Living Too Close To The Bone

Living Too Close To The Bone

In the western world, most of us choose to live close to the bone. Note that I stress “choose.”

In my early twenties, I achieved very rapid success in my career, being promoted several times in less than five years. I went from slightly more than minimum wage to a salary that would, in today’s dollars, be roughly $105,000 per year. My wife went from being a typical starving student to a registered nurse, earning (again, in today’s dollars) roughly $75,000. I also started a new business, determined to make my fortune quickly.

From living in a rooming house, I acquired a new home, new truck, new car, new RV and new furniture. Along with all of that, we also acquired new debt. For every raise in pay, we increased our debt load, always making just enough to maintain our lifestyle. When divorce hit, so did the financial crisis. Our incomes, together, were barely sufficient. Now that we had two households, our outflow greatly exceeded our income. In short, we had lived our lives too close to the bone, with no reserve or safety outlet.

This is the way many of us live. We spend what we have, acquire more than we need, and suffer the consequences. There is no doubt that the tremendous stress under which we found ourselves contributed to our failed marriage. There is also no doubt that it was the choice to spend more than we needed to spend that caused most of our stress.

I have a relative that recently purchased a house. Smart move? He also had recently purchased a new truck. He loves to enjoy his weekends, and takes numerous trips. He makes a good wage, and felt that he could afford these indulgences. Six months after purchasing the house, he was forced to sell his truck. He was, like us, living too close to the bone.

There is a simple solution. So simple, in fact, that it seems to be unacceptable for a lot of us. Want less. Need less. Spend less. Save a little. If we, or this relative, had set aside a small reserve fund each month, we would have survived.

The reserve is like your bottle of Aspirin in the medicine cabinet. It doesn’t have to be powerfully effective, or large. It needs to relieve some of the pressure.

Oddly, just knowing that you are not cutting your finances too closely alleviates almost all concerns.

Again, when I was in my twenties, I had begun experiencing tremendous chest pains, across the entire width of my chest. I was convinced that I was responding to stress. Nonetheless, I consulted my doctor, who prescribed nitro pills, to be held under the tongue if another attack occurred. This is the same medication used for heart patients, and I was only twenty-eight!

I purchased the pills. However, just having the pills available seemed to do the trick, and I never again had a chest pain. Stress remained, though, and within three months, I was enduring overwhelming backaches and headaches. Once my wife and I divorced and we resolved our debt situation, the headaches disappeared. Stress? Probably.

I recommended that you keep a small financial reserve to relieve stress. But, more importantly and more universally, keep a reserve of “want.” Don’t indulge every desire, and don’t convert “wants” to “needs” in order to justify acquisition. Living too close to the bone will keep stress gnawing at you, until you are able to recognize that the pile of stuff or the pile of money mean little if you are sitting in the hospital, recovering from a health issue brought on by stress.