The strange things that happened this Christmas

Organizing while I listen to Christmas music and wear sweatpants. This is my perfect day.

Christmas is a week and a half away, and instead of scrambling around for presents, or running from place to place, sucking up as much Yuletide fun as humanly possible, we’re decluttering our house.

We’ve got family and friends coming to stay with us in a week, and we’re hosting a Christmas party, so we need to wrap up ClutterPalooza soon. We’re feeling confident we will, thanks, in large part, to changes in our life that relate to our debt-free journey.

It’s been ONE year since we started digging ourselves out of debt and building a healthy financial life. Here’s what I know, and want to tell you: it’s led to more good changes than I can count. In short, the year was amazing. And embarking on this path is one reason we’ve had a great Christmas season. It’s also a big part of why our house is just a few short hours away from a sparkling basement and organized closets.

First, let’s talk about the cleaning project. Julep has wanted to organize the basement ever since we moved in, which was three years ago. It’s mostly his stuff. We have a room that was intended for his music equipment, but ended up being a catch-all dumping ground. He’s also a long-term hobby guy, so he has lots of interesting, useful stuff, but it was spread all over the house. Inconvenient for him, and agitating for me, a mild neat freak. The two big things that stopped us from progressing on any basement clean-up were: time and money.

Julep works full time, and then there’s the farm, from March through November. Plus, Julep’s farm work really starts in January, with crop planning and budgeting, and ramps up in February, with seeding. So, that leaves December.

Thanks to our budget lockdown, and our conscious effort to stay home more and be together, this really cut down on the holiday hustle and bustle.

So, we had the time. Now, the other thing that always put a crimp in our organizational attempts was shelving. Julep previously built wonderful shelves out of wood, which we immediately filled, but we wanted sleeker-looking metal shelving for more visible areas of the basement. And dang those aren’t cheap. We never could afford them before. However, in 2019, we had a sinking fund for home repairs and upgrades, so, the money for shelving was sitting there, waiting for us. So, shelves finally made true organizing possible, which led to a decluttering breakthrough in the basement. This cleaning fever spread upstairs, to our closets and a few other spaces.

Now, about our holiday thus far.

What was the most important budget-related change this holiday?

We had money for Christmas. This hasn’t happened in years. In our monthly budgets, we squirreled away between $50 and $100 a month for the holidays. In November, I put away a little extra, to make sure we had plenty of money to cover our Christmas party and some other expenses. In past years, Christmas cards went by the wayside because of the costs. This year, I’m looking forward to getting back to that tradition.

The budget made Christmas shopping easier for two reasons. First, we’ve let go of the need to match people, dollar-for-dollar, when it comes to gift spending. We pick out a few nice, relatively affordable gifts, or one larger gift, if it’s something they want.

We also listened to people who genuinely do not want presents. We have two family members who are aware that we’re on our debt-free mission, and, fortunately, are financially stable themselves. They repeatedly and sincerely asked us not to buy anything for them. This was very thoughtful of them, and we appreciate their understanding. For these family members, we carefully selected a few small items we know they wouldn’t buy for themselves, but would definitely use and enjoy.

We also have friends with young children, who, like us, feel like they’re drowning in stuff after Christmas. We were super careful about what we purchased for them. (For one family, we went with a really fun game, plus snacks for a game night.) We also like to give kids the first book of a series. That way, if they like it, they can find more in their library.

Now, the change that means the most to me is embarrassing to admit. But, here goes. In past years, we’ve had the best of intentions to take a name off a “giving tree,” and purchase presents for a child. Well, Christmas was always such a financial disaster for us, that we just never could afford to do that. I always felt lousy about it. Here I sat, in my perfectly comfortable house, with all this nice stuff, and I couldn’t even pick one tag off the tree to help make someone’s Christmas morning a little nicer. Not to mention all the years Julep and I decided to skip exchanging gifts with each other.

Not this year, friends. Thanks to the Christmas sinking fund, Julep and I plucked four names off the tree and easily purchased nice presents for these children. Looking up at the tree, with all those names, brought tears to my eyes. So many names.

This is a money blog, so my financial takeaway from that experience was this: Wow, it felt good to use money to help someone. This is what the debt-free journey is about. Soon, no more funneling money to a credit card company. Soon, it goes to work for us, and others. It’s interesting to me that the year we go on a budget lockdown is the year we have money for Christmas. Irony can be a good thing.

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