We took vacations every single year. Not weeks spent at luxury resorts, to be sure, but still, very nice, mostly family-oriented, time off. For example, we'd travel every year to visit my husband's family in his Mediterranean island home and spend several weeks enjoying beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters.
Of course, we'd always buy the lowest cost airline tickets possible -- which led to some very interesting routes and layovers -- but that could hardly be considered a hardship when we were traveling to a beautiful locale for time with loved ones. We enjoyed every trip.
So, now that I've made that point about our priorities, let me talk about something that happened a little while ago in our household that might be something others can relate to.
The following exchange recently occurred between me and a recently graduated young adult son who is living with us while he saves money for his own apartment and car.
It went something like this:
Son (heavily and immediately sarcastic - he's learned from the best, after all): Oh, I forgot. We’re not supposed to have fun.
Me (more than a little exasperated): Since when does having fun mean having to spend money in a restaurant?! You know as well as I do that there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself that don’t involve spending much or any money at all. Really, eating out multiple times a week is just not sustainable!
Son (really annoyed now): Of course I know there are ways to have fun that don’t involve spending money. But what’s wrong with just getting together and having a good time!?
Me: Well, nothing! But why don’t you just get together here, or meet up for just one drink? It doesn’t always have to be dinner or multiple drinks, you know.
Son (Rolls eyes): You just don’t get it. We don’t want to live our lives the way you do.
Me (now rolling MY eyes): Yes, because we have SUCH a terrible life. Yeah, I get it! It's really just plain awful to know our kids are debt-free college graduates, our mortgage is paid off, we're going to be able to afford to retire, and all that. I can see where you'd think our lives are just so, so boring. Debt and financial stress are just, oh, so much more fun, right?
This sarcastic little speech - I did say he learned from the best - was followed by some additional, completely undignified bickering back and forth before the conversation ended with minds and opinions completely unchanged.
As one would pretty much expect. I'm not proud of it, but it's just sometimes the reality in our home.
So then this happens a few weeks later.......
My e-mail response (I can type much faster than I can text): Here are some links for some young adult group camping and hiking options. They sound pretty interesting.
Son's e-mail response a day or two later: These are nice, but they seem a bit pricey. I can’t afford them.
Ah-HAH! So, instead of a fun road trip through some beautiful states, our young adult ends up spending his 10-day vacation at home.
Now, this is in no way meant to imply that a “staycation” is a hardship, mind you. But the point is that HE was pretty annoyed about having to forgo travel plans, and HE definitely felt a bit deprived.
So now let’s imagine if he - or anyone in his same position - had opted for an alternative scenario more along the lines of the one suggested by me, the old. stick-in-the-mud, annoying adult in his life.
(Article continues after the photos of some vacation spots we've enjoyed over the years.)
By doing that, he saves approximately $20 – based on the cost of an average meal out even at a place like Texas Roadhouse or similar chain restaurant.
And that's without alcoholic drinks. The savings are greater if you happen to be in the habit of ordering those along with the meal, thus bringing your bill closer to $30.
But even if he saves only $20 by not going out, that comes out to an additional $1000 in his bank account over the course of just one year.
That would be plenty of money to cover any one of the vacation packages I sent him in the e-mail, and our son would have been able to enjoy the kind of adventurous trip he’d wanted.
The thing is that my son, like most of us when it comes to money, cannot afford to have everything he wants. So he has to make decisions about what’s important to him and how he’s going to allocate his hard-earned dollars.
And he needs to understand that whenever he is spending his money, he is making a choice -- whether a conscious one or not. In his case, he had made a clear choice for regular restaurant meals without realizing that would mean giving up vacation later down the road.
Being the Frugal Fanny that I am, I very much advocate taking charge of your finances and making deliberate, economic decisions instead of just mindlessly frittering your money away on things that are entirely forgettable and may hold no real meaning or importance to us in the long term – such as regular restaurant meals.
In our case, we almost never eat out. We established that habit when we were young and poor, and made the choice to save our money instead for our annual trip to visit my husband's family in the Mediterranean.
It's a habit that has stuck. And truth be told, we don't mind one bit. The money we have not spent on restaurant meals over the years has funded many a lovely vacation for us over that time.
We made vacations a priority in our finances, a totally deliberate decision, and one that we definitely do not regret. We knew we couldn't have it all, and we figured out what was most important to us.
Making this kind of conscious decision involves setting financial goals and establishing a budget that will allow you to meet those goals, including the ones you set for your vacation plans. It also involves controlling your expenditures by resisting the pull of instant gratification in favor of long term gain.
If you do that, I can guarantee that you won’t be caught by surprise and short of funds when vacation time rolls around.
We have the vacation memories to prove it.
I hope you will, too.