How to Enjoy an $18 Mai Tai

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How to Enjoy an $18 Mai Tai

By Jarrett Topel

Learn more about Jarrett on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

In my profession, I often hear something like this: “I want to enjoy the now. I understand that planning for the future is important, but since no one knows what the future really holds, I want to seize the day while I can.”

It’s a common sentiment — one I completely understand and, in a lot of ways, agree with. For most of us, however, there is an inherent contradiction in this line of thinking: How can we truly enjoy the now if our future is insecure?

As with most things in life, the answer, I believe, lies in obtaining balance.

I recently returned from an incredible trip to Hawaii with 16 family members. This is a trip we take every other year, and it’s a cherished and longstanding tradition in our family. Even so, traveling with a large family group can be exhausting, so in an effort to find a little alone time, my wife and I began another tradition many years back. Soon after arriving in Hawaii, we go to our favorite beachside bar and each order ourselves a mai tai (or two). Our family has grown a bit since we started, but thankfully, there are grandmas willing to step up and watch our two kids for a few hours so we can continue our little tradition.

As we settled into our usual spot and began to enjoy our usual mai tai, a funny thing happened: This particular mai tai tasted even better than I remembered. So good, in fact, that I thought to myself, “This has got to be the best mai tai I’ve ever had.” I asked the bartender (again, always the same one) whether the bar had changed its recipe or used some new mixer, but he told me nothing had changed. The recipe was exactly the same as it had been for more than 10 years.

Over the next few days, I began to realize that it was not the drink that was better; it was my perspective. I thought back to when we first started coming to this bar. I recalled that the mai tai was good even then — but I felt oddly guilty drinking it in those days. I remembered thinking, “Gee, $18 for a mai tai. … That’s a bit ridiculous.” It was the same incredible setting, and the same lovely cocktail, but I was not in the right frame of mind to truly enjoy myself. At that point, I was recently married, just starting a family and still in the early years of building my business. I was anxious about my financial future, and the anxiety was making it impossible to thoroughly appreciate the rare treat I was allowing myself.

In other words, I was having trouble enjoying the now, because the future was so uncertain.

While there is always some level of stress and uncertainty about what lies ahead, the work that my wife and I have put in over the years to strengthen our financial future has reduced my anxiety significantly, and has most certainly allowed me to more fully enjoy these kinds of special moments. As a result, I was able to relish the occasion in a way I was never able to in past years.

As far as I can tell, you only live once, so I’m all for making it count and being “present” as often as possible. However, I think it is also important to understand what it really means to enjoy the now, and not just use it as an excuse to over-spend and underplan. By working hard, taking time off, planning and preparing for the future, and savoring the little moments along the way, you give yourself the best chance of achieving balance, and truly enjoying the now.


Image via iStock.