Aggressive Debt Pay Down vs. The Holidays

My husband and I are young, but we have managed to get ourselves in a bit of debt. After living abroad for two years, having to completely furnish a new apartment, having to buy new (to us) vehicles, and then a surprise cat surgery, our debt is currently sitting at about $10,000, not including student loans. Most of it is interest free or low interest (cause my credit score is near perfect), which is nice, but the holidays are approaching.

With that in mind, we're confronted with a dilemma, and I'd love to hear what the community has to say about it. We've discussed the matter endlessly (we're very open about financial matters), but at this point it feels like we're talking in circles. 

In one corner, we have aggressively paying down debt. Obviously, this is a huge priority. We're currently on track to have all credit cards paid off in a bout a year, maybe a little more than a year. We're throwing every available penny into debt repayment. We had some prescheduled and prepaid vacations lined up this month, but other than that, we're basically hermits. 

Which then brings in the other corner: the Holidays. But not just the holidays, a social life. We're almost thirty, in a new city, and trying to make friends. We like trivia, and beer, and dinner parties. But the looming monster in the distance is Christmas. Since this is our first Christmas in the United States in several years, and we have our own place, we were looking forward having a tree and presents and parties and decorations. But with the debt pay down plan we have established that's just looking like it's not in the cards. 

This is really upsetting to me, as one of the reasons we came back to the US is to be close to family and friends and have our own space. The holidays are a big deal to me, and they always have been. Living like a hermit just isn't sitting well with me, and I'm finding myself spiraling into a bit of a depression at the thought of getting rid of everything joyful to pay down that debt. I know that financial independence is a big deal, and it'll be so freeing in the future, but the questions are:

At what point do you stop sacrificing happiness to pay down debt? Is there such a thing as paying down debt too aggressively? Is it wise to cut out everything other than the necessary expenses to get rid of debt?

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  • Hi, YNABer! Welcome back to the US! It sounds like you and your husband have just had a whole heck of a lot of life transitions! I can totally understand why you would be overwhelmed and depressed! You bring up great points - the balance between debt and happiness and how to find what works best for you. If you ask 100 people what they think, you're going to get 100 different answers. Some people might say, "Sacrifice it all! Crunch time! Get out of debt now!" and others will say "What's one more year of a bit more debt to be happy?" with a thousands shades of ideas in between. My suggestion is do what feels good for you. Only you know what you need to be happy and to get out of debt. Debt-free is a long game - you aren't going to be out of debt in December (it sounds like), so you need to figure out what that balance is for you and your husband for this season, but also for the next year. Perhaps cutting out all fun things just isn't realistic or desirable for you and your husband - and that's okay. 

    Reading your post, it sounds like you aren't wanting to spend your whole holiday season by sitting at home in a decoration-less house with no contact with other people, and that it would feel like a sacrifice. That's okay! So if that isn't what you want, what do you want? If you want to meet up with friends and family, maybe you can look at ways to decrease the costs - host a trivia/game/party night, have folks bring some beer to share, and host a potluck or make folks a cost effective dinner (chili, soup, etc). Whenever we've hosted people at our house we have found that is costs a lot less in groceries and alcohol than if we had gone out. And friends seem always willing to come over and help cover costs by bringing things! :)

    If you want to exchange gifts this year, maybe you and your husband make a plan on how much you want to budget for gifts and stick to it. Gifts can be material, or they can be experiences (cheap and free options!). And for family, you can let them know this Christmas is tight (after all, you just moved internationally!) and perhaps offer less expensive gifts (homemade cookies, spending time with them doing a fun activity, etc). This might be the year you get a Charlie Brown tree with a few decorations (perhaps homemade with friends who helped make them!), and next year you look at how you might expand decorating. There are cheap/discounted decorations at thrift stores. In my experience, folks really love the people-part of holidays, and maybe you are the same. Bringing folks together to be in good company can be cost effective and fun. Maybe you can find some free/low cost events and get together with friends to do those. Holidays always seem to have fun local events to attend. :)

    And after all that, as long as you all budget for whatever you decide it sounds like you will be on a good road to debt-free in about a year. You can do this! :) Good luck, and I hope you have happy holidays! :)

    Like 4
    • Forest Green Wizard (40e6ab07ca02) We love hosting pot lucks at our place! I figured this would be a really personal answer for a lot of people, but it looks like it's making for good discussion and tons of suggestions. I like the idea you mentioned for thrift store decorations. I keep forgetting that now that I'm back in the States, thrift stores are a thing. lol Thanks! 

      Like 1
  • You need to switch your mindset about debt/money/happiness. If you want to play trivia at a bar, do it. But decide that you're only going to have one beer and then you'll drink water. Want to have a dinner party? Do it. Make a game of trying to have a cheap fancy meal (might I suggest roasting a whole chicken? It's super cheap meat, looks fantastic on the dinner table and everyone will be in awe that you made it. No idea why, because it's an easy meal to make, but they do. I follow thekitchn's perfect roasted chicken recipe) I would think about trying to keep the decorations to a minimum this year, and then buy a bunch of decorations on Dec 26th for next year. Are you/your spouse artsy? Consider making presents. Things I've done: Painted glass Christmas ornaments for all of my friends. I've painted: Snoopy, Harry Potter, sports teams, Hello Kitty, Superman, all sorts of animals, golf clubs, fire engines, police cars, coast guard boats. Everyone loves them. Glass ornaments are roughly $.75 a pop. Glass paint is $3/color. The first year I spent maybe $30 and made presents for 25 people. Since then I spend... well about $.75 a present because I already have everything I need. I've also crocheted animals/scarves (a little more expensive, but again super easy to do if you follow instructions fairly well).

    When I was in "super debt payoff mode" I really tried to make a game of paying it off. Say I had $50 budgeted for the grocery store for the week. I would try my best to figure out a way to pay less than that $50. Did I pay $48? Then the $2 went to debt. Last week I under spent by $2, can I save more this week? (I shop at Aldi and worship at Budget Bytes). I think I had $50 budgeted each month for fun money. I tried to make the most of it. Started geocaching (free), offering to be designated driver (cheap), going to free concerts (free, duh), inviting friends over for game night (cheap), getting books on overdrive (free), went to art shows (free) and Tuesday night movies (cheap). So stop being a hermit! Find things you'd enjoy that aren't expensive. Or find ways to make what you really really want to do less expensive.

    Like 2
    • Navy Blue Commander (de6d514c55de) Thanks for all of the suggestions. I LOVE Budget Bytes. My husband and I cook at least one or two of her recipes every week. And I like the idea of making Christmas ornaments. I'm really artsy. And I'm a photographer, so I can offer free photo shoots for presents, too! :D 

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    • Gray Pilot (f6da086d3d25) Oh man! Photo shoots for presents is a FANTASTIC idea! You get to spend time with your loved ones and really give them something awesome for Christmas!

      Like 1
  • This is a life [style] issue.  And it is your life. (and your husband's).  There is no "right or wrong" answer other than it is something you and your husband should work out TOGETHER.  Life happens, debt happens and it sounds like you are trying to figure out how to get out of the debt hole.  Good for you.  You will do it!!!  whether you choose to stop living to get it done or pace yourself.  Neither is "the right" way.  It's not a contest.    It almost sounds like you are asking "how much do I have to hurt to get out of debt?" or "do I have to hurt/punish myself to get out of debt?"  The amount of sacrifice you make is up to you.  

     I have found that YNAB takes the "punishment" out of debt reduction and makes it more of a game and personal challenge.  Having monthly goals for debt reduction is much easier than staring  $10000 of debt in the face.  I have found there are months I go beyond my goals and other months I don't make it...because life happens.  I just do my best to bring down the debt.

    Like 2
    • Sea Green Chef (cd5fdf003bc5) Thanks for bringing me back down to earth. With all of the nuances of living back here, I find myself getting more stressed by things that used to not bother me as much. The way you describe it seems like one of those "duh" things that I keep getting rustled over. Life happens. :D Thanks! 

      Like 1
  • My wife and I have discussed this a lot with our (well, just mine now) student debt.  My wife wants to pay down our debt while maintaining a solid safety buffer, I'm more the Spartan, Dave Ramsey, burn-it-with-fire type, (But we also really like beer and trivia.) 

    If you haven't already, I recommend plugging your debts into a Debt Snowball Calculator (I like using Financial Mentor's: and seeing what happens when you play with the numbers. If you're a spreadsheet person (trying to kill debt turned me into one), make a personalized spreadsheet and look at different debt plans. 

    Doing this helped us to see our priorities and make the best decision. When I started comparing the interest savings with different monthly payments or strategies, I realized that what was really driving me was hating the feeling of being in debt, not necessarily the actual savings. My wife realized that we could still maintain a solid safety net while still being more aggressive. 

    Just being able to see the actual numbers for the future can be really helpful in deciding what you want to do now. That's been our experience. 

    Like 2
  • I think the key to maintaining anything like this is finding balance. If you give up your Holiday traditions I think you will end up resenting the debt payoff and then you may just give up all together. I think in this case paying off the debt, but also doing things that are important to you will keep you going. There have been some great ideas so far as far as finding less expensive decorations and making less expensive meals. Good luck to you.

    Like 1
  • Hello,


    If I can chime in here, to me getting out of debt is a lot like losing weight or lowering your blood sugar. Stuff I have worked and struggled with in my personal past and with friends and family.

    If you deprive yourself of sweets on a diet after so long you will say the heck with it and eat a couple of quarts of ice cream and a cheesecake.  Where if you have a small something ever 4-5 days, it satisfies that craving and you stick to the diet.  The same with a debt reduction plan, you stay home and be a hermit long enough and one day you will go crazy spending.

    I have been listening to the old YNAB podcast and Jesse Mecham talks about when he first started using it and how they put everything into paying down debt, he was in school and would walk by a stand selling donoughts, it was only like $0.50 or something and he did not have the money for it, after several weeks he talked to his wife and they carved out like $5.00 a month and it took that extreme pressure off of them.

    So find what works for you and your significant other and what you can stand.

    Like 2
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