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Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2019
Two of the most popular debt payoff strategies are debt snowball and debt avalanche. Debt snowball, popularized by Dave Ramsey, involves paying off your debts from the smallest to the largest balance. Debt avalanche involves paying off your debts from highest to lowest interest rate.
There’s another winter-related strategy you might want to consider if you’re looking to repay significant debt: debt snowflake. Ideally, this strategy should be used in conjunction with either of the above methods. It helps you save small, snowflake-sized amounts of money each day or week to put toward your debt.
Read on for everything you need to know about the debt snowflake strategy.
How the debt snowflake strategy works
The debt snowflake strategy involves saving in little ways each day and then putting those small savings toward your debt. Ideally, debt snowflake shouldn’t be used by itself, but rather with another debt repayment strategy.
Priya Malani, founding partner of Stash Wealth, a financial planning company, said she wouldn’t call debt snowflake a “method,” per se. “I would think of it more as a bonus or add-on strategy that works in conjunction with one of the main methods of debt paydown, [like the] snowball or avalanche,” she said.
So how does it work? It’s quite simple. Let’s say you bring your lunch one day instead of spending $8 on a salad. You can put that $8 toward your debt immediately by making a small payment online. Or you can keep track of your “snowflakes” and put them toward your debt at the end of the month.
There are many areas you can reassess in your daily life to find small savings. Consider the following ways to cut back:
- Cancel old subscriptions. Malani said this can include everything from magazine and music subscriptions (like Spotify) to gym memberships and movie/TV subscriptions (like Hulu).
- Sell old clothing and goods online. If you have old clothing, shoes or accessories sitting in your closet, consider selling them on Poshmark, eBay or through a Facebook buy/sell/trade group.
- If you’re going out, do it during happy hour. Instead of spending $13 on a craft cocktail, find a bar that sells one for $6 as part of a happy hour special, Malani recommends.
- Take uberPOOLS or Express POOLS whenever you can. UberPOOLS are significantly cheaper than normal Ubers, and Express Pools can be up to 50% cheaper than uberPOOLS. Malani also recommends taking public transportation whenever you can.
- Skip the morning latte. Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and consumer finance analyst for U.S. News & World Report, said just because you’re budgeting with the snowflake strategy doesn’t mean you need to skip your latte every day. Instead of getting one six days a week, opt for once a week instead.
- Skip convenience items at the grocery store. Pre-washed, pre-cut lettuce is going to run you a lot more than a head of iceberg, Harzog said. Skip convenience items such as this when shopping for your weekly groceries.
- Have a low-key night at home. A night out with friends could run you $100 or even $200. Malani recommends having everyone over for a wine night or potluck instead to save a little cash.
- Opt for cheaper entertainment. Instead of going to the movies or catching a live show every weekend, consider renting a movie and eating something at home. Just remember: That doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit. “Maybe go to a movie once a month instead of four times a month,” Harzog said.
Debt snowflake: Pros and cons
The debt snowflake strategy isn’t for everyone. Below, we’ve identified the top three pros and cons associated with the strategy.
- It’s an easy way to make small changes. Some debt repayment strategies require quite a bit of planning, but the snowflake strategy is fairly simply. All you have to do is save $2, $5 or $10 every so often, and there isn’t much more to it.
- There’s a psychological perk. Many people benefit from the small “wins” associated with the debt snowball method. The snowflake has a similar benefit. “The snowflake strategy reminds you that you are in control of decreasing your debt balance, which has great psychological benefits that help keep you motivated and empowered with your financial life,” Malani said.
- It makes you more aware of your spending. It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of less-than-stellar spending habits without realizing their damage. For example, a $4 latte each weekday might not seem like a lot until you realize that skipping it could save you about $100 a month. “I think [the debt snowflake] makes people stop and think about what they’re doing every single day,” Harzog said.
- It requires serious organization. If you opt for the debt snowflake strategy, you have to make sure you’re organized. This means either grabbing your cellphone and making a transfer the minute you save money or keeping a list of all your savings to put toward your debt at the end of the month. Harzog recommends staying organized by setting up email or phone reminders to ensure you make your payments.
- It doesn’t work well as a stand-alone strategy. Some people want a simple, streamlined solution for paying off their debt. If you’re concerned about balancing too many things, debt snowflake might not be for you, as it works best with another strategy such as debt snowball or debt avalanche.
- You might lose motivation. The savings associated with the debt snowflake strategy are small. Malani said if you struggle to find these small savings, you might feel defeated and could lose your motivation to stay on track.
Debt snowflake makes a difference: Here’s how
Saving $5 here or $7 there might not seem like it will make a difference in your debt, especially if you have a large balance. But it does.
Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt with a 15% interest rate and a minimum monthly payment of $100. You normally pay $200 per month toward your debt but are able to put an extra $100 toward it by using the snowflake strategy to cut out weekly lattes and other small expenses. Here’s how much of a difference that extra $100 a month can make:
|Strategy||Total Debt||Minimum Payment||Monthly Payment||Interest Rate||Time to Pay Off Debt||Total Interest Paid|
|No snowflake||$5,000||$100||$200||15%||31 months||$1,033|
3 other debt repayment strategies to consider
Perhaps the debt snowflake, debt snowball and debt avalanche methods aren’t for you. Luckily, there are myriad ways to pay off debt. Below are three other strategies to consider.
Debt consolidation loan. One common way to pay off debt is through a debt consolidation loan. This involves combining all your debt and taking out a personal loan that will go toward the debt as one monthly payment.
Interest rates on debt consolidation loans are typically lower than interest rates on credit cards.
Balance transfer credit card. If your debt is credit card-related, you might want to consider a balance transfer credit card. These cards typically have introductory rates as low as 0%, which can allow you to repay your debt while saving on interest.
This strategy is only worthwhile if you’re certain you can repay your debt within the introductory rate grace period since the rate after that could be just as high or even higher than your previous rate.
Debt management. If you hold a significant amount of debt and have struggled for years to pay it off, you might benefit from credit counseling. Consider meeting with a nonprofit credit counselor who could help you come up with a debt management plan.
Besides helping you stay on track with a debt management plan, nonprofit credit counselors can teach you about good financial habits that help avoid getting into debt again.
Whichever strategy you choose doesn’t matter as long as you’re committed to becoming debt-free.
“The right method is the one that works for you — the one that keeps you motivated and going — because everyone has different personal circumstances,” Harzog said. “You have to be very honest with yourself. Take a close look at your budget and your cash flow, and just see what you can do and pick the right method for yourself.”