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Money Minute: How to avoid the lifestyle inflation trap

Lifestyle inflation can be toxic to your finances. I’ll explain how to avoid it in this week’s Money Minute.

Lifestyle inflation is what happens when you get a raise at work and automatically start increasing your expenses. Before you know it, all that extra cash you’re bringing in is POOF — gone.

To avoid lifestyle inflation, give yourself time to adjust. You don’t have to move into a luxury apartment or upgrade that clunker you’ve been driving since college right away. It's easy to get used to all those small luxuries, which will make it harder to save any real money -- and harder to do without those niceties if you ever find yourself in a financial squeeze in the future.

Next, pay yourself first when you get a raise. Increase the amount you’re saving for retirement or putting away in your emergency fund. The logic is simple: If you save that money, you’re less likely to spend it. And you’ll actually feel as if you’re earning more as you watch your balance grow.

Lastly, keep things in perspective. The average worker only gets a 3% raise each year -- nice, but not exactly life-changing. When you couple that with the fact that our income tends to grow the most during our 20s and 30s and peters out by the time we're in our 40s and 50s, it's evident just how important it is to get control of your spending early in your career. By age 30, both men and women see their salary grow by 60% from when they graduate college, according to a PayScale study.

For women, wages stop growing around age 39, while men reach their peak earning potential at age 48, according to PayScale. If you've been moving into a bigger home every few years, going on more vacations and increasing your expenses in other ways, you may not be prepared for the day when your wages stop growing and you suddenly can't afford the lifestyle upgrades you've become accustomed to.

For a reality check, see how much a pay raise will really change your take-home pay by using a calculator like this one at paycheckcity.com.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t treat yourself once in awhile -- especially if you’ve earned it. Just don’t fall into the lifestyle inflation trap along the way.

More money questions? Ask me anything.


Mandi Woodruff is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and host of the weekly podcast Brown Ambition. Follow her on Tumblr or Facebook.