On Saving to Splurge

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a long conversation with a reader I’ll call Jenny. Jenny has one big thing she loves to splurge on in her life – she likes to take long weekend trips about once every three months, leaving on a Thursday night and getting back late on Monday. Those are her “vacations,” and she goes all over the place on them. She’s been to just about every major European city, much of South America, almost everywhere in the United States that one could even conceive of going, and so on. Aside from this, Jenny is ultra-frugal – in fact, she initially wrote to me with questions about my homemade laundry detergent.

An interesting mix – and so I asked her to explain it in a nutshell.

Travel is *the* thing I splurge on, nothing else. I love seeing the world – it’s the one thing I enjoy above all else. I love going to other places, trying local foods and enjoying local experiences. Because I know that’s what I love to do with my spare time, I’m highly frugal about everything else. I save my nickels and dimes up and then travel every three months or so. I usually try to save twice as much as I’ll need for a trip, then invest the other half, so that I can keep doing this for the rest of my life.

I think what Jenny is doing is brilliant and perfectly matches my definition of frugality – finding the maximum value for you and not for anyone else. Jenny figured out what she values most with her spare time and that’s travel, so she devotes her spare time to maximizing that.

Some additional thoughts:

She’s figured out her passion. She knows that the thing she’s passionate about is travel. Not clothes. Not handbags. Not a flashy car or the latest technology. She wants to travel.

She doesn’t let unnecessary things get in the way of that passion. Compared to that, the rest is all secondary – so why devote money to it? If she spent her money on the latest fashion trends or a new computer every year, she’d travel a lot less – and feel a lot less fulfilled in her life.

But she’s willing to spend to make that passion top quality. She’s taking a weekend-long (Thursday night to Monday afternoon) vacation every three months or so. That’s a pretty hefty expense to incur, without a doubt. Is it excessive? It somewhat depends on Jenny’s financial state, but we do know one thing…

For every dollar she spends on travel, she saves another one for her long term future. That indicates to me that she’s following the right plan. Travel is the one thing she splurges on, and she makes sure that splurge doesn’t get in the way of long term planning. Saving for the future comes way before a weekend of travel – and that’s a healthy personal finance plan.

What about my splurges? Not too long ago, I finally realized that I had to give up some of my hobbies if I ever wanted to achieve financial success. I gave up expensive hobbies like golf (I still have some of my clubs, but haven’t played in about a year) and Magic: the Gathering and focused in on just a few key pastimes (two of which, reading and playing with my kids, are basically free). Nowadays, my biggest splurge is occasionally buying a game for my Wii or DS – much better than the weekend golf outings (with a nice expensive trip to the golf store included).

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  1. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    I’d love to know which places Jenny enjoyed visiting; because I am largely in the same boat: I’m single and I really like short vacations, normally wrapped around a weekend + {1-2} days. Long enough to get you jarred out of your daily rut but not long enough to forget the daily habits that work so well for you.

    My theory now is to visit all of the “interesting” (to me) National Parks (continuing with the Great Sequoias next weekend), using the airlines’ cheap, last-minute, “e-saver” weekend fares as a guide for which park to see next. Minimizes airfare expenses that way.

    The catch is that I don’t do it every month, and so I’ve now cached up so much vacation that I am about to max out (and not accrue more). So, I’ve got a list of more places to visit this summer [summertime in Phoenix is waaay too hot to use up my vacation hours just staying home from work] ;)

  2. Mania says:

    I wandered over via a link on ProBlogger just to check out your homemade theme. I wasn’t intending to stay, but … You mentioned MTG, and unfortunately I know exactly how that hobby can drain a bank account. So I think I’ll take a look around. *grin*

  3. Vered says:

    I agree – this is brilliant. Life is short and precious – it’s important to enjoy it. Saving and being frugal in most areas while splurging in one important area of your life – your passion – is a great way to enjoy life while staying financially responsible.

  4. KC says:

    This is the way to live. I admire Jenny, although that isnt’ how I’d spend my money, but I doubt she’d spend hers like I do. After you get out of debt, set up an emergency fund of cash, contribute the 15-20% to your retirement vehicles and you have everything you need to survive (decent housing, sufficient food, reliable transportation, etc) then what are you saving your money for? That money starts to accumulate pretty quickly and you really should spend some of it. That’s what money is for – finding the value of it to you.

  5. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I asked Jenny to comment here – hopefully, she does (although I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenny were using the long Memorial Day weekend for one of her trips).

  6. Celine says:

    I’m doing this too, starting this year, but I haven’t thought about investing the same amount I put into travel. That’s a great idea! Thanks Jenny and Trent :)

  7. We all have our vices, whether it be nice cars, nice houses, fancy toys, etc…

    I think most people have the fiancial goal of eventually being able to do what they are passionate about and it sounds like “jenyy” has already reached this point!

    I admire her ability to prioritize and then execute!

  8. Ash says:

    This is amazingly inspirational! I would love to do this someday! But this gave me a lot of ideas on how to actually do it! Its less of a ya-right dream now!!!! Thanks!

  9. Aaron Kulbe says:

    Trent, if I’m not mistaken… isn’t this what Tim Ferriss recommends to people?

    Take mini-retirements? vacations?

    It kind of goes along with the idea that what we consider traditional retirement is the worst-case scenario.

    Good stuff. I’m curious to know where she goes, as well.

    Cheers,

    Aaron Kulbe

  10. Jamie says:

    I think this concept strikes an important balance between passion and discipline. Many of us want to be frugal and responsible with our savings so that we can continue to be financially secure well into the future, yes? But what’s the point of having financial longevity if you don’t enjoy those precious years?

    I’m a triathlete, and that’s what I choose to splurge on. It’s an expensive sport, and it’s been a struggle to remind myself of what I really need (and, even more importantly) what I don’t need when there’s always a new gadget, supplement, or piece of equipment that is just. so. sexy.

    I admire Jenny’s resolve to save, but also her determination to fully enjoy her main passion.

  11. AJ says:

    One year I could not find any friends that had the time or money to commit to a week-long (or longer) vacation. Desperate to get out of town I decided I had to spend at least one night a month out of the area. This forced me to accept every invitation to visit out-of-town friends and relatives that I had been offered in the past year.

    It was very enjoyable to visit the places my friends and relatives lived and spend time w/them. Of course I made reciprocal offers to then visit me so I got to show off my hometown and spend even more time w/those I cherished.

  12. Lisa says:

    Its great to hear about Jenny doing this. I want to try doing this. I could retire at 55 in a little over 7 years or a bare bones retirement now. If I wait I get very inexpensive health care and a small monthly retirement income for life. I’ve decided to do the Jenny option of 4-5 days on a fun whirlwind weekend to places I want to go. Some will be planned and others take advantage of last minute deals. I want to do 4 or so a year. I will still be able to save 25% of my income for retirement if I do the trips. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go the barebones route.

  13. Bella says:

    Great comment! As I regularly say, it is good to retire every year.

    @Aaron Kulbe

    I didn’t know Tim Ferris, I’ll look into his work, thanks! It really is my way of seeing it!

    I think I should actually also try something new every month!

    Cheers all

    Bella

  14. Alan says:

    Interesting post. I too work to travel. I’m curious if Jenny finds her long weekends satisfying, or do they end too soon.

    In my case, I prefer to travel for a much longer time, 3-6 weeks at a time. Often the biggest cost is just getting to where you want to go. The longer you can stay, the less your ‘per day’ cost is, especially when leaving the country.

  15. brief says:

    This is awesome. I love the idea of investing as much money as what you save up for your splurges – what a concept!

  16. Jules says:

    I think the biggest hinderance for pursuing a life where I can both live and Live is not money, actually: it’s time, and energy. So far, I manage, but that’s because writing can be done on the train, and aside from a few minor things to be done during the week, I get all of the stuff done on Saturday. But I see my boyfriend, who works irregular (mostly) night shifts, and he’s always complaining to me how tired he is. We have the means to do what we’d like–just not the time.

  17. Journeyer says:

    This is a great idea. Saving, paying off debt and living frugally are all well and good but I, for one, find it much easier to keep going if there is a reward every now and then. We take weekends away camping which is our splurge for now.

  18. Aaron Kulbe says:

    @Bella

    It is part what he talks about in his book “The 4-Hour Workweek”

    http://www.timferriss.com

    Some of the ideas are unconventional, for sure… but there’s a lot of good stuff in that book.

    He makes you think, and challenge assumptions… which I think is a very good thing.

    Bonne chance,

    Aaron Kulbe

  19. Jane says:

    I’m trying to figure the logistics of traveling to Europe on a long weekend. Because Europe is about 8 hours ahead (give or take depending on where one live sin the U.S.), leaving late on Thurs. would make for a late Fri. arrival. In order to return late on Mon., one would have to depart early in the day on Mon. So … Fri. and Mon. are travel days. That leaves Sat. and Sun. to “see the world, try local foods and local experiences.” I too love to travel but I can’t think of anything more frustrating than having only two days in Paris, or London, Madrid, Rome, Rio, etc. It’s a nice concept.

  20. Larry says:

    The daily choices we make each day create our future. A little discipline each day with money will pay off big in the long run.

  21. Erma Mehew says:

    I love this idea, I’m not able to travel at this time because I’m still building my nest egg. It’s looking good, though. For the first time in my life, I’m not broke a week before payday and it feels great.
    I’ve also been doing something Brent suggested a few weeks ago; sharing my home. I have 2 international students that live with me, pay me rent (enough to pay utilities) I’ve done this for several years now and because of this, I have open invitations to visit many countries and stay as long as I like. Many of my friends have told me that they would be uncomfortable sharing their homes but I enjoy the company and am never bored.

  22. clevelis says:

    I agree! My costly passions are travel and photography. Currently, I have a trip planned and will borrow from “Jenny” the idea of saving at minimum of the equivalent of my trip cost.

    Also, I am searching for just the right camera. I’m torn between getting a digital SLR and high end point-and-shoot. I have photography experience so I’m not sure what to buy.

  23. Andrea says:

    Bravo Jenny — frugality is not an end in itself, it’s a means. Without quality of life, and you’ve defined your own, all of this is meaningless. We who are experiential have less trouble living a frugal or spartan existence without tons of “stuff” because there’s not only the big pot at the end of the rainbow, there are little ones along the way. It is a BIG mistake to focus all one’s hopes and dreams and plans in retirement because it’s always possible you won’t have the health or the energy when that time comes around.

  24. Bree says:

    How wonderful! I would love to hear about Jenny in a little more detail, perhaps she could give us a few of the financial details (i.e. her income, the typical costs of these trips, etc.) if she wouldn’t mind?

  25. JonFrance says:

    @Jane (#19)

    Indeed, travelling to Europe on a long weekend is not something I would recommend. (I’m an American who lives in Europe so I cross the Atlantic many times a year to visit family.) And not just because of the travel time: in taking a trip to Europe the number one expense is the airfare, which can range from $500 to $1500 (depending on airline pricing voodoo), but which in any case is the single most expensive part of visiting Europe.

    When you work out the budget for a long weekend trip compared to spending a longer trip, in terms of cost per day, the numbers show that a trip length of at least a week gets you the most for your money. I put up a spreadsheet that illustrates this here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p6kCkg12C2mzF2nS0Kw_mJw

  26. Johanna says:

    @Jane:

    If you’re on the east coast of the US and you can get a direct flight to your destination city, it’s not nearly as bad as that. Leaving late on Thursday means arriving early Friday morning, and getting back late on Monday evening means leaving late Monday afternoon. So you have all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and half of Monday.

    That’s more than enough time to explore and see the sights if you do a little advance planning and know where you’re going. One of the most fabulous and memorable trips I’ve ever taken was to Vienna and Prague, and I only spent about 24 hours in each city. (I lived in England at the time, so it was only a two-hour flight each way.) No, I didn’t see everything, but I saw plenty.

  27. Kate says:

    I love the idea of short vacations in the US and have done that a few times. But when I pay the cost of a flight to Europe then I want to stay longer.

  28. Johanna says:

    @JonFrance:

    Your cost per day calculation assumes two things that might not be true: First, that time off from work is free and readily available (if not, that’s an additional cost/limitation), and second that “cost per day” is the best way to measure your value for money. Depending on the person involved, there could be a point of diminishing returns where a six-day trip is not twice as valuable as a three-day trip.

  29. “…Trent over at The Simple Dollar had an interesting article this week about an avid traveler who is frugal in all areas of life so she can take long weekend trips to different countries every couple months….”

  30. Meg says:

    I would be very interested in learning how much she makes and saves for these trips. Does she go alone? That would be the biggest issue for me. I would be interested in doing this if I had someone to go with. As it is I really don’t know anyone that could, and so I limit myself to a couple week long vacations (visiting with family) per year (and my vacation time still accrues).

  31. Great post! I think she’s got frugality down to an art. It’s all about priorities.

    I noticed you mentioned stopping playing Magic cards. My husband played early in this game and had a whole bunch of cards from the mid-nineties. When we sold them off a couple of years ago, we made enough to fund a trip to Ireland! If you get to the point you want to sell them, I’d be happy to tell you the places we used – specialist sites online. It was a treat to turn what was then clutter into a fabulous trip!

    Jennifer

  32. Jade says:

    I’m one of those people who loves to travel, but I get homesick easily. I’m a “leave on Friday, come home on Monday” kind of traveler. Get there on Friday, unpack, get settled in, explore stuff on Saturday, spend Sunday checking out the stuff I didn’t have time for on Saturday, and then get homesick finally and go home on Monday. Anything longer than that makes me miserable and throws me out of my usual routine too much.

    Problem is I hate traveling alone, and none of my friends would be interested in a 2 day trip to NYC…

    For me, my greater passions are Star Trek and figure skating, both of which let me occasionally indulge my lesser passion of traveling when I go to a convention or competition. And having identified my greatest passions in life not only help me stay focused on saving money to indulge in them, but also helps me to reduce clutter and not keep stuff that I’m just plain not truly passionate about, thus making room in my life for what I do truly enjoy.

  33. Tiffany says:

    I really enjoy reading your articles but you got instantly cooler when I found out you play (or used to anyway) Magic: The Gathering, too. Maybe you could turn around and resell your MTG cards but if you’re like me at all, there’s much too much sentimental value there to do anything with them other than keep them!

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