What's Your Preservation to Expenditure Ratio?

What’s Your Preservation to Expenditure Ratio?

After talking about the interpretations of the common acronym YOLO on a podcast, I realised that all personal growth is about the Preservation to Expenditure ratio of life, and the Hero’s Journey.

No time? Listen to it instead

We recently published another episode of Let’s Ask My Friends. It’s a podcast where a couple of friends and I discuss life, one question at a time. The recent episode is titled What’s YOLO for You?

In the episode, we touched upon what the famous phrase meant to each one of us. This prompt came out of the idea that “you only live once” has different meanings if you speak it in different tones.

While that is true for most sentences, it’s an important distinction for this one.

Of YOLO and How We Say It

If you say it softly, you realise the great depth of life and how you only have this one life to do what you want. It kicks off this idea of preservation in the words of my fellow podcaster, Chiranjeev.

If you say it with enthusiasm, though, you get energised, spontaneous. The latter is the general perception of the phrase. While talking and thinking about the episode, I came to yet another conclusion though.

At any point in our life, there’s a ratio of preservation to expenditure of life. However, we can’t live by a fixed ratio.

I want to go as far as to hypothesise that the journey of growth is about experiencing the shift in your Preservation to Expenditure ratio.

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey comes to mind as well. Before moving down that road, let’s take a quick refresher on it. The Hero’s Journey is an observed structure in storytelling which roughly involves anywhere between ten to seventeen steps.

The Hero's Journey - Nudge › How

The hero starts from the Ordinary World, which is their original setting, the known world. Then, they move to the Special World, where they go through significant changes. Then, they come back to the Ordinary World as a new person.

The steps can be found on Wikipedia along with the history of the concept, its usage and acceptance.

It is important to note that the Hero’s Journey goes beyond the idea of fiction and narratives. Instead, it can even be a journey to personal growth and development.

That is what I want to touch upon in this article.

How It Comes Together

In my opinion, there are specific stages in the Hero’s Journey, which have a point of inflexion. These are the phases of transition. Here the hero must decide on something that goes beyond their normal at that point of time. I’ll only go through the crucial stages of change.

Preservation to Expenditure as High-Preservation / Low-Expenditure - Nudge › How
Here’s how the journey ideally looks like when you start from low-Expenditure / high-Preservation

1. Departure

The first of these is the Departure or Call to Adventure. This stage is when we consider that a hero is fine with where they are, i.e. the Ordinary World.

Preservation to Expenditure - Departure - Nudge › How

This initial reluctance is all about preservation. Since the hero only lives once, they want to be in an environment where they don’t have to face much spontaneity, where they want to remain safe.

2. Initiation

The abyss or the innermost cave goes by many names, but the idea is simple. This stage arrives when the hero is used to the Expenditure side of things.

They’ve been through the trials, and they’ve slain monsters, metaphorical or otherwise. They have even defeated the beast or conquered the final challenge.

Preservation to Expenditure - Initiation - Nudge › How

The adventure, the purpose, everything makes sense. The hero starts to see more and more of what they were not and could become. They become it.

This stage is where the balance shifts from part-Preservation to full-Expenditure.

Now, the hero is spontaneous and often reckless. They are now full of themselves and too sure in their abilities.

3. Return

Then comes the last cusp: the road back. Right after the hero has completed their trials and challenges, one unexpected challenge arrives. This stage is when they feel the same level of discomfort that they felt when they faced the Call to Adventure.

Now their Preservation to Expenditure ratio demands changing again. The hero must understand that they must go back to where they started from with all the new freedom, spontaneity and experience.

Preservation to Expenditure - Return - Nudge › How

However, it is yet again to tip the balance towards Preservation. Eventually, the hero does it, and they return precisely to where they started from but as a new person.

A person who can now quickly move around the spectrum of Preservation and Expenditure as the situation demands—a more mature, nimbler person returns from the journey.

Preservation to Expenditure - Post-Return - Nudge › How

One Crucial Difference

Of course, it stands to reason that the Hero’s Journey fits well with heroes who are more preservation-centric when they begin.

At least, that’s the first thought. However, there’s a bias.

The journey is not always about adventure and becoming more spontaneous. It’s only that we associate journeys with adventure because that’s true in the media we consume.

Rather, journeys are about going from the Ordinary World to the Special World, and back. The challenges for a person who starts towards a high-Expenditure side will be different from those that a person with high-Preservation faces.

Preservation to Expenditure as Low-Preservation / High-Expenditure - Nudge › How
So, the diagram above will change to this for a person who starts from high-Expenditure.

Master The Transition

The idea then becomes this: to go all the way to the other side, and then to come back with the understanding of not being stuck to your end is what constitutes real growth.

I believe once someone masters to change this ratio of Preservation to Expenditure at will, they will feel a sort of unprecedented freedom and confidence.

The Preservation to Expenditure ratio is a tool. It becomes a warning when you want it to. It becomes fuel when the situation demands it. Mastering which to use when is up to us, and it takes us our own journeys to do just that.

The Nudge

The Preservation to Expenditure ratio is an idea to think about each person’s propensity to be safe or to be adventurous when facing a new situation. All of us start on one side influenced by our innate natures and upbringing. Then, we must go through a journey, not unlike the Hero’s Journey. The journey is about going to the other side first and to becoming a whole new person. Then, to come back to where we started from, armed with the comfort of shifting to the other side at will. When in doubt, ask yourself, what’s my Preservation to Expenditure ratio right now, and which side will help me more today?

Original Featured Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash.


  • Wikipedia has a detailed page on the Hero’s Journey, its stages, variants and history.
  • Scott Jeffrey breaks down the Hero’s Journey and its significance in personal growth exceptionally well in this post.
  • The Hero’s Journey book by Joseph Campbell is a good place to start if you want to dive into the idea.
  • The What’s YOLO for You? episode on the Let’s Ask My Friends podcast.

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