This post is from staff writer Kristin Wong.
When I think of lifestyle inflation, I think of going to my favorite sushi restaurant every weekend. I think of buying the pricey cashmere sweater I’ve been eyeing and then buying ten more expensive sweaters. I think of spending weekends on yachts and drinking champagne while a guy on a violin serenades me. Well, scratch that last one, because I get seasick, but yeah. I think of lifestyle inflation as being along those fancy lines.
But sometimes it isn’t fancy at all. Sometimes lifestyle inflation is just little things that add up. And sometimes, those little things aren’t even fun or enjoyable.
Here are some boring examples of my own lifestyle inflation.
If getting older isn’t depressing enough, when I turned 30 in April, my health insurance premium increased by $20 a month.
I’m joking about aging being depressing (bring it on), but the price hike was frustrating.
For Los Angeles, Brian and I pay a modest amount in rent, especially considering both our location and our view. So when the landlady told us our rent was increasing by three percent, I was disappointed, but I also knew it was still a good deal overall. Plus, the inflation was expected when our original lease expired.
But this three percent increase still equates to an extra $40 a month, or $20 each. Between this and my health insurance premium, my budget has now increased by $40 a month.
For my freelance work, I need to use a specific video-editing program, and that program costs $20 a month. Sure, I can write it off, but I’m still paying more than my budget has anticipated. And that budget is now at about $60 extra per month.
This expense was my light bulb moment.
Upon paying for it, I groaned, and then I thought, “Well, why else do I work hard for my money if not to be able to shrug off a measly twenty bucks a month?”
I stopped myself, realizing I’d used the same thought process about the health insurance and rent increase.
“Wait. That’s how lifestyle inflation creeps up on you!” I thought. “And it’s not even fun!”
Sure, I’m glad I have health insurance. But I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it. I’m glad to have work that requires using that editing software. I wouldn’t say I use it for fun.
I guess sometimes an inflated lifestyle is simply accepting budget inflation without doing anything about it. And hey, that’s okay! Because it’s inevitable — prices go up, and there’s only so much we can do about that.
Also, lifestyle inflation gets a bad rap, but it’s why lots of us want to get rich in the first place. We want to be comfortable enough to not worry about a little inflation — things like a good insurance plan increasing by ten bucks a month. Lifestyle inflation isn’t just about having fun on yachts, it’s also about not fretting so much over inflation itself.
But I’m not quite there yet. I still have ambitious savings goals; I still have reasons for wanting to maintain my budget. And sure, I may not be able to help some areas of my life from getting more expensive, but I’ve been working on finding ways to maintain my overall budget. That means cutting back in other areas.
I haven’t been living like a pauper. Over the past year, I’ve deliberately given myself the financial elbowroom to enjoy some things, and that’s great. It falls in line with the Get Rich Slowly philosophy. But, for me, it’s time to bring it back a little bit. Simply put, I’m not ready for lifestyle inflation.
Earning more is a necessary part of getting rich slowly; it’s not enough to just save. The formula works best when you earn more and maintain your same lifestyle. But earning more to catch up to a lifestyle that’s already increased feels like doing it backwards.
Just like it’s not enough to save without earning more, I don’t feel like it’s enough to just earn more and not save. Making more money is the obvious way to counteract my lifestyle inflation, but ideally, I’d like to deflate my lifestyle, too.
And there’s another hitch: I don’t have a lot of free time. I’m thankful that I have the option of taking on more work if I want it, but right now, my weekends are more precious, and I’d rather cut back on expenditures than cut back on that free time. So here are a couple of simple ways I’ve cut back to counteract that extra $60 a month.
A couple of times now, I’ve started on a load of laundry only to realize I don’t have enough quarters to put them in the dryer. That means hang drying them on my deck. “What are you, a cavewoman?” a friend teased. But hang drying my laundry doesn’t take much more time and effort, and if I do it every time, it’s cheaper to the tune of about $10 a month. It’s a small amount, but it makes me feel a little bit better about that extra $60.
I’m sure at some point, I’ll go back to the luxurious convenience putting my clothes in the dryer. Probably in the wintertime, when it’s cold and I want a pile of something warm to jump into. And then, yes, my lifestyle will once again inflate by ten dollars a month. But at least that’ll be my own doing.
My main source of entertainment is going out to eat. I don’t know what it is; I just love it. I get more excited about the anticipation of restaurant food than most people do. When the waiter brings my plate, I literally applaud at the table. Yes, I realize dining out isn’t typically frugal, but this is my thing. I don’t go to concerts or the movies much. The large majority of my entertainment budget goes to sushi.
Brian and I typically go out to eat, just the two of us, on Friday nights, and it’s something I look forward to all week long. It celebrates our hard work during the week, and it’s also our date night. But if I want to deflate my lifestyle, this treat is going to have to be tweaked. If I stay home just one Friday night out of the month, I’ll save $30-$40.
Cutting back even just a little bit, I’m able to offset my lifestyle inflation by $50. Thus, my lifestyle has now only inflated by $10 a month. That’s $120 a year — still an increase, but better than $720.
I could probably cut back more, but at some point, it’s about balance. Yes, I want to save up, but I want to enjoy my financial freedom, too. Giving yourself some elbowroom often leads to lifestyle inflation, but I suppose that’s when you have to set a boundary and draw a line. Apparently, mine starts at $60 a month.
“So the point of this article is to air dry your laundry and not eat so much sushi?” Yep, pretty much. But the point is also that little things add up. And that can work just as well in your favor as it can against you.
A premium hike here and rent increase there can fatten your budget quite a bit without you even realizing it. But cutting back, even just a little bit, has the same effect.
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