When luxuries become necessities

by J. Money - Published March 18, 2019

fancy chandelier

Morning, guys!

So I’ve started subscribing to some new newsletters lately to better expand the ol’ mind, and this last one I read by David Perell (who I very much recommend, btw) featured a great clip that I can’t stop marinating on:

“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.” – Yuval Noah Harari, from “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”

We talk a lot about *lifestyle inflation* here and how our expenses tend to creep up over time along with our incomes, however thinking about it in terms of *luxuries* like that changes the picture a bit in my mind and actually makes me realize that I’m a lot more prone to lifestyle inflation than I originally thought!

In 10 seconds I came up with a list of 5 things I feel like I now “need” in my life, even though I was perfectly fine before them! Haha…

You wanna see what they are?

Of course you do:

  1. Smart phones. The biggest culprit of all! A decade ago I was just fine calling and texting around with my friends, and now if I go an hour without picking it up I have a minor heart murmur!
  2. Laptops. A bit more productive than the above, but I’m still very much attached to it more so than I’d like (if only you didn’t need a computer for blogging!).
  3. Internet. The bad boy that connects up our entire lives!! You literally disconnect from this one thing and your entire time – and wallet – expands over night, lol…
  4. Coffee shops. Remember the time before Starbucks or Cosi or Panera bread, etc? ME NEITHER! Because that was NO LIFE without coffee on every corner!!
  5. Cars. Believe it or not, there was also a time where people walked or buggied everwhere too… All the while enjoying quainter and more connected communities with one less major debt on their minds…Hell, even in modern times most of us don’t get behind a wheel until our late teens and still manage to survive okay… (albeit with a cramped style having mom take you everywhere, haha…)

Again, that’s just the stuff I came up with off the top of my head…

As soon as this Starbucks coffee hits my brain I’ll see about coming back and updating the list ;)

Point is – we’re all susceptible to inflating our expenses, and it’s especially hard to ignore once we get used to a lot of these “finer things” in life. Even if they don’t seem like *luxuries* anymore!

Best to just never try anything fun so you never have to worry about getting hooked, haha… At least that’s my reasoning for staying away from hard drugs and weed my entire life. I take one swig of booze and puff of cigar and get hooked on both on the spot! Ain’t no way I’m trying anything else and forever knowing the difference, haha…

Anyways, a fun exercise to do to see how far you’ve slipped into lifestyle inflation too ;)

Not everything we spend our money on is bad, of course, but if you don’t *know* why you’re still spending the way you are, it might make for a good opportunity to reassess and get back to the basics again.

James Clear recently came up with a good trick on how to re-focus where you’re spending your time, and I think it could very easily be applied to how you can better be spending your *money* too:

A simple way to ensure you are focused on what matters:

Imagine everything gets wiped. You inherit no tasks or responsibilities from your past or present.

Then, add back only what you miss. Choose what to add to a blank slate, not what to keep from a full plate.

What are some luxuries you’re now accustomed to that you weren’t even aware of?

******
For another excellent read on “stripping down” and starting over (along with some Zero-Based Budgeting love thrown in!), check out this piece from Morgan Housel: The Full Reset

// Link to Sapiens book above is an Amazon affiliate link.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave @ Accidental FIRE March 18, 2019 at 5:36 am

Internet for sure. But hey, it’s knowledge, power, access, and kinda ubiquitous I guess. And my computer that goes along with the internet is a luxury. Besides those I don’t think anything I depend on regularly could be called a luxury. A bike? Not sure it’s a luxury since most motorists think I’m slumming it by getting groceries on it and almost run me off the road.

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2 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 6:55 am

Haha yeah – people are jackals on the road…Maybe you need to hook it up with one of those bike motors MMM and others are always geeking over? :)

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3 Mr. Tako March 18, 2019 at 5:40 am

How about air condition and forced air heating as “luxuries that are now necessities”? They really didn’t get into homes until the 1950’s. Before that, everyone just found some shade or stayed closed to the fireplace.

And what about water heaters? Having nearly instant hot water really changed the world for the better. There’s no way I’d give up my hot showers even though I know it’s a luxury.

Flush toilets are a good candidate too. Flush toilets are sooo much better than pit toilets or outhouses too. Technically it is a luxury, and there are many people in the world still without access to a flush toilet.

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4 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 6:56 am

Okay – you win!!! Haha.. YES PLEASE to all of this!

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5 JoeTaxpayer March 18, 2019 at 5:44 am

Air Conditioning. When I was a teen, and minimum wage was $3/hr, I had a window A/C in my room, and had to pay my parents $0.20/hr to run it. During the hot NYC summers, it was money well spent.

I’m looking forward to ditching the car, in favor for a self-driving Uber type deal.

Coffee shop? I’m happy to never step into one.

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6 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 6:57 am

Hilarious they used to charge you for it!! I guess that’s where you got all your $$$ sense from ;)

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7 Tall Muse March 18, 2019 at 6:31 am

Like Mr Tako said, hot water and toilets. Though I’d add piped, clean water first. And houses.

I lived in a developing (what used to be called 3rd world) country and people pooped outside mostly, using newspaper or leaves or hands to wipe.

A bath was done with a bucket of water (warmed on the wood stove), outside, awkwardly. (And didn’t really address the massive pesticide residue they needed to use in their fields.)

Running clean water is the biggest luxury. I was lucky that my village had banded together and found the money somehow to get piped chlorinated water to the farms. Other villages didn’t.

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8 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 7:00 am

Ack yes – 100% a luxury that we all take for granted here!

Would love to hear/learn more about your village living if you’d ever want to share? Pass me a note: j @ budgetsaresexy (dot) com

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9 whiskey March 18, 2019 at 6:35 am

Toilet paper. People did w/o for ages; leaves, water, cloth, etc but modern tp didn’t come around til 1800’s. (Look it up on Wikipedia). So, on Thanksgiving, when asked what Im grateful for, I say AC & TP.

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10 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 7:00 am

Haha – I bet you’re the hit of the party, too ;)

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11 Natalie March 18, 2019 at 8:06 am

Interesting that the other comments have addressed macro luxuries (large things that most of humanity appreciates) but not micro luxuries that are personal. My first three micro lifestyle inflation luxuries since getting a living wage job: having my hair dyed professionally (new one!), having a gym membership (free with the job but I’m a convert) , and twice monthly talk therapy (addicted). That’s almost $200 a month..could I survive without it. Of course. Are these things now necessity. Yesss

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12 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 10:04 am

All three of which are good for the mind, body, or soul :)

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13 MK March 18, 2019 at 8:08 am

I don’t have AC in my house, I cut the cord on my dish, my phone is semi-smart and I don’t use Facebook……my God, I’m living in the dark ages!!!

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14 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 10:06 am

And saving a bundle at the same time!

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15 Paul March 18, 2019 at 9:03 am

One that comes to mind is an over the air DVR and/or commercial free hulu (the main point is to avoid commercials, as the alternative for me is just to not watch TV).

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16 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 10:07 am

Yeah – there’s like 1,000 commercials during The Bachelor on regular Hulu..

(did I just say I watch The Bachelor out loud??)

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17 Paul March 18, 2019 at 2:15 pm

Gross dude…. Just gross…

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18 Joe March 18, 2019 at 9:39 am

I could give up my smartphone and laptop. The internet is essential, though.
We spent 5 weeks in Thailand earlier this year and there were a few things missing.
– dryer. Just hang up the clothes. It’s hot out.
– hot water tank. Most places have a point of use water heater. Some don’t have water heater at all.
– Whole house AC. Most places only have AC in some rooms, not the whole house.

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19 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 10:08 am

OH yeah!!! Forgot about hanging up stuff to dry outside! We do laundry *every day* with all these kids so that would be out of the question, but totally remember my mom hanging sheets outside to dry during the summer and what not… such a nostalgic feeling :)

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20 Carlotta March 19, 2019 at 6:20 am

You know, in Italy dryers are starting to be popular just these days…people just hangs the clothes! Big family or not …

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21 3P March 18, 2019 at 10:06 am

My smartphone. Otherwise I can’t easily access this very blog! Haha
But really my phone has everything tied to it. My apps that let me access my investments, bank account, and contacts. All with a touch of my thumb print. I’d argue however that I don’t the newest versions of the iPhone. Just one that gets the job done.

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22 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 10:12 am

haha yup… exactly why I switched to Android on Republic Wireless 4 years ago! It wasn’t that I needed an iPhone specifically, just the main components of what one did (and now most – if not all phones? do). Have been saving $100+ every single month since and haven’t noticed the difference one iota :) (or probably have just forgotten since it’s been so long, haha…)

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23 Chris @ Mindful Explorer March 18, 2019 at 12:14 pm

I listen to Yuval Noah Harari a fair bit as he has been a regular on Russell Brand’s podcast Under Your Skin many times. This was one of the older ones he did and I think this will expand your mind on how you look at society.
https://www.russellbrand.com/podcast/ep-5-humanity-finished/

Let’s expand beyond what you have touched on with this post and dive deeper into the society rabbit hole, listening to many other ideologies to improve society is much needed in the US right now ;)

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24 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Oh nice – that actually sounds like a super intriguing show coming from Russell haha… Had no idea he was doing this – I’m bookmarking!

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25 Nita March 18, 2019 at 12:24 pm

I see my “necessary luxuries” as the difference between surviving and living.

My own list would likely mirror my FIRE list: I calculated the minimum budget I’d need to live a satisfying life, and thus, had to list all the things I actually want to keep.

Running water, electricity, central heating, kitchen appliances, washing machine, computer, Internet, and toilet paper obviously figure on the list (however, AC and dryer don’t, and the smartphone I could do without).

BTW, no one has mentioned food: but exotic food (hello Starbucks coffee ;) ) or out-of-season food, or even meat in such amounts, are clearly a broadly-shared modern luxury.

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26 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 3:09 pm

Excellent idea on the “minimum budget” list! I think that’s called “Lean FIRE” compared to other versions of FIRE out there…

Actually, we did a post on this once! There’s even a “Barista FIRE” haha…

http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/4-types-of-fire-retirement/

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27 Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life March 18, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Indoor plumbing – we’ve done without when traveling and if my parents hadn’t immigrated, we still wouldn’t have had it when we were older. I LOVE IT. Running water, flushing toilets, hot showers. All of it.

Yes, smart phone, laptop, electricity (same as above, we used to rely on a generator).

Oooh yes to the internet – I wouldn’t have a livelihood without it!

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28 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 3:13 pm

Indoor plumbing is another must have, yes :) I read a lot of historical books on what it was like before we even had it here in the States, and man was it not pretty! Sewage in the streets, diseases everywhere, ick… We’re all very very fortunate indeed to not even have to think about it here.

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29 Kris March 18, 2019 at 3:37 pm

All the things you mentioned(except for coffee since I don’t drink it a whole lot) are what I’m accustomed to. I think for internet, laptop and smartphone is pretty much the standard for many people nowadays as being used to having and taking it for granted. We can take public transit exclusively but with a 3 year old and another one on the way, it’s so much easier owning a car and driving them around.

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30 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Totally.

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31 Adam March 18, 2019 at 4:06 pm

Well, I’ll go the other way around. My luxury? A walkable neighborhood. I’ve lived in four different homes since 2004 and in each I had a grocery store, bars, restaurants, friends, and other essentials just a few blocks away. I will not go back to needing a car just to function. Nope.

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32 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 4:35 pm

WALKABLE WOULD BE A DREAM!!!!

We can walk to our schools now, as well as maybe one or two shops depending how much time I have, haha, but to be a REALLY walkable place would be awesome.. And something we’re looking for in our upcoming move, but doesn’t seem like it’s an option at least in the school districts we want. One day though! Enjoy my man!! :)

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33 Steph March 18, 2019 at 5:29 pm

1. Car – try going anywhere in Southern California without one
2. Smartphone (I can’t live without my calendar, and if my kids need to reach me)
3. Internet – shopping, researching, banking, investing, budgeting
4. Air Conditioning – never had it while growing up and now I can’t live without it
5. Credit Card (so much easier to track purchases)

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34 J. Money March 18, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Yes – forgot about credit cards! Super convenient, though a bit *too much* at times ;)

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35 Adam March 19, 2019 at 8:19 am

Oh dang, I forgot about the calendar. My wife and I call our shared Google calendars our ‘external brain’. The serene, contented life I project to the rest of the world would be shattered into a thousand harried bits if that thing ever fell apart. $#&[email protected] LUXURIES MAN

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36 Kim March 18, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Makeup! A lot of personal care/grooming products are sold to women (and men) as necessities but are really luxuries. And it adds up fast. Have you ever watched a YouTube makeup application video? It’s like 17 different products (everything from concealer to highlighter to foundation to setting powder to blush to eye pencil to brow powder to eyeshadow to mascara to lipstick to lipliner…).

This isn’t a knock against women who feel that they need makeup. Just a knock against the makeup industry. ;)

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37 J. Money March 19, 2019 at 5:42 am

Haha yup – makeup would count here too :) And I suppose even my hairspray now that I think about it! But my poor little ‘hawk wouldn’t be so much of a ‘hawk without it! More like a mullet, haha…

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38 Megan March 18, 2019 at 8:13 pm

I think I’ve actually managed to avoid letting most of these luxuries become a necessity for me.

Smart phone: I do have one, and use it, but if I had to go back to just texting and calling I think I’d be okay. I would carry my camera around with me on a more regular basis again.

Laptop: Mine died awhile ago and I haven’t replaced it yet. We do have a desktop though.

Internet: This would be hard to live without. My last apartment I didn’t pay for internet but I had quite a bit of data with my phone plan so definitely used that. I use it all the time at work.

Coffee shops: This an occasional, enjoyable luxury for me; but not an every day, or even every week thing.

Cars: I used to say I didn’t want to own a car and wanted to ride a horse everywhere. Now that I am an adult I realize this is not actually practical, and I definitely appreciate having a car, but managed for a few years without owning one. I lived where I could take public transit, bike, and walk to where I needed to be; along with occasionally taking Lyft, borrowing a friend’s car, or getting a ride. Now that I live almost 30 miles from work I drive much more, unfortunately.

Garage parking: This was not something that I never had consistently until I got married; one winter of not having to clean snow & ice off my car in the morning and I am already spoiled.

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39 J. Money March 19, 2019 at 5:43 am

Haha I bet….

But I sure would love to see you try riding that horse everywhere!! That would be so cool!! :)

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40 MC March 18, 2019 at 9:09 pm

Food :-) it’s a slippery slope once you start eating out a bit more, buying the nicer food, etc. I think a Hershey chocolate bar costs $1 but it’s hard to go back to after you’ve tasted a higher quality bar that’s $3-4.

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41 J. Money March 19, 2019 at 6:04 am

Haha yup… I remember when chocolate bars were only like 30 or 50 cents too!!! Now they’re all $1.00+!

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42 Linda March 19, 2019 at 7:04 am

I’m a latecomer to these comments, or a newcomer depending on your POV.

I agree with many of these items and may have missed it but Netflix, Amazon Prime and cable.
Adding these monthly suckers when I was totally happy watching old movies and reading my library books!
And upgrading smartphones every two years. I don’t do that given the outrageous inflation on the new ones.
Great read!

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43 J. Money March 20, 2019 at 6:00 am

Thanks for jumping in, Linda!

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44 Suz March 19, 2019 at 11:27 am

In addition to many things already mentioned, I will add two for me that I think I couldn’t do without since I’ve found them: the microwave…and heated seats. I’ve always owned older used cars and several years back ended up with one with heated seats. Whattttt? Best. Invention. Ever. and a game changer for this person who is freezing all the time.

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45 J. Money March 20, 2019 at 6:02 am

Haha good addition… We have them in our car too for the first time and definitely don’t hate them :)

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46 Minimal Millionaire Mom March 20, 2019 at 9:01 am

Here are a few things that are necessities now, that weren’t when I was a kid.

1)Dishwasher- I was the dish washer.
2)Air conditioner in the car
3)Cell phone
4)Laptop
5)Good coffee – parents used to live off Folgers
6)Internet
7)On Demand/streaming services
8)Amazon Prime shipping
9)Activities for kids – used to be playing in the neighborhood

Well, maybe these aren’t total necessities, but things we’ve become used to over the years.

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47 J. Money March 20, 2019 at 10:06 am

Sounds about right! Some of the homes we’ve been looking at are situated nicely on cul-de-sacs which would be GREAT for keeping the kids outside and playing with others in the neighborhood… Some of my very favorite memories growing up as well! (Even though back then I’d much have preferred to play video games all day long, haha…)

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48 Minimal Millionaire Mom March 20, 2019 at 2:24 pm

I hope you find your dream situation. I see lots of cul-de-sacs with no kids playing. We had a pretty ideal situation growing up…at least as far as neighborhoods go. We lived on a dead end street with eight houses, most families had kids. We had a huge hill to bike down as fast as we could, a couple of neighbors had pools, we were surrounded by fields to build forts in and some kids had dirt bikes, go-carts and snowmobiles. The best was a toboggan slide on top of a hill in one of our neighbor’s yard. Those were the days!

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49 J. Money March 20, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Ahhhh yess!!!! So dreamy indeed!!! I know a lot of kids are in this community but not exactly *where* in it, but chances are looking good at least?! If not I’ll have to walk them over to where everyone is and play Super Dad ;)

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50 Samar Misra March 20, 2019 at 11:13 am

Very interesting article! I recall in 2009 saying to my cool fellow Indian friends and American too how an iPhone is a combination of luxury and necessity now lol.

Would anybody say how a Fitbit is becoming more of a necessity too these days?

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51 J. Money March 20, 2019 at 5:06 pm

Haha probably!

They actually work as great *watches* too – remember those?? ;)

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52 Rocco March 29, 2019 at 9:53 pm

J. Money,

What a timely article! Several years ago in 2012 after reaching a milestone, 1 million in investments, excluding our paid off house, my wife and I decided to splurge and bought a used Escalade for $57,500.00

It was the nicest car we have ever owned since all we ever owned were very old cars in the 3-4k range prior to this, but cheap cars, an affordable home and no expensive hobbies made us millionaires at 44 and 47.

Fast forward to last month, and my daughter totaled the Escalade and now I need another car. I am experiencing first hand life style creep. I was finding it difficult at first so buy anything less luxurious than an Escalade.

However, as time goes by I am finding it easier to walk away from many potential deals for one reason or another. And I am finding how much more content I am driving my mom’s 17 year old car that she gave me, which I can keep or return if I buy another car.

I don’t care if it gets dinged or scratched. I don’t obsess over keeping it clean and I can park it anywhere without worrying about the swinging doors next to me. And insurance is cheap.

I find my life a lot less stressful. And lastly, we are in contract negotiations at work and it’s a great reminder of how much I dislike my job and some of the people there. And it has me questioning, why am I going to spend $55 to $60K on an SUV, when I would feel better knowing it’s invested to help pay medical, college or any other important life needs.

I guess I feel more liberated from my job keeping that money invested in VTSAX rather than a depreciating SUV that’s going to take me to a job a can’t stand! Having another SUV in that price range would make me feel like I should work longer to justify it’s purchase. I could easily afford it but my gut is telling me NO!

Because if I retire early, it would feel better knowing I’m driving a cheap car, with cheap insurance and not having an expensive SUV sitting in the garage.

I’m glad that I came across your article and my feelings are shifting towards keeping my mom’s old car. My wife and I have no debt and now have 1.8 million in savings, but with that being said, my job dissatisfaction is what’s making me not buy another SUV which I could easily afford.

Better to avoid lifestyle creep in the first place!

Thanks J Money!

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53 J. Money April 1, 2019 at 6:45 am

Really enjoyed reading this this morning – thank you!!

AND YES!!! I agree that *peace of mind* is much better than expensive items! Unless you can truly enjoy them without being stressed out about it :)

And I gotta say – I’ve always dreamed about having an Escalade so I was pretty happy there for you in the beginning of this comment, haha… (And also pray your daughter was safe and sound after the crash?!)

Interestingly I was a bit nervous driving my Lexus SUV around for a while too when I first got it, and then I backed into a fire hydrant and scratched/dented the bumper and ironically it actually made me feel BETTER! Because now I don’t worry about other scratches/dents anymore since it’s already dinged up haha…

So maybe if you ever get anther fancy car down the line just be the first to initiate it and then see if it helps relieve the worry :)

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