Should You Go On Vacation If You’re Broke?

You’ve heard of “the list,” right?  You know, the list of all the things you can’t do when you’re working to get out of debt.  Stuff like buying new clothes, eating in fancy restaurants, driving brand-new cars, and especially going on vacation.  Do those, and you’re asking for criticism from people that have heard you publicly proclaim that you’re trying to improve your financial situation.  Most of that criticism would probably be fair; after all, it’s hard to believe someone who says they’re concerned with their future when they blow all their income on the present.  But is there ever a time when those things are okay?  Ehhh… yes and no.  Do they slow down your progress, and ultimately delay being free to do all of them all the time?  Absolutely, and especially in the case of vacations.  So, when is it okay to tone down the side hustle, let off the gas pedal, and kick back for a few days?

As I said in our last update post, Rachel and I just got back from a family reunion in Georgia, which is halfway across the country from where we live.  And in July, we’re planning a 3,500-mile, 10-day road trip through several states.  So how did we decide that we weren’t completely off-base in agreeing to do these trips?  Here are some things we considered:

Pace Yourself

Dave Ramsey says that most of the families following his Total Money Makeover plan pay off their debt in about 2 years.  That’s a pretty reasonable amount of time to avoid vacations altogether.  You’re not going to miss too much at Disneyworld in 2 years, and though it’s a tough pill to swallow, working two or three jobs for that long is doable.  Rachel and I started out right at $80,000 in debt.  In order to pay that off in 24 months, we’d need to pay $3,333 a month, and that’s pretending interest doesn’t exist.  Based off what we made last year, making that payment would mean we’d be living on $28,000 a year, and that’s pretending taxes don’t exist.  The real numbers would probably have us living on about $20,000 a year and praying that no emergencies ever happened.  Sorry, Dave.  In the interest of keeping our marriage intact, we’re going to drag your average down.  Our current paydown plan has us debt-free no later than February 2021, which is a loooong time for us to be working all day, every day and living on rice and beans, beans and rice.  I understand the mentality behind hitting it hard and getting it over with, but if we keep it turned up to 11 for the next four years without ever hitting “pause,” one or both of us is going to snap.  I just hit my first-year anniversary at my second job, and there are already days where I’m in burnout mode.  We need to take time every once in a while to rest so that we can return refreshed and ready to hit the gas again.

Zoom Out

Even when we decide that it’s time to get away for a bit, we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.  We’re trying to get out of debt so that we can build our future.  Keeping that in mind helps keep our expenses as low as possible when we’re on vacation.  Most of our little getaways are to someplace close to home, like a campground or the zoo.  Those provide enough change of scenery to give us a reset, but hardly make a dent in the budget.  And even the larger trips like the family reunion last weekend and our upcoming road trip can be subsidized with a little planning.  We stay with family members instead of hotels when we’re in Georgia, and though there are times when fast food is our only option, there are grocery stores all over the country that help us eat cheaply.

Zoom Out Again

It seems like so much of our life right now is centered on getting out of debt.  But even though that’s our goal, we have to keep our other priorities in focus, too.  The reunion last weekend is with Rachel’s side of the family that all lives 12 hours away.  As a result, we only see them at that reunion every year.  We’re not willing to give up that little bit of contact with them for the next four years while we work on this..  And the road trip?  We’re going back to where Rachel was born and spreading her grandmother’s ashes, along with lots of other family members.  It’s going to be a significant cost, we know, but it would cost much, much more if we didn’t go.  Ultimately, we run these things through the deathbed test:  If I was on my deathbed looking back at my life, would I truly regret saying “no” to the thing I’m considering?  If so, I need to figure out how to make it work.  Obviously, some people’s deathbed test would have them going to Hawaii every three months, but I think if you’re honest and aren’t just trying to #yolo your way through life, it’s a good way to make sure you’re on the right path.

Don’t Backslide

Rachel and I have made the decision together that as much as it depends on us, we are never taking on more debt again, reluctantly making an exception for a mortgage.  This is especially the case with vacations.  If something comes up that we can’t afford, we just can’t afford it.  Perhaps against Dave’s advice, we have a line item in our budget for vacations, and though it’s not much every month, it does help absorb the cost of these little trips.  We also factor in the loss of pay from the time spent away from work.  We’re both fortunate enough to earn PTO, but if we ever exceed that (which we haven’t so far), we treat the lost earnings as a cost when deciding whether or not we want to go somewhere.  Ultimately, we’re still trying to get out of debt, and vacation isn’t worth undermining that.

Well, there you go.  Maybe that’s just me taking 1,000 words to justify something I don’t want to give up, but I disagree with Dave on “no vacations at all, ever.”  Getting out of debt is part of the journey we’re on, but it’s not the whole journey.  Hopefully we’re not looking at this post on our deathbeds and wishing we knew better.

What about you? What are some things that you’ve been told you “should” sacrifice, but you do them anyway?  How do you justify your decisions and deal with criticism?

14 thoughts on “Should You Go On Vacation If You’re Broke?

    1. Haha, thanks for the reassurance! Sometimes, listening to the debt-free screams that people do on Dave’s show, it makes me feel like we should be pushing even harder than we are. Then I remember I haven’t seen my wife in the last two days…

  1. I agree with you. I’ve watched my fair share of debt free screams and more often than not, there’s some sort of windfall or large income increase that goes along with the story. I wouldn’t sweat a vacation here and there. The average Joe comes home and spends all evening winding down, watching tv, having a beer or ten. Taking a week or two every year to do what most people do every day is fine.

    No shame in your game, sir.

    1. Yep, those windfalls, large incomes, and extra rental homes that could be sold were all the inspiration for me writing this blog. If we can do it on our sub-$70k income, I hope we can motivate other people to see that it can be done as well. It just takes us longer! Thanks for the encouragement 😊

      1. I’m trying to see what I can accomplish on my 23k income. So far, more than I thought!

  2. Before we were debt free, we still took vacations but didn’t use debt to pay for them. As I often write, once you are debt free, you need to start saving to remain debt free, so it’s not as if your work is done. We are currently saving for a trip to England next year… this requires a lot of saving but it is also a teachable moment for our daughter.

    1. That’s so great that you’re thinking of these things to teach your daughter! That puts even more emphasis on the process, instead of racing to the next goal, you’re consciously thinking about what it takes to get there, and showing her the details along the way.

  3. I took a small road trip last month to see my 89 year old father. I plan on going again in a few months. My husband and I also plan on taking a week long camping trip in the Fall. Tomorrow is not promised and not doing these things would be a deathbed regret. I think the key is to keep the cost of vacations within reason.

    1. I think those kinds of trips to visit elderly family are the prime example of when it’s okay to deviate from the course. The deathbed test works for other people, too; are you going to care that you didn’t take time to see them over paying off debt faster? If you have a heart, you probably will. Not every cost in life is monetary, and sometimes the monetary cost is the cheapest one. Absolutely, keep the spending within reason, but don’t turn into Scrooge and wall yourself off from family just so you can pad your bank account faster.

  4. I’ve been struggling with this idea as we’re on our payoff journey at the same time that there are very special moments in our families/friends’ lives that we would hate to miss out on. The fact that we have committed to not put any vacations on credit is one way that we’re dealing with it.

    1. We’re there ourselves! I think we’ve gotten past the weddings stage for the most part, but there are still a few here and there that we’d regret not attending. And that commitment to only go on a vacation/trip if you can cash flow it is great; it shows that your new habits are sticking!

  5. We gave up vacations the first few years we were together (made paying debt a priority), and it wasn’t fun. At all. So, after paying all debt off we were finally able to afford at least some weekend getaways!

    It was such a relief, we actually decided to ‘zoom out’, as you call it, at least a few times a year, no matter what.

    A change of scenery somewhere close is like a breath of fresh air. And there are many frugal ways to enjoy a short city break, even if you’re kinda broke.

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