If you are new to this site, we became mortgage free at the beginning of this year. More recently, we just became debt free this past week!!! One of the questions I get a lot is “How did we do it”. While I usually allude to having a big “Why” is more important that the “How”. I realize that the “How” is important too. I mean what good are intentions if you don’t have a way to act on them. Becoming mortgage free, or debt free, doesn’t “just happen”. It requires work and sacrifice, just like anything else in life. Think of it like this; a bank will typically approve you for 3 times your salary pre-tax for a mortgage or give you up to a mortgage of 35% of your families take home income. If you are already paying 35% of your income to your mortgage, it’s going to make paying off your mortgage a hard feat. But it can be done. Here are a list of things that we gave up (or never got) to pay off our mortgage.
The Big Ones
Our family was *ahem* “blessed” with childhood allergies and food sensitivities. This meant we couldn’t eat out at all for several years. Well technically we could, but it involved speaking with management and chefs and it was such a hassle that we just said “Screw it”. The nice thing about all of this (beisdes the obvious cost savings) was that we had to learn to be better cooks. Allergies suck, but we found a silver lining in cost savings. Even now that we are mortgage free we still have Friday night Master Chef meals, where we cook ourselves a nice meal rather than ordering in, or going out. The savings are immense (and the food is better, if I do say so myself).
The first 5 years of our 6 year mortgage pay off journey, we gave up on travel. To this day, our kids haven’t been on a plane. Before last year, they had only left the province to do a yearly weekend trip with my family to Grand Forks, North Dakota. (For those of you who don’t know, Grand Forks is the Winnipeg equivalent of the Caymans, except you can drive there, and it’s cold, and there’s snow instead of sand. Ok, it’s nothing like the Caymans, but there’s a Target! Plus when the dollar was better we would stock up on essentials. Ah I miss you at-par Canadian Dollar. *tears begin to well up*) Other than the small road trip we stayed put. This was one of the hardest things to do. We would watch all our friends going to exotic places and post beautiful photos of their travel adventures, and we just stayed put. We managed to convince ourselves that travelling with little kids was for our benefit not theirs. I travelled a ton before I was 2 years old and have no memories of it, so we knew going places earlier on with kids wouldn’t be a remembered by our little ones. We told ourselves once the house was paid off, the kids would be old enough to remember the trips and they do. There isn’t a week that goes by where we aren’t talking about our two summer road trips. I think this was the hardest thing to do and also probably one of the biggest factors in accelerating our pay down.
For 4 out of the 6 years of paying off our mortgage we watched with longing eyes at all of our friends use their iPhones and texted each other. My wife and I split a flip phone on a $19.99 monthly plan. After a few years of missing out on texts, I found a workaround using an iPod touch to text people over Wifi. For 4 years, everywhere I went I would ask for a wifi password. This saved us $140 a month, because cell phone plans are ridiculously high in Canada. If you aren’t able to go back to the stone ages and live without a cell phone. (I admit that it’s a lot harder to stop once you have started). Then look for ways to cut down the bill, or go with a discount provider.
It’s always cheaper to repair a car than it is to buy a new one. This was another big money saver. We didn’t even consider buying a new car until we knew our house was on track to be paid off on time. I can’t tell you the number of times we enviously watched people buy new cars while we stuck to driving our 2003 CRV and 2004 Sienna van. Yes, they are old, but a repair bill of $500 every few months was better than a car payment of $500 every month for the next 5 years.
Fix you car: A repair bill every few months of $500 beats a monthly payment of $500 for 5 years.
Heating and Cooling
When we built we installed geothermal, this added to the cost of the house, but our heating bills are next to nothing. Plus there were grants and other bonuses to having it installed. While many around us have heating bills north of $400 for heating our total electricity bills have rarely topped $220 in the coldest of our months. We had one month where it was -40 the whole month! Switching to geothermal isn’t something everyone can do, it’s usually only cost efficient when you are building, but looking for energy efficiencies is something you can easily get started on. Get a wifi thermostat, or put on a sweater in winter. Heating and cooling can account for up to 60% of your energy costs. Many states and provinces offer cash incentives and rebates.
We turned off lights everywhere we went. Unplugged things that didn’t get used often. The items that did get let plugged in are always questioned if it needs to be plugged in. This was more out of principle than anything. When you embrace going towards early mortgage freedom you want to make sure you aren’t letting dollars go out through idle electronics. A good example was this power bar we had in our basement for a TV that got used once a month. Just be sitting idle all year it costs $16. It’s not a lot, but it all counts. If you are wanting something that measures the cost and usage of electricity I would suggest you check out the Belkin Conserve Insight Energy. I got one, and it will surprise you how many of the electronics you leave plugged in are actually sucking money out of your pockets as you read this.
The 1 thing I needed was still being able to play hockey. There are things you aren’t willing to sacrifice, hockey is my thing. To offset the cost, I managed the team for 5 years in a return for a discount on my fees. For our kids, we did many of the free and more affordable activities throughout our area. Your local area offers tons of free activities and events. Do some digging and find more things to do.
I LOVE, absolutely LOVE, going to the movies. I love the smell of popcorn, the experience of watching the story unfold, experiencing the visual delights and getting caught up in the drama. We used to go every Friday night. For the first few years of our mortgage, I can count on one hand the amount of movies I saw in the theatre. Again this was easy with small kids. Our time was spent with them and we loved every minute of it. Honestly, out of all the things we gave up, this felt harder than I thought it would. As a bonus, once you get out of watching every new movie when it hits theatres it takes about 6 to 9 months before it’s on Netflix and you realize you don’t need to go out because there are so many other movies you can see at home.
We found the cheapest way we could eat a normal morning breakfast at the time and stuck with it. This was usually eggs or toast. FYI, apart from protein powder if you want the most protein per dollar, egg whites are your way to go. There were a lot of time where we grumbled, but it was worth it in the end. Every few months we would splurge and get a Tim Horton’s coffee and a Breakfast Sandwich but for years it was the same breakfast routine.
Coffee on the Go
Apart from the Tim’s coffee we would get once every few months, we didn’t get coffee out, except on rare occasions. This probably saved us between $2 and $12 a day. I have to admit, even now when I get a coffee out I feel a little guilty. Old habits die hard.
Cream and Sugar
Ok, to be fair, this was as much as a health one as it was a financial one. When you are making your coffee at home, you start to get a little heavy handed with the free pours. My double-double coffee habit was switched to a black coffee tradition. It took a while but I got there.
This was before Netflix entered our lives. To save on money we would get our movies from the local library. Where movie rentals are free and you can stumble upon some great finds. This was how we started to binge watch many of our now favourite shows.
Books and Magazines
Ditto for books and magazines. We would take them out from the library. I’ve only recently started buying books again. The only time I buy a book is when it’s something I will be referring back to as useful reference. For fiction I still use my library card, but to be fair I don’t read as much of it as I used to.
For the first few years of paying off our mortgage I didn’t drink. If you have ever gone without alcohol for an extended amount of time, you will get questions. Some people don’t get it. There were many a times in the dressing room after hockey, or on weekends when I would get stares for passing up a beer, but it was worth it. Every dollars counts.
When it came to TV, we have never had more than a basic cable package. We could cut back more, but as long as I can get the Jets I’m still going to keep this, because quite frankly it’s cheaper than going to the games. One ticket is a couple hundred bucks which makes the basic package worthwhile for me. Plus there’s a few other great shows on that I watch.
When you are driving two old cars it’s of utmost importance that you trust your mechanic. Luckily I had two friends that could do my repairs. They would tell me what was coming up, what needed to be done right away and what could wait. This was great because a lot of things weren’t necessary and still aren’t.
I’m using this one to make a point. I have several guitars from over the years, usually you would change the strings on each of them at least once a year. I have only changed the strings on one guitar in 6 years. That’s not a lot of savings but again it’s the principle of making due and not being frivolous. I have even grown fond of the “brown sound” that older strings give.
We were blessed to have friends that had children older than ours so we got some great hand-me-downs. Which is so useful because little kids blow through their clothes at an amazing pace.
Concerts and Sporting Events
I’m probably going to kick myself as there were a few concerts I wanted to go to and passed on. The same can be said about sporting events. Was the sacrifice worth it? Absolutely.
A Finished Basement
We always, and still do, want a finished basement. We convinced ourselves earlier on that this would just be a play area for the kids until they grew up and we could all benefit from a finished basement.
We have to pay $1.25 to get rid of our trash, so I recycled everything we possibly could. When it came time to trash things I bought garbage bags that could fit 3 times the size of a normal bag. Again this was on principle of saving everywhere we could. Did the extra $2.50 make a difference every month. Yes, but it wasn’t a huge difference.
Pushed things to their limit
If something didn’t absolutely need to be done repair wise, it didn’t get done. When it did we turned to friends and family to help, or just did it ourselves. Labour is a big costs when you are getting something fixed so it was nice to know people that could direct me, and YouTube DIY was a very good friend of mine some days.
Driving for fun
Ok, I know this is bad for the environment and all, but we love going for drives and seeing new areas of the city or the province. With the price of gas at the time being so high we gave that up and really only drove when we needed.
Up until last two years, we would get our firewood from the trees that had fallen down at our families’ places. It was only until this past two years that we actually bought wood. This may seem trivial, and it totally is, but it’s another way we cut back to save money.
Before kids and new house, it was common place to order pizza when we didn’t fee like cooking. Ordering in pizza can get pretty costly. Even if you spend an extra $20 every Friday that makes out to be $1000 a year. But who wants to live a life without pizza? Not me. As I mentioned allergies forced us to become better cooks. I learned how to make pizza. Now a home made pizza may cost you upwards of $5 but if you are ordering in that can go as high as $20 or $30 depending on where you get it from. So right there we were saving a ton of extra cash. Plus there were lots of leftovers….I’m starting to get hungry.
Long Distance Calling
We used to have a call anyone everywhere plan with our landline company. This was costing us around $40 a month. We switched to Ooma and now pay $4, to call anywhere we want. The nice thing with Ooma is the app that you can put it on several cell phones and it can be used to call long distance anywhere in your country for free and at low rates for the rest of the world. You can check out Ooma here.
Part of this whole endeavour started when I was planting trees in our yard in order to save money. Since then I have spent many weekends, shovelling, hauling stone in a wheelbarrow and doing a bunch of manual labour in the name of saving money. We would plant the free trees that were offered by our forestry programs. It was worth it, though my body has argued the opposite at many points. (BTW really trying hard not to go into a tree metaphor right now, I’ll save it for another time)
Before kids I would spend most nights playing video games. I’m not a hard core gamer by any means but I do love to play a few specific games, like NHL and anything Star Wars related (I’m a nerd I know it, you know it, let’s move on). This meant foregoing any new systems. After a few years we used miles to get a PS3, the only reason I could justify it was that my friend had lots of games and let me borrow them whenever I wanted.
Earning Extra Money
When you have a goal you can get consumed by it (I let this happen to me). Everything became a matter of what would happen if I put another $5 down this week. It was all a challenge. Any time we got some extra money, the bulk, if not all of it, would get put on the mortgage. While making money is outside the scope of this post. There are a lot of ways you can earn extra money and once you have been able to cut the excess of your expenses, this should be your next focus.
There you have it!
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