By Dr. James M. Dahle, WCI Founder
There are two cities in this world that always make me feel poor, no matter what my income when I go there, London and New York City. I returned recently from a very enjoyable 6 day vacation to New York, which impressed me again just how much variation there can be in your living expenses. On Manhattan, it may cost $25 an hour to park your car (and $12 a day to park a bicycle), $400 to get a room smaller than the cell an inmate might occupy, and $150 to see a show. You're likely to pay $25 just to go to the top of a tall building to look around, if they'll even let you inside. The second part of the vacation was to the admittedly less expensive upstate portion of the state, where I paid $17 a day to go rock climbing (outside, with all my own stuff) and $25 per person to go on a short hike. It makes me grateful to have spent most of my life in states with dozens of state and national parks where the “really cool places” aren't privately owned.
Spend Your Money On What You Value
I really enjoy being able to go on a trip like this and for the most part be able to do whatever I want to do, without having to worry about the cost. Part of the reason we can do that is that we keep our fixed expenses to a low percentage of our income.
Long ago we made the decision that we value experiences (like vacations and time away from work) far more than “stuff” like cars, furniture, clothing and a fancy home, so that's where we spend our money. I don't have a problem with someone who wants to drive a $70K car (as long as they can afford it), but I can go on a lot of trips with the difference between a $70K Mercedes and my old Durango.
Spending More Doesn't Necessarily Bring More Happiness
I was also impressed with the amazing range of cost in various activities. It starts when you get on the plane. A round trip ticket from my home to NYC will run you $500–$600. If you want to sit in a slightly wider seat, get a meal and a drink, and board a little earlier, then that same trip will cost you $1,700–$2,300. I like leg room, but I don't like it that much. Seeing Newsies on Broadway will set you back $150, but I can go to the local second run movie theater and catch a show for $1.50 (75 cents on Tightwad Tuesday). Both events will provide me 2 hours of entertainment. Now I'll be the first to admit that Newsies was a far better show than most of the crap Hollywood is pumping out these days, but 100 times better? Hardly. And $25 per person for a short hike? $25 will get an entire carload of people into a National Park, for a week.
Splurge in Moderation
If you're having trouble putting 20% of your income toward retirement and meeting all of your other savings goals, then perhaps it's time to think about those areas of your life where you could spend 1/3 as much (or 1/100 as much) and still enjoy your experience almost as much. Perhaps it is a cheaper car, a cheaper show, or a cheaper meal. I'd rather go on two trips, flying coach and staying in Motel 6, then one trip flying first class and staying in a swanky hotel. But for those who are meeting their savings goals, direct your splurges to those things that bring you the most happiness.
What do you think? In what areas of life have you noticed a wide range of possible expenses for similar experiences? Comment below!