As a child I always loved stories. I read fables, fairytales, biographies, bible stories, adventure, history, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and anything else I could get my hands on. The stories that stuck with me the longest were the ones that taught a lesson I could live in my life, though many of those lessons weren’t recognized until I was much, much older (a good reason to read good books to your children and grandchildren!).
One such story came from the bible. It was about Joseph who interpreted the king’s dream. The king dreamt that seven thin cows came out of the river and ate the seven fat ones that were beside the river. Joseph told him it would mean that there would be seven years of good harvest and seven years of famine. Joseph was given rule over Egypt and during the seven years of good harvest he stored up a lot of grain. When the seven years of famine came he was ready and instead of suffering the people could live comfortably.
When we were first married and were trying to make a limited amount of money cover a maximum number of wants I began to notice a pattern. We’d buy what we wanted, stretch as much as we could, sacrifice when we couldn’t; and when a windfall such as a tax refund would come in we would spend every bit of it and usually more. Then when life happened and the old washing machine gave up the ghost or the car needed a transmission we would scramble, panic, and cry; “Why does this always happen to us!”
In my years as a sales manager I saw this even more vividly. Someone would pull out all stops to win a prize, work around the clock and have the greatest sales year ever. Instead of seeing it as a high point they would spend every penny they earned, raise their standard of living and set up enough debt so they needed that amount of money or more for the following year. After all, they did it once; surely they could do it again! Because the pace was impossible long term, they would begin to earn less, panic, then earn even less (panicky sales people don’t sell much) until they drove themselves out of business or into bankruptcy.
Aren’t most of us like the sale people I knew? We use every last bit of money, time, energy, space, good will we can get our hands on, sure that tomorrow there will be even more – so in our minds we spend that too. Then we collapse, get sick or burn out as the reality of life grips us and not only is there not what we had yesterday but even less. “Why do these things always happen to us?” we moan.
We would think a farmer who sold all his produce and didn’t save any seed foolish. Doesn’t he know he’ll need something for tomorrow? Yet we think nothing of pushing ourselves to the wire abusing our body and soul, piling on more than is humanly possible, using our last ounce of energy and believing that tomorrow there will be more, we will do more, achieve more.
As I watched my own life and the lives of others, little by little I began to realize that if we didn’t spend all of the windfall or what we had today on goodies but paid down our debt a bit, did some needed maintenance, the times that followed didn’t seem as rough. I think it was Suze Orman who finally gave me the formula of the one third rule: one third for the past (debt), one third for the future (savings or preventive maintenance), and one third for the present (fun!). Reminding me of saving from the good harvest for the famine.
Later I realized that this worked with other areas of my life as well. Planning one third of my time for priorities, one third for maintenance and one third for growth and renewal instead of all of my business time for priorities was an incredibly profitable practice.
Giving a third of my home time to what needed to be done, a third to what I wanted to do, and a third to preparing for the future made life run a lot smoother. Not spending all my off time vegging or cleaning. Clearing a drawer here and a file there when I had a few minutes rather than waiting for big chunks of time to do it all. Under promising so I could over deliver and still save some of my harvest of energy. Doing what needed to be done but not spending all I had on any one project or at any one time left me with enough for those times I had less. So unlike what we usually do, which is using all we have today and then have nothing left for tomorrow and wondering why the joy went out of what we do.
One third of our living space for what we need, one third for what we want, one third open to possibilities. What a concept!
When we clear the past, enjoy the present and save some for the future, when we keep things in good repair so they’ll work tomorrow as well as today, we are good stewards of what we have and life feeds us less surprises. When we accept how life works, know that there will be lean and fat times in our lives, live in harmony with that realization, we don’t need to be victims of circumstances but can be prepared for some of the inevitable ups and downs of life. Life gives us the opportunity to create our own abundance. Whether or not we accept it is up to us.