I distinctly remember the day we electronically mailed that last payment to Sallie Mae. It was April 2009, a Tuesday, a normal day by all other accounts. But it was a major day for our little family.
We sent that last payment and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was hoping for more fanfare—like some confetti and a few fireworks shooting out of my laptop or something—instead of the simple "click" to confirm our payment. But there was a serious amount of celebration in our family.
As a young family, we had never been debt-free. Our debt wasn't insurmountable, thankfully; we only had my college loans to pay off. But it was still bondage, and that bondage had its effects.
See, we were living overseas at the time, working for a nonprofit, and because of our debt, our hands were tied. We couldn't travel, even though we lived in a fascinating part of the world. But even more frustratingly, we couldn't give to the worthy causes that surrounded us 24/7. Those two things were major family values of ours, and we felt like we couldn't be fully "us" until we were debt-free.
Thanks to Dave's teachings, we learned how to do it, even on a tiny income. We became debt-free! We never thought we would share company with those people who called in to the radio show to scream. And suddenly, we could also save up to travel, which we did. Our family celebrated Thanksgiving 2009 in Paris, France (hello, bucket list). But that? It didn't compare to our newfound ability to give.
It felt so good to finally give abundantly to things we already cared about so passionately, especially during Christmas, when so many nonprofits need it most. We could now add end-of-the-year giving to our holiday budget.
And even though we started giving more to charities and our church, we also thought it'd be fun to shake things up a bit: We set aside $100 to give to a waiter or waitress. As a former waitress who worked her way through her 20s serving food, I have a soft spot for servers who do their job well. I know personally that it's not an easy job.
It’s now one of our favorite ways to give during Christmas, and we look forward to this family tradition every year.
We don’t have any specific criteria for who receives this oversized tip; my husband Kyle and I just wait until we get a sense that this is the person. We'll leave an anonymous little note—nothing extravagant—telling them we appreciated their service and we hope this makes their holidays merrier. Then we set the money on the table and high-tail it out of there. We don't want to be around when they find it.
We have no plans of stopping this favorite Christmas tradition of ours—I get giddy at the thought of wondering which waiter or waitress we’ll get to bless. We can only do this because we’re debt-free, and we have Dave to thank for that. We are humbly grateful to give back out of our abundance—it truly is the best thing about living like no one else.
Tsh Oxenreider is the founder and creative director of Simple Living Media and the main voice behind Simple Mom. She’s written a few books and is currently writing her next. She thinks that a library card, a Netflix subscription, and a passport are some of the greatest parenting tools in the universe. Tsh lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and three kids.