How to Balance Life & Debt?: dating, hobbies, money
February 10, 2015 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My goal is to pay off my large student loan debt, do I need to put life on hold?

I am aggressively paying down my student loans ($75k), and my goal is to have them paid off as quickly as possible.

I'm doing everything I can: took a new higher-paying job ($45k), moved in with Mom, sold my stuff, developed a frugal lifestyle, and I'm learning new skills to help increase income (excel, programming). I am throwing everything I've got at the debt.

I believe an austere lifestyle is necessary to get unburied, but I'm lonely and creatively unfulfilled. I'm not actively dating because I feel embarrassed by my situation (I'm in my 30s and live at home for crying out loud). I don't socialize much with friends, because they like to go out which tends to cost money. I feel guilty when pursuing creative hobbies (like making music), and my conscious tells me to spend free time learning new money-making skills instead. I still make time to workout and read, but that doesn't satiate my creative side or my love life.

I earned this debt and will embrace the suck, but without a partner, friends, or a creative outlet I'm feeling glum. Is it better to just keep at it for the next few years, or is there any way to find balance in a life burdened with debt? Does one even deserve the 'luxuries' of love and hobbies, or should I just shut up and get busy earnin'?
posted by mannermode to Work & Money (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
It's an admirable goal to try to get out of debt as quickly as possible. I'm working on it myself and the end is in sight for our mortgage, which is something I never thought would happen. But even though I send extra cash to the bank every month, I'm not willing to give up the things that make life fun for me - good food, travel, lots of cable channels, etc. - and I think your life would be a little better in the immediate term if you gave yourself some money to have fun with. It sounds like even a couple hundred bucks a month set aside to go out with friends a few times or treat yourself to a nice meal would go a long way toward increasing your happiness.

Living debt-free is going to be amazing when you finally get there, but keep in mind that it's something many people never achieve and they still live happy and fulfilling lives. It's not a stain on your character to carry student loan debt. I know it's important to you, but I don't think it's a great (or necessary) idea to live in total austerity in the meantime.
posted by something something at 9:15 AM on February 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

I feel guilty when pursuing creative hobbies (like making music)

Singing is free. If you already have an instrument, great, or maybe you can find a really cheap one, like a harmonica or a ukulele. No need to pay for lessons; there are lots of self-taught musicians. If your music is suited to busking or gigs, you could actually earn some pocket money while enjoying a creative outlet.

Look for an open-mic night or musicians meetup group, or if there isn't a free one around, start one. The starving artist crowd is a wonderful crowd to hang with when you're trying to be frugal, because they are definitely into free or very cheap activities.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:18 AM on February 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you shouldn't treat this as an either or situation. You need to have friends and hobbies to be happy, and you need to increase your income to pay off your debt. My thinking is that you will be happier once you have a higher income, so work on the programming stuff. Go to some tech meetups and network!
posted by oceanjesse at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Work out a budget. Compare how much setting a little tiny bit of money aside for leisure will affect your repayment time. Remember, this is going to be a multi-year plan to repay things, so it's going to going to have to be a lifestyle you can sustain indefinitely. You may be all gung ho now, but if by year three, you're burnt out and say 'screw this,' that penny pinching austerity is going to have hurt your chances at repayment.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:26 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's easy to burn out on austerity. My god, don't cut yourself off from having friends! If they are really your friends, they'll understand that you don't have money to burn on socializing. And if you live in a city, at least, there should be plenty of options for free/cheap things to do.

Also, if you can learn to program well enough to do it as a job, the time investment will be well worth it.
posted by the_blizz at 9:30 AM on February 10, 2015

Something something: I'm not willing to give up the things that make life fun for me

This x100!! I have loads of debt and it stresses me out, but what helps is when I think of my overall quality of life. Do I pay the nice folks at a very large chunk of my income, and do I resent that our educational system is set up so that I even had to take out loans to pay for in-state tuition at a public school? Sure. Big-time.

But do I also work a job I genuinely enjoy, live in a place where I feel safe and comfortable, and have time and resources to pursue some modest hobbies? Yes, I do, and that's what I (hope) I'll look back on and think, "ah yeah, you lived a good life, no regrets about not being debt-free by [age]."

I think it could be worthwhile to suspend judgment and unemotionally assess the value you place on debt-free living. Day by day, what would give you the most pleasure? What would you look forward to most, getting out of bed each morning? It sounds like you work hard and probably deserve something pleasurable, even if it's small, while you chip away at the debt.
posted by witchen at 9:32 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's all going to be for naught if you die next week, or next month, or next year. Being responsible and getting out of debt ASAP is admirable, but our time on this planet is not a dress rehearsal, so don't miss out on living while you are here.
posted by COD at 9:33 AM on February 10, 2015 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Being frugal doesn't mean living like a monk.

There's no shame at living with your parents if that's part of your plan to be debt free. Your friends may also be carrying the same debt load, they're just not aggressively paying it down. In a few years, they'll be on the hamster wheel of debt and you'll be sitting pretty.

If you want to date, make your lifestyle a feature not a bug. I'd draft an OKC like this:

"Frugal guy paying off student loan debt is seeking a XX for cheap dates and home cooking. I'm looking for Foo, Bah and Blah. I enjoy free movies at the museum, peanut butter sandwiches in the park and great conversation. I live at home, take the bus and make music in my spare time. Join me on my journey to fiscal responsibility and financial stability. "

You will week out a lot of partiers and people who are spenders, but you'll attract like minded folks.

Go ahead and make music. Not every waking moment should center around making money. You need to recharge your batteries. Jam with friends, perform at open mics, or noodle around in your room.

I lived at home into my twenties, and I had friends over. If my folks went out of town, I'd throw parties. If you're pulling your weight at home (paying rent, cleaning, etc,) I am sure your folks won't mind letting you have the kitchen for a pot-luck movie night every now and then. Heck, if your parents are cool, they may enjoy meeting your friends.

You can be frugal and fun! Enjoy your life, otherwise you'll be that bleak, sad, bored dude who's out of debt.

I agree that in your budget you should set a side a few bucks so you can go for a drink after work, or
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:33 AM on February 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

Do you read personal finance blogs? Because there is a whole online community of people out there aggressively paying down debt. Start a blog or join in the online community -- it might help you feel less lonely and more inspired. Probably the most well-known was No More Harvard Debt, but that's no longer an active blog. You can look at the "debt" blog category for the last few years of the Plutus Awards to get more blog ideas.
posted by megancita at 10:17 AM on February 10, 2015

Please don't feel embarrassed about living at home. If you meet someone and tell them your situation (I'm living with a relative for a few years so I can pay off my student loans) and they are anything but impressed with your zeal, you don't want to be friends with them anyway. Be a role model for your current friends--try to invite them to things that don't involve spending. I bet some of them will be into it.
posted by chaiminda at 10:54 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you read personal finance blogs? Because there is a whole online community of people out there aggressively paying down debt.

I'd be willing to bet you're already reading those blogs, OP, and I'd urge you to stop. It's important to pay off your debt, but not by sacrificing your whole life in the meantime. Personal finance communities can slide into crazed "Who's the Most Frugal?" contests, and you don't need those voices in your head. I agree that you should give yourself an allowance for fun stuff every month, so you're not living just to pay off your debt.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:09 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Frugal guy paying off student loan debt is seeking a XX for cheap dates and home cooking. I'm looking for Foo, Bah and Blah. I enjoy free movies at the museum, peanut butter sandwiches in the park and great conversation. I live at home, take the bus and make music in my spare time. Join me on my journey to fiscal responsibility and financial stability. "

That's awesome, Ruthless Bunny is right. FWIW, I would date that person.
posted by divina_y_humilde at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, going out with friends who have money when you don't isn't easy, but there are ways of managing it. I'm a student right now, and my friends aren't - my tips for being sociable on a budget are: be selective about the events you go to - set money aside for a special restaurant or concert, or for a fun group holiday. For more casual evenings, meet up with people after dinner, or go, but have a healthy-sized snack beforehand and choose from among the affordable options on the menu. Order stronger drinks and nurse them longer. A lot of my friends are more into dinner parties at home, anyway. Have people over sometimes, too, as RB said.

Block time out for money-saving/making/planning activities, and do the same for creative ones.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2015

Gotta throw out there that my friend started dating while living at home in his thirties. Met a woman who ended up moving into the basement of his parents house with him. They now are married, own a house and have a child.
posted by meinvt at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

So, you have made a big change to your lifestyle, and are grieving a bit for your old lifestyle. But the new lifestyle can also be good, with a little adjustment. You are doing a lot more than most people would to improve your situation. That is admirable. I don't think you need to make any more money in your free time, I think you need to give yourself a monthly allowance to keep your sanity, make music (free! really not expensive!), and find some friends who like to play board games, make drinks at home, and watch movies from the library. You can do this and still be happy.

And with a $45k income, "throwing everything" at it, and living at home, this can't possibly take you very long. I imagine you know the exact number of days until payoff, right? A large calendar on your wall can be very motivational.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:55 AM on February 11, 2015

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