How to reduce money conflicts on vacation

Vacation can be stressful, especially when not everyone has the same impulses when it comes to spending. But you can reduce money conflicts.

Traveling can be stressful in lots of ways. In normal times, there’s the stress of getting from here to there, figuring out flights, getting rental cars, getting the whole group or family together.

And in the pandemic times, there’s the stress of dealing with everyone else who mistakenly believe that the pandemic is over and that you don’t need to mask anymore.

But then there’s also the money situation. Traveling can be expensive, and that can be stressful.

If you travel with others, such as a partner, this can also lead to conflict, especially if one of you wants to spend more freely than the other.

Who wants to spend vacation having arguments with phrases like these?

“Do you really need another pair of shoes?”
“Can’t you just relax?”
“Why did you order so many drinks?”
“You’re never going to use that when you get home.”
“But this is my vacation!”

Not me, that’s for sure.

But rather than convince one of you to spend less, or another of you to relax and spend more, I want to teach you how to work together to have fewer money conflicts when on vacation.

It can be done. Here’s how.

Set intentions

The first step is to have a conversation about intentions, not only before you go, but before you buy any tickets or make any reservations.

Here are some prompts:

  • What kind of trip do you want this to be? (Adventure? Relaxation? Community-building?)
  • What is most important to you on this vacation?
  • What are your non-negotiable, must-dos?
  • What are your negotiables, would-like-to-dos?
  • What do you want to not do?

Notice that none of these prompts are specifically related to money. That is intentional. All conversation about money needs to start from a non-monetary place. Why? Because money is a means to an end, and never an end in itself. Your desires come first; the way to make them happen, come later.

Everyone should answer these questions, as that will not only help you be on the same page about your trip, but also will inform everything that comes after.

Agree to have a vacation spending total

Once you’ve talked about what’s important to all of you, the next step is to agree that you will come up with a total vacation spending amount.

This step isn’t figuring out what that is (yet), it’s merely agreeing to having one.

This is important, because you need to have a financial plan for a vacation. You can’t just go on vacation, spend whatever, and then come home and figure out what’s on your credit card. That is a recipe for financial disaster.

(Click here to read my guide on how to travel debt-free.)

So by agreeing that you will come up with a total vacation spending amount, you are committed to some other things as well:

  • Planning and managing your expenses prior to the vacation
  • Keeping track of your expenses on the vacation

This alone will get you most of the way there, but where the conflict really goes away is with the next steps.

Determine your one-time costs

A lot of spending on a vacation happens before you even leave home.

You buy plane tickets before you leave home. You rent a car before you leave home. You probably only stay at one place.

And sometimes this can be a good chunk of the spending on the trip too. So figure this out in advance.

For a two-person vacation example, two plane tickets could be $1,000, a rental car could be $500, and lodging could be another $1,000. That’s $2,500 before you leave home.

This all counts as part of your vacation spending plan. But it’s not the only part.

Determine your irregular costs

Some spending happens more than once, but in an irregular way.

A good example of this is groceries, which tend to be pretty lumpy. Another is gas for the car.

Yet another example worth talking about is the “fun” on a vacation. Do you want to take a snorkeling trip? Do you want to do a zipline? Do you want to a food tour of the city? Do you want to buy souvenirs? All of this can count in a “fun” category.

Do some research and figure out what you think you might want to spend in these types of costs. It doesn’t need to be exact, but it’ll give you guidance.

For example, if you have a $500 fun category, and you have a helicopter tour that’s $400, maybe you don’t also do the snorkeling trip as well.

Agree on this in advance, and you will have less conflict, I promise you.

Determine your daily costs

A big cost to a vacation can be daily costs. These are things like going out to eat and drink.

And the longer the vacation is, the bigger the daily expenses can be, as a proportion of the total vacation spending.

I find it best to come up with an average cost per day for these things. For a simple example:

  • $30/day Drinks
  • $60/day Dinner
  • $20/day Snacks

Now, this might not look at all like what you want, but that’s not the point. Look up how much restaurants cost. Think of what you might want to do. Come up with an average daily spend.

Do you need to match it exactly every day? Of course not. But if you go a little excessive one day, maybe you dial it back the next. Remember, you’re keeping track of this spending while you’re there, not after you get home.

Determine your total vacation cost

You total vacation cost is:

One-time costs + Irregular costs + (Daily costs) x (Number of vacation days)

So a five day trip with $2,500 in one-time costs, $800 of irregular costs, and $150 in daily costs would lead to a total vacation cost of:

$2,500 + $800 + ($150 x 5) = $4,050

If you agree on this, and work to keep this as accurate as possible on your vacation, you will have less conflict.

Why this works

Determining your full vacation costs in advance, and working to keep it true throughout the trip, will help reduce conflict for all people, the ones who worry about overspending as well as the ones who don’t want their style to be cramped.

For those who worry about overspending, remember that you’ve already consented to the amount of spending you all do each day. So if someone wants to spend on something, and it’s within your arrangement, then you don’t have to stress about it. They can spend it! After all, you agreed, right?

For those who want to be able to spend money on vacation, you now have an allowance. Everyone has agreed to this allowance, so you shouldn’t feel bad about spending it. So go to it, and enjoy!

I generally don’t travel with anyone with whom I have money conflicts with, but even still, I’ve done some recent travels where I haven’t done this process, and then just this month returned from a vacation where I did, and let me tell you, the amount of stress I felt was so much lower when I followed these guidelines!

I want you to have a fun, relaxing, exciting, but most of all, conflict-free vacation. Going through these few steps together will help you make that happen.

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