When we think of lifestyle creep – aka, lifestyle inflation – we tend to think of those big ticket items that prove to be budget busters. Maybe it’s springing for a brand new smartphone when your old flip phone works just fine, or trading in your car for a flashier new model, even though the old vehicle still gets you where you need to go.
But in reality, it starts slowly – maybe you start picking up a latte on your way to work in the mornings; then, it morphs into a little splurge on a new pair of shoes or a great new sweater; but before long, it snowballs into full-fledged lifestyle inflation.
Invisible lifestyle creep #1: Housing Expenses
When my husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck, we kept tabs on everything under our roof. We were manic about turning off lights whenever we left the room, or shutting off the faucet while we brushed our teeth, all in an effort to reduce our housing expenses. We routinely reviewed our home insurance policy, ensuring we got the best rates even if it meant we switched from provider to provider every six months.
Now that money isn’t as tight, I’ve watched lifestyle inflation creep into our lives in many insidious ways. In past years, I’d never think of turning on the heat until the temperature dropped below freezing; this year, I turned it on at the first sign of frost. I’m not always as diligent about turning my laptop off overnight anymore, either. The overall increase to our bottom line probably isn’t overwhelming – a few cents here, a buck there – but over the course of the month, I’ve noticed our utility bills climb anywhere from five to fifteen percent compared to the same time last year.
Invisible lifestyle creep #2: The Cost of Food
One of the first things my family eliminates from our monthly budget when times are tough is eating out. Why spend $30 to feed our family of four when we could eliminate the tip and tax and spend a fraction of the cost by cooking at home? But when our financial situation sees sunnier days, it’s also one of the first things we add back in.
Our grocery store expenses are no different. When we’re feeling strapped for cash, we’re sure to always use coupons or buy items that are on sale. After I got my most recent raise, however, I celebrated by going to the grocery store and dropping twice my weekly food budget on what I’d normally consider luxury buys – wine, a wheel of crumbly blue cheese, name brand ice cream, among other indulgences. A lot of people wouldn’t point to their grocery bill as a source of lifestyle inflation – we tend to justify our grocery expenses as “needs,” not “wants” – but this would be a mistake, at least in my case.
Invisible lifestyle creep #3: Transportation Costs
Just as reviewing our homeowner’s insurance policy was a part of our “cash strapped” lifestyle, regularly going over our auto policies was as well. We also kept track of how often we were filling up our gas tank, and found ourselves limiting unnecessary trips.
But when we’re feeling more comfortable with our finances, these healthy finance habits go out the window. We find ourselves forgetting to consolidate all our errands into one big trip, instead hustling around town in multiple – and gas-wasting – trips. We aren’t as conscious with regard to the price of gas. And we definitely don’t spend the time shopping around for the best deals on car insurance. What’s more, we don’t even realize the choices we’re making are examples of lifestyle inflation until we get the bill – and see how much we spent (it’s always more than we thought).
Reader, what are some other “hidden” examples of lifestyle inflation? Which ones are you guilty of?