As many people around the world have just finished their summer vacations, I thought reflecting a bit on summer spending habits could be useful. This is because summer, with its sunlit days and beckoning beaches, tends to tease out the spender in many of us.
The unexpected cost of warmer weather
Imagine this: a sunlit beach, kids building sandcastles, and you sipping on a cool drink, not a care in the world—until the credit card bill arrives. Sound familiar? Many of us fall for the summer spending trap, sometimes unknowingly. The question is, why?
After months of cold, rain and maybe even snow, the arrival of spring (and summer) brings excitement and many reasons to go outside. Overall we are all more positive when the good seasons start. This is not a bad thing, but when it comes to spending habits it does come with costs. By knowing what activities might make you spend more, you can better manage your money and avoid overspending too much.
Common summer expenditures
Below I listed the most common categories where expenditures increase during summer. Do you recognize yourself?
Vacations and travel
I recall a family trip to the Maldives, the crystalline waters, the adventure sports, the nice villas—it was a dream come true. But the bill at the end was almost a nightmare. Many people spend the whole year saving for a luxurious vacation come summertime. While 5-star hotels or international trips might sound tempting, they also aren’t cheap. Based on data from Statista, in 2023 the average budget for summer holidays in many cases was very close (or greater) than one month salary, with Australia reaching almost 3 thousand euros. And this amount can increase greatly, depending on when you travel, the destination, the type of accommodation, etc.
Planning can help, but how many of us are truly immune to the spontaneous allure of a distant beach? You might want to consider alternatives or a compromise. Some examples?
- Avoid travelling in peak season
- Book ahead - at least 6 months before your trip
- When choosing your accommodation, think about what you will really use on a daily basis. Will you go to the spa every day? What about tennis courts? what about a 50 sqm room? Especially if you plan to spend most of your time at the beach/sightseeing/hiking, there is a high chance you will not use all the fancy amenities in expensive hotels.
- If you don't mind cooking or try local treats, you can save a lot of money by not booking an all inclusive package.
At the end of the day, it's not just the cost of your hotel and travel that you need to cover, but also the in-destination expenses. Create a realistic vacation budget and then stick to it as closely as possible. And if you really want to go fancy, you can still trade-off with a shorter stay.
Home and garden
A friend of mine often jokes that his garden is his "summer gym"—the place where he exercises his credit card the most. Come summer, he’s buying new plants, decorations, or furniture. And he's not alone; a fun fact is that many people spend up to 30% more on home improvement projects during the summer months compared to other seasons. This is because the weather is more favorable for working outdoors and people have more free time.
The Remodeling magazine put together some numbers on the average cost of different types of works, and it is quite easy to rank up thousands of dollars of bills.
Summer camps and childcare
Schools in the world do follow different calendars, however pretty much every school has a quite long summer break. South Korea with an average 4 weeks is the country with the shortest break in the world, half of what American students get. And if you live in Europe there is a high chance will stay home for even 12 weeks or more.
For most parents this means only one thing: summer camps. And they don't come cheap!
According to the American Camp Association, about 20 million children and teens attend summer camp each year. And if it's true that the cost can vary depending on the type of camp, the location, and the length of stay, the average cost of summer camp in the United States is around $178.49 a day, and for sleep-away camp, it’s $448.53 a day.
The numbers in Europe and not that different, as you can expect to pay anywhere from €500 to €2,000 per week for a residential camp. Day camps are typically less expensive, costing around €200 to €500 per week.
Rising temperatures mean putting away your winter coats and digging out sandals, shorts, and bathing suits. A new trend to follow, replacing pants that don’t fit or a stained tank top that has seen too much sunscreen. However, the change of seasons might also reveal that you’re in need of a wardrobe refresh.
Fun fact: At a press conference in April 2021, the French Pool and Spa Federation announced that pool sales were up 28% compared to 2019, due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.
To avoid straining your budget, consider buying clothes out of season, taking advantage of sales, or thrifting secondhand items. Shopping at local or sustainable brands can be another good idea, as high quality items don’t need to be replaced as often.
The hidden costs of summer
If the categories just analyzed are somehow expected expenses, there are others that might sneak in unexpected.
Increased utility bills
With family members spending more time at home, and with warmer weather often requiring to have a fan/AC on for hours, it's common to have higher electricity bills. To fight rising temperatures in your home, think about things like air circulation, insulation, and alternative cooling techniques. You can also try to offset your energy use with LED light bulbs and by only using household appliances during off-peak hours.
Dining and entertainment
The hottest new summer blockbuster or a cool indoor café becomes immensely appealing when the temperature rises. Who can resist the allure of a cold ice cream on a sweltering day? As the weather gets nicer, more restaurants and bars across Europe begin to open their outdoor spaces. Terraces and patios quickly fill up with patrons excited to catch some fresh air and a few drinks with friends and family.
Health and wellness
My sister is allergic to mosquito bites, so our family bulk-buys repellents every summer. Little expenses, but they add up. Sunburn treatments, allergies, and other summer ailments can mean added costs. And this doesn't count people that enroll into gyms just when the good weather starts, to try and do some last minute damage control in order to get ready for the beach.
Impact on personal finances
Ok but what is the impact of all your extra summer expenditures?
a. Strain on savings
Many of us dip into savings to fund our summer frolics. It’s a tempting but potentially perilous strategy and you might need a vacation after your summer vacation, not to relax, but to recover financially.
b. Credit card debt
It's easy to lose track of credit card swipes when you're having fun. Research from different websites such as CreditKarma or MoneyGeek, highlighted that nearly 30%-40% of millennials and Gen Z incur debt from vacations.
c. Delay in financial goals
You might (should!) have a specific financial goal, e.g. invest in a particular stock portfolio by the end of a summer. But then came an unexpected trip, and the goal was pushed to autumn. Unplanned summer expenses can lead to delays in financial objectives.
Tips for managing and recovering from summer expenses
Now that you are fully aware of the risks on over-spending during the summer, what can you do to better prepare? Well, a few in fact:
- Create a summer budget: you can make it half game, half ritual - the pre-summer budget meet. Sit down with your family, dream of beaches and barbecues, but also allocate funds for them. It will change your summer spending habits remarkably.
- Find cost-effective alternatives: remember the inflatable pool stat? It's a classic example of finding cheaper alternatives to beat the heat. Local attractions, early bird offers, or even potluck-style gatherings can save money.
- Monitoring and reducing unnecessary expenditures: I once found a forgotten subscription for a beach magazine I never read. Regularly checking your bank statements can throw up such surprises.
- Setting aside a summer fund: this is akin to saving for Christmas, but for summer. A dedicated summer savings pot can mean you dip less into your main savings.
Summer is a time for fun, sun, and unfortunately, quite a bit of spending. Let's be clear, I am not suggesting that you should never go on vacation and, if you don't have an income high enough to go on vacation without incurring debt, there might be no alternative. However, you should be aware of the risks so that you can plan better for both enjoying your vacation but also be able to repay the debt - in case you had to incur into it.