Ahh, Black Friday. The day retailers get to “go in the black,” i.e., become profitable for the year. And the day millions of consumers spend billions of dollars entrenching themselves in debt so they can “save” enough to get that BIG GIFT this holiday season. The gift that will show how much they love that special someone. But Black Friday is not about saving you money. You’re not saving any money when you go shopping anyway — you’re spending money. It’s about making sure retailers large and small stay profitable at your expense.
Which is fine — great even. The economy needs strong consumer spending. But the problem is for most, and for me until this very year, it means racking up additional debt. Stress-inducing debt that makes you focus on things and their cost instead of the people you love. Advertisers know what they are doing. Guilt about missing time the rest of the year is a powerful motivator to open people’s wallets. And fear that those you love won’t know you love them without the gifts is another. Both were mine for a long time. But they aren’t any longer. And they don’t have to be yours.
This year marks the first year that we have not been on the winter shopping debt treadmill. Black Friday deals didn’t matter. They weren’t even tempting this year. Neither did our credit card limits. We saved $75/month for Christmas starting in January. Then we had some surprise income from this blog and a belated incentive from SoFi for refinancing my student loans that all arrived at the same time. We thought about throwing that money at the loans we’ve been paying off aggressively (exciting news on that front, coming next month!). But we’ve been wanting to get a backyard playground for the kids for a long time, and with our savings plus the windfall, we realized we could actually afford it — in cash. And it’s a present they will enjoy for years to come. We were extremely tempted, but undecided.
Then out of the blue the two youngest kids came to me with the proposal that they would give up their Christmas presents from us (but not from the Grandparents, the savvy negotiators — ha!) if they could get a playground this year. Talk about making a dad proud! Knowing at such a young age the trade off necessary for a big purchase and choosing a big gift that they can experience over and over?! I guess they’re picking up on the frugal choices we’ve been making, and a little wisdom about happiness as well.
So we went for it. With help from my dad we managed to build it over the course of the week and one weekend. It fills my heart seeing those kids run with glee to the swings and into the clubhouse, and swinging from the monkey bars. It’s something I always wanted as a kid, and it gives me such great joy to be able to give it to my own kids.
But the best part? It’s all paid for! There was no tinge of guilt as I “paid” for it with credit card debt. No background worry about where that money would come from eventually. No months of stress as the credit card balance remained high as other surprise expenses sidetracked paying it off. None of it.
Instead, in place of all that guilt and worry, is me with a morning cup of coffee on the patio, watching the kids play, hearing them laugh, and feeling full. It’s amazing how a few smart money choices compound over a year. This little taste of debt freedom is intoxicating. I can’t wait to see how it feels when all the debt is gone. For good.