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Lifestyle creep: Is it killing your early retirement?

I have recently come to realize a couple of key things about the SSC household finances. First of all, I realized how out of touch with them I really was… Bad Mr. SSC! Secondly, holy crap are we living way below our means! Way to go SSC family! “Why do I bring this up?” you ask, well… let me tell you. I am personally shocked by how little we live on, given the state of our financial comfort and relatively decent salaries. Yet, I don’t feel slighted, I don’t feel broke, and even more importantly, I don’t feel like I’m wanting for anything. We’ve discussed in other posts, where the money goes, and what our budgets are, and how we got to where we are by diligent saving, and yada, yada, yada. I point to something else as a larger reason that we are in the situation we are today – I think it’s that we have mostly avoided lifestyle creep. That’s year to year creep, like my waistline, slowly expanding until one day I wake up and think, “When did I get fat?!”

I started thinking more about lifestyle inflation the other day after a late night of perusing Facebook. I noticed a friend, let’s call her June,  offering up her used clothes dryer for sale for $150 obo. She also offered the washer with it because it was broken, and since her new washer didn’t match her old dryer, well of course she needed a whole new set. June listed the make, model and all that, so being bored I decided to look it up. It was an $1,100 dryer! That got me thinking, “Man, I bet the washer could be repaired for less than $500 even if it was a motherboard replacement or some other circuitry issue.” Another friend pointed out “the steal” and the fact she was giving up an $1,100 dryer for 10% of the original cost. She pointed out that the new wouldn’t match the old, so please someone come get them.

Then, I thought back a few months ago to June lamenting being “car poor” because she had a plumbing issue come up and needed funds to fix it and repair the damage to her ceiling, dining room, etc… This was after she had just bought a new Camaro convertible and her husband bought a new BMW X5 within the same month. Sure, the SSC family could be doing the same thing, but I realized that we have avoided a lot of that buying for buying’s sake. We caught ourselves doing that early on, and realized we could cut the credit card by 20% each month just by asking, “Do I want it or do I need it?” We found out we don’t need a lot of things we had been buying. Also, by being mindful of our eating out, and switching it to allowances, we were able to cut a lot of spending there. So now, it’s pseudo-date like in that if we eat out, one of us pays from our allowance. Unless it’s sushi, when Mr. SSC always pays, or now we’ve decided going dutch works too, mainly because, “I eat 3x as much as Mrs., SSC.” But to the real point, we’re accountable for eating out and that saves a lot of $$.

Here’s where I am going to go on a sidenote rant though. Mrs. SSC was just telling me about having lunch with some co-workers and how they were talking about all the restaurants they go out to eat at, and have you tried, here, there, etc… These are all people a little older than us, but basically single income providers with stay at home counterparts. Let’s call one of them, Ted. Ted was talking about how he buys breakfast and lunch at work. That has to be about $15-20/day! I know, I’ve also eaten there, never for breakfast, but for lunch, and it’s essentially restaurant prices. So ~$100/week for food at work. That’s almost $5200/yr to eat at work. Ok for me to hear it put like that, it doesn’t sound like much, but that’s because I have no good sense about money. BUT, if you think of it in terms of, if you invest half of that, assuming you bring your lunch, and save $2500/yr those investments can add up to way more than a “tasty” lunch and breakfast each day. Back to the “creep” talk.

Another way we avoided creep was technology creep. I just don’t get keeping up with the Joneses in regards to Apple’s latest iPhone, or Samsung’s latest phone or the newest tablet, or anyone remember the days of GPS? When Apple came out with the first iPhone, so many people I knew, broke or not, were suddenly coming up with $300-$400 for a new iPhone, even though their old phone worked great. They were showing off apps and having loads of fun with it and I thought, “But my phone is fine, and doesn’t eat up a lot of pocket space, and works great for me.” Even with subsequent releases I would hear people lament, “Oh woe is me, I have an iPhone 4 and they just released a 5! I knew I should’ve waited, and now I have to wait 6 months to turn this old 4 in for a brand new 5!” And they had just gotten their iPhone 4. My family (blood related not SSC family) is notorious with getting a phone and using it for maybe 6 months or less, and getting another phone, not realizing the crazy costs associated with constant phone upgrades, but they add up! The “free phone” with a 2 yr contract is ridiculously expensive, when you price out buying it like on T-Mobile’s plans. (this is not an endorsement for T-Mobile. I don’t like them, but they’re lower cost, so it’s a concession I made with Mrs. SSC).

The point of how much we’ve avoided lifestyle creep was driven home to me the other day when I got an update on numbers, retirement dates, retirement income possibilities, etc… from Mrs. SSC. She’s constantly running numbers, adjustments, different forecasts and the like and letting me know where we stand and whether or not 2018 or 2019 is doable for retirement, or if it’s as late as 2020! Gah! She sent me a number and pointed out that in our early retirement, we’re going to essentially be living with an extra ~18% of buffer money than we currently are living now. 18%! I was shocked! Not that we’ll be living more comfortably in early retirement, because it’s pretty comfy now, but just that we’ll have that buffer there and it will be more than we live off of now. Ridiculous… When we get to 60 and our 401k kicks in, it will be an even bigger cushion, restaurants here I come! I’m just astounded that by avoiding throwing away money on things like new cars every 3 yrs, or new phones every year or new tablets every year, we have been able to get to early retirement that much sooner.

And getting back to that lunch Mrs. SSC was having with her colleagues. Besides Ted and his food habits, there was “Mary” who was talking about having a rotating shoe rack in her closet so she could store and view all her shoes. WTF, who does that? Do you do that? Better yet, who needs that? Another one was talking about something else that made Mrs. SSC think, “Are we cheapskates?! Are we living like suckers, “cheaping” it up to retire early?!” Then she realized, by the time we’re their age (~6-8 yrs) we will have been in our retirement home for hopefully 1-2 yrs relaxing fixing it up and spending more time with each other and the kids. So, no, like I’ve said, I don’t feel deprived, or broke, or like I want something and can’t afford it. I am looking forward to being able to house hunt for our retirement place in another 5 yrs, and enjoy sitting on a back porch or deck somewhere soon, just slowly sipping my coffee.

9 thoughts on “Lifestyle creep: Is it killing your early retirement?

  1. Mrs. Maroon

    We have been guilty of some lifestyle creep in the past. But we happily recognize that those things we needed, just had to have, are not going to bring us the happiness we will find in FIRE. They won’t even bring us happiness in the interim while we wait to get to FIRE. So we are much better off by letting the money work hard for us to reach that ultimate dream!

    1. Mr. SSC

      I agree. After reflecting on purchases made during my period of “buying for buying’s sake” on the internet, I realized I have seldom used or needed most of that. That led to the musical instrument purge of 2012, and the greater realization that money and things don’t = happiness. I’d much rather put that into stocks or something with memories associated now, like a vacation or short weekend somewhere rather than getting another banjo/guitar/fiddle, etc…

  2. Petrish @ Debt Free Martini

    I have been guilty of lifestyle creeps in the past. This is our culture now and its kinda sicken. I can’t beat these people up too much because I use to be like them. I crack up when I watch HGTV and people are buying unnecessary space just for entertaining. I always think now if people love me they would huddle in my hut and we would have a grand old time anyway. I really enjoyed this post it really makes you think.

    1. Mr. SSC

      HGTV is great entertainment for SO many reasons, and that aspect is one of them. Especially when viewing it from the, been there, done that aspect. Mrs. SSC and I are really dialed in on what we do and more importantly DON’T want in our retirement abode once we leave Houston, and less space is top of the list. Houses here are just SO big and relatively inexpensive. Hearing our co-workers talk about their upgrades and “must-haves”, i.e. rotating shoe rack, just makes me think, “Yeah, I’d rather be free from work 2 months sooner….” Thanks for the comment!

  3. Even Steven

    All that kept popping into my head when I read this was reality shows and celebrity this and that. Many see this as actual “reality” and a few shopping trips later and they have the newest, best, biggest, most expensive “that”.

    1. Mr. SSC

      So, I’m guessing you’re NOT watching Honey Boo Boo? :) That’s an excellent point though, I didn’t even think about all those shows (MTV especially)* like Trick my Ride, Cribs, or even shows like where the guys set up ridiculous fish tanks in people’s houses, or treehouses, or like Debt Free Martini mentioned HGTV. Not to mention all the “Housewives” type shows. No wonder people are so consumer driven.
      * I don’t watch MTV – but I was cubicle mate to an MTV addict that loved to talk about her “stories” she’d watch on MTV. She was confused and aghast that I didn’t watch MTV reality shows and insisted I be caught up on the drama…

  4. Funny about Money

    Rotating shoe rack? 😀 How can anyone live without it??

    It’s surprising how little it takes to live comfortably if one’s lifestyle is founded in a substrate of common sense. On the other hand…mine is not to question why a person would feel compelled to buy a new dryer to match the new washer that might or might not have been repairable…if you can afford it, bully for you! I personally am too cheap to do that, and besides, since my washer & dryer reside in the garage, I do not regard them as decorator items.

    People do a lot of things that truly are stupid, financially (buying two new cars at once, if you can’t pay for them outright in cash? And then you can’t afford to repair the plumbing… “Where’s yore sign?”). They also get talked into things — the dryer could be a case in point.

    In some companies and lawfirms, executives, associates, and partners are discouraged from brown-bagging — you’re supposed to be out there schmoozing during the lunch hour. But if that’s not the case, restaurant food by and large is so bad it’s hard to understand why you’d want to eat out twice a day at elevated prices. Yet I expect some people a) don’t regard restaurant food as overpiced and b) become desensitized to the amount they spend over time by the fact that they’re spending such a small amount at any given moment.

  5. Mr. SSC

    I agree, if someone can afford to replace rather than fix, more power to them.
    I just found it ironic that there had been complaints about being car poor, and then turning around and giving away a $2k washer dryer set to replace it with something similar. To each their own.
    I think you hit the nail on the head that most people just think “It’s only $10-$15/day for lunch, that’s not a lot” and don’t think how they could use that money to work for them instead of fund the local eateries.
    Again, to each their own, and we all have different priorities.

  6. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    I bought a rotating shoe rack. It didn’t actually hold too many pairs and was pretty flimsy. So I sold it at a yard sale. Lesson learned!

    We put some lifestyle creep into our budget this year. We both agreed that there were some extra stuff that we wanted to have, or wanted the option to have. It was a bit tough for me just starting my blog and already putting in lifestyle inflation, but it’s what we wanted. We’re still on track for our goals, so it is what it is.

    I agree with you though, all the little mindless spending adds up fast and you can be just as happy living with much less. I always like hearing your responses to Mrs. SSC’s number crunching. Mr. SCM sometimes has the same revelations.

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