Hiring a marachi band for my husband's first-ever birthday party wasn't in my budget, but I did it anyway — and I've never been more sure of my approach to money

Hiring a marachi band for my husband's first-ever birthday party wasn't in my budget, but I did it anyway — and I've never been more sure of my approach to money
The author, Julie Schwietert Collazo.Julie Schwietert Collazo
  • I barely had any money, but I wanted to give my husband a nice birthday surprise even if it was hard.
  • If I'd listened to financial advice, I never would've been willing to take the plunge.

It December 22, just a few hours before the clock struck midnight. It marked another trip around the sun for my husband, Francisco. I was texting with Gerardo, the front man of a seven-member mariachi group. Was his band available to play a house party in just 24 hours?

If he said yes, it would be hard to justify not booking them. But I half hoped he'd say no — my bank balance was low. I had rent and three tuition payments due in a week. Neither my landlord nor my kids' schools would want to hear I'd prioritized smartly dressed men parading into my home with trumpets, violins, and Quattrone's over them.

"Of course!" Gerardo wrote. "See you at 9 PM tomorrow!"

My husband deserved a nice surprise

Francisco grew up in Cuba, in a single parent home where there was no disposable income. His mother gave little importance to holidays and birthdays. As he tells our own children frequently, he never received presents. In fact, I learned after we started dating, he'd never had a birthday party — ever.

That was nearly 20 years ago.


After a major surgery, COVID-19, and an international move with our kids, I figured 2022 was definitely the birthday when Francisco deserved a big party.

And what could be bigger than a surprise dinner party with friends, featuring a seven-man mariachi band?

I sent Gerardo a 50% deposit along with our address. "See you soon!" I texted.

I realized I needed to ignore the financial advice

Most financial advice consists of a single, sacrosanct maxim: SAVE. Have a lot of money? Sock it away! Don't have much money at all? Try the 100 envelopes challenge! Start a change jar! Save something! Anything!

Literally no one will advise you to spend what you don't have… nor to prioritize a mariachi band over any other actual financial responsibility.


But my husband and I had just spent months talking about our financial situation (in a word, um, dynamic) and the choices we've made as a couple, as adults, and as parents. We had always traded security — or the illusion of it — for freedom and flexibility. Here we were: me at 45, him at 65. Were the stakes different now? Did we regret our choices? Friends were buying homes or bragging about their stocks or their retirement accounts. We could do neither.

No, we agreed. We didn't regret a thing.

Planning for the future is precarious

Critics might say we are trading long-term goals for short-term desires. They aren't wrong. But we have much older friends who saved their whole lives, only to arrive at retirement both unable to seize the dream they'd been saving for due to health problems, and unable to pay for treatment because healthcare in the U.S. was so expensive that it exceeded what they had been able to save.

And that was in "the before times." In a precarious world where COVID cut short the lives of people we loved, in an era when the planet is literally on fire, and in a country where capitalism is prioritized over human lives, our YOLO approach to finances may seem irresponsible to others. But to us, it makes more sense with each passing year.

As the mariachi played, I had no regrets

Just as Francisco was serving dinner, our doorbell rang and the mariachi announced their arrival with "Las mañanitas," Mexico's version of "Happy Birthday." Were those tears in Francisco's eyes? Yes. "I've never had a birthday party," Francisco told Gerardo and his fellow musicians. The revelation motivated them still more. For the next hour they serenaded our family and friends, giving it their absolute all.


Just hours before, I'd been mildly worried about my decision: Should I have contracted a band when I didn't really have the money to do so? But I took a leap and said yes, knowing — because I had plenty of experience with the YOLO approach — that I'd figure out how to hustle to cover all of our expenses.

I did. And I didn't regret it.

As I watched our friends and family double over with laughter, as I watched my husband dance around our living room with our two younger children, and as our 13-year-old texted me from her bedroom — "OMG. You really DID hire the mariachi!" — before asking me to send her video so she could send it to friends and upload it to TikTok, I realized my choice was worth every peso. Weeks later, Francisco was still talking about the party, marveling that I'd planned and pulled off such a thrilling surprise.

The YOLO financial approach isn't for everyone. It will make most people deeply uncomfortable. It not only goes against all mainstream financial advice; it pokes at deeply held assumptions about responsibility and certainty. But in 2023, it might be worth a thought. And at the very least, I can promise you this: If you hire the mariachi, you won't regret it.