A few weeks ago, I spent seven nights in Cancun with my little family of four. It was a fairly inexpensive trip, largely paid for by airline miles and hotel points. However, we did manage to spend over $1,000 in seven night’s time – not just on food and drinks, but on airport transportation, a few key souvenirs, a car rental, and plenty of other random incidentals.
Over the course of a week, we tried delicious new foods. We played in the largest swimming pool we had ever seen, and we looked for shells in some of the clearest turquoise water on Earth. My daughter dumped me off my pool raft at least 28 times. I chased her and dunked her in revenge at least as many.
We slept just feet from each other in two double beds. Once our youngest fell asleep, we let our oldest watch the Simpsons. Maybe that was a bad idea, but it had hilarious results. Hint: She didn’t understand sarcasm at the time, but she does now.
One day, we rented a car and drove around Mexico. We went to a water park. We made sand castles. We snorkeled and saw fish so large and colorful they terrified my children. Then we laughed and laughed – and the truth is, we’re still laughing.
An Investment In Time
While my earnings have grown over the years, $1,000 still represents a huge chunk of change. For my family, that’s enough to pay for two months of grocery spending, more than two months of health insurance, a year of homeowner’s insurance, or plenty of other important household expenses.
But I wouldn’t consider the money a waste – not by a long shot.
Over time, I’ve come to terms with my family’s vacation and travel spending. While it’s true that the money we work so hard for is precious – and that it represents our life force – money itself isn’t of any value. In reality, it’s actually living that means something.
It’s saving something for tomorrow, while also finding a way to live an exciting and fulfilling life today. Frugality is the engine that drives our financial goals, but enjoying ourselves is the real reward we seek. I want it all: the money required to live the lifestyle I want in the future, but also the kind of life I want to live now – while my kids are still young. Because, as all parents know, they won’t be young forever.
How My Money Philosophy Has Changed
I haven’t always had this philosophy about money. When we dove headfirst into frugality many years ago, I lived and died by every penny I spent. I agonized over trivial costs, resented people in my life who asked me to spend money, and basically refused to do anything fun.
But over the course of our early jobs in the funeral industry, we started to adopt a different approach. We learned to see ourselves in others, and we became wary of lost opportunities.
These lessons were hard learned, and only realized after seeing the harsh realities of life unfold for those around us: We buried people who retired and dropped dead the next day, young parents who were taken in freak car accidents, and 30-year-olds with terminal cancer. We saw babies hug their dead fathers for the last time and parents drop to their knees at the sight of their departed children. We listened to them cry, and sometimes we cried with them.
We learned to look at our lives in a new way – to be thankful we were still together. And we learned to look at the time we have on this Earth, together as a family, as something more precious then diamonds or gold.
We learned that money isn’t everything – not even close. In reality, time is the real currency – the one thing you cannot buy, barter or steal.
What Travel Means to Me
A vacation to Cancun isn’t necessarily “travel,” but for me, it represents something else. It represents seven full days with my children where we did nothing but spend time together. It’s a camera roll of hilarious pictures we took that we can look back on and laugh at.
It represents a week’s worth of shared memories we’ll always have – places we’ve been and things we’ve seen that no one else got to experience. It represents a bubble of time where nothing else in this world existed but us – not work, not Facebook, and not the nightly news, the dishes, or the laundry.
Money be damned. I’m not waiting until I’m old to experience these moments because, by then, it will be too late. My children are young now. We have our health now. And with our frugal lifestyle and the right tools, affordable travel and vacation options abound.
One day, I know I’ll look back and wonder if I made the most of the time I had on this Earth. And when I do, I want the answer to be a resounding yes. I want to know for a fact that I gave my children more than a roof over their heads and plenty to eat – I want to know I gave them a piece of myself.
Our world is stressful, fast-paced, and fraught with complexity, but the moments I spend alone with my family take all of us to another place – one where living is first and making a living plays second fiddle.
That’s why I refuse to apologize for the money I spend on travel with my family – and why I won’t wait until I’m old to experience the world firsthand. I might die first, but that’s not the only reason. If I focused too much on saving money, I might look one back one day and realize I had never truly lived. That’s not good enough for me, and it’s not good enough for my children, either.
So I’ll keep buying us this precious vacation time, whatever the cost. I have never regretted a single cent, and I never will.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of . Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at .
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How do you justify spending money on travel? Do you feel like it’s a good investment?