While I frequently share about saving money, I don’t often mention many details about our personal financial story. There have been different times that I’ve considered sharing more, but in the end, I’ve always decided not to because I was afraid that it would sound like I was tooting our horn or that we think we have it all together and are so much better than everyone else. I also have worried that it will make other people feel “less than”, because if you are like me, it’s easy to do the whole comparison thing and start being hard on yourself because you aren’t doing what someone else does. And that is so not what I want this blog to be. I want it to be a place of encouragement and inspiration!
Recently though, I had a reader email me with some questions about saving money and she mentioned that although she is super frugal, sometimes she just needs encouragement to keep saving, to stick with budgeting, to be reminded often that all the sacrifices and hard work will be worth it in the end. And I realized that by basically avoiding sharing our personal financial story, I’m really doing you all a disservice. Because one of the things that was huge in keeping me motivated to save and pay off our debt, was to hear other people’s stories about how they made it through tight times. To hear them talk about the crazy things that they did to become debt free and how not having any debt is now allowing them to pursue things that they couldn’t before or give generously in way that the didn’t have the capacity to previously. And so, I finally decided that it was time to share more of our personal financial journey with you. I sincerely hope that it can inspire and encourage you in your own financial journey, even though it may look very different than ours!
One of the craziest things that we’ve done was to buy a home only 6 mo. after we were married. That might not sound that crazy initially, but the thing was, the house cost us $90,000 and we borrowed the full amount! Plus, it was a fixer upper, so we knew we would be putting more money into it over the next several year as we remodeled too! Definitely not something I’d probably recommend, but after getting lots of counsel from others, we felt like it was the right choice for us.
And thanks to the grace of God and a lot of hard work, we were able to pay off our mortgage in full just 5 years later, meaning that by age 31 we were debt-free homeowners! I’m not going to lie to you and say that our life suddenly changed and we were so much happier once we were debt free, because that simply wasn’t the case. Life was still life. However, there was a huge sense of freedom that came from knowing that we didn’t owe anyone anything. And it was rewarding to be able to loosen up our spending just a tad, feel like we could regularly give more generously and know that we could pursue some other dreams like more schooling for my husband.
So what were some of the things we did that helped us pay off $90,000 worth of debt in 5 years, plus do lots of remodel work as well? Obviously, there were a lot of things that factored in, but here are the 10 things that I could think of right off the top of my head.
10 Things that We did to Pay Off Our $90,000 Mortgage in 5 Years
1. Bought a House in the City
We live in an area where land is super expensive so this was a much cheaper option and we were able to get a nice house with a small yard for way less than we would have otherwise. It’s sometimes been a bit challenging to live here with 3 young children, but it’s definitely doable!
2. Bought a Foreclosed Fixer-Upper
My husband is a Mr. Fix-it of sorts, so this worked for us because it meant we were able to do a lot of the work ourselves. We also had times where family and friends pitched in with smaller projects like painting and roof replacements. I’ll be honest though, I don’t know if we will choose a fixer-upper when it’s time to buy our next house. I don’t enjoy that kind of work much at all so it felt like a huge, overwhelming job to me. It also took up most of my husband’s free time for the first couple years of our marriage, which of course had it’s downsides and often felt like a big sacrifice. We ultimately did it though because we knew long term, the benefits would be significant.
3. Skimped on Vacations
During those first 5 years of our marriage we took very few vacations and did very little traveling. Sometimes that was really hard because it felt like our friends were always doing fun things that we simply couldn’t afford to do. We had to remind ourselves often of the end goal!
One of our favorite way to find lodging when traveling is by using Airbnb- you can even save $20 off your first stay!
4. Only Sort of Did College
We both got associate degrees at the small college where we met and fell in love. Soon after graduation, we got married and because I planned to be a mostly stay-at-home mom once we had children, and since we were hoping to start having children before too long, I didn’t see any reason to get more education at this point. I had been working as a pharmacy tech for 7 years and so I continued with that job until our son was born 20 months later.
My husband wanted to do more schooling though, but wasn’t exactly sure what degree he wanted to pursue. Instead of going to college without any plan, we felt it was smarter to wait until he had a clear sense of direction as to what field of study he should do. So we kind of postponed the whole college thing until recently. He’s set to graduate this fall with a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and is hoping to go on and get his Master’s after that.
5. Worked Hard & Worked a Lot
We were both blessed with jobs that always had plenty of work. I worked 3 days a week up until our son was born and often put in extra hours, since there was almost always some available. My husband has a good paying job in construction where he frequently put in extra hours so that we could pay extra on our mortgage.
We also did a variety of random things to earn more money that we would then put towards the principle on our mortgage. At one point we even got paid to clean our church every week! Not our favorite job ever, but hey, it helped!
6. Kept Our Grocery Budget at $200 a Month
Soon after our oldest child was born and I switched to being a stay-at-home mom, I discovered the art of couponing and deal shopping. Along with using paper coupons, I also started using apps like Ibotta (currently offering a $10 account credit to new users!), Checkout51 and Saving Star to save even more money on groceries, including fruits and veggies! It takes time to do, but I’ve always felt like it is one way that I can relatively easily “earn” us some money, while still being at home. By using coupons and shopping sales, I was able to save at least an extra $200 or more on groceries each month. Obviously that freed up a nice amount of money that were could then use to do remodel work or pay off our mortgage faster.
Want to learn more about our $200 Grocery Budget? Check out my $200 Grocery Budget series.
Buying meat in bulk has been another big money saver. We love using Zaycon Fresh to get boneless, skinless chicken breast for just $1.69/lb. And sometimes they even drop the price to $1.49/lb.!
7. Drove Old Cars
We’ve never owned a car that was newer than 9 years old. Most of them haven’t looked awful (although the one you see pictured sure did!), but neither do they look amazing either. Actually, my husband jokes that their not-so-nice appearance is a great way to guarantee that they won’t be stolen!
Even though we buy older, used vehicles, we’ve tried to be selective with what we buy and go for cars that have had one or two owners, come from a reputable dealer etc. I know that still doesn’t always mean you won’t get a lemon, but so far we’ve been blessed with good vehicles and have saved a bundle in the process!
8. Had Just One Cell Phone
This was one of the things that we did that a lot of people simply didn’t get. And during that time, we had plenty of comments and hints that we were kind of backwards for only having one cell phone. But the thing is, we didn’t really need a second phone. If I needed to get in touch with my husband during the day, I could easily call him at his job. Other than that, if he was away I was either with him or we just dealt with the inconvenience of him not having a way to be contacted. Was it a pain at time? Yes. But honestly, it wasn’t a huge deal because we were used to it.
Once he started commuting to school 2 years ago, for a variety of reasons, we finally decided it was kind of important that he had a phone. Thankfully, we were able to come up with a solution that only costs us about $30 a month for 2 cell phones, which felt very affordable!
9. Put Everything Extra Toward Our Mortgage
I already alluded to this, but almost everything extra that we earned, whether it was a raise, a bonus or simply other income, usually went towards paying more on our mortgage. And periodically throughout the year we’d evaluate our budget and if there was a category that we simply weren’t spending as much as we had thought we would, we would often take that extra and add it to our mortgage payment as well.
10. Did Without & Lived Simply
I already mentioned several ways that we did this, but really, doing without and living simply was a way of life for us. During the years that we were focusing on paying off our mortgage, we bought only things that were absolute necessities. My husband is super creative and so sometimes when I thought we needed something, he would figure out a way that we could easily make do instead. We also bought a lot of things second hand and we rarely turned away anything free. When we did need to purchase something new, especially if it was more than $20, we would try to wait for it to go on sale. If there was something that we only needed for a short time or for one project, we would see if we could find someone to borrow it from instead of buying it ourselves. In short, creativity and contentment were our best friends. Although, I confess, sometimes I really stunk at the contentment part!
What about you? What are your tips for paying off debt? Have you done any of these 10 things?
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