Today’s post is a guest post from Jefferson, who writes for the family finance site, See Debt Run. The site began as a place to chronicle a family’s journey out of debt, but has evolved into a place to discuss a whole spectrum of topics around family finance. They discuss everything from saving money on groceries, to how to teach your kids about money, to even how to find out if your co-workers are making more money than you.
Last year at this time, my wife and I didn’t get each other anything for Christmas. We didn’t have to. We were in the home stretch of paying off over $20,000 in debt, and we both knew that our gift was coming just a few short months later. Finishing off our debt repayment plan was going to be a huge reward in and of itself, and the financial freedom that came with it was going to be a sweet present for both of us.
Since we were so deep in debt reduction mode, we also had to cut back on spending for our kids’ presents last year. In Christmas’s past, we had spent hundreds of dollars on *each* of them, in a futile effort to keep up with the Joneses, and the shiny new toys that their kids always seem to have. But those were the types of behaviors that got us into trouble in the first place! With numerous studies out there showing that there is no link whatsoever between happiness and the amount of “stuff” that you have, what were we teaching our kids by loading them up with expensive gifts each year? The holiday season is about so much more than “getting stuff”, so why were we spoiling our children and pushing ourselves deeper into debt at the same time?
All three of our kids *did* get gifts last Christmas, but on a much smaller scale than in previous years. From the start of our debt reduction journey, we had been up front to our kids about our financial situation and the family austerity plan that we were undertaking. They had already been forced to accept that there would be no family vacations as long as we were repaying debt, and that we would be eating nearly every meal at home. I was worried about telling them everything at first, but I have learned that no matter how spoiled your children may have become, they are all very flexible. Your kids will learn to adapt to the environment that you present in front of them, it’s just in their nature. Instead of focusing on what they wanted for Christmas, we spent time trying to figure out how we could help others. For example, we spent a weekend helping to gather blankets and coats for those who couldn’t afford to run their heat in the winter.
My wife and I made it through the holidays and continued to document our journey out of debt on our family finance website, See Debt Run. When that day finally did arrive and we sent in our last payment, words cannot express how good it felt to have control over how we spent our paychecks once again. In the months that followed, we finally took that family vacation, and we started to making plans to build the life that we had always dreamed of.
This year, I am proud to say that we are finally debt free for the holidays. Our year spent slaying that debt monster has changed our relationship with money forever. We are purchasing gifts for our kids again this year, but we are again using careful moderation. We did purchase one large ticket item for our youngest daughter, but we were able to save 75% off the price by finding the item used on Craigslist. You see, we have learned to become expert bargain hunters. If we can’t find a good deal on something, we just won’t be buying it, even if it is at the top of someone’s list.
Of course, we are also making sure to spend time and energy giving back to others in our community in the true Christmas Spirit. This has always been my favorite time of the year, and this year, because of all that we have been through, it feels extra special.