The first time I remember peer pressure affecting my life, I capitulated and began wearing a small bottle filled with bubble solution as a token on a necklace. The late eighties weren't a great time to be a middle school boy. From that moment on, peer pressure (and my wavering resistance of it) has been a ubiquitous part of my life.
Peer pressure has affected my relationships, my health, my faith and my finances. And to this day, peer pressure still strikes me as one of the most powerful secret assassins of financial stability and behavior.
You already know the obvious application of peer pressure: Keeping up with the Joneses. But let's set that aside and instead consider a sneakier version of peer pressure: Family vacations.
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"My entire extended family goes on vacation together every year," a good buddy reminded me recently. Thinking about that situation, I'm curious how many people involved in it are making significant financial decisions based on attending it. How many feel like there's only one option: To go on the group vacation?
From what I know about American families, it's a good bet that there is at least one family within the larger extended family that cannot afford to participate in this group vacation. Yet, they go anyway.
You might think the financially stressed family comes from the younger members. But, from what I've seen, it's more often the matriarch and patriarch of the family who are often doing damage to their financial stability by footing the bill for offspring who couldn't otherwise afford to attend.
When objectively poor decisions are masked with "this is a tradition," then your traditions need to change. Are they fun? Sure. Will they eventually come back to bite you? Yes, they will.
My proposed solution isn't to tell your family to send you a post card because you aren't going or to end your tradition because some angry newspaper columnist said so. I want you to do what you've always done, but let the peer pressure influence you to take the leap responsibly.
Our budgets (or spending habits) have a way of robbing us from affording the moments we truly value. If you love your family vacation more than you love random meals out and other impulse purchases, then pre-fund your vacation throughout the year. This will let you avoid the regret of realizing you valued casual dining more than your annual family pilgrimage.
Peer pressure can be used for good. Think about the pressure you feel to make poor financial decisions out of a sense of obligation or emotional manipulation, then use that pressure to motivate you to clear-out the less valuable expenditures in your life. Periodically re-evalute your spending and I'm guessing you'll find you are paying for things you no longer value but never took the time to remove from your life.
We're not a culture that naturally rebalances spending to fit new priorities. In fact, we tend to add the spending on new priorities to our current spending. This practice reduces savings and creates debt. And when emotions and family ties get involved, we can be further blinded from financial reality and unwilling to make tough, pragmatic choices.
Stop letting peer pressure influence you to ignore financial realities. Instead, harness it to help you reprioritize spending and allow you to wholly enjoy that family vacation experience.
This article originally appeared on USA Today.
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