Managing Money

Beware Of “Daylight Spending Time”

Written by Brian O'Connor

Rather than saving energy, daylight saving time prompts us to spend more money.

One way to derail your efforts at paying down your debts is wasting cash or – even worse – adding to your debt balances. If you’ve suddenly felt a big impulse to do either of those things during the past month, don’t blame yourself. Blame the sun.

It turns out that the giant, burning orb we rotate around can not only singe your skin at the beach but can burn a hole in your wallet, too. That’s the effect of daylight saving time, which lengthens daytime during the summer months. But, it can also serve as a springtime signal to ramp up your spending for summer.

Your best defense is to simply be aware that longer days can mean more discretionary spending. Then plan your finances to either avoid or adjust for that fact.

The history of daylight saving time

Daylight saving time is a relic of World War I. It was originally thought that longer daylight hours would make workplaces and homes warmer and better illuminated, reducing the amount of coal burned and thus free up fossil fuel for the war effort. But since the era of the biplane and wind-up Victrola, humankind has managed to invent air conditioning. Which pretty much wipes out any savings from extending daylight during the hot summer months.

The fact that moving clocks ahead each spring doesn’t save energy would seem bad enough, but daylight saving time also prompts consumers to spend more money, writes Michael Downing, a Tufts University lecturer in English and author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. Between March and November, all that extra sunshine triggers us to pick up carry out for a picnic, hit the golf links, take the boat out, or fire up the grill.

Daylight saving time has been expanded twice, and both times the primary lobbyists have been the Chamber of Commerce, the golf industry and even the National Association of Convenience Stores, which wanted to see the longer daylight hours stretched to include Halloween.

“The barbecue grill and charcoal industries say they gain $200 million in sales with an extra month of daylight saving,” Downing says.

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Avoid extra spending

The first defense against mindless extra spending during the extra hours of sunlight is, first and foremost, be aware and consider alternatives. Before you run out for a new pair of golf shoes or a frilly summertime frock, go through your closet and take inventory of what you already have. If the patio furniture or picnic table looks shabby, consider repainting rather than rushing out to buy something new. Go into any one of the big box home improvement stores and, right next to all those shiny new grills on sale, you’ll find replacement parts that can keep last year’s model going for years.

The second defense against inflated summer spending is to budget for it. Summertime does come with increased costs; from summer vacations for the family to camp and daycare for the kids. And the fact that, after being holed up at home all winter, we all naturally want to entertain ourselves at the park or the beach. Planning that spending, setting money aside for it, and deciding where you’ll cut back to pay for it all will help you enjoy your fun in the sun but still keep your budget on track.

Otherwise, you’re likely to find that the only thing that daylight saving time makes a little lighter is your wallet.

Brian J. O’Connor is the author of the award-winning budget book, “The $1,000 Challenge: 
How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”

About the author

Brian O'Connor