You know, there are times when I sort of miss being a spendaholic.
I have the opportunity to go on an amazing trip in a few months. I’ve been actively saving and planning for this trip, stalking airfare rates, and counting down the days until I get to escape from real life for awhile. I’ve dangled this trip in front of myself like a carrot on the days when I’m overwhelmed and stressed. And now I’m not sure if I’m going.
There have been several posts in the personal finance niche lately about people who take vacations when they’re in debt. Obviously this is considered a Very Bad Thing. And as much as I’ve told myself that my situation is different, I’m stuck in this place where I’m not sure I can live with myself if I break what appears to be one of the cardinal rules of financial responsibility – no fun stuff unless all your money business is under control.
Here are the justifications I originally made in my head for taking the trip:
- It’s a mini retreat/meetup for freelancers, so most of the trip is a deductible business expense.
- I can go for well under $1000.
- I haven’t been on a vacation (excluding conferences) since 2003.
- I can afford it in the sense that I would be paying for everything in cash.
- I deserve a break from my insane work schedule for mental health purposes.
With all those things in mind, here are the reasons I’m hesitating:
- The cost of the trip would pay off about 15% of the remaining balance on my car loan.
- My emergency savings isn’t where I’d like it to be, especially since I’m self-employed.
- I still owe over $40,000 in student loan debt.
- I owe my parents approximately eight billion dollars. Not that they’d ever let me pay them back, but still.
- I still haven’t bought furniture for my bedroom – you should see the random assortment of stuff I’m using. Or maybe you shouldn’t because it’s embarrassing.
- I feel guilty going on a trip without my son, who also hasn’t been on a vacation since 2003.
A Fine Line
When I pretend someone other than me has this first world problem, I can see valid points on both sides. But because it’s my life and not some hypothetical person’s life, I feel almost sick to my stomach when I think about making this decision. Either way, I’m probably going to regret the choice I make at least a little.
I grew up in a household where vacations weren’t a regular thing. We went camping several times when I was a kid – real camping, like in a tent – and eventually graduated to a used camper that spent way more time in my parents’ driveway than parked at a campground. We took day trips and a few weekend trips here and there, but that was pretty much it. I was 16 years old before I set foot on a real beach and 20 before I ever boarded a plane.
Those experiences work both for and against me when trying to decide whether to take this trip. On one hand, I can look back and think, Wow, I really do deserve this because I didn’t get to travel when I was younger. On the other, I can look back and realize that the reason we didn’t travel is because my parents busted butt to do what they could on an extremely limited budget. They weren’t driving a 4 year-old car with a payment or paying back a ton of student debt and they still didn’t go on a bunch of vacations.
Then there’s the issue of my son. My amazing teenager who isn’t a fan of sleeping in hotels or trying new things because he’s autistic and routine means everything to him. When I told him about the possibility of me going on this trip (because 6 months’ notice is almost adequate), he was visibly relieved when he found out he wouldn’t be going. He did freak out a little about where he would stay and whether he’d be able to play Minecraft while I was gone, but overall he did well. But then *I* got upset because I feel like he should still experience things even though it’s a challenge. If I’m going to take a trip, shouldn’t I make it a shorter/closer trip and take him with me? (For those of you who aren’t parents, just a note that parental guilt is way worse than financial guilt and never seems to end.)
What Would You Do?
It’s kind of sad when the stress over whether or not to take a vacation is worse than the stress I’m supposed to be escaping with the vacation. As most of you know, I have a tendency to overthink things and a knack for giving myself a mini stroke over what should be a simple decision. But this is one situation where I just don’t know what I’m going to do.
Don’t feel pressured to give advice unless you just want to – I’m more interested to know if you guys experience financial guilt over things like this and how you deal with it. How do you make a choice when neither is likely to cause a catastrophe but neither is necessarily an obvious “best” choice?