Lessons Learned While Aggressively Tackling Student Debt

The student debt repayment journey has taught me a lot about myself. Choosing to tackle it head on, difficult as it was, is the major event that I attribute my personal growth to. That’s what happens when you choose the untrodden path. The challenges help you grow. At the time, it was an act of desperation. I wanted out. The reasoning to throw all my money at the debt was that simple. Looking back, I realize it was also courageous, determined, inspiring, and powerful. But if I am being very honest, I only felt shame, sadness, and defeat at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself since then. I’ve learned that I have more power in my hands than I thought. That I can shape and mold the future to some degree. That willpower and a good community can get me there. I’ve also learned that I was naive. I knew nothing of the financial world. My viewpoint surrounding money was shaped by my narrow and negative experiences. I didn’t know that finance could be a wonderful thing. Not that scary monster I once envisioned it to be. Often, I think to myself, if only I could write to my past self and send the letter back in time. Here are lessons I’ve learned while aggressively tackling student debt.

Getting professional help is worth the spend.

As someone afraid of spending money (and accumulating debt), it was surprising that getting professional help was the first thing I did. Probably, I was too lost to know where to go. I had to turn to someone. Looking back, that professional help saved us tens of thousands of dollars. It changed the trajectory of our lives, and allowed us to live exactly as we envisioned without giving up on our debt. Why do I leave it up to the professionals? Because I can’t know, learn, and do everything. I have realized that the team I create to support me is even more important than any determination or skill I can possess. Professional help can be expensive but you’ve got to approach it from the net profit you gain. I have always recommended Travis Hornsby from The Student Loan Planner for student debt help.

Tracking things diligently is the only way to measure progress.

You can get farther when you know just where you’ve been. Paying off debt is like shaving off a few pounds. People who wish to lose weight won’t do so if they aren’t tracking calories in and calories out. Without data, you lose the control. It goes the same way with finances. It’s difficult to consistently pay down the debt each month if you don’t know how much you make and (more importantly) how much you spend. Unless what you earn is grossly more than what you spend, you will unlikely hit your aggressive monthly student debt payment every single month. We use YNAB to track all our finances. It is my favorite budgeting tool!

Constant method evaluation is key.

Unlike investing in stocks, the set-it-and-forget-it way is not an efficient tactic for aggressive debt repayment. Constant re-evaluation of my methods helped me to improve them tremendously. I continually ask myself, “How can I do this better or more efficiently?”, “Is this the best use of my time?”, “What am I missing?”, “Where am I failing?”. So many times, I have stumbled across more creative ways to approach money. I’ve run a micro-bakery, built a dog-sitting business, and created a blog space that makes passive income. I’ve also found fun ways to be frugal, and made it a game to become 1% better every day.

Understanding personality matters. Knowing your weaknesses and strengths is an advantage.

I am an Enneagram Type 1. My biggest financial weaknesses are fears of not having enough, the pull to keep up with the Jones’s, and my resistance to facing difficult times head on. My strengths are the community I’ve built around me, my creativity and curiosity around ways to be better, and my ability to do without. Even though I give up easily, I have found that the best way to get around tough times is to do without. Reduce my needs, reduce the obligations, and reduce the stress. All of this while also reducing spending. YAY! I wrote about personality types and how it relates to money here. I recommend analyzing all of your strengths and weaknesses, and then going from there.

Feeling like you’ve reached financial independence isn’t the same as reaching financial independence.

This comes to me as a double-edged sword. I felt like I reached financial independence way before I thought I would. Even though our student loan repayment has been on pause since the pandemic-relief 0% interest rate went into effect, I felt like I reached financial independence when I quit a job that I hated while my husband was also out of work. That was the moment I stopped fearing money, or lack thereof. It was also the moment I stopped being dependent on work. I used to force myself to go in when I was sick. I used to choose work over family every single time. It wasn’t healthy, but I feared being seen as less than and ultimately losing my job because of it. Times have changed since then. The younger generation is teaching me a lot about mental health, live-work balance, and setting boundaries. Meanwhile, I am building my life around things I value, rather than the money itself.

So why is it a double-edged sword? Because perceiving I’ve reached financial independence takes away the motivation to PHYSICALLY get there. Mentally being there isn’t the same as physically been financially free. After two years of taking a break from paying down student debt, I’ve realized that our trajectory has plateaued since quitting that job. And while I’ve broken the shackles that kept me in fear for so long, I am now starting to know that the loans are still very much there. Luckily, I’ve come to this realization now, which has sparked a newfound interest in continuing on with my aggressive repayment journey!

Dreaming big gets you farther than those who think realistically.

Last but most importantly, dream big. Have AUDACIOUS goals. The more impractical the better! And believe in them too, whole-heartedly. One of the only reasons I was able to pay off my student debt aggressively was because I believed in it. Realistic thinkers will only go as far as the limitations they set themselves. Limitless dreamers will go even farther than that. Dream, believe, then act. You WILL surprise yourself!

Photo by Zach Ramelan on Unsplash

My Free Advent Calendar 2022

I spent a lovely weekend refining this season’s advent calendar. Unlike one purchased from a grocery store, chalk-full of chocolates, treats, or tiny trinkets, mine is of the free and freeing variety. I have loved the challenge of creating a frugal holiday season for years now and once before published an advent calendar idea in this space. Instead of items, my calendar is self-made and filled with activities. More specifically… it’s a collection of errands focused on slowing down. I call it an ode to ending the year just right. In an effort to avoid the bustle that sweeps away our last few months from us (poof! there it goes again!), I created a list of things I want to ensure I do before the year’s end. Consider it a dedication to standing by how we as a family want to live our lives.

This year’s advent calendar looks a bit like this:

  1. Jacuzzi dip on a cold winter evening.
  2. Bake rice crispy treats for nostalgia’s sake.
  3. Head to the Hilltop Hangout to celebrate with neighbors and food trucks.
  4. Do a pre-work bagel run with Mikey.
  5. Check out the Holiday Market in Lights. See what the local artists are selling, listen to the carolers and consume wild amounts of hot cocoa and donuts.
  6. Make peppermint syrup.
  7. Watch an old Christmas movie and pop some corn.
  8. Play a boardgame by the tree.
  9. Pick oranges from the groves and make orange ornaments out of them.
  10. Attend a friend’s holiday party.
  11. View the local holiday lights while sipping on hot chocolate.
  12. Order to-go dinner on a busy weeknight and eat by candlelight.
  13. Make holiday themed pancakes.
  14. Decorate a gingerbread house.
  15. Do a family hike or some other outdoor activity.
  16. Christmas gathering with my side of the family.
  17. Bake cinnamon rolls.
  18. Make cookies for the neighbors.
  19. Deliver said cookies.
  20. Puzzle party in pajamas.
  21. Get a spa treatment with a friend.
  22. Turn up the records.
  23. Schedule a breakfast pastry and coffee gathering at our house.
  24. Call my sister and parents who will be in Spain for Christmas.

Photo by Dari lli on Unsplash

What to Do Now That Student Loan Debt Forgiveness is Blocked

I came on today not to spew about my thoughts on the blocking of Biden administration’s student loan debt forgiveness. There are enough opinions, from both sides, on the subject matter on the web as is. This space isn’t meant to polarize people by differences anyhow. I am here to offer what we can do in the meantime. My purpose here is to help. The likelihood that we face student loan repayment resumption sooner than debt cancellation is all too probable. It would be a shame to leave millennials on the stranded hope that their debt would disappear (even partially so).

I recognize that whatever advice I could give today is the same old song and dance, but it’s what has helped my family survive. If anything, I hope it serves as a reminder, an inspiration, or the last threadbare bit of community for you. At the very least, may it help keep your sanity intact. In my opinion, what shall we do now that student debt forgiveness is blocked? Prepare for the worst. Fortify our savings. Limit our spending. Rely on thyself, thy community, thy loved ones. Trust that you have the power to get through.

What to Do Now That Student Debt Forgiveness is Blocked

  • Increase your savings. Put as much as you can in the proverbial piggy bank while the interest rate is still at 0%. Lucky for you, the High Yield Savings Account rate at Marcus is at an all-time high of 3% APY! Compare that to Chase Saving’s measly 0.1% APY. Plus, my referral link here gives my readers an additional 1% APY for the next 3 months. Meaning right now you can sign up for 4% APY return on your savings. If you’ve been saving this entire time like we have, you can get a generous monthly return on your savings. Looked at another way, this interest earned can be like adding to your income earnings. You can read my article here about why Marcus is great for short-term savings.
  • Limit your spending. Inflation is very high right now. Holidays are coming up. The market is down. There are so many things going on right now that the savers are going to benefit a lot during this time. I would advise what I always do, which is to curb your spending. I wrote how to reduce spending during the holidays. I collected frugal challenges for you to try. I also wrote about budgeting and how it helped us tremendously pay down my student debt! We use YNAB to budget. It has been five years, and I still check in each week to look at our numbers! You can sign up with my referral link here to try YNAB for FREE.
  • Know what your payments will look like. I was on a call with my sister a few weeks back. She lives in Madrid, Spain and is more out-of-touch with the current student debt situation in the States. However, she herself still has debt from her Grad School program in California, ten years ago! I was filling her in, when she said to me, “I’m just going to pretend like it’s not coming back and the 0% interest will be extended again.” My sister and I are polar opposite beings. But I was shocked to learn that she did not even know what her payments will look like when it resumes. In fact, she didn’t even want to calculate it with me. I would highly recommend the avoidance technique. I get that it’s what a lot of you need in order to mentally get by. As if life wasn’t overwhelming enough! Having to carry the burden of student debt is taxing on the psyche. Trust me, I KNOW. But the one thing that saved me from depression, anxiety, and utter madness, was the feeling that I was in control of my finances. It made me human and alive again. I proved to myself that it wasn’t up to the rest of the world how my life played out. It’s going to be easier to assume there is nothing you can do, but I promise you there is. Now is not the time to shut down and give up. It’s the time to live to the fullest. Reading this book helps.
  • Speak to a finance person about your options. Look, I am not a financial professional, nor do I pretend to be one. I’m just another millennial trying to be 100% me while navigating my student debt. The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of financial paths to take. Shall you pay down your student debt while it is still at 0%? Shall you invest in long-term investments and prepare for retirement because time is on your side? Shall you place everything in short-term savings accounts and then pay the loans aggressively when it resumes? Are you all on the right repayment plan? I mean, I’ve got all the questions. As always, I turn to Travis Hornsby and his team at The Student Loan Planner. Travis saved us thousands of dollars by turning us onto the correct plan. I have full faith in his team and expertise.

I hope this list of what to do now that student debt loan forgiveness is blocked was useful.

Here are other student loan things I’ve written:

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

One Pot Beef Stroganoff

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

All I’ve wanted to write about recently are recipes. Today I wanted to share with you a one-pot beef stroganoff recipe that I tried. You may have noticed by now my soft spot for nostalgic meals. Not always the healthiest of options, but foods that tug at my heartstrings. This beef stroganoff is cozy, simple, and easy. Top sirloin is my meat of choice. With beef, the quality shows in the taste and texture. I slice them thinly and buy my meat from Whole Foods. Generally, I err on the side of less since I am not a huge meat eater. Instead, I substitute more mushrooms. We serve stroganoff with egg noodles, which were left over from the chicken noodle soup recipe I posted a week ago.

To be honest, I have been greatly enjoying our new Caraway Home Cookware set and looking forward to cooking meals at home! Which is a great thing with this inflation in tow. Cooking at home has always saved us money, but I’ve never been more proud of it as I am now. Southern California prices for dining out are getting out of hand. Fast-food prices are bordering on $15 for our family of two. A mediocre meal would cost us about $30. Bagels run $5 or more. By making cooking enjoyable with this new cookware set, we are saving hundreds of dollars per week! I wrote a detailed and honest review of the cookware set here.

Anywho this beef stroganoff is delicious! It’s perfect for a lazy night in, when it’s freezing cold outside and my energy is drained. It only uses up one-pot, so the clean-up is simple. I prefer to use the Dutch Oven from Caraway Home.

For the curious, the dish is from East Fork Pottery. We’ve been fans of East Fork for years!

Ways To Save Money During the Holidays

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

Are you worried that inflation will cut into your holiday budget this year? Finances starting to feel tight as the end of the year draws near? That’s quite alright! Don’t let that be a damper on the holidays. There are many ways to make the holidays feel less consumerist (stressful?). As a frugal minimalist, I’ve pretty much gotten the holidays down pat. I created a list of ways to save money during the holidays, just for you! Some of these won’t be popular to all. But I hope you find one or two things that resonate.

Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

  1. Create a budget. In our household, we have a category in our budget specifically for gifts! This includes holiday gifting. We set aside a certain amount of dollars per month for any upcoming gifting expenses. Around November, we look ahead and see how much we’ve got in our budget for gifts. It’s early enough for us to stow away a few extra dollars a week if we feel we will run a bit short. We do all of our budgeting with YNAB (You Need a Budget), which is helping me pay down my massive student debt in a short period of time! If you want to REALLY get into the nitty-gritty, you can take my entire FREE Mastering a Budget course here.
  2. Write a list. Not writing a list of people to gift to during the holidays is like not writing a list before grocery shopping. Sometimes, things end up in the proverbial cart, unplanned. Most likely, those things were emotional purchases. Use logic. List a lucky few you want to prioritize. Keep the list short. Not everyone needs a gift.
  3. Offer a gift exchange. If you come from a huge family, offer the idea of a gift exchange. It is much more doable to buy a decent gift for one person rather than for twenty. And cost-efficient!
  4. Create a no-gifting letter. Me and my sisters have created a no-gifting rule over the holidays. We used to buy each other gifts every year, until we turned thirty and realized we were only shuffling money around. It sounds kind of silly, going through the hassle of getting someone a $50 item just to receive a $50 item back. I stopped gifting my sister after she moved to Spain in 2020 upon her request and my immediate acquiesce. My SIL and I haven’t been exchanging gifts since 2018! Have a conversation with friends and family who have similar money and life goals as you. You may find that they don’t value gift-giving either. Or rather, they value other things more! If you’re having trouble, I did write a holiday no-gifting letter here that you can borrow. Plus a few tips on how to collect the courage.
  5. Get rid of expectations. Holiday traditions are usually social constructs. Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore social expectations. Not everyone is as open to ditching tradition like your closest sibs are. But choosing to opt out of an office potluck or gift exchange could mean saving $50 for someone you prioritize more. Likewise, by simply reducing what you think it means to deliver an “acceptable” gift or contribution can mean saving precious dollars during this time. It may be emotionally difficult, but becomes surprisingly easier after a few tries. Think of it as reframing your actions to match your values. Where do your true priorities lie? By investing your hard-earned dollars on many mere acquaintances, you are taking away from those closest to you, too. Every yes is balanced by a no. Good reminders during this special time.
  6. Make homemade gifts. I published a list of simple (mostly home-made) gift options before. Something as simple as baking pie or making cookies would do. If you’d like to get crafty, making wax candles, bars of soaps, or decadent essential oil blends would be appreciated.
  7. Make consumable gifts. My husband and I love being in the kitchen and we will oft make jars of homemade sauces, gift baskets of pasta meals, or homemade syrups for coffee. For example, this orange simple syrup recipe is perfect for fancy Cafe Nicos. I have one girlfriend who makes candied almonds, toffee bars, and other sweets and ships them to our door. It’s a family tradition she’s been keeping for years, and they make a whole event out of it!
  8. Shop second hand. Thrift stores aren’t as inexpensive as they once were. Nowadays, they could cost as much as buying brand new. But there are other ways to shop second hand. For example, we joined our local Buy Nothing Group. It’s a great way to acquire another man’s trash and turn it into my own treasure. If you love to scout, this may be a great version of online, second-hand shopping. And some people give away things with tags still on it! Young kids especially love any kind of toy. They’re just so happy to unwrap a box!
  9. Gift free books from your Friends of the Library. We live in a community with lending libraries. I walk by it every day when I do my dog-walks (check out how I make $1k a month taking care of pets here). By checking in each time, I find random books of all genres, most of them very good. I’ve got a few bookworms in my life. So I package a few of the same genre to gift to my friends, along with a pouch of hot cocoa or bar of chocolate. I LOVE finding books they would want to read.
  10. Use up old gift-cards. There was one year when I discovered that Mike had been hoarding gift cards. Not in any intentional way. He just didn’t want to shop at those particular stores. I nabbed them and spent them to buy other people gifts. Or when I was really lazy, I just re-gifted the gift cards! They were in a box collecting dust and we were able to declutter them, which was a win-win.
  11. Gift based on love-language. I once wrote a post on how our enneagrams can determine our financial strengths. Likewise, our love languages affect the way we receive gifts. Thankfully, not everyone has the same love language. Some people like acts of service, so gift ideas would include babysitting their little ones while mom and dad have a date night or coming over to help gift-wrap. Other people’s love language are words of affirmation. A really well-written card that tells them what they mean to you is all they want for Christmas. For those who like quality time, perhaps puzzling at home or cooking a meal together will do. If your significant other loves physical touch, maybe a foot rub, facial or massage at home would be wonderful to them! And even if your person likes gifts, did you know that gift-lovers care more about the significance of the gift rather than the price tag? You can buy someone a diamond ring but if you let the concierge choose it or the recipient feels like you didn’t take their style into consideration, then it could mean very little, even though it cost a lot!
  12. Say no to junk-for-junk gift exchanges. You know that White Elephant game? I almost never sign up for those! Only a lucky few walk away with something worthwhile. Most of the time, I call these junk-for-junk gift exchanges, especially when the price limit is set low. I try to avoid them or when I participate, I opt for the most practical gift. Last year, I fought for a pasta kit. I figured I might as well take home dinner!
  13. Socialize selectively. This is a BIG one. When I first started my financial independence journey, I decluttered my friends. I realized that some of the people I hung out with still loved to party, or loved to shop and spend their money. I reprioritized my life to set myself up for who I wanted to be. And then I selectively said yes to certain gatherings, and said no to ones that did not add value. It was the best thing I ever did. I remember the days when I would bemoan, complain and physically dread certain events that I was only going to out of obligation. By being socially selective, I’ve eliminated stress, my sense of fakeness, and that which wasted my time. This holiday season, socialize selectively.
  14. Be creative in your get-togethers. Get-togethers don’t have to be fancy. They also don’t have to be expensive. Be creative. Make dinners a potluck. Do a boardgame night. Or watch movies with popcorn. Play music like you’re in a band. Our friends and I love gathering for pizza or bowls of pasta, and playing video games on the Switch. The girls gab while the boys have the time of their lives. We also used to do Fantasy Football together on Sundays. Creating a league meant an excuse to eat food and gather at someone’s house on the weekends. For the holidays, be creative in your get-togethers.
  15. Plan your get-togethers around something other than dinner. Hosting a dinner party for 12 can be quite expensive. If “potluck” isn’t an option for your circle, why not plan your get-together around a different time? Doing a breakfast gathering is simpler and cheaper than cooking an elaborate dinner. Breakfast gatherings are actually me and Mike’s favorite! We love to do coffee, bagels, donuts, pancakes, or waffles. A one-pan quiche is amazing! Bowls of fruit or a box of croissants really isn’t that difficult to get-together, and it’s affordable. Other ideas include an afternoon tea party with tiny sandwiches and cookies, a light cocktail mixer with appetizers, or a ‘fancy brunch’ with charcuterie and mimosas. Doing this can cut your grocery costs in half.
  16. Cut costs elsewhere. One way we cut costs is by dining out less. Since we are already attending a number of gatherings and eating tons of heavy foods, we try to cook more dinners than normal and eat at home. Another place one can save is on entertainment. Skip the movie theatres and opt for a bit of family time instead. To be honest, we are usually exhausted from the social events this month. We relish any time to just stay in.
  17. Opt for e-cards. This is the first year we are sending a few holiday cards by post with Basic Invite. But for the past five years, e-cards is really all we do. It’s convenient, efficient, and free.
  18. Find free holiday activities. We love free holiday activities. I prepare an advent calendar each year which contains fun things to do throughout the season without spending money. This was one I made a few years back! It’s literally my favorite list I have ever made.
  19. Return unwanted gifts. Some people think this is mean, but as the queen of decluttering, this is one of my favorite things to do. My family, by now, has been warned of my distaste for clutter. I have asked them many times to skip the gifts. Shall they choose to continue gifting me things that aren’t things I need or want because of their own merriment, well that’s up to them. But I do return unwanted gifts, and they know that I will. Most members simply enjoy the task of shopping and wrapping during this season, without a care what happens after the giving. If that’s what it takes to spread joy, I’ve learned to let that part go.
  20. Use nature for decor. Holiday decor gets expensive and requires storing year round. As minimalists who practice small space living, we don’t have much other than a fake tree and a handful of ornaments. We have two stockings to hang and three tabletop pieces we thrifted years back from Goodwill. One can save on holiday decor by bringing in garlands, berry branches, acorns and other natural elements into the home. This year, we plan to pick oranges from the groves by our house and make dried orange ornaments out of them.
  21. Stay home for the holidays. I understand not everyone has the privilege of living close to their loved ones and staying home for the holidays. But holiday travel can get expensive (especially with today’s gas prices!). Staying in makes a huge different. Even if you have to travel to see relatives, maybe stay home more often in the month of December. Those few times you skip driving can add up! Limit your grocery runs, forgo the movie theatres, and shop online (hopefully there’s free shipping).
  22. Borrow what you need. My mum luckily lives down the street and owns everything one would ever need for the holidays. I make sure to ask her for bakeware, cardstock, and even ingredients, prior to buying some of my own.
  23. Reuse old wrappers and bows. This is another thing I can find at my mum’s house and my SIL’s. Avid savers of gift bags and bows, my SIL has even gone so far as to fold up used wrapping paper neatly. She doesn’t tear into gifts like I do. Instead she flicks the tape off neatly, as does my husband.
  24. Regift gift cards and other gifts. Does this sound audacious to you? Not to me! I grew up watching my parents do this all the time! My mom works at a school and receives candles, soaps, Starbucks gift cards, and boxes of chocolate from her students year round. She would save some of the unwanted scents or fast food gift cards and gift them to nieces, nephews, and friends!
  25. Limit your own luxuries. I like to remind myself that the holidays are a time to give to others. That’s the true meaning for me. So I skip my coffee runs while I’m out shopping. I skip spending my fun money, getting my nails and hair done, ordering wine with dinner, plus other little luxuries you can think of.
  26. Travel outside of the popular dates. If you must travel, try to do it a few weeks before or after Christmas. You may find the flights and hotels are a bit cheaper. Another popular idea is celebrating after the holidays. Last year, Mike’s side of the family got a bout of COVID and our holiday party got postponed two weeks. Because it was in January, we were able to buy gifts on sale, groceries on sale, and avoid the crowds! Woo-hoo!

If you like this list, please subscribe to my email list to get more finance tips! Or pin the photo below to Pinterest and save for a later time. Lastly, I would love to hear your ideas as well. Comment below and let me know how you save during this time of year!

Shrimp Cajun Pasta in Tomato Cream Sauce

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

It’s almost time to turn back the clocks! One of my favorite days of the year, I look forward to daylight savings end like I look forward to holidays. We’ve got plans to stay in, cozy up in bed. Recently, the weather has turned cold, and we’ve been making tea and reaching for wool socks. Plans include a pancake breakfast, setting up holiday lights, and watching movies on the rug. For this special day, I like to do less, and take it easy. In case you need a quick recipe to feed the fam without dirtying up more than one pot, I would recommend this easy shrimp Cajun pasta in tomato cream sauce. We just made it this week, and I am in LOVE.

In our rendition, I substituted the Cajun spice with Evermill’s Captain’s Blend. It’s a modern twist on a classic flavor, and is part of our Evermill Countertop Spice Rack Collection. Narrowing down my spices to a select few simplifies my cooking life. I used to meticulously follow recipes to the tee and bought spices for one-off recipes I wanted to try. I was wasting money on spices that I never used for anything else. Now I embrace substitutions. Evermill’s Countertop Spice Rack Collection is all I need. It’s beautiful, practical, and minimalist.

We also have switched to Caraway Home’s Cookware Set. I wrote an entire review here. It has been a joy cooking in these easy-to-clean, lovely-to-use cookware. The set is $150 OFF if you buy the entire set, which comes with a life-changing storage solution perfect for minimalist homes. It also comes with two trivets, and the color of your choice. I recommend it to all minimalist, tiny-home dwellers who love to cook.

I hope this recipe helps ease the load. Enjoy your long and lazy weekend!

Holiday Greeting Cards By Mail

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

It’s almost November and you might call me Filipino when I say that it’s almost Christmas time, but that I very well am. My family sends their wishlists as early as October and put up the tree in time for our Thanksgiving meal. It’s also the appropriate time to start thinking about mailing your holiday post.

Now Mike and I have never been one for sending holiday Christmas cards. But I remembered jostling my sister aside as a kid when we collected mail from the box. I begged to be the one to open the brightly colored cards that showed up on our door. In the entryway, my mom hung a card holder that collected photographs of friends and family I barely knew. I skimmed past mementos written in old-school cursive. I preferred running my fingers through the thick cardstock embossed with foil. Faces stared back at me as I tried to decipher their connection to my parents. I also enjoyed seeing the outfits and the poses.

Mike and I have never sent Christmas cards of the ordered variety. Mostly because of the cost to mail and my perfectionist need for a professional photograph, which we don’t have. But my recent feeling of loss for tradition has me re-thinking cards this year. Our friends are of the digital age. For our first Christmas together I sent emails with wedding photos talking about our first year of marriage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same effect as a basket of cardstock.

On our sixth year of marriage, I am thrilled at the chance to send couples christmas cards with Basic Invite. Because not everyone you love lives nearby. My sister in Madrid will undoubtedly appreciate the cheeky smiles. And my brother in Arizona may hang it up on the fridge with a magnet. Or at least his girlfriend will. An aunt who never fails to include us will also likely collect it on a basket that sits on her mantle.

Card creation with Basic Invite was easy. I’ve since let go of my perfectionist ideals when it comes to photographs. I chose a few of our adventures in Spain and Iceland, as well as a wedding pic from Temecula earlier this year. Attired in shorts, rain jackets, and sunnies, I’ve grown to like that our smiles match our frazzled hair. Far from prim and proper, we are genuine in our happiness and that’s all that matters these days.

On Basic Invite, cute options abound with their customizable templates. I like photo cards the best so that was the section I perused. Once you’ve chosen one to your liking, it’s as easy as modifying the text and uploading a photograph. Card and envelope colors are customizable. With over 180 card colors and 40 envelope colors, Basic Invite stands apart from other companies in that they truly do give variability.

Whether your looking for holiday cards to ring in your first married year, or a place to make dachshund christmas cards (please send your pet sitter one!), you’ll find it here. And if you’re reading this with your eyes rolling to the back of your head because it’s just too darn early, no worries. Basic Invite allows you to send your cards directly from their site to the recipient. Typing in a personal message is optional but doable, and it’ll save the lag time of them shipping it to you for a personal autograph. Procrastinators rejoice, you can wait until early December to revisit this post.

For early birds such as myself, there is enough time to order custom samples. Meaning, you can create a card and order a sample so you can feel the paper quality in your hands and make sure you are satisfied with the print, prior to ordering final product. An option would be to send a custom sample to your home, and then send the real deal from the site directly to your loved ones after approval. Recipient address printing is included for all cards, at no cost. And in order to make your holiday a wee bit simpler, an address capturing service allows you to link to your social media account and gather addresses from your friends and family that way. The site will store it for you, making your next holiday to-do a click away.

Right now Basic Invite is offering 15% off with coupon code: 15FF51. With Basic Invite, it’s not too early and won’t be too late.