"Lifestyle Creep" Is All Over The Internet Right Now — Here's Why, And What It Means For Your Wallet

    "What I've found that most happens with lifestyle creep is you start living the way that you deserve to live."

    When people start making more money, we naturally want to spend more too. After all, we worked hard for it, and don't we all deserve a little treat now and then? Well, personal finance folks have a name for this phenomenon: "lifestyle creep."

    As certified financial planner Danika Waddell, founder of Xena Financial Planning, told me, "I would define lifestyle creep as the scenario where you get an increase in your income and spend all the 'extra' income on day-to-day expenses. If you don't save any of that extra money intentionally, odds are very good you will just spend it all. It could be things like going to a nicer grocery store, getting your nails/hair done more often, or eating out more."

    Food $200 Data $150 Rent $800 Candles $3,600 Utility $150 someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this. my family is dying

    Twitter: @dril

    Often, lifestyle creep is painted as consisting of luxuries and frivolous spending. Like, do you really need a flashier car or a brand-new phone? But recently, on TikTok, Twitter, and even Reddit, I've been seeing people ask the question: Is it "lifestyle creep," or are you just finally taking care of yourself?

    One Twitter user wrote, "People almost never talk about how 'lifestyle creep' when you begin to make more money is not so much spending on luxuries, but rather all the life maintenance things you couldn’t tend to before that end up being really expensive, like dental work or car repairs."

    The tweet has been viewed nearly 3 million times and was shared to Reddit, where users weighed in with what their "lifestyle creep" looks like. One user wrote, "My indulgences when I got decent money? Prescriptions and a set of kitchen knives that actually cut things. And paying bills on time." Another person chimed in, "When I finally got a job, I had to pay $15,000 in dental work. It took me years to pay off. I’m still paying off the credit card debt from years ago. Being poor is expensive."

    And meanwhile, over on TikTok, 27-year-old Chelsea McLin (@chelseabychance) also chimed in on this issue with a video that's been making the rounds. She created her video in response to a TikTok that used a $500 gym membership as an example of lifestyle creep. "I just don't see regular people doing that," she explains.

    Chelsea smiling

    In the video, she gives her take, saying, "What I've found that most happens with lifestyle creep is, you start living the way that you deserve to live." And she goes on to give examples of this, ranging from small luxuries like springing for the two-ply toilet paper to big purchases that can affect your health, like finally upgrading your lumpy old mattress. She concludes, saying, "None of that sounds like bad financial spending to me. Seems pretty reasonable."

    And in the comments, Chelsea's message is really resonating with people who say their examples of "lifestyle creep" are all things that we would just call "necessities" if we lived in a reasonable country — like going to the doctor.

    "My lifestyle creep is all things I should have been doing to take care of myself but could not afford before," "My lifestyle creep is going to the doctor and dentist," "When I got a raise, I started actually fixing things on my car"

    I gotta say, I can really relate to what all of these people are saying. Like, my biggest "lifestyle creep" has been having health insurance and actually ~using~ it. And even though I can finally afford to take care of myself in this way, I still feel guilty about my increased spending. Frankly, it's kind of a mindfuck.

    I also suspect that stagnant wage growth since the 1970s, along with the rising costs of housing and education (and, y'know, inflation), means that more millennials and Gen Z'ers are likely skipping out on these kinds of necessities than the generations before us were at our ages. But we should be able to take care of ourselves with a single full-time job, and we shouldn't feel guilty about spending on basic things we need to be happy and healthy.

    I asked Waddell for her opinion about this conversation as a certified financial planner. She said, "Personally, I don't consider being able to afford to pay for necessities to be lifestyle creep. An increase in income CAN lead to lifestyle creep, but paying for dental work or car repairs wouldn't qualify, in my opinion." So there you have it from a pro — go do what you need to do, guilt-free.

    Calendar with a doctor's appointment marked on it

    And she also offered her advice for anyone who is starting to make more cash and doesn't want to fall into the lifestyle creep trap. "First, make sure you have paid down high-interest debt (i.e., credit cards) and have an emergency savings account. Next, look at your goals and ensure you're actively saving towards them — that might mean saving to your company 401(k) while also building a fund for a future down payment on a house."

    She continued, "Finally, pick one or two things that you will allow yourself to splurge on. It's perfectly okay to increase your spending in a couple areas, but I don't recommend that you adopt that strategy across the board. For me, one of the biggest indulgences is having a cleaning person. I choose to continue to live (and spend) simply on other things, like cars, so I can afford to splurge on the things that really add to my overall quality of life. But that choice will be different for each person."

    I’m a personal finance expert who believes that spending lots of money to see an artist you love is TOTALLY OK, as long as you plan for it. I’ve spent over $3K on Bad Bunny tix to see him 4 different times. Each time, I had the time of my life. That’s the whole point of money.

    Twitter: @DineroPodcast

    And she warned, "Once you get used to a certain level of spending, it's VERY hard to reduce it. Over time, you might gradually increase your expectations when you travel, how much you're willing to spend on eating out, etc."

    As for Chelsea, she said, "I’m by no means a baller, but my quality of life has drastically improved over the past couple of years. My mom actually warned me about lifestyle creep. She told me to save all my money. She joked that my money was burning a hole in my pocket. But I was like, 'What is the point of earning more money if not to improve how I’m living?'"

    Chelsea smiling

    She continued, "It is exhausting to have to stretch a dollar, and the changes to my life have made me much happier. I have a gym membership where I can take Zumba classes. I buy quality produce at Whole Foods often and get takeout when I don’t feel like cooking. (That’s been the best!) I go out for drinks. I go to a day spa sometimes. And yeah, you can say these are nonessential, but these are things that are essential to my physical and emotional well-being."

    Finally, Chelsea said, "We sacrifice so much of our present selves for our future selves. I’ll always put aside money for a rainy day, but I’m trying to enjoy the sunshine!"

    What do you think about this lifestyle creep conversation? Are there things you're putting off that you'll have to deal with when you make more money? How has your spending changed if your salary increased? Let's talk about it in the comments!