You’ve heard the phrase tossed around, but do you know what it means?
While it might sound like something that only National Geographic would care about, we promise it actually does have something to do with money and your debt-free journey. So, lend us an ear, and we’ll tell you the tale of the gazelle.
What Is Gazelle Intensity?
Gazelle intensity is the term Dave Ramsey came up with to describe the speed and intensity you should have when paying off debt. It’s all about running away from debt—like your life depends on it.
Dave coined the phrase after reading Proverbs 6:4–5, “Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”
When you’ve gone into debt, you’ve cosigned on a loan, or you’ve found yourself up to your eyeballs in money problems, you need to work as hard to get out of debt as a gazelle works to run from a cheetah hunting it down. And guess what? If the gazelle doesn’t run like heck to get away, then he’s going to be the cheetah’s lunch—yikes!
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That kind of serious, “run like your life depends on it” action—that’s the gazelle intensity you need to run in the opposite direction from debt.
All right, now that we’ve gone all Animal Planet on you, what does this weird animal metaphor have to do with your financial situation? Plenty. If you’re sick and tired of debt and all of the headaches that come along with it, then it’s time for you to kick that gazelle intensity into full gear.
How to Become Gazelle Intense
If you’re working your way out of debt, ask yourself this: Am I gazelle intense with paying off my debt or am I just moseying along? And if you’re not getting out of debt like your life depends on it, what can you do to become more intense? Sell items in your home, start living on beans and rice, or stop buying new clothes for a year?
The level of gazelle intensity looks different for everyone based on your situation (and income!). But the more serious you get about paying off your debt, the quicker you’ll be free from it! Think about everything else you could do with that money if it was staying in your pocket instead of being robbed by debt each month. You could be saving, investing, and building your future and legacy.
Once you lay it all out and see how much of your hard-earned money is going to other people each month with those annoying debt payments, you should get mad. And the madder you get, the more fire and intensity you’ll have to knock out those debts!
Remember though, gazelle intensity isn’t just some fad or trend that Ramsey followers do to be “cool”—it’s life-change! When you’re gazelle intense, your mind shifts, and your behavior and choices start shifting with it. Before you know it, you’ll be content with what you have and not feel the need to buy the latest and greatest fancy thing that catches your eye. Instead, you’ll be searching every corner of your home looking for stuff you can sell to toss more money at your debt snowball.
Paying Off Debt With Gazelle Intensity
Okay, so how do you pay off debt with gazelle intensity? Here are four things you need to do to really ramp it up.
1. Get on a budget.
This may be the single most important tool in taking control of your money. The budget is the foundation for everything. Your budget will show you where you’re overspending, where you can cut back and even where you can find extra cash to start throwing at your debt.
So, how do you make a zero-based budget? Start out simple. Write out your income for the month, then write down all your expenses, starting with the most important things—like food, utilities, shelter and transportation. We call these the Four Walls.
Next, subtract your income from your expenses until it equals zero. Now, that’s not zero dollars in your bank account. Oh, no. That’s just making sure you’ve accounted for every dollar coming in from your income and given it a job to do. And don’t worry, you don’t have to try to keep track of all this on some yellow legal pad (although you totally can if that’s your thing). Our free budgeting app, EveryDollar, takes all of the guesswork out of budget making.
Sitting down to figure out that first budget can be overwhelming—but that’s okay. You’ve got this! The more practice you get doing your budget each month, the more comfortable and confident you’ll start to feel.
2. Cut up the credit cards.
Nothing jump-starts gazelle intensity like cutting up the plastic in your wallet. Nothing! It’s a rite of passage, really. Find those scissors or a shredder and go to town! Don’t stop until every last card is gone. With the cards out of your life for good, you won’t be tempted to reach for debt.
We won’t sugarcoat it here—this whole thing might feel hard. It might even feel emotional. So, don’t be surprised if you notice some really strange feelings that well up when you go to ditch those cards (especially that one you’ve had since the first day of college). But believe us, once you take this step, you’ll probably be shocked at how free you feel. Take a moment to acknowledge that, then get ready to roll up your sleeves, get to work, and say never again!
3. Do NOT take out more debt.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many times people pay off a card only to reopen the account or sign up for another one when they get in a bind. Once you commit to a life free of debt, do. not. go. back. Remember how we said being gazelle intense equals behavioral change? Well, this is it. Make the decision that no matter what life throws at you, you’ll never ever use debt as your life raft again. Mean it and live by it.
4. Make extra cash.
Gazelle intense people have some pretty telltale signs—they’re selling stuff like crazy, picking up extra shifts at work, or jumping into a side hustle on the weekends. Basically, they’re working like a dog to bring in more money to crush their debt. Baby Step 2-ers are rummaging through their garages and attics to sell off their old Nintendo Wiis, Beanie Babies and exercise bikes. Whatever extra income you can bring in—do it! And toss that cash at your debt.
5. Close the accounts.
Finally, after all the hard work you put in—it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. You paid off your first debt! WOO! It’s a great feeling and one that’s worth celebrating. But once all the confetti clears, don’t forget the last and final step—closing the account. See, it’s not just good enough to shred the card, pay off the debt, and call it a day. Nope. You need to close down the account too.
The credit company might give you grief and try to convince you to keep the account open, but don’t give in. Just be firm (and polite) and tell them again, “I want to close the account.” It might take a minute, but eventually they’ll listen. Oh, and make sure you get it all in writing too. Keep every single document related to the closing of the account. That way you’ve covered all your bases.
6. Follow the 7 Baby Steps.
If you're brand-new to the Dave Ramsey world, the 7 Baby Steps are a simple step-by-step plan to not only get out of debt but also to have true financial peace throughout life. It’s nothing shocking, but it’s straightforward, commonsense advice that your grandma would give you. Following the steps will not only get you out of debt, it’ll set the course for your financial journey for the rest of your life.
7. Don’t follow the plan “ish.”
Here’s a pro tip: Don’t get ahead of yourself and work the steps out of order or do the plan “ish.” No matter how tempting it is, don’t try to pay off debt while still funding your 401(k) or buy a home while you still have student loans breathing down your neck—that split focus isn’t going to get the job done. For this to really work, you have to follow the steps in order. Trust us. It’s called a “proven plan” for a reason.
8. Find accountability partners.
You’re doing it! You’ve gone gazelle intense, cut up your credit cards, started paying down your debt, and are that much closer to living a debt-free life. But you don’t have to do this alone! You can make even more progress (and faster) if you find someone to help keep you accountable.
You’re looking for the good kind of peer pressure here. You want the friend who will say, “Hey, didn’t you already go out to eat twice this week? How’s your budget looking?” Instead of the friend who says, “Oh, you’re worried about having the money to go out this weekend? Just put it on a credit card.”
Sometimes the easiest way to find people who will hold you accountable is to look for people in the same boat as you. Not sure how to find them? Joining our Ramsey Baby Steps Facebook Community or taking a Financial Peace University (FPU) class are two great places to connect with other gazelle intense people like you.
FPU is a nine-lesson class that has helped almost 10 million people tackle their debt and make confident choices with their money. You'll learn how to pay off debt, save for emergencies, and invest for your future!
So, what are you waiting for? Be a gazelle and run like crazy to start getting out of debt now!