As a child I never understood why my teacher would make me take a ruler and red pen and draw a Margin down the left hand side of my page before I would start work. She tried to explain to me that it was to ensure there was space so that she, or I, could make comments, corrections etcetera. However, as a 6 year old I didn’t appreciate the concept she was trying to teach me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t use all of the page, or why I should let that space be wasted or remain unused. It wasn’t apparent to me how empty space could be valuable or appreciate that I would have a need for extra space as I would get it right the first time (ok I was a confident kid).
A lot has changed since that time and now I understand that it is Margins in our life that create the capacity to stretch us further than maybe we originally envisaged. It’s margins that give us some room for mistakes and do-overs and lifts the weight of having to be perfect first time.
Nowadays my margins are not just on a piece of paper, but are found in my money and time.
I have also discovered that margins in my time and money empower me to help others as I haven’t used 100% of what I have.
If I surveyed 100 average people and asked them the question: “If you could help someone who had a need, would you?” The predominant answer would be “yes” and even more so if the question was about helping someone they knew or cared about. If I then followed that question up with “What stops you?” I am quite certain I would receive a lot of responses along the line of “I am not in a position to help”.
So how then can we position ourselves so that we are able to do this? How can we come along side and champion, support and help those around us: our partners, our kids, our friends, our community and even those we have never meet?
There is a famous piece of research by J.M. Darley and C.D Batson that is based around the parable of the Good Samaritan (found in Luke 10).
In their study Darley & Batson asked Theological Seminary Students to prepare and deliver that day a talk. For half of the students they were given the story of the Good Samaritan, while the other half were asked to talk on what it means to be a minister. After they had worked on their talks for a short while, an assistant would come into the room and ask the student to go to a building across the campus to present their talk. For some students, the assistant would say, “It’ll be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head on over.” Other times, the assistant would say, “The assistant is ready for you, so please go right over”. For still other students, the assistant would say, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago.”
Along the way to the second venue the researchers had staged “an incident” – a man, sitting slumped in a doorway, head down, who moaned and coughed as the students walked by.
The researchers found that of those in the low hurry situation 63 % stopped and helped the man, 45% for medium hurry and only 10% for high hurry. They also found that the task variable (whether they were speaking on the Good Samaritan) had no impact on how likely the participant was to help. Some of the participants literally stepped over the spluttering victim on their way to the next building to deliver their talk on the Good Samaritan!
The study was clear – the participants who had margin in time stopped and helped, whereas those who did not have margin were much less likely to help.
The same is true of our finances. The reality is we cannot give, what we do not have.
Often, however, we have so much more than we realise and it can be more about changing our perspective than changing our position (financial or otherwise). If we adopt the approach “I will be generous when…..” or “I will start saving when….”, or “I’ll spend more time when….”, its never going to happen. If however you change your perspective and decide your approach will be that you will on purpose create Margins in your life by better managing your time and finances, you will be positioning yourself to assist those around you when a need arises. Build these habits into your life now. Be faithful with what may be the small you have right now as we read if Luke 16:10 – If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
So how do you create margins? In particular, how do we create margins in our finances?
Firstly, use the same strategy my grade 1 teacher taught me. We take some of what we have been given and we put it aside – we don’t use it all. We do this by creating, and even more importantly, sticking to, a budget, or as we like to call it a Money Plan. In your Money Plan you can set aside some of your money for generosity, and some of your money for reserves or a “Pinch Fund” that you can pinch from if times are tight.
In the early stages of working out your Money Plan you might discover that you do not have enough money to cover your own needs. If this is the case, before you make room for others in your Money Plan you need to ensure you are providing for you and your family’s essentials (things like food, shelter, transport, utilities) and paying down any consumer debt (credit cards, store cards, car loans etc). You would be amazed the number of times we sit down with couples who are overwhelmed with debt and struggling to pay their family’s monthly expenses and we find they are giving money each month to a charity overseas. It is a great thing to help others, but we have first been entrusted with caring for our own family. If you are in a season where you don’t have margin in your finances to cover essentials, find other ways to be generous, such as with your time or with your words. Once you have got on top of your finances and have your Money Plan working and covering your family’s essentials you can than add this giving back in.
“Two drowning people can’t save each other. All they can do is drag each other down.” Carsten Jensen
Start to build margins as a habit. It’s time to take out an imaginary ruler and red pen and create some space. Some space in your thinking, some space in your diary, some space in your finances. You will be amazed when you rule that line and set that space aside – the space that you didn’t think you could afford, that you didn’t think you needed, that you thought you could put to better use – you will find that you can make things fit within the space that’s left , as well as now having margin for something else and someone else. Today, start to create a life with Margins. You will be glad you did as the extra will be there when you (or someone else) needs it.