WHEN DEBT GETS IN THE WAY

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I haven’t written about my debt in several months. While my financial situation is still a priority, I’ve made a few decisions that are likely to spur arguments. Apologies for the silence on this topic, but no apologies for the decisions I’ve made.

Decision #1: I won’t let debt get in the way of my health.

When I was a vegan living below the poverty line, rice and beans were a staple. Wal-mart was mandatory. The farmers’ market was manna. Cheap vegan fare was easy to fit into my food budget of $20/week. Over the years, however, I’ve experimented with organic, whole food and, more recently, ancestral eating patterns. The new fare I fashion in my kitchen has had a profound effect on my physical and mental health, both in maintenance of and recovery from physiological and psychological stress.

In reflection of my previous food budget, I had difficulty justifying the additional expenses for organic produce and the introduction of animal products such as wild-caught fish and cage-free eggs. I considered going back to my cheap vegan fare, but for what? Sure, I could knock off more debt in a shorter amount of time, but should I compromise my health to be debt-free faster? There is certainly the appeal of affording better food “one day” when I finally shuck my financial burdens. But how does that size up next to living in the moment, for the here and now? If I can’t enjoy good food and, in return, good health, what’s the point?

I decided that debt will not compromise my health, and I’ve increased my food budget accordingly.

Side note: I’m still avoiding restaurants and take-out coffee unless it interferes with my second decision.

Decision #2: I won’t let debt get in the way of my relationships.

Relationships are paramount, and, if you ask other minimalists (like these: 1, 2, 3), they will agree. For me, however, maintaining relationships with friends and family can have a financial impact. I am the only person in my family living in Virginia. Everyone else is somewhere in North Carolina. I make multiple visits a year, and I have no intention of telling my mother I can’t afford the gas money or added stress on my vehicle to see her. Moreover, I’m not willing to compromise my relationships with others across state lines because of extreme frugality.

Luckily, this newfangled Internet frenzy gives me the opportunity to connect with those far and near. But while Skype and e-mail provide communication, these methods are incomparable to the old-fashioned face-to-face connection. Dr. Joseph Mercola posits face-to-face communication provides an opportunity for developing deep, intimate relationships that electronic communication (even video-chatting) cannot.

When considering my financial situation, cultivating relationships can be tricky. I’m the first to suggest a potluck dinner before a restaurant outing and a streaming movie before a theater, but I’m not willing to forgo an opportunity to spend time with others on the sole basis of penny-pinching. Relationships are too important to sideline for the sake of my self-induced debt.

My willingness to drive or dine does not mean I have a handy credit card for unintentional spending. Now, I anticipate these occurrences and have a separate savings at the ready.

Decision #3: I won’t let debt get in the way of my happiness.

We’ve all been fooled into thinking that if we finally own a specific item, take a specific action, make a specific amount of money, or get to a specific state in our lives, we’ll be happy. I’m still fooled by this often. The difference is that I am now able to understand the importance of the journey over the destination.

I know how fantastic debt-free will feel. I’m not willing, however, to sacrifice the journey for the destination. Good health and  strong relationships are essential. And I’m willing to move at a slower pace in return for more daily fulfillment.

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