1 I've Fallen Into the 'Lifestyle Inflation' Trap | The Billfold

I’ve Fallen Into the ‘Lifestyle Inflation’ Trap


I always assumed that inflation is about money, but now I know that it’s not.

For a year and a half I was working in the suburbs of London, which was definitely a result of the “take what you can get” approach to job-hunting. I was a journalist at a super niche business magazine in Bromley, which is basically to London what Irvine in Southern California is to Los Angeles. I hated it, but total isolation from contacts and competitors had plus sides I couldn’t even have comprehended.

No matter how much money I made, there was never a reason to spend for the sake of looking—or acting—like a professional.

I was getting raises, but it wasn’t until I got a new job at a big publishing company in the city center that I truly understood the meaning of lifestyle inflation. I moved companies for equal pay, but even without a raise I felt richer.

Suddenly industry-sponsored lunches and after-work events were par for the course. I felt lucky, and like an imposter, and my reaction was instantaneous and irresistible: buy a fuckload of new clothes.

Picture me, limping through central London in the blue suede shoes that are useless when I have to walk any sort of distance to a meeting ($42), my Moroccan oiled hair ($16.85) and Marc by Marc Jacobs watch ($354.25, heavily subsidized by a gift card to uber-department store Selfridges) gleaming in the watery sunlight as I pull down the new skirt that didn’t ride up in the fitting room, but certainly does on the street ($25.30). A cupcake from Hummingbird bakery ($3.37) is nestled close to my chest, tight against the slouchy-but-smart sweater ($42.17) I assumed I would wear every day, but obviously don’t wear ever.

Corporate concert tickets might be free (at least in terms of dollar signs), but this clothing and cocktails shit is not. Also, what the fuck am I going to do with blue suede heels in a city where it’s always raining? But to deny myself anything is excruciating. There is no logic to my desires; there is only the squealing voice in my head. My commute now costs a fraction of what it used to, but my monthly latte bill is up.

I have friends who have gotten themselves thousands of dollars into debt to live the London music industry life on its corresponding salary; others sink ever deeper into their overdrafts to keep up with co-workers in the fashion industry. I’m lucky to have no debt aside from student loans and a good chunk of last year’s tax return to dip into as my bank balance dwindles, and which I pay back promptly with every paycheck. In theory all I need is one good month to be in great shape. But what month will that be? There’s always some event to dress for, something new I think I deserve.

I don’t know where it will end, but I know it won’t be with my next pay raise. And in two months I’ll start contributing 3 percent of my monthly paycheck to my pension, even though I could really use the money for cat food.

In my glamorous new world, saving for the future is starting to look like yet another sign of success that I can’t really afford.


Lucinda Beeman is a journalist living in London.

Photo: Herry Lawford


26 Comments / Post A Comment

Allison (#4,509)

Fighting life style creep is really hard! I got a raise recently, just a couple hundred dollars a month, that I would have made myself start throwing at my savings/debts more but then my condo dues went up at the exact same time so it all kind of balanced out.

Aconite (#6,401)

I also live in London and agree that suede is an ill-advised choice for shoes.

I just…all I want is clothing. All the time. I am a shameful, unstoppable force.

highjump (#39)

@Jake Reinhardt There are too many pretty things in the world.

lisaf (#3,089)

I would love more articles about lifestyle inflation! It is HARD!

samburger (#5,489)

@lisaf Yes, seconded!

joyballz (#2,000)

This is minorly related. My friends and I just held a clothing swap where we brought all of our “I loved it in the dressing room, but not in real life” or “this color is beautiful, but washes me out” clothing and traded it all around. I felt like I went on a shopping spree and cleaned out my closet in one free stop. We did jewelry, accessories and housewares too. We range in size from 2-12 and everyone still found something since sizes can be unreliable. I referenced Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants more than once.

NoName (#3,509)

@joyballz Just putting this out there in case some people will find it useful – this blog has excellent tutorials on wardrobe planning and personal style definition that seem to be taken from fashion industry methods. It is a great approach to avoid costly wardrobe mistakes, even if you don’t subscribe to her minimalist aesthetic: http://into-mind.com/

littleoaks (#1,801)

@NoName That site is blowing my mind.

potatopotato (#5,255)

@joyballz: YES these parties are the best, especially when they involve box wine. I have a friend who throws one of these about once a year. She sets up a Facebook invite ahead of time, so people can make requests. “I’m looking for cardigans I can wear in an office, size 8-ish, anybody got some?” When you get there, clothes go on the bed, purses in this corner, kitchen gadgets next to the couch.

Afterwards she recycels/donates/trashes. It’s probably a lot of work for the person who throws it, but it’s a great way to get rid of unusued Sephora samples.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

And even if you don’t want to inflate your own lifestyle, your peer group suddenly starts wanting to eat at nicer restaurants and go hang out at places that cost money. Adulthood comes with a cost.

Cup of T (#2,533)

@HelloTheFuture YES. This is really hard, especially when you [I] are a grad student and most of your friends [my friends] have jobs with salaries. There are activities in which I really can’t responsibly partake [nice dinners out! renting a place for a long weekend!] but have trouble explaining why [even though they know that grad students make peanuts.] The pressure…

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@HelloTheFuture A THOUSAND TIMES THIS. I reference one of my first Billfold comments/Internet whines:

“…when I’m going through my cupboards and planning my Food Bazaar grocery (cause “oh-so-affordable” Trader Joes doesn’t fit the budget, and hell, won’t even be in this nabe/hood for a decade), and my friend who I haven’t seen in a month even though we live 3 miles apart who works a consultant/lawyer/corporate shill-type job with accompanied salary is having brunch with another con/law/shill friend visiting from out of town I STRUGGLE. I don’t want the things. (Except for when I walk into Uniqlo; then I do want ALL of the things.) But I would like to afford the experiences, or barring that, not have to figure out a convenient lie for why I can’t make it to brunch with two people who I actually like.


j a y (#3,935)

@DebtOrAlive I totally go to restaurants and don’t order anything. I just tell the server that I already ate and am just accompanying my friends.

It’s not usually because of cost for me… But I doubt they care what the reason is. Alternatively I’ll order a dessert or a drink but usually I just prefer to be left out of bill splitting.

If a restaurant ever had a problem with that, they’d just lose my friends and my future business.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

@Cup of T It’s particularly annoying when it’s your fellow grad student friends who want to do that stuff! (I am not making a universal statement here, but people whose parents pay their car payments or medical bills somehow seem to have extra disposable income compared to the rest of us….)

garysixpack (#4,263)

My wife grew up in Chislehurst, and I get the impression that many residents commute to work in the City. I’m not sure it’s that far in the boonies.

BTW, Chislehurst is home to the Beaverwood School for Girls, probably the most unfortunately named school in the world.

MollyAuden (#6,292)

But what drives lifestyle inflation? Is it only that you are living in a wealthier or more exciting area with more to do after work, and feel the pressure to pay to partake of it? Or is it more just seeing people around you spending more?

Allison (#4,509)

@MollyAuden In the non-keeping up with the work appropriate Joneses category, I think some of it is finally feeling like you can meet some of your pent up demand for things you wouldn’t previously be able to afford and then being bad at reigning that back in.

I mean, if all through grad school you were drinking Two Buck Chuck, and you finally have a real job with a salary (and somehow aren’t being crushed by student loans), maybe you decided to try the $6 bottle of wine instead. And you like it better. And then that just creeps in everywhere.

themegnapkin (#444)

@MollyAuden I work in a satellite office (located in a not-expensive area) of a larger company that is based in New York. In my town, nobody cares what I wear, if I buy all my clothes from Target I’m still more fashionable than 80% of the people on the street. But when I interact with colleagues from New York, I feel like a gross frump. So, that’s what motivates my lifestyle inflation (which is mainly clothing-based).

boringbunny (#3,260)

My friends are all super cheap and/or students so my lifestyle is actually deflating. I just go on walks, do free events and host parties. And when I think of buying something crazy expensive, I don’t even know who would be there to admire it.

gridmonte (#5,744)

another vote for more articles on lifestyle creep!

Hey, you guys are talking about me!

A thought. There is a flip side to the “I’m a grad student/struggling writer/freelance creative type and all my friends are corporate shills that make so much money!” lament. Us corporate shills make a lot of money because nobody would be willing to do these jobs for less than the suitable compensation we make. Many of us have advanced degrees that put us into six figure student loan debt. You cannot afford to take an unpaid or low-wage internship when you are staring at a $1700 monthly loan payment shortly after the bar exam is over. Trust me, we are envious of those of you that can make your own schedules, study things that interest you, and ignore your emails after 6pm and on the weekends. From our side, those look like luxuries in the same way our brunches and weekend trips look like them to you. Corporate shill jobs obviously have their perks. A pleasant work-life balance and fulfilling/satisfying/enjoyable work just usually aren’t included.

@fo (#839)

“Bromley, which is basically to London what Irvine in Southern California is to Los Angeles”

No, it’s basically what Van Nuys is to Los Angeles–Bromley is part of Greater London. SoCal is just not a good analog for London.

burdock (#771)

I recently moved from a “relatively trendy East Coast city” to a “crunchy outdoor-mecca city”. Theoretically the cost of living is cheaper, which is great because I also took a (slight) salary cut to move. But I find that I have to fight lifestyle creep HARD because everyone here has the latest in outdoor adventure gear/clothes and it starts to seem like what pack you take up the mountain matters. It shouldn’t and yet, (spoiler alert) I’m losing the battle.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

There’s also the “lifestyle creep” of general adulthood: hey, I have a spouse/kid, so I can’t live with six roommates anymore! Or hey, my parents don’t pay for my health care anymore/I actually need health care now, so BILLZ! Or yeah, I totally lived off of boxed mac & cheese with canned black beans five years ago, but now I have developed a taste and digestive need for vegetables, so my grocery bill has gone up. That’s a little different from taste-based lifestyle inflation in some ways, but I do think it can be really difficult to live like you’re 22 when you’re 32.

halloliebchen (#5,373)

I have this, but not with clothes. It’s more with food and nice booze. College was for rice and beans and gin that comes in plastic bottles. My 20s is all about eating out whenever I want, buying expensive gourmet ingredients to cook at home and drinking middle-shelf gin dammit. Needless to say, I’m not exactly saving.

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