Updated: Jul 16
By Mara Soloway, I Start Wondering Columnist
“I can’t afford to” is a mantra that often steers our daily choices. We take pride in pinching pennies on everything from jelly to vehicles, deciding which to buy to wisely use our savings. Affordability is a good guideline for these decisions.
I look at my choices and see that some were smart – not purchasing $100 jeans, a pricey car, or a Starbucks every day using the rationale “I can’t afford to.” However, I’ve also regret numerous decisions not to do something based on this affordability measure. I didn’t consider the missed opportunity costs of not attending concerts of favorite artists, family events where the airplane ticket seemed too expensive, and traveling overseas when younger. Yes, I saved money but did I gain anything more valuable? Unfortunately not.
Mara in Paris
Just Buy the Ticket
In 2018, life presented me with the opportunity to join my husband in Paris where he was going to attend a scientific conference. I had already failed to go with him to Florence. I had a vision of myself in later years looking back on my life and hating that I let my constrained thinking keep me from having worldly adventures when I was healthy enough to enjoy them.
The costs of overseas travel logically make our first reaction the standard “I can’t afford to.” But this time, it didn’t ring true – it sounded like a well-worn excuse not to break out of my rut. He would be in Paris and I would be home alone. What is wrong with this picture?
I decided to banish any negative thinking about this opportunity for adventure. Could I monetarily afford to go? Yes, with budgeting for the loss of pay and careful spending while away. On the other hand, could I emotionally afford not to go? No! Declining the opportunity to go on this trip was going to cause significant emotional duress at the time and every subsequent time I thought about it.
Cultivating a New Inner Voice
My new mantra became “I can’t afford not to.” I ignored the former inner voice that asked me what the heck I was doing. I was stepping out of my comfort zone.
Several months before departure, my austerity plan began. No shopping! I turned the air conditioning set point up so the electric bill would be lower. My publisher understood that I needed to go and was fine with my absence as long as I had certain assignments finished before I left.
I was about to spend money on a plane ticket and day-to-day travel costs while going without a paycheck. My new inner voice said, “Paris, here I come!” It really isn’t worth the 11-plus hour flights unless you stay for a few weeks. I boarded the plane to Europe totally amazed with my liberated mode of thinking.
Mara in Amsterdam
Out in the Wider World
Thanks to my liberated mindset, we expanded our trip to Paris to include several days in Amsterdam! I saw what seemed like tens of thousands of people. I overheard their conversations in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Polish, Dutch, Swahili, Romanian, and other languages I don’t recognize. I dodged around the slow-walking ones on the sidewalk.
I stood in line for more than an hour with them to visit the building where Anne Frank and her family and others lived in hiding, which we all walked through in quiet retrospection. I jostled for position with them to better see works of art in the Marmottan, Picasso, d’Orsay, Brancusi, Van Gogh, Rijks, and Rembrandt museums.
I sipped cappuccino at street cafes almost daily and watched people pass by. And I unobtrusively took many of their photos as I waited for them to walk into my shot to help set the scene and scale. People wore African and Indian dress, headscarves, and the whole range from designer clothes to the typical traveler outfit: comfortable shoes, jeans, and a top, including a few “Don’t Mess with Texas” t-shirts.
I was feeling a sense of kinship of being an international citizen. But a strong police/military presence was also visible in Paris, with small groups walking in fatigues and carrying machine guns. Before you can enter many shops, you had to let the security person look in your bag. Terrorist attacks with senseless violence took place while we were enjoying Europe. I think we reacted as many Europeans did; after expressing sorrow and outrage, we vowed that we will not let terrorists compromise our appreciation of a free, democratic society.
Travel is liberating and confidence-building despite any safety and monetary concerns. I walked miles and miles — along the Champs-Élysées from Concord Square to the Arc de Triomphe, throughout Montmartre, La Marais, and the Left Bank — taking Paris in through my senses. I also got myself around on the bus and subway without any problem once I learned from my husband how to decipher all those lines of spaghetti on the map into stations and train numbers. (Although I’m impressed with myself, millions of Parisians do the same every day.) I had some great interactions with people. I loved the vibrancy and sense of the history of Europe.
Ultimately, I would not have enjoyed myself on this excursion if I hadn’t liberated myself from the “I can’t afford to” mindset. Our travel plans were on hold during the pandemic and now the variants make us watchful. As soon as we can travel again, I won’t even blink or get dissuaded when I see the ticket prices or fret about being away from work for several weeks. Life is filled with great opportunities. I really can’t afford not to take them.
What are your feelings about saving money? Is there a time when you threw caution to the wind and went on an adventure, or is this your mode of operating? Tell us about it below.