Have you ever had an increase in income, with high hopes of achieving lofty targets, only to find that your expenses still gulped the entire sum?
That is the summary of what lifestyle inflation means – expenses increasing to match up with your income. And it never goes the other way. Yes, your income does not rise to meet your expenses. It is always your expenses rushing up to meet income.
Most people will spend more if they earned more, but not necessarily save more or invest more. This is not the best of financial habits.
We will be looking at five things you can do to prevent lifestyle inflation, and improve your money habits. These are ways to ensure that you save more even as you spend more and earn more.
Have a budget
Ridiculous as it sounds, some persons do not keep records of monthly expenses, and they have absolutely no idea what they spend their money on. You cannot go month to month, spending on every and anything which comes up without having a clear idea of what you spend on. Your budget should capture everything your money goes to, including monies you give out to family or friends, provided it is done regularly.
The first thing your budget does for you is it tells you what direction your money goes. Some people spend ridiculous amounts on regular costs like data, but still complain at the end of the month that they do not know where all their money went to.
The next thing a budget achieves for you is prioritisation. When you have a clear idea of what you spend every month, you can easily stream down and decide what expenses to reduce when you have less purchasing power. It would also help keep your expenses in check, ensuring that they do not suddenly double because your earnings increased.
Make your financial plans in percentages not figures
Ensure to make your financial plan in percentage, not figures. E.g., instead of saying you will save N10,000 every month, decide to save 15% or 30% or 40% depending on the size of your income. Now, what this means is that when your income increases, your spending may increase but your savings would increase also. There could also be room to review your percentages; if you start earning more, you could decide to increase the percentage you save or invest monthly.
Structure your financial plans in percentage and stick to it, because it pays in the long run. Even your savings could be further structured, so that you have a certain percentage in liquid assets, or have some in high-risk assets, and others in low-risk assets.
The percentage plan always works, particularly if you are not very disciplined with finances.
Learn to differentiate assets, liabilities, necessity and luxury
Unless you have an unlimited amount of money at your disposal, it is very important to differentiate between assets, liabilities, necessities and luxuries.
This has nothing to do with the item itself, but everything to do with you and what purpose it will serve you. So, while getting a new laptop may be a necessity for a data analyst who needs a gadget with a higher capacity to serve his work needs, it may simply be termed luxury for the factory worker who just wants something to keep him busy when there is power outage.
Now all four categories deserve to be captured in your budget, but differentiating one from the other will help you better prioritise and know what you really don’t need to spend on.
If an item is not going to directly affect your earning capability or increase your income, then it is not an asset. It could still be a necessity though, even if it is a liability. It can be a bit challenging to accurately label your expenses, but it is something you need to consider so that you do not end up rationalising every luxury item on your list.
Necessities should always get priority in your budget.
Build and maintain an emergency fund
Simply put, emergency funds are funds set aside for emergencies. if you decide to invest such funds, they have to be invested in liquid assets which you can easily convert to cash when the need arises.
Some people refer to emergency fund as miscellaneous, and end up spending it on other expenses. You cannot spend emergency funds on electricity bills or any other utilities. Expenses which occur regularly must be provided for, so you do not end up spending your emergency funds on routine expenses.
Emergency funds must be kept aside for emergencies only. Of course, your insurance plan will come in handy if emergencies occur, but getting a comprehensive plan may not be too affordable for you, depending on your income. Your emergency fund should be your first point of call then.
Have a regular budget for treats
On a final note, have a budget for treats. It is quite easy to make a monthly budget and capture utility bills, data, food, and transportation, without making any provision for treats. But what happens when you have that occasional craving for pizza and ice cream, or you feel like going to get a massage at the beauty parlour, or you want to get a gift for a friend? Failing to make provisions for the occasional treats could mean that you end up dipping into your savings or funds meant for other things when these cravings come, or you need to buy yourself a gift after working really hard and achieving your goals.
Life is not meant to be tight, and you cannot be so stringent with spending on yourself. Some people will make a budget for every bill in the month without setting aside something to occasionally spoil themselves. This may be good on your finances, but not so good for you.
Even though you want to save and invest towards your retirement, you also need to occasionally treat yourself to something good, or reward yourself for working so hard and achieving your goals. Life is not all about nails and hammers, after all.
These cravings for luxury are bound to come, and since you are not going to go begging to get it, it is better to have a monthly provision for treats. It could range anywhere from 2% to 10% of your earnings, depending on you. If played well, it could become a good source of motivation to you, knowing that there is a reward for working hard. Also, the quality of your life naturally improves (with more money for treats) as you earn more.