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.


Join the Conversation


  1. Ruth, I swear our lives are running parallel!! We are in the midst of major renovations with the idea of selling in a couple of years also. Our total carpet tear out will happen this coming Saturday and the following week the whole upper floor will get tile and hardwood flooring throughout. We have been working diligently to remove 1980’s wallpaper and all the baseboards in preparation for flooring installation. We even got rid of all our living room furniture! The last thing will be painting the whole house come September. I guess after 30 years of living with 20th century decorating it is time to move into the 21st century … but this is happening only because we are debt free 🙂

    Enjoy planning your new decorating scheme – watch some of the HGTV shows and you will become inspired.

    1. Oh that sounds like SO much grunt work. You’re doing this at a really quick pace, Nancy! Is your plan to have your house sale-ready by next year? Do you have a particular condo building in mind? Do you ever think that once your house is all gorgeous, you’ll want to stay in it? It really is cool that our lives are running in parallel. You’re ahead of us – and going faster than we plan to go – in the house prep. I’ll be very interested to know how things unfold for you. Happy renovating!

      1. We have to go at a quick pace as time is running out for us lol. We are about 15 years ahead of you age-wise … We have looked at small condos and small apartments – perhaps a tiny house will be in our future, lol??? When the house is done, we (I) may concede to stay for five more years and then move into a senior’s retirement place, we will see how we feel after all this work and expense – we may just enjoy the fruits of our labour for a few more years as we haven’t found anything cheaper to live in – if we stay it would cost us around $800.00 a month for basic living expenses, and no mortgage or condo fees.

        1. $800.00 a month sounds pretty tempting! My parents moved out of their house when they were about 10 years older than you are. My mom didn’t move into a seniors place until 12 years after that. It’s an interesting path to navigate. We want the condo because it will simplify our lives and allow us to live downtown. Maybe there’s no draw towards a condo for you? I’m going to guess you’ll stay in your spiffy, renovated home 🙂 Keep me posted!

  2. When we purchased our condo, it was completely outdated and we set aside funds for renovating the kitchen, with the idea that the two bathrooms would be next. We actually put off remodeling the kitchen until the drawer-fronts were literally falling off, and then we paid for it in cash. But then time went by and other things came up and the bathrooms sort of fell off our list. Now, we’re making extra principal payments each month (though not huge ones) and we’re just getting to the point of being able to save up for the bathroom remodels, so we’re sort of splitting the difference. We don’t have any plans to move, so the only rush is that we’d like to have things updated.

    Your list sounds ambitious, but with a couple years to go and very little mortgage left to pay, I’m sure you’ll get it done. Best of luck with your projects!

    1. Thanks, Gary! I think it’s great that you put off the kitchen remodeling and then paid cash for it. I’ve learned through these debt-reduction years that the longer you can wait for these things, the better. I’ve been longing to put up new paint and put down new carpeting for several years, but the wait has definitely been worth it. And putting off the bathroom work as you make extra payments off the principal of your mortgage is fantastic. Delayed gratification is the key here – and it will feel so great to have the bathrooms done with cash!

  3. Yes, we are actively deferring renovations on our home until we are mortgage free. We couldn’t enjoy them anyways knowing the trade off of additional time in debt. Our house, purchased brand new 16 yrs ago with next to zero upgrades(kitchen has white tile & honey oak cabinets). Seriously we aren’t sacrificing anything by waiting it’s more like getting our money’s worth.

    We’ve been blessed by our sweat equity all these years with our cleaning “ hobby” & organizational routines of Peter Walsh. It’s really minimized the wear & tear. For more complicated fixes….Duct tape…white duct tape matches perfectly on white tile & drywall & blinds & more…. I am not very good with glue but I LOVE duct tape!

    1. Good to hear from you again, Linda 🙂 I had to Google Peter Walsh. I might just have to look more into what he has to say. We’ve got MAJOR organization work and de-cluttering decisions coming up. These are NOT my forte! As for putting off renovations, I love this: “We couldn’t enjoy them anyways knowing the trade off of additional time in debt.” I don’t think that most people see the correlation involved here as they get hooked on reno after reno … Keep up the good work with your white duct tape!

      1. Lol! Thank you for the encouragement on the white duct tape. It’s our home’s Band Aid. Oh the peacefulness(with husband) it keeps when the damage happens from our special needs son’s rages. The meds only do so much & slips happen… I just clean up the mess, tape it up & it’s over.

        Peter Walsh’s best book for your life’s path likely is “Let it go: Downsizing your way to a richer, happier life.” His presentation isn’t just to tell you to dump this & that—it’s discovering the WHY & understanding WHY it accumulated & visioning HOW you want to live. My household’s transformation came through his older book “It’s all too much.” He just seemed to speak to me…

        I’m so happy you have your thorough outline of how you’ll ready your home for sale. Your plans for the future are exciting!

        1. Ah, it’s not easy dealing with the rages and then the pressure of having to keep them covered up – literally. White duct tape becomes pretty symbolic. Thank you for that book recommendation. Maybe it will be my Total Money Makeover – but for downsizing. I will definitely check it out 🙂

  4. We absolutely put off renovations while paying off our mortgage. We did the kitchen before moving in, painted the nursery, and fixed an emergency issue with the exterior wall. Besides that, we left it alone for 6.5 years. As soon as we paid it off, we started with some smaller stuff like getting the carpets cleaned (again) and updating some parts of the basement bathroom. Since then Neil has replaced the blinds, painted trim, patched walls, update some outlets, and now is remodeling the main bathroom completely. With more on the list. It’s funny how gray has become the new “neutral.” I like it, but trends are so arbitrary.

    1. Trends are VERY arbitrary! We’ve seen them all come and go, and it’s amazing what happens when you don’t engage in them – they pass by and you end up thinking, “I’m glad I didn’t waste any money on that one!” I am VERY impressed that you two have paid off your mortgage! Early thirties and on one income … not bad! I am also very impressed that you are reading and commenting on blogs when you’ve just had a baby 🙂

  5. We went the other way around: We did our renovations after buying so my hope is that we won’t feel the need to do any further work inside for at least 20 years. Those had to be paid in full of course and then we targeted the mortgage.

    That’s not to say there isn’t still work to be done. I think it could run about $50,000 worth of work easily between the exterior we haven’t touched, the HVAC, the water heater, possibly some roof work, and a few other things but we’re taking it slow. I’m only budgeting one item per year, or in the neighborhood of $10,000 a year at most.

    Much of our money will be saved for investing for the next few years, trying to put the power of compounding to work for us, and then I’ll be looking at how much I can reduce the mortgage.

    1. I remember you making your decisions about your new home with painstaking care. You certainly weren’t going with the kind of rash impulse to upgrade that keeps too many people in debt. The tough thing for people like me – who are overcoming bad financial habits – is to be measured. All is extremely easy for us. Nothing is tough but doable. Measured? That’s the really difficult one – and it slips so easily into All again. You have been measured with your finances – including house renovations – and that’s what we’re hoping to be moving forward.

  6. If you have a mortgage, do you focus on paying it down instead of upgrading your home?
    Initially yes! Then after having lived in it awhile and saving a while we are now in the phase of renovating and maintenance. Now with a baby on the way I think that a return to aggressive mortgage repayment is still a ways away, however have just refinanced to a structure that will help reduce our interest costs.

  7. It’s very exciting that you have a baby on the way! There are certainly times when aggressive mortgage pay-off takes a back seat, and this is one of them! Getting your house set up for a growing family is worth it. And you’ve set yourself up with savings to be able to do these renovations and maintenance items without maxing out – as many do. Congratulations to you, NZ Muse. All the best as you prepare for your baby’s arrival 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anthony. If we were planning to stay in the house long-term, we’d feel free to paint whatever colour we liked. As it is, we’re following the real estate agent’s advice since she’s the expert on what sells 🙂

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