Everyone loves a guilty pleasure every now and again — so long as it's something harmless like belting out your favorite Country Western song on your way to the grocery store. But when it comes to these summer indulgences, you may end up singing the budget blues.
Of course, it's hard to complain about random expenditures if you keep a fully stocked emergency fund in your savings account and budget for unexpected repairs and impromptu get-togethers every month. But if you aren't there in your personal finance journey yet, these splurges could set your finances back quite a ways.
It's important to remember that, even when things are going good, something is bound to break from time to time. And when that happens, it's best to be prepared. Enjoy the summer months as you work toward financial independence, but try to avoid summer splurges that you might regret.
Six money traps it's easy to fall into during summer
1. Unplanned new car purchase
There's something about summer that can make car shopping irresistible for some people, which is exactly what dealerships are counting on. Unfortunately, with the average new car or truck coming in at $33,340 in June 2015, this could very well be one of the most expensive summer spending traps of all.
Although it's only July, I already know two people who randomly bought a brand new car after driving past a dealership and falling in love. How do I know? They told me.
2. Too much partying
Guilty! There's something about warm weather and the neighborhood pool being open that makes me want to light up the barbecue and hang out with my friends.
Unfortunately, the cost of all of those outdoor get-togethers and pitch-ins adds up quickly — especially if alcohol is involved. Even if you just drink during summer, buying a $20 case of beer once per week can add close to $240 to your food budget over a 12-week period. If you drink hard liquor or insist on margaritas at the drop of your party hat, it can add up even faster.
3. Family vacation budget fails
We all know how difficult it is to scrape funds together to take your family on a summer vacation; but what's worse is how it all goes sideways once you get there. Recently, a friend confided in me that her family went more than $500 over budget during a three-day, out-of-state trip to a theme park — and she didn't even know it until she got home!
It's easy to splurge at the theme park. Even if you plan your trip down to the penny, being on vacation makes it easy to ignore the bills and focus on family fun. Unfortunately, the bills will be waiting for you when you get home and have to hobble back into reality.
4. High utility bills
In Central Indiana, you can usually get through spring and fall without turning on the air conditioning or furnace. Unfortunately, a few months of low utility bills is all that's required to forget just how high your AC bill can go in the summertime. I've experienced it myself. Typically, that first bill catches me off guard, and then I scale things back from there.
With the average U.S. household electric bill at $395 in 2013 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a little restraint can truly go a long way.
5. Landscaping gone wild
Elaborate Christmas light displays during the holidays aren't the only keeping-up-with-the-Joneses splurges during the year. Perhaps it has something to do with the demographics in my area, but it seems like most people in our part of town are absolutely yard-crazy. It doesn't help when your next-door-neighbor owns a landscaping company either. Every day of the year, his property looks like it came straight out of a Better Homes & Garden magazine cover shoot — and it feels like everyone else is trying to keep up.
Between yard treatments, professional mowing services, and landscaping, the budget for yard work can easily top $300 per month. How much could you save with a lawn mower you found on Craigslist and use during the cool early morning hours?
6. Too many weddings
Summer is the most popular season for weddings, but getting an invitation to more than a few each year can truly break the bank. This is especially true for destination weddings or post-wedding parties. I know one couple, for example, who recently spent $3,000 for a wedding party they will attend abroad later this year.
The average cost of a wedding reached an all-time high of over $31,000 earlier this year, but being part of the wedding party can be pricey as well. Between paying for a tux or a bridesmaid dress, paying for transportation and lodging, and attending all of the wedding-related events, the costs can amount to a large burden if you aren't judicious.
Workarounds for summer splurges
There is certainly nothing wrong with having fun during summer — that is, if you can find a way to fit your idea of fun into your budget. My family actually opted to raise our grocery budget by $100 during the summer of 2014; and we did it again this year to make room for more barbecues, pitch-ins, and card parties.
Doing so didn't feel like a failure in my eyes. Since I hate to overextend my budget, it made sense to bring that budget line item up to a more reasonable level so we can enjoy the time with family and friends. It's also immeasurably cheaper to hang out at one of our homes rather than to go out to eat.
The bottom line for budgeting summer splurges: Be intentional
Whereas a spending trap is something you fall victim to, a summer splurge can be well worth it if you plan accordingly. For me, paying an extra $300 for a summer full of get-togethers is a small price to pay, and chances are, you value similar things.
Nonetheless, if your intention is to build your wealth, it pays to be intentional with your spending during the summer months too. In my view, that's just part of the battle you have to wage in order to stay true to your financial goals.
As always, the best way to avoid spending traps of any kind is to plan ahead and be mindful of your short-term and long-term goals. Summer comes every year, so there's nowhere to run and there's nowhere to hide. If you want to spend more when it's warm out, that's fine — just be intentional and plan ahead.
Have you fallen into any of these summer spending traps lately? Do you have any expenses that surge during summer months?
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.