When you are in as much debt as I am, it is easy to think, I shouldn’t spend any money on going out or doing anything. Ever.
Let me tell you a story. When I was in New York, I was having a dinner with a friend and having an existential crisis about my financial future. My student loans were making me physically ill, every time I made a purchase I felt incredibly guilty and overall, it was affecting my sanity and quality of life. My friend sympathized with my situation, but told me to stay calm and pay off as much as I could, when I could. Seems simple enough right? I couldn’t believe his response. Did he not hear how much debt I have? Did he not hear that I am in for a lifetime sentence of financial purgatory? He then told me a story about a girl he knew, that has stuck with me to this day.
One of his co-workers was diligently saving for retirement. The woman never went out to eat or drink, never went on vacation and lived a very modest, reclusive life saving up for this big dream: retirement. In her mind, retirement meant freedom, trips, vacations, and anything she wanted. She was willing to deprive herself now for the opportunity of leisure later. After working and living like this for many years, the day finally came. She booked a ticket for her dream vacation to the Dominican Republic. Within days of her dream vacation, a freak accident occurred and she drowned. All that money she had saved up was no longer useful. The life she was waiting to live, had just begun before it ended abruptly. This story resonated in my body so deeply, I felt my breath deepen. I felt myself getting calmer.
There is no reason to stress out, limit my life span and have a heart attack over my financial situation. It simply is not worth it.
I am not saying that you should go out and spend all your money frivolously and do whatever you want. Quite the contrary. An interesting contradiction I find within personal finance is the mystery card of death. Let’s face it: You could die tomorrow or live until you are 100. And you should be prepared for both. How is that even possible? For me, it all comes down to conscious spending as well as conscious saving. Ramit Sethi says spend money on the things you truly love and cut back on the things you don’t . It’s all about priorities, planning and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. You don’t have to be wealthy to have a good life. There is a difference between being rich and wealthy, frugal and cheap. I consider myself extremely rich in experiences, love, friendship, family and health. I am not, however, particularly wealthy.
So how does someone like me enjoy the simple pleasures, truly live the life I want, pay off debt and save? Well, it’s tough for sure and takes lots of priority setting. In addition to constantly prioritizing, assessing those priorities at any given moment is also necessary. While my debt payoff is incredibly important to me, I am not going to be a hermit and do nothing until it’s paid off— that would take years and god forbid something happened to me, I’d be pretty bummed about just staying at home all the time.
As of now, I get a haircut once a year, never buy clothes, make my own face cream and deodorant (all natural, yay!), never get pedis/manis/massages (even though they sound so nice) and lately I only go out if it’s a groupon, scoutmob or a serious happy hour. I walk or bike to work and consider taking the bus a luxury. I meditate for free at the local center, go to a donation based yoga class or splurge and go to the $4 movie pub. To some, my life may seem uninteresting. I have a fun life and I am saving for the big priorities: paying down debt and traveling.
That is why, in a week from tomorrow I will be heading to Iceland (note: personal finance bloggers, please don’t stone me! ) I know traveling is a big no-no in the personal finance world when you have as much debt as I do. But I don’t care and I couldn’t refuse this awesome deal. IcelandAir had a crazy package that included round trip flight, hotel, breakfast and transportation for $600. HOLY COW! How could I say no to that? Traveling is my favorite thing to do ever AND that is CHEAPER than ONE loan payment. In my defense, I have at least 6 months of rent and basic bills in an Emergency Fund. If I am really struggling, I could get on food stamps (again) and defer my debt (which is something I never want to do). In short, I could still survive a few months on some very meager resources.
I’ve already made a budget for Iceland and looked up tricks on how to keep it cheap in an already expensive country. I also have plans to make a big payment on my loans before I go. All of this to say, I think my journey in life is going fairly well. I am paying more than what I need to on my debt and still affording myself some luxury. Life is a one shot deal. How would you change your life if you knew you would die tomorrow? My goal is to continue living life to the fullest while being financially responsible.
How do you continue to live life fully, while also remaining financially responsible?