'My partner and I just bought a house, are getting married, and want to start a family — will we ever stop spending money?'

  • A reader asks: How do I avoid lifestyle creep with my partner?
  • Identify your values and financial goals, and keep them top of mind.
  • The best way to get a handle on your spending is to be intentional about it.
  • Have a personal-finance question for Tanza? Fill out this anonymous form.

How can I avoid lifestyle creep? Just bought a house, getting married, will try to start a family. How can I end the cycle of spending with my partner?

Reader,

It sounds like you’re bleeding money right now — I’ve been there. With these milestones happening in quick succession — a new house, a wedding, kids — you’re not going to stop spending any time soon (if ever). But you are at the perfect stage to step back and ensure you have a system in place that keeps you and your partner from overspending. And that’s the important thing.

The fact that you’re already thinking about lifestyle creep is commendable. It’s a natural human tendency to want to increase our standard of living — and thus, our spending — when our incomes go up (and it often happens subconsciously).

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That might sound like a reasonable behavior on the surface. Of course I should spend more money when I make more, I earned it. But that’s how you get caught in the “cycle of spending” you mention, even when all the milestone events have come and gone. As you earn more, the question goes from “do I need this?” to “why not?” Your sense of what’s expensive can become warped, too.

The ultimate formula for building sustainable wealth is to spend less than you earn and save or invest the difference. If more money is going out than coming in, you’re in trouble.

Intentionality goes a long way

The best way to get a handle on your spending: Be intentional.

It’s time to start the conversation, if you haven’t yet, about your individual and shared financial goals and values with your partner. Because buying a house and starting a family is just the beginning — there’s home maintenance, a monthly mortgage payment, frequent trips to Target for new decor (if you’re anything like me), baby clothing and diapers and food and childcare, and on and on. Some things you will need, no doubt, but others will just be nice-to-haves, or worse yet, unnecessary.

Ask yourselves and each other: What is enough? Figure out a comfortable standard of living that satisfies you both and stick to it. This requires thinking about both your goals and your values.

Clear, actionable goals will help drive your money where it needs to go long-term. Coming up with a set of values will help you stay on track from day to day. That means identifying the things — or experiences! — that are worth the most to you in life. If it sounds like a weighty task, that’s because it is. But it can change your relationship with spending for the better.

Ideally, the vast majority of everything you buy or put money towards has a purpose, whether that’s to keep you and your family well fed, to take memorable vacations, or to prepare for a comfortable retirement in 30 years.

Being intentional about what you want and need is the best way to stop lifestyle creep in its tracks.

Tanza Loudenback, CFP®, is the personal-finance correspondent at Insider. She writes most frequently about saving money, planning for retirement, taxes, debt management, and strategies for building wealth. Have a money question for Tanza? Fill out this anonymous form.

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