One of the most challenging financial issues we all face is addressing the issue of lifestyle creep. As we progress in our career and make more money, it can cause us to focus on the wrong things. This post looks at what lifestyle creep is, the important Biblical principles to consider and how to help Christians reduce its impact.
What Is Lifestyle Creep?
Lifestyle creep (also known as lifestyle inflation) is when your spending increases as your income increases. It can start with small decisions such as eating out more, buying nicer clothes etc. Those small decisions lead to other decisions that compound and result in higher expenses. Over time, the products and services you once thought were luxuries, become things you cannot live without. After all you have more money to spend, and everyone else is doing it, so it can become easy to fall into the pattern of the world.
Lifestyle creep can happen at any stage in life, but tends to happen when your financial circumstances improve, such as when you receive a raise, pay off debt, receive an inheritance etc. However, the most common time is when you are nearing or entering retirement. The kids have left the house (hopefully!) and you are making the most money of your career. Your major expenses have mainly passed and you have entered a time where you may have good health and a larger amount of available money than before. It is an important time to make wise financial decisions, as they will have a lasting impact.
Why Is Lifestyle Creep A Problem?
Nearing retirement is the last good opportunity to save for retirement and give generously to support the Lord’s work. At its core, lifestyle creep is a heart issue. It allows materialism to take root in our lives. Our comfort, security and self-sufficiency becomes more important, leaving less for God’s priorities. Our focus can be subtly shifted from building God’s kingdom, to building our own.
You may decide to eat out more, travel more, buy a vacation home etc. There is nothing inherently sinful about any of these decisions (if made with the right heart motives), but if left unchecked, it can significantly impact your giving and retirement plans. I find that too often people make these decisions without considering what God has to say.
The Bible doesn’t specifically address lifestyle creep, but has several principles that address the underlying issues lifestyle creep presents:
1. God Has Given Us Everything To Enjoy
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
God has given us everything to enjoy, but this needs to be balanced with the other principles.
2. Money Reflects Our Heart’s Motive
Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
When lifestyle creep happens, does your treasure change from God to money, possessions, comfort, security etc?
3. We Can Serve Only One Master
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Is money your master or is it God?
4. It’s God’s Money Not Our Own
Deuteronomy 10:14 “ Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”
Do you live like 10% belongs to God, or 100%?
5. Contentment Is Key
1 Timothy 6:6-10 “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Being satisfied with what God has given you is crucial. If you always want more, it can lead to your destruction.
Balancing these principles is key, and in practice is very difficult.
Practical Steps To Prevent Lifestyle Creep
There is no foolproof way to prevent lifestyle creep. It is a lifelong battle that needs to be constantly evaluated. Here are a few ways to help:
A. Stay Focused On What Matters
Christians are called to use the resources God has provided for His glory rather than our comfort and glory. There is no one way to do this, but a challenge for all of us to maximize the resources God has provided. When we have more money available, it can be tempting to build our own kingdom rather than God’s. Lifestyle creep can cause us to lose our focus in life, making the temporal things of this world more important than the eternal. As all coaches will tell you, keep your eye on the ball. If you can do this throughout your life, you are better able to deal with the siren call of materialism.
B. Be Rich Towards God
It can be very easy to use the blessings God provides on ourselves and not think about what God would have us do. The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:16-21 provides a sobering reminder of how we should handle those blessings. You may not feel like you are rich, but compared to the rest of the world you are. When you increase your spending, do you also increase your giving?
C. Set A Lifestyle (and stick with it)
As you near retirement, deciding on what type of lifestyle you will have is crucial. If you don’t plan for this, it is very easy to drift with whatever those around you are doing. Praying and talking this through will enable you to set priorities for this stage in life and then flesh out the spending needed to support it.
Prices will always increase, so once your baseline spending plan is established, you will need to increase them each year to account for inflation. One way to do this would be to use the annual Social Security benefit cost of living adjustment as the factor to increase your budgeted spending each year.
D. Count The Total Cost
Too often I have seen people rush in to financial decisions without considering the true cost. For each decision we make, there is a financial cost, but also the non-financial cost. For example, people have bought vacation homes so they can have a place to enjoy with their family. But they didn’t realize (or didn’t view it as a problem) they would be there most weekends during the summer. They lost the opportunity to be involved in their home church (fellowship, service etc). Perhaps that was the best decision for them, but too often, people don’t consider the true cost (financial and non-financial) and impact of their decisions.
E. Balance Is Important
God wants us to enjoy the things he provides, but we need to keep them in proper perspective. The two dangers with money are to spend heavily pursuing materialism that will never satisfy, or don’t spend anything and live in self-denied ascetism. Both extremes are wrong. We need to find our place in the middle.
F. Small Decisions Matter
It can be easy to think that spending small amounts of money really doesn’t matter in the long run. Even some in the financial world downplay the impact of this. However, these small decisions compound over time. As we loosen our spending in one area, it leads to another one, and can have a material impact on our finances. Periodic review of our spending allows us to determine if how we are using God’s money is good or not.
G. Convenience or Humility?
There has been a push in the business world to specialize and only do what you are good at and enjoy doing. This has led people to pay others to mow their lawn, clean their house, care for their children etc. As we near the end of our career, it can be easy to focus on the things we are good at/enjoy, and pay others to do the things we don’t like doing. However, this can enable pride to take root in our hearts. We get accolades when we do things well, and avoid the tasks that we don’t like to do. It can be easy to pay others to do the things we don’t want to do, but we can miss the opportunity to grow in our humility. Keeping at least one responsibility we do not enjoy (or aren’t good at), can help us stay humble.
H. Be Satisfied
Increasing our spending, causes us to continually look for more things, experiences etc to spend money on to satisfy us. Only God can satisfy us. Do you live like that?
I. Accountability Matters
When you make financial decisions, do you have anyone holding you accountable? We are really good at justifying our financial decisions. Having someone (a friend, family member, financial advisor etc) who can look at our decision and point out areas for further consideration is very valuable.
Being a good steward of what God has entrusted to us is a process, not a destination. How we spend money as we near retirement, is just as important as any other stage of life. The key is continuing to balance our enjoyment of God’s blessings with using them for His glory and not our own. That balance is different for each of us, and requires great thought, prayer and consideration.