The Power of Freedom: Andrew’s Story

Yes, it’s another powerful story of debt payoff to motivate us all to follow suit. Today, Andrew from Family Money Plan shares his amazing story. 

 How much debt did you start our with and what kind of debt was it?

 When we topped out we were over $320,000 in mortgage debt. We decided to build our dream home and I remember moving into the house and thinking. “YES!!! This dream home is a reality.”
That thought disappeared when I realized that my mortgage was a 30 year debt (read: death) sentence. It’s a bitter sweet feeling owning a house. There is so much pride in home ownership but at the same time you only own a small part of that house. It’s really the bank that owns it in the beginning.

 What was the “eureka” moment when you knew things had to change?

 When we were in our new place with all this debt, the number 30 kept rattling around my head. I realized that my newborn son would be my age and I still wouldn’t have paid off my house.
I knew that a mortgage was “normal”. It was what everyone around us had. As I played with the idea I would talk to other people about extra mortgage payments and all I got back was blank stares. That tipped me off to there might be something there.

Recommended Reading: How to Own Your Home Years Sooner – without making extra interest payments

The saying that floated around in my head was: “If you do what everyone else does, you will get what everyone else has.” Everyone else has a lot of debt. I wanted to be mortgage free.
The eureka moment that sticks out for me was when we were doing some landscaping in the yard. Instead of hiring someone to plant these trees (we are talking 8 to 10 foot trees), I cheaped out. All because I didn’t want to pay $75 a tree to have them planted, and I did them myself.
I spent a full weekend digging giant holes in my yard and planting trees. It may not sound like a big deal but if you knew me you would know this wasn’t my kind of thing.
By the end of that weekend, I had spent over 20 hours thinking about money and my future. You tend to think better when there is nothing else to distract you like a phone or TV screen.
I realized that if I wanted to be financially free I would need to have this house paid off. I remember scaring myself into it by realizing that if I were to die planting these trees, (which I thought could happen at one point) my young family wouldn’t have much to fall back on.
So I decided that it would be best to pay of our house and get our financial house in order. Getting debt free was a big part of that.

 How long did it take you to pay off the debt?

6 years. It was a long time, but we had a young family and we knew we were in the sweet spot as far as kids go. They were young enough to only need the basics and we wanted to lay a good family foundation with our kids. It meant staying at home… a lot…. and enjoying what you have. Looking back on it I’m happy we had the opportunity to make this choice.
The early days of being a parent can be crazy. If you are a new parent, you realize everything in your life starts to change. So we embraced that change and started to enjoy a simpler life.
In some ways we took advantage of the time of life we were in and used all the chaos to set up some good money habits.

What are the top five things you did to get the debt paid off and how did those five things help you to make permanent changes and stick with your plan?

The first important thing we did was find a money system that worked for us. We tried a lot of different budgets and tactics, and none of them worked for us. Or we would use them at first and then give up on them for a multitude of reasons (one of them being a lack of discipline).
When we found the system that worked for us, we automated it and worked that system. It’s made all the difference with the success of our system, we have started to teach it to others.
We made sure to take full advantage of all our mortgage options for prepayment whenever we could. The biggest being the matched payment every chance we could. That meant saving a lot of money and figuring out where we could get the extra money every two weeks. Most of our money came from cost cutting things that we didn’t really need.
We also made sure we could give ourselves a way out should we ever need that money in an emergency. This was a big one for us because we set up a HELOC but didn’t touch it. We knew it was there in case of emergency which was great but we didn’t want to access it, it was for peace of mind. I’m not sure we would have done it without having a “safety net” to access the money should we need it in an emergency.

Recommended Reading: One Bed, One Bank Account: Better Conversations on Money and Marriage

We kept our goal right in front of us. When our friends would go on trips or buy new cars, we reminded ourselves “Mortgage free in our thirties.” Those 5 words we repeated to each other so many times it’s unbelievable and it was very important to our success. We had to remind ourselves all the time why we were doing this and what it meant for us.
I’ve got a long list of things we gave up to become mortgage free on our site but I’ll give you some of the ones that stand out.
  • We didn’t have a smartphone, we shared the classic flip phone and we couldn’t even text. We looked ancient compared to everyone’s smartphones.
  • We didn’t eat out and learned to cook good meals. Part of this was out of necessity with our family developing allergies. But it ended up helping our budget quite a bit.
  • We didn’t travel at all. This was one of the harder things to do. My wife and I love to travel and to stay put was more of a challenge than we thought it would be.
  • We cut costs wherever we could. We stocked up on groceries when they were cheap, always hunted for good deals and often when without.
Overall,we questioned every expense. From Netflix, to car washes, to groceries and everything else you can think of. The question was always: “Do we need this right now or can we wait?” You will be amazed at the amount of things you can pass up on when you don’t really need it.
Delaying gratification also played a huge part. Even today I think about any significant purchase for months, I have found waiting for things makes me either want it more or lose interest. Either way it’s a win.

How is life different now that you’re debt free compared to when you were drowning in debt, both from an emotional standpoint and a financial standpoint?

Life is completely different, and utterly the same all at once.
There’s two parts of being debt free. The actual debt free part means life is a lot better. The looming mortgage payment is no longer part of my reality and that is a great feeling. That feeling of needing to make a payment every two weeks (plus the extra match payment) isn’t there anymore. The stress of money has gone down a lot. Once you get to debt freedom you realize that you don’t need as much money. This is partially through the habits of becoming debt free, and partially through no longer having the debt itself.
At the same time, life isn’t any different. We aren’t financially free so our day to day routine is the same as it was before. Wake up, kids, work, kids, eat, sleep, and repeat. So it’s a strange beast in a lot of ways. Financially it’s great, but day to day not a lot is different. Which I have to say is a little bit of a let down, but we are talking less than 1% let down and 99% awesome!
That said, anytime things are a little rough or the day is feeling long I remind myself we are debt free and it always puts a smile on my face.

What are some of the pivotal things you’ve been able to do now without debt that you could have never done while in debt?

We are able to save like it’s going out of style. Which it never will, because saving money is cool. Tell your friends!
Pivotal things…hmmm…. we are able to travel more now. We are hitting our stride with that, the kids are at the best age for travelling. We have just come up with our travel plans for the next 5 years and I’m really looking forward to all the trips.
Another nice thing, while not pivotal, is we are able to live on less. We trained ourselves for a long time to make the extra mortgage payments, and now that we are debt free, there isn’t a need for spending more.
One of the biggest pivotal things is that we now are able to think about what’s important. We value family time and experiences above things. I find myself walking the malls (because it’s ridiculously cold here and I love walking) some evenings and seeing everything and thinking “Don’t need it” and “Don’t see the value in it” which is weird, because when I was going without for those 6 years I wanted everything at first. Now I am able to buy more stuff I find I question the item a lot and if I don’t have a great reason for buying it then I pass on it.

What message or words of encouragement do you have for those still struggling with debt who are overwhelmed/in denial regarding their situation?

 If you are reading this and wondering if you can do it yourself, the answer is yes, you can become debt free. You don’t have to buy into minimum payments and 30 year mortgages. Take some small steps in the beginning and see how it feels. Take control of your situation. You can do it!
I’m an average person and was able to do it. It takes times and effort. So focus on the long game. Every time you put extra down on your debt you are giving your future self a raise. It won’t feel like much at first but if you keep at it you will start to see results.
That’s my advice, figure out why you want to be debt free, start small, and keep at it until it’s done. One last bit
If you are wanting to learn more about getting mortgage free faster I have a free book for you called “How to Hack Your Mortgage and Save Thousands” Click here to check it out: familymoneyplan.com/frugal-farmer.

25 comments

  1. I love your story, Andrew! I love how frugality can help us better able to distinguish between needs and wants, the important and the not-so-important. I like your take on walking the mall now. I don’t go to the mall often, but when I take the kids, it’s a complete culture shock.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Amanda, I find it nice to be able to go out to a mass commercial place like a mall and be able to look around and think “Nah!” it’s like building a muscle. Little by little you get used to saying no to those items and soon it’s a habit.

  2. Bravo for tackling such a huge debt in 6 years! Was that the only debt you had at the time? Just curious.

    We have a mortgage, student loans, and car loan to eliminate before we start saving for FIRE. I’m a little jealous of your freedom, but I know it’s possible to achieve with a lot of hard work and planning. 🙂

    • Andrew says:

      That was the only debt we had, towards the end we decided to buy a car (we usually drive them for 10plus years) so we financed that too which meant more debt to pay off. We just recently paid that part of our debt off, and are now completely debt free. You will get there. It happens a little bit at a time and it’s totally worth it!

  3. That’s a really serious mortgage to pay off in just six years. Well done! We did the same with our house, but now have a mortgage again and are probably moving to a bigger house soon. While we’re leaning into leverage again (due to opportunity costs) I definitely see the benefits of just being debt free. It’s a great feeling. Congratulations!

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you! That’s so awesome that you were able to do it too. I’m not sure it’s the right choice for everyone, but it definitely felt like it was the right choice for us.

  4. Mr. Groovy says:

    Haha! I love the smartphone part of your story, Andrew. Mrs. Groovy and I were late converts to them as well. I remember being in an airport a couple of years ago and I taking out my flip-phone to let Mrs. G know my flight would soon be boarding. And out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two old ladies pointing at me and laughing. Oh, the infamy! But that’s the way it goes. I’d much rather be mortgage free than on the cutting-edge of phone technology. As your interview amply showed, the five most beautiful words in the English language are these: “Mortgage free in our thirties.” Well done, Andrew.

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you Mr. Groovy. It’s true those 5 words carried us through a lot of decisions. There were a million and one times I wanted to ditch the flip phone but it made sense in the long run. Now that I have one I kind of wish I never got it, they are too useful. 🙂

  5. Josh says:

    It’s been a few months since I last read your story. We are taking several of these same steps now to pay off our mortgage early.

    Two of our harder tasks have been restricting travel (not stopping along the way to sightsee when driving to see distant relatives or taking weekend trips before our next baby arrives) & trimming our monthly budget. You don’t realize how many conveniences we spend money on until you want to focus on living less fancy than others today to live better than others tomorrow.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s great that you are making the move towards mortgage freedom Josh! The travel one was really hard for us too. It’s sooo true about the little conveniences you spend on. They add up to a lot, especially when you aren’t watching. Keep it up, it’s worth it in the end. 🙂

  6. katscratch says:

    I *love* what you said about being able to live on less than you did before, and your values shifting to prioritizing family. I think it’s fantastic to start out your family’s journey with a mindset of ‘yep, we have enough’ instead of starting to look ahead to the next big thing. It’s something I wish I would have realized much sooner 🙂

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you for saying that. It’s often easier said than done. Watching everyone else around getting new things can make you have a longing feeling for “stuff”. Luckily with two little ones it kept us busy enough to keep pushing on towards the goal.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s great that you are getting serious about paying off your debt. It is never too late, look at it like getting rid of the debt is like finding a freedom you have never felt before. It is worth it, and you can do it. Stay the course. You will be glad you did in the end.

  7. Wow that’s amazing. Housing is generally the biggest expense in most people’s lives. To pay off that mortgage and reduce your housing costs to just maintenance/taxes is awesome. I found the same thing with delaying gratification…often times you realize you didn’t really want it anyway.

    • Andrew says:

      It is nice to have the biggest expense off the books. Our mint spending is totally out of whack now, in a good way. There’s still room to cut, but now we are shifting to enjoying our time and creating new experiences for our kids so it’s a new ball game for us.
      And delaying gratification is huge, once you get into it, the waiting becomes this weird part of the reward. So strange in some ways.

  8. I know you all must have been on a mission if you were sharing a flip phone between the two of you!!!

    I can definitely relate to not enjoying manual labor and I think like you I would have said I need a way to pay for these trees in the future 🙂

    Great post!!

    • Andrew says:

      Haha! The trees were only one of the things I did manually, the whole time anything we wanted we were the “hired” labour. It made me appreciate what we were doing. Thanks for the kind words.

  9. A $320,000 mortgage gone in 6 years! That’s a WHOLE lot better than 30 years. Well done! It sounds like you toughed it out with some first world “suffering” to get there. I admire that. I’m a little too averse to toughing it out. We are 2 years away from being mortgage-free (and a lot older than you). Your story makes me want to be at the finish line!

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you! Those two years are going to fly by and you will be so much better off. It’s worth it in the long run. Honestly when I look back on what we gave up and did, I’m not sure if I would be able to do it all the same way a second time. That finish line for you guys is getting closer Ruth, you should start planning how you will celebrate.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Anne, I’m glad it’s adding fuel to the fire. We all have our ups and downs with our journey to debt freedom. Nothing is ever perfect. Just keep at it you will get there. 🙂

  10. Very Inspiring! I know how you feel when you see your friends buying new cars, bigger houses, the list goes on and on. Staying focused on debt freedom is hard when human nature is to keep up with the Jones’s. Great tip on continually repeating your desire, “mortgage free in our thirties”.

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