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Let’s Talk About Lifestyle Creep

I recently earned a promotion and raise at my place of employment that will amount to a few hundred dollars extra each month. Given my recent commitment to rapid debt reduction, this is a great boon – but in the spirit of reflection, I have to honor that my previous raises haven’t always been so responsibly allocated. So today – let’s talk about lifestyle creep.

Lifestyle Creep in 3 Parts: Coffee, Clothing and Cuisine

All it takes is a quick glance at my spending history to identify the common culprits of lifestyle creep. They are also my strongest temptations to spend: coffee, clothing and cuisine.

Part 1: Coffee

There’s something about coffee that warms my soul. The bitterness of a dark roast served black. The warmth and comfort of my go-to soy macchiato. The time spent with friends over a cup of chai. The triple-shot monstrosity to get me through a Monday. It all adds up to an easy excuse to spend a few bucks here and there – and gets easier to justify when you have a little bit more income.

To illustrate this point, in 2015 I spent $70 at coffee shops (I was deep in the throws of saving for a home and had my eye on the ball) but so far this year, in 2016, I’ve spent $413 dollars at coffee shops. And while the total number may seem small on its own, it’s still a 490% increase in spending.

Yikes!

I can immediately think of a few things that changed that affected this type of increase –

  1. we bought our home so I’d given myself ‘permission’ to spend;
  2. beginning in Jan 2016 I received a significant raise; and
  3. a coffee place opened up in the ground floor of my office building, so I had increased proximity.

So, that’s got to stop before that number gets even higher. Coffee is on my ban list for the rest of 2016 as I get into the mindset of reduced spending and debt reduction.

Instead I’ll be getting up a little earlier and joining my husband in making a cup of coffee or tea before we leave the house. And we may get some extra time together in the morning – which is always nice.

Part 2: Clothing

A little while ago the excellent site, The Financial Diet, posted an essay by Chelsea Fagan titled ‘The 4 Women I’ve Wasted Time Trying to Become.’

This article resonated with me on such a deep level. When I look back at my twenties there are distinct periods of my life where I’d tried to fix my unhappiness by changing my wardrobe. From my late college days filled with ill-fitting jeans and thrift store finds – to my mid-twenties where I frantically scooped up every trend on the market – to my late twenties where I wasted a ton of money trying to (ironically) have less things by experimenting with the capsule wardrobe, minimalist aesthetic phase.

Looking back at the last two years of spending history you can see a little bit of creep here, as well…and nothing in my money truly changed other than that January raise. In 2015 I spent $3,021.52, and in 2016 I spent $3,551.17 (a 17.53% increase).

When I look at how little staying power most of these clothes have had in my life, I cringe adding it up. Together my clothing budget could have tackled my car loan or my smallest student loan and then some.

Part 3: Cuisine

As I’ve earned more, I’ve spent more on food to prepare at home and have increased the frequency of eating out at restaurants. I’d like to say it’s because my palate has become more refined – but truthfully, I’m just lazy and eating out has become an easier solution for me.

The numbers don’t lie here – lifestyle creep from my January raise is on full display. In 2015 I spent $3,739.24 on restaurants and grocery stores, and in 2016 I spent $5,142.68 on restaurants and grocery stores (a 37.53% increase).

That is actually an insane set of figures – and while I knew deep down that all those random Wednesday trips to the dive Mexican restaurant and Sunday brunching at the restaurant in the grocery store was adding up – I certainly wasn’t mindful of the actual damage that was done.

I could make excuses here about this increase – about how we haven’t had a functional kitchen since July or about how I sleep in too late to make a lunch – the truth is, I haven’t been willing to make the sacrifices and put in the work.

Future Lifestyle Creep Prevention

I’ve talked a bit about my trial expense reduction. I want to focus in on eliminating (or reducing in the case of the grocery bill) these expenses and the emotional hold these kinds of purchases have over me. I could have paid off multiple loans with the money spent! Hindsight is 20/20 – and seeing the error of my ways should light the way for future behavior.

In addition to the practical reflection, I also want to get to the emotional root of my lifestyle creep – the non-obvious things that affect how I spend my money. So I’m going to start tracking my purchases and my emotions and motivation – boredom, joy, necessity, etc. I am already aware that boredom is a huge trigger for online purchases – and sometimes a trip to Sephora is the cure for my poor body confidence. But purchasing items is not the way to heal in the long-term, and sometimes you have to be made aware of behavior and feelings before you can initiate change. I’ll report back in a month with the findings.

What lifestyle creep have you experienced? How have you managed it?


Credits
Font: Secret Society, by Zach and Beth Designs
Paper Textures: designed by sanches812
Woodcut Graphics: designed by Benjamin Babron

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