Snowflaking – a primer – What is it?

I have had several questions lately about snowflaking – what is it, why do I do it, can we see examples of it – so I thought I would write a quick primer answering those questions and more.

Snowflaking is a spinoff of the Snowball approach to debt reduction popularized by Dave Ramsey. With the Debt Snowball method, you figure out what amount you can pay to debt every month, and then you keep paying that amount, even as your debts shrink and your minimums get smaller. To implement it, in a nutshell, make a list of all your debts, order them from either smallest to largest or highest interest to lowest interest (that is a debate in itself), and you focus all extra money above the minimum payments on a single debt (either the smallest total or the highest interest, I use interest order). As you eliminate debts, you apply the payment you were making to that debt to the next debt in line until the snowballing effect of decreasing minimums and increasing amounts applied to particular debts eliminates all the debts on your list.

Well, what are snowballs made of? Snowflakes!

I have a set amount I pay to debt without fail every month that is above my minimum payment due (about $800). On top of that, I also try to collect up little bits of money wherever I can and I apply those as well to my top priority debt as immediately as possible. I take surveys online, I sell possessions on craigslist and ebay, I have yard sales, and any money I get from these endeavors goes directly to my debt. I also keep a very strict accounting of all the money that comes in every month and what I spend and everything left over at the end of the month not earmarked for future expenses also goes directly to debt. These are my snowflakes. I have averaged over $200 extra going to pay down my credit card debt every month due to these snowflaking efforts.

Many small snowflakes make a snowball, and no amount is too small for me to snowflake.

I used to pay my credit card directly every time I collected a snowflake through their online interface, but now that I have moved my credit card debt to another card with a 0% interest offer, I collect the snowflakes and pay them once per week (I am limited to the number of payments I can make to this card a month). If you are able to and your debt is not at 0% interest, I highly recommend the pay snowflakes immediately” method. The faster your balance is reduced, the less interest you will accrue.

So, that is my snowflaking method. Small efforts matter, and many little things can add up to a huge snowstorm.  I use it because of anything I’ve tried, this has kept me the most focused and deliberate about debt reduction and eliminated debt the fastest. I cannot take credit for the idea or the implementation, many many other personal finance gurus and bloggers alike have used this method before me, and I first read about it on an iVillage Debt Support message board. I am just a subscriber to it. Maybe someday I should read some Dave Ramsey and learn from the granddaddy of the snowball himself.

Comments:

  1. Mrs. Micah Says:

    October 12th, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Dave’s pretty good for those getting started, but you’re already doing so well I don’t know if he’d have much more for you. There might be something in there you hadn’t read or thought of, though, so don’t let me stop you. :-)

  2. FinanceAndFat Says:

    October 12th, 2007 at 9:56 am

    You may want to try the Dave Ramsey podcast. It is free, only about 40 minutes a day, and you’ll get all of the info from his books, plus people’s personal stories. His Friday shows are extra inspiring because he opens the lines for people who have just paid off their last debts to call in and yell ‘I’m debt free!’. It makes me so jealous, but in a good way. :)

  3. SavingDiva Says:

    October 12th, 2007 at 10:39 am

    I think your method is working for you, so you don’t need to listen to any guru.

  4. Pinyo Says:

    October 12th, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for explaining. I was beginning to wonder what the heck you are talking about :-)

    Good work with knocking off your debt.

    @FinancAndFat – thanks for pointing out the podcast, I’ll check it out.

  5. plonkee Says:

    October 12th, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    You can do it all by yourself. I love the snowflake idea – I sort of guessed what you’d been talking about but I’m glad you’ve explained it properly.

  6. paidtwice Says:

    October 15th, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    You know, I never realized snowflaking was so mysterious :) . Sometimes it is the simple things I should be talking about!

    Thanks :)

  7. Jennifer Says:

    October 15th, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    I have been doing the same thing – but never heard it referred to as snowflaking. Cute! And you are so right, those extra small payments really make a difference. And I soooo love on line bill pay because it makes it soo convenient to send in an extra payment anytime you earn a little extra money. :)

    I added a link to your site on my blog. :)

  8. Tracie Says:

    October 18th, 2007 at 10:45 am

    I LOVE the concept of snowflaking. Once the idea is planted in your head to mow down the debt, it’s psychologically hard to wait until paydays to make any further progress. Snowflaking allows us to be creative during the rest of the week and make little dents in the debt while planning our big attack for paydays! I’ve done the eBay/survey thing too, but without any plan, those little bits just get sucked into daily expenses. Not anymore! I’m a flaker now! Thanks for the concept and the motivation!

  9. paidtwice Says:

    October 22nd, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    @Jennifer – yay for snowflaking! thanks for the link :)

    @Tracie – the little bits get easily lost, but they can really make a difference. I love snowflaking the little bits (and the big bits too of course)

  10. pat Says:

    December 18th, 2007 at 3:41 am

    I love the snowflake idea! And the “snowball” debt repayment plan originated with Amy Dacyczyn, author of “The Tightwad Gazette,” not Dave Ramsey.

  11. Heather Says:

    March 1st, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you for your post on snocwflaking. I am new reader to your blog, and have gleaned so much knowledge from your entries. I am making my first fluorried attempts to snowflaking away one of my credit cards. Thank You for your advice.

  12. Wess Stewart Says:

    March 3rd, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I think I would be wary of a company that said I could only pay off a debt (while being charged interest) with a set number of payments.

    It’s my debt, I’ll pay it off as fast as I can.

    I just had a friend that was asked (as he payed off a school loan) ‘Why are you paying off the balance rather than paying it out?’ His response – ‘Is there any reason that I shouldn’t?’

    That was followed by a stunned silence.

  13. Mike Hardin Says:

    March 19th, 2008 at 10:13 am

    If you have your credit card at 0% for a few months, why not put those snowflakes in a high interest online savings account, and just pay the minimum payment on the credit card until the end of the 0% offer. Then when the 0% offer expires, you can move the money from the savings account, and the interest you earned will be extra snowflakes!

    That’s what I’m doing. I moved all my credit card debt (about $7,000) to a 0% credit card almost a year ago. The 0% offer expires June 1. By then I expect to have put enough money in my HSBC direct online savings account earning better than 3% to pay off the card and have a little left over. In the mean time, I’ve just been making minimum payments on the card. The balance on the card is down to $5,800.

  14. Frugal Dad Says:

    March 19th, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I love the concept of “snowflaking” and first read about it on the My Total Money Makeover forums (probably based on this post). I set up a second checking account to collect the snowflakes and write one check at the end of the month to clear that account and pay down a little debt.

  15. paidtwice Says:

    March 19th, 2008 at 11:51 am

    @ Mike – I agree, what you are illustrating does make great sense. For me, the credit card was also an emotional debt that I honestly needed to purge and be done with. So I thought about doing something similar but eventually opted for just paying it off.

    @Frugal Dad – I’m not a member of TMMO forums but I was told by Ana that they had picked up on this post and posted about it there, so indeed, you did kind of find out about it from my site, in a roundabout way. Thanks for commenting!

  16. Paula Hewitt Says:

    March 23rd, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    This is a great idea – thanks for sharing it

  17. Debt Free Earth Says:

    April 5th, 2008 at 7:22 am

    Frugal Dad has the right idea. Unless you “seize the savings”, often times that money we save on gas, not doing Starbucks and brown-bagging it disappears into other areas. I actually teach a class in local community centers and schools based on the concept of snowflaking as well as another on debt elimination. We teach to calculate the approximate savings for a given month (reverse budgeting) and get that amount direct deposited into that separate account in advance from the employer, if possible. And like Frugal Dad, we use this extra amount to that debt we are focusing on paying off first. This only focuses on half of the “snowflakes”, the ebay selling and other found money is extra money to be deposited.

    Reading this blog (and other PF blogs) has been great for getting different points of view that aren’t in the textbooks I use. Thanks Paid Twice!

  18. Hywelda9 Says:

    April 6th, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post and with this message. Lo many years ago, I needed to begin to get myself our of a near-poverty situation. The “snowflake” method was the only one I had available. Once debt and other problems were out of the way, I could begin to save, and then to invest. I am now able to enjoy early retirement with a great-sized investment portfolio, and when I tell you it was all begun with $25 a week, I am not kidding.

  19. Teri Balch Says:

    April 8th, 2008 at 10:42 am

    I love this idea and it seems like it’s working great for you!

  20. Movingonup Says:

    April 8th, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Snowflaking Kicks Butt!

  21. Mike Says:

    April 18th, 2008 at 11:27 am

    The beauty of this idea is that you can start really small – how small is a snowflake? and you can build from there. As with almost everything in life but especially debt it is the little things that count. Build the momentum slowly – flake by flake

  22. jack rowsey Says:

    June 17th, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Thank’s for the post.
    You give quite a clear description on snowflaking.
    but still it takes a good deal of commitment.

    without proper discipline, a good debt elimination method would be useless.

  23. My Journey From Debt Says:

    July 11th, 2008 at 5:15 am

    Tonight is the first time that I have heard of this, I’ve heard of the whole snowball thing before, but almost like this better. I’m not sure how good I will be at implementing it though because any “snowflakes” I can think of lately have “melted” before I got them home (so to speak)

  24. Cathy | Mommy Motivation Says:

    December 12th, 2008 at 12:37 am

    I saw your button on another blog, and in maybe 2 clicks, got right here! Well done! :)

    I didn’t know of this before – thanks for posting it.

    BTW, I love this theme too – I’ve edited it to look like recipe cards for my food blog. It’s very cool… :)

  25. Kick Debt’s Butt Says:

    January 16th, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Hey, budget girl sent me here for your primer on snowflaking – I love the idea and the connection with snowballing the debt away. I’m going to see if I can turn this in to a game for the family!

  26. Are you the originator of this term/concept? Because I just gave you credit as being so!:) At the very least, your blog has given the concept a huge audience…

    http://budgetsarethenewblack.blogspot.com/2009/11/snowball-status.html

  27. John D Says:

    April 8th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Super post and explanation and idea. I just did a little snowflake to Target. $20 doesn’t seem much compared to a 570 balance, but it made me feel good to get that extra in. Now I feel a snowstorm coming on! I am going to live each day wondering where I can get another snowflake to put in, and I feel I will see opportunities I didn’t see before. It’s inspiring me to go back to secret shopping too, and snowflake every payment I get.

    BTW, Dave Ramsey never claims to have created any of his baby steps or other advice. He gives credit to others. What you will find is that he has packaged the best advice into a system that gives us the greatest chance at being successful in eliminating debt despite unexpected emergencies along the way, and also helps us build a life on the other side, once the debt’s gone. His great contribution is in the order of the steps.

    Good luck to all!