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Why I’ve Relaxed My Debt Payoff


Hi all, and thanks for the warm welcome back to the blogging world! I’ve missed this space and the accountability that came with it and am enthusiastic to be back. I know I promised my debt list, but the idea of this post has been weighing heavy on my mind and heart and I wanted to open up a little more about it first. Next time I’ll bring the numbers. Pinky-promise! 😉

I should be debt-free (*except the mortgage) by now. In fact, I should’ve been debt-free twice over by now.

Let me explain.

First time blogging

When I was blogging here the first time around about a half-decade ago, my life looked wildly different than it does now. My, how much of your world can change in such a short period of time.

I was married (to my now ex-husband), had young kids, and an early burgeoning career. A firm believer in Dave Ramsey, I read all his books, listened fervently to his podcast, and was counting down the years until I could travel to Nashville (trip paid in cash, of course) and do my DEBT FREE SCREAM!!!! I literally had dreams of the moment. I couldn’t wait.

The problem is….I had six digit debt. On a modest (and variable/fluctuating) income. I was making great progress and things were going well. But with about $115,000 debt as my starting point, I was in it for the long haul. My debt payoff process was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Had I kept my break-neck pace, I would be debt-free by now. How sweet that would be. But in the course of those passing years, life happened.

The first major setback was my divorce.

I won’t go into personal details about the situation, but the divorce was not something I’d expected or anticipated. I wasn’t one of those people who saw it coming and saved up for years leading up to it to have a separate savings account and a way to support myself in those initial days of single-parenting. Plus, divorce is hugely expensive. HUGELY expensive.

So I had to press “pause” on the debt-payoff. I kicked myself over not having a larger savings account – I’d been throwing all extra money toward debt! When I really needed cash, I had none. Instead, I had credit cards. And so, those balances began to grow. I had moving expenses, legal expenses, I had to purchase all kinds of stuff that I’d left behind in the marriage – a kids’ bedroom furniture set, washer and dryer, kitchen stuff, etc. etc. etc. Even doing it frugally (e.g., buying second-hand and from Walmart off-brand an inexpensive stuff), it was an enormous amount of money spent in that first year alone to re-establish myself.

Increased savings.

I’ve been so fortunate to have a good job, a steady income (my ex’s income was the one that fluctuated), and a healthy paycheck. The divorce took over a year to be finalized (15 months in total!!). But finally, I slowly started climbing out of the new hole in which I’d found myself. I’m happy to say that, when I give my full debt update, you’ll see NO credit card debt in that report. NO outstanding balances owed toward lawyers, either.

I started paying down my debt more aggressively, but I also kept a larger emergency fund than I had under the Dave Ramsey plan. Rather than the $1,000 baby emergency fund, I have held a $5,000 emergency fund plus a few sinking funds for larger expenses that I contribute smaller amounts toward monthly, for anticipated expenses that would not considered “emergencies.” For example, I have a car repair sinking fund, fully funded with $3,000. And an annual fee sinking fund for things like life insurance, car insurance, car registration, HOA fees, etc. It’s a revolving account, but currently fully funded at $1,000. The first-time blogger version of me would have taken all that money and thrown it directly toward debt. The older (wiser? More life lived?) me feels the need to hold onto that cash just-in-case. You just never know what life will throw at you.

Emotional Setbacks.

When the Pandemic hit in 2020, I know we all had a tough time in different ways. With the initial “pause” on student loan interest, I doubled-down my payment efforts. After my divorce I’d redone my debt-payoff calculations and set a goal to be debt-free by my girls’ 10th birthday (which just happened last week, btw….). The finish line was in sight! It felt reachable! But again, life happened.

I was blogging here in 2015 when my Dad was first diagnosed with dementia (FTD, to be specific). The pandemic was tough on him and he’s declined steadily. Even with this being expected to some degree, its hit me hard. This man worked his entire life to be able to have a dream retirement. He’d bought a property with acreage and a stream running through it. He had plans to put in a track on the perimeter of the property so grandkids could ride quads, go-carts, or even just bikes and scooters. He saw them splashing in the river on hot summer days and building fires and pitching tents to have fun camping experiences at night. Sadly, none of these dreams were realized. He was diagnosed with dementia at age 59 and never made it to retirement. His properties were sold and he currently resides in a memory care facility.

Perhaps more profound, however, was the loss of my brother in the summer of 2021. He’d been laid off at the start of the pandemic and struggled to find employment in his field that didn’t require a move or lots of travel. He was a single parent with 50% custody of his 7 young children and needed to be present for them. A lot transpired in the year between 2020 and 2021 and his health definitely took a hit. Even so, it was completely shocking and horrifying to receive the phone call of his untimely death at age 39. This was a big blow for me for many reasons.

Lessons Learned. Summer 2021.

I feel like, in many ways, life has continued to show me that time is finite. There’s no promise of tomorrow. And I can’t continue paying down debt at a break-neck pace if it means no balance in life. My kids are now 10 (!!!) and have never been on vacation anywhere other than visiting family. My new husband and I hadn’t taken a honeymoon. I felt like life was passing me by and I wasn’t able to enjoy it with my family the way that I should. And so I stopped making those huge extra payments toward my student loan debt. Instead, I started saving (part of) that money for travel and vacation experiences for me and my family.

Today. Summer 2022. 

My new husband and I took a delayed honeymoon trip in February of this year (paid in cash). And we’re planning a family vacation for summer of 2023 (saving up to pay in cash!).

My husband brought no debt to the marriage and I am still quite debt-averse. We’re not taking on any new debt and are continuing to chip away at my debt while also making over-payments on our mortgage to pay it off early. At one time, I was putting nearly 50% of my income toward debt. Looking at my current budget however, my ratios (what I put toward debt vs. savings vs. everyday bills, etc) are very different than they once were. I’ll get into all these specific numbers in due time. But having been away so long and having the life experiences I’ve had – I wanted to provide some context into why my debt philosophy has changed.

Make no mistake – I am 100% committed to getting out of debt and cannot wait for the day that I’m 100% debt-free. Maybe I’ll still make that Nashville trip if Dave will have me in-studio.  But kids are only young once and I only get the next 8 years with mine until they move out. I know that time will pass in the blink of an eye and I intend to make the most of it with them.


Tell me – if you’re in debt, what percent of your income do you put toward debt? What percent toward savings? Do you follow a specific get-out-of-debt plan? What’s your debt philosophy?

Dealing With Financial Anxiety


Financial Anxiety Update

In the introduction post I wrote a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to start therapy to try to work through my financial anxiety. I thought I had overcome my financial anxiety after a previous round of therapy I did a few years ago. But this period of high inflation and economic uncertainty has caused my money worries to come back.

Background On My Financial Anxiety

To help anyone who might be going through the same thing feel less alone, I thought I’d share a bit more about my struggles. I worry far too much about “what if” scenarios like losing my freelance writing clients and not being able to pay my bills. In reality I have emergency savings and a partner with a stable job, so that’s unlikely to happen. But if you’ve ever had financial anxiety, you know money worries aren’t always rational and can be hard to shake!

You would think reminding myself that I have emergency savings would make me feel more secure. But I still feel this sense of financial precarity no matter how much money is in my savings account. I also struggle with feeling like I’m “behind” financially. I think I feel a lot of pressure to succeed financially in part because I’m a personal finance writer.

I’d feel like a hypocrite if I made financial mistakes in my personal life and continued writing articles advising others on how to improve their money situation. So I always strive to optimize my finances. I spend a lot of time making plans that will allow me to spend less and save more.

But at a certain point, you can’t be any more frugal without making yourself miserable. My therapist has reminded me that life is meant to be enjoyed. He’s encouraged me to spend money on fun without feeling guilty like I usually do. So I’m trying to embrace a more relaxed approach to my finances.

Where Do These Worries Come From?

My therapist and I have also spent some time digging into the root causes of my financial anxiety, which is helping me work through it. One of the potential contributors to my anxiety is the way my parents spent money during my childhood. My dad is a salesman and earned multiple six figures throughout his career. But my parents still lived paycheck to paycheck because of bad spending habits.

Watching my dad struggle to pay the mortgage while earning a high salary has made me feel like I’ll never have enough money. If he wasn’t financially stable on a high salary, then how will I ever be secure on a much more modest income? Because my parents almost lost their house and got buried in credit card debt during the Great Recession, I’ve also become very debt-averse. I don’t even like having a mortgage balance, so I’ve been trying to pay off my home early for peace of mind.

Again, these feelings aren’t totally rational. Logically I know the reason why my parents racked up debt and don’t have savings is because they mismanaged their money. But I can’t stop my anxious lizard brain from worrying that I’ll end up in a bad financial spot just like they are.

FIRE and Extreme Frugality

To make sure I don’t follow in my dad’s financial footsteps, I think I’ve overcorrected and become too frugal. I discovered the FIRE movement in my teens, which inspired me to become a personal finance writer shaped the way I view and approach money as an adult.

The FIRE movement advocates saving and investing a huge chunk of your income so you can become financially independent and retire early. But if you’re not a high-earner, it can be hard to save 40% to 75% of your income like some FIRE adherents do.

Trying and failing to meet aggressive financial goals has only contributed to my anxiety and feelings that I’ll never have enough money. So I’m trying to keep a bit of distance from the online FIRE community for now while I work on my financial anxiety. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to revisit the idea of FIRE in the future when my income grows.

Therapy Works!

Therapy has helped me a lot so far. Digging into the causes of my money worries is helping me overcome them and avoid triggers like reading FIRE forums. My therapist has encouraged me to be gentler with myself and take a more relaxed approach to my finances. I’m already starting to notice a change in my mood. My partner agrees that I seem calmer and happier since starting therapy. I’m looking forward to continuing the process and seeing how much my financial outlook improves in the coming months.

Have you ever dealt with financial anxiety? If so, did you make any lifestyle changes that helped relieve your money worries? I’d love it if you’d share your experiences and tips in the comments section below!

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