Debt Payoff Isn’t Just About Discipline

There’s been some talk lately, both here and at other 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 πŸ™‚ ), 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 Fruclassity 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 toΒ 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.

What do you think: did “mindset” problems play a part in the debt you accumulated? How did you fix those wrong mindsets (or how are you working on fixing them) as you paid off your debt?Β 

25 comments on “Debt Payoff Isn’t Just About Discipline

  1. You sound very similar to me when it comes to periods of gazelle intensity versus moderation. There are some weeks where I feel so “on it” with so many things (food, exercise, saving, not spending, etc) and then I go through a period where I feel like I’m depriving myself of so many things and I start slacking. The trick is to catch yourself early in both phases so you can find some sort of balance. Tough, I know. Stupid internet trolls! I want to do a Periscope live feed, but I’m afraid of trolls bashing me live. ahhh!

    1. Glad to know I’m not the only one, LOL. But I hear you on catching it early. As long as I recognize it and manage it, things usually go pretty well.

  2. I find it healthy to take a balanced approach, especially when it comes to paying off student loans. Presumably we got these loans to be able to afford a better life, so it doesn’t make sense to live extremely frugally just to pay these off. I can’t feel too bad for taking a little break from my early repayment schedule if it means I can enjoy life a little more!

    1. I think a little life enjoyment is a necessity for most people. The fact that you’re paying things off early at all is a big deal, Bryan!

  3. I am like that too… When I am in “super frugal” mode, I am pinching pennies like nobody’s business. But then I burn myself out, and all of a sudden we are having Chipotle for dinner and we are wasting money. It’s a balance that is hard to achieve sometimes, that’s for sure πŸ™

  4. I like the idea of giving yourself permission to go with where you’re at. Feeling keen and motivated? GO for it for as long as your motivation is strong. Feeling less enthusiastic and on the tired side? Take it easier. As long as you’re moving forward, it’s OK to have times of sprinting interspersed with times of walking – or even times of sitting : )

    1. LOL, I’m with you, Ruth. It’s not about not being disciplined so much as it’s about working with your own psyche. πŸ™‚

  5. I get into those periods, and find it’s just one little trigger here or there before I go from gazelle intensity to burn out. I have found that there can be a good balance, it is just tricky for me to stay on that balanced edge for too long. When I regress and spend or overspend, I don’t beat myself up about it. I try to note what the trigger was, accept that the money got spent and try and do better next time. For me, I find little breaks and rewards are key in keeping focused on a task.

    1. That’s exactly how I try and work it, Mr. SSC. I try to manage my mindsets in a way that will provide for the most success. 9 times out of 10, it works!

  6. Thank you for your honesty, Laurie. Sometimes I think people romanticize getting out of debt, “I paid $50k of debt in 4 months and it was easy!”. Debt payoff is a journey with lots of ups and downs. People compare and wonder why it’s not happening as easily for them. They think they are failing and they are not. Changing mindset and behaviors doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly isn’t made easier when you have Internet Trolls hassling you. Forgiveness for past, current and future mistakes is sometimes the MOST important thing you can do and the greatest accelerator to financial freedom. It’s great that you are paying attention to how you feel and using that to your advantage. Discipline is important but you have to find that delicate balance, which differs from person-to-person, where you hold yourself accountable without beating yourself up to the point when you want to quit or think you’re a horrible miserable person every time you have a setback. It sounds like you’ve found that place, Laurie! I’m proud of you!

    1. Wonderful comment, my friend. There needs to be a balance of grace with our discipline as we work to pay off debt. IMHO, that’s the only strategy that will work long term, especially for those who struggle with emotional spending.

  7. What a vivid picture you drew regarding the internet troll saying such awful things about your pets! That must’ve been so deflating. And I totally understand the burn out you experienced when you painted your house. I love your honesty, Laurie. We never went totally crazy on our debt-free journey, (like selling everything but the carpet), but I do get that prickly feeling on the back of my neck when we’ve had a bad month when we’ve slacked off financially. If that ever goes away, we’re in trouble. πŸ™‚

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely an interesting journey, isn’t it? This is what I love most about the PF community, Laura. We all share the different things we’ve learned in an effort to encourage others. It’s wonderful!

  8. It’s like you’re writing about me here, Laurie! My parents have always told me that I’m a “person of extremes”, and it’s a pretty accurate assessment. I find that my gazelle intensity wanes when our financial picture improves – a tax refund, a bonus at work for my husband, etc. – and I over-react. Suddenly I’m comfortable dropping an extra $100 on groceries that month! I’ve realized this about myself over time, and have learned to remind myself of the bigger picture of our debt repayment, even when the immediate picture is looking really positive.

    1. I can SO identify with that, Amy!!!!! It’s all about that learning process, isn’t it? Keep up the good work, my friend. πŸ™‚

  9. Oh come on it’s all about Discipline! πŸ™‚ I have my moments where I just don’t want to deal with the budget, but quickly remind myself of the old way of thinking and the trouble it got us into. I don’t want to get back to those bad habits. I may slow down a bit, but never given in totally.

    1. I think we all have those moments. It’s tough sometimes. My kids like to watch the cartoon Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H. I tell them it’s because there are days when we all want to be like the hulk, ignore what is right and just smash stuff to bits. πŸ™‚ Discipline is tough stuff, but it wins in the end. πŸ™‚

  10. My husband and I pretty much just have student loan debt – so it wasn’t a problem of mindset that brought us here. Yet we are very much like you. Our focus and intensity ebbs and flows. I think that’s completely natural.

    Years ago, I trained for and ran some marathons. Some days, I was itching to get out the door, and other days I drug myself out. The days I drug myself out, I still really wanted to accomplish my end goal – but my body was tired. And even during the race, some miles I did better than others.

    It’s OK to have varying motivation and intensity. Just don’t lose site of the finish line πŸ˜‰

  11. This is a fun topic. I think that one of the best ways to conquer the indulgence vs. discipline debate is to set up a disciplined system that has built in indulgences. We have a small amount of monthly “blow money” that we can use for stuff outside the budget. Other families might put cheap vacations on their calendar as an indulgence (drive to the coast, or something similar) . I used to frown on vacations but now several years into debt payoff and a couple more to go, we’re realizing that spending a little bit on a vacation isn’t a bad idea.

  12. Great points. I always pride myself for being very disciplined with money and saving, but we are human ultimately. It’s hard not avoid burning out without having a bit of release. I also really like Kirsten’s comment…as long as you’re focused on achieving your ultimate goal…it’s okay take a small breather. It’s more like a marathon rather than a sprint.

  13. We are so much alike, Laurie! I am either all over something like Donkey Kong or I’m meh. It also took me a long time to realize that I was a closet perfectionist too. I didn’t realize how hard I was on myself, which just made things worse. I, too, am trying to find that place where I am aggressive and focused but also not being a tyrant where only perfection is allowed. I think intense gazelle can be good and useful but I also remind myself that it needs to be used sparingly, otherwise it’s so easy to burnout. Than I also remind myself not find excuses and cop out – so it’s definitely figuring out that sweet spot! Hope all is well, my friend!

  14. I didn’t have the luxury of having a mindset. Either we made our debt management program payment each month, or we FAILED. There was no in between. Of course, my personal take on this is, plot a plan that will succeed and go with it. In the beginning, we had no wiggle room. As time went on, our income increased and we had discretionary spending. Not once did we add a single dollar to our debt repayment. The payment was big enough…I wasn’t going to let my debt suck one more ounce of life from me.

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