The Time of Your Life

debt is slaveryRecently, I was leafing through my copy of Michael Mihalik’s excellent personal finance book Debt Is Slavery (one of the very few I’ve actually kept).

I was working through something of a problem in my mind, one that I wasn’t quite sure how it fit in the context of good personal finance management. When I think back to the happiest time in my life, I think about the honeymoon I spent with my wife – the most expensive two weeks of my life.

My wife and I went to England and Scotland for our honeymoon in the summer of 2003. For a week, we stayed in a hotel with a nice room overlooking Hyde Park in central London, about half a block from the Royal Albert Hall and just a short walk from Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Later, we spent a few days in Manchester, followed by a few days in Inverness, along with stops in Bath and a few other random places around the country.

I don’t even want to speculate how much the entire trip cost, but I can say without a doubt that it was the most expensive trip of my life. It was also the most memorable two weeks of my life. I remember so much of it with a warm, loving glow – even the pictures seem to possess a certain magic.

On the surface, this would seem to be an argument against much of what I talk about on The Simple Dollar. From my own experience, the most expensive period in my life was also the happiest.

But as I flipped through Debt Is Slavery, the answer to my problem slapped me right in the face on page 39:

When was the best time of your life?

I would guess it’s something like:
+ The idyllic two weeks at summer camp when you were a child.
+ The two month backpacking trip across Europe.
+ The trip to Mazatlan for spring break.
+ The winter you spent at Sun Valley as a ski instructor.
+ The family road trip across the United States when you were 12.

What’s common about those experiences?

+ You had the freedom to do whatever you wanted.
+ You had few, if any, obligations.
+ You were footloose and fancy-free.
+ You weren’t burdened down with STUFF.

The answer to my very problem was right there in front of me. My honeymoon wasn’t a great memorable time because we spent it in such a fancy place. It was memorable because we spent it together, doing whatever we felt like doing, with only a couple of suitcases to worry about.

We were a continent away from any worries in our lives. This was following a period in which I had worked eighty hour weeks trying to create a product that had just gone live a month or two before our wedding. While we were in England, there were no middle of the night calls. There were no emergency tasks that had to be done.

There was just me, my wife, and a lot of simple and enjoyable things.

Looking back now, I realize that the location could have been almost anywhere and it still would have been the best two weeks of my life. We could have just thrown two changes of clothes into the back of our car and driven away from the wedding and it would have been the best two weeks of our lives.

When you consider it took us almost four years to pay off that trip, I somewhat wish we had just taken the simpler trip. We would have still had the freedom, togetherness, and lack of obligations, but without having to come home to that huge bill.

Great memories don’t come from expensive trips or meticulous planning. They come from spending time with little obligation other than to enjoy yourself.

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