When is a lifestyle upgrade OK?
This post is from CYH, who is about to become a graduate student in another country so she's examining her lifestyle carefully. This story is one of our Reader Stories series. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
I've saved. I've paid debt down like the last remaining survivor beating back a zombie at the door of the space shuttle to Mars. But, now that I have some financial freedom, how do I make lifestyle changes without incurring lifestyle inflation? When does it become lifestyle inflation?
The Scrooge in me wants to keep scrimping and saving, but at some point, I just want to live better and have nice things. As such, I'm currently going through the process of semi-upgrading my lifestyle. I can make the choices that I've been wanting to make, mainly choosing quality over disposability. Also, now with an imminent move to a tropical country for graduate school, I'm also finding that many of my clothes will not be climatically appropriate. Instead of getting there and realizing that all my stuff is not going to work, I'm planning ahead and investing some time and money to prepare. Here are some things I've started doing:
- Combed through my possessions multiple times, whittling down the amount of Stuff and donating useable things that I don't need or would not use again several years from now. My mantra has been “BE BRUTAL!” Some things that passed my inspection the first or second time did not make it through the third or fourth time. Really thinking about whether I like something enough or would really need it four years from now (e.g., all those sweaters I've managed to pile up) takes some time and second-guessing, but in the end I know I'll make progress.
- Participated in a local Community Supported Agriculture summer season for somewhat more expensive but better quality vegetables. I got a half-share, and even if they only gave me delicious tomatoes, I would be happy as a clam. However, this experience has also exposed me to some vegetables that I would never have bought for myself.
- Invested in a small closet-full of merino wool(!!) and other moisture-wicking clothing (specifically, underwear, which might not be the first thing you think of, but after spending a few days literally sweating my butt off, this is something I know I will need!).
- I don't eat out very often anyway, but now when I occasionally do, I'll go back to a few favorite spots that may have been out of my budget range a few years ago. Places I won't be returning to aren't worth my time and money if they truly aren't giving me something delicious to fill my belly. Otherwise, I could cook for myself and my friends and have a better meal. Say, instead of spending $20-25 on eating out for lunch a handful of times, I'll go out to dinner with friends.
- These feet I have are the only feet I will ever have (hopefully, though it looks like there are some good options if I need them) and good shoes go a long way to keeping those feet happy.
What I plan for the last few months before I move:
- Go through my wardrobe and closet a few more times to get those last few items to a collection facility where someone who would really use the clothing will have a chance to find it.
- I'm considering finally making the leap to a smartphone with a data plan…or at least a texting package. So far my dumbphone (which is actually an older generation smartphone demoted to dumbphone functionality) has worked well in conjunction with using my iPod Touch on WiFi signals. But tweens seem to have more “grown-up” mobile plans than I do, so it might be time to bump up.
In this process, it has been important to remind myself that I'm not getting rid of old things just to make room for new things. I also need to keep in mind my values and especially examine what I actually use vs. what I think I would use. For example, I occasionally enjoy trendy clothing, but I don't wear them very often. In this case, I would not consider many of these clothing items as “needs,” but as “wants” because I do not use them enough to warrant bringing them with me halfway around the world or spending a lot to acquire them in the first place.
Overall, the threat of moving abroad for several years has really helped me to gain perspective and focus about my Stuff. I might have kept some things for another year or two, but knowing that I don't want to come back to boxes of Stuff that I'm just going to give away anyway has been a useful reality check. But, I still think about those questions quite a bit: When do lifestyle upgrades start to bleed into inflation? How do I make upgrades without getting to that bleeding edge?
I worry that this flurry of changes and the expectations that come with them will be hard to readjust to my new graduate-student budget, and for a new life in a new country (which is also an extremely consumerist country).