Should you save money when in debt?

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Question: Should you save money if you still have debt?

A question I’m frequently asked by my readers is if they should build their nest egg or save money while they still have debt.  As peculiar as it may sound, usually the answer would be ‘yes’.  In most cases I recommend using 10 percent of your funds for debt repayment and 10 percent for your wealth accumulation, even if you are losing a few percentage points in interest.  I call this the 10/10 payoff.  The reason for this is psychological. If you’ve been struggling with debt for some time, it is important, emotionally, for you to see the growth of your wealth. If you’re not seeing your wealth increase, you will be less motivated and, ultimately, less likely to succeed.

I can best explain this principle by sharing a true story.  I once had a friend who weighed more than 350 pounds.  After years of struggling with his weight, he decided to do something about it once and for all.  He put himself on a remarkably intense and painful diet.  All he could eat was a foul-smelling protein goop four times a day.  He was miserable but he stuck to it.  After the first thirty days he had lost close to 50 lbs.  Although this was a tremendous success, to him it didn’t feel like one.  He still weighed more than 300 pounds. No one (outside those of us close to him) was congratulating him or telling him how good he looked.  Women weren’t giving him a second look.  He still needed the seat belt extender on his airplane travel. With all the hunger and pain he had endured and with no positive reinforcement to inspire him, he quit.  I’ll never forget the day he said to me, “C’mon, Rick.  Let’s go get some pizza.”

Whether you’ve fallen a hundred feet or seventy-five feet deep in a well, it’s still dark and cold. If you’re a hundred thousand dollars in debt and manage, through great sacrifice and hard work, to pay off fifty thousand dollars, life doesn’t really seem all that different as you’re still deep in debt. However, if you were to pay off twenty-five thousand dollars and had twenty-five thousand dollars in an investment account earning interest, you would feel different.  Success fuels success.  Lack of success fuels nothing.

There are two other reasons to build your nest egg as you pay off debt.  First, I’ve noticed that many people develop what I’ll call a debt metabolism.  This is how one woman explained it to me; 

“It seems we’ve always had fifty thousand dollars of debt.  No more, no less.  Then, when my mother died, we were left an inheritance of a little more than fifty thousand.  The first thing we did was to pay off all our debt.  But within six months we were right back to fifty thousand in debt.  I guess it’s what we were used to. If we had put the money aside or gradually paid off the debt I think we could have changed our habits.”

The second advantage to simultaneously saving and paying off your debt is that it will help train your new lifestyle. Once your debt is paid off, just apply the extra 10 percent to your savings and investments to accelerate your wealth accumulation.  America’s millionaires save, on an average, about 20% of their income, so, if you do this, you’ll be saving like a millionaire.

The only time I don’t recommend that you simultaneously build wealth as you pay off debt is if you are trapped in a ridiculously high interest rate and have no means of escape.  But even in this scenario I would recommend that you save a minimal 1% – 2% of your income in a wealth account in order to build a habit of saving and reward yourself with a small sampling of hope.

Richard Paul Evans is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and the founder of the 5 Lessons Institute.  ( His new book is called: The Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me for Women.  To order the book click one of the online retailers below:

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Watch the full podcast here:

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