The debt snowball method is the approach Erin and I took to pay off our debt of $107K in 2 years and 9 months and is the method we would recommend to anyone looking to pay off debt. It is an approach where you pay off your debts smallest to largest regardless of interest rates. This is opposed to the debt avalanche method where you pay off the highest interest rates first and then pay off the next highest and so on and so forth. The debt snowball method has been successful for so many people because it factors in human emotion which can make or break your success. By getting small wins early on in the process, it keeps you motivated to tackle the next debt while freeing up your hard earned money in the process.
How do you apply it?
You begin the process by listing out your non-mortgage debts starting with the smallest balance and then working your way up to the largest balance last. You pay the minimum payment on all of the debts while throwing any extra money you have that month at your lowest balance debt. Once you pay off the lowest debt you no longer have the obligation of paying that minimum payment so you are able to throw that amount at the next lowest balance that you have. As you work through your debts your available money snowballs into bigger amounts as you move along giving you more money quicker to throw at the larger debts.
Why is it effective?
Paying off debt is not an easy task. Most likely you are working on behavioral changes in order to free up extra money each month to put towards debt so why give yourself an unnecessary obstacle for the payoff portion? If you followed the debt avalanche method you might be stuck paying a higher balance loan first and if you don’t see results fast enough you are likely to slip into old habits. Once you do that then you inevitably start paying more interest than if you stayed on that plan thus making the difference between the avalanche method and the snowball method mute. If you follow the snowball method then you simply have to pay off the lowest balance loan first resulting in wins early in the process proving that this is something you can do setting yourself up for success on the next loan.
Isn’t is more expensive?
Technically, it is a bit more expensive depending on your circumstances but if paying attention to the math was important to you then you wouldn’t be in debt in the first place so maybe you need to address this issue in a manner that appeals to your emotional side.
How many people have you heard pay off their debt using the debt avalanche method? Off the top of my head I don’t recall hearing any success stories using the avalanche method. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist but I feel those that tout the debt avalanche method never actually had (non-mortgage) debt to pay off. It is a theoretical exercise for them and a math problem. I can tell you though, when you have debt there is nothing theoretical about it, it is your reality and it is with you wherever you go even if you are in denial.
You want a method that pushes you to excel. Every outstanding loan you have carries a certain amount of weight in your mind even if it is small. You have to make a minimum payment each month and it seemingly never goes away or changes in balance. Sometimes it seems like the balance goes up. Without a goal to focus on each loan also seems to distract so much that it is easy to get frustrated and cause you to say ‘I’ll just focus on saving next month.’ The reason why the debt snowball method is so great is that it eliminates those small nagging loans quickly while giving you access to more cash in the meantime to throw at the next loan.
How did it work for us?
It was easy for us to apply the snowball method because for a year prior I had been listening to the Dave Ramsey show and countless people called in explaining that they had paid off more debt than we had, making less per year while paying it off in an unbelievable amount of time. I had finally been convinced that I needed to seriously tackle this issue and I was fully onboard with this approach. Erin, being a saver herself, was happy to go along with this.
A lot of people ask us what it was like to finally pay off $107K. My answer usually surprises people because I wasn’t all of the sudden excited when we were done. I was more excited during the process than at the end since I saw it working early on. The process of the snowball methods gives you the benefits of being debt free as you go along. For each loan you pay off you have one less minimum payment and thus extra money for the next lowest loan balance. You actually get to reclaim your money in the process. For us, we had 15 total loans to pay off which meant that every 2 – 4 months we were paying off a loan. As we went a long we could pay off more and more since we had recovered the money that was going to our minimum payments. We didn’t have to wait until we were 100% debt free to finally see a difference in our budget.
By this point, I hope you are convinced that the debt snowball method is the solution for you and that you begin your journey to debt freedom. When trying to tackle a large amount of debt it isn’t worth getting caught up in a fraction of savings especially if it means you have a lower chance of succeeding. Put yourself in the best position to succeed. We all get into debt because of emotional decisions so if that is the case let’s use emotion to get out of debt.
Aha! I see why you asked about our avalanche method! Keep following along, and I think you’ll see a success story built off the avalanche method – we’ve already taken down our credit card debt and two student loans using the avalanche method, and it’s saving tens of thousands of dollars in interest.
Thanks for the comment!. Yeah, I don’t doubt that someone could be successful with the avalanche method but it really depends on where their head is. If you are just starting out I still maintain that the snowball method is best for multiple reasons including freeing up more money quicker than any method. One can always adjust later once they prove they have turned things around if they feel they have a more efficient method.
In your case, your highest interest loans just so happened to be your biggest balances and I was thinking it might be more advantageous to get rid of the smaller loans so that you have more ammo to get rid of the bigger ones. Have you done any calculations comparing these methods? I did multiple calculations on our loans and frankly found the snowball method cheaper than the avalanche method. That surprised me a little bit but when you factor in when you pay off a loan and start to apply that minimum payment towards the next it really can make a difference. Overall, the snowball moethod wasn’t the most efficient method so we slightly adjusted the order on the back half of our payoff as we grew more confident in our abilities. I will follow up with a more detailed post about that sometime.
I am curious though to watch your process and hope you know you have my full support and wish you only the best. Keep up the good work!
I did run the numbers ages ago when we were starting out, and the avalanche method was much better. I haven’t re-run the numbers over the last few months, since I assume that having stepped up our loan payments, the gulf is only likely to widen.
Also, in that blog post from when I first started the blog, I note that we did actually START on the snowball method, because it’s what got us off the ground. As we gained momentum and income it made sense to switch to an avalanche method.
I think at the end of the day, it really comes down to what will work for you. Now that we’re really hitting the big loans pretty hard, we see gains every month, and that’s been keeping us in the game.
Thanks again for the encouragement! I really can’t wait for this process to be over!