Lifestyle Creep is an increase in spending as income rises. I’ve watched many of my friends and family fall into this trap. One of my best friend’s new jobs came with a significant salary increase – and within a month a new Mustang was in the garage. Last year I stopped in Chicago for a night, and visited my Uncle in his new home he’d purchased at the very top of his budget. As he walked me through his beautiful house I thought about how precariously balanced his finances must be, as he’d lamented about not being able to afford his father’s funeral bills (but had only an hour earlier talked about his new Jeep which he’d leased for the same $600 / month as his previous jeep.)
I have never fallen too much into the lifestyle creep. I think partly what happened was, at the beginning of my post-college life I was so indebted that the only drive I had was to pay off debt as rapidly as I could. I grew accustomed to a certain style of living which enabled me to significantly overpay these loans. And when the debt finally went away, it had been so long for me living a frugal lifestyle that I didn’t feel deprived not spending that monthly debt-allocation on other things.
(Perhaps this is a weird personality trait of mine – for example when I purchased a new car with functioning AC after four years driving one with broken AC, I would always forget that AC was even an option, even while sweating under the sun on a sweltering day.)
Over time, however, as I’ve begun building wealth and as age + career advancement gradually leaves me with less and less energy, there have been things I’ve given into spending more money on.
1. New Car. Yes, I purchased a brand-new car in 2015, rather than going for a used one. Many financial experts say this is a horrible idea, because you pay for the most depreciation and blah blah blah. Folks like Dave Ramsey will tell you to buy a $3,000 beater to save money. And I’ll say this:
I bought someone else’s beater and drove it for years, and it rusted apart and I spent hours of my own time in DIY Lifts learning how to saw parts off with a pneumatic saw and trying to keep it running long enough for me to move out of a shit neighborhood where nice cars were stolen. I replaced the timing belt, the water pump, the brake master cylinder, the rusted brake lines, the transmission (twice), etc. Even to this day, if I smell burning on the highway my heart skips as I frantically wonder, “Oh god is that my engine? Is my car on fire again?!?”
For the rest of my life, any old cars I own have will have aged with me. And when the car’s aged condition begins to give me anxiety, I’ll sell it and let it become someone else’s anxiety.
2. Outsource House Cleaning. I debated on this one for a long time – for over a year, really. But a couple things convinced me to trial it out and so far there have been no regrets.
The first one was my sister telling me how much less stress she has now after hiring someone to do their floor and bathrooms. She has two small kids, a big dog, a orange fur-shedding cat, and a backyard like a mud pit. She also is the Director of Digital Transformation and Business Strategy at a marketing agency, and really just doesn’t want to spend her precious free time scrubbing the toilets when she could be spending it with her kids. I totally get it.
I guess I felt like I had no excuse since I don’t have kids. But the second reason which convinced me was the fact that my pets really just generate too much fur all over the place. Two orange cats and a golden retriever == fur tumbleweeds wafting about as I walk through my home. It’s just gross. I don’t want to deal with it anymore. (I don’t want to deal with pets anymore, but I committed and we’ve got about a decade more to go.) Until then, someone (not me) is going to sweep and vacuum that up.
3. Wine. At this point in my life, I can afford it. And after a stressful day I just want to come home, sit down, play some tunes and sip a Beaujolais with dinner.
In high school we did an exercise in which our assignment was to do one thing we enjoyed every day for week. It was an eye-opening exercise, and, being stuck in the rat race, often times there isn’t anything enjoyable in our Monday – Friday. Especially in the winter.
In the summer I look forward to riding bikes in the mountains and gardening. In the winter it’s wine, video games, wine, cooking new recipes and drinking wine while cooking new recipes and playing video games.
I do have rules governing my wine consumption.
1. I only buy wine when a certain monthly savings quota is met, and this savings quota can only be met when I either pack a lunch every day or eat the free hot pockets at work.
2. I don’t drink every evening. I don’t drink on really bad days.
3. I keep the price per bottle no more than $18 – $22 dollars. This weeds out certain wines (for example, I don’t enjoy $20 dollar Pinot Noirs, but can really enjoy a $20 Bordeaux.) Pricier bottles are saved for special occasions.
The first two points (New Car, Outsourcing House Cleaning) reduced my anxiety, increased the daily energy allocation for my personal use, and increased my free time, because I wasn’t spending my precious weekends working on the car or scrubbing the floors. The third point (Wine) is for pure enjoyment.
I don’t regret spending extra money on these things, because the quality of life improvements have been too great to ignore.