Looking back at our Christmas holiday spent with friends and family in Florida, I realize how differently we view money than most other people. Like many on the journey toward financial independence, we think of money as a way to buy freedom, while most people think of it as something needed to pay bills and buy more stuff. They’re all about, “how much can I afford to spend?” vs “how much can I save so I can retire and do whatever I want every day?”
Several instances during our trip highlighted this difference.
The first was during gift exchanges. To be honest, we spent very little on gifts this year, and not because we were trying to be cheap or miserly. Money played almost no factor in our gift decisions. Instead, everything we gave was homemade (by the Mrs, of course) and relatively simple. And as best we could tell, the gifts were very well received and appreciated.
On the other hand, even though we told family members that gifts were unnecessary, there were still plenty to go around. In some cases, it even felt a little uncomfortable accepting the gifts because we didn’t have quite as many to give back. What makes it tougher is knowing that these people are not in the greatest financial situations themselves and really could’ve used the money they spent on gifts.
Maybe they feel obligated to spend so much and are afraid of being looked down upon if they don’t? I don’t know. Shouldn’t spending time with friends and relatives you only see once every year or two be a gift itself?
Maybe I’m just different, but the whole idea of excessive gift-giving feels forced and unnecessary. My favorite parts of the trip had nothing to do with spending money. Instead, they were Mrs. DTG’s grandmother’s reaction to seeing us, watching our kids play with their cousins, and hoisting my 30 year old brother on my shoulders in a successful attempt to get coconuts out of a tree.
The second example comes from a conversation with my sister. She recently purchased a 4,500 square foot house and I wanted to put out a few feelers to see how she was doing financially. She works as a pharmacist and her husband is a police officer so they bring in a solid household income. She contributes to her employer’s 401(k), but has no other investments. I mentioned to her about considering a Roth IRA and then possibly opening some taxable accounts to let her money start growing. I told her these accounts were super easy to open and she could set them to invest automatically. She seemed skeptical and said she didn’t really have any extra money. I pressed a bit more and she snapped back, “What do you want me to do, save half my income?” Well that would be great, but you need to at least start somewhere.
The point is, my sister will forever be in the rat race because although she makes a six-figure salary, she has no clue about investing and has unknowingly built herself an expensive and stressful lifestyle. To pay for this, she seems to have accepted her fate as a retail pharmacist working until 10 pm multiple nights a week with four kids at home. She doesn’t recognize there’s another way. She could cut unnecessary expenses and begin making money work for her instead of only working for money.
Our final example is brought to you by Mrs. DTG. One thing we look forward to when we’re in south Florida is eating authentic Cuban food. We usually go to the same restaurant each time which is very reasonably priced and always hits the spot. I set up a kid-free lunch date with my cousins who happened to take the day off on a Monday to wrap presents, while the hubby was at a football game. I told them I was down to go to our favorite place, but when they picked me up, they said, “We’re not going there, we’re taking you somewhere much better instead.” Uhh… more like much more expensive.
They brought me to a fancy Cuban restaurant in a fancy outdoor mall. As soon as we sat down, they quickly began ordering drinks and the most expensive appetizer sampler. I would’ve just ordered water, but my cousin asked me what I was drinking and I didn’t want to be the odd ball out. So I went with the least expensive option (red sangria), which was pretty good. The entrée that I normally would’ve gotten at the other place for $7 or $8 was $13 or $14 here. It was by no means worth the price difference as far as taste or service. The portion may have been a bit larger (I had enough for a second meal the next day), but definitely not by that much. They were finishing up their drinks after the appetizer and quickly ordered another without batting an eye. One drink alone was $11! I passed on the second round and of course got scolded because I was on vacation and had no kids with me at the moment. Of course when the bill came, they decided to divide it evenly into four, so I ended up picking up some of their drink tab, etc.
My Monday lunch ended up coming to $44 with tip, for a quarter of an appetizer, an entrée, and a sangria. I enjoyed the time with my cousins and wasn’t going to go crazy over my lunch bill, but I just couldn’t help but be slightly stunned by how much they spend on lunch like it was nothing. And I know my cousins have credit card debt and aren’t swimming in the dough, if you know what I mean. In the car later on, she mentioned that they were broke and in my head I was like, “Well then why the hell did you just drop $90 on lunch?!” (their combined bill since they’re married). Moral of the story…stick to your favorite restaurants, more expensive ones aren’t always better (they usually aren’t), and ask for separate checks in the beginning so it doesn’t come to the “divide the bill equally” crap. I actually planned to pay for the entire bill before I knew we were going to this other place and that they’d be ordering two drinks each…oh well!
As with any large get-together or family visit, not everything went perfectly. Even so, we all enjoyed the trip and were happy we did it, 40 hours of driving and all. Although we enjoy having our own lives completely separate and away from our families, it is still nice to catch up on special occasions and reconnect with loved ones. While many of the material gifts exchanged last week may soon be forgotten and discarded, the memories of our visit will stick with us for years to come.
We’ll be back soon to recap 2015. Hope you all have a wonderful new year!