If you spend any time in the FIRE (Financial Independance/Retire Early) corners of the internet, you will constantly hear folks telling you to avoid lifestyle inflation. And in general, it’s good advice. If you were meeting all your needs before you got a raise, then saving any new income instead of buying a better car/bigger house can be a great way to hit your savings/investing/FIRE goals. But I started thinking late tonight about how that advice–in specific situations for specific people–falls short and leaves responsible people* feeling guilty for no reason. Let’s talk about some of those situations.
1. You really do need a better car.
My first car was a glorious heap of garbage on wheels. To begin with, there was that dingblasted clatter coming from under the hood any time it was on. Then it left me stranded on the way to work. And then the starter wire started falling off any time the car was in motion. Once I was making more money? I bought a car that I was 100% sure would accelerate when I was pulling into traffic and got me to work every. time.
2. You have a problem that money can fix.
To borrow a phrase from Captain Awkward, sometimes you can “throw money at a problem” and it can make your life better in real ways. In my case, that problem is being a Highly Sensitive Person with beautiful, beloved kiddos. My life is made markedly better by paying for quality childcare when I need it. And that need is for regular breaks as well as for paid work. We are all better off for it. Which brings me to my next situation…
3. When you have more people to take care of
Say all you want about how kids don’t have to cost $233k to raise (and I have plenty to say about it), the truth is that more people cost more money. There are more showers, baths, clothes, meals, entry fees, educational costs, bottoms to transport, library overdue fees, beds to buy, and rooms to put them in. The $300/month one bedroom apartment that we had when we were first married does not feel as spacious once the number of people has doubled. And the two bedroom, one bathroom unit that felt perfectly adequate with one kid is going to be mighty crowded once puberty hits and we have two kids of opposite genders and four people total who all need to use the bathroom all at the same time. The toddler clothes that fit nicely in our tiny house experiment are all over the floors of multiple rooms now that the kids and their clothes are bigger, longer, and require more space.
4. When someone is diagnosed with a chronic illness.
The chronic illness in our particular family is a pretty straightforward one that we have no right to complain about, so I won’t. But the truth is that it will cost us in actual dollars and time for the rest of our lives. DH has Celiac’s disease. Again, I’m not complaining. There are plenty of ways to save money, even with that specific dietary restriction. But the truth is that we will probably never spend less at the grocery store than we did before he was diagnosed.
5. When spending more aligns with your values.
When you are broke, your own survival is paramount. Tunnel vision, sometimes manifested in seeing only the price per unit and nothing else, is a useful strategy when you have limited options. Once you start making more money, however, you might find that you want to spend a little more money because of your core values. This could look like buying more expensive clothes that are of higher quality and will last longer. It could be spending more for free range eggs and free range chicken because you believe that animals should not spend their whole life in a cage with amputated body parts. It could mean that you buy fair trade chocolate because you refuse to treat yourself at the expense of children on the other side of the world working in dangerous conditions.
The beauty and the pain of personal finance is that it is so personal. Our budgets *should* look different, because they should reflect our actual expenses. As appealing as FIRE is, we should not sacrifice our morals or our sanity at its alter. Align your spending with your values, and things will line up the way they should.
* I want to be clear. In this post, I am talking about personal finance from a particularly privileged point of view and I am responding to a widespread sentiment in a niche community. These are truly first world problems, and do not address the real lived experiences of the majority of the world, either now or throughout history.