Lifestyle costs can come your way, like mold in your fridge. You only realize that one day – bam! — The effect is clear and not pleasant.
When did you decide to join all these subscription services? Have you always shopped online that often? When did you transition from batch cooking dinner to sushi delivery?
Without much thought, all of those fees add up to a much larger bill at the end of the month. This uncomfortable growth is called “lifestyle creep” or “lifestyle inflation” and it occurs when you have access to more money.
Perhaps you have advanced in your career and have a higher salary. Or maybe you’ve had fewer expenses and more discretionary income during the pandemic. Maybe you’ve moved in with a partner and are sharing expenses. However you got here, you now have more money in your bank account, and instead of investing or saving it, you’ve only added to the cost of your lifestyle.
Author, artist, and financial planner Paco de Leon shares tips on how to manage your money and your emotions to achieve inner wealth and avoid lifestyle slippage.
Save money dynamically
As you make more money, your savings rate should also increase. Adjust how much you save based on what you earn. If you have the opportunity, ask your employer to make a direct deposit into your savings account so that the money saved is automatically set aside.
This can be more difficult in times of inflation, but always pay attention to how much you’re saving and if it’s increasing with your income.
Avoid impulse purchases with a “buy list”
To avoid impulse buying, make what de Leon calls a “buy list.” Put the items you want on a list. Then, after a predetermined amount of time (like a week or a month), if you still want the thing, go ahead and buy it. You can even build the concept of shopping off your grocery list into your life so you have items and experiences to look forward to.
De Leon says that a grocery list “recreates the experience of shopping” but keeps you from buying things without worry.
Know that it’s okay to indulge sometimes
It’s okay to spend some of your money on yourself! Being strict about your spending can cause you to “explode in a not-so-great way,” de Leon says.
To “feed the beast,” she gives you permission to self-medicate. Just do this thoughtfully. Ask yourself, “How do you want me to feel about this purchase? What feelings do I want to evoke with this? What feelings am I trying to express? avoid by buying it?”
By asking yourself these questions before treating yourself, you can avoid the “hedonic treadmill” — the never-ending pursuit of one “thing” to bring us happiness after happiness. Although buying a gift for yourself may initially bring you joy, research suggests that you often return to how you felt before — that is, until you decide on a new “thing” to make yourself happy feel, and the cycle begins again.
Ask yourself: what is enough?
Lifestyle Creep can show up in both our small and large lifestyle choices. Everything from our daily coffee habit to wanting to live in a single family home reflects the life we desire and how much we are willing to spend to achieve that lifestyle.
When thinking about what makes you happy, de Leon says, be careful when measuring satisfaction through a consumerist lens, because it’s rarely just one thing that makes you happy. You may think you just want a nice jacket, she says, but then you need attractive shoes to match the jacket. When you’re on the hedonic treadmill, it’s never just one thing.
The antidote to lifestyle creep, de Leon says, is intensely considering the answer to the question, “What is enough?”
Often our goals in life are that moving target, says de Leon. To decouple those goals from material things, think about how you want your life to feel on a daily basis. Ask yourself what would make you truly happy and joyful. What would that cost you? How much money do you need to earn, how much money do you need to save for emergencies and what do you need to invest for the future?
Use these answers as building blocks to get to a place where you can appreciate what you have instead of always wanting more.
Work on your mental and emotional health
“Our relationship with money is a mirror,” says de Leon. “How we spend or don’t spend our money reflects how we feel about ourselves.”
Insecurity, jealousy, and other negative emotions can cause us to spend money unnecessarily. Take care of yourself so that when you make financial decisions you are more rational and less likely to be influenced by outside factors. Getting a good night’s sleep, taking deep breaths, listening to music that makes you happy, and spending time with people who value you for you can go a long way.
“The more you work on your relationship with yourself,” says de Leon, “the more you’ll see your relationship with everything else in your life improve.”
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The audio portion of this episode was produced by Michelle Aslam with technical assistance from Brian Jarboe. We’d love to hear from you! Email us at or send a voice note to LifeKit@npr.org.