I was trying to save money. I really was.
We could have just flown to Seattle. But in a rash moment, I thought I’d save some money and we’d make some memories by driving instead. But my math was quick and dirty and, as it turns out, wholly flawed and incomplete.
By my equally rigorous calculations, we spent about five times what it would have cost to buy airline tickets. And for a minute—in one of many hotel rooms for which I had not planned on paying for (My four-year-old? Turns out, she’s not so great with the extended car travel.)—I panicked.
After locating the safe, finding a reason to call the front desk, and perusing the contents of the mini-fridge (just our typical hotel routine), the kids settled in front of something on the Disney channel (a big treat, since we don’t have cable at home), and I pulled up my budget.
At first, I was frustrated with myself for not planning better, for not being more realistic, for not just buying plane tickets. Then, I just felt backed into a corner (I mean, we were on the trip, what was I going to do?) and out of options. I knew I could move money around and be fine, but it felt like I was being forced to re-prioritize. It was my own fault, of course, but still, no one likes to be forced, right?
I just kept looking at those categories and thinking about what I wanted/needed my dollars to do.
It actually took me quite a while. It never ceases to amaze me how complicated it can be, working out what really matters most.
The kids fell asleep. It was just me, out of my routine, with a quiet moment to think hard about my priorities.
I thought about all the money I’d been saving to get a new-to-me car and then about my trusty 4Runner, absolutely capable of our ambitious road trip. Sure, a third row would be nice. Yes, the world would be a safer place if I had a backup camera. But I don’t really care about cars much at all, and I’m probably going to get in an accident regardless, so ..?
My phone beeped—a friend texting to see how far we’d made it. I was slightly ashamed that the answer was only three hours (again), so I responded with a funny picture of the kids instead.
Scrolling through our pictures, I thought about all the memories we were making. (This was the one element of the trip for which my expectations were accurate.)
I thought about Sydney randomly singing the Nationwide Insurance jingle to a stranger in the elevator earlier that day and how we died laughing. And the new friends we made playing some hybrid tag/keep-away pick-up game in the pool.
I laughed thinking about all our tallies: counting trailers, visits to Starbucks, white cars, and how many times I had to go to the bathroom (because it is way more often than my young children and they think this is hilarious).
I thought about how much fun we had making teepees out of big sticks on beaches so different than we’re used to and how long it took Oliver to unbury himself without the use of his arms (legitimately hilarious).
And suddenly it was so clear. This. This was most important to me.
For this sweet, tiring, messy season—while the kids still think I’m fun and an ice cream cone can generate genuine and extreme excitement—I choose memory-making.
I want to experience things far more than I want things.
So, I moved some money around, set up a new goal for my vacation category moving forward, and I didn’t waste another minute feeling guilty or stressed about the money we were spending.
We had the money, it just had to be reallocated. But, once I stepped back and thought about my true priorities, memory-making Goliaths—such as the Epic Burgess Road Trip of 2017—are a no-brainer. Worth every penny.
The mechanic said my 4Runner will last me another 200k miles (which seems unlikely and a little bit like job security, but whatever). I just hope he’s right, as my New Car category is decidedly less exciting than it was a month ago.
And that’s exactly how it will stay for the time being because, come to think of it, I’d much rather go to Disneyland in our old 4Runner than putz around town in a shinier model.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m glad we had this little talk. It will be just that much easier to cook at home tonight, dreaming about how to tuck away more dollars, and where they might take us next!
Your Next Step
Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?