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:
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.
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.
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?