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One of the things I love most about Mr. W is that he has a variety of talents and hobbies. When he was twelve, he helped his father build a two-story addition on their house. While he can wield a hammer, he’s also a whiz in the kitchen and can whip up a three-course meal in no time. He’s obsessed with CrossFit, but he’s also a skilled swing dancer. You get the idea. All in all, he’s a pretty well-rounded guy.
When we were in graduate school, Mr. W suggested that we take ballroom dance lessons together. After hearing him mention this several times, I contacted a nearby ballroom dance franchise to inquire about the cost. I had sticker shock: the cost for a set of beginner lessons was about $750. That was a lot of money, especially considering our financial circumstances at the time. We were both graduate assistants, which meant that we received tuition remission and living stipends of $12,000-$15,000 per year. Our assistantships paid enough for us to get by, but we did not have much left over. However, I had been babysitting and coaching to earn some money on the side and had built up a nice little nest egg. I could sign us up for the beginner series and still have a good amount in savings. I decided to surprise Mr. W with dance lessons for Christmas. We aren’t usually this extravagant with gifts, so this was a special treat. For the next few months, we had a blast learning to foxtrot, swing, waltz, rumba and tango. We loved having a hobby that we both enjoyed and could do together. Neither of us would have fared well on Dancing With the Stars, but we had made significant progress.
The end of our dance lessons coincided with the end of graduate school. For the next few years, we only danced once or twice a year, at weddings or other social functions. We thoroughly enjoyed dancing, but the cost prohibited us from taking any more lessons at that time.
Last summer, we signed up for another series of dance lessons. The cost was significantly higher than the beginner lessons (and I’m serious when I say “significantly”). However, we had become much more financially stable since our graduate student days. The timing was also perfect: by resuming our lessons in the summer, we were able to brush up on our dance skills before our wedding. Our lessons provided an outlet from wedding-related stresses. Dance was an instant pick-me-up regardless of what else was on our mind(s). We spaced out our lessons so that we were able to continue dancing for a few months after the wedding. We both thought it was important to have a hobby we could do together, especially in our earliest days as a married couple.
When we finished our most recent set of lessons, Mr. W and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about continuing dance. There was no question that we loved it and looked forward to each lesson. However, we just couldn’t reconcile the high cost with our big-picture goals. In the next few years, these plans include buying a house and starting a family. We estimate that we should save about 25% of our take-home income on an annual basis to be able to achieve our big-picture goals. We’ve set up our household budget so that we are saving at this 25% level. If we were to continue taking dance lessons, it would cost us several thousand dollars annually, which we have not included in our budget. Yes, we could trim several thousand from our budget to make room for dance lessons. However, it would require us to drastically reduce our budget in areas like travel (ie, trips to see my family) and fitness, both of which are important priorities to us.
We made the decision not to continue dance lessons until some point in the very distant future. The good thing about ballroom dance is that it’s an activity that we can do at any age. As long as we are both mobile, there is no expiration date. In fact, most of the students at our former dance studio were retirees or empty-nesters. By contrast, our other priorities are much more time-sensitive. Our budget and our spending should reflect this distinction. If we want to achieve our big-picture goals in the foreseeable future, we need to sacrifice or delay certain hobbies.
We attended a wedding last weekend, and were reminded of how much we love to dance. I had a few brief twinges of regret that we had stopped our ballroom lessons. I was even tempted to suggest that we reconsider our decision. But I remembered a theme that resounds throughout personal finance: With careful planning, you might be able to have it all. But, you can’t have it all right now.
Have you sacrificed or delayed a hobby in order to save money? What goals do you prioritize in your budget?