Dear Clementine

A young woman's financial dilemma - and why it has nothing to do with money at all.
dear clementine advice column

Photo Credit: Melissa O'Hearn

Dear Clementine,

I'm 29 years old and my grandmother recently passed away. We were dear friends and she was a wonderful mentor, teaching all of her grandchildren and children the importance of saving money while splurging on special moments every now and then, like family vacations or indulgent hot chocolate. She kindly left me a sum of money when she passed, and the saver in me wants to sock it away for retirement (I work in a creative field and am not blessed with a pension!). But something inside me tells me I should follow in her footsteps - saving most of it, but splurging on a truly special moment for my family. My question is this: what would you do? Listen to your gut and save it all, or listen to your grandmother's voice - the gifter - and spend some of it on a truly meaningful experience? (And tell me, Clementine - what should that experience be?)

More Money, More Questions

Oh, Money! Your grandmother sounds like she was such a sun-catcher! Just look, lucky girl: she left you one last rainbow.

How I wish I could persuade you to throw it all away on an experience that shocks you to your core. Zip line the jungles of Chiang Mai. Beach topless in Ibiza. Hold your breath 'til you've crossed Sydney's Harbour Bridge. Or run the Great Wall of China. Or peeked over the edge of the Preikestolen Cliffs. There are pyramids that you thought would be bigger, and water buffalos you imagined unridable, and people who look nothing like you but who are everything like you. I wish I could tell you to go. Go big. Go far. Go hard. Go unforgettable. Seven wonder your soul out, you know?

I really really want to be that kind of mentor. Really really. But I prefer my gasps in small doses. All at once and I get dizzy. I do not live that balls-out, especially with my money; I get happy just watching it sleep and grow.

One of my best friends always says (Usually at the sight of a huge diamond that's meant to measure love, or upon the introduction of someone who befriends shoes and cars and addresses first.): "Grand gestures are for assholes. Don't be that guy." I never thought nine harsh words could change my life, but they have. Seriously. Say those words in your head the next time you're faced with a decision, big or small. They'll always keep it real.

I don't want you to over-analyze your grandmother's gift and measure your gratitude for it – and for her – in one hyper-meaningful experience. (Because, see above.) Did it ever matter to you the weight of your grandmother's gifts? I mean, was it just as joyous to be surprised with a fresh pack of Juicy Fruit gum as it was to be swept from school for a seaside holiday? Think about it. You're not going to do this wrong, okay? I promise.

If I know you – And I do not , but I believe we're all living in the same state of broken-hearted missing someone. – I imagine your true dilemma has nothing to do with the money. Not really. What is hanging up your decision is that once it's made, once that money is spent or saved, fantastically blown or locked away in an untouchable savings account, your grandmother is…gone. For the second and final time in a lot of ways, right?

You've already gotten her greatest gift: you now know what true unconditional love feels like. But as time goes by, you're going to forget how that feels. The warmth of that spendy hot cocoa. The heat of that holiday beach. All that she taught you about life being a special occasion, especially when you were around. How one of her hugs could turn any ordinary day into one that was circled with a red heart on your calendar. Plus exclamation points. That gasp when you realized how hard she loved you. How much she simply liked you. At the very heart of this rainbow, somewhere between yellow and green, is your grandmother's final gesture to you. All love. And isn't that grand?

So my advice is to treat that money like the rainbow it is and save it for a rainy day. Every single one of them. Gasp as often as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can. Whether it's taking violin lessons just because it was that one last thing she missed out on trying, taking high tea at the Four Seasons or playing mahjong on a call-in-sick Wednesday just because those were events she never missed, or surprising a love with a tiny token of your love…as she always did with you.

Remember when Charlie gives Willy Wonka the Everlasting Gobstopper? There's that slight intake of breath and then Wonka whispers "And so shines a good deed in a weary world." To me, that's the whole truth and all you really need to know to live a sweet life. When you're weary, let your grandmother shine again. Just one more deed and three after that. Make her gift last as long as you can. Because rainy days sometimes look like tear-stained afternoons and rainbows are few and those we love the hardest just don't stay as long as they should. I wish it was different, but it's not.

I hope you save the hell out of this money, but spend it frivolously on a lifetime of good deeds and head-over-guts gasps. Make her gift last as long as you can.

That's the only way I live my days. (Also, I know that water buffalos are softer than they look on television. You should really pet one someday soon.)