Running a marathon with no plan

Last Updated on October 1, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

Yesterday I commented on a popular financial blog about using a debt snowball to pay off debt. Another commenter said she would never use such "psychological aids" or some other derisive name, if she ever found herself in debt.

I commented back, saying she could call it whatever she wanted, but I’d call it what it is: a plan. And if you’re going to pay off debt, you either need a plan, or some phenomenal luck.

Just deciding to pay off debt without a plan is a lot like me deciding to run a marathon. A couple of people told me I’m pretty quick running short distances, so hey, I might be able to win, right?

Well, every time I’ve tried to run long distances, I took off and usually built up a pretty nice lead early on. But since I didn’t pace myself, not only did I fall behind, but usually I was struggling just to finish. What about winning? In my dreams, maybe.

And that’s why the debt snowball works. It sets a pace. Follow the plan, focus on just the next month rather than on the big numbers, and whether it takes you six months or seven years, you eventually write that final check. And then you’re debt free.

Sure, you can argue about which debt to pay first and all that, but it’s just details. Do it wrong, and you pay your debt off a month or two later than if you do it optimally. That’s not so bad. You still save thousands, whether you do it right or wrong.

My critic said she got out of debt by selling a condo she’d been renting out. That’s great for her. Unfortunately, five years ago I didn’t have a condo to sell. I still don’t. And neither do most people.

I could have waited for a windfall. But if I had, I would still be in debt.

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