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.


Pet Therapy, Crate Training & An Analogy with Debt-Reduction

Introducing Kobe

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD3 = dear third daughter
  • DD2 = dear second daughter

We lost our Rocky in November – two weeks before we lost my mom. They were such great friends!

My mom was Rocky’s #1 person.

DD3 was most impacted by Rocky’s passing – especially tough as it was followed so soon by the passing of her grandmother. In the long winter ahead, she felt her double loss.

One particularly sad day in March, we were out walking when we passed by a man and his pug puppy. We stopped to “oooh” and “ahhh” and chat. DD3 knelt down, and the puppy leapt into her lap, his tail wagging in sheer joy. “You don’t know how much that lifted my soul!” she said as we walked away.

“Hmmm…” I thought.

Pet therapy

Just about an hour earlier, before meeting up with DD3, I had passed by an older woman at a bus stop who seemed to be speaking to a container on her folding wheeled grocery cart. “Would you like to see my bundle of joy?” she asked me. I stopped, and she pulled out a tiny puppy – a chihuahua I think. “She’s in training to be my companion,” the woman told me. “I’m on so many pills for depression…” We talked for a minute or two, and as her bus approached, I said, “I hope she brings you lots of comfort.” The elderly woman zipped her puppy back into her container, saying “Oh! She already does!”

Therapy pet. Sad daughter’s spirits lifted by a puppy. Was there a sign in this?

I took DD3 out for lunch, and while we were at the restaurant, I texted DH. “Let’s get a puppy.”

When we got home, I read some blogs and went to send out links on Twitter as is my custom. And what do you think was the first thing I saw on my feed? A vine showing a man who comes home to a dog jumping ecstatically into his arms. The bottom text gave this message: “Studies prove that pets are good for mental health.”

Yep. The signs were everywhere.

Our decision to get a dog

DH, who runs a business from home, was surprised by how much he missed Rocky’s constant companionship. Rocky would plunk himself down by DH while he worked, and then follow him out to the kitchen whenever he took a lunch or snack break. If DH had a power nap, so did Rocky. And if DH had to leave to run an errand, he would be assured of an enthusiastic welcome home upon his return.

When DH received my text message, it was a confirmation of something he already wanted.

May 20th, we brought home our Kobe.

On the way to his new home.

I forgot about the puppy stage …

Of course, no two puppies are alike. And there is a big difference between a puppy and an established family pet. Enter reality. The last few weeks have been crazy!! Kobe bites everything in sight, and he pees and poos all over the house.

In praise of crate training

I don’t like putting Kobe in his crate. He wants to run and play and be with his people, and I empathize with his longing for freedom when I close the door on his crate.

On the other hand, Kobe has a real resistance to doing his business outside. I can’t count the number of times we’ve walked him around our yard for that purpose with no success – only to have him do it within minutes of returning inside. Argh!! And when it rains, it’s a hopeless case! He doesn’t like the wet grass, and he’ll stand there in stubborn refusal as one of us gets soaked by the elements. No, it’s much better to pee on the mat by the front door and the upstairs landing. And the best place to poo is clearly the floor by DH’s work desk. Again – argh!!

I hit a critical point of irritation this week (not a proud moment), and I’ve completely overcome my reluctance to using that crate!

Parallels to debt-reduction

Kobe cannot handle freedom at this point. He needs us to set up super-strict parameters so that he can learn the basics of life as family pet. He sleeps in his crate. When he wakes up, I take him outside until he does his business. That means he gets to eat breakfast and then play with DD3. If DD3 needs to focus on something other than Kobe, he goes back in his crate – until DH is able to take over.

Kobe needs 100% vigilance. When we slip and give him only 96% vigilance, he’ll use that 4% to pee in the house or carry away one of our shoes to chomp on!

If I back-track to a time before our journey out of debt, I see that DH and I could not handle freedom. Financial chaos on my part and compulsive maxing out on his led to our chronic indebtedness and the chronic financial stress that went with it. We needed to set up super-strict parameters so that we could grasp the basics of personal finance and exit stress-mode. Budgets, tracking, cutting back, DIYing, steady focus …

Signs of success

It’s Saturday morning, and since starting this post, Kobe woke up. I saved my draft and went downstairs to say “Good morning!” to him. Out of the crate, into the back yard. Wet grass? Reluctance to walk on it? I got the leash and walked him around the yard. Pee! Yay! But we weren’t done yet. Around the yard again. And again. And then … Poo! It just does not get better than that!

Kobe had an equally productive walk after his breakfast, and now he’s peacefully lying down in his crate again. Some day, he’ll be able to lie at my feet while I write, and if he needs to do his business, he’ll let me know.

Likewise, DH and I have succeeded within our parameters of debt-reduction. We hope and believe that some of those strict boundaries can be replaced with more flexibility. We are well trained for our growing freedom.

Last night, Kobe was exhausted after a long walk. All pooped out – both literally and figuratively – he gave us a glimpse of the family pet he is becoming. And he is lovely – everything we could ask for.

DD2 visits us a lot more often these days.

Do you think pets are good for mental health? Have you ever crate-trained a dog? Your comments are welcome.


Discovering the “Freedom” in Debt-Freedom

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1, DD2, DD3 = dear daughters – first, second, and third

“Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” That’s one of Olivia’s lines from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A very eligible young lady, Olivia discourages the advances of an equally eligible bachelor. Steadfast in her determination to remain single, she is taken aback by her sudden attraction to Cesario, her suitor’s servant. The “plague” to which she refers is romantic love – a love that turns her world upside down. But all ends well (except for a poor fellow named Malvolio).

“The plague” DH and I have caught in this last week has likewise been unexpected, sudden, powerful, and one that has turned our world upside down. And while it doesn’t involve Olivia’s particular affliction, it is a matter of the heart. Here’s the back story:

Urban dream vs. suburban reality

Ever since my late teens, I’ve wished to live in the urban centre of my city. I grew up in a west-end suburb, and every time I went downtown, I just felt more alive. I remember cycling along the canal into the urban core, looking at all of the houses that lined it, hoping that “some day” one of them would be my home.

By my late twenties, I had a teaching position in a suburb even farther west than the one of my childhood – way farther. And when I met DH, he worked in the same area, so it made sense for us to settle in the burbs. And we did.

In the years to come, career upheaval (the prologue to our debt story) would send us all over the city map in terms of where we worked, but we continued to raise our family in the suburban “dream home” we’d maxed out on. Eventually, DH started a business, and our big house became an unintended blessing. There was no need for him to rent office space; he worked from home.

DH = team suburban

DH has always known about my dream to live in an urban setting, but he has never shared it. “Streets are always under construction downtown,” he’s pointed out many times. “And why would you want an old, cramped house that’s falling apart when you can have a spacious new one?”

There’s no arguing people into wanting to live in one type of area instead of another. Rural dwellers love the open spaces of the country. Urban dwellers thrive on the pulse of the city. And suburban dwellers value the tidy order of their communities – that is, if all of the above are living where they want to live. Many of us compromise because of finances, work, family – and that’s part of life. I have certainly accepted our suburb, but DH hasn’t talked me out of my love for the urban centre – and I haven’t tried to talk him into it.

We’ve now lived in our home for 20 years, and we’re just a few months away from paying it off. We’re also within a year or two of  retirement and an empty nest. Looking ahead, DH and I haven’t had a shared vision. Against my suggestions of “some day” downsizing to a downtown condo, DH has argued that it would cost more than our house and that he doesn’t want to be “stuck in a small box in a high-rise in a concrete jungle.” When he has suggested downsizing to a townhouse or a condo in our area, I have been equally resistant.

So in the absence of another plan, we’ve envisioned staying put. We’ve realized that the house will seem awfully big and empty once DH dismantles his office (which takes up half of our first floor) and DD3 moves out. Perhaps in the future, visiting grandchildren would fill it. But DD1 has been studying and working on the west coast for years, and who knows where our younger two will choose to live in the days to come – let alone if any will go the route of marriage and children. In fact, for the near future, DD2 is living and working downtown – where DD3 plans to move …

DH’s surprising turn-around

Last month I told DH about a new condo development near a vegan restaurant where DD2 had treated me for Mother’s Day – not downtown, but pretty close to it. DH was receptive to a suggestion for change just at that point. He was feeling burned out from work, and the idea of moving to a place where he couldn’t possibly keep his business going appealed to him.

A week ago, we went to the sales office to check it out, and what we saw blew DH away. This was no “box in a high-rise in a concrete jungle.” The development has many of the positives of the suburbs that have always been a draw for him – new, tidy, open, within view of green spaces.

We have talked of almost nothing else since stopping by (twice) last weekend.

  • Which model would we get?
  • Would we need two bedrooms or three?
  • When should we plan to move?
  • How much is our house worth now?
  • What do we have to do to make our house sale-ready?
  • How long will it take DH to wind down his business?
  • Should I work an extra year?

DH is actually having a hard time sleeping with this sudden fixation. He told me today that he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about something like where the sofa should go in one of the models we’re considering. “The main reason I want to make this happen is that I’m excited to see one of your life-long dreams come true,” he said. Some men are generally sweet, but DH is not one of them. So when he says something sweet, it’s really sweet.

Friday night we drove over to the construction site, parked the car, and walked around for hours. And we felt alive.

Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Just as Shakespeare knew there was always a risk in love (“the plague” was one of several diseases he used to describe it) we know there are risks in a move based on the heart. I especially do not want to mess up financially, but I also want to live the freedom we’ve been working towards. We’re going to take this vision and go with it, and we’re going to be grounded in all that we’ve learned over the last 6 years of debt payoff.

  • We will not put money down on a condo model that is more expensive than the current worth of our home. Our plans do not involve a mortgage.
  • Though we’ve considered it, we will not buy an additional smaller unit to rent out. Again, no mortgage!
  • Our planned move is later rather than sooner. DD3 will move out of her childhood home when she’s ready (and she is ready). We’ll have time to wrap up our careers and get the house de-cluttered and sale-ready.
  • We’ve discussed worst case scenarios, and only if we’re ready to absorb them will we move forward. We’d have to commit well in advance of moving, and there are inherent risks in that kind of arrangement. House won’t sell? We sell the condo. House won’t sell for the price of the condo? I work longer.

“What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

Olivia is full of self doubt as she realizes that she has fallen in love. “I do I know not what, and fear to find / Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind.” But she knows there is something greater than herself at work, and so she lets go of doubt and is released into the abundant overflow of her heart. “Fate, show thy force: ourselves we do not owe / What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

All ends well for Olivia. I have high hopes for the same to be true for us!

Have you ever found yourself surprised by a sudden longing – for a move or a career change … or love – that turned your world upside down? Do you see a connection between debt-freedom and these types of moves of the heart? Your comments are welcome


What If We Hadn’t Read The Total Money Makeover?

2011: a sense that we needed to change

In 2011, it was clear that our circumstances had changed for the better. After a destabilizing decade of career upheaval and financial distress, DH had started a business, and two years in, it was succeeding! What a profound and welcome relief! We could go back to normal. Better days were ahead!

But something didn’t feel right. “Normal” felt hazardous – like being in a building without a foundation – always bracing for the tip-over and crash. We didn’t ever again want to experience the financial vulnerability we so recently had lived through, and there was a chaos to our money management that we knew could lead to it.

Something other than our circumstances needed to change. We needed to change our money-management. From June of 2011-June of 2012, we paid off $16,000 in debt. Not bad. Probably our best to that point. (We weren’t tracking our debt repayment then. It was later that we looked at our numbers for that year.) 

In May of 2012, we listened to (and then read) Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. The next month, we started our journey out of debt with dramatically increased doses of clarity, focus, and hope. From June of 2012-June of 2013, we paid off $50,000 in debt – with the same income and expenses as we’d had the previous year,

What if …

In 3 months from now – in September of 2018 – we will pay off our house and be completely debt-free. The $257,400 of consumer debt, business debt, and mortgage debt that we carried 6 years ago will be gone!

If we had just continued with our correct but vague understanding that we needed to change the way we handled money, where would we be now? Of course, it’s impossible to say, but I’m going to give it a try.

In the year after June 2012, we paid off 312% more debt than we had the year before. If I apply that percentage to the years that followed, this is what I get:

  • From June 2012 – December of 2017 we brought our debt down to a $60,000 mortgage after paying off $197,000 – including all of our consumer and business debts and most our mortgage debt. We also saved up a full emergency fund (to see us through 3-6 months of income loss).
  • $197,000 is 312% of $63,000.
  • So I would estimate that if we hadn’t read Ramsey’s book, we would have brought our debt down by $63,000 to $194,000 by December of 2017.

I can only guess that it would have been made up of approximately $15,000 in consumer debt (because we wouldn’t still be driving our ’99 Dodge Caravan) + $65,000 in business debt + a $115,000 mortgage. We would certainly not have saved up an emergency fund.


Before the end of 2017, I received the first part of an inheritance that allowed us to put down the maximum annual lump sum against our mortgage. This brought our total debt down to $42,000.

I believe we would have done the same if we hadn’t been following Ramsey’s plan for debt freedom. In our alternate reality, this would have brought our mortgage down to about $97,000 and our estimated total debt down to $177,000.

Since the beginning of 2018, we’ve used the inheritance to max out on our mortgage payments – meaning that we’ve doubled up every month. This, combined with our 2nd  lump sum means a debt-free date of September 2018. We will invest almost all of the rest of the inheritance, so that for our outlook, we’ll have the freedom to retire by July of 2019.

I believe that in our alternate reality scenario, we would also have maxed out on mortgage payments, and that by September of 2018, it would have been down to around $63,000 (interest taken into account).

Would we have paid off the business debt, and our remaining consumer debt? I can’t be sure, but I doubt it. Here, my guesses are less certain. I’m basing them on the way we used to think. Ramsey’s plan involves focused intensity: knock off one debt at a time; then save up the emergency fund; followed by a split focus on investments and ramping up mortgage payments. Our own efforts to change our finances were less focused – more scattered.

I believe we would have paid off the consumer debt but not the business debt. We would have invested, and we would have spent. “Use a bit of your inheritance travel and have some fun,” a colleague said to me. “Your mom would want that.” We would have followed that advice in our alternate scenario. A family vacation. Some home improvements. But we’re not doing that (and I’m pretty sure my mom would be relieved).

Alternate reality: September 2018

Instead of being debt-free and within a year of financial freedom, this is where I think things would be in September of 2018 if we hadn’t started following Ramsey’s debt-reduction plan:

  • debts by September 2018: $120,000 (business debt & mortgage)
  •  investments from inheritance – about 50% of what we actually are investing.
  • outlook: debt-freedom / freedom to retire still several years away.

The “ether” effect

After our first 6 months of debt-reduction, I was truly baffled by our progress. It made no sense to me that we’d been able to pay off as much as we had.  “I can’t wrap my head around it.  I don’t get how it all adds up.  But it does,” I wrote at the time. DH – also incredulous – said: “It’s a thing that happens … When you go at something with passion and purpose, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

In the same way, I find myself baffled by my estimated numbers – which are reasonable, and possibly too generous to our alternate selves. It is reasonable to estimate that we would have spent $200,000 more than we actually did over the last 6 years if we hadn’t read The Total Money Makeover (considering higher debt numbers, less in savings, and less in investments).

What would we have done with all of that money?

After our first 6 months of debt-reduction, when we had put all extra income against debt, I tried to figure out what we had done with the same extra income from the year before. “Did it all float into the ether?”‘ I asked DH at the time. It had.

Of what would that ether have consisted over the last 6 years? Again, I can only guess:

  • a new vehicle (~$25,000)
  • 10 trips (~$25,000)
  • more expensive grocery bills (~$10,000)
  • extra home improvements (~$25,000)
  • regular house-cleaning service (~$10,000)
  • higher discretionary spending on clothing, restaurants, entertainment (~$10,000)
  • more gifts and money for our children (~$15,000)
  • outsourcing repairs and other jobs that we (DH) DIY’d ($20,000)

That doesn’t add up to enough, but it’s a sampling of the many ways our money would have “floated into the ether” if we hadn’t become intentional and focused. Bottom line: Ramsey’s plan has made a staggering, life-changing difference. DH and I are so grateful for that pivotal moment in time when we chose to change direction and go a better way.

Do you have a “What if …” scenario? Are you ever baffled by the changes that focus and intention bring about? Your comments are welcome.


Bewildering Financial Leap from Debtor to Investor

DH = Dear Husband

For the first time in 6 years of blogging about debt-reduction, I’ve hit a wall. I have had several ideas for posts in the last few weeks, but they just turned into unfinished drafts.

DH and I are striding to the finish line of our journey out of debt. In  September, we’ll put the last payment against our house. The $257,400 total debt that we had in June of 2012 – including consumer debt, business debt and mortgage debt – will be GONE! So why this writer’s block?

The impact of my inheritance: an escalator analogy

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that my mother passed away in November of last year. Mom was very supportive of our commitment to become debt-free, and she was always happy about our progress. Every conversation I had with her brought about the question, “How’s the debt?” The last time I was able to give her an update, we were down to $60,000. Awkward as I find it, I can’t write about the end of our trek to debt-freedom without reference to my inheritance – which has sped up the last leg of the journey like a banned substance.

I’ve tried to come up with an analogy for it, and here’s what has come to mind: Our journey out of debt has been like a pain-staking walk up 25 flights of an underground parking lot towards the ground floor. Not only has the ascent been steep, but the stairs have actually been an escalator moving in a slow downward direction. So each step up has taken the intention necessary to go against a downward pull.

After climbing up 20 flights, and with only 5 to go, something happened. The escalator suddenly changed direction and speed, and it shot up not only to ground level, but to the 10th floor of the building above the underground parking lot. And although the escalator then slowed down to its regular pace, its direction was a gradual upward, making all future ascent that much easier.

The downward direction of the escalator below-ground represents the interest that debtors have to pay as they try to make their way out of debt. Every $1.00 of debt knocked off really means a payment of $1.10 – or more or less. But the upward direction of the escalator above-ground represents the opposite – the interest gained on each dollar invested.

Not debt-free yet – but not struggling with debt

We’ve chosen not to take on the penalty that would come with paying off our mortgage early. We’ve maximized our payments by doubling our monthly amounts and by twice putting down the full lump sum that we’re entitled to once per year. That leaves us with a small balance that will be gone in September.

So we’re not there yet, but we are no longer struggling to get out of debt.

So how can I keep writing a debt blog?

“I’m thinking of stopping now,” I said to a colleague last week – after another weekend of writer’s block. “It doesn’t feel genuine to write about getting out of debt when I have this inheritance.”

“Why don’t you write about what you’re doing to keep out of debt?” she said. “It’s a real issue, and it’s not a topic that many people write about.”

I had to agree with her about it’s being an issue in our debt-normalized society. I know more than one person who paid off the mortgage only to take on a line of credit. And it’s common for people to decide the time has come to buy a new car once they’ve paid off the old one. Yo-yo debting is for real.

The view is different above-ground

So in my last few months of blogging on this site, I’ll be writing about our adjustments to the new normal, and our proactive steps to avoid getting into debt again – because we’ve done that!

Last Friday, I met DH’s financial advisor – now our financial advisor – and DH and I talked with him for over 4 hours. How bewildering it was for me to be talking about equities and bonds! I have SO much to learn about investing.

The upshot of our meeting was that with my teacher’s pension, with DH’s and now my portfolio – and with no debt – we’ll be in a position for me to retire at the end of the next school year – exactly when my pension becomes available. DH will likely continue to run his home business on a part-time basis for another 5 years or so.

At least that’s the plan. I have the option of working for a few more years. We also have the option of selling the house and both retiring next year. The point is, we’ve got the freedom to choose – which was the vision that motivated us to start our journey out of debt in the first place. We’re not stuck anymore!

End of writer’s block?

We’ll see if this marks the end of my writer’s block. Thanks for your patience 🙂

Is it of value to write about what we’re doing to stay out of debt? Have you ever been caught up in yo-yo debting? Your comments are welcome.


Getting out of Debt Isn’t Only about Money

Our story is featured in this week 🙂 

In May of 2012, Ruth from Prudence Debt-Free received a Dave Ramsey audio book from a friend. She listened while driving to and from work. At the time, she and her husband were recovering from his job loss and the financial upheaval it brought.

But they recovered. He started a new business and she worked as a full-time teacher. Things were normal again — spending money and carrying debt. But something was different.

“We were back on auto-pilot, relaxed and living the “normal” lifestyle that we missed,” says Ruth. “But something wasn’t quite right. “Normal” felt hazardous.” She found “the root of her

Click to continue reading



Journey out of Debt: Spiritual Bookends

DH = Dear Husband

Our journey out of debt, which began in June of 2012 with $257,000 owed, is almost certainly going to end in September of 2018. Debt reduction is about far more than money. It interweaves with every facet of life, including the spiritual. I’m cautious about venturing into the topic of faith on this site, but our personal story of debt-freedom would be incomplete without it.

June 2012

My Tres Dias cabin-mate

In June of 2012, DH and I took our first steps towards debt freedom. It also happened that in June of 2012, I attended a 3-day Christian retreat called Tres Dias.

To kick off the Tres Dias weekend, we all met our cabin-mates. Mine was a woman I had never met before from Toronto. We shook hands and chatted – and somehow started to talk about debt. Like DH and I, she and her husband were following Dave Ramsey’s steps to debt-freedom.

In the USA, Ramsey is far better known than he is in Canada. Of the 50 or so women involved in that Tres Dias weekend, my cabin-mate and I were almost certainly the only ones who were following Ramsey – and possibly the only ones who had ever even heard of him. In my 6 years of debt-reduction, I have never met another person face-to-face other than my Tres Dias cabin-mate who follows Ramsey.

Furthermore, nobody talks about their debts. And yet there I was talking on and on with a stranger about the mistakes each of us had made to become indebted, about how we had come to follow the same debt-reduction guru, and about the specific strategies we were each using to move forward.

Our Tres Dias theme song

Every Tres Dias weekend has its own theme song that participants and facilitators sing several times a day. Ours was Mercy Me’s God With Us. The chorus includes these words: “My heart sings a brand new song / The debt is paid / these chains are gone / Emmanuel, God with us.”

The weekend was powerful in many ways, not the least of which was in its leaving me with no doubt that in choosing to get out of debt, DH and I were doing something profoundly right. And we weren’t taking it on alone.

September 2018

Our 25th wedding anniversary

In September of 2018, we will make our last mortgage payment. October 2 will be our 25th wedding anniversary. October will be our first month ever of complete debt-freedom. Isn’t that beautiful? I find that a remarkable coincidence!

Conflict over finances is the #1 reason for divorce, and I understand why. During our years of financial stress, we came too close for comfort to the breaking point. Our journey out of debt has been something that has unified us. A friend of ours has said more than once how obvious it is that DH and I have become stronger as a couple. Our eldest daughter, who has lived away from home for many years, says that she is struck by it too.

DH and I have set the date for a combined anniversary/debt-freedom celebration at the end of September.

The publication of one of my posts

Three months ago, I was surprised to receive an email message from someone who works for Activated, an online Christian magazine. She was asking if I’d be “okay” with their publication of one of my blog posts. I was more than “okay”! I was thrilled!

It was an awkwardly titled post that I’d written 4 years ago: “Debt, Faith, Fitness, Remembrance, and Freedom“. In it, I dissected the problem I’d had with the concept of building wealth. “Where I associate debt reduction with becoming responsible, exercising discipline, and cleaning up my act,” I wrote, “I have a stubbornly ingrained (and false) association of wealth building with greed and selfishness.” I recognized that my false notions of financial health had played a part in my old self-sabotaging financial management. I wanted to put a stop to the sabotage and to pursue the freedom of strong finances.

At the time I wrote the post, we were just two years into our journey out of debt. I looked ahead to a future of debt-freedom with cautious hope:

“We’re still a long way from paying off our debt and getting our financial house in order. Time will tell if we maintain the discipline necessary to keep things going in a positive direction once we’re out of the red. Time will tell if we use our growing financial freedom well and generously or if we squander it foolishly. My hope is that we will embrace it and that we’ll “stand firm” to maintain it – because I don’t like captivity. It is for freedom that we are set free. I want to live it.”

I accepted the terms of the post’s publication and asked when it would be featured. It will be published in September – the month of our last payment.

Spiritual bookends

So let’s review. In the beginning, in June of 2012:

  • The Tres Dias weekend happened the same month we began our journey out of debt. At no other time in my life have I attended an overnight Christian retreat.
  • My cabin-mate and I, who were strangers, talked about debt within minutes of meeting each other. We each followed Ramsey – who is not well known in Canada.
  • The song chosen for our Tres Dias weekend included “The debt is paid / these chains are gone” – and we sang these words multiple times per day.

And for the grand finale in September of 2018:

  • Our debt-freedom coincides with our 25th wedding anniversary. I find this profoundly symbolic.
  • In September, an article that I wrote 4 years ago about my hopes for our debt-freedom is going to be published in a Christian magazine.

I don’t think I’m making connections where none exists. They do exist. And I think they’re wonderful.

Your comments are welcome. 

Image courtesy of Jeri’s Organizing & Decluttering News