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robin-thrifty-peachRobin shares her story about becoming mortgage free by age 30!

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Robin, and I live a thrifty life in rural Georgia with my husband of 6 years and our 4-year-old daughter. I quit my job a year and a half ago to stay home with her, and started blogging and freelance writing in my spare time to earn some extra money. I wish I would have done it sooner!

How much mortgage debt did you start out with?

We have had our fair share of debt since we’ve been married from car loans to couch loans and, at my worst point, a boat loan. We paid off the cars and furniture, sold the boat for exactly what we owed on it, and then downsized our house so that we could have a smaller mortgage. The mortgage we ended up with for the smaller house was $93,000, and we were determined to pay it off as quickly as possible without sacrificing our quality of life and our retirement savings. We wanted to be completely debt free, including the mortgage, and downsizing was the single most important thing we did.

When was the turning point when you realized you were in over your head?

After we had our daughter, things changed. Things ALWAYS change after you have a kid! We decided we didn’t want the house we were in that was on a main road and in a bad school district. We didn’t even have a good place for our daughter to play, our mortgage was too high, and the house was way too big for us. We didn’t even use the entire upstairs. It was time to make some changes.

What plan did you formulate to pay off your mortgage early?

After downsizing, we decided to throw any extra money we could at our mortgage each month. My husband’s income is commission based, so we never know what he is going to make from month to month, which can be tough. We always paid extra on the mortgage, even if it was only a small amount, and we had a goal to pay it off by the time our daughter started kindergarten, a goal that we beat by a year.

What resources did you use to help you through this process?

What really helped us was keeping two separate accounts. One for saving/investing and a separate checking account for all expenses. Half of our pay goes into each account, so we always save 50% and live off the other 50%. Your savings grows so much faster if you can live on half.

What were the biggest roadblocks/setbacks you faced to paying it all off?

I thought that leaving my job and a pretty good salary would set us back, but since our bills were reduced after I quit (no more daycare bills, not as many restaurant bills, smaller grocery bills, and a much smaller gas bill for our cars), we actually hardly noticed my loss of salary. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Sometimes you spend more money than you realize just so you can go to work, especially if you’re paying for daycare, gas money, lunches out, dinners at restaurants because you’re too tired to cook, etc. I became a master at paring down our budget because I really wanted to stay home.

What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?

Before I quit my job, I worked in the mortgage banking industry, and after I quit, I started blogging and freelance writing for extra money. I’ve always wanted to write for a living, and I finally got my chance.

How long did it take you to pay it off?

3 and a half years! We loved watching that balance drop, and we talked about it all the time (probably too much.) But we were excited about it, and more importantly, we shared a common goal.

How did your life change once you were mortgage-free?

We’ve only had it paid off for about 2 months, so it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It almost feels weird to think about it since I’m only 30 years old, and I already own my own home outright. It’s crazy!

What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?

There are no magical answers for paying off debt. Sell what you can if you have anything financed (like a too expensive car), and apply all your extra money towards your debt until it’s gone. Just don’t sacrifice your retirement savings to do it. Then pare down expenses where you can.

Personally, I gave up salon visits to get my hair cut and highlighted, makeup, eating out at restaurants all the time, going to the movies, and (big box store) runs. I had to identify my weaknesses with spending money (definitely big box stores) and avoid them. Also, by giving up makeup/hair/clothing purchases, I’m more comfortable in my own skin. We also stopped buying each other gifts for Mother’s/Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, and even our birthdays. If you think about it, there’s a holiday that you have to buy gifts for around every corner, and it adds up! We focus on doing fun things as a family instead, and I love that the pressure of buying the “perfect” gift is gone.

Value-based spending is also important. It’s important to identify which purchases are actually adding value to your life and which are not. For me, I kept date nights with my husband (important) and gave up getting my hair highlighted (too expensive and no one notices or cares anyway.)

Also, let go of your fancy cars! I think that if people would let go of trying to own the nicest cars, they would save tons of money. NO ONE cares what you are driving, and many households finance two new cars to keep in their garages. I think that’s madness! Pay cash for an affordable, reliable car, and drive it until the wheels fall off.

Note: This is part of a series called “Debt Success Stories” which features people who were able to pay off a significant amount of debt. If you have a Debt Success Story I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.