Our Dream Fund Comes True

Our Dream Fund Comes True

A long time ago, in an internet far far away, I wrote about the honeymoon my husband and I took to Japan back in 2001. In that post I wrote the following:

“… as soon as we got home I started a “someday” fund to hopefully someday return to Japan. “

CMO, almost three years ago

Well friends, someday is coming soon.

Today I’m going to tell you the story of our “dream fund”, an investment I made and kept since that first trip to Japan.

My First After-Tax Investment

This “someday” fund was actually my first after-tax investment. I put it into the Vanguard STAR fund, because it only required a minimum investment of $1,000 (as opposed to the $3,000 minimum of other funds). Also, it was as balanced fund, containing domestic and international stocks, as well as bonds.

As a newbie twenty-one year old investor, all that sounded good to me!

Over the years, I put a little bit of money into this dream fund every month. And if I got a bonus, or a tax refund, I would sometimes put a bit of money into it as well.

The original thought we had, the young and naive people we were, was that we would use this fund to go back on our tenth anniversary. Well, a few years later, we became parents. Then a few years after that we welcomed another son to our family. On our actual tenth anniversary, I was in the middle of an MBA program, and we had two small children.

The boys
The boys

So we didn’t go to Japan, but our dream wasn’t forgotten. It was simply deferred to an unknown date.

On our eleventh anniversary, we were in Arizona, having used part of the dream fund to take a trip right before my husband had another major surgery. Six months after our tenth anniversary was when my husbands crisis struck and he nearly died of septic shock. This was major surgery, and given what happened the last time, we wanted to take an anniversary trip together “just in case”.

He was too unwell to travel to Japan at that time. But we were able to tap the dream fund for that Arizona trip.

The rest of the dream fund sat there, waiting patiently. We didn’t contribute to it anymore, because we were so focused on getting rid of debt and financial independence. But the stock market contributed to it. It grew and grew. Dividends and capital gains were reinvested, buying more and more shares every year.

Redefining The Dream

Over the years, we often debated whether or not to just use this fund to pay down the mortgage. Every time, we decided to leave it alone. That dream fund would wait for us, patiently, growing while we decided what to do.

Then we started talking about using it for a huge family trip once the mortgage was paid off. At first, this seemed like it would be years and years down the line. But talking about it, and dreaming about it, kept us excited.

Frankly, it can be a long, slow slog in the middle of paying off a mortgage. Or saving for financial independence, or college, retirement – essentially any large goal. The beginning is exciting and fun, as you find new and creative ways to work towards your goal. But the middle is hard, and long, especially if you can’t see the light at the end very easily.

This is why one of my twelve mortgage payoff tips is to have something waiting for you at the end. There are plenty of times that talking about this dream of a huge family trip, using the dream fund, were what kept us going towards this goal.

Our Dream Fund Comes True

As you may know, we did pay off the mortgage a few weeks ago.

And a few days later, I sold the STAR fund to put the money into cash.

We were going to use it, and use it all, without guilt, to take a family trip to Japan.

This dream looks much different than when my twenty-one-year-old self first opened the STAR fund. Back then, we were newlyweds in our early and mid-twenties with no kids. I was in the middle of a bachelor’s degree, working full time and going to school full time. My husband had a full-time job, and we lived together in a condo.

Today we have three kids. I work full time in a corporate job and my husband stays at home with the boys all week. Taking a family of five to another country is an expensive endeavor. Especially when two of the three kids have outgrown children’s prices/children’s meals, and cost as much as an adult when travelling.

Although life has changed in ways my twenty-one-year-old self could never have imagined, the dream fund stayed there. It has enough to cover a huge trip to Japan – flights, hotels, attractions, and food.

Amazing how that can happen.

Live Like No One Else, And You Can Live Like No One Else

There are a lot of times since 2001 where we could have cashed it out, but didn’t. It could have accelerated our debt freedom journey. It could have covered expenses when my husband was sick. I’m sure I could have spent it on upgrading a car, or a bigger down payment on this house. Or I could have used it all to upgrade my wardrobe, buy fancy furniture, or any number of things.

But we always held out hope that by leaving it alone, it would one day help our dream come true.

There aren’t a lot of people who will save and invest money for almost two decades for a dream.

Not many people in their early twenties start an investment fund specifically for a goal years down the line – and leave it alone.

When I was in my early twenties, I didn’t know anyone else who did the kinds of things I was doing. And I never let the fact that I couldn’t contribute much to this fund bother me.

Sometimes people will think “if I can only afford to contribute $50 a month, or a few hundred dollars once in a while, it’s not worth it.” I can tell you now from experience that it most certainly is worth it.

If we had spent that $50 going out to eat, or to an amusement park, I wouldn’t be able to remember that today. If I had spent that $50 on kids toys, they would long ago be broken, outgrown, tossed or donated. And if I had used that $50 per month to buy a fancier car with a more expensive payment, we wouldn’t be able to go to Japan today.

Today we’re a debt-free family, well on our way to financial independence, and off to Japan this summer. We’ll visit all the places my husband and I went to back in 2001 – and some new ones. My husband and I will get to see how the country has changed in the past eighteen years, and my boys will be able to see the country for the first time.

This may be the one of the last opportunities we have to take a large trip together as a family. Next year, my oldest son will be sixteen, and old enough to work over the summer. Soon he’ll be off to college, and it will be just my husband, myself, and our older two boys at home.

I’m so grateful to my twenty-one-year-old self for scraping together that $1,000 to buy into the STAR fund, and for putting aside little bits of money into it whenever she could.

Start Your Own Dream Fund

So today, friends, I would like to encourage you to start your own dream fund. Even if your situation, or the dream itself, changes over the years, the power of a dream fund can’t be understated.

This fund is what made possible an anniversary trip to Arizona after a major medical crisis, and before another major surgery.

And this fund will make possible a journey for five across the globe, to another country, without financial worry.

Start your dream fund today, with whatever you can. Find a company that allows you to open an account and start investing with whatever money you have. Commit to yourself that you’ll put a bit aside from any windfalls towards your dreams.

After all, aren’t your dreams worth it?

As Dave Ramsey always says, “live like no one else and you can live like no one else.”

14 thoughts on “Our Dream Fund Comes True”

  1. I love this, Liz!!! I’m contributing a small amount each month, from my tutoring money, to my own dream fund, which I’m calling, not as romantically, my Trip Fund. But it definitely is money I’m setting aside for a trip to somewhere awesome. Little bits do add up and I’m so glad you reminded me of that, because it can get discouraging when you’re in the middle of looooong years of delayed gratification and it feels like no one else is!!

    1. Congrats! Have a great time in Japan! That’s amazing that you were able to consistently save for a specific goal that long. Our FIRE fund is named Freedom Fund in our bank account. We don’t have a specific dream fund, but plan to use our fund to radically change our lives. Can’t wait to hear about your trip!

  2. I love that you’re taking the whole family to Japan. My kids want to go so badly, but I’m not going in the summer (way too hot and humid I heard) so I’ll have to try to figure something out. We started a vacation fund back in 2016, and we have taken 11 family trips and have 3 – 4 more planned through 2020. It’s been the best investment for my family.

  3. Such a feel good story, very appropriate for Friday 🙂

    It does take a lot of determination to not tap into that fund; I’m sure it must’ve been difficult at times like your husband’s surgery or when you were nearing the end of your mortgage.

    Kudos to you for sticking to your guns and coming out with such a reward at the end. I’m sure your entire family will cherish the experience! Japan has so much culture and was the cleanest country I’ve ever been to.


  4. Love this post. Your dream trip to Japan is my dream trip to the UK and Europe that I took in 2015. I spent an absolute fortune on it, biut I’d paid off the mortgage and this was my reward.
    You’re going to have an absolute blast and those boys will remember it forever!

  5. I do love your idea of having something like this trip to motivate you in the middle of paying off the mortgage. As an outsider, it seems you were able to pay off the mortgage incredibly fast. But I’m sure it didn’t always feel that way so smart move keeping yourself motivated with this Japan trip. Congratulations on paying off the mortgage and the big trip!!

  6. Physician on FIRE

    Enjoy Japan! I’m impressed you held on to that dream fund for so long; that takes serious discipline.

    I visited a friend in Osaka 15 years ago. It was a different world, and I felt really, really tall. It would be fun to go back with my family for a new perspective. My friend that was over there is going back for a spell soon, so we may have that opportunity.


  7. What a great way to celebrate your financial milestone as well as all you’ve been through. You’ve proven that tiny sums of money can grow substantially. I particularly love that you could have thrown this cash towards debt, but instead you maintained a fun goal. Sometimes we focus too much on the numbers and not enough on what brings us joy.

  8. I’m thrilled for you and your family, Liz. Traveling together before they master the eye rolls has been our priority with the kids these past few summers, and it’s really brought us closer together in the best of ways.



  9. financialfitnessfanatic

    Congratulations on finally making this trip into reality. While many of us may squirm at the idea of spending thousands on a family trip, you’ve managed to make it into a uniquely satisfying and rewarding experience because you have worked so hard to achieve it.

    Adam (my fiance), his two kids, and I decided this year to make our “travel fund” a significant part of our yearly savings. Travel is so important to us that we’ve figured out how to cut costs in essentially every other area of our lives in order to funnel it all into retirement savings and travel funds. Now when we plan a trip, it’s an exciting process, because we get to enjoy the reward of our hard work!

    Really looking forward to hearing about your Japan trip. I went there years ago for a home stay and absolutely loved it. Can’t wait to take Adam with me one day.


  10. I love this idea, and congratulations on reaching your dream! So inspiring. And to be able to share those new memories with your family – well, you can’t really put a price on that.

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