Alaska or Bust??

I read The Box-car Children when I was in 3rd grade and decided then and there that I wanted to live in a boxcar. To my 9-year-old self, stealing milk off doorsteps and sleeping on a straw mat seemed an adventurous and independent thing to do. Then I read Where the Red Fern Grows and instead of boxcars, I wanted two little puppies to hunt with. Mind you, I never wanted to actually kill anything; just go out at night with my pups and a lantern…maybe steal some milk off a doorstep and sleep on a straw mat. Even now, I still read every day and I still want to go, see, and do the things that I read about.

A few months ago, Angie and I were on an Alaska kick. My mom had gotten us hooked on Alaskan Bush People and we had each picked up a few books about folks living in remote Alaskan villages (like If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende and Forty Years in the Wilderness by Dolly Faulkner). As always happens, we started daydreaming about going there and even looked into Alaskan cruises. We both told our parents that “our next big trip would probably be to Alaska”. And it probably will be. But when we say the words “our next big trip”, we don’t exactly mean the next time we pack up the car and pull out of the driveway. It could be a few years before we make it to The Last Frontier. In the meantime, we have other plans, though none of those plans included hurting the feelings of someone we love. Yet, it seems that we did.

Angie’s mom said she wanted to go with us if we went on a cruise to Alaska. We said that sounded great, and we moved on without much of a second thought. Why? Because my mom always says that she wants to go with us to Hawaii the next time we go. My nephew tells us every time that he sees us that he wants to tag along if we ever go to Ireland. Angie’s aunt and uncle said once that we should all plan a road trip together and my niece mentioned at Christmas that we should go with them to Florida this summer. It’s something people say and sometimes it turns into a real plan, but more often than not, it’s just a way to daydream about a vacation together. But Angie’s mom was serious, and it seems she was expecting us to go this spring.

Of course, now we feel terrible. So terrible in fact that we considered hastily putting together a trip just so we wouldn’t let anyone down or make anyone mad or cause anyone to miss out on such an opportunity. Thank goodness we came to our senses, because we are in no way ready for such an undertaking!

And honestly, most folks aren’t either. Did you know:

  • 75% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation at some point in their lifetime,
  • 23% did so in the past 12 months,
  • 55% don’t budget for vacations (or factor them into their annual expenses), and
  • Over the past year, Americans borrowed $12.64 billion for vacations, racking up $778.77 million in interest and other charges?

Have you ever heard the term “debt-lag”? It’s what happens when you return from a vacation with debt. We’ve only ever had it once – when we hit a few snags on our 2014 trip to California and Hawaii – and we decided then and there, we would not have it again. Not for any reason. If we couldn’t completely pay for a certain vacation destination, we would simply not go there. There are way too many other, cheaper places to go when the “exotic” or “once in a lifetime” locales are not [yet] within reach.

Our plan for Alaska (or any other big destination) is to save up before we set off. Looking at cruises, lodging and activities gives us an idea of how much we need to add to our vacation fund and how long we need to save. You might say, a lot of dreaming and scheming goes into our travel planning process. I get that it’s not the same for everyone, and that’s okay. If you are ready for and able to take a big vacation, like an Alaskan cruise, and that’s what you have your heart set on doing, then that’s what you should do. We just aren’t there yet.

We gently and lovingly tried to explain our position to Angie’s mom. She was disappointed, but I’d like to believe she respects our decision to avoid debt. More importantly, I hope she understands that though we might not be going to Alaska this year, she is always welcome to go with us wherever we may roam…even if it’s just to the park. (We have plenty of hammocks, by the way 😊)

Moratorium on Micromanaging Money

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week and I celebrated it in grand style! I took the day off from work. I had almonds in my oatmeal instead of walnuts. I went to the grocery store and found a mango on the clearance rack…in a bag of organic apples, no less! I picked up my free treat from Starbucks and gave it to my mom (which made her very happy). I watched a short documentary on stuff, went for a brisk walk in the cold, and worked on a puzzle with the love of my life. I even had my favorite dinner – pizza – and a big slice of homemade birthday cake for dessert. It was epic and I’m not kidding.

You see, I connect with simple in a way that defies explanation. The fact that my mom wrapped my gift in a piece of paper that she saved from a gift she received two years ago, the fact that she took nearly 3 hours to scratch bake me a yellow cake with chocolate icing (my childhood favorite), the fact that Angie ordered our take-and-bake pizza without cheese so I could put my own non-dairy cheese on it and she used a coupon, means more to me than any elaborate birthday celebration ever could. These little things show that my family gets me and if that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is.

Now it’s time to start getting myself.

Besides taking the day off, I decided to give myself another birthday gift. I decided to call a moratorium on micromanaging our money. In looking back over the past few years, I realized that I had inadvertently given money a more powerful position in our lives than I had intended. I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with Excel spreadsheets, envelope systems, and budgeting apps; but more importantly, we were side-hustling part of our time away and investing our income in companies that thrive off the very things we are trying to remove from our lives. This hasn’t set well with me for a long time, so I decided it was time to take some steps to reconcile it.

Thus, the moratorium. Which does not mean that I plan to be oblivious to what’s going in and out of our bank account. That would be irresponsible. It simply means that I don’t intend to obsess over money – chasing it, spending it, or saving it – until I know where it fits into our life.

To make sure I don’t break down and break out the budget apps, I’ve set all our monthly expenses to auto-draft and have allocated $510 per month for personal cash, gas, groceries/household goods, and entertainment. This will be ALL the flexible spending cash we receive, so in a way, I suppose we’re also doing a version of the no-spend year (though that was not our main intention). There will be no income-generating side hustles this year. I moved all our investments into two vehicles – our personal IRAs and U.S. savings bonds. No matter what the market does, I do not intend to manage these accounts more than once or twice this year (instead of weekly like I was doing when we owned individual stocks and ETFs).

What do I hope to accomplish by this hands-off approach to personal finance? Peace of mind. A better connection to the world outside of money. Greater resourcefulness. The pride that comes from being able to figure things out without throwing dollars at the solution. Increased contact with real people. Better bartering skills. I believe the possibilities are endless; and for as much as spreadsheets once excited me, the idea of living without one is even more exciting.

Do you have ever feel that money management plays too great a role in your life? Do you ever struggle to align your spending with your personal beliefs and values?


Less time balancing finances means more time to concentrate on what’s really important.
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