The Financial Balancing Act: Musings on Balancing Being Responsible with Having Fun
Sometimes, balancing debt (or staying out of it) with fun things we really enjoy brings up hard questions. You know that you need to pay down debt or that you're barely making ends meet as it is, yet you want to see that movie, buy that purse, or take that vacation. How do you decide what to do?
Ramit, over at Iwillteachyoutoberich, provides a great illustration for this question. Yesterday, he posted about a friend of his who was going to charge an international trip in spite of having over $6000 in credit card debt. When he talked to his friend about not going and instead putting the money toward the debt, his friend replied that the debt had been there for a long time, so it didn't matter when it got paid off. Ramit found that fascinating.
I'm not sure it's fascinating so much as it is normal, at least for those who live with debt or who can barely make ends meet. Living with debt (even "good" debt, like student loans or a good mortgage) can be draining. The debt starts to haunt many of your financial decisions. When you have to get the car fixed so you can go to work, you think about how you could be paying extra on your loans. When you get your hair cut, you wonder if it's wrong for you to go to the stylist you've seen for years because there's a cheaper place down the street. It can get into your life and make everything a little less brilliant, a little darker and more discouraging.
One way to counteract that seems to be doing something that makes you feel like you have the money to do what you want. For some, that's a new pair of shoes. For others, it's a spa day. For others, it's a trip around the world. When you're in debt or struggling financially, that tendency is always there. "I'm not rich," we think, "and that's hard. I would feel so much better if I was just free to buy that X." And instead of paying off the debt so that we can actually be free, we often choose to enslave ourselves more for the false feeling of freedom that comes from doing or buying something we really want.
I don't think that those of us with debt need to be reclusive, never going out unless it's free or close to it. I don't even think we need to stay home, to not take vacations, to never get out and get away. But we need to monitor WHY we want those things, and we need to take care of our responsibilities first.
When I think about it, this is what I come up with: If I ponder for a while and realize that I HAVE always wanted to see Thailand and the perfect time to do it is coming up, I think it's fine to make minimum payments for several months so that I can save the money I would have put toward debt for a trip. The payments are made, I'm on top of it, but I'm also responsibly heading towards a goal. On the other hand, it also seems fine to realize that Thailand is important and redouble my committment toward paying off my debt so I can go on this tour the next time it comes around. What wouldn't be fine would be for me to hear that my friends are going to Thailand and put a deposit on my credit card because traveling makes me feel better, before I even think about whether it's important to me to go.
And yet, I'm sure that what I've said above is only the beginning of my thoughts on the subject. I might change my mind later. And what about little things? Is it different if it's a $10 movie rather than a $2000 plane ticket? And I'm sure you don't all agree with me. So tell you think? How do you balance debt and fun?