Debt Doesn't Have To Be An Emergency

Today I feel like booming airwave of relief rushing through the my veins, tracing through my body like city streets. I feel like traffic has finally dissipated and all the stoplights are slowly turning green, welcoming me back to the free roads.

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

On Borrowed Dime

I’ve debated about writing about debt today, because it feels almost more personal than mental health. I think it’s because of the level of apparent control a person has—although, I could argue that both have elements beyond our grasp. Both mental health and debt have helpful and detrimental habits, they can both go on indefinitely, and they both require a healthy environment and a huge investment of personal work to get free of. They’re more similar in the amount of personal influence than I realized.

But that’s not the point. Another reason I debated writing about it was because it’s been a notoriously emotional issue for me. I can get so worked up about it so quickly, and worrying about money has ruined many a good weekend. But I feel pretty level about it right now thanks to a few new mental shifts that have helped ease my mind immensely.

To our credit...

My husband and I have a moderate load of student loans between the two of us, and while we have no car payment, we do have a pretty penny’s worth of credit card debt.

Call it irresponsible if you will, but much of it just got beyond our control faster than we could keep up. There’s such a stigma about people in credit card debt spending lavishly and thoughtlessly, but for so many people it can be a lifesaver. It was a lifesaver for our rabbits.

Most of our credit card debt has risen from vet bills for both of our rabbits. They’re a mess. (Have I reminded you to not get rabbits yet? Just kidding, you should. Just prepare yourself for more commitment than a dog.) We’ve relied on it for car issues, airplane tickets (although we have set foot on only one plane in two years), and improv classes (which is the reason we’re in Los Angeles, so it has become a non-negotiable).

None of these things I would take back, especially every single cent I've ever spent on the rabbits. I feel beholden to them, and if the health issues aren't inherently fatal, I will address them with all the money I can find.

It can be disheartening to realize that you’re living on “tomorrows,” and some days I just feel so paralyzed by those devastating numbers. I used to find myself often saying things like “I just wish we could do fun things” and the classic “I just want a fucking day off, that’s all”. I still say those things sometimes, but there’s been a shift:

I am no longer viewing my debt as an emergency.

I’m not a financial genius. In fact, I may very well be reckless. But in the grand scheme of things, I realized that I was wasting that precious life energy being angry and sad about something I couldn’t fix overnight.

Once I realized it would be a long-haul effort, I started to loosen up. I still try to be careful with money, but if I wake up on a Saturday craving a solid brunch with some good coffee, I don’t beat myself up for that desire. It's okay to be a human person.

Sometimes I even spring for it—because I’m more than happy to spend a couple hours of my work life in order to get a couple of hours of a positive and productive date with my husband.

When I viewed debt as an emergency, I saw every purchase as a pain. Now, I acknowledge the pain but have created space for myself to consider the benefits of each purchase. Will it make my life easier? Will it bring me joy—like, will I genuinely be happy to see it in my home for years to come? I’m giving a little more to myself nowadays, because I’ve poured so much energy and time into working and worrying about debt that now it’s time to go a little easier on myself.

I’ve also slowed way down on my student loan crusade from a couple of years ago—the interest rates aren’t the lowest, but we’re making our minimum monthly payment on time each month (which, for anyone who bitches about Millennials and our avocado toast affections, our monthly payments add up to $450).

The slippery slope

All that being said, I realize that I have a dangerous “treat yo self” side as well (again, so many of us humans do). With all this scarcity mindset, I find myself putting more things into my Amazon shopping cart, scouring Pinterest for pricey home decor ideas, and suddenly having a wonderful taste for nice beers on draft.

It’s a constant game of (literal) checks and balances, and I’m working on asking myself about how much of my life energy something is worth. This Saturday’s brunch with my hubby? Totally worth it. That shower curtain that’s in my Amazon cart? Not so much. It might be worth it down the road when my life’s energy is rolling in dough, but now is not the right time.

So forgive me as I remain in debt just a few weeks or months longer because I love my rabbits, because I wanted a nice cup of simple black coffee one time last week, or because I need to pay my internet or health insurance bills.

Take a look at the finances that are driving you nuts right now—either way, you’ll be broke, so maybe be a broke person who goes out and enjoys a satisfying brunch once a month or so. Don’t punish yourself and ignore your heart because you want to get out of debt a few minutes earlier.

Am I way off? Or is it okay to tap the brakes on paying down debt so that I can (a la Bon Jovi) “live while I’m alive”?