How much fun should you have while in debt

I have been working on getting out of debt for the last 13 months, during which I’ve been able to eliminate (and charge up again, and finally eliminate) my credit card debt, as well as a fair amount of student car loans.  During this time, quite a few changes have happened – I mostly finished school (more on that later), I was made a job offer that was eventually rescinded, was unemployed for the first month of my debt free quest, found full time employment but still searched for a job with benefits, found another job 2 months later, and have been working 2 jobs, at least 6 days and 70 hours per week since November.  As you can imagine, there’s not really that much time for a break to do much of anything but work (and write), but it’s a life that I don’t mind all that much.

Also during this time, I had been forgoing mostly anything that involved a trip until earlier this month.  I did plenty of things that I consider fun, mostly involving physical labor (in my mind, it’s really fun).  Unfortunately, I never got a chance to leave town and take a break from working to see new things and basically do nothing.

Back in February, I saw a deal from Frontier Airlines that I couldn’t pass up.  They were offering enough frequent flyer miles for a free ticket if you purchased a 1st class ticket (originating from a few airports) on the Frontier.  I had a gift card laying around that was nearing a year in age, so I decided that turning that gift card plus a bit of cash into two tickets was something I could divert a bit of cash from my debt repayment strategy from.  I bought a the ticket, and started planning (in my head, at least) my vacation to Alaska with the free miles.  Unfortunately, that was not to be, as it’s almost impossible to get to Alaska with frequent flyer miles.  I instead decided to go to Georiga.

I was able to pay for the whole trip with cash (although I occasionally used my credit card for the mileage points (so I can get more free tickets and more vacations) and it was the first time I think I’ve ever been able to do that.  When I got back (and sometimes during the trip), I couldn’t help but thinking that I’m not focused enough on my debt and should not have taken the vacation because it could have waited until I was out of debt.

When I got home, I decided to try to figure out how far behind it put me.  Unfortunately, the numbers are not good.  I estimated that without my vacation, I could have paid off my smallest student loan this month or come darn close to doing so.  Given the money that I spent plus the lost earnings from not being able to work, I’m fairly sure it would have been really, really close.

While this is all unfortunate, the more I thought about it, the more I was glad I did it.  I would have had to use that free airline ticket by Dec 31 either way, and I’m not sure I would have been able to find the time to go any other time.  That right there would be quite a bit of value that had evaporated that wouldn’t have been able to go to debt.  I also considered this trip a reward for being able to pay off my credit cards after almost 5 years of carrying a balance.

On the whole though this trip was more than worth it.  I had a great time with my travel companion, saw some really sweet stuff at the aquarium and the world of coke, and enjoyed not having to get up before 5am every day.  While I may not be as close to student loan debt freedom as I could be, the habits that I’ve picked up over the last year will continue to stay with me and make that day come at some point.  My vacation may have just pushed it down the road a bit.

To me, this does not seem like that big of a deal, but to some, it’s close to heresy.  Sure, 1 of my student loans could have most likely been paid off by the end of August (but I had not known that at the time) but taking a break from the work has sort of recharged me and has geared me up for another 5-6 months of 18-20 hour days, 20,000 more miles driven, and long work weeks.  If that were to change, however, I’d be all for that as well.

Have you ever spent money on fun when you were in debt, but in control of your debt?  Was it worth it?

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About Jeff

Jeff is the founder of sustainable life blog and has been interested in sustainability for most of his life. After realizing in 2007 that his finances were a total wreck, he started reading financial blogs and quickly realized that what is best for your wallet is typically better for the earth, and is usually healthier. On sustainable life blog Jeff shares his journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. For updates, subscribe by email or like us on facebook.

Comments

  1. I think you’re fine! There’s always ‘something else’ you could be applying money towards, whether it be debt, retirement savings, etc. It sounds like you’ve got a good balance of focusing on debt, which will increase your ‘enjoyment factor’ in life down the road, but also making sure you enjoy things now. I think balance is the key word here. Too many people get focused on what they can do today and end up paying for it dearly down the road, while others refuse to enjoy life at all in the present because they’re so focused on the future. Neither of these is an ideal situation, but instead somewhere in the middle is the best road, especially when you’re smart and use gift cards, discounts, and accumulate rewards, as well as avoid piling on more debt.

    Hope you enjoyed the vacation and in my eyes, you should have zero regrets!

  2. Great point beagle – Too many people are focused on what they can do today, and it typically ends with them in piles of debt down the road. Finding the balance is difficult, and sometimes I think I get too focused on the debt and skip over too much fun stuff that I should/could do anyway.

  3. I’m with you on this, although I do one thing differently. I know we (wife & I) need occasional breaks from reality to stay sane and on track, so we budget for vacations. Just create another savings account (are you using ING Direct?) and create an auto-funnel into for whatever amount suits you… say $100/month, or $25/month perhaps. This way you have a reward to work toward and look forward to without having any mixed feelings about it.

    That said, you are doing great Jeff… keep up the solid work and financial recovery.

    • Matt, thanks for stopping by and glad to see you’re sorta back. I hope the job is treating you well.
      I’m also glad that you do the same thing as I do… I knew I was going to need money to go on vacation, and I was able to start saving for this early and paid for the whole thing in cash, which is the first time I’ve ever gotten to do that…Paying off debt and basically forgoing almost all paid vacations for a year, it was time to enjoy some of what I’d saved and reward myself for the debt already paid off.

  4. Interesting idea, I always get stuff in the try-not-to-judge-people-making-decisions-I-would-never-do mentality. Normally because I have a friend who buys the newest xBox or what not and has $10,000 in student debt. Really? xBox = $499 + games + time spent playing when you can be working + Netflix Ultimate pack + etc. + etc. + etc. But this blog post make me change my mind (just a little bit). Thanks!

    • Jenna, Thanks for the comment.
      It seems like a waste of money to the outside eye, but I think I feel fine about it because the most important part about managing my money (the habits behind it) have changed. I dont spend like I used to, and so going on vacation while in debt was good enjoyment and I had cash saved and continue my plan to pay off my debt. It’s been working well so far, and i’m hoping to be debt free soon!

  5. Totally agree with you @Jeff. Glad you had a good vacation and here’s to get out of debt ASAP!

  6. I think that ultimately this is a question that has a different answer for each person. There are some things that you will consider to be frivolous, while I may deem it necessary to keep me balanced.

    That being said, I think you have the right attitude toward debt, and that is the most important thing. Just make sure that once you decide on a course of action, that you don’t let your guilt destroy your enjoyment!

  7. Thanks for the input Khaleef. I think you’re right, and that’s the best part about finance – It’s personal, so what will work for one person may seem extreme to another.

  8. I guess they say that delayed gratification leads to a prosperous future, but if you don’t have fun then you risk burning out. Burning out of life or getting tired of the same old work and paying bills off. If you award yourself with some kind of vacation or toy, it keeps you motivated to reach other goals. Personally I would have fun, even while in debt but watch how much I spent, all the while having a goal in mind.

    • Thanks for coming by Dan. I think you’re right about risking burn-out. I wasn’t quite there, but I think I was on that path. You can’t underestimate the effects of positive feedback both in the form of lower debt levels and success at working towards a debt free goal, but being rewarded in another way like a trip (in my case) or something else you really have been coveting. However I do think its important to pay for it with cash. You’ll feel better and reinforce the habits you’re working to create.

  9. Barefoot Running Shoes, or minimalist, running is a great way to strengthen your feet and improve your form. Many runners are beginning to embrace Barefoot Shoes type of running as a training tool or a way of life. The most prevalent question is “What shoe?” Minimalist Shoes’s this question that brings out the expert in every runner. Some runners will say weight is the most important, others believe Barefoot Sports Shoes flexibility and then there is the group that will claim its all about the difference in height between the heel and toe of the shoe. I think that these things all go into making a shoe “barefoot,” or minimalist. After all you can’t truly run barefoot if you have shoes on can you?

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  7. [...] Life Blog is a little apprehensive about spending money on vacations and wonders “How Much Fun Should You Have While In Debt?“  My opinion is that you should have a balance where you make sacrifices so that you get out [...]