When to YOLO vs. Save: How to Decide When to Save, Splurge, or Compromise


This summer, we’re taking my son, Eli, on his first overseas trip to England. We decided to go because one of my best friends just moved to London and as part of our nanny share arrangement (2 kids, 1 nanny) we coordinated vacation time with our wonderful share family so the nanny gets some time off. 

But with new child expenses (Eli’s starting preschool in the fall) and investing in my business, I was torn about whether or not to take the trip. I had “YOLO” on one shoulder and our savings goals on the other shoulder and they were saying very conflicting things!

YOLO had some things going for it. We wouldn’t have childcare for these two weeks so one of us would be taking the time off anyway or we’d have to find alternative care (more $). This opportunity presents itself once per year (and who knows what will be happening next year). 

On the other hand, we hadn’t planned for this or put money aside (our travel fund is all accounted for elsewhere) so taking the trip would definitely impact our savings goals (which we have many right now!). Also, I wasn’t sure how enjoyable a six hour time change would be with a toddler anyway. 

Here’s how we made the decision. 

YOLO can’t be the only reason.

First, it’s really important to understand that you can justify pretty much anything using YOLO. And that’s not workable. Believe me, I’ve done it. Try it out. Turn something you’d like to do (or even something you don’t really want to do), into a question of YOLO and you’ve pretty much got instant permission. 

With that in mind, here are some important questions to ask ourselves before making the decision. 

Is it aligned with your values?

If we have a personal or family values statement, this is a great time to refer to it. Is this expense worth it to us? For me, exploration and growth are hugely important values. I also really value quality time with my family and friends. This trip would honor those values. 

Can you get it another way?

Is there another way to get an equally awesome experience and honor those same values? Usually the answer is yes. In this case, a staycation would be a great option. We could explore new sights and neighborhoods in our area and could spend quality time with family and friends that way. I wouldn’t get QT with my bestie in London but could definitely spend time with other important people in my life. 

We also looked at other trip options but given we were using points to buy the flights and were mostly staying with a friend, it was hard to beat the price of our England trip. 

Is it a rare opportunity?

This question is of course relative. But if we are deciding whether or not to book a last minute trip that is not in the plan, it’s important to weigh if we could wait until a later date so we have time to put the money aside. For us, this timing was unique as far as the time of year when we don’t have childcare anyway and with more people traveling it’s an easier time to take off work. 

How much are we talking?

Then it’s time to look at the numbers. What will this actually cost us? We have tons of points so we would book our flights with points (which isn’t totally free because flights to London have high taxes!) and stay with our friends in London for a week. We wanted to spend a few days in the Cotswolds so would need a place to stay there, plus a rental car to get there and get around as well as money for activities and dining out. 

Can I make it fabulously frugal?

Fabulously frugal means keeping the fabulous while reducing the cost. We looked for some of those win-win scenarios. Airbnb is a big one for us because it’s really nice to have the kitchen and extra space with a toddler. Kitchen also means lower dining out costs. The cost of an Airbnb per night was a lot lower than a hotel. We also decided to take advantage of the summer weather and made a list of the best free or low-cost activities in London and with some planning, I’m pretty confident that many of them will be just as awesome as the more expensive ones. 

How much time do I have to prepare?

Even with the trip a few weeks away, we planned on decreasing our spending in the weeks leading up to it. We were really motivated to stay in and cook more often in order to create room for our upcoming family vacay. The more time we have to prepare for a larger expense, the less we have to save per week or paycheck to have the money waiting for us. 

What’s the opportunity cost of money (and time)? I.e. where will this money come from and what will it take away from?

Even with how fabulously frugal we planned to make the trip, and our our decrease in spending leading up to it, we were going to spend more than if we were to stay home. It’s important to make a conscious decision about where that money will come from. For us that meant contributing less to our savings goal that month. And then deciding how we will pay ourselves back - how much we’ll contribute and how often. It’s also a time commitment to take the time off. What will that mean for each of our work projects and deadlines? 

Am I making a habit of this or is it actually a one-off thing? If it’s a habit, how can I start preparing in advance for the next one?

So often we believe that these types of opportunities or decisions are one-off but we want to be real with ourselves if these one-off things are happening every quarter or even every month. They can be sneaky because they all look different but what they have in common is that they are one-off things happening regularly. The great part is, it’s okay if they are, we just want to start planning for them proactively so we’re not playing catch up every time they come up. 

In the end, we came up with the fab frugal compromise as well as a plan to pay ourselves back and decided to go on the trip. Now, I know we are very privileged with far more flexibility in our schedules and finances than most, but hopefully, regardless of what decision your making, this framework will help you get to the answer that works best for you.