Let me tell you a story. It's the story of our disheveled, little Christmas tree. It's a story of making choices, learning to go without, and sacrificing even during the holidays.
First, let me take you back a few years...
Christmas 2015 was approaching and it was going to be our first Christmas as a married couple, as well as our oldest daughter's first Christmas. A special year indeed and we were excited to celebrate!
Now, let me give you just a little more of the story. At this point we were already 11 months into our journey to become debt free. My husband was working far beyond full-time hours as a paramedic bringing home about $40,000 per year and our budget was extremely tight as we navigated paying off $97,000 worth of debt.
As much as we wanted to make this Christmas of firsts memorable, we also had our sights set on a more long-term goal - a goal of being debt free - a goal that would bring a more secure financial future for our family and the opportunity to give generously for years to come.
Having our sights set on that goal, we had to accept the reality: this Christmas would be special, but it would need to be simple.
I found a used Christmas tree on a local Facebook sale page. It was a scrawny, little 4-foot tree that I purchased for $5. We bought two strings of lights and up went our little tree.
I remember being disappointed by our little Christmas tree. I had grown up with a rather large Christmas tree and that was the dream I desperately wanted to recreate for my family. I clearly remember Logan recognizing my state of disappointment and reassuring me that the next year we would have a big tree.
Well, let's fast forward another year...
Christmas 2016 was approaching. It had been another crazy year for our family. Logan had finished his MBA and with that had made a job change that (coupled with my at-home business) led to a yearly household income of $65,000. We had also welcomed our second daughter.
However, we were just 3 months from finishing our debt-free journey! We were cutting costs like crazy! This included selling everything we didn't need (my Grandma asked if the kids were safe or if she needed worry that they might be sold), picking up every extra shift and side job we could, and living on just 15% of our income. There wasn't a penny to spare and we weren't about to jeopardize our goal of finishing by March 1.
So, Christmas 2016, we once again put up our little Christmas tree.
This year, however, we encountered a dilemma - one of our strands of colored lights had broken. Remember, we were squeezing every penny out of our budget to pay off our debt. So, instead of buying a new set of lights, we grabbed a set of white lights (with white wire) from the closet and put them on the tree.
Now it really was a disheveled, little, mismatched tree. It was scrawny, covered in half colored lights and half white lights with white wire. I honestly think it was more of an eye sore than a Christmas tree, but it was ours. It held our ornaments and our memories, and that's what mattered.
Even in the contentment that it was 'ours,' I still remember looking at that tree with a solid determination in our hearts and minds that next Christmas there would be a big tree.
Another year and more adventures...
March 1, 2017 we completed our debt-free journey having paid off almost $97,000 in just 26 months. We couldn't have been more excited! (Side note: at this point, we had NO idea of all that this year would bring.)
You see, it was during 2017 that Logan lost his job (the one that had led to a pay raise and had allowed him to be home more with our family, thanks to more normal job hours). 2017 was also the year that, after being hit with a job loss, we finally began to heed to the calling for Logan to attend law school. Being free from massive monthly debt payments, we were working diligently to finish renovating the basement of our home, knowing that we would need to be able to sell our home and have as much in savings as we possibly could before we moved for law school.
And so, when Christmas 2017 rolled around (the Christmas we were certain we would finally have a big tree), with every spare penny going towards building our savings and cash flowing renovations, we once again put up that little 4-foot-tall $5 garage sale tree.
Fast forward one more year and the adventures haven't ceased...
Selling our home, moving to a new city, changing jobs, starting law school for Logan, and awaiting the arrival of Baby Caldwell #3 has made for an interesting year! But what an amazing year.
We have witnessed the rewards of being diligent with our finances...being able to trust in the uncertainty and follow a calling. We have continued to use all of the skills we gained during our debt-free journey, making lifestyle choices that will allow us to cash flow the next 2.5 years of law school. And we have been blessed by the each of sacrifices we have made and the lessons we have learned along the way.
And that scrawny, little Christmas tree, it was a part of our story.
This year, however, we finally have a big Christmas tree. And this new, big tree is even more special than it would have been that very first Christmas we celebrated in 2015. You see, this big tree is a reminder of our journey - a reminder of the choices we have made, the things we have accomplished, and how our willingness to make sacrifices has led to some pretty big blessings.
For this tree we have waited and we couldn't be happier.