Monday, July 1, 2013

I am alive and well and almost debt free

breaking the debt chains
It has been around 4 months since my last post, but I am back!  We have made a ton of progress since my last update post and it will take a few blog posts to get you up to speed.  I don't really have any great excuses why I took a break from blogging.  Part of my absences was due to my job, part was due to the baby, and part was due to the stress the blog added to my life.  The blog itself wasn't stressful, but thinking about the debt added stress that caused me to avoid writing about it. I had a crazy few months at work getting through a major project and with the addition of the baby to our family, I found myself avoiding any additional stress.  Although the debt number was manageable during this period, we also had a lot of transition in our family, such as preparing for my wife's retirement and becoming a one income family.  This created some initial anxiety for me because we don't have much of a financial safety net because we have been putting all of our resources into paying off the loans.  Also, the faster the loans are paid off the faster we can begin saving and transitioning to one income.  With all of this said, we have still diligently made progress towards are goal and are just about debt free.  However, we changed our strategy some and have been leveraging an interest free credit card to free up cash. After doing it for a couple of months, I'm not sure how I feel about it.  More on that later.  Here is what to expect from me over the next couple of weeks:
  1. 4 month update - Feb, March, April, and May
  2. Change in strategy
  3. June Update
  4. How having a baby has impacted our finances
  5. Getting hit with a $2500 tax bill
  6. Pulling thousands of dollars out of our couch - Very excited about this post
  7. Transitioning to stay at home mom family

Sunday, February 24, 2013

January Results....A little late

Barber wanted.  Skills: Edging and Steady Hand
It's a new year and we have a new baby!  Mom and baby are doing great.  She was a healthy 6 lbs 11 oz at birth and is growing bigger everyday.  Our lives changed forever this past month.  You can't really know the feeling of having a child until you have one of your own.  It's great.  The transition to parenthood hasn't been that bad.  You definitely don't sleep as much, but you don't really care because you are so focused on the needs of the newborn.  I'll be the first to admit how annoying other people's kids are.  Just take one flight with a crying baby or go to a restaurant and sit near a figidity kid and you will swear off kids forever.  However, something truly changes when you have one of your own.  Kids are expensive, but they don't really start wreaking havoc on your checking accounting for at least 6 months or so.  We did spend $425 ($365 for stroller and $60 on Doctor's visits) or so on the child this month, but probably won't see much increase in monthly bills for at least half a year.  More on the stroller below.  We were fortunate to have a couple really good showers that supplied us with a lot of the furniture and necessities we need (diapers, blankets, clothes, etc).  We also received gift cards to cover expenses that may come up over the next couple months (Target, Babies R Us, Amex).  Down the road our baby girl will cost a fortune:  College, cars, and wedding to name a few of the big ticket items.  However, this won't really directly impact our short term goal of getting out of Student Loan debt because we will be debt free in a few months.  After we are debt free, we can refocus and adjust our saving and spending habits to contemplate future expenses.  In the mean time, we are just going to enjoy our new baby and continue to pay off our loans.  Here is how January went:       





Detailed Results

Total Income:  $7,526

Paychecks:  $7,526
Pretty standard month.  No additional income this month.

Craigslist/Ebay:  $0
No time.   One day soon, i'll be back into the Craigslist world

Total Expenses:  $6,989
Our total income was slightly higher than total expenses.  We had some money in our checking and we paid off some expenses that we left on our credit card from last month.  See December Results.

Sallie Mae:  $3,325
We took a slight step back this month, but hope to get back to the $4,000 to $5,000 range next month.  We still exceeded our goal

Rent:  $1,565
Standard.  Not changing.  Having the baby in our one bedroom apartment hasn't been bad at all.  At this stage in the game it is nice having the baby close at all times.  The only tough part is that we can't have a lot of guests over because we don't have the space.

Tithe:  $700
Standard.  

Cable, Internet, Cell:  $172
Verizon bill was $107 and Straight Talk bill was $65.  I forgot to pay our internet bill this month, so next month will be $100 charge.  We have 1 more month of Verizon, plus the early termination fee.  Starting in March our cable, internet, and cell bill will be around $90.

Gasoline:  $116
We missed our goal by $16, but we have at least $16 dollars in gas sitting in our tanks right now.  I'll say we hit our goal and we might even be on pace to be under $100 in Feb.  

Automotive:  $0
We are going to ride our cars until we have to abandon them.

Groceries:  $108
Another amazing month.  2 months with grocery bills less than $200 is really good.  We did spend 3 days in the hospital and had friends and family bring over meals after we left the hospital.  

Household:  $141
Trips to Target.  Cleaning supplies, toiletries, medicine, etc. Slightly over budget.   

Eating Out:  $243
Over budget.  We are going to go extreme in Feb and over compensate for going over budget.  

Entertainment:  $12
Went to a movie.    

Clothing:  $17
I think we bought some baby clothes, but can't really remember.  

Gifts:  $23
Bought some picture frames.  

Personal Care:  $60
2 Pediatrician visits and 1 blood test.   

Misc:  $507
Slightly over budget. 

Insurance ($71) - Life insurance premiums.  

Barnes and Noble ($15) - The new Dad bought a baby book

Cleaners ($55) - Standard.  We didn't iron any clothes this month.

Stroller ($365) - We bought a high end stroller.  The total cost of the stroller was $730, however it only cost us $365. The stroller was compatible with our car seat, transitions from birth to early childhood, can support multiple kids, and you can run with it.  Since you can run with it, the stroller is eligible fitness equipment and work paid for half.  The fact that work paid for half and it is a really nice stroller that will last forever made it worth it.  I look at it as an investment that we got a great deal on, rather than an expense.  Some of you will thing it is stupid to spend that much, but $365 for a top of the line stroller that will last us 5-7 years isn't really that expensive.  




Overall, we stayed pretty close to our budget and made good progress.  It wasn't flashy, but it doesn't need to be.   Any month you manage your expenses and triple your minimum payment on your loans is a good month.  
  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why I paid Verizon $160 to break my contract

Look at all the suckers. I mean customers
I used to be one of Verizon's most loyal customers.  I had service with them for about 9 or 10 years and I didn't leave when AT&T got the iPhone.  Verizon used to have the best phones, the best service, good customer service, and reasonable prices.  However, since smart phones have become more popular the carriers have been offering less and charging more.  It's annoying.  The days of Verizon and AT&T being the only viable cell phone carriers are over.  Low budget carriers, such as Boost Mobile or Cricket Wireless, have typically been viewed as inferior and for poor people.  I generally would have agreed because of their sucky phone selections and lame service.  With that said, Verizon's business model of charging more and giving the customer less has become too irritating and better options are now available.  You can easily buy unlocked phones and service plans without contract.  We are switching to Straight Talk and here is why:

History
At one point we had a Friends and Family plan with 700 minutes, unlimited texting, and two unlimited data plans.  The total cost was just under $140 a month AND that was after the 20% discount I received through work.  $140 was our second highest monthly bill, which is annoying.  I have a work smart phone, so I didn't really need 2 smart phones.  I decided to drop my personal smartphone and switched to a legit slider phone that I used for calls and texts.  That reduced our monthly bill by $30 to about $110 a month.  Since I changed my plan, I lost my ability to ever get unlimited data again.  About 6 months later my contract ended and I decided to port my number to Google Voice.  This allowed me to route my personal number to my work phone and call and text from my work phone.  Texting is free with Google Voice too.  My plan was to keep my wife on Verizon, but get rid of the costly Friends and Family plan.  I was hoping to reduce our monthly bill to around $70, but that was a pipe dream.  I called to change my wife's plan to 450 minutes, 2 GB of data, and unlimited texting.  Our monthly bill dropped to $90 a month, which is not much of a savings.  450 minutes is weak.  Since we were changing our plan, we were forced to drop to 2 GB of data.  Here's the kicker:  2 GB data costs the same as unlimited data.  I don't even remember what texting costs, but it should be free.  There are 100's of apps that let you text for free anyway.  Verizon wasn't done yet, they had one more trick up their sleeve.  The first month after the plan changes started our bill was going to be $125 and then drop down to $90 going forward.  Verizon managed to make me pay more the first month and give me half the service I had before and barely reduce my monthly payment ($90 from $107).  Well Done!

Dilemma
The termination fee on our contract is $160 and we are stuck until June.  However, Straight Talk offers $45 unlimited everything (minutes, data, and texting) on T-mobile's network.  T-mobile's network works great in our area.  You just have to use an unlocked phone, which we already have.  Should I stay with Verizon or switch to Straight Talk?

Cost to stay on Verizon

$124 for the first month and $90 for the next 3 months until our contract ends in June.

Total Cost: $394 until the of our contract

Cost to switch to Straight Talk

$160 early termination fee, $15 sim card, and $45 for 4 months

Total Cost:  $355

Summary
The total savings is only about $40, but that doesn't consider we get unlimited data and no contract.  The savings over a 4 month period isn't that large, but lets play out a scenario over a 2 year contract.

Verizon
Price of Smartphone:  $200
2 Year contract Service Fees: $2,400 (24 months x $100 a month)

Total Cost of Contract:  $2,600

Straight Talk
Unlocked Iphone $600
2 Year Service Fee (no contract): $1080 (24 months x $45 a month)

Total Cost of Service:  $1680

Total Straight Talk Savings compared to Verizon:  $920!

That is a rather large savings for a 2 year period.  This is a high level analysis, but just gives you an idea of how much you could be saving.  You also don't have to buy an unlocked iPhone, which is probably the most expensive unlocked phone on the market.  The Google Nexus 4 is only $300 unlocked or you could buy one off Craigslist for cheaper.  Over a 4 month period it was worth it for us to pay Verizon to terminate our contract and it most likely is worth it for you to terminate your contract.  The average student loan payback period is 10 years.  If you saved an average of $1,000 every two years, over that 10 year period you would have pulled $5,000 out of thin air.  You would get unlimited service, good coverage, NO CONTRACT, and big savings.  The biggest hurdle for people is buying an unlocked cell phone.  You do have to pay a larger investment upfront, but you get that money back on the back end.  I won't go as far to say Verizon will be out business in the next ten years, but if they do not change their business model they will no longer be a dominant player in the industry.

Monday, January 28, 2013

How I easily saved at least $10,000 ... over the rest of my life

Nailed it.
We bought a set of clippers!  I have the most basic haircut in the world.  Every month I would get at least 1 or 2 haircuts at $20 a pop.  I often went to the low rent Hair Cuttery and just had some random foreign lady cut my hair.  They often did an ordinary job, but were convenient.  In our ongoing effort to cut expenses, save money, and build wealth I've decided to quit paying for mediocre haircuts and give myself mediocre haircuts for free.  We bought a set of Wahl clippers from Target for $40 bucks.  I've already cut my hair my hair twice this month, so the clippers have  paid for themselves.  The first haircut I took off a sideburn, but all in all it wasn't too bad.  The second haircut I hit my stride and gave myself a solid haircut.  My wife even helps me edge up the back.  I will cut my hair more often and always be looking fresh.

Savings (doesn't include any increases in prices and assumes I'm going to be cutting my own hair into my late 60's)

1 Hair cut a month for the next 40 years 

Total Savings: $9,600 ($20 x 12 months x 40 years)

2 cuts a month for the next 40 years

Total Savings:  $19,200 ($40 x 12 months x 40 years)

Although it will take 40 years to fully realize this savings, I would rather take my family on 2-4 really nice vacations over that period than pay some low rent barber shop $20 to $40 dollars for the rest of my life.  That money could also be used to cover 6 moths to a year worth of expenses in retirement.  This is an easy decision for me.  Cut my own hair.  Building wealth over a life time is possible for anyone.  It just takes sacrifice, time and discipline.  
     

Monday, January 7, 2013

December 2012 Results

Fiscal Cliff?  What Fiscal Cliff?
I'll admit it. I have been neglecting the blog.  It hasn't been my intention, but I just haven't had time or made time.  I am in the middle of an extremely busy time at work and the baby is due this month.  It is hard for me to blog after working long hours or getting stuff ready for the baby, but I am not going to have another month like November (only 1 post).  Although we haven't been blogging, we still haven't wavered on making progress towards our goal.  We didn't spend any money on Christmas and we are still making steady progress towards becoming debt free.  We didn't do any Craigslisting, which is a drag.  We need to stay to course and it will be over before we know it.  I'm even considering throwing a large blow out Debt Free Party when we are finished.  I've heard more and more people are having them these days.  Also, what better way to celebrate being debt free than with friends and family?    Check December 2012:











Results Snapshot







Detailed Results


Total Income:  $8,160

Paychecks:  $7,645
Pretty standard month.  No additional income this month.

Craiglist/Ebay:  $0
New Lowest Month.  No sales.  We just don't have anytime.  I do have some items that can be sold, but haven't really had the time to sell them.  I should start having time again in May, but we will probably be debt free by then.  

Credit Card Rewards:  $515
We have two credit cards (one American Express and one Mastercard) that we use to pay for most of our expenses.  This helps us better track expenses, manage cash flow, manage consumer risk, and earn rewards.  We typically pay off our credit balance every month.  This month I did not pay it in full and put a few hundred extra towards our loans.  I will pay off the balances after we get paid in January, but for the most part we never carry a balance more than 2 weeks.  Our credit cards have cash back rewards and at the end of each year, those rewards are credited to our account.  Not a bad deal for using other people's money.  We have been able to use our credit cards wisely and have been fortunate enough to live comfortably without running up our credit card bills.  This isn't the case for everyone.  If you continually run up a balance on your credit card and can't pay it back at the end of the month, I would highly recommend you cancel the card. Credit cards are a luxury, but can quickly become a burden.  Tread lightly.

Total Expenses:  $8,403
Our total income was slightly lower than our total expenses.  This was due to the decision to make a larger student loan payment and pay the credit card off early in Jan.  

Sallie Mae:  $4,730
I'm still shooting for $5,000 each month and falling a little short.  It is hard to hit that mark without extra Craigslist money, but we are trending upward (Nov: $4,300 and Dec: $4,700).  Making $4K+ payments a month is getting tiring.  It sucks watching that money go up in smoke.  Sometimes I think about what I could be spending that on (Killer loft, Lambo, sick vacations), but that is counter productive.  It will be nice watching my savings or investment accounts go up by $4K each month after this is done.    

Rent:  $1,565
Standard.  Not changing.  However, we are having a baby this month and live in a one bedroom apartment.  Our lease is month to month and we can bail with 2 months notice.  We are most likely moving this summer to a bigger place.  We will hopefully be debt free by then and we will have a lot more flexibility.  Even if we had a bigger house now, the baby would most likely be sleeping in our room for the first few months anyway.  Might as well enjoy cheap rent, while we can.  

Tithe:  $700
I don't really care what your religious beliefs or values are, but it is important to have them and live your life by them.  Also, your life circumstances should not dictate your values.  Live your life according to what is important to you.  Standard monthly expense.  

Cable, Internet, Cell:  $162
Dropped $8 because we cancelled Netflix.  More changes to come.  At the end of December I cancelled my cell line.  I am going to use my work phone.  Also, I'm cancelling Hulu Plus this month.  We were gifted Amazon Prime for Christmas by a family member.  After looking over the TV/Movie selection, we decided Hulu Plus wasn't necessary anymore.  All the benefits probably won't fully be seen for 2 months, but I think our cable, internet, and cell service will drop to around $100 a month.     

Gasoline:  $224
We drove to the Outer Banks for a few days to spend time with family during the holidays.  Goal for January: $100.  No exceptions.

Automotive:  $59
Oil change.  Failed Inspection.  The car needs some work, but still cruising strong.   

Groceries:  $149
Great month.  Our expenses seem to be swinging.  One month way over budget, the next way under.

Household:  $91
Trips to Target.  Cleaning supplies, toiletries, medicine, etc. Under budget.  

Eating Out:  $186
Under budget.  I would like to see this go to $50 or below.    

Entertainment:  $1
I bought an Ipad app.  I can't remember which one I bought, but it was probably lame.  

Clothing:  $125
Maternity clothes and shoes. 

Gifts:  $54
My wife had to buy some gifts for people at work.  

Personal Care:  $40
Sonogram visit. 

Misc:  $317
Slightly overbudget.

Insurance ($71) - Life insurance premiums.

Google Voice ($20) - I ported my number to google voice.  This is a one time fee, but now I'm no longer chained to Verizon and I get to keep my number.  

Home Depot ($34) - I bought some supplies to work on a few pieces of furniture.

Ezpass ($105) - Automatic charge for using Ezpass when we get a low balance.  This has been able to last us 5-6 months.  Just happen to hit this month.  

Cleaners ($85) - Dry cleaners expense is back to normal.  I think it is time to start testing washing and ironing at home.    


Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

November Rain: Results

I've been working on my bicep
This was a decent month.  Wasn't great.  Wasn't horrible.  We navigated a vacation, a holiday, and expensive insurance premiums.  We are still focused on our goal and are willing to take the necessary steps to pay off our debt as fast as possible.  I have to keep our progress somewhat in perspective.  We paid another $4,307 towards our loans and I do not feel very satisfied.  That is a great month by all accounts, but we can do better. Work, travel, and the holidays have hindered our Craigslist activity.  I haven't had the availability to spend time making deals, but I just want to be out of student debt and have this behind us.  I look back on our progress to date with mixed emotions.  On one hand, "Wow! we've paid over $50K in 5 months."   On the other hand I find myself thinking, "We'd be so much further ahead in life if we didn't have this debt."  Oh well, I brush those feelings aside and focus on the goal.  I'm learning a lot and have to keep life in perspective.  It's not all about money and I shouldn't spend time worrying about it.  I doubt at the end of my life will I be thinking, "If we didn't have $110K in student loan debt when we got married, our lives would have been sooo much better."  The hard truth is that for many people their student loan debt will never go away.  It will be a burden that they carry for their entire lives.  I am thankful we have the means to pay ours back, but I know of people who honestly will probably never pay their debt back in their lifetime.  It is a sad truth and something to keep in mind.  Pro Tip:  Never go to a for profit school.  I don't care how good it sounds.

We are having a baby next month and that is going to require all of our attention.  We are so pumped and ready for the arrival at this point.  We have had 2 baby showers to date and have 1 more to go.  We have received most of what we need and also received hundreds of dollars in gift cards to fill the gaps.  This is a huge blessing.  We are about to enter a new and crazy stage of life.  I can't fully comprehend all the ways our life will change, but I can tell it is going to be for the better.  Just a year ago I couldn't of imagined having a baby and now I can't wait.  Don't worry.  I freaking hate when people over share about their kids.  Other people's kids are pretty annoying.  This blog will not turn into a blog about our baby.  The baby will definitely influence our spending, but this isn't going to become a blog about the pros and cons of breast feeding.  Now for the results:

Results Snapshot
  










Detailed Results

Total Income:  $10,003 

Paychecks:  $9,962
We had a solid month.  I was paid three times and received a $500 bonus that wasn't expected.  My wife also received an extra $500 for work she does with an after school program.  

Craiglist/Ebay:  $41
Lowest month yet.  I sold some sunglasses on Ebay.  I swore off Ebay last month, but gave it a second chance. I used it to sell some sunglasses that I never wear.  I've been trying to unlock value of items that are just sitting around my house collecting dust and it worked well with the sunglasses.  This past month I had no time to do any Craigslist deals.  We had a week long vacation, Thanksgiving week, and I traveled for a week for work.  Other than the first few days of the month, there wasn't a lot time to make any deals.  The outlook isn't much better going forward.  My job is really starting to ramp up and we are expecting a baby next month.  I've found that Craigslist activity dries up around holidays, so I'm not expecting a lot of deals around Christmas and New Years.  We will see, but our payments to Sallie Mae took a hit without Craigslist sales.  

Total Expenses:  $8,647
Our total income was $10,003, but our total expenses were $8,647. No increases in our saving or investments.  Where's the rest of the money going and why aren't you paying an extra $1,500 towards student loans?  That money is currently sitting in our checking account and is being used for December's rent.  Due to the timing of our paychecks, we had to use 1 of our last paychecks received in November for December's rent.  

Sallie Mae:  $4,307
$4,307 is lower than I would like.  I want to hit at least $5,000 every month, but considering we had no Craigslist sales, a vacation, and $540 in insurance premiums I don't think it was a bad month.  

Rent:  $1,565
Standard.  Not changing.

Tithe:  $700
Standard.  Not changing.

Cable, Internet, Cell:  $170
Consistent. Last month I considered dropping Netflix.  This month I followed through.  No more Netflix (starting in December).  This isn't a huge cost savings, but we weren't really using Netflix enough.  Therefore, it had to go.  I tweeted from our account @MWSLBlog about looking for ways to cut our internet expenses.  Most of the responses I received related to using the neighbors' or going to coffee shops.  I am still considering dropping internet and being more intentional about doing things other than surfing the web or streaming videos. Stay tuned.   

Gasoline:  $130
We went slightly over budget, but still decent.  I don't think we've hit $100 yet.  Maybe that was a little aggressive,  but we are still striving for it.  


Automotive:  $0
My car needs an oil change next month, but I love months where I don't spend anything on our cars. 

Groceries:  $313
We did okay this month.  We spent $78 on additionally groceries while down at Disney.  Subtract that from our expenses and we are pretty close to budget.  Sign up for just for u from Safeway, if you haven't already.  You won't be disappointed   We consistently save 30% more on our groceries now.  You save money and you don't have to be one of those weirdos from Extreme Couponing.    

Household:  $94
Trips to Target.  Cleaning supplies, toiletries, medicine, etc. Under budget.  

Eating Out:  $232
First month in a while that we went over budget.  I blame Walt Disney.  

Entertainment:  $280
We would have been within budget, but $180 on Disney tickets really crushed us.  I'm considering this a unique one time expense and moving on.  

Clothing:  $71
New jacket.

Gifts:  $0
Trying to keep this at zero again this month.  Since we aren't giving gifts at Christmas.  

Personal Care:  $45
$20 haircut and $25 copay for a Dr's visit.

Misc:  $739

Insurance ($71) - Life insurance premiums.

More Insurance ($530) - Six month of Auto and Renter insurance premiums.

Ticket ($95) - The badass truck is so badass it doesn't need a state inspection sticker.  This drew some heat from a hater (cop).  He gave me a $30 ticket.  I go on with my day, not caring about a $30 ticket.   Well that $30 ticket had $65 in court fees to go with it.  Sucks.
  
Stylus ($8) - Bought a stylus for my iPad.  I have been more and more dependent on my iPad over the years.  I've started writing a lot more on it and bought a stylus.  Note:  Work bought my iPad as a gift a few years back.  I wouldn't spend that much on one for myself.  

Cab ($25) - Our flight home from Florida was cancelled.  We originally had a ride lined up, but due to changes in our flight we had to cab home.  Cost us $25 bucks, but that is life.  

Cleaners ($34) - We still had dry cleaning, but anytime dry cleaning is below $50 for a month it is a good month.  

I can't seem to blog consistently twice a week for a whole month.  I have a number of posts in the hopper and hope to be releasing a lot more in the coming months.  Thanks for reading.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The average American family will spend $854 on Christmas this year.  This figure is from a study by the American Research Group and is probably on the low end for the average Northern VA family.  The cost and expectations surrounding Christmas seem to have gotten out of control.  All you have to do is take a couple of minutes searching Youtube for maniacs on Black Friday to understand.  We have decided to take a radical approach to Christmas this year.  Spend zero dollars.  Before we dive into why and how take a minute and watch a solid 2012 Black Friday clip from your neighborhood Walmart:





As we continue to look for ways to eliminate all student debt as fast as we can, Christmas poses an interesting opportunity due to the amount of money we would most likely spend.  Our number one financial goal is to be debt free.  The main reason this is our goal is because we have a baby on the way and if we did not have the $1K/month loan payment we would have the flexibility for my wife stay home full time.  We won't be living the high life, but we will be able to manage on one income.  With this goal in mind, we have decided to not spend any money on Christmas.  Our budget for Christmas expenses is $0.  We will accomplish this simply by cutting out Christmas related expenses.  No tree.  No gifts for each other. No gifts for family members.  My wife is pretty creative, so we still plan to make a few gifts.  However, we have most of the materials needed already and we are going to use gift cards for the remaining costs (Less than $20).  This decision brought up many different feelings.  This will be the last Christmas before the baby makes the arrival and there is no chance that we are going to skip Christmas with a kid.  This was the perfect time to cancel Christmas and we are going to go for it.  This will hopefully free up the $854 that we would have spent to be put towards Sallie Mae.  Through our decision, we came to realize a few important things about Christmas:

1.  Christmas is about the birth of Christ
It is a holiday to remember the birth of our Savior Jesus.  That is ultimately what is Christmas is about and the reason we celebrate.  Christmas has been high jacked by the retail world to be a holiday about spending money.  If you celebrate Christmas and Jesus isn't at the center, well then you actually don't really celebrate Christmas.  You put up a tree and exchange gifts, but miss the basis for the holiday. You can easily end up celebrating a made up cultural holiday developed by marketers.

2.  Christmas is also about spending time with family   
We are still going to enjoy time with family and rest from work.  We have been upfront with our families and they are on board with our year off from Christmas.  No one seemed offended or annoyed.  We are going to spend the same amount of time with both sides of our family and focus on developing relationships, instead of spending money.

We love Christmas and the spirit of the holiday season, but this year we are going to enjoy it without spending any money.  It won't be easy, but will help us get closer to our goal.  This is our highest priority right now and more important than exchanging gifts.  We don't think everyone in our situation should take our approach, but we do think Christmas should be kept in perspective.  The best approach to buying great gifts without breaking the bank is to plan ahead.  I know this blog post is coming a little late, but it is important to save ahead for Christmas and plan for the additional costs.  Planning gives you more time to save and allows you think of better gifts.  Also, you can search for the best deals and better prices.  Merry Christmas.