Growing up poor made me want to spend money on travel


  • We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but my family took a few vacations to Florida anyway.
  • My dad became Daddy Warbucks on those trips, but he charged it all to credit cards.
  • I don’t judge him – he made giving us happy memories a priority, and I am doing the same for my children now.
  • Read more stories from Personal Finance Insider.

This essay is part of “The value of a dollar”, a collection of stories about money from writers who grew up low income.

“Poor” sounds like a harsh word to describe how I grew up, but it’s not an inaccurate word. My mom stayed home, my dad had a low paying job in education and the money we tended to be eaten by the cattle we raised on our farm.

I don’t want to paint a picture that is too dark – we never went hungry – but some days for breakfast we ate the leftovers from the night before, and my mom made most of my clothes from fabric that was left over. ‘she found in the dollar-a-yard section at Walmart.

But those memories of scarcity don’t tell the whole story, because a handful of times during my childhood my dad took our family to Florida for a week-long vacation.

Our family vacation was extravagant despite our limited means

My dad has become a different person during this vacation. The serious man who worked late, stressed out from the checkbook and silently read on the couch until bedtime would turn into a Daddy Warbucks cartoon, taking his big family to Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and fruit dinners refined seafood. Instead of packing the bathing gear we had at home, he gave us carte blanche in the surf shop by the beach.

When I think of our poverty and the Florida version of my father, I realize that there is only one explanation: credit cards. This recognition of the burden of debt that my father willingly put around his neck for our family vacation tightens my heart with appreciation, admiration and compassion for a man who chose to give his children magical memories. at a high personal cost.

My dad has suffered from insomnia for as long as I can remember, and that’s no wonder considering our family’s financial hardships. But what I don’t feel when I think of him swiping his credit card without knowing how he would pay the bill later is judgment. My father made a choice, and I cherish that choice to this day.

I make travel a financial priority for my family, regardless of what others may think

Conventional financial wisdom considers my father’s choice to travel when he couldn’t afford it to be reckless, but he never declared bankruptcy or missed a payment. Maybe that’s why, as an adult, I too have spent entire vacations on credit cards. Because if there’s one thing I learned growing up in poverty, it’s that when you have very little money, you have to know what you want more than anything, because you don’t certainly not get everything.

We all have financial priorities. Some people are used to latte, others pay gym memberships and personal trainers, some people collect rare stamps, and many of us travel. With so many different values, it’s easy to judge the priorities of others, which leads us to judge ourselves. We berate ourselves for grabbing take out as often as we do, or going back to the same high-priced barber, but we view these bad habits rather than recognize them as our financial priorities.

Distinguishing between a bad habit and a financial priority is essential to creating a sustainable and financially secure lifestyle, but we cannot make this distinction without first being non-judgmental and honest with ourselves.

My biggest priority that others, and even myself, may consider “frivolous” is travel, and why shouldn’t it be when my favorite memories revolve around family vacations? This means that during the lean years we charge for the whole experience and care about repay it at a later date. My husband and I are well off financially so this has never been a problem, but we both agree this is not the smartest approach. But that didn’t stop us. Because even though we know you can’t buy happiness, you can buy a vacation full of memories, and there isn’t enough difference between the two concepts for me to feel good about depriving my three children of one or the other.

But the pandemic we are all experiencing means that last year is exactly what we did. I think my husband and I were shocked and a little bothered by how much money we saved through skip our annual family vacation and not spend the next six months paying for it. That said, our monotonous days spent indoors only reinforced my resolve to spend every last penny on travel as soon as it becomes safe enough to do so. In this way, being forced to take a year off helped our family by showing us how much the trip costs and how much we enjoy it, which ultimately led us to prioritize it financially.

We learned to budget and save for vacations instead of billing them

Backward as it may sound, being “smart” and “disciplined” with our money had more to do with our vacation penchant than being poor. Family vacations just don’t seem like a valuable investment when we could pay for a car or spend money on a emergency fund, but that doesn’t mean that we were ready to forgo a family vacation, it just means that in the high times of total self-delusion, we didn’t budget for it, and so, we put it all in. on a credit card.

The point is, I will always appreciate the road trips spent listening to “Harry Potter”, the days of sightseeing in Nashville, and the light in my children’s eyes at their first glimpse of the ocean. Since I know this about myself, my husband and I now shameless budget for it. For us that means allocating my husband’s annual bonus to a special savings account for this purpose, but other options might be to set aside a certain portion of each check for your pet’s priority or even to take an active part and to commit all of your earnings. to that.

Either way, no matter how frivolous this may seem, don’t apologize for doing it. When I think of my father’s smile 50 yards in the Atlantic, his arm raised victoriously as he showed a plastic bucket full of sand dollars to his family on the shore, I know we won’t regret it. .

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