I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the line I stopped regularly saving money. It’s not that I’m earning less - in fact, back when I was scrabbling my way up the lowest rungs of the career ladder, I somehow managed to put away more than I am now. At the time, I was saving hundreds of pounds each month towards a deposit for my first flat, and had clear mental limits - never more than £6 for a bottle of wine, a maximum of £100 per month on clothes - but once I achieved my goal of buying a flat, those self-imposed limits evaporated. And as my earnings have increased, so has my spending. As for that £100 limit on clothes… well, I spent more than that this weekend.
It’s a phenomenon known as ‘lifestyle inflation’, where your spending - and perhaps your unconscious expectations of what you deserve - goes up with your salary, while the proportion that goes into your savings fails to increase in tandem.
‘It is tempting when climbing the career ladder to “ride the wave” - enjoying the confidence and newfound financial legroom that often comes with it, without giving much thought to the potential new choices that come from having additional income,’ says financial therapist Vicky Reynal Link opens in a new window. ‘The growing sense of confidence and financial security can sometimes become inflated and lead to overspending. For some people this is a result of feeling finally free to indulge in some things or experiences that felt out of reach in the past. For others it results from a desire to belong in a new socio-economic group and match the spending levels of those around them.’ I’m certainly guilty of the latter: visiting wealthier friends, for instance, always leaves me feeling acquisitive - and it’s not just those we see IRL who influence us. Younger shoppers are 48 per cent more likely and women generally 29 per cent more likely to buy something after seeing a social post Link opens in a new window about it; and even if it’s something relatively cheap, like a stripy top I instantly ordered after seeing it on influencer Erica Davies’s Instagram Link opens in a new window, it all adds up. One young colleague even confesses to having the potential extra ‘likes’ in mind when she buys things for her flat.
Good old-fashioned budgeting, of course, is the best remedy, and the savviest savers make sure they ‘pay themselves’ first, stashing money into their savings and pensions on payday. The Virgin Money current account Link opens in a new window has clever savings pots and budgeting tools to make this an easy habit to adopt. Another trick, espoused by this Redditor Link opens in a new window [pastywhiteknight], is to put all your salary into an ‘emergency fund account’, and then set up a standing order to transfer a fixed amount into your current account each month. ‘That way if my salary goes up or I get a bonus the standing order doesn’t change, so I don’t spend the extra without noticing.’
‘Do not save what is left after spending; instead spend what is left after saving’- Warren Buffet
Of course, breaking ingrained habits can be easier said than done, but awareness is the first step. On average, Thursday evenings between 8-9pm are the peak for online shopping Link opens in a new window - is that you? Do you shop when you’re lonely or bored? Are there particular people that leave you feeling ‘less than’, and wanting more? Do you shop after a tough day at work to get a dopamine hit?
‘Emotional spending is something a lot of people do,’ says Natalia Coe of The Money Charity, who runs financial workshops for young people. ‘Everyone has different triggers - for some people it’s if you’re going through a challenging time, others might spend more to celebrate if they’re going through a great period. It’s important to acknowledge that you have that trait so you can manage your money accordingly. Budgeting is a good way to do that because it’ll give you a good overview of where your money is going - then you can identify your own triggers.’ Try keeping a money diary to see if you can spot your own trends, and if you are an emotional spender, make a list of cost-free treats instead: my failsafe mood-lifters are an episode of a guilty-secret favourite like Queer Eye, an endorphin-boosting run around my local park, or a call to a good friend.
Of course, climbing the ladder at work can also appear to come with increased costs and expectations: I distinctly remember being told by a senior colleague that I should dress for the job I wanted, not the job I had. (Never mind that I couldn’t afford that wardrobe!) Today’s ambitious fashionistas, however, have better options than scouring charity shops in upmarket neighbourhoods for designer buys, as I would. Instead, you can rent a chic handbag for that job interview from a plethora of new start-ups such as MyWardrobeHQ Link opens in a new window - or channel the chic advertising art director whose time- (and money-) saving decision to go for a daily ‘uniform’ Link opens in a new window went viral. My own decision years ago to invest in one signature piece of jewellery Link opens in a new window that I’ve worn almost every day since has saved plenty of cash in the long run.
It takes effort but it’s vital to resist external pressures becoming internal ones. Spending more can become ‘expectationally normalised’ in your mind - you might feel you look cheap for continuing to shop at Tesco when your peer group is all Waitrose, or for choosing an Ikea kitchen over a more costly brand. Pay attention to the emotions around those decisions. Do you really need a personal trainer, like your wealthy friends, or would an app like Zombies, Run! Link opens in a new window give you the motivational boost you’re seeking? Do you really need a flasher car? And if those voices do get louder, ask yourself this: whose idea of success are you really chasing? Is it yours or someone else's Link opens in a new window?
‘How much you spend or save should be driven by thinking about your financial objectives and understanding of your relationship with money, not by career progression,’ says Vicky Reynal. ‘Career progression might give you access to more money, and that is an opportunity to re-ask yourself the question about how much you want to save or spend, rather than a reason to spend more. It can be an opportunity to redefine your financial objectives (i.e. buy a house instead of a flat), or create new ones (e.g. increase pension contribution, make an investment). Or you might decide to spend more because through your hard work you feel deserving of the nice things and experiences money can buy. As long as this is done in a way that doesn’t generate a conflict or goes against your beliefs,’ she adds, ‘then it will feel like a good choice.’
The Virgin Money Mobile Banking app is packed full of clever tools to help you budget, top up your savings and sort out your spending
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