When I graduated from college, I spent every dollar that I had on an incredibly used VW Jetta and drove across the country to Nashville for my very first job.
I remember calling my mom and saying the following: “Mom! I’m going to make twenty-four thousand dollars! HOW WILL I SPEND IT ALL?”
Direct quote. And truly, from my heart of hearts, I believed it.
Needless to say, it did not take me long to realize how quickly money evaporated. There were many months when the only reason I made it, was because my grandparents’ graduation present was to mail me $200/month for my first year out of college, as long as I didn’t miss our monthly phone call. (Thank you again, Grandpa Safina!)
But I did it. I paid rent and bills. I ate food, saw the occasional movie, and even bought new clothes for my first-ever business trip.
Today, I make a lot more money. (And I save a lot more money—of course, anything is a lot more than zero dollars.) But, I’ve also become accustomed to certain luxuries that my twenty-two-year-old-self would have thought were ridiculous.
Lifestyle Creep Happens
If I still lived like I did when I made $24,000/year, I would be outrageously wealthy.
Now, today, I don’t want to eat Raisin Bran for dinner, nor do I want to buy everything I own from the GAP Clearance Rack. And I don’t have to. I’m older, I’ve worked hard, and I budget well. I can afford to live better.
I can afford to do a lot of things, but just because I can afford something (even budget for it!), doesn’t always mean I should buy it. Every time I do, there is a cost—and more than the amount I spent on the thing or experience itself.
Every time I get accustomed to the option that is a little bit better or a little bit more, it is that much more money that isn’t being stashed away and building wealth. And perhaps even more costly, the carrot moves a little further down the road. The next time, it will be a little bigger/more, and on and on and on.
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Why It’s So Dangerous
The danger is—if you aren’t careful—it happens so slowly and incrementally, you don’t even know it is happening. Pretty soon, you are very comfortable, some place incredibly different (and more expensive!) and it is very hard to go back.
Every time I get accustomed to the option that is a little bit better…the carrot moves a little further down the road.
I’m not suggesting we should all live like poor college students, but it is an interesting exercise to think of some of your current choices through a different lens.
As I assess my life now, through the (turns out) very judgemental eyes of my 22-year-old self, certain choices seem more superfluous than others. I won’t give specific examples because it’s so different for everyone, and we all have different priorities, but for me, it was humbling, convicting, and a little bit surprising.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
Chances are you will make a little bit more money this year than last year, and probably even more than that five years from now. But that doesn’t mean that you have to drive a nicer car or eat in fancier restaurants or buy more stuff. If you can master the discipline of making more money and not spending more money, it is literally money in the bank. And that is how people get rich. As effective as it is unglamorous.
Pay attention. Be aware. Don’t get too comfortable. Ask yourself hard questions—often.
Where have you gotten a little bit too comfortable? How are you living differently than you used to before you made more money? Where have you gotten lazy and started paying for convenience? Just check in with yourself. Maybe you will decide it is warranted, or worth it to you because it is a priority or because your time is better spent elsewhere. But maybe you won’t. In which case, you can readjust, pull back, and save more—before you get too comfortable.