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Gazelle Intensity When You’re in for the Long Haul

Last week, Lynnae at Being Frugal asked if there was a downside to “gazelle intensity.” If you’re wondering about the term, it was coined by Dave Ramsey in an attempt to describe the passion with which we should seek to get out of debt. When a gazelle is being chased by a cheetah (debt), it’s running and jumping and bobbing and weaving and completely concentrated on its goal.

She talks about balancing that intensity in a way that keeps her family healthy. For example, she feels it’s very important to stay at home with her kids (as the child of a SAHM, I understand why) and that people come before debt. Now she’s using her home time to make money from blogging and scout for best deals, plan snowballs, and all that.

This got me thinking about our own debt reduction and the magnitude of our debt.

Even on the annual salary I would have gotten from the job I left, before taxes, our debt is about 4 times that much. With this patchwork job I hope to earn at least as much by the end of the year–I don’t really expect to bring in 100k, even before taxes.

Once Micah starts working, of course, we can attack debt faster (and I should add that he’s getting a stipend for his teaching, which helps with debt repayment and such).

But I’m expecting to be in here for the long haul. Accordingly, I’ve made a few choices which probably won’t get our debt paid off faster, but will keep us sane:

1. I left the salaried job.

Yeah, seems dumb, right? I don’t know if it was working in a cement box with no windows all day or what, but the job messed up my emotional equilibrium. Getting out of debt is excellent, but so is not crying a lot and spiraling back into depression. Debt reduction vs. sanity, sanity wins.

If it had just been a year I might have been able to stick it out. Maybe.

2. We allow ourselves a few inexpensive luxuries.

There’s a lot of rice and beans in our diet, but we also get coffee a couple times a month (though thanks lovely people who gave us gift cards, because that’s one less item in our budget for a bit!) or go out to inexpensive restaurants with friends. We even went out to a movie in the last 4 months.
I don’t know if the most “gazelle intense” people would condone this. If we were focusing on debt for just a year or 6 months and could snowball our way out in that time, we might cut back to pretty much bare bones. It’d feel so good.

I think if a person’s trying to get out of debt, they should definitely add Dave Ramsey to their reading list.

At the same time, when reducing debt you have to ask what you value. Lynnae values being able to raise her kids hands-on. They’re only going to be kids once.

I value being sane. Wanting to get out of debt is part of being sane, but so is not being completely miserable at my job because it pays more.

And we both value being free and clear of debt’s shackles as soon as possible.

Gibble at Gather Little By Little says that Gazelle Intensity isn’t for him and explains why.

What are your priorities when it comes to debt? Will your debt reduction take years? Months? If you’re already out of debt, how did you prioritize things?

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Melissa January 13, 2008 at 8:44 am

I am new to the term “gazelle intensity” but not new to the idea. I tried this a few years ago and found myself resenting my job and all of the time and energy I was putting into figuring out how to save money. Don’t get me wrong- it’s a great concept and seems like it would work. But for me, it was more important that I enjoy working as something more than just generating a few more bucks to throw at my debt. (And anyone who has worked in a place like DE knows that it really is just a few bucks!) Rewarding myself now and then with a night off from cooking or to get coffee with a friend meant that working had more reward than earning money that was already “spoken for.” I guess the point is, I agree with you!

E.C. January 13, 2008 at 10:57 am

Windowless boxes are a challenge. Was there a reason your job couldn’t be done in a room with some sunlight? I’ve spent more hours in a windowless room with a laser than I’d care to recount, and I’ve come to dread the hours sitting in the dark listening to the quiet whirring of the machines for hours on end. On that cheery note, I should get dressed and head to the lab.

mrsmicah January 13, 2008 at 11:03 am

@ E.C. The whole office was in the “penthouse” which one learns in property management is normally a fancy word for a windowless cement box on top of the building. There was a door on the other side (through some locked doors…though I had the key) which would let me look out over the rooftop. I would do that a couple times a day just to see what color the sky was. And if time permitted, I went on walks for about 15 minutes.

As it got darker in the mornings and evenings, I might only see 45 minutes of sunlight in a day.

Ashley January 13, 2008 at 11:59 am

Mine is going to take years and I’m not looking forward to it! And I would not do a job that I hated for a long time either. You’re right, sanity always wins.

Ryan S. January 13, 2008 at 12:08 pm

When I was in debt, once I decided it was time to do something, I was pretty seriously intense about it, and I got part time jobs (one of which I still have) to work on it.

Now I’m intent on saving and investing.


Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances January 13, 2008 at 12:13 pm

I value sanity highly, too!

Some of my other priorities in no particular order: quality time with my husband and other loved ones, health, education, working on building a career that works for me, and making the house somewhere I want to stay so that I don’t want to head to the mall the moment I get home, and of course, getting down the debt.

I know that I’m not good at gazelle intensity, as me recent efforts showed. However, I do know that I’m good at bargain shopping and being picky about what I bring into our home. That seems help me to avoid impulse buys, purchase less, and spend less in the long run, even if I really do stink at not shopping altogether.

While my husband and I have made some big purchases lately, we’ve bought a lot less of the little things that add up quickly like books, CDs, DVDs, games, cheap plastic crap, etc.

ms. m&p January 13, 2008 at 1:20 pm

I think that gazelle intensity can only be accomplished if you’re willing to make debt payoff your number one goal in life. I could do that for two months or so–I know, because I tried it–but after that I began to feel out of whack. Holding money so close to you makes you lose perspective, and that’s how I felt. That said, those two months helped me realize what I could live with and what I could live without. I began to give myself some breathing room in my budget, but I still found that my payments to debt reduction were about that same as they were when I was funneling all my energies to debt repayment. Funny how that works…

For the most part, I try not to let myself feel deprived of anything. If a $4 latte once a month is going to keep me from feeling deprived, I’ll buy one. That way, it keeps me away from the temptation of blowing my budget in a bigger way.

Christine January 13, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Well, when Phil and I marry I figure we’ll have about $6,000 in debt between us; my share is owed to the government and his to his parents.

I’ll be out of school first, so probably what will happen is that we’ll live on my salary — which may just pay for rent, food, and his tuition at first. Then whenever Phil has a co-op term, it’ll double our income; I think the best thing would be for us to continue to live on my salary and put all of his wages toward debt repayment and then toward savings.

I figure we could be out of debt probably within about one or one-and-a-half terms. That is encouraging.

RacerX January 13, 2008 at 1:39 pm

I believe a debt plan is something that should be a way to live life.

In other words, it is a marathon and not a sprint!

There is nothing wrong with having and following desires, as long as you take care of your needs and wants first.

Amanda @ Me vs Debt January 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm

You’re simple luxuries sound perfectly reasonable. And I have to agree sanity trumps debt reduction any day. Life shouldn’t be a race for survival, just get back on track, do the best you can, and keep at it!

plonkee January 13, 2008 at 3:21 pm

I have to say that I think that Dave Ramsey is most applicable to people with relatively high salaries, who mostly got themselves into this mess by overspending for a long time. There are many other people who aren’t really in that position. In your case, I think it’s mostly student loan debt, and you don’t have a large income – even if you were gazelle intense, it’ll still take you a long time to do. And you’d be less likely to stick to it.

fathersez January 13, 2008 at 6:42 pm

RacerX has said it well…this is a long distance race. Pacing ourselves well is a great way.

If you repay your debt faster, so much the better.

It may be good to remember that the gazelle runs like that only when chased by a cheetah or someone who is going to harm it.

So if we are not continuing to pile on debt, a measured pace should be better.

Diva January 13, 2008 at 9:59 pm

I think Ramsey’s point with the gazelle intensity is that you have to take the problem seriously (which you are) and that you have to try to see what you can cut (which you are).

It’s not that you can never ever ever never buy a single unnecessary thing. 🙂 For example I never even thought to try to satisfy by book cravings by going to the library. Now that I’ve tried I like it. Other things I’ve tried to help with savings I haven’t liked. But at least we are trying and not unconsciously spending!

CatherineL January 14, 2008 at 8:13 am

Hi Mrs M – I’m definitely with you on this one – sanity should come first. And there definitely has to be some balance.

A long time ago, I convinced myself that being miserable in the present would pay off in the future. Then I realised it was a totally stupid way to live, because the future may never even come.

wealthy_1 January 14, 2008 at 8:22 am

This is a great post. Maybe having gazelle intensity is the same as having a plan. We want to be debt free, but does it make sense to risk our health and emotional well being to do so? Two of my favorite mantras come to mind as I read this post: “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep”. “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

Anitra January 14, 2008 at 2:20 pm

After my husband and I started listening to Dave Ramsey, we decided pretty quickly that we’re not up to being “gazelle intense” for the two or three years it would take to completely pay off our debt (mostly student loans). We are certainly focused, and trying to see where we can cut spending, but at the rate we are looking at now, it will take five years or more. And we’re OK with that, because this feels sustainable. (It also means we keep a larger emergency fund than Dave suggests with his Baby Step #1.)

Mrs Micah's Mom January 15, 2008 at 10:34 am

How I agree with you all! Debts need to be repaid, but not at the cost of all the pleasures of life, unless it’s essential that they be repaid by a certain, early date. With college loan debt, you have time. Micah contracted the debts in the confidence that he would be able to repay them, and he will in time. That said, I do agree with, admire, and applaud your strategy of starting early.


Jim Eggen July 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Oh Janele, if you could only get like a gazelle! Even like a slow-running one.
I think there’s also a good analogy in AA’s 12 step process. You need to do the first step before you can progress to the next, and so on. Staying too proud and deep in denial will never move you along.
Once you admit your problem to yourself and others, you may then be able to move forward. Don’t blame others and make them your enemies as you stay on one (low) plateau. Pause there briefly and move to the next plateau.

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