This year is almost halfway over and I’m delighted to announce that my personal spending is lower than last year in every category of my budget. And without the worry of paying off my private student loan (I bid them good riddance in December!), the balances in my savings and investment accounts are higher also. With these financial wins, however, come some budgeting challenges for the summer.
When I began being better with money™, mindfulness became my mantra. Questioning every purchase and weighing every opportunity cost was a key strategy for me to eliminate wasteful purchases while still trying to live a fulfilling life. I’m a firm believer in mindful spending over hardcore restriction, so my budget is not completed optimized for extreme early retirement. Designing my budget in a thoughtful way allowed me to cut back on the things that did not bring much joy while not depriving myself of the (reasonably priced) experiences that made me happy. (I was elated to learn I got a Rockstar Feature for my budgeting post, which you can read here.)
I follow some conventional FI advice–I drive an older, paid off car, I don’t have a daily latte habit (or insert any consistent mindless purchase), my credit card balances are a thing of the past–but without my private student loan debt this summer, I’m allowing myself to be ok with spending more this year on experiences that enrich our lives.
My neurotic preoccupation with my spending sometimes borders on obsessive, but I’m trying to let go when it comes to purchases that bring value. It can be easy to fall into the trap of spending money because “I deserve this” or “Who cares? It’s only one time/on sale/etc,” so I’m keeping conscientiousness and balance front and center as I’m loosening the purse strings a bit for my summer spending. (I am considering trying an “anti-budget,” which Jessica from the Fioneers wrote about here.)
I have two major “pots” of money available for spending–my personal account and our joint account. I’m happy to report my personal spending should be low this summer, but the “budget busters” of summer have been and will be joint expenses. When I budget I try to align my spending with my values and although our 3 major summer expenses are a huge cost for most, all reflect our love of travel, desire to stay active, and commitment to our “fur children.”
I realize I am fortunate to be able to afford some wonderful things this summer without going into any sort of debt. I am embracing these big expenses, and, without further ado, here are my 3 summer budget busters:
Number 1: A European/North African Vacation
4 cities. 3 countries. 2 continents. 1 desert.
What started as a simple trip to visit my fiancé’s sister as she completes her Fulbright program in Spain developed into a 2 week excursion that included time in Morocco and Portugal, two “must visit” places on my list. All in, our total spending was about $6,000 which, I’ll admit, was difficult for my frugal-minded self to process when we added it up. This cost included everything for the two of us, as well as most meals/drinks for my fiancé’s younger sister who could join us for about half the trip.
Luckily we booked the tickets for the transatlantic flights using credit card miles, but we made the choice to explore the region instead of staying the entire time in one city. There were definitely things we could have done to keep costs lower, but we made the decision to pay for comfort and ease (i.e. upgraded seats on flights for my long-legged fiancé, Airbnbs instead of hostels, ride shares instead of buses and flights instead of train rides to save time).
One of our best “non-frugal” spending decisions was to book a private 3 day, 2 night Sahara desert tour for 350 Euros each (which included everything but lunches and tip). Although this is steep for most travelers, it was so worth it to have a private driver instead of a crowded tour bus. We took the journey at our own pace and received wonderful descriptions and answers from our guide.
Our costs were low for “touristy” sites as we choose to spend time walking through cities, eating and drinking as we discovered new neighborhoods. Sampling local wines and seafood dishes (which we cannot get in Ohio!) does add up, but the costs were worth it. We selected casual joints instead of fancy sit down restaurants for the most part, but the costs for 2 (and usually 3) people added up.
I do not regret the money we spent on our amazing trip. The biggest downside was the price of accommodations in Madrid (we realized the exorbitant price of even the cheapest hostel was due to a major soccer championship–If I never see another Liverpool fan for the rest of my life I’ll be ok 😜). Despite the Madrid inconveniences, this trip definitely passed the test of bringing value and joy.
Number 2: A Pool Pass
As a teacher, summers by the pool are one of the most rewarding parts of ending a stressful school year. Since I was a kid spending time in our backyard pool and at the local waterpark, I’ve loved being near the water. Although my time as an adult is characterized by more reading and fewer cannonballs, going to the pool is fun and relaxing nonetheless.
We live adjacent to one of the nicest neighborhoods in my city. I can practically see that neighborhood’s pool from the porch of my home (where I pay significantly lower taxes). When I returned from vacation, I was talking with a friend from my gym who planned to take her son to that neighborhood’s pool. When I told her I lived right up the street from the pool, she asked if I wanted her to “sponsor” us so we could join.
I spoke with my fiancé about this possibility. After sleeping on it, we decided to pay the $330 non-resident fee to join. Like our vacation, this is another steep cost of purely luxury spending and I recognize that. Could I have just spend $25 on a lawn sprinkler and lounge chair? Of course, but I’m already finding value in my pool pass.
Going to the pool gets me out of the house and gives me time to tackle the stack of library books I reserved and a place to swim laps. My fiancé encouraged we join because he also wanted to swim laps as a low-impact compliment to his own training. The couple that swims together, stays together I guess 🤷🏻♀️.
I’m looking forward to using the pool as an alternative to sitting around the house when it’s too hot to enjoy the outside. Also, the pool can be a hangout place with friends instead of an expensive dinner or night out. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer reading on lounge chairs, working out some overused muscles in the lap lanes, and taking a dip during the kid’s rest period.
Number 3: Dog Training
Something weird happened to our pitbull when she turned two last year. She started exhibiting some fearful and anxious behaviors and became unmanageable on our walks. We took her to the vet and although luckily there was nothing physically wrong with her, we needed to do something for our sweet pup.
I reserved every book on dog training and behaviors I could from the library. We bought her a new bed for “her place” in the living room and even made a habit of cooking chicken as a reward for training. Although our pitbull showed some improvement, she still is inconsistent on walks and around some strangers. At a solid 70 pounds, the inconsistency is worrisome when she could be a danger to herself, me, a friend, or a child. I try to take the dogs on at least two walks each day, which leaves plenty of opportunities for a major problem. And although I absolutely love leisurely walks with the pups, her behavior caused me to avoid taking them, which isn’t good for their health or mine.
While our Aussie mix is extremely food motivated, our pitbull doesn’t care about tasty chicken when we see a squirrel on the walk. I finally admitted that I could not adequately train her and we needed to find some outside help. My fiancé found a local dog trainer with videos of happy, obedient pups and we scheduled a consultation. In just an hour, his positive methods seemed to make her calmer and easier to handle.
Unfortunately, the wait list for this trainer is long. We will finally be taking our pitbull for three formal training sessions in July that are guaranteed to work. And it’s not cheap–just over $1000 for the program. We are encouraged by the trainers approach, reviews, and evidence of effectiveness, but also we look forward to the unlimited group classes following our one-on-one sessions. Much like some humans need personal trainers to help them get into shape, we are trying to do the same for our dog
Despite my increased joint spending levels for the summer, I’m still happy with the overall health of my budget. All of our expenses are manageable for our income and do not significantly take away from our savings. It’s important to me to carefully consider our budget priorities, and I believe we are spending on the things that truly improve our quality of life.
Of course there are always ways to optimize pretty much anyone’s budget to save more, but we want to prioritize the fun experiences we love. When I weigh the opportunity costs of these 3 large expenses, I still feel we made the right choices for us.
What are some of your recent “non-frugal” purchases that add value to your life?