No Santa This Year

Day 56 | $31,450 paid | $59,267 till freedom

I got back from Detroit a little while ago where I had an outstanding time at my cousin’s wedding. I was so glad to be a part of it all. The wedding was great and the reception was a blast. I leveraged the open bar (much to my parents’ chagrin), I smoked cigars with my uncle, dad, and cousin (brother of the bride), I danced with the bride, bridesmaids, my sister, and my mom, and I got to see a lot of family members that I hadn’t seen since I was in town last December. It was great to catch up, and I’m glad I bought the plane tickets before I started NMHD.

All in, I spent $90. 

  • $21 — parking
  • $50 — wedding gift (Mom supplied the card–thank you!)
  • $19 — drinks

Total: $90

As far as those drinks go…I did break down and meet up with a girl from my hometown whom I randomly met in Austin a few weekends ago when she was here on vacation. It was bizarre–my  buddy and I were at a bar here in Austin and we walked over to a table of girls just to say hello. They happened to be from the same town where I went to high school and were on vacation visiting a friend from college who had recently moved to Austin. One of the girls and I hit it off, so I looked her up when I went back home. We went to Rochester Mills Brewery and had a great time, but given the distance, I doubt it has legs. That being said, money well spent; you never know…

No More Travel
The trip to Ann Arbor a few weekends ago, this past weekend’s trip, and next weekend’s trip to see my friends get married are all trips that really would not have happened if I had been doing NMHD at the time I purchased the tickets. The fact that I have enjoyed the two trips so immensely makes it that much harder to say this: After next weekend’s trip, I’m on travel lockdown until my student debt is paid off.

And I decided this past weekend that the travel lockdown also applies to holiday travel.

I’ve been checking out flights to Michigan that align with Christmas and my week of vacation, but they’re all pretty high–right around $500–and I’ve been thinking about how practical it would be to use that $500 and probably $30+ in parking to pay off my student loans instead of flying out to see my family during the holidays.

I’m rationalizing this decision by viewing a potential December trip not as a “holiday” trip, but as a chance to see my family. And since I got to see everybody at the wedding–literally everybody–that I would be seeing in two months anyway, it doesn’t make sense to spend the money twice. Obviously, there’s something magical about the holidays and it’s a time meant for families etc. etc., but practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense to spend that money right now given that I just saw everybody. 

I’m not happy about the decision and it’s an uncomfortable one for me to make, especially since I’m not the only one affected. This isn’t a victimless decision like skipping a meal at the airport and flying home hungry. This decision also affects my mom, my dad, and my sister, my aunts and uncles, my grandma, my cousins–all of the people who will miss me during Christmas. I think I feel more bad for them than I do for myself.

This decision just goes to confirm that this time of my life can best be described as “The Period of Sacrifice.” This isn’t a sustainable lifestyle and it’s not meant to be.  While 10 months feels like a marathon right now, in the grand scheme of things, it truly is a sprint in what I hope is a life that lasts 80+ years. So I’ll miss one Christmas–big deal! I can always fly out in July if I get my debt paid off  by then.

Unfortunately, my ten-year high school reunion is on the 23rd of December, so I’ll be missing that, too. No, the irony is not lost on me. Some people might see this as my chance to share the news of Harvard with friends I haven’t see in years. Instead, I’ll be sitting at home while my old friends reminisce and gossip because I’m too poor to pay for the trip!

Speaking of being too poor for trips, I got a save-the-date from my good friends’ wedding in Chicago at the end of April, and the travel lockdown will apply to that, too. I’ve known Luke and Faith for a couple of years now and they’re an awesome couple to hang out with. They’re extremely generous and often host pool parties at their house for our group of friends. Given the generosity they’ve shown me in the past and the fact that we have a large group of mutual friends, this will be a very epic wedding that will be very painful to miss. Unfortunately, my RSVP will have to be of the negative sentiment.

On a related note, I received an invitation to my friend’s “Co-Ed” baby shower in the middle of November. I’ll be skipping this, too, as I don’t want to spring for a gift.

It’s funny. I almost get sick to my stomach realizing that I’ll be missing out on huge, once-in-a-life-time events like the Luke-Faith wedding, but a part of me doesn’t feel as bad for missing Christmas. I think that’s only because I just got back from being at home for the weekend, and the holidays aren’t one-time events. However, I imagine that when Christmas does roll around and I have an entire week of  mandatory vacation and all my friends have left the city to be with their families, I’m going to find myself extremely homesick.

Frankly, this whole “missing stuff” is starting to suck. Everybody was talking about “Moneyball” this and “Drive” that over the weekend. I consider myself a movie buff and always have an opinion on these matters. I couldn’t say anything, though, because I haven’t seen a movie since I visited my sister in Chicago a couple of months ago.

Materialism…or Passion?
This is something that I’ll probably continue to come back to a lot during the next eight months. While I used to be extremely materialistic at one point in my life, a large part of me is sure that I’m over it, but another part of me isn’t quite sure, and yet another part wonders if I just have a passion for quality rather than materialism, and that’s why–besides my Aldo shoes–I tend to pay on the higher side of the scale for things rather than the lower.

What got me thinking about this dynamic is the story of somebody that came up in conversation this past weekend. As I alluded to in the last post, my dad has a Ferrari. He’s a Ferrari freak, and he’s wanted one for…well, his entire life, I think. Anyway, he finally got one not too long ago, and we drove it to a “car guy” event out in Birmingham, MI over the weekend. It was basically a bunch of car fanatics who park their cars–mostly exotics–in a parking lot at and just talk cars all Saturday morning long. My dad attends it regularly since, as he puts it, it gives him “the discipline to drive both the Ferrari and Porsche regularly so that they’re not inactive for longer than they should be.”

To be plucked out of my miserly lifestyle in Austin and plopped down in this environment definitely made my head spin a little.

One guy at the event, I can’t remember his name so I’ll call him Ronald, told my dad and me and some other guys the story of a man in Switzerland who works as a surgeon and also owns several large rental properties. I’ll call this guy Francois. One day, Ronald was admiring Francois’s collection of 40+ exotic cars, and Francois asked him for help starting his Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer, the battery of which had died. That’s right–despite owning millions of dollars’ worth of cars, the dude had no idea where the battery on his Ferrari was located nor how to use jumper cables to start it. Anyway, Ronald made short work of finding the battery and jumper cables and fired the beautiful Boxer up tout de suite.

In appreciation, Francois let him test-drive some of his exotics. After they had taken out a few cars, including a Ferrari F-40 (an incredibly rare car), Ronald spied a car hoisted on a jack high above the other vehicles. He asked if he could take it for a spin, but Francois apparently laughed, denied Ronald’s request for a test-drive, and explained that the car had  seven miles on it. He went on to say that whenever he’s having a rough day at the hospital, he’ll put his easy chair a little ways away from the lift, sink into the chair, light up a Cuban, and just look at the car.

The story was told as a humorous little anecdote and no one really gave it a second thought after Ronald shared it. Everybody, including myself, just kind of chuckled and the conversation moved effortlessly on to the next car story.

But now I can’t stop thinking about that guy and his stress reliever.

Is that a demonstration of materialism? Or is that passion? Or is that possibly an obsession? Is that guy trying to fill a hole in himself that he can’t fill any other way? Is that normal? I don’t know.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “No Santa This Year

  1. I wouldn’t skip out on that wedding just to keep to an arbitrary deadline you might not reach anyway. That’s crazy talk. Go to the wedding. It sounds like you’ll regret it if you don’t. It makes no difference at all if you get out of debt in August or October. It’s all so arbitrary. Remember what you’re ultimately doing this for and don’t forget the bigger picture.

    • Slippery slope…does that mean the baby shower should get the thumbs up? What about the next “big event?” Ten months turns into 11, then twelve… yes, ten months is arbitrary, but the beauty of it is that it’s a specific, identifiable date by which I can time my life.

      • It’s a slippery slope, indeed. I don’t know where I’d draw the line either, but the way you talked about the wedding made me think you actually would experience lasting regret if you don’t attend.

        I realize you’re getting a lot of unsolicited advice from people who think they know what you should do, but I was reading and when I got to “Given the generosity they’ve shown me in the past and the fact that we have a large group of mutual friends, this will be a very epic wedding that will be very painful to miss. Unfortunately, my RSVP will have to be of the negative sentiment.”, I said “Aw man. No, no, no.” out loud. I was frustrated because I felt like I was watching a mistake happen in real time and I couldn’t do anything about it. Then I remembered that I could comment and tell you. You’re a champ for putting up with this 🙂

      • I agree with Josephmking. For the “once in a lifetime events” like the wedding in April and spending Christmas with family is more important (I feel) then trying to meet an arbitrary deadline.
        There’s a story about a guy who wanted to be successful and worked on his business heads down for a year and a half. During that time he was consumed by his work but he met his goal of financial success. However, when he emerged on the other side he was lonely. Due to his success he only had ‘fake’ friends and lost his real friends b/c he was never around during that time so they never called on him later on. Family events became awkward and relatives very distant. There was very little contribution to conversation b/c all he could talk about is work.
        A little surprised that knowing Christmas overlaps your goal that you did not figure visiting family into your financial charts (was not going home for the holidays something you planned on the outset)?
        Agreed you can’t forecast future events like friends getting married or babies coming. I also agree that not every event needs to be attended, like the baby shower but there’s a lot more events you can attend for the new little one after you have accomplished your goal). When something like a ‘once in a lifetime’ wedding with some great friends it might be worth looking at it from a ‘How can I make this work’ perspective.
        I have been following your journey from the beginning and really admire and respect what you are trying to accomplish (I too have school debt I’m trying to get rid of – unfortunately not Harvard debt though 😦 ). My hope is that you reach your goal and still have the ones you love and the relationships you want to keep by the end to share your achievement with. To me, that is success.
        Keep up the great work!

      • V

        Skip the baby shower and go to the wedding. Weddings are about reuniting with friends, celebrating the couple and having a good time- which you will be in short supply of by the time the wedding rolls around. As for Christmas, could your family come to you? Perhaps just mom and dad, for a little post-Christmas celebration in early January. Then you have something to look forward to (and to focus on when you’re sad about not being home on the 25th), and they can treat you while they’re visiting!

        Also, if you’re feeling guilty about the baby, send a birthday gift for the 1st birthday…

      • Can’t help but agree with everyone here–yes, it’s a slippery slope, but it’s also about priorities. Obviously those are things you will have to decide for yourself, without the input of random commenting strangers! The way you described the wedding and Christmas with your family made me think that both of those events would be worth the expense for you, so I hope you are able to brainstorm some way of making one or the other happen. Looking forward to following along!

  2. Stacy B

    Normal is whatever you want it to be. The guy admiring a car as a stress reliever? Pretty excessive. The value of those cars would feed a lot of hungry kids around the world. Personally, I’d be more happy to stare at a sunset or go for a run after a stressful day.

  3. Hi, Ive been reading from the beginning, but this is my first comment 🙂
    I kinda have to agree with not skipping the wedding, but I can understand you there. I think that you could say for now it’s on the NO list but maybe re-assess where you are when the date comes closer.

    Baby showers are for women, and I think the idea of Co-ed baby shower is just a way to maximize gifts (no disrespect to your friends). Really the only men who should be at a baby shower is family members (maybe) and the father, and for some women even that is optional. Dont blame you one bit for skipping that.

    My main concern is skipping Christmas. As someone who is unable to go home for the holidays every year (I live in another country, family in the US) I think even one Christmas shouldnt be missed if it could be avoided. I’m not gonna go into any gruesome examples but maybe there wont be another Christmas just like you remember them. Isnt there some other, less expensive way you could travel? Drive – long yes, but can be cheaper. A train? Maybe you could ride share or fly out of a cheaper airport. I know you just saw your family but you already live in a different state, I am sure they would say that they dont see you enough – even if they saw you just two months prior. Maybe part of a gift to you for that year from your parents/family could be the airfare. I just dont think you should close the book on that one so quickly without trying to come up with alternative solutions.

  4. I love reading your posts every day, but today you hit upon something that needs a little closer examination — and that’s the concept of “penny-wise, pound-foolish.” Christmas — yeah, sure, its only one year, you’ve already seen everyone, I can see that going either way. But unique things like a good friend’s wedding, maybe even a 10 year HS reunion — these are opportunities to socialize, network, and reconnect with people. I’d look at those as investments. Everyone always says it’s not “what” you know, it’s “who” you know — so don’t pass up opportunities to expand “who” you know.

    You can still try to contain costs by looking for cheaper transportation options (can you bus or Amtrak rather than fly?), cheaper lodging (crash on a buddy’s couch?), and cheaper dining/drinking (which you are already really familiar with). And there’s still some degree of latitude here; personally, I wouldn’t go to the baby-shower because that’s just not the kind of event I like to go to anyway. But weddings & reunions — I believe its a worthy exception to your travel lockdown.

    Here’s my specific example of why: I went to a downtown Chicago bar for a meetup with Ramit Sethi (I live 2.5 hours away in Madison, WI). It was an expensive night (drinks, parking, gas, and time spent driving). But I did some networking and got great new ideas — one of which I’m working on turning into a side business right now! So that $100+ I spent was definitely well-invested if it nets me a new freelance business, new income ideas, and new people to connect with / learn from / do business with.

  5. I understand that your on lock down to pay down your debt, but these are some quality lifetime memories that you will be missing out on. 10 years from now will you be happy that you missed Christmas 2011 with your family, your good friend’s wedding and a baby shower all that you had advance notice about? Will paying down debt in 10 months over 12 or 13 months make that much of a difference in the long run to miss out on these important times in the lives of people who care about you?

    Your blog is great and I respect your decision either way. But personally, if I was your friend getting married, having a baby or one of your family members I would be really upset that paying down debt in a shorter amount of time was more important than my once in a lifetime event.

  6. I think you people are going to far with the baby shower..I mean really, I love them, they are fun but they are really woman-only territory. I have yet to meet a man who gets excited over baby clothes, baby items and playing games where you measure the momma’s stomach with toilet paper…This is think is totally a skippable event. He could definetly send a gift once the kid was born, but guaranteed baby showers + parent these folks will be up to their eyeballs in baby stuff half of which they wont need or use. I was and so was my sister, even had things kiddo never had a chance to wear.

    Let the baby shower go people…

  7. Nancy

    Interesting post! As someone who doesn’t care about cars, it would be easy for me to dismiss Francois’ passion for cars as shallow materialism, but is it any different from my love of a great book or international travel or a delicious meal? I’d have to say no. How could I possibly comment on the depth of the joy that something brings to another human being? And yet, I constantly (and don’t we generally) pass value judgments on the ways people are living their lives, spending their money, etc. How interesting! This tendency (in my opinion) seems tied to the desire we have for an orderly structure or narrative around which we can organize our lives. This is the way it is; this is the way it should be; this is the way it has to be. All else is wrong because it calls into question the idea I hold so dearly of what is right. How silly we are! Thanks for this post, NMHD!

  8. AnaD

    As far as Christmas with your family, what do your parents think about you skipping it…? That’s the first thing I wondered as I read your post (probably because that’s the first thing I would do if I was in your position). 🙂

    I was struck by your statements: “This isn’t a victimless decision like skipping a meal at the airport and flying home hungry. This decision also affects my mom, my dad, and my sister, my aunts and uncles, my grandma, my cousins–all of the people who will (probably) miss me during Christmas. This decision just goes to confirm that this time of my life can best be described as ‘The Period of Sacrifice’.” Sacrifice goes both ways~ you have a wonderful goal that you’re working hard at attaining (and a lot of people are cheering for you!) but this “Period of Sacrifice” might actually call for you to sacrifice part of your goal in order to invest in other big things that count…but are just less tangible than money in the bank: celebrating a holiday with family or the marriage of two people who have made an impact on your life.
    My brother lives far away and we don’t get to see him too often (and airfare IS exorbitant during the holiday season!), but last year he came up about a week Before Christmas and we just celebrated early. It was a lot of fun! & MUCH more relaxed than usual. So maybe that could be an option for you: spend a long weekend at home to celebrate with everyone early & take advantage of cheaper airfare then. …But I would talk to your family about it first… 🙂

    As far the baby shower goes- If you’d LIKE to go, bring a card & a copy of your favorite children’s book as a gift; that would be meaningful and not very expensive. Or get a picture frame ($3 at walmart) or a stuffed animal… it doesn’t have to be elaborate! But I also think you could probably skip it without many qualms. Just send them a card when the baby’s born… (You’re a single guy, so I think you’d get a little more leeway regarding gift and/or attendance.)

  9. Sarah L

    Just my unwarranted two cents here, but I think you should go to things that are once in a lifetime happenings. While I do think it’s admirable to cut unnecessary expenditures in order to achieve goal, I think that there are some things that are still worth spending money on.

    Go home for Christmas. Otherwise, you’ll set a precedent where family members feel it’s okay to skip it in the future. I don’t know if you have any younger siblings or cousins that you’re close to, but I think it’s important to set a precedent of being wise with your money, not stingy. Chances are, they will know what a sacrifice it is to spend the money to see them. In a way, it’s almost a bigger sacrifice for you to travel to them than it is for you stay home to save money, because it hurts you more to spend that money than it hurts you to not see them.

    Go to your friends’ wedding. Again, you will regret it if you don’t, and it’s a sacrifice for you to be there; which I’m sure they will appreciate.

    Don’t go to your reunion. From what you wrote, the driving reason behind going was because of pride. You don’t need pride, but you do need your friends and family.

  10. Nancy

    Let the man live his own life and decide what is right for himself.

  11. I commented elsewhere already, but relate to this point uniquely because I just entered a “debt-paydown zone” of my own, and both of my sisters are pregnant. They live in Florida, along with my grandparents, and the rest of my family live on the East Coast.

    I live in Nevada.

    I have a little bit of an out, because my father has offered to pay for one trip home this year, but now I have to choose: Florida for Thanksgiving, within a few weeks of my two nieces’ or nephews’ births? Or Christmas, and miss out on the extra revenue that I could get from babysitting/childcare jobs on the side?

    Unlike you, I’ve been saying that I was going to pay down debt for four years now, so I feel like it’s even more necessary to go hardcore.

    Still, as a teacher, it is a bizarre feeling. I am so used to going home for several weeks that I have NO IDEA what I will do in August, when the few weeks of free time after summer school occur. Planning to babysit more, but will that ease the loneliness?

    Funny how easy it is to not miss family, till you are forced to go without seeing them! Though (*SPOILER ALERT*) I know you choose to stay home, despite the naysayers … hopefully, I can follow your example.

    I know it’s worth it, in the end … right?

    • It was worth it, but I think that’s only because I got to see everybody I would have seen–and then some–for my cousin’s wedding in October. That was an awesome event and it felt even more special than Christmas. Christmas feels trumped up and superficial, but there we were, gathering together to celebrate the beginning of two people’s lives spent together, and while weddings are definitely Hallmarked, I don’t think quite to the extent that Christmas is. I think the occasion was more special and the family in greater attendance, so it was a win-win. Christmas was super lonely, I’m not going to lie, but I made it and I saved cash. It’s not that you’ll save a ton of money by not going home from Christmas–it’s the *attitude* of not going home for Christmas that will enable you to say no to so much more and thereby reach your goal more quickly. You have to be hardcore. I’d go home for Thanksgiving, and make money during Christmas.

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