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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 often get is, “How did we do it.” While I usually allude to having a big “Why,” it is more important than the “How.” However, 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 living 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 three times your salary pre-tax for a mortgage or give you up to a mortgage of 35% of your family’s take-home income. If you are already paying 35% of your income to your mortgage, it will make paying off your mortgage a challenging feat.

It can be done!

Here is a list of things we gave up (or never got) to pay off our mortgage.

The Big Ones We Gave Up to Live Mortgage-Free

Eating out

Our family was *ahem* “blessed” with childhood allergies and food sensitivities. Unfortunately, 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 (besides 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).

Want to learn to cook better? Check out these cookbooks



In the first five years of our six-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*

Not traveling is easier when you have small kids

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 convinced ourselves that traveling with little kids was for our benefit, not theirs.

I traveled a ton before I was two years old and had no memories of it, so we knew going places earlier on with kids wouldn’t be 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. This was the hardest thing to do and probably one of the most significant factors in accelerating our pay down.


Cell Phones

For 4 out of the six years of paying off our mortgage, we watched with longing eyes as all of our friends used their iPhones and texted each other. My wife and I split a flip phone on a $19.99 monthly plan. I didn’t know you can get a decent plan with Mint Mobile.

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 the bill, or go with a discount provider.

If you are looking for more mortgage related posts check out:



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 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.


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 want 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.


Recreational Activities

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.

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 many times when 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 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, although, I have to admit, even now, when I get a coffee out, I feel a little guilty.

Old habits die hard.

Cream and Sugar

Okay, to be fair, this was as much a health issue as it was a financial one. When you make your coffee at home, you start to get a little heavy handed with the free pours. So, I switched my double-double coffee habit to a black coffee tradition. It took a while, but I got there.


Renting Movies

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 new favorite shows.

Check out some cheap movies here under $5


Books and Magazines

Ditto for books and magazines. We would take them out of 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 a 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 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 dollar counts.



Regarding 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 are a few other great shows on that I watch.


Car Repairs

When you drive two old cars, it’s of the utmost importance that you trust your mechanic. Luckily, I had two friends who 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 many things weren’t necessary and still aren’t.


Guitar Strings

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.


Used Stuff

We were blessed to have friends who had children older than ours, so we got some great hand-me-downs. This is so useful because little kids blow through their clothes at an amazing pace.

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Concerts and Sporting Events

I will probably kick myself as there were a few concerts I wanted to attend 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 had 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 the 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. Labor is a big cost 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

Okay, 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 to.



Up until the last two years, we would get our firewood from the trees that had fallen at our families’ places. It was only until these 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 the new house, it was commonplace to order pizza when we didn’t feel like cooking. Ordering pizza can get pretty costly. Even if you spend an extra $20 every Friday, that’s $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 homemade pizza may cost upwards of $5, but if you order 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 anywhere plan with our landline company, which cost 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, which you can put on several cell phones. It can be used to call long distances 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 endeavor started when I was planting trees in our yard to save money. Since then, I have spent many weekends shoveling, hauling stone in a wheelbarrow, and doing a bunch of manual labor 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)


Video Games

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 many ways to earn extra money, and once you have cut the excess of your expenses, this should be your next focus.


There you have it!

If you are ready to get serious about becoming mortgage-free check out our members-only area and our ebook: How to Hack Your Mortgage and Save $1,000s, it’s free when you sign up for our newsletter.


One Last Thing About Being Mortgage Free…

If you want to crush your mortgage years in advance, I would look into refinancing your mortgage at a lower rate if it’s possible.

A 1% difference can make a big change over the life of your mortgage and can be the difference between working an extra few years or not. When we got serious about paying off our mortgage the first thing we did was lock in at a lower rate.

With rates on the move upwards lately, locking in may be the right choice for you. Try the calculator below and see if you can save yourself some money by refinancing to a lower rate.

Check out Lending Tree’s rates to see if a rate change can save you thousands. A rate change was a good way to get started.

Want to Know More About Our Mortgage Free Story? Check out:

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