Stop trying to impress your family by spending money and start impressing them by spending time

I have been reading alarming tales of doctors who think they can buy their way into the hearts of their spouse and kids on the weekend to make up for not being there during the week. The reality is your kids don’t need your money; they need you to spend time with them. Quality time is needed at work; quantity time is needed at home.

Buying a vacation home to use one weekend a month with the family sounds like a great thing on the surface, but is it really what your family wants? Or is it what you want? If you are considering forking out the money for a vacation home with the excuse that your kids are now young and you want to make some great memories at the cabin on the lake before they grow into teens, you might reconsider.

If you buy a vacation house for your family, but end up working late every day arriving home after the kids have gone to bed in order to earn the money to pay for it, who are you kidding?

Sometimes I wonder if physicians think the only vacation that counts is the one that costs a lot of money.  Consider the following statements:

We always stay at luxury accommodations because my spouse has ‘X’ disease, and there are no guarantees in life.

I bought an expensive jet boat to fish with my son on the river, so we don’t need a second driver to pick us up after drifting down the river in an inexpensive drift boat. I just don’t have the time to shuttle cars.

We bought a lake cottage 1.5 hours away to use in the summer to make great family memories while the kids are little.

We took our 2 year old to LEGOLAND for some great memories.

Carpe diem. You only live once.

What good is money if you don’t use it to spend time with your family?

We want a beach house, a lake house, a mountain cabin, and an RV.

I bought my teen that brand new car because she needed something that was reliable.

I’d rather enjoy life now and work a little longer than miss my kid’s early years and retire a little sooner. (Used to justify a lake vacation home purchase)

We bought the expensive home in the suburbs because nothing in town had the acreage we need.

My income will grow, so the house will become more affordable with time.

Memories are more valuable than index funds.

Life is short, so enjoy your family while you can.

My son really enjoyed the clown, the bounce house, the ponies, and the magician at his third birthday party. What great memories we made.

We picked up a bargain beach house 2,500 miles from home to use for great family vacations each summer.

Just so you know that I am not immune from this YOLO (you only live once) thinking, one of those statements was made by me when my kids were young.

What do these things have in common? They suggest the need to spend money to make memories, as if the two year old can actually appreciate LEGOLAND, or the three year old needs an expensive birthday party. They also suggest the notion that memories are made at the expense of retirement savings. None of these assumptions are true.

Think back to when your kids were very small. Often on Christmas morning, they had just as much fun playing with the box their toy came in as they did playing with the toy. Spending money is not what it takes to make great memories with your children.

It’s not what you do that makes a difference; it is that you are doing it together that counts. What you do together doesn’t need to cost money. Going to your lake cabin to have fun is really no different than doing fun things at home. The time you spend one weekend a month trying to make up for being absent the rest of the month is not a good trade.

Making fun memories at home on a daily basis is a far better alternative. Work a little less, make a little less, and spend a lot more time at home with your family. You can all play cards together at home as well as you can at a vacation home. To help you find fun things to do around your home, read my article having a successful staycation.

Think of ways you can spend more time with your family. Have dinner together every night, coach your daughter’s soccer team, make it to all your kid’s sporting events, attend the plays they are in at school, or go fishing nearby.

A radio personality was interviewed about his life. He made $300,000 a year doing the morning drive time show in a major metropolitan area. Then he hopped on a plane to do the afternoon drive time show in another large metropolitan area for another $300,000 a year. He arrived home every night after his kids were in bed. His weekends were spent making commercials for another $100,000 a year.

The interviewer pointed out that he had a very busy schedule and asked why he kept such a hectic schedule. He said he was “doing it for his family.” It is hard to believe that anyone would think that being away from their family so much was benefiting their family. The only benefit he was supplying was financial stability.  It sounds to me like he doesn’t want to spend time with his family, so he works all the time and pretends it is for the family.

If he was doing what was best for his family, he would have just done the morning show in his home town for $300,000 and spent the rest of the day with his family living a great life.

The answer to making memories with your kids while they are young is not to spend more money, but to spend less! Debt keeps you working more and therefore you spend less time with your family. Paying the mortgage on the new vacation home means you need to work more and see your family less. If you are making $4,000 a month in debt payments, you will need to earn $6,000 a month to end up with the after-tax income to service the debt. If you paid off the debt, or never acquired it in the first place, and didn’t need to earn an extra $6,000 a month, you could come home early every day and spend your extra time with your family.

If your job brings in $24,000 a month, that means without the debt, you could work ¾ time and have the same money available to spend. How would your life be if you took an extra day off every week? What about coming home a few hours earlier every day? How would your family like that?

Stop trying to impress your family by spending money and start impressing them by spending time. Remember what is important, not what looks good to friends and coworkers. On my son’s youth soccer team I coached, we had an hour practice twice a week and an hour game on Saturdays. I did that as a full-time general surgeon. I found ways to spend time with my kids by doing things with them that they enjoyed. You too can spend more time with your family by making them a priority. This is best achieved by being content with your income and not borrowing/spending money that forces you to work extra hours.

Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at Financial Success MD.  He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice RightThe Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt, and The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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