How I Saved: A Return Trip to Paris, 30 Years in the Making

Cameron G., a marketing manager, educator and writer, fell in love with France when she was a teenager. She always dreamed of going back. But her Francophile dreams would simply have to wait, as life got in the way instead.

Thirty years flew by in the blink of an eye, and with it came the ups and downs that the years tend to bring. Love turned to marriage, which then turned into a family of four. Though the family part worked out, the marriage part didn’t. And with that came divorce bills.

At age 49, Cameron finally put the long divorce process behind her — and has put her financial life on the upswing.

"I felt like, when will I get out of the red?"

She gave up her Chicago apartment and purchased a four-flat building, living in one unit and using the rental income from the other three units to cover the property’s mortgage, insurance and taxes. This helped to supplement her income and has left plenty of room for other important things — like returning to her beloved Paris for the first time in decades to celebrate her upcoming 50th birthday and bringing her 20- and 16-year-old daughters with her. Here’s how she saved up.

I lived in France for two stints in my teens.

I went to Normandy as a nanny when I was 16, and took care of four kids for a summer. I was pretty lonely, but grew to love that place. I went to Paris for a semester as a sophomore in college, and again it was not easy. But the more you commit to the thing that's not easy, the more you love it. By the time I left, I was writing 20-page papers in French, and I had really embraced it.

At 24, I got married. My husband studied Asia and became a professor. In our 20-year marriage, 100% of our travel was to Asia. I would say, ‘I want to show you and the girls Europe.’ He said no. As I was trying to save this marriage, somehow 30 years went by and I did not go to my place.

I was in financial freefall for awhile.

When my husband and I separated, we sold our house and had two very expensive apartments in Chicago instead of one. And then we had legal fees. The divorce was very contentious and went on for several years, which is expensive.  I felt like, when will I get out of the red?

In November the divorce was final — no more legal fees. In December, I bought a four-flat building that provides passive income — if you want to call it that. I work hard on this building. The building gives me the flexibility to work four days instead of five at my main job, and to squeeze clients into the other day. And because my ex lives out of the country, I really appreciate having that one day to do things like take kids to doctor appointments.

"I decided to have the bank automatically move $800 from my main account, where my paychecks go, over to a savings account."

I’m a poet and a writer, but I have a day job as a marketing manager. I recently asked for a raise and got it. I also have my own small tutoring company, and I have a moonlighting job reading essays for a college consulting startup. I was a classroom teacher for 20 years, so I work well with kids.

The first of the year, I realized that automatically putting a little money each month into a separate savings account would really add up.

If I started doing that ASAP, the summer after next, we could go to France. I decided to have the bank automatically move $800 from my main account, where my paychecks go, over to a savings account. After six months, I had more than enough for plane tickets, so I booked those! Each one was $806.91. To pay for the plane tickets, I moved the money back into the account that I pay my credit card out of. Now, even after buying those, the account has $3,600, and I still have nearly a year to save.

To tell you the truth, I over saved. I have a friend who frequently goes to France, and she told me at the beginning of the year that I was saving more than I’d need. I said, “That’s OK, this seems like a good amount to put away each month.” After the trip, I can apply the leftover funds in my travel account to traveling to visit my older daughter, who now lives in Los Angeles, and to visiting my younger daughter when she goes to college.

I’ve looked at the prices for everything, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything except the airfare.

I looked very thoroughly at lodging, and made lists, so that gave me a sense of how much each might cost, and how much the train is. I think we’ve got it. 

I’m really strict about it.

I’m not going to use the money for something else other than travel. I’ve had a couple moments when I said to myself, if you really get in a pinch, you do have that extra — for a medical expense or something that I couldn't have predicted. But my spending tends to be pretty steady, within $1,000 each month. I haven't had to dip into it. Hopefully we won't face anything that would force me to.

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