What I Learned on Spring Break
My 7-year old was required to keep a journal to chronicle his spring break experience.
“I liked the Disney Dreams show becus it was majicle!”
I didn’t keep a daily log of my favorite things like he did, but I did read a couple good books and made quite a few observations that I feel are worth sharing.
The day before we left, we visited the public library. In two short minutes, I grabbed a couple books from the personal finance section. I enjoyed both of them, but I won’t be giving a full review. I’m not a qualified book critic, and I don’t want to turn reading into a homework assignment. But I will give you a brief overview, and tell you what I liked about each.
The first was The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better by Chris Farrell, a personal finance editor of radio and print media. Published in 2010 as the world was beginning to emerge from the Great Recession, Chris speaks of a “new frugality” that we will begin to embrace now that we have learned the errs of our excessive ways.
He actually doesn’t spend much time talking about frugal living, at least not in specific ways. His idea of a new frugality is sensible, sustainable living, acting responsibly with respect to our finances and our environment. The book serves fairly well as a how-to guide for Mustachians, despite being written before being Mustachian was a thing.
He espouses living green, avoiding bad debt, passive investing, and charity. I definitely agree with the theme and messages put forth throughout the book. I might do some things a bit differently than he recommends (my 529 funds are invested aggressively; he recommends moderate or conservative), but I am in position to take more risks than the average reader. A quick read, and well written, I definitely recommend it.
The second book I read was The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. It is described on the cover as “required reading” by Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and Think Like a Freak. Economists are interesting people. An economist looks at human issues like engineers look at physical and mechanical ones. Their methods of dissecting seemingly ordinary transactions and circumstances can be fascinating.
I never thought much about the economics behind buying a cup of coffee, but Mr. Harford sure has. And did you know that store-label groceries are intentionally bland and unappealing? They want to make the items available for frugal shoppers, but give the less price-sensitive shoppers a reason to spend more on the eye-catching brand names. He also discusses why Cameroon stays poor and China found wealth, and why most economists don’t abhor sweatshops. At times, the writing was a bit technical, but I picked up some worthwhile knowledge and enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at various market transactions.
What else did I learn on vacation? Disney will give you plenty of opportunity to spend additional dollars once you’ve boarded their cruise ship. The experience you’ve already purchased is fantastic, but if you want to try to make it a little more fantastic, the Mouse will gladly upsell you at every turn.
There is an overabundance of great food all over the place, and you’ve already paid for it all. You can fill a plate, bowl, or cup with fresh melon, pineapple and other fruits. But for $5, they’ll blend fruits together with yogurt and sell you the smoothie of the day. Want to take in a new release movie in 3-D in their theater? Don’t cost nothin’ to see The Force Awakens unless you just gotta have the popcorn, which costs $3.50. There’s free soda being dispensed 4 floors above you, but the popcorn vendor can save you the exercise and sell you a can for $2.15.
If you can’t figure out how to enjoy a day on a private island with white sand beaches, turquoise waters, waterparks, lounge chairs, umbrellas, and the ever-present abundance of food and pleasant ambience, Goofy will be happy to let you rent an innertube for $11 or a bunch of other things for a bunch more money. The first thing I did on the island was to run the organized 5k. I got a free rubber medal just for finishing! If I wanted the tech tee shirt for further proof of my athleticism and willingness to splurge, the 5k shirt was available for $40, right next to the $23 beach towels.
You might argue that if you can afford the price of admission, you can certainly afford a few extras. And it’s true, we could. I just have a hard time justifying paying extra when there is so much to experience, eat, and drink that I’ve already purchased. We did buy a few drinks on board each day. I found it best to enjoy the piano bar and live Irish music at O’Gill’s with a Kona Castaway IPA or Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock.
I also found another bullet item to add to the list of ways money buys time. Universal Orlando now sells something that they used to give away, the Express Pass. In days of yore, one could visit an attraction early and print a deli-style ticket that would reserve a place in line at a later time. In modern times, there are no deli numbers, just Express Passes that can be purchased as an add-on. $35 gets you one express ticket per attraction in one park. $60 gets you unlimited express rides in both parks.
Did I purchase these for our family of 4? Have you met me? I didn’t, of course, but I can see where it might be worthwhile to buy some time, especially during peak season.
Fortunately, most waits were 20 minutes at most, and they do a pretty good job of giving you something to see or do while in line. There were maybe 3 rides in 2 days where we waited more than 45 minutes. If I had one day to do both parks on one of the busier days of the year, I might actually splurge. When money buys time, and time buys more well-mannered children, it can be money well spent.
Also, money can buy time by avoiding a 2-hour layover in Kansas City. When you’re buying 4 tickets, a difference of a couple hundred per ticket adds up quickly, but if I had known how poorly that airport was set up, I might have thought twice.
I emptied my pockets, took off my hat, shoes, and belt, all for some chicken fries at a Burger King I could see and smell 100 feet from our departure gate. It was so not worth it.
One last lesson from Spring Break: Experience still trumps things. I spent 9 wonderful days with my wife and 2 boys. We all had a blast, shared every meal together, and made lasting memories. We played in the pool, the beach, the boat, and the parks. I wrote a lot about the costs we incurred and avoided, because money is a focus of this blog. On vacation, we were able to focus on fun. I’m looking forward to next March already.