The Best $250 I Ever Spent

The best $250 I ever spent did not get me a fancy watch, a sleek pair of shoes, or a shiny piece of technology. Those are material items, and I pretty much gave up caring about those in November 2013 when I told my parents not to get me anything for Christmas.

The best $250 I ever spent was on an experience, a weeklong experience in 40-degree weather with snow and rain. You were probably expecting tropical weather and exotic beaches weren’t you? I make this contrast because what you spend money on indicates what kind of a life you want to live and deciding our expenditures wisely can be crucial in crafting a joyful life.

The experience was my Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Washington D.C. a little over week ago. This trip relates to March’s theme of Faith & Spirituality because it was organized through my church and many of the people we talked to were putting their faith into action, something I’ve wanted to do more of.

There are a million things that made it the best $250 I ever spent, but here are the most significant ones.


During the trip, my group listened to and talked with several people who lead organizations that advocate for different social causes. Here are the speakers and some of the insights I came away with:

Les Myers, President of the Center of Concern — three requirements of successful social enterprises: they must be effective, scalable, and sustainable.

Father John Langan, SJ — you have to be okay with ruffling feathers occasionally but not unnecessarily

Aldo Caliari, Director of the Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern — (in relation to persuading others) sometimes it’s not about the statistics or personal stories but more about the narrative the person crafts and how s/he will justify the decision to his/her boss or constituents

Chris Hyland, Director of Development at the Center of Concern — humor, joy, and laughter are often restrained in religion despite being key elements to it. When seeking a grant, never go to a foundation and say, “we need”; instead say, “the community needs.” You want investors to invest through you, not to you.

Brian Corbin, Senior Vice President of Social Policy at Catholic Charities — Parts of the Bible frequently mention the widow, the orphan, and the alien. These people are all strangers to us and have no power, but they are our neighbors and we should treat them like such. 80% of those served by Catholic Charities are not Catholic.

Clay Hickson & Hong Me, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) — WRAP is the world’s largest independent factory-based certification program for the apparel sector.

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK — a good advocacy story is personal, told succinctly, related directly to the issue, and demonstrates why you care.

Raymond Baker, Heather Lowe, and Tom Cardamone, staff at Global Financial Integrity — no one was paying attention to all the money coming out of the developing countries (Illicit Financial Flows or IFFs); everybody was focused on the money going in. There are no monopolies on good ideas. You don’t have to fight the world; you can try to fix it.

Growing Faith

This week was truly an escape from school. It allowed me to reflect deeply on my relationship with God and understand what I can do to strengthen it. In addition to making my faith a bigger part of my daily life (my challenge for March (link)), I learned sharing my faith with others is another fantastic way to grow closer to God.

Awesome Sights & Adventures

I had never been to D.C. prior to this trip, so I was also excited for the sightseeing. We went up into the Washington Monument,

saw the Lincoln, Vietnam, and MLK Jr. memorials,

got to tour National Public Radio (NPR), the Capital Building and Library of Congress (including Thomas Jefferson’s gigantic library!),

went to the American History and Air and Space Museums as well as the U.S. Botanical Gardens,

visited the beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,

and ate at some incredible restaurants: Busboys & Poets and &Pizza.

Amazing people

Finally, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go on Alternative Spring Break (ASB) with. Each and every one of the people in my group is hilarious, kind, caring, unique, and awesome! Some of the best times we had on the trip were simply singing in the car, playing Pictionary or Catchphrase, or talking during our nightly reflections.

My group members are lifelong friends — brothers and sisters even. And you don’t usually discover that in a week.

When people ask me how my spring break was, I instantly reply “great!”, but I don’t think they actually understand how great it was because no amount of enthusiasm could convey it. It was the best $250 I ever spent, and I feel extremely blessed for having the experience.

Now some practical advice:

How do you find experiences like this? How do you find experiences that give you a Return on Energy (ROE)? You know, the ones that you should feel exhausted after attending but instead you find yourself so inspired and energized by the event that you’re ready to go run a marathon or change the world.

My answer: listen.

Listen for the opportunities people can’t shut up about. At St. Mary’s (my church), that was ASB.

Then, determine whether or not a particular opportunity has the elements you value most. For me, it was an opportunity to learn, grow, see incredible sights, and be with remarkable people.

If you’d like to zoom in on any of the photos, you can see them on Facebook here.

In the comments please share with me:

  • how your spring break was and what you did
  • what was the best $250 you ever spent?

Originally published at on March 15, 2015.

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