How to Have a Debt Free Christmas – The 4-Gift Christmas Challenge

Christmas Gifts on Credit….the Gift that Keeps on Giving…

How much will you spend on the holidays this year?  If it’s close to $1,000.00  then you are pretty much average.  How much of your monthly budget is that $1,000.00?  It goes without saying that the holidays and holiday spending can be a budget buster.  And it’s not just the gifts that are purchased, there is extra money that goes into the food budget, into holiday decorating (do you have a Clark Griswold in your family?), traveling, getting the carpets cleaned and other purchases that are made to make the day(s) picture perfect.  And that’s what we all want, right? Is to create a feeling that will last.  There is nothing wrong with that!!!! You heard me right.  There is nothing wrong with that.

Our household loves Christmas and we love to decorate.  One of my greatest desires is to make sure that my children will have fond memories of the holidays. That they will look back and have snapshots of great moments that make them feel good.  So I completely understand that the expense that goes into the holidays is not always about “stuff” – it’s about the feelings that we have and the expectations we have about what these moments mean to us.


What is not good and not all right is to borrow to make all this magic happen.  We do not want the “high” of the holidays to be followed by the January “blues” when the mail carrier delivers the credit card statement and what we thought was just a few bucks here and a few bucks there has multiplied into a bill that cannot be paid off immediately.  Did you know that a credit card balance of $1,800.00 with 11.99% interest being paid at $100.00 a month will take 20 months to pay off? Do you really want to be paying for last year’s Christmas next Christmas?

The other danger is that holiday gifts are purchased at the expense of your current budget.  How does this happen?  If you have not budgeted for your holiday purchases and you don’t have any sources of extra income to pay them, then it logically follows that the money for those purchases is going to be at the expense of something else in your budget.  The cost of this?  Late fees, NSF fees, playing catch up for a few months into the New Year is not how you want to start the New Year.

4 Gift Christmas Challenge



So what to do?  PLAN!!! You know what they say, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail!”  I know…the holidays seem to sneak up on us every year – but it’s really more about poor planning on our part, isn’t it?  The holidays are not one of those sneaky holidays that change every year.  Each year they are in December – EVERY DECEMBER.

One way our family has opted to keep our Christmas budget under control, especially since adopting all the boys, is to do the 4-Gift Christmas Challenge.  The Challenge is simple…for each child, we purchase something they Want, something they Need, something to Wear and something to Read.  It has been such a cost saver for us and each child gets a mix of presents we can feel good about giving.


The easiest way to be ready for the holidays is to simply budget for it and put money in an account or some other stash where you can keep it and keep adding to it throughout the year.  Other ideas:

  • Get a seasonal job to pay for the extra holiday expenses
  • Budget gifts into your monthly budget and purchase gifts throughout the year
  • While you are attacking your mountain of debt –
    • have a year or two (or three) of hand-made gift giving.
    • agree on one family gift.  We know a family that did this and the parents surprised the kids with a new family dog on Christmas morning.
    • tell other family members that you are not giving gifts this year while you are getting out of debt.
    • Get creative!!! There are lots of ways to make your holidays inexpensive.

We have opted to budget for our Christmas for the past several years and limit the amount we spend on gifts.  What is interesting is that as we get further along in our debt repayment the desire to spend on gift giving has decreased.  We would much rather see our debt reduced than a bunch of boxes under the tree.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the greatest ways to put the holidays, and what is really important about them, into perspective is by sharing it with others and by finding a way to serve someone, anyone, during this season.  You want to create memories for your kids?  You want to teach them about what is most important in this life? You want to teach them responsibility and to appreciate all that they have?  This is how it’s done.  Serve with them – shoulder to shoulder.  Serve in a shelter, deliver food to the homeless, adopt a needy family and deliver presents to them, visit a hospital, there are so many possibilities and opportunities to serve.

What’s up with that?  A message about serving in the middle of talking about holiday debt?  Here’s what I am getting at.  It’s a paradigm shift.  It’s getting off the crazy train of debt.  It’s realizing that what you have IS enough and you don’t need more “stuff” and even if there is some “stuff” you really, REALLY, want…you have to want to be debt free more.  You have to reach a point where you are satisfied and a really powerful way to create contentment in your own heart is to pour into other people.  It’s really difficult to  have everything be about YOU when you are staring into the face of someone else who needs help – it becomes crystal clear that it is not about you – but THEM.  When this shifts for you, something happens and your spending will decrease, which means more funds available to attack your debt and get off the crazy train of debt for good.

A happy DEBT FREE holiday to you all!

Love and Prosperity, 

Your GirlFIday. 


How We Saved $4000.00 on Our First International Vacation

In October, my husband and I took our very first international trip to Greece.  It was the trip of a lifetime – and that is really an understatement – but as you can imagine, it was also expensive.  I am happy to report, though expensive, it did not break our bank account. In fact, we saved a ton.  How did we do that? 1. We saved for it and paid it all in cash.  Unlike many Americans, we did not return from our trip with debt. 2. We used our super-saving-ninja skills to get our expenses down as much as possible. That’s what we are going to talk about today.

The bulk of our savings came from a handful of choices we made.  First, we flew out of Tijuana, rather than the San Diego Airport.  We did not pay for the bulk of our meals.  Lastly, just about everything else we did was free.

The purpose of the trip was to attend a Chautauqua.  If you were like me one year ago, you had no clue what that means. Is it like a Chewbacca?  No, not even close – though that would have been a cool gathering too, I am sure.  I’ve explained our Chautauqua experience in an upcoming post, if you are interested to know what the heck one is.  (Urban Dictionary, a bit salty sarcastic, is of no assistance on this one.)


The first area we saved was on our plane tickets.  Having never travelled internationally before I had NO IDEA how expensive plane tickets were.  When I first started watching them, I could not believe my eyes.  They ranged anywhere between $2000.00 and $5000.00 a piece and that was for economy.  At that point, I had already bought our tickets for the Chautauqua so I was already past the point of no return. The only flexibility we had was our departure city.

I knew of a friend that flew out of Tijuana all the time, with her children, so I had to assume she felt it was safe. So, out of curiosity, I looked….I was SHOCKED at the difference.  The difference was big enough that it really was not an option.  We were already embarking on an international adventure, so why not add one more adventure to the mix. By flying out of Tijuana, we saved about $2000.00 on our tickets.  Not a bad way to start an adventure. I will be writing on that experience as well in case you’re wondering what that was like.

It’s also important to note, flight prices vary based on a number of factors besides destination.  For instance, if I you were to look up the prices to fly to Thessaloniki in March of next year they would be less than $1000 and it would have been cheaper to fly out of San Diego as opposed to Tijuana.

TIP #1 – Research your flights before deciding your destination as well as date of travel.  You can save hundreds, thousands, by having a bit of flexibility and adventuresome spirit.

SUPER SAVER TIP #2 – If you don’t want to pay anything for your flights, then there are several resources available on how to do that with travel rewards via credit card hacking.  The guys over at Travel Miles 101 have that covered.

Meals $1000 

Meals while traveling can be a budget buster.  In the past, one of the ways we have minimized our meal expense was to book at a hotel with at least a refrigerator, but preferable a kitchen. When we travel with the kids, this is almost non-negotiable.

This trip we packed non-perishable snacks; lots of nuts, cheese crisps, granola bars, and dried fruit. It kept us satisfied in between our flights and other periods we were in between meals.

Finally, as part of our package, meals were included.  This was huge.  We received 3 delicious meals at our five-star resort every day.  These varied between buffet style and plated meals.  We were able to both indulge in traditional Greek food, as well as dishes prepared by a master chef. They were divine.

Look for experience packages that include meals in your travels.  This one thing will save you additional hundreds of dollars, maybe more, depending on how many people you are traveling with.

TIP #3 – Get a package that includes meals (though be careful and analyze whether that makes sense.  Sometimes it doesn’t)

TIP #4 – Pack your own food and snacks.

TIP #5 – Get a room that has a kitchen and/or a refrigerator.


Another benefit of purchasing an experience package is that a couple of our excursions as well as transportation were paid for.  We were able to enjoy a walking tour of Thessaloniki as well as a tour of the museums at the foot of Mount Olympus and a bus tour up the mountain.  This also allowed us precious time to spend with our fellow travelers and get to know them better while seeing thousands of years of history.

Others in our trip hiked and went in to town to explore.  Also free.

Curtis and I opted to simply enjoy the resort on the days there were no excursions.  We were on vacation to relax and enjoy ourselves.  Reading a book, overlooking an infinity pool that expands over the Aegean Sea is how I would describe paradise.  It was enough for me.  And Free.

Don’t forget to look for coupons or other discounts for excursions.  There are so many ways to save, if you are intentional about it.

TIP #6 – Prepay for Excursions.


Curtis and I left for Greece with a spending budget.  Because of the intentionality of our spending, we came home with two-thirds of that budget unspent.  A much better position to be in than coming home with debt. Pre-FIRE movement, we would have come home from a trip having to rearrange our budget to account for our over-spending as well as work for months to pay off our credit cards.  To not have the stress of coming home to that?  It’s priceless.

How have you been able to save on your travel expenses?  We’d love to hear it.

Love and Prosperity

Your GirlFIday


**Photo by Alex Antoniadis on Unsplash


Don’t Be An Ostrich – You Can’t Hide From Your Debt

Don't be an ostrich PINTEREST

The first step in getting out of debt is to assess your situation. Over the years, working with hundreds of bankruptcy clients, I have seen over and over what I call the “Ostrich Syndrome”.  The enormity a clients debt situation is so hard to face they instead ignore it.  And I will be perfectly candid here, when I say “they” I include my husband and I in this category.  As we struggled over the years, we put our heads in the sand several times.  What we can both tell you is that ignoring your circumstances does not make this situation any better.  You too might be an Ostrich if:

  • Instead of opening your bills each month you stuff them in a drawer telling yourself you will get to them later.
  • You fail to answer all calls because you fear it is a bill collector
  • You do not check your bank account balance – afraid it is a negative balance
  • You do not balance your checkbook
  • You do not know how much you are in debt because you have not looked at your credit balances
  • You have not checked your credit report
  • You do not answer your door because you are afraid you are being served for a lawsuit

Does any of the above sound familiar to you?  Do not be ashamed or afraid.  Face the truth head on.  Much like an alcoholic or any other addict must do, you must admit where you are and how you got to where you are so that you can begin the process of healing.  You cannot skip this step because interest does not stop accruing, balances do not go down, bill collectors do not magically disappear, lawsuits do not get dismissed, negative balances do not turn into positive ones.  You cannot get financially healthy until you first know how bad things really are.

Adulting is hard.  But it does get easier.  Especially when you have help and know that you are not alone.

Let’s get started…

Assessing where you are:

  1.  I suggest getting out a pen and paper, or if you are a spreadsheet-type person, like me, start a spreadsheet.  More accurately, you may need to create more than one. At a minimum, create a list of every single monthly expense you have.
  2. You need to know the present balance, the regular monthly payment, past due amounts, if any, and due dates.
  3. Do the same thing for each debt you have.  ALL OF THEM.  Credit cards, loans, loans from mom. Collection accounts.  Everything.

You can combine the two lists, or keep them separate, whatever helps you feel organized and presents to you a clear picture of what you currently owe and what you owe going forward.

Determine what you have:

  1. What is your net monthly income coming in?
  2. When does it come in?
  3. If you have irregular incomes, go back to the past 3-6 months and chart each month’s average – or see if you can determine a baseline of the minimum you know you will receive. Anything extra will be extra.
  4. Do you have any savings?
  5. Do you have any items that you can sell?
  6. How much extra cash can you come up with to kick-start things?
  7. Can you hold a garage sale?
  8. Can you work overtime?
  9. Uber? Lyft? Amazon Flex?
  10. Do you have a side business you can supplement your income?

It’s time to really get creative.  If your child was sick and you had to pay for a medical procedure in cash (without committing a crime people!) how much money could you come up with?  Think of things in these terms and see what you can do!

Now that you know what you owe…OUCH, I know that hurt…and know what you have, the next step will be to create your plan.  Your Budget.  Get amped up.  Get excited.  You no longer have your head in the sand.  Be proud.  That was hard and you are still here.  You are about to kick some #ss and take names!  It’s time to attack.

Next week we will discuss your strategy for getting out of debt, stay tuned.

Love and Prosperity, 

Your GirlFIday