We will not be participating in the holiday spending frenzy this year, and truthfully… idgaf if anyone judges me for it. I really don’t.


Here’s a breakdown on how Christmas has intersected with my financial stability (and financial instability) over the last 5 years, and why we aren’t participating.


They say that a photo is worth one thousand words, and somehow my husband and I have managed to take a holiday photo every single year since we started dating in 2011.

Over the years, we’ve grown, learned, and evolved. Although my intention with each photo was different, the realization that each photo reflects where we stood financially changed my entire perception of the holidays and how it intersects with money.

Let’s hit the time capsule..



2011: Jay and I were Broke Phi Broke.


Apparently we had nothing to show off back then, so we stood in front of a blank wall. Ironically, it was the only “backdrop” worthy place in the house we were staying in.

I was a “Real Estate Agent” by profession, but wasn’t making any money because I was trying to sell homes as a brand new agent during the winter in the middle of the recession. Conversely, Jay was working at Arby’s making minimum wage and supporting the two of us on his income. In this photo, we had been together for about three months, and were about to go out to leave to visit our families for Christmas.

This year, Jay got me a stocking filled with my favorite candy, and I went in with three other family members to buy him an iPod Classic from a pawn shop for $100. The only other gift we got anyone this year was my soon-to-be born nephew, whom got a stuffed duck with a yellow blanket from Walmart that cost me a few dollars.

Our debt:

  • His starter loan to build credit: $250
  • My car: $6,000
  • My credit card: $1,500
  • My student loans: $4,000
  • My collection item: $200

Total = $11,950.

Note: I do not want to glamorize poverty with the approach of “look how happy we were when we had nothing”. Yeah, sure. We were happy. We also were struggling, rewarding ourselves with an occasional $.99 microwavable dessert that we were honored to have, and had very little sense of stability, or direction for the future. The two of us are exponentially happier now than we were back then, but nostalgia and time has a knack for smoothing out the rough edges in our memory.


2012: The first apartment days.


This photo is one of my favorites. We had finally got our own apartment, and I had recently taught Jay how to drive, so we worked and got him a car. We wore obnoxious clothes (apparently he missed that memo) and pinned up a throw blanket to a wall so we’d have a backdrop.549497_3979217647959_2077943308_n

This was the first “big” Christmas that Jay and I celebrated together. We spent a few hundred dollars on gifts for each other and our families.

For me, it was special because it was the first Christmas that Jay celebrated where not only did he have a lot of gifts to open, but he was able to give a lot to his loved ones, as well. According to my archives, this photo has a little over 50 gifts, including some that aren’t visible.

Our debt:

  • My car: $7,000
  • His car: $4,000
  • My credit card debt: $1,500
  • My student loans: $4,000

Total = $16,500

Increase from last year = $4,550


2013: The new house.


Pictured: Gizmo, the best dog. RIP 2003 – 2016.

In case you’re wondering, we had just bought a house…but had very little furniture. Rather than…oh I don’t know…BUYING FURNITURE, we filled a corner of our living room with tons of gifts for each other and our families. Priorities, apparently.

I won’t count my mortgage in my future debt figures within this post because that property is (now, as of 2018) rented out and my tenant is covering that entire home’s expenses…but for humor, the house added $130,000 of debt to our life.

In this year, my car’s transmission went out and we dropped $3,400 to replace it...via a refinance of the loan and removing all the equity out of the car, then driving around in a car that skipped 3rd gear for another month while we busted our asses at work to come up with the difference we needed to pay for the repair

A couple of weeks prior to this photo, the car that I came into the relationship with (and gave to him) blew its engine. Somehow, by sheer coincidence, we had $1,000 in our savings account and our loan balance was about $970…so we paid it off, and bought him another car.

The twisted thing about this story is that I think our savings was only there because Jay had just got his annual bonus from work, and we hadn’t had any time to spend it yet–but you know I bragged to my friends about being “mature” enough to have an emergency fund. LOL.

Not all of these gifts are ours (about half of them were contributed by a family member…we just housed the gifts), but you tell me how two men with no kids, little furniture, and an annual income of like $55,000 did this?

For reference, that was like a 6 foot tall tree and that’s about a 12 foot wide second of wall.

Our debt:

  • My car: $8,000
  • His new car: $7,000
  • My credit card debt: $1,500
  • His credit card debt: $1,000
  • My student loans: $4,000
  • The house: $130,000

Total = $21,500 (not including the house)

Increase from last year = $5,000


2014: The calm before the storm.


This photo is modest. I approve. However, this year was the year that we went into the most debt.

In 2014, I had decided to sell the car that required a new transmission in the previous year, and I bought a brand new car.

Reference: Oversized recliner. The arms are as wide as the seat, and the gifts are still wider.

Our credit card debt was beginning to explode, too. But hey, at least I had finally paid off the $1,500 credit card debt that I entered the relationship with, so #winning.

We laid pretty low in 2014, overall. The two of us hadn’t fully recognized that we had the skills to do home renovations yet, and our credit scores were barely good enough to get deep into debt–so all things considered, this was a good financial year because we had a limited capacity.

When I was digging through my photo archives trying to find the photo of that sea of gifts from 2013, I found this photo from 2014.

This photo wasn’t a photo to admire the tree, it’s a photo I posted on Facebook to stunt on my early-twenties friends who couldn’t have as many gifts as we did. That’s the truth.

Seriously, what was I trying to prove?

I guess this photo voids out the “modest” holiday photo I started with. Oops.

Our debt:

  • My car: $22,000
  • His new car: $6,000
  • My credit card debt: $0
  • His/Our credit card debt: $2,500
  • My student loans: $4,000

Total = $34,500

Increase from last year = $13,000


2015: The year of dumb-assery.


We capped 2015 off with a photo of us hiding the financial stress in our eyes with sunglasses. Okay, that’s not true, but it makes for a good headline, right?

All things considered, 2015 was a great year for us…but it was also the most foolish financial year I’ve ever lived through.

Jay and I got engaged in 2012, so we decided that 2015 was the year that we would get married. In early January when we began planning, we thought about a $10,000+ wedding like everyone else had…but there was NO way we’d ever make that much in a year to pull it off.

I haven’t admitted it to anyone, but did you know I actually made a freaking GOFUNDME to encourage people to donate towards this 10k wedding I felt entitled to having? I never published the page, but I typed out an entire description and got dangerously close to doing it. Ultimately, we decided to act our wage, not to go into any debt to pay for the wedding, and be realistic… which meant setting our budget at $2,000 for the entire wedding/reception.

In 2015, we spent thousands of dollars renovating our entire kitchen and bathroom. We built a fire-pit in the back yard, and got a credit card to pay for new living room furniture. My sister’s car died, and we sold Jay’s car to her for what we owed, and bought him a new one that cost double our payoff.

We also needed dental work, but luckily I had worked/bragged so hard about getting a great deal on my brand new car the year prior, so we used the equity out of my car to pay for the dental work. We also financed our wedding bands, because our budget allowed for about $300 for both rings–but our eyes wanted $500 per ring. So we got a 0% credit card to cover the difference. I suppose the logic was that we did “so well” with paying cash for the wedding…what was a little debt for the rings that we’d wear each day? I sound like an addict.

The firepit that we built in the spring of 2015 for about $500 (on credit) flooded on Christmas Day of 2015 because we built it in the path of storm drainage, so in the spring of 2016 we dismantled it. If you look at the landscaping of our rental house, you’ll see the stones that used to be the floor now line the flowerbeds. If you look on the deck of our new house, you’ll see the chairs that used to surround it. The fire-pit itself? We sold it online after it rusted out.

But hey, we were “mature” financially because we paid cash for our wedding, so clearly that offset every single bad mistake we made all year long and restored all financial bragging rights.

Irony, the year I spent my money in dumb ways that I didn’t even get to enjoy for very long was the same year I took a photo like Jay and I were about to drop the hottest holiday hip hop album of 2015.

[Photo cred: Eric B. & Rakim]

Our debt:

  • My car: $23,000
  • His new car: $11,000
  • My credit card debt: $0
  • His/Our credit card debt: $2,500
  • My student loans: $3,500
  • Furniture debt: $4,000
  • Wedding bands: $1,000

Total = $45,000

Increase from last year = $10,500


2016 : 911.


Hey look, we had been spending in so much excess that we took a vacation to the beach in between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In 2016, both of our elderly dogs passed away, and I had an insanely guilty thought… “man, it’s going to be a little easier around here now that we aren’t paying for their medicine.“– that’s how bad things were.

This year, the home renovations continued, as did the vacations that we took annually. By this point, our credit card was maxed out and we were not making any headway with paying it off. Jay and I were getting annual bonuses at work that were disappearing as fast as they came in because we owed money. I was borrowing money out of the account that held my mortgage payment to buy groceries, and stressing about getting the money back in there by the 1st.

We calmed down a little bit with our spending this year for a couple of reasons…

  1. We were sort of “spent out”. We had been buying so much stuff that we reached a point where we had virtually everything we wanted at the time, and we recognized that the only desire we had to buy more stuff was to fill some weird “void” we were feeling because we had bought so much new stuff every year for the last half decade.
  2. We were out of money. Yes, I could have technically got another credit card and gone further into debt. Husband could have bought that $20,000 car that we kept looking for, and I could have charged that $2,500+ trip back to Malaysia to see my family, but I always inherently sort of knew that I didn’t want a life plagued by debt…so I did take a few minor measures to avoid it.

Since we calmed down with our debt, we quickly ran out of other people’s money. The days of borrowing were coming to an end, and it was officially time to pay it back.

In October of 2016, I began my journey to becoming debt free when I realized that I was bragging to my friends/myself about paying “more than the minimum payment” on my credit card, even though I was disregarding the fact that I was paying $100 each month and charging $95 to $100 back onto that same card the following month. Even worse, I was so focused on bragging to my friends about how I paid my credit card, that I failed to recognize that I shouldn’t be proud of even HAVING credit card debt.

I got tired of borrowing my mortgage payment from myself to buy necessities. I grew weary of checking my accounts and balances every time I wanted to buy anything, and feeling excited to see that my paycheck came in for $20 more than it normally did.

More important, I became terrified. I realized that I didn’t have enough cash to afford my insurance deductibles if I got into an accident, nor did I have even $250 saved up to cover any life emergency or repair around the house. My only “emergency exit strategy” was more debt.

So I stopped, found a higher paying job, cut our spending, and decided to rethink everything I had learned about money up to this date.

Our debt:

  • My car: $19,000
  • His new car: $9,000
  • My credit card debt: $0
  • His/Our credit card debt: $5,000
  • My student loans: $2,500
  • Furniture debt: $3,000

Total = $38,500

If you didn’t keep track…here’s my debt progression, year by year:

2011: $11,950
2012: $16,500 (28% increase)
2013: $21,500 (24% increase)
2014: $34,500 (38% increase)
2015: $45,000 (24% increase)
2016: $38,500 (15% decrease)

For four straight years, we spent 2-3 times as much each year as we earned in raises over all four years… combined.

Do you see the problem, here?


2017: The year of debt freedom.


The first year our photo showed off what should have mattered in life all along. Gone are the photos of us stunting in front of dozens of gifts, and replaced with us celebrating the holidays with some of the most important people in our lives.

The year 2017 was the year that got nearly debt free. The two of us laid low, didn’t take any vacations, worked hard, and paid off debt. We sold his financed car and bought a paid-off car with cash. We didn’t do any home renovations or projects, and we cut our holiday spending back tremendously.

By December 31, 2017… we owed $1,000–which we paid off on Valentines Day of 2018. Considering one year before, we were almost $40,000 in the hole…this is the biggest victory of my 20’s.

Two things that made this Christmas extremely memorable.

  1. Jay spent the entire month of December watching every single holiday movie on Netflix. All of them. The good ones, and the bad ones. The major releases, and the independent films. I’ve never prioritized watching any holiday movie, so watching ALL of them was pretty cool. Plus, it kept us indoors and out of the stores.
  2. We took a few minutes to go out to dinner at my favorite restaurant on Christmas Day and just enjoy each other’s company. No holiday stress, no drama, no “finding the perfect” gift…just each other.


Our debt:

  • My car: $0
  • His new car: $0
  • My credit card debt: $0
  • His/Our credit card debt: $1,000
  • My student loans: $0
  • Furniture debt: $0

Total = $1,000

As a refresher, here’s our breakdown year by year.

2011: $11,950
2012: $16,500 (28% increase)
2013: $21,500 (24% increase)
2014: $34,500 (38% increase)
2015: $45,000 (24% increase)
2016: $38,500 (15% decrease)
2017: $1,000 (98% decrease)

The life I lead today is a direct consequence of our actions in 2016 and 2017. Lucky for you, it’s documented very heavily right here on this website.


2018: The year we don’t cerebrate.

A year ago, we decided to scale back on how much we planned to spend for the holidays.

Both of us are atheists, so we don’t partake for any religious reasons. Neither of us have any small children in our lives that we “must” instill with the spirit of the holidays. The two of us have everything that we want, and throughout the year if we want something, we save up and just buy it.

All of this being said, why were we acting like the only day we were allowed to spend time with loved ones or show gratitude with gifts on December 25th?


Life is short.

We decided to prioritize our loved ones this year.

Jay and I spent two weeks in Malaysia to visit the family I hadn’t seen in 16 years (and he had never met), and we paid cash. We spent a week on a cruise with most of our closest friends and enjoyed each other’s company…and we paid cash. These two trips meant everything to me, and spending time with my family in Malaysia is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…because I got to be present for the first time my mother was with all of her siblings in 20+ years, and perhaps the last time while my grandmother is still alive.

We’ve been having more one-on-one time with our friends, hosting dinner parties, and just reaching out throughout the year to catch up with each of them. Ultimately, the holidays are made special by those you choose to spend them with, and I don’t have to wait until December to recognize the people that I care about.

Another important question to ask… do you remember every gift you gave to your loved ones last year? Do you remember every gift that you received? We don’t.

I love giving gifts and surprising people with unexpected stuff, but I have to realize that as soon as they’re opened, they get filed away in the house and disappear into the abyss. Ultimately, for me, that means that giving gifts on Christmas isn’t much more than an expensive dopamine hit.

With me losing my job this summer, we’ve decided that 2018 will be the first year that we do not excessively celebrate the holidays. I am sure that we will still have a small holiday party, and Jay and I might buy a couple of small gifts…but the Man Vs Cash household is operating in “lean” mode until my income becomes more stable again, and gone are the days of the 50 gifts…possibly forever.

Sure, we’ve technically got the cash to buy gifts this year, and could probably do so without draining our savings, but spending our money on gifts when we are just breaking even is basically as reckless as drowning ourselves in debt from 2012-2017 and scraping by to buy groceries while thinking it’s okay to spend thousands on material items each December, without question.

Plus, showing up without expensive gifts doesn’t mean that I love anyone less, it means that I did not buy expensive gifts. Period.

I’m not encouraging you to drop Christmas, but rather to evaluate the reasoning and the motives behind the gifts you’re buying.


Spend time, not money.

We have 78 days until December 25th. If you saved $5 per day, each day, you’d have $400 towards gifts by Christmas.

Don’t break yourself or delay your goals to buy gifts, go into debt, cut back, or pull tons of overtime to put a gift under a tree. At the end of the day, you’ve got a finite amount of holidays alive, and even less of them to celebrate with your loved ones.

You don’t want your grandmother skipping her medication so she can afford to buy you a new television, because you and I both know that spending the holidays with her is what is most important to you. Don’t forget that notion when Halloween is over and the stores start guilting you into spending your entire paycheck on this year’s consumable item.

Give your loved ones the gift of attention. Put down your phone, put away your wallet, and ask them about their fondest memories, instead.