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When is Lifestyle Inflation Ok?

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lifestyle inflation

Mention the term lifestyle inflation and you’re bound to get a variety of responses, with many in the personal finance world likely ready to pelt something at you. When many think of the term they start to think of crazy and unmonitored spending to the point that you’re bouncing checks and maxing out credit cards at an alarming rate.

What I’ve been struggling (ok struggling may be just a bit of a reach) with lately is determining at what point some lifestyle inflation is appropriate in order to enjoy life more. Essentially, at what point is lifestyle inflation okay?

Honestly, this is a question that has been on my mind lately as we deal with a growing business and want to have more time to ourselves and with our kids. I’m not saying we would be going out to eat four times a week by any means, but spending in categories that we normally would not to either free up more for family time or to increase our efficiency. The two categories we’ve thought of are house cleaning and child care – sort of two different things really and honestly just the first things that came to my mind.

Lifestyle Inflation is Okay…Within Reason

 

I know I wrote a few weeks back about how paying off debt can change a person and make them get to the point where spending money on things, even necessary things, becomes an agonizing experience. This might make the question of lifestyle inflation seem a little odd and I’ll give you that.

However, what I also discussed in that post was the need to have balance in life. If all you’re doing with your money is saving, paying off debt, etc. life is going to get boring awfully quick and thus potentially make room for you to give in to lifestyle inflation. At the risk of spending a whole post on explaining why lifestyle inflation may be okay to a point, I’ll leave it at this: it’s unavoidable for many but balance is still required in how it is approached.

The Search for Balance

 

Going back to what we’ve been dealing on a personal level, we simply are seeing ourselves facing an increasing lack of time. That lack of time seeps in to other areas of life and ultimately impacts our time with the little Frugal Rules. Thus, we’re looking for ways to mitigate that.

So, the planner in me thought to see what the housekeeping option would cost us. As an aside, neither one of us hate cleaning our house by any means. We’re simply looking at things we could hire out and this was the first thing that came to mind. I called three local housecleaning services and following was the average estimate given to clean our house on a biweekly basis:

  • The initial cleaning would cost us anywhere from $190-$250. This would be done on a per hour charge to gauge how long it takes to clean the house.
  • After that, it would range anywhere from $120-150 every two weeks to clean our house.
  • If we went to weekly, it would cost us $100-120 to get our house cleaned.

Talk about getting your house cleaned! If we went the weekly route, we’d have enough money to max out a Roth IRA with a little under $1,000 left over for the other at the end of the year. With the bi-weekly route we’d be at roughly $4,000 at the end of the year. That’s just craziness in my opinion! On my completely unscientific testing, this would save us roughly 90 minutes per time we clean the house which could be time devoted to the kids. While more time with our kids is always good, outsourcing our house cleaning isn’t wise at all considering the cost, in my opinion. I’ll keep looking for other more cost-effective ways to responsibly free up our time.

Another option we’ve looked at was hiring one of our friends to come watch our kiddos for an afternoon a week or every other week. I know, this seems a bit contradictory to the stated goal of more time with them, but hear me out. The two younger ones would be napping and thus leaving the oldest of our brood for them to truly watch.

Based off what our friends have charged us we likely could get threeish hours for roughly $25-30, so even if we did this once a week it would cost $1,560 for the year and I’m certain we wouldn’t be doing this every week either. This would allow both my wife and I to go to the library and hammer out some work in a way that we wouldn’t normally be able to at home, thus freeing up more time to spend with them in the long run. This is also not to mention the fact that they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? 😉

As I look at the numbers, we could do one of three things – nothing, hire out house cleaning, or have a friend come be with the kiddos. To be honest, the house cleaning isn’t an option at all on any level. I’m confident our workload isn’t going to diminish, thus we need to strike some balance with that and lifestyle inflation so we can have more time for the things that are important to us.

Be Careful Not to Rationalize

 

The problem I’ve seen with lifestyle inflation, both personally and with others, is that it can be incredibly easy to rationalize. This rationalization can trick us in to thinking that we “need” certain things in life when we really need very little when you come to think of it.

We can be our own worst enemies at times and that is most certainly not our desire as left unchecked it can be an incredible budgetary drain. That said, it brings me back to seeing lifestyle inflation in light of value spending and what is important to you. Meaning, do I want to spend on “things” now at the sacrifice of my future, or do I want to balance my spending so my future self is well prepared for whatever it is I’ll want and need then?

I believe this requires us to be aware of our situations and honest with ourselves so we don’t just jump at something because it’s what we want or feel that we need to make life easier. It’s this honesty that helps us not hurl ourselves into the vacuum of lifestyle inflation, but strike a balance between living a disciplined life and one that is enjoyable as well.

 

When do you think lifestyle inflation is “okay”? What other monotonous duties would you look at hiring out in order to save yourself some time?

 

Photo courtesy of: ShowbizSuperstar

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

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67 Comments

  • Although expensive, we’ve hired housecleaning before and loved it. We’ve also done lawn service in the past as well. I think lifestyle inflation is fine when done within limits, especially at times when income increases (when you get a raise). After getting a raise is a perfect time to revamp the budget and see how the additional income can be allocated. Sure you would probably want to invest and save more…but you can also spend more to relieve some of the pressure on the budget.

    • John says:

      I’m afraid we’re going to hire a cleaner and fall in love with them. 😉 I agree, when you get a raise is a good time to look at it, provided you’re saving a solid chunk of it.

  • For the past years we hired a helper to help us to clean our house and to babysit my younger sister. But when my parents realized that we don’t need a helper anymore because we can manage on doing some errands and that their monthly expenses lessen.

  • I don’t even have kids yet, but I would LOVE to have a nanny for them even if I ran a small biz from home. I think the small biz would have to make a certain amount before I could justify it, but like you said it can be pretty easy to start rationalizing these “luxury” purchases. I also think having your house cleaned would be awesome and I would totally want to do that. Like you said, though, you can essentially max out a Roth IRA for how much you spend on weekly cleanings. I think you would for sure want to be making enough to max out the IRA AND pay for cleaning.

    • John says:

      I don’t think we’d want a nanny, just a bigger house with an office. 🙂 It can get easy to rationalize, which is what I want to protect against.

  • Lifestyle inflation is OK when you can afford it. 🙂 If I get a big raise, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to take some of that and add some to our grocery budget for an extra special meal during the week. As long as I take some of that raise and add to my retirement accounts to account for the lifestyle inflation that may continue during my retirement years. 🙂

  • I know we’ve definitely experienced some lifestyle inflation over the past few years, and I’m okay with it as long as we keep it in check. It’s all about balance.

  • It’s interesting that you picked these two areas John, because I don’t view them as lifestyle inflators, I view them as productivity enhancers. To me a lifestyle inflator is an expensive car, clothes shopping or eating out. I have a cleaning lady and childcare, and every time I pay the bills for them, I weigh their individual merits. And at the end of the day, they both free up space where I can be productive at work and I know how much my work productivity pays off, so as long as my work productivity is significantly more than the cost of these two “benefits” then they make sense. For full disclosure, I pay a lot less for my cleaning lady. She came recommended from a neighbor 5 years ago, and she has been a part of our family since. I tell my hubby that if I had to choose between him or her, I would choose her. 🙂

    • John says:

      Lol, that’s awesome Shannon! That’s a good point that both would increase our efficiency and allow us to be more productive. I just can’t seem to swallow that pill though of plunking down that much cash to get our house cleaned. I’m definitely going to have to do some more homework on that front.

  • Kay says:

    It’s definitely all about balance as you point out. I’m more inclined to pay for something that gives me more of my time back (like housecleaning) rather than buying more stuff, like clothes or shoes.

  • We try to keep our lifestyle inflation to about 50% of our pay increases. If we’re lucky enough to get an increase then we’ll redo our budgets and decide where that extra money should go. We usually have some good ideas or need that are already there. So the “house cleaning” type of lifestyle inflation doesn’t creep in often.

  • I think you’re looking at two very valid services here. I would likely definitely get the kid-watcher, and I might even consider a house-cleaning service too. Have you looked into the local homeschooling kids to hire for house-cleaning, John? A friend of mine hires a high-school or jr-high aged homeschool kid for housecleaning. She does a good job, and she’s much cheaper than a service. And bonus, you’re helping her to make her (or his) own way too. Plus, wouldn’t both of these services be tax-deductible?

    • John says:

      That’s a good point Laurie, I hadn’t thought about that and I don’t know why I didn’t. 🙂 In terms of the tax deductibility, I think we could get away with the child care costs. The house cleaning I’m not so confident on, but maybe could fit in with the home office business use and get part of it off. I’ll have to check in to that one.

  • I would love a housecleaner. My husband and I are not the cleanest people in the world… understatement of the year. I would also love to pay someone to do our laundry, fold it, and send it back to us!

    • John says:

      My wife is with you on the laundry. It is NEVER ending with three little ones. It always seems like either the washer or dryer are running at most times during the day.

  • I went through a certain amount of lifestyle inflation when I graduated college. I was scrimping and saving to pay for tuition for years, and when I graduated I figured it would be okay to loosen up the reigns a bit. I went through even more when we bought our house. We can afford it, but we haven’t hired a house cleaner or anything like that.

    • John says:

      I think that’s a pretty common thing to go through Daisy. I didn’t though as I was paying off my debt that I incurred on my credit cards while in college. 😉

  • Liz says:

    I would love to get lawn care! If there is one activity I really do HATE it is yard work. Maybe someday we will treat ourselves!

    • John says:

      I feel the same way Liz. I hate it as well, but with me working from home now I’ll take anything that allows me to get outside. 🙂

  • Kathy says:

    Life style inflation can occur when you have debt paid off and are still living under your income. What is the point of just saving money forever, if you never plan on enjoying it. Being frugal and thrifty is different from hoarding. And if you never use any of your money, I’m sure your heirs will.

    • John says:

      Definitely agreed Kathy. We definitely use our money, just a tough pill to swallow when I can equate spending on something that’s certainly not a need to maxing out a retirement account.

  • Pauline says:

    I’d say as long as the inflation is lower than your pay increase it is fine. Getting a $100 raise and allocating $20-50 for fun if the rest goes to savings sound reasonable.

  • I think lifestyle inflation is OK if it makes you happy and doesn’t put you into debt. We have a person come by twice a month to clean our house . My wife had her cleaning before I came into the picture. She does a great job and is cheap. When we were thinking about our goals, I was thinking that there were better ways of using the money and offered to clean the house. The problem was that we have cats (I never had indoor cats before) and no matter how well I cleaned, there was ALWAYS some left over cat hair somewhere. Being a perfectionist made my blood boil at the fact I couldn’t get the house 100% clean. Long story short, we have a woman to clean the house. Not doing it keeps my blood pressure down and me alive for a long time (hopefully) and it also frees up a few hours of my time that I can better use elsewhere.

    • John says:

      Completely agreed Jon. We have an indoor cat as well and we can NEVER get up all it’s hair. But, with all the grief he gets from the kids I guess he’s fine leaving his hair around the house. 😉

  • I agree with you’re statement that saving and paying off debt can get boring pretty quick if that is all you’re allowing with your money. There has to be room in the budget for the fun stuff as well.

    • John says:

      You’re spot on Raquel! You need to have some fun, otherwise it can get awfully boring awfully quickly.

      • JMK says:

        Just for fun, make a list of 3 fun things to do that are either free or cost very little. I agree it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that having fun = spending money. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This week I added all the dates for free outdoor summer concerts to our calendar. These tend to have a festival atmosphere – bring your lawnchair, frisbee and a picnic. We have picked several local hiking and biking routes we’ll do over the course of the summer when the weather is suitable. We plan to visit family at their cottage – price of admission will likely be providing dinner for everyone one night. Organize a neighbourhood BBQ; plan a movie night and pot luck with friends. Do you have local museums, art galleries etc that have free days or at least online coupons you can use? Do you have a beach or park nearby you can enjoy? I just purchased snowshoes for all of us at an end of winter sale. They are hidden away and will be Christmas gifts 9 months from now. Yes that’s an expense/investment, but then all the subsequent weekend outings are free. We tend not to indulge in ongoing increases to our basic spending, but when we receive our tax refund for example, we allocate a small amount to an event or item we ordinarily wouldn’t purchase. If we have a garage sale or even just sell a single item, that is considered found money that can be spent on something not normally included in the budget – that really motivates us to be on the hunt for items around the house that we aren’t using any longer. We enjoy the one-time splurge and then we go back to regularly scheduled programming

  • Grayson Bell says:

    Hmmm…..I wouldn’t go with the cleaning service. That is a lot of money. That being said, my wife and I keep our home pretty clean on a regular basis, so cleaning only takes about 20 minutes to do. I would consider the children being watched. You can either work during that time and earn some income or you can go and relax somewhere just to breath a little bit. The options there are more flexible and the costs is minimal.

    • John says:

      I agree, at that cost it’s just too big of a pill to swallow. That’s the nice thing about hiring someone to watch the kids – we can get more work done and make more money in the process. That’s a double win in my book!

  • I had the same reaction when pricing out house cleaners. $250-$350 per month. I just could not pull the trigger and would probably feel guilty if we did that instead of saving or using that money for something better. I would certainly do the child care, though. The kids probably need a break from you as much as you need a break from them. Our two biggest lifestyle inflation items are eating out and staying in nicer hotels when we travel. We don’t do that all the time, but I’m too picky to eat McDonald’s and stay at Motel 6 at this point in my life!

    • John says:

      I know, my jaw just hit the table when I was making the calls. We’re definitely in the nicer hotel category, but thankfully churning usually takes care of that. 🙂

  • My hubby and I both hate cleaning the house so it does not get done all that often! No kids right now, just dogs, so the place doesn’t get too messy just dusty sometimes. I think I’d be worried that if we ever decided to “try out” a house cleaning service that we would NEVER want to go back and thus our expenses would increase pretty much permanently. Which is why we are living with our dust for now 🙂

    • John says:

      I fear we’d feel the same way and not want to go back. I think our little bit of dust is well worth not spending $6k on paying someone to clean it for us.

  • In my opinion, lifestyle inflation shouldn’t even be a temptation, let alone a consideration, unless the cost of doing so does not divert from some other important goal (retirement savings, regular savings, paying off debt, etc.). Then again, I’ve gone through some pretty harrowing financial setbacks so perhaps I’m pretty strict on myself. Oh, and I don’t think having your friends babysit the kids 1x per week is really lifestyle inflation especially if you’d use that time to work! Now, the house cleaning would be lifestyle inflation and, at those costs, you’re smart for quickly dismissing the idea.

  • I think that it’s OK when you have a good understanding of and are honest with what the lifestyle inflation will do to your longer-term goals and when you’re OK with that.

  • MMD says:

    We have a cleaning lady for our house. It is one of our few vices. I look at it as more of an investment than anything else. While she takes care of cleaning things, both my wife and I are far less stressed than normal. In some instances that’s worth every penny.

    • John says:

      I totally get that MMD. I have my own vices and part of them do lessen the stress level. I think I’d be stressed over spending $6,000 though. 😉

  • It does seem like a lot of PF bloggers are down on lifestyle inflation and while I agree people need to be mindful of how they spend their money, I also believe life is meant to be enjoyed. There does need to be some sort of balance where you can add mindful luxuries that mean something to you without going off the reservation and getting yourself back into credit card debt. We do have someone do the “heavy” cleaning in our home. It isn’t cheap as you saw, but for me, the price is worth it and it’s part of our budget. At the same time, I can understand why you’d rather putt hat money towards maxing out a Roth IRA too. 🙂 I will say when they come in to the do the initial cleaning, your whole house sparkles from top-to-bottom as they really do an amazing job. iIt may be worth considering having that done quarterly or semi-annually as it would probably be easier for you and Nicole to maintain and they would take care of some of bigger things (clean the oven, fridge) that you typically don’t do weekly.

    • John says:

      I agree Shannon and I think much of it generally goes back to fear that spending will just get out of control in an instant. That said, I completely agree that life is meant to be enjoyed, in balance of course. That’s a great idea to have someone do it quarterly, I hadn’t thought of that!

  • J would have a heart attack if I were to utter the words lifestyle inflation right now. Maybe after the debt is paid off. 😉

    P.S. I think the idea of your friend watching your kids for a few hours one night a week sounds like it could be very beneficial for you and the Mrs and your business!

    • John says:

      Lol, I can understand that. 🙂 I think I would’ve too and still likely do at times. 😉

      I know, I think we may just do it for the heck of it. The kids love it because they know they can get away with more. 🙂

  • I’m such a percentage person. All income is divided by percentages into expenses, savings, retirement, and play. If there is any room in either the expenses or play categories, then I’ll consider a little lifestyle inflation- I would LOVE a cleaning person.

  • With a higher income, I would consider a small amount of lifestyle inflation to pay for organic foods and a yoga studio membership. Even though I’m not currently taking it as seriously as I should, my long term health is important. Not taking these things seriously may even result in more expensive healthcare costs in the future.

    • John says:

      That’s a great one Addison! We’ve done that a bit with spending a little more on organic foods. We garden as well, so that helps out a lot as well.

  • I resisted the thought of a housekeeper for forever. I thought that by getting one it made me some sort of a failure, like I couldn’t pick up my house and work at the same time. Hubs helps when he can, especially when he’s out of school, but when he’s in school he can’t do much extra. When we were in Grenada, I talked to my landlady about how stressed I was and she offered her housekeeper for an hour or so for free. She said that our place was tiny, her housekeeper was there all day, and it would take no time at all for her to just pop in there quickly and tidy up….. It was seriously the best feeling ever coming home from work that day to a clean house. Ever since then I’ve given up feeling guilty about it. It’ll be one of the first things I nail down when we move in May.

    • John says:

      That’s awesome Cat! That’s what I think I’d struggle with – feeling guilty for doing it, especially with the cost it carries. If we do it, we’ll have to find someone cheaper.

  • I think it’s all about balance. I hate to admit, but I’ve been that person that hates spending money on the necessities, a habit/quirk I developed back in my massive debt pay off days. What I’ve come to realize is that there are some things that I need to spend money and can’t avoid. I always try to find reasons not to spend money. If there are no good ones, then I’ll spend the money. But right now, if there is something that I can save on by doing myself, I will typically save the money. Once I’m at the point in my life where I have more money than time, I wouldn’t have a problem spending on things that will allow me to live a more fulfilling life. Excellent post.

    • John says:

      I agree Ryan, so much of it does come down to balance. My problem is I’d much rather take the time to do whatever it is because I remember what it was like to have no money during my debt pay off years. I think the challenge for me is to allow myself to enjoy things without feeling like I am just going to let spending go crazy nutty.

  • Aside from the basic necessities in life, everything else is pretty much is lifestyle inflation. There is nothing wrong with it since we are all doing it already in some form. I think the most important thing is to find the balance that works best for your situation and goals. If you decide that your time is worth more than the cost of housecleaning or that 1 night of baby sitting, then by all means do it.

  • I’ve done a mystery shop for a house cleaning company before and I will say that when my house was clean for that brief amount of time, it was amazing. I do not have the money to justify such an expense now but if I did have that extra $125 every two weeks (on top of maxing out my retirement and saving lots), I would jump on board.

    I think if it’s a task you truly loathed, and the time could be used elsewhere, it can be justified. I rarely eat out or go to the movies but I would gladly pay for someone to help me keep the house clean.

    • John says:

      I imagine it would be. I love the thought, of course who doesn’t, of having someone come in and clean the house for us. But, I think we’re going to table it for now until we find something more affordable.

  • I’ve been VERY VERY careful about this. I’m afraid that if I let go too much, the budget will collapse. As a grad student, it’s a careful one already. Now that I make more money, I eat out more often – that’s my one budgetary problem right now. I’m working to reduce that, keep the same lifestyle and pay down even more massive amounts in debt. 🙂

  • E says:

    As someone in her early twenties, I appreciate someone saying that lifestyle inflation is not 100% evil at all times. I’ve always felt so guilty whenever I read about it. But my starting point was “barely scraping by, eating something other than ramen noodles just often enough to prevent the sodium bloating from becoming obvious.” Then I got out of my minimum wage job. I started buying food that couldn’t be microwaved. Fruit. Baking ingredients. A little bit of meat. Things a lot of people would consider “normal.”

    And I’ve been haunted by the voices of blogs past echoing in my head, telling me “lifestyle inflation is bad.” I’m still getting out of student loan debt, but I don’t want to make myself miserable or unhealthy in the name of saving pennies when I don’t have to anymore. When is lifestyle inflation okay? At what point do I cross the line from “probably acceptable” to “trying to justify it to myself”? I have no idea. But man am I enjoying this pear.

    • John says:

      I can relate E. It can be very easy to feel guilty reading blog post after blog post saying that lifestyle inflation is “bad”. I think part of it goes back to the fear of some that it’ll run rampant and that you’ll just rack up all sorts of debt it the process. Sure, that’s possible, but so are many other things.

      The key, as so many others have said, is to achieve some sort of balance. Yes, that can be easier said than done at times but it’s certainly possible to achieve. After all, life is just too short not to enjoy life to some extent. If you’re not, then life will get mighty boring and quickly at that. Thanks for stopping by E and best of luck with those student loans. 🙂

  • Syed says:

    Thought provoking post. While I wouldn’t say lifestyle inflation is ok, it is good to reward yourself once in a while, hopefully with something that will bring some value to your life. Maybe replacing your clunker of a laptop with a newer one, making your blogging life easier. Or a weekend getaway with the wife, making your marriage stronger.

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