Gazelle Intensity: Is Dave Ramsey’s Idea Too Intense?

Imagine a gazelle being chased by a cheetah. If you know anything about cheetah speed, a gazelle would have to run with all the intensity in the world to preserve its life.

Dave Ramsey’s theory of gazelle intensity uses this metaphor as an approach to getting out of debt as quickly as possible. 

The idea is to adopt a set of hard and fast rules to reduce and become rid of your debt aggressively. Based on its layout, I know that some have theorized that the concept is a bit over the top.

Is that the case? How sustainable is it? Before getting to that, I think you need to understand the premise.

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cheetah chasing a gazelle in the savannah representing debt chasing you for gazelle intensity

What Is Gazelle Intensity?

If you think of a gazelle as it moves, the two key factors are the effort level and the breakneck speed. Implementing gazelle intensity means being very proactive and quick about paying off your debt.

You can imagine it being akin to running from debt like the plague. You want nothing to do with it, so you put in your best effort to separate yourself from your debt.

Dave Ramsey claims the inspiration for the concept is biblical, and he created it after reading Proverbs chapter six and verses four to five. The verse states, “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.”

Just reading that verse almost instantaneously paints a picture in one’s mind. It sounds like a concentrated and consistent effort, and that is exactly how the process works.

You may have outstanding credit card debt, a loan you cosigned on, or a combination of these and other sources of credit. When you’re in such a situation, it’s not hard for you to feel like you are losing control of your finances.

That can eat away at your earnings, which means you need a plan to return to a state of normalcy. Getting rid of your money worries requires you to work as hard as possible, which is what the gazelle needs to do as it runs away from the cheetah.

If the gazelle fails, it ends up on the menu. That’s the symbolic outcome that you can’t afford.

You can’t allow your debt to “eat you alive.” Your life may not literally depend on your financial situation, but you are going to be “running” from the debt as if it is. 

People who are swimming in debt find themselves exhausted and constantly stressed. Unfortunately, without a proper plan at your side, the proverbial credit cycle may seem never to end.

Pulling out gazelle intensity is one of the strategies that you could opt for to make a change. 

Pros of Gazelle Intensity

What are some of the good things that can come out of implementing gazelle intensity as your strategy for reducing your debt? 

  • You get to optimize the way that you use your income, as you remove unnecessary spending. Doing so creates the possibility to redirect more cash towards reducing your debt. 
  • There is a greater sense of accountability and structure that you must stick to in getting through the recommendations. That kind of behavior is likely to carry over to other areas of your life, making you more efficient. 
  • Debt reduction in this way allows you to get out of your debt cycle as quickly as possible. 
  • You get closer to the financial freedom that you need to do the things that you want. 

Cons of Gazelle Intensity

What are some of the downsides to consider where this system is concerned? 

  • You run the risk of burnout, especially if a side hustle becomes a part of the mix. Even without considering the additional job, living in such a rigid way sometimes makes life feel less fulfilling. 
  • Though you may not feel trapped by your debt anymore, living in this way can create feelings of being caged. 

Is Gazelle Intensity Too Intense For Most People?

The gazelle intensity strategy is undeniably a sound one in helping people reduce debt and achieve financial freedom. I find that the approach is a very aggressive one, which brings the longevity of the concept into question.

Over the short term, going all-in with gazelle intensity can be a rewarding experience.

The idea behind gazelle intensity is that it should only be for a short time; no more than two years. As time goes on, though, the burnout and associated feelings begin to creep up.

In such cases, the best approach to take is to relax the rules ever so slightly. It may mean the debt could take a little longer to pay off, but it’s worth it for your mental health. 


How To Become Gazelle Intense?

Now that you understand the concept, the next order of business is to put the steps that make you truly gazelle intense into practice. The steps you should take are as follows:

1. Budget Creation 

This step is arguably the most important of them all. When you’re swimming in debt, it’s synonymous with a loss of control over your state of finances.

Adequate budgeting can go a long way in returning some or all that control to your hands. Sometimes, people don’t understand various trends until the data is presented in an easily understandable way.

Creating a budget serves this purpose, as it gives you granular information on all your income and expenditure. When done effectively, it means you can find and eliminate your areas of overspending, which provides you with additional funding to use towards ridding yourself of your debt.

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A zero-based budget is recommended for this kind of task. What this means is that you assign a task to every dollar that you make.

Start by setting out your income for the month. After that, record all your expenses as accurately as possible. Start with the necessities.

The next step is to subtract your expenses and commitments from your income until it equals zero. When you identify costs that aren’t necessary, you can remove them and commit that additional cash to pay off your debt.

You may not get the whole budgeting thing down the first time around, but it becomes more natural the longer you stick to it.

It’s important to note that technology makes this a lot easier than it used to be. Many different apps are dedicated to budgeting workflows, which can make the process more intuitive for you.

Related: Best Budget Planners To Track Your Money Easily

2. Cut Up Your Credit Cards

This step is exactly what it sounds like, and the feeling of cutting up some plastic to help you release some tension is a bonus.

Get your scissors, and work your way through all your credit cards. That way, you don’t need to worry about self-control later on.

You can’t reach for your credit card when it’s in pieces anyway, so you end up with a surefire way to keep your mounting debt in check. Trust me, I know this works!

Note that though this step’s description is specific to credit cards, you can expand the principle to other sources of debt that you may have. The point is to prevent yourself from mounting additional credit-based expenses on top of those you are already working on.

Avoid bringing additional sources of debt into the mix. Don’t take out any more loans, and don’t apply for any more credit cards. 

3. Start A Side Hustle

This one is a little more easily said than done in some cases, as creating or finding additional income sources is not always as straightforward as it sounds. The best piece of advice I can give here is to use your talents and hobbies to your advantage.

You’d be surprised to know the earning potential of talents that you think have no monetary value. Depending on your situation and the talents you have, you may not be sure how you can maximize your earning potential.

Alternatively, the idea of starting your own business may not be for you. Note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as people can have different strengths and interests.

If you fall under this category, you could get a part-time job instead, which can help you supplement your main source of income. Using your car as an Uber or Lyft driver is one of the most common ways of starting such a side hustle.

Freelancing is also a stellar option, and I find that platforms, such as Upwork and Fiverr, help bring clients and potential workers together. Here are some other great side hustles that can fit around your primary job:

It’s no secret that you are going to be giving up quite a bit of your extra time for this reason, but when you see the difference that it makes in your debt, it’s unlikely to feel like a big problem after that. 

Related: Flexible Jobs Ideas For Stay At Home Moms

4. No Investing While In Debt

This step is where you probably think that Dave Ramsey has lost his mind with this whole gazelle intensity concept. Financial experts have lamented about the benefits of combining saving and investing for years.

Even when you take saving out of the equation, investing in different ways is one of the world’s top income earners.

Why are you being told that you should be avoiding something that can be so beneficial for you? Well, this change is not intended to be a permanent one.

The point is to dedicate as much of your income as possible to reduce your debt. In gazelle intensity, only after successfully ridding yourself of the debt should you start focusing on investing again.

One of the key benefits of going this route is that there is more money to invest once your debts are paid off. All those funds that used to get lost in the cycle of monthly payments are suddenly available for you to do with them as you please.

Before you start investing, though, setting up an emergency fund is a good idea. With your debt paid off, save yourself enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses.

That’s your emergency fund, which you can use to dig yourself out of a pickle in instances, such as losing your job.

Related: Tips For Paying Off Debt Fast

5. Sell Things

Your new car is one of the primary points of discussion here. If you are in a position where your car loan is already paid off, keeping your vehicle is not such a bad idea.

Sure, opting for public transportation would be a cheaper way to go about things, but the difference is minuscule at best.

A new car that requires monthly payments is a whole other story. An average car payment falls within the range of $550.

Imagine having most or all that money to throw at your debt each month. Sell the car, at least until your debt is paid off and you can afford such a monthly payment more easily. 

Look at your other possessions similarly. Would you be in a better position to reduce your debt by selling them? Think about the things you have that you don’t use as well.

Maybe consider having a garage sale to make some money that you can then use to help pay off your mounting debt. 

6. Use Cash Only

It feels so much more convenient to use cards and electronic payment methods for your transactions. The gazelle intensity system advises you to pay with cash as much as possible.

Feeling cash leaving your hands is never a good thing, which is why you should use it. You feel the effects of the cash leaving your possession. When using a card, even a debit card, you get your card back so the psychological effect is lessened.

People are less likely to spend when they must hand over money in the traditional manner. Use that fact to your advantage to prevent yourself from overdoing it.

Related: Best Stylish Cash Envelope Wallets That Keep Your Money Organized

7. Go All In

If you’ve tried and failed at getting out of debt, don’t beat yourself up about it. We’ve all been there. Instead, learn from those lessons and resolve to follow the gazelle intensity plan 100%.

While it might be new and uncomfortable, your plan isn’t working. If it were, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

Resolve yourself to take the steps needed in order to get out of debt once and for all.

Final Thoughts

Dave Ramsey’s gazelle intensity is extreme and scares many people away. If you follow his 7 Baby Steps plan, gazelle intensity is a major part of the first 3 steps.

The theory behind gazelle intensity is that you’ll go all-in and will get done paying off all your debt within 2 years. Any longer than this and this plan gets too extreme.

It’s unlikely that you can sustain gazelle intensity for numerous years without getting mentally exhausted and burnt out. Trying to do so will only leave you feeling like a failure.

So, if you have debt that you want to pay off quickly in a short amount of time, gazelle intensity can be the perfect boost in determination you need to power through.

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Steffa Mantilla

Certified Financial Education Instructor

Steffa is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and the founder behind Money Tamer. Her 12-year background in operant conditioning and positive behavioral change training is used to help people find effective motivators to change their harmful money behaviors. Steffa explains the reasons “why” behind people’s financial behaviors and how to successfully change them. After paying off over $80,000 in debt through budgeting, she now teaches families how to get their own finances in order. You can learn more about her here.

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