How We Paid Off Our Mortgage in 6 Years (and Why!)
We just paid off our mortgage and it feels...well, I’m not quite sure it’s even sunk in yet.
First, let me say I know that paying off your mortgage early is a goal many people don't even feel like they can dream of having. I am in a very privileged position, not only because I had a solid head start in life and have a good household income, but because I live in an area where housing is less expensive than many other places. We had help in other ways too, but I'll get to that.
I have to preface this by saying that I would be heartbroken if sharing my story made anyone feel lesser-than or judged—those who know me know my heart on that, but it needs to be said. My intent is to inspire you, encourage you, and acknowledge the careful balance of planning and circumstances that helped us meet the goal of paying off our mortgage early.
A Plan to Pay Off Our Mortgage Faster
Paying off our house is something I’ve been working hard on for a while now. As soon as I got a mortgage about six years ago, I made a completely arbitrary goal to pay it off before I turned 35 years old. I didn't know how I was going to do that, but I knew I wanted to try. I also created a category in our budget called “ 🏡➕ Mortgage Extra.”
Strong start, right? Well, that category sat empty for three whole years, other than one wild month where we stuck $200 in there.
The plan really started to develop when I read a post that I thought was about buying a car. It turns out that the piece was actually about experimenting with your budget to determine if something costly was really worth it to you, which got me back to thinking about paying extra on the house. It came at a good time, too, because we were planning to do a Fresh Start on our budget now that our third child was born, maternity leave was over, and we could finally stop using the raises we got in 2018 to save for medical bills.
So, without telling my wife, I set out to experiment a little and made a mock budget that cut back on our quality of life quite a bit and further delayed using the extra money from that income increase on our lifestyle or into our retirement accounts. When I showed her how it would let us pay off our 15-year loan term in four years instead of 11, I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been) to hear that she was all about it, even more so than I was.
We decided to try it out for a few months, with the understanding that if it made us totally miserable, we’d reassess.
Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage Early?
Let’s forget about the daunting question of “Can I?” and take a minute to visit its doubtful cousin, “Should I?”
I’ll admit that I did have some reservations. There was a lot of conventional financial wisdom swirling around in my head saying that we should use the extra cash to save more for retirement instead of making extra payments on the house. I do understand the mathematical benefits of taking advantage of low interest rates on real estate to maximize other investment potential.
When it came down to it, this was an emotionally-motivated priority for me. I wanted to eliminate our monthly mortgage payment, I wanted the cash flow back (forever!), and I wanted to own my house free and clear.
And, heck, I had already made that arbitrary goal and put it on my bucket list—that’s a commitment. Also, experimenting with the budget is fun for me. I was up for the challenge.
The Early Pay Off Plan
My revised budgeting plan had us meeting my “by the time I’m 35” goal by the skin of our teeth. We were set to accomplish our goal by September 2023, as long as nothing unexpected happened.
And then, of course, the unexpected happened. Because that’s how life goes.
First, we found out we were going to have a fourth child. That was a surprise but I've always wanted a big family, so I'm over-the-moon excited about it. However, I did the math and found out that we would probably need to pause our debt pay down plan, which would mean we may miss our arbitrary goal. I was bummed but babies are 1000% worth it, so it was fine.
Then, a couple weeks later, we got another piece of news that was a total surprise. My wife’s grandmother is getting older and recently moved in with family. She sold her house in New Jersey, which she had lived in for about 60 years, and she decided to share a small part of the proceeds with her grandchildren now rather than after she passed away.
Well, that "small part" turned out to be quite a lot. And very nearly enough to finish paying off our house right away instead of in two more years, as previously planned.
I did some more minor...ahem...forecasting (that’s the F-word here at YNAB) to be sure we would still be able to save enough for the baby in February. And then...we pulled the trigger.
We went to an actual brick-and-mortar bank branch where a lovely person named Carol set up a wire transfer for us so we could walk out debt free.
Life After the Mortgage is Paid Off
I am so incredibly grateful for this gift. It's just absolutely mind-blowing. But part of me, a selfish part, felt a little bummed, too. Because I talk about personal finance for a living, my story is really important to me, and part of me feels like that story will always have this caveat — that I had help, that I didn't pull myself up by my bootstraps and do it all on my own.
But as I processed those feelings, I realized that's always been true. I've been blessed through my whole life, and it would be arrogant to take all the "credit" for everything I've done financially. On the other hand, it's also true that I made sacrifices and good decisions to get here. The truth is...both those things are true.
And I need to recognize the responsibility this gift brings. I knew I had privilege, but it turns out I had more than I realized. One reason why I wanted to pay off this mortgage was so I'd have more cash flow to increase my regular giving. This inspires me to commit a much greater portion of that cash flow to help others.
In one of the Beginning Balance podcasts, Jesse gave a beautiful analogy. He said he feels like he's been working to meticulously knit this safety net under him and his family. And paying off the mortgage was the ultimate expression of that.
That analogy resonated with me so much. I tied some of those knots in my net. I did, and it was tough work. But I can't even begin to count how many of those knots were tied by others. My family and my community helped me knit that net—and now I can help knit that net for others in return.
Is an early house payoff within your future? Set up your YNAB budget and experiment with our loan planner tool to see how much you could save in both time and money with your house payoff goals.