October 08, 2015

Turning Pennies Into Memories ~ Changing Your Priorities

This is the first post in a series on how to finance your travel dreams. Whether you're working a minimum-wage job, have a comfortable income, are burdened with heavy debt, or just have a few small loans to pay, the principles in this series can be applied to almost every category. As someone who has been able to finance trips to Europe in cash while working minimum wage jobs or while a spouse was unemployed, believe me, this is something you can achieve if you make it a priority. It's just a matter of time.

Changing Your Priorities | Establishing a Budget | Sticking to the Plan


So... you want to travel! But at the end of every month, you don't seem to have a red cent left to put into the "Travel Savings" account that has been gathering more dust than dollars since you opened it. Unexpected expenses and unanticipated bills seem to pile up at every turn, making your ability to pay your rent as unrealistic as your dream of visiting the Greek isles.

If this is your situation, you need to get your finances under control -  but not for travel's sake. Your finances are controlling your life. It's time for you to tell your money where to go, and not the other way around. Most Americans have a debt problem, but you don't have to be one of them if you make it a priority.

Turning Pennies Into Memories 
Step 1: Changing Your Priorities

"You know that we are living in a material world, And I am a material girl."
~ Madonna

"Instant gratification takes too long."
~ Carrie Fisher

Western societies revolve around consumerism and instant gratification. We want our things, we want the fanciest things of all, and we want them ten minutes ago. From commercials that tout keeping up and surpassing the Joneses to companies offering same-day shipping and delivery for items purchased online, we have been conditioned and accustomed to not having to wait for anything. In many ways, this is great! But in a world where having multiple credit cards is as American as apple pie, it's also very dangerous. 

As stated previously, most Americans have a debt problem. According to a CNN Money article published in July 2014, 1 in 3 Americans have debt that is in collections. That's roughly 77 million Americans. How does this happen?

While there are instances where a job loss all but necessitates living on a credit card (been there, done that), I would venture a guess that the biggest reason Americans have such a heavy debt load is lack of self-control. If we want something but can't afford it now, do we wait and save up incrementally until it's within our reach? No, of course not! We pull out good ol' Mr. Visa and take our items home that very same day. Problem solved, right? 

The problem with putting ourselves into debt is that we become a slave to it. We've handicapped our future selves with a burden to pay off past items, plus interest. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time to buy that discounted bedroom furniture set on your credit card, but did you take into account the interest you'd be paying on top of it every month? Most credit cards average at 15% APR; just in one month, that $1,000 bedroom set has cost you an additional $150, and if you only make the minimum monthly payment, it'll take years to pay it off.

It's time to cash out of the mindset that having credit card debt is normal or okay. It's not. You need to get rid of debt, and you start by changing your mindset and your priorities.

If you want something, pay cash for it.
If you don't have the cash for it, save for it.
If you already have debt, prioritize paying off your debt before you buy any "wants."

Don't buy things you can't afford. Don't put yourself into the slavery of debt. It's as simple as that!

When you want a fancy dinner to celebrate an anniversary, buy steaks and wine for a candlelit dinner.
When you really want to see a new movie, rent a Redbox "new to you" movie instead.
When you're feeling the need for a cocktail, make and enjoy it at home.
When you're bored with your clothing and want to revamp your wardrobe, focus on your end goal. You don't need half as much as you own.

When I came back from a mission trip to Uganda in 2007, I felt the need to get rid of all my excess items. Why? Because I saw how people can live on a little and be twice as happy as Americans glutted with too much. If you need a little dose of reality, watch a YouTube clip of what life is like in a third-world country, and all of a sudden your "outdated" wardrobe will make you feel like you're wearing Queen Elizabeth's duds in comparison!

Get your drink on with a view like this on a rooftop bar!
This is not an easy mindset to maintain. Like I said, we live in a society where eating out, having coffee with a friend, and buying a new top just to keep your wardrobe fresh is the norm. Deviating from this will make you stand out, and even the most loving of friends and family will sometimes put pressure on you to "come out for drinks just this one time" when you really should be putting that money towards financial freedom. Believe me, I've been there. But this is a choice you've made. You want more money available to spend on your travel dreams, right? Missing out on drinks and appetizers with friends may be disappointing at first, but remember that money gets you one step closer to cashing in on drinks and appetizers at a roof-top bar with views of the Acropolis in Athens. How's that for a trade-off?!

So what makes me such an "expert" on this topic? Well, first of all, I am no expert or financial adviser. I'm just a girl who put herself into deep credit card debt during college so I could keep up appearances with the endless rounds of socializing in my circle of friends. It took years to pull myself out of debt and salvage my damaged credit score, but I did it - even when working just minimum wage jobs. And I did it by changing my priorities.

And you know what? I can say with absolute conviction that "missing out" on eating out was more than worth all the memories I've made on various domestic and international trips I've been able to afford over the last few years. And now that Danny and I are expecting Baby Gypsy in December, I am happy with the solid financial foundation we've laid. Our savings account is not yet where we want it to be, but with the exception of a very small car loan*, we're well on our way to being debt-free and able to keep making our travel dreams a reality!

*If and when we do purchase a house, we will inevitably go into debt for a mortgage. While many financial peace planners (including Dave Ramsey, whose Financial Peace University is my personal favorite and the one whose principals are more or less outlined in this series) advocate not even buying a house until you can pay in cash, I don't think we will follow this route. Houses acquire equity, so I consider that "good" or at least "safe" debt. Credit card debt and cars do not increase in value; your car will never be worth more than it is now (unless you're a lucky duck with a sweet antique car!), so carrying debt for it is unwise.

Linking up for #WeekendWanderlust!


  1. This. Is. AWESOME. And sooooooo necessary for millions of people! Can't wait to read the rest of this series! Totally agree with you on the house/mortgage thing, and I think most people will, too. I think we learned we could save so much money by just shopping less and having less clothes! We also started cooking so much more since moving to Europe, and that obviously impacted our budget in a positive way, too. Will be directing several friends to your post!

  2. Great info and tips. We really want to do the Dave Ramsey course but no one will do it with us. :( I already use a lot of his principles though.


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