Dump the Either Or Mentality

The debates rage on throughout the personal finance world, and everyone has their opinion. Questions like these are not at all uncommon:

  • Should I pay off debt or invest?
  • Spend money on stuff or experiences?
  • Work less or make more money?
  • Become self-employed or stick with my job?

Announce that you’re going to pay off your mortgage, and chances are good that someone will tell you you should be investing instead, especially with today’s low interest rates on mortgages. Why not put that money to work for you earning money instead, they say. Well, I say…who says I’m not investing?

Why not dump that either or mentality?

In many cases, you can do both. Life is not a pie with 8 little slices.

Sure, we could pay off our mortgage a lot faster if we stopped investing too, or we could invest a lot more if we kept our mortgage (or travel more, or whatever else struck our fancy) but we don’t have to pick just one.

And you don’t either, unless you want to.

Focusing and embracing

There’s no question at all that the power of focus is amazing. You can do a LOT by focusing, and if you’ve got a goal that’s important to you, that’s so the way to go.

But at the same time, you can embrace the fact that maybe you’re ok with, say, starting a business on a shoestring while you keep your job for another year. Maybe it’s even smart to see shades of grey.

And maybe there are alternatives out there that you weren’t considering back when you thought it was an either-or world.


Maybe you can work less and make more money. Maybe you can travel 3-4 times a year, go out and do things you enjoy, and have a fully-funded emergency fund, investments, and a paid-for house that you sit at home and relax in sometimes.

Maybe you can’t do it all at once, but you can start with what’s most important to you and then make sure those things stay in your life in some (possibly reduced) form while you work away at the other things.

It’s a matter of what’s important to you, of course. Just remember that there are often more alternatives than you might imagine.


  • I agree. I’ve always recommended starting off by focusing on both, and to see how you end up feeling about it. You may find out that you get more excited by one of the two possibilities, which would then allow you to shift your focus to that. But, you don’t know by at least trying.

    • I just think it’s smart to realize that you DO have choices. You can definitely get further faster by focusing, but you can sure do more than one thing :)

  • We have worked on breaking this very habit. Instead we are working on trying to balance everything and do a little bit with each category. We want to make sure we have all basis covered at least somewhat.

    • Financially I think that’s the way to go. Or at least that’s how I’ve handled it. Get the basics taken care of first in a balanced way, and then focus on the goal that means the most.

  • If you’re unsure on a decision doing both is a great solution. It is something I do in some area.

  • We are also saving and paying down debt. And, I do this with debt paydown, too. I know I could technically pay everything off faster if I only paid minimums on the lower interest rate debts and put every extra penny toward the highest rate debt, but honestly, it wouldn’t save that much, and I like seeing the balances go down on everything.
    And in our case, our highest interest debt is the mortgage. Even if I put every extra penny toward it, I wouldn’t see results for 10+ years, and I just can’t keep up my motivation that way. I’d rather see the progress on my student loans which can be paid off in less than 5 years.

    • You’ve got to do what keeps you motivated, and it sounds like that’s working for you. (Have you thought about refinancing your mortgage, btw?)

  • NCN

    For me, it really helps to have a single “main goal”, with several other “smaller goals”. For instance, I put a little away for retirement and additional savings, each month, but I’m really “focused” on paying off our mortgage. Do what keeps YOUR motivated, I think. Great post! -NCN

    • I think that pretty much exactly sums up how I do it too. How’s your mortgage payoff going? We’re working on getting ours knocked out too!

  • A dollar here and there adds up. Even loose change. No reason you can’t do both.

  • Many people can truly do both, even if applying discipline and creativity. Ultimately I do think there are priorities, and if you can only take one path then so be it. But first things first doesn’t always have to mean first things only.

  • I’d have to argue with “Spend money on stuff or experiences?” I think experiences always outweigh stuff. But that is just me. Unless you are investing in something that will lead to better experiences, an RV for a roadtrip, or a equipment for a hobby for example. Maybe I just talked myself into agree with you…

    • As far as stuff vs. experiences go, I think people naturally tend to gravitate toward one or the other. But I also like nice stuff and traveling. Traveling wins over nice stuff, but I believe I can have both.

  • All good points. But for those in really bad situations, sometimes you need to focus on the single biggest problem and tackle that first. If debt is really bad, it’s hard to pay it off and save money at the same time.

    • Yes, I think that’s true. And you can get a lot farther, faster by focusing. But it’s not like we only get one choice in life and that’s it.

  • Great Post!
    I feel like saying “me too” now. Got a great discount airfare – like 1/5 what I would have normally paid – and will be traveling to Brussels this week. Meanwhile, have managed to save a good little chunk in the emergency fund. Yes – having and reaching more than one goal at the same time is both fun and motivating.

  • carla

    I think it’s important to do both but I would like to point out that paying debt in a way can also be a way to save money.
    BTW, I’m currently doing a no spending month Challenge with hopes to reduce debt and increase savings…today is day 9…feeling good about it.

    • I agree, because when you pay down debt (and start paying in full for things) stuff costs you less, which means that you’re spending less and can save money. (Hopefully that made some sort of sense…)

      Sounds like you’re doing good on your no spend month!

  • Kim

    Jackie, I agree that you can do both. By the way we are sailing along fine, will post to you later . Busy, busy,