Bad for the Budget. Good for the Soul.

good for the soul

I talk a lot on here about the importance of things like saving money, investing for your future and protecting yourself with insurance.

These things are all important because they give us financial security. They protect us from some of the difficulties that might hit us, and ensure that we have money when we need it in the future. Those are certainly worthwhile goals.

But every dollar we save for tomorrow, every dollar we use to protect ourselves from the unknown, is a dollar that can’t be spent to make today more enjoyable.

Now, clearly the ability to enjoy today is not directly tied to the money we spend today. It doesn’t require a lot of money for me to take my son to the playground and push him on the swing. But there is the reality that things cost money, and some of the things we really value can be expensive.

And while I’m a huge proponent of budgeting savings and insurance as priorities, I think we need balance. There are certain things in life that are bad for our budget but good for our souls, and they have their place as well.

Foregoing the most frugal route

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, but it came up again recently when my wife and I were discussing options for purchasing a new car. Although we originally had the mindset that we wanted some kind of crossover SUV, I have started to be persuaded that we should maybe just bite the bullet and get a minivan.

The logic here is that if we think we’ll eventually need a minivan anyways, getting it now will give us more options when we want to replace my wife’s car. At that point, maybe we could get a sedan, which would be cheaper both up front and long-term than an SUV.

As my wife and I talked about this, our discussion shifted from optimizing the financial part of the decision to optimizing the life enjoyment part of the decision. My wife expressed her desire to do outdoorsy things with our kids when they got older, as that was a big part of her childhood. She was worried that having a minivan and a sedan might limit our ability to do these things, as neither are exactly off-road warriors (although some are better than others). If we instead went with our original SUV-minivan route, the SUV would be able to satisfy those desires.

From a pure budgeting standpoint, the reaction to this would be to just suck it up. There are plenty of options available to us other than buying an SUV and the extra cost probably wouldn’t make financial sense.

But I personally don’t think that’s always the right way to go. In this case, it makes sense to truly look at the use we might get from having a more rugged vehicle, and what that’s worth to us. If we have the money, and if a more expensive vehicle will truly add to our enjoyment of life, then that’s a pretty strong argument in favor of spending the extra money.

We haven’t made any decisions yet, but we are certainly evaluating things from both a financial and lifestyle standpoint. Our final choices will have a strong financial footing, but that will not be the only foot on which they stand.

A conscious choice to spend more

We live in Massachusetts, which is where I grew up and where my parents still live. My wife’s family is in Florida. For obvious reasons, this makes our life a little complicated.

There’s a reality here that we will never be able to live close to both our families. My parents are never moving to Florida. My wife’s family is certainly not moving up to Massachusetts, where their idea of brutal winter is considered a pleasant fall day.

So if we care about staying close with everyone, which we do, there’s a certain amount of travel that’s required. And travel costs money.

The only question involved here is how often to travel. The decision is a clear trade-off between budget and lifestyle. Traveling more is enjoyable and allows us to see family more often. Traveling less would save us money that could be invested or used for other daily purposes.

We choose to travel more. We are actively choosing to save a little bit less for retirement, a little bit less for college, so that we can budget a fairly significant amount of money specifically for the purpose of visiting family.

And we don’t regret a single penny. We love our family and want to remain as close as possible, no matter the distance. We get to see my wife’s parents, watch our nieces and nephews grow, and our son gets to play with his cousins and truly know his grandparents.

There are so many positives to spending this money, and the dent it puts in our budget is well worth it.

Experiences are often worth paying for

One last example, from my pre-married with children with days.

Back in 2010, my alma mater Duke made it to the Final Four in basketball. At the time I was living in Boston with one of my best friends from school and we watched together as our beloved Blue Devils crushed West Virginia in the semifinals to make it to the championship game.

As we celebrated, we started talking about the possibility of trying to go to the championship game. Mind you, this was around midnight on a Saturday night. We were in Boston. The championship game was going to be on Monday night. In Indianapolis. Halfway across the country. But in our slightly inebriated euphoric state, these limitations didn’t really seem to matter.

The next day, we faced reality. We woke up, and had to have the whole “are we really going to do this?” conversation.

We talked logistics. We would each have to miss a couple days of work. We would have to spend a lot of time in the car.

We talked cost. There was the cost of the tickets. There was gas and food.

We had a limited amount of time and we had to make a decision quickly. I think you know where this is heading. We decided to take the plunge.

We bought tickets at $200 a pop. At 10pm on Sunday night, we set out towards Indianapolis. I learned to drive stick on the way. We drove for 16 hours, got to Indianapolis a few hours before tip-off, met up with some friends, went to the game, watched Duke beat Butler for the championship in the most exciting game I’ve ever seen in person, celebrated with friends, watched the team parade the trophy through their hotel, slept for 4 hours and got back on the road for another 14 hour trek back home.

All in all, we spent about 30 hours in the car in a 48 hour time span and spent over $300 each. All to watch a two hour basketball game in person rather than on TV.

Was it worth it? Hell yeah! It was an unplanned expense and it definitely put a dent in my budget. It was an impulse buy through and through.

But it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to share a truly memorable experience with some of my best friends. Isn’t that what our money is for?


As parents, it’s our obligation to build a financially strong future. Our children cannot provide for themselves, so we must make things like savings and insurance a priority. That often means that we have to make sacrifices today in order to secure tomorrow.

But life has to be about more than that as well. If we can’t also learn to spend our money in ways that bring us happiness, even if they put a dent in our budgets, then the whole point is lost. Finding that balance isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Photo courtesy of Rennett Stowe

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44 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Your Daily Finance June 24, 2013

    I live in Florida and its hard to get anyone to move once they get use to the weather. I tried to convince my wife to get a minivan but she wasn’t having it. Since we need two cars I will end up getting one and have no problem doing so. It just makes sense. We have a family of five and like you need to travel to see both sides of the family. Her family is in Virginia/DC area and mine in SC. Flying is out of the equation right now and the family could grow down the road. Glad to hear you had a blast at the game and learned to drive a stick on the way thats crazy but learning on a long trip is the easiest way.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Yeah my wife’s a champ for having moved up here and survived this long without killing me. The warm weather and beaches are tough to leave behind.

  • Holly Johnson June 24, 2013

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing to spend more as long as it’s a conscious decision. Sometimes you have to do what makes you happy.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Couldn’t agree more.

    • Adam Kamerer November 9, 2013

      I think that’s the most important part — making it a conscious decision to spend more, rather than just spending blindly or without putting any thought or scrutiny into the decision. Great point.

  • At the end of the day, the purpose of money is to be spent. you can spend it today, or you can spend it tomorrow. but simply hoarding more than you need for emergencies or retirement or other planned expenses isn’t doing anyone any good. So I’m fine with a little extra spending as long as, it is contentious and important to you, and it isn’t being taken from something more important

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Great points. It needs to be conscious and you need to make sure it isn’t meaningfully taking away from something else. As long as you have those things covered, you’re absolutely right that money is meant to be spent and you might as well find some way to spend it on something enjoyable.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money June 24, 2013

    Oh man I would LOVE to go to the Final Four sometime! Especially if it was your alma mater…I can’t imagine how amazing that would be. I agree with you, though, that sometimes it’s best not to take the most frugal route. Sometimes it makes more sense to spend money on experiences that you will remember forever. I, like you, want a strong financial foundation for my children, but I also agree spending money on experiences is something we should do.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      The Final Four was awesome, even though we were only there for a few hours. I love pro sports but there’s really nothing that beats the intensity of the crowd during a high-level college game. It’s the best. And I couldn’t agree more that spending on good experiences is almost always worthwhile.

  • AvgJoeMoney June 24, 2013

    I think it’s up to you to decide when the right time to splurge might be. I know people who justified every expense and never were able to save a dime. However, once you’ve done the responsible part of setting up systematic savings and keeping your debt low, you should party like a rock star!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      You definitely need balance. It doesn’t make sense to spend on everything, just like it doesn’t make sense to spend everything. Hopefully we all get to that place where we can slap on our leather pants, blow out our hair and start smashing guitars all over the stage! Or something like that anyways.

  • Greg June 24, 2013

    If I had to summarize what makes these examples similar is they are all based around having experiences. I think there is a lot less buyer’s remorse when spending money for experiences. Even though the car is not the experience, it will, as you mention, provide for outdoor activities with the family.

    I think as long as people are smart with their purchases and list out the pros and cons, there is no reason to limit yourself to the point of missing out on life.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Very true that they all center around experiences, and honestly not a connection I had totally made. Good point. I think those are definitely the things that are often most worth spending money on.

  • Andrew June 24, 2013

    Family is very important. While spending a little extra on travel if you can afford it is worth it. It is important to make sacrifices and save for the future, but it is just as important to live in the present and spend on things that are worthwhile.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Couldn’t agree more. Family is incredibly important to both me and my wife, which makes the distance between our families hard but makes the sacrifice in terms of spending on travel easy.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 24, 2013

    Great article Matt. I think that many forget to enjoy life when they are focusing on money. Money is not everything, you also need to enjoy the experiences that you create in life. Sometimes spending money will reap a much larger reward.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Very true. Money is only a tool. Having more of it doesn’t bring you joy. Being able to spend it on things that are important to you does.

  • Shannon Ryan June 24, 2013

    Great post, Matt! I agree wholeheartedly. I believe in making money conscious decisions and that means also knowing what you’re willing to splurge on (within budget of course). Some people also push the most frugal option, which may be the right choice for them, but I don’t think it’s something that necessarily right for everyone. We live in LA because it’s where we grew up and the majority of our family live here too. It is expensive, but this is where we want to live. We love traveling too and I’m sure some people wouldn’t spend the amount of money we do on travel, but it makes us happy and we save our money to afford our trips.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Right, the important thing is to make conscious decisions that align with your values. That involves both saving and spending. We currently live in Boston because, like you, it’s close to family. There are certainly less expensive places to live, but moving to a random part of the country to save money doesn’t line up with our values.

  • Done by Forty June 24, 2013

    I think this is a great and necessary post for the frugal among us…potentially a message that could be misconstrued by the lavish among us. As you noted, there are a lot of good reasons to spend on the things that matter. As with everything, the trick is in finding the right balance.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Balance is definitely key. Going too far overboard in either direction is eventually going to lead to unhappiness.

  • Marissa June 24, 2013

    I feel the exact same way! People tend to save money for a “rainy” day, but forget that we work hard to be able to enjoy life today. Being a millionaire at 70 isn’t going to be that much fun.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      It can be tough to find the balance between having enough for that rainy day and still enjoying yourself today. Although I wouldn’t mind having a million dollars at 70. That might be enough to pay for a year’s worth of my grandchild’s college tuition by then, haha!

  • Budget & the Beach June 24, 2013

    I love this post because often times I do feel a bit guilty when I read PF blogs and I just spend a little more than I “should have” at an amusement park. But one of my fave lines is, “don’t should on yourself.” hahaha! Anyway, it’s refreshing to see your point of view about spending as well as savings. And most financial experts would agree that you should spend on experiences and not stuff, and although the car is a stuff item, the experiences you get because you have that type of car will be priceless. It’s about finding the right balance FOR YOU.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Haha, I know someone else who says “don’t should on yourself” and I love it! What a hilarious and really relevant saying. The “right balance FOR YOU” part is also so critical. Everyone has different values and the spend vs. save decisions should definitely be different because of it.

  • JW_UmbrellaTreasury June 24, 2013

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post. I think that personal finance should always be used to support our more meaningful life goals. Not amassing money for the sake of being rich, but being comfortable and secure enough to support our families, pursue our hobbies, and give to worthy causes.
    My husband and I pretty similar to you guys in what we choose to spend money on. We budget a fair amount for travel. Although my husband’s parents live less than a mile from us, my entire extended family lives clear across the country. We plan to visit at least 2-3 this year…perhaps more depending on the health of certain relatives. It’s just something we feel “right” doing.
    And on the topics of cars: I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this within the PF world, but I drive a car that most PF folks would probably consider frivolous: it’s a convertible (gasp!) Granted, it’s a 2002 Volvo convertible that was a heckuva deal…but still, it’s a convertible. At the time I bought the car, I was living in the darkest (but cheapest) basement apartment imaginable, and then commuting 2+ hours to work. Let me tell you, my long commute felt a whole lot shorter after I bought this car!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Haha, glad you finally came out of the closet on the car! Just as you said above, it’s all about spending on things that are important to you and fit in with your goals. If you enjoy driving a convertible and it fits into the rest of your goals, then good for you! Put that top down!

  • Rachel@Mobilligy June 24, 2013

    I completely agree with this post! Finding a balance between saving for the future and enjoying the present can be tough, but it’s very necessary. I also have some experiences that were last-minute splurges, but they are some of my favorite memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I think that a comfortable, happy retirement requires more than just money – it also requires being able to look back and smile about all the great memories that were made earlier on. Yep, it’s all about balance. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      That’s a really great point about retirement. It’s no fun to reflect back on a life where you simply saved as much as you could. Saving is important, but it’s our experiences that we’ll remember forever.

  • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

    I do have a problem with wanting to save every penny that comes in. It’s not the worst problem in the world, but more balance would be better. But I’m pretty good about not worrying about impulse type spending, mostly because I know we’ve saved enough that it’s ok in small doses.

  • Funancials June 24, 2013

    I agree with everything you say. I try to spend mostly on memories and experiences, rather than food.

    Also, very glad to find out you’re a Dukie.

  • Pauline June 25, 2013

    It is all about spending on what is important for you. I travel often but look for the best deals on flights, set up alerts for when the price is low, so I can travel more for the same price. I don’t mind driving a beat up car or having old clothes but travel and family/friends visits are important.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 25, 2013

      I definitely agree that you can usually find less expensive ways to do the things you love if you put in a little bit of effort. It does seem like travel is a pretty popular place to people to value their spending.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 June 25, 2013

    I like what you are getting at here Matt! It is challenging to find the balance between budgeting and spending. While I don’t spoil them, it gives me great joy to spend money on my children. I think it’s vital that parents find ways to use money, at whatever level they are able, to help build wonderful family memories.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 25, 2013

      Thanks. I definitely agree that it can be tough to balance, especially with kids. Our son isn’t old enough yet to really want material things, but I know it will be tough to find the right mix of providing for him and not spoiling. I think that by trying to focus more on experiences and less on stuff, we’ll at least be on the right track.

  • alwayshungry4 June 25, 2013

    I agree on all your points, especially with traveling to see loved ones. You can make phone calls and Skype all you want, but it just doesn’t replace a real life hug and quality time. Congrats on you and your wife being pregnant again!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 25, 2013

      Thanks! Things like Skype definitely make staying in touch a lot easier, but they can’t completely replace actually being able to interact with someone.

  • Definitely makes sense for me. Spending money rejeuvenating and being with those that are your reasons for hanging around sounds well worth it.

  • Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility June 26, 2013

    Love this, Matt. For me, the whole of being financially responsible is to be able to spend the money in places where we feel there is value. What’s the point in spending this much time saving/making money if we don’t have any of it for the priorities in our life. Good calls on all fronts, Matt.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 27, 2013

      Definitely agree. It’s so important to have your values and priorities in order for any of your financial work to have real purpose. Otherwise it’s empty.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer June 29, 2013

    Love this, Matt, and you are right on here. It’s just not always about the money. Money is a tool – no more. It’s about using the tool of money in the way that best fits in with your family’s goals and wants and needs. Great post!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 1, 2013

      Thanks Laurie. You’re right on about money as a tool. If it becomes the end, then there’s really nothing to enjoy. Spending money well is, in my opinion, just as important as saving it well.

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