Lifestyle inflation is like an insidious bug, eating away at the edges of your budget, chirrupping “you can afford it!” Before you know it the bug scuttles away, clutching your nest egg and laughing as maniacally as a bug can laugh.
Seriously though, humans are crazy quick to adapt. Give us more money, we find ways to spend it. Give us more space, we find ways to fill it with more stuff. As we pump money in, our lifesyles grow more luxurious until we look back and scoff at our pauper pasts.
It is so small at first, barely discernable. Your first paycheck comes in, and you splurge on a nice dinner out. You start going out for lunch more with your coworkers because it’s easy and delicious and possibly mildly awkward to bring your own. You move to a nicer part of town. You have more space now, so trade up your ikea table (that always seems to be accumulating dust no matter what you do) to a snazzy maple centerpiece for your living room. You upgrade your wardrobe because baby it’s time to climb that corporate ladder. When the car breaks down, you decide it’s time for an upgrade, preferably a newer model since it will have less maintenance issues, plus it’s got all these safety features now.
The little things add up, and suddenly you realize your spending has kept up with your earning, which means that there’s little left over for your future.
I am amidst the crux of this, to fight lifestyle inflation sometimes feels like fighting a riptide. My friends invite me to a concert, my coworkers go out to eat every day at lunch. My first big foray into lifestyle inflation was buying a car. My second was renting a place in the city, where my rent doubled partly because I was now sharing with one person instead of four.
All of this to a chorus of “you can afford it,” which sings out as an internal message and from the people in the stands around me. Technically, it’s true. One little thing probably isn’t going to affect your savings rate. However, it’s not just one little thing– it quickly turns into many, many little things.
You have to choose your priorities. If your spending is too high, you won’t be able to afford all these things and financial independence. It doesn’t mean living an abject, miserable life. It means being cognizant of the slow inflation, the little luxuries that become patterns until they are no longer luxuries but just a part of daily life. I go to local gigs, I bring my packed lunch with me to socialize, and I just starting riding a bike to work. In fact, these choices have improved my life: I get to see more of the local music scene, I eat healthier, and I’m getting more exercise.
Be intentional about sustainable life upgrades. Tell that bug to take a hike. It can take its maniacal laughter elsewhere, thank you very much.