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When to Pause Your Debt Snowball

You’re in the middle of paying off your debt and then BAM. You find out you’re having twins. You lose your job. Your transmission goes out. Life happens—the good and the bad—even when you’re on Baby Step 2. So, it’s important to know when to pause your debt snowball (temporarily), and when you should just cash flow or use your emergency fund instead.

When Should You Pause the Debt Snowball?

You may need to hit pause on your debt snowball for a short time to deal with an unexpected—or expensive—situation. Hey, that’s okay. Just be sure to get right back at it once you’re back on track with money and life.

Here are the most common reasons to (temporarily) pause your debt snowball:

1. You’re having a baby.

Congratulations! A baby is great news. Unfortunately, the stork won’t pay for all those doctor visits, ultrasounds and the hospital stay. (What’s he good for, anyway?)

For now, continue to make minimum payments on your debt, so you can pay for those expenses as they pop up and start stockpiling cash until the baby comes. Once everyone comes home from the hospital healthy and happy, restart your debt snowball.

2. You unexpectedly lose your job.

A job loss can turn your world upside down. If this happens, take a deep breath, remind yourself it will be okay, and then go into spending survival mode. Focus on paying for the Four Walls—aka the basics—food, utilities, shelter and transportation. If you can, make minimum payments on your debt, but nothing extra.

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While you’re looking for another job, pick up any side gig you can find. Wait tables, work retail, mow lawns. Do this so you don’t drain your emergency fund. Above all, stay positive until you snag another job. You can restart your debt snowball once your income is stable again.

3. Your family experiences a health crisis.

A serious medical diagnosis can throw your family into a whirlwind of emotions. During this season, it’s more important to get the care your family needs than to pay off debt.

If a major surgery, hospital stay or expensive treatment is on the horizon, pause your debt snowball and cash flow your medical bills instead. You’ll get back on track when things return to normal.

4. You’re going through a major life-change, like a divorce.

If you’re about to go through a divorce (or you’re in the middle of one), you’re probably just trying to keep your head above water both emotionally and financially.

During this major life transition, you don’t have to go heavy on crushing your debt. Take care of you. Take care of your family. Keep budgeting through the changes, and you can jump right back into your debt snowball once you settle into your new normal.    

5. You have an outstanding IRS bill.

Pausing your debt snowball to pay the IRS is a smart idea for two reasons: First, their interest rates and penalties are really high. Second, they almost have unlimited power to collect your debt. Yeah, don’t ignore them. It’s wise to get the IRS out of the way and then restart your debt snowball.

No matter the reason, if you’re in a situation where you need to pause your debt snowball temporarily, don’t beat yourself up. It happens. Just don’t lose momentum in the process, and get back on track as soon as you’re able.

When Should You Not Pause Your Debt Snowball?

So, now you know the main reasons to pause your debt snowball—let’s touch on a few common excuses to pause that don’t cut it.

1. You’re tired of being gazelle intense.

Don’t pause the debt snowball because you’re burned out or just don't feel like doing it anymore. Yes, this is hard work, but you’re doing what’s right. You’re getting debt out of your life—you’re reclaiming your income! Just. Keep. Going.

Instead of quitting because you’re burned out, keep the motivation up by connecting with others on the same journey, remember your why, and celebrate your wins (in a budget-friendly way). Run your numbers through our Debt Snowball Calculator to see how quickly you can pay off that debt if you keep going (or even up the intensity!).

Also, listen to The Ramsey Show to hear from others who’ve been where you are. There are millions of people who’ve found themselves in hard situations and made it to the other side. Hearing their stories will help you through your story!

Hey—you can do this. You will do this!

2. You want an unnecessary upgrade.

A new backyard fence for Fido is not an emergency. Don’t stop your debt snowball for that. You can save up for the fence when you’re debt-free and working on Baby Step 3.

Remember, your busted toilet is a reason to dip into that emergency fund for a new one. But a total bathroom remodel because Joanna Gaines inspired you is not an emergency. Fix things that need to be fixed. But don’t pause your debt snowball for unnecessary upgrades.

3. You aren’t budgeting for things you should cash flow.

You should be able to cash flow things like school clothes and your kid’s soccer sign-up fees. It’s all about the budget.

As you set up next month’s budget, think of those month-specific expenses coming your way (holidays, appointments, memberships, special occasions and the like), and put them in that month’s budget. This keeps you from pausing your debt snowball to cover things you forgot. Like your anniversary. (P.S. Never forget that.)

We have the best budget app around, by the way: EveryDollar. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, it makes paying off your debt and prepping for each month’s expenses way easier.

4. You want to treat yourself. Big.

Oh, the temptation to live big. Now. That vacation. That new car. That night on the town without worrying about the bill. But you see, the bill will come—for all of those things.

Listen—the time to treat yourself big is coming. But right now, you’re in full-on debt payoff mode. Don’t let your foot off the gas! This is bigger than treating yourself in the moment. This is your whole future.

And you will get a chance to treat yourself—when your money isn’t going to pay off the past. Then you can enjoy the present as you save for the future! You can keep going until then. You. Got. This.

Know what will help? Financial Peace University—available only with a Ramsey+ membership. You’ll learn how to work that debt snowball harder than ever before. And Ramsey+ also gets you access to other awesome money courses like Budgeting That Actually Works with a practical walkthrough on how to budget while you’re in debt. Get this and more in a Ramsey+ free trial!

You will make it to the other side of debt. If you have to pause your debt snowball, you will get going again. Just be diligent with your spending—always—and keep showing your money who’s in charge. (You.)

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.

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