Anyone up for permanently raising your expectations and inflating your lifestyle? Does all other steak taste worse once you’ve had the best? By this point in our life we have all had some small taste of life’s luxuries. And on occasion these can be entertaining experiences. But my simple observation is that, if you spend enough time basking in your own indulgences, you will become accustom to luxuries and your lifestyle can inflate significantly without actually making you any happier. The second observation is that business travel can be one of the most exacerbating catalysts to raised expectations, wastefulness and entitlement.
We adapt to wealth or poverty surprisingly quickly. Our expectations have such an enormous impact on how we perceive our life that it is truly important to be cognizant and understand exactly how they influence our view of reality. And, Hey, getting up to go to the bathroom is such a hassle, would you like a pamper to go with your free cocktail in Business Class?
Business and Inefficiency
Do you make choices differently when you are not paying for something? Do you eat differently on a buffet than you would if you were ordering off a menu? As rational people, we often make decisions based on the incentives. And one of the strangest incentives we notice is when we work for a business and we are in charge of spending money that is not “ours”. Most middle/upper-middle class jobs require at least some level of travel and if you’ve worked for any period of time I’m sure you’ve had to do the dreaded (or sometimes really fun) travel for work.
For jobs that require extreme travel, like many of the consultants I know, the business’ goal is often to make your life less sucky when you are doing sucky stuff. If you are traveling all the time, they might use fancy travel perks as a way to make it less awful. It goes something like “If I’m going to be away from my family, at least I get to get fancy stuff and to stay in nice places”.
The main issue with business travel is that it is often extremely inefficient and wasteful. When you are not directly responsible for costs (not too unlike modern healthcare), you make decisions differently. Things like: should I wait and look for a deal on the plane ticket or a computer I’m going to buy? Na, I’ll just get it. Do I need to valet my car for $29? Sure, why not. Take public transportation? Na, I’ll just drive my rental car and park it at the airport. Is this ‘business expense’ really necessary? Sure, why not. Oh, and did you hear you can get a new iPad if you ask management. I don’t need one but, sure, why not? Basically, business travel in general encourages “productivity” with less concern for costs or waste.
This coddling pamperment, or inflationary lifestyle, messes with the psyche, and due to the inefficiency in the system, it often transfers into inefficiency in our own lives.
At what point does luxury become wastefulness? And when do our desires cross the fine line that leaves us watching TV with a catheter and a bedpan? Profitable businesses are not often known for conservation, especially when it comes to travel for their people. Most businesses operate on some form of perdiem or reimbursement system. Waste is often created because the cost savings are generally not passed on to the traveler.
Let’s use food as an example. Most businesses operate like: we’ll reimburse you for the cost of the meal, just turn in your receipts. If you get $50 per meal and you go to chickfila then you are forgoing potentially really good food and get nothing in return. It leads to: I might as well go out and enjoy $50 on whatever looks best. There is a reverse incentive to save. Or maybe hotels are a better example. Say I would be content in a $75 hotel, but my per diem is $250. Why not stay in a marginally nicer hotel for $239? It doesn’t cost ‘me’ anymore. Even If I would be just as happy in a $25 hotel, most businesses don’t give you a check for the difference between your cost and the perdiem rate.
Or what about the cars? If you are going to rent a little car for a trip and gas and cost are paid, which one are you going to get? The nice new Tahoe or the most efficient compact available. I know that no one actually uses it, but the hotel mini bar is the most painful example. I’m sure there have been a few $6 waters and candy bars charged to corporate accounts. It is simply a waste all around for the sake of a little convenience. The “It doesn’t cost me anything” mentality can be a slippery slope as we begin to expand what we consider comfortable.
The mantra for most businesses is that “Your skills are very valuable; don’t waste your time saving costs when traveling. Just spend the money so we can get the most out of the time we pay you”. Am I opposed to this? Not necessarly, however, I try and maintain my awareness so it does not permanently inflate my expectations. In the short term it can be fun. Like going to a fancy hotel, it can be exciting, however, you get used to it very quickly. Then you get upset if it goes away.
Here is the meat of the article. Call it the hedonic treadmill or what you will. The true issue that underlies the issues of business travel is what happens when you come home. After spending weeks or months in fancy cars, eating fancy meals, sleeping in fancy rooms and flying in the nicest part of the airplane, we get back to our home and realize that our car is getting a little old, the healthy food at home is bland, our bed could be more comfortable and flying coach is kinda tight.
What do you want out of your life? Evaluate the comforts and conveniences that come your way. Are they impacting you? And are your expectations being altered? After 10 years of flying business class for work, when you take your family on vacation and fly coach are you going feel under-served? Have your fancy travel perks and matching salary elevated your lifestyle so you will still be slaving away when you are 50? Have you been trained in the habit of excess and inefficiency.
Finally, what areas do you maintain wastefulness? And when do conveniences cross the line? I think the main issue to be aware of is that, over time, things like business travel can elevate your lifestyle and expectations. If you are living an efficient lifestyle, having an expensive dinner can be a welcomed, unique treat. Or staying in a fancy hotel on ocassion could be exciting. But be careful when the things you thought were luxuries become your expectations.