This is one of those questions I often ask myself, sometimes mention to those I trust, and keep secret from the rest of the world.

It starts with a story (yes, another one).

I graduated from college in December 2010. I was in college for 4.5 years because I’m a glutton for knowledge. I never quite knew what or who I wanted to be, and I had this preternatural confidence that “a door” would appear and open before me when the time was right.

Poverty Mentality

I didn’t need to know the answers for they would come.

But, then bills came. First it was rent, then the student loans crept up. If my loans weren’t currently in forbearance, I would be paying over $600 a month on them (and that’s with debt consolidation).

Tip: Check out Tuition.io for a nifty guide to monitoring your student loans and your repayment options.

For a while, I worked in a wonderful restaurant back in Albuquerque. Eventually, I quit that job because I believed that another, great opportunity would and did appear. It turned out that the “great” opportunity was a door-to-door sales scam, and I’d just lost my rather decent-paying job. The restaurant had already hired new people to make up for my loss and the flight of several other servers and employees heading back to college elsewhere.

What could I do?

Well, for a while, I was a tutor for low-income students around the city. It was an emotionally draining job that only paid me twice based on total hours worked and how many kids showed up. Some stopped attending sessions, another moved out of the country before our contract was up. Money was…tight.

Fortunately, my family and friends were extremely generous, and I was okay. Sad and stressed out, but okay.

Last February, I started my own online tutoring company because I figured I could do the same thing on my own with less overhead. That worked out alright until I realized I was sick of tutoring. Meanwhile, I switched this blog over to self-hosting, started up a couple others (now defunct), and started working as a freelance writer.

Money came in slowly, but it came in. My family continued to help out, but eventually, it reached the point where it was untenable to continue having my father pay my rent when he had a large house open to share. So, Henry and I packed our bags (actually, Henry did anything BUT help pack), we sold all of our furnishings, and moved to DC.

I continued the freelance work for a while, until the stress of unfinished, unhappy projects overwhelmed me. I finally quit all of those projects, took my out-of-the-house job as a cheesemonger, and continue to work on my blogs (and some freelance work).

The only thing that stayed the same in this entire mess was my poverty. I never applied for benefits or received federal funding, although my total annual income of under $5k would certainly set me below the threshold.

Here’s the logic that I question now, though.

When money comes in, I stock up.

Whether it’s cat food, toilet paper, flour, or baking soda, I stock up on the basics whenever I am able. I cover the debts I am able, and make sure I have enough of the rest to get through whatever time of inadequacy lays ahead.

Now that I do have a steady, yet very small income trickling in, I find myself doing the same thing. If I get paid, I go straight to Vitacost.com, Amazon, or like today, YoungAgain, and gather the things I know will sustain me in the future.

I clutch these items with tight fists and trust them to stick around longer than any income.

The logical part of my brain says this is smart and will keep me safe, where my gut says that this could cause a problem in the long run. This is a reactionary, “cover your rear” kind of mentality that could cause long-term problems with savings and debt repayment.

Faith and Frugality

What if I should throw that $50 at a creditor to cover a bill, but I think I need coconut oil more than a clear slate? I’d rather pay the opportunity cost of credit card interest and have the basics I need than just believe everything will be okay in the end.

So, I’m in a tricky spot. I know that I need to work on savings and debt repayment (some of my forbearances shake off come July, and the repayments will quadruple), but I still want to do a little pantry hoarding to make sure everything will be okay.

Do you do any of these things? Have they helped or hindered your goals? Let’s talk frankly about budgets and preparing for the long haul.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.gramenz Karen Reynolds Gramenz

    I will go (and I think I actually have gone) hungry before I’ll pay interest on a credit card.

  • Ida

    As a full-time freelancer, and one with debt, I stock up as well when I have the money. I also make a lot of my own foods, such as cheese, buttermilk, milk, etc. I also have a garden, can, freeze, and dehydrate. I also stress a lot.

    • http://rachaelmcleveland.com/ Rachael Cleveland

      It is stressful, isn’t it? I’m glad to make my own foods and feel good to know I can take care of myself when it comes to that stuff, but there’s always the lingering anxiety of debt. Let’s bust it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dana.hopkins77 Dana Hopkins

    As someone in their mid-30′s with 4 kids, a new found love of “real” food, a mortgage, car payments, student loans coming out my ears and no savings I wanted to encourage you to pay down debt as much as you can. I am still paying on a silly $10,000 student loan that I took out over 11 years ago…life happens and money had to go to other things. But, looking back I wish that I had made it a priority to put money away to pay off student loan debt. I totally understand the want and need to stock up on goodness when a little extra jingle comes into your pocket, but perhaps divide that extra $$ in half and make an extra payment or put it into savings. Anything is better than paying student loans or credit card debt for decades! Good luck!

    • http://rachaelmcleveland.com/ Rachael Cleveland

      Dana, thank you SO much for this comment! I’ve been thinking about it for days, and will switch to paying down the debt before stocking up (when possible). Thank you for sharing your story; it’s been so helpful!

  • Deborah

    Hmmm….I tend to agree with both Dana and Karen! Pay it off as fast as you can. I firmly believe in only charging what I know I can pay for when the bill comes.
    I know it is tough, but there is always bargain shopping!

    I buy grass fed local beef (and other animal, plant products) but mostly just ground beef, shanks, chuck roasts, liver, marrow bones (they don’t seem to be prized around here, which is fine with me!).

    • http://rachaelmcleveland.com/ Rachael Cleveland

      I’ve taken these comments to heart and am dedicated to paying down those blasted debts while finding ways to afford real food (like buying less expensive cuts of meat). Thank you so much for sharing, Deborah, and please accept my apologies in responding so late!

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