Home Personal Finance How I Avoid Lifestyle Creep in My 30s After an Income Jump in My 20s

How I Avoid Lifestyle Creep in My 30s After an Income Jump in My 20s

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Jules Rogers purchased her first home with her spouse in 2022.
Courtesy of Jules Rogers

  • Jules Rogers started earning more money in her 20s when she combined full-time work and freelancing.
  • Although she was making more money, she also bought her first house and had to keep expenses low.
  • Her strategies for saving include prioritizing home repairs and monitoring discretionary spending.

As a 31-year-old, I’m approaching how I spend my money differently than I did in my 20s.

When I was around 29, I started balancing full-time employment and my freelancing business, and my income jumped. I had to prioritize parts of my budget to ensure I used it wisely.

For example, my transportation expenses are a top-dollar category. In my early 20s, I had a car payment, but I used the snowball and avalanche methods to pay it off — and even though that car was totaled long ago, I stayed within the insurance payout budget and now own my car.

My main goal is to keep expenses flatlined while increasing savings and investments.

Here’s how my budget differs in my 30s compared to my 20s and the strategies I use to avoid lifestyle creep.

Housing

In 2022, my spouse and I closed on a 2001 townhome in Portland, Oregon, and I became a first-time homeowner.

The monthly mortgage payment for our two-bedroom, two-bathroom home is nearly double that of renting a one-bedroom, including the HOA. But since I make a little more, my cars are paid off, and we’re not paying yearly moving expenses, so it’s worth it. We’re also no longer saving for a first-time down payment, which is huge.

Although it was fairly move-in ready compared to many homes on the market, we still had to tackle a long list of repairs and maintenance. This was new to me after a decade of renting and moving every few years, but having a healthy HOA helps with all the outdoor items, like installing a new roof this year.

As for the interior, the home came with a flooded laundry machine and a broken vanity mirror in one bathroom, among other things. Replacing those two items was the first priority.

Then, we categorized our priorities into three areas: things that need professional subcontractor work, small expenses, and those that only require elbow grease. We spread the expense of subcontractors by working on the elbow-grease projects in between, such as steam-mopping the bathrooms, resealing grout, and cleaning trim and baseboards.

Then, we saved up credit-card points and took advantage of sales such as Amazon’s Prime Day for smaller upgrades like hardware, light-switch panels, cable hiders, and storage solutions.

Spacing things out and doing them one at a time helps spread out and delay the cost and gives me more time to research exactly what I want for every detail.

Investment accounts

A math teacher once told me I would only make a finite amount of money in my lifetime and then showed a graph explaining the growth of exponential interest.

Hewing to that basic concept helped me prioritize saving in my retirement accounts during my 20s, even when it was a stretch or strain on the budget. Often, when I job-hopped, my 401(k) got kicked out from the employer after a while, too — and when I only freelanced, I didn’t have one.

During these times, I put my retirement savings into a Roth IRA with my credit union, so the administration part was easy.

By the time I hit my 30s, that account had enough money to buy into a clean-energy IRA fund with a $5,000 minimum investment. I still have a rolling 401(k) with my current full-time employer, who makes a 10% match to my contributions, and my spouse has an employer 401(k) and a health savings account.

Discretionary spending

Keeping a spreadsheet in my 20s helped me determine and balance my top discretionary expenditures: groceries, hygiene and beauty, clothing, and going out and entertainment. I always ensure these categories are paid in cash and pay my credit-card bill in full monthly.

Practicing this in my 20s helps me now as grocery expenses rise and my student-loan payment of around $150 a month has come back into play.

I’ve found that “Homebucks” (what I call not going to Starbucks and eating out less) doesn’t save me much money, but meal-prepping saves me time, so I do it. I freeze egg muffins and cook a batch of chili chicken for tostadas, burritos, or taco night. We have an espresso machine and a French press, which helps us avoid buying coffee out and makes adding a coffee creamer to the grocery list a nice treat.

When some expenses increase uncontrollably, I look for discretionary expenses I can comfortably cut, like winterizing certain beauty habits or going longer between appointments.

Getting my nails done is tempting, so I splurged on a UV/LED light to upgrade my game and do them myself. Brand-name clothing is also very tempting, but my rule is to save up my monthly clothing budget until I have the cash.

I had a monthly beauty-box subscription in my 20s, which is a great way to try new things and stock up. Now in my 30s, my hair-care, skincare, and makeup stash is much larger, so I use the “replacement only, don’t buy” method from r/makeuprehab.

In my 20s, I felt like I had to try every happy hour and rooftop bar, and I wanted to get out of my small apartment. Now, I’ve been there, and I enjoy staying home. A bag of frozen fries curbs the happy-hour cravings for me.

Hobbies

I bought my original Nintendo Switch in my mid-20s. Although it’s getting a little creaky with refurbished joysticks, the system is packed with affordable indie games that often go on sale — I don’t need a PlayStation 5; I can play what I already have. I also spend a lot of time on my Kindle reading free e-books from the library.

One of my non-screen-time hobbies is arts and crafts. I have a $10 budget for this, which is pretty much all you need for your next party or supply for hours of crafting.

I’m working on renovating my childhood dollhouse, a gift from my aunt when I was a girl, for my niece. It’s been nice to bring back this old hobby and pass it on — and the $4 I spent on Popsicle-stick flooring provided me with hours of crafting time.

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