Maybe you recently got that promotion (congrats!), or paid off a debt (super congrats!), or you’re finally seeing some returns on your investments. For whatever reason, you’re suddenly able to spend more money on daily luxuries. We’ve previously covered how many sources like to overstate the impact of small purchases, like your morning iced coffee, on your long-term finances. At the same time, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spending more as we earn more, which can make it difficult to save money for the future.
The parallel increase in what you make and what you spend can be chalked up to a concept known as “lifestyle creep.” And given our current fight with inflation, now is not the time to let all your small luxuries blow your budget out of proportion. Here’s what to know about the cost of lifestyle creep, and what you can do to avoid it.
What is lifestyle creep (and how to manage it)
Lifestyle creep is the pattern of spending more money as you earn more money as you slowly but surely adjust to a more luxurious new normal. And luxury is relative; for many, lifestyle creep is the difference between living paycheck-to-paycheck and realising you can comfortably order DoorDash multiple nights a week. Unfortunately, even small luxuries can add up. And when dealing with staggering inflation that is beyond your control, it’s best to reign in whatever inflated lifestyle costs you can control.
Make a budget and stick with it
The best budget is the one that works for you. A popular option to try out is the 50/20/30 method. Here’s how it breaks down, in broad strokes:
- 50% of your monthly spending goes toward essentials. Your home, your transportation, your food, etc.
- 20% of your monthly spending goes toward savings goals. You can also group debt payments into this category, since paying down debt helps you build savings later.
- 30% of your monthly spending goes toward everything else. That might include your gym membership, travel, gifts, and dining.
Unfortunately, there’s no one magic spreadsheet out there. It may take some trial and error to find one that makes sense for your personal situation. Here’s our guide to getting your budget started.
Become a more conscientious spender
Now that you’ve made a budget, it’s time to actually stick to it. One place to start is with your bank statements, reviewing whether all the things you’re spending money on are actually valuable to you (and not some subscription service you forgot about long ago). You might be surprised to find how many expenses you’ll be able to eliminate whether because they were unintentional or were motivated by stress.
A simple tip to avoid unnecessary purchases is to write down the things you want to buy before you buy them. When you read over items on this “to-buy list,” you’ll be able to make a more thoughtful decision as to what you really need.
Save money in a rainy day fund
A major symptom of lifestyle creep is failing to grow your emergency fund. If the amount you are saving has remained static even after an increase in your income, chances are you’re allocating that money to smaller lifestyle changes instead. Stay on top of how much you’re saving and make sure it’s rising with your earnings.
You’re still allowed to treat yourself
Living below your means doesn’t mean you need to live a life of austerity. Allow yourself to indulge occasionally in things that make you happy, especially if these indulgences improve your overall relationship with your money. As NPR explains, it’s important to treat yourself thoughtfully. Ask yourself, “How do I expect this purchase will make me feel? What do I want it to make me feel? What feelings am I trying to avoid by buying it?” This might look like splurging on a family vacation, but cutting back on ordering take-out.
When you feel confident that you’re spending only on things you love and not wasting money on things you don’t love, you will make much better big financial decisions.
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