Blowing Up

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I’ve got to come at this one with caution. There’s a high risk of sanctimony here.

Must… Resist… The…Urge… To… Get… On…My… Soap… Box.

I want to talk about lifestyle inflation.

There… I said it.

To be sure there are more extreme examples of it.

The high school basketball player who becomes the first pick in the NBA draft.

The reclusive computer whiz who hits on a big idea in his garage, works on it in obscurity, and in short order sells it to Google for several billion dollars.

But having lived through the experience of being 35-year-old trainee one year, and a 36-year-old private practice cardiologist the next, I do have some experience with lifestyle inflation.

I went from living a paycheck to paycheck existence, with my growing family of four, in an 800 square-foot garden apartment in Los Angeles, to literally quadrupling my salary and immediately house hunting for the home of my dreams in Portland.

That’s kind of the deal with being a doctor. You give up your 20s and 30s financially in exchange for a pay off down the road. Delayed gratification.

So let me just tell you little bit about how it happened to me. How a seemingly (and factually) large salary can quickly become mundane, and even eventually feel like not quite enough.

It starts with the house. Our subconscious minds’ have an amazing ability to look at our budget for any item and immediately want just a little bit more. The budget is almost irrelevant. It’s the childlike yearning for just an extra little bit of something. A little more love. A little more ice cream. A few more compliments.

babyThe part of me that makes purchasing decisions

Now eight hundred square feet was not the ideal square footage for our family.

But somehow we zoomed right by 1800 and 2800 ft.², and decided that 3600 ft.² was just about the right amount.

We also needed a backyard, a garage, a room for each of our kids, bay windows, two parking spots, a finished basement, wood floors, a sewing room and at least three levels….

Each nice feature that we saw on a house tour became another “must-have” on our ideal house list.

And I must admit I love the house that we ended up with.

But after getting into the early retirement mindset, it dawned on me (as I was chipping golf balls in my carpeted and sparsely furnished basement) that it’s about 1200 more square feet than we could ever reasonably claim to need.

Put another way, my own undisciplined and infant-like subconscious hunger for “more,” inflated my budget and my actual house 33% beyond any sane definition of “enough.”

Another example: wine.

When my daughter was born, I realized that I’d have to give up obsessively playing golf for at least a year because of the growing demands of home life.

But I’m an obsessive. So I needed a new obsession. One that I could obsess about at home while carrying around my newborn daughter and helping her to fall asleep at night.

I hit on wine.

So I bought a bunch of used wine books,

Then I bought a bunch of cheap bottles of wine of different varietals and from different appellations.

And I tried a bunch of new aromas, and tastes, and mouth feels.

It was a lot of fun.

Fast forward to my first years of practice.

My new house had a wine cellar. (Of course.)

I found it harder and harder to find an interesting bottle of wine for 15, 25, or $35.

Oddero_0It’s good…But it’s a bit too new world for my palate…

So picking up cases became more and more expensive.

Paradoxically drinking wine became less and less fun.

Instead of searching out the hidden treasure and being psyched when I found a well priced, and truly delicious and different tasting bottle of wine, I found myself glumly disappointed by expensive bottles of Barolo, and Burgundy, and Chateauneuf du Pape.

Don’t get me wrong. I love good wine. And I love being surprised by the nose or the grip or the palate of a great wine.

But I get just as much pleasure from a sip as I do from a bottle. And I’d rather taste sips of seven interesting wines then own a bottle of a great one.

And these are just examples. No matter the arena, it could be furniture or cars or food or clothes, there’s always another plateau just out of reach which your subconscious can convince you to yearn after. It’s endless.

So if you’re not careful no matter how much money you make, it can feel like it’s not enough.

Which is one of the great blessings of the early retirement game .

For me, it started off with the realization that when I bought things, I was in effect exchanging (financial) freedom, for commodities.

Which, of course, prompted me to compare my own relative valuation of “freedom,” or “time,” to “things.”

This comparison inevitably (I suspect) lead to a downward pressure on my personal wants and spending.

What I think happened is that my inner insatiable infant continued to want “more.” It just redirected its cries for more “freedom,” instead of for more “Chateauneuf du Pape.”

One could call it “lifestyle deflation.” But that sounds too depressing.

Shall we go with “ballooning freedom?”

Pass the crystals. My chakras are feeling pretty well aligned.

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4 Responses to “Blowing Up”

  1. Jana Sullivan November 19, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    I was JUST talking about this topic last night with a girlfriend. She was talking about her one bedroom apartment and the very tight budget needed for her and her husband to stay out of debt. I admitted my husband and I even struggle with the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle (and I’m practically twice her age). Everyone’s lifestyle seems to adjust up when raises and promotions come but never back down when inflation hits or when interest rates hike up or when your annual bonus isn’t as much as you were “planning on”. You’ve hit it on the head, my friend. Great post! May I quote you in an upcoming talk I’m giving on Dec 8? The topic is “Spending Less”. LMK. Thanks!

  2. Miles Dividend M.D. November 19, 2013 at 10:20 am #


    Thanks. Glad you liked the post. Quote away!


    • Jana Jarvis (now Sullivan) November 19, 2013 at 10:44 am #


  3. Robert January 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Great post! It is so true. And the amazing thing is that in a few more years, you’ll probably fill that 3600 ft^2 home that you initially rattled around in, and then wonder how you could possibly live in less! My wife and I moved from 1100 to 2400 when we were expecting, and at first felt there was a huge excess of space. We raised the kids and now they are gone, but now 1100 sounds small; we fill the 2400 comfortably with just the 2 of us. I’ve seen the same thing with my parents: after raising 4 of us, they moved into a home 2X larger and now it is full too! If one has any packrat tendencies, the baggage collected over the years can really become detrimental to freedom and happiness.
    –An appropriate children’s (but we adults loved it too) animated video that makes the point that stuff doesn’t equate to happiness is, “Madame Blueberry” by VegeTales. It is now available on Youtube: (you’ll like the Walmart reference!)

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