DH = Dear Husband
DD1 = Dear First Daughter
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
DFF = Debt-free Friend
Of all ingredients for successful debt-reduction, says Ramsey, “Total, sold-out, focused intensity is possibly the most important. This means saying to yourself (and meaning it), To the exclusion of virtually everything else, I’m getting out of debt!” (Ramsey, p. 119-120) In his book The Total Money Makeover, Ramsey coins the term “gazelle intensity”. Although smaller and slower than the cheetah, nineteen times out of twenty, the gazelle manages to outmaneuver its predator. “Likewise, the way out of debt is to outmaneuver the enemy and run for your life (Ramsey, p. 121). One of the ways to outmaneuver debt is to take on more work. Last summer, for the first time in fifteen years, I taught summer school as part of our debt-reduction efforts. I taught a single credit course half-time through the afternoons of July. This summer, I’m teaching full-time for a double credit course. That means I’m working mornings and afternoons through July and until mid-August.
I turned fifty years old last week. I remember when Oprah turned fifty. “I refuse to be fifty and fat!” she declared, starting out her day with a workout. I can’t say “I refuse to be fifty and indebted,” because I started this journey too late for that to be my reality, but I can say, “I refuse to be fifty and complacent about debt.” So I’m fighting debt through summer school.
But I’d so much rather be camping with my family. As part of my birthday celebration, DH flew DD1 home. He had her phone me from our driveway during my party, and then ring the doorbell in the middle of our conversation. DH took the phone while I got the door, and there she was! It was such a great moment. Big points for DH! We had a wonderful week-end visiting family and going out to the theatre (our first play since our journey out of debt began), and then it was off for a week of camping. Our campground is only an hour away, so I have driven out to it every evening after work and driven home from it early every morning. I’m exhausted.
Someone once challenged my resolve to get out of debt by citing a study. “On their deathbeds, people often say that they wish they had spent more time with their loved ones. They never say that they wish they had worked harder.” I stumbled through an answer at the time, and it still trips me up. I think there are two parts to the response I want to give. First of all, staying out of debt to begin with does not mean working harder; it means managing finances better. The best manager of money I know is DFF, and she hasn’t worked outside the home since her first child was born almost twenty years ago. When crisis hit her – in a way that typically sends stay-at-home moms out of the home and back to work – she was able to keep her house and stay at home because her finances were in such fabulous shape. So she is living proof that being debt-free means you can spend more time with loved ones.
The second part of my answer is this: If you are already in a debt-ridden state and you want to get out of it, it’s true that you will likely work more to achieve that goal. But it’s as a means to an end, and that end is financial security which affords the freedom to spend time doing all the things your memory will cherish in your deathbed hour. I know that when my hour comes, I’ll be cherishing the memory of camping trips with my family more than the reminiscence of extra work I took on for a few summers. But I also believe that this extra work will help set the scene for more of the memories I’ll cherish.
For now, I’m in focused debt-reduction mode, and it does come with its sacrifices. But it’s Friday evening, and soon I’ll be picking up DD2 from work. We’ll head out to the campground, and our whole family will be together for a week-end of camping and a trip to the amusement park we used to visit every year when our three daughters were younger. Since DD1 moved out west over two years ago, these whole-family excursions have been few and far between. So even though we’re in this chapter of gazelle intensity, I’m going to soak in every moment. And I know our week-end will become a memory I’ll cherish.