Escaping the standard of living trap

A couple shops for items in a supermarket. Most people are tempted to upgrade their lifestyle once their income increases.

What you need to know:

  • Most people are tempted to upgrade their lifestyle when their income rises.
  • In most cases, if that person’s pay cheque changes upwards, they may also change the their residence. As they keep earning a little more, their expenditure habits keep changing.

An acquaintance is selective about where they eat from.
“I am not sure if the foods served in some places are healthy. For instance, I cannot imagine eating from downtown. Not with all the flies, dirty water-ways,” she stamped her foot.

Sam Watasa, a consumer advocate terms this lifestyle inflation starts when people leave school and either get jobs or start a business.

“The tendency is that their lifestyle changes in terms of what they spend on. As such, someone who was comfortably sharing a room or an apartment, now sees it as inconvenient thus looks for a place of their own.

Most people are tempted to upgrade their lifestyle when their income rises.

In most cases, if that person’s pay cheque changes upwards, they may also change the their residence. As they keep earning a little more, their expenditure habits keep changing,” he explains.

Usually, the comfortable residential area has people of their age bracket which could lead to thought process influence.
That assertion is augmented by a chat with a couple of friends about how certain people have set a bar for their standard of living that they painfully adhere to.  

“If you live in certain places, such as Najjeera, there is a mind-set that you work hard and spend it thoroughly, in the sense of partying hard, and having a certain car. Basically, there is a certain lifestyle that you must embrace and take nothing less. The issue with this is some of these people, even when the income takes a hit by say an emergency or a salary cut, they are unwilling to relinquish the helm they have got themselves hooked to….” the conversation continued.

Many people do not share information about their income because they want their lifestyle to reflect what they spend on. Therefore, even when one earns half of their counterpart’s salary, they never share lest they look small. In that case, one starts hiding behind the expenditure pattern because the income is covert.
There is also the conformity behaviour.  This is a very strong social tool that changes how one thinks and makes decisions. It starts with earning more thus feeling the need to move to a better place.

“For some people, life only makes sense when they are living at the same standard with those in their acquired group. If their standard of living is threatened by the loss of a job or pay cut, they would rather move to another locality completely out of reach by people in that group. That is because conformity makes them fail to embrace diversity,” he explains.

To make an expenditure decision, you must have knowledge and information of products or services which is weighed in comparison with that of competing products. However, when in conformity behaviour, people share the same information on products and services and their sources without considering the income differences. “If one were to take an independent decision, they will feel like outcasts because others will question their divergence, say shopping in a little corner shop versus a supermarket. That traps someone in group thinking, causing some to go at great lengths to fit in. For example, if one buys a shirt worth Shs200,00, another will go downtown to look for a similar one and dry clean it so they fit in. This kind of behaviour affects those who cannot break the chain of peer pressure because their thought process has been captured,” Watasa shares.
Trying to make such a person to let go of a certain conformity behaviour, is akin to telling them to commit suicide because their complete decision making process has changed.

Often times, such groupings do not look into their income when setting an expenditure pattern. Otherwise unrealistic group expenditure would not exist. Zambians beat the odds because people of similar earnings lived in the same locations, which started with miners. In due time, they formed consumer buyer groups where they would pool money to buy items directly from factories.

“Some people bought cars because they hit a jackpot only to fail to fuel them. This is common among salary earners who take a salary loan because their university classmate has purchased a car only to pile an unnecessary burden of loan payment and car maintenance on themselves,” Watasa says.

Charles Ocici, the chief executive officer at Enterprise Uganda, calls these lifestyle weaknesses, saying they are embedded in:

Most human beings, regardless of their social status wish someone would recognise them and that hunger is limitless. As such, even when one has the best car in the neighbourhood, they will still want to get a better one.

“This insatiable need to be recognised goes to the assets one holds, their level of intelligence, financial muscle, and appearance. As such, people are willing to do anything to try quench their need for recognition,” he says.

The company you keep will invariably shape who you become because it starts by shaping your conversation and actions. Once these are repeated, a habit forms. This becomes the summation of what you will start doing because you have mastered it.
“That is why it is so difficult to reprimand someone without changing their peers and expect them to change,” he says.

Many people are not proud of where they have come from thus want to advertise, with extreme exaggeration, when they have moved on to a better situation. For example, if one coming from a modest background wants to show their progress when things start looking up, chances are they will exaggerate it.

“People who are uncomfortable with their roots usually have a sense of insecurity or inferiority hence desiring to flaunt their success even beyond reality,” Ocici says.

Inability to be independent-minded
This usually happens when one is swamped with seemingly good offers and lacks the ability to think through them thoroughly.