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Vacation is Not a Financial Catastrophe

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Whether you’re already planning to take a vacation next summer or planning one for the near future, you may be looking for some financially savvy ways to prepare. One of the secrets of life that I've learned is how to incorporate intentional planning when it comes to personal finances and summer vacation. 

The Practical Benefits of Summer Vacation

Why am I writing about taking vacation when I usually write about how to save and invest your money? It’s because behavioral finance (the study of the psychology of money) shows us that spending money on experiences is one of the best uses of money there is.

Three real ways vacation gives us proven psychological benefits are through:

  • The anticipation leading up to the trip
  • Time spent during the trip
  • The memories afterward

Time off also can improve your overall wellness and create more sustainability in your physician work. From experience, we’ve seen how finding some balance is a key factor in allowing doctors to continue their work as doctors, which then leads to achieving many of the financial goals they have.

Unfortunately, many of the doctors I coached in the past would see vacation as a hindrance to their financial goals. One doctor in particular I worked with hadn’t taken vacation in five years. He looked at vacation time as a missed opportunity for earning. Let’s say he could earn $1,000 per day doing procedures in clinic. If he took a week off (assuming a five day work week), he’d see it as a $5,000 loss on top of the money he’d spend on the trip itself. We worked on that mindset in coaching, but it points to a bigger problem in physician circles.

We don't recognize the value of rest and relaxation and how it allows us to show up afterward as a more efficient, better version of ourselves. 

Be Intentional About Scheduling Your Time

My colleague, Dr. Taylor, is another great example of although you may have several weeks of vacation per year, you may still mentally and emotionally need a summer break. Dr. Taylor, for example, lives across the country from her family, so most of her vacation time is spent traveling to see them, then trying to find the time to visit everyone while she is there. Not much of a vacation in the sense of rest. 

We’ve all had the kind of trip that isn’t relaxing. It’s the kind of vacation you need a vacation from. That’s why you have to be intentional about scheduling your vacation time. There’s a reason why every major religious tradition and many scientific studies show that as humans, we all need periods of rest. 

If you’re one of the doctors who says they haven’t taken time off in five years because you’ve got this financial mindset that says taking time off will catch up to you, think about it this way: Burning out and having to leave medicine completely also won’t make you any money.

You may have to force yourself to take time off at first. But please get your rest and stop the mental acrobatics of proving to yourself how vacation is a financial catastrophe.

Save In a Way That Works For You

Something else you may be able to relate to is this idea that you can’t trust yourself not to overspend on vacation. Generally this can be solved with the answer to one main question: How much extra are you saving when planning your vacation? 

Typically what happens is you don’t set a specific amount, and that is why you find yourself in trouble sometimes.

I think there are two different ways to help with this. One is to know yourself and know that, hey, when I’m in the middle of having fun with my friends or family at the beach, I just know I’m going to spend more, so I’m going to save an extra 10-20% to allow for that.

The issue with that is Parkinson’s law, which is that what you have, you’ll use. When you start a new tube of toothpaste, you use a big blob on the brush because you don’t care, you have plenty. It’s when you’re getting down to the end that you start using less because you don’t have as much left.

What I do is plan for that very situation with a sinking fund. After I plan out and set aside however much money the beach trip is going to cost, I start setting aside extra money in a sinking fund. The sinking fund can be for the trip we're about to take, or even for future trips. 

Then, I get to decide “Is this $300 thing that came up at the beach worth taking $300 from our future trip to the mountains?” The answer might be yes. Maybe for the trip to the mountains, you’re staying with family and you don’t have to pay for lodging. Whatever the case may be, you get to intentionally decide where that money goes and you have it on hand, ready for that purpose.

Maximize Rewards To Make Travel More Manageable

I’m not a credit card guru. I can’t keep up with all the details of balances and interest and rewards. But I will say that I have an Amex, and it comes with a free TSA pre-check that really makes the whole travel process go more smoothly.

There’s also benefits like access to lounges, discounted flights, and rewards points to earn when you use certain credit cards.

I'm not a big fanboy for any one in particular, but this is a way to make travel more manageable. Some people use airline-specific cards, like Delta or American Airlines, but if you're going to travel and you're going to do it often, you might as well make sure you're getting rewarded for it. 

Be Smart: Start Planning Your Next Trip

So next time you consider skipping vacation, remember that time off gives us psychological benefits that can’t be replaced. Start to consider the value of rest and relaxation outside of the monetary value. Because burning out and having to leave medicine isn’t the way to long-term financial success.

Once you do decide to plan for and take a vacation, be intentional about planning and saving for the trip. Remember to budget for costs outside of airfare, rental cars, and hotels, but also your own habits when it comes to discretionary spending. Save for vacation in a way that works for you and you won’t regret the trip. 

Dr. Jimmy Turner is an academic anesthesiologist and the Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of Attend, a comprehensive financial platform built by physicians for physicians. He is also the author of The Physician Philosopher's Guide to Personal Finance and host of the Money Meets Medicine podcast.

Image by Yurii Karvatskyi / Getty Images

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