Money, Beaches and Time

Let’s go to Jamaica at the end of the month!

There are times when I think that Bryan has lost his mind. This was one of them. Standing in the kitchen, having just finished his tax return, he wanted to plan a last-minute trip to Jamaica. I think it’s the Spender in him: I’d just told him that his tax return would be twice as big as what he was expecting. We’d already been talking about taking a vacation. Why not go big? We talked around the issues for a few days: My passport is expired, and there’s no guarantee I could get it renewed in time. We don’t know anything about Jamaica. Where in Jamaica would we go? A trip to Jamaica would be expensive.

Eventually, I decided to be honest about how I was feeling: People in our financial situation don’t plan last-minute trips to Jamaica (unless they come across an unbelievable deal, which we haven’t). Besides, we have other priorities and wants that we need to take care of with our tax refunds. Trips to Jamaica are something you save for, and plan, and dream about. Of course, all of this left me feeling like the least spontaneous person in the world! Definitely one of those times when financial responsibility made me feel old.

I vetoed Jamaica, but I did agree to a vacation somewhere on the Gulf. We’ve been working to find that elusive combination of a beach destination, somewhere nice, but not too busy, inexpensive, but with good food and things to do. Yes, our expectations are high. And our timing is terrible: We’re riding right on the edge of Spring Break!

Most of my adult life, I’ve been lucky to take 1 vacation every couple of years. Some of that was financial, but it was mostly because I worked in retail/restaurant management, where even though you got “two weeks” vacation every year, you were highly discouraged from ever taking off long enough for a real vacation. Maybe a day here, or a few days there. But a whole week? No dedicated employee would ever take a whole week off! Vacation time didn’t carry over from one year to the next, so most of it was just lost. It kind of made having 2 weeks off seem pointless.

In my current job, I’m encouraged to take time off. But old habits die hard: This year I carried forward 7 vacation days from 2015. Even with multiple funerals, family emergencies, time off for medical procedures, a long weekend at Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Years off, I still wasn’t able to use up 15 vacation days and six person days. Especially having 4 days carried forward from 2014, and 2 “bonus vacation days” that were given because of all of the extra hours our department had to work.

I’m hopeful that 2016 will be a much calmer year than last. That being said, I’m in no hurry to blow through all my PTO too soon. If something goes wrong, I may need that time! But I also can’t keep carrying forward such large amounts of time. Technically, our days aren’t allowed to be carried forward, but they’re making an exception for my department, because for most of the year we’re too busy to take time off. But that could change at any time.

Last year also reinforced the idea that our time isn’t guaranteed, and it’s important to spend time with the people you love. You may not get the opportunity later. Financial priorities make this a struggle. I want to put everything towards my car loan, and then towards savings goals. But, if we can keep our vacations within reason, does it really matter if I pay off the loan a few weeks later than originally planned? So long as I’m paying with cash, and not going into debt, or missing payments on anything else, is it really that big of a deal?

It hits me even harder because of the age difference between Bryan and I. He reminds me almost daily that he’s going to die, probably sooner than later. Which I counter by pointing out that both of his parents, Aunts and Uncles, and a Grandmother, are all still alive and (mostly) well. But men in their 50’s do seem to die more often of heart issues. Nothing is guaranteed. I treasure our trips together. And, so long as we aren’t spending more than we can afford, I don’t see regretting taking them.

My mom has also been pushing for another “Girls Trip”. And Bryan and I will probably take another trip around the Holidays. Three vacations in one year seems crazy to me! But, I have the time. And, so long as I continue to watch my money, I can afford it. My mom is only a few years older than Bryan, but is in the process of retiring. Her health took a turn for the worse last year, and she’s struggling. I’m glad she’s in a position to be able to retire; She and my dad definitely got a late start in life to get their finances together. But careful planning means she can retire now without much of a change in lifestyle. And that’s despite her having been the high earner for the last 15 years. She can even still afford to take the occasional vacation. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to spend that time with her.

Right now, I’m trying to balance the past, the present, and the future. In a few more months, my car loan will be gone, and I’ll be able to leave the past behind. It will always be a balancing act between the future and the present. And there are some sacrifices I’ll have to make along the way. You can’t have it all. But, with some planning, I can still have it pretty darn good!

Question: How do you select a vacation destination? When the plan is pretty much a blank slate, how do you decide where to go?

  • Cindy W.


  1. I find it is a constant balance between the past, present and future. Not easy.
    I have a long list of travel destinations, some local and some further away (we live in Australia so it is expensive to get pretty much anywhere). But this means we can be flexible and choose what fits with our budget and priorities at the time. We also have kids so it is a bit more complicated (and 4 x airfares, Accommodation for 4 etc). As long as I have at least one trip in the planning, I’m happy 🙂

    1. You know, being from the States, and always thinking of Australia as a “someday if I had a lot of money” vacation destination, it never even occurred to me how expensive it must be to live there and want to go somewhere else on vacation. We have such a variety of places here that are just a car ride away. Albeit sometimes a very long car ride! And not having children definitely makes the planning, and money, much easier to deal with!

      I think planning is one of the biggest differences in Bryan and my vacation styles. I’m more likely to book something 3-6 months out, which gives me time to plan and save and dream. Bryan starts talking about a trip less than a month before he wants to go, and usually doesn’t want to commit to anything until a week or two out. Some of that is probably due to always working in construction, and never knowing when he’ll be working. Luckily my office is very flexible, especially with my new job, so they’re okay with me saying “I’m going to take next week, or maybe the week after, off”.

      I think it would help our situation a lot if, after the car loan is paid off, I setup a vacation fund, and renewed my passport. That way the money is always there, and I’m ready to go at a moments notice!

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