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,” 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’s going to 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
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 managed to convince 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.
For 4 out of the six years of paying off our mortgage, we watched with longing eyes at all of our friends use their iPhones and text 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 down the bill, or go with a discount provider.
If you are looking for more mortgage related posts check out:
- 6 Mistakes I Made Paying Off My Mortgage
- The 1 Thing You Should Change On Your Mortgage Today
- Our Paid Off Mortgage Story – How We Crushed Our Mortgage in 6 Years
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.
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 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
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. So 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.
Check out some cheap movies here under $5
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.
Related posts check out:
- 7 Things to Do Before Buying A House
- 6 Mistakes I Made Paying Off My Mortgage
- The 1 Thing You Should Change On Your Mortgage Today
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 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
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 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 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?
As I mentioned allergies forced us to become better cooks. I learned how to make pizza. Now a homemade 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 plans 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 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 in order 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)
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!
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 are wanting 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 maybe the right choice for you. Give the calculator below a try 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 change in rates 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:
- 6 Mistakes I Made Paying Off my Mortgage
- Our Paid Off Mortgage Story: How We Paid Off Our Mortgage In 6 Years
- How To Pay Off Your Mortgage Faster (In as quick as 5 years)
Amazing determination! I grew up in an extremely frugal home and many, many of these suggestions were a way of life for us but I’ve lost a lot of the frugal ways now that I no longer “have to”. I can see how having a specific financial goal (like paying off your mortgage) can give you the drive to make big changes in the way you live. I’m going to implement some of these starting with cutting out the small things like programming my thermostat and not ordering pizza as often :).
Thanks Kathryn! Any change to save some money is a great start. If we hadn’t set our goal of paying off the mortgage I’m not sure we would have made the cuts we did. We had to have a goal to make the tough choices.
Hey Andrew, this is a great post – worthy of getting picked up by Yahoo, LifeHacker, BusinessInsider, etc. It’s great because it’s easy to emulate for anyone that wants to nuke their mortgage debt.
No magic recipes, no crazy strategies – just hard work and discipline. You prioritized your mortgage debt over other things and made it happen. Great job!
Oh, and this had me laughing: “Ok, it’s nothing like the Caymans, but there’s a Target!” 🙂
Thanks Ty! There are no magic formulas, at least none that I have found. The only way to do it is to get to work and chip away at it. Little by little you start to see improvements. That’s how it’s done.
Lots of good suggestions regardless of your financial goals! I’ve done a lot of similar things and it’s amazing how fast going without certain things becomes normal-at least in the sense that you get used to it.
Yeah you definitely normalize the changes you make. Some things you figure you will miss out on and don’t then there are other things that you would think wouldn’t be a big deal but end up being important.
We use a lot of your strategies, although we haven’t yet set a timeline for aggressively paying off our mortgage. We drive older cars, heat exclusively with firewood (free!), buy used clothes, cook at home a lot, etc. We don’t have a TV (my wife and daughter are watching a DVD from the library on our laptop as I type this), do our own yard work/landscaping, and brew our own coffee (ground by hand!).
I’d like to implement more savings strategies so I can put more into my 401(k), and then work on throwing money at our mortgage.
Thank you for the comment. I love the DVD rental library. You can’t beat the price!
Great list! A lot of the items in your list could be deemed as unnecessary. They are good to have, not need to have. It could be seen as a sacrifice but it’s sacrificing something someone doesn’t need to have.
Thanks, some of the bigger ones were lifestyle changes we never got used to but the end has justified the means.
It’s all worth it now though, right? I have to say, in some ways I wish we hadn’t learned to cook so well, because now we’re debt free and might have started going out for meals more, you can quite often find that you can cook it better yourself. It gets you out of the cleaning up, but its a large price to pay just for that! I have to admit, we didn’t sacrifice too much in the way of travel. But we also don’t have children (and all the expense they come with!) Congrats on the debt freedom 🙂
It’s definitely worth it. Learning to cook is easier than ever with all the resources. Congrats on being debt free! Glad to be in the club!!!
An easier 28 than you’d think in the end, right? This exercise probably led to some great new habits, now that you’ve experienced how full life can be without all the extras. Way to go- very nice post, and great example to all of us who need to kill that mortgage!
Thanks! It is true after you get these habits up and going they become very easy. At the end of the day you just want to make sure that you have enjoyed life as much as you can. Whatever that means to you. Remember the little changes add up.
Awesome list! I love that you added cream and sugar…every penny counts! 😉 I saved 66% ($113) of my electric bill this year just by unplugging things, mainly the tv/wife/cable power strip, when I left the house and at night when we went to bed. It’s insane how much waste we have in our lives that isn’t necessary to survival. Good for you guys!!
Thanks! Thats a huge percentage to save on your power. It’s amazing how much gets used by just letting it sit idle.
You guys are tough!!! And so much of this is lifestyle tweaking that it’ll make a huge difference years from now too. Also, one other thing you can do to cut down on the trash is to compost. We picked up a nice compost bin on Craigslist pretty cheap a few years ago. You’d be surprised how many things you can compost for use later in the yard. Congratulations again on getting to your goal!
Thanks Penny! We have been thinking about composting. Maybe it’s time we look into it more. A lot of these are little changes that add up. The easiest ones are the little ones that don’t feel like much but really add up over time.
This is an awesome post, Andrew!! The driving for fun thing is actually something I gave up too when I was paying off my consumer debt. It seems so silly but when it’s something you love to do, it’s hard to sacrifice! Also, I am blown away by your cell phone strategy – you guys are seriously financial troopers! I’m an anomaly in the millennial world in that I kind of hate my phone and avoid bringing it with me as much as possible, but even I don’t think I could go without texting for years. I’m so beyond impressed by your (and your family’s!) willpower. Kudos to you!
Thanks Kate! That’s awfully nice of you to say. The cell phone was easier since we never had two. Now that we are a two cellphone family it would be hard to go back to one. Though I think about it once a month when I get the bill in the mail.
I wish I had your willpower! I actually just found out I’m allergic to a few of my favorite foods! Which is going to most-likely save me a lot of money. Eating out becomes so difficult when you don’t know exactly what ingredients are in the food you’re ordering.
CHEESE. I AM ALLERGIC TO CHEESE. Which means no more pizza or doritos *cries forever*
Teach me your ways!
Thanks Alyssa. That is terrible news about cheese are Doritos actually cheese or is it a cheese like substance. As someone who’s grown up with allergies I’m very sympathetic to anyone living with them, though it does it get a lot easier after the initial change
Thanks for sharing your story and cut backs. I definitely am trying to find ways to cut my cable bill (out) and lower my cell service. I don’t want to give up my movie outings though. I am a SERIOUS movie fan!!! I have found a way to still go. For the past several years I have been going during the matinee time (which reduces the ticket price by 40%) and not buying any concessions. Thanks again.
Thanks Shadrina! I love the matinee idea. I should start doing that. All the little cuts up add up, what’s important is that when you manage to make a savings is that you actually put that saved money away or it tends to disappear I have found.
Hey this is a commendable list of things you gave up to be free. How does it feel to not have any more payments? Do you save more now or does it go other places? I’ve heard lifestyle creep is real and with so much cash flow I see how tempting it can be.
It’s a different feeling. Good but it’s not exactly what I thought it would be. Still I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We are definitely saving more. Doing our best to prevent lifestyle creep from finding us!
LOL about Grand Forks. We live in MN and I’ve been to GF a few times as a child. We had/have relatives who live in super small towns such as Fairdale and Adams. GREAT tips here. We are doing most of these. BTW, I have a great homemade pizza recipe that rivals take out pizza and is super cheap: https://www.thefrugalfarmer.net/best-homemade-pizza-recipe/ We probably get take out pizza once or twice a year now that we’ve perfected our homemade pizza recipe. Congrats again on being debt free!
I love Grand Forks. So you live in MN, we are practically neighbours. I’m checking out that pizza recipe. Thanks for the recipe
So I was just browsing pinterest and clicked on this link. It was fun to realize that we are fellow Manitobans! It’s rare to find a local online.
These are some great tips. My hubby and I aren’t quite as intense, but we do plan to pay off our house by the end of next year. We figured it would be fun because it’s our 15th anniversay and we both turn 35 next year. Celebrate big!
Hi Stacey, yeah us Manitobans are a rare find online. I’m happy you found us. That’s a huge win to celebrate on your anniversary huge congrats!
Whilst I admire your tenacity I’m just not sure it is worth it. Life is precious and very short and in my view worth living. You’ve sacrificed so many things that are fundamental to my enjoyment of life. You clearly have amazing determination but what’s the big rush? I will have paid my mortgage off shortly after my 50th and as awesome as it would be to have done it by now, I’ve travelled the world and lead an incredible life. Those memories are far more precious than a debt free existence
I appreciate your view on this, but I don’t view it as sacrificing an incredible life. While we did cut those expenses we got to spend more time with our children and build relationships with amazing friends. Now that we have gone without things we realize that they aren’t fundamentals but niceties that we appreciate more. Being goal focused just meant that we wanted to get it done. Now that we are mortgage free we have the ability to travel and do things without the feeling of being controlled by our mortgage. Before we decided to do this it was an easy choice. We had seen lots of the world, we used the time to enjoy our new family life and now that our kids are old enough to enjoy travel we will be doing a lot of it, unencumbered by a mortgage. I wouldn’t change what we did. Our sacrifices led to a new found freedom. But I can totally see your view on it. Thanks for commenting
This is right on point. We have just recently set the goal of paying our house off in 4 years. We already do quite a few of these things, as we tend to live more frugally than most. But I had to share this with my hubs, to see if we can find a few more to implement. I may regret that decision actually 🙂
I agree that it’s not sacrificing a great life. We do so much with our kids and also look in the long term of knowing that we can do so much more with them when the house is paid off and their parents are both home with them. It definitely isn’t easy for many to see it like that, but the big picture and the smaller benefits along the way make it very enjoyable, not a hardship.
This is a great post of expenses to remove from your monthly spending to get debt free.
I think someone doesn’t need to remove all of these expenses since you still need to spend some money to ensure a good quality of life. Instead, they can just look for lower costing alternatives that way they can still save some money.