Why it’s Crucially Important to Make Your Debt Payoff Plan Personal

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The more popular our site becomes, the more flack we seem to get for what we spend our money on.  And I’m sure that there are many more critics who think we don’t do enough to payoff debt but don’t have the guts or the time to leave a brutally honest criticism in the comment section – thank you for that. 😉

I’d like to talk today about why it’s so important to define and write your own, individual plan for debt payoff, instead of simply following somebody else’s plan to the T.  This is not to say we shouldn’t glean wisdom from the plans of others – we should.  If you want to be rich and thin, study the habits of those who are rich and thin, am I right?  However, just because a plan works for somebody else doesn’t mean it will work for you, and I think this mindset is a lot of what prevents people from starting or staying on their own debt payoff journey.  They think they have to run things like so-and-so did, and then when they can’t follow through, they give up.

I read a story recently about a kid who lived in his van for most of his 4 college years so that he could graduate debt free.  That is AWESOME!   What a tremendous story about perseverance and commitment.  But that does not mean that every kid who wants to get rid of college debt sooner rather than later should – or could – follow suit.

What matters most about a debt payoff plan is not how quickly you get there, or how much you sacrifice along the way, but what matters most about a debt payoff plan is whether or not it will allow you to stick with it through to the end.  As myself and many other PF bloggers have written, the most intimidating aspects of a debt payoff or financial independence goal are psychological. 

It’s when you break down mentally from the weight of the debt or the weight of the sacrifice that you throw your plan out the window and go back to leading that life of irresponsible spending with no goals or limits.

We do things here in The Frugal Farmer family that some people consider irresponsible with our money.  We’ve kept our pets, but we work extra hard at bringing in extra income to make up for their expense. We buy mostly new clothes as opposed to used, but we choose to not buy very many clothes – and to buy them on sale or clearance –  to make up for that.  We’ve dumped cable, but we still spend roughly $60 a month on entertainment.  We’ve cut allowance and most all extracurricular activities, but we do spend $100 on each kid for their birthday and for Christmas.

Some might say we’re not doing enough, and that’s okay – we appreciate the input of our readers.  But we have to do what’s best for us.  We have to make spending decisions (and believe you me: we weigh each one very carefully) based on what’s best for our family, not just financially, but emotionally and psychologically too. We have to weigh the expenditures and make our money choices based on what will give us the very best chance of sticking with this journey to get out of debt till the very last dime is paid off.

We may take longer to get out of debt than others on this journey, and we may not, but one thing I know for sure, is we will indeed complete our journey and see it through to the end, because we are managing our journey in the way that’s most productive for our family, and you, my friend, if you really and truly want to get out of debt for good, have to do the same.

 

74 comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Isn’t it interesting how other people think they can decide better than you how to spend (or not spend) your money? I sort of fell into that mindset the other day when I commented about you having horses. It really was none of my business, but I forged ahead and commented anyway. You were very gracious in your reply to me when you could have told me to MYOB. Anyway, you are right. The only plan that will work is the one you devise that accommodates your goals and your living situation.

    • Laurie says:

      Kathy, I really do appreciate your honesty in that comment – it helps us to be accountable. The thing is about us is that caring about what other people think is what got us into our debt situation in the first place. So we’ve decided in our getting out of debt to not worry about what others think and to just do the best that we can do, based on our own gut feelings, which we hold steadfastly accountable to, and it’s made all of the difference. We’ve tried before to get out of debt, and always failed because we freaked out when somebody said we were doing things wrong. Now that we’ve become so much more objective, it’s given us the strength to stick with what we feel is best, and for once, we are making progress! Thanks so much for your support and encouragement of our journey – we are incredibly grateful!!

      • jim says:

        Yay for you Laurie (and your family)!!!!! Not caring what anyone else thinks of you is key to getting out of debt. We have spent more than we “should have” on our pets (and our kids’ education) and we’ve been criticized for having done so way more than what we think was justified. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. We’re doing what WE need to do the way WE think is right and guess what – it’s working!

        • Laurie says:

          Jim, this is what I’m talking about. You know in your hearts what you felt was best for YOUR family. And you did it. That’s awesome!

  2. Great post! I don’t think it matters what other people think. I know that, running finance blogs, we get flack for how we spend our money, but the fact is that it’s our money.

    The example that came to mind for me is paying off a mortgage. Some people will argue until they are blue in the face that you should invest the money instead of paying off your mortgage, while others say that it’s important to pay off all debt first. And they are both right for their own lives.

    It comes down to doing what is important to you. Priorities. I know some people who prefer to travel over saving money. I could scold them about why they should be investing more for retirement and saving a larger emergency fund, but it’s their life.

    My rant is over. Thanks for this awesome post! I agree with you.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, thanks for your rant, Kalen. 🙂 And you’re so right: we all have to do what is important to us. Anything else is simply bondage.

  3. It’s called personal finance for a reason. How and what you do with your money is your choice. They fact that you are thinking about where you money is going, how its being spent is the key. Having the knowledge and the plan allows you to make the personal choices that are best for you, your family given your personal situation.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Brian, and we agree!! We never make a spending decision lightly, and I think that’s important. Every spend decision we make is value-based – for our values. This is the true success in personal finance.

  4. Like Brian said…personal finance is “personal”…you have to make decisions that work for you and your family. Absolutely agree with you. If you make sacrifices and cuts that will send you over the edge and revert back to old habits, than all the frugal personal finance tips will be meaningless. As long you have a plan to get out of debt which works for you, that’s all that matters.

    • Laurie says:

      “If you make sacrifices and cuts that will send you over the edge and revert back to old habits, then all the frugal personal finance tips will be meaningless.” LOVE that, Andrew, and that’s exactly why we do things the way we do. More than anything, we don’t want to revert to our old, careless spending habits. That’s what got us into our debt mess in the first place.

  5. Lauren says:

    I’m glad that you’re not letting other people’s ideas about your situation get you down. You’re right- debt payoff is personal. What works for one won’t work for all. I think especially when you have children, you can’t let debt run your life- you have to allow for things that others may consider “frivolous” or “unnecessary”, ya know? As long as you know that you’re doing what’s best for your family, then that is all that matters!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Lauren! Yes, we are definitely trying to find balance that will allow for some luxuries for the kids while we pare down our budget. They’ve been so understanding and accommodating, and we want to have some balance, for their sake.

  6. “But we have to do what’s best for us.” –I could not agree more Laurie! Like my Mom says, you never know what someone else’s life is truly like until you walk a mile or two in their shoes. Yes, there may be some truisms that are pretty common, but each situation is unique and if it’s not personal, then I’d question the opportunity for success.

    • Laurie says:

      Love that quote from your mom, John. She sounds like a wise woman. I know that when we were making decisions based on what others thought, we were creating more of a mess each day, but now that we’re doing our own thing, we are indeed getting out of debt!

  7. Tre says:

    I agree completely! Cutting out everything to eliminate debt is like trying the latest fad diet to lose weight. It won’t work for everyone and not everyone will stick it out to the bitter end. Do what works for your family.

    • Laurie says:

      Great point, Tre!! I’ve been there before with the diet thing too, and it never works. Individuality, with any goal, is so important.

  8. Kim says:

    I remember reading about the fellow who graduated from Harvard or Yale, can’t remember which, but he had $90K in student loans and decided to pay it off in something like a year or two. He raided his retirement account, got two roommates, took flasks to the bar so he didn’t buy drinks, and got a night job as a pedicab driver. Basically, he was exhausted all the time but knew it was for the greater good.

    I think that’s awesome, but there is no way on earth you could probably do that with a family. Kids are game changers. Obviously, you should have avoided the debt in the first place, but I think the more important thing is owning it, taking responsibility, and sticking with it. I’m sure if you left your kids at home while you and Rick worked two or three jobs each and ate ramen and water for two years, you could be done with your debt, but what would the price for that be? Missing even a year or two of your kid’s youth would not be worth going to those extremes and you want them to be educated and proactive, not resentful so that the first time they are out on their own they go nuts because you never let them have or do anything. There is always a balance, and while some people would expect you to live minimum, bare bones until debt is gone, I think your plan is better in the long run, even if it takes longer.

    • Laurie says:

      “Missing even a year or two of your kids’ youth would not be worth going to those extremes and you want them to be educated and proactive, not resentful so that the first time they are out on their own they go nuts because you never let them do or have anything.” Kim, those words echoed my heart so thoroughly – thank you for putting it into words. We surely want this debt gone ASAP, but not to the complete and total sacrifice of time and joy with our children/family. It’s just not worth it, at least not to us.

  9. I read that story about the kid living in the van for four years. That was very extreme. Didn’t sound like fun to me, nor would I encourage my children to do it. But it kept him out of debt and he seemed really pleased with that. So more power to him!

    • Laurie says:

      I agree – the kid just amazes me with his tenacity. But I don’t think everyone can handle that intense of a journey.

  10. Brit says:

    What I like about this blog is how unique and how personal you are about your finances. Your debt free story is yours and mine is mine. Each financial story is unique. What’s important to you might not be important to me. I get tired of reading about blogs that are all the same. What’s important to me is to stay at home and be with my kids. I could go back to work and get more money to invest on retirement but right now my kids and family are important.
    Your blog is provided others with alternative ways to get out of debt. You will get out of debt and be an inspiration to others. This debt road is not about just getting out of debt but about changing lives. The you that you are now has change from the you that were before you started.
    Readership is increasing is for a reason 😉

    • Laurie says:

      “This debt road is not about just getting out of debt but about changing lives”. SO true of any debt freedom journey, Brit!!! I admire your commitment to stay home with your kids, even if it does mean less money for your family. Money cannot be the sole or most important reason for our decisions – if it is, then it serves as our God. We have to do what we believe is right in our HEARTS, even if others disagree. 🙂

  11. E.M. says:

    Love this message! We do have to do what’s best for us, and only we know what that is. I have two cats, and I know that their food and care is expensive, and I could easily be putting that toward my student loans, but they are worth having. We have to be happy with how we’re paying off debt, otherwise we’ll burn out.

    • Laurie says:

      E.M. , your point about your cats is right on. It is so important to avoid burnout, as that almost always leads to a complete abandonment of a goal. We’re going with the “slow and steady wins the race approach”. Not to say that there aren’t days/months where we can and should kick it up a notch, but we will do that as we feel we can/should.

  12. I completely agree Laurie!! This is why the personal finance community gets so much flack for its “general advice” which may apply to some people; however, we are not a bunch of robots who are all motivated by the same things. When I work with clients, we sometimes take months to figure out the best strategy for them and for me, I don’t care how long it takes them to get to their goals, I just care that they are focused and working towards them. It’s the most any of us can do.

    • Laurie says:

      I love that you work with your clients to assure that they are working toward their own specific goals. It’s awesome that you understand that we each have different dreams!

  13. You’re so right about following our own individual debt plans. The main goal is to stay the course when paying off debt. To give up everything is just unrealistic especially when the journey to debt freedom is a long one. Earning extra money is the best way to increase anyone’s financial situation, debt or no debt. I personally wouldn’t be able to give up my dog for the sake of making a larger debt repayment each month!

    Thank you Laurie for continuing to share your experiences with us and for keeping things real!

    • Laurie says:

      “The main goal is to stay the course when paying off debt”. I couldn’t agree more, Hayley. It’s continually moving forward in a way that motivates you that will get you there. 🙂

  14. anna says:

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve been receiving flack – I agree you have to do things your way. At the end of the day, it’s only you and your family that you have to look out for, and I think both of you are doing an amazing job. Pay no mind to those flack-talkers – your true fans think you’re doing a great job!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Anna. 🙂 Yeah, we’re really okay with the flack, because, at the end of the day, it’s our family that matters the most.

  15. Moni says:

    I originally signed up for 15 or so personal finance blogs and I slowly whittled it down to 3 over some months but I kept yours for the following reasons: you have kids and you’re trying to balance the whole debt-family life thing without going overboard. I admire you kept the pets and I too buy new clothes, just not many. I agree with another comment that kids – especially older kids are game changers and why miss out on those valuable years? Do you really want to end up in family therapy down the track because you took away a beloved pet or an extra curricular activity that the child was emotionally invested in? Nope a steady upbringing requires a balanced set of parents at the helm.

    I receive blogs for a number of topics that are undergoing changes in my life, not just debt. Every blog has their focus and their angle. But often the ideals of the focus clash. So I have to figure my own path and what will work in my household, just as you have yours, and life isn’t just money. Yes it’s important but it isn’t everything.

    • Laurie says:

      “Do you really want to end up in family therapy down the track because you took away a beloved pet or an extra curricular activity that the child was emotionally invested in? Nope a steady upbringing requires a balanced set of parents at the helm.” Thank you, Moni, for saying what I couldn’t put into words, and for sticking by us with your support. Your wisdom will indeed ensure that you reach your life goals too. Keep up the great work, and thanks again. 🙂

  16. I’ve been thinking about this lately too. The sacrifices and splurges each of us are willing to take are different and personal. There shouldn’t be any judging. But any time we are willing to go out on a limb and share something personal (which I appreciate you doing), there are always people who disagree and are vocal about it.

    I’m glad you are taking care of your family’s needs and can look past the numbers when people are more important. I love your drive and dedication. Keep it up! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Stephanie. We just have to put our family first, even above money. And I believe that by doing so, we will still reach our goals just as quickly as we would have had we taken 3 jobs each and eaten Ramen noodles the whole time. Life has a way of blessing you when you make decisions for the right reasons. 🙂

  17. You already know that I truly admire how much you are your family are willing to give up to pay off debt faster Laurie! The Frugal Family are like my debt-slaying heroes! 🙂 Anytime your readers want to give you flack about how you spend your money, send them my way. My Starbucks drinking, cable watching, shopping ways will shut them up fast. 😉

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I just got an image in my head of us in superhero costumes with capes – funny!!! You’re the best, GMD. Thanks. 🙂

  18. I started with a plan prescribed by a talking head. However, after several months of looking at loan statements, my minimum payments were not even paying off the interest accumulated. That’s ridiculous! Even more ridiculous was that I could have made 3 or 4 times the minimum each month but never thought of it. I made that change and cut down the repayment plan by 10 years!

    • Laurie says:

      This is what I’m talking about, Scott. You made your plan, reevaluated, and continue to do so to find what works best for you. This is the key to success in reaching any goal.

  19. Mackenzie says:

    Preach it, Laurie! You are on your own personal finance journey and can do whatever you want 🙂 You and your hubby are doing what’s best for your family and that is all that matters! XO

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly! I think about you and the marathon and all of the little tips and tricks you used to talk yourself into taking the next step when you wanted to quit. It worked, and you finished!

  20. I’m surprised that you are getting flak from people. My impression is that you’re running a tight ship! You are bang on in saying that debt-repayment is principally a psychological undertaking. So no flak from me – just a high-five!

    • Laurie says:

      I think we are running a super tight ship in a lot of areas, but we could be running a tighter ship (i.e. getting rid of the pets and buying only garage sale clothes), but we have got to do what works for our family. When you spend next to nothing on entertainment, it’s nice to have a new pair of shoes or jeans once in awhile. It helps to keep us working toward our goals. Thanks, Prudence, for your support. We appreciate it!

  21. Very good advice! Even though debt is similar for all people, the way we can repay it differs from person to person. Personally, I believe that having a lot of debt already puts a lot of pressure on you and you don’t need to feel extra miserable by cutting everything that you like doing or makes you happy. We all need entertainment in our lives because we’re not robots. We all need to do things our way, otherwise we’ll just add more misery to the stress of having so much debt to pay.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, C!!! And we knew that with the pressure of all of our debt, we’ve got to take it slow and steady if we’re going to stay the course. We are constantly evaluating our spending, but there are just areas where we know we can’t cut right now, for sanity’s sake.

  22. Yesterday, I read a blog post about a full time student while doing a part time porn star. Even though it’s hard for her, but she has a goal, to finish her study and to become financially independent.

  23. debt debs says:

    I totally agree, you have to do what works for you. If it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t matter what others say. I do tend to be swayed by others views, because I don’t have confidence. Let’s face it, we shouldn’t even be in this mess, but we are. Thanks for helping me see that now since we’ve acknowledged our debt problem, we can own the solution and do it our way. I still look to others for guidance, because maybe they have ideas I haven’t thought of. But at the end of the day, I know the value of what I do or do not do, to me, and what it is costing or not costing in terms of our longer term financial freedom.

  24. Liz says:

    You’re right- you have to build a plan that works for you. If we had skipped a few of our vacations over the last year, we would have rounded up a lot more money to allocate to debt payoff. However, those vacations keep up motivated. they help us recharge our batteries and prevent us from burning out. So we could be a lot farther along, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we would be better off. I wouldn’t have those great same memories to cherish : ) Those are priceless.

  25. Amen Laurie! I know some stuff like you do to save money isn’t right for me (canning, gardening, all those other really cool DIY thing you do). 🙂 But I have MY own ways. No two people are the same. And no two debt payoff plans are the same. The only thing I will say is I do get worried if I see someone writing about destructive behavior that REALLY goes against what they say about wanting to pay off debt. I don’t say anything, but it sill do get concerned.

    • Laurie says:

      Yes, there is definitely a difference between taking your own path and participating in destructive behavior – two totally different things. I love what you said, too, about having your own ways. That’s the ticket!

  26. I think when people are talking about other peoples money they generally take the emotion out of it, and revert all to the best mathematical answer. When it’s their own funds, it’s a little different. I learned this lesson the hard way before I had a blog. I would comment until I was blue in the face that it’s better to pay down debt while depleting the majority of their savings. What am I doing now? Sitting on a decent-sized emergency fund, and then other people like how I used to be will say “liquidate your savings account”. Then I explain I need it because I’m a worrier.

    It’s all about the difference between thinking and acting. (And don’t worry, I’m changed my aggressive, silly ways of assuming I know better about someone else’s financial situation) 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      You bring up a terrific point, Alicia! LOL, you’re funny about the commenting. I would never peg you as aggressive (the bad aggressive, that is) 🙂

  27. Money and paying off debt are some interesting subjects. Everyone thinks they have the key to doing it right. I think the most important line in this entire article is…

    “…we are managing our journey in the way that’s most productive for our family…”

    Anytime someone is paying off debt, they have options on how they are going to do it. Finding the most productive way for them and their families is the best way to go. Even if that means buying brand new clothes and spending a hundred bucks on your kids for their birthdays!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Joshua, I agree. As somebody else pointed out, we’re on what could be a long journey, and we’ve got to do what we need to do to stay motivated to see it through to debt free.

  28. Laurie,

    Advice from readers is good, it can be eye-opening for sure and sometimes the suggestions are good and useful. But, they aren’t you and only you and your family know what will work for you and your situation. You are doing a great job with paying off your debts and still giving yourselves a little room to live 🙂 Keep up the hard work!!

  29. I appreciate honesty when it’s coming from a healthy and respectful place, but when it’s mean spirited comments guised as “honesty” I try to ignore it and keep moving. If I thought someone was truly terrible with their money I wouldn’t take the time to read or comment on their blog in the first place. Keep doing what works for you, nobody else is living in your shoes.

  30. Well said, Laurie! I think you’re doing a great job. You have to do what works for you and your family. Everyone’s situation is different and everyone has completely different priorities. You scrimp and save in some areas, so you can enjoy the other areas of your life more. While living in a van for 4 years to pay off debt might sound cool to a college student, it doesn’t work for everyone. Heck, I certainly wouldn’t do it. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, the thought definitely crossed our minds, but we’re not doing it either. 🙂 That’s a little too much motivation for me. 🙂

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  32. Making your plan personal is so important. For one person, becoming a complete shut-in and working 80-100 hours a week for a couple years might work for them. For others, making small changes that accelerate debt pay-down might work for them. You have to customize your plan for what will work for you.

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  34. Ajaveen says:

    Great article Laurie. I had paid off 8 credit cards last year
    in October and now I am taking a vacation next week.
    I saved and scarified to get to this point. Sure I could cut out
    my cable however that is a source of entertainment for me.

    Like you mentioned personal finances is not one size fits all.
    Thanks for posting this.

  35. I completely agree! Being bloggers, we kind of ask for the criticism when we put our financials out there. And it’s great to hear feedback from readers! But ultimately, the only way we’re going to get out of debt is OUR way, not someone else’s way. Like you said, some techniques can work for others but won’t work for ourselves. The important part is that we working on it – period.

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