Celebrating Debt Freedom Is Gauche

Celebrating Debt Freedom Is Gauche

After paying off the mortgage, and burning my mortgage graph in the grill, I decided to do some research on the history of mortgage burning parties. I was curious about what had happened to them. After all, I had heard of them when I was a kid but hadn’t heard anything recently.

Why had they become outdated? When did we stop doing them? Were these another thing millennials have supposedly killed? I had to know.

So I Googled it, hopped on one of the first search results (Wikipedia), and was struck by this line in the description:

” Even when a personal mortgage is paid off at the conclusion of payments, throwing a party to celebrate is now generally considered gauche since the traditional paying off of a mortgage is no longer a standard rite of passage. It is now seen as bragging about one’s secure financial condition.”


Celebrating Debt Freedom Is Gauche

Living, as I do, primarily in a personal finance bubble on social media leads you to a skewed perception of that is normal to celebrate.

I get the honor of seeing people pay off tens of thousands in credit card debt and car loans. Hundreds of thousands in student loans. Mortgages at relatively young ages.

I feel privileged to cheer on people of all income levels, walks of life, and financial situations to reach their goals. I’ve seen people pay off more in a month towards debt than I earn, and others for whom an extra $100 per month is a reason to celebrate. To me, everyone working to reach financial stability and financial freedom should be celebrated.

Seeing this every day, I forget sometimes that for most people, they don’t get to see these celebrations. Instead, what they see are both traditional and social media celebrations of extreme wealth, and of debt.

What’s Normal

Unless you exclusively hang out with the debt free community on Instagram (#debtfreecommunity), or others in the personal finance space, your Instagram is likely very different than mine.

Most of the most popular accounts are celebrations of wealth. Photos of huge, immaculate houses with the latest decorations. Fancy cars. Trips to exotic locations, which must have cost tens of thousands of dollars. Jewelry. Fancy shoes, purses, and other clothes.

Lets not forget about traditional media. “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, the various “Housewives” series, Food Network showcasing expensive ingredients, and HGTV making it seem like you can buy a $3 million dollar home when your job is sharpening pencils for a living.

It’s all about building an image of an envious life, which makes other people feel like “everyone” has these amazing things, and they should too.

In fact, people go into debt trying to become Instagram famous. Because living a life to be envied by others costs money.

On other social media platforms, and in the real world, people will celebrate when you buy your new, more expensive home. They’ll drool over your costly new car, admire your expensive purse, and be ecstatic about a second home.

They won’t celebrate paying off your student loans, becoming credit card debt free, or paying off your mortgage. Those are not things to be celebrated – those are bragging about your financial condition. Even if you make the same income they do (or less!), come from similar life circumstances, and have the same exact opportunities.

People frequently confuse the external vision of wealth with actual wealth in the bank. They think if you “look rich” or “look successful”, you are rich. The funny thing about this is that often people who are actually rich reject the expensive external “stuff” that proclaims their wealth, and instead live a modest life compared with their income.

When Did Debt Become Normal, And Debt Freedom Abnormal?

When you look at the history of debt here in the United States, it become obvious that there has been a huge change in the availability and perception of debt compared with decades ago.

Not too long ago, a second mortgage was considered an act of absolute desperation. It was something you only took on to save your family from being thrown out on the streets and was almost shameful. Now people are encouraged to take equity out of their homes to remodel, to pay for kids college (this was mentioned by my bank when I originally refinanced to the 15-year), or for various other reasons.

Car loans used to be hard to get, and expensive. You had to buy a car you could afford. Student loans were the same way. The first credit cards forced you to pay the balance in full every month.

Over time, we’ve gone from a cash-based, debt-averse society to a debt-normalized one.

I, for one, would love to change that.

Why Celebrations Are Important

People who reach any form of debt freedom aren’t doing it by accident. And it’s never easy.

Typically, it takes years of careful budgeting, living below their means, putting extra money on debt, and avoiding the myriad social pressures to spend, spend, spend.

Sometimes it takes giving up friendships that revolve around excessive spending, or one-upmanship when it comes to owning the latest and greatest stuff.

People are ashamed to talk about money. They think that the fact that they took on debt should be hidden from friends, family, and their kids. They feel like they need to pay it all off in secret, all alone, because no one will support them. In fact, many will try to sabotage their efforts.

This fear of talking about money, about the realities of debt, and about paying off what you owe help to encourage the perspective that everyone else is able to live the high life but you.

Those who have taken on the long journey to pay off debt should be celebrated. Not shamed.

Celebrate Away!

So if you, dear reader, are looking for a community that will celebrate your journey to debt freedom, you’re going to need to surround yourself with positive reinforcements.

If you can find real-life friends and family members who will celebrate with you, that’s great! But if not, join the online community. There are countless Facebook groups dedicated to paying off debt, as well as the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram, and the personal finance community on Twitter.

Be part of changing the conversation around money. Debt isn’t something to be ashamed of. Paying off debt is something to be celebrated. So join in with a community filled with positive reinforcements, and not one that will call your celebration “gauche”.

And if you want to celebrate by holding a student loan burning party, a credit card cutting ceremony, a car ownership BBQ, or a mortgage free house warming, send me an invite. I’m happy to be there to celebrate with you.

11 thoughts on “Celebrating Debt Freedom Is Gauche”

  1. You know, it is a shame that those who are debt free have to hide it, while people who are up to their ears in debt flaunt their possessions in a ridiculous fashion. Yet I believe Wiki is correct, that we now consider celebrating paying off your mortgage as too braggy. Well, in this space at least, celebrate away! I think it’s something that you should celebrate with your kids, so they’ll always carry the memory of when “Mom and Dad paid off their mortgage waaaaaay back when, and that’s why they can (contribute to our IRAs, help us with college, fly to see their grandkids so often).” My good friend from NH had parents who paid off their house when she was in grade school, and she made those comments often to me, about how her parents were able to help her family in ways big and small, because they were financially independent (and my friend followed in their footsteps with a frugal, FI mindset). We talk about our choices to decrease or eliminate debt with our kids often, but I’ve had to admonish my eldest not to talk about it outside of our family, for the same reasons. Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS on paying it off. I know it’s been many years coming!

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I’m glad that at least there are corners of the internet that reward and celebrate people for working for years to reach financial goals, rather than tearing them down or chastise them for bragging.

  2. Liz:

    I had not heard of mortgage burning parties until you mentioned it. I like the idea, though. It is as though you are physically releasing yourself from the contract binding you to the debt. It does not surprise me that this practice is now out of fashion.

    We, like you, strive to become debt free. Although we use credit cards wisely and never pay finance charges, I saw that as debt to be conquered. Late last year, I began paying our credit card balances each Friday. We still had one more credit card at 0% that we were paying with $300 payments per month. This past Friday, we paid off the last of that 0% credit card debt and we are now officially credit card debt free for the first time. I commented this on twitter to the raves of no one.

    Debt is now expected because we live in a materialistic society that lost its patience and wants what it wants right now. Saving for a purchase lost its allure when people could purchase whatever they wanted on credit. The issue is that our nation is now saddled with credit card debt to the tune of over one trillion dollars. Like you, we choose to no longer be part of that statistic.

    We still have nearly half a million dollars in debt to pay, but you can bet that we will celebrate when Dr. SoS’s student loan and our mortgage are paid. Thank you for your post and know that there are others that believe as you do and long for a future day where saving becomes the norm and spending becomes something only the Jones’s do.

    Kindest Regards,

    Mr. SoS

  3. My sister had a “bonfire of the student loan payment books” celebration. Took those suckers out to the barbecue grill and watched them burn merrily.

    As for something being gauche, well, I say do what works for you and to hell with the begrudgers.

  4. Abigail @ipickuppennies.net

    Yeah, I love hearing about debt repayment (as long as it’s not followed up with the teeth-grind-inducing “If I can do it, anyone can!” proclamation) so I guess I’m part of the abnormal population that celebrates a lack of debt, a lack of external wealth signifiers (unless the person can truly afford it), etc. So I say celebrate away — at least with close friends and loved ones who will understand. Or at the very least, online where you know you’ll find support!

  5. Hi Liz,

    It’s truly amazing how we’ve gotten to this point where taking fancy vacations and placing those charges on a credit card or buying an expensive car or home is a sign of prosperity, even if it’s ridden with debt but the act of paying off debt seems pointless or less eventful.

    In my own personal life I have almost every other person living the life you just shared and we have been striving hard to be debt free. We are the outliers here. We can’t share it with anyone in real life since they can’t connect with anything we say. They bring up FOMO and YOLO to support their mindless spending.

    I am glad I found a good community online to support us.

    Grokking Money

  6. Oh Liz, how I wish I could have invited you to our awkward mortgage payoff celebrations a couple years ago!
    We had bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate at a dinner with my parents and siblings. They initially thought I was pregnant but when we said “nope we paid off our mortgage” the faces were full confusion. One brother, more aware of our FIRE plans got excited and that was good, he finally started believing that all these weird plans we were talking about might be actually doable. My mom however let out weird comments like “we could have done that a while ago with different choices” it’s like we were shaming her. I explained how we were actually celebrating with them as it would have been impossible without their help from the start, their encouragement, good money education and for having paid for my education. That lightened the mood but I felt ashamed, I regretted telling them for a while and deciding to have this celebration which Mr. Mod insisted we not do.
    We discretely announced to my mother in law as well still with champagne and we also got a bit of confusion and a mention of “what are you going to do with all your money now?!” As if we should be earning to pay off debt all our life. It however brought on good discussions on “buying our freedom” and she told us she was proud of us so that was nice.
    Still none of those celebrations went like I had in mind, the following year we got off hand comments that made me regret telling them. I’m loving your perspective and while it feels awkward to mention, I think I’ll keep working on being more of an open book with friends/family when we discuss money. So thankful for blogs like your and the wonderful instagram/twitter communities that celebrate big and small financial milestones!
    Congratulations again and so glad for your celebration!!!
    Ms. Mod

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I wish I could have been there to celebrate with you! It is true that people sometimes see what you’ve done as judging their choices, or life circumstances. And to me that’s sad-I wish we could all encourage each other instead. I most certainly don’t judge people who make different choices, or who are in a different place than I am. I do love how we can at least build virtual communities that celebrate together. 😃

  7. I enjoyed reading your story of climbing the mountain of debt-freedom and then taking a moment to celebrate your effort and accomplishment once you reached the summit!
    We’re 2 months away from initiating our final transfer and it feels so amazing. This article is very timely as I’ve struggled with how much of a celebration we should do. I have envisioned this moment since since I was 18—mind you, I did not have a mortgage or much of a concept of what would be needed to accomplish it, but I saw it on an a rerurn of _All in the family_ and it seemed like the thing to do!
    Your post has given me encouragement to celebrate with friends and family, rather than keep it just to the four of us.
    I’m new to the blog(today) and have really enjoyed the few articles I’ve read so far. _btw, the reason I’m here is because I just watched your talk on my FinCon18 Virtual Pass :)_

  8. I love this article!! I opened my own practice & didn’t celebrate… in fact, I often felt like vomiting! I paid off my credit cards and kept quiet. Then, I paid off my car loan and did nothing. Only my parents knew when I paid off my student and RV loans. They were proud, but it didn’t really go any further than a supportive comment.

    Now I come to my last source of debt and I’m ready to go big AND go home! The front door will be painted red & I’m definitely going out for a fabulous dinner. But what else??

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