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