‘I blurted out, ‘Hey! Let’s leave our waitress a $50 tip!?’ The times we have nothing to give are the exact moments we need to.’: Couple erase $54,000 mountain of debt, give back to others for holiday season

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“The pit in my stomach was always there. Every day. It was there on the good days and it was stronger on the bad. In fact, it was hard to remember back to a day when it wasn’t there. The pit in my stomach was a constant reminder of my less-than-desirable relationship with money.

This feeling was birthed during childhood when it became clear I didn’t have what the other kids had. It was nurtured throughout my parents’ arduous divorce as I watched each party struggle to provide, and it was solidified during my late teens and early adulthood when I was the only one of 6 college roommates who had to work and pay their own rent.

The lack of money was a constant throughout every stage of my life. By the time I met my future husband, neither of us had two dimes to rub together. Not because we didn’t make any money – in fact, we both earned an average salary, had great benefits, and paid low rent.

We got engaged quickly and immediately began saving for the wedding, so financial pressure mounted from the beginning. After the wedding, we purchased our first home at a very reasonable price. We both drove leased vehicles, I had student loans, and we both had one credit card with a balance. Our mortgage was very affordable, our home was modest, our vehicles were average, yet we never seemed to have any money. Once our first baby came, the financial stress increased exponentially. My heart ached to be a stay-at-home mom, but that simply wasn’t possible. We lived paycheck to paycheck. Always robbing Peter to pay Paul (as my father used to say) perpetuated my lack of financial stability.

As we rode the waves of marriage over the years, our money woes remained the consistent underlying factor in most arguments. Each new year our resolution was to regain control of our finances, yet each year we failed to do so. Despite eventually earning more money, we would inevitably succumb to lifestyle creep which would quickly eat up any margin we had created in our budget. The stress of money – that pit in my stomach – grew bigger and bigger each year. We would work hard to pay off a credit card then have an emergency (or a non-emergency like Christmas) and we would charge it right back up again, and eventually, we hit rock bottom…

Courtesy of Kristin Stones

Around the same time, we happened to see a news story about a couple leaving a $100 tip for a waitress around the holidays. We both made mention of how cool it would be to be able to do that for someone, someday. I don’t think I said it out loud, but I remember thinking we could barely afford to go out to eat, let alone leave a tip like that. This story stuck with us both for years to come. Here and there we’d casually mention it when paying for a meal. We’d dream for a minute or two about what it would be like to be those types of people. The type of people who could give so generously without having to worry if we could pay our bills that month without that money.

We loved giving and always helped when we could, but never to the degree in which our hearts desired; that would have to wait until we had more money. One day, I was checking out the website of a local church I had wanted to visit for some time and noticed they were holding an upcoming session of a popular financial class, and I immediately knew this was an answer to my prayers. I asked my husband if he would be interested in attending the classes with me. It was one class per week for 9 weeks. Much to my surprise, he agreed and we registered for the class.

While my husband agreed to come along, I knew he didn’t really want to be there. He was going for me because I had asked him, not because he actually thought it would make a difference. Besides, we had tried to fix our finances so many times before. We had made a plan so many times before, why would this time be any different?

We went to the class and he sat down stiffly, arms crossed over his chest. As the instructor began the video my husband stared at the screen with a blank look on his face, his eyes glazed over. I think I looked at my husband about as much as I looked at the screen, worried he was hating every minute of this and wouldn’t want to come back. Then I noticed something. His demeanor was softening slightly. He was no longer sitting so rigidly. He was beginning to relax. He was actually paying attention and eventually he reluctantly cracked a smile!

I think I finally exhaled when I saw that half-crooked smile and immediately it put me at ease. We were going to be okay, but we had a lot of work ahead of us. When class was over, we came bursting out of those doors, grinning from ear to ear, excitedly chatting about our next steps and making plans to change our lives. We were filled with an emotion neither of us had felt in a very long time. We were filled with hope.

We sat down that week and realized we had a total of $54,500 of debt, not including our mortgage. We attended the rest of the classes, created a monthly budget and began to execute our plan for getting out of debt. We knew we had a lot of work ahead of us, but we also knew that quitting wasn’t an option. Our old habits of managing money had put us here. They had robbed us of a peaceful marriage and had filled our lives with worry and fear.

Courtesy of Kristin Stones

We wanted to be the type of people who lived debt-free. The type of people who saved and paid cash for things we wanted. The type of people who didn’t indulge themselves every time they thought they ‘deserved’ a reward for their hard work. The type of people who gave freely and lovingly any time they felt the pull in their hearts. The type of people who could bless a random server at a restaurant around the holidays without thinking twice.

Finally working together as a team with a common goal, we paid off that $54,500 in under 20 months and became debt-free (except for our mortgage). Only we became so much more than that.

During those 20 months, we received many blessings along the way. We were constantly amazed at how God was working and moving in our lives and our finances. Something funny happened when we began to be intentional with our money. It’s hard to describe, but I could feel our hearts changing, I could feel our marriage changing. We gave more to our church than ever before. We began saying ‘yes’ more often when people asked for donations. We began a monthly sponsorship of a child in another country. And we often spoke of different ways we could give as our financial situation continued to improve over time.

I was so moved by the changes happening in our lives and I felt called to use this experience to help others in some way. I started a blog sharing our personal financial experiences with the hopes of inspiring and empowering other women to change their lives and improve their finances. I created free resources to help them learn how to live on a budget, save money and pay off debt. Eventually, I started a YouTube channel to accompany my website where I post videos each week sharing many of the lessons we have learned along the way.

We continue to work on our finances every day. We are not perfect. We still make mistakes every month. We have continued to give even though we are still far from reaching our personal financial goals. Through this experience, we have learned you reap what you sow. We have learned that the key to living a rich life is actually to give your riches away with an open hand rather than holding them with a closed fist.

A few weeks ago in a video I filmed for my YouTube channel I was discussing the various ways my family was giving to others this holiday season. I mentioned that we had budgeted an extra $100 for December for ‘spontaneous giving’ and our plan was originally to go out to eat and leave a $100 tip for our server. We then decided to split that and leave a $50 tip so we would have $50 remaining for more spontaneous giving!

Last week after Christmas shopping for a few hours, my husband and I stopped for an unplanned lunch at a local restaurant. When it was almost time to request our check I blurted out, ‘Hey! Let’s leave our waitress a $50 tip!?’ My husband quickly agreed!

We got the almost $30 bill for our meal and left $80.00 cash on the table and wrote ‘Merry Christmas’ on the receipt. I snapped a quick pic on my phone and we ran out of the restaurant before the server got to the table!

Courtesy of Kristin Stones

We didn’t want or need a thank you from her because if I’m being honest, we probably did it more for ourselves than for her. You see, I used to think that we couldn’t really help others until we help ourselves, financially speaking. But here’s what I now know – if we wanted to help ourselves, we needed to help others.

I believe there are no altruistic deeds. I believe that leaving that $50.00 tip actually did more for me and my husband than it probably did for that waitress. I sure hope it was a pleasant surprise and put a smile on her face, but it certainly wouldn’t be life-changing for her.

But it was life-changing for me. We had finally become ‘those type of people.’ The type of people that were able to do something nice for someone else without first checking to see if we could afford it. The type of people who know if we want to live a blessed life we must bless others. The type of people who are incredibly grateful to have recognized and seized the opportunity to change our lives. The type of people who are working towards living a life of financial independence. A life that will allow us to give $50 or $100 tips throughout the year and not just around the holidays.

The times when we believe we have nothing to give are the exact moments we need to give. I once heard something that stuck with me. We can give our time, our talents or our treasure. We can give one or all three. If you truly have no money to spare, give your time. If you are truly too busy to volunteer, give your treasure. The time to give is NOW. Now, when you don’t have enough. Now, when you feel hopeless. Now, when you feel tired and scared. It will do more for the giver than the receiver. It will change you. The holiday season can be a very dark and lonely time of year for so many and offers countless opportunities to shine your light!”

Courtesy of Kristin Stones

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristin Stones. You can follow Kristin on Instagram, Youtube, and her Website. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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