Having recently watched the Playing with FIRE documentary and contemplating the increased media attention around the Financial Independence movement, I started asking myself – What if this idea really took off? What if a lot of people embraced a more frugal lifestyle? What if everyone started saving more and Financial Independence became mainstream? What if a large percentage of the working age population didn’t need to work?
This is probably nothing more than a fun thought experiment, given the unfortunately high level of financial illiteracy, societal pressure to keep up with Joneses and the rampant consumerism now embedded deeply in our social conscious.
I’ve written previously about the millions of people living paycheck-to-paycheck. It doesn’t matter how much you earn but rather how much you spend. According to a recent Nielson survey, 25% of American families earning more than $150,000 per year still live paycheck-to-paycheck, so even the wealthy aren’t immune. Apart from poor financial habits, a key reason for this ongoing money stress, for many people, is lifestyle inflation.
It is a gradual, subtle and common problem that’s killing our collective finances. The harmful effects occur over time and in a way that often goes unnoticed.
Like the fable of the boiling frog, who didn’t perceive the danger of the increasingly hot water and was slowly cooked to death, many of us have been unwittingly turning up the financial heat in our own lives by trying to keep up with the Joneses or “upgrading” our lifestyles when we get a payrise.
Most of us have been victims to the silent assassin of lifestyle inflation. Our spending inches up year-on-year, and what was once something you considered a luxury item is now a must have “need”.
Those moments when you convinced yourself that you deserved it because you work hard, or that a “one-off” treat won’t hurt, have added up over time. The aggregate impact of decisions to get a nicer couch, second car or bigger house increase our monthly spend commitments and raise the bar of what we need to earn.
Regular readers of my blog will recognize a number of repeating themes appearing in posts over recent months:
A desire for “freedom” from the weight of personal possessions and from the need for paid work (especially in an unfulfilling corporate job).
Acknowledgment of the value and importance of time, that we normally trade for things of little true value.
The lack of sustainable balance in most of our lives and in society at large. At a personal level, recalibration is needed around things like technology and social media use, TV, diet, exercise and consumerism. The bigger picture is equally out of equilibrium, with ever increasing social inequity and a willful ignorance about the ongoing damage we are inflicting on our planet and home.
Recognition of the need for challenge and voluntary discomfort to drive personal growth and lighten my ecological footprint.
Intellectual understanding and knowing are not enough. For change to occur, we need to take positive action and do something!
The journey towards Financial Independence can be a long, disciplined grind and we’ve set in place processes to hit our targets. We’ve also made great progress downsizing our possessions and housing. I’m still researching what effective mitigants I can put in place to reduce my personal contribution to global warming. Things are moving in the right direction but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So how to keep motivated in the short term?
In the spirit of consuming less, spending less and hopefully learning to live with less, I’ve decided to undertake a year long challenge of No New Stuff!
It’s estimated that ~78% of workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Scary, but not surprising. People from all walks of life are scraping by and struggling through life – regardless of gender, education or income levels.
49% of all employees say they find it difficult to meet household expense on time each month
Only 31% would be able to meet their basic expenses if they were out of work for an extended period of time
59% consistently carry balances on their credit cards, with 37% finding it difficult to make their minimum payments each month
35% of Millennials and 30% of Gen X employees are using their credit cards to pay for monthly necessities which they could otherwise not afford
Most worryingly of all is that 45% of people surveyed have less than $1,000 saved for unexpected expense. Unfortunately this situation is worse for women, with 51% not having this relatively small amount of money put aside vs. 38% of men.
The situation is dire and getting worse. It’s time to do something about it, because living paycheck-to-paycheck is a disaster not only for your immediate finances but also your general wellbeing, happiness and future living standards.
I’m an aspiring frugal minimalist, working towards Financial Independence. Given that, saving should be second nature and easy for me, right? Well normally we are are pretty good and put money away like clockwork, but this week was a reality check as my monthly budget went up in flames. The budget collapse wasn’t due to any unforeseen disaster, medical emergency, or car problems. I simply overspent and purchased what could be classified as an unnecessary, luxury item.
So what went wrong and how do I avoid overspending in the future?
As a family we LOVE to travel overseas. We get that invigorating feeling of adventure and excitement heading into the unknown. We are also grateful for the opportunity to visit amazing ancient monuments, incredible thriving cities and places of breathtaking natural beauty while experiencing new cultures and languages. Best of all we get concentrated time together as a family in inspiring, interesting and new environments. Exploring the world has resulted in some extraordinary experiences and lasting memories. Needless to say but we have a bad case of wanderlust!
For us, planning and preparation lays the groundwork for a successful holiday. As we’re in the process of working out details of our next trip, I thought it would be useful sharing our top tips for overseas travel preparation.
We have only just started on our journey towards financial independence (see my previous post for a quick overview of FIRE) so we haven’t yet built good and lasting habits or found a sustainable level when it comes to balancing saving and spending.
Reflecting on last month it feels like we often took one step forward and two steps back. It’s been a struggle at times. It’s also been exciting as we saw the impact of our decisions.
Overall though I think we made great progress in April and are off to a great start.
Moved to a smaller home, which will hopefully cost less to heat, cool and maintain
Changed banks and received a $500 signup bonus in the process
Cancelled our cable subscription and home phone line
Reviewed our auto insurance, changed insurers and saved ~50% in the process
As a result of lowering our expenses we’ve now set a new baseline for living costs and will be able to save more each month going forward. The pleasing thing is that we’ve stopped drifting through life and now are much more intentional about our finances.