On White Dollars & Black Days…

When you plant a seed in your garden, it takes weeks before you see a hint of green. You water the soil every day and sometimes question yourself, unsure if there’s a pulse in the dirt.

And then the stem peaks its head and you finally know that your time was worth investing.

When you decide to have a baby, do you expect to be holding the precious little one in your hands by tomorrow afternoon? No. You toil for months in the creation process.

We all understand these two facts to be true. There is no way to rush a plant into growing or a child into being. So why is it that we expect to become wealthy overnight? Why is it that, when we meet someone wealthy, we assume that Lady Luck smiled down on them more than the rest of us?

It’s really quite the paradox.

Every day, at least 3 people complain to me about money, and it’s usually from a pool of the same people that have been complaining to me for a decade. It’s been a very long time since I could tolerate the discussion because it is becoming more and more reminiscent of the boy who cried wolf. These individuals who describe themselves as “unfortunate” and “unlucky” had me convinced for years that they were, in fact, so. I worked full shifts while I studied full time and so I was always the “fortunate” one who reached out for the bill.

One day, as I was reaching for the bill another time, the person I was dining with said: “you know, it’s so hard to save in this economy. I don’t know how you always have money to share. You’re so lucky. I have only been able to save $10,000 this year with my part time job.”

I remember my heart sinking because I had just used my last $40 on our evening. My last $40. I smiled back at her and said: “I don’t always have money to share. I just share what I have because I believe if you have $1, there’s plenty to go around.”

On my way home, I thought to myself: “Young, generous, kind, foolish child. How many of your friends are using you?”

It turned out… it was most of them.

And so I do not tolerate complaints about money anymore.

Save your white dollar for your black day. This does not mean save $10 out of $100 and spend the rest on makeup or gadgets, then complain that you can’t make your phone bill. It doesn’t mean pay your $700 rent and spend $700 more on cigarettes and alcohol, then complain that you could only save $50 a month. You are responsible for your choice between pursuing instant gratification, or watering the plant for your future. Nobody else can or will do it for you.

Finding a balance between what I want for myself and my desire to help others has always been a struggle for me. My instinct is to reach for the bill. My instinct is to buy a gift. My instinct is to give. It has been a long journey for me in figuring out who is worthy. I now think of it like this… if I give a dollar to someone, I am taking it from my own mouth. It isn’t a spare dollar that’s burning a hole in my pocket. So when I do give, I choose wisely and give generously. The rest of the time, I fight against my instinct because I know that luck doesn’t shine down on fools.

Here is my recipe. Of course, this is one of many ways you can use to budget. Pick the recipe that works for your family, and stick to it.

  • Mortgage/ housing taxes: 35% of joint family net income. If you’re renting, you shouldn’t be paying more than 25%.
  • Savings: 18%
  • Emergency fund: 5%
  • Wine & dine (miscellaneous fun): 10%
  • Food & household supplies: 12%
  • Bills & utilities: 10%
  • Reserve fund (to be used as needed for purchases, gifts, charity, etc): 10%

The last piece of this recipe is the key. It gives you the maximum amount of money you can spend on yourself or others. So, say your “reserve fund” is 100 dollars and you need new clothes this month, but you also have a good friend’s birthday. You have to make a balanced choice. The old me would have said “well, you love your friend and she deserves something special, so you can take all your reserve and maybe even borrow a bit of savings to treat her! It’s only once, what can it hurt?”

The new me says: “it can hurt… a lot.” Today, I would probably use 50 of the 100 for my friend to maintain a balance. I don’t believe not bringing a birthday gift at all is wise either… what we put into the world, we get back two-fold, remember? Don’t be a cheapskate, it doesn’t look good on anyone! 😉

Save your white dollar for your black day, and give to those who are truly in need and who are working hard to change their habits and improve their own lives. Nobody can help someone who doesn’t want to help himself.

If you are reading this, you probably do want to help yourself. So, remember, we design our own luck!

M.

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