When the Company Pays, How Do You Spend?

Traveling on an expense account can shed some light on your relationship with money.

During a recent #travelskills Twitter chat (most Fridays, 12 noon EST), this question was posed: What’s one thing you struggle with or want to do better when traveling for biz? One of the participants answered: “I would spend more.” Another participant related that after his first business trip, his boss chided him for holding back. Counter-intuitive answers, right?

I am by nature a saver, not a spender. (Confession: I have an irrational aversion to ordering the priciest item on a menu. I simply cannot do it.) My money sensibility carries through to my work travel life. Even when it’s not my money, I will seriously consider the value of most purchases–whether I really need that bottle of juice or if I will select the slightly less convenient flight for a better fare.

Others I know are confident spenders in their personal life and that carries through to expense account travel–not going overboard, but valuing convenience and comfort over price. Perfectly reasonable, and I wish I were more like this.

Then there are those who spend more on travel expenses than they would or could with their own money. In particular, twenty-somethings who travel a lot for work (management consultants come to mind) live a lifestyle on the road they could never afford on their salaries. This in part compensates for the negatives of the always-away lifestyle.

Finally, for an entitled few, pulling out the company credit card means “Go for it.” It’s an excuse to pull out all the stops. The most expensive bottle of wine on the list, please. Well, let’s make that two. And how about another? Once 2008 hit, plenty of these escapades came to light.

Most corporations have travel policies in place. Want that bottle of water? Not if it’s not lunch time. Like to be a big tipper? Sorry: 15% max on taxis. Doesn’t that five-star property look divine? Well, here are the four-stars we’ve selected for you. Being “parented” can be annoying, but these policies level the playing field between the various spending psychologies. Which is not always unwelcome. What kind of spender are you?