[-$97,079] Debt Payoff vs. Retirement Savings (Part 1)

debt or retirement path

A Shift in Strategy

Once I killed my credit card debt and could focus on my student loan debt, my intention was to throw every spare dollar I had at it, to the exclusion of everything else. I planned to keep my retirement savings down to 5% to get my employer match. Lately, I’ve been reconsidering that position.  Read More

The Moment When Debt Causes You to Lower Your Expectations in Life


I started this blog back in late 2012 after realizing that I wasn’t going to pay off my debt as easily as I’d assumed I would after I’d graduated from school. In the days following getting fired from my job back in 2013, my precarious financial situation became even more real to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about my past, present, and future whenever not applying for jobs. ‘Is there a way out of this?’, I’d ask. ‘Will I ever be able to live a “normal” life’ (i.e. my own house, car, nice things)? With a calculator and a notepad, I sat on the old squeaky twin bed that came with the room that I was renting at the time and started doing the math….

After a period of time running calculations, I accepted the unavoidable truth. I’d likely never be able to afford to pay off all of this debt, own a home and car, travel, afford nice clothes, and save enough for a comfortable retirement. I didn’t make enough money (still don’t), and there weren’t enough working years left. In 10 years, I’ll be in my 50’s and subject to ageism and involuntary retirement. I likely won’t have a spouse or anyone else to rely on in my old age. I’m always hopeful, of course, but also a realist. The odds are against me at this point in life. So that was it…  And the illusion crumbled…

I sat there and let it sink in. The rest of my life won’t be like I’d always envisioned it being. The future self, the ‘successful me’, that I’d had in my head all these years would never exist. It was sad to think about. It’s still sad to think about. It was almost like a mourning. I felt like a failure. I still feel like a failure.


As I sat there, the cognitive dissonance started to subside as the rational part of my brain took over again. If there wasn’t going to be enough money to go around, then I had to prioritize and make choices. First, the debt has to be repaid. The consequences for not doing so would be too severe. Seventy-five percent of my 140k+ debt is student loan debt, so bankruptcy was not an option.

Next, I knew that retirement funds would be necessary to support me in my old age. With no retirement savings in my late 30s, I knew that I would have to sacrifice as much money as I could to put into a retirement account when (if) I got my next job. Lastly, I would have to live my life on very little money between then and retirement, only to continue living frugally in old age. That’s not even accounting for needing to take care of my parents in their final years. Frankly, I’m planning that my siblings will be willing to fund most of our parent’s care-taking as they are much more financially well-off than I am. (Hell, who isn’t?)


No house, no nice things, no travel. I’d need to continue living under other people’s roofs, in rented rooms, sleeping on other people’s old squeaky twin beds; at least for the foreseeable future. As someone who cherishes personal space and privacy, this was a bitter pill to swallow. (Side note: Although I’ve moved twice since that day in 2013, I’m currently writing this post on a squeaky twin bed in a rented room). As living with roommates is a constant source of low level stress for me, I realize I am sacrificing a bit of my health because of this.

Around that same time last year when I had my calculator reckoning, I discovered minimalism and simplicity. It was a buoy for me in that it helped me to cope with my situation. It helped me to see that I don’t need ‘nice things’ to be happy. I don’t need to own a home or car. I won’t lie and say that those things wouldn’t be nice to have. I’ve just come to accept that they may not be for me.

Today, I don’t know how my journey on this rock will end. (Would I even want to know?) However, I’m coping with lowered adjusted life expectations, the best way that I know how. I don’t look, dress, or live like other women my age, because of my financial situation. The sour truth is that sometimes I’m treated differently by others because of those differences. Being and looking poor has its disadvantages. I’m planning to re-start work on a couple of side projects that may become a source of side income. I need to find a way to make more money without sacrificing my health. I will do what I can to improve my situation, and to focus on the silver lining to my cloud.

How has debt affected you?  What have you done about it?

“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)

When is it OK to “Slow Down” in Debt Repayment?

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Have you ever been so obsessed with paying down debt that you’ve checked your debt account(s) multiple times every day to see your new amount due when a payment posts? The wait from the time you send payment until the time that the lower balance shows up on your screen seems excruciatingly long, doesn’t it? Why can’t payment be instant?!! Arrrgh!

Do you read (or at least subscribe to) dozens of personal finance related blogs and sites?  If you own any books or e-books, are they mostly money related?  Can you remember the last time you read a fiction book for fun? Can’t stop looking for one more way to squeeze a penny?


If so, I can relate. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my finances, too much time. And that needs to change. I need to do some rebalancing in my life. I need to ‘slow down’ for a while – not forever – just for a while. I need to pace myself.

When I say ‘slow down’ I don’t mean relaxing my drive to get out of debt or lowering my debt payments or loosening my budget (by much). Instead, I’m referring to stopping acceleration, taking my foot off the gas and going on ‘cruise control’.


What does financial cruise control mean?

For me, it means pausing plans for a second job and side hustles. It means reducing (not eliminating) the amount of time that I spend reading about and obsessing over debt and debt payoff. It means adjusting my debt-life balance.  It could mean something different for you.

Why go on financial cruise control when it comes to debt?

If you have a long debt repayment plan, it may be necessary at some point(s) along the way to automate your finances so that you can divert your attention elsewhere for a limited period of time. Reasons for this generally fall into one of two camps, both of which are closely related.

  1. Circumstances change – Responsibilities increase either at work and/or in your personal life causing your free time to be reduced.

 My job has always been stressful and that is likely to increase. The vacancy created by my manager leaving has not been filled and may not be in the foreseeable future. So I’m having to take on some of that extra work and responsibility. It’s nerve wracking to be expected to perform at the same level as my former manager who everyone loved and who had 8 years of experience in that role. I have 11 months of experience and I’ve been doing a shaky / mediocre job at best so far.  I bring work home in the evenings and work over the weekends half the time as it is.


  1. Your priorities and life goals have shifted – We change as we get older, thanks to the people we meet and the experiences we have. Perhaps a goal that you thought was a must-do, is not as important anymore. Perhaps you are reducing your overall number of goals in an effort to gain simplicity in your life – to enjoy being present, rather than racing from goal-related activity to goal-related activity to check it off your list. Perhaps a new goal has become the most important thing in your life. This is why setting and re-setting priorities is so important. Sometimes circumstances out of our control force a re-setting of priorities.

Not many things are as important as getting out of debt for us, but they do exist.  For me, my ongoing health concerns are at a point where medical intervention will likely be needed. Chances are high that I may need to have surgery at some point within the next year. I need to prepare for the costs associated with that, but regardless it is imperative that I get in shape and improve my diet (reduce sugar mostly).

I’m trying to exercise on my own, but the willpower isn’t there. In the past I’ve done much better with the structure of a class. I have found a gym not too far away from where I live now – a nice long walk by foot. They offered a free class and I took it.  The workout had me sore for a week. THAT is what I need. I haven’t gone back because I’m debating whether or not to shell out for the monthly membership, but what is the cost of health? Now if I could just find a cheap personal chef, I’d be in business.

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Woohoo! My latest payment FINALLY hit my credit card. I love seeing that balance go down!

Am I hopeless?  🙂  (Sigh.)


“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)