lifestyle creep

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Hello dearest reader,

Today I wanted to write a little note on something I’ve been struggling with lately: lifestyle creep.

From Investopedia: Lifestyle creep occurs when an individual’s standard of living improves as their discretionary income rises and former luxuries become new necessities.

I would consider myself a low-maintenance person. (Not in the sense of forgoing “basic” luxuries like a hot shower; your girl is more a glamping than a camping lover). Minimalism and FIRE have been my goals in life for years. But lately, I feel myself fighting lifestyle creep more and more.

In high school, I lived across town from school in order to go to a special program. Every day, I’d either take a school bus or public transit, 1.5 hours each way. It sucked and I always wished I lived closer, but as a kid, you don’t really get to make those decisions.

I went to a university outside my home city, so I spent my first year in a student residence, where my parents had already paid for the year’s worth of food and board, so I didn’t have to think much about money.

At the end of my first year, our fellow residence residents began to plan for where we would live for year 2. (Residence was typically something only first-year students stayed in; second-years and above would move off-campus into third-company student housing). A proposal came from some of the other students that we could snag a deal for one of the off-campus units if myself and another student shared a room. The other student didn’t like the idea of sharing a room, so we ended up renting another suite with four people in total.

Given a surge of bugs at our old buildings, my friends and I decided to rent for year 3 at one of the under-construction student housing buildings which were right next to the university and offering lower-than-market deals. This ended up being a big mistake because construction delays caused delays in our move, but that’s a story for another time. Since no four-person units were available, they gave us two two-person units for the same price. Looking back, I would say this is the first time I was “spoiled”: having experienced the luxury of sharing the kitchen with only one roommate, I could no longer go back to a situation of having more than one. For the remainder of university, I spent a premium on housing in order to secure my one-roommate situation.

After university, I moved to Toronto full-time. Having gotten used to the idea of being within walking distance of the school, I couldn’t bear the thought of a long commute again, so I rented a place with one roommate within walking distance of my new workplace. With university tuition, (premium) housing, and living costs having sapped away almost all my earnings from my co-op stints, and housing prices being eye-wateringly expensive, I remember resolving to live as frugally as possible before my new job started in a month. Besides, moving to the big city was so exciting a process that I didn’t really care if I didn’t have enough money to buy a bed frame. Looking back, I think that the first year was when I was fully in the swing of minimalism and frugal living. That was the year when I started tracking my goal of financial independence and how I would get there.

As much as I wish I were, I’m no longer that fresh graduate student, hopping off a bus, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at all the opportunities that awaited me in the big city. As the years have gone on, and I’ve gotten raises, what I’ve always thought of as “wants” have quickly blossomed into “needs”:

Housing: as the amount of living space I could “afford” on my new salary increased, my vision of what I wanted/was willing to live in changed.

Workspace: I used to be content with a single laptop, with maybe a rise, external keyboard, and mouse as peripherals. As my amount of “spending money” has increased, this has expanded into a headset, Bluetooth headphones, a docking station, a standing desk, an external webcam, two monitors, an iPad, two iPhones, an Apple pencil, and a wireless charger. I convince myself that getting rid of any of these things would extremely hamper my productivity.

Home decor: gone are the days when I was content with having a single mattress on the floor. Now, there are considerations like couches, coffee tables, side tables, TVs, TV mounts, and wall art.

Pets: so far I’ve proved I can keep myself alive – what about another life?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember living through my university days when for a solid two months I subsisted solely on beans and rice to keep myself within budget before graduation. I didn’t have the capacity to imagine how lifestyle creep would affect me back then. All I wanted was 1) my belly to be full, 2) to have enough sleep, and 3) to be passing my classes. Anything else was gravy. Back then, when I thought about my future, I didn’t really think about home decor or fancy desks. I just wanted stability and self-sufficiency; qualities which would later draw me to FIRE.

What I’m struggling with recently is balance. On the one hand, I want to enjoy the fruits of my labour. On the other hand, any time I perceive myself allowing another luxury to slip into my life, I feel a pang of fear that I am allowing society to drug me into peaceful ignorance at how it’s sucking the years of my life away. Because for every new thing I’m spending money on, that’s additional time I will stay shackled to a corporate machine. But then again, is the starvation of luxuries a form of self-abnegation that is worse than working for longer?

I’m not sure I have the answer to that. For the foreseeable future, I think I’ll be working on finding the balance of critically thinking about my purchases, while not forgetting to enjoy life.

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