"The essentials of life are cheap. Only the luxuries are expensive." - Ron Muhlenkamp
Remember when you were a student at college or university? Remember how much fun it was and yet how broke you were? You didn't have a luxurious place to live in, or a car, and you walked to everything, or maybe skateboarded everywhere? The TV you had was the TV the previous tenants left behind because it was too bloody heavy to move... you know.. the Radiation King with the wooden case, and you certainly couldn't afford cable TV. You stayed in and hung out with friends, choosing potlucks instead of going to fancy restaurants. You made coffee at home, and brought sandwiches for lunch instead of buying it. Cheap Poutine and Pitcher of Beer night at the local pub was the best night of the week because you and your friends could nurse your drink and wax poetic all night long at discount prices. Life was simple. You had few financial liabilities and it was fun living this way.
But then something happened. There was this temptation that with a new career must also come a car, new furniture, fancy clothes, an expensive watch or phone, a big flat-screen TV, and instead of frequenting the local watering hole, you feel compelled to hang out in the more expensive places with the foreign or micro-brews on tap instead of the cheap domestics. Your big adult paycheque deserved a big adult lifestyle. That big TV meant a cable-TV plan, and high-speed internet and a phone with a big data-plan. Whoa! This is starting to sound expensive.
I always tell young people I meet to resist this temptation as much as possible, for as long as possible. It is extremely difficult to save, pay down debt, and generally get ahead if you jump into a higher standard of living without the financial base to make it happen first, and that is just what many recent grads do. Once people get used to a high-status high-consumption lifestyle, it is often very difficult for people to reign in that spending if needed, so the longer you can prolong your student lifestyle, the better. I can not emphasize enough how much financial sacrifice plays in to financial well-being and resisting many of these adult lifestyle trappings can be a boon to your bottom line and mental well-being. In my opinion, spending money on luxuries in life such as cars, expensive clothes, and expensive monthly liabilities such as Cable-TV should only be done once the basics are covered such as eliminating bad debt and having some savings. Another thing I've noticed is that people with high standards of lifestyle without a financial base often worry a lot about maintaining that lifestyle... and I generally like to sleep at night, so a simple carefree lifestyle suits me just fine.
When I was in grad school, we lived just like in the first paragraph. My wife and I lived in a very modest apartment, we didn't own a car, and we didn't have have a TV let alone cable TV. When I got my first employment position as a technical professional, there was a temptation to buy all the fancy things people come to expect with such a position. But we resisted. We did however buy a house after I had been working for 3 months only because we were going to be evicted from our apartment due to a coming renovation. While we did own a house, it would be another 4 years before we would buy a car. It wasn't that we couldn't arrange for a car-loan to get one, it was that cars are money pits, and we weren't interested in digging new financial holes while we were trying to pay off our student loans.
With two adult salaries, but without many of the liabilities many adults take on, we were able to slay both our student loans ($58 thousand worth) in just over 3 years, save up enough to pay for a used car four years after I started working, begin to max out our RRSPs, and give to worthwhile charities. We were essentially saving 50% of our take home pay.... By comparison to many in our field and experience level, our standard of living was modest, but we were very happy because we maintained that interactive social face-to-face lifestyle by continuing pot-luck get-togethers and Cheap Beer and Poutine nights. We still lived with "student" quality furniture because it still met our needs. It was still functional, though certainly not fashionable. We only bought stuff out of necessity, not because of some feeling or self-imposed obligation around keeping up with others. We never focused on what status items we were missing out on, but rather focused on relationships and building a solid financial base to give us more flexibility and freedom as we got older. Once the essentials of living have been taken care of, then we focus on adding the luxuries.
At our current stage in life, which is late-thirties with young kids, we have adopted many of the liabilities that come with adulthood: A nice car, high-speed internet, club memberships etc, but we only added these lifestyle choices when we could afford them. To this day we still walk or bike everywhere we can, we do not have Cable-TV, dont frequent fancy restaurants more than once a year, and Cheap Beer and Poutine are still our favourite nights out.