Vacation Financial Hangover

It’s a beautiful Thursday morning. The sun is semi-shining, the AC is blasting, and I’m up peacefully sipping my coffee. There’s only one thing lacking: Vacation Financial Hangover.

About 7 years ago, Brent and I went through a Crown class that began our road to true financial literacy and freedom. But, it wasn’t until our 13 week experience with Dave Ramsey’s FPU a year later, that we dramatically changed our day-to-day relationship with money. There are so many things I could expand upon, and eventually will, but my focus this morning as I reflect is on our recent vacation.

The idea is simple: pay before you play. Brent and I firmly believe that if you can’t pay for something in cash (outside of a home mortgage-more on that later), you can’t afford it. Taking out a loan or choosing a payment plan is not affording something. For us, paying for an item outright is our only option. When we buy something and bring it home, we want it to be 100%, free and clear, ours! We don’t want monthly payments taking control of our income, nor do we want to pay extra for something because of interest that can accrue. Paying with cash dramatically changes your spending habits and allows you to focus on what you really need (which honestly, isn’t very much).

When we first began our path to financial freedom, there were people in our lives who didn’t understand why we couldn’t just “go in” in on a vacation rental or meet them out for dinner and other activities all of the time. Everyone has credit cards, right? But because of our new mentality, we needed enough notice to save cash for whatever large expense we would accrue. Or, if we were going out, there had to be money in the budget for it. Quite honestly, when we first began our journey, Brent and I didn’t get to do a lot of fun things because we were focused on paying off all of our debt. There are many years we lived on a tight budget (especially when I stayed home after Elizabeth was born and we were a one income household). It was hard turning down the invitation to “go and do,” and I found myself stuck in the middle of a pity party for myself. But then I would remind myself of what our future would look like with no debt, and I was able to refocus and realize that these tight times weren’t forever.

But, back to this morning’s non-existent financial hangover part.


Planning is crucial. Right after Christmas, Brent and I decided it was time to take a trip up north to see his family. But that costs money. Airplane tickets for 3, a rental car, gas for the rental car, food during our stay, Elizabeth’s birthday party and presents, and of course, some fun spending money (who wants to go on vacation and not be able to do anything?) We were fortunate enough to have our lodging taken care of for us.

We saved and shopped around for airline tickets and a rental car, and secured that as soon as we had the funds available. Next was saving cash for the actual trip. We decided that our magic number was $1,000 (you can obviously get away with taking a lot less, but that was our personal number). We didn’t think we’d actually need that much, but we wanted a cushion. Plus, we always find it a challenge to see how much money we can bring home with us at the end of the trip.

While we were up North for 7 days, we did the following things with our cash:

  • Paid for all of our meals with the exception of 3 dinners (we both grocery shopped and cooked some meals as well as ate out multiple times)
  • Paid for gas for the rental car
  • Bought a handful of new t-shirts and a hat from Ocean City’s boardwalk
  • Bought yummy treats on the boardwalk over the course of a few days (fudge, Johnson’s popcorn, saltwater taffy, ice cream, etc)
  • Played arcade games on the boardwalk
  • Bought food and hosted a cookout for 25 people to celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday
  • Bought Elizabeth’s birthday presents and cake
  • Enjoyed a pedicure (that was me, not Brent!)
  • Went shopping at the mall and made multiple purchases 

I’m sure I’m leaving out a few little things here and there, but Brent and I truly enjoyed our vacation. The biggest part of that was not stressing about how much money we were spending. Or as we used to do, close our eyes, swipe the credit card, and cringe. We knew once the cash ran out, we were done. And the best part of this trip? We returned home with $300 to spare!

That hasn’t always been the case. Our honeymoon was put on a credit card as well as any of the activities we did, so when we returned home from our week of “relaxation,” we were met with the stress of payments for several months after. That wasn’t our only vacation financial hangover. This is all too often people’s vacation stories.

I know for some of you, the idea of saving $1000 to take on vacation seems like a number you could never reach (heck, you’re just trying to pay the bills) and for others of you, that’s actually a small number to take with you. But for those of you in the former camp, there is hope. Brent and I have made many sacrifices since we started our journey 7 years ago, and we spent years getting our financial house in order…so now we are starting to enjoy the pay-off (I will be expanding on this in future posts). And while there were years that were just plain hard and we felt like we couldn’t do anything fun, we stuck to our plan, and now we are reaping the benefits.

You just need to take that first step. Develop a plan and work it.

The cash life is the only life for us, and it’s been an incredible experience.

Always, ALWAYS, pay before you play.

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