DH = Dear Husband
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
Last week, I wrote about taking on more work to pay off debt
. In my case, it means double duty as I finish off the regular school year while at the same time finding placements for my summer school co-op students. Once July rolls around, I’ll be back to one job, but for a few weeks in June, it means craziness. Definitely not fun. The question is: Is it worth it?
Ramsey & “gazelle intensity”
DH and I started our journey out of debt after reading Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover in the spring of 2012. In it, Ramsey writes of “gazelle intensity”- an odd combination of words at first sight, but he provides the needed context. The cheetah, a predator of the gazelle, is much faster and more powerful than its prey. So what do you think are the odds that a delicate creature like the gazelle will win against the cheetah? Pretty good as it turns out. Ramsey writes “because the gazelle will outmaneuver the cheetah instead of outrunning him, the cheetah will tire quickly. As a matter of fact, the cheetah only gets his gazelle burger for lunch in one out of nineteen chases. The gazelle’s primary hunter is the fastest mammal on dry ground, yet the gazelle wins almost every time.” He then goes on to make the application: “Likewise, the way out of debt is to outmaneuver the enemy and run for your life” (Ramsey 121).
Who or what is the “enemy” of the debtor?
· Pushers of debt like credit card companies, banks, and sellers of merchandise who seduce you into buying with future income.
· Social forces that pressure you to fit in / keep up with the Joneses / appear affluent / remain faithful to expensive family traditions / be that generous guy who buys the beer for everyone.
· Inner sabotage, often stemming from a deep-seated belief that for basic happiness you NEED a trip / sexy car / big house / designer clothes / new furniture / a daily latte.
Reconsidering gazelle intensity
In response to my post last week a concerned colleague, who reads my blog, respectfully asked if
he could challenge my decision to take on summer school – especially given the fact that it meant this period of stressed out double duty. “Your health and happiness are worth something. Aren’t they more important that taking a big chunk out of your debt?” he asked. Likewise, Travis, who commented on my post last week, took issue with what he understood to be Ramsey’s concept of gazelle intensity: “for me it’s a recipe for burnout and resentment . . . there comes a time when you have to take a breath and recharge those batteries too. Remember, even while paying off your debt, you need to enjoy life as well.”
These comments led me to consider whether or not I’ve got the right idea. I looked back at Ramsey’s words on gazelle intensity and found this little gem leading up to them. “If you take an old-fashioned magnifying glass outside and set it near some crumpled newspapers, nothing will happen. If you point the sun’s rays through the magnifying glass but move it around or wiggle it, nothing will happen. If you hold really still and focus the sun’s rays totally on that crumpled newspaper, things begin to happen. Focused intensity will cause you to smell something burning, and soon you will see an actual fire.” He uses this illustration to encourage the debtor to resolve, “To the exclusion of virtually everything else, I’m getting out of debt!” (Ramsey, 120)
To the exclusion of health, happiness, and relationships? No. Might health, happiness, and relationships be strained with all of this focused intensity? On occasion, yes. But anyone who is serious about getting out of the red already knows that debt is the biggest life-sucker of all.
What have we done to be gazelle intense since we started our journey out of debt June 2012?
· We keep a budget and spend less on things like groceries and household items. A savings of about $30 per week.
· I used to accompany DH on his annual summer business get-aways, but not anymore. A savings of about $1,500 per year.
· We used to take a week-end away for our anniversary, but not anymore. A savings of about $800 per year.
· We used to hire cleaners for our house, but not anymore. A savings of $200 per month.
· We have used that monthly $200 to buy large purchases – like a flat-screen TV – outright. We used it once to avoid going back into debt. (Now we’ve got about $1,000 in that account just sitting there, and we’re taking our time deciding what to do with it. Unheard of for us!)
· We have a very old van (1999 Dodge Caravan) and very worn furniture and carpets. There is no shortage of “stuff” that we could easily rationalize buying. But we aren’t.
· I have been teaching summer school since 2012 – through both July and August since 2013. A yearly slice of a few thousand off our debt.
· We don’t “rescue” our children from their own financial mismanagement. (By the way, DD2 started her summer job over a week ago!)
· DH has decided not to hire anyone until his business debt has been paid off.
· We have not once dipped back into debt.
It all adds up.
Gazelle intensity means your intention to become debt-free is fierce, impacting every aspect of life. If
you want that pile of debt to burn, a steady, magnified focus is needed. And sometimes it’s going to be stressful. On occasion, it will cause conflict. Getting out of debt won’t always be a happy ride. But in our case, most negative experiences have proven to be the pain involved in ending bad patterns, and they’ve been of short duration – nowhere near as depleting as the financial distress that comes with a sense of being hopelessly in debt.
We haven’t spent the last two years in a state of unending debt-reduction stress. The gazelle doesn’t spend all of its time in high anxiety escaping the cheetah. But when the threat asserts itself, we’re aware. Whether it’s the constant barrage of ads to buy happiness with debt; whether it’s a social pressure to replace the worn furniture in our family room; or my own strong desire to kick back instead of work – we’re able to outmanoeuvre debt, and I believe we’re going to win. Usually, there is no immediate threat. Usually, life offers its laughs with friends, its love of family, its charms of nature, and its restorative rest. So while I’m feeling the high anxiety now, I know it will settle down again. And I’ll be at peace. Like a grazing gazelle.
Comments are welcome!
I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)