Lifestyle inflation is accepted as a normal part of life in America. It means each time your salary increases, so does your spending in an effort to achieve some perceived level of lifestyle where you will finally be happy. In fact, you are considered abnormal if you aren’t constantly striving for more bigger and better stuff.
The problem is that no material thing will result in never ending happiness, and we can get distracted from an authentic Catholic life when we try to keep up with the cultural norms.
The best way to avoid lifestyle inflation is to detach your spending from your income. Set a standard of living you are comfortable with, and stick to it, even when your income increases. Just because you are making more money does not mean you have to be spending more money
One way to put that extra money into perspective is to calculate the real increase to your spendable income.
After giving, taxes, and other related payroll deductions are subtracted from your gross salary, a raise can have a smaller impact on your spendable income than you think. If you get a raise of $500 a month it looks like an additional $6,000 a year. But after you subtract about $200 a month for payroll deductions and another $50 for increased giving, the real addition to your monthly income is $250. Over 12 months that $6,000 increase is only $3,000 in real spendable dollars. While that’s a gracious plenty, it’s not enough to dramatically change your lifestyle.
Calculating the bottom line on your spendable income gives you a dose of reality. Once you calculate your raise versus your net gain, you may find that the increased income has better uses that an inflated lifestyle.
A much better approach is to step back and contemplate your life goals. What is it that you want out of life? What are your goals for the next 5, 10, and 15 years? Is buying more stuff going to fulfill those goals? Or in 10 years will you regret the money spent on all the useless stuff you bought?
When you define and work on your goals, life is much more satisfying. You may change your mind about where you want to be in 15 years but any worthwhile goal will still move you in a direction that will be positive even if the end state changes.
It is easy get off track when you live your life in order to impress other people. When I see someone driving a fancy car, I have a fleeting thought that goes somethings like this: “Nice car—glad I don’t have to pay for it!” Because what other people drive really does not affect me at all. Don’t fall into the mindset of trying to impress other people with what you have, because they simply don’t care! And let’s be realistic, you really don’t know what other people think. If you are spending your hard earned money to impress other people you are making an assumption that you are impressing them, but you may not be.
Live your life and make your financial choices according to what you care about, not what you think the people around you care about. If you truly stop worrying what other people think, the whole impact of lifestyle inflation disappears. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to impress people who are not involved in your day to day life.
Many of the things we enjoy most are completely free. For example, do you have more time and focus on your friends if you have a potluck dinner at home or do you have more time to focus on them in a noisy crowded, expensive restaurant?
The potluck at home is much more relaxed. You don’t have to worry about parking or waiting for your table to open up or being rushed out the door so the restaurant can turn the table over. You and your friends can linger over dinner as long as you want to. Plus, if you have friends who are also avoiding the lifestyle inflation bandwagon, you can all save money by having dinner at home instead of going out to a restaurant.
Why are you having dinner with friends? Is your purpose to spend money or to enjoy time with your friends? Once you get to the bottom of WHY you are doing something, it makes it much easier to concentrate on what is really important and eliminate the potential for lifestyle inflation.
We have found that the best way for us to stay on track and keep ourselves motivated is to spend most of our time with people who think like we do, who share our faith and who want what’s best for us.
Make a conscious effort to fill your life with people who share a set of values with you. You don’t want everybody to think alike in all situations but being in conflict with the people who are closest to you isn’t a good way to live your life. Concentrate on spending time with those people who will support you, understand you and encourage you.
When we get on the lifestyle inflation merry-go-round we spend so much time and effort looking forward to what we want that we often forget to be content with what we already have. If you aren’t grateful for what you have, you’ll never be grateful for what you get. If you are thinking about upgrading the kind of car you drive, stop for a minute and say a prayer of gratitude that you already have a car to drive. If you are thinking about buying a bigger house, stop for a minute and say a prayer of gratitude that you have someplace warm and safe and dry to live.
In 1 Timothy chapter 6 we hear that if we have food and clothing we should be content and we also hear that we brought nothing into the world and we shall take nothing out of it.
We encourage you to avoid lifestyle inflation and be content with the blessings the Lord had bestowed upon you.
Listen to the Compass Catholic podcast for more about lifestyle inflation.