Push in the Stops

The Dew Abides at Springsteen
The Dew Abides at Springsteen

As of our April 1st payment, Operation Mortgage is one-third complete, and we’re surprised to find it’s changed the way we look at holidays and celebrations. We have long valued gifts of experiences over things, but we’ve never reined in expenses for restaurants, concerts and trips, since we’re so careful in every other aspect of our lives. That kind of extravagance won’t be an option in retirement, though, and we’ve learned going whole-hog for every event doesn’t necessarily make it more meaningful.

Case in point. Months ago, Brad and I bought tickets to a February Bruce Springsteen concert, agreeing they would be our Valentine’s gift to each other. In our previous life, we would have driven all the way to the arena, in the congested heart of Atlanta, paid $20 for parking, rented a hotel room for $150, and splurged on a grand dinner out.

But now we had to decide if those add-ons were worth blowing almost two months of our entertainment budget in one fell swoop. If the goal was to appreciate music, would that extra money spent improve our experience?

After much deliberation, the answer was no.

Instead, we focused on how to plan the evening in such a way that an overnight stay would be unnecessary, but we’d still get the most out of hearing one of our heroes.

We minimized gas consumption and road-rage by driving to Atlanta’s southernmost train stop, parking for free, and buying two round-trip tickets to the station, literally, at the arena’s uncrowded back door. Easily working our way to our seats, we were recharged and ready to dance when The Boss cranked out the opening chords to “Meet Me in the City.”

After the show, a fifteen-minute train ride took us straight back to the car, saving an hour fuming in the chaotic parking lot. Gas, train tickets, a quick dinner at the CNN Center, and a post-concert coffee only put us back $40; our carbon footprint was smaller; and we blissfully hummed “Hungry Heart1” on our much shorter, hour-and-twenty-minute trip home.

There are definitely occasions worth pulling out all the stops, but this was a good reminder that, more often than not, we need to evaluate the Price-to-Pleasure Ratio (or PPR, as I’ve taken to calling it), to make sure we’re getting the most out of our limited time and resources. If the upgrade in fun money we’re tempted to spend doesn’t make for a comparable upgrade in memories, we’ll save it for another adventure.

And more adventure is what the glory days are all about.

1Yes, Bruce Springsteen, at age 66, crowd-surfed fifty feet back to the stage. It was both badass and inspiring.

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