If you’re familiar with Financial Peace University (FPU), you know all about gazelle intensity. It’s Dave Ramsey‘s method for getting out of debt fast. You run away from debt with the intensity of a gazelle in the Serengeti fleeing from a hungry cheetah. In practical terms, it means you cut your spending to the bone for a period of months (or years). Then you direct every spare penny to debt reduction. Dave also recommends, “selling so much stuff the kids think they are next.”
What’s Wrong with Gazelle Intensity?
What do I have against gazelle intensity when it comes to managing your personal finances? This past week, two of my three client discovery calls were with former FPU students. Interestingly, both experienced the one of the two downfalls I see with the approach.
The first problem is the issue of stamina. Most people can’t keep up the gazelle intensity for extended periods of time. Why doesn’t this work in the long term? It’s the simple fact that people become exhausted. They’re putting forth tremendous effort with no rest, and with no fun, sometimes for a period of years. People end up burning out and quitting.
I find it interesting (but not surprising), that according to a former Ramsey employee, only 12% of FPU students ever make it past Dave’s baby step #2, which is debt payoff. It made me realize that there was something broken with this method. What’s the point, if it’s not sustainable?
I like to think of your battle with debt like a cage fight or a boxing match. You know you are going to be in the ring with debt for multiple rounds. If you exhaust yourself during the first round and you haven’t knocked your debt out yet, you can’t continue the fight. One financial kick or punch and you are down for the count. A better approach is one that’s measured and calculated. You don’t want to burn out in the first round because you might have to go three, five, or ten rounds to win.
When I work with my clients, we are very intentional about how we attack their debt. We figure out which particular method (there are five) is best for them based on their unique emotional money triggers. We also build in breaks, a month off every now and again to have some fun. This ensures that my clients stick with the process and don’t get burnt out.
The New Normal
The second problem is what to do after gazelle intensity isn’t required anymore. How do you go from the extreme of a beans-and-rice lifestyle back to “normal” when you’re not even sure what normal looks like? I encounter clients who have paid off massive amounts of debt with gazelle intensity, only to get back into the same situation a year or two later.
Why? They only know two extremes, debt accumulation and dumping debt with gazelle intensity. These folks weren’t taught how to interact with their spending or debt in a healthy, balanced way. They only learned financial “binge and purge” behaviors with their money. Plus, they didn’t address the mindsets, habits, and money stories which caused them to go into debt in the first place. If you only deal with the symptoms and not the root causes of financial dysfunction, the problem will always resurface.
There’s room for portion control fun in the prosperity plans I help my clients create. It’s the equivalent of the healthy eating plan, so they learn to make healthy choices 90% of the time, each and every day. When they’re finished coaching with me, my clients already know exactly what they need to do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to continue increasing their financial health. They don’t need to worry about falling off the wagon, because I’ve already taught them exactly what to do when this happens.
They don’t feel deprived. They are enjoying their lives as they pay down debt, increase their savings, and achieve the financial goals they have for their families. In fact, all of my clients go on vacation while they’re working with me. I highly encourage it!