Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! As Zach and I continue in our harrowing journey towards financial freedom, we have now survived a Christmas season without going (too terribly) over budget! Whew! Not gonna lie, it’s tough to stick to a budget during Christmas! With plenty of ups and downs over the last three months, I’m looking forward to sharing the experiences.

In summary, in case this is your first time hearing about my journey to financial freedom, my husband and I are on baby step two of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover plan. Any other FPU grads out there? Can I get a whoop whoop? Tell us about your journey in the comments section! You can read about the beginning stages of our journey out of debt here:

What I’ve Learned

How to Stay on Task

I can accurately sum up the last three months in two words: discouraging and inspiring. The discouragement came with the inability to make any significant progress. Each time I was able to squeeze a little extra money out of our already stretched-thin budget, a medical bill would arrive or some unexpected house maintenance of at least double the amount I saved would pop up. Barely making the payments necessary, it seemed that our financial goals were getting farther and farther, not closer. We had to put aside our fears and focus on these truths.

Truth #1: Deal with Discouragement

Our situation was unsettling, discouraging, frustrating, and severely unmotivating… All emotions I prefer to avoid. But what were we to do? I had to acknowledge the emotion and the realities that were causing them.

Contemplating our options and tightening up even more, Zach and I committed our finances to the Lord. We prayed and prayed that God would show us how to best handle the income He has given us to glorify Him. Realizing that responding emotionally in any financial situation is the most irresponsible option, we pressed on toward the goal.

Truth #2: Consistency is Key

Day in and day out, we kept at it. Slowly but surely, down the balance went. It hasn’t been fun and we’ve sacrificed a lot. The months have seemed longer than the money most of the time but thankfully, each payday comes and we made it through! It’s been the longest three months of my life but I feel like the lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable.

Truth #3: God Provides

It’s a beautiful thing when you ask the Lord to handle your life and submit to the wisdom of His will. You always know where to place the credit when somehow things work out. God’s provision in the last three months has been miraculous. Little by little, he provided through unexpected ways: a generous gift here, a little job there, a sale of something, or extra savings on a bill. We are so grateful. And the coolest part is the plan was already in motion so, through consistency of stewardship, we always knew where to put any extra savings or income.

Truth #4: Celebrate the Small Victories

In November, I really did not feel like we were making any progress. It was minuscule at best. Then a friend from college sent us a check to contribute toward Dawson’s adoption, which was our first debt in our debt snowball. With this contribution, we were able to pay off the final adoption expenses! It was the smallest debt but by far the most emotional! I cried and cried making that final payment! Zach and I had a dance party in the living room!

That celebration breathed such wind into our sails! I mean, sure it had taken us five months to pay off a $2000 credit card bill, but we had kept after it and our first debt was gone! It felt like a right first step in changing our family legacy by paying off the debt that had been weighing on us for as long as our son had been alive.

The importance and weight of that victory really kept me going! In December, because of a bonus at work and Christmas gifts, we were able to put some significant money toward the next debt on the snowball (one of the student loans) and are on track to pay that off by the end of January!

Truth #5: Stay Motivated

Make sure you continually look at the big picture. Keep the reason for your present sacrifices in front of you at all times. If you get too focused on the present progress (or in our case, lack thereof), you will give up. The “why” needs to be the driving force behind it. For me, the ability to stop living paycheck to paycheck is a huge “why.”

Education is also a big part of your motivation. Find people working toward similar goals and get advice from them. With the number of podcasts, blogs, books, e-books, and forums online you should have unlimited resources to help motivate and educate you on your goals. I must give a word of warning, however. Do not ever blindly accept money advice. Make sure you vet any financial advice before you take it.

Tips, Tricks, and Victories

  • Christmas is one of the hardest times of year for sticking to a budget! The easiest way to do this is to use cash! I’m serious. If your Christmas budget is $600, then pull out $600 in cash and put it in an envelope. As you buy your list of gifts, use only the money in the envelope. If you buy something online, pull the cash out of the envelope and deposit that money back into your account. This will allow the “January you” to not painfully regret what the “December you” did to your budget. And remember to practice economy in the gifts that you purchase both in monetary value and quantity. I promise people won’t think less of you if you give them a $20 gift instead of a $50 gift.
  • For our kids, we started a new tradition. I saw this guideline online and fell in love with it. “Something you want, something you need. Something to wear, something to read.” Zach and I bought our kids each a significant toy (want), a couple pairs of shoes (need), an outfit and pair of PJs (wear)and a book (read). That combined with the gifts from grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, and others was way more than enough for them!
  • Give yourself some wiggle room in the Christmas budget because you will inevitably spend more than you anticipate. Make sure you anticipate the overage!
  • Start saving now for your next Christmas! It’s January. Look at what you spent in December and divide that by twelve. By next Christmas, you’ll have a fully funded Christmas budget! And if you stumble upon any amazing deals over the next year, you can stockpile Christmas gifts early! Can you imagine having everything purchased before December even arrives? Wow… what would that be like?

In Conclusion

So we have about $35k left to go. It is still a daunting amount but the snowball is picking up speed and our focus is narrowing. Months like these are tough but the modification in behavior that comes with the heat and pressure of a tight budget really makes all the difference. It creates permanent change in habits and memories of the Lord’s provision that will last a lifetime.

And that’s really what this is all about: using our lives as a testimony to God’s glory. Seeing how God has used others’ generosity in our lives to provide for us, like when we got that check in the mail, makes me want to live in such a way that we can be on the other end of this equation in the near future. This is what godly stewardship is all about: being the hands and feet of Jesus to His people and the world. So, to God be the glory! Great things He has done!

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