Lifestyle Increase vs. Lifestyle Inflation: Ikea Furniture

For the last couple years around the personal finance blogosphere, I’ve been emphasizing the difference between lifestyle inflation and deliberate lifestyle increase. Lifestyle inflation has a terrible reputation in our community – deservedly so – but as a person who wants to life a higher lifestyle than she has in the past (unlike some others!), I felt it important that not all increased spending is painted with the same brush.


Lifestyle inflation is the mindless process by which your lifestyle rises as your income rises.


A lifestyle increase is when you deliberately choose to spend additional money on certain aspects of your lifestyle after your income increases because you truly value those aspects.


I’ve had combatting lifestyle inflation on my mind since the very start of this blog, and with Kyle’s new job and higher income it’s finally time to put our money where our mouth is (literally). I know that we will be spending more money in this new post-grad phase of life than we did when we were both in grad school or living on a single postdoc salary. There are three reasons/ways this can happen:


1) Cost-of-living increase. Seattle is more expensive than Durham. We are paying 50% more rent for 30% less space. Our water/sewer/garbage bill has quadrupled (going from usage-based to flat rate!). And those are just the bills I know about already – I’m sure many more examples will pop up over the next couple months. Point being: we are naturally going to be spending more in our new city, even if we don’t increase our lifestyle at all. But hey – we’re doing it because (other people think) it’s awesome.


2) Lifestyle increase. We kept our spending very tight and controlled for many years while we were in grad school, making sacrifices in a lot of areas, even those that were closely related to our values. We can afford to spend a bit more liberally now, while still meeting our percentage-based budgeting goals. For example, I’m looking forward to:


3) Lifestyle inflation. This is what we really want to avoid, but…


We still haven’t yet lived in our new apartment for a month yet, so it’s not clear how our expenses are going to shake out once they become regular, and even after that we’ll have to judge what is simply a cost-of-living increase (e.g., within our grocery or eating out budget categories). But I’m already seeing hints of lifestyle inflation (or is it increase?)…


We have spent hundreds of dollars on new furnishings so far this month! I didn’t even realize how much it added up to (glaring red flag for lifestyle inflation) until I looked at Mint today – it’s over $500! I really detest shopping, so Kyle has been making most of the final purchases (after discussing them with me), which probably also contributes to my shock. However, we definitely can afford to spend that kind of money on furniture one time; this is not overspending, but it definitely could be lifestyle inflation.


Now, to be fair, definitely not all of that $500 is lifestyle inflation. We sold $345 worth of furniture when we left Durham, so we already had a bit of a fund going for new-to-us stuff upon arriving here. We bought two fans (and plan to buy a third) because our apartment does not have A/C, so that actually is a net zero/lifestyle decrease. We also bought three lamps (two new, one secondhand) because of a lack of overheard lighting in the living room – again, a net zero. We had a frugal win of finding a great couch on the street literally in front of our apartment building.


The questionable purchases – questionable whether they are lifestyle increase or inflation – were from Ikea. We bought a coffee table and a standing desk (for me). We bought our last coffee table new as well, but it was piece of junk from Target, so this new Ikea table is a major upgrade both in quality and price. The standing desk isn’t a proper standing desk yet, just a high tabletop. We plan to finish the Ikea hack soon by adding a second level for my monitor. But this was definitely not a ‘need’ as we brought our two desks from Durham with us (also cheap, from Staples, 7+ years old) – part of the second one has now been repurposed as a kitchen table/additional counter space.




Side story: We were talking with some of our neighbors (middle-aged, independently wealthy) about how we were struggling with this decision about how much to upgrade our furniture. The wife said, “Oh yes, time to get rid of the old Ikea stuff.” And we were like, “No, no – Ikea is the upgrade – over used stuff from craigslist!” So yeah, I realize most people would not be struggling with the concept of lifestyle inflation over their Ikea furniture!


We had shopped around a bit for these furniture pieces, including going to several thrift stores, but didn’t see anything that appealed to us in the secondhand market. And I have to say, I’m really enjoying both pieces. The coffee table is large, which is great for our huge living room, and sturdy – unlike our last one. The standing desk/table is simple, adjustable, and exactly what I need. (BTW, you can see the standing desk in the background of my first video ever, which I created for Grad Student Finances! Grad students, let me know what you think/leave your comments over on GSF.)


I think that the table and desk might represent lifestyle inflation for me but a lifestyle increase for Kyle. Thankfully, we are not going to be buying furniture every month of our life, so this isn’t a long-term threat. What I really need to be watchful for is inflation in our regular monthly spending. I think we need to return to budgeting properly – after about a year off! – to make sure things don’t get out of control. I know we are going to experience a cost-of-living increase and a deliberate increase with respect to our food spending, so I’ll need to make sure no inflation sneaks in there as well – that’s the category I’ll be keeping the closest eye on.


Have you had any lifestyle increase or lifestyle inflation recently? How have you kept spending in check right after a move? How do you view Ikea?


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18 Responses to "Lifestyle Increase vs. Lifestyle Inflation: Ikea Furniture"

  1. Moving is expensive, period! We have spent more than we planned every time. Something always comes up – whether its furniture that doesn’t fit, the need for new curtains, etc.

    I am fine spending a little more money on food and experiences for our kids. Other than that, I feel as if I am as frugal as I ever was.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m so glad you shared how your spending has changed as you’ve transitioned into self-employment! Those are great areas of life to intentionally increase. I suppose with your blog name you can’t get too far away from your frugal roots, right?

  2. If that is the $45 ikea table, we got it too… Craigslist is more expensive than ikea for most things around here. We talk about our furniture purchases the Monday after next, I think. We’ve spent more than you, but didn’t pay moving costs, so it evens out.

    1. Emily says:

      Nope, it was $140! I don’t think I’d be freaking out over $45 (as much).

      Yes, with craigslist you can get higher-quality used stuff but it’s still going to be pricey. We considered it, but ultimately preferred something cheaper/newer. We came pretty close to purchasing a $5 table from a thrift store, but it was lower than we wanted for a coffee table. :/

      Once we get our reimbursement – still haven’t submitted it! – we won’t have paid for moving costs either, just the vacation aspect. 🙂

      1. The matching end tables for the $45 version of the table were only $8. CRAZY. That has to be immoral in some way.

        1. Emily says:

          I think we looked at those end tables… They appear in the Ikea hacks for standing desks! They are super inexpensive.

  3. Interesting point – I agree that there is a big difference between intentional lifestyle changes and mindless lifestyle inflation. I’ve been looking into my own lifestyle inflation a lot lately and it is way worse than I thought. Unfortunately, most of it is mindless, so I really need to cut it back.

    1. Emily says:

      I haven’t had a chance to go in the deflation direction, really, but I always find it interesting to see on the blogosphere when other people do. Is what you’re changing relatively easy or do you have to like get out of contracts?

  4. Emily, it is a bit difficult to control spending and saving those extra money when I know my income increases, so does my lifestyle. Just a couple of months ago, I got a salary increase and, up until now, I still save the same amount of money like what I did prior to the increase.

    1. Emily says:

      Congratulations on your salary increase! This month, did you increase your savings? Hey, as long as it happens soon…

  5. Fiby says:

    ” ‘No, no – Ikea is the upgrade – over used stuff from craigslist!'”

    Ha! I agree.
    And sometimes you just can’t find what you want on Craigslist. I ended up buying a dresser from IKEA because I couldn’t find one sized appropriately.

    I kinda want a standing desk. I tried it at my lab and I found that I simply can’t stand for 8 hours a day. I need it to be adjustable to a seated position. Which is much easier to do if you only have a laptop, or maybe a laptop + monitor, if you just put a small end table or something on top of a larger table. But I have four monitors (yeah, it’s excessive, but I typically use two concurrently and sometimes I’ll use the third one, while I rarely use the fourth) and even just fitting three monitors on a desk can be a challenge, let alone trying to put them on an adjustable sitting/standing desk.
    There are actually tables that are motorized that can lift up and down, but they’re not cheap. If I knew I wasn’t going to move after graduation, I’d probably buy one. Otherwise it’s just going to be a pain to try to move with it. Either that, or I could sell it but I doubt I’d get a good price on it.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m definitely not standing all day at this point, but just for a few hours. With a laptop it’s easy to move between the desk, the couch, the table, etc. FOUR MONITORS?!!? I think you could live with two on a standing desk. 🙂

      We looked at some adjustable/motorized standing desks and were considering buying one, but I insisted on trying out the Ikea hack first to see how well I liked standing.

      I’m all in favor of putting off buying decent furniture until after grad school (or even longer) – obviously! We basically kept all the furniture we were able to break down as it was compact to move, so that’s something to keep in mind if you do buy before you move.

      1. Fiby says:

        Hahaha yeah I know.
        Like I said, I typically only use two at a time though I do use the third every so often. The fourth, not so much. Unless I’m using my dedicated Linux computer which I usually just SSH into. (In addition to my four monitors, I have two desktop computers and one laptop. Yes, yes I know, excessive. I use one of my desktops for most of my general computing, my other desktop as a file server and sometimes a second computer to run massive simulations on – this has come in handy when writing papers right up to the deadline!! – while I only ever use my laptop when traveling)
        My technological excess was all from a time before I started making my own money, which is also when I started being frugal. Kinda ironic, spending less money on stuff when I’m actually making more (as in, more than zero)!

        Yeah I could probably live with two monitors ;). I could probably try out two on a standing desk and the other two at a sitting desk. And actually the legs of this desk are adjustable (not motorized though) but I actually don’t know how high it’ll go….I should actually give this a shot.

  6. Kelly says:

    I bought an ergotron workfit sit/stand desk about a year ago – love it! At $400-500 it wasn’t super cheap, but much better than the motorized desks and other options. I probably stand slightly more than half the time, but it makes a world of difference!

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’m glad you’re enjoying the desk. Is this for home or office?

  7. Leigh says:

    I joked to my boyfriend recently that so long as he doesn’t decide he wants a million dollar house, I don’t mind his random little purchases!

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, some level of spending is not worth stressing over. Then again, a million dollar house would presumably appreciate…

  8. […] When my husband and I transitioned from Ph.D. training to Real Jobs, we decided to focus our lifestyle increases in two areas and kept all the rest of our spending as similar as possible to when we were in grad school. (Oh, and as a one-time splurge we bought a few pieces of new furniture from Ikea). […]

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