Think 'me first' for a successful life

Friday, December 14, 2007 | 4:00 p.m. CST; updated 12:43 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

It is important to reserve 10 percent of your life for you, first. That’s right — first, not last. It is important to demand the same from our relationships, too. If we don’t live by this rule, we will be broke and unhappy in our relationships. Let’s look at the power of the 10 percent rule in terms of money. It is usually possible to save 10 percent of our income. In all but a very few cases, we frivolously blow at least that amount of money. Most people can’t even account for about 10 percent of their monthly income and expenditures. Even those with the lowest incomes will nearly always fail to account for the 10 percent. That 10 percent may be a total of the money we spend on cigarettes, plus the change we ignore or misplace, plus the soda cans we toss, plus the coffee drinks we purchase.

Over the ages, many people and societies have noticed the power of this 10 percent. It is no coincidence that churches ask their congregations to tithe 10 percent or that proponents of income tax reform suggest 10 percent as a flat tax. Many financially successful individuals have made their fortunes by using the power of the 10 percent — some without even knowing it.

Try saving 10 percent of your income every month in a savings account or even a piggy bank. Then allow yourself to draw out only 10 percent of the account at any one time. In a short time, you will have a month’s income in the account. Eventually, you can begin drawing out what you put in every month, get that 10 percent back and still maintain your nest egg. As the years pass, if you were to increase the amount by 10 percent each year, you would soon be able to draw out an amount close to your monthly income. If you reserved less than the 10 percent for yourself, the gains would not be nearly as quick or motivating, and if you reserved more, the cost would soon begin to outweigh the benefit.

Another way to demonstrate this idea is to ask yourself how you feel with $20 in your pocket, just knowing that it is there. When we have enough to give, that is when “our cup runneth over.” We generally give for the personal enjoyment of the act itself and we don’t expect anything in return because we don’t want for anything. However, we often give to others when we don’t really have it to give. When we’re running on empty, we may continue to give. In many cases this giving is not honest giving. The gifts we give when we are on empty may have some sort of demand or expectation attached, such as grace or repayment by karma, God, a friend or the lottery. A gift with a veiled expectation pollutes the honest nobility of giving. Only when we give honestly, without any veiled expectation is our own gift rewarded. That is why it is important to meet our needs first. Our giving must be backed by respect for ourselves. We must meet our needs first so that we can give honestly. Reserving 10 percent for ourselves will help us achieve the fruits of honest giving: “The Tithe.”

We can apply this principle to our ideas about relationships with friends, family and co-workers. We need to meet our own needs and nurture ourselves first. It is helpful to ask ourselves, “What is my 10 percent in this situation? Why am I doing it? What need of mine is being met?” This posture may sound selfish, but it is not. We cannot give honestly in our relationships unless we ourselves are full. Asking these questions and using this principle is a means to make sure we have the resources to do what we want and need to do. Almost universally, people give more if they have more. So being selfish isn’t universally a bad thing.

The Tithe has to be honest giving.

Dwayne Stone of Columbia holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from U.C. Irvine and a master’s in social science from Southern Oregon State College. He has worked in the mental health field for more than 18 years in both public and private agencies and private practice as a counselor and life coach. He has developed a parenting program aimed at non-custodial parents and published three self-help books. His columns appear periodically here on

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