Paying Down Debt? Make Sure To Recognize Non-Financial Progress

My husband and I are paying down a significant amount of debt, the majority of which is student loan debt from my husband’s Ph.D.  We have been gazelle intense now for 10 months and have paid off 20% of our debt, which we are excited about.

When Gazelle Intensity Screeches to a Halt

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But that excitement inevitably wanes when we hit a patch of high expenses and must halt gazelle intensity.

In September, there are many, many expenses, some expected and some unexpected.  We have to pay $99 for our license plate registration, $1,200 for my husband’s conference (this amount will be reimbursed a month or two after the conference), $200 for my hosting renewal,  and my quarterly taxes for freelance work.  We have stopped gazelle intensity and are just paying the minimum amount on our debt this month.

It feels like we are failing, but we are not.

Recognize Progress When In Debt

We are taking a break so we can pay cash for our expenses instead of incurring new debt.  We are working hard to generate the extra income we need to pay these expenses before they actually occur.  This weekend, my husband has been on dad duty all day Saturday and Sunday so I can do extra freelance work and list our “stuff” on Craigslist and eBay to generate cash.  I miss spending time with my kids, but it is a short-term sacrifice we are both making for the greater good of our family.

When I blogged about this on my own blog, many readers said they were facing this same scenario.  One reader was saving for her upcoming maternity leave in October and putting her debt repayment on hold.  (Dave Ramsey actually approves slowing down on debt repayment to hoard cash for job loss or maternity leave.)

You Know You Are Making Progress If. . .

If you have had to take a break from debt repayment and feel discouraged, ask yourself if any of these situations apply to you.  If so, pat yourself on the back.  You are progressing in your war on debt, just not in a gazelle intense monetary way.

You know you are making progress on your war on debt if:

  • You now pay cash for the majority of your purchases (this is a personal choice, but we have abandoned our credit cards to avoid the chance of incurring any new debt)
  • You find yourself delaying a purchase or avoiding it all together because you don’t currently have the money for it.  (Many times we end up in debt because we are not good at delaying gratification.  If you are now able to resist purchases, you are changing your mindset, which will help you avoid any new debt in the future.)
  • You find yourself working hard to generate income BEFORE the expense must be paid rather than just putting it on credit and dealing with it later.  (Again, you are changing your mindset about debt.)
  • You take a break from consuming.  (We consume every day—gas, groceries, entertaining, etc.  Sometimes it is good to take a break from consumption.  This week, we have committed to paying no more than $25 for the week.  I have been walking my kids to school, and we are eating the food we already have in the house rather than buying more groceries.)
  • You find cheaper ways to buy what you need.  (Our baby monitor broke, so we need a new one.  Rather than running out and purchasing one brand new, we have been perusing Craigslist and found one new in the box for $10.)

Paying down debt aggressively is only one part of the puzzle.  You also must change your behavior and mindset over the long-term to make sure the changes are permanent and you don’t end up in debt again a few years later.

This month, we have taken a break from gazelle intensity, but it is nice to recognize that we are still making progress.

What other indicators do you have that you are progressing in your war on debt?

Last Edited: 10th February 2014

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    Share Your Thoughts:

  1. Noah says

    I know you don’t want to start using a credit card again, but with lots of large purchases coming up, you can reap some great cash rewards. Each year I get anywhere from $200-400 from regular credit card purchases like groceries, insurance costs, etc.

  2. says

    I think “You find yourself delaying a purchase or avoiding it all together because you don’t currently have the money for it.” is the best sign. All of these taken together are evidence that you’re pulling your expenses in below your income long term. That’s the key.

  3. says

    “You also must change your behavior and mindset over the long-term to make sure the changes are permanent and you don’t end up in debt again a few years later.” – excellent point! What’s the purpose of being debt free if you’re just going to get yourself right back into trouble. Nobody ever mentions the mentality that must be built up in the process of paying down debt. Thank you for bringing this up.

  4. says

    These are all great points. We are still struggling with learning to delay gratification. We are working really hard on ensuring we have cash on hand (or at least a plan) to pay for things, and earning extra to do it, but the delay of the purchase is still so difficult!

  5. says

    Pay cash for the majority of your purchases and save up for things that you can buy later so that you do not need to use your credit card. I understand the difficulty of paying in cash during the adjustment period. Soon, you will get used to the frugal lifestyle. At first, my kids complained why we have to walk to school when we can use the car. After explaining that we have to save the gas, which is getting more expensive, they understood and enjoyed the walk, instead. We exchange stories, hide from the bushes, and learned to appreciate the every flower, bee, plant, animal and especially, the rainbow, that we come across every morning and afternoon.

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