Labor Day may not actually be when you cover the pool or put the grill away till next year -- and if you live in some parts of this country, you may never do either one -- but it is, symbolically, the end of summer.
So with kids heading back to school and temperatures heading back toward the cooler end of the thermometer, many of us will celebrate the unofficial shift of the seasons by taking full advantage of our three-day weekend.
How much do Americans spend?
Clearly, a significant number of us will be hitting the road. In 2018, the Friday before Labor Day weekend had the most gas transactions of any day of the year, based on data from 50 million Bank of America credit and debit cardholders. There were 30% more gas transactions than average, and 34% higher spending. Americans spent an average of $26 at the pump on that day. It wasn't the one with the highest total spending on gas, though. That was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, when prices were higher than they were three months later.
Overall travel spending was 15% higher than the average day on Saturday, Sept. 1, and 9% higher on Friday, Aug. 31.
Given that Labor Day weekend is always one of the heaviest travel times of the year, Bank of America Preferred Rewards Executive John Sellers has a few tips for consumers to consider. If you're trying to decide between flying and driving, he suggests that the tipping point comes at around the four-hour mark. If your trip will involve less than that in the car (and your vehicle gets good mileage) you should probably drive. If you're going to fly, though, there are a few ways to do it for less.
"The busiest travel days are the Friday before Labor Day (Aug. 30) and the Tuesday after (Sept. 3)," he said in a statement emailed to The Motley Fool. "If you have flexibility in your schedule, you can get a better price booking your outgoing flight for the actual days of the weekend (Aug. 31 or Sept. 1) and booking your return flight for Monday (Sept. 2) or Wednesday (Sept. 4)."
Have fun -- but first, run the numbers
Labor Day, it should be noted, does not even crack the National Retail Federation's list of the year's top 10 consumer spending events. That means that our average added spending for the holiday came in at less than $81.17 per person overall -- the amount we shelled out around the Super Bowl in 2018.
That means that the holiday can easily be more laid back than others. There are a few more lazy days left, and your kids and neighbors probably won't be comparing your barbecue feast or beach trip to what other people might be doing.
Less pressure to spend, however, does not mean that mistakes can't be made. It's still possible to knock a hole in your budget if you're not careful.
While it can be tempting to throw financial caution to the winds and host a blowout end-of-summer bash or take a big trip, that's not always a great idea. Holidays large and small tempt us to spend a bit more money than we can really afford to spend. But you don't want to add a balance to your credit card statements now that you'll still be paying down when Thanksgiving arrives.
Instead, examine your finances, create a budget, and make plans based on your means. There are lots of inexpensive ways to bid farewell to the summer. You can hit the community pool or a nearby beach without spending much money. Driving to see family or friends doesn't have to be a major expense. And while it might be fun to splurge on steaks for the grill, who doesn't love burgers or barbecued chicken?
If summer is fading, then it won't be too long before certain wintertime holidays will present you with far more intense temptations to overspend. So it's not a bad idea to start buffing up your special occasion budgeting skills now. The long weekend you enjoy may not be quite as extravagant, but at least you'll be spared the labor of digging yourself out of a financial hole later.