Chris Guillebeau: Do Well, Do Good, Have Fun

HUNT VALLEY, Md. ( TheStreet) -- If you didn't catch last week's post, I'm celebrating the release of my new book, The Ultimate Financial Plan, by featuring guest posts from four of the nation's top authors and bloggers who have inspired me in the realms of money and life. This week I have the pleasure of introducing you to Chris Guillebeau.

Chris is the most unassuming revolutionary I've ever met. He's soft-spoken and appears not to have a self-interested bone in his body, yet a couple of hundred thousand people follow his every move online through his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. He lives the title -- he quit high school and finished his college degree in two years. Still in his early 30s, he's traveled to more than 150 countries in support of his goal to visit every country on the planet, educating his audience on travel and life every step of the way.

I love the way Chris describes the central message of his book:

You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to. You can do good things for yourself and make the world a better place at the same time.

If you don't want to pay a dime for some of his wisdom, read the manifesto that kicked off his writing career -- A Brief Guide to World Domination -- or the sequel, 279 Days to Overnight Success. And of course, read this post from Chris, written just for you.

Chris Guillebeau writes: When I went to Vietnam several years ago, I was excited to find a local hotel that offered nice rooms for $25. An upgrade was available for $5 more. Sight unseen, I took the upgrade -- and was glad I did.

My own balcony! Free soup for breakfast! And truth be told, for someone who usually lives in the Pacific Northwest, the air conditioning while visiting Southeast Asia was nice too.

When I came home, I told the story of my $30 room. Some people said, "That's awesome!"

But others had a different take. "I wouldn't feel comfortable staying in a place like that," a friend of the family said. "Wasn't there a Western hotel nearby?"

Well, yes, there was a Marriott -- and it cost $270 a night.

Others were unhappy for a different reason: "Dude, you got ripped off!" a fellow student in my graduate program told me. "I paid $5 a night for a bed when I was there."

Truth be told, I didn't need the $270 Marriott, and I didn't feel bad about the "overpriced" $30 room. I was happy to exchange the money I did for the experience I got; I walked away satisfied with the exchange. 

On countless other trips around the world since then, sometimes I've paid next to nothing and other times I've paid a small fortune. It all comes down to a question of mindfulness, something I believe is the most important skill of personal finance. You can learn about exchange-traded-funds or DRIP investing whenever you're ready (and if you never learn, you'll probably be OK). But if you get clear about what you value and how your relationship with money is intertwined, you'll go far -- no matter which tax bracket you find yourself in.

Discussions about frugality and values tend to get weighed down by competing values: "Save money at all costs" vs. "live a little." Tim's work on this blog, his radio program, and in The Ultimate Financial Plan is smarter than that. It's all about deciding what you value -- and making sure your spending relates to those decisions.

I enjoyed reading about Tim's choice to spend the night on a battleship with his son. He probably could have had a better meal elsewhere, or he could also have saved the money for a distant future. Speaking for myself, I'm not so sure I would have enjoyed the battleship slumber party -- but I think it's clear from the post that Tim made the right choice for his family adventure. 

Some things are worth the money and some aren't, and these decisions will always be relative. I don't need to pay $5 a night in Vietnam, and $30 was just fine with me. Sleeping on battleships isn't my style, but I can see why it would make a fun memory for a parent and child.

I'm not in the business of telling people what they should value -- and thankfully Tim isn't either -- but I'd encourage you to think long and hard about what you value and how your money will be used in support of those values. The poet Mary Oliver might have put it best: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Well? It's your turn now, and your life.

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Tim Maurer, CFP, is vice president of Financial Consulate, based in Hunt Valley, Md., and a member of NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. He can also be found at

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.