How do you decide what you can and can’t afford on vacation?


Ester: Good morning! And it actually is morning where you are, for a change.

Nicole: It is! I’m in DC this week for Intervention, and I get to see my sister and her husband. It’s weird to have morning come so early. It’s also weird to go to websites and be one of the first people who can comment, instead of having four hours of comments already there!


This means I’ll lead the discussion today. How was your vacation?

Ester: You are a thought leader! Good for you. My vacation was pretty great. We’re still adding up the totals. We had to rent a minivan because it was Ben, me, baby girl, my mother-in-law, and my best friend all road tripping up to Maine together, and of course, even though we confirmed, when we went to pick up the minivan, the rental company had misplaced it somehow. Oops! Where did it go?? Like a game you play with a toddler, only in this case, not funny.

They had no minivans to give us. So they upgraded us to a fancy SUV-type thing for no extra charge. Still, renting a car for a week is expensive.

Nicole: You got a maxivan.

Ester: Yes! It’s funny: we went on this particular vacation because we had a place to stay for free; and yet there seems to be no limit on the amount of money you can manage to spend on a vacation, even when it seems like the biggest ticket item is taken care of.

Nicole: Goodness me, Ester, that reminds me of that college story from earlier this week. The biggest ticket item (tuition) is taken care of through either scholarships or loans or grants, but don’t buy any extras that you can’t afford! And then you are presented with these nearly unlimited opportunities, and you want to take advantage of them.

How do you decide what you can and can’t afford on vacation?

Ester: Exactly. For me, anyway, what helps is setting a good routine as early as possible. We brought lots of food with us in the maxivan so that we wouldn’t be tempted to stop and buy too many snacks or meals. We went grocery shopping as soon as we arrived anywhere so that we could cook dinner, and we tried to overdo everything in order to have leftovers. The one exception came when Ben and I realized, because my mother-in-law reminded us, that our wedding anniversary fell during the vacation. “Go somewhere nice,” she told us. SO WE DID.

It’s amazing how different “somewhere nice” can be in Down East coastal Maine vs. New York City. The entree cost was roughly equivalent, but whereas in Brooklyn purchasing an entree would get you, duh, an entree, the waitress at the fancy B&B restaurant we found brought us, for no extra charge, bruschetta; then, palate-cleansing sorbet; then the entrees; and, afterwards, a slice of pie and a scoop of homemade ice cream so substantial that the two of us working together could only get through half of it.

Nicole: That’s how I remember our family vacations, too. Pack food in the car, eat at rest stops or have breakfast that we packed ourselves, etc. I still do that, within reason. Like, I’ll try to carry purse snacks so I don’t have to eat breakfast out. But I also feel, as I get older, that sometimes I just want a meal that isn’t granola bars and string cheese.

Do you find yourself, I don’t know, succumbing to the allure of creature comforts? Or whatever? I’m having trouble articulating this. I blame jet lag.

Ester: Yeah, part of me always rebels after a certain point: no, I want HOT food, I want REAL food. I guess it’s my inner toddler. Last night I was walking Baby Girl home from pre-school with a classmate of hers and her mother, and they said they were going to go out to eat, and even though we had food at home, even though it would have been perfectly reasonable and financially prudent to just make some spaghetti, we went out altogether and it was great.

Nicole: And that feels like the right thing to do. Go out, spend money, build community and friendships and all of that stuff. Break bread together, as it were. And then you always worry about it, or I always do. Like, I could be eating leftovers alone in the dark!

Ester: Except why stop there? Why eat fresh food at all, why not rummage through the trash and lick residue off of old tin foil? :) At some point, you have to listen to yourself, and if yourself is saying ENOUGH, we can splurge on this, or not even splurge, we can just spend money, then that’s sufficient justification.

I’m talking tough. In actuality I feel the same way you do. In fact I made sure to pack up all the leftovers from last night and I’m eating them right now for lunch. I may even lick the tin foil, though only for dessert.

Nicole: I’m trying to remember the story from this week. Was it one of ours, or was it a Hairpin story? The woman who always wore her rattiest clothes because she was saving her good ones for something special. There’s always this “I’ve got to save my money for something special.” (Or my clothes. I save my clothes all the time.)

And yet on the flip side there’s “everything is running out of money.” Social Security! Sesame Street! Nobody has enough money! So why should we spend anything if we could save it?

Ester: If you’re going to go that route, though, you could as easily say, “If even Sesame Street and Social Security can’t save their money, why should I bother to try?” But neither of us is that extreme, anyway. We both save what we can, right? And what we have set aside for discretionary spending, we spend. If only it were possible to drain some of the emotion out of it.

One time someone gave Ben and me a bottle of Champagne. It was so fancy, and we were so impressed, that we decided to save it for a sufficiently special occasion. We waited and waited. It moved houses and fridges with us. Finally we panicked and decided we should just drink it. Turns out Champagne doesn’t age well. Some things you have to enjoy in the moment, or they turn acid-y. It was a useful lesson, if also a depressing one.

Nicole: Gather ye rosebuds while you may, or whatever the quote is. Eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow you could get an email that says you’ve lost your job.

Ester: Put some rosebuds aside for retirement but gather the fuck out of the rest of them.

Nicole: Ester, seriously, why is nobody GIVING US A BOOK DEAL. That is the best book title yet.



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