Updated on 02.18.12

Dancing with Tomorrow

Trent Hamm

“Your house is paid off and you have some money in savings. Why not live a little?”

A friend of mine asked me this the other day when I said that our family vacation this summer was just going to be a camping trip in a national park, shortly followed by a mention of the fact that I loaded up my Kindle (that I received as a gift last year) with public domain novels for free, particularly Charles Dickens novels.

It’s an interesting question, and it’s one that left me thinking for the last few days. I’ve come to the conclusion that the spending path we’re on is still the right path, regardless of how our financial picture has changed due to our debt paying diligence and careful spending over the past few years.

First of all – and this is the biggest reason – Sarah and I don’t have an aching desire to buy a lot of expensive things. Sure, we could fly our family to Disneyworld or something for a summer vacation, but it’s not what we want to do. We’re looking forward to camping with our children for several days.

We are aware of some of the things we could buy, but we don’t really strongly want any of those things. Honestly, I can’t even think of a remotely expensive purchase I want to make in the next few years beyond unplanned replacements for things we currently use.

Instead, when I think of what I want to do with our current debt-free financial state and our savings, I just have to look around our house and think about the future.

As I write this, my three children are going to sleep in the bedroom that they share. We choose to have them share a bedroom for now to build up stronger sibling relationships, and it seems to be working. Almost every night, I can hear our two oldest children talking together for a while before they go to sleep.

I read them a book this evening about different places around the world. There was a page about Paris and France, a page about Egypt, a page about Japan, and pages about many other interesting and beautiful places. We talked a bit about the places we wanted to see, but right now, they’re in there talking about those places some more.

My son has a strong burgeoning interest in martial arts. My daughter loves to sing and dance and is showing some beginning interest in playing music. All three of my children are inquisitive. It’s hard for fifteen minutes to go by at our home without a barrage of questions about various things.

Equipment. Lessons. Travel. Education. These all cost money, but they don’t cost money today.

On top of that, we’re also watching the property listings and looking for the perfect piece of land in the country upon which to build the house we’ve always dreamed of.

Spending our money on things that we don’t strongly want today sacrifices the things that we do strongly want tomorrow.

It is really easy to allow the temptations of today to drown out the bigger things we want in our lives. Eat out a few times a week, stop for Starbucks a few times a week, drive a new car on payments, go grocery shopping without a list and buy unnecessary things, have the latest and “greatest” cell phone, and you’ll find yourself wondering how on earth the family down the block can afford to go to Norway on their vacation this year.

Well, the answer is that they don’t eat out a few times a week, stop for Starbucks a few times a week, drive a new car on payments, go grocery shopping without a list and buy unnecessary things, or have the latest and “greatest” cell phone. I know that this actually describes us.

I recently saw a person standing outside a new Lexus in the parking lot and shouting into their iPhone at a bill collector. I’d far rather drive my eight year old fully-paid-for Pilot and talk into my freebie cell phone while knowing that I am going to have the freedom to dance with tomorrow.

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  1. marta says:

    :: groans ::

    It wasn’t just frugality and careful spending that paid your mortgage off. It’s obvious that you had a windfall when you sold your blog.

    I am not even going to touch the incessant patting yourself regarding your virtuous and frugal lifestyle. OH NOES yet another Lexus-owner drowning in debt!

    Disclaimer: I like the outdoors too, I don’t care about cars — don’t even have/need one — and I also have a cheap cell phone that doesn’t do my laundry. But there is something about the way Trent goes on and on about this stuff that bugs me.

  2. Johanna says:

    You could just as easily turn this around and ask how the family down the block can afford to drive new cars, use fancy cell phones, eat out a few times a week, go to coffee shops when they want to, and buy whatever they want at the grocery store.

    Well, the answer is that they’re content with the house they live in now, so they don’t need to save every penny for a dream house in the country.

    There’s some pretty serious cognitive dissonance going on when spending money on a fancy new car (unless that car is a Prius) or a fancy new phone is the height of irresponsibility, but spending money on a fancy new *house* is as virtuous as can be.

  3. Katie says:

    While I think Johanna’s critique is the more important one, there’s also the fact that this world does, in fact, contain people who can actually afford to go to Starbucks and Norway without being fiscally irresponsible in the least.

  4. shannon says:

    Oh Trent, yet again you assume:

    1. The Lexus car owner is drowning in debt and
    2. Is unhappy.

    Maybe the lexus owner has the money and loves his toys and isn’t drowning in debt? Why do you feel the need to look down upon those who don’t share your dream a big house in the countryside?

  5. Johanna says:

    @Katie: But don’t forget, all those people are secretly miserable because they’re working 80-hour weeks and never have time to have dinner with their families. /eyeroll

  6. Steven says:

    The sentiment of this article is good. There’s no sense in buying Stuff that doesn’t bring you pleasure. But you lost me once you started talking about your kids and their interests. If your children want to learn martial arts, why not enroll them in classes? Do you figure that you can just put it off long enough that he’ll lose interest?

    You try to make living a frugal lifestyle seem superior to the ways other people live, and I agree that it is better than being in debt and having to be stressed over money constantly, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem like you really “enjoy” your financial freedom. It could just be your personality (you like what you like, as this post implies.) But I have to wonder if the money isn’t really in control of your decisions. There are two extremes when it comes to finances. Those who are in debt up to their eyeballs but won’t quit spending, and cheapskates. I see the pendulum swinging towards you being cheap.

    And that’s alright. Some people are like that. They have to reach both ends of the spectrum before they moderate somewhere in the middle. But don’t “punish” your children because of it. If they have a strong desire to do something (like martial arts), get them involved. Enroll them in classes. Don’t just hand them a book and tell them to read about it.

  7. Riki says:

    Johanna, I think you are so right here.

    I have always been irritated by these posts but I find myself unable to put together a response that doesn’t seem more snarky than necessary so I usually say nothing. But this waxing on and on about the virtues of frugality drives me bonkers.

    My honest response is this:

    Trent, I’m glad you have your world figured out and I can see how much joy you get from your family. So I’m happy you have what you need, truly.

    But your experiences don’t necessarily extend themselves to everybody else and when you try to draw expansive life-lessons from the decisions you make, it falls flat. It doesn’t work. The world is a very complicated place and I don’t think you quite have the experience or wisdom to make judgements you have a tendency to make.

    You DO have an aching desire to buy something expensive – a house in the country! And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a nice house. My issue is that you don’t apply the yardstick against which you measure everybody else’s desires to your own. And you openly judge somebody with a Lexus when you have a relatively new Prius in your driveway. For what it’s worth, I probably would have made exactly the same decision that you did when you bought the Prius, however, when you talk about other people’s new cars you always mention your eight-year-old Pilot and never, ever mention your Prius. It comes across as dishonest.

    I know LOTS of people who don’t eat out on a regular basis (I’m one of them!) and rarely buy coffee at Starbucks (again, me) and keep the heat low to save on oil and drive older cars and borrow books from the library (again, me) – so forgive me, but your decisions regarding money don’t really seem all that special to me. Your viewpoint STILL seems clouded by your freewheeling twenties but I think it gives you a highly skewed perspective on what life is for lots of people. You constantly judge other people for spending money on things you don’t value. Yes, you judge them.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: all this virtue you feel comes off as . . . annoying.

  8. Andrew says:

    This post shows a remarkable blend of smugness and insecurity.

    Is it really necessary to mention that your Kindle was a gift? Are you so afraid that your credibility as a frugality guru will be over if you admit to spending $79 on something?


  9. Gretchen says:

    I wasn’t aware one’s only vacation options where Camping or Disney or Norway.
    Norway’s probably *cheaper* then Disney, assuming you can get a good deal on a flight.

  10. Cathleen says:

    I rally do not understand the constant harping, not just on this blog, against iPhones. They are no more expensive that other smartphones or even feature phones if you get one through a carrier free offer.

    Also how do you even know the person paid for the phone or the bill?
    I work in Silicon Valley and everyone I know who works in tech gets a free phone and the bill is paid for by corporate, as mine is.

    So yes, the judgmental attitude gets old and is stereotypical and might not even fact based.

  11. Alice says:

    The general idea of this post makes sense to me, don’t fritter away money on things you haven’t fully thought about just because you happen to have money available.

    But I’m feeling a strange justification going on. To me, an eight year old Prius and a new Lexus both signal luxury and concern with status. The prius sends a different message than the lexus, but it’s still sending a message. The country home sends yet another message.

    I’d like the tone of these posts better if they acknowledged that the prius, the country house, and the other things Trent chooses to spend money on fit into his family’s wants, and that the prius, etc. are not inherently superior than what anyone else (who can afford it) decides to do.

    I commend Trent’s transformation from deeply in debt to very financially secure in about 5 or 6 years. But the changes in Trent’s situation might prompt a rethinking of his target audience: he has much less in common with people financially struggling than he used to (not that he does not understand those issues, but they would no longer be his main concern).

    To me, I find this post a bit off-putting, because it seems to flaunts financial success, not be conspicuously spending, but by conspicuously saving, rather than announcing “we went to Disney,” this post announces “we can afford to go to disney, but decided there were better things to do with the money, so we’re smarter than people who went to disney.”

  12. Andrea says:

    My parents tooks me to Disney when I was little, and it was WONDERFUL!! I have so many fun memories of it, and we have many pictures from the trip where there is an expression of sheer glee on my face as I hug the characters. Maybe it was fake and consumerist, but it was also… dare I say… magical.

    They also took me camping when I was little. And for them, camping with little kids was a stressful experience, what with cooking over a campfire, dealing with diapers in the woods, etc. We didn’t camp after that, because it wasn’t relaxing for anyone.

    Camping was not for us, as a family. Disney was. And that doesn’t make us bad people. My sister and I still grew up with lots of educational stimulation and became thoughtful adults, and my parents are not bankrupted by their 1980s vacation splurge.

  13. Johanna says:

    On top of everything everyone’s already said, there’s the title. Dancing with tomorrow? WTH does that mean? It seems like Trent thinks that good, expressive writing is merely a matter of throwing images around at random. He is mistaken.

  14. Ryan says:

    Andrea, I like that you mentioned “maybe it was fake and consumerist”.

    I was in Paris last fall and me and a friend went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and each paid 10 euros for a glass of champagne. No, we didn’t need to but it’s honestly one of my favorite memories of my 4 month study abroad trip. Consumerist or not, I wouldn’t trade that day for anything.

  15. David says:

    Norway is not actually cheaper than Disney, but it is cheaper than Starbucks. Better save for a while longer, then you can go bowling with the middle of next week.

  16. Vanessa says:

    What is a freebie cell phone?

  17. MikeTheRed says:

    I get the concept of the post:

    Live the life you want, spend on what’s important to you and your life. Make the choices that lead you towards security, success and happiness and don’t change who you are if circumstances suddenly change through a windfall or something similar. Also, don’t let short-term wants compromise your ability to achieve the long-term ones.

    However, I do agree with many of the comments that the writing comes off as a bit smug. There’s nothing inherently wrong about the iPhone or the Lexus, if that’s something within the person’s budget. Just at a glance you don’t know if that guy paid for the Lexus in cash or not. You also don’t know what % of his income the car or the phone take up.

    I understand that you’re writing through the filter of your own experiences and worldview, but you too often come across as judgmental and superior when you talk about your good traits and everyone else’s bad ones. Combine that with the rehash of the 365 series, and I wonder if your heart is really in the site anymore.

    You’ve reached your success, sold the blog and now you’re playing reruns. Is it time to find something else?

  18. Availle says:

    @17: “You’ve reached your success, sold the blog and now you’re playing reruns. Is it time to find something else?”

    If you search for Trent online, you will find a page with a happily milk drinking kid and this statement:

    “I’m a writer living in Iowa. I founded TheSimpleDollar.com and watched it grow up and leave home. Now seeking new challenges and adventures.”

    I’d say he’s a goner.

  19. jim says:

    I generally agree with Trents point. Its smart to not spend money on stuff you marginally value and instead save your money for things you strongly value. If you don’t really like eating out all that much then don’t waste money on it. Saving your money for that future dream home is a good long term goal.

    The only trick is to not delay gratification forever. When you have bought the dream house… then what? Will there ever be a trip to Disney or will you sit on millions of dollars and tell your kids that any family vacation that doesn’t involve a tent is ‘too expensive’? Hopefully not.
    Eventually you do have to ‘live a little’. Otherwise frugality evolves into miserly.

  20. jim says:

    BTW, iPhones aren’t a sign of frivolous excess. You can get one for $1 now when you sign up. You can buy used iPhones and unlock them to use on a cheapo plan. iPhone does not equate to squandering money.

    Its just a phone. Not much different from Trent’s supposed ‘freebie’ phone.

  21. Jeez, you people are mean! I don’t think Trent meant this post to say the everything you all do with your money that isn’t saving for the things that make you happy is the devil. He’s just saying that for him, going on an expensive vacation doesn’t improve his quality of life.

    Recently my husband and I paid off our car and with the addition of a very large tax refund we found ourselves with disposable income and an increased monthly cashflow. For almost an entire day I felt listless about all the money and what to buy with it. Then I realized it was things that I wanted but our society has trained us to think that if we have money we should spend it on things.

    As soon as I realized that things weren’t going to fulfill me or make me happy I was able to take a good look at what our life goals were and contribute that money to save for those goals.

    Stop judging people! You’re making it feel like you’re over compensating for the guilt of spending frivolously. ha

  22. Kai says:

    I think we all agree with the benefits of saving money on the things that don’t matter to you to spend your money on the things that do matter for you (including saving for future options).

    But when Trent leaves that train and starts explaining how the things that matter to him are good (his big country house, his prius) but the things that others choose to spend on are bad (vacations, cell phones), he moves away from practical financial advice, and into “i’m better than you” terrotory.

    As for the children, his are all still quite young. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to not enroll a 4-year-old in martial arts. That paragraph sounded to me like he’s watching his young children develop some interests, and wants to save money so that in a few years when they are old enough to take music lessons and martial arts classes, they will have the money to pay for it then, which he thinks will be a better use than a more expensive vacation when the children are very young.
    I sure wouldn’t take kids their ages to disneyland – only the oldest might be able to appreciate it.
    So his specific example of saving some money to pay for things when the kids get there makes sense to me. I don’t think he meant that they wouldn’t get to do any of those activities, but that they were upcoming plans.

  23. Johanna says:

    @Kai: It’s his son (who’s 6, I believe) not his daughter (who’s 4) that’s interested in martial arts. His daughter is the one that’s interested in music. I don’t know what the right age is to sign a kid up for martial arts lessons, but just a few weeks ago Trent was talking about how both the 6-year-old and the 4-year-old were signed up for several other athletic activities (which makes his “Look how frugal we are for not signing our kids up for activities” schtick fall a bit flat).

    And age 4 most certainly is old enough to start music lessons.

  24. Kai says:

    Ah, I didn’t remember the exact ages of the kids.
    4 is old enough to start, but it’s hardly a detriment to put it off. It really sounded to me more like “my kids are showing some interests that we’d like to have some money to fund in the future” not “my kids read books instead of doing things”.
    I think you *can* start most activities really young, but I don’t think it deprives a child of much if you let them sing and dance to the stereo at 4, and take music lessons of one sort or another in another few years.

  25. kevin says:

    Dave Ramsey has often stated that he drives a Lexus. Somehow I doubt the he is drowning in doubt. And I bet he can “dance with tomorrow.”

    And I’ve noticed through out my life that the people constantly boasting about their perfect kids and perfect marriage are usually over-compensating.

    JD at Get Rich Slowly recently sold his blog as well. He has been much more honest in his writing. He clearly admits that the windfall paid off his house. He does not pretend it was all frugality and discipline. You also encounter a real human being. He has written of the pain of divorce and often talks about his current failures regarding money.

    I wonder if Trent really goes through life as arrogant as he appears on to be on this blog. It’s possible. We all know people like that. Perhaps it’s even healthy. I wouldn’t know. I constantly find myself coming up short when I compare myself to others.

  26. Carole says:

    I enjoyed the post. I don’t understand all the negativity about it. I thought it heartwarming.

  27. Jen says:

    Uggghhh…you’re great Trent…you have all the best ideas, and someday I hope to be as awesome as you. Also, kids can bond without sharing a room. Also, you can have a Lexus and have money and have fun. Also, your last story regarding the Lexus owner yelling into his iPhone sounds suspicious. Be Genuine…that is what makes good writing!

  28. Todd says:

    Trent: (loading up tent and sleeping bags) “This is heaven!”

    Lexus Owner: (into his iPhone) “No, it’s Iowa.”

  29. kevin says:

    After the Lexus driver finished yelling into his iPhone he no doubt used it to watch an episode of Big Bang Theory.

  30. Kate says:

    OK, I admit it. I think that I might have been the person who originated the word snarky here on TSD. Now, I am finding more and more that very snarky phrases are popping into my mind since TSD “grew up and left home.” (i.e. since the advent of the New Year/sale/fill in the blank). I so want to do what I have suggested to others in the past…just stop reading if it doesn’t apply to me anymore. Yet I keep coming back. And I can’t understand why I do–do I think that I may ever again find the small nuggets of wisdom/genuine writing that I used to find here? I am officially extending my apologies to those who have tried, in the comments section, to prod Trent towards a higher level here on TSD.

  31. Genny says:

    I get that some of you are irritated by Trent’s recurring themes. But, to say that all or even most of the Lexus/Iphone/whatever owners are probably happy and can afford their expensive gadgets flies in the face of all of the data on Americans and personal debt. Please just research “average American debt vs savings” before posting that. Trent might be irritating but that does not make him wrong about most American consumers in general.

  32. Tom says:

    I was wondering if the point Trent was making here was supposed to be, “We have money that we intend to spend on things you can’t see,” ie, paying off the mortgage, eventually enrolling the children in lessons, classes, activities, or saving for the future house on the perfect plot of land. He already has his kindle; he has no need for a second one, and more importantly, no unnecessary want for a second one.
    The point got a bit derailed and “judgy” at the end. In fact, remove the last paragraph about Mr iPhone Lexus, and you have an article that thoughtfully describes valuing future opportunities over impulsive and unnecessary consumerism, without being too preachy.

    FWIW, I believe that my child is about the same age as Trent’s youngest, and I doubt that I want to take her on a plane to Disney right now. Re-reading now, I don’t see a lot of judgment in his writing towards people who do want to do that, he just said while he could spend more on a vacation, he doesn’t really want to.

  33. Kai says:

    There are a lot of people right now drowning in debt and fancy possessions. And they look down on people who don’t have what they have, because they think it is important. When Trent makes assumptions about everyone he sees with any fancy possession (except a dream home in the country or a prius) and decides they must be drowning in debt, and satisfactorily looks down on them for it, it doesn’t make him look much better.

    As for the perfect house, perfect marriage, and perfect kids, it’s very easy that what looks like positivity to Trent (talking about the good parts) could inadvertently come off as bragging about the awesomeness to others.

  34. Slccom says:

    When I saw the headline, the first thought that came to my mind was that tomorrow you may no longer be able to dance. Bad things happen; auto collisions turn healthy people into people with quadriplegia. Strokes come out of nowhere, despite the magical thinking of eating “right” and exercising, and end the dancing forever.

    While Trent’s younger kids are too young to remember much from Disney, Trent could really create some magic by taking the older one to Disney. Start those piano lessons for both. Music lessons are great for kids’ mental development, as is well documented. Leave the kids with the grandparents and take a short trip with your wife.

    Tomorrow is promised to nobody. Enjoy the present without being irresponsible.

  35. Kai says:

    Sure, the oldest might be just old enough, but I can’t imagine spending that kind of money to take one child on a vacation. It’s not like it would be remotely detrimental to him to wait until he’s ten and the young one is five (or whatever they are) and have a great family vacation then.
    Heck, we did disney when my youngest sister was six, and she barely has any memories of it. With a big split in ages, my parents had to balance between the old one and the young one, but disney with the oldest at 6 years would be a lot of money for not much memory.
    I understand taking vacations that are for the adults, and bringing young children along, but I really don’t understand people who spend a lot of money on vacations for the kids when the kids are too little to really enjoy it.

  36. Tracy says:


    I would say that there’s a difference between the kids being too little to ‘enjoy’ it and being too little to ‘remember’ most of it.

  37. Slccom says:

    I’m not opposed to waiting until all the kids are older to go to Disney; however, a lot of the “magic” is going off on a trip all alone with Daddy. It could be a camping trip — the point is being alone with Daddy. Or Mommy.

  38. Kai says:

    I agree with the difference between ‘enjoy’ and ‘remember’. But a five-year-old will have the time of his life if he gets to play in the dirt with a stick. I don’t think you get substantially more enjoyment for a small child by spending more money.

    If you want to give your child an exciting ‘alone with mommy/daddy’ time, that definitely seems the kind of thing you could spend not too much money on, since the special part is getting a parent all to one’s self. I’d tend to make that an overnight camping trip, and spend the big money on something the whole family will enjoy.

  39. Most of Trent’s post I have enjoyed. This one felt like same old same old to me. And is there really no big expense you see in the next few years?

    For me, I could see some improvements to our home mainly. Our kitchen cabinets are starting to fall apart. We rebuilt one drawer as it was leaving sawdust on all the clean casserole dishes that resided under it. Now my pots and pans wound up with a popsicle stick in it from the drawer that is above them. So if we remain here, (My husband interviewed for a job in another state.), we may decide to do something about our aging kitchen cabinets. I fear it will be expensive, but we do have the mortgage paid off and no debt whatsoever.

    So no, I can’t say there isn’t any large purchases I can forsee. Some day we will have to replace our older vehicle, but as long as my husband continues to work from home, it may not happen for awhile. Yes, I don’t forsee any computers, electronics, unless something breaks. But who really knows?

  40. Slccom says:

    Drawers are easy to repair; cut a piece of Masonite to size and put it in, glue the sides back and you are good.

    Good luck with the job interview for your husband!

  41. Raya says:

    You can always find something to feel offended about if you WANT to feel offended.

    I’ve been reading this blog for about two years, and I honestly don’t get why someone would feel that Trent is being “smug” or “judgmental”. People often comment on his tone, well – I think his tone is perfectly fine. (And talking about being judgmental, read the comments again, judging Trent for *supposedly* judging others.)

    I mean, come on. It’s just a blog, people.

  42. gail says:

    I thought this was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in a long time. Don’t spend you money on things that are not really important to you and your family. And just because you have some extra money in your pocket, you don’t have to spend it right away. Period!

  43. Johanna says:

    @Raya: It’s not his tone that’s the problem – it’s the content of what he’s saying. He says he doesn’t have any desire to buy expensive things. Except he does. He has a desire to build a dream house in the country. And he’s recently bought the new Prius, the $200 cast iron pot, and the $600 blender. And he wanted to buy a piano, but his wife wouldn’t let him.

    He’s ignoring all sorts of examples from his own life that don’t fit his conclusion. That makes it difficult to believe anything he says.

  44. Tracy says:


    Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the value of the vacation is tied to how much money is spent on it … I never went (or wanted to go) to Disney as a kid and was more than fine with that!

    I just don’t like the slope of ‘kids won’t remember a family vacation at xyz age, so don’t bother taking one’

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