Are you a victim of “lifestyle creep?” No matter how good a rightsizer you are, and I tend to think I’m usually pretty good at it, chances are you occasionally find yourself slipping into the creep now and then. I know I do. That’s because in our culture, nearly all of us are continually lulled into slowly but surely living just a little more comfortably, a little more extravagantly, a little more indulgently than in the days, weeks and months before. How does that work?
Slowly over time, any spending that starts out as a splurge—like a $4.50 latte at Starbucks to treat ourselves, a pricey bottle of wine to celebrate, or going out to dinner on a special occasion—can gradually become an almost daily necessity if we make them routine. Those acts are often triggered when we start making a good salary or get a raise. After all, we have the extra money, right? And as that “creep” of spending just a little more than yesterday becomes a new norm, we often find ourselves needing more and more such “rewards” to keep us happy and satisfied. If we aren’t careful, we can reach retirement with nothing to show for it. Fortunately, I believe a good cure for the dreaded lifestyle creep is to stay as mindful and focused on rightsizing as possible.
Of course, if you are new to my blog or the idea of rightsizing it might help if I first explain what I mean by the idea. While rightsizing often means “downsizing” in certain circles, I believe it is the perfect word to describe living a life that fits the unique needs and desires of you and your family in order to receive maximum happiness, meaning and peace of mind. Equally important to know, rightsizing is not about sacrificing, where you are asked to give up doing, having, or living a fulfilling life. Instead, it is a recommendation that you first take the time to get very clear about what is most important to you during your remaining years on this planet—and then make choices and design a lifestyle that fits those intentions. In other words, it isn’t about the look, size or the money in your life—it is about the quality, depth and meaning.
In contrast, lifestyle creep is more about the unconscious actions that befall most of us the longer we live on the planet. The term is mainly used to describe what happens as people start making more money than they made in the past. But it doesn’t matter what level of income you start at, before long it is really tempting to spend more…and then more…and then gradually more. Until, like I said, what used to be a luxury, slowly becomes a necessity. Sadly, it’s a bit like putting a frog in a pot of water and then turning on the heat. In the beginning the frog enjoys the warm water. He even likes it when it becomes a “hot tub.” But if he isn’t paying attention, that hot water will start boiling and then the frog will end up cooked. So it is with lifestyle creep because as we all know, once a luxury becomes a necessity, we require more luxuries to take their place—and so it goes!
With that in mind I sat down this week and came up with the following ways I think rightsizing protects us from the dreaded creep.
- It reminds you that there is so much more to a good life than possessing a bunch of stuff, working at a job you dislike (no matter how prestigious) and going into debt to medicate yourself into feeling better about your choices.
- It keeps you from buying a far bigger home (or any other desirable item) that you think you need or paying more for it than you can afford. Instead it helps you make conscious choices about buying a home (or any other purchase) that fit your true needs and budget perfectly.
- It helps you resist buying or upgrading to a car to impress others and instead asks you to focus on what car you can easily afford, is safe and reliable, and fits your personal needs. Oh, and it usually keeps you from ever leasing a car because you can drive something fancier than you can really afford.
- It allows you to work at a job you enjoy, or at least find rewarding, rather than slug it out at work you hate just to bring home a big paycheck to pay for all that lifestyle-creep-stuff you bought to make yourself feel better.
- It encourages you to find friends that like you, for “you,” not what you look like or own. Just like hanging out with overweight friends has been proven to make you automatically eat more, hanging out with “spendy friends” can make you buy stuff you never thought about owning—let alone needing.
- It helps you stop comparing your life with anyone else—from the neighbors who live down the street—all the way to reality tv stars like the Kardashians, Real Housewives, or the latest movie star, music sensation, or multi-million-dollar athlete. Instead you find friends and hang out with people who don’t value themselves by the size, the impression of, or number of their possessions.
- You aren’t constantly worried about managing, maintaining or losing all the things in your life that you paid a lot of money to buy. For example, the bigger your home the more things in it that require ongoing maintenance. The more you own, the more you have to take care of. Or heaven-forbid that your expensive jewelry, electronics or sports equipment gets lost, stolen or damaged. Far better to focus on a few special things worthy of your time and attention.
- It helps you define success by how happy, peaceful and meaningful your life is (and the life of your family members) rather than how others (or the culture) defines success. There is no more chasing someone else’s dream—instead you focus on your own.
- It reminds you to value your time far more than you value the things that you own. Rather than filling your life up with busy-ness, or things that don’t matter much in the big scheme of things, rightsizing helps us mindfully choose to make the most of the precious time we have left in the world.
- It saves us from falling too deeply into the “the instant economy.” You know what I mean, you are scrolling through Facebook and see an ad for something you’ve admired in the past and before you know it, you’ve ordered it on Amazon and expect it in one day delivery! So rather than satisfy your every desire as quickly as you can “order it”, rightsizing recommends that you pause and consider the tradeoff value to your happiness and peace of mind.
One of the biggest problems with lifestyle creep is how it gradually makes our overindulging into a habit as time goes by. That basically sucks up any savings, or emergency cushion we might need—not to mention retirement savings. According to Insured Retirement Institute, 45% of Baby-Boomers have zero savings for retirement. I’d bet some of them are victims of lifestyle creep. So rather than rightsize long before retirement age, many people just continue to spend everything they earn. And that might be somewhat okay if they were really enjoying all that spending. Unfortunately most people quickly lose the “boost” they get from spending and then are faced with working longer and more hours just to pay for the creep they’ve allowed to run amok in their lives.
Like I confessed in the beginning—I’m not a perfect rightsizer. But ever since my husband Thom and I adopted this lifestyle we have created better habits that help to keep us from sliding into the darkness of lifestyle creep. Sure once and a while we splurge and spend extra money for a special perk. But we do our best to remind ourselves that living a rightsized life satisfies our needs for happiness, peace of mind and meaning—far more than over-indulgence ever could. I’m guessing that reminder is a SMART one for us all.