Christmas and the whole idea of giving is so different for my husband and me in so many ways, but it was a long road for us to get to this point.
It’s been almost two years since we finished paying off more than $125,000 in debt. We paid a lot of stupid tax. It took us about three and a half years to pay it all off, and being debt-free has changed our lives in ways we never could have imagined.
Our debt was a little bit (or should I say a lot?) of everything—we didn’t discriminate. I hear a lot of debt-free stories on Dave’s show, and so often the main culprit is a large student loan. My student loan debt was sizable, but our main problem was our inability to spend within our means—and that meant a ton of credit card debt.
For years, separately and then together as a married couple, we did not know the meaning of “delayed gratification.” If we wanted something, we got it. It didn’t matter if the money was available or not. What’s funny is that our income was enough to buy the items—but so much of what was coming in was tied up in paying off purchases from two, three, five years before.
It was no different at Christmas. My husband and I both run our own businesses in addition to his full-time teaching job, and for my husband’s company especially, things slow down considerably right about November. So every year we would be scrambling and panicking at the start of the holiday season. How would we afford Christmas?
The answer was always the same: We’d just charge it. It was normal for us. We did it the rest of the year, so why not do it for a special occasion like Christmas? We were like so many people who used credit cards in their daily life and didn’t think much about it. It’s just what we did.
But something interesting happens when you charge something: Adding a purchase or two doesn’t hurt as much when it’s not “your” money. So every January when we would get the credit card bills, I would stand staring at them in disbelief. There was no way we spent that much money.
Even though the purchases didn’t hurt as much, I distinctly remember getting a slightly unsettling feeling every holiday season whenever I swiped a credit card. That feeling of something following me. It followed me home with my gifts, it was there as I wrapped them up, it followed me as loved ones opened them … and it certainly followed me for the next few months as we cleaned up our mess from each Christmas.
I will never forget the first Christmas after we became debt-free—knowing that we actually had that money, and once a purchase was made, it was really mine to give. Before, it felt like giving someone else’s gift. It was such an incredible feeling to take an envelope marked “Christmas” and pay cash for everything. Shopping is usually fun anyway, but that made it even more fun.
To say giving is a different experience for us now would be an understatement. There is great joy and peace that comes with celebrating the holidays debt free. And not having that debt follow us through to the next year is one of the greatest gifts we give ourselves!
Sarah is the voice behind the popular DIY and decorating blog Thrifty Decor Chick. Since 2008, Sarah has shared ideas on making your home your haven without spending a lot of money. She believes everyone can have a home they love with a little knowledge, inspiration and patience.