InvestingLearn MoreSave MoreTravel

Turning Dollars into Smiles

How do you get the most bang for your buck? Everyone loves finding a great deal and telling to family and friends when we pay less for something. In reality, most of us are still spending more money than we should. And we are spending a lot of money on things we don’t really need! I’m not talking about how we got a great deal on a 65” TV for only $50 more than  60”. I’m talking about why we got another TV at all when we already have three that work perfectly fine! In our family, we did spend a bit of money last year on experiences and others things that I think was money well spent. We took a couple of family vacations and as I look back at pictures of those trips, I can’t help but smile. As I was reviewing some of last year’s expenses and looking at our plan for this year I couldn’t help but wonder, what else did we spend money on that I can remember with a smile?


Money Well Spent

I am fortunate that my wife shares my passion of traveling. So I usually try to schedule a few trips a year seeing and learning about new places. Last year we took a few vacations. We took a whirlwind two-week vacation around the world visiting Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Maldives, and Abu Dhabi. I went on a trip with a good friend up in Whistler, Canada where we got to ski down a glacier. Most recently, we went on a Caribbean cruise with our daughters and parents down to the Bahamas. None of these trips were particularly cheap, but we created some memories that will last a lifetime.

Flight path from Newark to Hong Kong



View of downtown Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia from the top of the apartments where our AirBnb was.



Entire uninhabited island to ourselves for the day in the Maldives




We also moved last year. Our new home is only about 15 miles from where our old home is, but we plan to be in this house for a long time. This will be the house our twin 2 ½ year old daughters will be raised in and we are excited to have baby #3 join us in just a few short weeks. We now have more than enough room for raising our family and hosting family and friends. We also live on a street where every house has kids under 10, so it has been fun to watch the kids run around the neighborhood.

Last year we also relied a little less on my DIY skills than in the past and leveraged the use of a few contractors. We had several projects around the house last year and while I took care of most of them, we did use contractors to help when deadlines were short and we had some potential safety concerns. A contractor helped with a bathroom remodel but there was some issues with the quality of work and kicked him out before he was finished. We used another contractor remove a wall beneath a staircase and were extremely happy with him. We also had a little work done to our rental house where we used contractors. While not all of these projects went exactly as planned, they all still turned out great and saved us real time and effort.


Before removing the wall beneath the stairs and doorway to the basement





One more expense I am very happy with was our decision to add a couple thousand dollars to our daughters’ 529 education savings accounts. Not only is a portion of our contribution tax-deductible but it has been really fun to watch the account value grow with the recent strong stock market returns. And we have a little more peace of mind knowing we have money set aside for their education.

On a smaller scale, my wife and I have also tried to focus our disposable income on nights out with friends, family, or each other. We still try to be mindful of our spending and look for Groupons or other deals while still making time for the people who are important to us.


Money Not So Well Spent

On the other hand, we made some poor choices with our money as well. While we try to think through and be deliberate and with most of our expenses, we still make some poor financial decisions from time to time.

As I alluded to in the previous section there was a contactor that we weren’t very happy with that ended with me having to redo a few items on a bathroom remodel project. So I will be more diligent in asking for references from previous clients of contractors before putting them to work.

Another area where I spent too much was on tools. While I got a handful of tools that turned out to be very useful, there is probably an equal number if not more that I definitely I should have just borrowed from a neighbor or friend because of how little I will use them (likely just once or not even at all).

I am sure there are several others but I’m confident we didn’t make any really expensive purchases that we regret.


Missed Opportunities

Like most, we will continue to get better with our money and improve on our decision-making around finances. There are instances of regretful decisions when we spent money. There are also opportunities to spend some money on experiences that we may never get the chance to do again that we have missed out on.


Lessons Learned

We like to say that we value experiences and time with family and friends more than just buying “stuff”. So we’ve made a deliberate plan to focus our spending less on “things” and more on making memories. One example is that rather than buying a new car every couple of years, we’d rather save up our money and spend it on a couple of fun trips each year. I think we did a decent job of that last year.

We will all make and spend money. Rather than just spending, make a plan and be intentional with what you do with your money so you maximize spending your hard-earned money on the things that also maximize your happiness. One way to do this is by using a budget.

Related: Why You’re Still In Debt & Organize Your Snowballs

Hopefully thinking through what you spend money on last year will give you some better insight to guide your spending decisions this year so you can turn those hard-earned dollars into more smiles!



One thought on “Turning Dollars into Smiles

What do you think?