.
Spend less is the most important piece of financial advice you’ll ever receive.
Every financial advisor I have ever met begins with that advice as the foundation for freedom. It was the same thing my parents told me, and almost every person I looked up to in the financial world.
The most essential foundation for financial freedom is to spend less than you earn.
If you cut back on your spending, you’ll be able to pay off your debt, build an emergency fund, start saving for retirement, or find more space for generosity.
Why then is this step so hard to implement?
In a country where 76% of us live paycheck-to-paycheck and the average American between the ages of 18 and 65 has $4,717 of credit card debt, the message of “spend less” is clearly having a difficult time gaining traction.
One reason I believe spending less is such a difficult step for many to take is because the solution sounds unattractive to so many. Buying less sounds a lot like taking a step backwards in life. In a world where success is often defined in material acquisition, spending less sounds boring, unfashionable, and destined for ridicule.
And that’s what I used to think too—until I actually tried it.
Nine years ago, I made the intentional decision to own less and buy less. It has turned out to be among the best decisions I have ever made in my life. As a result of paring down most of my possessions and determining to only buy things that are actually needed (rather than everything I ever wanted), I have found my life improving in very significant ways.
Now that I own less and spend less, I have more time, energy, and money available to me than ever before. Because I own fewer things that need to be cared for, I spend less time cleaning, organizing, and managing. I have more opportunity than ever before to pursue my greatest passions in life—however I decide to define them.
Rather than running up a credit card bill by chasing every new product or fashion line sold at the department store, I am able to invest in the things that make my life worthwhile and significant.
In this simple decision to buy and spend less, financial discontent in my life has been resolved.
Spending less provides the foundation for financial freedom. It can also provide a pathway for a career change or escape from the unrelenting desire to earn more. Financial relief can even improve our marriages and our sleep.
There’s a reason ten out of ten financial advisors recommend it.
Of course, simply spending less may not be the solution to every financial problem that we encounter. But it is the solution to most.
If you are experiencing financial related stress, spending less is probably the most practical solution to resolve it. And the road to relief may in fact be more appealing than you think.