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I’ll never forget December 2004.
My husband and I had been married for almost two years, I was nine months pregnant with our first baby, and we were living on a beans and rice budget. There was not a penny left for Christmas presents that year.
When we got married, we committed together to an audacious goal: to go through law school debt free. The goal sounded cool on paper, but let me tell you—living it out wasn’t so easy.
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Beans and rice got old really quickly. Driving a very used vehicle that occasionally wouldn’t start at all wasn’t fun. Not being able to afford to even shop at the thrift store was hard.
Every month, we didn’t know how the ends were going to meet. We meticulously stuck with our cash budget, and we stretched every penny as far as we could. But still, the financial outlook was pretty bleak.
As Christmas approached, I wanted to feel sorry for myself that money was so tight. Instead, I committed to make the most of the season—even if we couldn’t afford Christmas gifts.
And you know what? It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas. We made fun memories with our extended family; we enjoyed hot cocoa and board games; we listened to Christmas music on the radio; and we baked delicious food from ingredients I got almost free by pairing coupons with sales.
In the process, we realized that we already had so many gifts that money couldn’t buy: a wonderful marriage, a baby on the way, and extended family who loved us even if we couldn’t buy them anything for Christmas.
You know what else we reminded ourselves of? Maybe money was really tight, but we didn’t have debt. If we continued scraping by and sticking with our budget, we were confident it would pay off in a few years.
In 2005, we discovered Dave Ramsey. Listening to his radio show lit a fire in our bellies to stay the course and even ramp it up a notch. We experimented with some different online businesses, continued to pinch pennies, and worked with gazelle-like intensity to begin making financial traction instead of barely eeking by.
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It’s amazing to look back today and realize how much those efforts to stay out of debt, live simply, and stick with a budget paid off. We now have a thriving online business; we paid cash for our house two years ago, and we’ve been so blessed to be in a position to give generously.
Best of all, the past two Christmases, we’ve been able to knock the socks off our family members with Christmas gifts. We figured it was about time we made up for all those years when we couldn’t afford to buy them anything!
If you’re feeling really discouraged about your current financial position this Christmas, may I encourage you to not give up? It’s hard to live frugally, make counter-cultural choices, and forego things you’d love to have in order to pay off debt and stick with your budget.
But don’t lose hope. You will survive the Christmas season, even if your cash envelopes are almost empty and there aren’t any gifts under the tree. And someday soon, you’ll look back and realize that it truly was worth it to live like no one else!
Crystal Paine is a wife, mom of three, and best-selling author. Visit her blog, www.MoneySavingMom.com, for high-value coupons, online bargains, freebies, practical ideas and inspiration to get your life and finances in order.