Is There a Downside to Gazelle Intensity?

If you’ve ever heard of Dave Ramsey, you’ve no doubt heard the term “gazelle intensity“. Gazelle intensity is the term Dave uses to describe the intensity with which one should pay off their credit cards. Basically it means do whatever it takes to pay off your debt.

Sometimes that can mean a second job. Selling stuff. Canceling a vacation to use the money to pay off your debt. Putting all of your energy into paying off those credit cards.

But I think there’s a downside to being gazelle intense. Don’t get me wrong. Especially after my Citibank fiasco, I’m all for paying off the credit cards as quickly as possible. But I think there’s a danger to being too intense about it.

If only one spouse is gazelle intense, it can put a real strain on a marriage. Any sort of budgeting and debt repayment plan is only as successful as it’s weakest link. If one spouse isn’t gazelle intense, that spouse may very well end up resenting the spouse that doesn’t want to spend any money.

But even if both spouses are on board, there are dangers to being gazelle intense. By focusing all of your energy and efforts into repaying debt, you may be missing out on other, more important moments. Did I just say more important? You bet I did!

I’m not willing to give up camping with my kids during the summer, experiencing their joy when they win a soccer game, or the experience they get from being part of a team. I’m also not willing to give up weekend trips to see far away relatives who won’t live forever. All of these things cost money that could theoretically be put toward debt.

When I became a stay at home mom, my mantra was and always will be

I will always be able to make up for money we don’t have, but I will never be able to retrieve time I didn’t spend with my children.

And that goes for time with anyone. People need to be more important than the process of getting out of debt. Sometimes the process of getting out of debt will be good for all the people involved. During those times, it’s OK to be gazelle intense. But when your gazelle intensity starts hurting other people (or yourself), it’s time to get less intense.

Another danger that comes with gazelle intensity is burnout. Often in Dave Ramsey’s radio shows, he suggests getting a second job to help pay off debt faster. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as it’s not hurting anyone. However, I can tell you that balancing two jobs and a family is no walk in the park.

My husband has been working two different part time jobs for about a month now. In our situation it’s a necessity. We don’t really have another option at the moment. However, if he were volunteering to do this in an attempt to help us pay off our debts quicker, I think I would beg him to reconsider.

The time and hours that my husband has spent at work over the last month has hurt our family. Not irreparably, but it’s been rough. The kids and I rarely see my husband anymore. Furthermore, because of the hours he keeps, he’s tired all the time, and so am I. The kids miss their dad. I miss my husband. Again, that’s time we can’t get back.

Fortunately for us, my husband’s schedule will be changing soon. We’ll all see more of him (and get more sleep, too). I can’t see subjecting our family to that schedule for the sole purpose of getting out of debt.

The bottom line is this. You certainly have to be focused to get out of debt. You have to weigh the decisions you make against your goal to get out of debt. But don’t sacrifice everything in an attempt to get out of debt faster. Some sacrifices just aren’t worth it.

For a similar take on this subject, make sure to read Gazelle Intensity, Not For Me Thanks at Gather Little By Little. And how do you feel about gazelle intensity? Feel free to share in the comments!

30 thoughts on “Is There a Downside to Gazelle Intensity?”

  1. Different Strokes for Different Folks!!!! Unless you paid off the amount of debt that Dave Ramsey through God’s grace paid off, anyone would be gazelle intense too!!!!!!!!!

  2. It’s funny, I wrote about this recently (didn’t know there was a term for it!). I’ve decided if it means I’ll need an extra year to get out of debt, it’s ok – I still need to be able to be able to enjoy my life.

  3. @Raymond – That’s exactly what it is for us right now. He has to do it to provide for the family, and I am very supportive. But my husband and I both agreed from the get-go that it would be a short term solution, and it’s shaping up to be so. He should be off the night shift after this week. We’re both counting down the days!

  4. I believe your husband wants to spend more time with the family but sometimes it can be difficult, particularly when he needs to grow the career and provide for the family. Hopefully you are providing lots of needed encouragement for him. Don’t worry, greener pastures will arrive soon enough and he’ll have more free time.

  5. @Ron – “When someone is on their deathbed, they won’t be saying, “I wish I had been more gazelle intense and paid off my credit cards 14 months sooner.” That is a VERY good point!

  6. Intensity has different meanings to different people. In the case of a marriage relationship, my intensity level (with just about anything) is much higher than my wife’s. I can’t MAKE her understand me, I can only hope to try to understand her.

    You’re right about there being a balance. You should work to correct your past mistakes, but two wrongs don’t make a right, even with getting out of debt.

    Sure, you could get crazy gazelle intense and pay everything off sooner, or you could slow it down a bit, take a little while longer, and enjoy life. It has to be what works for you. Always apply any advice to your own personal situation.

    When someone is on their deathbed, they won’t be saying, “I wish I had been more gazelle intense and paid off my credit cards 14 months sooner.” They might, however, say, “Why didn’t I spend more time with my children while they were growing up.”

    Great article.

  7. I think what it comes down to is how long it will take to pay off debt. If you just have to crack down for a few months until it’s paid off, gazelle intensity would be the way to go.

    On the other hand, if you have a family and it’s going to take years to pay off your debt, even with gazelle intensity, it’s better to lighten up a bit. Stay focused, but don’t get so intense that you burnout or sacrifice your relationships.

  8. I know this comment will not be popular, but although I do agree that a person cannot reclaim the time missed by extra working and cancelling a vacation, the decision to lose this quality time was made when he or she went into the debt in the first place. In most (not all) cases, the same irresponsibility that causes us to get into debt in the first place eventually robs us of not only quality time but later our health and our lives. I would rather be gazelle intense for a brief time (i.e. <2 years from the total money makeover) and reclaim my life than muck around for many years paying off debt.

  9. I’ve heard of Ramsey but not “gazelle intensity”. :)

    Interesting term and excellent post. The problem with being “too frugal” is that you might end up regretting it later when you realize that you could have eased up a bit. On the other hand some situations require biting the bullet and doing whatever it takes to improve your finances.

    Sometimes it’s a tough call as the previous commenters suggest.


  10. I’ve been working two jobs (averaging 60 hrs of work a week plus 15 of commuting) coming up on six months now. This arrangement came out of a “you’re unemployed, take the part-time cashier job or move 700 miles away from the city you love and back in with your parents” situation.

    I don’t have a family that’s been neglected, but everything else in my life has been. My house is filthy, I haven’t been to church in several months, and my best friend texted me yesterday and said he was going to kidnap me on the 19th and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I had to reply back, “I’m working from 1-9.30pm”. In the last three months I’ve seen him for exactly one hour, on Christmas Eve Day, at church in our hometown (see above re: 700 miles away from where we both now live).

    I am making huge dents in my credit cards, sure, but I am Not. Happy. At. All. I don’t even have energy when I am home to play video games or read books, two things I love more than anything.

    Here’s hoping and praying that after this week, I’ll be able to set an end date for my wacky schedule of doom.

  11. I have to agree with Plonkee about the psychological aspects, too.

    But when your gazelle intensity starts hurting other people (or yourself), it’s time to get less intense.

    That line reminded me of something that has been impressed upon me quite often as I read other blogs – the difference between frugality and cheapness. I’m sure you’ve heard it. :) Being frugal is an admirable quality, but being cheap means you are willing to harm other people (directly or indirectly) in order to save money. :)

  12. Good post. I wanted to be all gazelle intense, but dh isn’t intense about anything LOL. It was causing stress between us, so I backed off, and you know what, things are moving along just fine.

  13. Great post, but one point…don’t Gazelles get eaten by Lions :)

    I think that if you really want change you have to be on a plan for life not just a few months until you are burnt out.

    I believe you should be living life and not just being alive. You can do this and still be an adult!

  14. I agree completely! I felt that way too when I read “Total Money Makeover”. I put most of Dave Ramsey’s advice into practice but some of it just seemed too extreme. I guess as humans we want to run too far in one direction or the other.
    Our kids are grown now and the only regret I have is not quiting work sooner to stay home with them. I worked until our oldest daughter was two because I felt like I had to in order to make ends meet. Finally I just quit because I couldn’t stand it any longer and we made it just fine – that was 22 years ago! There is no material thing that is worth those memories.

  15. Thanks for this! Justin is gazelle-intense. Me, I’m more about living in the here and now…but that’s part of my bi-polar. I WANT to be gazelle-intense…its just not in my genetic makeup. I’m learning though…slowly…but surely…

  16. Agree Lynnae. It is all about balance. That is where a debt plan is so crucial. You have to budget so you can pay back the debt at a speed you are comfortable with and still give yourself a break and some fun from time to time.

  17. @Patrick – I completely agree with you. Over the last year my husband has worked at a great paying job that he hated and a low paying job that he loves. I’d much rather have him at the low paying job that he loves!

    @plonkee – I like that crash diet analogy. Very true!

    @heather – I think you hit the nail on the head. We’re called to be a good steward of everything we have, not just our money. If we’re working so hard to be a good steward with our money that we ignore other areas of our life, it’s not a good thing. It’s all about balance. :)

    @Astreil – It sounds like you have a great plan! Best wishes in paying off that debt!

  18. I am not married so I cant assume to be in your shoes…. But I have my own point to make.

    First if you are married then the spouse will definitely understand the consequences/effects of being in debt if not then the other spouse can make him/her understand.

    Second; Remember the times when you were getting into debt and having those ephemeral momenets of joy while purchasing things /taking trips etc. you have to pay for it just in this case it would be the effect of compromised relationship with others and that too for some time not always.

    Third… I agree with the point that you have to earn people (relationships) over money but the fact is those people will never come to bail you out.

    Fourth, In the state of debt you always (or most of the time) assume that it is never going to end, but it will get over and you have to decide when it should get over. For this you can Gazelle and have some short period of stress/compromised state or increase the period of debt repayment and increase the long term effects of debt.

    Personally I would go for the Gazelling :) It gave me results

  19. Superb post, Lynnae. I think Ramsey has some good points about making sure you focus–cutting out extras, etc. But at the same time, Micah and I are in for the long long haul with our debt repayment. I mean, our debt is over 5 times what I’ll probably earn in a year. (Once he starts working, we’ll be able to concentrate even more on knocking it down.) And while we don’t plan to have kids now, we’re also not going to avoid them even if the debt isn’t quite paid off. Sure, we shouldn’t incur new expenses, but I don’t want to push my biological clock too far either.

    I think gazelle intensity is great for those people who are paying off a debt which will take a year or two if they really pare things down. But it has to be balanced with some sanity. But that’s the Buddhist part of me talking–middle way.

  20. Great post. It made me feel so much better about the path I’m on. I have three kids, a husband, a cat and a mountain of credit card debt, most of which I am responsible for. My husband is so sweet, saying it’s “our” debt and that together we will pay it back. He works hard at one job. We homeschool our kids. Sure, if we put the kids in school and I got a job, it would be paid off sooner. However, I’m not willing, nor is my husband, to give up what we think is best for our boys. Also, I have older grandparents who live 5 hours and 2 tanks of gas away. We’ll never get the time we spend with them back.

    We are paying down our debt as aggressively as we can. I’m even trying to build a small, $1000.00, emergency fund this year. It will mean taking a little while longer to pay off our debt, but it’s worth it. Our cars are 10+ years old, but still running. God willing, they will keep running for 3 more years, when I hope our debt will be repaid.

  21. You know, this is one of my peeves about Christian “get out of debt” writers. These is often a gung-ho do it all, do it now approach that forgets our relationship with Christ and with others. It is as bad as those who think of success as having a great job and all the best toys except that it goes in the other direction–success is being out of debt and staying out. The goal of getting out of debt for a Christian is to be a good steward with the money God has provided and to be able to give and help others–not just to be out of debt. Success as a Christian is not worldly success and being out of debt is just as worldly as having all the best toys.

    Being out of debt often becomes the new idol in place of spending money–when it takes so much focus to get there it is easy for the budget or paying of the credit cards to become an idol to worship. It is a heart issue.

  22. From a debt reducing point of view, burnout is probably the more dangerous. Since for a lot of people debt is all about the psychology (and not the arithmetic) suffering from burnout is likely to lead to comfort spending.

    I also think that if you’re in it for the long term – for the rest of your life – you have to manage your money in a way that you can sustain. Otherwise it’s just like a crash diet and not a permanent solution. This means that you need to spend a little money doing the things that are truly important to you.

  23. Great article. I agree that a balance is necessary. Living life to its fullest is always more important than living life for the pursuit of money or getting out of debt! My wife and I took a big cut in pay ($20k after taxes) and we couldn’t be happier. Her job entailed long hours, working weekends and holidays, irregular schedules, and the possibility of being deployed (she was in the military). Now we both work the same schedule, eat dinner together every night, have holidays with each other, and more importantly don’t have to worry about when we will see each other next. I couldn’t think of a better reason to slow down the pace of life a little bit! We earn less, but we are happier. :)

    • You missed the mark. Going into debt is simply spending more than you make. This system never works. The number 1 reason for divorce is debt. If you have debt, get busy and pay it off. You may need to suffer in the short run but you will be much better in the long run. Dave Ramsey doesn’t tell you to stop visiting relatives,but going to a restaurant and using a credit card is ridiculous.


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