A common piece of advice that’s floated on personal finance websites is to avoid lifestyle inflation — that trap we can fall into thoughtlessly, where we increase our spending as our income rises. I’ve fallen prey to it more than once myself. There are some great articles about avoiding lifestyle inflation on this site, but recently I’ve found myself reflecting on the many things I have deliberately chosen to spend more on now that I’m in my thirties. Whether you call that lifestyle inflation or changing your spending to match your evolving values and priorities, there are a lot of things I spend significantly more on now that I’m in my thirties than I did in my twenties. Here’s a quick look at just seven of them:
1. Rent. When I got my first full-time job, I was 22 and living in cramped student housing in a college town. My rent was about $300/month (and less in the summer) for a shared bedroom close to campus, a perk that I didn’t need but that the friends I was living with did. But as I lost roommates to marriage or job offers or leaving the state to live with family, I found myself increasingly unwilling to move in with strangers in order to keep costs low. Once I finally had an apartment with a dishwasher and washer/dryer in the unit, I realized that those were two amenities that I was extremely unwilling to be without.
So now I live on my own in a place with a dishwasher and washer/dryer, and my rent is $899/month before utilities and parking fees. My thirties have taught me that I value my solitude and comfort over the money I’d save by sharing bedrooms and doing laundry in public, and I’m lucky that I can afford those things on my salary.
2. Sunscreen. I have been blessed with brown skin that tans beautifully and rarely burns, so I was never big on sunscreen growing up. Unless I was going swimming or doing summer-related activities, I didn’t put it on. (I’d wear sunscreen for a week at summer camp, but never for track and field meets, where I’d spend eight or more hours a day in the sun, because that was somehow different in my head.) When I did wear sunscreen, I went for the cheapest sunscreen I could find, which typically smelled awful and left me with a white-ish residue that sometimes looked gray.
After a family member’s brush with skin cancer a few years ago, I started to wear sunscreen more and made sure to put it on when I was going to be out in the sun for any significant length of time. I also started to buy higher-quality sunscreen, and finally settled on a moderately expensive brand with a high SPF that didn’t leave me looking like I was ill or smelling like a hazmat scene. But it wasn’t until I started researching skincare this last year that I accepted that I needed to wear sunscreen anytime I left my apartment during daylight hours. It’s an annoyance to add a new, regular expense to my budget, but I’m far more concerned about reducing my risk of sun damage than I am about forking over the cash.
3. Measuring spoons and cups. For someone who likes to cook, I sure wasted a lot of time on mediocre kitchen equipment. I always defaulted to cheap plastic measuring spoons and cups, and without fail, the paint would rub off so I didn’t know what volume they were unless I lined them all up and compared them to each other. The handles on the measuring cups broke surprisingly often (especially when I had careless roommates), and overall these were just an annoyance.
Now I have two durable metal sets (each) of measuring spoons and cups. The volumes are engraved on the handles so I don’t have to worry about the numbers wearing away. I have even gone to kitchen supply stores to buy extra tablespoons and teaspoons so I never run out of them when I’m cooking multiple times in a week. It’s nice to have small, practical luxuries like this, especially when they can last for years. Next on the upgrade list: appliances.
4. Entertainment. Just because a TV show or a book or a song can be found somewhere on the internet for free doesn’t mean that I should be consuming it for free. I subscribe to two streaming sites, plus Amazon Prime, and if I miss an episode of my favorite show due to travel or work, I go to the network’s site and watch with ads or buy individual episodes if necessary. I also contribute to my favorite creators’ Patreons monthly in order to get unpublished snippets or listen to podcasts early or see their research notes. I’ll even go to my favorite websites and use their affiliate links when I’m going to buy something online.
I’ve adopted a policy that if I like someone’s content, I should pay them for the work they did that brought my day a bit of joy. That’s a radical departure in thought from my teens and twenties, and it’s a shift that I’m grateful I had the disposable income to make without straining my budget.
5. Haircuts and highlights. In my twenties, I wore my curly hair long enough that I only needed to get it cut once or twice a year. I never dyed it and typically went to the cheapest salon nearby. On occasion, I’d go to a more expensive salon, just to see what it was like. The haircuts I paid for were always decent — no horror stories here — but they rarely wowed me. I’d forget I had anything done to my hair in a week or two.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve discovered the joy of pixie cuts and highlights, and I spend what used to be an unthinkable amount of money on my hair every eight to ten weeks. I finally understand how people could talk about going to the same hairstylist for years. (My stylist just left her salon to work independently, and I’ve followed her — she’s that good.) While I always liked my long, curly hair, I love it now that it’s short and colored. I’ve spent $400 on my hair so far this year, and I don’t regret it at all.
6. Vacation. For most of my life, vacations were trips to visit family. I crashed with family, ate the food they provided, and occasionally contributed gas or grocery money once I was an adult. The highlights of the trip were always visiting with family and old friends or a day trip to a park/local attraction. Though I enjoyed those trips, I knew I wanted to do more traveling than that once I was financially secure enough. In my late twenties, I started saving up for other adventures around the country and the world. My current goal is to take at least one domestic trip and one international trip every year of my thirties, and right now I’m on track to be two for two. This is a huge splurge, and maybe later in life, my priorities will change. For now, I’m excited to put my passport and reward points to good use.
7. Jewelry. I’ve grown dissatisfied with my jewelry collection over the last year or two. It was mostly plastic and became damaged or wore out easily, as it was cheaply made. Much of it was bought on a whim (with soon-to-be-expired coupons or store cash I felt pressured to use), and I kept getting similar pieces because I had forgotten what I already had. I had many pairs of earrings I’d only worn a handful of times before losing interest in them.
I decided that my thirties were going to be the time to build a jewelry collection that I could be proud of. I donated almost everything I had and started building from scratch, with the goal to avoid plastic and prioritize real stones, quality metal, and handmade items. That’s not to say I’m dropping hundreds on precious stones — so far, my most expensive piece is a pair of $48 tourmaline studs. It has been slow going, and I’ve got an Etsy list a mile long, but I’m really happy to look at my small collection and pick something to wear. (It doesn’t take long — I have exactly one ring and six pairs of earrings.) I doubt most people in my life have noticed, but I like my jewelry much better now that I don’t have to check to see if I’ve lost more plastic rhinestones, and that’s what matters.
I am a radically different person now than I was in my twenties, so it’s no surprise that my spending habits have changed, too. My early twenties self would be shocked by how much I spend in some of these categories. If you haven’t taken stock of how your spending has changed over the last few years, I’d encourage you to do so. (Maybe your previous self will be shocked as well.)
Will I look back a decade from now and shake my head at this article? Who knows. Right now I’m happy with my choice to spend more money on these items, and I believe these decisions are in line with my current priorities and values. And when it comes to personal finance, that feels like a pretty good place to be.
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