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Return on Investment

Richard Connor  |  December 31, 2019

MY WIFE AND I spent Thanksgiving on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For 25 straight years, we’ve gathered there with my wife’s extended family to spend the week of Thanksgiving at the beach.

It started with about 15 of us in 1994, all in a seven-bedroom house. Over the years, the family—and the size of the house—have grown significantly. This year, we had 39 in attendance, representing four generations. For the past five years, we have rented a 22-bedroom, 15,000-square-foot house. It has four floors, two hot tubs, a rec room and a theater room. Sounds pretty luxurious, doesn’t it?

But we rapidly adapt to luxury and soon find the faults. Some of the faults are real, others not so important. Next year, we expect to have 43 people, including two new members. The family is growing, so we have rented a brand new, 27-bedroom beachfront house for 2020. The floorplans look amazing and we’re all excited to experience the new house next year.

As the houses have grown bigger, and more spectacular, so have the prices. When we started, the rent for the Thanksgiving week was the same as the weeks before and after. But Thanksgiving on the beach has gotten popular. Now, it is common for that week’s rent to double from the weeks before and after. Same for the week surrounding Christmas and New Year’s.

Over the years, we have struggled with the increasing cost. My early data is rough, but it appears that the cost per bedroom per night has gone up from $45 to $74, figured in today’s dollars. The cost has been mostly borne by what I call the five families—my wife and me, and her four siblings and their spouses. We’ve had many discussions about the affordability and value of this annual gathering, but we keep coming back.

Over the years, a variety of traditions have been adopted. They have become part of the fabric of our family. Cooking, fishing, playing games, football, wine tasting, board games, puzzles and countless other activities are a daily part of our week. Catching up with siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins is one of my favorite things to do. The relationships that have been built, grown and strengthened are priceless.

We’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century and that seems a good time to evaluate this tradition’s return on investment. We have seen our children grow up, move out, marry and start their own families. They now have lives that are busy with work and children’s activities. But they make the effort to get there, year after year. The commitment to family by the next generation is inspiring.

Why is this so important to everyone? It’s a great example of how to get the most out of our money: We’re spending not on things, but on experiences—the experience of spending a week building relationships across multiple generations. This might be considered a luxury by some, but I’ll happily pay for it any time.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. Rick enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. His previous articles include Decision TimeOur Charity and Solo Effort. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609.

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