Vacation on the Cheap vs. Saving it up

Maybe this is a stupid question, but bare/bear with me here. My in-laws are going away on a vacation to one of the Virgin Islands for several weeks later this winter and have invited my partner and I to come down and stay with them for a little bit. The flights are not that much–our total outlay for the trip would probably be just under a grand. My husband is presently about to roll into months 6 of being unemployed, and his parents generously gave him a decent bit of cash for Christmas. At first I was like, no effing way should we use this money that is mini-nest-egg/suddenly we have a savings situation towards a vacation, but now I am thinking we should do this because there is no way we would ever be able to consider a vacation of our own if we had to pony up for a place to stay/rental car/food/etc. Meanwhile, there is also a miserly and frugal part of me that is thinking no way should we be spending money on anything that is not essential need at this time. Is a vacation being “a deal” a good enough reason to take it? Please help me out, so I am not forced to write to The Ethicist.

It’s funny to get this question, at a time in my own life when parental help/money/support is being hotly discussed in my own family and my feelings on said subject are being loudly broadcast to my long-suffering friend Steve. But this isn’t really what your question is about, so lets get going!

Vacations are valuable. They are good for your body and mind, they are fun for your kids (unless your kids spend the entire vacation barfing and then you start barfing too, AHEM, which is what happened to someone I know recently), or maybe they offer time AWAY from your kids, which, as a non-parent, when I imagine being a parent, I imagine wanting time away from my kids desperately and at every moment of every day, 100% of the time, which I realize is probably not how actual parents feel. But anyway, vacations are relaxing, etc. Like a massage, they are good for you, and thus they definitely have value. Unfortunately, money also has value. Trying to weigh the relative values of things/time/experience vs. actual money is one of the ultimate problems of life in this grueling capitalist corporatocratic nightmare in which we are all so thoroughly enmeshed.

My mom and dad are good examples of different ideologies w/r/t all that. My mom won’t spend any money, ever. She will paint her house all by herself; she will haul lumber; she will walk 10 miles; she will take outrageous four-stop two-day flights just to get from Denver to Dallas–all this and more, if it means saving money. I am exaggerating, but honestly some of her choices continue to surprise me. Or like one time she made the entire family stay at a super long concert of acoustic guitar music even though everyone, including her, wanted to go home at intermission, because we had paid for the tickets. It doesn’t make any sense. My dad on the other hand is more fully invested in the idea that your time and comfort and happiness are also worth money. So, if painting the house himself is a task he dreads, and if it gives him weird blisters, and if he’d really rather be reading a novel that whole time, he’s comfortable assessing the value of paying someone else money-value to do it instead. My mom’s genes are the reason I used to take a 3 hour 3-transfer bus ride to the Long Beach airport to save $50 flying Jet Blue; my dad’s genes are the reason I go out to eat constantly and don’t have a savings account. HELP


1. first you should assess the value of going on a vacation. Are you really longing for a vacation, and have been wanting a tropical break for a long time, and so this cheap one is like, hooray? Or are you more like “I guess a vacation would be nice” and then you feel sort of like you OUGHT to take this vacation DUE to its cheapness? When you picture this vacation, does it just seem like thank god, finally you can relax for a second? Or do you imagine taking your laptop and trying to get work done while you’re there, and other such? Try to honestly evaluate how much you actually want to go on vacation–and on this particular vacation at this particular time. If the answer is “not desperately,” then maybe hold off? I can’t really tell from your letter if you and your partner have been dying to go on vacation or if it’s more like his parents made this offer and now you’re like, well, it’s so cheap, maybe we should do it.

2. next, evaluate this nest egg situation, though. Because having a nest egg is fucking important and nest eggs are hard to come by, and if your old man doesn’t have a job waiting in the wings, it’s like, do you spend this nest egg on a vacation and then you don’t have a nest egg again for years? That seems super stressful and like you would need a whole other vacation just to recover from the stress! How good does a nest egg make you feel, vs. how bad do you want to go on vacation? Other considerations: when will your husband get a job, what are your possibilities for one day soon re-earning a nest egg if you spend it on vacation; what kinds of unexpected expenditures could possibly arise in the next several years; how long would it take you to re-save this nest egg? If the answer is several months, that’s different than several years, or never. Or like, if he has a good job looming in the future, I say go for it, but if he doesn’t, maybe don’t go for it.

Get into full lotus pose, close your eyes, and fully immerse yourself in each choice. First the vacation, then keeping the nest egg. Which one makes you feel the happiest/calmest? This is usually all you need to know.

Personally, while I totally appreciate the value of the nest egg, I’m also a bit of a nihilist or whatever–I have the tendency to kind of shrug and be like “we’re all going to die anyway, who cares.” My dad says money is pointless unless you spend it on shit that makes your life awesome (he doesn’t say “shit” (or “awesome”)). My mom says life is pointless if you don’t have enough money for when you’re old and have Alzheimers. Which of them is more right???

I also have never gone on a real vacation, so I don’t even know. My friends K and N are famously thrifty penny-hoarders but they religiously go on a real vacation every year. If it’s that worth it to them, there must be something really important about it. I want to go on vacation someday, to someplace where I get a drink in a coconut.

To sum up my advice, it is that if you guys have been really wanting to go on a serious vacation but have been not doing it because of money, then this seems like a great opportunity and you should probably do it and not feel guilty. On the other hand, if you have been longing for a nest egg and now you finally have one, and it makes you feel so secure and good, then probably don’t do it. You ask “is a vacation being ‘a deal’ a good enough reason to do it” and I say NO, not on its own. But if it’s a deal AND you’ve been jonesing for a vacation and feel like you really really want one, then I say YES.

Regardless, I think whatever decision you make, you guys are going to be okay. It sounds like you have your shit together and also like you have a nice supportive safety net in the form of some parents who you even like well enough to go on vacation with. I think you will be fine either way! If you want to do it but feel GUILTY, then do it! Guilt is a terrible reason to do/not do anything. Your decision should be rational and based on what would make you feel the coolest.

This seems unhelpful! I’m sorry!

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