Efficiency Is Not For Vacation

Just a super-quick post today folks — The Tako family is still on vacation, and we will be until the middle of next week!

As we touristed around the wonderful city of Houston today, I was thinking about vacation spending — I found myself worrying myself over the cost of small things, like how much we paid for fruit (our main breakfast), or how much a cold drink cost.

I kept telling myself, “Back home I would never pay that much for a banana or apple!”  And I wouldn’t.  Back home I would have totally optimized the hell out of every regular purchase.   I would totally know which store was the optimal place to buy fruit from and the I would only buy when the price was reasonable.

That’s great when we’re at home (and I have tons of time to optimize). but on vacation this kind of thinking presents a problem.


Vacations & Efficiency Don’t Mix

For efficiency nerds like myself, overpaying never feels great.   I want to have every financial transaction be optimal, but it’s just not going to happen on vacation.  When we’re on vacation, time is very limited and I just need to relax that part of my brain that desires financial efficiency.

Instead of telling myself “You really overpaid for that banana”, I need to be saying something more along the lines of “Good job being frugal on vacation by eating fruit instead of an expensive restaurant breakfast.”

Time is a precious resource on vacation, and I shouldn’t be wasting it trying to over-optimize everything, I should be out enjoying my vacation (keeping it within budget of course)

dinosaurs on display
Instead of spending time over-optimizing, I should be out enjoying all the unique sights — like this dinosaur exhibit at Houston’s Museum of Natural Science.

So yes, I probably overpaid for some of our groceries on  vacation, and probably missed out on some good discounts because I was in a new city and didn’t know all the tricks… but I need to be OK with that because our mindset is still frugal.

Here’s just a few examples:

*  Rather than buying a fast-food breakfast or eating at a restaurant, we eat fruit we picked up at a grocery store.

*  We are refilling our own water bottles and bringing them along rather than buying expensive drinks.

*  Some meals we’re eating-out to experience the local flavors.  This is expensive, but we’re also eating some meals ‘in’ which helps reduce the costs.

*  Using public transportation in big cities like Houston or Austin might be a cheaper option, but definitely not faster.  We rented a car to drive around Texas.  This might be more expensive, but I’m still using GasBuddy to find cheap gas stations and saving a ton of time.

*  Part of the trip we’re staying with local friends instead of a hotel.  While we can’t do the whole trip this way, it does cut down the cost somewhat.

*  Even though we’re paying for tickets to expensive museums or locations like Johnson Space Center (NASA), we’re also utilizing a lot of free (or low cost) entertainment options like city parks or State parks.  This helps keeps the costs down.

johnson space center
Yep, we went to Johnson Space Center in Houston! This activity was neither free nor cheap!

Hopefully you can see what I mean — it’s impossible to optimize every transaction while on vacation, but we aren’t throwing caution to the wind either.  Our mindset is still pretty frugal.

Tako Jr. #1 showing off how we keep costs low by hanging out in free parks, like the wonderful Hermann park in Houston.


Once In A Lifetime Experiences

Just one final thought today on vacation expenses — Even though we skip a lot of the regular tourist stuff, and completely ignore many of the commercialized aspects of traveling, there are definitely still certain experiences worth paying for.

I call these “Once in a lifetime” experiences — the experiences so unique and fulfilling to your person that they’re worth paying the ridiculous tourist prices.  Furthermore, you might only have one single opportunity in a lifetime to experience it.

This is going to be unique to every individual.  For me, a once in a lifetime experience was the opportunity to visit Johnson Space Center, which is just outside of Houston.  Yes, at $30 per adult it is kind of overpriced, but it’s probably the ONLY time I’ll get to visit NASA in my lifetime.  So I gladly paid the price.

saturn V
The opportunity to see one of the Saturn V rockets that put a man on the moon, was one I couldn’t pass up. This rocket is mind blowingly large and complex.  Worth the price.

Funny enough, financial independence at an early age is kinda like this — a once in a lifetime experience that represents a significant opportunity cost.  People like myself make the tradeoff for a unique life experience rather than a maximum  amount of total lifetime earnings in the bank account.

It would seem I’m pretty consistent about making that tradeoff…

29 thoughts on “Efficiency Is Not For Vacation

  • March 17, 2018 at 2:15 AM

    Only weirdos post on Saturdays…

    I can see the time vs cost dilemma and I already feel the struggle of that within myself. I would love to take the bus since it’s part of local color but really, we’re paying time to be there. Time is money. So it could be better if renting a car would avoid a 30 minute wait for the bus. Just another reason to wait for cheaper driverless cars…

    • Hey, what do you have a against weirdos who post on Saturdays? It’s the day in my schedule that works!

  • March 17, 2018 at 2:37 AM

    ‘“Once in a lifetime” experiences — the experiences so unique and fulfilling to your person that they’re worth paying the ridiculous tourist prices. Furthermore, you might only have one single opportunity in a lifetime to experience it.’

    I think that seeking out experiences that are fulfilling to one’s person is the key to spending efficiently and spending with purpose. I think a similar framework can also apply to everyday spending. If the answer to the questions ‘do I really care about buying x?’ and ‘will I regret not buying x?’ is yes then maybe you should consider making the purchase.


  • March 17, 2018 at 5:27 AM

    I’m glad you still found frugal options while traveling. I totally can relate to the feeling of overpaying for something while on vacation.

    We went on a 4-day trip in December and ended up paying a lot for food since we ate out all the time. However, we ate at a cheap Chinese food court. We also bought milk from fruit from the grocery store. But we would never pay that much for a week of food at home. Like you said vacations don’t happen often, so we just tried to enjoy ourselves and budget for it before hand. 😀

    • I try to budget for it also. We tend to eat out a lot more when on vacation, so our grocery spending drops. It’s not a perfect balance between the two, but it helps.

  • March 17, 2018 at 5:52 AM

    Mr. Tako – I can definitely relate to trying to over-optimize spending while traveling.

    Mrs. FF and I are planning a trip to the UK this Spring and I’m constantly trying to find more ways to save money on the trip. At some point I realized that the best way to save money is to not go at all! But then we would miss out on awesome once-in-a-lifetime experiences like you describe.

    Thanks for the reminder to loosen up when we get there!
    Mr. Freaky Frugal recently posted…Automation is coming to a job near you

    • Exactly! You could save a ton of money not going, but that would be not nearly as fun! It’s always a balance!

  • March 17, 2018 at 6:07 AM

    There is definitely a dark side to optimization. Remember, winning the game, also means dying with the grand majority of your funds being depleted (unless you want to leave a huge inheritance).

  • March 17, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    Looks like you are hitting the H town highlights! Glad you didn’t opt for the public transport option though, Houston has many things but good public transport is not one of them.

    We are currently efficiensizing (not a word!) our trip back to the U.K. in the summer, I’ll probably be writing about that next week.

    • Thanks Mrs. Smelling Freedom! Worry about money is kind of a habit. A hard one to break on vacation!

  • March 17, 2018 at 4:44 PM

    Enjoy your vacation! It’s cold and rainy again in PNW.
    We don’t optimize as much when we’re on a short vacation either. You have to enjoy your short time there and money helps. We’ll try to optimize more when we slow travel. We can slow down more if we spend more time in one place.

  • March 18, 2018 at 9:09 AM

    Glad you enjoyed Houston. You should have checked out the Rodeo. Not my favorite thing but a uniquely Houston experience that only lasts a few weeks a year.

    Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.
    Financial Velociraptor recently posted…Friday Fixed Income

    • I think the kids would have liked the Rodeo, but unfortunately we ran out of time! Wish we had allocated a little more time for this vacation.

  • Years ago MrsSLM and I visited London, and we were pretty much the same way. A lot of our meals were grocery store, and we spent a huge amount of time wandering around the free museums. But you balance with spending on what matters, and we still ate out, hit some nice fish&chip shops, did the touristy thing but with a dash of our frugal habits.
    MrSLM recently posted…How I Negotiated a $40k Raise

  • March 18, 2018 at 1:43 PM

    I’m on a climbing vacation in upsate NY right now and I paid $3.25 for a bottle of iced tea while on the road. I had the same thoughts, part of me was pissed for having to pay that, but another part of me said, “let it go, you’re financially independent and this saves time right now”.

    • Yup, you could run around all day looking for a cheaper iced tea, but you’re on a climbing vacation instead!

  • March 18, 2018 at 2:21 PM

    The first day we step into a new city, we’re never efficient. You’re still spending that time getting acclimatized, so there’s no way you can be efficient. That’s why we cut ourselves slack at the beginning and then becoming more efficient as we gain experience about where the best grocery stores are, transportation etc.

    So as you said, the fact that you are even eating fruit from a grocery store instead of eating out is a huge win. Efficiency only happens after you get familiar with an area. Enjoy your vacation! Looks like you’re having a blast!

    • It’s been a ton of fun! Don’t know how I missed such a great State until now!

  • March 18, 2018 at 10:42 PM

    I have the same problem… I feel disappointed in myself if I don’t overoptimize for flight tickets, but then I look at the bigger picture and calm down haha.

    $30 to visit NASA is not too bad! I would have thought it would be more.

    We went to San Diego recently and an adult ticket to the San Diego zoo was around $60-70 I think! We skipped it of course and opted to see the cute seal pups for free at La Jolla Cove instead.

    Have a great rest of your trip!

    • That $30 is only for one person. Multiply that by the whole family and it really starts to add up.

  • March 19, 2018 at 1:34 AM

    Good that you enjoyed Houston. I have been there a few years ago. I really enjoyed Johnson Space Center, especially the Saturn V, it was so much bigger than I ever thought.

    It seems to me that you were very efficient. While I’m quite frugal at home, I have a tendency to overspend when I’m in vacation. I have yet to improve my vacation efficiency. On the other hand, I think it’s important to do overdo the optimization in vacation, to still enjoy it!
    The Poor Swiss recently posted…February 2018 Update

  • March 22, 2018 at 5:59 PM

    I find it is helpful to take some time off from trying to be perfectly optimized and efficient sometimes. It helps give your brain a break and what better time to do it than vacation! Hope you and your family are having a great time!


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