Kay and Jake Northrup prioritized the trip of a lifetime over buying a home.
- A financial planner delayed buying a home so he could go on a $20,000 trip to Antarctica.
- He said he and his wife find experiencing life more important than maximizing their net worth.
- They also didn’t want economic conditions like housing prices to affect their decision.
If you had $20,000, would you spend it on an adventure or a down payment on a home?
Common financial wisdom often advises investing in real estate to maximize your net worth over the long term, but one certified financial planner has gone against the grain. CFP Jake Northrup, 30, and his wife Kay, 27, decided to push back their homebuying plans so they could take a trip to Antarctica.
The couple always aims to have a minimum safety net of $40,000 in cash saved up, Northrup told Insider. Come January 2021, they had $60,000 and they mulled over how to best use the the extra $20,000: Continue saving to meet their goal of buying a home in 2022 or 2023, or spend it and postpone their home purchase timeline to 2023 or 2024.
Northrup said their decision ultimately boiled down to their values, the most important of which is travel.
“It’s something that strengthens our marriage, broadens our perspective of the world, and provides us the most happiness,” he explained. “Rather than our goal to be maximizing our net worth, our goal is to live our life according to our values and experience the most we can in a financially responsible way.”
The Northrups in Antarctica.
Of course, not every millennial has $20,000 in cash saved. Millennials have a median balance of $24,929 in non-mortgage debt. Of those who do have extra cash, priorities on how to spend it might vary — a previous survey by Insider and Morning Consult found most millennials would spend an extra $1,000 on paying off debt or saving, although some would spend it on travel and shopping.
Northrup’s mentality is emblematic of how millennials have been redefining the American Dream, preferring to live a life on their own terms. The post-World War II narrative of the American Dream — which placed a house in the suburbs and all the consumerist trappings that came with it on a pedestal — splintered in the 2020s economy as a housing crisis, pandemic, and newfound outlook for life prompted Americans to re-evaluate how to live their best life. For many millennials, that means prioritizing pursuing their passions over making the life decisions tradition says they “should” make.
Northrup’s version of that may seem like a bold one in today’s economy. His generation has juggled two recessions before the age 40, staggering student loan debt, soaring living costs, and one housing crisis after another. Intentionally opting out of homebuying right now is a sharp contrast to the aspiring first-time homeowners who have been clamoring to get their hands on a home in a cutthroat market.
But Northrup said they didn’t want external variables like housing prices and mortgage rates to drive their decisions. Instead they wanted to do what felt right to them, which included hanging out with the penguins and whales in the Antarctic.
Saving up for the Antarctic
Northrup and his wife hadn’t contributed to any investment accounts since 2018. He admits it “sounds crazy coming from a financial planner,” but they each planned to start their own businesses (financial planning and wedding planning, respectively) in the short-term. So, they kept their savings in an Ally high-yield savings account.
“Having this cash on hand enabled us to invest into ourselves and our lifestyle by putting us in the best possible position to start our businesses, which improved our lives in a way that investing in an index fund could never do,” he said.
He added that kicking off their businesses and watching their incomes increase made them confident in deciding they could afford a $20,000 trip to Antarctica.
They first heavily researched the trip’s costs. This process helped them identify when to take the trip — December 2021 — and how much they needed to save for it. He said this thought process should apply to anyone planning a big trip to fully weigh the opportunity costs. Without examining which choice would result in a greater loss or gain for you personally, he added, it’s a blind financial decision.
Then they put the $20,000 in a separate high-yield savings account. He described earmarking money for a specific purpose as creating a “money bucket.” It allowed them to “mentally think of the money as ‘spent’ so we were able to manage other financial decisions with the ‘true’ amount of cash available,” he said.
Better than buying a home
The Northrups’ decision wasn’t just about money. They also took into account other future goals, such as their hope to start a family in the next few years, which he said left them with a “short window of opportunity.”
Juggling big life goals is something Northrup thinks a lot of people deal with, who are trying to prioritize something like taking a sabbatical, starting a business, or planning a trip before more traditional milestones like having a family or buying a home. “Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but doing both at the same time is more difficult,” he said.
After all, it’s hard to hike through Patagonia with a toddler in tow.
Economic conditions and societal expectations don’t help. Northrup believes the ideal of homeownership and the current state of the housing market, in which real estate prices have skyrocketed and mortgage rates have hit near historic lows, has put undue pressure on millennials to buy a home before they’re ready out of fear prices and rates will climb.
Northrup with some penguins.
He added that he’s never liked the argument that renting is “throwing money away” compared to buying a home for two reasons. One, he said, it underestimates the cost of homeownership by not factoring in things like home maintenance and real estate tax. And two, it assumes that building equity is the measure of success.
“This makes sense that owning a home used to be the primary measure of success,” he said. “But most millennials, value experiences over things, so this measure of success doesn’t really apply anymore.”
Sticking to his priorities led Northrup to his “once-in-a-lifetime” two week trip that covered Buenos Aires, Ushuaia in the Patagonia region, and Antarctica itself as well as the travel it took to get there and back, which he said involved 30-foot waves and 70 mile per hour winds. But the peril was worth kayaking among the icebergs through Antarctica’s glassy glacial waters.
“Ten years from now, we won’t remember buying a home in 2022 instead of 2023,” he said. “We’ll remember the trip that we had.”