How to cure a spending hangover

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?

More about...Budgeting, Travel

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Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
7 years ago

I think it’s good that you recognized the issue and took steps to correct. Each of us is bound to over-spend from what we’ve planned sooner or later. The frugal among us are smart enough to recognize it and make corrections to balance things out. Those that aren’t frugal minded either don’t recognize that they’re spending above what they should, or lack the discipline to make corrections to bring spending back in-line. I’ve come out of a spending hangover multiple times (usually after xmas), and I do much the same as you. Recognize the problem, then make adjustments (do without)… Read more »

Jon
Jon
7 years ago

A literal spending hangover! Hehe. My wife and I recently overspent our budget a little bit in the last few days of our trip to New Zealand. The early portion of the trip was carefully planned and we stayed at reasonably priced lodgings, but the last few days I had left to be flexible and do some things we wanted to do, so we ended up staying at the most convenient places, rather than the most frugal, and had a great time, actually. I think perhaps a person should have a “travel emergency fund” set aside just for those sorts… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jon

A friend of mine always says “take more money than you think you need, and less stuff than you think you need.” 🙂

Travel is tricky because, hey, how often to you get to the other side of the world? A little extra padding in the travel budget would never go amiss.

Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com
7 years ago
Reply to  Jon

On our vacation this summer (cruise) we took less money than we thought we needed.

We also had the caveat that we needed ~$35 for the cab ride from the cruise ship to the airport so we could get home. If not, we would literally be stuck in Puerto Rico.

That was pretty good motivation NOT to spend too much cash money. We basically engineered it so that it would be VERY painful if we overspent our spending money while on vacation!

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

I have to say, for me, the one place to fall off the financial wagon is on a trip. You will sometimes inadvertently stumble into an experience that you will probably never have again.

Getting drunk with your best friends in a great Mexican bar?? Great stories for the rest of your life. I would put it in a win-win column and move on.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

I agree — I think we all make some occasional spending errors. “Occasional” being the operative word here! As long as it isn’t a habit, I like the point about not being too hard on ourselves and moving on. I have a “fun money” account where I always keep a modest reserve. I hate touching it, but it’s there if I go a little over budget on a splurge. I also have a little list of things I can use it on — like the perfect pair of boots, if I ever find a pair that fits! — without any… Read more »

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
7 years ago

Ah – Mexico will do that to people that’s definitely for sure. That sounds like you had a pretty good time and every now and again it’s time to go on a little spending splurge especially on a trip like that. I say it’s okay to not be so hard on yourself. Just wake up, take a multivitamin and move on ha. Then barter with the locals to get some cheap souvenirs.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

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. I wouldn’t say “nothing”. 1) You had an awesome time, even if you didn’t remember everything. In other words, you were able to relax and forget your cares for one night. There’s definitely a mental benefit to… Read more »

Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle
Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle
7 years ago

“stuffing my face with delicious, authentic Mexican food” I would love to try real Mexican food. We have Taco Bell here but I think the real thing may be very different. I am in a spending spree right now. Mommy guilt has taken over and I am buying stuff to help my youngest head off the university in another city. I need to get it under control. It will have to be a lean fall and winter to recoup the cash I have been throwing around. I keep falling off the frugal budget path and it gets harder and harder… Read more »

Carol
Carol
7 years ago

I like Taco Bell better than authentic Mexican food! Bring on the cheese and sour cream.

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

Ah – Ireland will do that to people too. They have a lot of great music, food and Guinness.
That’s the point of leaving the country isn’t it? Sounds like you had a great time! Next time I would plan on a little more fun money.

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

We utilize spending plans for our vacations as well. We normally have paid for the hotel, the plane, the car, any known expenses well in advance. Then I normally budget $100 per person per day for free money (this is above known planned dinners, museums, spa, events). We save up this money in advance. I’ve figured out that we spend more when we travel (and we really don’t spend like our travel companions) so I’d rather over budget, enjoy myself and not worry about it. I do still look for bargains, the free happy hour at the hotel, the free… Read more »

EMH
EMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

We pad our vacation budget as well. I know it is a mind game but if I add an extra $50/day to our “budget” and come back with any money left over, then I feel like I was a frugalista and saved money. It is silly but it makes me feel better.

Marie-Josée
Marie-Josée
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

I agree with Sam and El Nerdo. Like Sam, when we travel, we usually have paid most expenses before take-off. Meals, entertainment, fuel and gifts for family and friends are what we pay as we go. We make sure we have savings to cover for these costs but we don’t budget on vacation. Because I’m allergic to gluten, we either do home exchanges or rent appartments so that I may eat two meals per day at home (breakfast is always eaten at our vacation home). Meals are taken at restaurants that appeal to us (and can cater to my allergy)… Read more »

Shannon K Steffen | Human SEO
Shannon K Steffen | Human SEO
7 years ago

Great tips, Holly! I love how you regrouped and stuck to your guns… even after the mistake had already been done. We’re learning to do the same over here and it isn’t easy. Every time we get derailed, we throw in the kitchen sink as well. I can’t even begin to tell you how many things we’ve purchased over the years and returned a few days later (or sold to a resale store for pennies on the dollar). There’s great intentions but intentions don’t lead to success unless they become actions. Now we’re more committed to become debt free… so… Read more »

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
7 years ago

We’ve had similar things happen before when on a nice vacation and we do the same basic thing. Life is meant to be enjoyed, especially on vacation but there is a balance to have with that. Like you said, we all make mistakes and noticing it is half the battle.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

Perhaps it’s just me, but I thinking spending hangovers are worse than the splurge itself. When you buy an experience–like a nice dinner with spouse and friends–and then experience such buyer’s remorse that you feel sick to your stomach, it’s like buying an iPad and then intentionally dropping it. The guilt completely ruins the experience and it seems from the post that now, when you look back on the dinner, you will also recall that guilt just as vividly–which completely defeated the purpose of the splurge. Perhaps it’s just my perspective, but you brought a set amount of cash, you… Read more »

Scooze
Scooze
7 years ago

I’m glad that you enjoyed your vacation but its too bad that you ended up in emotional distress over your first evening out! I would have to say that I think there were unrealistic expectations from the start. $300 for TWO people for an entire week? That’s just $150 each, or $20 per day. This is for tips, food outside of the resort, souvenirs, excursions, sunscreen, and anything else that strikes your fancy. And as you saw, dinner outside of the resort is expensive. My opinion is that if you’re going to spend the money for a resort vacation, then… Read more »

The Warrior
The Warrior
7 years ago

Hey Holly –

Alcohol. Good old alcohol. Gotta love its hinderance on smart financial decisions. Honestly, I think alcohol is probably the cause of 50% of my financial woe’s in my 20’s. But hey, some good memories.

I hear ya about accepting what was done and moving on. As long as it isn’t a habit, it’s not the end of the world.

As you noted, we all make mistakes and they are going to happen again. We just have to live with them and limit them.

The Warrior
NetWorthWarrior.com

adam
adam
7 years ago

In the end, how well did you stick to your budget overall? I’d be curious what your budget details were, maybe my wife and i could match it on a trip…

celyg
celyg
7 years ago

You say you had “nothing to show for it,” but I think experiences are much more valuable than stuff. You had a fantastic time out with friends; that probably added more happiness and value to your lives than a painted wooden bird or ceramic bowl. 🙂

Elena @ Funny Jokes
Elena @ Funny Jokes
7 years ago

I have that kind of problem around Christmas. I go to do Christmas shopping and then end up buying a bunch of things for myself. This year I will get smarter and will do all my shopping online and way in advance. This way I will spend much less and won’t be stressed as much during the holidays!

Ashley
Ashley
7 years ago

I don’t know Holly… Two things I would have done differently: 1. Not put yourself down since you blew your budget in one night. I would be more upset about missing out on activities where that $300 should have gone in the first place. 2. I (we all) know how dangerous drinking mojitos can be (they’re so f*ing delicious!). So I would have: paced myself (drink a glass of water between each drink), only ordered 1 dish and shared, and leave a little earlier and finished the party back at the resort. My husband and I use the tricks every… Read more »

Jer
Jer
7 years ago

I don’t see your evening out as a mistake at all. The only possible mistakes seem to be the small budget for fun, your regret the next day for actually having a blast, and possibly even refusing to have another good time like that the rest of the week. I’m not saying it has to be daily, but one meal out during a week of international travel seems a bit rough on yourself. Eating truly local food is probably one of the highlights of any travel. We all have different views of frugal, but seems like your budget for a… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
7 years ago

I do my travel budgets like when I do project estimates at work: research what we expect to pay for everything and then budget for 120% of the total.

K-ro
K-ro
7 years ago

I’m all for being frugal, obtaining best value for what I buy, and not spending unconsciously, but I also think that a vacation is supposed to be a getaway, and it’s kind of wasted money if you end up watching every penny and feeling guilty over every impulsive purchase or experience.

Perhaps the approach to take is like a home project – expect and plan and accept overages.

The Norwegian Girl
The Norwegian Girl
7 years ago

Oh how I despise spending hangovers, they´re just as awful as real hangovers!! I guess spending hangovers for me, are worse when I´m home living the everyday life, than when I´m on vacation. Mostly because in the everyday life, I have a strict budget, but once I´m on vacation, everything seems to slip between the cracks, because staying on budget whilst on vacation is one of the hardest things to do for me. But then again, I´ve always saved up a certain amount of money whenever I go on vacation, and the way I spend those money, well there really… Read more »

Julien @cashsnail
Julien @cashsnail
7 years ago

I understand you… Traveling is so full of temptation, tasty food,…
Even when going to a supposedly cheap camping trip, there is always a nice local restaurant, or tasty local food to buy and souvenir for the family.
I guess limiting temptation is the key.

Courtney
Courtney
7 years ago

I agree with the majority’s sentiment: just in order the experience. When traveling, I think if you’re not going to do it right, why go? Not every dollar spent needs something tangible in exchange to be worthwhile. The experience economy is all about spending more on experience and memories, because people value them more. Though I don’t think you need to spend a lot to get an amazing experience. I was a little confused, Holly, by your reply that not every vacation is about the experience. What’s the point otherwise? Even relaxing by the pool, watching your kids play is… Read more »

AS
AS
7 years ago

Holly,

You stayed at a hotel without using points?!

partgypsy
partgypsy
7 years ago

I don’t call this a spending hangover. I call it not being realistic with your vacation budget.

Marie
Marie
7 years ago

This is one of the reasons why we only drink within the walls of our own home. Alcohol not only causes physical and psychological vulnerability, but also financial. Add in crossing international borders, and you have the potential for all kinds of disasters.

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