If you have tens of thousands of dollars to pay off, gazelle intensity can be exhausting. You can easily begin to feel sorry for yourself and lament all of the things you have to give up and sacrifice when paying down debt.
We started our journey to be debt free on October 20, 2011. Our debt was a mind-numbing $57,966.01. In the 7 months since then, we have paid down almost $10,000. (We are sitting right around $48,000 now.) I am proud of our progress, but we have reached the point where the journey is getting long and difficult. Gazelle intensity has lost its luster.
While we have no intentions of adding any new debt, we sometimes want to slow down and enjoy life. I don’t want to work so hard all the time; I want to spend money on treats sometimes.
And just like that it happened. The lifestyle creep began. We had been not been spending any money on eating out, and in May we spent nearly $200. Yes, I don’t think that seems like gazelle intensity either.
My kick in the pants came when I read on Yahoo! that Joe Mihalic recently paid down $90,000 in student loan debts in 7 months. Seven months! That is nearly $13,000 a month. Intrigued, I read more about his story on The Huffington Post.
After he did the obvious measures of selling off his extra vehicle, his motorcycle and cashing in investments and savings, he went renegade and cashed in his $8,000 retirement. (We certainly have enough in our retirement to erase our debt, but I am not as young as Joe, and I wouldn’t be willing to pay the penalties. Most financial experts do NOT recommend wiping out your retirement to pay down debts.)
Then he made the hard sacrifices including:
- Not having dinner dates the entire time he was paying down his debt (opting instead to take dates out for coffee and bagels)
- Foregoing travel at Christmas to see his parents
- Missing two friends’ weddings
- Finding two roommates on Craigslist
- Starting a side business as a landscaper
- Not buying any new clothes
- Shunning consumerism in general
He was full force gazelle intense, and it paid off. He, as Dave Ramsey says, “lived like no one else so later he could live like no one else.”
While we are generally frugal, we slip up and spend too much money on groceries and other expenses (such as our unnecessary trips out to restaurants this month). There is still some fat in the budget, and that fat can be cut and funneled toward our debt repayment. We still have room to improve.
Sometimes when you are tired and are immersed in your debt repayment, getting out of debt can feel hopeless. You can feel like the debt will never go away, and you can start to doubt yourself and the sacrifices you are making. In times of doubt, read stories like Mihalic’s to see that gazelle intensity does work. He made it through to the other side. You can, too.
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in New York, where she loves the natural beauty of the area.
Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity says
It’s difficult to maintain a high level of intensity in any endeavor for long periods of time, much less when it comes to something like tackling debt. The effort, dedication, and restraint that it takes seems easy at first because it is new, different, and the result is an exciting proposition. But, as time goes on, the changes don’t seem to come quickly enough, the sacrifices seem to be too much, life get in the way…
It’s ok to have to take a break. Sometimes, that’s exactly what is needed to come back with a renewed vigor and intensity to see the goal achieved.
Money Beagle says
I think the only way to maintain that type of intensity over the long term is to set smaller milestone goals along the way. If you increment your milestones to smaller achievements, it will help motivate you as you hit them. Getting one balance below $10k is something worth celebrating, then getting your overall debt below $120k is the next achievement. Substitute whatever numbers but the idea is simple: Keep setting smaller goals that you can hit regularly. That will keep your focus off the big picture so that every once in a while when you stand back and look at the bigger picture you’ll be quite amazed and satisfied, and will likely maintain your intensity.
I think it is a question of priorities! If it is important to pay down debt, you will do everything possible to do it. Was it necessary to do all these things? Probably not, but he thought it was. It was his highest priority.
shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet says
I don’t think you can compare the two situations. He is young, single and made steps that don’t seem reasonable to you (like cashing out his retirement). He also only had to live this way for 7 months.
You have lived this way for 7 months, and at the current rate, are looking at having to live this way for another 35 months.
I think gazelle intensity is great at the beginning, or when you have very short term goals- when there’s a time limit to be put on the intensity. But gazelle intensity is not meant to be, nor should it become, your new normal. And at the time frame you are looking at, you’re looking for a new normal.
Personally, I think you’d be best served by building a little wiggle room into your budget. Have a line item for eating out or allowances. If you don’t use it, great, send it to debt, but if you do, it was budgeted for, guilt free.
Otherwise, you face the same issues the yo-yo dieters do. You fall off the wagon, hard. And then you either decide to stay off wagon, or you get back on an even more intense wagon and make less progress before you’re falling back off.
Find yourself a sustainable new normal. It will make everything easier, and honestly, at this point, how is 38 more months much different from 35?
It can be so hard to maintain your intensity but you were observant and figured out that you were losing some of it. I bet most people would eventually go back to their old ways and barely notice so kudos for figuring it out. Just remember how good it is going to feel when all of your debt is gone and all of that extra cash flow you will have the option of doing what you want with.
Eventually everyone gets debt-fatigue, I’m there right now. I think as long as we recognize that its happening and don’t let it all go it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
I agree with Money Beagle: setting short term goals with rewards at the end can make gazelle intensity more bearable. When I was training for a marathon last year, I had to do this for myself or I would have lost focus. I treated myself to mini races, shorter runs, a day off from running, new sports clothing, ice cream and other treats — whatever would keep me going. The same can be done with paying down debt — short bursts of gazelle intensity broken up by a period of time relaxing, like treating yourself to $200 in dinners out one month, can help make the intense periods more bearable. You’re still on track; just think of May as your treat month and think of June as your renewed Gazelle period!
Elizabeth @ Simple Finance says
What Joe did is obviously not for everyone – first, it assumes a certain income level, then I think it would be nearly impossible to do if you had dependents. That said… I know what you mean about losing focus. My husband and I have loosened up the reins a bit too much this month as well.
Kristin @ Payment Free Life says
When we were paying off smaller debts (less than 10,000) and clearing debts every few months, it was a lot easier to stay focused. We have about $6,000 left on a student loan and then two huge debts to go, each around $47,000. We have about 2 years to go before we are debt free but staying motivated it really hard sometimes. We just keep thinking off all the things we can do once we are done. It’s hard but keep at it!