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Financial Guilt: Now with 40% More Shame!


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Here are the justifications I originally made in my head for taking the trip: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?


  1. If it were me, and believe me I would have the very same reservations you do, I would go. AND not feel guilty about it. Perhaps it's my age, but I've finally gotten over the Mommy guilt (leaving kids behind) and money guilt (there will always be something your money needs to attend to) BUT you must take care of YOU first.

    Ask yourself some really important questions. If you take this trip, will you get the rest, relaxation, and new perspective that you desire? Will you be a better Mom when you come back? Will you be re-energized to take on your business with more enthusiasm?

    I suspect the answers to all of these questions is YES. My daughter owes us $$ for a car we bought for her, but last year she NEEDED a break, so I gave her cash (for her birthday) and my blessing to go visit my other daughter in Florida. It was worth every penny.

    Go and have a GREAT time. You will be glad you did!!

  2. Tough choice either way but will this add to your career? 10 years is a long time without a break Believe me even with debt we go to the shore every year to watch my daughter play soccer

    And mommy guilt well it goes away eventually I promise and I am sure your son will be left im loving capable hands I vote for going and giving yourself a break Relax and recover

    Everyone needs a break sometime and doing this may give you an idea that pays off 20 percent But even if it doesn't it will still be worth it

  3. I think you work very hard and deserve to treat yourself. You are making strides on your debt, you're not in prison! Also, if its deductible, why the F not?

  4. debgemologist says

    Take the trip. I know what you're saying about being able to use the vacation $$$ for debt, but mental help trumps all. It will take you years to pay off everything you owe. I think it is not realistic to think that anyone can go all that time without having an occasional carrot, just to keep from having a nervous breakdown.

    Also, when you take a break, a good break, many times it helps you come back refocused and ready to do more. Don't forget about that!

  5. I was one of the ones that wrote about not taking a vacation while being in debt. I think in your case, I would go. You have the cash, so no adding to your debt and you are going to be able to deduct it. Just do it!

  6. morenewnonsense says

    Sharon said pretty much what I was going to say, but probably nicer than I would have! 🙂

    Seriously this is sometimes why I loathe the PF blogging world for being a bunch of judgemental, holier-than-thou, assholes. (See, that's where my not-nice comes out). That whole "unless you're perfect you're not a real PF blogger" mindset just makes me see red.

    I would go, yes. I also would think about this trip the same way I think about dieting. You control your food 90% of the time, but 10% of the time you allow yourself some treats for special occasions. Does treating yourself to a meal at the Cheesecake factory negate all the weight you've already lost? Does it make you a failure as a dieter? Or does it mean you have a sense of balance in your life and you know that once you've allowed yourself this treat, you'll get right back on the wagon?

    Go. Enjoy it. Feel no guilt.

    • "this is sometimes why I loathe the PF blogging world for being a bunch of judgemental, holier-than-thou, assholes." I completely agree!!!
      they almost treat you like some pariah if you enjoy anything other than rice and beans for dinner and aren't living in a cardboard box because you have debt and should do everything in your power to pay it off NOW!

  7. I would go. Money isn't the only important thing in life. I think that having balance in a responsible way will be more beneficial in the long run.

  8. I think the most important aspect of getting out of debt is SHOCKER WAIT FOR IT . . . changing they way to think about and use money, the behavioral changes you make to stay way the heck out of debt after paying it off. Event though you are paying down your debt, your biggest challenge and greatest achievement has already been changing the way you use money. Instead of charging a trip you have no plans of paying off soon, you saved money for it. And this is a good deal of time out of credit card debt for you.

    I think you give compelling reasons for going and for not going, ultimately either option is the right option. I think you should go because you saved for it and it is tax-deductible but whether or not you decide to go you should acknowledge how much more in control you are of your financial life.

  9. I think you should go, and enjoy it to the fullest! Sometimes experiences are more important than paying off even more debt by a certain time. It might even help to motivate you to keep paying it off, or to even pay it off sooner. As for your son, if he doesn't want to go and it would be challenging for him – then it seems like it's for the best to go on your own. I hope you go!

  10. bluecollarworkman says

    It's been since 2003? That's a decade. I know this is the excuse of people in debt, but you deserve it at this point. You really do, man. You've been doing great, and will continue to do great because you're not that shopaholic chick anymore. Everyone deserves a break, a trip, every once in awhile. And dude, a decade qualifies as "every once in awhile." I know you could pay off lots of stuff with the trip money, but is that how you'll think when you're out of debt too? (I coudl invest this instead of going on a trip) Money is also there to enjoy. If you're in debt and still brinking on being an irresponsible person with money, then yeah, no trip. But that's not you. I say, yes, go on trip. LIke SHaron said, yo'uve got to take care of you first. You do. So dude, go on that trip. And enjoy it. It's a mid-debt-payoff break!

  11. Insurance Gal says

    Andrea, I am not a parent, but I will say I also struggle with making financial decisions such as these. I went through bankruptcy several years ago, and am recovering through informed, methodical new choices. However, I still struggle with even the smallest "splurge" such as $1 nail polish. I can't imagine trying to justify an entire vacation, regardless of how much money I could save during the planning process. Luck to you. <3

  12. I feel guilt and I paid off my mortgage. Guilt may always be there. I just do it through the guilt and it then it goes away. I still took vacation when I had my mortgage. Sometimes a break is more important than paying off a debt a month or two sooner.

  13. Take the trip.
    If my husband and I waited until we were out of debt to finally go on our honeymoon (which we did 2.5 years after getting married), we would by then have kids, which would make it even harder to travel. Here's the thing with vacations–the money can ALWAYS go to somewhere better. If you didn't have debt, you'd be like "oh but i can use it for my kid's college tuition" or "i can upgrade this part of the house"…but i have never once, not ever regretted a single trip I have taken. Yes I love my life and I love my husband, but vacations take all the bull out of your life, and let you remember why you work so hard the other 364 days out of the year. You can only be in the rat race for so long…take the damn trip!

  14. Anne_UGifter says

    Darn, the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" is tricky.
    It's been a long, long time. You're making more money this year. You constantly feel stressed out and too busy. From what I can see, you have already, in January, made an extra amount that is equivalent to the cost of the trip. I would be inclined to say you should take it. Then use your new-found increased income to continue to pay down debts. I think that you have already identified that you would like to be able to take your son somewhere for the experience and for the challenge, so perhaps you could set a small savings target so you could have a weekend away?
    I realize that it's a huge IF, given your self employment and me having no idea of the ins and outs of your income flow, but if you maintain your January for the rest of the year, you'll beat your income target by around $17K. I believe in your ability to be diligent and use your income to destroy what's left of your debts.

  15. ErinShanendoah says

    I think you should go. You are more likely to fall of the budget band wagon if you don't allow yourself a break every once in a while. The stricter you are with yourself, the harder it is to maintain long term discipline, and the easier it is to throw it all out the window when you do fall off the wagon.
    You aren't going into more debt for this. It's a business opportunity. And you will return from it physically and mentally refreshed. This sounds like a winner to me.

    While I don't have kids yet, I have dogs, and I feel guilt for leaving them. And yet, I still think you should go and enjoy the time without your son.
    First off, he is old enough to know what he does and doesn't want. It is not a vacation if one person feels forced into it. (This is actually why we have a timeshare- so that C can have a home base, including kitchen, when we go on vacation. He's miserable in hotel rooms.)
    Second, this is a new experience for him. Mom is going out of town. There is going to be a change to his routine. This is the type of experience he actually needs- how to function through a normal day without Mom.
    And finally, all parents need a break from their kids every once in a while. Take one.

    You will come back happier, more relaxed, and likely more energized about your life. You win. Your business wins. Your son wins.

    And if none of that convinces you, remember that we are programmed to regret things we didn't do more than we regret things we do. So if you think there will be regret one way or another, science can pretty much guarantee you that you will regret not going more than you will going.

  16. Frugal Portland says

    Go! Let me know when a decision has been made and I'll put $ toward your PayPal. Now there's incentive!

  17. Go go go go go!

    And if you're really questioning it, do a split between 30% to debt, 30% to furniture, and 30% to a mini vacation (a hotel and a massage a few towns over). You're discrediting how valuable your health is — you will come back from this more refreshed and passionate about your goals. Nothing is more demoralizing than burnout!

  18. My girlfriend has a ton of student loans but we still went on a cruise and to disney world last year. If you can manage the debt and have a goal to pay it off and save money not for the debt to pay for the vacation I say go for it. It isn't like you have high interest rate credit card debt.

  19. I don't envy your decision,but I think your reasons for going were very justified. Best wishes on your decision making!

  20. plantingourpennies says

    Mental health = worthwhile investment. If this is going to have a longtime boost in your productivity and managing stress levels, then do it!

    Some companies have started requiring employees to go on vacations because they are more productive employees when they get back. Just something to think about since you are your own employee =)

  21. Live a little. Go.

  22. Vacations… definitely go! Even at my darkest hours, I don't skimp on my already skimpy and bone-thin vacations. As I've said too many times, I dont want to look back at these years and see only misery and hard work. The past 3 years have been the best of my life in terms of travel, and also the most troublesome as I've taken my finances seriously, including cutting my parents from my budget. It's also a conference… so even if it isn't all business, if it's not a catastrophe, go. You can make up for it later.

  23. You didn't go into detail about the trip but I caught a couple things. First of all you have been saving for this trip, second you've been researching to find good deals, third it is tax deductible, fourth you mention its a retreat/meetup for freelancers. Sounds to me like this trip is an investment in yourself and your "career." You feel guilt and conflicted about whether or not to got. This is an opportunity to learn to work thru feelings of guilt. Personally I think you should go. The other commenters offer some very good reasons why.

  24. I don't feel guilty about taking vacations, even though I still have a lot of student debt and a car to pay off. I am responsible with my money, and if I wait until it's completely paid off, I would never get to do anything fun at all. As long as I can pay for it in cash, I'm ok with it. No guilt! Enjoy it!

  25. Budget & the Beach says

    Well obviously you know I did which is why I didn't go. I felt like it could be a repeat from last year where I didn't have enough saved, had debt, went on not one but two trips, then ended up needed a root canal and went into more debt. I just couldn't make that same mistake twice, especially KNOWING I'm going to need PT on my shoulder or surgery (which btw i went today and so far it's PT, exercise, another cortisone shot and acupuncture-but I have no idea if that will help). But we all have our personal history and reasons, and I also know that SOME kind of break is necessary to keep our sanity, especially those of us who have limited work social lives because we work from home.

  26. Honestly, PF is PERSONAL finance and if you can make your peace with your decisions because they actually work for you, then it works, period. And if someone has to be an asshole about my choices, your choices or anyone else's choices, that says to me they a) have way too much time on their hands; b) need to get a clue; and c) are not the PFers I really need to hang out with. We can certainly disagree about pretty much anything without having to be judgmental turdballs about it. Professionally speaking.

    Anyway, to your actual point: there are quite a fair number of relatively decent pro points there. I would personally still have heartburn over the personal and student debt because I'm me and suffer from a severe guilt complex but that doesn't mean that taking the vacation is a bad idea – in fact, it might actually make it a better idea because you need a way to disconnect and learn how to have nice things within reason (and you have defined this as something reasonable) without making life worse for yourself packaged up with Guilt Ribbon. As it's taken me *years* to learn, it's not always about the money! The money greases the skids, keeps the lights on, but it doesn't feed your soul. Right?

    Money: You have the cash, can write it off, it's not an outrageous amount. Soul: You can rest, learn, relax for a bit.

    And as for your son: having had the reverse guilt every time I did *any* thing that I didn't give my parents, that they didn't get because all they did was work and now that it was my turn to support them I felt responsible for their happiness too – well, I see it from both POV. As a kid, I wished so hard that my parents would have done things they enjoyed, with or without me. As a caretaker, I still needed to live my life or what was the point of it all? *shrug* I won't presume further but I hope you will go and enjoy it.

  27. My husband and I are extremely careful with our finances, but the one thing we splurge on is vacations. The way I see it, life is short, and there are some things that we should do now while we are young and can enjoy it. And by that, I don't mean that we shouldn't be responsible and plan for the future, but if you are comfortable with your financial situation, and you have the money to pay in cash without setting yourself back, then you should do it. I've seen a lot of people save their whole lives planning on enjoying it in their retirement, and then health problems keep them from doing what they wanted to when they are older. Or, in more extreme cases, I've lost some friends who were in their early 20s to cancer or car accidents. I think we need to make the most of our lives at every stage. This includes being careful and responsible with our finances so that it is not a source of stress to us, but it also includes not being afraid to live life now!

  28. Canadianbudgetbinder says

    I hear ya on the guilt part as I was that way in the past but I knew that I had a plan to pay off what I owed and I saved up cash to pay for what I needed, all the time. If you want to go Andrea go as long as you have a plan then treat yourself, the end result will ultimately be what you want it to be.

  29. brickbybrickinvesting2012 says

    I would look to travel as cheap as possible. I have to admit I haven't read all the previous comments, so I'm sure you've gotten a bunch of advice but Craig over at does an absolutely fantastic job of showing his readers how to save and travel for dirt cheap. We have a toddler and are expecting my first son in March so we don't have any plans to travel soon, but we have already starting building up points so that when they day does come we can splurge!

  30. GO! You arent adding to your debt your paying cash! You only live once and while its nice to think after you pay off every cent in debt you can finally go on a vacation but the reality of that is YEARS off… Shouldnt you still be able to take a break and enjoy life between now and then or are you just living to build a savings and drive your self insane in the confines of your house? I havent went on vacation since 2004 either and I vow come hell or high water this year im taking my kids to see the ocean (we live in illinois) i want my kids to have those experiences even if it means I havent paid off my student loans yet. I also plan to take a mini vacation with my boyfriend kid free we will split the cost. Sometimes you just need to get away. Be thru with the guilt and just live. When you die it wont matter it you paid that $1000 towards your car loan that you wont remember or have pictures of but the trip you will. Dont miss out.

  31. When I had masses of debt I still went on vacations. I try to work on percentages with money, say 50% living costs, 40% debt, 10% anything else and then I lose the guilt spending the 10%.

    Go, enjoy, you deserve it 🙂

  32. I understand your reservations but it sounds to me like you could really use some time off. I don't believe paying down debt should be about self-punishment; it's something you do to better yourself and your financial situation. Since this trip is a business expense and something you've been tucking away money for, I'd say it's a perfect representation of how much you've learned. Use this trip to recognize your progress and renew your goals for financial freedom.

  33. studentdebtsurvivor says

    I don't have kids but I do have a dog, and although they are completely different he's like a child to us. We haven't gone on an overnight trip without him since we got him 4 years ago. He's a rescue with an abuse history and I just can't bare to leave him. Dog mom guilt I guess? Anyway, enough of my stories. I say go. Don't let anybody make you feel bad for the decisions you make. You know what's best for you and your financial situation. Go and have fun.

  34. The debts seem like they can wait and the lack of bedroom furnature doesn't seem that important, but the lack of a full emergency fund would make me pause. Is there any way to have your cake and eat it too? Maybe find some extra work or take a temporary job for a few weeks to raise the cost of the trip? That way you would be in the same financial condition you would have been in if you had not taken the trip.

  35. Andrea! Sometimes i feel like im thinking something and you write it!! Spooky! I have the same dilemena this year. I have joint custody with my kid's father and they are going with him in summer. For years I never went on any trips because i had to pay this or use the money for this and i watched family and friends go on countless trips that everyone was included in except me. I told myself this year 2013 im traveling! i'm saving my money up for it so im not going into debt or using credit cards ( i dont have any) but i want to experinces new things. I'm debating whether or not i should go up early and visit friends or my sister and take a the trip by myself to the east coast or should i meet up with the kids early and do things with them in Colorado? Because techinally them going with their dad is their vacation and they do a lot of activities . etc. with him. Their 5 & 6. We'll see im still not sure about that part but anyways back to you

  36. think if Jayden says he doesnt want to go, he doesnt want to go. He's old enough to tell you what you want. I think you should go or maybe alter the plans a little so that you come back early and the extra money put some a extra payment towards your car so you dont feel guilty? but i have a feeling you will go! Step away from the computer -go out with your friends, bloggers, etc. in real life.

  37. I think when trying to make choices like this you have to try and see the big picture.. From what i am gathering is that you have about 45k-50k in debt.. From there you can figure out how long and when your out of debt date is.. and then after that decide if this trip is worth the amount of time it will push you back to being debt free.. so if you could pay off a thousand a month for the next 4years.. does pushing back a month for this trip seem like a good trade off??

    Flip side.. If your going balls to the wall throwing every thing at this debt to get out of it as fast as possible you would obviously not be contemplating this trip..

    I think you can't go wrong either way since your at the point that your taking time to think about your spending choices.. Good Luck!

  38. I definitely agree with a lot of the previous comments – you have to take care of you! I can honestly say that I think I let my own guilt get the best of me sometimes too – and I end up being a little to conservative. Which isn't bad but if you can't break away every once and while I think that stress will keep bleeding into all the different parts of your life. There really is always going to be something else that comes up or needs attention, as long as you can keep that stuff in balance I think you'll be ok. PS: I also have piles and am in need of bedroom stuff lol I know exactly how you feel 🙂

  39. Personally, I love travel and would go. Especially since it is tax deductible. I think life is for living and while yes, ideally the money should go to debt, what happens if you spend the next 10 years paying off debt, have no life then you die the day after you are debt free? You would not have lived the life you wanted and would have missed out.

    I think it is about balance. You are doing amazing paying down debt, being a single parent and self employed, so the business trip is worth it.

    And yes, parental guilt trumps financial guilt every, single time. I totally get that!

  40. I'd go, but I'm not in your situation, and I would personally be happy and have fun than sit at home and be responsible. I really don't want to sway you one way or the other because this will affect your life and not mine. What I would do is flip a coin. Heads, trip. Tails, home. When the coin is in the air, you will know what you really want it to land on, and then you have your answer!

  41. I would go. I am a great believer in living for the experiences and it sounds like you are in a fairly good financial position. You never know what new opportunities might come your way that you could be missing out on!

  42. Financial decisions such as these are always difficult to make, but I would say close your eyes, imagine what your really want to do (after you've shut everything out) and then just go with it, and worry about the consequences later.

  43. I think a balance between paying of debt and some luxuries has to be found. So obviously you go on that holiday, to be able to put even more energy in reducing your debts afterwards.

  44. I say, go! I also have a lot of student loan debt and recently went to Iceland for a short vacation. I wrote about my decision here:

    It's important to still have fun and live life to the fullest….and because it sounds like it could be a great networking opportunity, that's all the more reason to go!

  45. Will the trip possibly lead to making more money? If so, then go. It really could be an investment in your future.

  46. Absolutely, feel free to go and not feel guilty. I will be taking a vacation in the fall and still have a ton of debt. There is a lot to be said for mental breaks from the intensity of life.

  47. I think that you need to listen to yourself. It sounds like this would be a beneficial trip for you AND you can write it off. My mother was a single parent after the divorce and honestly, there were many years where she needed a break and didn't take one for similar reasons to yours-it wasn't good for her or for me because she was stressed out! Wonderful, loving, stressed out parents are stressful for kids to deal with. SO, this break would be good for your son as well. The years that she took a break or sent me to camp or to Grandma's house were GREAT! Once you return you will be refreshed and able to focus on your financial journey.

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