The Frugal Man has never in his life bragged about throwing money around, but that 60-year silence on silly spending is over. I just dropped a boatload of money on a family vacation to Paris and it was worth every Euro of it!
I am a little disappointed in myself for conceding that last point. My life story has been focused on finding ways NOT to spend money. About the only time I reach for my wallet it is when I’m putting it on my nightstand before I go to bed.
Not in Paris.
My wallet got a 14-day work out that left both of us exhausted. I was reaching into my back pocket every 10 minutes to pay for something. We walked 7 to 10 miles a day – Paris is the best walking city in the world – and spent about $75 per mile.
The visits to restaurants, museums, opera houses, and palaces from the 16th century were unforgettable, especially when the bills arrived.
Paying for rental cars, mass transit, bottles of wine and clothing items that will never fit – men’s XL in France is equivalent to maybe a men’s small in the United States – was a little less satisfying, but it’s part of the tourist experience that you better learn to smile about or you’ll ruin everyone’s good time.
I started the vacation with frugal intentions. The original idea was to put 300 Euros (about 333 American dollars) a day in my wallet and when we ran out … we would be out. The first night’s dinner bill – 289 Euros ($320.75), tip included for the party of six – was fair warning that the daily budget goal was never going to work.
I stuck with the 300 Euros a day budget for another 3-4 days before abandoning it in favor of the newly-acquired Bank of America Visa card. The good news from that was I didn’t have to pay the ridiculous 7% conversion rate when exchanging dollars for Euros, plus there was no “foreign transaction fee” involved using the card. That might have been the only smart financial move I made on the trip.
The bad news? It’s too easy to lose track of your spending when you pay with a credit card. I knew I was going way over 300 Euros a day, but I also knew the hurt would go away for 30 days. That sort of irresponsible financial behavior is so foreign to me that I wasn’t sure how to change it.
I am accustomed to poking fun at any use of money that isn’t absolutely necessary, especially when I’ve found a cheaper “get around” for the problem. For example, I still get a kick out of telling the waitress I’ll take the free cup of water while friends pay $3 for a soda. That’s reckless spending in my book and I’d be overwhelmed with guilt if I threw away money on something like soda.
So I’m wondering why there were no pangs of remorse after my reckless days and nights of squandering money in Paris. Water is free there, too, but I don’t remember anyone ordering that or sodas when we went out. Wine is the preferred beverage and three bucks won’t get you much more than a sniff of the cork. I dropped 28 Euros ($30) on a bottle of wine the second night we were there. That was the first “bottle” of wine I’ve ever purchased at a restaurant. I have paid for a couple of glasses now and then, but NEVER a full bottle.
Three nights later, I shelled out 56 Euros ($60) for a bottle that I was told would be twice as good. It wasn’t, but there was only a pinch of buyer’s remorse when I looked at the check. Same thing when I had to pay an extra 25 Euros ($27.65) for all of us to have audio guides at Monet’s Gardens so we could understand why the weeping willow is in so many of his artworks.
Normally, blatant overcharging like that would prompt an embarrassing exchange between me and the vendor, but this was vacation in Paris, so I shrugged, handed them the Visa card and on we went.
That’s what really astounded me throughout the trip: No guilt or shame about overspending. The only “deal” I got on the entire trip was paying 20 Euros ($22.12) for a ticket for my son to attend the Italy-Spain Euro16 soccer match. The ticket originally sold for 125 Euros ($138), which meant we got a steal to a game that sold 81,000 seats in about five minutes. However, that was dulled by the fact that I was offered a free ticket 10 minutes after the game started and didn’t take it.
So I came home with mountain of credit card debt, but I’m not going to cry over it. My family had a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a city that lived up to every promise made about it.
And 12 days into the trip, while we were eating in yet another over-priced restaurant, with another bottle of over-priced win, one of my sons said: “You know Dad, this has been the most fun we’ve ever had, mostly because you’re not complaining about the cost of everything.”
I will take that as a compliment and any parent knows the price of compliments from your children is never too high.
I bought a cheap leather wallet 13 years that gets so little use I probably return it tomorrow and get my money back.
still looks brand new. I have ridiculed excessive ways. I always but I blew up the budget during a 14-day stay in Paris and the explosion.
The wallet alarm that goes off anytime I reach into my back pocket, went silent for 14 days. I overspent on food, way overspent on wine — way, way, way overspent on visits to museums – and for some reason, it didn’t seem to bother me.
I handed my credit card out like I was passing out business cards. See something you like? Here, let Mr. Visa take care of that for you.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].