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Lifestyle Deflation

St. Louis, Missouri.

Have you heard of “lifestyle inflation?” As your career progresses and you make more money it’s easy to adjust and spend all of that extra income. I’ve met people who make more than two hundred thousand dollars per year but don’t have enough savings to take a few weeks away from work. These people probably didn’t make two hundred thousand at their first job, they just allowed increases in income to raise their standard of living until it was uncomfortable to save.

Although it’s easy for lifestyle inflation to hit you it’s also easy to prevent. When I started my first job out of college I had $50 in my checking account and $500 in credit card debt. Today I’ve saved enough to travel around the world for a year or more. Most of that savings was by preventing lifestyle inflation.

For years whenever I got a raise or a bonus I put almost all of the extra money into savings. I was living on basically the same amount of money per month when I quit Facebook as I was during my first year of working at CarMax1. It was not painful as it sounds. I still bought all kinds of nice things for myself, took vacations, and spent money on friends and family. I just budgeted my money carefully and spent it on what brought me the most happiness per dollar. If you’re curious about this check out the book Your Money or Your Life to learn if you’re spending money in a way that makes you truly happy.

The upshot of lifestyle inflation being easy is that lifestyle deflation works the same way. It’s a little painful, but I’ve found that once something is gone I rarely miss it.

Before I left San Francisco I sold or gave away almost everything I owned. Today my possessions are just two big boxes of clothes and a thirteen pound backpack 2. Everything else is rented.

For me most things that are out of sight are out of mind. I’ll agonize over getting rid of something for a few days and then once it’s gone I just never think about it again. Sometimes I do miss something from my old apartment: when that happens I just remind myself that I can buy it again if I need it someday and then reflect on my newfound freedom to travel the world and do what I love for a year (or two?).

  1. Aside from cutting myself breaks for rent in San Francisco, US dollar inflation, and a few percentage points per year as a raise to myself. [return]
  2. I’m actually considering ditching another pair of socks and shirt from my pack to lighten the load. I know that as long as I own these I’ll think about them, but once they are gone I’ll probably never think about them again. [return]