Gazelle Intense Debt-Reduction: What Does It Look Like?

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?

·         Debt.
·         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.)

Join the Conversation


  1. I agree with you. You and your husband absolutely have gazelle intensity, but not the kind that will burn you out. Yours is one of few debt blogs I enjoy reading because you both are so committed and you don’t backslide. You don’t tell about slip-up expenditures and then spend 500 words rationalizing each of them.

    Reading your posts makes me feel like I can do it too, which is what most people who read debt blogs want to feel. (Aside from those who maybe come to nitpick and argue, which I will never understand.) I think your approach is admirable, reasonable and sustainable. You demonstrate that while it doesn’t happen overnight and it’s far from easy, it’s not miserable either. I think the short-term tradeoff of a bit of stress for years ahead of breathing and sleeping easier because you’re not in the red is SO worth it. My hat is off to you and your husband for all your hard work.

    1. Well haven’t you just made my day! Thank you for your encouraging comments. It means a great deal to me to know that reading these posts makes you feel like you can do it too. I wish you all the best in your own journey out of debt, and I wish you well in navigating your own gazelle intensity – without burnout.

    2. I know it can be discouraging to keep going with a blog because no one comments…just know that readers are out there, and we can tell the blah from the good. You’re a very good storyteller (I’m a career writer, so I feel qualified to say that!) and your posts always have a relevant point. 🙂

    3. Thank you! My stats indicate that there are far more readers than people who comment, but I get a real boost when comments appear. I have plans to spruce up my blog soon, and hopefully there will be more traffic and more comments. In the mean time, it truly is great to know that there are people who appreciate what they read here.

  2. Mine was one of the comments you mentioned regarding questioning the do-ability of Gazelle Intensity – but I do understand where you’re coming from. I think the “spirit” of the philosophy is that while you make permanent changes to your lifestyle to pay off debt and stay out of debt, you will go through periods of intense focus that you may take down “extra” chunks of debt. Just as a Gazelle doesn’t go on a sustained sprint – it goes through bursts of speed, followed by rest….but always had it’s eye on the danger.

    I also think that Gazelle intensity means different things to different people….and that’s OK. It’s the extreme (live on rice, beans, bread and water and downsize to a studio apartment) sort of thing for long periods of time that I couldn’t do – and that certainly doesn’t make it wrong either. if someone can do it, and wants to do it, more power to them.

    I won’t knock anyone’s method to pay down debt, my comments are solely a statement of my own limitations. 🙂

    Great post!

    1. Thank you Travis. I appreciate the fact you challenged me! And I felt free to challenge you right back : )
      I think you’re right about the subjectivity of intensive debt reduction. I would not last a day on rice and beans! Each one of us has to discover in what ways we can spend less and/or earn more and to determine in what ways we need to toughen up and/or accommodate our limitations. There’s a lot to navigate in this journey out of debt. Thanks again for your comment,

  3. Thanks- My debt is $84000 – your blog helps me to focus one step at a time, or $1000 at a time too

    1. $84,000 is a big number, but big numbers are common when it comes to debt. I’m so glad that my blog helps you to keep your focus! One step at a time. $1,000 over and over again will bring you to $0. All the best!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *