This post is from staff writer Sierra Black. Sierra writes about frugality, sustainable living, and getting her kids to eat kale at Childwild.com.
Hola! My family is spending the month of July vacationing in Argentina. My husband grew up here, and his entire family still lives here: his parents, his brother and sisters, and my kids’ eight cousins, plus all his uncles and aunts and cousins. We’re having a long visit with the whole family. We timed our trip to be here for two special events: His parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this month, and it’s his father’s 80th birthday.
As family vacations go, this one is pretty epic. I’m delighted to be here, grateful that I had the resources to come, and well aware that it wasn’t the most sound financial decision I’ve ever made. I took a detour on the road to wealth in favor of enjoying a rich life in the here and now.
Astute readers will note that I posted last week about having just made my final credit card payment. This means that, yes, I bought over $5,000 worth of plane tickets two months ago while I was still in credit card debt.
I could have used the cash to pay off my credit cards, and I plunked it down on plane tickets instead.
What was I thinking?
I was thinking that some things are worth more than money. Giving my kids a chance to know their grandparents is one of those things. Showing up with my husband for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary is another. These people, and our relationships with them, are an essential part of the rich life my husband and I share.
My husband’s father is 80 years old; his mother isn’t much younger. I may be able to put off a visit until we’re fully out of debt, have a secure emergency fund and are solidly on the road to wealth. But I may not. How long will that take? Two years? Five? Will my in-laws still be healthy then, able to play with the girls and host us as visitors? Their time is a precious resource I can’t get more of later.
It’s a gamble — one I decided not to take. Spending the money on plane tickets pushed back our deadline for paying off our debts by about three months. Having this time with our family now seemed worth an extra three months of debt payments.
Having decided to visit Argentina this summer, I set about making our trip cost as little as possible. Some things I did to keep costs down included:
- Shopping around for plane fares. Plane fares can fluctuate wildly. There’s no way to guarantee the best fare, but taking time to track the fares helped us get a sense of what the range is, and we bought when the ticket prices came near the low end of it.
- Making it a “working vacation”. It was important to me that my family spend the month here, attending these special family events and getting to know this side of the family. It wasn’t as crucial that I get an extended holiday from my job. Since my work as a freelance writer is portable, I brought it with me.
- Borrowing what I needed. For this trip, I needed five suitcases. We only have two, but I was easily able to borrow the others from friends who aren’t traveling this month. Ditto the equipment I needed to get my laptop up and running here, recreational reading for the trip and winter clothes for my kids.
- Staying with family. We’ve gratefully accepted my in-laws offer to stay with them. On the one hand, this means splitting up my family of five: My husband and I are staying with our young kids at his parents’ place, while my teenage stepson stays across town with his cousins. On the other hand, staying with family means our travel costs are limited to plane fares, food and incidentals during our stay. Considering the high cost of hotel stays, this is a huge savings.
A few bigger steps that could save you even more money:
- Sub-letting your house. This would have covered a lot of the cost of the trip, but I just could not muster the time and organizational resources to clean and prep the house for someone else to occupy it. If you can, you really should. As it stands, our home is just sitting empty for a month. That’s wasted space and wasted potential income.
- Renting out your car. Just like a house, a car sitting idle does no one any good. In major cities, websites like carsharing.net help you connect with other people who’ll put your car to good use when you’re not using it.
- Milking your credit card for miles. I don’t use credit cards because historically I can’t be trusted with them. I’ve made my last payment, and I’ll be happy if I never hold a credit card in my hand again. But if you are the sort who can responsibly use a credit card, using one that accrues airline miles can be a great way to pay for your travel.
I expect to get a stern talking to in the comments from the really frugal GRS readers. Of course, making a decision like this is a slippery slope. Once I’d decided to drop the money on plane tickets, it was incredibly tempting to spend more money on other things. If I can back off my debt snowball for this thing, why not for a weekend trip to California to visit friends? Or to buy a new laptop for my husband? Or to “invest” some money in fixing up our front porch?
Those are all great things, and I look forward to the day I can comfortably spend money on leisure travel, new electronics and a fresh coat of paint for my porch steps. But that day isn’t today.
Today is the day to enjoy every minute I’m blessed to share with my family, because we won’t be able to make a trip like this again anytime soon. I’m really looking forward to the different perspectives in the comments. Even more than usual, I’m not sure I’m on the right track here. Taking this trip feels right for my family, but it’s a large detour from Dave Ramsey’s “laser-like focus” on debt elimination.
What would you have done? Have you had to make similar decisions?