Thursday, September 20, 2007


Ever wonder what margins on the paper are made for? Probably not, but I'm just weird, I think about things like that.

Wikipedia is no help, it has three different definitions, one for finance, one for economics and one for typography. None explain why we have margins.

When I was in school (back before Al Gore invented the internet), I was taught that the margin on the paper was in case you had to make corrections. Word processing involved a pencil and eraser and you could insert new sentences in tiny "font" in the margins.

We had this discussion at dinner the other night. My wife thought I was talking about the margins in her life. Actually, I was directing it at my son, but it could apply to other people as well. Please take the time to read this and see if it applies to you.

My son talked about a "margin of error" in math. That makes sense, you know the answer is X within a margin of error. In both the math case and the written paper, the margin allows you some wiggle room in case you've made a mistake.

My point to my son was that we need margins in our life. We need extra time. When I drive to Columbia, I know I can make it in an hour and a half, I allow two hours. I may have to stop for gas, or to get a bisquit. Or I may run into traffic. The margin allows me to still make it to my destination at the appointed time.

For school work (or job work), I allow margins. If something is due Tuesday, I'll work on it to be finished Monday. This way if the phone rings and I get busy, I have a margin to absorb the extra work.

In financial terms, Dave Ramsey calls this an "emergency fund". If the refridgerator breaks (ours did a month ago), you dip into the emergency fund to replace it, then build the fund back up. The emergency fund becomes your margin. A bigger margin is needed for job security, most analysts tell you to keep 3-6 months expenses in savings for such as this. Again, it's a margin.

When we start eating into our margins on a regular basis, problems come up. If we use all of our emergency fund and don't replenish it, next time an emergency happens, we're in trouble. If we have no margin on our homework, we can't handle things outside the norm (late dinner, extra chores, etc). If we have no extra time in our trip to Columbia, and we run into traffic, we will be late.

Margins are necessary in all aspects of our life. Financial, time, or just to give us some reduced stress.


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