Norman Knight: When Lifestyle Creeps in

Sometimes my eyes glaze over when I read important writing.

By “important” I mean articles or columns containing knowledge and opinions about issues people consider necessary for a well-rounded citizen to learn about and then ponder. Sometimes I get lost in the details, and sometimes I frankly can’t work up much interest in the topic. Maybe I am becoming less passionate about the important issues. Maybe I am getting lazy.

Anyway, I was reading an article examining the confusion with our current inflation situation — “Is it getting better? Is it getting worse?” — when my nearly-glazed-over eyes zeroed in on the expression: “Lifestyle creep.” Well, this made me sit up and take notice. I was not familiar with the phrase but it sounded like a concept I had been thinking about for a while. I formulated a guess at a definition, then went to Google and friends to see what they had to say about it.

First, Wikipedia helpfully defined the term: “Lifestyle creep, also known as lifestyle inflation, is a phenomenon that occurs when as more resources are spent toward a standard of living, former luxuries become perceived necessities.”

Business Insider put it this way: “Lifestyle creep, or lifestyle inflation, is overspending after your income increases. Typically, lifestyle creep happens when people start to earn more money, either by receiving a higher income through a new job or raise or by paying off debt and freeing up money that went toward monthly payments. Once lifestyle inflation takes over, the new cash gets spent as fast as — or faster than — it comes in.

And radio host, author and personal finance consultant Dave Ramsey’s website explains it thusly: “Lifestyle creep is when your income goes up and your spending creeps right up to meet it. You don’t even notice it.”

My definition guess was very close to these. When I first saw it I guessed it might have to do with the expression “Keeping up with the Jones.” I went to Merriam-Webster to define the idiom: “To show that one is as good as other people by getting what they have and doing what they do.”

It seems to me all the definitions are closely related. I think the Merriam-Webster definition adds a whiff of moral disapproval that the others don’t have, but maybe that’s just me. Then again, at least two of the first three imply that saving for the future is better than all new income on pleasures to be had in the here and now. This sounds to me like a judgment call as well. One I would agree with, but still.

I think the concept of delayed gratification is related here. One of the marks of adulthood that was instilled in me from my earliest days was that sometimes one must wait for a desired want. Waiting is a quality of self-discipline and patience is one of the virtues. I am going to sound like an old-fogey here, but these days I don’t see patience as a particularly respected or longed-for discipline in modern life. Maybe this is the result of too much economic success in our modern world.

We have more so we expect more. This situation too often leads to selfishness and greed. Economic success can be the root of all sorts of evil, as the saying might be framed. I am not sure this is a problem that can be totally resolved except within oneself.

But here we are at the beginning of another new year, a marker in the calendar when some evaluate their financial situations and resolve to make changes. There are several books, sites and people out there offering suggestions to fight Lifestyle Creep. These practical guides likely include planning for the future, getting on a budget, cutting back on expenses, getting to know your money mindset and practicing generosity. All good, doable ideas.

Being mindful of Lifestyle Creep in our lives is worth pondering. The new year is as good a time as any to do just that.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected].