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I was recently cleaning my grandmother’s house and I came across her passport.  I flipped through the pages to find the only stamp in the book.  It was from a trip to Ireland she took about five years ago.  It made me smile.

I flashed back to us sitting at her dining room table one day eating lunch talking about whether she should take the trip.  Being of Irish descent, she’d wanted to go to Ireland her entire life.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard her mention it over the years.  Yet as we sat there discussing it, she seemed convinced she just couldn’t do it.  The trip was going to cost $3,000 which was more than any vacation she’d ever taken and she was sure she didn’t have the money.

I’d been helping her with her finances for a while by this time so I knew that while she wasn’t wealthy, she had enough to take the trip.  That day, like many days before, I told her “You can afford this.  You’ve wanted to do this your whole life – GO.”   She certainly didn’t call the travel agent that minute, but she did eventually take the plunge and book the trip.

I’m sure I walked away from many of those conversations shaking my head or rolling my eyes, perplexed by why she felt so hesitant, even fearful, about spending that money.  I didn’t get why anyone would be so angst-ridden about spending money they knew they had to do something they knew they wanted to do.

Fast forward to present day.  My husband and I are planning a vacation to the Caribbean; a nicer trip than we’ve taken in the past.  We know exactly what we want – a house, pool and beach to ourselves without having to fly 12 hours or make 3 connecting flights.   We’ve done our research; a ridiculous amount of research as we tend to do.  We’ve looked at different islands, airlines, timeframes, etc. and each and every time we wind up right back at the same house on the same island with the same flight that we started with.  I’ve looked at our budget from every angle one can and we have the money.  But wouldn’t you know it – I still haven’t booked the trip.  What is my problem?!

What’s interesting is that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about decisions like this.   How do we live for today without sacrificing tomorrow?  Pragmatically, I know the answer.  I know how to tell if a decision is putting someone’s financial security at risk.  And I know that if any one of you came to me with my set of circumstances, I would tell you exactly what I told my grandmother – go on that trip!

Yet, still I hesitate because we’ve wandered into the entirely unpragmatic world of emotions.  There is no rational explanation for my behavior.  There is no legitimate reason not to go.  To put it simply, it just scares me to spend this kind of money on one week of my life.  My mind immediately starts thinking of all the other things I could use the money on.  It starts thinking of all the bad things that could happen and how I might regret having spent the money.  Never mind that we’ve got an emergency fund.  Never mind that we already have other money earmarked for most of the immediate things we want to do. I can defeat every fearful challenge with a logical response, yet the resting anxiety persists.

These situations, my grandma’s and my own, are perfect examples of how our financial histories can impact our present-day lives.  My grandmother and I both grew up in environments where money was tight.  Struggling to make ends meet was a reality.  My grandma and grandpa used the envelope system to make sure they had enough to take care of their four kids and they had to be strictly disciplined to make it all work.  I couldn’t always count on there being enough when I was a kid and even into adulthood, there were times when balancing my check book to the dollar was the only way I knew how much I could spend on food that week.  These are not necessarily easy things to share but it’s important to understand those feelings of insecurity that my grandma and I felt, and that perhaps many of you have felt at one time or another, are real and they sometimes endure longer than the hard times do.

My response to those experiences was to take control of my financial life and make sure I don’t find myself in that situation again.  So far, I’ve done a fairly good job at that.  But now I find myself in a different predicament; one in which my old feelings could actually prevent me from fully experiencing and enjoying my life.  I consider that a pretty dire consequence and one that I’m not willing to accept.

Within two years of my grandma taking her trip to Ireland, she started showing signs of dementia and she is now living in a memory care facility.  That’s why I smiled when I found her passport; I realized that if she hadn’t gone when she did, she never would have gotten her passport stamped.  She never would have had those happy experiences and realized a lifelong dream.  She overcame her fear and it paid off.

We’re in that time of year where we make promises to ourselves.  What better promise can we make than to not let our financial fears – whatever they may be – get in the way of living a balanced and fulfilled life?

With that, I say thanks for reading and I wish you all a bold and memorable 2017!