Debt Free For the Holidays


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

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.

About Travis

21 Responses to “Debt Free For the Holidays”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. dojo says:

    We’re also keeping a very low profile this Christmas, to save money for the upcoming birth of our daughter, which will cost us an arm and 2 legs 😀

    I’m so happy to read your happy-ending story, it comes to show that focus and consistency can really make an impact.

    • Thanks Dojo.

      With a daughter on the way.. Saving up this year makes all the sense in the world.
      There are a TON of new things to buy with a baby on the way.

      Besides, you’re getting a baby this year for Christmas!! There is no better present than that!

  2. Good post Jefferson! It can be so easy to trap yourself into thinking you “have” to spend all sorts of money on Christmas gifts for your kids and the thing is that will only make things worse down the road as you set them up to expect it. That’s also not to mention the debt aspect of it as well. Great work on helping them not focus on things but working with them to provide for those who are in need – I think that can be such a valuable thing for kids to see and learn to do.

    • I truly do think my kids will be better off down the road, having seen their parents get into trouble, and then work their tails off to get themselves out of it. Hopefully the little boogers will learn from their parents mistakes!

  3. Edson Senna says:

    Great article. A few years ago my father lost his job. For Christmas my mom decided we would all do homemade presents. My presents definitely left something wanting, but my mother’s present is one of the best I have ever received. She made me a book of reasons why she loves me with childhood pictures of me on every page. We have since gone back to “traditional” gift giving and, honestly, I don’t like it as much. You don’t feel as much in the spirit of Christmas when you focus on what you’re going to get. I have a friend who wants to only do stockings for her kids on Christmas, and move the actual present-giving to Three Kings Day in order to keep the spirit of Christmas. Any way you do it, focusing more on giving is good for your heart and your wallet.

    • That is really sweet, Edson. I love the “reasons she loves me” book, and might have to steal that one and use it for my kids here at some point. I honestly think they would love it more than any physical thing I could buy them.

  4. JRodriguez says:

    Hey Jefferson, I love the post. Spending money on gifts that you don’t have is just absolutely nuts. Christmas is supposed to be about family and friends, not racking up debt. Thanks for bringing that to light!

    • Lots of people do spend money that they don’t have during the holidays, JRod.. We did it for years. Thankfully, we learned that material gifts mean very little in the long run, and there is no reason to overdo it.

  5. E.M. says:

    I love how you shifted the focus to giving and helping those less fortunate. I am not spending much this Christmas either, and my boyfriend and I are only exchanging tiny gifts. My parents, who are still in debt, are coming up to visit, and they said that was their Christmas present to each other, which I think is great. Material gifts can be overrated sometimes.

  6. Jefferson, you’re spot on about kids being very flexible in adapting to change; we’ve learned the same thing with ours. It’s going to be an extra Merry Christmas in your house this year, knowing that you don’t have that extra burden of huge debt to deal with. Huge congrats, guys!

  7. I simply don’t have the cash to have an extravagant holiday season being that I’m in school. I don’t make enough! And I don’t believe in debt.

    • You don’t believe in debt?.. That’s a fine approach to take, really. Just take the option to buy things on credit completely off the table. It might make it hard for you to purchase a house one day, however.

  8. Debt BLAG says:

    I love hearing that your kids were adaptable. I tell other grown-ups who might be expecting gifts about my financial situation and am able to manage their expectations. I did fear how children might react.

  9. That’s so awesome you were able to achieve that goal Jeff! And I do think kids are really adaptable to that sort of thing. Not to make a sad story here, but when I was younger I just really wanted to spend more time with my mom, which I didn’t always get. Kids just love being around their parents and feeling love. Hope you all have a Merry Christmas this year!

  10. Congrats on being debt free! We are in the home stretch of pay off $109K. 11 months to go and $86k down so far. Its always inspiring to hear others successful stores of debt repayment.

Leave a Comment...


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.