Mandy Velez made headlines when she threw a funeral for her — wait for it — student loan debt. After six years of making payments toward her $102,000 tab from college, she decided to dress up in black and stage a mini photo shoot in New York to celebrate meeting her financial goal on Instagram.
Odd? Maybe a little. But honestly, why not? We celebrate birthdays, weddings, attend baby showers and anniversary parties. What about money-focused milestones like seeding our emergency fund after promising ourselves we’d start one for years, or writing the final mortgage check? Why don’t we take a moment to pause and acknowledge the diligence, self-restraint and discipline it takes — especially these days when financial goals are more challenging than ever to achieve?
We should, if you ask event planner Jenn Hagan. “Having a celebration is a way to honor this achievement, put tangible value on its significance and solidify the joy one feels with completing the totality of the task,” she says. It’s also a good way to thank the important people in your life that encouraged your development and stood by you as you worked toward your financial goals.
Here are some ideas for how to celebrate major money milestones:
Saving $500, $5,000 or $50,000
Methodically stashing away cash from each paycheck to hit a savings goal is hard work. Whether you buckle down to establish a $500 emergency fund or sock away $150 a week to amass $30,000 for a down payment on a home, take the time to formally acknowledge when you hit an important savings goal.
To share the achievement, event designer Michelle Madison suggests holding a game night with close friends to play Monopoly, Life or other money-centric board game. (Do it online these days.) Or, if there’s a particular someone who helped you reach this financial goal, Brett Galley, owner and director of special events at Hollywood POP, suggests thanking them with a small gesture. “This milestone definitely deserves a celebration, but if you’re only getting started with your savings, a small token to the people in your life is a nice gesture,” he says. Write a heartfelt thank-you note to send with a gift basket with a bottle of champagne, cheese or chocolate.
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Paying off student loan debt
Paying the very last penny owed on student debt is certainly cause for a victory lap. According to recent data, the average graduate in the United States has $31,000 in student loans, and pays $393 a month toward the balance. Velez paid off her student loans in a relatively speedy six years compared to the typical payoff period of 10 to 30 years.
You don’t want to go into debt celebrating your new loan-free status. So get creative. Plan a small get-together with friends from your alma mater (when it is safe to do so IRL). Galley suggests creating a playlist of your favorite songs from college and let loose. “Whatever you do, make sure to have a cake where the candle blowing will represent the student loan that is finally gone for good,” he says
Another option is a “Pay it Forward” Zoom party. Hagan explains: Gather with college friends to share old, funny stories from university days. And then have everyone take turns sharing a financial goal they are working toward and how this tight-knit group can help them succeed. “Each person can share tips and tricks that they’ve used to reach their goals that might be applicable to each person’s objectives,” she says.
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Paying off your mortgage
Note: This advice was gathered pre-pandemic, but keep it in your back pocket for the better days ahead. Galley says one of the best ways to honor your effort is to get out of town. Literally! “Plan the dream holiday you always wanted to take. You no longer need to worry about your mortgage. Now it’s all about saving for retirement and your future,” he says.
If you prefer to celebrate at home, host a party (again, only when it is safe to do s0) with a “Go Green” theme, inspired by the color of money and making a positive impact on your home planet. “Have everyone dress in green and have a cake designed to look like a $100 bill to represent the money you no longer owe,” Galley says. “For serving, only use recyclable materials and encourage guests to any leftover food with them home to avoid waste.”
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Getting a raise
Right now when just having a job is reason to celebrate, the thought of getting a raise seems a bit far-fetched. But if it happens, Galley says that this is one of the few times where a true splurge is warranted… as long as going forward you maintain a level-head by balancing the purchases of today with preparation (as in savings and investing) for tomorrow.
To treat yourself, Galley suggests purchasing an item you can wear or look at to remind you of the promotion. Share your success with others by hosting a dinner party — and footing the entire bill — at a restaurant you’ve aspired to try out. It’s a nice way to honor and thank those who have been by your side through every job hurdle, difficult negotiation or leap of faith, Hagan says.
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No more morning commute. No more endless emails. No more long hours, tricky clients or stressful professional debacles. Bidding adieu to the daily grind and finally retiring is cause to plan a big bash. (At the risk of sounding like a broken record, save the big gathering for safer times.) If you’re close to someone that is retiring — a spouse, parent, friend — it’s nice to arrange a shindig in their honor. Galley says an element of surprise and touches that reflect the person’s professional journey make the event special: “Photos and videos from throughout the years are definitely musts, but why not incorporate some throwback for the food and beverage as well?” Think about snacks that were popular when the person first entered the workforce. Include the retiree’s favorite Happy Hour drink on the menu.
However you celebrate your retirement, don’t let the day pass without a speech or some other acknowledgement of the people you’ve met along the way. After all, you don’t reach this money milestone without touching the lives of others. And if you want to mark the day for a loved one while we’re still quarantining, a drive-by parade of friends is a nice way to acknowledge the occasion.
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