After writing the Hermit Weekend post, I recalled a post I had written for the Uphill Factor about two years ago. Eventually, that site will transform or disappear entirely, so I’ve been spending some time revisiting old posts. The particular one I recalled yesterday was written because I had been involved in a debate about debt and pursuing things that make you happy.
The debate was how much money, more specifically how much debt, is acceptable in the pursuit of a passion? At what point do you stop being admirable for following your dreams against any and all odds and start being just foolish and irresponsible?
Two years later, my views haven’t changed much despite my constant questioning of myself and my need to take the occasional hermit weekend.
First of all, if your passion or dream includes starting your own business, then startup cash will be necessary, and for those that don’t have it buried in their backyard, that may require a loan. Of course, part of the goal would be to build a successful business that gives you a return on your investment. In which case, potentially a lot of debt would be acceptable at the beginning of your pursuit. But what if the return on your investment isn’t something tangible?
It should be obvious which side of the debate I’m on. Ballroom dancing will take you for every penny. I mean, come on, at the competitions I attend, you have to buy a ticket to get into the session in which you’re dancing! And that’s after you have already paid entry fees for your dances. It’s absurd. But people pay it anyway. Why? Because on that dance floor is where they want to be. After all of my hard work practicing in the studio and battling myself, am I really going to let some nickel and dimeing keep me from doing something amazing? Hell no! But if the contents of my wallet don’t match my drive, what do I do? This is where the debate starts. I say you make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means saying that you should max out your credit cards or take out a loan that you can’t pay back. But I am carrying a balance on my credit cards and I continue to spend money on dance that could go toward paying off that debt. I still pay more than the minimum due each month and the majority of the debt is interest-free thanks to balance transfer deals, so I feel comfortable with carrying that debt longer than I would have to if I wasn’t dancing.
The person on the other side of the debate from two years ago did not feel that way. Not by a long shot. When you have debt, especially higher interest debt, he believed you should cut your expenses down to the bare necessities until that debt is paid off. Ballroom dancing is not considered a bare necessity to most.
I’m sure many financial planners would agree with him. But why should I deprive myself? To save some money on interest? Even if it means an extra couple hundred dollars, I would rather keep dancing and pay off my debt in a year, rather than six months. So am I being foolish? I think I just have different priorities.
When I originally published my thoughts on this topic, I had shared the debate with another friend and she responded by asking me what I hoped would be said about me at my funeral. I listed things like a good friend, passionate, wise and fun. And then she said ok, so you wouldn’t hope to be remembered as debt free.
Good point. Would anyone hope to be remembered for that? If you don’t want money to be the focus of your death, why make it the focus of your life? I’m not saying you should ignore it completely because unfortunately we live in a world that revolves around the exchange of money. But it should be a means to an end, not the end itself.
For me, as with everything else, the key is finding a balance. What amount of debt am I comfortable with and won’t have serious, negative consequences for me? If I push my debt too high and cause myself extra stress because of it, then it negates the positive impact of pursuing my passion. Then there’s no point.
That’s the line I balance on. When I start feeling extra stress over finances, I always take time to reassess. I also make sure I don’t take on more debt than I have to. While I carry credit card debt, I avoid putting any ballroom expenses on a credit card (except for unavoidable things like flights and hotels). I have taken on second and third jobs and sold things I didn’t need to help fund my ballroom obsession. I have cut other expenses down to the bare necessities. I’ve made ballroom a line item in my budget alongside groceries and rent. Every little bit helps!
If you really love something, you have to go for it. Life is too short to not find a way to make it happen.
I’ll end this post by sharing a great quote by another dancer that I came across on 4dancers.org’s Facebook page. I love the part about being a unique artist. Can you guess why?
One thought on “Debt vs. The Pursuit of Happiness”
Life is all about choices and consequences and you really never know how it is going to turn out so who can really say what is the “right” answer. But I do think that when you have a dream or a passion, you follow it to the best of your abilities. We all end up having to live with the choices we’ve made but turning away from a dream seems to be an easy recipe for a later life filled with regret (even if you are debt free) and who really wants that? Sounds like you’ve got this worked out and a great balance so ignore what the planners would say and keep chasing the dream and following your passion.
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