I’m a pretty frugal person, usually opting to save my cash and absolutely never spending money I don’t have. Don’t get me wrong: I like nice things too, and one of my favourite things to do is go to a wine bar and drink obscure, fantastic reds at more than a tenner a glass. But a £50 bar tab is not something I can afford much more frequently than every once in a while.
I’m a freelancer, which means a life with more freedom in exchange for less money. I make it work by never really buying anything I don’t strictly need, which is fortunately not hard because I find shopping pretty boring; I swear I’m *this* close to adapting some sort of Mark Zuckerberg uniform of grey T-shirts and jeans, just so I can stop thinking about it altogether. Not to mention that for me, having some cash stashed away is a far bigger rush than a new pair of shoes. Money is freedom: the ability to say no to things, to get out of bad situations, and to occasionally go do the things I really want to do.
Because once in a blue moon, you have to just spend the cash. When I got married six years ago, my parents and my husband’s parents very generously gifted us £2k for the wedding each. It was a lot of money to us, considering we ended up spending about £250 on getting married, including the £79 registrar fee at Hackney Town Hall, the £55 titanium wedding rings, and the £2.80 bus fare. We hadn’t told anyone we were getting married so we had no guests except for our witnesses, there was no dress (I wore shorts and a T-shirt) and we celebrated with a pub lunch down the road. I remember that day as one big thrill – I felt so damn happy walking along the canal afterwards, amazed at how suddenly life had changed.
So we didn’t spend the £4k on the wedding but we had plans for it nevertheless: to blow it all on our honeymoon. The plan was to fly to New York, rent a car and spend three weeks driving across the continent, then fly home from San Francisco. Going on an American road trip had been a lifelong dream for both of us. I still don’t know why our parents were more disappointed: because we didn’t have a wedding or because we spent the money on travel instead of something more substantial. But for us it felt like the right thing to do – this was the moment to go for it.
We started the drive in Savannah, passing through the town of Anniston, Georgia, where we were chased by blind dogs when we took a wrong turn back to the freeway after seeing the world’s largest office chair. We had incredible dry-rubbed smoked ribs in a basement restaurant in Memphis, where people wore their best clothes to eat a dinner that required wet wipes and the free-refill sodas were brought out two at a time, for efficiency. We stayed at basic motels and ate cheap American roadside food every day for lunch to make our money go further. In Natchez on the Mississippi they served us fried green tomatoes, catfish, brown shrimp and sweet potato fries complete with Louisiana hot sauce, before we sat down outside and watched the sun set into the wide blue river. I remember being so amazed by it all: I’ve never seen such big country.
We’re divorced now, after three years of marriage. The divorce process took a lot longer than getting married ever did, in part because we had to sell our flat – the 'substantial' thing our parents would have far preferred we spend our money on. Buying property comes with a million extra expenses, including fees for brokers and banks and movers and furniture, and we certainly didn’t live there long enough to justify it all. But who ever expects to get divorced? Breaking a mortgage contract early really isn’t cheap but there was no other way, as neither of us could afford to keep the flat on our own. In the year and a half that we owned it, we were lucky enough for the flat to accrue value, but we didn’t really notice any of it; any gains were sucked up by the fees that came along with our sudden change in life plans. Property is a racket, but yes, I know this means we got lucky.
This is two, three years ago now, and I’m happily unmarried and living in rented accommodation again. And I’m really, really glad my ex-husband and I spent that £4k on a trip of a lifetime. In New Mexico, the road cut through the grassland, endless in every direction and in every possible shade of yellow. I spent hours walking around the red sandrock landscape of Sedona, Arizona, where four rock formations supposedly cover vortexes that are channelling the energy of the universe. I don’t know about that but it was stunning to look at, and the place had the most incredible vibes. I’d say the same about Joshua Tree, California, where we didn’t even mean to stop but ended up staying for several days, utterly charmed by the goofy-looking trees that covered the arid landscape, resembling visitors from another planet.
If we’d listened to our parents and funnelled that £4k into the flat, it would have all been gone now, lost somewhere between the broker fees and the would-be upgrade to a better sofa. I wouldn’t have had any of these memories, which are some of the best of my marriage. We were so happy on that trip, in that wide open landscape under that giant sky, as our lives together were just starting. Nothing that happened later can take away from that. So yes, blowing that £4k on a magical honeymoon was a brilliant use of money. I can still remember driving down a single-track road on the coast of California, standing on a beach with purple sand and looking out over the ocean, there at the end of the world. It’s a long time ago now, but I think about that moment all the time.