Did you hear the story about the hard-working couple who finally got a bonus and for the first time had a little disposable income to spend on their family and on their three young children?
Their first thought was to take their first-ever family vacation. They had longed to get away together and show the kids the ocean in California. They each had two weeks of vacation coming up, and thought that with the bonus they might even be able to visit Disneyland and Sea World.
But then they realized that they ought to be more practical and realistic. What they really needed was a second bathroom in their small home. And if they used the bonus money for a little remodeling, they could build something that they would use for years to come.
Still, the idea of finally getting away together for a family trip was so appealing
They thought it over carefully and finally decided to do the thing that would last the longest.
And it wasn’t the bathroom.
They decided that the memories they would make on a long overdue vacation would actually last longer than a new bathroom.
We recently had a similar decision to make — on a different scale, but still essentially the same decision. We were selling our family home of 35 years, deciding to downsize a bit as we became empty nesters. Our kids were pretty upset at the idea. How could we sell their home, the place of all their life experience and their childhood and their growing up, the place they wanted to show to their children?
We made some money on the sale and, of course, there were — as there always are — a number of “practical and realistic” options as to what to do with that money. But, right or wrong, we chose to do the thing that would last the longest.
We called each of the kids and told them that we had some bad news and some good news. The bad news was that we had sold their home. The good news was that we were going to use a chunk of the proceeds to go to Bali together.
It was amazing how fast their sorrow turned to elation.
Why Bali, you might ask. We had fallen in love with this remarkable little Indonesian island several years ago and had actually furnished our new, downsized house with an ocean container full of Balian doors, carvings, beams and furniture that we had shipped back. We wanted our children to see the magic of the place.
Bali is a long way away and not cheap to get to, so how could we justify such extravagance? The same way the family in the story did.
We decided that the thing that would last the longest was the most practical thing to do, and we decided that the memories of our first adults-only-and-no-kids family trip would produce memories that would last a lifetime. And it did. (See Linda’s blog posts at eyrealm.blogspot.com.)
A few years ago, we read a book that we liked called “Die Broke.” It takes the view that the smartest thing to do is spend whatever money you have on your family before you die — doing things together, making memories, bonding — rather than hoarding money for your children’s inheritance. That way, they will value you more when you are alive than when you are dead.
We know many senior couples today who are doing exactly that. They have told their children that they want to help them all they can and do things together while they are alive, but that there will be little to inherit when they pass. Some have set up family foundations or charities to which any remaining assets will go, and installed their children as the board of directors. They want their kids to be in charge of charitable giving with whatever they leave behind, instead of fighting over their assets.
These are individual decisions, of course, and everyone’s circumstances are different and unique. But it might do all of us some good to try to think a little about what really lasts longest.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda's blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.