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Here’s What’s Bothering Me


There’s a lot I’ve been thinking about lately–mostly centered on a couple of questions:

1) Am I TOO frugal and/or cheap?

2) And what is this frugalness/cheapness costing me? (Not speaking financially)

Here’s what’s bothering me: I have family that live within a 2 hour radius (immediately family- parents, brother…other family members and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) and then I have family who lives an airplane ride away- of course my sister who lives in Orlando, as well as my favorite aunt and cousins who live in Ft. Lauderdale. So is my being, what I deem, too frugal and cheap costing me memories and life experiences along the way with all these people? Hell, I have friends right here in town where it feels like I haven’t seen them in forever. There’s no way it couldn’t be, right?

My sister, who just had her first child, I KNOW could use all the help she can get, so even though I went and helped her out for a few days (if you can consider it help…I did pay for meals, both for myself and her family (sis + boyfriend) and helped drive her around for doctor’s appointments and errands), I feel like I SHOULD do so much more. I wish I would have brought a couple hundred dollars with me and bought them a week’s worth of groceries and a month of diapers. (Note- I did buy them a baby supplies of their registry prior to me blogging here to help them out- still not enough, IMO). So why did it feel like I COULDN’T do this, even though I have the means to? Is it selfish? I think it is. And even though we were never really that close growing up, I can’t help but feel that adulthood is the best time to build a bond we didn’t have as children.

My parents- my parents gave me a fantastic childhood. FANTASTIC childhood. And even into adulthood, even though we don’t always see eye to eye, we’ve become, in a lot of ways, friends. I wish I were in a position to help them out now that I’m a grown man and say “thanks for everything.” I shouldn’t say this- what I should say is I wish I FELT like I were in a position to help them out. Again, if you look strictly at my budget, I have the means do it, so why does it feel like I can’t? Not only this, but I get a feeling that they still worry about me (granted, I’m not a parent, so maybe parents just always have that feeling with their children) since my existence right now is fairly…bare bones. They’ve never come out openly and said this, and I’ve never inquired about it so it really is just a feeling (like whenever I go up to Buffalo to visit them, my mom’s ALWAYS trying to send me back to Erie with a week’s worth of food, lol, which I normally decline unless it’s 1- homemade soup or 2-Sahlen’s hot dogs). For the mom’s out there- is this just a mom being a mom? And whenever something sorta minor comes up down here, my dad is always the first to ask if he needs to come down and sometimes he just comes regardless- again is this just a dad being a dad? Two notes- 1) I’m NOT complaining- I love my parents, I’m just wondering if my cheapness is keeping them worried 2) I’m completely independent of them financially and have been since college graduation. So is my debt payoff plan keeping me from building a trust and bond with my parents that I think we could have?

And then’s there’s my friends- the longtime friends that I haven’t forgot about. How many times does your phone have to ring and you have to say “No” or suggest the “cheap beer thing” before the phone stops ringing? I feel like I’m living this experiment right now. For the out of town friends- how many months and years have to go by between visits and conversations before the friendships are really just good memories? Again- living that experiment. I wrote about being an introvert in post describing my Social Life, and in no way, shape, or form a socialite (still true), but I’m not a recluse, either. A couple weekends ago, my best friend Cameron stopped by on his way through town, which subsequently led to a Moe’s trip. It was AWESOME, and something I haven’t had in far too long. Most of my friends are married with children at this point, and even though that’s probably has a lot to do with us losing contact, I blame a lot, if not most, of it on myself- had I not been so focused on debt payoff, where would we be? And that’s the tough question; one that no one can answer.

Over past couple of years, the only relationship that I’ve felt truly grow and blossom is my relationship with my girlfriend. Since we’re in similar but not so similar situations (I’m paying off debt, she’s going back to school), we really know where the other is coming from and we’ve been able to work as a team to overcome (knock on wood) any obstacle that we’ve come across. And since we’ve both have had to have a frugal mindset since we’ve been together, we have a pretty open relationship concerning our finances and our lives in general (and it certainly helps we share a lot of the same personality traits and interests).

This post has been very hard for me to write. When it’s come to debt and the payoff, I’ve always played the stoic card- the debt and my spreadsheets are just numbers after all. But what I’ve haven’t done is take time to look at what/how the payoff is effecting me in more than just financial terms. It’s pretty clear I’ve made pretty good headway on my debt, so my question is:

What would you do/what have you done if you found yourself in the same situation?

Would you slow down the debt payoff to take care of other, maybe more important things, or would you continue to pay it off as fast as you could and take care of things after it’s all said and done? One note to keep in mind- my timeline for this debt payoff (on my current trajectory) is completion by November ’16, or 18 months.

P.S. I don’t really have anything to share this week on the debt numbers themselves. I didn’t really pay anything, so I’ll save it for next week.




  • Reply Kili |

    Hi Matt,
    I am 32 and financially independent from my parents ever since I moved out after high school.
    but… my dad still changes the tires on my car and my mom still gives me homemade food / cake, and fruit from the farmer’s market etc. whenever I leave.
    So (at least for me) parents will just always be parents and help you out – whether you actually need their help or not.

    I think it’s all about balance.
    I think it’s definitly good to get your financial situation sorted out fast – b/c then you can focus on the other important things without the debt still looming over your head. But of course you shouldn’t forget to live during the debt pay of time.

    As long as you bring joy to your family’s life in some way, I think you’re good. I think most people really apreaciate the gift of time. So maybe it would help you feel better, if you just dedicated some time to your family? Can you help your dad out in the garden / go fishing / go hunting /hunting- whatever he’s enjoying? Same goes for your mom…

    I do understand the urge to be generous with your sister. So go ahead and get them a Babys’R’Us gift card if that makes you feel better. Or start a college fund with a real small contribution right now that you can give more to once you’re in a better financial situation. Or you could record some lullabies for the baby with your guitar…

    With the friends: I would still continue to suggest frugal activities you and they enjoy (idk BBQ, the beach…)
    Best of luck with the debt payoff

    • Reply Matt |

      Hey Kili! Sorry I’ve taken so long to reply to all the comments here- this post was/is a very personal one for me, so I’ve been sitting back, reading the comments and processing all the great ideas here.

      I’m glad I posted about my relationship with my parents because it seems like all of us children are all in the same boat- they just want to take care of us! So instead of thinking about it too much, I’l enjoy when parents act like parents and appreciate what they do for me.

      You’re are absolutely right on the balance aspect which is definitely something I’ve been lacking. My mindset has essentially been “all in” on the debt payoff. This post has really made me take a step back and look at it from a different prospective. I’m going to adjust my monthly budget (not really sure how yet) to include monies to help my sis, allow me to treat my parents to something (dinner, movies, or just a weekend at their place for company) and have some fun with friends.

      O and thanks for the lullaby tip: fantastic! The thought never came to my mind. He would be the PERFECT audience- at least he can’t boo me yet, lol.

  • Reply Jackie |

    Ok I can give my opinion as a mother. My son is 18 and you ALWAYS worry about them. Yes you try to help in any way you are able. Just like I’m trying right now to help him pass his driver’s permit test by quizzing him. I live in Maine and he live in NJ with his Dad. So I hear you on the distance thing.

    I think your just focused which isn’t a bad thing. There is a balance though and you shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to help. Do what you can to help if you’d like.

    I know I would like to help more sometimes but we don’t make much money especially with me on unemployment right now. So while I can’t give money I give my time and more importantly I listen to him and his problems. His Dad doesn’t do this. His dad makes very good money and is always willing to give my son money but not his time. As a result my son doesn’t talk to him but he talks to me about everything and anything. So even though we’ve lived in separate states since he was 10 we have a very close relationship. My parents don’t need much but they do know if there are health issues we’re there. Sometimes they take a trip somewhere to visit Aunts and Uncles and need someone to take care of the animals. They are almost 80 and still have sheep, chickens and a dog. So we do that for them.

    Just create a nice balance–doesn’t always need to be money involved. Maybe game night with friends. Although the dynamics do change when friends start families.

    • Reply Matt |

      Thanks for your opinion, Jackie- that’s what I was looking for. I’m glad I shared with the community so I can stop worrying (is it ironic that I’m worrying that my parents are worrying? the circle of worry, lol) and just let my parents do their thing and appreciate it all.

      Like I said to Kili and like you say- I need balance. Period. I like the idea of giving the gift of time. I have plans to put money aside every month for fun stuff and gifts but time is free! (if time doesn’t = money). The one thing I know for sure is that it isn’t going to be an overnight thing. I’ve been in this pattern for too long for me to make a sudden change but I’m going to start doing little things immediately.

  • Reply Den |

    Hi Matt,

    Great post. I think just the fact that you are asking about this means that it bothers you enough that it’s time to make a few adjustments. I am a parent of 20 something’s and will always worry about them and will always send them home with groceries and goodies – heck, my parents – who are in their 70’s – still send stuff home with me – LOL!

    I think there are some simple things you can do. You can keep in touch more often by phone, email, facebook with friends and family – that’s free! You can try and visit nearby family more often – that just costs gas. You can hang out with your parents or invite them to dinner and I really like the previous posters suggestion to go hunting with dad or do one of his hobbies. I think you could easily add a $25 line item to your budget each month and send a diaper gift card or grocery gift card or even a pizza gift card to your sister each month – she will really appreciate that! And yes, cheap get-togethers with your friends are a must – BBQs, game nights, poker nights, etc….

    The hardest part about all of these is making the effort and just doing it – even if you have to put them on your calendar each month to remind you. Also, I think a small line item in your budget for fun is a must! I would even say you could label it “happiness insurance”! Overall, it may set your payment back a month….but in the larger scheme of things, it will be worth it!

    • Reply Matt |

      Hey Den! I’m going start doing some of the things you mention immediately- start with keeping in touch more often. Even though my phone doesn’t ring too often, it works both ways. I can be the one to initiate. (Funny story- I just called my mom. First thing she says- “What’s wrong?” I say “Nothing, just wanted to say hello” so she goes “WOW, you never call me.” I also found out my mom bought my dad a selfie stick! Crazy.)

      I’m for sure going to set money aside for the “happiness insurance”, lol. I haven’t decided how much, yet, but after all the great suggestions, I’m in.

  • Reply Ashley |

    Can I suggest a bit of a “spendy” gift for your sister? A maid service!!!! Even if its just one time, I know that it would have been a HUGE help to me when I was juggling newborns! My Mom did this for me (I think she spent a couple hundred bucks) and it was so refreshing and psychologically helpful to not have to be worrying about the cobwebs I’d seen on our high ceilings and scrubbing the toilet bowls. If you were there in person I’d suggest you do it yourself (i.e., pitch in and help clean), but if you’re able to pay someone else do to it I think its a fabulous gift (and you can probably find Groupons for it, too)

    • Reply Matt |

      This is a really, really good suggestion. Maybe a little out of the price range for right now (I want to send her some Babies “R” Us gift cards), but what about a wedding gift? My sis is getting married in December, so would this be good gift? If they’re expecting something off a registry- I feel this could be a terrible gift, BUT is also sounds like it could be an amazing gift. What do you think?

      • Reply Walnut |

        I gifted myself a one time house cleaning before my wedding. It was fantastic! I’d mention it casually to your sister before buying it to gauge her interest.

        • Reply Ashley |

          I agree with Walnut. Doesn’t hurt to mention it casually in passing to gauge interest first. But if your sister is anything like me, I think a paid house cleaning would be a fabulous gift for any occasion (baby, wedding, just because) and I would be incredibly grateful for it!

  • Reply adam |

    You need a plan for what you want to achieve. Then you will know if you are out of balance.

    Besides getting out of debt, what financial goals are you trying to meet and by when? Do you have a plan/spreadsheet that models out what it takes to get there and whether your plan is on track, too aggressive, or not aggressive enough? If you have your goals and a plan to get there written down, then you don’t have to have the question of “am I doing too much or not enough?” hanging over you. You’ll know.

    Also suggest you review Dave Ramsey’s Ben and Arthur story. Since you are young, the changes you make now have a huge affect later.

    In our debt payoff I’ve found that some of our family/friends didn’t outwardly support us by helping us do things cheaply or understanding our limitations – and I think in many cases it was because it made them feel guilty or self-conscious that they weren’t doing the same thing. Misery loves company, as they say. So if you want to make it easier, sometimes you have to be the organizer/planner to go eat at the cheap place, or have a game night or go to a free movie/concert.

    • Reply Matt |

      I have a spreadsheet for tracking my debt payoff that you outline- so I know if I’m aggressive or not aggressive enough, but I don’t have a plan for post-debt savings. Some thoughts I’ve had are paying off my mortgage, saving 1 years worth of expenses, followed by one year’s worth of income and eventually having 10 years worth of income all saved away in various accounts. Thanks for the link and the advice- I’m going to try and incorporate doings little things like the movies, dinners more often.

  • Reply Jean |

    I agree with Den – if you’re having these thoughts/feelings, then it’s time to make some adjustments. Picture yourself 18 months down the road: your debt will be paid off, but how will your relationships with your friends & family look? I’m not saying that you have to stop your plan, but it looks like you either need to put some more money in your ‘fun’ or ‘other’ budget so you don’t feel so guilty about spending money.

    For me, the tables are starting to turn with my parents, and I have become more involved with their lives because of some chronic health issues. There have been several occasions over the past year where I have driven 6 hours in one day, over 300 miles, to pick up my dad at his house and take him to a dr appt in another city – and then reverse the process. He usually asks about putting gas in my car, but I always make sure I have a full tank before I start out. But I will let him buy lunch so he feels like he’s contributing – like he’s not a ‘charity case’. My sister & I have both told him numerous times that he took care of us & shelled out $$ to send us to college, so now it’s our turn to repay him (in a sense).

    Also, all my parents really want is time with family. They both turn 70 this year, so we’re all meeting at a city that’s central to everyone for a weekend. They didn’t want a party – just time with the kids & grandkids. It will cost us money for hotel & food & gas to get there & back, but in reality you can’t really put a price on the time and creating memories. So, just hang out with your parents. Let them help you out if that’s what they want to do. One day the tables will be turned & you’ll be taking care of them.

  • Reply Amanda |

    GREAT suggestion by Den to just keep in touch. If you do not want to spare the money to visit family, mentally assign a time to call them – your Monday drive home could be catching up with Dad, etc. Calling Sis to check in regularly on the baby can strengthen your relationship with her.

    I will say that my husband’s family lives 3.5 hours away, and we see them around 6 times per year. My husband talks to his dad weekly on the phone, so visiting them more doesn’t necessarily strengthen a relationship as much as communication does, and communication is mostly free.

    For the friends, I think “being available” is more of an issue. To keep friendships alive, you do sometimes need to show up. You are so frugal in so many areas, that I don’t think a once a month activity is going to slow you down even a year in your journey.

  • Reply Desperately in Debt |

    There are some really great suggestions here from everyone! I just wanted to add the two cents of someone who is also deep in debt and on a debt pay-off journey. Your relationships with the people you care about are worth investing in, whether it’s time, money, or both. I was living far away from my family for a long time and because of my debt situation did not feel like I could spend the money to visit but I also didn’t invest the time to maintain the relationships (no good excuses for that). Then I lost my favorite uncle and my grandmother within a year and realized that there are some things that are more valuable to me than paying off the debt faster.

    If you are feeling unbalanced, then it’s probably time to take a step back and re-examine your goals, both financially and socially. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey…

  • Reply Walnut |

    I want to concur with the everyone else and emphasize the gift of time. I think scheduling regular phone calls with those far away and also scheduling times to meet up with those close are critical.

    It seems that after college friendships are so much more difficult to maintain. Everyone is busy with work, families and you just don’t find yourself naturally meeting up any longer. Think about those friendships that you really want to maintain and contact them. If there’s a group that can get together, great, if not, individually is great too. Just get something on the calendar.

    Also, don’t assume that your friends want to spend loads of money. Everyone needs to allocate their money in ways that are pursuant to their goals and I know I certainly don’t have a $100 ‘money to spend on friends’ budget. Look for low cost activities or ways to keep things cost effective. Meet for just appetizers on a Saturday afternoon or plan to meet up at a local outdoor rec area for a stroll around a lake. If your friends have kids, maybe a restaurant with a kids eat free promotion would go over well. As summer comes up, my area has lots of music in the park nights or other types of outdoor entertainment.

  • Reply Jasmine |

    I’ll just echo everyone’s sentiments. I still shop my mom’s pantry when I’m home and part of the reason is because I know she likes feeling like she still takes care of me (even though it’s more often the other way around). As for friends, I grew up in New Orleans, went to school in Boston, and ended up in the mid-Atlantic, so I have friends all up and down the east coast. While I only see them once or twice a year, I think it’s telling that those friendships pick up right where they left off. It’s definitely more about quality than quantity. If you feel you might be missing out, how about trying to plan more frugal activities like game nights or potluck bbqs now that the weather is warming up. My boyfriend’s parents live 10 minutes away, and we barely see them once a month, so we’ve started trying to implement more frequent dinners where we alternate hosting.

  • Reply Sue |

    Honestly, all we want as parents is to know that our kids are healthy, happy, and productive members of society. Your parents not having to worry about you and your finances is PRICELESS, believe me!!!

    And while it is wonderful that you want to help your sister, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but we all have to take care of ourselves and prepare for our futures. I do love the idea of starting a college fund for the baby and every holiday, birthday, etc. you add more money to it. That will be the best gift down the road IMHO!!!

  • Reply Kerstin |

    I think Ashley’s suggestion of paying for a cleaning service is fantastic. My husband has done this for me twice, once when I was studying for finals in law school and once as an anniversary gift. It was the best. gift. ever. We now budget to have someone clean our house and that is the best money we spend ever. When someone else cleans you get the gift of time and you can spend that with you family. And stress reduction, even if the cleaning only lasts for a few days, is SO worth it. That is something that anyone with a busy life, especially that of a new mom, will appreciate more then you know.

  • Reply Jen From Boston |

    I would go easy on yourself with being unable to help out more with your sister and her child – you don’t live close by so it’s much harder ot help! However, I agree with others that if you’re asking these questions then it’s a sign you should re-evaluate things.

    I like the idea of having a line item in your budget for fun/social activities. You could also save up for a plane ticket to visit your sister, aunt, and cousins! Also, keep an eye out for when the air fares are cheaper. Plus, just being willing to hold the baby is a huge help to new parents. My boyfriend and I recently visited his brother and SIL. They got a nice break when we gave their son a bath. And when we watched him while they got a chance to go out and have grown up time.

    Also, as a fellow introvert, I sympathize with the whole having to consciously put in effort to maintain friendships. It really does take effort, and as I get older I am more aware of how important having a social network is when you’re much older. Luckily for me my closest friends are also introverts and don’t need to see me regularly to still be close friends. Having said that, though, perhaps you could organize low cost gatherings? Like a potluck get together, perhaps? But, I’ve also noticed that as we go through different stages in life our friendships change. I had a good friend in college that I don’t talk to anymore. Her political views took a sharp turn to the more extreme end, and she got quite angry and judgmental about it, so I found I just didn’t want to be deal with that anymore. Other friends have children, so it’s harder to schedule time with them. People will fade in and out, and I fade in and out. After a while you get a sense for who your core friends are.

    As for parents, I’m 44 and makre more money than my mother, but she still refuses to let me pay her for doing my taxes (she’s a CPA). In a classic “mom is being ridiculous and a little sexists” moment, my brother and I were going to take her out for lunch on Mother’s Day. My brother couldn’t make it at the last minute, but I still went with her. When the check came she actually tried to pay for both of us!! I finally won when I firmly pointed out that it was Mother’s Day. (The sexist part is that if my brother had been there to pick up the check she wouldn’t have argued.) So, yeah, in your parents’ eyes you are always their child and they want to take care of you.

  • Reply C@thesingledollar |

    Your parents are just being your parents. If you want to, you could have a conversation with them about how you’re really not poor, you’re just making choices that let you pay off your debt faster, but you gotta let them come help you and feed you and stuff 🙂

    Your friends, I dunno. I think mid-20s is kind of a soul-searching period on friends — I lost/left a lot of friends then because my values were changing and we were growing apart. But I made new ones that aligned more with who I was. If it troubles you, have honest conversations with the ones you feel really strongly about keeping, and figure out what they’d like (if they have kids, maybe what they’d like is for you to come over for dinner so they don’t have to figure out babysitters and whatnot.)

  • Reply Rachel |

    So much fantastic insight and advice here! I agree with all of the comments. Time /communication/friendship/love is the best gift you can offer. I’ve been personally touched by several tragic, young deaths. They make you realize how important it is to spend time with the people we love while we have them and make sure they know how we feel. (As I type, a relative of mine is actually in ICU and her out-of-state daughter is praying to make it home in time to say goodbye).

    Your parents are being typical parents, still taking care of their “baby boy” however they can. Moms always show love with food. I struggle with giving back to my parents. They are in a much better financial position than me, and they are very much “do-ers” – they handle everything themselves and almost never need help. I find whatever I can do that they appreciate: cooking for them (my mom loves a night off from dinner prep) or tech support assistance (they make me feel like a genius 😉

    Random idea: maybe you should take an amount of money – say $100 – and set it aside for fun. When a friend calls with an opportunity to go out to dinner, or you want to pick up a gift for a family member, etc. you have the money. You could put it in the budget, or just re-fund the $100 when you feel appropriate. You are extremely frugal and disciplined, and I don’t sense this money could ever be a problem for you. Your post sounds like you’re worried about the opposite issue – making sure you let go and loosen the reins once in a while. This could potentially be a low impact way to have some good times with zero guilt.

  • Reply Jack |

    Time is the most important gift you can give to your friends and family. Many of the comments by everyone is spot on. You’ve been so focused on your goal that it is only natural to begin asking yourself, ” is all this worth it?” Take some time out every now and then to just give some a call or send them a text? Maybe go out and catch up with a friend and get some coffee. It won’t break your budget and will let you touch base with your friends you’ve lost touch with.

    My wife and I had a son last year and it’s always nice to video chat with my brother-in-law who lives two hours away from us. It helps brightens his day and brings joy to my son’s face.

    Rachel ^^ has a good idea. Maybe set aside a few extra bucks so you can go out once in a while. If not with an old buddy you can take your girlfriend out for dinner.

  • Reply Mary |

    It’s funny that you wrote this post because I was just thinking the day before you wrote it on what a great job you were doing being gazelle intense and how you make it look so easy. Your actions fully support your goal of paying off debt. I also like that you seem to be spending money appropriately, like taking the trip to see your sister after she had her baby. You seem to walk that fine line beautifully between wants and needs.

    Overall, I think your fine. Your parents sound pretty normal; most parents want to help even if we don’t need any help. That’s part of their nature. In terms of your Dad, I’d probably pick a project that needs to be done around the house and then ask him to come down and help you. Not that you need the help, but since you mentioned he kind of likes to come anyway, it would be nice and would make him feel needed. Men don’t want to sit around and bond per se so that’s why having a project to do would give you some time together as well as knock off a house project. Dad feels needed, the relationship gets stronger and it’s a win win.

    I think it’s fine to remain gazelle intense until your debt is paid off. If it’s really bothering you, then sit down and figure out how you can do some of these things on a smaller scale. Maybe instead of a week’s worth of groceries and diapers, you just send her a check or gift card in the mail (no trip involved, lol). In terms of friends, perhaps you budget a lunch with a friend every other month (cheaper than dinner).

  • Reply Angie |

    Can I just say this was a great, honest post? I kinda referred to you in my mind as the “debt payoff robot guy,” but hey – you’re actually human! It’s not to say I don’t admire your commitment. And I second the maid service suggestion! 🙂

  • Reply Jerome |

    When we were paying of our debts, and later when we were saving, we always had a post in our budget called “mistakes”. This was money specifically set aside for doing stupid or unwise things like going out too expensively or buying that gadget which was not necessary or having something fixed rather than fixing it myself etc. Having such a budget item gave us a great feeling of freedom, as there was no need to be perfect. Worked for us.

So, what do you think ?