One of the best ways to save money may actually involve doing nothing at all: Lifestyle creep is a sneaky phenomenon in which the more you make, the more you spend. As you advance in your career and start earning more, it’s only natural to scale up your living space or loosen your grip on your going-out expenses.
You’ve earned it, after all.
Plus, there’s a good chance that growth in your career has coincided with growth in your personal life--like starting a family. Kids are expensive and it’s unreasonable to expect you’ll spend as little at 35 as you did during your first year after graduation.
Still, the sweet spot of frugal living can be found in earning raises without significantly scaling up your cost of living, letting you save the difference.
Here are some budgeting tips to help you pull it off:
Think about your daily habits five years ago:
How much do you spend on housing now, and how much did you spend back then?
What gym did you go to? How much did it cost?
Was coffee an everyday purchase or a rare treat?
How often would you go out to dinner? Would those dinners tend to be a slice of pizza, or a sit down meal with a few glasses of wine?
For a real deep dive, pull bank account statements from five years ago to remind yourself how you used to live.
Next, think about what’s actually changed in your life. Maybe you’re spending hundreds of dollars a week on daycare, but that’s because you have a kid now and you didn’t before. That’s pretty nonnegotiable.
But maybe five years ago you worked out at your campus gym, whereas now you take a boutique exercise class for $25 a pop. You used to make do with some free weights and a treadmill--why not now? Does that “occasional” impulse purchase on the way home from work happen more now than it used to? Is that something you could relinquish?
While it’s tempting to think of all the ways you could upgrade your life when you get a promotion or bonus--you deserve it--consider living the way you used to and saving the rest.
If your life has changed significantly and you simply can’t live on your old salary anymore, you might think about splitting the difference, using half of your higher salary to upgrade your life, and the other half for building an emergency fund, college savings, paying down debt or anything else to help make your financial future secure.
When people in your social circle make a higher paycheck than you, it’s easy to drift toward their spending habits. That’s all the easier when everyone climbs the corporate ladder at different rates and works in different industries.
Sometimes, the best way to save money is to suggest other options for socializing with your friends. While you don’t need to meet for 50-cent brews anymore (unless you want to), you might suggest meeting up to take your children to the park together, renting a movie at home or dinners at each other’s houses.
Even the most well-intentioned budgeting tips can sound trite; everyone seems obsessed with giving up a morning latte, but it can be frustrating to avoid the things that make life a little sweeter.
Instead, take cues from how you indulged when you had less wiggle room in your budget. Look at your old credit card statements for guidance. Maybe your impulse purchase was a $5 magazine, not a $15 cocktail. Maybe you always went to the gym, but you only splurged on a coffee once a week. Maybe you met friends for bagels instead of brunch.
Try picking up your “old” habits as an experiment, and see what sticks.
As our lives have evolved, so too, has technology. In the past few years, it’s become easier than ever to get everything delivered to your door. Especially if you’re a parent, this can be a godsend.
As an experiment, try buying everything you need from a brick and mortar store for a week. This can help you identify where you’re spending money just because it’s easy (maybe you don’t need three new pieces of clothing that you found online while you were bored at work) and where you’re really getting value (maybe you do decide you need your grocery delivery service or your Prime order of kid supplies).
Frugal living doesn’t mean deprived living--just being conscious about what really makes your life richer.
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Anna Davies is a writer specializing in personal finance who's written for Refinery29, Cosmo, Elle, Glamour, the New York Post, Conde Nast Traveler and others. When she's not working, she loves going on adventures and traveling with her 2-year-old daughter.
This material is designed to provide general information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide specific financial or investment advice or to serve as the basis for any decisions.
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