two young boys traveling in Venice, smiling at scenery

Start saving for the ‘fun’ of it

Jul 28, 2020
Empower Insights

How creating a fun fund has helped one woman travel the world

Bringing your midday meal to work may not sound like much fun.

After all, sometimes it’s just easier to grab a quick bite.

But what if packing your lunch meant you could pack your bags and get away more often? For a woman in Denver, Colorado, that one small step has led to many big adventures around the world.

“I put a little away each month and began to save up money,” said Mary Sanders, a former executive for a large technology company who is retired. “Since then, I’ve never stopped saving.”

Thanks to her fun fund, Mary hasn’t stopped exploring, either.

It was about 30 years ago when Mary and her family, including her two young daughters at the time, welcomed an exchange student from Spain to live with them for a semester at their house in Minnesota. After forming a strong bond, Mary made a promise that she planned on keeping.

“We told her that we were going to visit her in Madrid the next year,” Mary said. “Once she left, we thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, how are we going to do this? How are we going to afford to get there?’”

Start simple, she recalls.

Mary’s first course of action was to prepare her lunch, as well as one for her spouse and children, for each afternoon. In downtown Minneapolis, eating out at a restaurant would cost her at least $10 a day. She then put the extra cash they saved into a fun fund to help cover their trip to Madrid.

“You don’t have to save $500 per month — it can be whatever you can consistently afford,” said Mary, who volunteers for a local humanitarian organization. “Just start with something.”

I put a little away each month and began to store up money. Since then, I've never stopped saving.

Of course, Mary tightened her budget as best she could and avoided credit card debt along the way. As she puts it, “If we didn’t have enough money, we weren’t going to go.” She was also paying for after-school daycare and contributing to 529 accounts for both of her daughters. 

Nearly 12 months later, all those brown paper sacks paid off when Mary and her loved ones took off on a plane for Spain. For the airfare alone, they spent $800 per ticket ($3,200 total for the four of them). While, yes, that was a hefty sum, they were able to conserve more than a few bucks on lodging because they stayed at the home of their exchange student and her family.

“We went to Madrid,” Mary said, “and we had a blast.”

To Mary, every penny in her fun fund mattered.

“I had peace of mind we already had everything banked,” she said. “When we came back, there was no finanical burden.”

It’s still that way today, too.

Upon returning to the U.S., Mary set a goal to continue adding to her fun fund so her family could travel internationally every other year. In her eyes, “a rainy day might never come,” so she actually spends the amount she stashes away. (Remember, the main point of establishing a fun fund is to earmark it for something you enjoy.) Whether it’s backpacking in Patagonia or sightseeing in Prague, Mary’s itineraries, experiences and memories have spanned the globe.

United Kingdom.

Bhutan.

Guatemala.

France.

China.

Turkey.

Denmark.

Slovakia.

(To name just a few.)

“It’s important to let yourself live,” said Mary, who has a strong passion for hiking, cycling and yoga. “What are you working for? Sure, you must take care of the basics. And every family encounters different financial challenges. I totally understand that. But you also have to give yourself permission to be happy.”

While her fun fund is always evolving, from a personal savings account to a money market account, Mary’s financial philosophy remains the same. She has even encouraged her daughters, now in their 30s, to form their own fun funds. And, for her 11-year-old grandson, instead of birthday presents or holiday gifts, Mary allocates additional dollars to what she calls their “adventure fund.”

Much more fun than, say, lunch on the town.  

“We all face uncertainties with how long we’re going to live and the quality of our health,” Mary said. “Sadly, people save and save but sometimes don’t get to realize their dreams due to many uncertainties. 

“With my fun fund, I am able to save the money I need to travel — and, then, I just do it.”

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