In the Spring of 2010, my husband and I found ourselves on the receiving end of a bit of excellent luck. As a graduate student, he was eligible to apply for a position in one of the undergraduate dorms of the university he attends. This role would entail some advising and programming responsibilities for the students, in exchange for a rent-free apartment and meal plan. When he was offered the position, I did a happy dance, and immediately proceeded to order a label-maker I’d had my eye on for ages and until then had deemed a frivolous purchase (I am a woman of simple, and sometimes embarrassing, tastes).
When the high of the news had worn off (dinner out when we feel like it! turning the heat up instead of putting on another sweater!), we realized we’d need to consider where all of that money – previously earmarked for rent – would now be going. As a non-profit employee and a graduate student, we were suddenly presented with savings opportunities we had rarely previously considered. There were a few obvious choices – if we ever wanted to buy a house, we could suddenly spend our twenties saving for a down-payment. We could greatly increase our retirement contributions. We could pay down student loans with terrible interest rates.
But besides the obvious choices, we took this as an opportunity to put aside money forthose things we’d always wanted to do, but never thought possible. We gave ourselves a few months of “free-saving” – time to put money towards things that might not be as practical as the obvious choices, like a house or an IRA. My mother has always wanted to go to Italy, and she would never do it on her own. So, for her 60th birthday, I presented her with a trip abroad, courtesy of several months earmarking cash in a little fund called “Italy Trip.” My husband’s sisters are in college, and face the daunting reality of student loans when they graduate. He’s put some cash aside to help ease that load.
Could we have taken those few months and started stashing cash responsibly? Of course. But by the time I have enough disposable income to take my mother to Italy on a whim, it might be too late. Careers and age intervene, and so I seized the opportunity. Could my husband wait until his sisters are ten years into loan repayment to start sending cash their way on birthdays and holidays? Yes, but how nice will it be for them to see a little bit of that burden lifted as they leave that graduation stage in a few years? There’s a lot to be said for responsible saving, but I can’t say I feel too much guilt over those early months of less-than-austere planning.
Have you ever been presented with a windfall, and put it toward less-than-practical plans?
image: Chris Wee