What is the “real” cost of your lifestyle? Not the amount you spend each year but instead the other emotional and real implications of living the way you’ve chosen. My recent trip to Africa helped put this in perspective in a way that was life changing.
There is something in the Seattle area called the “eastside lifestyle”. It refers to the suburban area east of Seattle that tends to attract people with higher incomes and wealth. It has less to do with location (as there are neighborhoods like this in Seattle proper) and more to do with the way in which upwardly mobile people tend to live. It implies access to bigger homes and amenities, better schools and more Range Rover-type families, and generally newer everything. Most communities on the West Coast, and elsewhere, have their “eastside” pockets or bubbles. For many people, including our clients, the financial cost to live this lifestyle ranges roughly from $200,000 to $400,000 per year.
I’m not making a value judgment about this lifestyle (I live on the eastside), but my experience shows that the impact of living this type of lifestyle extracts a cost that is real and tangible. I’m not referring to the actual dollars spent but instead the emotional and time implications, and the trade-offs we all have to make to live this way.
Real costs, or even symptoms of the eastside lifestyle, include: anxiety and worry; thinking about work when on vacation or weekends; no margin in our lives; stress and pressure to get into the best private schools and sports programs; difficulty staying on top of the financial complexity, keeping up with the Joneses, etc. These costs can be amplified further if there aren’t reasonable financial controls and boundaries around spending or the ability to say no.
This is where Africa comes in: as the picture of this African family clearly shows, many people of Uganda have virtually nothing; average earnings are about one dollar per day. For this reason, Ugandans value everything they have and feel so blessed to have it. Sure, they are enticed by the American dream, but they also realize that it doesn’t bring happiness or joy. The have more love and community than we do by a long shot, and it was interesting to realize that it wasn’t because of lifestyle or status.
I came home realizing how blessed I am but also how many of these lifestyle costs I feel personally. They can exhaust me, and drain valuable energy from me so that I’m not present and available to those I care about; they also limit my ability to use my blessings to impact the world around me.
I just don’t plain need all the things I have and quite frankly I was appalled at how often I carelessly handle and manage the many financial gifts in my life. Here are a few of the practical implications of this lesson and a few of the changes I’m making in how I live my life:
- Buy less
- Making sure I understand whether it’s a want or a need
- Making do; let things wear out before buying something else
- Say no more often—it’s okay to deny myself things from time to time
- Reduce the number of “things” in my life that create complexity
- Improve my communication about money at home
These types of adjustments to lifestyle are hard to make. We all get hard-wired into living modes that create difficult patterns to break. Even though I want to make changes I find I still fall prey to old ways of living, however, the first step in change is awareness.
Going against the grain, choosing to lead the un-eastside lifestyle, takes energy and commitment. I’m curious to hear from those who’ve done it and whether you’d be willing to share your journey and what you’ve learned?