Don't Let This Creep Near You

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It may already be too late. This creep is sneaky. Everyone is vulnerable, regardless of age, class, gender or race.I’m talking about “lifestyle creep.” It’s a thing—a very real thing.

Lifestyle creep happens when living expenses push the boundaries of available income, even as that income increases over the course of a career. Logically, we save more money when we make more. But lifestyle creep is anything but logical. As income increases, we spend more and more. I know, it’s creepy.

Here’s even more logic gone AWOL: a reasonable assumption is that lifestyle creep affects only individuals and families with meager incomes because there’s not much money to spare.

The reality though, is that this kind of creep doesn’t discriminate when it comes to income. It happens to people from all different income brackets—from princes to paupers. This is why jaws drop when news stories break about millionaire celebrities who declare bankruptcy. We wonder how this happens, but it’s just lifestyle creep.The truth is that we can rationalize almost any purchase. What difference does another $7.99 online monthly membership make? It turns out, a lot. 

Even people who have a good handle on their personal finances are vulnerable. It’s called “creep” for a reason! Increased spending happens gradually, inch by inch. Everything is fine until one day money is tight, and there’s no good explanation for it.

Has this creep managed to get near you? Here’s a simple way to keep it away from you: 

Lead with a moment of honesty.

What’s the level of anxiety you’re experiencing right now related to your personal finances? On a scale between “white knuckling it” to “freestyling” how anxious are you these days due to your budget? If your knuckles are even a little bit white, it could be because of lifestyle creep. 

Next, ask yourself about how firm your grip is on your expenses. Sure, you pay the bills and you know where the money is going. But what’s the actual ratio of expenses to income?

“Eyeballing” your budget may have worked in the past. But the reality is that life circumstances change, and along with them so do our personal finances. If you suspect lifestyle creep, then it’s time to break down your financial life to the nitty gritty. That’s right, make a budget.

There’s a chance lifestyle creep has inched near you, too. The only question may be—just how close is it? 

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Great article.  The only thing I'd add is that the US Federal government has this problem too, in spades, as do a number of US States.  The problem is pretty much the same even if the consequences of the latter are and will be more communal.

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Mint.com is a great resource for tracking all of your financial accounts, from checkings, savings, credit cards, HSAs, 401ks, and IRAs. Having everything in one place and categorizing helps give some great perspective on exactly how much creeping your lifestyle is causing. It can be great data after tracking it for years - and it automatically creates some visual graphs for you. Seeing this, in my opinion, is a must for creating a sustainable budget.