Should You Live in the Moment or Pay Back Debt?

02/24/2016 03:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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 which 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?

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 of a pressing issue.

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

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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
and was a fantastic read.

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"

The problem is: most of these regrets are focused on what they could have done in the present... but they also 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 the 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.

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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? 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.

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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 a question of which regret 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.

Do.