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Responsible debt repayment doesn’t have to equal total deprivation.
I’ve had to pay off thousands of dollars of credit card debt a few times, and one thing I’ve learned is that just because I’m paying off debt doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of everything that gives me pleasure.
You don’t have to deprive yourself either. You can still work toward eliminating credit card debt while allowing yourself a few luxuries tweaked to suit your lean budget.
When I need to pay off credit card debt, I make plenty of sacrifices. But I also make sure I don’t have to suffer my way to a zero balance. Here’s what I do instead.
6 luxuries to ease the pain of debt repayment
1. Go to movies at off-times
A theater down the street from me used to offer $4 tickets for the first show of the day. Now there’s a nearby multiplex that offers $4.50 tickets for afternoon showings compared to $7 evening tickets. And these prices apply to current movies, so I don’t have to sit through last summer’s Batman v. Superman to get a good deal.
To find movie discounts, check out local theaters’ websites. For example, a recent online search for the AMC Metreon 16 in San Francisco showed that tickets for the day’s first show were $7.79 compared with $13.99 and up for later shows. If you don’t mind going to a movie before lunch instead of after dinner, you can enjoy the latest films for cheap.
Pro tip: Avoid the concession stand and put that $15 you saved on overpriced snacks toward your credit card debt.
2. Take a chance on a massage student
If there’s one thing that kinks up my neck, it’s credit card debt crushing me down. I can still get some relief, though, by pampering myself with a massage from local massage schools where students need to practice.
In Kansas City, Missouri, one massage school offers 55-minute Swedish table massages for as low as $35 or 90 minutes for $60. That’s about half the average fee for a massage. San Francisco School of Massage and Bodywork offers 60-minute student massages for $35 at its clinic.
Cortiva Institute, a massage school with locations in six states in the U.S., offers 50-minute massages for as low as $25 and additional discounts for seniors as well as military rates.
Pro tip: Call to schedule an appointment ahead of time. “We’re always booked,” says Sheila Mancera, front desk manager at Cortiva’s Tucson campus clinic, which offers several sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Also, check out reviews on Yelp before making a massage appointment.
3. Dine out selectively
Even though I save around $75 per week by cooking meals at home, I still like to stay in touch with friends over Saturday morning brunch or the occasional burger night. That’s why I keep an eye out for “buy-one-get-one-free” and other deeply discounted specials at restaurants.
On Mondays, I can enjoy three tacos for $4 at a local bar. On Fridays, I take home a barbecued half-chicken for $3.99 from a nearby market. In just one month of careful mail sorting, I also scored $3 off a salad at Wendy’s, two noodle meals for the price of one, a free burrito and a $2 discount at a popular breakfast spot.
Pro tip: Sign up for restaurant email lists and you may receive a free food item for your birthday. But don’t get so carried away with all those good deals that you end up spending more than you planned to save.
4. Take advantage of free trials at fitness centers
Gym memberships can be costly, but if you live in a large city, you may be able to get by without one for a month or two as long as you don’t mind working out somewhere different every week. For example, you might get a five-day trial at a fitness center one week, a week of free (or deeply discounted) yoga classes the next, followed by a five-day pass at the YMCA.
If you like to work out at home, download a workout app or sign up for free trials like 30 days of free yoga offered by Yoga International.
Pro tip: If you have to enroll for the free trial with a credit card deposit, don’t forget to cancel before it expires to avoid being billed.
5. Entertain guests for free
When family and friends visit, you can’t help but blow through money dining out and showing them the town. But not every sight you show your guests has to cost money.
In Kansas City, I can take visitors on free tours of Hallmark’s world headquarters, the Harley Davidson factory and Boulevard Brewery. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a world-renowned museum, and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art both have free admission.
Pro tip: A quick online search can show you what’s free in your own community. You may even be able to find free outdoor concerts and music festivals. Bring some lawn chairs and a cooler of food and drink (if allowed) and have a great time for next to nothing.
6. Practice strategic grocery shopping
I save anywhere from 20% to 50% by purchasing foods like butter, milk, bagels, canned and frozen veggies, pasta, sauce and bags of frozen chicken from discount grocery chains such as Aldi, Save-A-Lot, Wal-Mart and Grocery Outlet. Then I give myself $20 to splurge at Trader Joe’s.
With this method, I don’t have to feel like I’m too poor to afford my favorite foods. A typical Trader Joe’s grocery run might get me lentil soup, two salads and a frozen lasagna. That’s a good amount of food for around 20 bucks.
Pro tip: Sign up for grocery store savings cards, which attach to your key ring, to get additional discounts at the register.
It’s hard to be disciplined and pay off debt without denying yourself the occasional luxury. But with a little planning, you can still allow yourself to enjoy life’s pleasures while watching that debt total go down.