Thanks to Dave Ramsey and his Endorsed Local Providers program for sponsoring this post and inspiring us MAJORLY.
GOSH I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START. Okay, this is going to be a long one. I have lots to say.
I’ve been thinking about this post and debating whether to write it for a long time. I’m REALLY nervous to tell you all this but I think paying off your mortgage relates pretty well to budget-friendly house talk, am I right? (And when I read Ashley’s post about the same thing a while ago, I was SUPER inspired.) Anyway, I’m nervous so be gentle!
WE PAID OFF OUR HOUSE. Completely. As in, no more mortgage payment for the rest of forever. No debt of any kind, at all.
I just blacked out for a little bit.
Our initial goal was to pay off the house by my 30th birthday. We missed the goal by 12 hours, but I’ll take it! On October 30, we sent in our last payment to the mortgage company and just looked at each other in silent disbelief. I may have gotten a speck or two of dust in my eye. *ahem*.
This is how we did it.
1. We agreed on our goals.
Even before Andy and I were married, we knew that when it came time to have kids, we would want one of us to stay home with them. In order to do that, we had to be able to live on one income, so we just… started living on one income, from the start. That one income, by the way, was Andy’s teacher’s income. (Read: not much.) We knew we’d eventually want some breathing room in our budget, and with no hope for Andy making substantiallly more money as a teacher, we thought the best way to do that would be to buy – and pay off – a house. (At the time, it seemed like such a distant goal!)
2. We paid cash for everything.
While we were living on Andy’s income, we used mine to save for a down payment for a house, and when we bought that house, we kept living on one income and used all of my paychecks to pay cash for the improvements. All the before-and-after photos on my blog and all the projects were financed with cash, as we went along. If we didn’t have money for something, we waited until we did.
Everything extra we could scrounge went toward the mortgage, and this is what really fueled the DIY fire and pushed us to do our projects on the tiniest of budgets — because we knew our goal: be able to live comfortably on one income so one of us could stay home with the (still-unborn) kids.
3. We bought less house than we could “afford.”
The bank wanted to loan us more than double what we knew we could comfortably pay. We sat down and made a written budget so we knew exactly what was a reasonable monthly payment for us, and we bought exactly that much house and not a cent more, on a 15-year mortgage so we could pay it off as soon as possible. (This is where having a good real estate agent will come in handy! You definitely want someone who respects your budget and wants to abide by it. In other words: someone who has your best interests at heart. This is an excellent place to find a real estate agent who will work within your means.)
4. We drove crappy cars.
It seemed like all my coworkers and friends were driving shiny new cars, but we were still driving beater 15-year-old cars with LOTS of miles. Now I drive this gateway-drug-to-mom-jeans. It’s ten years old and has almost 150,000 miles. We paid for it with cash we’d saved and, after driving older, grosser cars for years, it totally felt like an upgrade. (Except the whole slippery-slope-to-teddy-bear-wallpaper thing.)
5. We kept a tight written budget.
We wrote down on paper exactly how much we could spend each month on each category of expenses, and we each got a small amount of money to spend on whatever we wanted. (At first it was only $25 a month!) We had exactly $300 for groceries, and at the end of the month if we had spent it all, we had to scrounge in the dark recesses of the pantry and make it work until the next month began. We stretched every dollar, became crazy coupon people, and learned to tell ourselves “no” when we wanted something outside the budget.
We didn’t make a crapton of money during that time.
During the time when I was working full-time, my salary was decent but nowhere near six figures – pretty close to the national average. When we had our first kid two years into owning the house, I went down to part-time work and cut my pay in half. Then two years later, when we had kid #2, I was laid off and went down to making almost nothing. We’re back to both of us working now – me on the blog and Andy on his new business – and making a moderate income, but we didn’t win the lottery and, to our knowledge, neither of us have any wealthy great-aunts who left us a giant inheritance.
I’m still holding out hope on that one though.
The Joy in the Process
I was shocked to find that this whole process of budgeting led to freedom. Before we set a budget, I felt a tiny twinge of guilt whenever I wanted to spend money on clothes or decorations, but once we had a space for that in the budget – we have a small amount of money set aside for decorating each month – and money designated for the purchase of small brass animals, it was practically required that I buy them. Guilt free.
Having common goals brought Andy and me together in a huge way. There’s nothing like setting goals as a couple, dreaming together, and getting on the same page to make them happen. We would lay awake at night and talk about what life would be like when the house is paid off. We would dream and plan together, and it was SO good for our marriage. Because we made a plan for every dollar we made, we never had to fight about what we were spending. Our priorities had already been decided, and now it was only a matter of following through.
Our main motivation was long-term freedom: to not be tied down by a mortgage, to make choices that were not constrained by bills.
But I had a few inner struggles along the way. Being out of debt ROCKS and it matters, but I had to keep a constant check on my motivations and my heart. The best prescription I found for that was to keep giving throughout the process, even when it didn’t make sense. Giving for me has been like a cooling salve, a medicine to keep me from becoming a scrooge or losing focus of what is important (and that is loving people).
I once sat on an airplane next to this amazing lawyer who told me the goal of his family is to increase the percentage of their income they give away. He was currently at 50 percent. I LOVED THAT and I never forgot it, so Andy and I made it our goal to increase our giving percentage as well. Being able to give more freely since we paid off our mortgage has been one of the most amazing blessings of my entire life. I want everyone to know what this feels like!
Y’all, there are two parts of me screaming inside: one part that’s screaming for JOY, and the other part that’s screaming for you to understand my heart on this post. I know for a lot of people, times are tight right now and I’m absolutely terrified that you will think I’m boasting. Hear me on this: I am thankful beyond words. God has blessed us. And we have sacrificed for YEARS to reach this goal. I think you can do it too; I really do. It’s HARD and there’s a lot of sacrifice there, but even setting small goals (like following these baby steps by Dave Ramsey, who is an author and financial speaker) will give you hope, motivation and space to reach for gradually bigger things.
I’m Not Happier Now.
Now that we’re on the other side of things and have had a couple months to let it soak in, one thing that’s really struck me is this: I’m not happier now. I was really, really happy eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a crappy rental house as broke newlyweds. I was content clipping coupons with a newborn baby sleeping nearby. And I’m equally happy now, because being content really is not about how much you have. If you can’t be content having little, you won’t be content having more. It’s really, really true. (This cheesy hallmark card brought to you by the number 9 and the letter F.)
I LOVED what setting goals did for our family. In addition to our giving goals, we’re setting other goals for our future.
Raise your hand if you think “investing” is a sexy word.
Us either. So we’re reaching out to someone who can teach us the right way to invest (for retirement and the kids’ college funds) because that’s just not what we’re good at. We’ve signed up for an Investing Endorsed Local Provider through Dave Ramsey. It’s a person who will walk us through what to do and teach us the mysteries of investing.
It’s really hard to find the right, trustworthy person to help with things like investing, or a good real estate agent or a CPA, so I’m SUPER excited to have this access to local people who have been endorsed by Dave Ramsey (whose principles for getting out of debt helped us a TON) so I definitely recommend starting right here! They’ll send you a name of someone who lives in your area and who will help you learn what you’re doing, not just tell you what to do. (Everything we’ve ever used from the Dave Ramsey site has been amazing. We’ve worked with his ELPs before for insurance and were honestly shocked at the great rates they got us.)
We went on the radio
EEK! Dave Ramsey has a radio show where you can call in and yell “WE’RE DEBT FREEEEE!” and we went to Nashville Tuesday (the day this post went up) to go on his radio show. I WAS SO NERVOUS. One of the camera guys gave me a highlighter pen to fiddle with during the interview and it worked wonders. You can see the magical highlighter pen in the video.
Be sure to visit to find out how much money your family could be saving, just like we did!
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Whew! I knew I had a lot to say about this but it kind of got out of hand there for a bit, didn’t it? Hope it’s okay to veer (kinda?) off topic. Tell me what’s going on in your world!
This post was sponsored by Dave Ramsey, but all opinions are my own, as always!