Leana and I do not profess to be personal finance gurus. Nevertheless, I’m going to delve into some very personal finance issues that are on my mind because they relate to travel.
Obsession with Personal Finance Goals
Just a few short years ago, my favorite TV show was the Suze Orman show. My husband will attest to that. I watched her every Saturday night. Her no-nonsense approach to personal finance kept me riveted. I’m not even kidding.
I’ve always been into number crunching, as my previous career was largely based on that. But when I quit my corporate job to become a stay-at-home mom, I channeled all of that number crunching into our personal finances.
My husband and I set a goal to pay off our mortgage early. We re-financed from a 30-year mortgage to a 20-year mortgage when the rates were low. We had a plan in place to pay extra principal on a monthly and yearly basis.
Our goal was to pay off the house before our oldest kid went off to college. In our minds, if we could be debt-free while our kids were in college, we could more easily help pay for their college education if their 529 plans were short on funds.
We adjusted our monthly mortgage payments to be split into two payments per month with an extra $150 for principal in our automatic payments. On top of that, we were mailing in checks for additional principal pre-payments. Some months, we were paying $400-$500 extra in principal.
I was uber focused and obsessed with meeting this goal.
Living on a Too Tight Budget
Money was tight in those first few years after I quit my job. In order to stay within our budget and still make those extra mortgage payments, we had to sacrifice some things.
We sacrificed the fun stuff. Not just travel, but other stuff that most people take for granted. We all but eliminated going out to eat, only going out once a month. We never went to the movies or did anything on the weekend that required spending money.
Since we went out to eat so infrequently, there was a lot of pressure to pick the right restaurant for that special night. And if one of the kids was having a meltdown during dinner, I would feel like our once-a-month splurge was ruined.
I traveled to the next town to go to the cheap grocery store, and we entertained ourselves with free redbox movie codes. My kids were younger then, so we didn’t have a lot of peer pressure to contend with from them.
After a year of being strict with the budget and pouring everything extra into our mortgage, we started to grow weary. Sure, our mortgage was shrinking, but at what cost?
At some point, we realized that we were sacrificing too much just to hit a number. And what would happen when we hit that number? Was somebody going to give us a medal for paying off our mortgage early? Nope.
And even when we do pay off our mortgage, will we be broadcasting that to the world? Again, no.
Could we live like this until my oldest graduated from high school? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be much fun.
As my kids and my parents started to age, I realized that we would never get back that time. We only have 18 years with our kids living under our roof (and only 15 years with my oldest since we adopted him at age 3). Of course we don’t have to spend money recklessly during those years, but I’d rather add back in a little bit of fun than be obsessed about hitting that early mortgage pay-off number.
Gradually, we started to ease up on our extra mortgage payments and we began adding entertainment back into the budget.
Fourth Grade Bucks
My middle son is in 4th grade. As an incentive for students, his grade level has its own currency that students earn for good behavior and responsibility. Earning 4th grade bucks is a huge motivator for my son.
Kids can spend this fake money on things like sitting with a friend at lunch, chewing gum in class, taking off shoes and no homework days.
The other day, my son told me excitedly, “Mom! I almost have $1000. If I turn in that permission slip for the field trip on time, I will reach my goal of $1000.”
Me: “Great! What are you going to spend it on first? Lunch with a friend?”
Him: “Nope! I’m going to keep saving it until I get to $2000!”
Me: “But you realize that you can’t take this money with you outside of 4th grade? You either spend it and enjoy it, or you lose it at the end of the year?”
Him: “But I really want to have $2000!”
Uh-oh. My frugal ways have rubbed off on my son.
You Can’t Take It With You
So the old saying you can’t take your money with you after you die is true. But, good memories with your families will last you a lifetime.
Losing my dad earlier this year and dealing with my mom’s Alzheimer’s/Dementia has really confirmed in my mind where my priorities need to be. That doesn’t mean that we will become irresponsible with money and start spending like there’s no tomorrow. But I do hope that my family can continue to find balance with our savings for the future vs. splurging on the here and now, including meaningful vacations.
Readers, do you struggle with allocating your budget for short-term vs. long-term pleasures and goals? How does travel fit into your priorities?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.