Rocky and his injured dew claw. One of our expenses these days.

DH = Dear Husband

“Step back for periodic perspective,” I wrote last week. “7 years IS a long time, and you’re more likely to make it to the finish line if you take stock of the milestones you achieve along the way.” Well, it’s time once again for me to “take stock.” We’ve been on our journey out of debt for exactly 3.5 years now. According to our personal finance guru Dave Ramsey, we’re at the average half-way mark.

Our story

Let’s go back to the beginning for a moment. Like the majority of North Americans – perhaps Westerners in general – DH and I considered debt to be a normal part of life. We had a mortgage, car payments, and credit card bills “just like everyone else.” We were gainfully employed with my part-time teaching position and his high-tech career, and we carried our debts very comfortably. Leading up to the turn of the millennium, we bought our big home (which came complete with a big mortgage). We were expecting our third child. And DH lost his job.

What followed was more than a decade of stress. DH went on a 5-year career roller coaster which included 3 well-paid positions . . . with companies that eventually went under in the high-tech bust of the era.  With all of the uncertainty, I returned to teaching full-time. When DH lost heart and decided to make a career shift, we were in for six years of no-man’s-land. Stress turned to distress. Those were miserable years.

In 2009, DH launched what would become a successful home business. Hurray! We were able to live “normally” again! And we did. But it didn’t feel right. “Normal” felt hazardous. We knew something was wrong . . . We just couldn’t put our finger on exactly what it was. In May of 2012, we read Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeoverand in June of 2012, we took the first of his steps in our journey out of debt.

Start of June, 2012:  Total Debt = $257, 400
#1 New Car Debt – $8,600
#2 Old Car & Course & Dog Debt – $12,800
#3 Business Debt – $80,800
#4 Mortgage – $155,000
End of November, 2015: Total Debt = $120,100
#1 New Car Debt – $0
#2 Old Car & Course & Dog Debt – $0
#3 Business Debt – $0
#4 Mortgage – $120,100

 A 312% rate of improvement

How wonderful to be able to write all of those zeros! It’s impossible to know where we would be now if we hadn’t read that book and started a focused, intentional debt-reduction, but here is something to consider: We were, as I’ve said, aware that “something was wrong” before June of 2012, and we had started to try to improve our situation. In the year before we officially started our journey out of debt, we conscientiously paid off close to $16,000. In the year after officially starting, we paid off $50,000. Same income. Same expenses. But a 312% improvement. Focused intention works!

A history of our numbers

Our progress hasn’t been steady. There have been big expenses along the way. In 2013, we had to buy a new roof  ($10,000). In that same year of debt-reduction, we had to cut down a rotting tree in our backyard ($2,000), and our dog had surgery for bladder stones ($4,500). Ugh! But even in those situations, there was a silver lining: We did not go into debt to finance these things! We ALWAYS used pay for the big expenses with debt.
Our numbers tell a story, and here they are for our first 3.5 years, broken down into semi-annual totals:
June 1 2012 – June 1 2013
#1 – 26,000
#2 – 24,000
June 1 2013 – June 1 2014
#3 – 16,000
#4 – 12,000
June 1 2014 – June 1 2015
#5 – 22,000
#6 – 23,000
June 1 2014 – today (Nov. 28, 2015)
#7 – 14,300

Current finances: sloppy

Right now, our money is going 3 ways:

  1. Towards big expenses.
  2. Towards paying off our mortgage.
  3. Towards saving up a big emergency fund. (Ramsey’s 3rd step – to cover 3-6 months of income loss.)

Big expenses these days include our renovations to give DH a bigger home office space. We’ve replaced flooring and furniture, and it looks great! I don’t mind expenses like this – especially since we’re spending money we’ve saved. Another big expense is our dog. Poor Rocky broke his dew claw and had to visit the vet. While there, we made arrangements to have some bad teeth removed. Estimate: $1,600. Ugh! That is an expense that I DO mind. (And though we love our dog dearly, I would advise anyone trying to get out of debt NOT to get a pet.) A third big expense is our car. It was scraped in the spring, and now that winter is coming we know we have to get it repaired, or we’re just inviting rust to give it an early death. Estimate: $1,200. Another ugh!

Since we paid off the business debt, we’ve been doubling up on our mortgage payments. Strictly speaking, we shouldn’t be doing that since the official step we’re on now is to save an emergency fund. But we’re so driven to debt-freedom, we can’t quite take our foot off the gas pedal of debt-reduction. We are scheduled to renew our mortgage in February, and our plan is to make June of 2019 our last payment date.

We are making some progress towards an emergency fund, but it’s slow – partly because of our current big expenses, and partly because of our mortgage double-ups. (Ah! Maybe we should reverse them. We can without penalty.)  I would be comfortable writing exactly what we’ve saved, but DH doesn’t want me to. He’s OK with me giving dollar amounts for our debts, but not for our savings. So I’ll just say that we’ve saved 35% of our emergency fund.

There’s a sloppiness to our finances right now that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m eager for the renovations to be done. I’m eager to focus on our emergency fund and bring it up to 100%. I’m eager to begin the regular investments (Ramsey’s 4th step) and mortgage payments that will see us to the finish line – hopefully in 3.5 years from now.

We have passed the half-way mark! We’ve paid off 53% of our original grand total debt. Time to tackle the rest.

Do you find it encouraging to step back and take stock when you’re working towards a long-term goal? Do you think we should reverse our mortgage double-ups to focus on our e-fund? Your comments are welcome.


Join the Conversation


  1. Wow, nice job guys! I certainly can’t give you any advice about finances. All I can say is, you’ve done great so far, so your Dave Ramsey knowledge and personal instincts have been serving you well. 🙂 Best wishes on Rocky! Bet he would pick up some great tv reception if you ever decided to cut the cable! 😛

  2. Great progress! I hope Rocky is on the mend. Our dog Mushu is a big part of the family so I understand the cost and care of a family pet. I do like taking a step back and looking at our big picture. I look forward to our net worth updates. Such a different view from the day-to-day or even monthly budget. Given your past history with employment roller coasters I’m surprised you’re not more focused on the e-fund. I’m a big fan of the security and peace of mind the fully funded e-fund provides.

    1. I am a fan of the e-fund – just like I’m a fan of insurance. Somehow, I just don’t like paying into either. But we will get it up to 100%, Brian. I think our impatience with our debt plays into this.

    1. Thank you, Jayson! As Brian says, the e-fund is important – especially for us since DH is self-employed and nothing is guaranteed in business. I really do think we need to prioritize it for the short-term and then get on with the business of taking on the mortgage.

    1. Thank you, Laurie. I will be ready to do my barefoot walk across the backyard when the day comes! (That’s a Ramsey reference that I’m sure you recognize : )

  3. Oh my gosh, I love seeing all these numbers laid out. I like my monthly net worth updates, but it also can seem like really slow progress when you check month to month; looking every six months, or looking back over several years, shows just how much you’ve done. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you, C. Have you ever laid out your numbers for a long-term look? I don’t think your progress is slow at all. I remember when you were paying off your debt, and now you’ve not only got your e-fund, but you’ve been investing in earnest. Once compound interest starts kicking in, you’ll see those numbers fly!

  4. That’s a ton of progress! Truly inspiring. One of my goals for 2016 is to start tracking our net worth. It’s the one area of financial tracking that I haven’t pursued, but it seems like it would really help us understand where we are at – as well as how we have progressed over a given time frame.

    1. We have definitely been tracking our progress in terms of debt-freedom as opposed to net worth. Net worth is what to focus on for building wealth towards financial freedom. For us though, it’s more a matter of setting ourselves up so that when I”m eligible for my (very good) pension, we’ll actually be in a position to choose to retire. “Setting ourselves up” means paying off our debts. Thanks, DC. Here’s to a year of net-worth-growth for you!

  5. Congrats–that is so much progress, and to have only your mortgage left is a huge accomplishment. I would do the emergency fund, then the early mortgage payoff. Part of the point of the e-fund is to avoid future debt. I’m sure you don’t want to be there again. It probably wouldn’t take too long now that you’ve got everything else paid off (and that lowers the amount of your monthly expenses).

    1. You are right, Kalie. It would only be a matter of a few months of focus on the e-fund at this point to fill it up to 100%. I think that, wisely or not, we will probably continue to double up on our mortgage payment and hope that we still have enough to fill up that e-fund before our mortgage renewal. Once the renewal happens, our monthly mortgage payments will be much higher even than our double-up amount.

  6. That’s some amazing progress, especially when laid out nicely like that, and you’ve made a lot of progress while also getting that e-fund in place.

    It can feel tough to cashflow huge expenses, but at the same time, they are often the most worthwhile. I’m looking forward to the day when we don’t see thousands flow from our account to pay for our renovations, but at the same time, I’m really happy to see the progress.

    1. As long as a mortgage is not going to last more than 15 years and as long as it doesn’t take more than 25% of your net income, I’m with you. It’s not a bad debt. (That, by the way, is a totally Ramsey point of view.) The thing is, we’ve already been paying our mortgage for over 17 years – and if you include our first home, we’ve been paying a mortgage for 24 years. Ugh! Time to be done with it!. As for the e-fund, we will do what it takes to see it through. (I really do hope that won’t require reversing what we’ve paid off the mortgage, but we’ll see.) Thanks for your input, Tonya!

  7. Way to go! Kicked some serious butt!

    I would put the extra money to the e-fund. Here’s why: The mortgage is going to take at least several years. But the e-fund could be finished in less than a year(?) Instead of balancing these two, I would find it easier to attack the e-fund, get it finished and out of mind, then attack the mortgage.

    With that said, a “good” plan (what you’re currently doing) that both you and your husband agree on and think is best for your family is better than a “great” plan (Baby Steps) that you’re uneasy about. Either way, I know you’re going to continue to kick butt!

    1. We aren’t uneasy about Ramsey’s plan. I in particular trust his steps more than I do our compulsion to keep significant debt-reduction happening. It’s just hard to switch gears for what motivates us. The psychology of it all is a powerful player – “compulsion” is a very accurate word here. It would take us a matter of months to get that e-fund up to 100% if we really made it a priority. That’s what I’m going to push for – I’ve decided now. No telling how DH will respond, but my vote is with the e-fund. I’ll keep my need for a debt-reduction fix at bay – just for a few months.

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