As I was reflecting on some of the things we did that were radically frugal, I realized there were times we went too far. These are some of the things I’d change about my frugal ways if I had it to do all over again.

I’ve made some big financial mistakes in my life, some of which I regret more than others.  Many people I speak with say they wish they had started saving earlier or invested more. Others wish they’d bought a smaller house or paid for a pre-owned car with cash instead of buying new. My regrets are beyond these. There are times I look back where I wish I had a better balance between saving for the future and living in the now. My regrets lie in the times I chose not to do something or go somewhere in the quest to save more and spend less.

Recently we asked our school age kids, “If you could change one thing about our family, what would you change?” Their answer both surprised and humbled us.

They said, “We wish we could spend more time as a family doing fun stuff together.”

When we asked, “What kind of fun stuff?”, we expected them to say, “Disney!”.

Instead they said, “You know, swimming and skating and stuff. Maybe we could go out to the movies and THEN go out for dinner, on the same night!” Had we been so concerned about funding our future retirement and their RESPs that we forgot to have fun?

Brian and I stayed up late that night talking. We decided we needed bring more balance to our lives, even if it meant reaching our financial destination a few years later then planned. We wanted to budget in fun money every month and enjoy doing things as a family and as a couple even if there was a financial sacrifice. Our kids are only young once. They may not remember the stuff they had but they will remember the time we spend with them.

It’s healthy to spend money occasionally. I’m not advocating spending money we don’t have. I am advocating budgeting money for experiences. I don’t need more stuff. I enjoy living a simple life. What I fear is arriving at our financial destination, looking back and realizing how much fun we missed.

I share these regrets with you here so that when you are faced with the same choices in your future, you can learn from my mistakes. I wish I had joined my family at the movies instead of staying back to save the $10. I wish we’d adopted a dog when the kids were younger and not worried so much about another bill to pay. I wish we’d gone to more concerts, seen more plays, visited more museums and gone out for dinner and a movie on the same night. I wish we’d gone swimming and skating, to baseball games and on a yearly holiday, even if it was just to somewhere local. I wish we had been willing to invest more in the times that create memories and had been less focused on the financial cost.

We’ve changed a lot of our ways in the last few months. We may be very frugal in some areas of our life but we’re done with being stingy when it comes time to spending time as a family.

What are some of your financial regrets?

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

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  1. Ben on July 16, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Great post. I will remember this advise when I have kids. And before too…

  2. Writer's Coin on July 16, 2009 at 9:06 am

    I love these moments where we stop and realize that some things are way more important than money.

    Not in an irresponsible way, but in a way that seems a better balance.

  3. EB on July 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Excellent Post. I could not agree more.

    I’ve started giving experiences for gift at xmas as birthdays and found it to be so much better. This year for mother’s/father’s day I took my mom to the spa and my father out for dinner. they remembered these experiences much more than if they had gotten a new shirt.

  4. Nicolas on July 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Having fun with kids doesn’t imply spending more money. Parks are free as most swimming pools. A few hours at the library is also always fun. Depending on their age, they can be part of normal activities like preparing dinner (i.e making a mess).

    Young kids take a lot of pride in doing what their parents do. My son loves to pick up his toy vacuum cleaner while I use mine. It makes my job less boring while making him happy. These will be great memories.

  5. Sean on July 16, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for your great insight Kathryn! I appreciate it especially since I’m getting married next year, and we hope to start a family in the coming years also. This definitely helps keeps things in perspective!

  6. Michael - Fat Loss Tips on July 16, 2009 at 11:46 am

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read on this blog. Although it’s nice to save money and think towards a better future, we all forget about living today or in the moment.

    Kathryn, thanks for the honest reflections and I hope I don’t experience the same regret down the road.

    Cheers to Today!

  7. Kathryn on July 16, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Nicolas: I agree. There are lots of things to do that are free. Here are some more ideas from a previous post.

  8. Daniel Morel on July 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I agree with the sentiment that “I don’t need more stuff”. But I really do enjoy experiences. We bought family passes for the amusement park instead for fathers/mothers day gifts. Although we save for our future we are not going to compromise today’s good times for it.

    Enjoy your life today so you don’t spend your long comfortable retirement years regretting not having done what you wanted.

  9. cannon_fodder on July 16, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Great post. I credit my wife for making me loose the purse springs so that the journey to our financial success is as enjoyable as the destination hopes to be.

  10. Kathryn on July 16, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    (My other comment is awaiting moderation.)

    Daniel: We got a pass to the water park this summer. It has been so much fun and worth every penny!

    I love the idea of passes. Over time they can save money but they still provide a great way to spend time together.

    CF: Happy to hear your wife has been such a positive influence.

  11. ldk on July 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Great post and so true….so many of us our racing toward some distant (financial) goal that we forget that it really IS all about the journey.

  12. Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog on July 16, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    This is a great post, I guess we do read so much about saving every penny.

    Each year, the wife and I get Broadway Across Canada season tickets (4 plays) and an Oilers minipak (6 games). With our first child on the way, we’re already looking forward to taking him to these in a few years wehn he’s old enough to actually watch (maybe by 4-5?).

    Nicolas, I like your ideas about the parks and library. Frugal and creates great memories!

  13. Elbyron on July 16, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    I’m too frugal to buy those expensive Oilers tickets, when I can just watch the games on TV (though being there in person is a lot more fun if you have a friend along). Eskimos tickets on the other hand are far less expensive and I enjoy getting some fresh air and energy of the crowd. Theater and symphonies are also very pricey, but I really enjoy going to the much cheaper Symphony Under the Sky every September. There’s lots of ways in Edmonton to have a rich cultural experience while not spending a ton of cash. We have so many wonderful festivals, mostly free, that I could never consider season tickets to the Citadel or Broadway Across Canada.

  14. DAvid on July 16, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    We turned it around with my parents a few years ago. They retired a couple of years ago having run their business for 50 years, are financially comfortable and need nothing. Thus thoughtful gifts became a real problem. Actually for Dad gifting had been a issue for decades — we’d wrack our brains to come up with a useful gift he’d appreciate, save to purchase it, only to find he bought it for himself shortly before gift-giving time! Three years ago at Christmas, we gifted them a guided tour of Spokane, WA, with us as the guides, since that time we’ve done self-organized wine tours, show tours, etc. The response was overwhelming, to say the least. We borrowed a minivan for ease of transportation, booked the hotel, determined the destinations, did a walking tour of the 1880’s architectural marvels, etc., it seemed so simple to do, but the response indicated we could not have chosen a better gift than spending time with them.

    So…..don’t forget family extends in both directions, and that time is truly a gift of yourself.


  15. nobleea on July 16, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Most people as they’re older, are more likely to say “I wish I’d travelled more when I was younger”, rather than “I wish I hadn’t travelled as much”.

    We try to travel as much as possible and I really go out of my way to make and participate in ‘experiences’. It could be camping in the White Desert in egypt, white water rafting down the Zambezi, taking in the cherry blossoms in tokyo, a surprise trip to propose in paris, or spending new years in times square. These are things that I’ll never forget. We have a choice in where we spend our money. No one looks back on their life and says, boy I’m glad I bought that big screen 20 years ago, or went out for dinner 2 times a week, or bought the fashionable clothes. It’s the experiences that stay with us.
    The same is true when growing up. My wife still raves about the time when her dad surprised the whole family with a heli-hiking day trip. I don’t regret the fact that we didn’t have cable growing up and it took forever to get a VHS player. But I’ll always remember learning to ski in the swiss alps, and flying on the government’s VIP jet.

  16. LisainSK on July 16, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Best post I’ve read to date!! Excellent…

  17. William on July 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Great post , feel I have to make a comment . Sometimes I think I have the right balance somtimes I don’t . My kids now 18 & 15 know there is a time to work and a time to play . They enjoy sitting in our back garden having a open fire & enjoyed going to Disney. My kids will soon be moving on ( I hope , just joking , just joking , no I’m not ) …. I’m looking at the memories not the cost.I could go on and on with memories. If you are a new parent , you only have one kick at the can.

  18. longtimereader on July 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    excellent post — I read it twice and can’t agree more .

  19. ZeFrench on July 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Great post!

    I would add to it that savings and planning are not everything. You can plan, but not predict and life can turn on you in a minute. My wife has great memories of her dad. He saved money, purchased a family home and a cottage. Had a life insurance… All the basics for financial independance and early, happy retirement. Above all, her never forgot to take the family skiing, swimming and camping as much as possible. My wife has great memories of him and life lessons. He passed away at age 39, at the time my wife was 9 years old.

    We swore to ourselves to apply the same principle to our family. Plan for the long term, but enjoy life to its fullest together and with our children as the opportunity to do so may be gone tomorrow (unless you know something we don’t).

  20. Canadian Dream on July 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I can relate. It’s hard to find a balance and keep it there. I keep changing our spending habits as things happen and we decide on changes that mean less savings.

    In the end, we decided to split new money down the middle. Half towards debt repayment or savings and half towards trips and other things. Heck, half the reason my wife wants to pay off the mortgage now with the kids being young is to free up cash later for more travel with them.


  21. Elbyron on July 16, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I think you got it right Tim. Save your money when the kids are young, they’re not going to remember if you take them on an amazing trip at age 2, and they wouldn’t enjoy it as much either. Do more things at home until they’re old enough to really enjoy a travel vacation. Of course, if there’s a big age gap between your kids then it’s hard to manage. My parents took me to Australia when I was 12, and I loved it, but my little sister was only a baby and has no recollection of the trip.

  22. MikeG on July 16, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    To me its all about honouring your expenditure of time at work (or opportunity cost) with things that you actually value. For example $75 for lion king the play tickets.. I couldnt give a $… so why would i spend $75 when I’d rather take a cooking class or something. We’re going anyways because it turns out that its worth it to my wife :) and thus its worth it to me.

    How much as a percent or absolute value do you guys allocate for fun/experience money? we give ourselves $200 a month which works out to be about 8% of our after tax income… sometimes its surprising how fast it can go.

  23. Wayne on July 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I never thought spending time with our children was a “sacrifice”. We realized that some of the activities cost money but we never thought of our time with our children in terms of dollars & cents. We just did it!
    Also I agree with ZeFrench. You can’t plan for every eventuality. I read somewhere that Nature has a good laugh when us humans start “micro-planning”.

  24. Kirk S. on July 16, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Great post and something thoughtful. We all try to live by the numbers, but living a healthy and enjoyable life is what it is all about!

  25. Ms Save Money on July 16, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    I really like this article – it’s very touching.

    I think it’s very important to enjoy life. Although I’m big on saving I do believe that if you don’t spend some of it now – you may not get the chance to be able to spend any of your hard earn money later.

    As long as a person is practical about their spending that is what matters – because counting everything to the last penny is definitely not fun.

  26. TheRoadtoMeaning on July 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Wow, this was such a touching article. Most people get so caught up in trying to build wealth at the expense of living their own lives and spending quality time with family. When realization hits, it usually is too late. This article really hits home the fact that we need to enjoy the journey just as much, if not more than the goal.

    I am looking forward to reading more articles like this, as it sends a reality check, every now and then.

  27. Ben on July 16, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Reading all of the above, a common thread is the emphasis on experiences, not stuff.

    I don’t think it is a coincidence that the people who hang around blogs such as this, interesting in saving responsibility and growing assets, are also the type who by and large have figured out that spending on stuff and consumption is not the precursor to happiness.

    Define your mutual values in discussion with your significant other (write it down!), and never feel guilty when you spend money on an experience that you can directly tie back to that set of values. Sometimes stuff and consumption is necessary in support of experiences, but let not that relationship work the other way!

  28. Brendan on July 16, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    What’s with the RESP thing?
    What happened to kids getting a summer job and paying their own way?
    Don’t do it, and use the money to enjoy life with your kids before you die, or end up crippled in a care home.
    A side benifit is your kid would appreciate having to earn his own, an not end up one of these “mellenium” babies, having no pride, or work ethic, etc.
    I know many will disagree, but that is the price of being right.

    Seriuosly, has anyone else noticed the uprising of the “entitled” one entering the workforce?

    Google “CBS here come the mellenials”, 60 minutes segment that nails our up and coming youth to a tee.
    And it all starts with the RESP.

  29. PS Thoo on July 17, 2009 at 12:06 am

    I agree this is an area where many people get it wrong. Being frugal doesn’t mean that we all should not enjoy ourselves from time to time, and “spending” fun time with the family and children.

    Indeed, what is the point of being wealthy if we can’t enjoy our lives?
    In life, I believe we need to strike a balance.

    Of course, spending lavishly is bad behaviour. However, i believe it won’t do any harm if the spending is pre-planned and controlled within budget, and as long as the financial goals can still be achieved. The key here is setting realistic goals.

    In fact, one of the wealth experts actually thought me how to allocate a fixed portion of my income for “entertainment”. It’s an ideal way to recharge ourselves and keep the internal fire burning.

    Be frugal and be happy too!

  30. tendonitisrescue on July 17, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Wow, some great stories. Thank you for your great story and comments. I have always been very frugal after being a single Mom and having to work hard and smart. My kids are grown and have families of their own now. We were in Florida for the winter and my sister and her young family came to visit and we headed off to Seaworld. They have a restaurant called “Dine With the Sharks” One whole wall is an huge aquarium with sharks, we looked at the menu outside and decided it was too much for lunch and moved on.

    Next time I went with my fiance and he wanted to dine with the sharks and that was that. Well it turned out to be such a great experience and I felt so bad for not going in when my sister and her kids were there. It would of been an incredible experience that we all could of shared. I always remember the “dine with the sharks lesson” and now choose for the life experience.

  31. Richby30Retireby40 BLOG on July 18, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    My financial regrets are many. Recently, it was to short the market when it climbed 5%, and lose since it climbed +8% for the week. That was a nice 4 figure loss.



  32. PD on July 18, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Creating those memories for your children is truly important. Whenever I am asked about fond memories from childhood the one at the top of the list is our family trip out west when I was nine. My parents had very little income at the time, but they saved. We flew to Calgary and from there rented a car and traveled all over the great west. I was just old enough to appreciate it and young enough to have no idea how much time and sacrifice was involved to make that trip happen. Years later my parents cried when I told them how much that trip meant to me. They cried because it almost didn’t happen. They second guessed whether the money should be used for savings or to pay off a loan. Instead they chose to create the memories with us. I am extremely grateful.

  33. Poppyseed on July 19, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Spot On ! We saved in a special account and took the 4 kids to Greece this summer. we rented a villa on Crete ( VERY cheap……MUCH less than hotel And it had an orchard, pool and 10 minutes to white beach.) I can die happy. The 4 ( all in their 20’s) laughed into the night with us, danced greek dances, played frisby and swam…amazing. Great before they are all totally launched. have been doing annual holidays since their birth and have no regretrs. ( They are bankers and 2 dr’s. both in residency programs) . We paid for most of their education and will Not retire with a great cruise in the sunset. We’ll be ok but Just..ok. Would I do it all over again ? In a heartbeat. We invested in them..the family. Our reward time is now. My husband was just diagnosed with a life altering neurological disease and we feel blessed to have made those earlier choices.

  34. robert m on August 15, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Nicolas, I agree that there are things that can be done without spending an arm and a leg. I for one, still remember the trips to the playground with mom and dad – it was so much fun. With that said, I would have to add that it’s not spending money where the cost comes but it’s spending the time to make the money as well and the associated opportunity cost.
    By conservation of mass, er time, if i work more to make money i will have less time to spend with loved ones. I think Kathryn would agree the frugality goes hand in hand with working longer hours, and hence sacrificing time to make the money.
    I am currently 27 with a wife and a baby on the way working a full time corporate job during the day and moonlighting as a pizza delivery driver at night and on the weekends. This translates into 70-90 hour workweeks and no ‘us’ time to speak of. We purchased a home 1.5 years ago which I felt was a bit too much to handle and we made it a goal to pay nearly everything left after other bills towards the mortgage. So far, we have done whatever it takes to meet that goal, including sacrificing our young 20-something years for the sake of financial freedom later. Kathryn must have read my mind because I come home at 2:30am on many sunday mornings having delivered hot pizza to many 20-something party goers and wonder if I am making the right decision to mortgage away my young healthy years in the name of making a seemingly secure future later.

    I sometimes think that the price may be too high and that I am missing out
    on life for the sake of money. Any thoughts from others who have been there and made it to the other side? I would appreciate any advice.

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