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