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What Does "Living Below Your Means" Look Like?

It's the key to affording the things that are really valuable to you, as opposed to whatever is merely in front of you.

Finance

Gather 'round, ladies, we have some good stuff to discuss today...

Finances.

OK, so if 2020 has taught us nothing else, hopefully by now we all understand that we never know what may be headed our way. We have experienced major loss, onset forms of trauma, a sense of uprising, and a new normal, all without not even really knowing if we even celebrated Easter. This year has been ten long years wrapped in one, and we have a few more months (years) before we close it out.

Understandably, our finances are, and should, be something we're pulling the strings on just a liiiittle bit tighter. And simply living below our means, is not only something we should also be doing, it's probably the best precaution for the time being.

It simply means you don't want to be controlled by you money and drowning in any unmanageable debt, especially during uncertain times. That's it.

But wait, isn't that most of us?

Listen, I never want to be the bearer of bad news, but yes. Yes, it is. I'm not saying we cannot have a little fun, but if we are, let's make sure we are having a little fun-ds while we're at it, right?

But what does this look like?

Well, first things first, we need to define what living below your means, means for you. Listen, Beyonce living below her means, and me living below mine, are two completely, completely, completely different things. So, accessing our own situations is key in getting this right.

Put simply, living below your means is nothing more than not outspending what you earn. In essence, that is really all there is to it. It does not mean that you never spend money on things you enjoy or have a good time. It also does not mean that you have to live as if you were poor or act miserly when it comes to your money, so ladies, yes, you can get those bottomless mimosas on Sunday.

Dispelling myths like this is important, because many people believe that living below their means will make them miserable. But you certainly do not have to be unhappy.

So let's start here:

Spend. Less. Than. You. Earn.

Whew, yall. When you're poor like we are, it is in our nature to want to indulge in things that we can't always have.

But think of all the things you have ever wanted but never been able to afford: that next vacation, a new gift for someone around the holidays, a new car, or even a dream home you have been eying up for a while. None of these things are possible without money and usually large sums of it.

Living below your means is the key to affording the things that are really valuable to you, as opposed to whatever is merely in front of you. Take a moment to think about all the things you could one day afford if you began spending your money more wisely today.

Understand Your Monthly Income

Ladies, we have to have an in-depth understanding of your monthly income. Try to find an average of what you make on a monthly basis and use that as a starting point. Staying as far below this as comfortably possible is the ideal, since that will maximize your ultimate goal. Seek a financial coach/mentor, or maybe someone who is good with managing finances, to assist, if you aren't sure where to begin.

Use a Personal Finance App

There are a lot of apps and tools out there which will help you track your monthly spending and will help you to create a budget. Here's a list to get you started.

Control Spending Habits

Once you know roughly how much you make each month, you will need to take control of your spending habits by examining them closely.

  • Where and when do you spend the most money each month?
  • How much of it is truly necessary?
  • What can you comfortably cut from your spending?

These are important questions, and the answers are definitely even more important. Look through your bank statements over previous months and see where your money has gone...and then adjust.

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Keep Track Of Petty Purchases

You may find that you have spent a lot of money in small sums over a period of time without even realizing it. A $5 coffee every day for a month will cost you $150. On coffee.

Stop. That. Tuh-day.

Opt for making coffee at home before the day starts, or being the resident office brewer your damn self.

Eliminate. Eliminate. Eliminate.

After you have gained an understanding of your monthly income and examined how you have spent it in the past, your next step will be seeing what expenses you can realistically eliminate, and you are quite likely to find that there are many things you can cut out of your budget partially or even entirely.

Anything that is totally unnecessary or might be categorized as an inessential luxury is what you should focus on removing. If you have a perfectly good stove but find yourself consistently ordering take-out week-to-week, then there is no reason to keep eating out. You don't need to.

Cut.

Gym membership? Opt for working out at home or finding a fitness routine that allows you to enjoy the outdoors.

It may be painful, but avoiding unnecessary expenses is the best way to make our goals possible.

Then, from there, make sure that you are not spending more money on essential items than is actually necessary.

  • Can you buy less expensive brands?
  • Do you need that much cell phone data each month?

Leave no part of your budget unexamined. Even if you only save a small amount on each item every month, those totals will add up quickly. And when savings add up, that's always a good thing.

And if you're going to spend, make sure you're always getting something in return.

I will never forget how mind blown I was when my sister said to me, "If you're going to spend the money, make sure you get something from it."

It wasn't that she said anything particularly revolutionary, it's just that when I was in my 20's, I never thought of it that way. We, as consumers, don't often realize that there are thousands of opportunities to make the dollars that you spend work for you, and truth is, we're going to have to spend money eventually—it's not practical to not think so. So, if you're going to spend, make sure you get a cashback reward or accumulate points in some way. Yeah it sucks that your washer no longer works, but if you have to work one in the budget, make sure you get a return on buying a new one.

Now, I personally don't like to purchase anything if I'm not compensated; these companies have to work for my swipe. Make them work for yours too. Gas, groceries, major appliances. There's a card or program out there that will help you get closer to your financial goals, and maybe reward you with a free flight too.

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With discipline and organization, there are many ways to make living below your means a possibility without sacrificing the things that make you happy.

Be patient with yourself as you go, and adapt habits that work best for you. Don't get discouraged by the initial troubles, as time goes on and you practice the basics, you will find it becomes easier, especially once you begin to see the rewards of your newfound frugality.

Happy saving!

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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