5 Ways to Control Your Lifestyle Inflation

filed under: money
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The solution to most of our money problems is pretty simple: more money. But a larger income doesn’t guarantee a lifetime of financial solvency. For many folks who can’t break free from a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, lifestyle inflation is to blame.

Lifestyle inflation happens when your spending increases as your income increases. You get a raise at work, so you move to a bigger apartment. You start earning extra cash on the side, and you spend it on small expenses (a new manicure habit, or a subscription to HBO) that add up over time. That’s the thing with lifestyle inflation—it often goes unnoticed.

The problem, of course, is that you gradually lose control of your finances. “Lifestyle inflation is different than a one-time splurge,” says Jackie Lam of the website Cheapsters.org. “It increases your living expenses over the long run. The problem with lifestyle inflation is that even though you have more money, you won’t be saving any more of it. Sometimes you may find yourself in even more debt.”

If your lifestyle spending has gotten out of control, here are a few ways to break the cycle.


When you’re ready to deflate your lifestyle, the first step is to look at the numbers. Pull your monthly statements and carefully review your transactions so you can identify any spending problem areas. You might be surprised to find just how much those small lunches or Amazon purchases add up. Once you know where your weak spots are, you can prioritize and rethink how you allocate your money.

“I’m a fan of the Marie Kondo method of decluttering, and you can do the same with your expenses,” Lam says. “Is what you’re spending on bringing you joy? Do you have space for it in your budget?”

Love your daily latte but know you’re spending way too much money on coffee? Lam recommends you find a more affordable alternative. “I’m a huge fan of the ‘swap it, don’t stop it’ method,” she says. “Figure out what the value of something is and see if you can find alternatives. For instance, if you go to CrossFit class partly for the camaraderie, are there other ways you can get fit and hang out with people and spend less?”


Most people have the wrong idea about budgeting. We think of it as a one-time task: crunch the numbers, come up with a spending plan and boom, we’re done budgeting.

But budgeting is more of a habit: It’s most effective when you make it a regular activity. Pick a time to check in on your spending and make sure everything’s on track. Maybe it’s in the morning, when you sit down with your coffee, or at the end of the day, when you get home. Maybe it makes the most sense for you to keep a journal and write down all the stuff you spend money on throughout the day. Whatever ritual you choose, when you make budgeting a part of your routine, you keep your spending goals front-of-mind. Plus, if there are any problems, you can nip them in the bud before they get out of hand.


Once you’ve identified the areas you want to cut back on, it’s time to test your willpower. To make things easier on yourself, focus on one area at a time. When you try to cut back on everything all at once, the result is an entirely different lifestyle—one that may be too jarringly different to maintain.

If you want to roll back your spending on clothing, restaurants, and gadgets, for example, challenge yourself to first cut back on eating out for 60 days. Once you’ve got your restaurant habit under control, move on to clothing (or gadgets, but not both).

You can also take smaller steps within each challenge. If you ultimately want to spend $100 less on restaurants every week, start with a stepping-stone goal of spending $50 less. The next week, increase your savings to $75, and so on until your reach your restaurant spending goal.

“If someone has multiple problem areas, I suggest going for the easy wins first,” Lam suggests. “Try to cut out what may cost the most but offer you the least joy. Eventually you might have to cut out something that you really enjoy,” but when this time comes, you will already know how good it feels to meet your goals.


The most straightforward way to combat lifestyle inflation is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. Again, lifestyle inflation happens when you increase your spending along with your income. So when your income increases, resist the urge to “upgrade” your life, and instead put that additional income aside. For example, when you get a raise, increase your debt payments or your savings deposits.

Of course, it’s okay to celebrate, too. There’s certainly nothing wrong with spending your hard-earned money, you just want to be mindful about it. “Go on a reasonable splurge,” Lam says. “For instance, if you just got a raise or bonus, have a little bit of fun with it, and save the rest. You earned it, after all.”

Putting a spending limit on the splurge ensures you can keep it under control. As Lam says, it serves as a guideline and prevents you from blowing it all.


Similarly, when an unexpected amount of money comes your way, use it for good. Instead of squandering your entire tax refund or work bonus on sundries, put it towards debt or a financial goal. If you’re stuck in a debt trap or a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, this is a quick way to supercharge your goal.

Money is a tool that’s meant to be spent, and there’s nothing wrong with spending it on things you enjoy. But it’s also a limited resource for most of us, so you want to make sure you use it in the best way possible.

“If you find yourself with more money, think about the few things that can really add value in your life,” Lam says. “I’d say add things in carefully and gradually. Give yourself a one-month trial to see how it goes. Be the CFO of your budget, and make sure what you spend your beans on (besides bills) has purpose or value.”

April 26, 2017 – 2:00pm

How One Writer Packed Her Bags and Took Off for a Year as a Digital Nomad

filed under: travel, Work
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Courtesy of Zoe Weiner

It’s 6 a.m. in Sydney, Australia, and I can hear the waves crashing outside the window of my un-air conditioned Airbnb. In a few minutes, the sun will rise over the ocean across the street, but I’m going to have to miss it. Instead, I’m battling heavy eyelids while I respond to urgent messages from my editor back in New York about a fast-approaching deadline. My friend sits on the floor next to me, explaining in a hushed voice to a client in Chicago that she can’t hop on a video call because it is the middle of the night (and she is in her pajamas).

My work day started four hours ago, after a full day of traveling and touring. I have another hour before my shift ends. But when it does, I’ll grab a coffee, then head to the beach to take my first ever surf lesson. By tomorrow night, I’ll be heading to Melbourne for the next leg of my trip. I have three stories due before midnight, and no idea when (or where) I’m going to sleep. But this is exactly what I signed up for, and every tired, cranky, over-worked minute has been worth it—even the ones that require being awake for the sunrise and missing it anyway.

After all: This is not vacation.

For the next 12 months, I’ll be living and working remotely in 12 different cities around the world through an organization called Remote Year.


As a freelance writer, I spent much of the last two years hunched over my laptop in my tiny New York City apartment, writing stories I didn’t believe in. Bored, lonely, and terribly uninspired, I’d scroll through Instagram and envy those who were bold enough to live the adventurous life that I wanted: climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, and lounging on beaches with names I couldn’t pronounce. I’d always dreamed of packing a suitcase and buying a one-way ticket to the other side of the planet, but year after year I found some excuse—a job, a boyfriend, a lease—to stay right where I was.

So it’s kind of perfect that it was on Instagram that I first stumbled upon Remote Year. “Become a digital nomad!” the ad beckoned. I clicked. 

Remote Year, I came to learn, is basically a study abroad program for grownups. It hosts groups of approximately 75 remote workers who work and travel together, living in a new country each month for an entire year. You pay the company $2000 per month (plus an initial deposit), and they provide accommodations, travel arrangements, and co-working spaces (or at least a strong Wi-Fi signal). Working, the company makes clear, is a key part of its mission.

According to a Bentley University survey from 2014, the year Remote Year CEO Greg Caplan launched his company, 77 percent of Millennial workers believed that flexible work hours would make them more productive. And according to job search site FlexJobs (which may, admittedly, be biased on the topic), 85 percent of Millennials want to telecommute 100 percent of the time. Pair that with Airbnb’s 2016 Millennial travel report [PDF], which found that 70 percent of Millennials who feel they do not have enough time to travel would travel more if they could, and you’ve got quite the market for a program like Remote Year.

The numbers back this up: According to Remote Year, over 25,000 people applied for 75 spots on the inaugural trip. So, sending in my application two years later, I figured there was no chance I was ever going to be selected. I didn’t even tell my mom (or my boyfriend) that I’d applied.

But a $50 deposit and Skype interview later, I was in.


After I received my acceptance email, I had exactly 75 days to sublet my apartment and pack my life into a 40-pound suitcase. But first, I had to convince my employers that I could make a remote working situation, well, work.

Even if you’re not jetting off for a year-long trip (maybe you want to work from home one day per week to cut back on commuting time, or switch to a night shift to complement your spouse’s schedule), approaching your boss about flexible hours or telecommuting can be daunting. In order to get the green light, you’ll need to present an appropriate, feasible plan to your manager, as well as a willingness to adapt. The last thing you want, after all, is for your unique arrangements to make their job more difficult. 

For me, this meant telling my editors I’d “do anything to make it work” (and meaning it), and committing to working U.S. hours—which, for my first stop, means working from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. local time.

Less than three months after I received my acceptance I had everything squared away, and I boarded my flight to Kuala Lumpur.


My Remote Year group, the ninth to set out, will spend the first four months of our journey in Asia, followed by four months in Europe, and four months in South America.

The big question is: What do I want to get out of this? When this year is over, I want to have a better sense of who I am and more clarity about what I want in my life, personally and professionally. I want to meet people who will push me, and learn about the world outside of the teeny, tiny existence I’ve been living for 25 years. I know I’m going to be challenged in a lot of ways, some that I can predict—like figuring out how to hold down a job with a 13-hour time difference, and learning how to manage living with 75 other people—and others that I won’t see coming. And as I move to each new location and tackle each new obstacle, I’ll share what I learn with you at mental_floss. Because you don’t need to buy a one-way ticket in order to change your life; that’s just my story.

April 24, 2017 – 11:30am

5 Research-Backed Tips for Successful Negotiations

filed under: Lists, money, Work
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A major reason why so many of us find it difficult to negotiate is because it seems so confrontational. Whether it’s haggling at the farmer’s market or making the case for a raise, most of us think of negotiating as a battle that only one side can win. But research shows we might be going about it all wrong. Try these five proven negotiating tactics to ease the process.


In Getting to Yes, a classic conflict resolution book first published in 1981, researchers Roger Fisher and William Ury introduce a concept called principled negotiation [PDF]. This tactic involves separating the people from the problem and focusing on common interests in order to reach a solution that pleases everyone. Negotiation isn’t a battle, they said, it’s a joint problem-solving session.


A 2002 study published in the journal Group Dynamics found that a little “social lubrication” prior to the negotiation can make the bargaining easier, particularly when the negotiations are taking place via email. For the study, researchers had subjects “schmooze” on a telephone call by revealing a small personal detail about themselves that had nothing to do with the negotiation, like where they grew up. “Schmoozers felt more rapport, their plans were more trusting (although no less ambitious), and their economic and social outcomes were better,” the study says.

Specifically, when subjects only exchanged names and email addresses, they reached a deal less than 40 percent of the time. But when they shared extraneous personal information, they reached a deal 59 percent of the time. So strike up some small talk before you begin your contract negotiation or car dealership haggling for best results.


Stanford researchers looked at how subjects tackled different kinds of negotiations when food was involved—say, a plate of cookies was placed in the conference room or the negotiations took place at a restaurant. In the right situation, they found, the act of sharing food could be beneficial. But first, you have to determine whether you are negotiating competitively or cooperatively.

“In more competitive negotiations, people want to have the best possible deal for themselves, and typically, they see their counterpart as having adversarial or opposing motives,” doctoral student and study co-author Peter Belmi told the Stanford Business website Insights. “In cooperative negotiations, typically people are more concerned about reaching an agreement for all parties involved.”

If you’re in a competitive situation, say a negotiation to end a legal dispute, having food available can help ease the tension. “What we found is that when people were negotiating in a competitive situation, sharing the food—and by that we mean sharing, not just eating—they created significantly more value,” Belmi said. The social ritual of eating offset the competitive tone of the negotiation, allowing subjects to pay more attention to each other and look for opportunities to create more value in the negotiation.

But if you’re negotiating with friends or friendly coworkers, skip the snacks. “In a cooperative negotiation, sharing food creates a comfortable and familiar environment, and people can become more concerned about maintaining that atmosphere rather than finding the best deal,” Belmi said.


A small joke can make for a big icebreaker in salary negotiations. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at the role of anchoring, or the bias towards the first piece of information offered (in this case, the first number thrown out), in such negotiations.

The study found that subjects who suggested an implausibly high salary when asked what they were looking for—$100,000 when their last salary was $29,000—were actually offered more money on average: $35,385 compared to $32,463. Meaning, the high anchor was effective, even if it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.


If you tend to be shy or introverted, the assertiveness necessary for a successful negotiation can feel abrasive and confrontational. A study from Columbia University [PDF], however, shows that you likely have nothing to worry about. Researchers had subjects participate in mock negotiations, then rate their own level of aggressiveness. They explain the results:

A significant share (38%) of people who were seen by their counterparts as appropriately assertive incorrectly thought their counterparts saw them as over-assertive. They displayed what counterparts saw as the right level of assertiveness but they assumed their counterpart saw them as getting it wrong—specifically, as pushing too hard. We call this the line crossing illusion, when people mistakenly believe they have “crossed the line” into being over-assertive in a counterpart’s eyes, when the counterpart actually views them as appropriately assertive.

The point is, if you’re a shy person who’s afraid of being confrontational, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.

February 17, 2017 – 4:00pm

12 Brilliant IKEA Hacks for Your Kitchen

filed under: design, home

Do you have Pottery Barn taste but a flea market budget? Kitchen renovations can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, but you can hack your way to Pinterest-worthy design in a weekend with a few IKEA basics and a little elbow grease. Here are 12 projects to get you started.


Courtesy Golden Boys & Me

On her blog Golden Boys & Me, DIY genius Courtney Affrunti shares how she turned three IKEA Billy bookcases into a gorgeous kitchen island. She fastened the bookcases together using screws and topped them with a butcher block countertop. Add decorative siding (Affrunti used bead board), molding, or doors to give your new kitchen focal point some personal flavor.

Buy from IKEA: Billy bookcase ($50), Ekbacken countertop ($99)



For their IKEA-hacked kitchen island, Minneapolis-based home reno duo JP Strate and Liz Spillman (The Rehab Life) used the Kallax shelf as their base. They then sanded and stained plywood to create a custom base, backboard, and countertop.

Buy from IKEA: Kallax Shelf ($65)


A photo posted by krlbrands ??? (@krlbrands) on


Prefer the look of marble to wood, but can’t afford Carrara? Stick some marble-patterned contact paper on your inexpensive IKEA shelf for an instant upgrade.

Buy from IKEA: Hyllis Shelf ($15)


Courtesy Regina Morrison for Acute Designs

A sleek dining table with hairpin legs could cost you nearly $1000 from a trendy furniture store. On her blog Acute Designs, Regina Morrison shows how she made one for herself for under $300 by adding some hairpin legs she bought on Ebay (you can also find them on Etsy) to a $150 IKEA table.

Buy from IKEA: Jokkmokk Dining Set ($150)



Create a striking accent wall or in-kitchen herb garden by repurposing IKEA’s Rimforsa container holders as planters. The Rimforsa line includes two sizes of holders, a hanging rail, and glass containers. If you want to do some comparison shopping to save a few bucks, you could purchase discount glasses or cups separately to place in your holders.

Buy from IKEA: Rimforsa Holder ($11) and Containers ($17)


A photo posted by Shawna (@sevenofstars) on


For another clever herb garden option, turn the $10 Vurum wine rack on its side, mount it on your wall, and add your own glass vases.

Buy from IKEA: Vurum Wine Rack ($10)


Photos by Jennifer Kathryn Photography for The Everygirl; Styling by Alaina Kaczmarski

The cubed Kallax shelf is a favorite of IKEA hackers for a reason—it’s just so versatile! The Kallax’s four cubbies make stylishly displaying your bottles, glasses, and barware simple. The Everygirl’s Alaina Kaczmarski transformed the simple unit into an expensive-looking bar by adding metallic legs (she used the Estelle legs from Pretty Pegs, but you could easily paint simple wooden legs found at any hardware store for a more budget-friendly option). Use wheels instead of legs and add a rail (like the Finrop) and your bar is now a cart.

Buy from IKEA: Kallax Shelf ($35)


A photo posted by Anja Keks (@keks_dose) on


Combine the Bekväm and Oddvar stools to help your tot safely reach the kitchen counter. The Oddvar doesn’t seem to be available in the U.S., but you can find directions and dimensions for adding your own plywood railing here.

Buy from IKEA: Bekväm Step Stool ($20), Oddvar Stool (£7)


A photo posted by Kristin (@kjrobson) on


Wall-mount the Mala tabletop paper holder for the perfect place to leave family notes, make grocery lists, or let the kiddos scribble while you cook.

Buy from IKEA: Mala Paper Holder ($8) and Drawing Paper Roll ($5)



Keep your counters tidy with this space-saving storage unit created using three Rundlig bowls and the Hilver cone-shaped leg. When entertaining, fill each level with different chips or sweets for easy grazing and an eye-catching display.

Buy from IKEA: Rundlig Serving Bowl ($13), Hilver Cone-Shaped Leg ($25)


A photo posted by lealiveblog (@lealiveblog) on


Sometimes the best hacks come from finding unexpected uses (or places) for common items—no tools required! Move your Leksvik rack from the entryway to the kitchen and you have a great place for storing mugs, teacups, or pots and pans.

Buy from IKEA: Leksvik Rack ($13)



Similarly, move a towel rail into your kitchen and you have a perfect place to store your pot and pan lids. Install the rail inside a cabinet or pantry door to keep them within reach but out of sight.

Buy from IKEA: Balungen Towel Rail ($15)

February 10, 2017 – 6:00pm

021317 newsletter

Newsletter Subject: 
How the "Little House" Books Stretched the Truth (Plus: Animal Pelts Made from Yarn)
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Newsletter Item for (91800): 5 Ways the 'Little House on the Prairie' Books Stretched the Truth
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Newsletter Item for (91800): 5 Ways the 'Little House on the Prairie' Books Stretched the Truth
Newsletter Item for (92096): This Artist Knits the Most Beautiful Animal "Pelts"
Newsletter Item for (91955): 5 Things Happy People Do (That You Can, Too!)
Newsletter Item for (92130): See What Mr. Darcy Really Looks Like
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How to Get the Biggest Reimbursement for a Canceled Flight
Artist Sets Guinness World Record for Tallest Sand Castle
Opening Your Car Door Like the Dutch Do Can Save Cyclists' Lives
What’s the Difference Between Tylenol, Aspirin, Advil, and Aleve?
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Monday, February 13, 2017 – 08:40
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Newsletter Item for (92130): See What Mr. Darcy Really Looks Like


See What Mr. Darcy Really Looks Like


Anyone who has ever read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has surely conjured up his or her own idea of what the curmudgeonly-but-lovable Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy would look like in real life. According to a group of researchers tasked with creating a historically accurate representation of the leading man, he was no Colin Firth.

See What Mr. Darcy Really Looks Like