Think You’re Sacrificing to Pay Down Debt? Think Again

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attitude towards debt, consumer debt, debt payoff, debt reduction, psychology of debt, Great Depression

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai. Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

“We learned early on to amuse ourselves and not to have many wants. It’s the wants, not the needs, that do people in. Having less wants creates contentment and one is satisfied with the simple pleasures in life”–Leona M. Osrin, survivor of the Great Depression (

Gazelle intensity.  You’ve probably heard of it even if you aren’t a Dave Ramsey fan.  Basically, it means cut your expenses as much as you can so you can pay down your debt as quickly as possible and become debt free in the shortest amount of time.
Many people say they can’t be gazelle intense because it’s too hard to do without for a longer period of time.  They still want to live while paying down debt. That’s okay, too, because to each their own.

Feel Like You’ve Given Up Everything to Be Gazelle Intense?

However, if you’re in gazelle intensity mode and you’re feeling like you have nothing–no enjoyment, no luxuries, I understand. 
We’ve been paying down debt for 17 months, sometimes gazelle intense, sometimes not, depending on what expenses creep up on us.  However, we try to avoid lifestyle inflation and keep our expenses low by doing without.  While my husband and I do each have cell phones, they’re cheap Trac Fones which we rarely use; we only pay for the minutes as we need them.  When my son will need summer uniform shorts in a few weeks, I’ll simply cut his high-water uniform pants he’s getting too tall for and turn them into shorts.  We buy most of our clothes at Goodwill and garage sales.  We go out to eat less than 5 times a year.  We’re living very simply until the debt is paid off.
If you’re gazelle intense, this all might sound very familiar to you.  Sometimes, you may feel sorry for yourself or embarrassed by your situation when you see others getting ready for exciting summer vacations or enjoying busy weekends with their kids going out to eat and to expensive museums and amusement parks.

One thing that has helped me when I feel this way is to look at others who sacrifice far more than we are.

This Is True Sacrifice

I recently came across The Ohio Department of Aging and found fascinating stories from those in their 80s and 90s who lived through the Great Depression.  Suddenly, my own life seems luxurious.  Consider this story about shoes:
“I think my mother was the inventor of open-toed shoes. When I outgrew my Sunday black patent leather shoes, my mother cut the toes out. I can still remember the wet feet from the dew on the grass or the rain. A good supply of newspapers or lightweight cardboard cut to fit inside my shoes and a pair of dry socks took care of the problems. If the stitching came loose on the sole, a rubber band took care of the problem – we put it around the toe, stopping it from flapping as I walked” (

Seriously, I’m guessing none of us or our children, gazelle intense or not, have had to walk around in shoes like this girl did.  America is such a throwaway society that even on a tight budget, there are shoes to be found at second hand and thrift stores for a very reasonable price.

For another story, think back on your own Christmas last year.  Even if you’re aggressively paying down debt, you likely had a fairly nice Christmas with plenty of gifts.  Contrast that to this girl’s Christmas during the midst of the Great Depression:

“For Christmas, we always had a small tree with homemade paper streamers and popcorn; of course, no Christmas lights. To save on electric, we used candles. Our present was one doll, which we girls took turns playing with. Our biggest surprise on Christmas was that we would have chicken on the table and plenty of fruit” (

Final Thoughts

When you’re doing without to apply a lot of your money to pay debts from the past, you might be depressed sometimes or discouraged.  You may feel that you’ve done all you can to curb your expenses, but have you really? 

If you want to be out of debt as quickly as possible, there are always more ways to cut.  Living a simple life in our modern times without a smart phone, video games for the kids, and the latest electronics, may seem impossible, but the stories from the Great Depression show not only that it is possible, but that your life satisfaction may increase as you learn to separate your wants from needs.  Certainly reading these stories has helped me recognize that even with gazelle intensity, my family still has a great deal to be thankful.

How about you all? Do you ever feel like you’re making too many sacrifices to pay down your debt and wonder if it is actually worth it?

What steps do you take to keep yourself on tracking psychologically?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of


  1. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    It really does help to see how others lived in comparison to our situations to gain a better perspective on things. I remember when I was paying off debt and comparing it to those who lived during something like the Depression my sacrifices pale in comparison.

    • John–Perspective IS everything, isn't it?
      My recent post A New Audacious Goal: Renew Our Gazelle Intensity and Pay Off My Student Loan

  2. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says:

    for me the true sacrifice is that you are taking longer and paying more for the same thing, so you need to work more for it if you pay with interest. So it is worth the sacrifice today not to have a long boring path ahead.
    My recent post Help me help a reader get on track with her finances

    • Pauline–That is such a good point. Unfortunately, people rarely do the math to see how much more they are paying for things when they take out a loan or use credit.
      My recent post A New Audacious Goal: Renew Our Gazelle Intensity and Pay Off My Student Loan

  3. My parents were depression-era children and, as a result, were very frugal. I can remember my Mom reused tea bags and my Dad would take vacation to paint the house so he wouldn't have to pay anyone else to do the work. My parents hated debt and they never had any credit card debt and they paid off the mortgage on the house when I was young.

    They taught me well – I have no debt and retired early.
    My recent post New Feature – Asset Allocation Calculator

    • rjack–kudos to your parents. They must have been very proud to see how responsible you were with money.

      I used to have a history teacher in high school who always said he wished every generation would have a Great Depression. I didn't understand at the time why he would say that, but now I do.
      My recent post A New Audacious Goal: Renew Our Gazelle Intensity and Pay Off My Student Loan

    • I reuse tea bags and paint my own house, pay off the mortgage early, and have no CC debt. 🙂 I'm a Gen Xer.
      My recent post How NOT To Run Your Finances Like The Federal Government

  4. That's great, Jenny! I think the great recession, as they say, has helped change the views of Gen X.
    My recent post A New Audacious Goal: Renew Our Gazelle Intensity and Pay Off My Student Loan

  5. Greg @ thriftgenuity says:

    This is a great reminder that when it comes down to it, most of us are living pretty easy lives. I haven't felt like I have had to sacrifice to pay down debt, but I always try to remind myself to review our expenses for any excess waste.
    My recent post Life and Debt – My Debt Decision

  6. Greg–Good point. Even many expenses that people think are a necessity like cable can be slashed if need be.
    My recent post Slow Cooker Pinto Beans, Hot Dogs & Peppers

  7. When I feel I'm “sacrificing”, it's usually because I'm choosing not to go out for a meal. But so often, when I crave a meal out, it's emotion-based. Spending is one of our society's many ways of self-medicating (drinking and drugs are two other popular ways), and when we choose not to go that route, we end up dealing with our emotions – whatever they happen to be – and are better off for it. Most sacrificing of lifestyle that I've done to pay off debt has been healthy.
    My recent post Debt Reduction And Deep Cleaning

  8. Prudence–Excellent point. I used to be guilty of going out to eat when I had a rough day at work. Now, I instead make a comforting home cooked meal. It makes me feel better, and I also feel better because I haven't wasted my money.
    My recent post How to Get Rich: Wealth Building for the Financially Illiterate by Barb Friedberg – A Review and Giveaway

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