As I mentioned in last week’s post, I spent the first ten days of this month on the road with my wife and her family, driving through Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and about an hour of Idaho. We saw so much, hitting up Custer’s battlefield, the headwaters of the Missouri River, the ghost town of Garnet, MT, and Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. It wasn’t a trip I ever thought I’d make, if only because a trip like that was just never on the radar of possibility growing up. Now that I’m older and more in control of my financial decisions, vacations are more realistic, though the concept is still a bit foreign to me. During the trip, I was reminded of several things that I know I know, but still could use a refresher on once in a while.
Money Is a Tool, Not a Goal
Sometimes, with all this focus on saving more, spending less, earning as much as possible, it can be easy to lose sight of why we’re doing all of that. What happens when we’re debt-free? Do we continue working as hard as we are and piling up cash just to watch it pile up? No. We’re working hard now so that we can enjoy things that money allows us to do later, like spend a week in the mountains of Montana. With that in mind, learning how to spend money is just as much a part of the process as learning how to save money. Spending intentionally on things like this gives a wonderful return on investment. Does it set us back on our debt payoff schedule to spend money on a vacation? Yeah, it does by about a month or two. Are we richer for having given up that month or two of progress in exchange for the memories and time spent as a family? Absolutely.
Experiences Last, Stuff Doesn’t
It wasn’t so long ago that I felt this never-ending urge to buy all the things. Apple especially has this insidious ability to create needs in my mind like no one else. My consistent spending on the latest and greatest everything pretty much made sure that I never had the money to do things like travel to two national parks and five national forests/monuments in one week. Since I’ve (mostly) learned the error of my ways, I spent the trip taking pictures with my four-year-old iPhone 5s. It wasn’t the best at getting those quick-before-you-miss-it shots, the pictures from Yellowstone in the evening were pretty grainy, and there’s a speck of dust somewhere on the lens that shows up as a smudge on some of the pictures of the beautiful sky. But you know what? I got a front-row seat watching Old Faithful erupt in person. I hiked through snow in 90-degree heat on the Hidden Lake trail at Logan’s Pass with my sister-in-law. I watched the sun set in Yellowstone with my wife. All of that stuff is way better than being able to Force Press the Twitter app to write a status update.
Rest is Good
When you’re firing on all cylinders 24/7 and you keep pushing yourself harder and harder, rest can seem like a hindrance to progress. After all, the more you rest, the more time is lost that could have been spent working towards your goal, right? Remember, though, that even the God of our universe rested and told us to do the same. His model for us was six days of hard, honest work followed by a full day of restorative ease. I’ve been working two jobs for a little over a year. Neither one is physically demanding, but constant 60-70 hour workweeks were still running me pretty far into the ground. Having ten days where I didn’t have to think about either job gave me enough of a recharge to come back and continue to be a valuable employee at both places. And both employers carried on just fine without me for a week and a half.
Generosity is the Cherry on the Pie of Life
Though Rachel and I had saved up the money to go on this trip completely on our own dime, my in-laws decided to pull the generosity card in a huge way about a month before we left. We paid for our food and some of the gas; they covered the biggest expenses, the hotels and the vehicles we drove in as well as the majority of the gas. Being able to do that for our family down the road is something Rachel and I both want to do. We both have been blessed so much in our lives, and we’d like to be able to turn around and share some of that with other people. I believe that living generously is both a side effect of and prerequisite to living richly.
Planning Ahead Changes Your Vacation Mindset
Even if we had been left to cover our own hotel costs and the entirety of the transportation costs, this was the first vacation we’d been on where all aspects of it ended when we unlocked our apartment door upon coming home. Yes, it was a little sad, but it was also super refreshing to know that even the spending was completely over. No leftover credit card bills, no extra charges that we hadn’t planned on but agreed to anyway, nothing. During the trip, we got to focus on where we were and who we were with. We had a couple of meetings along the way to make sure our spending was on track, but the only reminders of our experience are our memories and our pictures. Isn’t that the way it should be?
Eating Out Kills a Budget
It’s been a while since Rachel and I ate out for just about every meal, but when you’re traveling and don’t have access to a kitchen, it’s kind of impossible to do otherwise. I don’t know exactly what we spent on meals because we only used our debit card for half the meals and paid cash for the rest (and I’m terrible at keeping receipts), but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $300!! Granted, we paid for a couple meals for Rachel’s grandfather, but that was more than offset by the free breakfasts at the hotels we stayed at. It’s not like we were eating at super fancy places, either! If you’re just starting out on a budget and can’t figure out where your money is leaking from, chances are good that it’s your dinner plate’s fault. I can’t believe that used to be our normal every month!