A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

Debt: Who F*cking Cares



Preface


A few salty notes before I launch in:

1. My child informs me that I swear too much, so I'm asterisking my f-words because I know he reads my blog (hi buddy... I love you! I'm working on my shortcomings but this one's gonna be tough...)

2. I'm currently at CentsPositive (sidenote: it's amazing), but I have a horrible cold and have therefore sequestered myself in my room to eat delicious takeout pizza, sip hot tea, argue with people on Twitter, and edit/publish this post, the first draft of which I wrote a couple of days ago. I may be slightly delirious, but nothing stands between me and my keyboard!

2b. My CentsPositive welcome bag came with candy, beer, and chips. Will these sour gummy worms clear my sinuses? Is hard seltzer medicinal?

3. Someone's going to say, "You're contradicting yourself... I thought you were frustrated about money but here you are SPENDING money, you irresponsible moron." Yes. I am frustrated about money sometimes. However, I am realizing that a) we're exhibiting normal, healthy levels of financial responsibility, b) investing in what we value is a good thing, and c) it's okay to contradict myself as I sort through my thoughts.

4. I'm not saying people shouldn't pay off their debt.

5. I understand the concept of interest, yes.

Anyway.

Here is what I wrote.


That Time We Were "On Track"


I've been struggling lately with the direction of this blog because we've clearly deviated from our original goal: to get out of $76K worth of debt as fast as possible.

For a while - like maybe 1.5 years - we were all in. As we described in our early posts, we made some big changes to make the debt disappear:

We reduced our expenses (bye, Hulu! See ya, magazine subscriptions! Gym membership, don't even bother trying to sell us because we're going to work out FOR FREE, you sneaky money-grubbing bastard.)

We snagged new jobs with higher salaries.

We paid off a credit card, then a car loan, then two more credit cards. Then a student loan.

We were prime candidates for the Debt Payoff Honor Roll.

And then... then we got derailed. I got derailed.

I derailed us.

My brain derailed us.


A New Approach


When I quit full-time work to (literally) save my sanity, the wheels flew off our debt payoff train in spectacular fashion. I mean, we took on air. We careened off the tracks, hit a few trees, slid down a steep hillside, and probably injured a handful of innocent squirrels in the process.

The hypothetical debt repayment train was totaled.

Six months later, we have a new debt repayment vehicle.

I call it The Debt Repayment Tricycle.

It moves much more slowly than the afore-mentioned high-speed train, and man, do my quads hurt.

But when I think about ditching my trike and re-hitching myself to something faster, I've realized that I... just... don't. want. to. do. it.

Somewhere along the way, I got sick of feeling like making money and paying off loans were the most important non-family things in my life. The fact that I was able to make them a centerpiece for almost two years is pretty much a miracle, given my YOLO-infused financial history. I've just never been that interested in making money (I know, I know... I'm not saying that's a good thing, but that's where I was at). It's never motivated me. Until 2017, my debt didn't really bother me.

I've always been most interested in experiencing my life as much as I possibly can, with whatever resources I have available. In the past, those resources included my credit cards.


You Can Live With Debt


Lately, I find the pendulum swinging back towards YOLO.

Exhibit A: I recently paid $91 to run in a 25K trail race.

Exhibit B: We bought a fish tank with all the accouterments. (Granted, I severely underestimated how much this thing would cost, but it's delightful. The cat watches the fish all day long and is living her best life.)

Exhibit C: For CentsPositive, I'm staying in a hotel room in downtown Seattle for two nights, and I'm not sharing.

I'm okay with all this because I KNOW how to manage my money. I'm a budgeting all-star (YES I AM). I'm committed to tracking my expenses and paying my bills on time. I'm a fanatic about maintaining a zero balance my credit card.

Exhibit D: I booked this hotel room on my Mastercard. It's already been paid off.

I've discovered the deep satisfaction of having a tidy, Kondo-esque financial life.

But just as I don't think I can go back to working 40 hours a week, I don't think I can go back to obsessing about debt payoff. Not the way I used to. I'm not interested in devoting our entire disposable income to our student loan.

That loan will go away. It's just not going to go away soon. And that's okay, because I'd rather my family devote our energy and paychecks to other things.

Like going out for an occasional restaurant meal.

Or seeing a movie best viewed on the big screen.

Or taking a memborable family vacation.

Or traveling to a CentsPositive gathering or Lola Retreat to hang out with likeminded friends.

Or signing up for trail races that make me feel like I'm doing exactly what I've been put on this oh-so-runnable Earth to do.

I guess I've realized that it is truly possible to live, really live, with debt. Like, you can have a student loan and also have a life. You can invest in the experiences and things you value and still be good with money.

Can you buy groceries? Can you pay your rent? Can you keep yourself clothed? Ideally, are you not accruing more debt? (Though maybe you are, but if you're reading this, I'm betting you have some darned good reasons for it.)

Then who f*cking cares. 

Paying off your debt fast doesn't make you a better, smarter, more thoughtful, or more moral human being. It makes you someone who's paid off their debt.

And if you're still chipping away at it, as we are, the debt is a line item in your budget, which also includes many other things that are probably way more important to you. And that's totally okay. Your student loan payment doesn't need to carry any more emotional weight than, say, your electric bill.

Yes, I still have money stress. How many of us don't? But after my last post, I realized that most of that stress comes from feeling like I need to move at someone else's pace, guided by someone else's values, instead of my own. I simmered on it a bit and realized... I don't.


Taking the Middle Road


So much of personal finance these days is about doing things as fast as possible, whether that's eliminating student loans or achieving FIRE.

But there can be a very normal, very manageable, very scenic middle road. Just you and your tricycle, ambling down the way, enjoying the view, knowing that if you just keep peddling, you'll eventually reach your destination.

If you've had a different experience and paid off debt super quickly, and if you think that's a good strategy, then I'm here to give you a virtual high five. Rock on, sister or mister.

But this is where I'm at.

Debt:

Who actually f*cking cares.
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41 comments:

  1. Love this, friend, especially this bit:
    "Paying off your debt fast doesn't make you a better, smarter, more thoughtful, or more moral human being. It makes you someone who's paid off their debt."

    The part that gets me is that the same logic applies to FIRE. I suspect I am putting too much of my identity into this one thing, that really doesn't make me better, more interesting, more fulfilled, etc. It just means we made a pile of money. Okay...but whatever.

    Needs to do some thinking.

    Love the peace you are finding in this repayment journey. Happy for you!

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    1. Totally agree with this! That quote really resonated with me because I like to get my haircut by a professional without guilt but also try to be more frugal/save more. Both can co-exist and it is okay. I am okay with some debt and a decent haircut. We need more honest, real stories and these stories can co-exist with the more dogmatic/hardline to FIRE ones. But the more stories the better for everyone.

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    2. Thank you! I'm glad it was relatable.

      It is very easy to get so wrapped up in our goals that we start to think we ARE our goals. But they're just a part of us. I think life diversification is important... like, yes, paying off debt and aiming for FIRE are awesome, but so are playing board games :-), traveling, spending time with friends and family, learning new things, etc.

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    3. And I agree with Liz: the more stories, the better! Thank you, Liz.

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  2. Awesome! So glad you put down these thoughts and published them. As the saying goes, "You do you," even when it comes to managing debt.

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  3. First of all I really enjoy your blog. While I am lucky not to have any debt (one reason being that I live in a country that doesn't have horrendous study costs like the USA does) I have felt this way about FIRE ever since I discovered the idea about 2 years ago. We are way to late to ever retire in our 40s or even 50s but are now aiming to retire earlier than the offical age. And while we ramped up our savings we are still spending, on the occasional meal out, things we enjoy and especially travelling. But I learned at an early age, through the loss of loved ones, that life can be very short, so for a long time I focused on NOW instead of thinking and saving for the future. So while I would have loved to discover FIRE earlier and reach our goals faster, I am also taking the middle road. It is not as flashy or impressive, but it's the right way for us.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, life is so short. I think about that more and more. It's important to try to find a balance (though I think it is very hard to achieve and maintain!)

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  4. We keep coming back to read your Plutus-winning blog because it's real. Not a straight line from 76k to 0 debt. And we're with you all the way. I hope you are having a terrific time in Seattle for CP, even despite your cold. Say hi to everyone for me!! So many of my favorite people are there with you ♥️

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    1. I had THE BEST TIME at CentsPositive, even with my terrible cold! Like, if I had lots o' money, I would've traveled to Chicago and attended the second CP as well. LOL. Thank you for your support and encouragement. I appreciate you so much.

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  5. Whenever I read FIRE people talking about living on beans and enjoying a substandard quality of leaving so as to perpetuate that standard for decades--just without having to work--it just sounds awful. The scenic route makes more sense to me!

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    1. Me too! I know there are people who can do the rice-and-beans thing for years on end in order to retire early or ditch their debt... but apparently, I am not one of those people. LOL.

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  6. Yes! I'm so happy you posted this. PF isn't all about paying off debt NOW. Life happens and sh*t gets messy.

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    1. It certainly does get messy! Thanks so much for your encouragement. :-)

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  7. I am laughing out loud at the fact your child is telling you not to swear!

    But more importantly, I love your approach and think it is the best way forward for you and family - the debt doesn't need to be eliminated as quick as possible at all costs - that's such a one dimensional view of life.

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    1. Hahahaha yes, he really hates my swearing. So I'm trying to do it less. I'm... not really succeeding.

      Thank you for the encouragement!

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  8. I love this. I didn't pay off my student loan debt super quickly but I still got there. Now we have an auto loan left and I am in no hurry to get it done tomorrow, ya know? There's much more to life than just paying off debt and trying to reach a goal as quickly as possible.

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    1. I agree! Though... it's taken me a while to figure this out. LOL.

      Congratulations on paying off your student loan and finding a payoff pace that works for you!

      Thank you for reading!

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  9. I completely agree. I have been learning similar things with my mental health issues as well. The scenic route is the better route and there is no point is doing something that makes you miserable.

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    1. Thank you, From One Geek! <3 I really appreciated your recent post about mental health. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  10. Nothing wrong with going at a tricycle pace and enjoying life! (That's why it took us 10 years to get out of debt.) I'm a big fan of doing what's best for our own lives, because we're the ones who have to live it :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Jackie! I appreciate that.

      Maybe I need a new hashtag: #tricyclelife

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  11. This has been me for a little while now and I think is gonna be me for some time yet.

    *slow clap*

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    1. Knowing other people are taking a slower pace feels reassuring. Like, it's okay not to do this at breakneck speed!

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  12. This was the point I reached with saving earlier this year. Why was I working myself to the point of being miserable in order to stop working (and being miserable) as early as possible, when I could just work less and...not be miserable now?

    I think we make much better decisions about our lives and our finances when we remember that it's not a pure numbers game - we are thinking and feeling human beings who have to live with our decisions (and eat those rice and beans for the rest of our lives).

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    1. It certainly seems as though you have felt happier and more relaxed lately? I'm so glad you're giving yourself time to travel and do yoga and explore what you love! Love you, friend.

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  13. I am all about the balance. It's the reason why I focus on financial wellness and determining how we can balance money and life. There are seasons where we focus on income or debt pay off but we need to remind ourselves that time is finite and at any season we can get ill or worst (or best if you consider not having to deal with money in the afterlife).

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    1. I REALLY love that concept: financial wellness. Maybe THAT is what we (my family) should actually be aiming for. Not FIRE, not debt zero ASAP, but financial wellness.

      Thanks for this!

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  14. I f*cking love this post!

    In particular, this passage:

    And if you're still chipping away at it, as we are, the debt is a line item in your budget, which also includes many other things that are probably way more important to you. And that's totally okay. Your student loan payment doesn't need to carry any more emotional weight than, say, your electric bill.

    I can't even begin to tell you how much I needed to read it this week. Thank you!!!!

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    1. Oh good! I'm glad it was helpful! Thinking about it that way is new to me - and it helps a lot. The debt payment is just another budget line item, nothing more.

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  15. There was a time I was desperate for clients. Every waking hour was spent thinking and doing stuff about sales- prospecting, proposals, closing etc - the end goal was more money to live a better life. Constant grind and it took a toll.
    Then the lightbulb hit and I stopped focusing on money. The result was other opportunities and people came my way and my money multiplied several times over - when money stopped being my almighty focus.
    I hope you find that same mojo. Change the focus - I think you are already doing that. Focus on income instead of debt. Focus on thriving rather than surviving. Give yourself freedom to explore other solutions. 76k is chump change or a mountain - depending on which angle you look at it. Maybe find someone who makes 76k a month - oh boy, how the perspective may change. (I found someone who makes $200,000 a month and he didnt even go to college and did not inherit a penny. His story was a game changer for me)

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    1. I certainly appreciate the success stories! Thanks! :-)

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  16. I really like reading financial blogs that are more "in progress" than "we're rich now!" that definitely keeps me coming back. One thing that is beginning to puzzle and almost frustrate me is that your lifestyle wouldn't work on your part-time income alone. It seems like you can only make all of these YOLO choices because there is another breadwinner in your house. I know you are the author of the blog but it seems like your balance between work and play is only achievable because of a subsidy from another full-time worker so it is hard for my family to relate. We don't really hear from that side of the ledger much even though that salary is covering an increasing percentage of your spending.

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    1. Hey Anonymous! If you'd like to hear from the other "side of the ledger," I'm happy to offer myself. My husband and I both work part time, but I also have my own business so my work hours add up to greater than 40 hours per week, while my husband remains at part time (~30hours/week) with no "side hustle."

      My husband balances work and play thanks in part to my extra work time - he's currently playing a video game (Destiny 2, for the curious) while I work on my business tonight. He also does a greater share of the childcare and the housework (he did all the laundry and loaded the dishwasher before I got home tonight, and took care of our almost-3-year-old all day including putting him to bed), which is what enables me to work on my business and to do the fun things I do (like playing better video games than Destiny 2 because let's be real: Bungie dropped the ball on D2).

      To put it the way you have: my own balance as the breadwinner between work and play is only achievable because my husband is working part time hours, taking care of himself, our child, and our household in the way that best suits him.

      Similar to the author, we still have debt. Could it be paid down faster and we get to financial independence faster if my husband worked full time? Yes. We're "losing" about $200/week by my estimates by having us both work part time day jobs + my business. That's roughly $10,000 a year (why not higher, you ask? because we'd have to do full-time daycare instead of part-time preschool and we live in the most expensive daycare market in the country according to a recent article, so there's that). But we're happy to "spend" the $10,000/year on having this lifestyle that works for us. And it does work for *us*, not just my husband, or me.

      I actually spend quite a bit of time asking my husband to find ways to work *less* believe it or not. With our current schedules, he's been working nearly every weekend for a long time (except when I go out of town, such as this past weekend to go hang with the author at Cents Positive!), and I'd like to see us get more weekends together. It's a work in progress, getting the schedule tweaked to our liking, but what in life isn't a work in progress?

      Anyway, I hope this helps give an example of the "other side of the story" for you!

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  17. Getting rid of debt is a good thing.. time is relative. The velocity at which you become debt free is dependent on many factors planned and unplanned. I had a major medical with my family years ago and it took me years to pay off. It didn't stop me from enjoying life along the way. It gave me discipline. The end result for me was adopting a healthy attitude amount money, budgeting for debt, expenses and fun developing a plan to pay myself first in terms of savings and paying off credit cards as they use them. I plan for and budget for any big ticket items. I have some but paid for them in cash. I set up automatic payments for savings/investments so I don't see the funds in my checking account. I politely say no to credit offers and manage a select few so I have "emergency cash" through credit and don't have to touch savings. Things like a student loan for me are long term. Eliminating enduring credit card balances and other items only helps free money up for enjoying life. So like other folks comments, it is a healthy balance. Nice article.

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    1. Thanks very much! I appreciate that. Clearing away our credit card debt made a huge difference. I do not feel the same sense of urgency with the student loan. As you said, it is long term for us. And for now, that's okay.

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  18. I needed this post. I'm trying to manage my FI goals/Student loan payments with my regular life and finding a balance rather than living on an extreme end of the spectrum will ultimately help improve my quality of life. I don't need to keep playing "what if" with my spreadsheet if I keep increasing my payoffs and 457bs--I just need to set it (modestly) and go live my life. Forreal, thank you for this post!

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  19. I needed this post. I'm trying to manage my FI goals/Student loan payments with my regular life and finding a balance rather than living on an extreme end of the spectrum will ultimately help improve my quality of life. I don't need to keep playing "what if" with my spreadsheet if I keep increasing my payoffs and 457bs--I just need to set it (modestly) and go live my life. Forreal, thank you for this post!

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    1. You're welcome! And I totally get it... I can spend hours playing the "What If" spreadsheet game.

      When we started our debt repayment journey, we thought that paying off the debt = the best possible use of our money. I think that was true with respect to our credit card debt. But now that that's gone, we also have to prioritize investments. Definitely a mindset shift for us, and not necessarily an easy one.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  20. I agree with you. Balance is important. Could we have paid off our house if I worked full-time instead of homeschooling our kids? Should we be spending $$$ to travel over high season Xmas break, right after replacing our furnace? My ILs are in their 80s, and we need to spend time with them, even though it's expensive for 6 to travel to Mexico. Everything is a trade-off.

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    1. YES. Great examples. At a certain point, you have to enjoy your life and not feel bad about spending the money to do so. Also... I'm excited for you re: your holiday trip. I hope you have a wonderful time!

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