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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fiscal Fitness

My mom is a very frugal person. When we were kids, we'd travel about the country in our old station wagon during summer vacations. My mom had friends all over the place, so we usually had someplace to crash as we roamed about. When we didn't, it was pretty rare that we'd check into a motel. My mom was not afraid to pull off the road and sleep in the car parked at a rest stop or under a bridge. Unheard of now, but back then, it was not uncommon for us to hobo our way to Mt Rushmore or Disney World or British Columbia in this manner. We also grew up washing aluminum foil along with our dishes, so it could be reused, and carefully unwrapping Christmas gifts so we could reuse the paper. My mom still does those things, though she no longer needs to.

My dad had a more unique approach to money. He was unfailingly thrifty in some areas, like clipping coupons, and didn't blink at the high cost of other things, like his custom blended pipe tobacco at $40 a package. When my dad died, I found at least a dozen of those tobacco bags in his home. It looked like he would order more when it started drying out. I don't know how often he actually finished a bag of it. Yet even when he received a fresh bag, he didn't throw out the dry stuff. I never figured that one out.

I don't think I inherited my financial views from either of my parents. As with all areas of my life, I try to find a balance. In this case, the balance is between saving for tomorrow and enjoying life today. For inspiration, I like to watch Suze Orman on CNBC. A caller will ask Suze's permission to spend a wad of cash on something extravagant, like a new boat or a month in Europe. Suze goes over the caller's financial status and approves or denies the request. Sometimes, though, Suze will approve a request but then try to talk the caller out of actually making the purchase. She'll tell them that Europe will still be there in ten years, yada yada, and if you put that money in your retirement fund now, you can have XXX when you retire and won't that be great? Well, sure. But you know, my dad was only 66 when he died. He worked and saved for his retirement but never got to enjoy it. Walker's dad died in his fifties. So while I absolutely think saving for retirement is important, I also feel it's important to live some dreams out now, just in case.

With that in mind, Walker and I keep a separate savings account just for vacations.  I know some people, ahem, Suze, would tell us that we need an eight month emergency fund and all consumer debt paid off before we should even think about a vacation.  That's fine, I understand the point.  I just don't agree.  We toss our loose change in a jar, we set aside a portion of any bonuses or windfalls we get, and we forgo giving each other gifts on Christmas and birthdays and our anniversary.  At least once a year, we take a trip together.  It may not be the smartest financial plan, but like Suze always says, "People first, then money, then things."  And this year, these two people are going to Disney World.  Wahoo!

1 comment:

  1. I think it's important to enjoy life and you should definitely take vacations if you can without detriment to everyday commitments. Yes, it's important to prepare for the future but what if by some horrible chance you don't get one? Better to be able to look back with good memories than regrets.