My husband and I have been on a journey to pay off our debt for exactly two years now. So far we’ve paid off almost half of our debt, but we still have a little under $30,000 to go (all in student loans).
I’ll be honest, I get a wee bit jealous when I read other bloggers who are paying off their debt with gazelle intensity.
Why We Chose To Abandon Gazelle Intensity
See, we tried gazelle intensity, and it wasn’t good for our marriage or my health. In fact, I’m still recovering from the toll on my health, in part because I was working so hard, juggling too many things, stressing out, and not sleeping well. Of course, I wasn’t a very good mom during that time, either.
In the end, we made the decision to pay down our debt more slowly for our own physical health and for the health of our family relationships. After all, my kids will only be little once, and I didn’t want to miss that precious time because I was exhausted and grumpy. I didn’t want to be a mean mom.
Is Gazelle Intensity The Solution To Remaining Debt Free?
I was recently talking to a friend, I’ll call her Patty, who, together with her husband, paid off roughly $30,000 in debt in less than a year. Patty was very motivated because she wanted to be a stay at home mom, and the only way they could afford it was if they were debt free.
Patty worked full-time as did her husband. In addition, Patty started a side gig that brought in more money than she had anticipated. Within a year, they were debt free, and Patty quit her full-time job to stay home with her children and work her side gig a few hours a week.
Patty was one of those bloggers that I was envious of because she made it look so easy.
Imagine my surprise when I was talking to her recently and she confessed that she and her husband were back in debt.
Why? She said gazelle intensity had been like a crash diet where you lose a lot of weight but then gain it right back because you didn’t change your habits and mindset.
She said, “We lost one income when I quit, but we kept living like we had 2.5 incomes as we did when we were gazelle intense.”
Just like those who go on crash diets, she and her husband hadn’t changed their behavior for the long term, and when they no longer had the constraints of gazelle intensity, they slipped back into their old behaviors.
Travis at Enemy of Debt, who is paying off a significant amount of debt himself says, “People that pay off debt with gazelle intensity learn how to be very good at saying, ‘No.’ You don’t have to pick and choose what to spend your discretionary funds on, because by the definition of gazelle intensity there is no such thing. Your money either goes to absolute necessities, or to paying off debt. Gazelle intensity focuses on always saying, ‘No,’ but real life is also about learning when the appropriate time is to say ‘Yes.'”
Is Slowly Paying Off Debt The Solution?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know if our slow and steady approach is the answer, either, because we are still in the process of paying down debt. However, I do know that we are learning to budget in a way we haven’t done before, and we’re also learning the importance of saving while paying down debt.
I like to think our approach is more like someone who learns to change their eating habits while losing weight slowly, but I just won’t know for sure until five years from now, when we’ve been out of debt for a few years.
What do you think? Is gazelle intensity the solution, or does it leave people vulnerable to going right back into debt?
Peter Anderson says
I think being gazelle intense is more meant for short bursts of speed, not necessarily if you’re running a marathon. I think like you mentioned if you’re in it for the long haul, having the basics of budgeting, cutting costs and learning to live on less than you make are all important. If you can then work in the occasional gazelle intense period, that can definitely help. Being gazelle intense for long periods of time is tough to do though..
I like the idea you wrote about a while ago where you do a sort of interval training with your gazelle intensity. You do an gazelle intense period, and then a cool down period to build up your batteries again..
I agree. Gazelle intensity is great to start off, but it doesn’t teach you the discipline that it takes to endure for the long haul. Just like God doesn’t want to see gazelle-intense short bursts of discipleship, He wants to see us enduring to the end with steadfastness and consistency.
Thanks for mentioning my article, Melissa. :) The comments to my post changed my perspective slightly….while I still think that sustained gazelle intensity is not the way to be successful, I do think that short spurts of intense debt pay off is not a bad thing. If during our very long debt payoff journey we take a month and decide to throw as much as we can at our debt…then go back to our “slow and steady” after that – I can see how that could be a useful tool. I will say that we’ve never done that, though – sustaining our monthly payment to our debt management program is enough to handle. :)
Michael Taylor says
I think it goes back to understanding “The Why” of getting out debt. If “The Why” is big enough you can stay gazelle intense much longer. However, I do agree with Melissa that you shouldn’t take it to the point of sacrificing your health. How intense you can be is a relative thing. It depends on your circumstances. Whatever you do, just be intentional about it.
I disagree with the notion that gazelle intensity is a short-term fix — or that you can’t be gazelle intense throughout one’s road to a debt-free life (and beyond). The point of gazelle intensity is that every dollar received is assigned a category: That should be a habit from here to eternity. A dollar that isn’t in the paycheck (i.e., spending beyond one’s income) shouldn’t even have a category. AND that means that if the employment/income situation changes, then there should be a similar change in the spending plan.
When getting out of debt, every spare dollar is put into the category of “paying off debt.” When you’re out of debt, you relax somewhat in your spending habits, but you STILL provide each incoming dollar (or dime, or penny) with a home…and stop spending when all the dollars are appropriately housed. Our road to TOTAL debt-freedom (as of March 1, 2013!!!) was nearly $190k paid off in 50 months; we’re still gazelle intense because that focus ultimately taught us to reallocate our spending priorities. No longer is it about recklessly buying “stuff” but it’s about long-term planning so that we direct the dollars, rather than the lenders directing our dollars for us. Being debt-free, for us, just meant that we shifted the direction of our intensity’s such that the dollars that once went to debt are now allocated to different categories (more fun-stuff, savings for a new car, home improvements, long-term savings).
I think the trick is to harness that intensity with what you HAVE, not what you used-to-have. The party who was gazelle intense until she could be a stay-at-home-Mom was NOT gazelle intense thereafter because the family did not adjust for the change in income. That’s not a criticism, by the way — it would be hard to go from (say) $60K to $35K per year and NOT be tempted by debt. (By the way, we experienced a change-in-income during our journey because our income WAS “downsized” during this time, so my comment isn’t simply based on theory.) However, it’s just a given that yielding to debt implies the former intensity did not result in a habit (whereas, in our own case, the 5-year journey to debt freedom yielded an intensity that is largely ingrained now).
Having said all this, I agree that gazelle intensity should NOT include sacrificing one’s health. Rather, if one ratchets back the income to prior levels (such as by giving up a part-time job), then the intensity should smiliarly shift to match the income level.
My wife and I are in a similar situation – about halfway through paying off debt, and working towards her staying at home with our four-month-old. For us, one of the biggest issues is discipline – it is incredibly challenging to cut back when you’re used to a specific lifestyle. I think gazelle intensity can be a great thing – a big push to break through the debt cycle, and even more importantly, an exercise in self-discipline.
It sounds like from Patty’s story that the problem wasn’t necessarily gazelle intensity, but instead the lifestyle change after the fact. That’s my biggest concern right now as well… I know we could lean in 6-8 months and be done with the debt, but I’m much less confident it will be enough to permanently change our lifestyle to fit a single budget.
Thanks for sharing!
Shannon Adams says
I think in most cases Gail van Oxlade has a more realistic long term strategy. She is Canada’s version of Dave Ramsey. her strategy is more like 90 percent Gazelle. But makes a better point of adopting a life style change and will argue that an entertainment budget is important to long term success to avoid debt fatigue, even if its only 20 dollars a month. You can find some of her shows probably on you tube. There called till debt do us part, money moron, and Princess. I use to like watching her shows just because I would realize how go I am with money compared to other people.
Putting money into savings when you’re still paying higher interest rates on debt? The math just doesn’t support that…
I think the key for me staying out of debt so far (almost 4 years) was Dave’s Baby Step three – Building an emergency fund of 3 -6 months expenses.
I can’t say I applied Gazelle like intensity to getting out of debt, but I did my best and it was a longer process than I care to admit to. The part that really helped me get out was first Baby Step One. $1000 emergency fund. It helped me break the cycle of using credit to rescue me from the unplanned, but likely to happen things – sick pet, car repair etc.
Ironically, I got the second job the year I got out of debt. After three years, I was sick and stressed. The job became a substitute for my full emergency fund. Or things happened before I could build it up.
Since my health forced me to give up the second job, I applied gazelle like intensity to saving a full emergency fund
Now with the basement leaking, I feel very grateful I have enough money in the fund to take care of it without debting.