It’s all about priorities

In the back of your mind you’re thinking you’d love to drop out of everything and take off to travel with your family for an extended period of time. C’mon – admit it.

Maybe you aren’t interested in doing it on bicycles, but in a boat? Or on horseback? Or RV? Walking? Running maybe?  Or perhaps you’d prefer using public transport of every conceivable variety?

You’d love to tell your boss you’re taking off – and actually do it.

But then you come back to reality. You’ve got a house you need to pay for.  Car payments to make… Pay off those credit cards… Buy new furniture for your living room… And you need to save for retirement. Maybe that trip of a lifetime will never happen after all.

I would venture to guess that most people can take that trip of their dreams if they simply put their mind to it. It’s all a matter of priorities.

Now before you jump all over my back, I want to point out that little word “most” in the previous sentence. I do understand there are people out there who simply can’t take off for one reason or another, but for most, it’s doable. It comes down to priorities.

So how do you do it? How do you manage to save the money for a trip like this? Easy – you make it a priority. I’m not talking about giving the journey lip service – I’m saying you have to decide it really, honestly, truly is your priority. If it’s not, there will be a million other things to spend your money on.

Trim the Fat

I know, I know – you’ve heard this before: eliminate all expenses that aren’t necessary. Maybe you could stop buying that $5 coffee from Starbucks every morning, or carry your lunch rather than going out with the boys. You’ve read all that before.

But I think it comes down to something a bit different. I’m not necessarily saying to cut all that out, but to simply make conscious decisions. Remember – it’s all about priorities and making conscious decisions. Is that $5 coffee more important than your trip? Then, by all means, buy it. Lunch with the boys higher on the priority list than the journey? Then go for it. Just remember to make conscious decisions. Come back again and again to what is truly important in your life and make decisions based on that.

One of the people I respect the most is my sister-in-law. Years ago, Jane and her husband met us in while we were traveling and we spent a couple of delightful weeks together. Years later, we visited her in Colorado where we admired her newly refinished hardwood floors and reminisced about traveling.

“I enjoyed my time in Nepal,” Jane told me. “But I doubt I’ll travel like that again. I just don’t have the money.”

But then she took it a step farther. “No,” she added. “That’s not true. I do have the money – but I prefer to spend it on a new floor. At this point in my life, I think I would get more enjoyment out of a new floor or a new couch than I would out of a trip to Nepal.”

I have a tremendous respect for Jane and her honesty. I think most of us don’t actually make conscious decisions about our money. We see a need (a scratched floor or worn out couch) and spend our money to fix it. But we don’t tend to actually think about what will bring us more enjoyment in the long run. Jane is one of the rare people who actually did.

I think so often we get caught up in the whole “keep-up-with-the-Jones” thing and don’t even realize we are there. I remember years ago when I fell into that trap and it took me a while to realize I was in it.

I was living on the Navajo reservation at the time, and a group of us teachers got together each month to order food from a natural foods co-op. The ten of us gathered together in someone’s living room and pored over the catalog divvying up cases of this, that, or the other.

“I want three pounds of dried mangos,” I said. “Anybody want the other two pounds in the case?”

“A case of brown rice is 25 pounds – I can use five of them. Anybody else want some rice?”

“The coffee comes in five pound packages – I want two pounds of hazelnut. Want some?”

One of the standard purchases of our little co-op was coffee. Each month we ordered two or three varieties and divided them up between us all.

And every morning I religiously made my coffee, poured myself a cup, and carried it all over the house as I got ready. I never went anywhere in the morning without that cup of coffee – it went into the bathroom and waited while I took my shower. It sat beside the sink while I brushed my teeth.  As I cooked my breakfast, my coffee cup was never far from the stove.  And then when I took off for school, I left my cup of coffee sitting on my dining room table.

It took me three months to realize I never actually drank my coffee – I just carried it around.  In all that time, I maybe actually drank one full cup of brew – one sip at a time.  Even worse, it took me three months to realize I didn’t even like coffee!  I had gotten so entrenched in “doing what everybody did” that I didn’t even think about it.  Everybody made and drank coffee in the morning, so I did too.  I was simply keeping up with the Joneses – and wasn’t even aware I was doing it.

Are you trying to keep up with the Joneses?  Is there something in your life that you are doing just because?  Reevaluate everything and make conscious decisions.

I’m not suggesting you give up everything.  Not at all.  I don’t believe we should be miserable in order to save money for a trip, just like I don’t believe we should be miserable now in order to save money for retirement.  What I am saying is to simply make conscious decisions.  Think about each and every item you spend money on and make a conscious decision – ‘is this item higher on the priority list than my trip?’

Some people decide that a Starbucks coffee each morning is worth delaying their journey a while; others make the opposite decision.  Some people decide a new couch in their living room is worth putting their trip off for; others would rather shop at thrift stores or yard sales.  The level of frugality we each feel we can deal with is a personal matter, and we each need to reevaluate our own needs and wants on a very regular basis.  While I have no problem whatsoever using hand-me-down, unmatched furniture in order to save money for my travels, another person would find that to be an intolerable sacrifice.

I challenge you to think about your wants and needs this year.  Make a list of priorities and make conscious decisions to work your way toward the items that are high on the list.  You think you might surprise yourself!

This article originally appeared on

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a long-time schoolteacher who made the decision to leave her teaching career behind to travel the world on a bike – with her children. All told, they spent four years cycling 27,000 miles throughout the Americas. She blogs at

Posted by | Comments (1)  | April 9, 2013
Category: Money Management

One Response to “It’s all about priorities”

  1. Adriano Says:

    Priorities are a fundamental part in the decision making process… And they also form the most painful part.
    So, for example, if you opt for long-time travelling, than you are likely to miss important events back home. Because of travelling, I have missed weddings, parties, courses and even funerals…
    You can also miss the chance to date the best person you would be able to meet in your life…. And come back seeing her happily married with somebody else.
    So, should you avoid travelling? Then you’d miss plenty of other stuff.

    A decision could drive you crazy. I think that the best way to choose your priorities is evaluating all options and, once you have made a decision, concentrating on all the positive things it’d bring rather than on all those it would take away.

    Maybe this is too obvious as a comment.