How We Paid Off $110,000 of Mortgage Debt Over 14 Months

mortgage debt

We took on risk on a very large mortgage debt load, and subsequent financial gamble in the summer of 2013. We were looking to move to a rural property. Our desire to live in an urban centre (Peterborough, Ontario), over time, transitioned to a desire to live in the “country” with all that “country life” has to offer.

So, in June of 2013 we purchased our dream home. Our property sits on just over an acre of land on a lot that is partially treed and provides plenty of space for our kids to play outside, to raise a garden and to relax in the solitude of the country side.

The downside?

We bought our new home before we sold the previous one. A big financial burden that limited our financial growth. Our  previous home sold in December of 2013 so we carried two homes for 6 months.

During this time, aside from our amortization choice, we paid the minimum on both mortgages.

One of the biggest expenses you will ever have is your home. By the time you pay off your mortgage debt over a period of two or more decades, you will pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest. If you’re looking to reduce your debt, and save thousands, paying off your mortgage debt quicker can be one of the best ways to proceed. For our American readers, in Canada we can not claim mortgage interest as a tax deduction in most circumstances (a few exemptions apply).

Watching my parents struggle with mortgage debt instilled in me a desire to avoid similar problems in my own life. You never know when interest rates are going to start rising again, and paying off your mortgage quickly can help you avoid that uncertainty. Mrs. SPF had similar experiences watching her family struggle with mortgage debt, so it was easy for us to agree that we wanted to do things differently. For Canadians, there is an argument for a guaranteed return on investment that paying off mortgage debt can provide.

Mrs. SPF and I created a plan to reduce our mortgage quickly when we bought our current home. In fact, over a period 14 months, we paid off almost $111,000. When we really started focusing on our efforts in December of 2013, our mortgage balance was $292,145.94. On January 30, 2015, after 14 months, our balance was $181,158.46. Here’s how we did it:

Structuring Our Mortgage

Here in Canada we have a range of somewhat flexible mortgage products so that you can mix and match your payment abilities. The key to our success is amortizing over 15 years, rather than sticking to the “usual” practice of amortizing over 25 years which the banks seem to promote whenever people move. We also make bi-weekly accelerated mortgage payments. This means that we end up with the equivalent of an extra payment every year, speeding up the debt repayment process.

Not only that, but our mortgage product allows us to increase our bi-weekly mortgage payments by 10% each year. This means that we can boost our regular mortgage payment each year without refinancing. As our income increases and our finances improve, we increase our monthly payments which we we have done each year from 2013-15. Our mortgage product also allows us to make lump sum payments of up to 10% of the original principal amount each year. This means that if we get a windfall, it’s easy to take the money and apply it to our mortgage balance.

While our five-year fixed rate of 2.84% is great, and means less paid in interest, our real advantage is the flexible mortgage product that allows us to change things up in favor of accelerating our payoff. As a result of our strategy, we expect to be mortgage free by January 2020, instead of continuing to pay until June 2028 which was our original final payment date.

Frugal Living and Making Mortgage Debt Reduction a Priority

Our frugal and sustainable lifestyle allows us to make mortgage debt reduction payments on our mortgage. Because our lifestyle is simple and inexpensive, it means that we have enough money to aggressively pay down our mortgage, even as we fund our emergency, retirement, and kids’ college accounts. Some of the ways that we live simply and frugally include:

  • The kids and I get DIY haircuts from Mrs. SPF
  • We don’t have cable TV.
  • Almost all of the clothing we buy for our children is used. We hope to use all of it.
  • We use Android instead of Apple products which are less expensive and use a pay as you go plan for our cell phones.
  • About three quarters of what we buy at the grocery store is on sale.
  • Because … growing some of our own food is important to us.
  • And … we purchase organic veg baskets from a neighbour as a member of their CSA
  • We buy used online with Kijiji when we can.
  • Our meals are mostly prepared at home -we don’t dine out often.
  • We buy when we need, not when we want, based on family priorities

We also save by thinking of out-of-the-box ways to accomplish our goals. When we bought our Subaru Outback, we did our research and imported the Outback from the United States, saving us more than $9,000 compared to buying the same vehicle north of the border. The Outback is built in Indiana so we avoided import duty (almost 7%) while taking advantage of the skewed markets for consumer products between the U.S. and Canada while leveraging strong Canadian dollar in the Summer of 2010. We plan to drive our Outback into the ground before replacing it.

Not only do we have a generally frugal lifestyle that allows us to handle higher monthly mortgage payments, but our focus on debt reduction as a priority means that we already know what to do when we have a windfall. A recent pension adjustment allowed us to make a lump sum payment (~$21,000) in October 2014, and an inheritance also provided us with the means to make a lump sum payment ($29,990) not too long ago. After carrying two homes, when the first sold we were able to apply almost $30,000 to the principal.

Because our priority is reducing our mortgage debt as soon as possible, it’s easy to consider that money earmarked. When our current five-year fixed mortgage situation expires in June 2018, we will be interested in raising our bi-weekly payment amount for the final stretch, which would accelerate our payoff even faster. When we are mortgage free we will change our focus to investing in order to supplement our defined benefit pensions. At this time we do not see a need to prioritize investing as we already sock away close to 10% of our income in the DBPs (where our employer matches the contribution). We will focus a now freed up ~$3000 per month on investing for our retirements and to save for our kids’ schooling if they choose post secondary education.

Finally, we make it a point to use our income generating web properties to help us make payments. This extra money coming in allows us to continue to pay down our mortgage without the worry of interfering with our regular finances.

In the end, it’s about priorities and a little ingenuity. We have set up our finances to take care of our major goals (retirement, college for our children) at a more relaxed and moderate rate – we fund our kids’ RESPs annually and contribute to our DBPs while paying off mortgage debt instead of investing in the markets.  Lessons from our parents still make sense to us when we examine our family financial planning. We are committed to becoming completely debt-free in less than 5 years.

Our choice and we are comfortable with it.

What are your thoughts on your mortgage debt?

Condo Living: How to survive and thrive in small spaces

Fish does condosWouldn’t it be nice to finally de-clutter and downsize everything you own to the bare minimum? I’ve had this goal for as long as I can remember. Vehicles? All I need is a truck or an SUV and a bike. Gadgets? Just give me a reliable laptop for work/entertainment and a tablet for communication/reading. Clothes? Just a handful of the best ones I own that are of good quality, so I can use them as long as possible.

But it’s harder than it looks folks, especially if you have a large house filled to the brim with stuff. If you want to downsize everything in your life, a good idea would be to identify the essential things that you just can’t live without and get rid of the rest. Once you have that down pat, look at condos for sale in a neighborhood or city that you’ve always wanted to live in. If you work in the city, a good idea is to get a condo near your office so you can just walk to work. You’ll be saving money on transportation and you’ll be getting some much needed exercise.

Does Size really matter?

When you’ve lived in a house all your life, learning to live in a condo can be a challenge. Unless you get one of those luxury condos that occupy a whole floor or penthouse, you have to get used to smaller rooms and limited closet space, especially if you have kids.

The very first condo I ever lived in was a studio and everything was small, from the bathroom to the bedroom. It felt claustrophobic at times, and I never really spent anymore than a few of my waking hours inside. I was either out or sleeping, because I dreaded the feeling of being trapped. Growing up in the country, I was used to wide open spaces, so living in a shoebox was a huge adjustment for me.

When looking at a potential condo, remember that you’ll be calling it home for the foreseeable future. That means actually staying indoors from time to time, cooking your own meals, spending time with your loved ones (if you have a family) and entertaining friends. Don’t choose a condo based on price and smaller room size. You’ll want to choose one that’s already built so you can see the actual rooms yourself and gauge if the space is enough for you – the bigger the rooms, the better for your sanity.

Choose what to take with you

With limited space, you have to be wise when it comes to what goes with you and what gets donated, sold or kept in storage. That’s why before you even consider moving into a condo, you must make a decision of downsizing and eliminating all the clutter in your life, or else you’ll agonize on what to bring.

  • With space at a premium, your furniture should be scaled down as well. If you have a favorite couch, but it takes up the entire living room of the condo, consider replacing it with a scaled-down version. Same goes for all your other furniture – from your refrigerator down to your coffee table. Your TV would most likely be wall mounted to save space.
  • Get some plants to spruce up your living space and help filter the indoor air. Plants also add a touch of warmth to any room, so adding a couple can definitely bring something positive to your smaller living space and benefit your well being.
  • Keep everything as neat, organized and clutter-free as possible because you’ll make the rooms look a lot bigger if you have less furniture and knick-knacks lying around. Invest in a few mirrors and hang it on the walls if you want to magnify your space.
  • Use every inch of storage space your unit has, and ask if the building has additional lockers for unit owners or tenants. If you simply run out of space, look for paid storage options near you where you can keep your extra stuff if you don’t know what to do with it yet.

Can you do it?

Condos are definitely doable if you have the right frame of mind. Choosing the perfect unit is always a challenge, so before you take the plunge and sell your house; ask yourself first it you can pull it off. Make a conscious decision and talk it over with your family and close friends who know you best.

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