Financial Freedom or Experiences: What’s the Balance?

Ski Trip

The conversation in my house lately has been about our 12 year old who starts Middle School in the fall. I said to my wife, “she goes off to college in six more years.” That statement was a shocker to us both as it left my mouth. You know kids grow up fast, but she is driving in 4 years, off to college in 6 years, graduated in 10 years, and married in 12-15 years making me a possible grandfather.   Man, where did the time go? The good news is that in 15 years I can retire from teaching with full benefits. So, I am prepared in that way financially, but I also want to have as much money as possible in my other retirement accounts, just in case some act of government takes my teacher retirement away in one quick bill or rules change. So, I am scrambling to max out all my accounts for my just in case scenario, and so I can have my “F-U” money if it all hits the fan.

Now the other topic of conversation is that my kids are growing up and I do have money to allow them to have incredible life experiences. They have been to beach houses, Disneyland, snow skiing, Europe (some twice), 36 different states and eating all sorts of local dishes, and they all play sports, sing in choirs, etc. They all live blessed lives, while I plan for financial independence, it’s a rough balance.

So the problem comes with the balance of saving versus experiencing life and raising

Denver learning Government

globally aware children who learn best by experiences. I know you can’t take the money with you, and my kids will always remember a water park experience over some toys, so why do I spend an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 a year on experiences for my family? If I saved the money over the last 12 years I would have a nice nest egg with the compound interest. I would be about 5 years away from FI instead of 15 years of, “I hope I get there in one piece.”

I know the $5,000 to $10,000 seems like a lot, but lets break it down. My kids all play sports year around which is about $500 a kid a year or $1,500. My daughter is now trying to play club volleyball, and to tell you the truth she is pretty good and it could be seen as a great investment resulting in free college. The club volleyball is around $1,500 year by itself and that is with a cheap team (We are looking into it and signing up in August). Then comes things like museums, bowling, arcades, amusement parks, Texas BBQ joints, visiting family in Austin, camping, and our family vacations in the summer when we are all off work for 2 and a half months (Yeah! Teacher’s lifestyle!).

Caddo Lake looking for Alligators

I use coupons, negotiate, travel hack, barter for services, basically the best price helps pick what we are doing for entertainment. We go to the crappy movie theatre where a matinee ticket is $3.50, we bowl on $2 Tuesdays, we buy passes on groupon or livingsocial to save, and I’m always checking flight prices for $300 RT to Europe or Southwest airlines deals using points and cash. We didn’t choose Denmark and Sweden in October, the price told us it was time to go ($3,000 for the whole family for a week long trip). Also $400 RT for Spain, direct from Dallas, during Spring Break, is a no brainer deal that my wife and daughter took full advantage of, and it was $1,000 for a full week in Spain total (Her parents are living there currently). The boys and I stayed home and camped for a $200 Spring Break trip.

So this school year we spent about $7,000 on experiences, as we used up our Six Flags season pass from Christmas 2015, used our zoo pass from 2015, and had Perot Museum passes also from 2015. (On a side note we do our budgets, and year to year, based on school years since our pay checks and contract as teachers start and stop in August.)

So what is too much for experiences in a year? We think about 10% is a good number for

Eating Wild Blackberries Camping

experience spending. With two teacher salaries, starting this last school year, at about $100,000 a year, we can live on one salary (I also save $1,000 a month from the one salary, we are frugal), and use the other for paying off our mortgage and experiences. I know, the power of two salaries is great for getting ahead. We lived off just my salary for the last 11 years, and still saved about $12,000 a year. So we continue to live with no lifestyle inflation, except we can now afford club volleyball, and we have eaten out more this last year than usual because of our busy schedule (About twice a week). We are still knocking down our mortgage at record speed, experiencing life more, and the kids get new life knowledge from seeing and doing.

In the future we plan of doing some missions trips (Peru, Mexico, etc.), exposing our children to true poverty, I plan on knocking a few bucket list item off before I hit 40 (swimming with sharks, Thailand, normal stuff), and I hope that the increase in sports spending pays off as a good investment with scholarship money. My kids did hit the genetic lottery with two college athletes as parents and we both are coaches (basketball and CrossFit). It just comes down to my children’s drive to use their abilities. We are also on pace to pay off the mortgage in full in 4 years, which means extra money is freed up when the oldest begins to drive. I assume my insurance will go up, and I will add a third car to help out. I will also use the rest to stockpile for my FI goals.

Don’t burst the budget baby!!

Kids are expensive and without a plan they can be hard to raise. I’m raising my kids a little on the spoiled side; I hope they appreciate all that I have afforded them. I never give them money, and no allowances are allowed. My kids work for all money, and they buy their own toys, unless it’s some special circumstance. So, I sacrifice my early financial independence for the good of raising well-rounded global children, and that is an investment I can both afford and won’t regret.

What is too much for you?  Do you have a plan yet, for ten to fifteen years from now?  How important are experiences for you and your family, and can you measure that investment in dollars?  How much do you spend on experiences?  Let me know if I am spending too much, or should I adjust my spending on this category?

It turns out 3 people can surf at once.


Add yours →

  1. Steve from Arkansas June 2, 2017 — 12:52 am

    The only experiences your kids will treasure are memories of how safe and loved they felt at home. How you encouraged them yet demanded excellence and respect. The stories you told of your childhood, how scared you were at your worst moment and how you met your spouse. Disneyworld or a ski trip won’t mean a thing compared to that if you raised them well. And it certainly sounds like you are awesome parents!


  2. Thanks for the kind words.


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