Worth More Than Money: Taking A Detour on the Road to Riches

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?

More about...Debt, Travel

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Becca
Becca
10 years ago

I would have done exactly what you did. You could blame that on the fact that I’m also a recovering credit card junkie, but after a simple wisdom tooth extraction landed me in emergency surgery and the ICU last year, I feel absolutely comfortable in my way of thinking.

There are no pockets in shrouds.

I don’t think I’m ever going to achieve the goal of this blog – to get rich slowly – but I use the fantastic information here to not be foolish with money, and to maximise my happy points per £ spent.

Elysia
Elysia
10 years ago

Sierra, one of the reasons I like reading your posts is because I find them easy to relate to. Here again, I’m with you. I have the (dubious) luxury of not having to travel too far to see my in-laws, but I think you’ve made the right decision. 80th birthdays and 50th anniversaries simply don’t come again. My husband’s grandfather passed away last year, and I am so grateful for every moment my children got to spend with him. I think spending three more months in debt is worth it. You can have gazelle-like intensity when you get back, but… Read more »

Michael
Michael
10 years ago

Your last paragraph hit it right on. The whole point is to live Today to the fullest because that’s all we have. This experience with your family is a once in a lifetime event at a budget cost of three months. That’s a huge winner! You shopped around, saved where you could, and if you resist temptation to creep back into old habits later then you’ve got the whole point of wealth building; to have the freedom to do what’s important to you ! Congratulations.

Brenz
Brenz
10 years ago

Congratulations! Hands down you have made a great choice. Your children will always remember the time they visited relatives abroad getting to know their extended family.
The future is never able to be predicted but the love and concern you show for family will serve you well regardless.

Erik
Erik
10 years ago

Good for you. You can’t forget to live once in a while.

Yaryna
Yaryna
10 years ago

Good for you! I for one understand the trade offs between the peace of mind that comes from having your bills paid vs. spending quality time with friends and family when needed. As a diplomat serving overseas the opportunities to be with family on such special occasions like anniversaries and milestone birthdays (my dad is 84) are few and far between. We have had to make choices like this and I applaud your making the trade off to give your kids memories for a lifetime.

leslie
leslie
10 years ago

For what it is worth…I think you made the right decision. You made it consciously,taking into consideration the various things that decision was going to affect. And although it could have been the first step down a very slippery slope you were aware of that and have so far been able to keep that from happening. I say enjoy your month in Argentina!

Money Smarts Blog
Money Smarts Blog
10 years ago

It’s hard to answer without knowing your financial situation.

It sounds like you will be progressing towards your financial goal even with the trip so I don’t see anything wrong with it.

Alicen
Alicen
10 years ago

My parents decided to take us on a one-month road trip across North America when I was 15. Two adults and 3 kids, one van and countless hotels. I know it cost them a boat-load of money and we could certainly have made wiser decisions about spending money along the way… BUT, it was the best family vacation ever. We got to visit my uncle and his family who live thousands of miles from us, and my great aunt and uncle who live even further away. It was the experience of a lifetime, as your trip will be for your… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
10 years ago

Because of my job (jobs in academia are hard to get) I live 900 miles away from my sister, my only remaining family. Both parents and sets of grandparents are gone, and my only cousins live even further away. What I’m saying is that I think you made the right decision. See your family while you can, because they will NOT always be there. Yes, you deviated, but your reasoning, IMHO, was sound. It sounds like a wonderful trip!

Beth
Beth
10 years ago

I’m really surprised you raised so many doubts about the decision. Special family events and even relationships to some extent are one-shot deals; you can’t delay them until all your personal affairs are in order. It’s also really, really important for kids to get some international experience.

Courtney
Courtney
10 years ago

I agree with your choice. We don’t have credit card debt, but we are saving up like mad for a down payment on our next house. We’re still taking a cruise this fall (with a stop at Disney on the way to Miami) in celebration of my hubby’s 30th birthday and to have one spectacular vacation before we have kids in a few years. It’s costing us the equivalent of three months worth of house savings, but it’s going to be totally worth it!

everyday tips
everyday tips
10 years ago

I totally agree with your decision. Life is meant to be lived. You already have the frugal tools, that is what is important. So it will take a little longer to get out of debt, oh well. Your family will have wonderful memories to draw from the rest of their lives. I would have done the same thing for sure! As a side note, when I bought some plane tickets a couple years ago and the prices dropped a week later, I called the airline and got refunded the difference. Don’t know if every airline does this, but Northwest did… Read more »

Alexandra
Alexandra
10 years ago

No stern talking-to here. You have prioritized the wants and wishes in your life, and your family has come out on top. Good for you! Hopefully this vacation will be filled with great memories that will be fondly looked back upon by you and your kids. Priceless…

Adrian
Adrian
10 years ago

Getting much less criticism than you imagined, eh Sierra? 😉 I think there are certain moments in life which must come before money. As being an individual on my path towards being debt-free, I always bare in mind that while I’m doing a great job, my tomorrow is certainly never guaranteed. Similar to the concept of people who have financial setbacks that suddenly occur that take away from their debt repaytment plan, being flexible while paying down that debt is highly important to keep the motivation going. The only thing I could have suggested you did a little differently was… Read more »

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

I’ve mentioned a number of times that I purposely chose a slower method of debt repayment so that I would have some freedom/resources to still partake in important events or family milestones. As Sierra mentions, probably the hardest task is in learning how to recognize the limitations of my available funds, and spend within the confines of what I am able to afford, rather than simply spending on every single thing that seems important. Which makes sense–if I naturally possessed that skill, I never would have fallen into debt in the first place! I’ve been doing this “conscious indulgences” as… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
10 years ago

When we lived 2000 miles from all family, we had to make similar choices. Wow — if I were to add up how much money we spent flying CA-WI-CA for 15 years . . . But I never have, because those trips were typically non-negotiable. I can remember a few family members being surprised when I’d show up for a wedding, birthday, or anniversary, because they couldn’t picture themselves traveling for something like that. Honestly, I wanted to see people while they were still alive and we could enjoy each others’ company. One of the compromises DH and I made… Read more »

JMK
JMK
10 years ago

We also deviated from our normal frugal ways for a great family trip in August 2008. We spent a month travelling around Italy, Greece and Germany with our kids who were 7 and 13 at the time. They still talk about it and regardless of the cost I’ll always consider it money well spent. In our case it wasn’t to visit family, but to take a great trip while the kids were old enough to remember it and not yet too busy with summer jobs to go. We only have our mortgage left to pay off so every extra dollar… Read more »

Oskar
Oskar
10 years ago

Sounds like you made the right decision, we are in a similar situation with much of my wifes family in Mexico and we live in Sweden. Next year we will spend 6 months (combining saved vacation, parental leave etc) in Mexico with our to young kids for them to get to know the family over there and for me to learn more Spanish, this will delay or road to being totally debt free (including morgage) by one year. However we don´t know when we will get this chance again so it was an easy decision.

SF_UK
SF_UK
10 years ago

You’re not giving up debt repayment for this – just making it take longer. You made that decision based on a rational assessment of the pros and cons, and you got good value for the money you did spend.
I am sure your husband’s family will appreciate this sacrifice, and the memories and lessons your children will gain will be priceless, and will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Jonathan D
Jonathan D
10 years ago

This is a great example of how being responsible with money can help you do what you want to do in life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a vacation and enjoying yourself — one of the things I read a lot on this site is to buy experiences, not things. I think this writer followed that advise well. She didn’t spend irresponsibly — she explains how she did her best to minimize the expenses, spending time to save money. And it’s precisely because she does this things all the time in her daily life that she has the freedom… Read more »

jk
jk
10 years ago

Sometimes, you just have to do what seems like the best decision for yourself and your family. It doesn’t sound like you are someone who will let the credit card debt just languish — it will get paid off. That is what I am telling myself right now. We had our credit cards paid off, which was great. But this past week, we used a credit card to help pay for my husband’s hearing aids. We had set aside money in my husband’s cafeteria plan for this expense, but, we thought he would just need one hearing aid. He needs… Read more »

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
10 years ago

Wow I have a scheduled post pertaining to this on Monday.

Personal Finance is PERSONAL Some things just make sense when you take out the tactical aspects

Rob
Rob
10 years ago

I totally understand and agree with your decision. You clearly thought about the decision; it was not just a random, impulsive thing (I would hope no one would make an impulsive purchase for $5,000!).

Elaine Huckabay
Elaine Huckabay
10 years ago

Sierra,
I completely agree with your decisions. The purpose of a debt snowball is to stop being a slave to our debt. If you purposefully avoided such a huge occasion for your family and a great experience for your children, that’s also being a slave to your debt. I think we know in our hearts what are “once in a lifetime” occasions that we have to fit in to the budget despite a debt snowball. You did it sensibily and you’re showing your children that money and life go hand-in-hand.

Elaine

partgypsy
partgypsy
10 years ago

I just did this recently. I arranged a beach trip with my Dad and brother end of June. I don’t have debt but this put off fully funding my emergency fund by a month or two. My father is 78 and earlier that month had surgery for cancer. He is actually doing great, but we scheduled the trip ahead of time not knowing the outcome. And heck we could all get hit by a bus tomorrow. Talking with my Dad on the balcony, watching a pelican float over our heads. Watching my kids interact and play with my little brother.… Read more »

MutantSupermodel
MutantSupermodel
10 years ago

Considering that you weighed SO many things and took steps to reduce the cost, I don’t see how this is not financially sound. Because you paid a little extra interest? It just gets factored into the cost of the trip. And this isn’t a frivolous trip at all. Like other commentators mentioned, this shows the benefits of being financially sound and responsible. What would have been financially irresponsible was not having saved for the tickets and paying for them with credit. And by the way, regarding the statement “I was thinking that some things are worth more than money.” I’d… Read more »

Lefty33
Lefty33
10 years ago

You definitely did the right thing Sierra.

The posts on this site, even JD admits to it, have become so much about minimalism and doing without to the point that it’s almost nauseating.

There’s frugality and then there’s stupid.

Like others have posted, major family milestones and personal events only come along once and if a person can’t put aside their financial self-flagellation for a while then you might as well not be alive.

Joe
Joe
10 years ago

Good for you! Not everything in life should be measured in dollars – particularly time you spend with your loved ones.

Janice
Janice
10 years ago

Kind of agree with Lefty33. This comes under the category of “when you’re lying on your death bed are you going to remember that it took you 3 months longer to pay off your freakin’ credit card debt or the wonderful month you spent in Argentina with your family?” Come on now. After years of mindless purchasing, I’ve paid off my credit cards and now “get” that if I really need something and that could be stuff or a trip or a wedding, or gifts for momentous occasions for people, I just budget out the payments and do it. If… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I think this exactly underscores the importance of getting rid of the debt and having a strong cash cushion, so you can make these kinds of trips in the future without any guilt at all. It’s great that you paid off the cc debt right afterward and didn’t let this bump stop you. I think in this case I would have made the same decision. (Well, actually that’s not true… in this case I would have done what we always do when we’re short on money, plane tickets are over-expensive, and DH needs to see his family– we send DH… Read more »

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

Even though we are paying down debt and living lean on one income, we keep a line item in our budget for “family trips”. It’s very important for children to know their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles — and something you can’t buy at any price. Luckily everyone is within driving distance, so it’s a pretty modest amount, but it’s something that we keep because we know that we will most definitely end up taking 4-5 trips a year for family events. Since you are staying with family you are most definitely doing the frugal thing, as well as getting… Read more »

Peggy
Peggy
10 years ago

Money isn’t the end…joy and happiness is and you have acquired priceless memories by doing what you did. I’m so glad that you didn’t let $$$ hold back love. You did all you could to save on costs and I applaud your decision.

elaine
elaine
10 years ago

IMNSHO, you did EXACTLY the right thing. And in the right way (spending carefully). What an opportunity for everyone…

Katherine
Katherine
10 years ago

I would have done the same thing….

Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things
Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things
10 years ago

I completely agree.

Renae
Renae
10 years ago

A staycation for those of us with families a few thousand miles away is not an option. I’m all about paying down debt and getting my financial life in order, but it is more about the balance in our lives.
We live in CA. My family is from MO and DH’s is in MA. No cheap way of doing this every summer, but need the quality family time. No one is getting any younger.

steven@hundredgoals.com
10 years ago

I LOVE ARGENTINA! As a matter of fact, my gf and I just started painting our bedroom in the spirit of La Boca! We have our tango paintings, hand carved masks from our trip and Argentina flag all ready to go as soon as the 5 different colors of paint are dry! Have a wonderful time! I spent a couple of weeks there about a year ago and had the time of my life!

Christian
Christian
10 years ago

I went on a trip to Vietnam with my father (who is a Vietnam vet) before I was completely finished repaying all of my debt. It was his first time returning to Vietam since he was there in 1967. I figured it was a once in a lifetime experience, and more than just a vacation. I’m really glad I went even though it wasn’t the most financially sound decision, and I’d probably have regretted it years later if I hadn’t gone.

McKenna
McKenna
10 years ago

I agree with what you did! Family vacations are priceless.

This post is very timely for me, since I am considering doing this same thing soon. Our final credit card payment is coming up (yay!), and I plan to pay for two vacations just before everything is paid off. It might keep us in debt (at 0%, at least) for a couple more months, but it seems worth it. We’ll be taking our first family vacation ever and celebrating our 10th anniversary. I think it will be worth it.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

I hope 20 years from now you don’t have to worry so much about whether to allow yourself to attend your children’s weddings. Like others have implied, it sounds like you’re getting a bit carried away on the minimalism front sometimes. Life isn’t always better when we opt out of everything, especially when that’s family and a richness of life experience. Your parents’ 50th wedding anniversary is hardly a new iPhone, to be viewed as unnecessary consumerism and done without. Besides, what is money anyway? When you obsess about hoarding it and never spend it all it becomes is little… Read more »

Robin
Robin
10 years ago

Nice job, Sierra!

“All Your Worth”, one of the money books that JD recommends here, allocates 20% of income to “wants” even while paying down debts and building up savings. You can’t always just use Ramsey’s laser-like focus on debt elimination. Most of the time, maybe so, but all of the time, not for me anyway!

Rhiannon
Rhiannon
10 years ago

As someone with one side of the family living in another country, I’m completely on the side of taking the time (and expense) now to visit when there are celebrations and you can take that many weeks in a row. Growing up we went every other summer to England for 4-6 weeks and traveled amongst grandparents, extended family and friends. I wouldn’t trade those for anything, and I have a lot of fond memories. It is important for your kids and for their grandparents 🙂 And it meant a LOT to me and my mother when three cousins came over… Read more »

Courtney
Courtney
10 years ago

“The purpose of a debt snowball is to stop being a slave to our debt. If you purposefully avoided such a huge occasion for your family and a great experience for your children, that’s also being a slave to your debt.”

Elaine, this is an AWESOME and insightful comment! I think this is exactly what the idea of ‘getting rich slowly’ is about.

Kristen
Kristen
10 years ago

Sierra, Thank you for this post! I agree with your decision. It sounds like even though you were in debt when planning this trip you still made smart choices. I hear a lot on this blog regarding avoiding stuff and don’t really relate to the need for stuff. I got into debt partly because I was the brides maid in 10 weddings. If I had known then what I know now, I would have made some better choices but I don’t regret saying yes to each of my friends that asked. My life is rich because of the friends and… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
10 years ago

Your stepson staying with his cousin — what a great experience that will be for him.
And, in so many ways this is not just a vacation; lots of people have stressed the important relationship connections (good for mental and physical health) and you could also note that spending significant time in a different culture is a part of your children’s (and your!) continuing education, which is also an investment for a better life!

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I think there’s a difference between Sierra’s point in finances and Tyler K’s point in finances though. Tyler K isn’t going into debt to finance anything. Once Sierra is at that point then she shouldn’t have to worry either. She’s not at the wealth building stage, but at the debt repayment stage. Worries are different. She was exactly right to think this decision through very carefully. Also, if you run the numbers, especially right now, the negative drag to debt is huge but the earnings on savings is pretty small. The amount you lose from credit card debt eats away… Read more »

Mama Koala
Mama Koala
10 years ago

I think you made the right decision-no doubt about it. I lost my Dad 7 years ago, and on his death bed he did not say things like “I wish I had a bigger emergency fund.” Although those goals ARE very important (we are working the Dave Ramsey plan right now)–one thing that he said is that he wished he had taken the time to take more vacations with us. Creating memories with family is so important.

Susan
Susan
10 years ago

I also did the same thing you did. My brother & his wife adopted a daughter from India and took the trip with them while still paying off debt. This pushed back my debt-free date by about 3 months also. But, I decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. One has to weigh the pros/cons of what they want out of life. Do I want to be debt-free and financially indepedent or do I want to spend family time that is a once-in-a-lifetime thing? There is a balance, but like you said, you have… Read more »

Linda
Linda
10 years ago

I agree 100% with your decision. I made a similar choice earlier this year when he visited our military son stationed in Italy. He just got back from a deployment to Iraq and of course, wanted to spend his leave time with his new wife. (She’s also military and couldn’t get leave to come home with him.) We hadn’t seen him in two years and were so happy he made it safely out of Iraq that we decided to spend the money and go. We stayed at their apartment and bugeted a certain amount to spend over there. We actually… Read more »

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