Paying off Debt: Make the Hard Choices

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If you’re in a situation where you’re paying off debt right now, you may have come to the realization that paying off debt often involves making hard choices.

We are seven months into our debt payoff journey, and we had a situation today that brought to the forefront of my mind just how important it is to make the hard choices when facing those spending forks in the road.

Handling Hard Decisions When Paying Off Debt


We were heading into town (we live in a rural area), which is a semi-rare occasion for us. We’d planned to celebrate our niece’s birthday, and then do the errands that involve stores in the big metropolitan area that we only get to once or twice a month. Day planned, budget planned, right?

Then my mom called.  “Want to join us for our Monday bowling and out to eat outing?” What a great idea! I thought. We haven’t seen my parents in almost two weeks, and we haven’t seen my aunt and uncle, who are also on the bowling team, in months.  What a great opportunity to get together, since we’re in the city anyway. Two birds with one stone, right?

The thought quickly turned from excitement to hesitation as I remembered that we are on a super strict budget right now as we work to pay off debt.

Bowling for me and our four kids would be fairly cheap, $16 total, and dinner at the local “upper scale” fast food joint would run about $25. Ok, 40 bucks?  Not a good idea right now.  The decision was made.

Then mom chirped in “I’ll pay for bowling!” That little devil sat on my shoulder. Now it’s only $25 bucks! he said. Isn’t it worth it for quality time with your family? You haven’t been bowling in ages.

As much as we wanted to go, I knew in my heart it wasn’t the right decision. Even if we’d chosen to skip dinner and just go for bowling on mom’s dime, we’re still talking extra gas, etc.

Today was one of those days when we had to make a hard choice for the benefit of paying off debt and doing what’s best for our family. 

It wasn’t easy. It sucked, if I may be so blunt. But as that little devil sat on my shoulder trying to convince me to spend the money, a little angel came and sat on the other shoulder.

Your family’s future is worth more than a trip to the bowling alley and dinner at a fast food place. It’s your choice, but just remember that you’ll likely regret it tomorrow if you choose to spend that money instead of paying off debt with it.

Remembering What Really Matters


And then, I snapped back into reality, and I remembered that I really don’t want to be forced into working the fast food drive–thru in my retirement years.

I remembered that spending that money would be one more hour that my husband would have to work before being able to retire. I remembered that I love my family too much to stay in debt one more day than we have to.

This is not a post against doing fun stuff. Fun stuff is fine. It’s a necessary part of life, for sanity’s sake. But it’s important when you’re working to pay off debt that you choose your fun money spending based on what’s truly most important to you and your family. It’s the old adage of value-based spending.

So, we didn’t go bowling. Instead we invited my parents and aunt and uncle up to our house next weekend for a game night.  As is customary for family game nights, we’ll sit around, playing Trivial Pursuit, making stupid jokes and then laughing hysterically at them while non-family members look at us like we’re nuts, and I’m confident I can whip up some great food for my part of the potluck for under five bucks. Sounds like a great time, doesn’t it? I’m confident it will be.

What’s a recent tough decision that you faced while paying off debt and how did you handle it?


Photo courtesy of: Images_Of_Money

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Mark Ross | Think Rich. Be Free. says:

    That’s nice that you find an alternative and saved money in the end. Having debts can really have an impact on some of your decisions in life.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, Mark, it really can. I can’t wait till it’s all gone and we can make spending decisions based on something other than needing to pay off debt first!

  • says:

    Brilliant – love it.

    Sometimes, it s really hard to make these right decisions. The short-term devil often beats the long-term angel.

    But, there is always a free alternative, as you have proven. I’m sure you’ll have even more fun at the games night than you would at the bowling.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    We have a wedding up north three hours away. My wife is the personal attendant so we don’t know when we’ll leave, but we decided to leave instead of stay at the pricey resort hotel rooms. We already are going to a hotel for our 2 year anniversary so we didn’t think it was a wise financial decision. It wasn’t an easy choice and the drive won’t be fun that late at night, but we should save some money.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      DC, I commend you for your frugal choice. It’s hard to say “no”, especially when everyone else is saying “yes”, but if it’s the best thing for your family, it’s got to be done. Great job!

  • FI Pilgrim says:

    Those decisions are very hard, I agree. But I like how you thought of an alternative as opposed to just giving a stick-in-the-mud response of “no, that won’t work this time”. I’ve found that game nights are a better way to “connect” with folks anyway!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      We love game nights. 🙂 They’re always full of giggles and laughs. Thanks for stopping by, FI Pilgrim.

  • Pauline says:

    That sucks, but I am sure you can see your family in a park, it’s still summer! My mum does the same for my sister, every time she can’t pay for something my mum offers to pay for it and my sister accepts, which makes her still dependent on her mother at 30. Good for you for not giving in.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, it does suck, but I am glad we said “no”. I can’t wait for the day when we can take her out to eat and pay for her bowling instead. 🙂

  • Matt Becker says:

    I love your solution here. It’s not an either/or proposition. Rather than take the first, and more expensive, option available to you, you were able to propose an alternative that met both goals of seeing family and staying within budget. Great lesson there.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, I think there’s always an alternative of some sort if you look hard enough, Matt. We’ve found that in almost every similar situation. Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂

  • Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    It’s hard to say no for me when it comes to fun outings but in the end, it really is what you have to do if you want to pay off debt.

    Also, I LOVE game night. Glad that worked out for everyone!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Isn’t it fun??? My husband thinks we’re crazy, but he doesn’t know what he’s missing out on. 🙂

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    The family stuff is hard. My inlaws really don’t have any income other than social security after they got into so much debt they lost their home, etc. I feel really bad for them, but when were in debt payoff mode, my sister in law really wanted us to spend a few hundred bucks to go in with her so my inlaws could get their truck running. They have another vehicle and don’t work, so it wasn’t a huge necessity. We had to tell them no and felt like schmucks, but it was the right thing. Next we would have been asked to buy them a TV and it goes on and on. We do now help out if asked to do something like that, but we just couldn’t for a while. It was hard.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Ouch! That’s great that you stuck to your guns, Kim. If anything, you showed your sis-in-law what true financial responsibility meant. And now you are in a situation where you can throw extra toward stuff like that if you want to. That’s one of the blessings of sticking to the plan and getting out of debt.

  • Amber Day Hicks says:

    Ah- thank you for the encouragement, the hubs has been fussing b/c I’m not a saver and lost my 10- year career in May so I’ve had trouble finding work, looking for part time while our daughter is in school it just makes more sense financially yada yada… Interesting to read thank you. Following you on blog lovin’

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    Great post Laurie! I love that you will still be able to see your family but not have to spend as much by inviting them to your place for a game night. Excellent idea. We did the same thing. We have friends that we love hanging out with but they love eating out at nice restaurants. We turned them down recently and had them over for dinner instead.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That really can be a great option, can’t it Andrew. By following through on our budget, it’ll ensure that eventually, we can get to the place where nice restaurants are an option. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Taynia | The Fiscal Flamingo says:

    This is such a positive post. I love it. Debt will force you to make choices. Sooner or later. In my eyes you made the right choice and found an even better solution. Yay!

  • Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia says:

    Hmm, I’m intensely familiar with having to make sacrifices when paying off debt (we beat over $140k in less than 3 years!). This situation is a gray area to me though. I commend you for being strong and sticking to your guns. Spending quality time with your family is very important too especially for your kids to enrich their lives and make memories. If you’ve got less expensive opportunities coming up then this decision does make sense. However, I wouldn’t eschew all family bonding time simply to save a few dollars.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s amazing, Mr. Utopia! In our case, though, $25 or $50 is a huge amount of money right now. We’ve got a lot of debt to kill and not too much income. But once things aren’t so tight, we will definitely be less stringent with our budget. 🙂

  • Joshua Rodriguez says:

    Hey Laurie, my toughest debt related decision was to give my car up for repo years ago. Since then, I haven’t had to make any tough decisions to pay off debt because, I really don’t have any, well, none worth worrying about. I have small debts, but none that would cause me to have to make tough decisions. I’m glad you made things work for you in the end, even through the tough decision making process. Thanks for the great read!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I remember that story! I can’t wait till we’re in that same “no debt” place. Glad you enjoyed the post, Joshua. Have a great day!

  • anna says:

    Socializing and hanging out with friends is definitely a tough challenge for me – I feel like I’m “missing out.” That’s great that you found an alternative to still hang out with your family – my friends and I do that, as well, and it’s more fun in my opinion since we can laugh as loudly and be as rowdy as we want whereas we might get looks thrown our way in public places. 🙂

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I totally agree, Anna! Our family is the same way. 🙂 It’s nice to be able to act somewhat ridiculous without worrying about the consequences, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Budget and the Beach says:

    That’s great you came up with an alternate solution, because of course you want to see your family! I think for me it’s saying no to friends who want to grab a bite to eat. I miss being more social and feel like a bit of a hermit sometimes, and I’m not even paying off debt…just navigating my rocky freelance income and trying to save for a few key items. I feel your pain!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That would be hard for me too, Tonya. I love going out to eat, especially with friends! I think it’s great that you’re being so responsible with your freelance income; it’ll pay off in the long run, that’s for sure. 🙂

  • The Warrior says:

    Hi Laurie –

    We are spot on together. I know I’m “pimping” out my site by saying this, but i think you’d enjoy my post today. Smart minds think alike and our posts kind of mesh the same idea.

    Check it out if you like. Have a great day!

    The Warrior

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, not at all. I will definitely head over and read it – I’m always up for another kindred PF spirit. 🙂

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    I think those are some of the hardest choices we face when we’re trying to get out of debt. It’s hard to turn down family events but I commend you for taking your time to think it through and find the solution that worked for everyone. Bowling and dinner wouldn’t have been fun if it filled with you regret afterwards. But having fun and being with people you love and care about is important too, so I’m glad you found a way to do that in a manner that feels good and honors your goal of getting out of debt. “What really matters” is what I tell my girls all the time. Whatever you choose to spend your money on, make sure it really matters and makes your heart happy. Sounds you did that perfectly.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks so much, Shannon, and I know you’re right: I would’ve totally regretted that spend afterward. I’m so glad I chose to make my hard happy. 🙂

  • The Norwegian Girl says:

    Yepp, fun money is for fun, buut I´d rather stretch it out the most I can, so that I can do more fun stuff in a month, than just one outing! We love having friends over for a game night, and I´m always able to make a pretty frugal dinner! So I agree, it´s all about doing what´s right for you and your family.

  • Kendal says:

    Great post, Laurie! I was really feeling for you when you decided to forego spending time with your parents and relatives. What an awesome solution to have them over to your house for a frugal night in! I recently asked a friend if she wanted to join me for a multi-course wine dinner hosted by one of our favorite restaurants, and she politely declined by saying she hadn’t worked much this month and would be more prepared to do dinner later on. She has no qualms about admitting something isn’t in her budget, and I find that inspiring.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      It was a tough decision, definitely. That is great that your friend has the confidence to admit that she’s on a budget – I know that’s difficult for me sometimes, and you’re a great friend for understanding too, Kendal. 🙂

  • Kyle | says:

    Wow, that is such a tough choice as the argument could be made that spending time with family is worth a few bucks in extra gas. But I love how you came up with a more frugal solution by inviting everyone to your home!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, it was definitely a tough choice as I weighed those questions, Kyle. But I’m really glad we were able to find a cheaper alternative that still allowed us to be with the fam. 🙂

  • debtfreeoneday says:

    When you’re focused on paying off debt, every penny counts! Well done on saying no and finding an alternative solution. Quality time is what matters. I’m having a little struggle with myself this month as I’m trying to save the money for my debts by not spending money on wine. I usually have a glass of wine every other night or so and I recently worked out I was spending around £40 per month on this habit. I’ve switched to herbal tea in the evening!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      It sure does! Great job on the switch to herbal tea; peppermint is my very favorite. It’s so calming in the evening, isn’t it?

  • Mackenzie says:

    I think you made the right decision Laurie 🙂 I love game nights!!

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor says:

    Good for you for sticking to your “guns”. All those little buys add up and in the long run nobody will feel like they’ve been neglected because they didn’t get to bowl.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    Yeah, it worked out well. I totally agree about all of those little buys adding up too; it really can make a difference!

  • Peter says:

    You’re doing what many of us can’t do…. sticking to your plans. Hats off to you.

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    I don’t have a ton of debt, but rather a student loan at 0%. I would sacrifice a lot of money to spend time with my family. I don’t think there’s much more that is important than family, even if they aren’t the family that lives in your household. However, I can understand that if you had a lot of debt, that’s something that you absolutely have to do.

  • Marissa@Thirtysixmonths says:

    Sacrifices have to be made. Delayed gratification will pay off soon enough. Eyes on the prize! Thumbs up to you for holding your ground. Nothing worth having comes easy that’s for sure.

  • Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet says:

    The only debt we have left is our mortgage. We have a plan to pay it off in the next 4 years, however, since I have been working for myself full-time, we have not made the extra payments that we were anticipating. That being said, we are going to cut back on entertainment and use the cash envelope system again to stay on top of things.

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