If You’ve Experienced Lifestyle Creep, Read this.

Lifestyle creep is real.

I remember when Julie and I paid $350 per month for our apartment—utilities included. And, when I say it included utilities, I mean the phone, too. (The phone was attached to a wall with a cord, but it was a phone nonetheless.)

Today, sometimes I feel like I sneeze and lose $350. It’s crazy.

Speaking of sneezing, as I recall, we had respiratory issues in that first apartment. It was a basement apartment, and something was off. When we upgraded to a spacious 600-square-foot apartment and moved out, those issues cleared up. It felt great to breathe easily, and we were pretty excited to be on a main floor with two bedrooms and a window! That window was just phenomenal. The cinder block walls were a little uninviting, but you got used to it. We hung a few pictures, and it wasn’t so bad.

Then, three years into our marriage, we upgraded to a 950-square-foot apartment in Texas. During the move, we had an accident that totaled our car. We replaced the car with an upgrade—a Honda Civic and a golden van, both better than our single totaled car had been, pre-wreck. We were officially a two-car household for the first time. It’s a funny phenomenon. When you find yourself spending large sums of money, it suddenly becomes so easy to blow through all of your money. That’s what happened to us. Between the move and the car wreck, we spent a lot during that time.

Anyway, the Honda Civic served me very, very well until I upgraded, just a few years ago, to a Tesla. It was quite the jump. Before the Tesla, I didn’t even realize that your phone could integrate with your car through Bluetooth. I was floored.

Every One of These Upgrades
Is an Example of Lifestyle Creep

When Julie and I reminisce over our old photos, I have an overwhelming nostalgia for those days. It’s not just seeing the kids’ photos, it’s also about how simple things were. Sometimes, I wonder if we’ve made things more complicated on purpose, or if that’s just what happens as you age. At some point, you have to stop and ask yourself: “How much of this is me just being on autopilot, and how much of this is me being intentional?”

That’s where, of course, we get back to being on a budget. You have to look at your own numbers and habits to see if your money is doing the job you really want it to do.

There’s this part of me that’s always looking for ways to optimize, and it’s not a good thing. An ever-optimizer is someone that’s just never happy with just having things work, and that’s that. We’re never content. But when you think about it, you just have to end up relaxing at some point.

That’s where I can use the budget to see that, sure, our lifestyle has crept up on us. That’s true. But we’re still saving a healthy percentage of our income, setting aside for the future. And this, for me, is therapy. Our tastes change over time, and perhaps they get more expensive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—you just have to always make sure that you’re being intentional about what you want.

Whether you tend to spend a lot or prefer to live frugally, the important part is why?

Are you trying to impress someone with your choices? Instead, what about figuring out what you really want, and being true to that? It’s way harder than matching someone dollar for dollar on a fancy new phone (which looks pretty awesome) or pleasing your frugal inlaws, but there’s real magic in aligning your money choices with your truest desires.

Until next time, follow YNAB’s Four Rules, and you will win financially.