Friday, September 28, 2012

Interesting Dinner Conversation: Lifestyle Inflation

We went to another couple's house for dinner yesterday and the subject of life after mortgage came up.  They were a bit exasperated at themselves for not saving anything over the last year and a half or so since becoming mortgage free.

I said it is reasonable that they may have wanted to "let loose" a bit but do they have a plan?

That question morphed in an enjoyable discussion about lifestyle inflation.  In their case, they didn't buy any "toys" or big stuff.  Nor were they avid travellers.  Like a number of people we know, they skimped and saved to get to their current status while delaying household projects until money was finally freed up. 

So now they have the granite counter top and back splash they've always wanted.  They bought a newer used vehicle.  They hired someone to paint their house.  Their rec room is going to get a make over.   And they are thinking of putting in a pool etc etc.  You get the picture.

But, the one thing they still would not get is digital cable despite having a new LCD TV.  Had their television not been on, I wouldn't have believed it.  New TVs are kinda made for higher types of cable.  Analog cable on a new TV looks grainy, full of moving lines to me.  Isn't that why places that sell televisions have signs saying the picture you are seeing is digital?

The puncher?  They couldn't tell enough of a difference to justify getting better cable!!  I'm like, are you kidding?  When was the last time you were at a sports bar or at the movies?  How could you not see the big difference between digital and analog?!  D and I jokingly recommended they get their eyes checked.  They assured us they were fine.  Wow, was what I thought.

So this led to us talking about ego style purchases vs appreciative ones.  For example, it would not make sense for him to buy a merino wool sweater because he didn't care that it felt softer than regular wool.  I love the feel of merino and cashmere, enough that I would pay the extra.  Whereas I would not bother with upgrading my kitchen with granite.  I like the look of it but not enought to pay for it.

Same idea behind my buying a better pen this summer.  If you were to see D try and write with my fountain pen, you'd think he couldn't write because it looks like chicken scratch.  He won't be buying one ever no matter how much money he had.

Then we started on cars.  Before I found my current one, I had an old Honda that had around 125 HP.  Man I loved that car!  Until I actually drove more powerful ones, I didn't appreciate why people would care to buy them or pay for premium gas.  After all, I was able to go 160 km/hr in my old girl before the steering wheel started to shake and who drives like that anyways?  (OK, Me occasionally...) Now that I have mine, I don't even bat an eye at the gas station as it's worth it to me. 

Our friend (Honda driver) said he always believed people bought sports cars because of ego.  There really couldn't be that big a difference.  People just like to show off or say they drive a such and such (no offense to me of course).  Easy way to find out.  I sent the guys out for a drive in my car.  And I wish I had his feedback on video. 

He noticed the difference alright.  I don't believe he'd ever buy a faster/performance car but at least he is able to admit he now understands why some people would and why I did.  As a mechanical engineer, he was able to appreciate the physics behind the performance.  That's really what you are buying.  At least in my case.  He knows me well enough to know being ego driven is not my mojo. 

We concluded that lifestyle inflation strongly depended upon the person's "makeup".  If you are like our friends who senses do not register enough of a difference to justify cable cost differences, then it makes no sense to spend the money as there isn't any perceived value.  And if you are doing something just to show you can, then we would question motives.

So the question is, are they "lucky" because they don't have to pay for more expensive cable?  How about frugal people who hate to travel?  Are they "lucky" because they would be able to save more money than someone like me?  Or are they just happen to be well suited to their chosen life?

And are those of us who have hobbies/interests/appreciations that cost a significant amount of money "unlucky" because we spend money?  Or am I the "lucky" one and they are missing out?

We couldn't come up with answers to the above beyond the use of the "lucky" or "unlucky" may not be the best descriptors.

I believe there is no right or wrong.  And no one has the right to try and make you feel bad if your choices are not to their liking or tastes. 

You may come upon personal finance blogs which seem to preach their way is the best and if you cannot curb your appetite for food, travel, you particular "vice" here, then you must be pretty weak.  And if you could just brave up and do it like them, you'd be "rich" like them too...

Personally I believe the world is large enough to handle many many different definitions of "rich" and "success".


  1. Interesting perspective on things. I guess I feel fortunate or "lucky" that I don't have a passion for high-performance cars, boats, snowmobiles, jet skis, skiing, golf, or any expensive toys or hobbies that require a lot of maintenance and upkeep. It means I get to keep more of my money for bankrolling my eventual break away from the rat race.

    For what it's worth, in my experience the absolute best picture quality on HDTV comes from over-the-air broadcast signals. It is so crisp and clear -- better than HD cable even (which is slightly compressed by the cable companies to try to fit as much bandwidth as possible into their signal). Of course you get fewer choices with broadcast than with cable, but the channels you do get are beautiful.

  2. Isn't it wonderful that we all have so many choices? My boyfriend pays $100 per month for satellite while I have a tiny 15-20 year-old TV that I rarely turn on. I am feeling rather depressed that I will have to give up my 10 year-old Japanese-made Accord if I want Mexican citizenship when I'm eligible in two years. He doesn't care where he lives as long as he's got his big TV and his boat full of fishing equipment, but I made it clear to him from the beginning that my home is my castle and I'm not moving. We do agree on travel, though. We don't waste money on expensive hotels and meals; we are there to experience another country, and the more country and people we see, the better.

  3. @ Executioner: Believe me, there are days where I wish I wasn't so sensitive! We have currently struck a good balance between earnings and time which supports our interests. Taking a page out of your book, D and I figured out what it would mean if we were to save one of our incomes and use the other to run our lives. Pretty amazing the amount of money that could be accumulated in just a year but not for us. We're not willing to give up some fun (to us) activities just to save up and then end up spending it later on them. Do you have a picture of what your life will look like in 10 yr?

    @ Kathy: We are very fortunate to be able to chose our life direction. A hallmark of our freedom. It is so easy to forget that when things don't always go "our way". Why do you have to give up your car for citizenship? What are the benefits of Mexican citizenship over keeping your American one?

  4. PS. @ Executioner; I had no idea what you were talking about with respect to "over the air broadcast signals" until D told me "digital antenna" (I used to have bunny ears with my old TV). Someone we know who lives in the country uses one and I believe she is quite happy with the results. People who live near enough to a major city center or to the US border will often pick up even more channels.

  5. Thanks for this:
    "I believe there is no right or wrong. And no one has the right to try and make you feel bad if your choices are not to their liking or tastes. ... Personally I believe the world is large enough to handle many many different definitions of "rich" and "success"."

  6. @ Robert: I believe you wrote something similar in one of your older posts. How's your training going? Any races coming up?