Should We Treat Ourselves While Destroying Our Student Loan Debt?

Recently I shared how intensely I think people should destroy their debt depending on what type of debt they have and the interest rate of the debt.

We’re pretty lucky that we didn’t have any of the worst types of debt, which include payday loans and credit cards.

However, as you may be aware of, we do have a mortgage and once had a lot of student loan debt left that we were working on paying off.

How serious are we about our different types of debt?

We decided to pay off our student loan debt as fast as possible. In fact, we paid off over $80,000 of student loan debt in less than three years.

That said, we have no intention to pay our mortgages off any faster than their 30 year terms.

While we were paying off our debt, we were trying to decide whether or not we should treat ourselves with a couple of larger purchases before the student loans were gone.

Here’s what we were considering.

What Are We Considering Buying

At the time, we were considering buying a roughly $500 laptop and a much larger purchase of $4,000 fencing in our backyard.

The fence would have been nice so we could let our dog, Daphne, roam around without going on a leash. This also would have freed up a tiny bit of our time since we wouldn’t have to physically take her out multiple times a day.

Why We Didn’t Think It Is A Good Idea To Buy

Tori’s student loan debt hung over both of our heads because, while it was necessary to pay her way through college, she ended up with a crazy amount of debt. We were constantly reminded of the debt every time we made a payment.

By making either of these large purchases we would have been delaying our student loan debt payoff. The loans would hang over our heads that much longer.

We were also against taking out debt for purchases such as computers or a fence. We felt these should be cash purchases and I think 99% of the people reading this will agree.

While we would technically have paid cash for these items, to us it would feel like we’re taking out a loan to purchase either the computer or the fence. What was our logic?

By purchasing these large items while still owing money on the student loans we would have essentially been buying something else instead of paying off and lowering our debt. So, instead of having less debt we would have had more stuff.

In our minds, that is almost as bad as taking out more debt to buy more stuff.

Why We Might Have Made The Purchases

Paying off over $80,000 of student loan debt is more of a marathon than a sprint. By balancing debt pay off with our other goals, it could be argued that we’d end up paying the debt off in a more controlled way.

By planning purchases like a laptop and a fence, we would have been less likely to splurge on unplanned purchases along the way.

That said, we did already have a mini fun budget each month so we already had the little splurges baked into our plan. If we budgeted to buy a laptop or fence we would have been increasing this mini fun budget by quite a bit.

What Did We End Up Doing?

We ended up purchasing the laptop a few months before the student loan debt was paid off. It replaced an aging machine that had slowed down significantly over the years. However, we paid off our student loan debt just four months later.

Ultimately, we decided against purchasing the fence. Even after the student loan debt was paid off, we still didn’t install a fence. We ended up selling that house, so we’re glad we held off as fences rarely add any money to the selling price of a home.

We are, however, installing a fence at our new home as I write this.

In the end, we were happy we bought the laptop. It made our lives much less frustrating and it only delayed the student loan debt pay off by a couple weeks at most.

Do you think we made the right decision or do you think we should have waited to buy the laptop until the loans were paid off?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Liz@BrusselsandBeyond says:

    It’s a really relevant question actually and one that I’m struggling with a bit as I begin to pay off my own student loans.

    I don’t own a house or a car and don’t have plans to make any extremely large purchases, but I did purchase a $1100 laptop a few months ago. I had used my old one for 5 years and with the noises it was making, it was clear it was on its last legs. Just several months after purchasing the new laptop, it crashed. I think it’s about prioritization and whether you need the item. Sometimes we do need new things, even if it slightly hampers the debt payment. Good luck figuring it out for you two!

  2. Fence is more of an investment. We did this last year, definitely worth it!

    Laptop is on our plate as well, and we’re looking at the Lenovo outlet. Some Core i5 and Core i7 laptops with 1TB hard drive for under $500!

  3. Funny we write about the same topic today!

    I used to say no. No fun for you if you are in consumer debt.

    But with all the bailouts, I say absolutely!!

  4. Treating yourself once in a while is important. It helps relieve stress and avoid ego depletion, the thing that causes budget/debt fatigue. That being said, a fence or conputer is a pretty large purchase.

  5. How are you going to pay for it? Are you taking on more debt or using cash? There is an IT guy at work who bought a laptop on ebay for $57. He said he was outbid several times, but out bid by adding a $1.01. The fence is an investment in your home.

  6. Those purchase seem pretty high on the utility scale, I would say go for it.

    Greeting fellow CPA blogger.

  7. You’ll get some return on investment for the fence, so as long as you’re paying cash and not adding more debt, I’d be OK with that one. The laptop is interesting. I have a desktop computer that I’ve had for almost 10 years. I’ve upgraded the memory and hard drive to their max capability, and have re-imaged it a couple of times. I did think it was dead once but it just needed a new video card. If the laptop is functioning, could you get away with upgrading and re-imaging it to extend it’s life further? If it’s physically failing, then you could justify the replacement purchase.

  8. 4K is a lot of money in your debt situation. Yes, I know fences cost that much but you can’t afford it. Could you do a cheap DIY dog run in the meantime for a couple of hundred?

  9. I believe maybe you could pick one for now. Since $4,000 is far greater than $500 then I would say purchase the laptop. Besides, $500 is extremely reasonable to me for a laptop – considering people pay at least twice that for Apples lol. Maybe purchase the fence later. I’m a dog owner and understand the beauty of having a fence, but it’s not as if the fence is absolutely vital at the moment.

  10. I remember this debate in our house during our slog through student loan repayment. We landed just about where you landed. Our loan repayment took a lot longer and we held off updating our computer until it was over. There are few things more frustrating than trying to work on an 8 year old computer.

  11. I faced a similar decision when I was paying off my car and credit cards. I needed a new laptop. Mine was 8 years old, on its last leg and used very frequently to make side income. The backup camera in my car also went out. I told myself soon after I paid off my car I’d fix the backup cam ($600) because it would be easier to justify. I was also paying my credit cards at the time. I ended up buying the new laptop ($1,100) and able to pay for it with a side hustle check the same month. That was January 2016, and I still haven’t fixed the backup camera. Since then I’ve paid off all of my credit cards and my bar exam loan. Currently, I’m in the process of refinancing my 7.125% interest law school loans.

    I still can’t bring myself to fix the backup cam, as much as I miss it.

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