My husband and I have debt. A lot of debt. The majority of it is from student loan debt my husband accrued obtaining his Ph.D. I have a small amount of student loan debt left, and we have some consumer debt as a result of simple overspending and not having much income last year. We are followers of Dave Ramsey, and we became gazelle intense in October, 2011, as soon as my husband secured a post-doc research position. With gazelle intensity, even with our relatively low income, we have managed to pay down a little over $8,000 in four months. However, we are now on the verge of gazelle intensity burnout.
While we have made good progress, we still have more than five times the amount we have already paid down yet to go. It is hard to maintain gazelle intensity when you know you will be paying down debt for several years. Gazelle intensity at this level is akin to a runner sprinting through the first five miles of a marathon and becoming overwhelmed with the 21 remaining miles. Sprinting through a marathon is simply not possible.
Interval Training: Best for the Body, Best for Debt Repayment
If you are looking to improve your physical fitness level, experts tell you not to do the same exercise routine every day. You become complacent and your body does too. Your body learns how to not work as hard. Interval training is an excellent way to push yourself and still allow enough time in between extreme bouts to recover. The physical challenge followed by the rest period is what gets you into the best shape. So it should be when paying down debt.
Dave Ramsey doesn’t address gazelle intensity burnout. He advocates pushing as hard as you can until the debt is gone. While I like the theory, I don’t think it is reasonable when one has a significant amount of debt to pay off. Instead, treat gazelle intensity like interval training. Push as hard as you can for as long as you can, and then take some time to recover and rest. Then push as hard as you can again.
We are currently in the rest period as we are saving for a conference my husband must attend out of state in March. We are still paying extra on our debt, but now it is $50 extra a week instead of $300. After the conference is over, we will go back to gazelle intensity.
Advantages to Gazelle Intensity Interval Training
You have time to rebuild your passion. Your personal passion to get out of debt is what drives you to live like no one else and sell things and work an extra job to generate more income to use as debt repayment. While I was nearing burnout, now that we are in the rest period, I am itching to become gazelle intense again and watch our debt balances go down. My passion is returning now that I am rested, so to speak.
You avoid burnout. So many people commit to paying down their debt, but lose their passion and focus and remain stagnant, using credit cards throughout the month and paying down what was charged the previous month but nothing more. If you take a rest period from gazelle intensity and remain committed to not accruing more debt, you are still making progress toward your goal to be debt free, though not as quickly.
Gazelle intensity becomes a manageable way of life. Dave Ramsey says over and over again to eat beans and rice, rice and beans because they are low cost foods. My family likes both beans and rice, but if I fed that to them at every single meal, I would face a revolt. While we eat beans a lot, at least once a week we have something fun like homemade pizza. Having an occasional break from gazelle intensity, even in the realm of food, makes gazelle intensity more manageable.
If you have debt, first commit to not accruing new debt. Then, push as hard as you can in the beginning to pay down as much debt as you can as quickly as possible. Take a rest if you need to, and appreciate the fact that every time you have a gazelle intense period, you make the next rest period more fruitful because you will have less interest to pay overall thanks to the previous bout of intensity. Just like interval training, your finances will be in better shape if you alternate gazelle intensity with rest.
Jess @JessCantCook says
I love this idea! My husband and I have a lot of debt to pay down and we definitely get into gazelle mode but burn out easily.
Peter Anderson says
I think this is a great idea that would definitely work well for a lot of people. We did something sort of similar when we were paying off debt, but slightly different. Instead of completely going off debt repayment mode we would just take a break from being intense -by going out to eat or in a couple of cases taking a long weekend away and spending a little bit of money on the weekend away. It has a great way of recharging the batteries and getting you gung-ho and ready to attack debt again!
Although I have not followed Dave Ramsey too closely, I am surprised that he doesn’t address burnout as he does advocate the psychological rewards of paying off the smallest debt first.
I agree that burnout is a big problem. You have touched on why crash and fad diets don’t work either. There is always the feeling of missing out and sacrifice that cannot be sustained indefinitely. It then becomes too easy to binge. Same with spending. You are wise to rest.
Money Beagle says
Focusing on the number today and the number of 0 is a sure-fire way for failure when it comes to paying off debt. Truth is, you have to set little milestones along the way so that you feel you’re making progress. As you mentioned, not taking on any new debt is job one. Once you get there and can make your way without taking on new debt, then setting small milestones to mark progress is the sure path to success!
I totally agree. We are about 18 months into our repayment plan and at the current rate, it will be just over a year once we are done (hopefully!). We did experience burnout too but luckily just downshifted, like you recommended. Add to it that there are times over a long period of time when you have to make adjustments. During the last 18 months we have gone through two different periods of job lay offs and some other work that just didn’t pan out. It really affects you ability to pay off huge amounts of debt quickly and we could easily have become discouraged.
We are still working on it though and hopefully will be done in about 15-17 months!
Great post – I’m sharing it with my readers this Saturday during my weekly round up post.
Great idea! My wife and I have been working at our debt with Gazelle-like intensity but have also had to reallocate (in Intervals) from time to time. We’ve been incredibly committed to not taking on new debt and although we’ve come close, we have not had to touch our emergency fund for the entire 3 years! Although we have a hard time psychologically not paying down more debt at times we’ve been very diligent in “planning” for these expenses / travels / kids etc. and that has helped tremendously.
I agree; my wife and I just completed seven years of paying off debt and only in the past month have finally paid off our last credit card. Looking back, we took breaks in there. Maybe we could have done it five years if we hadn’t taken breaks but they helped us catch our breath and remind ourselves of our accomplishments; Nine credit cards gone.
I agree with the premIse of this post, but some facts don’t resonate. I am gazelle intense as well right now; September 1st, 2011 I began my journey with $126,000 in debt (student loan, credit cards, and auto). How embarrassing….now I am down to $30k after 6 months. As Dave says, I was suck and tired of being sick and tired. You don’t need to abandon rice and beans, per se…you just need to create a budget that allows some wiggle room,,,aka BLOW money. That prevents burnout. 6 more months…I can see the light!!! This has NOT been easy.
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says
Love the analogy. Thanks for sharing!
To clarify, Ramsey never recommends eating beans and rice. It’s a metaphor about getting serious about eating on a budget and not eating out. Notice he always says “get on beans and rice.” He never says “eat beans and rice.” I suspect your homemade pizzas qualify.
True, just like he says start delivering pizzas, and he doesn’t mean everyone should deliver pizzas. :) However, for us, beans and rice truly are a good way to limit our grocery spending, so that is what we eat a lot of the time.
Tyler S. says
Right on – paying off those large amounts is going to be exhausting and frustrating if you are always looking at the total, and always trying to put every last penny towards it! Think tortoise and the hare – slow and steady wins the race. As long as you’re consistent, you WILL get there, but don’t forget to enjoy the view once in a while on the way there. :)
Avoiding burnout is huge! Most people give up on budgets and debt reduction due to burn out. You might be on to something here with this interval training. Good luck.
I’m starting to feel burn out now. 34 months into digging out of 59,000 of debt. I’m down to 19,000. I feel like I’ll never get out. When I combined finances with my finace next month, we’ll be at 61K.
Were both frugal, always have been. But life is expensive. Most of our debt is student loans…
In 2010-2011, my husband and I began using Dave Ramsey’s zero balance budget, 7 baby steps, and the snow ball effect to attack debt at gazelle speed. To date, we have paid $26,493.13 in debt, including our $10,000 wedding. I can certainly understand how the idea of paying down debt can create havoc in a marriage, as my husband and I maintained 1 full time job and 2 part-time jobs each (yes, 6 total) to pay down debt. Doing this, we barely saw each other and didn’t spend any time together; all while delaying starting a family until we were debt-free. In 2012, we revamped our budget and created a line item for entertainment as well as increased our personal allowance. This created such a relief for the two of us. We started date nights and reconnecting with each other. We are $5,000 away from reaching our goal. I’ve resigned from one part-time job and significantly reduced the hours of the remaining part time job so that we can start family planning. Good luck to everyone.
Great story, Robyn! Thank you for sharing!
I especially appreciate the part about re-visiting the budget after an intense period and making a new plan that includes a larger “fun money” bucket. I think while it is tiring to dig yourself out from under a big pile of debt, what’s important to remember: (1) never EVER start using credit cards again, and (2) if you keep digging up, you WILL reach the surface!
Last thought: look for log-jams… cars, toys, etc, that you can sell to make a quick dent in the remainder. Ebay small items/garage sale large items, Etsy for handcrafted items.