Marvelous Money: Making Trade-offs

23 January 2017

Two years ago, I wrote a Marvelous Money post about preparing financially for a baby. I did not, in fact, have a baby at the time, and so I took great pains to tell you to take my advice with a grain of salt. I also promised to revisit the topic at some point in the future. Today I wanted to touch on one aspect of our financial life post-baby, and I hope there will be more to come in the future. And good news! Whether or not you have kids (or ever plan to), I think you’ll find this post helpful, because it centers around what I feel is one of the most important personal finance topics to truly take to heart: trade-offs.


In preparing our 2017 budget, we decided to cancel the trip we’d planned to take to the Southwest this year.

Here’s the thing: we have the money to take this trip. It’s sitting in our bank account. But, because we also have the Very Big Goal of paying off our mortgage in the next five years, we are choosing not to take it.

(Why am I connecting these extra mortgage payments to our foregone vacation instead of, say, our extremely expensive childcare? Because we were able to take more expensive vacations and still make extra payments before we had June, it might seem to make more sense to “blame” our childcare costs for this trip cancellation. But, because childcare is a must-do, and the extra payments are something we’re choosing to do, to me it seems like the payments are squeezing out the vacation.)

Were we disappointed when we decided to postpone this trip? Yes. But, it’s hard to feel disappointed when I think about all of the marvelous adventures we’re still going to have this year. We’re going to spend ten days on an Island in Maine with my family. We’re going to use the week we would have been in the Southwest to travel to Michigan with John’s family, a trip that will cost less than $1,000 compared to the $4,500 we were estimating for the Southwest. We’re going to take two long weekend 30th birthday trips (more about those soon!). And, as I shared in my 2017 goals, we’re going to have lots of fun right where we are, having everyday adventures close to home that cost next to nothing.

I think it’s very important to carefully consider your trade offs, and make them ones you can live with. We are sacrificing a lot in the hopes of paying off our mortgage more than 20 years early – fancier vacations, new cars, clothing, going out to eat, home purchases, etc. We know that the freedom we’ll have when we own our home outright – and the cash flow we’ll have in our budget once we’re not making a monthly mortgage payment plus more every month – will be more than worth the sacrifices we’re making now.

But we also knew the trade off wouldn’t be worth it if we were miserable for eight years, living in a holding pattern, eating peanut butter and jelly every night, and never spending anything but the absolute minimum. So, we still go on vacation. We still eat out. Though compared to some of our peers we might be scrimping and saving, by many people’s measure we are living high on the hog — and that’s how we choose to see it. We feel immensely lucky to do all the fun things we get to do while still being able to save so much for our Big Goal.

Do you have a big goal, too? Paying off your student loans? Building an emergency fund? Buying a car? Saving for a down payment or an adoption? Maybe you want to pay off your mortgage, too? I’d encourage you to look at the trade offs you’re currently making, and see whether you can make any changes to both save more money AND have more fun. I truly think it’s possible, but it might take a mindset shift even more than a change in behavior. As Tony Robbins said, start rich.

I’m cheering you on!! And I’d love to hear – what big financial goal are you working toward now? What trade-offs are you making to get there?

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January 23, 2017 7:38 am

This is so good, Emily! Dillon and I have been talking about this quite a bit lately. Your post helps to sharpen my perspective on it all :)

January 23, 2017 11:00 am
Reply to  Kyla Fetzner

I’m so glad, Kyla!! For a topic like this, that you don’t tend to get a lot of affirmation for from the media or pop culture, I think it’s so helpful to read about other people making these choices. It always encourages me!

January 23, 2017 7:46 am

This is such a good reminder! Making the most of your resources really is all about choices, and sometimes getting that mortgage paid off is more fun than a vacation! :) Thank you for the encouragement about the real stuff.
Catherine: Classic Catherine

January 24, 2017 12:15 pm
Reply to  Catherine

It is my pleasure, Catherine! And yes, as weird as it sounds, I’ve definitely found that to be true :)

January 23, 2017 7:49 am

Love this, Em! I too love exploring this topic and find it so fascinating how every person is so different on what trade-off they can live with, what they prioritize, etc. Good for y’all for making that decision and hooray for still having so many fun trips to look forward to! :) Cheering you on as you work towards paying off that house!!

We too went on cheaper local vacations for a long time (day trips to the beach, camping, etc.) and cooked at home everyday except on very special occasions. With parents close by, our “going out to eat” could often be at our parents too – ha! I so admire your wise, balanced approach to financial goals, Em! It’s something that admittedly took us a little longer to learn! If you’re interested, we shared our financial journey and what we learned on our blog and now our BIG goal is paying off our business loan! :)

January 23, 2017 11:01 am
Reply to  Robyn

I LOVE being on this journey with you, Robyn! I’ve been so encouraged by your story, too!!

January 23, 2017 8:41 am

This is SO wise and so spot-on, Em! Rob and I were discussing more about our finances and budgeting just yesterday, and topics like this came up a lot. We are hoping to buy a house in about 1.5 years, which is our huge financial goal! We have talked about what our priorities are in life (and in our budget), what we can cut or scale back on to reach our goals, and what’s most important to us (and what we like to splurge on). As we approach marriage, it’s been really exciting to visualize and discuss our big goals, and we’re grateful we’re on the same page – and that we have very, very similar views and values when it comes to finances.

A lot of this topic (where to splurge versus finanical trade-offs) came up when we were deciding on our honeymoon… it’s our only honeymoon, and we’ve waited so long for this, but how much is too much to spend? What were we really comfortable spending, and what were we willing to sacrifice to have the honeymoon of our (my…) dreams? Did it really matter if we went to the fanciest resort or did it really, ultimately, matter that we have that sacred week together after our wedding. We’re thrilled with what we ended up deciding on, and it opened up a lot of great discussion!

Thank you for candidly sharing this post – I’m bookmarking it for the future to refer back to! PS: We also decided yesterday to take a day trip to the beach next month versus going for a whole weekend. And 30th birthday trips = hooray!!! (You and I pracically share 30th birthdays!)

January 23, 2017 1:47 pm

I love this so much! So awesome that you are on the same page, but even more awesome that you’re simply having these conversations!

I love your note about the beach trip, too, and it echoes something I’ve found to be very true in my own life – I can get almost the same level of enjoyment out of a day trip as I do out of a weekend trip, and at a considerable cost savings! :)

January 23, 2017 9:53 am

I love this so much! A Southwest adventure would be great.. but it will be even greater in a few years when y’all have met some goals! We’re in a similar place this year, no big trip for us! We’re splitting a trip to Disney with Ben’s parents in April and staying home for the summer.. got some goals to meet! You’re always such a positive example to me in this area and I’m grateful! XO

January 23, 2017 1:48 pm

Love this so much! And YAY Disney! Cheering you on!!

January 23, 2017 8:50 pm

Em I’m so thankful for your open heart to continue to share on this topic! As I looked at my finances this year, I put the focus on saving money for travel. While having money for fun purchases is great and all in the moment, I’d rather spend more time getting out and exploring. So this year I’m saying yes to more travel, whether thats an hour up the road, or crossing time zones. I also know next year I want to take a big Europe trip, so that means saving a chunk out of every single paycheck to make it happen. :) Please keep sharing your wisdom! :)

January 24, 2017 12:16 pm
Reply to  Kelly

Love that so much, Kelly!!! That’s exactly how big goals, especially money ones, happen – by dividing it up into little chunks and sticking with it. I know your Euro trip is going to be even more amazing because of all the forethought that went into it!

January 24, 2017 9:45 am

Love, love, love this. While we were working on becoming debt free, we sacrificed trips on the reg. A lot of times, if possible, I would opt to not use those vacation days and get paid for them at the end of the year and put that money towards our debt. Other times we would use vacation days to actually work on our fixer upper instead of travel. Since we completed a lot of our financial goals last year, now I am focusing on getting a certain amount in our savings. It’s a big goal, but reading posts like these are great encouragement! :) Your money posts are so inspiring – thanks so much for sharing your story!

January 24, 2017 11:22 am

Way to go! We just paid off our mortgage this fall at 29, and the freedom it’s given us is immense.

January 24, 2017 9:52 pm

We had a few big purchases planned for this year (in addition to some savings goals), but the biggest was our dream Eurotrip! Like you, we had the money in our account, and were just doing our research and aligning our work schedules before pulling the trigger on flights/ lodging. But then one night, our (fast and not street smart) dog escaped from our fenced in yard and we spent two traumatic hours looking for her. Thankfully, she was eventually returned safely, but we realized it was just a matter of time before she found (or created) another hole in our old, falling apart fence. When we were reunited with her, the first thing my husband said was “I want to replace that fence. I don’t care if we never go on another vacation. I’m not losing her.” And I instantly agreed with him! The fence is going up right now! We’re looking at a pared version of our original plan, or another less expensive trip later on this year instead. We really love our dog, and the fence is something we’ll enjoy forever as it is a MAJOR aesthetic improvement (sagging chainlink to wood privacy!), so I’m trying to focus on that rather than the Santorini sunsets I’ll be missing this year :) We could forgo some savings goals to make both the fence and the vacation happen, but we’re boring and responsible and honestly probably wouldn’t even enjoy our vacation that way!

January 25, 2017 6:52 pm

Thank you so much for posting this! It’s so encouraging to read about. After getting married in 2016, I am in a state of replenishing what was the wedding fund, and looking forward to purchasing a home this year with my husband. It is hard to scrutinize my spending and make sacrifices, but keeping the end goal in sight is where we find inspiration! Thank you for your candid and honest articles about personal finance- it’s nice having a place where I can find tips and inspiration.

January 26, 2017 9:32 am

Props to you guys!!! I’ve gotten better with making trade-offs over the years, but it’s still a struggle. Living with a chronic illness, you’d think I would understand that sometimes we need to not go on vacations in order to have money for things like surgery or medicine and doctors appointments. Nope. Having a chronic illness has made me say things like “Well of course we need to go to the Super Bowl this year. I don’t want to be on my deathbed saying, ‘Thank God I saved all that money instead of going to the Super Bowl.'” LOL I’m still trying to find the right balance between the “you only live once” mentality, and making smart financial decisions.

January 30, 2017 11:23 pm
Reply to  Jewel

Thanks for this Jewel! I’m in a similar situation where it’s like, well I have to travel across the country to see my doc, let’s make it a vacation. It also feels like such a trade-off when you can’t get out from under the medical bills or your dining out budget went overboard because you didn’t have the energy to cook. I appreciate knowing there are others in my situation. Thank you!

February 2, 2017 9:37 am
Reply to  Janessa

No problem :)

January 31, 2017 6:16 pm

Wow, I’m so impressed with your Big Goal, Emily! I have enjoyed your finance/budgeting advice for a while now, and I’d love to know (without being too personal, of course), how you planned for paying off your mortgage so quickly? Is it a set goal, like paying double every month, or something more flexible like directing extra funds that way based on how the rest of the month has gone? We want to be aggressive with our home mortgage as well, and I’d love to hear how to best plan for that.

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