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When Did Luxury Become the New Basic?

Heidi Shenk daily life

As one of many that struggle with the burden of student loan debt, that situation is exasperated by the pay cut that I took in order to take my card business full time. However, I have always been a fairly cautious spender, so we have always made it work even while paying extra each month toward those loans. I did not have much money growing up, and my family always made things work on a budget. We didn't take fancy trips to Florida during spring breaks. We didn't often get name brand shoes or clothing. And we didn't spend large amounts of money eating out. Generally, for my entire life, I've stuck to the basics.

During the transition from teaching to running my business full time, Andrew and I made some major lifestyle changes in order to make things work. We stopped eating out and watching football at the bar. We cut cable completely without the addition of any subscription services. We only purchased new clothes if we actually needed them. We traveled less out of pure lack of money to do so or opted for destinations within driving distance instead. And we did as many free activities that we could. Generally, these lifestyle changes were not too drastic since we already didn't watch much tv and a lot of the activities we enjoy, such as hiking and being outdoors, were already free. Perhaps our biggest money saver was simply not eating out and the lack of travel.

In the past three years, while making these small budget cuts, we became acutely aware of how others around us were leading much different lives. One friend mentioned that they hadn't been to the grocery store in almost a month because they hadn't had time to go. Another friend purchased a new car, not because they needed to, but because they wanted to. We were asked to fly out of town last minute for a long weekend to celebrate a friend's birthday, as if it was normal for the average person to have money on hand for random airfare. Friends that asked me about how to cut their budget also were posting monthly on social media about their mani pedis.

These realizations made me wonder-- When did luxury become the new basic? Things that I had always just assumed were extras were now being viewed by those around us as daily needs. Just by not eating out once a week, we have saved nearly $300 a month. I can't even imagine eating out almost every night simply because there wasn't time time to shop for groceries. Not purchasing a new car means that we pay nothing for car payments and very little for maintenance as our cars are still in good shape. Planning for vacations rather than spur of the moment trips has helped us save money on airfare and budget in a way that we can even afford to travel. And not having a monthly mani pedi has easily saved me at least $40 a month-- almost the equivalent to our internet bill.

These are things we simply don't do because it isn't in our budget. And they are mostly things that we never even thought to do when we had a bigger budget because they are luxuries. Yet these things don't seemed to be viewed as luxuries by those around us. Somewhere along the line, we've grown accustomed as a society to luxury. Luxury homes, luxury cars, monthly salon upkeep and new clothes for a luxury look, luxury meals, luxury everything.

Luxury has become basic. It is normal to buy coffee every morning instead of making your own. It is normal to buy an expensive SUV instead of going for the budget friendly compact. It is normal to have granite counter tops in your kitchen instead of opting for a house that you can eventually make your own. It is normal to buy a new iPhone even if your five year old iPhone still works beautifully. It is normal to pay for Netflix or Hulu instead of using an antenna or reading books from a library. It is normal to pay for a mani pedi instead of using that same $5 bottle of nail polish on your own time and again. It is normal for us to consume, consume, and consume.

If I'm being honest, the closest thing I've ever had to a manicure was a paraffin treatment on my left hand after a nearly broken finger suffered during high school basketball. Gasp! I know! How could I have never experienced anything like that?! Easy, I say. I have never viewed it as a need. And while some might say that it's the downtime or pampering that is a need, I've found that downtime in other ways without having to pay someone for the luxury of it all.

It can be just as fulfilling to spend an evening cooking with friends at your house than eating out a restaurant with them. It can be just as fulfilling to travel somewhere by car than by airplane. It can be just as fulfilling to finish a house project on your own rather than purchase a house that was already finished. And it can be just as fulfilling to soak in that quiet of the morning while your coffee maker runs instead of making a hustle and bustle into the coffee shop on your way to work. And in many ways, it may actually be more fulfilling than the luxury version.

This is not to say that we don't partake in luxuries. We enjoy going to the coffee shop once in a while on the weekends. We still go out to eat maybe once every couple of months. And yes, our house came with granite counter tops, though we certainly have also done quite a bit of work on our own to make it more beautiful. For me, it's more about thinking about how these luxuries bring value to our daily lives. Did these things really make your life more fulfilling? Or did they only create the illusion of fulfillment? Those are the questions that it really comes down to, and for us, the answers are easy.

How do you feel about luxuries? Do some of the things I view as luxuries seem basic to you? I'm curious to hear a varying perspective.


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