Live in the Moment or Pay off Debt? – Embracing the Dichotomy

Live in the Moment or Pay off Debt?

YOLO – the popular phrase that almost everyone knows, You Only Live Once. It’s a phrase that started as a joke, but has built into our beings the true meaning of this dichotomy we are stuck in: do we live in the moment or do we plan for tomorrow?

Do you eat that slice of cake or do you go for a run?

Live in the Moment or Pay Back Debt -

For some it means more than for others, but no matter who you are I can bet that the dichotomy is vividly present in your life. For those with debts, it becomes even more present.

Should I live in the moment or work hard to pay off my debt now?

The Dichotomy of the Present and the Future

There’s a dichotomy present within the world today and it’s focused on debt. No, it’s focused on whether you should live in the moment or live for tomorrow, but for many? This means deciding whether to live for today or pay off debts.

Let’s face the facts. The majority of people between the ages of 18-40 have debt that is higher than their income. The combined debt of my wife and I is over 3 times our combined income – it’s not something that’s going away any time soon. A study I read recently said that somewhere between 70-80% of millennials are putting their lives on hold because their debt is so high. My wife and I are a part of that group as I’m sure many of my readers are as well.

So, the dichotomy is: do we live in the moment, present, happy, focusing on the good or do we think toward the future and how we want to live better then?

Choosing to Live in the Moment Means Fewer Regrets (& more debt)

There are so many reasons to choose this side. An article I read last night stated the nine most common regrets that people had at the end of their lives. The article was posted by MindBodyGreen and was a fantastic read – Click HERE to read it.

Now, there were many regrets stated, but here are a few that pertain to this post.

  1. “I wish I had not spent so much time working”
  2. “I wish I had taken more risks”
  3. “I wish I had been happier and enjoyed life more”
  4. “I wish I had done more for others”
  5. “I wish I had chosen work that was meaningful for me”

Read more on each of these by clicking HERE (you can read the rest of the points as well).

The problem is: most of these regrets are focused on what they could have done in the present – and directly affect your debt repayment. For those asking how to get out of debt fast, it can be hard to see why these areas would be important.

  1. We are encouraged to work extra shifts, pick up side jobs, and work as much as we can now despite so many regretting working so much.
  2. We are encouraged to “play it safe” and pay our bills fast instead of traveling, seeing the world, and doing the unthinkable.
  3. We are focused on our debt and how consuming it is, struggling and fighting to enjoy our lives and feel happiness.
  4. We are encouraged to keep our money and put it all toward debt, despite the desperate needs that are present in our community, in our friends, in the world.
  5. We are encouraged to stick with whatever job we can find, despite how unhappy it makes us, because we need to pay our debts off quickly.

Choosing to live in the moment is something that we hear about every day. From the teenagers shouting “YOLO” on the streets to the millennials trying to have a baby despite tens of thousands of dollars of debt they are under. We are encouraged to live our lives to the fullest – leaving the debt where it is because it’ll be there tomorrow, but we might not be.

Live in the Moment or Pay Back Debt-

Choosing to Live in the Future Means Sacrificing the Now (& more regrets)

When does choosing to live in the moment moment become too much? Or rather, when is it not enough? I ask myself every day whether I should focus more wholeheartedly on living in the moment, enjoying every minute and when I should ask myself: do I really want to plan for no tomorrow?

So many times we hear the phrase: Tomorrow isn’t promised. And it’s true. It’s absolutely, 100% true.

Tomorrow ISN’T promised.

But if history has taught us anything it’s that tomorrow is pretty likely. We can live our lives to the fullest now, ensuring to have no regrets, while in our mind we are half-expecting that tomorrow won’t happen. We are living like there is no tomorrow quite literally.

When tomorrow comes though: will we regret being stuck in debt when we could have been out? Will we regret suffering from lack of funds, living paycheck to paycheck because we knew there was a chance that we wouldn’t be here today?

Planning for the future means working those extra few hours, skimping on the trips, and putting our all toward paying off debt so that our future can be brighter. Believing fully that tomorrow will come and tomorrow will pass and the world will continue to spin as it always has. Is living like there is no tomorrow truly a smart and advisable way to live?

Monetarily? Probably not.

Embracing the Dichotomy

Therein lies the problem. Do we focus our attention on living for today or for tomorrow? How can we embrace both?

For my wife and I, we have come to believe in the importance of embracing the dichotomy. As you can read in my blog’s tagline: our goal is to live our lives to the fullest. But it doesn’t end there, does it?

Our tagline is to live our lives to the fullest on a frugal budget. Instead of accepting that only one way or the other works with the amount of debt that we have, we have chosen to embrace the dichotomy.

  • Sure, we spend a lot of time working, but we choose to work at jobs that help us to feel fulfilled, that are meaningful to us. If we have to work at a job we hate, we spend some time searching for a job we love while we do it.
  • We may have to work extra hours, but during our non-working hours we enjoy each others company; we laugh, we smile, we love deeply, and we experience the joys of the world.
  • Yes, we skimp on trips and extravagant purchases, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have quality experiences in the here and now. We find loads of free things to do that help us to embrace our need for adventure, our curiosity, and lead us to an outgoing and altogether wonderful life.
  • When people need help, we focus on helping them. We may not send large donations to each organization that we believe in – though we certainly hope to someday – instead, we help those we are close to. When people need food, we feed them. If someone needs a little bit of money, we help them when we can. We do what we can to help the world within our budget – knowing that when the time comes and our debt is paid, we can help the world more fully.

We embrace the dichotomy because we understand that life is fluid.

The world is a scary place and I will be the first one to tell you that living in the moment is crucial to leading a happy life. Anything can happen – today, tomorrow, next week. We are never truly as safe as we believe. There’s always something that could happen.

But focusing on that doesn’t seem like a very fruitful way to spend my time either. In fact, it seems pretty depressing to be quite honest.

Then again, living for only tomorrow means losing out on all of these beautiful, wonderful, marvelous days. One of my favorite quotes by Anne Lamott reads

“Oh my God. What if you wake up some day and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big, juicy, creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

Quote - Day 2

I don’t want to miss out on this crazy, wild, and amazing life I was given because I’m focused on debts. It’s a dichotomy we face every day. So, what does that mean?

It means that living life to the fullest doesn’t have to cost more it just has to be more. Yes, you read that right. Your life needs to be more than it is. Focus on each gorgeous minute, each beautiful hour, each extraordinary day.

It doesn’t have to be so hard; your life. It just doesn’t.

No matter where you are in your debt repayment, you can live in the moment while still living for tomorrow. Let yourself experience the beauty and the pain, but most importantly, remember not to lose these days.

My wife and I find happy moments every, single day to remind us of how much we love our lives. We live in the moment while paying off our debts quickly.

It’s hard, but it’s possible.

I’m not telling you that you should try to embrace the dichotomy. I’m telling you that you have to.

So many believe that you are going to have regrets regardless of the decision you make – it’s just which regret do you want. You either live in the moment now and regret it when you are struggling to make ends meet or live in the future and regret it when you’re older. I’m here to tell you that those things you hear? They aren’t true! You don’t have to choose one regret over the other – say no to both of them and choose to live a life that is extraordinary.

Live in the moment and work for tomorrow.

You can do this.

You need to.

Now, go.


27 Replies to “Live in the Moment or Pay off Debt? – Embracing the Dichotomy”

  1. “living life to the fullest doesn’t have to cost more it just has to be more” – love it! I will definitely be sharing this via my blog’s Facebook page. Great post, thank you!!

  2. We struggle with this on a daily basis. We started at $60,000 in debt with school loans (yuck, but we so appreciate our education). The struggle is so real. Where do you balance not going out with friends because there is no more money in your budget to do so for the month with not offending their offer? Thanks for sharing, appreciated your thoughts!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Kayty! I really appreciate it. I’m with you – I definitely appreciate and don’t regret my education, but the student loans SUCK. The struggle is real. As for balancing friends – I went ahead and told my friends that I was working on crushing my debt. It did a couple of things:

      1. they started to support me in my effort which made it more real. If I cheated, I was letting more people down, so I had to keep going.

      2. Most of them were really understanding. Now, when they ask if we can hang out, they ask if we can do cheaper things – like getting drinks to have at home (cheaper than bars) or having a game night. Sometimes they’ll even bring a pizza along.

      3. It was relieving to not have to make up excuses not to go all the time. I felt better about myself and that helped me to feel happy when I DID get the chance to go out with them.

      I’ll be writing a post soon about this too, but I hope that this helps! Thank you again for your comment!

  3. Wonderful post!! It’s so true—living life to the fullest is absolutely possible without spending more. In fact, for most people getting that satisfied feeling at the end of the day happens when you spend less—way less. It’s a win–win: less debt, more fun, better sleep. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Thank you, Mortimer! I really appreciate it. 🙂 You’re absolutely right, you’ll feel far more satisfied with your life if you go home at night with less debt than if you spend all your money. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  4. This hits so close to home! I’m paying extra each month on my student loans, cranking out my car payments, and trying to save for a trip while also contributing to retirement for the first time in my life. My partner and I have started finding ways to be frugal and do fun things that are free or almost free– like hiking and camping in places within an hour’s driving distance, so that we aren’t always stuck at home and can still “live in the moment”. Now v. later is a definite balancing act for us, too.

    1. It can be such a struggle! We are right there with you – all of these payments plus contributing to retirement, which is so important, but it all adds up. I love your idea of finding places to hike and camp within an hour’s drive so that you can still experience life and live in the moment. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Yes! yes yes! Such a great post. I think everyone struggles with this one way or another-whichever side you are on. I’m also like you, where we will find jobs that bring us fulfillment and that we enjoy. We travel as much as we can…but we find cheap ways to do it. You can have many experiences if you don’t need 5 star hotels, etc. There is balance and I think your post outlines that very well!

    1. Thank you, Kelly. You’re absolutely right about the balance needed in every day life. Finding jobs that make us happy, traveling in inexpensive ways, and learning to live contently with what you have right now can all make a huge difference in the way you feel about your life and your overall happiness! 🙂

  6. In my opinion, pay off your debt as fast as you can, and stay out of debt after that. Not having debt will free you up in so many ways. Save for your retirement as soon as you can too.

    1. Exactly! Paying off debt means so much more freedom. It’s an exciting prospect, but one that we definitely need to work hard for. Paying for retirement is also super important, but even so – we can’t forget to live in the here and now as well.

    1. Thank you so much, Shann! I really believe that this is the way we were meant to live. Money is just another object we try to control – but it’s also important to our lives. Time we learn how to live happily without it so we can live freely. 🙂

  7. I always try to be in the moment and have done it most of my life..however having recently retired I wish I would have saved more and had more to spend now when I have the time. However, having sad that, I don’t regret anything I have ever done and I have had some great times “just living in the moment.”

    1. That’s great! It’s so wonderful to hear the perspective from someone who has led a full and rich life. I’m so glad you don’t have any regrets. 🙂 Thank you for adding to the conversation, Renee. I really appreciate your perspective.

  8. I was just talking about this same topic with my friend over lunch yesterday. Her mom passed away young and her dad was telling her how he wished that her mom did more things that made her happy; that she should’ve bought a designer bag (example) to enjoy at the time because now she is no longer here and never got to enjoy such a thing.

    1. Isn’t that the hardest part? It’s so easy to say right now “oh, I can do that tomorrow when my debt is paid off”, but what if there is no tomorrow? Should we live like we will die tomorrow or live with tomorrow in mind? There almost has to be some sort of balance because there’s so much risk for regret. Thank you SO much for adding to the conversation, Dana.

    1. Thank you so much, Kusum! That’s why we have the tagline. There are so many ways to enjoy life without spending money, we don’t have to put that on hold to pay off debt. We can definitely do both!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *