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Op/Ed

Working harder isn’t smarter: A guide to avoiding lifestyle creep

Making more money while working can cause you to spend a little extra money, but trying to keep that level of comfort is hard.

Person holding money representing working for income

One summer I was working as a lifeguard. I earned $2.70 an hour. My first check was around $250. I was so money! I hit Contempo Casuals and I was able to buy an entire outfit and have a few bucks left.

My income was increasing and so was my taste. It’s called lifestyle creep and it happens to hard-working folk when they aren’t paying attention. Workers start out earning minimum wage, get a raise, then move on to a better-paying job. Repeat.

As you earn more, you spend more, and sometimes your PBR lifestyle is replaced with a craft beer attitude.

Whether you are a broker or have multiple side hustles, working harder to make more money isn’t always the answer, according to finance experts.

As Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner explains, the only thing better than a lot of money, is not needing that money.

Lifestyle creep happens when people have more income and they reward themselves, maybe buying a fancier car, buying nicer furniture, dining out at nicer restaurants, or taking expensive trips. You get the picture.

But, as The Motley Fool, explains, rather than saving that extra money you are making, you have spent it. Should an emergency happen, or your income takes a dive, you will have a hard time going backward. And, you probably don’t have the income set aside for an emergency situation.

“When your lifestyle creeps up with your income, you’ve just become more and more dependent on your income,” according to Dunn’s blog.

But, you say, wait a minute! I’ve worked hard and I deserve that nice car and those fancy meals and drinks out at the hot spots.

Ok. First, you need to have a budget and, according to experts, save at least 20% of what you earn. As The Motley Fools lays it out, if you can buy the item and still reach your savings target, you are good.

You should also ask: Does the expense improve your life enough to justify the purchase?

How to know if those purchases are worthwhile? Be intentional about what you buy. See something you really want? Write it down and wait 30 days. Still can’t get it out of your head? Buy it – as Money Under 30 suggests, and create a fun fund. Have your savings automatically deposited and determine how much can go toward fun each month.

Avoiding the “creep” is important if you are thinking long-term and considering what retirement will look like. If you can stick to your savings goals and manage your spending in the years leading up to retirement, Dunn says, adjusting to a lower income won’t be as challenging.

“Retirement planning is so focused on saving money,” Dunn says in his blog. “Yet, breaking your dependence on your income is a huge part of retirement success.”

Mary Ann Lopez earned her MA in print journalism from the University of Colorado and has worked in print and digital media. After taking a break to give back as a Teach for America corps member and teaching science for a few years, she is back with her first love: writing. When she's not writing stories, reading five books at once, or watching The Great British Bakeoff, she is walking her dog Sadie and hanging with her cats, Bella, Bubba, and Kiki. She is one cat short of full cat lady status and plans to keep it that way.

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