Choices Are Hard, Which Choice Will You Make?

I recently saw this sign on the refrigerator at work:


It’s an interesting sign, one that makes me think every time I go into the kitchen.  But the other day, as I was waiting for my lunch to heat up, I looked at the sign again. Since I relate almost everything to money, I realized that the same mantra can be applied to our debt. It would sound like this:

“Getting into debt is hard.

Getting out of debt is hard.

Staying out of debt is hard.

It’s all hard, so choose which hard you want.”

I thought this was pretty profound. Let’s take a closer look:

Getting into debt is hard. Well, it is and it isn’t. Frivolous, unbridled spending is not hard. When you’re buying up all your wants without any regard for what’s going to happen later, it’s easy. Plunking down a credit card for a $1500 couch that you don’t need and really have no room for is simple.  However, when you’re getting into debt because your lifestyle exceeds your expenses, that is hard. When you can’t afford to pay all of your bills every month, for whatever reason, and you have to use a credit card to fill that space, that’s hard. And going into debt for medical expenses is a category entirely unto itself.

Getting out of debt is hard. Yes, yes it is. It takes so much work and sacrifice and discipline and it’s exhausting. You need to track every penny. You need to give up hobbies that you love. You need to forgo restaurants. You need to find free substitutes for paid activities that you enjoy. You need to create a budget. You need to do all of the things that personal finance experts and bloggers preach about and advocate until we’re blue in the face. And doing all of that is strenuous. It will test everything: your strength of character, your relationships with friends, family and spouses/partners, your self-confidence, your discipline. You don’t realize how many areas of your life have been touched by your debt until you step back, analyze your situation and attack it. But the hardest part is admitting your debt needs to go.

Staying out of debt is hard. Once you’ve removed the albatross of debt, you can’t help but celebrate. Why not? Being debt free is definitely cause for celebration! You’ve worked hard to earn the label “debt free”.  Now that you have no debt, and you can finally keep your money to yourself, it’s easy to start spending that money in the same carefree manner that got you into debt in the first place. You have to work to stick to a budget and savings goals to ensure that you never have to put in the grueling effort of debt repayment ever again. It takes work to keep your new, frugal habits in the forefront of your financial life.

Choose which hard you want. It is your choice. Of the three, which is the most desirable option? Which “hard” do you want to work at? For me, it’s an easy pick. While I had a great time spending money  I didn’t have on vacations and meals I couldn’t afford, the end result of that is 5 years of excruciating work. I would rather choose to work at staying out of debt. Because in the grand scheme of things? That’s easy.

About Jana

10 Responses to “Choices Are Hard, Which Choice Will You Make?”

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  1. Monica says:

    Honestly, it is all hard. We are truly trying, but a child with a health issue isn’t helping. High deductible insurance isn’t helping. Treatments that aren’t covered aren’t helping. I wish Dave Ramsey, et al., would really talk about this. We live a pretty frugal lifestyle but don’t really feel like we can get ahead and don’t want to truly deprive our kids, not spoil, during their very short childhoods. I mean very occassional treats. Frusterating.

  2. I got into debt through recklessly charging a bunch of stuff I didn’t need on my credit card, and it still took 3 years of consistent effort to really dig myself into the $40K debt hole. It’s “only” taken me 6-months to pay off three quarters of it, and THAT feels like the hardest work I’ve ever done. The mental focus and intensity it takes to squeeze every available dollar for debt repayment is exhausting. The highs I get from making the repayments are a thousand times higher than the highs I used to get from acquiring more “stuff”, and they even come with the bonus of no later remorse!

    I’m not there yet, but I fully expect the staying debt free to be the hardest journey of all. Without the debt albatross reminding me to stay focused, I can see how easy it might be to slip back into old ways. “It doesn’t matter if I treat myself to these shoes and pay for them next month because I don’t have any debt…” etc. etc. until I’m suddenly staring down another $40K AMEX problem.

    I do believe I’ve come too far and gained too much knowledge about how to manage my money to let that happen, but even so the debt is a great motivator to stay smart, frugal and glued to a budget. I do look forward to the day when the hardest thing I have to do is stay debt free though.

    • Jana says:

      Staying debt free is hard, I’m not going to lie. It takes a lot of work to not fall back into the same bad habits but you always have to remind yourself of where you came from. And how you never, ever want to go back.

  3. Everyday we’re faced with several choices, some of them harder than the others but at one point on another, we need to make them. I love the part where we need to celebrate and reward ourselves once we reached a simple goal, we will tend to keep reaching for more, wanting to accomplish more goals and rewards, even the simplest one, will help us to stay motivated. Thank you Jana for this article.

    • Jana says:

      You’re welcome. I like the point that you make…every day we’re faced with choices, with some being harder than others. We just have to train ourselves and be disciplined enough to make the right choice.

  4. PK says:

    I’ll take the obvious one, “Staying out of debt”. Of course, some people might only have to deal with number 3 while others go through 1 and 2 as well.

    I suppose # 3 is all the more attractive if you’ve been through the other two…

  5. Travis says:

    Great post, Jana, I can really identify with it. For Vonnie and I, it’s a constant struggle to talk about our funds and spending. We’ll do it for awhile, then we’ll go a weekend of just spending, assuming we’re OK.

    a.) It’s hard to talk about our finances and plan our spending.

    b.) It’s hard to figure out what we’re going to do when we finally look at the account balance and see our funds are all gone.

    Which “hard” would I rather have? Choice ‘A’ please……

    • Jana says:

      Fantastic point, Travis! I remember looking at our checkbook and having no money. It was awful. I’d rather be uncomfortable for 2 hours during a budget meeting than have to explain that we have nothing left because of our debt.

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