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Get Out of Debt

Debt Payoff Isn’t Just About Discipline

There’s been some talk lately, both here and at other personal finance sites, about how to find that balance between treating your debt as an emergency and kicking it to the curb ASAP no holds barred, and paying it off in a timely manner while still allowing yourself some “cheats” or fun money or whatever else you want to call it.

This is a tough topic for me. Although I consider myself quite disciplined and fairly goal-oriented, I need to be careful. If I work too intensely toward a goal, I can find myself burning out. However, if I don’t give the goal a high enough priority, I will start to slack.

I go through periods where I do better as “gazelle intense”, and other periods where I do better by practicing moderation as I work to pay off our debt, to lose weight, or to accomplish whatever goal I’m working on at the time.

As an example regarding the first problem: when we first moved into this house, I set some audacious painting goals. I painted SEVERAL hours a day for the first three weeks, painted myself into exhaustion and didn’t touch a paint brush again for nearly 2 and a half years. I had overdone it and never wanted to see a paint brush again – even if the upper level was only half done (and stayed half done until this summer, I might add.)

But I can easily go the other way too. During our first year of debt payoff, we KICKED it. We were super frugal most all of the year through and dumped a nice amount of debt in the process. Come year two, I got a little too comfy with our situation, and found by summer that our debt had increased again!!! Some of it was necessary (our laundry room flooded and our only TV died – I know that’s not a necessity for many of you but in the land of 6-month winters it’s a necessity :-) ), some of it was not. The fact of the matter was that I had dropped drill-sergeant mode where spending was concerned and we just started spending more.

So, for me anyway, when it comes to goals, financial or otherwise, I find I need to be really careful. When working toward a goal, I will have periods of gazelle intensity and periods of moderation, and I try to take advantage of both when they come. Here’s how I work to find a balance between going all out and staying sane, and working moderation and not letting it slide into carelessness.

  • I keep an eye on my mind. Whether I’m in a “gazelle intense” mode or a “moderation” mode, I keep a close eye on my mindset. I check how I’m feeling often, and make sure that the “gazelle intense” isn’t making me feel crazy and that the “moderation” isn’t translating into “slacker”.
  • I take advantage of each mode as it comes. When I’m feeling gazelle intense, I jump on it when it comes and take advantage of it as long as it lasts. At the same time, when I’m feeling like I need to practice moderation, I work hard to make sure moderation doesn’t turn into slackerism.

This may seem like a case of discipline vs non-discipline periods, but the truth is that it goes much deeper that that. As a kid, I took perfection to so serious a level that if I couldn’t do something absolutely perfectly, I would give up altogether and spend the next several weeks beating myself up for the failure. During the second year of our debt payoff, an internet troll gave me a several paragraph long email beating (because we’d chosen to keep our pets) that sent me hiding under my pillow for weeks. I nearly gave up on our goal of becoming debt free because I felt like such a loser.

As I’ve worked over the years to stop expecting so much of myself (and to stop beating myself up when I fail), I’ve learned that the gazelle intense is good as long as I don’t let it turn into YOU WILL NOT STOP UNTIL YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED. And I’ve learned that moderation periods can be good too, as long as I don’t lull myself into using it as an excuse for carelessness.

This working balance of getting debt paid off yet keeping sanity is where CashBlog was born from. It’s not always about discipline. Often times it’s about working to combine discipline with the messed up mindsets we’ve adapted. It’s about learning to love yourself, success or failure. It’s about learning to heal and train our minds along with learning to practice discipline. If we don’t fix the wrong messages in our minds, our debt freedom (or our weight loss or whatever) simply won’t last, as we’ll fall back into the same old mindsets that got us into debt (or into “fat”) in the first place.


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Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson spent years managing her own blog about budgeting and debt. Because of that, she has great insights not only about managing spending and borrowing but also about running websites profitably. When she's not writing articles for us, she's traveling and looking for new types of wines to try.
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