A 6 Step Debt Free Holiday Challenge [& printable workbook]
You’re here because you’re on a money journey. Or maybe you’ve just had enough of the holiday consumption train and you’re ready to blaze your own trail. Either way, if you’re here because you want to create a holiday season that is meaningful, authentic, connecting AND debt free, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
[If you want to go through this content with the help of a printable workbook head to my shop and get your debt free holidays challenge companion workbook first! Use the code BLOGLOVE for 50% off! - My Christmas gift to you for being here!]
MY BEST TIPS FOR A DEBT FREE HOLIDAY SEASON!
Friends, I completely and totally remember those days of buying all the things, for ALL the holidays. Christmas, for example, led to gifts for the kids, family, friends, neighbors, teachers, Sam, myself (if I’m being honest there was always a gift or two in there for ME) and then waking up the day after Christmas FULL of regret and shame. Shame that I wasn’t strong enough to say no to something I didn’t even want to do or buy. And regret from the mounds of credit card debt I racked up.
This will be our 9th Christmas (not just Christmas but Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, etc) that we will purchase everything with cash and not have ANY debt afterwards. Needless to say we’ve learned some things through the years about planning and budgeting for a debt free holiday and I wanted to put our process of being intentional with our celebrations and with our gift giving into an ultimate guide and printable workbook so you can do the same with your family.
Living a debt free lifestyle does require a bit more intention and planning, but the rewards of peace, ease with your money and true connection with your family are 100% worth it! Let’s get started!
start with a vision
WHAT YOU AIM AT DETERMINES WHAT YOU SEE. Jordan Peterson
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
In the midst of all the hustle and bustle and needs and opportunities that fill our days, it can be tempting to begin somewhere else – like in the middle, or even at the end. But, beginning at the beginning is always, always a better place to start.
The beginning of creating a debt free Holiday (no matter which holiday it is) is knowing, really knowing, what a killer (insert holiday) looks like for YOU. That clarity and knowledge, that vision and aim, is the thing that guides and governs the work of making something new and meaningful.
The vision you have for creating a debt free holiday is the thing that will counter the comparison, FOMO, parent guilt and good ol’ fashioned fatigue that otherwise plague and persist. A clear aim is the antidote to the debt-induced anxiety and the holiday overwhelm from unchecked requests that feel an awful lot like demands.
There is nothing more dangerous than a person with a vision. It’s a superpower that offers armor AND strength AND patience AND persistence.
It’s time to take your dreaming about what this holiday COULD be and turn it into a vision for what it WILL be.
Target and Amazon and your co-workers and maybe even your Aunt Margie won’t like your willingness to say you’ve chosen your own way this season, but it’s time to be dangerous friend!
A vision is the beginning. So, let’s get going!
action step 1
Begin to open up to what your intentional debt free holiday celebration will look like. Grab a beverage, claim 10 minutes and sit with your mind and heart wide open to what is possible. Decide what a meaningful holiday would actually look like for you and your family. Don’t think about what your mother wants. What do YOU want?
Start with a pen and paper and at least 10 minutes of quiet. Write or draw or list your vision for the holidays this year. Be SPECIFIC. Engage your senses – what does it smell like, look like, taste like? How does your body feel in those deep corners that tend to bind and wrinkle when the anxiety kicks in?
What are you eating? What are you watching? Who are you watching it with? It doesn’t need to look like Martha Stewart or Norman Rockwell – it needs to look like what YOU want it to look like. Is there a tree? Is there a turkey and a big family dinner, or is it a trip to the Chinese buffet this year?
What’s your vision for the kids’ teachers this year? Do you really want to bake 30 trays of cookies for those exchanges? Maybe. But maybe not.
Do you want to give gift cards to your movie club, or write each of them a note? Or, maybe, would you rather give each of them a hug, looking each of them in the eyes, telling them how much they mean to you?
What kind of gifts are you planning for your family at home? For the kids, your spouse, the cousins and your adult siblings, and your in-laws? What is YOUR vision? Maybe you get rid of all adult gifts like we did about 4 years ago and only give cards and love instead.
WRITING THIS DOWN WILL GIVE YOU FOOTING AND CONFIDENCE THAT WILL SURPRISE YOU. IT’S THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING NEW, AND THIS SIMPLE ACT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING. WITHOUT THIS VISION, YOU’RE LEFT DRIFTING IN THE SEA OF COMPARISONS AND DOUBT, OVERWHELMED AND KNOTTED.
That’s not who you are. Be specific. Gaze forthrightly ahead.
I like to write things down as I’m dreaming. Somehow journaling always gets me to a vision that I wouldn’t have come up with originally if I hadn’t written it down! So, try writing your vision down.
[And, if you’re looking for a printable workbook to accompany you through this challenge – Bam! I’ve got just the one for you! AND, since you’re a blog reader of ours, use “BLOGLOVE” as a coupon code for 50% off!]
create a HOLIDAY budget
“OUR GOALS CAN ONLY BE REACHED THROUGH A VEHICLE OF A PLAN, IN WHICH WE MUST FERVENTLY BELIEVE, AND UPON WHICH WE MUST VIGOROUSLY ACT. THERE IS NO OTHER ROUTE TO SUCCESS.” PABLO PICASSO
You knew it was coming. Now that you know what you actually want your holiday to look and feel like, that big, beautiful, meaningful, amazing, debt free vision of yours; it’s time to make a plan.
You may know this already, but another word for a spending PLAN is a budget.
Did I lose you there by saying budget? A budget doesn’t have to be a bad word! I promise!
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it over and over again. A budget actually creates the freedom and beauty you’re so craving for your life. As Picasso so eloquently stated above, a budget is THE way for you to “vigorously act…” on your vision! Your budget is the route to your success!
I promise, if you take the 30 to 60 minutes it will require for you to create your holiday budget, it will make your vision SO much more attainable. And isn’t that vision the reason you’re here? So you can create memories with your family, not anxiety? And, so you can wake up on Boxing Day without shopper’s remorse and credit card debt?
Let’s do this!
Download your FREE printable budget worksheets by filling out the form below.
[AND remember, if you’d like the budget worksheets PLUS a step by step guide walking you through this entire process, you can head to my shop and get “The Debt Free Holidays Challenge Workbook HERE. (use code “BLOGLOVE” for 50% off).
action step 2
With your visioning in hand, it’s time to bring some awareness to the fact that money is associated with nearly every aspect of our choices, hopes and dreams. In other words, it’s time to make a budget.
Don’t fret, dear one, like I said earlier, a budget is not a bad word. It’s a tool. Period. And, it’s a tool that liberates, empowers and supports your dream of a debt free holiday. I promise.
Here’s an image out of the Holiday Workbook (which you can purchase here), AND is included in your free debt free holiday budget worksheets which you can download below. I wanted you to have a clear idea of how we do this as a family! And, give you ideas on how to best set up your own budget!
In short, read through your vision statement for the holiday(s) you’re planning for and make a list of the activities, items or events that have a price tag. Then, make a real-life estimate of that price tag. This is not the time for fanciful thinking or minimization. This is the moment – THE moment – where you get to change the way things have been so that you can make things the way you want.
Then, total up your costs for your debt free holiday season. How much money do you need to have in order to pay for everything in cash? If it’s Christmas you’re planning for, you have until December 20th or so. How many days do you have to save all the money you need?
When I calculated the “Monthly Savings Amount” in the example above, that was in October. So I divided my total by 3 because I had 3 months left until Christmas. You could divide by the number of days or weeks if months doesn’t work.
[Also, please don’t forget to share what you’ve come up with in our private Facebook Group. It’s a killer community supporting each other towards a common goal of financial freedom!]
“HOW DO I START SAVING FOR CHRISTMAS?” start saving now!
THE BUDGET IS NOT JUST A COLLECTION OF NUMBERS, BUT AN EXPRESSION OF OUR VALUES AND ASPIRATIONS.” JACOB LEW
it’s time to give that budget legs, or, at the very least, bones. It’s time to find money to make your debt free holiday what you envision without compromising what you need. And to end the financial anxiety, overwhelm and fatigue.
I know, I know…this is the point when folks always hum and hah. It’s the point when even the most ardent, hopeful person, starts to slump. This is the point when you have to make choices. To say Yes and No.
But, friend, this is also the part where YOU GET TO MAKE CHOICES!
And, forget not, you’re armed with something new and beautiful this time around – your vision.
Remember, a vision is a superpower. It “offers armor AND strength AND patience AND persistence.” It is THE THING that changes budgets centered on “NO” into budgets built on “YES!”
Granted, it takes some intention to be intentional. To make choices is an act of vulnerability. It often feels uncertain, shaky and fragile. Fret not, though, plunge into the work, the intention.
action step 3
First, a disclaimer: This isn’t a one-and-done event, but a series of small, meaningful steps that add, with time, to a big, beautiful change.
Look back over the budget you created.
First, check in about the realistic numbers associated with each of these line items. Sometimes/Always, time has a funny way of sharpening our attention. Do these numbers still fit?
Then, bring that same sharpness to your current spending. If you have a household budget, grab it and look for patterns and habits.
If you don’t have a household budget, find something that will give you an honest accounting of your typical expenses – account statements, receipts, creepy GoogleMaps tracking logs of your daily trips…anything to give you a perch to see the bigger picture.
Regardless of which perspective you use, hold those patterns and habits up to the clarifying light of your Holiday Vision.
Use the light from that vision to choose which of your habits and patterns are ready for a shift or shuffle.
Instead of believing that you’re losing something, your vision reminds you of all that you’re gaining.
Start small. How does your Starbucks habit line up with your vision and desire for a debt free Christmas? Could you see yourself giving it up for a couple of months so all of that cash can go towards the Christmas of your dreams?
Or, you could always decide that you don’t want to spend money on stocking stuffers this year because, well, gingerbread lattes and your hour of alone time in the midst of holiday madness is REALLY important.
My point is, this is where you choose.
If you say yes to Starbucks, you may have to say no to some other aspect of your Christmas vision.
You’re in charge. You get to choose. Make it possible for you.
talk about your holiday budget
Our family talks about money and hurt and fear and anger and sex and death and taxes. Also, we talk about mean kids at school and what it means to be a mean kid. And mean grownups. Oh, and the guy on the corner with the illegible cardboard sign and the sallow eyes and gaunt face. And don’t forget the talk about frustration and disappointment and injustice and advertising and desire and monsters who may or may not be upstairs, so I’ll just wait to brush my teeth until someone else can come up with me.
So, of course we talk about how our vision and values for our family is calling us to change the way we make choices with our money. Especially during the holidays.
We talk about hard things at our house, and I suspect you do, too.
It’s time to have what might feel like a hard conversation with your people.
It’s time to acknowledge the discomfort, even anxiety that might be present for you when you think of having a conversation with your family about how your vision for creating a debt free holiday season will mean changing the patterns and expectations of the past. Acknowledge it, but then go have a hard conversation.
action step 4 - have a conversation
Start with your spouse (if you haven’t already) and share your holiday vision. And then (don’t forget this part) ask them what their ideal holiday looks like.
You’ve worked hard on this. If you haven’t already brought your partner into the loop, it’s time. Make it a date on the couch, after the kids are in bed. Like a budget meeting but with eggnog and mistletoe (Don’t forget the mistletoe!).
Share your work – your vision, your budget, your initial stab at your spending patterns and your incredible solutions to fund a debt free holiday. Then, pass the mic and listen to your spouse.
Be open and generous with your heart and mind and you might be surprised and inspired by what you hear.
Or, you might not.
You might feel disappointed and frustrated.
I will say, holidays are an easier entry point to have The Money Conversation with a reluctant spouse than other points. (The mistletoe usually softens the edges – don’t forget the mistletoe) But it’s not a guarantee. What is certain, though, is your amazing spirit and desire to create something new and meaningful this year.
action step 4b - have a family meeting
Getting the kids on board is a crucial step in answering how to have an awesome AND frugal Christmas. (It might be frugal but it won’t be awesome if they’re whining and complaining about that Nintendo Switch they didn’t get, while piles of other awesome toys sit unused, and unwrapped under the tree, amiright?!)
So, find a time that works for everyone – a time that is reasonable and, preferably, after a meal. You know that sweet window. Everyone is full enough that the distracting and endless pleas for a snack fade long enough for a meaningful conversation.
Give the kids a brief introduction into the work you’ve been doing and then share your vision for your new Holiday.
Be specific and literal with your people. Some of these concepts are wispy and hard to grasp – kids don’t get overwhelm and anxiety and connection very easily. But, they likely will get things like “debt” and how it keeps us from other dreams.
Be kind and patient AND be strong. There’s a good chance they might have a hard time, at first, hearing anything other than “we’re not going to buy as many presents this year.”
Remember, you can have hard conversations. And, your kids can handle disappointment.
[This is a bit of a side note, but I think our current parenting culture puts a lot of emphasis on protecting our kids from any (and even ALL) disappointment. You got last place in your soccer league, don’t worry everyone is awesome and you get a trophy! You’re nervous about your upcoming presentation at school, don’t worry, I’ll talk to your teacher about how you have anxiety with being in front of people and ask for a special exception for you. All I’m saying is, how do our kids ever develop perseverance and grit (which, by the way, research has shown is more indicative of success than education or even privilege) if we never give them the opportunity to be uncomfortable and frustrated?]
So, let them be upset and challenged. Let them know that you feel upset and challenged as well. And then, see how this obstacle can become the impetus for creative solutions to creating the debt free holiday of your family’s dreams!
listen to your kids
And while you’re telling them your dream for the best Christmas ever, stop and ask them what a great Christmas would look like for them.
What do they love about Christmas?
If gifts aren’t the heart and soul of Christmas anymore, what would they like to do together to make Christmas special?
There are so many good, juicy lessons in here – for your small people, but also for us adults!
Connect with your family. This is the heart of the process for how to have a frugal, debt free Christmas.
make a GIFT list
Now that you’ve created a budget for all the spending you plan to do, it’s time to actually make a list of what you’re planning to purchase. Since we’ve been talking about Christmas this whole time, let’s stick with that example.
In the example budget worksheet above I wrote I wanted to spend $100 per child. So now, it’s time to actually make a list of what I will be buying for each kid with that $100.
Make sure what you THOUGHT things costed are true and that you’re not over budget.
If things are more expensive than you thought, here are some options:
Adjust your budget and add more money. Then recalculate your monthly savings amount to get you what you need by Christmas. OR,
Change what you buy so that you’ll stay within budget OR
STRESS FREE, GUILT FREE HOLIDAY
It’s time to review all of the steps above to make sure you’re on track to create a debt free holiday for yourself!
Once you’ve had the hard conversations and made your budget for the holiday, it’s super important to see if you’re going to be able to actually save the amount of money you’re hoping for!
If you think you might be going over budget with your spending, please do NOT resort to putting things on a credit card. Remember the holidays (no matter which one) are about love and connection. Not anxiety about maxed out credit cards!
Think of ways you might cut your spending further. Maybe you wanted to send everyone a physical Christmas Card in the mail this year. You can cut hundreds out of your budget by creating a digital card instead!
Or family and friend gifts. The past few years we’ve stopped giving purchased gifts to adult family members as well as friends. Last year we made granola and gave some to our neighbors and family. My 80 year old neighbor still talks about how much she loved it!
Remember your Vision and what you’re wanting to create for your holiday season, and cut out spending as you need. It’s OK to be honest and tell people your goal is a debt free holiday this year, so you’ll only be giving hand written love notes to everyone. I mean, who doesn’t love a good love note?!
AVOID HOLIDAY OVERSPENDING WITH accountability
Last but not least, join my Facebook group where you will have support for your big, audacious, beautiful Vision of a debt free holiday. When everyone around you is spending money like it grows on trees, it’s super awesome to be supported by people who get you.
We totally get you.
And don’t forget to get your copy of the Debt Free Holiday Workbook. It walks you through this entire process step-by-step AND includes my favorite money saving shopping tips, so that you can wake up New Years Day with a feeling of pride and genuine connection, rather than dread and anxiety.
Because your goal is a debt free holiday full of joy and memories, not MORE credit card debt that leaves you anxious and beating yourself up!
Download your FREE debt free holidays budget worksheets by clicking the button below! Or head to my shop and get the whole debt free holidays workbook for 50% off with code BLOGLOVE! I know I learn better when I’m writing things down!
Merry Debt Free Christmas everyone!