The Secret to Growing Margin

tray 1To be good at life is to have good relationships.  What is life if not our connection to the people we get to know and love?

But, in order to live a life of generosity and connection, we must first take an honest look at ourselves.  We must also understand, in very practical terms, what it takes to have something left at the end of the day to share with others.

We believe the key to unlocking this God given potential is margin.

In his book, Margin, author Richard Swenson says, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits and is related to our reserves and resilience.  It is a buffer, a leeway, a gap;  the place we go to heal, to relate, to reflect, to recharge our batteries, to focus on the things that matter most.”

Many of us struggle with having too little margin in our lives.  We feel it.  We live it.  It is painful.  Too little time, energy, and money, to properly care for others.  But feeling it and understanding why we continue to experience it, are too very different things.

We believe many of us lack margin primarily because we have too little financial margin.

Forgive the simple analogy which follows, but it might help to visualize how decisions are often made and the consequences that follow.

For a moment, imagine a garden in the desert.

Margin’s Garden

Margin’s Garden is made up of three plots. Each plot represents a monthly to-do list.  We shall call them our to-do plots.  The plots are arranged in order of priority.

The First Plot is the MUST to-do’s plot.  These to-do’s must be completed by a given date each month without fail.  These to-do’s include paying the mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc.  This plot is full.

The Second Plot is the NEED to-do’s plot.  These to-do’s are important, but do not have a specific performance date.  These to-do’s include items such as fixing the lawn mower, replacing the roof, updating our skills, etc.  This plot is half full.

The Third Plot is the WANT to-do’s plot. These to-do’s are the things we want to do some day when we have more money, more time, more energy, and more emotional reserves.  These to-do’s include spending time with family, improving our fitness, engaging in philanthropic activities,  etc.  This plot has one or two flowers trying to bloom which are surrounded by a bunch of dead weeds.


Stationed a little way out in the desert is an income well.  Our garden requires income water to live.  To water our garden, we go to the well once per month, drop the bucket in, fill it up and haul it over to our garden.  Such hauling requires most of our energy.


The problem is that one full bucket only has enough water for a plot the size of the first plot.  How can we sustain all three plots?

As the MUST to-do’s plot requires the entire income bucket, we are frustrated because we have no water left for plot #2, much less plot #3, without taking water from the MUST to-do’s plot.

So we work longer and harder.  We now carry a bigger and heavier bucket which holds more water so we can water the other plots.  But once we have a larger income bucket, we feel obliged to plant more expensive and water intensive crops  in the first plot. The extra water we had hoped to apply to plots #2 and #3 is much reduced.  What are we to do?


While it may seem simple,  most of us struggle with the solution – to reduce the water requirements of the first plot which holds our MUST to-do’s.  Yet, if we refuse to do so, we will never have enough water to properly care for the other plots.

The garden represents the tension between our resources and our expenditures. Creating financial margin involves taking action to create a buffer between the two. According to Swenson, there are three ways to increase financial margin.

We can:

1)  Decrease Spending

2)  Increase Income

3)  Increase Savings

Unfortunately, the second two measures, Increasing Income and Increasing Savings, are generally ineffective over the long run because increasing  available resources often prompts a corresponding increase in spending.  It fails to get to the heart of the matter.  While increasing savings is a good thing, it is much like filling up a back-up bucket.  Without addressing the underlying water requirements of the various plots, our savings will most likely get used up at some point as an emergency water infusion for the plots.

Here at Simple Life Reboot we believe the things in life which bring joy do not come with price tags. We must learn to live below our means, so we can be in a position to share more of our time, energy, and resources, with those whom we care about.

Grow margin – and watch your entire garden bloom!



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