Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Split Spending Personality

I’m often struck by the extreme difference between the cost of my business travel and the cost of my personal traveling choices. It’s not just the cost that is different; my attitudes about what types of accommodations, flights, and meals are acceptable differs depending on whether my travel is personal or business. It’s as though I have a split personality.

As examples of costs, the airfare of my last two business trips adds up to about $11,700, but the total cost of my last vacation (of 8 days) was $1200 including food, golf, accommodations, and airfare.

As an example of attitudes, I’m content to sleep on a bunk-bed and eat burnt toast when I’m on a personal golf trip, but I find myself critical of small things at hotels when on business travel such as inefficient handling of my luggage or poor timing of maid service.

I’d be interested in knowing how common it is for people to have very different spending personalities in different contexts.


  1. I feel the same way. I'm extremely frugal on personal trips, but not really when it comes to business travel.

    Maybe my frugality comes from working in the hospitality industry and not being accustomed to paying more than $49 night at a hotel.

    When I was travelling a lot on business I used to try and save the company money by taking the flight with 2 connections or a longer layover.

    After a while I thought, my time isn't worth the few hunderd dollars of savings to the company, so I'll just book the direct flights from now on.

    It's funny, because if it was on my own dime I would definitely take the longer layovers and connections to save money.

  2. What a great post. I never thought about it. My travel expenses are fairly frugal because I am accountable to my clients for the expenses but I can definitely relate to what you are saying

  3. I'm quite like that too. In my case, I am not self-employed, the money does not come out of my pocket when I am travelling for business. I keep an eye on my expenses because I care about the company I work for (well I really care about the people who donate their hard working dollars to us since I work on a non-for-profit) but I less worried about paying for things that I might not get if they were coming out of my pocket.

  4. I'm pretty frugal on my vacations. But work can be really cheap on accommodations sometimes. I'm paying out of pocket to get a better hotel room on my upcoming conference because it's inhuman to book us in a location without air conditioning in June.

  5. I work in high-tech sales and travel a fair bit (actually writing this from a frugal hotel room in Winnipeg).
    I see the split personality a lot, but I don't share it too much, except for the convenience of a direct flight whenever possible (even if it involves a longer drive to an alternate airport).
    Personally, I dislike wasting money (my own or the company's) and I don't really care much for the status of a fancy hotel or paying $7.99 for a bottle of water.
    Ultimately, I try to find moderation in all things, including travel spending. My approach is to be frugal whenever possible, but not obsessively so.
    As always, YMMV.

  6. I imagine this is generally true, though I never had the opportunity for much corporate travel: too low in the hierarchy.

    I think there may be a split spending personality as well on big-ticket versus low-cost items. I often calculate the price per gram of various grocery items to find the cheapest size, but I don't bargain to the last $100 on a car or $1000-5000 on a home, even thought the stakes are drastically higher.

  7. That made me remember how in one of my jobs, a flight Toronto-Ottawa for a manager for 1700$ was reasonable and a 50$ book that helped me implement me a complete monitoring solution was unacceptable. In corporate world value of expenses is warped and I hope that the current crisis will re-adjust the situation. A way, for example, would be - the traveler gets to pocket 50% of the tangible savings they make from the travel package the corporate arranged. I have seen companies signing exclusivity deals with travel agencies... and getting fares worse than directly from the website of the airline!!!

  8. @Echo: You mentioned the value of time and I relized that I definitely value my time differently depending on whether I'm traveling for business or pleasure.

    @Jim: Thanks. I wonder if it is the personal connection to individual clients that drives the frugality. This connection is weaker with a large employer or a large company client.

    @Anonymous: It seems that there are many of us who make different choices on business and personal travel.

    @Potato: That's a new one for me. I've never had to pony up personal funds on a business trip (except for when my wife traveled with me or I shopped for a personal item).

    @Fernando: I don't feel good about wasting money either. In my case someone else usually books my business flights and accommodations. I suppose I could insist on cheaper choices, but I've never done that. The other thing is that traveling business class is so much more civilized that I doubt I could go back, at least for long flights.

    @Gene: There is definitely a tendency to ignore anything that amounts to a small percentage of an overall purchase. This is how a suit salesperson can get you to pay double for a belt when buying a suit.

    @Andi: The need to be profitable definitely drives companies to more sensible spending. However, government can be different. Low-level government employees often have severe restrictions, but I see many higher-level government people spending more freely.

  9. Funny, I'm currently the exact opposite. It's our company so my husband and I set the rules.

    We travel frugally for work, passing the savings on to the client (i.e. food for *two* of us is usually under $50 a day in North America). We stay in suite hotels (Residence Inn or Homewood Suites) because they are cheaper than Marriotts/Hilton, etc. and offer breakfast and free WiFi. In Europe, we rent apartments in the cities we work in. We won't rent a car or take taxis unless that is the cheapest way to get around (often the hotels have a shuttle bus to take us to work.)

    Flights tend to be business class for overseas but those are upgraded from economy using our frequent flyer status.

    Our vacations, though, are five-star cruises.

    Perhaps my attitude is that I can't really enjoy luxury surroundings while working, but when on a cruise I'm completely removed from day to day life and distractions so enjoy myself fully.

    BTW: at home we live relatively frugally (i.e. I belong to the Compact and don't buy anything new) so our only excessive spending is while on vacation. But, boy, is that excessive!

  10. @Kate: That's an interesting variant of the split spending personality. But it makes perfect sense given your situation.

  11. Sounds like you have company here. Until you posted this, I never really thought about this but I must admit, I feel the same way.

    If I'm on my dollar, I'm definitely more frugal. On somebody else's dime, I'm probably a little more critical.

    I know I shouldn't be.

    Besides, life is too short to be too critical all the time :)

  12. There are 4 ways to spend money and 4 different attitudes: 1) Spend your money on yourself - interested in quality AND price; 2) Spend somebody's money on yourself - interested in quality but not on price. 3) Spend your money on somebody - interested only in price. 4) Spend somebody's money on somebody else - not interested in either quality or price. The 4th category is where the governments fall in.