Christmas Vacation remains a perennial holiday classic because in many ways we are all Clark Griswold. He is our holiday loving superego and id bundled into one. He is our dream of getting the perfect tree and cutting it down ourselves, and he is the harsh reality of forgetting to bring a saw on the excursion.
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Of all these missteps and disappointments, the most memorable is Clark's meltdown over his Christmas bonus. It stays with us because it's just so universal. Haven't we all had high hopes of being financially rewarded for the hard work we've done — excited finally to be appreciated and noticed— only to have those dreams come crashing down around us? When Clark opens his Christmas bonus check to find that it contains a one year subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club, he is understandably shocked. The question remains: how much did he expect that bonus to be?
Before Clark discovered that his boss had decided to cut Christmas bonuses without informing his employees, he had been fantasizing about what to do with this extra windfall of cash. Specifically, he had set his hopes on building an inground swimming pool.
Let's assume that Clark was planning to build a standard inground pool (no hot tub grotto, no fancy slides, no infinity pool). The cost of building a 36' x 16' inground swimming pool in 2016 is an average of $21,919. Adjusted for inflation, that would have been $11,166.85 in 1989.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor statistics, the average professional worker earns a bonus that is 1.9% of their annual salary. Using this information combined with Clark's expected bonus, we can calculate what Clark's salary might have been. To receive a bonus of $11,166.85, Clark would have been making an estimated $587,728.95. That would adjust to a whopping $1,153, 631.45 in 2016. For reference, a yearly household income of $450,000 today puts you in the top 1%.
We suspect that if Clark really was making that salary, he might not need to wait for his bonus to build an inground pool. The good news is that if Clark was making $587,728.95, he probably had enough to fix all the damages done to the house in his search for Christmas spirit.
If he wasn't actually making that salary, it is also possible that he had been setting money aside for a while for this inground pool and the Christmas bonus was what he needed to push himself over the edge. But knowing Clark, it's more likely that the Christmas bonus fiasco was a result of yet another case of unrealistic expectations.