ILLUSTRATION BY JONAN EVERETT
Lifestyle Inflation: My Job Affected My Relationship With Money
Sudden wealth can turn people crazy. Unless you’re mentally prepared, lifestyle inflation can set you back to right where you started.
Featured image art by Jonan Everett.
Fourteen years ago, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, confident that I would soon be rolling in dough. And I was — at least compared with many other people I knew who were making only $10 per hour. Jumping up on the income ladder was exciting and empowering, even if I was earning just $25,000 annually.
As a teacher in a private school, I believed I was doing good work and making a difference in kids’ lives. After a year, I wanted to try my hand at corporate America and went to work for a property management company. My salary bumped up to $31,000, but now with two kids, I had to pay for childcare, which brought my actual take-home pay back down to about $25,000.
Even though on paper I was climbing the ladder of success, I did not have a good feeling about my work. I decided to leave that job and stay at home with my two young children. One year later, I needed to reenter the workforce. I applied for an opening at another private school and got the job, making $33,000.
Responsible Money Management Can Go a Long Way
My oldest son had just begun kindergarten, and that lowered the cost of day care. I taught for four years and my salary increased to $38,000. By that time, my household income grew to more than $100,000. My husband and I became responsible with money, teaching ourselves how to budget and stay out of debt.
Toward the end of my fourth year, I no longer felt good about teaching, especially when it came to the stress and the lack of flexibility. I started pursuing a career in nonprofit management. It took me a year to find a part-time position with an organization, and by that time, divorce had entered my life.
Barely making $14,000 a year, I packed up my two kids and moved back to my home state of Ohio. I found another job in a local nonprofit, making $11,000 as a financial coordinator. I taught individuals how to manage money, no matter how little they had. That experience led to starting a business in which I taught employees at small and large businesses about personal finance.
Even though my family had little when it came to money, my knowledge of budgeting and money management helped us keep our heads above water for two years. I then married my current husband, and soon we were expecting our first child. He, too, had been just getting by financially, but we both were accustomed to making things work.
Lifestyle Inflation: New Job, New Relationship With Money
Then the big break came. I was hired as an executive director with a $50,000-plus annual salary. Barely months into the new job, I realized that all my good money habits and financial discipline had gone straight out the window! Apparently, over the course of the hard times, I had been keeping a list in the back of my mind of all the things I wanted to buy and do if I ever had the money. And now I had it.
Where was all the money was going? We got new cars, gym memberships, clothes and shoes that we did not need, and Starbucks every weekend!
Trips to Target became a regular thing because now I could afford to buy whatever I wanted. Except I couldn’t really.
We were falling behind on bills, making late payments, and still worrying about money. What happened? Where did I go wrong? On paper, we should have been fine, but we couldn’t keep our heads above water. The answer was all around me — the clothes, the Nespresso machine, the cars, and the takeout boxes in the fridge.
How could I so quickly forget the money management principles that I had spent so much time mastering and teaching others? Although I had the head knowledge to know what to do, I did not have heart knowledge. I lacked contentment and was never satisfied with what I had at any given moment. My desire to earn more was ruled by my desire to have the freedom to buy what I wanted when I wanted.
Be Conscientious About Your Relationship With Money
It was not that I wanted anything specific, but just the ability to buy it if I wanted it. Learning to be content with whatever financial situation you are in does not mean complacency. You can desire to excel in your career, which often has a lucrative side effect, but remember that the present is called “present” for a reason. Every moment of our lives presents us with the opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and about the world around us. Be content, work in the moment, and enjoy the present.
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