Do you or someone you care about suffer from Lifestyle Creep?

Lifestyle creep—also known as lifestyle inflation—is the main reason why many high-income earners are not wealthy. In fact, many high-income earners aren’t as wealthy as some low-income earners.

Signs and symptoms of Lifestyle Creep include:

  • Credit card debt you can’t seem to pay off 
  • Excessive car loans
  • Oppressive mortgage payments
  • Indulging in shopaholic behaviors
  • Following trends instead of your own style
  • Taking on debt just to keep up with the Joneses
  • Restaurant bills that equal a car payment
  • Vacations that take you 5 years to pay off
  • Amazon knows you on a first-name basis
  • Credit cards limits bumping up and up (because creditors know you’ll keep spending)

My history with lifestyle creep

I consider myself and expert on lifestyle creep expert for primarily two reasons:

  1. I’m a former marketer who has spent over a decade learning and researching consumer behaviors.
  2. I’m a recovering conspicuous consumer who has been fighting my own retail addiction since high school…

The hard truth I had to face to overcome my own lifestyle creep was the fact that it was a symptom of missing something deeper: An identity.

I documented the origin of my journey with lifestyle inflation about a year ago. Ultimately, so much of what was causing me to spiral in a cycle of unfulfilling consumer-driven spending, was growing up around rich people.

Feeling less than others and attaching my self worth to my net worth was so damaging and held me back from forming an identity that matched my actual values. 

It took me distancing myself by about 600+ miles and a decade of life experiences to realize how little many of those material items I coveted mattered to me or made me “good enough.” And, honestly, it is still something I struggle with today. I constantly have to stop myself from comparing my life to others and worrying what they think, but, when I do, I know and can feel myself showing up as my best self.

6 Steps to Stop Keeping Up With the Joneses

Here are a few things I did and still do today to overcome lifestyle creep in my own life:

Step 1. Be critical about trends. 

Instead of following trends, start paying attention to what you actually like. Whether it’s clothing or home decor or even food and experiences, don’t be afraid of missing out or even being contrarian and saying no. Clothing is a great example to use here. If something isn’t your style, do not buy it just to fit in. In college, every dang girl on campus had a Michael Kors watch and you know what? I thought those were ugly as hell. I also believed that watches are something that should be timeless. Flash forward to today, and Michael Kors and similar mid-tier “luxury brands” are going bankrupt because of how tacky they are. Now you can buy Michael Kors at your local Ross store.

Making a decision like that stuck with me and is now something I think about often when I shop.

Step 2. Give your money purpose. 

And make sure that purpose is something that you’ll remember. 

When you envision your life what do you see? That vision, no matter how big, is possible. If it weren’t you wouldn’t be able to see it. When it comes to how you spend your money (and your time too), ask yourself if that spending is getting you closer or further from that vision or from the goals you set to get where you see yourself? 

The moment you set meaningful goals that align with your vision for your life, it becomes extremely easy to make better decisions about spending.

Step 3. Get off or limit your time on social media. 

At least for a little while. Social media is the darkest depth of comparison and self doubt. As much as we want to be transparent or believe others are showing reality, social media is everyone’s highlight reel. 

Not only that, but it is also where advertisers spend most of their time preying on those with lifestyle creep. Between ads and sponcon, it’s hard to spend more than 10 seconds scrolling Instagram without seeing someone trying to sell you something. Often they’re even too subtle to spot.

After taking a break you can learn to become attuned to those ads. As a jaded marketer myself, I almost find them hilarious sometimes!

Step 4. Figure out your love language. 

No, seriously. Your love language gives you so much insight into how you should be spending your money. 

There are five love languages:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Quality Time
  4. Physical Touch
  5. Receiving Gifts

I know you’re thinking, “crap my love language is totally receiving gifts, I’ll never end this cycle of spending and materialism but don’t let this discourage you.” 

I 100% expected my love language to be gift giving but it turns out that gifts are at the very bottom of my list.

While that was relieving and probably does make it easier to curb my spending habits, I actually believe having your love language being gifts doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend lots of money. 

For starters, I put together a list of 100+ minimalist gifts that a) don’t add clutter and b) don’t cost a whole lot but c) do allow you to demonstrate a whole lotta love!

But also, this just means you can spend your money on gifts in a way that is authentic to you instead of in other ways that you may have spent it just to impress others.

At the end of the day your spending is a reflection of your values. Going through your spending regularly—at the very least monthly—should feel good… which leads me to my next step. 

Step 5. Be one with your budget. 

The only way something can creep is if you don’t see it. You can’t keep your head in the sand. Your budget is a living breathing documentation of how you trade currency for things you want and need. 

Building a budget that reflects the most important things in your life is one of the best ways to instantly shift your mentality about money. Since I was 22, I’ve done this in a simple budgeting spreadsheet but I also use apps like Mint that track my spending categories.

Not only does this give me a clear reality check of my spending patterns, but it has also helped me remember when I’ve spent enough on things like clothes or unnecessary expenses (aka ones that aren’t sustaining my life or helping me hit my life goals).

Sometimes just getting a quick reminder that “oh yeah I spent a little extra on new kitchen utensils at Target last month” is enough to know that I probably don’t need to go down that aisle the next time I pick up a prescription from the CVS pharmacy. 

Step 6. Bypass the Merchandising. 

Merchandising is like marketing except sneakier! While quarantining during the 2020 pandemic, one thing that surprisingly helped me avoid excess spending was taking advantage of online ordering for pick up. 

Instead of roaming the aisles for the next perfectly curated display of a shiny object I can impulse buy, I only need to have enough willpower to pass by the store entrance and pick up my order. Way easier to only buy what I need and avoid overspending.

What happens when you start spending based on identity over impulse?

Are there side effects associated with eliminating lifestyle creep? Why yes, yes there are.

Side effects of saying no to lifestyle creep include:

  • Better credit
  • Increased savings
  • Fulfillment
  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Work life balance
  • Life satisfaction
  • Self confidence 
  • More free time
  • Creativity
  • Stronger connections with the people that matter 

And, of course…

  • Financial independence and the independence that comes with finally being true to who you are and owning your identity

So ask yourself: Are you ready to cut unnecessary expenses? 

Hopefully this article gave you the tips you need to get started! Be sure to check out the Think Save Retire blog and YouTube channel for more of my experiences eliminating excess expenses from my life plus information about investing, side hustling and living a more fulfilling life!