Financial experts say one should continue to live like a grad student even after starting work to avoid lifestyle inflation. I took this advice to heart when I graduated from law school. I maintained my 18-year old car and rented a one-bedroom apartment in the ‘burbs in a 1970s-era building. Much of my income was spent killing my student loans, nesting and building a corporate wardrobe.
Fast forward six years to today and I’m car-free and in a cheaper apartment. I still wear the corporate wardrobe I bought at the start of my career. I am typing this on the couch I bought off Craigslist for $40 when I moved into my first apartment. The money I spent on loans is largely moved toward investments.
All the while, my income has increased by 25%.
Turns out, lifestyle deflation can creep up as easily as lifestyle inflation.
I didn’t make any one of these choices principally to save money. Some of them were forced upon me. I needed to find a new apartment because I thought I was moving in with my fiance. I totaled my car. New couches are crazy expensive. Still, I definitely thought that at this point in my life I would be living it up. Designer clothes, a nicer car, fancy new furniture.
I could easily upgrade my lifestyle. There’s more money in my bank accounts than ever before. A large part of my lifestyle deflation is that I haven’t really thought to change my lifestyle. Whereas other people look around and see how much more they spend now than before, I look around and see the same stuff I always had. I didn’t plan for this to happen but it just did. The money-saving habits I needed and thus developed when I was making an entry level salary just naturally carried themselves to the low-cost lifestyle I lead today. It’s true what John Dryden says:
We first make our habits and then our habits make us.
Ok, this doesn’t seem like a problem, right?
Dig a little deeper and I am not attached to any of my stuff. Back when I was engaged and planning a life with my fiance, I had planned to get rid of all this stuff . Almost two years ago now, I had made a spreadsheet of all my possessions in anticipation of my fiance moving to the area. And because my stuff admittedly, kind of sucks, we would get nicer things. It’s always been in the back of my head that I don’t need to buy new stuff because I would eventually combine with someone else. And if someone’s stuff got thrown away, I wouldn’t mind it being mine.
Buying new stuff for me means that I’ve given up hope of combining it with someone else. When I think of replacing my couch, I think about how I was going to toss this $40 couch anyway in favor of my fiance’s $1500 Crate and Barrel one. When I think about my 10-year old towels, I think of his fancy Egyptian cotton ones, ever-white with bleach.
So there’s a little hesitation from shopping there. I guess it makes sense not to upgrade my furniture if that triggers a message in my lizard brain that “all is lost and I’m going to die alone!”
But then again, even if I bought a new couch, I would continue to think about these things. Buying the couch doesn’t mean I’m more or less actualized, more or less over my lizard brain. I have thought of replacing ye old couch and realized that I wouldn’t even be a little excited about the promise of a new couch.
I think ultimately, whether you mean to or not, your lifestyle reflects where your heart ultimately lies. Whitney Cummings wrote that during her snowboarding lesson, she remembered clearly the instruction that your body goes where your feet are pointed.
Likewise, your lifestyle goes where your eyes are pointed.
I have never really yearned for a fancy apartment. I have never wanted a closet full of expensive clothes. My main goal has always to have a less stressful lifestyle. My feet have always been pointed to a life of simplicity and that’s probably why I look around and, instead of finding new Egyptian white cotton towels, I find these old towels I stole from my parents a decade ago.
But they still keep me warm.
Have you experienced lifestyle deflation?