Navigating The Pace of Debt Reduction


Happy Wednesday, EOD Nation!  I have a very special guest post for you today from friend and fellow blogger Prudence Debt Free.  She’s been a regular visitor to Enemy Of Debt for what seems like as long as I’ve been writing here.  Once I followed the link to her site and started reading I was hooked.  Today, she brings her story to Enemy of Debt.  Enjoy the post, and give her some comment love – then go check out her blog.  You’ll be hooked too!

DD3 = Third dear daughter

DH = Dear husband

DD2 = Second dear daughter

DD3’s Road Race & My Inspiration

Two Sundays ago, DD3 ran her first 5 km road race – a community event in which her high school fitness class took part. As I cheered her on, I found myself wishing that I was one of the runners. It’s been almost ten years since I’ve taken part in any kind of race, and I miss it – the hype; the adrenaline; the physical exertion; the satisfying high of completion; and the sense of sharing in an experience greater than the sum of its parts. DD3 was very happy with her run, but as we walked back to the car, she said, “I don’t know if I want to take the fitness class next year. If I did, I’d have to do the 10 km run.” I was struck by an inspiration. “I’ll run it with you,” I said. “We’ll do a 5 km race in the spring, and we’ll do the 10 km route next October.”

There’s nothing like having a goal to get you motivated. Sunday evening, when I went to the gym, I ran on the treadmill with new purpose. I had read Travis’ post about running the marathon  and his plans to better his time by training for pace, and I decided to adopt the same strategy. After doing leg weights for the first time in months, I ran intervals – one minute fast followed by one minute moderate – for twenty minutes. I’ll work out four times per week, I thought to myself. And I’ll increase the speed and length of the fast intervals until I’m confident that I can run 5 km in under 25 minutes. I went home feeling very admirable.

But when I got out of bed Monday morning, it hurt to walk. Tuesday was even worse. So was Wednesday. I had to brace myself every time there was a flight of stairs to descend. I had to ease myself down every time I sat. Picking anything up off of the floor was sheer torture. I didn’t do another work-out last week after my inspired Sunday effort.

I had trained for pace, but I hadn’t paced my training.

Planning debt-repayment pace

Two and a half years ago, DH and I began our journey out of debt.  Years of poor financial management followed years of money stress due to DH’s job loss and career crisis had landed us with a debt totalling $257,000. After listening to the CD version of Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover, we saw the light. We would get our financial act together. We would cut back on our lifestyle. We would budget. We would face down our wasteful spending patterns. And we would become debt-free within five years!

After year #1, we were very close to being on track. $50,000 in debt eliminated! But during the second year, our pace slowed way down. Huge expenses combined to cramp our progress: $10,000 for a new roof; $4,500 worth of unexpected vet bills; the removal of a dangerously rotting tree coming in at $2,000; DH’s business accountant’s advice to divert $4,500. Our debt-repayment for year #2 ended up being $28,000 – a healthy number, but nothing close to our first year’s total. And not enough to allow us to reach our five-year goal.

Pacing debt-repayment plans

I think we’re lucky that our first year was so encouraging. It gave us needed confidence to take the challenges of our second year in stride. If all of those expenses had happened during year #1 of our debt-reduction, we just might have given up in discouragement. There’s a mental game involved in debt-repayment, and it has to stay positive if it’s going to work. Travis realized early in his marathon run that he was not going to achieve his goal time, but he made the decision to accept that fact and to keep running. The result? He ran a marathon! And he had a great time. After year #2, we realized that we almost certainly would not become debt-free within five years, but we’ve accepted that fact, and we’re still on the journey.

Recognizing Tough Inclines Along The Way

As Travis approached the hill towards the end of his marathon, he psyched himself up and took it on. It was no doubt harder and no doubt slower, but since he knew it would be, he had the perspective to talk himself through it. During our journey out of debt, we have also had to recognize a variety of “hills” along the way. Not only big or unexpected expenses, but times of stress too. During the Christmas rush, for instance, we know that DH’s home business will keep him working non-stop, and that we’ll probably spend more money on prepared meals to help us manage. And when unexpected stress occurs, as it did last week when two terror attacks occurred in Canada – one of them in our city – we recognize that we’re thrown off. That we slip-up. And only stumble forward.

The mental game involved in debt-reduction requires that we alter our focus depending upon the situation. Sometimes, we focus on tightening our budget, on exercising our frugality muscles, on doing without. At other times, it’s about saving for a needed purchase so that we don’t go back into debt. Sometimes we focus on gratitude for all that we DO have instead of dwelling on what we want. At other times, all we can do is to hold steady as we overcome a steep incline, and not give up. There’s a long road ahead, and we can’t see all of the challenges that will come our way – any more than we can anticipate the bursts of incredible encouragement. We just know they’re there. And we’re ready for them.

Pacing My Training

This past Sunday, I did some light weight training, and I went for a slow, steady jog outside for about twenty-five minutes. Monday morning, I woke up with no pain, and DD2 and I went for a run together in the evening. Gradually, I will build up my strength, endurance, and pace. And when I run the 5 km road race in the spring with DD3, I’ll be ready for it.

What do you do to manage your pace for financial or fitness goals? Have you ever been too aggressive, ending up with the muscle pain that I experienced last week? Is there an analogy for that pain in finances?

About Travis

14 Responses to “Navigating The Pace of Debt Reduction”

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  1. This is a great analogy, Prudence! I see many parallels between health/fitness and personal finance. With both, I think it’s about lifestyle change rather than sudden diets. I like your description of pacing–that makes perfect sense. I can relate to that as for us (with both food & finance) we’ve been happiest when we’ve altered our diet, exercise, and finances for the long-term, not in sudden spurts.
    P.S. I think it’s very cool you’re going to run races with your daughter! What a neat thing to do together!

    • Another parallel is in the fact that what constitutes a “sudden spurt” for one person is another person’s “long-term.” For fitness, my fast pace for running is easily another person’s moderate – or even slow pace. When I consider the level of frugality that you and your husband maintain, I find it amazing that it’s your long-term”. I could do it for a “fast interval” of . . . a month, maybe? Each one of us has to find the long-term pace that we can maintain, and with time, hopefully ramp it up. Thanks for your comment, Mrs. Frugalwoods : )

  2. Totally agreed with the correlation between health and finance. If you want to lose weight and keep it off you need to change your eating and exercise habits. You can diet for a time, but if you got back to the old routine you will gain the weight back. Same can be said for money. We had to break our bad habits with money for good. It took discipline, but once we did we were better prepared for the bumps along the way. Good luck on your journey!

    • I have found it difficult to maintain fitness over the long-run, but with debt-reduction, we’ve been very steady. I think it’s because for debt reduction, we have a clear goal: to become debt-free. With fitness, it’s more vague: I want to be fit and healthy. Not terribly inspiring. These goals to run a 5 km and a 10 km next year are hopefully going to see me through a steady fitness effort over the next year. Have you been as successful with health as you have been with finances? Thanks for commenting!

  3. I think in life it’s always best to pace oneself and then have bursts of “sprinting” when you have the energy, then go back to pacing. It reminds me of every Jan 1st when people get super hung-ho about their new fitness routine which includes 7 days of full on training. But then they get overwhelmed and sore and give up to easily. It’s way better to start off slow and build up that muscle. I wish you the best of luck both with running and paying off debt!

    • People don’t have much patience once they’re inspired to make changes in their lives. They want the results of that change NOW. And when it comes slowly, patience runs out, and so many quit. I wonder if that tendency is worse today – in our instant-messaging, fast-food, microwave culture – than it was 50 years ago. Thanks for the good wishes, Tonya!

  4. Love this Prudence! I run into this all the time. I meet with a new client who is so enthusiastic and ready to get rid of debt, grow their wealth, etc. Fantastic! But they try to do too much at once without a solid plan in place with very specific steps. They jump in the pool but forgot they don’t know how to swim. There is definitely a mental game that you have to win when you eliminate debt and it sounds like you and your family have exactly the right attitude. There will times when events break your stride and adjustments may even need to made to goals, but that doesn’t you won’t be victorious in the end.

    • “They jump in the pool but forgot they don’t know how to swim.” That’s a great way of putting it! When enthusiasm gets ahead of strategy, frustration and impatience will set in, blot out the enthusiasm, and derail the effort. I think it’s cool that you work with clients on their financial goals. It would be very much like a sports coach’s job – and probably a psychologist’s too. Thank you for commenting, Shannon.
      (By the way, I would like to order 2 copies of your Lemonade Stand book. I clicked on the link at your site, but I didn’t see a shipping-to-Canada option. Can you let me know what I need to do?)

  5. Michelle says:

    I absolutely loved this analogy.

  6. Thanks for the well thought out and well written post. It reminded me of a post I wrote last year. I, too, have been on a debt reduction “Payoffathon” where I show the similarities between a twenty mile Walkathon and the long journey of debt reduction.

    Your 257,000 was also amazingly close to the $255,000 debt load I carried back in 2010. I finally got sick of the debt and rolled up my sleeves and started with my house. Paid it off in 19 months and then decided that starting in January of last year I’d run a debt reduction marathon with the remaining $177,650 and pay it off in 42 months. We’re 22 months into the marathon and despite some steep hills along the way, we are down to the last $73,833.00 Woohoo!!! It feels great and our “pace” is increasing.

    Thanks again! I enjoyed your post immensely.

  7. Thanks for your comment Curtis. Your debt total was incredibly similar to ours! You have a 2-year head start on your debt-payoff, and it’s very encouraging for me to see how far you’ve come. We’re paying things off in a different order – saving the biggest debt (mortgage) for last – but we’re going in the same direction. All the best as you approach the finish line. I hear that last bit is the toughest, so stay strong!

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