The Key To Taking A Guilt-Free Expensive Vacation

A couple stepping into Lake Lucern from their houseAmericans have a problem when it comes to taking vacations. In a “Vacation Deprivation” study by Expedia, Americans reported receiving 12 days of vacation a year and were expected to take only 10. The Japanese are even worse by taking only five of their 13 allotted days.

Meanwhile, the Europeans are living it up with the majority expecting to take all 25-30 days off in addition to their respective national holidays! Taking time to relax is deeply ingrained in the European culture, whereas working to get ahead is part of American work lore. The European attitude of work life balance is one of the main reasons why I’ve visited for 2-3 weeks a year for the past three years.

Since the day I started work post college in 1999 I’ve always felt tremendous guilt in taking vacations. Wall St. is an intense industry where if you leave your PB&J sando on the table for a second, someone else will snatch it away. How could I take vacation when I didn’t know much about anything? The only way to get ahead was to work more. For the first two years of my career I think I only took 10 days off.

By the time 2009 rolled around I began wondering why not take vacations when the world was coming to an end?! I decided to take four weeks off in 2009 and then six weeks off in 2010 and 2011. The dream was to take two weeks off every single quarter but I knew it was impossible. By 2012 I made up my mind that 52 weeks of vacation a year would be even better so I left!

MONEY STILL WAS A CONCERN WHILE ON VACATION

I had overcome the guilt of taking time off by the end of my career, but I had not yet overcome the guilt of spending lots of money. Instead of paying 50 Euros for the hop on/hop off buses, I decided to walk in the 93 degree heat for 8 hours while in Naples, Italy. Instead of paying an extra $50 for two to eat at one of the cruise ship’s finer dining establishments, I stuck to the main dining room where the meals were included. Instead of finding a $200+ hotel in Amsterdam’s city center, I decided to find another hotel for $130/night that was a 10 minute walk away. The list goes on and on.

Being frugal has always been a part of me since I was a kid because my parents were frugal. They never ordered drinks other than water while eating out and we always had at least a five year old second hand car. I knew my parents could afford more given they were US Diplomats with expat packages. Knowing this made me admire them even more for their thrifty ways. I wanted to be like my parents so I ended up saving 50-70% of my after tax income on average for 13 consecutive years before retiring.

My four week 2013 summer vacation finally altered my frugal ways. I spent a total of about $9,200 just on myself and I don’t feel a lick of guilt! Here’s the spending breakdown.

Summer 2013 Vacation Cost Breakdown:

Airfare to NYC, Switzerland, Mallorca, Frankfurt, San Francisco: $2,350

Food, Entertainment, Transportation in NYC for 9 days: $1,500

Lodging in NYC: $0. Stayed with friends and family.

Hotel in Zurich, Lucerne, and Hergiswil for 6 nights: $1,100

Food, Entertainment, Swiss Pass Rail in Switzerland: $1,200

Share of Villa in Mallorca for 7 nights: $1,000

Food, Entertainment, Transportation in Mallorca: $1,500

Two nights hotel in Frankfurt: $300

Food, Entertainment, Transportation in Frankfurt: $200

Total: ~$9,150

Normally I try and keep my vacation budget to around $1,500 a week per person. But with this trip I increased my budget by 53% to $2,300 a week without much concern at all. “Expensive” is different for everyone. If you are spending 50% above your norm, I think that counts as expensive. Let me tell you what changed.

Favorite beach in Mallorca w/ yachts and multi-million dollar homes.

Portal Vells. Favorite beach in Mallorca w/ yachts and homes on a cliff.

HOW TO GET OVER SPENDING MONEY ON VACATION

The number one way to get over spending guilt on vacation is to trade funny money for experiences! When I was working 12 hour days I would sometimes breakdown the cost of the vacation with how many hours I needed to work. A $10,000 vacation for two would require me to work 50 hours if I made $200 an hour. That made me feel queasy because work was often stressful.

If I could save $1,000 in hotel costs a week, that would mean five hours less of work. Of course, things don’t quite work out this way for salaried employee with a bonus, but you get the idea. There was even a time when I would compare the cost of my expenditure with my old $5/hour salary days. It would take 35 hours at McDonald’s to buy a pair of Air Jordans. Forget it! My mind was stuck in the past when obviously my finances were much more advanced.

Money is money however way you want to store or earn it. The breakthrough occurred when I coupled vacation expenses with stock market income. I came close to losing over $8,000 in a six month Apple structured note this summer. Because it closed barely higher than the $415 barrier on the strike date, I was able to earn $1,400 in interest income plus my original $40,000 investment back when I first bought in at $530. Just four days earlier the stock was below $415! And now that Apple is over $450, I would have seriously kicked myself in the face if for that one day it closed below my barrier strike price.

In the past I’d reinvest the entire $41,400 into another investment product, thereby completely negating any type of utility that could have been gained with the proceeds. This time I allocated $10,000 to four weeks of travel and was determined to spend every single last dime! I got close and it felt great!

Money made in the stock market is funny money to me because it requires no physical labor or time in the office. All it requires is capital, guts, brains, and research. When things go well, it’s like making money out of thin air. When things go poorly, you end up starting a blog in 2009 and writing your heart out to understand why, WHY?!

Money must be converted to something real to be appreciated. Otherwise, there’s really no point making money whatsoever. Given experiences are appreciating assets while material things generally always depreciate, if you can convert funny money into experiences, you’ll be able to melt away any guilt. You might actually start feeling deliriously happy that so little work can provide so much wonderful experiences.

Panoramic view of Zurich atop a church tower.

Panoramic view of Zurich on top a church tower.

LAST THING: ESTABLISH A FUNNY MONEY VACATION SURPLUS (FMVS)

Funny money stops being funny once you start losing. As a result, it’s important to create a Funny Money Vacation Surplus. My goal is to now travel for 10 weeks a year and spend on average $2,000 a week for a total of $20,000 per person. If my punt portfolio returns $50,000 one year, I plan on spending the full $20,000 and saving the $30,000 for the next year. The $30,000 will serve as a buffer when I inevitably lose money.

Hopefully the Funny Money Vacation Surplus grows so that when a really bad year occurs, I still have money left over to go on a nice long trip. If the FMVS gets wiped out, then I will decide whether I should be punished for not managing my risk well enough and take no vacation, or say screw it, and just use my various income streams to go on vacation anyway.

If you are feeling guilty about spending money on some of your most precious times of the year, then follow my advice of coupling stock market income to vacation expense. The magnitude of income and expense is different for everyone. What matters more is that you have investments and that you actually spend some of the proceeds on life. If you’re always breaking down your upcoming expenses by how much you have to work you will always feel guilty!

As a practioner of what I write, I’m off to go fishing and hiking in Tahoe starting today for nine days. Maybe I’ll even bust out the old Mizuno irons as it’s been a while since I last played. Comments and e-mails might just be delayed longer than usual. Hope the week is going well!

Related Posts:

How To Never Feel Homesick While Away On Vacation

The Emergency Fund Fallacy And Your Brain

Readers, do you suffer from taking time off and spending money on vacation? If not, what are some of the ways you were able to overcome your spending guilt? What do you think about coupling stock market funny money to vacation experiences? For some of the best vacation deals you can check out Expedia below.

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    I make it a point to use up all of my vacation days at work and don’t feel guilty about spending money on vacations either. Without vacations, I would burn out very quickly.

    At my previous job, our vacation policy was “use it or lose it” meaning vacation days didn’t carry over to the next year. There were so many people that barely took any vacation at all. My boss and I wanted to start a system that would allow us to buy their vacation days from them so we could take more time off. It never became a reality but it boggles my mind to not take vacations.

  2. says

    I tend to go on super inexpensive vacations these days. Id love to trade my vfm for experiences in a few years once my portfolio is beg enough to support that kind of thing.

  3. says

    Many times it’s the culture of the workplace. I worked for 8 years at one company where I had 2 weeks of vacation each year that didn’t carry forward. Even though you had 2 weeks, it was stressed that it was looked upon negatively if you actually used the time. In another job, as a manager with a large retailer, I was actually “written up” for taking a week long vacation. I earned 2 weeks vacation a year, and at the time had about 3 weeks accrued. I was taking time off to work on my fixer-upper house, and even allowed my boss to select which week I should take off. Our store was always struggling, and she later decided that since I wasn’t actually “doing anything” during my time off (i.e. not traveling anywhere), I should have cancelled my vacation to help out at the store. Mind you, she never even hinted that I should change my plans before I took the time off. Sadly, I probably would have cancelled my plans if it had been mentioned.

    In my current position I get 2 weeks plus 6 sick days, and everyone uses all of their time. It’s been an adjustment, to actually feel comfortable taking time off work.

    • says

      It really is all about the culture. My firm didn’t have a culture of taking all our vacation days b/c it was a battlefield of competition in finance. Our bonuses made up a big portion of our income, and to take vacation meant to lose business.

      I hope you do take all your 6 days because 2 weeks doesn’t sound like enough, unless you just started!

  4. Matt says

    At my job, we also have “use it or lose it,” although as an IT worker, we sometimes carry over days for a short time if we have major projects causing us to work over Christmas.

    I travel frugally, but not because I avoid spending. Staying at that $200 hotel often means you are staying with other Americans, or business travelers–not locals. I do like Rick Steves’ travel philosophy, and my family often travels in a way that tries to engage the people of the area. This means public transportation, low- or mid-range hotels (are you really going there for the hotel room??) and a variety of places to eat. That does not mean we won’t splurge.

    Favorite splurges going to Europe:
    Business class, either with miles upgrades or when they are on sale for $2k or less (turns the torture of coach into two more vacation days)
    A fine dining experience or two
    Transportation / admissions (lift tickets can get expensive, but hiking in high Alpine meadows is awesome!)

    Besically, spend to enhance your experience, not isolate yourself from it.

    In terms of connecting to investing income, I do have a retirement fantasy that I am sitting with my tablet in our rented apartment in Switzerland, checking my portfolio. After reviewing the positive results, I smile, look up to my wife, and say “I guess we are staying another couple of weeks.” Ahhhhhh….

    (we usually stay in Muerren, near Interlochen. This is actually *in* the Alps! Zurich and Lucerne are very nice, but you need to be in the mountains to really know Switzerland!)

  5. says

    Traveling is a passion of mine which makes it easy for me to spend money on it. While I try and stay within a budget I am willing to go over if it’s going to help create a lifelong memory for my family.

  6. says

    I almost always feel guilty when I spend money on vacation. I don’t feel guilty until I am actually ON the vacation, which can sometimes ruin it. I am just an insane saver and am in saving mode.

  7. says

    Travel is my one big splurge and I don’t feel bad about it at all. We used to take our Christmas bonuses from work and use them for our travel fund for the following year. Now that we’re both self-employed, we just have a regular old travel fund. It’s a priority so I make sure to fund it adequately!

    • says

      That’s a good habit. I’d reinvest 100% of my Christmas bonus forever and never splurge except for buying property. Now it feels so much more fun to spend during travel since I don’t want any more property.

  8. Insourcelife says

    Spending money on vacations is probably one of the very few things that I am totally fine with doing. We live for vacations and time off so when we finally get out of work, we let the purse strings loose a bit. BUT it’s still frugal fun and not some lavish vacation extravaganza. I still look for cheaper accommodations, flights, food, transportation and entertainment. We stayed in someone’s apartment in Rome where you had your own room but shared 2 showers with 2 other rooms… My wife was initially skeptical about this but it was the place we remembered, in a good way, and not the standard hotels in which we stayed after that. It was a great experience staying in that flat in Rome and seeing the everyday life instead of the hotel isolation and we will do it again. As a matter of fact, we will be staying in a house that I booked on airbnb in Milwaukee in a couple of weeks. Everyone else is staying at the hotels downtown, but this place is a 5 minute bike ride away and the owner will provide 2 bikes for us to explore the city while we are there. All for half the price of the hotel room. So I guess the point is, I would have a problem with spending on vacations if we stayed in 5 start hotels and flew first class and ate at expensive restaurants every day but doing it frugally is as much, if not more, fun!

    • says

      Hotel isolation, I can totally relate! Because I like to meet people on my travels I’m going to go your route or even try the hostel route. With the extra money I’ll definitely spend it on food and activities.

  9. says

    I have NEVER let a vacation day expire and not one time have I felt guilty about taking vacations, even for two weeks straight.

    I think I’m European at heart. But I’ve been guilty of being a little too frugal when ON vacation.

    The problem is that my FMVS is in the red. I need some investment wins before I can call it funny money instead of failure money.

  10. Konrad says

    I worked for 4 different companies over the course of my career. They were all passive aggressive about work life balance and vacation. My last company was the worst. For the first 5 years all employees were allotted 2 weeks vacation per year regardless of age, experience, etc. “if you want more, you can work it out with your boss”, I was told. Uh huh. Once I was told to come back early from a one week family vacation to work on a presentation to this senior VP douchebag scheduled for early the following Monday. I did as I was told, and guess what, the douchebag didn’t even show up for the meeting. He never apologized, explained, or rescheduled the meeting. Stuff like that happened all the time. I decided to early retire 6 months later and now I enjoy all the free time and travel I can afford and I’m young enough to enjoy it at 47.

    • says

      Yikes, that is a dick move by your boss to not only call you in early but to not even show up. That is selfishness at the MAX! I would confront him face to face as soon as he got back and ask him where he was. I don’t tolerate disrespect.

      Glad you got to retire early and do what you wish!

  11. says

    I’m pretty notorious for sitting on my vacation days and letting them accrue to max balances. I used to be “given a hard time” for never taking time off! It’s not that I didn’t want to take vacations, but when money is tight I could never justify traveling anywhere too expensive and taking time off to sit around the house or do things locally never made much sense. Fortunately, at my old job, I could cash out unused vacation days for extra money! That was so nice, but now it’s not an option with my current employer.

    Enjoy your trip to Tahoe. I’ll be up there in about 3 weeks staying at my brother’s in-law’s cabin right on the North Shore.

  12. says

    I love the idea of taking a vacation from the “funny money account”. Unfortunately, my total income hovers around the $20,000/year marker so I can’t invest the large amounts needed for such large returns. Though I did just spend about $400 on a 4 day mini-vacation and I’m feeling much less guilty about it knowing that even my small stock portfolio more than covers that cost.

    • says

      There you go! It’s not so much the amount of the return in your funny money account but the mental alignment of spending money during your precious vacation times with the funny money you’ve earned.

  13. says

    Beautiful photos! I barely spend any money on things like clothes and going out to bars because I save big time fore retirement and vacation! I love to travel and have no problem at all using every single vacation day I get each year. I used to try and carry over a few days but I max out now and love it.

    I’m an adventure traveler. I’m getting my scuba diving certification now so I can go on even more exciting trips and now dives! If anyone here has ever thought about it I encourage you to consider it! If you’re interested: http://untemplater.com/untemplate/scuba-diving-certification-my-bucket-list-quest-has-begun/

  14. B says

    The problem with buying an attorney is ‘billable hours.’ If you’re not billing, you are going to feel stressed. The firm culture does this to all of us. The really big perk you have of being an entrepreneur is feeling like you control your schedule and can work from the road.

    Good idea to spend ‘funny money’ on travel. This is a sensible way to deal with spending guilt! Still, the best vacation I had was backpacking through southeast asia and staying in little huts on the beach with other travels for like $15/night, eating local food, etc. But a ‘fancier’ European vacation sounds fantastic as well.

  15. says

    After listening to these horror stories, I’m starting to appreciate my company more. I get 15 days of vacation + 5-6 days of personal business days. I, also, get 5 days of sick time, and 5 days of kin care. My company has a lose it or use it policy, so we are told to use our vacation. Actually encouraged.

  16. says

    I don’t feel guilty about taking vacation at all. The work will still be there after vacation. No big deal. I guess once I realized that I was just a cog…
    However, I still feel guilty about spending a lot of money on vacation. We usually go the frugal route. It worked well for us so far and I like traveling on the cheap. Maybe once we’re older, we’d need more cushy vacations.
    Europe was a lot of fun, but expensive…

  17. says

    I’ve never been shy about using all of my vacation time, no matter what I’m being paid I’ll always value my free time more than any amount of money. I’ve also never worked anywhere that let you carry over, or paid out unused vacation time. So to not use it would be a waste :)

  18. says

    The money you spent does not seem that out of line! The last time, I visited Amsterdam, I had to spend $330 on a hotel room (on canal). There was something going on in the city that created a shortage of rooms. I hated to spend it, but once I did I enjoyed it. I enjoyed a pancake in Amsterdam which I still remember and it was $30 (U.S.) for two. I bought a daily pass for the canal bus and loved it. I tend to think about spending more than most, but somehow I find value or I don’t spend it. If I am in for thousands (total trip), I am in for the little stuff too.

  19. says

    Congrats on breaking the frugal pattern! Travel is one thing I have no problem spending on. I used to write for travel blogs a lot so it covered all expenses, and there is no point in going to the other end of the world to stay outside of the attractions and eat on a bench. I like the idea of coupling it with a specific income stream, that you can spend freely. My last workplace was implicitly saying you shouldn’t take all your holidays, and I made a point to take them all, why do you give holidays if it is for people not to take them? In France you get 5 to 8 weeks as a minimum depending on your line of work, and since the workweek has been reduced to 35 hours from 39, some people keep working 39 and get an extra 2 days per month, which boosts them to 7-10 weeks a year. Yet I read the French are pretty productive at work. Hope you have a fabulous holiday!

  20. David M says

    Have taken a 4-6 week vacation every year for the last 15 years – usually of for al, of December.

    Stay at inexpensive hotels/guesthouses. have no problem eating at the most expensive restaurant in every location I visit. Also have no problem eating street food and at the least expensive restaurant in the places I visit.

  21. says

    I’ve never felt guilty about taking vacation time, and I definitely don’t feel guilty any longer about spending money on *anything*. In fact I’ve got a trip to Antarctica and Easter Island booked that I’m super excited about. I guess I don’t see any point in feeling guilty about things I love to do.

    As far as spending while on vacation goes, I prefer things that usually end up being less expensive because I enjoy taking public transit and staying in apartments vs. hotels. I figure if I’m going to stay in a hotel, I should stay in a really nice one right here at home instead of spending a bunch of money to go far away and then either not seeing stuff or basically not taking advantage of the hotel’s amenities.

    Sounds like you had a great trip through! And I’m glad you got over the guilt :)

    • says

      Wow, sounds like a great adventure! Please take pictures and post them on your site! I’ve never been.

      Have you really never felt guilty taking vacay? I wonder whether it is a genetic disposition, or industry thing. Hmmm.

  22. says

    I definitely feel guilty on vacation, but I’m slowly coming around to the idea that it is necessary for my sanity.

    The other thing for me is that vacation days do expire. The last thing I want to do is ever waste a perfectly good vacation day.

    • says

      YEah, in finance/accounting it’s the norm I think. The older you get, the more you will stop feeling guilty. But it’s interesting how some commenting here have never felt guilty!

  23. Brian says

    Been working for a European company for 12 years now. I get 5 weeks a year, and a week of personal days. I can accrue up to 1.75 times my annual vacation. Taking off 4 weeks straight in April, two weeks in July, and long weekends for when the snowboarding is good! I have a European boss, so it’s all good :)

  24. says

    I never used to take vacation either, but it’s all I think about now. I’d rather have an experience than just about any monetary thing you can buy. I think 10 wks per year is a great goal. I bet we’ll be around 5 weeks by the end of the year. Right now a hobby of mine is earning travel rewards with credit cards or other bonuses, but I’m sure that will get old after a while, and I’ll still travel. I don’t necessarily need luxury all the time, but a good combination of cheap vs expensive suits me well. I love a good camping trip, but also enjoy a really nice hotel. I think the point is to see new places and things, and until I get my Airstream, I’ll try to do as many small to medium trips as possible, and I’ll never feel guilty about it.

  25. says

    That’s an interesting way to look at it! Not in the stock market yet, but should be in the next year or so. I curb my guilt by budgeting the heck out of everything before I go, then adding 50% to what I think I’ll need. I do all my stressing before the trip so I can actually just enjoy things while I’m there. I live for the travel part of vacation days, so I’d be fine working 200 hours for it if I had to. (To each their own.) I do try to find ways to save, but I’m not so frugal as to walk for eight hours, so I’d make sure I had the bus money before I left and anticipated the fares. I might be able to save money by walking, but that must have been ROUGH! LOVE the pictures! Look like it was a great time!

    • says

      I’m excited for you then! Once you start doing that mental accounting switch with stock market and vacation money, you are going to feel GREAT spending money!

      The walking 8 hours was rough, but I figured I could lose weight and really see the city of Naplese better :) I’ll try to submit more posts here and there over time. Thx!

  26. says

    Ah, vacations. There is nothing I would rather spend more on. Eventually, I can see my vacation spending being more than my housing budget! Of course, one needs to set themselves up to have the time utilize such a budget. That’s the trick. Which is why I want to work so hard now and eventually set up those residual streams of income. Get those spiquots of funny money rolling!

  27. says

    I feel guilty when it comes to vacation because I know I am not spending funny money and there are a lot of things that really need to be taken care of. however this year I made a promise to vacation more and enjoy life more. I like the idea of using the stock market. I have made a good chunk of money and usually find someplace to reinvest it. But with your approach I can make money and enjoy the profits as well. Maybe buy some retro 4’s while I am at it.

  28. says

    I all for spending more in order to be more comfortable during the only time of the year we are allowed to do so, but I was a bit surprised by seeing your air fares so high. How many flights were there in total?

  29. says

    Nobody likes a miser. I agree that everyone needs to take the time to smell the roses and ENJOY now and again. I live in Hawaii, so having a staycation more often then not is actually preferred… but I do want to take my wife to a few places she hasn’t seen. NICE POST SAM.

  30. getagrip says

    I am lucky to work where boss’s and the culture have no issue with taking vacations. However, even with that I hate taking more than a week at a time because I tend to work more hours prior to the vacation ensuring things are covered when gone, and then when I get back work longer hours to catch up on what got missed. The longer the time off the more prep and post hours I end up putting in so a lot of the times the vacation comes at a cost, but I still think it’s more than worth it.

    To take a lot of the guilt out of money spent on vacations I just made a vacation fund and started putting money into it every paycheck. The purpose of that money is to be spent on vacation related items, so while we still try to be frugal, as long as we stay under the fund total I’m okay with it. We spend it, it builds back up, we spend it, etc. it works for us.

  31. Brian says

    I’m in the US (Consulting) and currently working with a client with offices in the UK and Canada, and over the last few months, just about everyone I’ve been working with has taken at least 2, if not 3, weeks of vacation. I’m so jealous. My firm provides enough vacation time, and really don’t keep track of it. It’s just hard to use it, and when on vacation, it’s hard to be fully disengaged.

    I’m hoping to find a new job back in industry where I’m not in the “service” business.

    Anyway- you should really get into the miles and points game- you could rack up 100,000s of points for free airline tickets and hotel stays through credit card bonuses and manufactured spend.

    • says

      Hi Brian,

      Getting a travel rewards credit card is exactly the next step on my agenda!

      Good luck on your journey to a more balanced lifestyle. July and August really are the peak months for European vacations. I see it in the online business for sure.

      Sam

  32. Stringer Bell says

    My wife and I love traveling, and I am fortunate to work for a company that gives me 4.5 weeks of vacation per year. We also have the ability to roll it over, so I have 6.5 weeks to use this year. And our bosses definitely encourage us to use it.

    On the flip side, this generous vacation policy may be hurting my career progress. I’ve been reluctant to look for a new job because I keep telling myself my next company may have a poor vacation policy. Reading these horror stories on this blog from others is not helping either.

    • says

      If everybody is taking 6-7 weeks a year go for it! If your managers are saying go for it but only taking 4-5 weeks off, taking 6.5 weeks is a career limiting move no matter what they say.

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