How I Saved: A 40th Wedding Anniversary and a Tattoo

When Cynthia G. was growing up, her parents saved every penny they could to ensure she and her older siblings never had to experience financial insecurity.

Now in her 30s, it was never lost on Cynthia how much her parents had sacrificed for her. So she decided to turn the tables and thank her parents for all their hard work by treating them to an overnight trip for their 40th wedding anniversary.

An IT analyst by day, Cynthia took a weekend side hustle as a hostess at an escape room (for those not in the know, that's a venue that hosts group games that typically involve solving puzzles to find a hidden key) and managed to bank $2,000 over six months — more than she needed to achieve her goal.

Cynthia took her parents to Solvang, a California town rich with Danish culture and architecture, where she treated them to an upscale dinner, a hotel and breakfast. On the way home, Cynthia’s parents stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch and a boat tour.

Cynthia says her preparation allowed her to splurge without anxiety. The experience taught her a lot about saving — and about herself. Here’s how she saved up.

My parents don’t travel.

They had a simple civil wedding, and no honeymoon. Ever since I was a kid, they were always concerned about spending unnecessary money. There was a constant worry in my mom’s mind that anything can happen and we must be prepared. That meant no fun, no vacations. I wouldn’t even see them go out to dinner together. As their 40th anniversary was approaching, I was thinking, that’s a huge milestone. I wanted them to be able to go on a special outing together.

There were some nights when I felt like, I wish I weren’t doing this game right now.

But it wasn’t too difficult of a job. The escape room was 10 minutes away from my day job. On Friday, I would get off at 5 and work from 6 pm to as late as midnight, and then do the same on Saturday and Sunday. I averaged between 10 and 18 hours a week, at $16 an hour plus tips.

To ensure that I wasn't touching the money, I set up my direct deposit from the side job to go straight to my savings account. That way it wouldn't get mixed up with my paycheck from my regular job, which goes to my checking account. If I got cash tips, I would either deposit them into the savings account, or I would transfer my tip amount from checking to savings, and just keep the cash on hand. That helped me make sure I was saving up my tips too.

"I used $150 for spending money the rest of the visit. I spent $200 for a splurge for myself: I got my first tattoo!"

Taking that side job money and depositing it into savings, I didn’t have to adjust my budget, which was nice. I saved a good amount of money and was still able to handle my regular expenses, without having to move things around.

I didn’t have a target amount to save.

I had no idea where I wanted to take them until the month of their anniversary. I thought, I’m going to save the money, and hopefully that will guide me to my options. Then I realized that Solvang would be a great destination, because my parents live in Southern California, and it’s only about 3 hours from where they live.

The things I took into account were primarily the hotel cost and the cost of gas. Once I calculated that, I gave myself an allowance so I could cover everything else on the trip, like breakfast, lunch, dinner, souvenirs, etc. I didn't spend everything I saved, but I did have enough elbow room for a spontaneous side trip in Santa Barbara, where we did the duck boat tour and had dinner.

I purposely overestimated the amount I would need, just to have some elbow room in case we wanted to do anything else. The trip ended up costing about $650 for the three of us.

Because I had saved $2,000, that left me $1,350. Since I had traveled to Southern California where my parents live for the anniversary trip, I used $150 for spending money the rest of the visit. I spent $200 for a splurge for myself: I got my first tattoo! The remaining $1,000 I deposited into my emergency savings account.

The night we arrived in Solvang, I treated them to dinner.

That took some convincing! And they loved it. I felt so happy. I told them, “Order whatever you want!” And my mom said, “Oh, no no no,” but my dad was like, “Give me the filet mignon.” You got it! It was a lot of fun, finally seeing my mom relax and enjoy the trip. I felt like, yes! I accomplished this!

Wanting to save money for my parents really helped me focus.

I realized that if I don’t have a goal, if I say, “Let me just be responsible and save money,” I take that money out very fast. Now I know, if I save with a purpose, I can stay more committed to it.

I think I’ve taken a little bit from both my parents.

I’m not as good as my mom when it comes to saving; I’m more like my dad. My dad’s on the impulsive side. I get the responsibility from my mom; I pay my bills on time. It’s the saving part that I’m still learning. I’m better than I used to be.

Growing up without family vacations, it makes me appreciate that I can do that now. I don’t have to be super frugal like my parents were. I can still be financially responsible — but I can have fun too.

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