What Would You Give Up To Be Debt-Free?

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Kristin Appenbrink

When it comes to debt, you’d think that most people would do whatever it takes to get out of the red. Yet according to a 2013 poll from Credit Karma and Harris Interactive, 72% of people report that, if given a choice, they’d rather hold onto debt than gain weight. In fact, 43% of those polled agreed with this statement: “How much I weigh is more important than how much debt I have.”

We were curious to see if those results would hold up today, so we asked people from across the country about what they’d sacrifice for one year if, at the end, they’d be totally debt-free. From sweets and social media to cars and comic books, here’s what financial freedom is worth to them.

To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…My Weekends
“My husband and I currently have $72,000 of mortgage, student loan, and medical debt — and I’m working around the clock to knock that number down. During the week, I’m a fitness instructor, in addition to caring for my 3-year-old daughter. On Saturdays and Sundays, I work at a restaurant to bring in more cash.

"My hope is that this situation will be temporary — but I’d gladly continue working seven days a week for a full year if it would mean I’d be debt-free by the end of it. At that point, I’d go back to enjoying my weekends — I’d love to go camping again — because the quality time I’d spend with my husband and daughter would be fuller and far less stressful.”

— Jessie Grider, 25, a fitness instructor in Red Wing, MN

Related: My Wacky (But Profitable) Weekend Side Job: 4 Fun Ways People Bring In Extra Cash

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…Chocolate
“My husband and I just bought an apartment with a $600,000 mortgage — and, oh, what I would give up to have that monthly $2,800 payment out of our lives! The past several years have been trying for us, with health issues and unexpected costs for the care of our son, who has special needs.

"We don’t live extravagantly — we haven’t taken a vacation since 2008, and I take on freelance work on top of my full-time job. So, having our debt vanish would relieve everything. We could finally relax a little. But, I also believe that nothing good comes easily, and I expect to suffer a bit more before I can finally feel that magical debt-free feeling. That’s why I’d give up chocolate — because it would be an even trade.

"Chocolate is life — but without debt we could finally really live. It would be miserable, but knowing the payoff would be enough to carry me through. Then, at the end of that year, I would happily fall into a chocolate river, like Augustus Gloop.”

—Marla Garfield, 40, a copy chief in Brooklyn


To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…My Car
“Since it took longer than anticipated to find a job after I moved to Montana in 2012, I’ve already discovered that there are several little luxuries I can live without. In order to lower my debt burden of $15,000 — a combination of student loans and credit cards — I’ve given up cable service, trips to the coffee shop, and eating out. But, if I could cancel out the rest of it, I’d go one huge step further and give up my car.

"Of course, that’s much easier said than done in a car-dependent city like Bozeman. But, I’d figure it out if it would relieve me of the stress I feel about my debt. So, I’d find someone to carpool with me, start taking the bus, or maybe even ride my bike.” 

— Christian Beauchamp, 34, a freight broker in Bozeman, MT

To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…Trying to Shimmy Into A Size 4
“I’ve always been slender, but I’ve put on a few extra pounds recently. It’s so frustrating to try to squeeze into clothes that once fit perfectly... Losing those last five pounds has become somewhat of an obsession. But, you know what? I’d agree to give it up if I could erase the home-renovation debt my husband and I have racked up in the past few months.

"We just moved from New York City to a home in the historic district of Phoenix that he’s owned for nearly 20 years and has been renting out for the past 15. It was built in the late 1930s and needs everything from a gutted kitchen and bathrooms to new grass and a sustainable landscape. So far, we’ve spent about $50,000, but we’re anticipating that by the time we’re done with the renovation, it could creep into the $100,000 range.

"I’d love to trade in worrying about something so inconsequential as my weight in exchange for being debt-free. Then, I’d just sit back and enjoy spending time in the backyard with the man I love!”

—Renee Schettler Rossi, 42, an editor in Phoenix

Related: The Physical-Financial Connection: 3 Strategies For Helping To Curb Bad Habits

To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…Facebook
“It would be so hard to be disconnected for a year. But, if it meant that I didn’t have to feel smothered by $70,000 of student loans, I’d deactivate my account — tomorrow. And, believe me, that’s a big deal.

"I’m a freelance writer, so I rely heavily on social media to find sources. Plus, my family depends on Facebook to see photos of my son, and I use it to keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and classmates from the seven different cities I’ve lived in over the years.

"So, it’d be a tough, but worthy trade-off if I could finally get rid of my $800 monthly debt payment. Maybe I’d take a posh family vacation at the end of the year — and then post the photos on Facebook for friends and family back home!”

—Lexi Walters Wright, 34, a freelance writer in Northampton, MA

Related: Money Mic: Student Loans Dashed My Dreams Of Buying A Home

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…My Comic Book Collection
“Ever since I read my first issue of Superman as a 6-year-old kid in the late 1970s, I have loved comic books — the artwork, the stories, the fun of looking for a missing issue…and the rush I feel when I find it. For more than 20 years now, I’ve consistently spent about $40 per week on them — so, if I quit buying them today, cold turkey, I’d save about $2,000 a year.

"That’s money my wife and I could put to great use when it comes to paying off our debt. Currently, we have approximately $170,000 left on our mortgage, plus $26,000 in student loans, and another $50,000 from credit cards. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and decided I’d actually be willing to take it to the next level and sell some of my most valuable books — if it meant we could eliminate our debt. In fact, I’ve already sold two on eBay for $200, putting the proceeds toward one of our credit card balances.

"As a 42-year-old man, it’s time to come to terms with the fact that being debt-free is more important than reading about the latest adventures of the X-Men.”

—Brian Harrison, 42, a city council member in Waukee, IA

To Be Debt-Free, I’d Give Up…My Diet Coke Addiction
“I have about $18,000 of debt, which is a combination of auto and student loans. I’ve kept a strict budget for the past three years in order to decrease that burden — whittling down my balance by about $30,000 already — but it really feels as if I’ll never be done. At this rate, it will take me another two years before I’m home-free.

"But, if I could accelerate my progress and wipe out my debt for good, I would be willing to give up Diet Coke. Yes, it’s silly, but I am terribly addicted to it, and I suspect it would be harder to go without that than anything else. If I were to really quit drinking it, I’d probably only save about $300 per year — but I’d also be giving up my partner and friends. No one would want to be around me, because I’d be so crabby!”

—Jenny Najduch, 29, an e-learning instructional designer in Chicago

Next: Real People Dish: The #1 Thing That Inspired Me To Get Out Of Debt — And Stay Out
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