Finance

Why I’m Putting Aggressive Debt Paydown on Hold

Why I'm Stopping Aggressive Debt Pay Down

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I was running some numbers the other day – you know, because I’m always calculating and recalculating – and I realized that I cannot continue this aggressive debt paydown strategy.

In January, I thought I could offset the big expenses by making some long-term savings goals and attempting to live on $12/day (for gas/groceries/fun). I always knew 2019 was going to be an expensive year, but even with my estimations, I was way off.

Some things, like car maintenance, education, and Motley care, were worked into the budget, but grossly underestimated. Stuff like new uniforms and future PCS costs were omitted completely because they didn’t seem close enough to plan for. Keywords: close enough.

Now it’s almost June and I have no idea where the time went. Despite some spending sprees and spontaneous travel – I’ve done well. However, there is no way I’m going to meet my debt goals this year and be able to comfortably pay for everything coming up.

It just isn’t realistic.

Let’s revisit my original goals. I wanted to pay off the treadmill and car by June, then kill the AmEx card and AES student loan by December. All in all, it was going to be about $12,200. Based on my annual salary calculation and very strict $12/day budget, that would leave me with about $2,800 to pay for new tires, education stuff, travel, and Motley. Even with windfalls like tax returns and stipends, my expectations were unrealistic.

My estimates didn’t include new uniform purchases I’ll need when I commission, unexpected education costs, or saving for PCS related expenses coming in March 2020. It also doesn’t include international travel. After looking at the numbers, I realized I need to set aside around $700 a month MINIMUM to cover everything. Even though the expenses will be rolling, I cannot pay for it all as it comes due if I don’t start saving now.

Everything felt so far away, and now June is right around the corner. I didn’t expect the time to fly so fast. I have six months of big expenses coming. That’s not a long time to save thousands of dollars when you’re also trying to aggressively pay down thousands in debt.

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I’m overwhelmed and burnt out.

I’ve been tackling my debt since 2014. Even though I haven’t always done a great job, it’s always been at the forefront of my mind. But I am tired.

Those who have been following my story know that even though this journey started in 2014, I didn’t really make progress until I got divorced. Since then, I’ve been nose to the grindstone with the debt, but the money is always going somewhere else.

I’m overwhelmed by the constant battle of saving for upcoming costs (so I don’t take on more debt) and the feeling that I need to pay the debts I have like a maniac.

I want to relax.

I’m sick of living on the edge.

Because I’m always battling where my money should go – I never feel like I get ahead. Even when I pay off one debt, there’s another big unexpected bill looming and I never seem to have the funds to cover it.

Dave Ramsey tells you to have $1,000 set aside until you’re debt free, but that shit isn’t realistic. A thousand bucks is nothing nowadays and it won’t go far. I want to have $10,000 sitting in my savings, and then I want to double and triple it. I’m tired of not having cash on hand to deal with issues or purchase something big if I want.

Even when you’re actively handling your money and paying off debt, if you don’t have a lump sum of cash in the bank, you can be blindsided. A grand isn’t always enough to deal with the problem.

I’m tired of feeling guilty about spending money.

This is a big one. Every purchase I make fills me with guilt. I believe it is self-inflicted because I want to be out of debt and I’ve been trying for so long. No one else ever tells me I should pay more on my debt. It’s all me. Even though I’m making progress, it never feels like enough.

I believe moving away from this idea that I have to be debt free by a certain time is ruining my ability to live in the now. I am young and some of the best days of my life are happening. I never want to look back and regret not living in the moment and appreciating the opportunities I have right now.

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Embracing the present is something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid, and it’s time to make a change. I’m not talking about YOLOing everything, but I’ve got to let the idea go that being debt free is the end-all be-all.

Life is happening all around us and I’m tired of holding myself back all the time.

This is only temporary.

Of course, I want to be debt-free. It’s still a huge goal for me and I don’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life. But it’s time for a break.

It’s time to save money and build a buffer. I want more cash in the bank. I want to feel secure – like I’m not always right on the edge of needing to use my credit cards. I want to buy things I’ve been putting off for years and not feel bad about it.

I’m not going to just stop focusing on debt, but it’s going to take a backseat for awhile.

What will this look like?

The treadmill will be paid off next month, and then I’ll be focused entirely on saving for the expenses I talked about above. YNAB allows you to set money goals with target dates, and I’ve made one for each big expense coming up. Instead of paying extra on debt, I’m throwing extra money into savings and my target goals.

I’m going to continue paying on the car and should be able to pay it off by the end of year, but the other debts are going to be minimums only.

I know this isn’t necessarily the “right” thing to do when you’ve got a lot of debt like myself, but this is what I need right now. It’s important for me to stop berating myself and feeling guilty for purchases that make me feel good.

As always, thank you for reading, and if you have comments, please do share. But if you plan on telling me this is a dumb move and I’m making some huge mistake – save your fingers because I don’t want to hear it. I know what this decision means and I don’t jump into anything haphazardly.

This is an intentional choice that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

47 comments

  1. I totally get where you’re coming from! Spending on yourself can be a huge source of guilt when you have other things looming over you. But you’re right, you’re young – you’re only ever going to be this young once. Might as well live a little! It’s not like you’re ignoring the debt, just giving yourself a bit of a breather.

    1. I love this comment Sarah! You don’t know how much I love it! You said it beautifully! Thank you!

  2. This sounds like exactly the right thing to do for you. Celebrate what you’ve managed so far. $12 a day even for like a few weeks would be amazing and you’ve done it for a LOT longer than that. Importantly by doing that you’ve got a massive jump on your debt.

    Being able to pay off both the treadmill and the car this year is huge. Enjoy that. You’ll get to the rest.

    Even more, what you’re doing is financially sensible. You’re looking ahead at expenses that you have coming up and you’re saving for them. That’s just logical. You’re looking at your emergency fund and looking at what YOU need. What does Dave Ramsey know about you?

    This whole thing is a marathon, not a sprint. I always thinks about Ferris Buller at times like this.

    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

    Good luck, we’re all rooting for you!

    1. Thank you so much for this insightful comment, Caveman! I’ve been thinking about the marathon analogy for some time, and sprinting just isn’t for me. I tried it for a while, and it just didn’t sit well.

      I like that you said planning for the big upcoming expenses is a sensible move, because I think we often get caught up in the “lump-sum” emergency fund and we don’t really have goals for it. I think that’s why my emergency fund never grew more than a thousand bucks. I’d always need to pull from it for a semi-planned emergency.

      I recently read the You Need a Budget book, and they said something very profound about emergency funds that made me change my thinking about them. It said that every dollar in your emergency fund should have a job so that nothing ever comes as a surprise (such as a water heater or car maintenance, and even a job loss). It felt so obvious when I read it, and I loved their explanation.

      It’s what made me set up this new budgeting plan where I start saving for particular things months in advance, rather than throwing wads of cash into a big savings pot.

      Thanks again for your comment and encouragement!

  3. Hey Liz!

    I think this post was super well written and it makes a ton of sense. You’ve got a lot of expenses coming up and by slowing down on paying off debt, you’ll be able to cover them as they come up. It seems like a very responsible thing to do.

    Also, at the same time, it looks like you’re trying to make choices that are going to make you happier. And happiness is so important! We can only push ourselves really hard for short times. And it’s okay to take breaks to recharge (even on debt payoff)!

    I hope your new strategy helps you get to a better place!!

    1. Thanks Gov! You are exactly right! For a long time, I’ve felt a sense of anxiety and guilt not because I didn’t have a handle on my finances, but because I got so caught up in the PF community and what THEY deem is the best way to go about life. PAY OFF THE DEBT. MAX OUT YOUR RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS. TRAVEL HACK or don’t travel at all!

      It’s exhausting and I’m tired of it. I have a large gap between my bills and income, and it’s only going to get larger. I’ve taken specific steps to do that and I should give myself more credit. We all should give ourselves more credit. As long as we’re not ignoring the problem and making it worse, I see no harm.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement, as always! 🙂

  4. YES! 10k in the bank is our goal too! And this is EXACTLY why we also have an adventure fund that we’re *trying* (not been successful yet) to keep over 1k, just to make sure I feel like we can breathe and see the next avenger’s movie if we want.

    I’ve never really bought into the “keep 1k cash on hand, and throw everything else toward debt” because that feels scary to me (especially since we had 5k worth of unexpected, car related expenses last year).

    I am 1,000% on board with growing the emergency / fun money cash. Burn out on strict debt repayments is REAL, and I’m so happy you’re working to find a balance. (I still feel like I haven’t quite found it yet, either. It’s SO HARD).

    1. Thanks Moriah! It has definitely been a balancing act – one that I seem to continuously fail at! I’m so content with this decision now that I’ve written it all out and come to terms with it. Believe it or not, it was really hard to reach this point and feel OKAY about it.

      I had myself so brainwashed that I couldn’t even let myself stop focusing so much on debt, even when I knew back in January that I couldn’t sustain it all year long.

      As you said, having more than $1000 in the bank will be less scary and make me feel more comfortable with whatever the next year throws my way.

      Thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

  5. I think a lot of us who read personal finance/FI blogs worry that if we let our foot off the spending/debt repayment gas pedal we’re being some sort of feckless spendthrift. In reality, if you’re really interested in personal finance then any consumerism will likely be “conscious consumerism”. Got to find the balance between planning for the future and enjoying the present. Sounds like you have the right idea.

    1. Thanks Fretful! That is exactly how I felt for so long whenever I wanted to spend money on myself. I’ve finally realized that it’s just not sustainable for me right now and am still trying to get over the feelings of guilt. It’s hard, but I know what my long-term goals are and I know I will be debt-free one day.

  6. I am feeling this way a lot right now. I realized I was making myself and my family miserable. I feel like as long as you aren’t adding to the debt, you will eventually be debt free. Build up a safety net or save for something big. The debt should go down a bit at a time, even with just minimums (unless it’s some kind of toxic, predatory debt–in which case you gotta refinance, but I think you’re past that part of your financial journey).

    1. If I could tell you how many times I’ve irritated those closest to me with my extreme guilt about spending money and being a cheapskate… That is not who I am and I don’t want to be that person anymore. I don’t have any high-interest debt, so I’m in the clear there. I can pick up at anytime again and start making big payments. I am still making progress even with just the minimums, so I think I have a decent foothold. Thank you so much for the encouragement and validation.

  7. I know the feeling of never feeling like you’re getting ahead. I fought that a lot while I was paying off our debt. Especially with two people with multiple chronic ailments (but it was usually my husband) there were a lot of unexpected expenses. And yes, every purchase made me feel guilty. To an extent, spending money on myself still does. Savings isn’t quite where I want it to be (with more hits to come), so I feel like I shouldn’t have any fun until that’s taken care of. But I don’t want to live like that.

    Anyway, the point is that yep I’d be burned out too after five years (I was after four), so I’m glad you’re giving yourself permission to set up other goals.

    1. I can relate so much to the feeling of guilt, even when you’ve told yourself to stop feeling guilty. I wonder if being a part of the PF community for so long has brainwashed us into this idea that we can’t have fun unless we’re in a financially comfortable position? I know it’s taken a toll on me for sure.

      I know things will get better this time next year because a lot of these big purchases I’m saving for will be out of the way, and I can again focus on paying off the debt – plus I’ll have an increased income by then. Everything about it should be better.

      Fingers crossed. Thank you for the support and encouragement.

  8. have you seen my bucket system for known large expenses? the math is pretty easy if you know when the bills will hit and give you a good idea of what is left to tackle debt/investing once you paid the cost for living a decent life. for instance, we always had one for gifts/travel that covered christmas, birthdays, and a couple of trips per year. there’s one for taxes on the house and one we used for funding roth ira’s. we just put the same amount into those each pay period and the money is there when the event comes. i always built a little slop into those too. just remember that just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to spend it all in a given year. you sure as hell don’t want to feel like you’re living check to check during this whole process.

    i know you didn’t ask, but for me, i would pay that car first if it was a personal debt to a friend. i remember in 1992 a friend let me stay with him a few months in boston and i owed him a few hundred bucks when i moved. i lost touch and that little debt haunted me until i finally got ahold of his new address in steamboat and sent it to him. he said it was one of the best surprises he ever got.

    1. Hi Freddy! I don’t know if I had read about your bucket system or not. I feel like I recall it, but not sure. It sounds exactly like what You Need a Budget software/book preaches. They recommend forecasting big known expenses and throwing a set amount into each category until you’re comfortable with the amount, or just keep it growing always. I really like that idea which is something I’m trying to implement more of! Sounds like you had it figured out way before YNAB!

      The car is definitely something I am prioritizing. My friend and I are close, so he knows my situation. I’ll have it taken care of before the end of the year and I’ve been making small payments to him each month, so I’ve made some decent headway. It shouldn’t take long, even with a heavier focus on savings.

      Thank you for the encouragement and input! Always appreciated! 🙂

      1. it’s exactly like you need a budget but analogue with a calculator/pen/paper/savings account. because i’m old.

  9. $1,000 is nothing and certainly not enough when you know you’re going to have big expenses coming up. You gotta do what what is right for you & your peace of mind!

    1. Thanks Deanna. You are absolutely right! What’s a plan without the funds to do it? haha

  10. This post is so relatable. Last year my goal was to pay off our debt by December 2019. We paid almost 75% of our debt when we had a family emergency. I spent all our emergency fund and savings. Now, we’re slowly putting money again into our funds. I also made a more realistic debt payment plan.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! We just never know what the future holds, and sometimes, it’s good to have more cash in the bank than to laser-focus on just the debt. You made amazing progress, and now you’re at a point where you can split the money between the priorities! I love that. I think creating realistic goals is important. This is a marathon, not a sprint. 🙂

  11. I totally resonate with this as well. And second what many have said above. Now my problem is making sure it goes to savings! I’ve kind of been on the down low until after my international trip. All my money has been going there to help pay it off before I jet set. That in itself an accomplishment to me. My plans after the trip are much like yours – build that savings up for peace of mind and pay the minimums on debt (which is still a good chunk).
    I am glad you are finding what works for you. With nursing school, you definitely don’t need anymore stressors to keep your life challenging.

    1. Thank you Jane! I am so thankful for all the supportive comments! It has really help me come to terms that this isn’t a wrong decision, just a different path. The journey is long and I am young. I never want to feel like it was wasted.

  12. One of the major issues with the PF space is that most people here think it has to be ALL OR NOTHING. And when it isn’t ALL OR NOTHING, you should feel guilt over it. Screw that! Your debt payoff story isnt and shouldn’t be exactly like someone else’s or what the “experts” tell you.
    Cash on hand is one of the best feelings ever. I don’t blame you for shifting priorities!

    1. You always say it so well Steph! Much love and appreciation for your honesty and for always keeping it real! 🙂 So excited to be in your position someday with money money money and very little debt!

  13. I feel this so hard. I’ve been trying to aggressively pay off my debt too… then bam my cat gets hurt and a car breaks down. 5k please! There wasn’t enough in my emergency savings to cover these, so now I’m 5k further in debt

    1. YESS!! You took the words right out of my mouth! Sorry about the cat and the car. I have been fortunate to have zero real problems since I’ve been in Florida, but my car is old and something could break at any time! You just never know what will happen. Between that and saving for big future expenses – paying the debt to zero isn’t a priority right now. Thank you for the comment and encouragement! 🙂

  14. Here’s the thing, no one can tell you how to manage your finances. People can give advice, but ultimately you have to navigate you debt payoff journey your way. That means that sometimes you have to change your focus. Once you commission you will be able to change your focus again and tackle that debt or whatever else life is throwing at you. You’ve got this!

    1. Thanks Tre! You are so right! The commission will be a big change because I’ll be making a lot more money and all of the big purchases will be out of the way. I have no doubt that I can make big progress starting around this time next year! I am looking forward to it.

  15. You were brave to share this post—going against what’s considered “right” is never easy. But I think more important than doing the ‘right’ thing at all times is to live true to your own values.

    In the end, that’s what actually ends up being the right thing! What’s the point in doing what others say you ‘should’ do if it makes you miserable? Life’s too short for that! I

    think you’re doing great, so be kind to yourself and let all the guilt and judgement go. ❤️

    1. Thank you so much Chrissy! This is a very sweet comment and the encouragement means so much to me. I’ll try to be kinder to myself and find that balance. 🙂

  16. Love this post! I’d give you a high five, a high ten, and a slap on the back if I could! I’ve made it a goal of getting my act together this year financially and I feel the “should” pull that you’re talking about. I “should” be saving every single penny possible by clipping coupons until my fingers bleed and “should” not be splurging on my coffee shop Americanos. It’s exhausting! 2014?! That’s 5 years ago! You deserve a break! Enjoy the now girl! Today we are as young as we will EVER be! I applaud you.

    1. I love that quote – today we are as young as we will ever be. That captures the essence of what I’m trying to say here! Living like YOLO isn’t what I’m going for, but living in the present and finding a balance. We get one life, and I’m tired of feeling guilt-ridden!

      Thanks so much for the support and encouragement!

  17. A great plan Liz, you sound very in control of your finances and I love how you are reevaluating and making plans to suit this stage of your life. Good luck with the next stage of your course!

    1. Thank you Ms Zi You! I try to be transparent and realistic about my life. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my situation and trying to find the right path. Just like a budget – we must remain fluid and flexible! Thank you so much for the encouragement. 🙂

  18. I appreciate the honesty in this post. There are so many blogs that seem to espouse the one best way to do personal finance. There really isn’t a one best way. As you show, life often gets in the way of the best intentions.

    You have to live and enjoy life now as well as save and pay off debt. Also, I really think that having a decent emergency fund is really important. Otherwise, those unexpected expenses wreck your budget and then you feel like you failed to hit your financial goals.

    I think there are lessons for me in this post. It seems like we all tend to underestimate costs/expenses when planning because we don’t know what we don’t know or we think that we can spend less than is reasonable. I think this just means we need to do exactly what you are doing. Take a step back, reevaluate, and reorganize the plan. Maybe we should all have a little extra in that emergency fund.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words PAI! I think we could all take some time to step back and look at what everything is really costing us. What are we giving up for a future that isn’t here yet? How can we prepare ourselves without completely eliminating the joy of our present? You make great points! Thank you again for commenting!

  19. I’ve been thinking about this idea recently. Over the last 15 years, we have been in and out of debt and I can totally relate with how you are feeling. When you are fighting down your debt for so long, it can feel like you are not making progress.

    I want to write an article about this, but I think we focus on the numbers too much some times, instead of focusing on creating sustainable habits. To me, saving some money on interest charges is not worth it if we aren’t changing our habits. In fact, I would argue building a larger emergency fund, and possibly even investing money, along with paying off debt, might be the best option for most people. That way you are changing your perspective of money and you can see real progress on all fronts (saving, investing and paying off debt).

    I think it is smart of you to build up a large emergency fund. I generally think the DR advice of $1,000 is meant for short periods of time in paying off debts. When you get past 2-3 years, that amount is not realistic (as you pointed out).

    If I was going to go back ten years ago, this is what I would do in my case:

    – Build a larger emergency fund.
    – At least meet our match with our 401k, and probably a little extra.
    – Set aside some money every month towards after-tax investment accounts. Not a ton, just something that will build over time where I can see that fund growing.
    – Make sure I’m not too tight with my budget categories in YNAB.
    – Then put everything else towards debt.

    I would end up paying more money on interest charges, but by the time I got debt free, I would have all the other accounts already started, AND I would have been practicing good money management habits. To me this is much smoother path, and more valuable, over the long-term. Great job on going this route and bucking the trend!

    1. Wonderful comment Chris! You make so many good points! I love that you said $1000 is simply not enough after you get past that 2-3 year mark. Anything can happen after 2-3 years if you’ve had no real emergencies. And maybe it is better to pay some of those smaller debts off first while you keep the $1000 to widen the gap a bit, so it’s easier to save and invest. I know gazelle intensity is what so many preach, but life does not always play that way. There are no absolutes.

      I’ve been consistently growing my income to debt gap for the past 2 years, and I’m finally in a place where I can split things evenly with saving/investing/paying off the debt. It may not be the fastest route, but as you said, it makes way more sense in the long run.

      Thank you again for such an insightful comment!

  20. Like a lot of people said, your money is YOUR money and your decisions are yours alone. You live with whatever you decide to do. I think like anything, but SUPER hardcore about a particular thing can lead to burnout. Like following an uber-strict diet. I got your back!

    1. Thanks Tonya! I knew I could count on you! 🙂 Burn out is for real.

  21. I so agree with you that $1,000 isn’t enough of a buffer, especially if you have a pet or if you need a car (both of which is true I’m your case). I think there’s a much bigger danger in feeling totally beaten if you have to wipe it out and STILL owe more to debt than to go about your debt payoff more slowly but with a bigger cash cushion.

    1. Exactly! Anything could happen now that Mots is getting up in years and my car has over 150k miles on it. You just never know and it’s better to be prepared than scrambling and putting it on the credit card.

  22. Thank you for putting this so eloquently. We’ve been paying down debt like crazy for many years now and I, like you, made huge goals for this year. Ultimately, major medical issues have left our nicely padded savings funds and emergency fund non-existent and I definitely agree that I wish we’d thought more about simply putting the money into savings first. In the end, we are learning to live more in the moment and, while we aren’t going crazy with our money, we definitely aren’t paying down debt the same way we once were. That’s okay – life is short and sometimes you really just need to spend time living it.

    1. Thanks Sarah. Your story is exactly what I’m talking about. You never know when something is going to sideswipe you. I’ve been fortunate to not have any major issues in the past couple of years, but it could happen anytime. I want my savings to be prepared to handle the hit. Thanks so much for commenting.

  23. I appreciate this post so much. I’m facing a mountain of student loan debt and have been spending nothing on myself, literally wearing holes into the bottoms of my shoes before I’m willing to buy a new pair. It’s not sustainable, but until I read this post it had honestly never occurred to me to take my foot off the gas for a minute, to not overpay what I owe literally every single month – to allow some space to live my life every once in a while. Thank you for writing this.

    1. You are absolutely welcome. Thank you so much for commenting! I love hearing stories of other people going through similar situations! We have to remember to give ourselves a much needed break sometimes and know that we are doing awesome, even when we pause and spend on ourselves for a month or two. 🙂 Good luck on your journey!

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