You Thoughts: On Living Life with Debt

Hello wise readers. I have a lot on my mind these days and sometimes, I just REALLY don’t know what to do. I can ask a few friends (and I do) but I always want more opinions. So I’ll be asking you all for your thoughts on some of this stuff because you all have experience, wisdom and perspective that I lack and I’d love to avoid mistakes by learning from all of you.

So here is my first question. It might seem supremely silly or stupid but I’ve been going back and forth on this for a little while and I really want to make a decision and just move on already.

First a little background.

So, as you all know, I’m paying off some credit card debt that we racked up during my maternity leave, when our insurance coverage through Mi.Vida’s work was stalled for several months. I was able to put the entirety of my tax return toward the debt, so now I have about $7000 left. It’s on a 0%APR-until-March-2015 card, so it’s not currently accruing interest. My hope is that I can get half paid off by the end of the year and the other half paid off when we get our next tax return in 2015. If that is the case, I’ll only be paying interest on it for a few months, while we wait for our tax return.

Of course things can happen and the resolution of our debt might not be so neat and tidy resolution. We just had to spend over $5000 on a plumbing problem in the tenant’s unit and we have a LOOOOONG list of projects we really should do on the house, so who knows where we’ll be in a year.

Anyway, that is where we stand debt wise. We’ve tightened our budget. We’re living within our means. We’re putting money toward our debt every month. We’re living frugally but not denying ourselves EVERYTHING. We still go to the movies every three or so months. We still treat ourselves to burritos once or twice a month. I’m taking our daughter to Disneyland for her birthday (though my parents are paying, as a present to both of us). My point is that, we’re giving ourselves a little leeway–we feel we can afford a little happiness here and there, despite not actually being able to afford it.

Having said that we are denying ourselves quite a bit. We are making sacrifices. Every time I make a purchase I consider the fact that any money I spend is money I can’t put toward our debt. I want to get rid of that balance on my credit card. I want us back in the black.

So here, almost 450 words later, is where I finally ask the question. I want to do some work on my yard this summer. I want to plant more miniature stone crop in the middle square of the yard (half of it died in the great clover take over of 2013, and the other half just hasn’t spread very quickly, but is still thriving) and I want to plant succulents on the left side (the blue star creeper was also choked out by clover–I think it got too much sun over there too). I think all in all it will cost about $500, maybe $600 at the most, but I can’t decide if I should do it. It certainly isn’t a necessity. I can keep what is still growing alive until next summer when hopefully we’ll have more money to plant these things. But if I plant them now, then the ground cover can spread all year and the yard could be done next summer, and we could actually be enjoying it when Monito is walking and I need a good place to hang out with the kids.

I REALLY want to have ground cover in the middle square, so there is actually a place for the kids to play (that isn’t concrete). And I really want something besides dead plants on the left side because, well, dead plants don’t look nice. They look dead, and they depress me. I worked SO HARD on my yard last summer, and I learned a lot about what I need to do to keep it healthy and happy this past year. I know this year I’ll be more successful combatting the problems that overwhelmed me last winter and led to the demise of certain sections of the year. Also, it’s supposed to rain a lot this coming winter, and after the crazy drought we are still suffering this year, it’d be great to watch nature do all the watering work, so that my garden can not just grown, but thrive.

So, do I spend the $500ish dollars on the backyard, even though that means I don’t get my debt paid off as quickly? Or do I not buy the plants and pay off the debt, waiting until we’re in the black to spend that kind of money? I know people will have different opinions on this, and that no one answer is necessarily the right one, I just want to know what you all think, so I can make the best decision.

Thanks in advance for your wise words.

12 responses

  1. I would not spend the money on the plants this year. That $500 is 1/14th of what you owe – 7% of your debt. It’s not a necessity and it’s a big ticket item, so I would skip it.

    I look at your plants the same way I look at picture frames for some if our professional photos (including 1 newborn photo). I have a 20×20 that requires a custom frame (yes, I’ve tried unbelievably hard to find a non-custom and it’s proving impossible if I don’t want plastic). The frame is $100… And then we need 2 custom frames for family photos… So $300 total. I REALLY want the frames so I can hang the photos, so two rooms can be complete. But I don’t NEED them. That money can go elsewhere. It’s killing me, but they’re just not needed. So.. I’m not doing it yet.

    So I would not do it. But that’s not necessarily right. As I type this, I’m thinking how damned stupid it is that I haven’t bought those frames yet for photos we have!

  2. If you don’t have the cash, I would put it off. You could also put the word out on free cycle or Craigslist that you’re looking for certain plants. Some people have extras that you could dig up for free. I have hostas that are taking over my beds, for instance, so when my sister buys her house this month, her boyfriend will be transplanting quite a few to their new yard.

  3. How much does that credit card reset to when it resets? Do you have an emergency fund other than the credit card in case you have an emergency? If you don’t pay the credit card off in full, will you have to pay back-interest (I’m not sure if CC do that anymore, but some of them used to). That $500 could mean a lot down the road if something bad happens and you end up having to pay interest that you wouldn’t have had to. Remember, it’s not just $500, it’s $500 plus all of the interest you’ll be paying on it in the future if you don’t pay off your credit card debt by March 15th.

    Life is SO MUCH BETTER when you have that $500 clear and free for spending. And it’s even better when you have it after an emergency fund and after your retirement money is making money for you. Having your money make money for you is a much better place to be in than having your debt steal money out of every paycheck. It’s well worth the sacrifice of lawn cover to get there. (And great idea above about Craigslist/Freecycle. Sometimes local gardening groups will also share plants.)

    Yes it takes time, but the sooner you get the sacrifice part over with, the sooner you can live a life with minimal money stress. The sooner debt stops dragging you down and investments start lifting you up. Wait until you’re in the black!

  4. I would say that no, don’t plant this year. Instead, focus on putting that money into paying off your debt. The feeling of freedom will be amazing compared to what landscaping will feel like 🙂 You have to sacrifice now to win in the long run. One of my favorite Dave Ramsey quotes is “Children do what feels good. Adults devise a plan and stick to it.” Stick to your plan, pay off your debt. You’ve got this!

  5. Another suggestion to help with your debt: if you are expecting a large tax refund next year, that means you are paying too many taxes now. So, if you adjust your witholdings, you would have more money to pay off the debt now and not have to worry about the interest because you won’t have to wait for your refund. Might even be able to pay it off this calendar year that way.

    Good luck!

  6. I wouldn’t spend the money. Its a lot of money and will go a long way to paying off that debt. I think treating yourself to smaller, more frequent luxuries (ie. burritos, movies) adds a lot more to your day-to-day happiness then a big purchase, so keep doing that, but hold off on non-emergent big stuff. Is there a way you can get cheaper/free plants from a nursery or farm that is getting rid of extra (less pretty, but still LIVE) plants or through Freecycle? We are trying to get rid of 3 gorgeous blooming rose bushes because we don’t have ground to plant them in and the roots busted out of the largest pots.

  7. I’m also in the Dave Ramsey camp: don’t spend the money until you have the cash. It is painful and constricting, but the sooner you get rid of your debt the better. You CAN do it.

    I would also recommend that you look at your withholdings; if you’re getting money back from the IRS every year, you are overwithholding. It’s possible you can pay that debt down sooner if you adjust your withholdings now and pay that amount monthly to the credit card – AND avoid paying interest altogether.

    I also like the idea of looking at freecycle and/or craigslist for the plants you want. I don’t know if you can find some local plant sales too, our town does annual plant sales and the prices are incredibly cheap in comparison to garden store shopping.

  8. I would say earn it if you want to spend it. There actually are small ways you can make small amounts of cash in small bursts, like fiver, or different sites that will pay you to write short articles (if you want you can email me and I’ll send you a list). If you take, say, an hour or two a week to make a bit of extra cash, then you can use it toward these types of splurges. I know you’re short on time, but writing comes very easily to you, it may be a good compromise.
    Otherwise, I would wait with it.

  9. I know nothing about gardening or plants; I have a brown thumb, but is it possible to get splices (I think that’s the right word) of the plants you’re wanting from the current plants, or neighbors’ plants? That might save you money in that area. Or, are there any plant sales that local organizations sponsor that might save you some money?

    I totally understand wanting a place for the kids to play that isn’t concrete, so I think maybe I’d look into cheaper ways to get the plants/materials you need rather than spending hundreds of dollars on it.

  10. I’d look at it like this — $600 now means you can’t pay off $600 of your credit card debt by the time the interest rate starts, so add that cost in… $600 + 20% (or whatever that number is on your credit card) = $720, so it’s actually $720 for those plants. Is it still worth it to you for $720? If so, go for it! If not, hold off for a year.

  11. I wouldn’t spend $500- I’m not sure exactly what kind of plants you’re wanting, but if they are perennials, ask your neighbors/friends if they would be willing to divide whatever they have and give it to you. My aunt turned me onto perennials 6 years ago, and I have never looked back. I spend no more than $35 for a couple new perennials each spring, but other than that, I divide my existing plants and put the new ones all around- for free! And my flower beds are teeming with stuff that could all be divided and given to people 🙂 In fact, my neighbor and my aunt and I exchange stuff with each other each fall! I’d be willing to bet you could find someone in your neighborhood that would be up for this kind of swap- maybe if they wanted something in return, you could bake some cookies?

  12. Hard decision. I mean, I’m ALL for making the home look great. I feel ya. (so want to upgrade out kitchen sink) But, let’s look at it this way…pay off what you owe, stay the course AND when you do get to a place where you have everything paid off, enjoy the fruits of your labor…and plany away. I’m sorry my friend. Kills me to wait, myself.

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