A family of 4 sits on a dock peering at the view of a lake

Summer of sacrifice

Sep 22, 2020
Empower Insights

How one family is persevering after losing much more than an annual trip

It’s often said that “life doesn’t always go as planned.”

Kathleen Hale certainly knows the feeling.

For Hale, who resides in Castle Rock, Colo., this year’s family vacation was supposed to be a dream come true, if you will. With her oldest daughter set to be a high school senior this fall, the mother of two teenagers viewed their adventure to Disney World as sort of “a last hurrah with everyone still living at home.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Hale, an instructional designer for a large healthcare company. “Even at age 16, you get just as excited to see a princess as you do when you’re a young girl.”

But, after their weeklong stay was postponed because of the global pandemic and following the unexpected passing of her husband’s father, 2020 hasn’t quite turned out to be the fairy tale Hale had imagined.

For starters, Hale’s scheduled trip to Florida has been tentatively rebooked for this September —though, she says, it’s still up in the air given the state’s current safety measures, regulations and protocols — after Disney World temporarily closed its gates for more than two months due to coronavirus concerns.1,2 It was initially intended to be a late-spring celebration for a close-knit crew of 14 passengers, which includes her husband’s parents as well as both of his sisters and their families.

“We do a lot of running around together,” Hale says. “We were looking forward to having some more fun.”

From a financial perspective, though, having fun at Disney World can add up in a hurry if you’re not prepared.3

As Hale puts it, “Every penny matters there.”

So, at the beginning of 2019, Hale decided to open up a new personal savings account and started automatically contributing $50 from her paycheck to use as extra spending cash at the popular attraction. (“Since it’s direct deposit, I don’t miss the money,” she says). After all, even though her in-laws were fronting the costs for airfare and lodging, she still needed additional funds for meals, gifts and park tickets.

“We didn’t want to come back to any debt,” Hale says. “That was a big deal to us.”

Like 32% of Americans, of course, Hale is no stranger to swiping a credit card when it comes to purchasing discretionary items, such as travel needs.4 In the past, she admits to relying on plastic on occasion to cover common vacation expenses like flights, rooms and souvenirs because it was a convenient option.

Picturesque view of a picnic area near a lake

“We’ve been on credit card trips before,” says Hale, whose recent itineraries include journeys to Aspen, Cape Cod and Hawaii. “It’s always daunting knowing that you’ll have a huge bill in the mail the next month.”

That’s exactly why Hale, whose Disney World stash has grown to more than $1,500, is continuing to reserve $50 per pay period. When they’re eventually able to go, “we’ll have plenty of money in the bank,” she says.

“We’re in a good place now.”

But building a budget to explore Disney World isn’t the only worry for Hale and her loved ones these days.

Right before choosing to delay the much-anticipated getaway, Hale’s father-in-law was admitted to the hospital with severe complications of diverticulitis — a painful lower-abdominal condition.5 Following a series of medical tests and treatments, he abruptly died after suffering an episode of septic shock.

“That was the worst,” Hale says. “We thought he was going to be OK.”

While the unforeseen circumstances have been hard to handle for Hale, she is doing her best to move forward.

In fact, that same close-knit crew that was ready to enjoy the magic of Disney World convened at their favorite local lake in Colorado in June to pay tribute to Hale’s father-in-law on his birthday. Sure, it may not have been the long break Hale and her husband had been saving up for, but they could afford to spend an afternoon unwinding on the water as they remembered a man they lost too soon.

“We’re staying positive by being thankful for all that we do have,” Hale says. “The most important thing is our family.”

“We were together again — and it felt great.”

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1 Shawn M. Carter, Fox News, “Florida mayors vow stricter coronavirus rules as cases spike,” June 2020.

2 Christiana Farr, CNBC, “When will we start traveling again? Here’s what experts are saying,” May 2020.

3 Frank Pallotta, CNN Business, “Walt Disney World closes, paralyzing the company's tourism empire,” March 2020.

4 Megan Leonhardt, CNBC, “Nearly 25% of Americans are going into debt trying to pay for necessities like food,” May 2019.

5 Mayo Clinic[SS1] , mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diverticulitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20371758, July 2020.

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