Why You Shouldn’t Let Debt Hold You Back

Have you let debt hold you back? Are you tired of making sacrifices for it? Here's why you should put your happiness first and still kill your debt.

I’m sad to say this is my last post for Frugal Rules. I’ve enjoyed writing for all of you and am thankful John gave me this opportunity, but as my business has expanded, I need to move my time and energy to new opportunities. I thought it fitting to make my last post a bit of a reflection on why you shouldn’t let debt hold you back.

This is something I’ve personally struggled with for years, ever since I graduated with student loan debt. It’s been a cloud that has followed me throughout my financial journey thus far.

Anytime I think of purchasing something – whether it’s a necessity or a treat – debt has been a thorn in my side. I’m constantly reminded that I’m not free. I know a portion of any money that comes in is automatically earmarked for paying off debt.

While I’ve paid extra on my student loans more months than I care to count, and while I’m fairly responsible with my money, there’s still a part of me that wishes things were different.

I let Debt Hold me Back Too Many Times


Debt has held me back from a lot. First and foremost, I haven’t done nearly as much traveling as I would like because of it. When I do manage to go on vacation, I scrimp in so many areas, it’s barely worthwhile. I just can’t justify going overseas or planning something that’s going to cost me over $1,000.

I’ve also been of the opinion that marriage can wait until all my student loans are gone. I wouldn’t want to start a new chapter of my life with that all-too-familiar cloud hanging over me.

I haven’t become a homeowner for many reasons – debt being the least of them – but I’m 100% certain I wouldn’t want to sign up for a mortgage with my student loan debt still in existence.

On the same subject, I’ve been unhappy in the city I relocated to a few years ago. Moving has been on my mind for the better part of a year, but I was too scared to pull the trigger. After all, it’s not a small expense, and taking such a huge risk while being in debt seemed like a move in the opposite direction of where I should be going.

Debt was also hanging over my shoulder the entire time I was trying to make a go of freelancing. I kept doubting myself and thinking I should go back to the 9-5 grind for a steady paycheck because I felt incredibly guilty for paying the minimums on my loans at the time.

Not that it’s a horrible thing, but being in debt has caused me to become even more adverse to debt than I was before. I recently had a car repair that totaled almost $1,500, and more work will need to be done in the future. The idea of buying a “new” car briefly floated through my head, but the thought of signing for a loan is completely undesirable to me.

Debt has held me back in little ways, too. I’ve said “no” to hanging out with friends far too many times than I want to admit because I felt guilty for spending my money on anything fun. I felt like I didn’t deserve it – not until I was free.

Life Isn’t Going to Wait for You


All of these denials slowly added up and culminated in me slowing down on my debt payoff. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with that. “Debt is an emergency and should come first!” is advice that’s often repeated in the personal finance community.

Well, I put debt (and saving) first a lot, and I’m not so sure it was effective. Sure, my loan balance went down, but so did my morale. While I’m still determined to pay my student loans off this year, I’m no longer willing to do so at the expense of so many experiences.

Last year, I realized I had had enough of saying “no” to myself. I could continue making progress on my loans while living in harmony with my values. These values happen to include traveling to see family and friends and experiencing new things.

It might sound like a cop-out, but life isn’t going to wait around until you finish paying off your debt. It’s going to happen regardless. The harsh reality is that there’s no “fear” of missing out; you are missing out, one way or another. At least, that’s how I felt.

Only You Know What’s Right for You


I realize this post is full of cliches, but they’re all true. I’ve heard many people say that they didn’t want to let debt get in the way of getting married (or even dating), starting a family, buying a house, traveling and generally living life. I’ve seen just as many bulldoze their way through debt so they could start living the life they want to live sooner.

Neither method is right or wrong. I’ve tried both, and I’ve found that although it’s difficult to find balance, the middle-of-the-road approach is right for me. I can’t go all-in for months on end, and I would never advise someone to abandon their debt repayment completely in favor of YOLO or anything like that.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: what’s keeping you up at night? Is it the thought of wishing you could move on to the next stage of your life? Or is it the thought of your debt accumulating all that lovely interest?

Sometimes, a little soul-searching is needed to find your answer. Do you have any deep regrets about things you’ve put on the backburner due to debt? Or are you okay with the sacrifices that have been required of you?

Have you let debt hold you back? Are you tired of making sacrifices for it? Here's why you should put your happiness first and still kill your debt.

What’s Going to Make You Happy?


Ultimately, I don’t believe that you need to sacrifice your happiness to debt. Yes, in certain situations, it is an emergency, and you should be conscious of your financial moves in light of it. But that doesn’t mean living like a hermit and depriving yourself of all the good things in the world.

You can be financially responsible with your money while still living your life. You may need to modify a few things here or there, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your biggest dreams, especially if it might take you years to pay off your debt.

You can’t let your money control you, especially not out of fear. That doesn’t make for a happy existence, and I learned that the hard way.

I’m glad that I didn’t let debt hold me back from everything I wanted. I persisted with freelancing and I’m earning more than I did at my previous day job, with even more opportunities ahead. I decided to move (with a huge emergency fund) because I needed to put my happiness first and get outside my comfort zone. And I have no regrets about traveling because time with loved ones is priceless.

Don’t let debt run your life. Consider it when making decisions, but don’t let it have the final say. Be responsible with your money and know what path is best for you. If you’re happier putting every last cent of your earnings toward debt, then do that. If you’re happier saving for a future milestone while paying off your debt at a decelerated or “normal” pace, then do that.

Whatever you do, don’t dismiss it. Whether we like it or not, we have to accept the fact that debt is there, at least for the time being. But it’s possible to live your life and be happy despite that. Don’t automatically give yourself a prison sentence for a few years. Figure out how to get where you want to be regardless, and don’t give up hope.


Have you ever let debt hold you back before? How? Do you regret letting it stop you from living, or do you regret not prioritizing it? Do you think debt is an emergency?

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Erin M. is a personal finance freelance writer passionate about helping others take control over their financial situation. She shares her thoughts on money on her blog Journey to Saving.


  • I can relate to this article even though I don’t have debt. For me, it’s “why you shouldn’t let saving hold you back”. Sometimes I miss out on opportunities because I’d rather save the money than spend it. Life truly doesn’t wait for you and you always have the weight the pros and cons of spending on things you value.

  • Larry Green says:

    This is so true. I remember putting a lot of strain on my relationship with my wife back when we were dating because I took saving to an extreme. I was being cheap rather than frugal. I believe that you are absolutely right, it is all about striking the right balance between enjoying life now and enjoying life in the future.

    • Erin M says:

      You’re so not alone, Larry. I’ve definitely let this mentality hold me back to the point where it negatively affected my relationships. It’s so hard to get out of your head and look at the big picture, but there are things in life (like family) that matter more in the end.

  • David says:

    There have been a few times when debt held me back. There were many more times when it triggered me to find creative and fun ways to earn additional income. When I couldn’t justify spending money to go whitewater rafting I went to raft guide school. Since then I average 10 weekends a year on the rivers and get paid for it.
    By asking myself how to have fun and get paid for it I been able to make my ski equipment, snowmobiles, ATVs and fishing boat pay for themselves. This allows me to do what I enjoy without feeling guilty about spending while carrying debt.
    I haven’t had a regular job since 1999. My last debt payment was for my mortgage in 2007. My life has been one long adventure since my early 20s. Now that I am in my mid 50s it’s starting to slow down. Getting out of debt was always a priority that was the motivator for a lot of unusual side hustles.

    • Erin M says:

      Ooh, that sounds awesome, David! I love the creativity aspect of it. If you can find a way to get paid for something you love doing (that might be on the expensive side), there’s really not much better. Those seem like great side hustles to have!

  • Michael says:

    Hi Erin,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. You are right about finding a balance and doing what is right for you.

    In my case, I just held my nose and paid off my credit card debt over a three year period. I did celebrate each milestone (paying off a credit card) along the way.


    • Erin M says:

      Celebrating milestones is so key. This is something I struggle with because I find it hard to justify spending (when I want to save/pay off debt), but without celebrations, the journey can get tiring!

  • Hi, Erin! I will definitely miss reading your posts here. You’re such a thoughtful writer and I always enjoy hearing from you. I’m happy you’re no longer allowing debt to hold you back! My philosophy is quite different from, “Debt is an emergency and should come first!” is advice that’s often repeated in the personal finance community.” I believe it’s called personal finance for a reason and everyone must make decisions that is best for them. Wishing you the best of luck on your newest endeavors!

    • Erin M says:

      Aw, thank you for the compliment Latoya! It means a lot. I agree with you. You have to do what feels right to you. Debt can be an emergency if your interest rates are on the insane side, but for those of us with student loans that aren’t too crazy, 5-7 years is still much better than 10 (or 25 for the income-based repayment plans). It all depends on your situation!

  • Oh Erin. I am gonna miss your post. I learned a lot from you from managing money to strategies in paying off debt. Hope you could let us know when you have a post to share with. Good luck Erin.

    • Erin M says:

      Thanks Jayson! It means a lot. Frugal Rules was one of the first personal finance blogs I read and I know you’ll continue finding quality posts here. 😉

  • I can relate in a big way to many of the things you mentioned. I also pay the minimum on my student loans, and it allows me to invest, save, and in general live a better life. I am not in the camp that all debt is an emergency, and I’m just as happy if on paper I’m closing the gap as far as assets versus debt. I understand why some people drop everything to pay off debt, but it’s mainly psychological reasons. I should say that debt is one reason, but not the overwhelming reason, I have not tried to go the freelancing route and quite my full-time job.

    This is a really great post and I’m sad to see you leaving Frugal Rules!

    • Erin M says:

      Thanks DC! There are a lot of factors to consider. My thoughts on debt (or well, my debt) have changed a lot over the years, depending on the situation I’m in. I’m “lucky” to only have student loans and I figured I could deal with those being a freelancer. It’s not for everyone, though. I’ve definitely gone back and forth thinking I should be getting rid of them at all costs, to slowing down during major life changes. At the end of the day, I’m moving in the right direction with them, and that’s what matters.

  • Great, thoughtful post, Erin! While it’s important to take debt seriously, making payoff your sole or main purpose in life isn’t healthy, either. I appreciate you expressing the other side of this topic.

  • Andrew says:

    This really struck a cord with me Erin. If I was to think of one thing that has controlled my life it’s debt. It just has this hold on me that I can’t shake free. I would love to do more but I go back to scrimping because I don’t want any more debt. I think I’m always going to be going back and forth with enjoying the here and now, versus saving/scrimping for the future. Great post!

    • Erin says:

      I know how difficult of a balance it is, Andrew! I do the same. The best solution I’ve found is giving myself three values I can spend on, guilt-free, while “scrimping” everywhere else. This way I can at least enjoy some things in the present. =)

  • PadAdventure says:

    Wow, I couldn’t agree more. You have to keep everything in perspective, I think, and as long as you’re moving forward and spending truly for life value, and doing so responsibly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nice article! thanks for sharing

  • I think about this issue a lot, especially with three small children at home. We spend plenty of time together, having fun, without spending too much money. Balance is so difficult to achieve with a full-time job and side hustles. I diligently try to keep everything in perspective and not just live for the future. Ultimately, you are the only one who knows what’s best for you. I wish you the best 🙂

    • Erin says:

      There are definitely many, many ways to enjoy time with friends and family for free (or for less). I grew up looking forward to weekends spent at the library with my parents, for example. Sometimes the little things matter more! But you’re right, balance is very difficult to obtain, although it helps to be aware of when you’re not quite living in the present.

  • Josh says:

    Thanks for sharing. I understand what you are saying. When we first got married my wife and I went after our debt and got rid of it within a year and a half. Since then we have actually had a lot of trouble building up emergency funds or saving for things like cars, vacations, etc. There always seems to be something that gets in the way. Car issues, house issues, health issues, having children, etc. No doubt we have enjoyed some expensive vacations and have bought some nice toys for ourselves. We save for retirement (not a ton), have life insurance for everyone in the family (3 of us at the moment) and generally try to live the life we want while not overspending on things we do not need.

    It is somewhat troubling/ironic to me that it was easier to pay down our debt than it is to save money. I actually feel a lot of guilt and shame because we are considering going back into debt to purchase a minivan for our expanding family.

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