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Before I started on my debt free journey, the holidays were always a stressful time for me financially. Between traveling, buying gifts, and prepping for holiday gatherings, I always felt stretched to my limit (and just a tiny bit relieved when it was all over). Like many of you, I absolutely love this time of year – but my wallet did not.
Determined not to put myself in the same situation this year, I decided to make a change. I knew I wanted to save early and often so that I was prepared this year, but wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. Luckily, a fellow blogger was hosting a challenge and it was exactly what I was looking for – so I dove in head first, and here’s how it went!
Being a part of the blogging community, and more specifically the financial literacy community, means that I have come across a number of truly fantastic blogs with various strategies for managing your money. One such blog is “Your Financial Stylist”, created by Carrie Pink (who I absolutely adore), and this year she hosted an 8 Week Holiday Savings Challenge. This was exactly what I was looking for – something simple, feasible, and with an added level of accountability – so I signed up!
The premise was simple; commit to saving between $25-$100 per week, and post a picture in the accountability group on Facebook each week to prove that you did it. Some people posted pictures of their cash envelopes, others took screen shots of their bank transfers, but all of us checked in once a week to keep each other accountable.
In addition to the proof of savings, Carrie also provided us with emails and a chart to track our progress. I took it upon myself to create my own goal tracker for the challenge and sent it over to Carrie, and she was kind enough to distribute it at the beginning of the challenge – it was so cool to see other people using my goal tracker to show their progress!
Before starting this challenge, I had to consider how much I would need to set aside and what was feasible for me. Since I had some other factors to consider (like a job change and some house repairs that were ongoing), I decided on $50/week for a grand total of $400. Next year I may decide to do more, but this seemed like a healthy goal and one that I could manage, so I set it in stone and started budgeting.
This part was a bit of a challenge in itself, since up until now I’d really only managed my budget on a monthly basis; looking at things weekly was actually eye opening for me, since some weeks are loaded with bills and payments and others are practically free of them. I looked at my pay schedule, my other commitments, and what I could cut back on, and set up my budget week by week to make this happen.
For anyone that struggles with budgeting, I can’t recommend enough listing all of your payments and expenses in one place. Being the Excel nerd that I am, I have my monthly payments listed out in spreadsheets, so it was really a matter of looking at the timing. I had to take into account a different pay cycle with my job change, but was able to budget for these transfers to saving so that I knew I wasn’t letting anything fall through the cracks.
Using my own goal tracker was one of my favorite parts of this challenge, but seeing other people use it as well was so rewarding. I started off this challenge thinking that maybe I was the only one that saw value in this thing, but it turned out that plenty of other people enjoyed it as well, and I got great feedback about how simple it was to use. It also turns out that I’m not the only one that is motivated by being able to color it in; sometimes it’s the simple things in life!
To see my progress each week, check out my accountability posts below – I posted these in the Facebook group weekly as proof that I had made my transfers, and it was so encouraging to see everyone post their proof as well; we were all in it together!
Using my goal tracker was a huge highlight for me and I am so excited to share it with others – I make these for tracking your savings, your credit card payments, and even for tracking your student loan payment progress. You can get yours free by subscribing to Common Cents – grab yours today!
While it felt like a slow start at the beginning, by the time we hit week 4 I couldn’t believe we were already halfway through. Checking in each Monday started to feel like a part of my normal routine, and before I knew it we were done! I had $400 sitting in my savings to cash-flow Christmas, and I hadn’t missed that money at all thanks to budgeting before-hand.
What surprised me most about this challenge was the sense of camaraderie I got from the accountability group – everyone was so encouraging, but it was also humanizing to see everyone admit their faults (i.e. I slipped up last week, but made up for it this week). Seeing other people stumble and get back up was something I didn’t know I needed; sometimes in the world of debt-free blogging you feel like everyone else has it figured out, but it’s a good reminder that we’re all human.
The challenge started at the beginning of October and ran until the week of Thanksgiving, so that we all had reached our savings goal in time for Black Friday. I didn’t even participate in Black Friday shopping this year, but having that money set aside meant that this time around, the holidays are far less stressful for me. I’m enjoying buying gifts this year and knowing that I’m spending money that was set aside for exactly that purpose – if you need some great gift recommendations, check out my favorite gifts under $40 here!
Being a part of the blogging community has changed my perspective on doing things on my own; I used to feel somewhat alone on this debt free journey, but being a part of a challenge like this has reminded me that so many people share my same struggles. I’m also reminded that this journey is about progress over perfection, and am encouraged by the real people out there making sacrifices to live a better life.
I’m excited to incorporate some of the things I learned during this challenge into my life; budgeting on a weekly basis instead of monthly was such a huge help for me, and tracking my progress with others kept me accountable. Breaking down large goals into smaller, more manageable ones is a great way to boost your confidence along the way, and I encourage anyone feeling stuck to do just that – and grab yourself a free goal tracker while you’re at it!