5 things I gave up to pay off debt

Woman sitting on a cozy couch, drinking coffee, and thinking about how to pay off debt by cutting her expensesImage: Woman sitting on a cozy couch, drinking coffee, and thinking about how to pay off debt by cutting her expenses

In a Nutshell

One woman paid off $54,000 in four and a half years, but not without making sacrifices. Giving up some things ended up being worth it, while others she thinks she should have held on to.
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When I graduated in May 2011, I had $68,000 in student loan debt. I knew that paying off my student loans was going to be tough, but was determined to do it as quickly as possible.

In order to pay off debt, I would have to do two things: spend less and earn more. I promptly began to side hustle, while also making lifestyle choices that helped my bottom line. Over the past four and a half years, I’ve continued to live this way and have paid off $54,000.

But it didn’t come without sacrifice. Here are five things I’ve given up to pay down debt — and whether or not the sacrifice was worth it for me.

1. Health insurance

For the first two years after graduation, I was working part-time and seasonal jobs that didn’t offer health insurance, so I decided to go without it. Not having health insurance amounted to an annual savings of $3,000.

(But it’s important to note that since 2014, the 2010 Affordable Care Act mandates that you can’t go without health insurance without paying a financial penalty. In 2016, an individual without health insurance will be charged 2.5% of his or her household income or $695, whichever is higher.)

Even though it made me nervous going without health insurance, everything was fine — until I got really ill. One hospital visit later, and I was cursing myself for not getting health insurance. I was able to get the total bill partially covered because of my low income, but had to pay a little over $1,000 for hospital-related costs.

In the end, I still saved money, but I don’t think it was worth it overall. I was constantly anxious about getting ill and when I did get sick, it proved to be an expensive and unnerving situation.

Total Savings: $3,000+ per year
Worth it?: No

2. Having a pet

Growing up, I always had cats. I adore cats but made the tough decision to not get a pet until I’m debt-free. I know deep down that pets are worth it and can change your life, but I can’t justify the expense until my debt is paid off.

I know that my sacrifices may seem like a lot to some people. But I chose to cut back on things that didn't serve me 100 percent, so I could keep doing things I love, like traveling and going out to restaurants. It's all about balance.

According to the ASPCA, cats can cost around $1,000 per year. But the actual cost of owning a cat isn’t what pushed me toward this decision — it was seeing many friends take their cats to the veterinarian for a surprise visit because of a swallowed needle or some other mishap, and having to pay between $2,000 to $5,000 for the visit. I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I’d have to decide between caring for my pet or paying my student loans that month.

Total Savings: $1,000+ per year
Worth it?: Yes

3. TV/cable

I gave up television after I graduated college and moved out of my parents’ house, and I’ve never looked back. In all these years, I’ve never had a television or cable. Only recently did I end up getting Netflix.

Buying a television would cost several hundred dollars, and cable could cost between $20 and $80 per month. For something I don’t miss, it definitely wouldn’t be worth the cost. I’m happy sticking to library books and Netflix, which costs less than $10 a month.

Total Savings: $240 to $960+ each year
Worth it?: Yes

4. A car

When I left Los Angeles for New York, I happily gave up my car. In my mind, it was a money-guzzler between gas, insurance, parking tickets, parking fees and repairs. On those things alone, I spent about $6,000 each year.

Though it was easy to get by in New York without a car, it wasn’t as easy in Portland, where I currently live. But I still wasn’t interested in buying a car, so I started biking and walking everywhere. Side bonus: I no longer needed a gym membership, either!

Total Savings: Approximately $6,000 per year
Worth it?: Yes

5. My dream city

When I graduated in 2011 and couldn’t secure full-time work, I had to make a decision: stay in New York and not pay my loans until I got a job, while blowing through my savings, or move to a city with a lower cost of living. I ended up moving to Portland, Oregon, where my rent is now 50% cheaper than my rent in New York.

At first, it was even tougher to find a job here. Saving money on rent is nice, but not if you can’t find work. But things have worked out for the better, and now I’m able to work for myself and take advantage of the lower cost of living. This has been a big part of my debt payoff progress. It was hard to leave New York, but from a financial standpoint it made sense.

Total Savings: $7,000+ per year
Worth It?: Yes (though if you move to a city with a lower cost of living, it’s important to look at the economy as well. Many jobs pay comparably less).

Bottom line

I know that my sacrifices may seem like a lot to some people. But I chose to cut back on things that didn’t serve me 100%, so I could keep doing things I love, like traveling and going out to restaurants. It’s all about balance.

Maybe you like watching television, but you don’t care for restaurants as much. You can decide which parts of your budget to keep and which areas to cut back in, so you can put more toward debt.

Kara Perez, a writer at From Frugal to Free, paid off a whopping $12,800 in five months by cutting back significantly. “When I got truly serious about paying off my debt I realized that I had to let go of other things,” she says.

Perez temporarily gave up using her credit cards, drinking and even eating meat. Through cutting back she was able to make huge progress on her goals and become debt-free ahead of schedule.

While it may not seem glamorous to cut back on things that have become the norm for you, the great thing is it’s just temporary. Once you reach your debt payoff goals, you can enjoy these luxuries again — with the freedom of knowing that every cent is yours.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of thei… Read more.