So you’ve decided to buckle down and pay off your debt – cheers! Excessive debt can leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious at best. Thing is, you don’t want to be stuck at home all alone this summer–well you don’t have to be. No, you won’t be renting a villa on Nantucket, but think of your dream vacation as next year’s reward for all your hard work.
There are plenty of ways to make the most of summer while working toward your debt-free life. Keep an open mind and use your imagination–you’ll have a blast all the way till Labor Day. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Keep your budget realistic
If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that you have to allow yourself to be human, even when you’re in hot water. Don’t wipe out the “fun” category in your budget altogether. Find the line between healthy sacrifice and punishing yourself. Nobody’s perfect; that doesn’t mean you can’t relax and enjoy the best season of the year.
Remember that on-time payments in realistic amounts are better for your credit score than big lump sums you can’t really afford. That can lead to shuffling things around and late payments elsewhere. A few extra months to a zero balance is not the end of the world. And it’s worth it to keep your world balanced.
Be a Tourist at Home
I’m wicked lucky to live a few miles from Boston–there’s a rich arts scene, fantastic food and drinks, and tons of history to explore. The trade-off is an exorbitant cost of living, but I still manage to have a decent social life on a modest income.
It’s natural to look for excitement and adventure anywhere other than home. But you probably pass by really interesting things every day while your attention is on getting to work or picking up your dry cleaning. This summer, if your travel plans are hampered by finances, take a look around you with a fresh set of eyes. Check the local papers and websites for deals or free activities. Take day trips instead of long weekends. You just might get a whole new appreciation for home.
Embrace your inner dork
Get a library card. For real. At my local library, I can get free museum passes, I’m taking an online SEO course, and plan to use their language learning software to brush up on my Spanish next. They’ll also connect you with local book clubs, art classes, and other shared-interest groups. You’ll be supporting public learning, which is always cool. Also? Unlimited beach reads! Take that new Mindy Kaling book off your wish list and just read it already.
Living in New England, I can be at the beach in 20 minutes or hiking the White Mountains in a couple of hours. (Full disclosure: I’ve never hiked the White Mountains. Just saying I could if I wanted to.) No matter where you live, there are surely opportunities to get in touch with nature: national parks, public beaches, lakes, and forests. In the city, community gardens are everywhere right now. Put a few container plants on your fire escape. Heck, step out the door and go for a walk or a run – it all counts! Just remember the SPF.
Backyard cookouts are one of the best parts of summer, but the costs of hosting a party add up fast. Put together a menu and a shopping list before you send the invites, then assign each guest an item or category. Don’t feel guilty asking, either–nobody wants to show up empty-handed, and most of your friends will be happy to have some direction on what to bring.
Find places to compromise
I hate being preached to about how much I waste every day on that $6 latte, blah, blah, blah. I work hard–I’ve earned the shit out of that beautiful caramel treat each morning. Also, I’m lazy. But it really is easy to make coffee at home. Make a big pot and stick it in the fridge for the week, then reward yourself with a Starbucks latte once a week. Make it even better by sitting outside the café in the morning sun before work.
Same goes for dining out. Instead of dinner and drinks at the new rooftop hotspot, go for lunch or happy hour apps. Or lock it in at once a week instead of every other night. And this one has always been the hardest for me, but: bring your lunch to work. It works. I promise.
We live in a society where there is enormous pressure to succeed–or to be perceived as successful – causing undue shame and anxiety among individuals who are in over their heads financially. In fact, the psychology of debt is a popular topic these days. Check out this article from the Atlantic and this study from Nerdwallet for more.
We’ve all been there, so don’t beat yourself up; give yourself credit for making the decision to get back on your feet. Self-shaming and deprivation are more damaging to your psyche than a bad credit score. Practice gratitude; learn to appreciate the people and things that enrich your life, and to eliminate the things that don’t. The rest will fall into place.
And don’t forget to have fun!
Try these resources if you are in immediate financial crisis:
- Communicate with your creditors – they’re usually really nice! They will almost always work with you to find manageable solutions to your debt.
- Try a credit-counseling firm – a not-for-profit one only. Stay away from anyone with a “.com” site. The National Foundation for Consumer Credit has helped me out in the past.
- Credit Karma is an awesome resource for monitoring your credit score. They throw a lot of ads and offers at you, but the basic service is free and they have a solid database of articles and advice.
- If you feel your life has become unmanageable due to compulsive debting, Debtor’s Anonymous applies the 12 steps of AA to provide support and guidance in a group setting.
– By Julie McGee: