A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a somewhat frugal vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. And while I was very excited to visit a new city and explore, I was equally excited about the financial details of the trip. Since we had chosen an all-inclusive resort, our entire vacation was easy to budget and plan for. A sum of $800 per person was enough to pay for our flights, lodging at a three-star resort, and all we could eat or drink. In addition to the initial expense, I arranged for round-trip transportation between the resort and the airport ($120) and budgeted $300 for a week's worth of tips, souvenirs, and one dinner out on Playa del Carmen's popular 5th Avenue. We were sure that we had budgeted for everything, and we were excited to get the show on the road.
Did I mention that we planned this trip with friends? My best friend and her husband eagerly agreed to join us on this new experience. And as one would expect, their spending expectations were quite different than ours. But, it wasn't that big of a deal. Although we had planned the trip together, we didn't plan on spending every waking moment by each other's side. So, we agreed ahead of time that we would each do our own thing. If one couple wanted to do something that the other didn't want to spend money on, we would just part ways for the day with no hard feelings. Fortunately, we've been friends for a long time and the conversation wasn't awkward at all.
When spending is fun
Since all of our meals and drinks were included in the price of our hotel, we were determined to do all of our eating and drinking at the resort. “Let's just eat at the resort then go into town afterward,” my husband said. “Then we can keep our spending money for something fun, or even bring some money back home.” My love…..he always knows just want to say.
Although our friends typically spend more than we do, we were determined to stick with our goals. We were at the beach, after all, and enjoying the beauty of the area (and my husband's company) was completely free.
As our vacation commenced, all of our problems, concerns, and fears seemed to disappear into thin air. And unfortunately, so did our self-restraint and budgetary concerns. On the second night of our trip, we ventured into town to enjoy the one dinner outside of the resort that we had actually planned for. And what the heck, we decided to indulge in some buy-one-get-one-free drinks as well. They were half price!
Once we finished our dinner, we made our way through town to enjoy the sights and sounds of the bustling tourist district. Buzzed and merry, we cozied up to a bar where a cover band was playing a set list that seemed to come from my own iPod. That's when things went downhill.
Mojitos are a bad investment
We were with our best friends, thousands of miles away from home, and having an awesome time. Before I knew what happened, a few hours had gone by. In what seemed like an instant, two drinks turned into 10 and I was stuffing my face with delicious, authentic Mexican food.
I woke up the next morning in a haze of regret. “We spent $200 last night and ate dinner twice,” my husband whispered as I shook the cobwebs off.
I felt sick to my stomach. We were only a few days into our trip, and we had already spent two-thirds of our vacation budget. And worse than that, we had absolutely nothing to show for it. No souvenirs. No nothing – only a belly full of mojitos, a slight hangover, and some vague memories of the awesome time we all must've had. But, it certainly wasn't the end of the world. Although we were mad at ourselves, we didn't want to wallow in self-pity and we certainly didn't want to ruin our trip. So, we regrouped. We analyzed our expenses and figured out how much money we had left. Unfortunately, it wasn't pretty.
Although I'm still a kid at heart, this is one area where I feel like I've grown. There was a time in my life when I would've thrown my budget out the window and headed straight for the nearest ATM. My early-twenties self would've had as much fun as possible, while choosing to worry about it at some time in the future that never seemed to arrive.
But, I've learned a lot since my younger days of reckless spending. I've learned that we're not always going to be perfect, and that life goes on no matter what decisions we make, good or bad. I've also learned that getting rich slowly doesn't mean never making any mistakes. We're all going to stray for our long-term goals from time to time, and that doesn't mean that all is lost.
So, instead of sulking, we tightened our belts and enjoyed mostly free things to do for the duration of our trip. And, we tried not to be too hard on ourselves. Stuff happens, and I was ready to put our night of spending in the past.
How to cure a spending hangover
Nobody's perfect, and no matter how good our intentions may be, we all make spending decisions that we regret. Fortunately, the cure for a spending hangover is not expensive or out of reach for most people; all you need is a dose of self-reflection, the ability to recognize your own shortcomings, and a determination to keep tragic spending situations under control. Everyone strays from their budget occasionally, but the most important indicator of financial success is how quickly they recover. When spending gets out of control, what should you do? Here is how we cured our spending hangover:
- We recognized our behavior. In order to stop reckless spending in its tracks, it's important to learn to identify it in the first place. Recognizing that we had gone over budget allowed us to rein in our spending for the rest of the trip.
- We limited temptations. Once we realized that we had overspent, we made sure not to put ourselves in the same situation again. Instead of going out for dinner and drinks, we chose to eat, drink, and take advantage of the free activities at the resort. Going out again would've been a lot of fun, but it would've been expensive as well.
- We moved on. Stuff happens. Dwelling on our mistakes wouldn't help our spending hangover anyway, so why bother? Instead of being depressed, we decided to be more diligent about our spending on future trips.
Going over budget can certainly be depressing. However, we decided to use this experience as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Instead of dwelling on the past, we chose to acknowledge it and move on. Now we know that alcohol and prudent financial decisions don't always go hand in hand. And now that we are learning more about our spending weaknesses, we can take extra steps to prepare for them in the future. At the end of the day, that's really all that anyone can do.
Have you ever awakened with a spending hangover? If so, how did you get over it?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.