Debt-Repayment and Built-in “Cheats”

DH = Dear Husband

Spring weight gain

I started noticing in May that my summer clothes weren’t fitting. Only loose dresses would do. Summer pants? Nope. Skirts? Nope. I have a baby bump, I realized. With no baby.

Time to hit the gym more regularly, I decided. But for May and June, that just wasn’t going to happen. May was the beginning of overdrive at my place of work, a high school, with exams and end-of-year projects on the horizon, graduation to prepare for, and summer school co-op placements to set up. June was even more crazy. I kept wearing those dresses, and though I usually only buy clothes when old ones wear out, I had to get a couple of outfits that accommodated . . . my baby bump.

Smooth sailing in July. Summer school co-op class ticking along nicely with a flexible schedule that allowed me to go to the gym 3 evenings per week AND to cycle with my neighbour 3 mornings per week. One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. I was definitely getting stronger . . .

But the baby bump was still there!

And then I came to the realization that hits many people as they try to lose weight through work-outs: I had to eat less. Ugh! SO hard!

DH’s “X-treme Body Makeover” 

DH had long said that “one day”, he would get back into shape, and about 5 years ago, when a young gym owner in his business network was promoting an “X-treme Body Makeover” class – somehow abbreviated to XBT – DH signed up. 8 weeks of at least 3 cardio classes and 3 weight-lifting sessions per week. 8 weeks of 500 crunches per day. 8 weeks of highly regulated diet: 6 carb portions per day and 6 protein portions per day. Anything with sugar or salt? Banned. No alcohol. No caffeine.

I remember being rather amazed by DH’s meals at that time – and by his focus as he prepared them. Half a cup of 1% cottage cheese with half a cup of blueberries and a piece of toast with natural peanut butter. That was a 1-protein, 2-carb breakfast. Vegetables were unlimited, so broccoli and cauliflower were a part of just about every meal. Lean meat portions were about the size of a deck of cards. Protein bars were allowed – counting as 1 protein – and definitely something to get excited about. And water. Lots of water.

“Cheat day”

Built into the XBT regimen was a weekly “cheat day”. It was the day DH could eat like the rest of us. He relished his cheat days, and indulged in things like coffee, pickles, cookies, popcorn with salt on it. Then, it was back to 1% cottage cheese and broccoli. The cheat day, DH said, made it possible for him to stick to the XBT diet through the other 6 days of the week. And he did it! 30 pounds gone. Paunch gone. Toned muscles and a level of fitness he had never reached in his youth. He won a free year’s membership to the gym for being the “winner” of his XBT class.

My XBT diet

So I decided to try DH’s XBT diet and see if it would have any impact on my baby bump. Food is my weakness, so I had to be very intentional about it. We have a white board in our kitchen, and each day, I would start a new P (for protein) and C (for carb) checklist. I dealt with the withdrawal head-aches that came with a sudden stop of sugar, salt, and caffeine intake, and within a few days, I was symptom-free. 1% cottage cheese, seed crackers, beans, 0% milk, unsalted almonds, 4% cheese, salsa, hot pepper sauce, onions, lemon juice  . . . I found ways to make my meals appealing. Protein bars became very exciting. So did my cheat days. Within two weeks, I had lost 5+ pounds. And my baby bump? Definitely down – from 5 months to 3 I’d say. I’m confident that it will go away entirely in a few more weeks.

“X-treme” debt reduction?

Kayla recently wrote a post at The Wealth Gospel entitled “Is ‘Gazelle Intense’ the Best Way to Pay Off Debt?” “Gazelle Intensity” is a term coined by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey to refer to the intentional focus that he says is needed for successful debt repayment. In her post, Kayla expresses the apprehension many of us experience as we consider “doing without” in the name of debt-reduction: “I know that if I cut off my shopping and entertainment entirely I would eventually go on a crazy shopping spree because of feeling deprived.”

Debt-repayment “cheats”

In a comment I wrote for Kayla’s post, I said that my husband and I subscribed to Ramsey’s gazelle intensity, but that we avoided the desperate sense of deprivation she had referred to. “Part of our debt-reduction strategy has involved what you might call built-in anti-burnout mechanisms,” I said. You might also call them “cheats”.

A debt-reduction cheat can come in the form of a small entertainment budget. Or a discretionary allowance. Or “blow money”. It allows you to step off the wagon as you make your way out of debt – in measured, contained doses, without enabling you to lose your forward momentum or to slip back into old habits. We’ve had the occasional meal out. Seen the odd movie. Been to the comedy club. Not anywhere close to the old days when our expenditures were thoughtless and added to our debts – but budgeted with a full awareness of what we have chosen to spend. And it has worked.

As with the XBT diet, the “cheat” gives an energy to get back on the wagon and to see things through for the long term.

My cheat this week

“I’ll be flying in Tuesday afternoon,” my sister’s e-mail said. “Can anyone pick me up and drive me to Mom’s? If you can’t, I’ll get a cab.” I volunteered to be the driver, and good thing I did. Cab drivers in our city went on strike just at the time my sister arrived! They made the airport parkway a parking lot and circled the airport, honking away. I drove my mom to the airport using the back roads, and we managed to pick up my sister in good time.

Sister #2, concerned about our progress through the striking cab drivers – especially with our 90-year-old mother in the car – kept in touch with us, and wanted to join us for dinner. A series of text messages pinpointed a pub downtown, where sister #3 would also meet up with us. So there we were: four sisters and their mom out for a meal at the pub.

A need? No. A value-based expenditure? Yes! It was a cheat – in terms of diet as well as finances – and one that I don’t regret at all. It came in at less than $20, and was just the right splurge to get me back on the wagon with new energy.

Do you set up built-in “cheats” as you work towards debt freedom/financial freedom? Or do you find you get derailed when you “step off the wagon”? Your comments are welcome.


*Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

15 comments on “Debt-Repayment and Built-in “Cheats”

  1. Good luck on the weight loss. I think you need to have the “cheats” built in or you just feel like you are never having any fun. Sometimes you just need that little momentum to help keep you rolling along. The key with food or money is never to go overboard enjoy the moment and get back on track.

    1. Thanks Brian. I definitely am enjoying my cheat days, and I’m encourage by the weight loss. This “cheat” thing works for me, but I wonder if there are others out there who have to stick with the program or else fall back to old habits?

  2. We used to do that 6 days on the wagon, 1 day off, eaty cheaty thing about 15 years ago. It was awesome. It kept the weight down and we felt great. I don’t know why we stopped, but I’ve been wanting to get back to it. I like the way you compare it to debt “cheats”. I think most people could benefit from both. Awesome article, Ruth, as usual! Congrats to you and DH on your renewed fitness and vitality! We only recently began exercising again, and you guys are super role models! 😀

    1. Thanks, Kay : ) It’s cool that you did the 6 days on 1 day off thing so long ago. I suppose you stopped because you thought you had “arrived”. Let me know if you get back at it. It always helps to do these things alongside other people. Congrats on the exercise! You’ll feel the benefits in no time – maybe you already have?

  3. While I haven’t designated a cheat day in my diet, I do have little splurges here and there to make it reasonable. And I totally agree that this carries over to finances as well. Whether it’s debt repayment or building an emergency fund, or gazelle intensity about some other goal, having those little cheats helps to avoid a big blowout. You just have to have it clear in your mind ahead of time what constitutes a splurge and what is really a backwards slide.

    1. That’s a tricky line to identify, Gary! I have already extended one cheat day to a cheat day-and-a-half, and while I was adding that extra half day, I didn’t see it as a backwards slide – but I think it was. Anyway, I nipped that one in the bud, and I’ll do my best to identify that fine line in the days ahead. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Baby bump…funny. 🙂 Good for you, my friend, for kicking it on getting back into shape. I need cheats sometimes too. Nearly finished with my 35 pound weight loss (I’ve got about 8 pounds to go), I had Tonya’s (Eat, Laugh Purr) no bake chocolate oatmeal cookies today. Two of them. It’s the first treat I’ve had in some time, and I have to say: it felt good. Now I’m eager to go make a healthy, low cal dinner.

  5. Good luck with the weight loss! I too have a “baby bump” and my baby is 5 years old, lol 🙂 I am trying to eat less carbs and more veggies and definitely drinking more water!

  6. I have a hard time with the idea of cheating because it’s so closely linked with guilt and mindlessness. If your goal is to distract yourself from the problem, then it is cheating, and you shouldn’t do it. However, if your goal is to rest and recharge, then you shouldn’t have guilt at all.

    Personally, I try to use terms like rest and recreation. Rest and recreation are activities (including eating delicious food prepared by other people) that nourishes our souls. Cheating cause guilt to eat away at you.

    Man, this comment sounds like a major downer. That’s not my intent; I’m pro-happiness. Have a great weekend!

    1. No, your comment isn’t a downer! I get it. The word “cheat” itself is loaded with connotations that don’t fit here. It’s a word that was used in a cutesy way for this XBT diet, and I just took it further – with no concern for possible connotations. “Recharge” is a much more accurate word. I like your honesty, Hannah! It is always welcome here:)

  7. I have tried many diets and always found that my “cheat days” were the trigger that sent me off the diet. One cheat day per week would become two cheat days per week. Now financially, we have built little cheats into our budget. Although we are paying down a large amount of debt, we have budgeted a couple date nights at the pub per month. If only I could learn to do the same with my diet?

    1. You’ve hit upon something here, Tre! I think it’s a cool discovery to realize that the same person can function with “cheats” for one goal and not for another. We are such complicated creatures! But the more we understand about ourselves, the more effectively we are able to move forward. All the best in both your debt repayment and diet goals!

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