Today marks the biggest summer holiday in the U.S.: the Fourth of July. From parades to fireworks, the day will be filled with the potential to have memorable experiences with friends and family. It also roughly marks the halfway point for summer.
Like many of you, I made plans to take a vacation this summer. A big part of the discussion to make a vacation a priority was to give our family time together. In a few years, my oldest kids will head to college, and it won’t be as easy to do things as a family. We also wanted to make the vacation as stress free as possible, so our plans included making some financial decisions ahead of time.
It turns out we were on to something:
While we’re often tempted to put the trip on a credit card and pay it off months after the trip, we suggest a new strategy: pay now, and consume later. Imagine a vacation where you had to pay for every single bite of food you took, with a man standing next to you and making you fork over a dollar each bite. Not. Much. Fun. But when we pay for things up front, by the time they come around they actually feel free–because the pain of paying is so far in the past, we can truly enjoy the moment. And of course, paying up front also increases the likelihood that we will spend the time before the vacation daydreaming about it. Our employers might not be pleased, but that anticipation increases our happiness.
This advice comes from Michael Norton, co-author Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. It’s party of a bigger interview on money and happiness. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but for this discussion, I think he presents an incredibly valuable way to think about vacations.
I’ve been in that spot before where we’ve had a great time on the trip only to come home afterwards to a credit card bill. Not only did I have to deal with the letdown that can follow a vacation, I now also had the headache of paying the bills on something that had already happened in the past. It’s a bad combination, and one I’ve tried to avoid whenever possible.
By taking a proactive approach—paying now for a vacation that comes later—we can reduce the wild swings of emotion. And by lessening the power of emotion, we’re that much better