You Weren’t Born to Pay Off Debt and Die

You Weren't Born to Pay Off Debt and Die

I’ve seen this picture float around the internet that says, “you weren’t born to pay bills and die”. I can see the point it’s trying to make: life is about more than working and paying bills. But, not to burst the picture’s bubble, the simple fact is that there will always be bills to pay. Unless you become the man who quit money, you are always going to have to pay for something, like utilities or a phone service. So, while I agree that you weren’t born to pay them, you will, in fact, probably always have to.

What you don’t have to do forever is live with debt. You don’t have to spend every month calculating how much you can afford to put towards debt repayment, while continuing to use credit, and staying in the never-ending cycle of borrowing money and trying to pay it back. It’s not an easy cycle to get out of; I know that firsthand. But it is a cycle that will not only control your finances, it will control your mind and your life—and our time on this planet is far too short to let debt control your life.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but I’ve been thinking about life a lot lately—specifically, what exactly it is that I am doing with mine. When I turned 29, I began to have a sort of panic attack about turning 30, as though the number somehow marked a milestone in which I must have crossed off a certain list of goals. By the time I turned 30, I realized the numbers didn’t matter, nor did the list of goals; all that mattered was that I was doing my best and I was happy with my life—and I was, and still am today.

I can look back and tell you that I still haven’t crossed off most of the items on that imaginary 30 before 30 goal list. I still haven’t gotten a new tattoo (got all mine before age 22) or taken a painting class or pottery class. I haven’t run a half-marathon yet (accident was 6 weeks before the first one I’d signed up for) or gone bungee jumping or skydiving. And I haven’t driven across Canada or travelled to Europe yet either. But it’s ok. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t do those things before 30 or any other age.

What matters is that I wake up every morning and think, “yes, this is the life I want”. What matters is that every time I reach a crossroads, I choose the route that aligns with my goals and my values—because that’s the only way to live a life where you can wake up and think, “yes, this is what I want”.

I’ve been working on a project that has required me to take myself back 3, 5, even 10 years from now, and reflect on who I was and why I did the things I did. It hasn’t exactly been a pleasant experience; eye-opening, for sure, but not pleasant. As I worked through those memories, however, I was reminded of how drastically different my life is today—in a good way; no, a great way—and that’s because of the decisions I made when I reached certain crossroads.

The most important one was the day I finally forced myself to decide if I was going to keep drinking or not. I couldn’t have achieved any of the things I’ve written about on this blog, if I was still drinking. In fact, my guess is this blog wouldn’t even exist. I likely would’ve deleted the whole thing, in a fit of self-consciousness. (I say a “fit” because alcoholics don’t have control of their emotions, and I made a lot of hasty decisions when I was still drinking.) There is no doubt that sobriety is part of the life I want.

The second most important crossroads I’ve reached appeared on the day I decided I wasn’t going to keep using credit to float my lifestyle. You might think I got there on the day I realized I was maxed out, but that’s not true. I didn’t have a choice. I was maxed out, so I had to stop using credit. No, I reached that crossroads about 6 months later, when some of my debt was paid off and I finally had some available credit. I chose not to use it then, and I choose not to use it now. Being debt-free is part of the life I want.

We reach crossroads every single day of our lives—many of them, in fact. When you wake up in the morning, you choose to be happy or grumpy. When you walk into the kitchen, you choose if you’re going to eat something healthy or indulge in something your body probably doesn’t need. When you’re invited to hangout with friends, you choose if you’re going to go or stay at home. When you go home for the day, you choose how you’re going to spend your time.

And when you think about buying something, you reach two crossroads. The first asks if you’re going to buy it or not; the answer to that probably lies in a mini crossroads of whether it’s a need or want. The second asks if you have the money or if you’re willing to go into debt for it.

Every time you go into debt to buy something, you are making a choice. You are choosing to give up some amount of your next paycheque, your time by having to work more hours to pay it off, and your mental capacity which stores the stress and anxiety we carry when we owe money. You are also choosing to take on the physical reactions that come with carrying that stress and anxiety around. If you’ve ever been in debt, or are currently in debt, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Fortunately, there is another way to live. When you reach that crossroads and decide you want to buy something, you can choose to wait until you have the money for it. You can also choose not to buy it at all—especially if it doesn’t align with your goals and values. But if you decide to get it, you can choose to wait. You can choose to pay with cash. You can choose to take the route that comes with the least amount of stress and anxiety. You can choose to not owe anyone money.

You weren’t born to pay off debt and die. You don’t have to spend every month calculating how much you can afford to put towards debt repayment, while continuing to use credit, and staying in the never-ending cycle of borrowing money and trying to pay it back. It’s not an easy cycle to get out of; I know that firsthand. But it is a cycle that will not only control your finances, it will control your mind and your life—and our time on this planet is far too short to let debt control your life.

  • Cait! This is amazing! This is precisely what I needed to read today. I’m on track to pay off every cent of credit card debt to my name this month and I have finally decided to stop using cards to continue the cycle. I never thought a few thousand dollars on a few 0% apr credit cards would be a big deal, but when I was having to rob myself every month to pay for the previous month, it was exhausting. This is exactly the perspective I want to carry forward. Going to put a link to this in my budget spreadsheet.

    Also – enjoy the time before your surgery! I’m sure the recovery will bring plenty of time to work and write.

  • I’m paying off credit card debt, and I’m starting to save for the things I want, like paint to paint my bedroom in a couple months, instead of putting it on credit. Good luck on your hip surgery! A co-worker had a total hip replacement in Dec, and she was back to work in 6 weeks with just a cane and she’s walking great. She played a lot of sports in her 20’s & 30’s and needed hip surgery in her 40’s from the wear & tear/injuries.

  • I love this statement, “Every time you go into debt to buy something, you are making a choice. ” It’s everything in my opinion.

    Life is just a set of choices. For many financial decisions it’s a matter of choice. What makes us truly happy? For the vast majority of us that have struggled with spending and debt in the past, it wasn’t even debt and spending that made us happy. It was impulse or lifestyle spending that we thought would make us happy.

    It’s all a choice, and when we mindfully reflect and make that choice it tends to work out well. No need to sacrifice or deprive ourselves, just be aware of the choice and make it mindfully. Thanks for sharing Cait and best of luck on the surgery!

    • Yes, I thought about this more after I hit publish, but I feel like every penny we spend is us making a choice – about what we want our future to look like. Of course, there are some things we need to live, but all the rest is stuff that can impact our future in so many ways. Even *I’m* still thinking about this topic, haha. Thanks, Mike!

  • Hi Cait,

    You’re right. One isn’t born to pay bills and then die but rather we are all born to pay off debt and then plan and work like hell to stay out of debt, notwithstanding what the future may hold for us.

    Good luck in your upcoming surgery. Hope all goes well.
    I might be heading into a couple of surgeries myself this summer – not sure yet until I get checked out.
    Anyway, we both don’t sweat the small stuff – right? :-)

    • Nope! I *was* sweating it, for a while there… more just feeling anxious about the time it’ll take to fully recover, where I won’t be able to hike, etc. But I’ll just continue to be active, do what my doctors tell me to do and get there as soon as possible! Hope your surgeries are minor, friend.

  • Hi Cait, are you able to share the project that you mention in this post that has helped you (ie. “required” you) to look back 3, 5, 10 years on your previous decisions in life? I’m looking for a good guidance document/article with questions to help me delve deeper into my past life decisions as I try to simply my life and get a handle on my spending. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

    • I’m working on a book proposal, actually – a memoir. I share a lot here, but there’s also so much more that has happened behind the scenes, over the years… and when I was a child and teenager. For you, though, I’d definitely consider starting a journal. It doesn’t have to be a physical book (although writing some of it by hand was MOST helpful); you could just use a text document or write in a private/anonymous blog. But just take one idea that comes to mind, go back as far as you can and try to make sense of it all. I’ve learned a lot about myself, since working on the proposal, and it’s been hard to face some of it. But it’s been worth writing :)

  • I totally agree with your comments about turning 30. For me, it was a huge relief because I had to let go of all those “I’m going to get married and have both my kids and have a great career” type goals. I had to accept that life was taking me down a different path and that path was pretty great anyway :)

    Now, 40 is another matter…

    • Ha. So I should be scared for 40, eh? ;) No, I’m sure it happens at many milestones – and different ages mean things for different people. Like I wasn’t worried about the not married/no kids thing at 30; mine was more like “I’ll need to settle down SOON, I need to do more fun things NOW”. But what does that even mean!? Anyway… :)

  • I’m actually having a tiny panic attack about turning 35 later this year. Because 35 is halfway to 70, and that feels weird.

    I think that I’m going to have a lot of mini-crossroads of this type in the coming months and years, since I’m on the verge of a salary increase and am also just now entering the phase of starting to pay off my debt. It’s easy for me to start out by saying, oh yeah, I *totally* am going to throw all my extra cash at the debt every month until it’s fully paid off…but I wonder how hard it will be to sustain that. Just the other day I caught myself thinking, ooh, I’m going to have a higher income soon…maybe I could afford to move into my own place instead of continuing to live with housemates. (Which would be nice, but it would probably also keep me from paying off the debt.) So I suspect I’ll be making a lot of choices like that in the near future.

    I’m glad you’ve been able to get outside before the surgery!

    • See, I think that’s kinda fascinating – how your brain did some math and is scared by the number 70, for whatever reason. I’m always finding weird patterns in numbers… For years, the last four digits of my phone number was 3913 and I secretly loved that 13 went into 39 3x. Don’t let the division freak you out. ;)

  • A beautiful and touching piece of writing that makes me reflect on my own crossroads, accompanied by equally beautiful photography. Wishing you all the best!

  • So well put Cait! It’s just not a life I want to live anymore. Getting rid of debt is like getting your life back.

  • This is an amazing post! It’s so true and sad that we live our life in incredible debt. What’s even more sad is that many people don’t believe they can stray away from societal expectations.

    Thank you for sharing – have a beautiful + kind day!
    Taylor Layne

  • I don’t think some people see the correlation between what they spend and the amount of extra hours they need to work. I have coworkers that work a lot of overtime and even have a second job in order to afford their lifestyles. I don’t really feel like i’m sacrificing much by packing a lunch and being smart with my purchases. I will be glad to get my two remaining student loans paid off so that what extra money I do earn, I can put into savings or investments. I see multiple coworkers spending anywhere from $10-20 on lunch every shift. Others go on multiple vacations a year and drive new vehicles. I’m happy that I was initiated into the frugal world.

    • Well and I’ll be the first to admit it took me a long time to really CARE about the fact that my spending required me to work more. I knew it was happening – like when I was young, I knew I needed to take overtime to pay off a bill and stuff like that – but I didn’t look at the big picture and think “why am I stuck in this cycle?” It’s so important to get out of it. And it’s great you never entered it, Michael. :)

  • Cait! I love this post. Congrats on your wonderful choices, about debt and everything else. You were actually a big inspiration for me to start a blog about choices. I’m taking Sarah’s class and just locked in the domain name yesterday: choosebetterlife. Content is still in progress, but thanks for the inspiration. The timing of this article is awesome.

  • These are important thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the things we do in our life are all choices – but they are! It’s helpful to think about coming to a crossroads for each purchase, each activity, each decision. It makes the choice aspect very clear. Thanks for this post!

    • The visual of the crossroads makes it so much more impactful, doesn’t it, Kate? We get to that fork in the road probably at least once/day… and it’s so important to question which route to choose, rather than just move by default. Thanks for commenting :)

  • I don’t have debt, but I currently am living in Germany for a year and I have a really hard time remembering that I can actually make it a year without buying the things that I have in storage at home. Your posts inspire me when I want to buy something that I would have to pay to ship home when we go back or something that I can’t take home at all. We can travel more when we buy less, so it’s a win-win. :)

  • Enjoyed reading this Cait! Well done. Our level of happiness has a great impact on our debt and although we may be unhappy, we have to choose to change that pattern and stop struggling through life. You are absolutely right – struggle and debt are not mandatory in life.

  • Love this post! And I just had hip surgery yesterday, so I want to wish you the best in yours. Mine went well, and I’m looking forward to having less pain in the future. I wish the same for you!

  • I needed to read this today. I am currently doing Sober February and I thought I would also try to focus on not purchasing anything outside of my needs. I have a tendency to impulse buy on Amazon. It has been hugely illuminating to see how many things I have been tempted to purchase that I do not need and I have been combating this by just adding the items to a list that I plan to review at the end of the month.

    Thank you for the reminder that even if I may want these things, I do not want to go into debt for them.

    • I remember how tough it was to not make those impulse buys, in the first couple months of the shopping ban – so congrats on pushing through it! Certainly, making the decision to not go into debt is an important part of it… but I’ll be curious to know if/when you get to a point where you decide you truly don’t want the items. Good luck!

  • Ouch, sorry about the hip surgery!

    I agree that life’s too short to spend it paying off other people. Unfortunately, we still have a few big hurdles, like our mortgage. But we’ve managed to save up for $25,000 dental implants, so we won’t have to go into debt for that.

    I guess I was unique. When I turned 30, I was relieved. I think you come into your own more in your 30s. You’ve had time to settle your life and figure out who you are and what you want. Or maybe I just watched too much Sex and the City.

    • Oh, I was certainly ready to say goodbye to my 20s, haha… and 30 has been good to me, so far! I won’t be scared to turn 31, that’s for sure. :)

  • Great message, Cait! I agree that debt can bring with it a host of emotions and restrictions that aren’t very pleasant. While we’ve avoided consumer debt and our mortgage is a very manageable size, we’ve also itched to pay it off early and owe nothing to anyone. When we do I guess we’ll feel even more free than if we were renting (in a way), but mostly I’ll just be glad to be debt-free for a good while, maybe forever.

  • Absolutely agree but I must to admit that sometimes is not so easy find a balance between work/social life while you are on a budget trying to achieve important financial goals!!!

    • It’s definitely not always easy, Giulia; that’s where defining your personal goals and values, and sticking to them, comes into play. We need to get comfortable saying “no” to things that don’t align.

  • Do not sweat about 30, 50 will be here soon enough…

    Continue to live and pay off debt. As you get older, work will be less fun. Actual fun will be more rewarding.

    remember, if work was fun, they would call it fun, not work.

  • Another beautiful post, Cait! Though we’re now thankfully several years removed from our debt (not counting our mortgage, which will be paid off in less than two years), I can absolutely remember that feeling of carrying that weight around. It was horrible, and something I’ll always remember — and be grateful to have dealt with. It’s why we made a personal loan to a family member, despite the conventional wisdom and cautions from lots of our readers, to help him get out of credit card debt. We know how toxic that feeling is, and we were in a position to help.

  • This is incredibly eye opening – if I only there were a way to capture more reach/an audience of people under the age of 25. To encourage them to save & not rely on credit, that way those formative years aren’t followed by 60+ more of paying off debt because “you only live once” and spend, spend, spend were trailing in their minds. Facing crossroads every day is a true fact of life! Which way you select to go will unfold many possibilities and opportunities. I liked reading about this concept in the book “Daring Greatly,” where starting your day should not be in the scarcity mindset. By eliminating the thoughts of “I didn’t sleep enough” and “I don’t have enough time” you can create a whole different positive way to take on your day. Cait, I hope you have been enjoying the outdoors and I wish all the best for you for your upcoming surgery!

  • Thank you, Cait, for this post. It really boosted my spirits. I’d been feeling down lately, thinking, “I’m never going to get out of this mess.” Then it turned into, “I’m never getting out of this dead end job…I’m a disappointment to everyone.” This was the pep talk I needed.

    • Also, wishes for a good surgery & speedy healing. Remember don’t rush anything and listen to your body. Especially when it says, “nap time.”

  • I love the title of this post, straight to the point! This is not harsh at all, it’s just very true words that are difficult to swallow.
    I’m turning 29 this year. I am not daunted by large milestones but I have been trying to gain more work/life balance and feel like I’m failing in this. I don’t want to go into my thirties feeling like my life revolves around work as much as it does at the moment. Avoiding debt and budgeting is so important to me because eventually I want to work part time. Life is too short to work ourselves into the ground! It’s time to live.

  • A beautifully written post, Cait.

    When you mention that you have choice each morning, it got me thinking about the Lenten season. It’s fascinating to me that for 40 days, I find it easy to give something up because it feels like it’s serving a greater purpose, but as soon as those days wrap up the will power is magically gone. Obviously, I have the will power to partake in the same healthy behaviors but just don’t. Something for me to reflect on.

    Good luck with your recovery!

  • We’re in the middle of paying off the last credit card debt we’ll ever have. It’s at zero percent, and I’ll move any remaining balance to another zero percent option when then time comes. It was a choice not to liquidate an asset to pay it off in full (the assets earn income), and it’s a choice I wouldn’t make again.

  • What’s also of interest is that technology is making it so much easier for young people to go into debt, by making paying so simple now with simply waving your phone. The less barriers to something the more it will be done. We should be making it easier to not go into consumer debt but hopefully finding a way to be reminded of the life you want to live and hence the daily purchasing choices you make will help in that regard. Enjoyed the Post.

  • Awesome post. I absolutely believe that debt is a choice. It is one we avoid and I’m thankful. I try to share tips and helps to encourage others to do the same. I shared your post!

  • Thanks for the great read. I am too going through my life changing thoughts. I have one more card to pay off and then done! I don’t even use my credit cards anymore. Screw that! I need to save now, invest it for growth and not work after I’m 55 or so…that’s the plan! Take care :)

  • Solomon was king of Israel some 3,000 years ago. He wrote “…the borrower is slave to the lender.” (Proverbs 22, verse 7).
    Living under debt is a form of servitude. In a choice between freedom and slavery, I will choose freedom every time.
    Thanks for the post. Good read, good advice.

  • Thank you! thank you for this post! I was diagnosed with depression and binge eating disorder back in 2012 and my life changed a lot since then (for the better). I’m 28 and I’m still learning to make my choices and fighting some bad habits. But one thing I know know for sure is: you can always choose. And happiness is a choice. One day I chose to get help. And that was the best thing I ever did (so far!).

  • Wow. Awesome. Inspiring. Thank you! I just stumbled upon your blog this morning, and I am hooked. Thanks for spreading your goodness out into the world.

  • Amen. Although I had read this post before, I came here today to read it again for two reasons:

    1. Because I’m super pumped about some unexpected cash I received yesterday and put directly towards the emergency fund I’m working to build. AS PER PLAN!
    2. I’ve always chosen to be happy, but rarely chose financial common-sense as part of that happiness. Duh. They go hand in hand!

    p.s. hope the recover is going well :)

  • Firstly it’s great to hear that you are now choosing a sober life, my mum was an alcoholic and sadly she didn’t so I have total respect for anyone that does. I totally agree with the life of no debt, I’m 41 and finally realising it’s no fun, no example to my children, and I am choosing to retire early and am enjoying my go slow life now and so some big adjustments need to now be made to my finances to support my retirement otherwise it will be back to work for me. I aim to clear almost £11k in 6 months. Throwing all my spare income at it & selling my clutter & cutting back for a few months, short term pain =long term gain

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