Now that summer's in full swing, of course you want to take that whirlwind vacation, throw a rooftop happy hour or buy one of those big-ass inflatable pool flamingos for $140. Winter kept you inside and now you're ready to make the most of every weekend.
Instagram selfies show friends on vacation or posing with a new toy, which makes you want to get in on the action. But the fear of missing out can push you to buy things you end up regretting. That’s what happened to 32-year-old writer Evie Carrick when she moved to Ridgway, Colorado a few years ago. The area has a huge mountain biking community and Carrick wanted to be part of a cool women’s biking group. The only problem is, she wasn’t a biker—yet.
“Because I didn't want to be that loser who didn't bike, I ended up buying an entire mountain bike set up, which included bike, shoes, clothing, helmet, and pads, just to fit in,” Carrick say. “I went on one major bike trip with them that was way over my skill level and I ended up wiping out pretty badly. The worst part is, I don't even really like mountain biking and now I have a $1,000 plus set up that I never use. Embarrassing.”
Why it’s so easy to overspend in the summer
Feeling like you are missing out on all the fun your friends are having in their social media posts can also make you so bummed that you spend money to feel better. “One of the biggest drivers of consumer behavior is social comparison—and in particular, comparison to those wealthier than us,” says Michael Norton, a researcher at Harvard Business School who studies how money affects our happiness. “Research shows that people are particularly likely to splurge on non-necessities when those purchases will leapfrog them past as many people as possible.”
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Even if you aren’t driven by the need to out-fun your friends, you can still fall into summer spending fails on everything from travel to fancy cocktails. A last-minute flight to Martha’s Vineyard can set you back $1,000, for instance, the Lollapalooza music festival costs $335, and a weekend day car rental in Manhattan can easily go for $250. Even just eating out or taking a date for a few drinks can set you back $100 for a single evening.
Businesses prey on your FOMO too. For instance, BMW features a summer countdown clock in its online ads with a tagline that would make anyone panic: “Make every second count.”
How to maximize the fun without going broke
While you shouldn’t deny yourself summer fun, you should be realistic about what fits into your budget. So rather than jetting off to the Vineyard, save up to $800 by flying to nearby Boston during the week or picking a cheaper getaway closer to home.
If you need a rental car in the summer, try to rent on a weekday when prices are almost half the price. You could also camp for free (or around $20 a night at a national park), hit the beach or have a picnic with friends. Or search for free summer events in your state or city using local guides.
Remember, you don’t have to go all out every single weekend. Just relaxing with a good book from the library or having a friend over for a bottle of wine are both great ways to spend an evening this summer. And if you do decide to spend a little more money, spend it on someone else. "Spending on ourselves often does little to change our happiness," says Norton "Instead, we find that spending on others (from giving to charity to taking a friend to lunch) gives more happiness bang for the buck.”
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