As you progress in your career and receive a raise or promotion, or you finish paying off a debt, one thing usually occurs; you suddenly find yourself with more money in your bank account. Typically, it’s an exciting moment, particularly if your budget previously felt tight. However, the higher bank balance might also lead to some unwise financial decisions, particularly in the area of lifestyle creep. If you’re wondering how lifestyle creep can ruin your financial future, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Lifestyle Creep?
Lifestyle creep is a scenario where your spending increases when your income rises. Essentially, whenever you have more room in your budget, you use those funds to improve your lifestyle.
Often, lifestyle creep is discrete and seemingly innocuous. It typically plays out as a series of small lifestyle improvements, many of which aren’t immediately noticed by members of the household. Minor luxuries are purchased more frequently, or versions of regularly purchased items – like groceries – elevate slightly over time. It’s the slow nature of the shift that led to the use of “creep” in the term.
How Lifestyle Creep Harms Your Financial Future
On the surface, lifestyle creep doesn’t seem overly harmful. In many cases, an improving lifestyle is simply viewed as a reward for hard work, allowing a household to make purchases that weren’t previously within reach.
However, lifestyle creep can harm your financial future. For example, if you were previously living paycheck-to-paycheck, a raise or paying off a debt could let you escape that cycle. But if you allow lifestyle creep to occur and increase your spending, you could end up living paycheck-to-paycheck again. As a result, you’re functionally in the same financial place as you were previously.
In many cases, the signs of lifestyle creep are reasonably clear. After seeing your income increase or your debt obligations reduce, a stagnant savings account balance typically means you are spending more. Using more of your money on outings or social events is another red flag. The same is true of an unshakeable feeling that you can’t get control of your budget no matter how much you earn.
Tips to Avoid Lifestyle Creep
Generally speaking, avoiding lifestyle creep requires some vigilance and planning. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to head in the right direction. Here are some tips to help you avoid lifestyle creep.
Know Your Financial Goals
Lifestyle creep is more likely to occur if you don’t have any well-defined financial goals to guide your actions. Spend time considering what you’d like to achieve to ensure your financial well-being. Be specific when you outline the targets, assigning dollar amounts, deadlines, and more to help you stay on target.
Once you have your goals defined, find ways to keep reminders on you. For example, putting a picture of your dream house in front of your debit card could give you pause when you’re about to make an unnecessary purchase. It gets you thinking about how your behavior could negatively impact reaching your goal, and that’s often enough to slow down excessive spending.
Update Your Budget
The moment your income rises, take the time to update your budget. Consider how the extra cash in your account can make reaching high-priority goals easier, then work to direct your money in those directions.
When you update your budget, make sure to allocate some cash toward discretionary spending. That essentially lets you have a little spontaneous fun while preventing you from going overboard.
Track Your Spending
Another critical tip to avoid lifestyle creep is to continuously track your spending, at least initially. By doing so, you’ll notice if you’re starting to spend more than you planned, making it easier to nip any newly forming bad habits in the bud.
Automate Your Savings
Generally, it’s harder to succumb to lifestyle creep if you don’t leave the money in your checking account. If you have savings goals you’d like to achieve, take advantage of the automatic transfer features offered by most banks and credit unions. That way, when your paycheck is deposited, the designated amounts automatically shift to the specified savings account, preventing you from accidentally seeing that money as spendable.
Increase Your Retirement Contributions
If you want to use your boosted income to secure your financial future, increase your retirement contributions right away if you aren’t currently maxed out. Make sure you’re capturing your full employer match if you receive one through your work plan. Otherwise, plan your contributions to get you closer to the maximum contribution limit.
Use the 72-Hour Rule
The 72-hour rule is a strategy for limiting impulse purchases that you may later regret. When you see a product or service and feel the urge to buy right away, make a note of what it is and then wait to take any action for at least 72 hours. In many cases, the impulse to buy will diminish during that time.
However, if the urge doesn’t go away, you are still giving yourself time to consider whether moving forward works with your budget. At a minimum, that helps you avoid splurges that would harm your financial well-being, which is still a win.
Pay Down a Debt
If you have a solid emergency fund and your retirement contributions are relatively high, use the extra money in your budget to speed up debt repayment. By doing so, you’ll pay less in interest over the life of the debt. Plus, you can eliminate the obligation sooner, allowing you to get even more room in your budget. In some cases, this strategy may also boost your credit score, which is always beneficial.
Don’t Make Big Changes Immediately
If your income increases significantly, it may encourage you to make certain big changes, like moving into a larger home or buying a nicer car. While there are situations where that could make sense, don’t make these adjustments to your lifestyle right away.
Instead, spend time reviewing the short and long-term implications of those changes, as the financial impact is often significant and lasting. That way, you can ensure you aren’t getting in over your head or putting yourself back in a position where you’ll struggle financially.
Be Cautious About Automated Spending
Subscription-style services may seem convenient, but they’re often costly. Additionally, most people don’t have the same level of awareness when it comes to subscription-style services as they do with other types of spending.
Whether it’s gym members, streaming services, meal kits, automatic product deliveries, or anything of that nature, make sure you’re tracking those activities. Additionally, review your subscriptions every month to determine if they’re worth keeping in place. That way, if something you’re paying for automatically stops providing value, you can end the subscription promptly.
Did you struggle with lifestyle creep and encountered financial hardships because of it? Do you have any tips that can help others avoid lifestyle creep to ensure their financial lives stay on track? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.