There have been several moments recently where, after a series of vague questions, I realize I’m being politely asked if we’ve received a large inheritance or some other financial windfall that is funding our trip around the world.
I’ve clarified then, and I’ll clarify now: we aren’t rich.
Many people have told me, “I wish I could take a trip like that.” And, yet, I think that most of the people uttering that statement to me probably could.
Yes, yes, of course, compared to most of the world, we are so financially fortunate. I try (and sometimes fail) to not lose sight of the sheer luck of where and when I was born. I might not have won money in the lottery, but the fact that both Brian and I were born into middle class families in the western world is akin to winning the financial self-determinism lottery, from a global perspective. We also both have professional skills that are currently in vogue, which gives us choices and opportunities in the job market, including the potential to look for part-time remote work while we travel.
We might not be rich, but we are very, very fortunate.
But, we’ve still had to prioritize. Among our socioeconomic peers, I think there is a tendency to label certain expenses (multiple car payments, high mortgages, trips to the mall) as necessary, when in many cases they could be reduced. Other things, (say, long-term travel) are labeled as too expensive.
Brian and I try (and sometimes fail) to align the way we actually spend money with what we prioritize. There are many things that we don’t financially prioritize:
- We don’t own a car (so, no insurance or maintenance bills either)
- We don’t have cable (or a television for that matter)
- We don’t frequently buy clothes, furniture, or toys (or non-consumable stuff, really), and when we do, we try to buy these things used
Sure, a sizable portion of our income goes toward our bay-area rent and our son’s daycare. We prioritize good, local food, which means that we spend a lot more on meals than many people would consider frugal. As I write this sentence, I am drinking a $4 latte, which I certainly don’t NEED, yet is something I indulge in almost every day.
We also donate 5% of our gross income to causes that we care about and have an automatic withdrawal into a special savings account to make it psychologically easier to keep this commitment.
After those daily, weekly, and monthly expenses that we prioritize, we also save money, and these savings will be the buffer that lets us transition to part-time work for two years without too much fear.
We would almost certainly end the next two years with a higher net worth if we stayed put with full-time jobs, but we are choosing to prioritize exploring the world and different ways of living over maximizing our finances.
Like most people, we make financial choices and tradeoffs. However, we try to make those tradeoffs deliberately. Tangled in the busy-ness of everyday life, it can feel natural to prioritize money and time in ways that are familiar, perhaps because they mimic the patterns of your neighbors, your coworkers, or even just how you yourself have lived in the past. And, maybe this is already satisfying to you. But maybe not.
I certainly wouldn’t suggest that everyone prioritize travel. However, I would suggest asking yourself: does how you spend your money and your time reflect what you value and what you love, whatever that might be? If not, how can you change that?