Next month, I’m going to be participating in a glorious, 10-year-old tradition—National Novel Writing Month. I’ll say a little more what I’m doing on November 1st, but this is my first time and I’m very excited.
National Novel Writing Month is like the Dave Ramsey of writing. You have to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. You slowflake your time, you cut out other leisure activities, you shut yourself in a room and avoid friends and family, you do what it takes.
Why? Because crazy, short-term goals inspire action. I couldn’t write a novel if it meant doing this kind of thing for a year. But I can for a month. And past experience suggests that without this kind of goal/event, I’d never get started in the first place, or wouldn’t keep going.
NaNoWriMo makes me think of the debate that so often happens in personal finance. Should you buckle down on your debt repayment goals with gazelle-like intensity and not look back until you hit the finish line? Or should you find a pace that keeps you from feeling miserable and (unreasonably) deprived so you stick with it?
My answer is yes.
For & Against Gazelle Intensity
Arguement for gazelle intensity: A large debt can weigh you down for years if you stick to minimums. And interest will often end up charging you half again as much, or even double. Intense debt repayment will free up the rest of your life and cost you less.
Argument against gazelle intensity: It’s one thing to be intense when you only have to do it for a year. When you’ve got to do it for 3 or 4 years minimum, you’ll burn out and give up entirely. Better to repay a little faster and more aggressively and leave the sprinting to people who are in for the short-term anyway.
From experience, I can tell you that the short-term sprints are fantastic. Paying off a credit card, paying off a car, putting away over half of our combined income for debt repayment—it’s a great feeling! It’s inspiring, it makes you want to do more.
But it’s also the sort of thing that can make you burn out. With so many years ahead, you find yourself wondering if you can keep this up. And it’s not a realistic expectation for most people.
This doesn’t mean I advocate dropping back to paying the minimums in between. Instead, I believe the best method (at least the best for us) is to set your monthly debt repayment goal somewhere above your minimums. As high as you can comfortably go. Then make sure that you have at least a little money put aside in your budget for fun spending. It doesn’t need to be much, whatever is enough to make you happy. $50/ea misc. personal for me and Micah is delightful and rarely always used. Other people need more, other people need less.
With this snowball, you still can’t afford lots of new gadgets, big tvs, expensive cars, and the like. But you’re not so stressed by squeezing out every penny that you give up on debt repayment.
Then mix it up with these bursts of gazelle intensity. The momentum and short-term nature keep you going and the payoff is fantastic. At the end, you’re more inspired and you feel great about the dent you’ve made in your debt.
When To Sprint With Debt Repayment?
Definitely at the beginning. Despite our initially meager salaries, it was great to start w/paying off the credit card in 2 months.
Definitely at the end. Sprinting to the finish in any project is a great way to wrap it up (providing you’re not skimping on quality, of course).
At intervals. It’s not easy to plan, but I’ve found that it’s especially exciting to cut down on spending on months when I have a lot of alternative income coming in. That way the repayment fund is being fed by both streams at the same time and gets impressive.
Are you a gazelle? Have you found it easier to come up with a method like ours, or something else?