I learned about “white space” many years ago when I was designing ads for my new financial planning business. Busy ads were not only hard on the eyes, I was also convinced people wouldn’t take the time to read through extensive text. Developing our advertising, we tried to provide enough white space – open, negative space without clutter — to allow the viewer’s eyes to rest.
Incorporating white space in ads also helped draw attention to them on an otherwise busy page. And yes, this was prior to the internet when newspaper and magazine ads were all we had!
Both benefits of advertising “white space” are instructive in our lives as well. Maintaining some empty space in our schedules for rest is certainly important. Likewise, putting “white space” around the important things in our lives helps draw our attention to them.
As I continue to try to make my life simpler, I have focused on increasing white space. Decluttering is a good example. Having space around a few favorite objects on a shelf draws attention to the items, while a crowded shelf is overwhelming, and those meaningful treasures get lost.
My schedule has required the most effort. My level of stress went down significantly when I began to add time buffers around appointments and activities on my calendar. Talk about a “duh” moment. Seems so simple, and yet in the tyranny of the present need to “get it all done,” we often try to cram in extra errands and projects.
When it comes to clearing out space, your financial life is no different. Here are some ways to maintain some needed “white space” with your money.
Have an emergency fund. Unexpected expenses show up. That’s just life. Having a buffer with some liquid funds in it is always wise. Most experts recommend maintaining a fund with three to six months of living expenses. There is a full discussion of emergency funds here.
Don’t borrow to your limit. Just because you qualify for a bigger mortgage doesn’t mean you should borrow that much. Having high credit limits on credit cards or other lines of credit should not be an invitation to borrow wildly. You will experience far less stress if you are not stretched to the max on your lines of credit.
Be conservative when estimating life expectancy. When planning for financial independence or retirement, don’t be too quick to assume an average life expectancy. Take into account your family history of longevity (or not) and recognize that just because all your family members died before age 80 doesn’t mean you will. No one knows exactly how long their life will be. Play it smart by adding some white space to your longevity assumption.
Spread out your borrowing. Try not to have more than one consumer loan at a time. If you have a car loan, for example, work to accelerate paying it off before assuming the responsibility of another loan.
Avoid setting too many financial goals at one time. While this may sound like heresy from a goal-lover like me, it is easy to bite off more than you can chew when it comes to ANY goals, let alone money goals. A better plan is to prioritize your goals and pick no more than two or three to focus on at any one time. Even better? Focus on one at a time.
While there are other ways to add white space to your financial life, these suggestions will get you started. The key is always to introduce mindfulness when you are making money decisions. Pause and take a step back. Keep your eye on the prize – what’s most important. And don’t forget to leave some buffer.
How do you incorporate white space in your life? Do you find that you also leave room for it in your financial life? Share your ideas below.
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