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The rising cost of living: how to maintain your quality of life

The rising cost of living: how to maintain your quality of life post image

As the rising cost of living outstrips real incomes, how can we maintain our quality of life? There are plenty of good tips out there on saving money, but they only get you so far. 

Most people quickly reach a point beyond which more cuts feel like self-deprivation. 

But instead of praying for mercy in the budgeting dungeon, you can escape the money trap by focusing on quality of life, not quantity of spending. 

The trick is to cut your mental link between spending and happiness. 

The payoff? Less worry about scarce pounds – because they’re being better spent on the things that really matter to you. 

There are three steps for someone who’s not a natural saver (and that includes me):

  • Break the connection between spending and self-worth. This will take time. 
  • Eliminate discretionary spending on anything that fails to move your happiness needle. This takes experimentation. 
  • Start small and build up your momentum. Belief and confidence turn from a trickle to a flow until eventually better spending is second nature. 

Breaking the link between spending and self-worth

It’s no secret that status is heaped upon those with conspicuous wealth. As status-driven primates, we’re easily sucked into the consumer arms race. 

Capitalism monetises our insecurities and presents ‘solutions’ in beguiling forms: a car, a pill, a handbag, a workout, a membership, a nose job, a super yacht.  

We want things that fulfill our self-image. So in order to want things less, you need to change your self-image. 

That means you need a new story that appeals to you more than world-class marketing. 

The story can take many forms. Here are some examples.

A greater goal 

For example: I’m saving for financial independence, or buying less as my contribution to the fight against climate change. 

Savvy consumer

For example: I’m not a capitalist zombie-drone who buys crap because some influencer told me to. Or, I don’t follow fashion because I’m curating a capsule collection of timeless classics. 

I see through the illusion

For example: status goods don’t make me happy or solve my problems. I want to live a simpler life founded on family, friends, community, and connection. 

Personal challenge 

For example: I want to achieve a 50% savings rate. Or save a house deposit in five years. Or run the heating no higher than 17 degrees. You can gamify yourself using targets and tests of resilience. 

Choose your own adventure

You’ll already have a strong notion of the stories that mean something to you. Develop them and they can become anti-spending countermeasures that overlap like armoured plates. 

Your new, positive stories absorb the impact of consumerist messages and redistribute their negative energy away from your sense of self. 

Controlling spending is now no longer a tale of denial. It’s a sign of self-empowerment grounded in your personal values. 

Shifting the narrative helps you design more creative and daring solutions against the rising cost of living. 

Because now you’re beating the system, not being beaten down by it. 

Eliminate spending on things that don’t make you happy

Wander round your house and look at the things you used to think would be amazing but now you barely notice.

Once they were an answer. You slid them out of the box and they seemed to whisper: “You complete me”.

Now they’re just wallpaper. 

Use those items as consumerist memento mori. Their withered significance is a reminder to focus on real priorities. 

Forget ‘sparking joy’. Your old tat sparks revelation. Specifically the insight that the next must-have will soon be as washed up in your affections as an aging pop idol. 

With this mindset, it becomes easier to take a Zippo to those persistent outgoings that bleed your finances like ticks. 

Burn off anything that makes you no happier than before you ever had it. 

That’s easier said than done, of course. Loss aversion stabs us with vile psychic pain out of all proportion to acquisition’s pale pleasure. 

Possession is like caffeine addiction. It can turn us into mini Gollums:

If your Gollum is too strong, try just putting an expense on pause for a month and see if he notices. If it doesn’t feel so bad, do without it for three months and promise yourself a review. 

By then the habit could be broken. 

Pick your cost-cutting battles

Substitution is the methadone of budget cuts. 

Swap something in and we don’t have to give anything up. Instead we take away the pain by using a cheaper version. 

Done right this can be liberating and the stuff of happy memories. 

Let me share some personal anecdotes.

A family fish and chip night is way more fun than going to a posh restaurant. Everyone loves fish and chips. And it doesn’t matter if you squirt ketchup all down your front. 

I’ve spent many a happy lunch hour walking around the city with friends and colleagues. Just talking, chugging coffee, and moving our legs instead of boshing an expensive lunch. Maybe they’ll show you a part of town you didn’t know.

The best work night out I ever had was playing frisbee in the park one summer evening instead of nursing pints in the company’s local. 

A downgrade can often be an upgrade because it’s easier to relax in low-key, informal settings. 

It always works if you suggest ideas that are universal crowd-pleasers. Often everybody else is relieved to be doing something different, too. 

Super sub

Substitution is a classic technique for dealing with the rising cost of living and personal inflation.

Academic literature on inflation will cite consumers switching from steak to pork, for example. 

I’ve had some success eating less meat altogether just by chopping 20% off the helping I’d normally heap on my plate. Or by exploring some of the amazing vegetarian food available. 

As a lifelong carnivore, I find it easier to give up something I love by tying it to a bigger win: 

  • Like trying to be a better global citizen in the face of the climate crisis.
  • Or eating a healthier diet to boost my chances of living a full and active life into my dotage. 

Cycling is another rising cost of living winner. Fuel costs drop, gym costs drop, and it seems to boost your immune system. Handy in this era. But I still have to make an effort not to just jump in the car. 

My point is substitution is a learned skill, so you need reasons to stick with it. But your abilities turn from puny to powerful the more you practice. 

The substitutions that make sense to you are almost certainly different to mine. But if you keep experimenting, you’ll unlock more and simpler pleasures that work for you. 

(I’d love to hear more ideas from Monevator mavens who’ve already mastered this art!) 


I advocate spending more not less on something for two reasons:

1. When it’s truly core to who you are

I know a photographer who’s taken out a small mortgage to own the camera of his dreams. He pours his heart and soul into photography. He’d be sad as a deflated party balloon without it. He economises elsewhere to focus his spending here. I’d never argue he’s making the wrong choice. 

2. It’s worth spending more when that helps you spend less

I bought the best, most reliable, energy-efficient boiler I could after living with cheapo burners for years. The only reliable thing about budget boilers was that they’d reliably break down in the middle of winter and reliably need hundreds of pounds worth of repairs. 

My walking boots are another example of extravagant luxury disguising investing smarts (honest). After continually wrecking £50 jobs, I spent ages researching a repairable, German hiking boot that may be the last pair I ever buy if I look after them. 

I love them. That and the ridiculous expense means I’ve committed myself to a meticulous programme of maintenance to ensure I haven’t mugged myself. 

In short:

  • Upgrade things that bring you genuine pleasure and that you will look after. 
  • Downgrade things you don’t care enough about to research and maintain.

The rising cost of living: quicker fixes

This is a post about making choices with the money you have. It’s not about making choices nobody should have to make – like choosing between feeding your family or heating your home. 

The rising cost of living is pushing some people into poverty. Debt charities like Step Change offer targeted help for anyone in that position. 

If you’ve never systematically trawled your bills and switched to cheaper providers then check out Money Saving Expert’s money makeover programme to save a packet. 

Everyone has to start somewhere. As I’ve mentioned before on Monevator, I used to spend money as if it burned my fingers. 

The most important savings tips I ever used were the first ones I followed. They set me down a better path to making my own choices. 

Now controlling spending is the air I breathe. I’ve never regretted it because it’s made me happier. 

Take it steady,

 The Accumulator

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • 1 Jim McG May 18, 2022, 11:29 am

    Nice post with some good tips. Eating out for me has become one of life’s biggest disappointments and I liked your observation about fish and chips! I still like to visit nice places but the choice of coffee houses here in York means I can spend a tenner relaxing with my DOH in nice surroundings instead of £50 on plates of pre-prepped frozen veg accompanied by a wine that’s a third of the cost in Tescos.

  • 2 Ducknald Don May 18, 2022, 11:44 am

    We’re on a self catering holiday next week. It will mostly be walking interrupted by stops for tea (and possibly cake) along with at least one instance of fish and chips on the sea front. I can’t imagine anything better.

  • 3 JDW May 18, 2022, 12:00 pm

    Great post @TA.

    Found signing up to veg box Oddbox has been a good financial move, as it 1) makes us research recipes, cook more in bulk and 2) cuts out unnecessary spending when in the supermarket as I’m going there less often.

    Research, research, research. Expensive items are often just convenient ones.

  • 4 Andrew May 18, 2022, 1:06 pm

    Chippies aren’t immune to inflation. My parents local chippy charges £7 for a piece of Cod the size of a goldfish. I was absolutely gobsmacked a few weeks ago.

  • 5 TahiPanasDua May 18, 2022, 2:10 pm

    Humans are programmed to achieve more money, status, goods, power, trophies, etc. We thereby ensure our own survival and that of the species. However, nature had no incentive to provide satisfaction so we just keep going. Anything achieved is quickly forgotten and we continue the quest for more. We are never satisfied. Even millionaires envy billionaires. This drive for satisfaction is seemingly endless.

    As Monevator suggests, we need to get off the hedonic treadmill which is easier said than done. Step one is to accept the existence of this chronic dissatisfaction and make determined steps to substitute other achievable and genuinely helpful goals.

    If you think there is any merit in this concept you should read Arthur C Brook’s “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.”


  • 6 ZXSpectrum48k May 18, 2022, 2:36 pm

    Perhaps good advice for the average person but I think the average Monevator reader should take the opposite tack.

    The current inflation rate is nothing out of the ordinary on a historical basis (just odd compared to the last decade or two). It’s taken account of in all those SWR scenarios people love to run. So nothing to worry about. Asset valuations are another matter!

    Moreover, while the inflation index has only risen 50% in the last decade, the S&P has more than tripled. Assets outstripped liabilities by a huge margin. We can all afford to spend some of that unearned gain. Isn’t that the whole point of having assets: to pay for liabilities?

    Moreover, the UK household savings rate went from the usual 5-10% to 10-20% over 2020/21. In aggregatge, UK households are sitting on piles more dosh than two years ago. Surely we can afford to spend some of that unearned gain from the last couple of years?

    Don’t be frugal. Spend at least 10% more this year. Time to splurge.

  • 7 Neverland May 18, 2022, 3:22 pm

    I think many higher income households in the UK just aren’t seeing any issue with inflation now since they have just come off a two year long enforced saving regime and have lots of spare income lying around aided by strong asset prices over the last two years

    Question is how far will the Bank Of England need to raise interest rates to achieve the chilling effect it wants?

    Currently the market thinks not much.

  • 8 Ducknald Don May 18, 2022, 4:10 pm

    >Perhaps good advice for the average person but I think the average Monevator reader should take the opposite tack.

    I’m only here because I’m frugal.

  • 9 Gary Grewal May 18, 2022, 7:17 pm

    This line summarized it so well: The trick is to cut your mental link between spending and happiness.

    Couldn’t agree more on the conscious spending, I write about it all the time. The inflationary environment could be a blessing in disguise as rising costs force us to revisit where our money is going and how we feel about the current arrangement.

    Pleasure to meet another cyclist. It’s not a fancy one but brings me free thrills!

  • 10 Grumpy Tortoise May 19, 2022, 6:37 am

    You hit the nail on the head TA where you said the trick is to cut your mental link between spending and happiness. We radically downsized last year, which necessitated keeping only those possessions that were essential or were of super-high quality. We actually feel mentally refreshed having less ‘stuff’ and now spending far less on superfluous items.

  • 11 The Accumulator May 19, 2022, 10:15 am

    @ Jim McG – I hear you. I used to love eating in restaurants. Partly because I *love* food, but partly because I associated it with a good life.

    Over the years I’ve found I get the same good life feeling for the price of a cup of tea and cake – Ducknald Don style!

    @ Ducknald – That sounds fantastic! Your plan reminds me of a story TI told me about his parents. I don’t think he’ll mind if I relate… TI phoned his dad to discover he was on a cliff eating fish and chips with his mum. His dad said: “Life doesn’t get better than this.” He is surely right.

    @ Andrew – I too have noticed that inflation has rocketed the value of even the humble potato in my local chippy. The fish price wouldn’t be so bad if we’d maybe eat anything other than cod. I bought a fish supper in Scotland recently and paid a lot less for a haddock.

    @ Gary and Grumpy – agreed. I used to be much more spendy. It actually feels better to be less encumbered by ‘stuff’.

    There is a social pressure upon all of us to rock a certain lifestyle. Designer goods and cosmetic surgery wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t. I think it’s a trap. It comes between us and what makes us truly happy.

  • 12 FitandFunemployed May 19, 2022, 10:22 am

    Re: cycling – inflation and hedonic adaptation have gone absolutely mad there too.

    Not so many years ago £3.5k would have got you a pro-level bike – now it’s more like £10k.

    I need to rein in my habit of buying retro bikes I lusted after in the 90s for what seems like a pittance these days, I can only ride one at once after all…

  • 13 NewInvestor May 19, 2022, 11:58 am


    I don’t think TI will mind the recollection about his father: he mentioned it in a post back in 2013. A really great post btw.


  • 14 Al Cam May 19, 2022, 11:58 am

    Well I guess I have to confess my most memorable recent fish and chips story – just a few weeks back we had some excellent chips one lunchtime from the “home of the deep fried Mars bar” aka The Carron Fish Bar in Stonehaven.
    And we only went there because our chippie of choice in Stonehaven, the multi-award winning The Bay, was closed. I do hope this was nothing to do with Michael Portillo’s visit in 2021 as part of his recent railway programmes.

    I guess some people are spoilt for choice.

  • 15 G May 19, 2022, 3:56 pm

    I feel like this post taps into a great post by Ramit Sethi (who I’ve got to admit irritates me immensely, but he was…ahem…on the money with this):

    I am slightly ramping up my spending this year as a) it keeps the economy going and b) there will be bargains out there and c) stuff ain’t getting any cheaper. A new wood burning stove is in my future.

  • 16 Jim McG May 20, 2022, 7:29 am

    @G Add me to the list of people intensely irritated by Ramit Sethi, but his podcast on the Mad Fientist was quite a good listen on how to spend your money.

  • 17 Bill May 20, 2022, 8:35 am

    When it came to saving money I always tried to make a virtue of a necessity, so packed lunches were healthier as opposed to simply being a few quid cheaper. Similarly, cycling to work was about control and independence rather than saving £1,200 a year in tube fares.
    These steps don’t make as much of an impact as they used to. Earning more is pretty much the only worthwhile advice for youngsters.

  • 18 never give up May 20, 2022, 3:19 pm

    Yes the difference between standard of living and quality of life is an important one. I remember this concept being forced home to me shortly after I discovered the concept of FIRE. I was listening to two friends talk about how the latest version of their car (well Chelsea Tractor) had a new grill, and whether they should upgrade or not. It’s difficult for me to have opinions on these types of topics now without sounding judgemental so I’ll try not to do that here!

    I’ve gone through a process the last few years of minimising what I own, minimising my car mileage, not buying new items that don’t add real value to my life and ensuring I always question what is enough, and what is actually worth spending money and therefore my time on.

    Redefining “luxury” has helped. I now see the ability to obtain clean water from a tap as one of the biggest luxuries that I have. This contrasts greatly with so many products that are all marketing/status driven and no substance. We really are so lucky to have the way of life that we do. If pandemics and wars don’t allow us to see this then I don’t know what will do it.

    I’ll be interested to see how my personal inflation rate changes this year. I’m currently well under my target budget so I need to try and spend a bit more. A new car for a different grill is well down the list though! Perhaps I’ll join fellow Monevator readers and have some fish and chips somewhere nice on a sunny day.

  • 19 Stuart Buchanan May 20, 2022, 4:15 pm

    Great post. The idea of a personal story as a defence mechanism against consumerism is a powerful tool. I’ve been enjoying Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (borrowed digitally from the library natch), which covers some of the same areas.

    +1 for cycling for fun, health and profit. Being fortunate enough to live in Edinburgh I walk or cycle everywhere. I get particular pleasure from using a tandem to deliver my children to various activities, faster and with more fun than would be possible any other way.

    Vive la Revolution! (which will not be televised or motorized)

  • 20 petejh May 20, 2022, 11:24 pm

    I suspect most people realise at some level the gigantic levels of hypocrisy here; but I’ll mention it just in case…
    The typical Moneyvator-reader/FIRE’ee/investor/’self made’ builds themselves a retirement pot/FU money stash/pension/legacy which stands on the shoulders of giants of consumerism. If the majority of the developed world overnight took heed of the ‘less is more’ philosophy – by which I strongly abide btw being both a 7-figure FIRE’ee and someone who drives a battered white van and doesn’t own a house or many possessions – the economy on which our wealth is built would collapse a lot further than it already is doing. Along with our returns on investment.
    So it’s good to talk the talk and walk the walk, but only with the knowledge that the enlightened path we’re following must never be followed by those ‘silly plebs’ who are so dumb as to build the world that enabled our good fortune. Anyone who says they their wealth isn’t enabled off the back of stupid over-consumption of ridiculous goods and services just hasn’t hasn’t dug deep enough or thought hard enough about what underlies their portfolio growth.

  • 21 The Accumulator May 21, 2022, 8:15 am

    @ Never Give Up – I like your idea of redefining luxury. It reminds me of the Thoreau quote: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

    Which reminds me of an acquaintance who is extremely well-off but forever moaning about slights he’s suffered at the hands of Ferrari customer service, or the costs associated with his boat.

    @ Stuart – +1 for Status Anxiety. The book that is, not the state of mind. Also, I envy you living in Edinburgh. Mind, those cobble streets must be hell on your suspension 😉

    @ petejh – I understand what you’re saying but I don’t think it’s axiomatic. It’s not impossible to imagine a different world. One in which the productive potential of society allowed everyone’s essential needs to be met. But the quid pro quo was we spent much of our time on paying it forward for the overall benefit of society.

    That society might be less materially comfortable but spiritually richer.

    In other words, FIRE could be less urgent in a system where people aren’t furiously competing to own a big house, or fancy car, or send their kids to the right school – the alternative being to tumble down the league table of group- and self-respect.

    FIRE is a response to a society that prioritises material gain above all else. It may not be relevant in a different world.

  • 22 SLG May 21, 2022, 8:02 pm

    My favourite possession at the moment is a £45 tarpaulin and poles. Its been a winter wind shelter on a kids playground so we can sit and have a snack without freezing. Its been a shade from blazing sun in a park when there is no shade. Its been a tent, a rain shelter, its been hours of amusement for my wife as I get my origami on as she mocks me! During a recent walk in the chilterns, it was a shelter against a moss covered fallen tree as my family and I ate lunch and drank hot chocolate on a picnic blanket looking out on an ocean of bluebells whilst nosey robins checked in on us and tits and finches flitted about the trees around us. It isnt for everyone. It is for me. And it is awesome!
    Please share the walking boot. I cant get mine to last past 2.5 years (£70-95 range) and 1000 miles.

  • 23 The Accumulator May 22, 2022, 7:44 am

    @ SLG – that sounds awesome! I need to look into this.

    re: boots – https://www.hanwag.com/eu/en-gb/men/doublestitched/grunten/?sku=4047761283415

    They can be resoled.

  • 24 SLG May 22, 2022, 9:12 am

    Cheers for the link TA, nice boots.
    Tarps do come with a similar “obsession warning” that should be applied to an FI spreadsheet. Enjoy 🙂
    I went with this one and dont walk without it these days:

    and sometimes you dont even have to leave home to enjoy it 🙂

  • 25 The Accumulator May 23, 2022, 6:02 pm

    @ SLG – Thank you! It’s surely tarp season now and time to put the spreadsheets away 🙂

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