“Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.” —Warren Buffett
Recently, I pulled into my local gas station. It was evening and there wasn’t much traffic inside or outside the store. In fact, I was the only one filling up.
That was, until another car came speeding around the corner and pulled up to the pump next to me. The engine of the sports car broke the quietness of the evening and was drowned out only by the squeal of his tires and eventually, the volume of the music pouring out his windows.
The driver quickly hopped out of his vehicle wearing a leather jacket and proceeded to fill his tank with premium gasoline.
It was quite a spectacular sight actually. A dark, still evening with no noise around us to speak of. Me, standing next to my white, 2005 Honda Accord. And him, right next to me, taking time to admire his brand new sports car.
We didn’t exchange any words. I don’t even recall him looking in my direction to acknowledge my existence. He was, I think, far too preoccupied with his vehicle.
I know nothing of this fellow or how he came to acquire his fancy new car. And I am passing no judgment on him. This is a story about me—not him.
Because in that moment, a surprising thought entered my head. I remember thinking (for better or worse), “You know, I could drive a car like that if I wanted. I could purchase a fancy new sports car, a leather jacket, even racing gloves if I wanted. But I choose not to.”
And it’s true. There are, I suppose, a few cars on the planet that I could not receive enough credit to acquire. But for the most part, there is nothing stopping me from driving an expensive, flashy sports car around town.
Except for maybe one thing.
The only thing stopping me from driving the same car I encountered at the gas station is I enjoy living within my means.
I like knowing I spend less than I make.
I mean, I could drive a more expensive car. I could buy a bigger house. I could take more lavish vacations or purchase more luxurious furniture. But I find a significant amount of pleasure knowing my expenses do not exceed my income.
Staying out of debt means I am not being hunted down by creditors. It means I am not carrying a financial burden from my past while also trying to provide for the present. It means I have freedom to make choices with my excess income. It means I can save if I want, give if I want, or spend if I want. Because I live within my means, I enjoy a significant level of freedom that others do not.
It allows me to sleep better, carry less stress, and live a more calm, relaxed life.
Our world works hard to convince us to outspend our means and then provides a thousand ways for us to do it—even delivering pre-approved cards of plastic directly to our front doors. And from the outside, a life built on credit may appear the life we desire—with its bright lights, bold colors, and the flashy impressions we are able to make.
But I’ll choose something different for my life. I’ll choose calm and peace and the knowledge that I have chosen responsibly. For there is a wonderful joy to be found in it.
I know there are any number of uncontrollable circumstances that may make this choice impossible for some—tragedy, medical emergencies, or unexpected career downsizing as examples. But for those who still have the choice, I don’t think you’ll ever regret spending less than you make.
Besides, I kinda like my Honda Accord.