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Prudence Debtfree’s Debt-Reduction Graph

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

Producing my graph

“If you had kept a spreadsheet of our debts month-by-month, you could have produced a graph in a few seconds,” DH told me earlier today. But I have not keep a spreadsheet. Instead, I’ve written dozens of updates on our debt-reduction progress. And these are interspersed through 277 posts that I’ve written for this blog over the last 6 years and 3 months. So it took a lot longer than mere seconds to produce my graph.

For several days, I’ve been digging deep into the archives of Prudence Debt-Free: One Couple’s Journey out of Debt. In my efforts to pin down an account of our debt totals for the 76 months of our trek to debt-freedom, I spent hours filling up 10 pages with dates and numbers. After that, it was a matter of bribing DH (with food) to take my data and make the graph.

4 of the 10 pages of notes I took

If this graph could tell its story …


After a very encouraging start in June of 2012, we had to put our debt-repayment on hold for September and October. DH had been to a conference in the U.S. and he had suffered a gall bladder attack. He’d had to give a deposit of $2,500 for his few hours in a hospital, with another $3,000+ owing. It took weeks to sort out the insurance coverage.

Everything settled in our favour with the insurance, and our financial stars aligned to allow us to pay off a lot all at once. November brought us to the end of our consumer debt ($21,400). DH’s over-the-top business in December allowed us to pay $10,000 off of our business debt ($80,800).


Our debt-payoff rate decreased through most of 2013.  We had to save for a new roof, and in the spring, DH’s business slowed down. I had to learn patience on both fronts, and the big victory of the year was that for the first time in our lives, we paid for a big purchase – the roof – with money on hand.


After having paid for the roof, we were eager to speed up payments against our huge business debt. Our rate of repayment increased overall, but there was nothing smooth about it. A month of great income and low expenses would be followed by a month of slow business and vet bills. One month, we paid a whopping $5,000 off the business debt. For two months, we couldn’t pay off anything. It was a bumpy ride through 2014, and as our attitudes did some re-shaping, we began to recognize in ourselves a draw towards greater simplicity and minimalism.


The bumps of 2014 continued into the first half of 2015, but then … we paid off the business debt! We were debt-free except for the mortgage! From June of 2015, our debt-repayment pace became smoother and slower. Why slower? 3 reasons:

  1. We saved up for renovations that DH did near the end of the year.
  2. We supported DD2 financially in moving out of the house and closer to her university and track facilities. We did this for 2 years – from July of 2015-June of 2017.
  3. In following Dave Ramsey’s steps, we started to save for our big emergency fund. (Just 2 months ago, our e-fund allowed us to buy a new-to-us car with money on hand when our ’99 Dodge Caravan bit the dust.)


I found it difficult to get excited about the slower progress we were making now that we were dividing our financial focus between savings and debt-repayment. I had been more motivated when it had all been about taking down the debt. As 2016 started, my resolution was to hold steady – like a plank – and to keep strong in all aspects of our financial efforts.

Our big mile-stone for the year was in going from a 6-figure debt to a 5-figure debt. From our original total debt of $257,000, we had less than $100,000 to pay off! I could see the finish line on the horizon!


Our debt-repayment continued steadily in 2017, but DH and I found ourselves shifting towards a greater appreciation for investing. Now that our big emergency fund had been saved, we were investing 15% of our gross income (as per Ramsey’s plan).

My mother’s health started to decline in the spring of 2017. She passed away in November after living a long and full life. Her final illness was mercifully brief, and she was surrounded by all 5 of her children at the end.


The inheritance that I received has sped up the last leg of our journey to debt-freedom. We were aiming for a debt-free date of June 2019, but that date moved up to September of 2018. We were able to make 2 lump sum payments against our mortgage to bring it down sharply.

In 3 short weeks, we’ll be down to $0. Our journey out of debt is almost over.

If you are paying off debt, how do you keep track of your progress? Are you aiming for a specific debt-free date? Your comments are welcome.


Our First “Aha!” to STAY out of Debt

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1 = dear first daughter
  • DD2 = dear second daughter

“write about what you’re doing stay out of debt”

2 months ago, I hit a writer’s block for the first time in 6 years of blogging. Why? Our narrative had changed dramatically because we’d received an inheritance, and it no longer felt genuine for me to be writing about our “struggle” to become debt-free – since it was no longer a struggle. I shared my concern with a colleague who reads this blog, and she said, “Why don’t you write about what you’re doing to stay out of debt? It’s a real issue, and it’s not a topic that many people write about.”

I have been very confident throughout this journey out of debt that DH and I would never use debt to buy anything ever again. We had indulged in yo-yo debting in the past, but we were now aware of our old bad patterns and were steering clear of them.

My susceptibility to marketing “seduction”

In these last 6 years, although we have saved for every purchase and avoided debt, there have been a few times when I’ve come face-to-face with my own susceptibility to what I can only call the seduction of marketing. In a post I wrote in December of 2013, “Debt and Battlefield of the Brain at Christmas Time”, I recognized the power of the season over my wallet.

“I got a little lost as I looked through all that was available,” I wrote of my shopping experience. “A subtle seduction was working its power on me as I imagined DD1’s delight and DD2’s surprise as each opened her gifts Christmas morning. The colours, the fabrics, the variety of styles . . . They wobbled my mental math, making me round down, making me subtract rather than add tax – or so it must have been, because I was way off and genuinely shocked by that $299 total.”

In 2015, after we’d paid off all non-mortgage debt, we decided to reward ourselves with some new furniture to go hand-in-hand with the home-office renovations DH was doing. Again, that seduction worked its power. In a post from the spring before our renovations began, I wrote “We would have to start looking out for new furniture – a sectional sofa for the old office space; a small love seat and two chairs for the combined family room/dining room . . . It was SO LOVELY to be able to think, talk, and plan in this way! I was high on visions of tile, hardwood, and leather furniture. I don’t even care how shallow that sounds!” How embarrassing is that?

Our condo plans

A few days ago, DH sat down at the kitchen table with me as I finished up my breakfast. His body language told me that he wanted to broach a difficult topic. “Let’s talk some sense and sensibility,” he said. (Sense and Sensibility is the title of one of Jane Austen’s novels. I’m a big fan. It was strategic diplomacy on DH’s part to use those words.) He was holding floor plans of the different condo units from the close-to-downtown development we’d planned to move into. 

A quick recap – I have always wanted to live downtown, and recently, DH and I discovered a new development in a great area close to the the downtown core. Condos are being built, and 2 months ago we decided that this fall we would put money down on one scheduled to be ready in 2022. We were both very excited about this plan, and we’ve visited the development several times over the summer. The timing seemed perfect. In 2022, we will both be retired empty-nesters. And although the condos are expensive, we were confident that we’d be able to cover the cost completely with the sale of our home.

Sober second thoughts

As DH started to talk at the kitchen table that morning, I knew where he was going. “It’s OK,” I said. “I woke up today thinking the same thing.” Our individual mental gymnastics had brought us to a shared conclusion based on many points.

  • The 10% we would put towards the condo in October would mean a significant amount of investment money not gaining any interest for 4 years.
  • We can only say that the price of the condo is more or less what we could reasonably expect to get for our house once it’s fixed up. There is no guarantee though. Who knows what will happen with housing prices in the next few years?
  • Condo fees will be significant, and again, there’s no telling what will happen to them over time. Usually, condo fees go up.
  • To get the house sale ready within 2 to 3 years, I would have to work an extra year. I might choose to work an extra year anyway, but this would make it a “have to” thing – not a choice.
  • There would be an ever-present stress between the time we put the 10% down and the time we put the house up for sale. “Will the sale price cover the cost of the condo?”

Bottom line: it’s too risky. It’s too close to the line. When we move to a smaller space – as we probably will in the next 5 years or so – it should be a move that ends up giving us a slush fund.  It should not be a move that might give us a new mortgage – as well as condo fees – when we’re on our lower retirement income.

Our decision

So we’re not going to put 10% down in October. More than likely, that means we won’t move into that development. Worst case scenario? Our house sells at a more-than-adequate price but the condo also goes up in price and stays out of our reach. And we say, “If only we’d put that 10% down in October of 2018!” Could I live with that? Of course.

“You never know,” DH said. “Maybe in 4 years we’ll be saying how relieved we are that we didn’t go for this because of something else that comes up – something better.”

“That’s a nice thought,” I said. “But I can’t see it. I can’t even imagine something better.” DH winced. “But I’m OK with that,” I added.

And I am. I LOVED the idea of moving into that condo. It looked p-e-r-f-e-c-t. But I l know that if it compromised the financial freedom we’ve been gaining, it would be a huge regret. It’s never a good idea to want something too much. That kind of longing is at least in part the product of marketing, and for me, it’s been the cause of many debts. I’m sure that DD2 and DD1 can’t even remember the Christmas gifts we gave to them in 2013. And that furniture I was so excited about in 2015? It’s just our furniture now. Presents and sofas don’t make life full. Neither do condos.

Have you ever wanted something “too much”? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Prudence Debtfree at Women Who Money

This image was chosen by the people at Women Who Money. Pretty dramatic! But it’s true that debt is a freedom-killing set of chains for too many people.

Last week, our story was featured at Women Who Money. If you missed it, here it is:

Hi, I’m Ruth (aka Prudence Debtfree), and I live in a suburb of Ottawa, Canada’s national capital city. I’m 55 years old, and my husband David is 59. Of our 3 daughters, two are in their 20s and have flown the nest, and the youngest, 19, continues to live with us.

David and I earn a household income that is above average, but it’s not as high as the income we used to receive before the high tech bust of the early millennium sent us reeling.

Before the tough times set in, we had a bad habit of maxing out, and our debt-to-income ratio (total debt divided by total take-home income) just kept increasing. We carried our debts comfortably, and we thought we were doing fine.

Click here to continue reading.

Would You Nominate Me for A Plutus Award (by July 31)?

In 6+ years of blogging, this is a first: I’m asking if you would nominate me for a Plutus Award. The Plutus Awards are given out each year at FinCon, a conference for people, including bloggers, involved in the personal finance community. I have never attended FinCon – largely because the travel involved would go against the debt-freedom I’ve been trying to achieve – but I believe in its vision:

“Our vision: we see a future where the world is changed for the better because our thousands of community members and attendees expose hundreds of millions of people to the life-changing ideas of financial freedom and independence.”

As many of you know, I started this blog in May of 2012 to chronicle what I hoped would be a journey to debt-freedom. That journey is about to come to an end. In September of 2018 – just over a month away – my husband and I will be putting the last payment against our mortgage! One of the reasons I chose to blog about this journey is stated in my article featured this week in Women Who Money: “I believed that what we were doing was important – not just for us, but for others who needed and wanted to do the same.

Smack dab in the middle of middle-age, and in the thick of raising a family, we realized how much debt was compromising our lives. Aged 49 and 53, we wanted out! I have written about our efforts to become debt-free not as an “expert”, but as a debtor. And it’s been a great, great satisfaction to me to know that  others  have been challenged and encouraged by our story. “Thank you for making debt a socially acceptable topic,” a reader once messaged me. I’m very happy to have helped in the breaking of that taboo. 

So would you be willing to nominate me? If so, here’s how:

  1. Click here to get to the nomination page.
  2. Give your name and email address.
  3. Scroll down until you see “Best Debt Freedom Blog” (or, since there are so many categories, you might find it easier to find it by hitting “Ctrl” and “f” and typing in “debt”).
  4. If my information is not already filled in, under “Best Debt Freedom Blog 1”, type in (or copy & paste) my URL:
  5. Scroll to the bottom and click “Submit”.

Thanks for considering my request. Nominations have to be in by July 31!


Emergency With An Emergency Fund = An Adventure

Our new-to-us vehicle became our emergency when the lug nuts fell out.

  • DH = Dear husband

Emergency & stress

The 2nd most stressful part of our emergency last week was the decision to pull off the highway. 5 hours into our road trip, we were behind schedule, but the noise the car had started to make earlier was just getting louder. We were in the middle of Toronto, the part of our drive we’d hoped to be able to get through without facing too much traffic, and with a heavy sigh (and possibly some expletives), DH pulled off of the highway. He parked on the nearest residential street to see if he could figure out what was wrong – and to call CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) for a free tow if necessary.

The most stressful part of our emergency was learning what had made the noise. DH checked the wheels, and sure enough, the front wheel on the driver’s side was missing 3 of 5 lug nuts. A 4th lug nut was so loose it was doing nothing to hold the wheel in place. DH had a sinking feeling as he realized what could have happened – on the highway, high speeds, the wheel flying off … “I should have pulled off sooner!” he chastised himself. “I should have recognized that sound!”

Why it happened

Just a few days before we set out on our road trip, DH brought our new-to-us Dodge Journey in for some free recall repair work that hadn’t been done by the original owner. DH didn’t like the service place. There was a sort of unfriendly  indifference on the part of the people he dealt with, and as he reflected upon it from the side of that unfamiliar road in Toronto, he put 2 and 2 together. They had removed the wheels and hadn’t told him – so he hadn’t checked them. A little more self-chastising: “I should have checked!” he said. “I should always check.” DH thought of taking one lug nut from each of the other wheels to make the front one secure, but when he tried to put one on, he couldn’t. The exposed bolt and been sheered – as had the 2 others. Time to call CAA.

A lot to be grateful for

At this point, it was clear we had a lot to be grateful for.

  • The wheel hadn’t flown off. We were safe and sound.
  • We had a CAA membership, and we got help.
  • Although it was late Sunday afternoon, the very helpful CAA man, Abdul, knew of a 24-hour service station, and he brought us to it.
  • The owner of the service station had a straight-forward competence, and he let us know after a quick assessment that he’d have to order the bolts in the morning. So we knew before it got dark that we’d be staying overnight in Toronto.
  • We had a smartphone, so although the area was completely unfamiliar to us, we could find our way to where we needed to go.

Then it got fun!

I have to admit that when I realized we’d be staying overnight, I felt like a bit of a kid. “We get to stay in a hotel?!” I thought gleefully. “Why would that be so exciting?” you might ask. This blog chronicles our 6+ year journey out of all debt, and there hasn’t been much travel going on since I started it. I hadn’t been in a hotel since 2011 – the year before our intensive debt-reduction started.

We sat in our parked car at the 24-hour service station and did some smartphone research. There was a Howard Johnson’s nearby. There was also a hotel that would cost twice as much. And then there was one that was cheaper – suspiciously absent photo and the word “creepy” in a Google review. Ho Jo’s it was! After booking our room online, a message appeared: “Congratulations! You’ve booked the cheapest room in Howard Johnson’s!”

DH downloaded the Uber app, and we took our first Uber ride ever to our home for the night. I could see why it was the cheapest room! Some brilliant work went into the design of the tiny space! It was complete with everything we needed though: bathroom with shower and tub; closet; drawers; bed; air conditioning. Perfect!

A great night out on the town

Now, where to find vegan food? Again, the smartphone came in handy. A 20 minute walk brought us to a really cool vegan restaurant/bar. And during that walk, we realized we were staying in quite a neighbourhood! “I get so mad,” one pan-handler told me. “The crack-users get $20 or $30 bucks!” Ma and Pa Suburbia no doubt stood out like a sore thumb as we walked hand-in-hand towards the slightly trendier block where our restaurant was located. Always good to see another side of life!

The server was friendly; the food was excellent; and the cast of characters in view was colourful. It was a great night! DH and I took a very bad selfie and sent it to our 3 daughters along with news of the car. They shared our moment with us – concerned about the near-miss and interested in the good food. We decided to play it safe and Uber back to Ho Jo’s after our fantastic meal.

The absence of money stress

If this emergency situation had happened only a few years ago, there would have been money stress to add to the equation. But that concern didn’t enter into our experience at all last week. Why not? We have an emergency fund! The Uber rides, restaurant meal, car repair, and overnight stay all brought on expenses that we hadn’t expected – and they were all easily absorbed. That is such a gift! I remember a time when every unplanned expense brought stress levels to ridiculous heights.

But now, what we’ll remember about our emergency – besides the need to check lug nuts after every visit to a service station and before every road trip – is the adventure we had because of it.

Have you experienced the difference between an emergency without an emergency fund and an emergency with one? Your comments are welcome.


Debt-Free Party? On 2nd Thought, Maybe Not

Pop the balloons! No debt-free party for us.

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1 – dear first daughter
  • DD2 – dear second daughter
  • DD3 – dear third dauther

“have a barefoot mortgage-burning party”

We began our journey out of all debt in June of 2012. In September of 2018 – less than 2 months from now – we will make our last payment against the mortgage. It’s a weird reality that is only gradually catching up with me!

To unload our grand total of $257,000 in debt over the last 6+ years, DH and I have followed Dave Ramsey’s plan as detailed in The Total Money Makeover. I remember when I first heard (via the book-CD) Ramsey talk about paying off the mortgage. It seemed like such an impossible goal!  “When you pay off the mortgage,” he said, “have a barefoot mortgage-burning party and invite all your friends, relatives, and neighbors.”

“Yes!” I thought. “We’ll do that!” And I had visions of barefoot dancing in the back yard.

But now I don’t.


When I think of the best parties we’ve had in this house, I think of birthday parties. I’d say we averaged 15 guests per birthday per daughter (we have 3) when they were young children. DH would twist balloons into different animal shapes and we’d put on a balloon-animal puppet show for a gaggle of little girls. We’d play musical chairs, sing songs with actions, eat pizza and cake … Those were great times! And then there were the surprise birthday parties: DH’s 40th; my 40th; DD1’s 21st; DD2’s 21st. (How will we ever be able to make DD3’s a surprise?) So much fun!

And what makes a party fun? A big part of it is that all guests are on board with the cause of the celebration. Who doesn’t genuinely wish the birthday girl or boy the best for their big day? Hopefully no one who has been invited! Same goes for weddings – which are the best parties ever! Who among the guests does not wish the newly-weds a bright future together?

“I don’t think we should have a party to celebrate our debt-freedom,” DH said a few months ago. “It’s not something that other people want to celebrate.”

Strange reactions to debt-freedom

I remember about 4 years ago, there was a commercial for a bank that featured the mortgage pay-off of a good-looking, fit, well-dressed, 40-something couple. The wife,  presumably driving from work, approached their big suburban house when much to her surprise, a marching band came out of the garage. Friends and family emerged to cheer her home, and her husband, who had arranged the surprise, smiled and hugged her.

At work one day, a fellow teacher made reference to the commercial. “How selfish can you get?!” he said, full of uncharacteristic spite. I must have asked for clarification. “Paying off their half-million dollar home!” Words failed him, and he just waved his hand in a gesture of disgusted dismissal. I figured I was missing something obvious, so I didn’t pursue it and we changed the subject. This man, by the way, is one of the most approachable, accommodating, accepting, friendly people you’ll ever meet. He is exactly the high school teacher you want your children to have.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with an equally pleasant person, and since he knew that I blogged about debt-reduction I let him know about our approaching $0 mortgage. I could see him absorb the information and struggle a bit to find the words before he said, “I know that’s important to you.” Again, I felt I was missing something. Normally, this man is quick to smile and encourage, with goodwill to spare – but there was none of the above in his response. I think he was striving for neutral.

Evolution of responses to our journey out of debt

There was a shift in people’s responses to our journey out of debt 3 years ago – when we had paid off everything but the mortgage. “I’ve already noticed little changes,” I wrote at the time. “Someone asked me yesterday why I had chosen to teach summer school, and I said, ‘We want to pay off the mortgage before we retire.’ Her response was, ‘Yep. That’s the smart thing to do. Get rid of that mortgage.’ I always used to say something like, ‘We’re trying to get out of debt. My husband lost his job in the high-tech bust and we got ourselves into quite a debt hole.’ The response would usually be a respectful and somewhat sympathetic nod of the head. So there’s been a shift. I’m no longer the object of sympathy. I’m ‘smart’.”

From “object of sympathy” to “smart” to … ? I’m not sure. All I know is that for a reason I can’t figure out, it isn’t necessarily positive.

“Am I talking about this too much?” I have wondered. I know I had a tendency towards too much debt-talk for a while in some situations, but I’ve intentionally kept that tendency in check for the last few years. (If you know me IRL, correct me if I’m wrong!) So what’s with these lukewarm to cold responses? A few possibilities that come to mind are that some people:

  • think mortgage pay-off is a private matter that shouldn’t be talked of.
  • believe that anyone who talks of paying off their mortgage is boasting.
  • think that debt-freedom is a weird goal and nothing to get excited about.
  • see prioritizing debt-repayment as shallow.
  • feel defensive about their own debts.

No party

So many of us who read and write blogs about personal finances find an open freedom online that’s often stifled IRL. I know that when the day comes and I write of our debt-freedom, a virtual cheer will be sent up by the online community I’ve been a part of for the last 6 years. And while there will also be several face-to-face congratulations, I think it’s wisest not to throw a party to celebrate. So I’m agreeing with DH on this.

Does this take away from anything? I don’t think so. It’s just a matter of accepting things the way they are. We’ll still celebrate – just not with a party. And we’ll still walk barefoot in our back yard:)

Would you throw a debt-freedom party? Can you relate to the evolution of responses I mentioned? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of flickr.

$4,000 Mortgage! (But Home Needs Renovations)

So many dark red walls to paint a light grey! 

DH = dear husband

When we started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, I was 49 years-old and DH was 53. With retirement on the not-so-distant-anymore horizon, here’s how things were:

  • consumer debt – $21.000
  • business debt – $81,000
  • mortgage debt – $155,000
  • Total debt – $257,000

Inspired by Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, DH and I made debt elimination our mission. We had “wandered into” a level of debt that had brought us far too much grief, but we knew that “wandering” would not get us out of it. Ramsey speaks of the focused intensity needed to make debt-pay-off happen, and focused intensity is exactly what has allowed it to happen for us.

An overview of our progress

With a budget, a tracking spreadsheet, a readiness to face our flaws of character and the negative patterns in our relationship that had kept us in debt…

Once our non-mortgage debt was gone, we continued to follow Ramsey’s plan and started to divide our efforts between mortgage pay-off and savings and investments.

  • We saved an emergency fund to see us through 3-6 months of income loss.
  • Next, we increased our long-term investments to 15% of our gross income.
  • At the same time, we paid as much extra as we could manage against our mortgage every month, to a maximum of double payments.
  • All the while, we purchased without debt – even for big ticket items like a new roof and a renovation for DH’s home business office.

Our trajectory was to be debt-free by June of 2019, but an inheritance moved that date up to September of 2018 – just under 2 months from now.

What kind of renovations does our house need?

Great news for the cause of debt-freedom! But I’m going to guess that in general, people who focus on paying off their homes do not focus on home-upkeep – making post-mortgage item #1 a little home-TLC – or a lot of it.

We had a real estate agent come to our house a couple of weeks ago. DH and I are considering a move in a few years, and we wanted to know what we’d need to do to get our home sale-ready if we go that route. “This screams 90s,” she said more than once as we gave her the grand tour. She’s a straight shooter.

If we’re going to put our house up on the market some time in the next few years, we’re going to have to bring it into the not-so-new-anymore century and millennium. Furthermore, there are things that need fixing and a basement to be finished. DH is a handy man, so he’ll be able to do much of the work, but not all of it. Here’s our to-do list:

  • Paint every room in the house light grey. DIY – DH will do it. (I would help too, but he won’t let me. DH is a perfectionist about these things – which is good. I, alas, am not a perfect painter.)
  • Paint cupboards and trim white. Some DIY, some not. (This will be massive!)
  • Correct a drainage issue for our exterior stucco and re-paint it. Not DIY
  • Ceramic tiles in laundry room and bathrooms. DIY
  • Replace sink and cabinets in powder room. DIY
  • Fix plumbing of our en-suite bathtub. Not DIY (DH has tried without success.)
  • New carpeting upstairs. Not DIY
  • Sand, darken, and re-finish hardwood of living room/dining room. Not DIY
  • Complete basement renovations. DIY

It’s doable!

That’s a pretty daunting list, but here’s the thing: with complete debt-freedom, it’s all entirely doable! Over the 6.3 years of our journey to debt-freedom, we will have put an average of $41,000 per year against our debt. These renovations, spread out over a few years, will come in at nowhere close to that amount. It will be no small deal, but the burden of renovation-payment will be way less than the burden of debt-repayment has been.

Are our plans set in stone? Not at all! We’ve learned over the last 6 debt-reducing years that we function best with a plan in place, but we’ve gained more freedom in choosing our plan. Retirement is now much closer on the horizon for us than it was in 2012 when, weighed down by our debts, we saw its approach with some dread. As our complete debt-freedom becomes reality, that dread has been replaced by new dreams that have surfaced for us. We now have the freedom to make plans to allow those dreams to take shape.

It’s a new stage of the game, and the truth is it’s strange to be here. But I’ll adjust!

If you have a mortgage, do you focus on paying it down instead of upgrading your home? Have you even done renovations that you’re still paying for? If you plan to buy a home, how do you see yourself balancing the mortgage with “home improvement”? Your comments are welcome.


R.I.P. ’99 Dodge Caravan!

We said good-bye to our ’99 Dodge Caravan this week. 

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1 = dear first daughter

Symbol of our commitment to debt-freedom

Early in the afternoon on Thursday, which happened to be my birthday, I got a call at work from DH. He had just managed to pull off the road and into a parking lot; the van had died. “I’ve called a tow truck,” he said. “I’ll get it assessed, but I don’t know if it’ll be worth it to have it fixed again.”

Our van owes us nothing. We bought it in 1999 when I was expecting our third child and we were entering the intensive mini-van stage of life. 19 and a half years later, we’ve all long since aged out of that era, and our 19-year-old daughter and her 2 older sisters have been embarrassed by our ancient van for close to a decade. Their parents, on the other hand, have been very proud of it.

For over 6 years now, DH and I have been on a mission to pay off all personal debt.  Our ’99 Dodge Caravan, already an uncool 13-year-old vehicle when we started this journey in 2012, has been an ever-present, visible symbol of our commitment to debt-freedom. And it almost saw us to the finish line. In 2 months from now, we’ll be putting the last payment against our mortgage.

Car mentality: DH’s progress

When I first met DH, he drove a spiffy Toyota Celica. Over the winter months, he paid to keep it in a garage as a protection against the harsh northern elements, and from spring to fall, he lovingly washed and waxed each week. He had bought it new 3 years earlier – and was still paying $750 per month for it.

Over the years, DH has drooled over certain vehicles – especially Porsches. And though he gave way to the mini-van era with good grace, “Some day …” was his well established dream for a long time.

But his attitude has undergone a significant turn-around over our debt-reduction years. He has looked back upon the money sink-hole of his Celica payments and expenses with increasing horror as he experienced and valued a gradually lighter and lighter burden of debt. He has sung the praises of our ’99 Dodge Caravan – so reliable, so convenient, so remarkable in its functioning year after year after year … The lure of “spiffy car” no longer has power over him.

A lifetime first: our new-to-us car – paid in full

We’ve known for the last few years that our van might die at any time, and DH has been keeping his eye on Dodge Journeys – to be ready when the inevitable happened. 2 years ago, when we had broken the 6-figure milestone of our debt and DH was still in the process of shedding the last bits of his old weakness for new, shiny cars, he pulled up in our driveway in a brand new 2016 Dodge Journey. “It’s just a test drive,” he said. “It’s just for fun.” I didn’t think it was so fun, and only a year later did DH admit, “That was a close call.”

4 months ago, DH noticed a gently used 2016 Dodge Journey for sale. We seriously considered buying it since it had low mileage, some worthwhile upgrades, and was 40% off the price for new. By that point, we were in a position to pay for it outright and still meet our debt-freedom date of September 2018. But we decided to keep on driving the van – because it was still running.

After we’d made the decision not to try fixing the van this week – a starting quote of $1,300 with a strong possibility of more to follow – we looked for used Dodge Journeys. At a dealership very close to home, we found a 2013 model – fully loaded – at 65% off the price for new.

Adjusting to new(-to-us)

As I walked around the used car lot, I wondered why I had never bought used before. There was a 2018 vehicle in the mix, along with cars from pre-2010. They looked fine! They were being sold with certain guarantees, and the used-car-salesman image just wasn’t happening. The business seemed to be family run, and our salesperson was a woman about my age who knew every detail of every vehicle. She spoke in a straightforward, low-key way. Nothing to mistrust. No sleaze.

We are really, really happy with our new-to-us car. Most significantly, it has a functioning air-conditioner! Our van’s ac hadn’t worked for years, and the ac on our other vehicle (2011 Ford Focus) died 2 years ago. We just happen to be going through a record-breaking heat wave right now, and the Dodge Journey’s ac is SO welcome!

“I feel guilty driving this,” DH said to me yesterday, and I understood because I had been thinking the same thing. Of course there’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s a 5-year-old car! It doesn’t come close to ranking among the “spiffy” options out there. It wasn’t expensive, and we paid for it with money on hand. Nothing decadent about this purchase at all! But it’s such an upgrade from what we’ve been driving. “It’s the nicest car I’ve ever driven,” I said to DD1 on a recent phone call. “That’s not hard, Mom,” she said. “You haven’t been driving nice cars.”

A hint of things to come?

I can’t help but think that there will be more of this adjustment ahead. We’ve got so many old, worn-out things – bikes, carpeting, furniture, the paint on our walls … In the months and years ahead, we’ll have the freedom to replace them when we choose to. I hope that we won’t get swept away by the siren song of materialism – that we’ll stay on the look-out for the lies and false forces of marketing. But I also hope that we live the freedom we’ve been working towards – and that we’ll stay on the look-out for the lies of false guilt too.

DH and I both felt a bit weepy as we watched the tow truck carry away our ’99 Dodge Caravan. It’s seen us through countless family camping vacations, trips to soccer games, swim meets, track practices … And more recently, it’s been a steadfast companion through our years of debt-reduction, a constant symbol of the better way we have chosen.

Do you buy new or used vehicles? Have you or your loved ones ever felt embarrassed by an old car? Have you ever felt a false guilt when buying something? Your comments are welcome.


My Daughter’s Lesson in Perseverance

DD2 = Dear second daughter

DD2’s discouragement in track

DD2 is a track athlete, and two Wednesdays ago, I went to watch her race the 800m. It had been 3 years since she had run a personal best of 2:06.17, and that night, she was determined to break her record. Since 2015, she seemed to be stuck at 2:08. There had been reasons for the long plateau: injuries; a difficult decision to change coaches; more injuries; adjustment to a new training style … But she was finding it frustrating.

To qualify for Canadian Nationals next month, DD2 had to run a 2:06.00, and she had never felt more ready than she did that Wednesday evening. Hopeful and tense, I watched her line up, wait for the starter’s gun … and take off! She raced beautifully! Long, powerful strides brought her to a second place finish, and no matter what her time was, I thought she must be happy and proud. I certainly was!

Her room-mate, who was volunteering at the meet, knew better. “She won’t be happy with that,” she said. DD2’s time was a season’s best – by a few hundredths of a second – but not a personal best: 2:08.54.

I could see that DD2 was crying as her coach talked with her. I waited for her to come and talk to me, and when she did, she cried some more.

Transparent vulnerability

“I know it’s hard for you to understand, but I haven’t gone better than 2:08 for 3 years,” she explained. “And I don’t know why. I’m feeling stronger, more fit, happier, more confident than I’ve ever felt before, so I don’t understand it. I don’t know what more I can do – or if I can even do this anymore.”

Her coach had advised her not to make any decisions right away, and I agreed. And though I’m not at all qualified to coach, I decided to speak as a mom. “You ran beautifully,” I said. “I loved watching you race.”

Open to counsel

As I drove her home, DD2 was OK with me speaking more. “Your running is a gift, and it shouldn’t make you sad,” I said. “Slower runners were a lot happier than you were tonight.” I warned her against letting her self-worth get tied up in her track results. “Your value isn’t impacted by it.” I advised her not to quit, but to give it her best for the remaining weeks of this summer’s track season. “If you don’t manage to get a new personal best, you can decide to stop if you like. There’s no shame in that. Everyone stops at some point.  Whether you qualify for Nationals or not – whether you stop or keep training – you’ll know that you gave it your all.”

Competitive sports can bring with them an element of torture. Today’s personal best becomes the new benchmark that must be surpassed. The high of success doesn’t last for long, and there is no permanent satisfaction in a constant craving for better. Elite athletes have to have the mental capacity to balance fiercely ambitious effort with a humble grace. No one’s season lasts forever. Ideally an athlete walks away, forward into the next chapter, with a developed confidence, great memories, finely-tuned self-discipline, and the experience of achieving potential. I didn’t want DD2 to walk away with anything less.

Moving forward …

DD2 had a long talk with her coach, and she decided to keep training at least until the season’s end. She sent an email about it to me. “… up until Nationals, I’m going to be the best athlete I can be – better than before (you helped plant this idea in my head) … I will never skip a long run, a cool-down, or give less than 100% at practice. I won’t drink … I’ll eat exceptionally well, over-hydrate, get enough sleep. And when I step on that start line, I won’t hold anything back.”

After a race a week later, I was relieved to see a change in DD2’s outlook – despite unchanged results. “I raced Wednesday night. I won in 2:08.42. A season’s best, and obviously 2:08 AGAIN. I am getting better by a tiny bit each time – but nonetheless I’m moving in the right direction. I’m ready for that time to drop any day now.”

Provincial Championships

The Ontario Track and Field Championships are taking place this weekend in Toronto, and DD2’s race was this afternoon. The meet is live-streamed, and so I was able to watch her event from home. Her seed time was the second  slowest in the fastest of 3 heats. There she was on my laptop monitor, ready to start. When the gun went off, I could’t sit down! I had to stand and pace and jump and talk to the screen through the whole race. She ran beautifully! 7th seed but 5th place – in both her heat and the Championships.

I continued to watch her on my laptop, and I saw her straining to see her time along with the other racers. And then … big smile! Hands raised in victory! When the times went up on the screen for live-stream viewers like me, I saw why she was so happy: 2:05.42. After 3 years, DD2 had achieved a new personal best! And she has qualified for Nationals!

Exhausted but happy runner after today’s race with her proud coach

A mother’s hope

Of course I hope that in two weeks at Nationals, DD2 will do her best run ever, but ultimately, my greatest hope is that this experience will impact the content of her character. In a vulnerable moment, DD2 was transparent, not hardened; and instead of shutting down, she was receptive to counsel. She chose to face discouragement with patience and perseverance. And she got to experience the reward of her wise choices in a way that I believe will give her more than a transient high of athletic success. It’s a reward I hope she will experience again and again in the years to come – even long after her track career is over – as different challenges come her way from all facets of life.

But for the short-term, I’ll enjoy her new personal best and her ticket to compete with the fastest runners in the country. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Have you experienced the difference between quitting as a reaction and stopping as a proactive choice? Have you ever made the decision to persevere through tough times? Was that perseverance rewarded? Is there ANY connection between this story and debt-reduction? Your comments are welcome.