Emails, bills, and chores pile up during three weeks of vacation. I took myself out of my rut and carved a path across Scotland. It was my most relaxing vacation, so far. The trick is to maintain that feeling as I sort through mail, dive into laundry, catch up on missed communications, and work up the courage to attack the lawn. Every day life can entangle with myriad obligations and opportunities, so it can be hard to decide to step away from it for a while. Stepping back in I am intrigued to see how much hasn’t changed while I was gone, with the possible exception of my attitude.
I am a regular sort of guy. I’m not talking about bowel movements. I’m talking about habits. My schedule isn’t strict to the minute, but I do live within a series of routines that keep most chores from becoming unmanageable. My vacation was about touring Scotland, but it was also about trading out one set of routines for another. Here I sit, letting my body recover from the physical routine of walking five hours a day. I’m stepping back into the routines that run my home life.
My investments enabled my vacation. I hope they grow to enable many more. In either case, I watch my investments because they enable many other aspects of my life. One way that I watch them is to track my weekly portfolio progress. At the end of each week, I record the value of my various portfolios (IRAs and such) and also the performance of the major indices (Dow Industrials, NASDAQ, S&P 500). It works well as a regular exercise. It only takes a few minutes each weekend, and because I have done this long enough, it gives me a chart that shows the long term trends of my portfolios as well as the general market. The lines are bouncy because they measure a chaotic system, but a weekly check ignores the daily wows, and gives a quicker read than waiting for the brokerages monthly report.
It would be great to come back from vacation and find that the portfolio has risen by more than the cost of the trip, but that didn’t happen this time. My portfolio dropped by much more than the cost of flights, lodging, and food. The comparison isn’t academically correct. My expenses were real and represent cash flowing out the door. My portfolio value is, to use the correct term, unrealized. It is paper profits and loses. Despite that, those profits can realized by selling stock at the expense of decreasing the portfolio’s value. That’s the way investing works.
Rather than lament the cost of my trip or the drop in my portfolio’s value, I realized that what I just spent on one of the most self-healthy periods in my life cost less than the regular bouncing of my portfolio. Money spent doesn’t come back, or at least not directly; but, agonizing over every last cent (or pence in this case) may be holding my life hostage to money. This is one of the aspects of financial independence that helps me personally. Because I know that I won’t take a vacation like that every week or month, I also know that I can relax more in the midst of money flowing out the door. I also know that my investment style and history experience lots of bounces, but in general trend towards growth.
I steered myself towards bed & breakfasts because the ones I found were cheaper than the hotels. But I didn’t deny myself an upscale hotel room, especially when it would have taken much more effort to shop for a better deal. Shopping for the best deal sounds great, unless you’ve just walked 18 miles as a storm is approaching. I stayed in one very over-priced but very trendy and eco-friendly high-rise because they had the triple whammy of location, location, location – and a computer in the lobby. I spent a lot on that room, and a fair amount on that dinner and that beer and that beer, and was glad to be warm and dry.
While I was gone the markets were up, but my largest position was down (DNDN). At the same time, two stocks (AMSC and RSOL) had nice pops. I sold a few books. I didn’t sell any photos (until right after I got back). In my normal routine I would be much more aware of each of these aspects. During vacation I was aware of them, but not concerned. Despite the mistakes in wording sometimes, I don’t try to balance life and money. I try to balance time and money. Life and money aren’t equal. Time and money aren’t either, but life is dominant; and within a present-day life, it is important to make sure that neither time nor money is spent frivolously. Well, some frivolity is good, but that’s part of the balancing act.
I’m dropping back into my routines. I don’t know when or where my next major multi-week vacation will happen. In the meantime, I bought and created healthy, relaxing and enjoyable memories – and whatever price I put on that is small compared to their value to me.