On March 25th, I posted how our family paid off our mortgage, becoming totally debt free for the first time in our adult lives.
Now that it’s the end of June, I thought it would be interesting to talk about what it’s like living mortgage free. How is it the same as I thought it would be, and how might it be different? Have my views on money, work, and life shifted because of this massive change?
That Mortgage Free Feeling
I remember hearing on the Dave Ramsey podcast that the grass feels different when you own it. And it’s true.
Every so often, as I pull into the garage, or stand in the garden, I’m struck again by the fact that we own this house and everything in it. The bank no longer owns large chunks of the home and property.
It really is a different kind of feeling, and it also makes me acutely aware of all the little things around the house that need fixing.
One of the doors needs replacement. Our stovetop has a burner that doesn’t work very well. The oven has a light bulb that keeps burning out and turning off. I don’t necessarily like how the house is decorated in many of the rooms.
During the mortgage payoff time, there was a lot of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Now, without a mortgage goal staring me in the face, those little things that need repair or replacement bother me more. Hopefully over time I’ll have a chance to spruce everything up.
You Can Fall Into “I Don’t Have A Mortgage, So…” Thinking
I’ll tell you, money mindset and mental math can be a struggle.
This past quarter we’ve had some big expenses. Braces for my oldest son, for one. Plus preparing for our family dream trip to Japan – I forgot how many little “miscellaneous” expenses come up when preparing for international trips. I’ve also had some rather significant medical expenses the first half of the year, which is taking up a lot of that “extra” money I thought we would see.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking “well, we don’t have a mortgage, so it’s easy to afford (X)!”. And it certainly is easier. But that doesn’t really make it easy, per say.
I still have some big, looming financial goals. I need to finish up setting aside money for the boys college fund in accordance with my college compact with them. With three kids, and only two years until my oldest son heads to college, I can feel that time is limited.
Our emergency fund is doing well, but I wouldn’t mind beefing it up a bit. And I’d love to ramp up after-tax investments.
Even now, I’m continuing to save, invest, and max out retirement accounts. Once we’re back from our dream trip and things have settled back into “normal” (and hopefully no one else needs braces anytime soon!) I plan to supercharge my remaining financial goals.
Knowing I Have Options Is Powerful
Being mortgage free, particularly as the female breadwinner of a family where my husband stays home with the kids, gives me a level of financial comfort and flexibility I was missing before.
When you’re the female breadwinner (or, likely, also the male breadwinner, but I’m not one of those so I can’t say from experience) you can sometimes feel stuck.
You can’t take a risk and start your own business, because your family needs your income.
You can’t take a step back at work for less stress, responsibility, and hours in exchange for less pay, because your family needs to eat.
Should your parent fall ill, and you have to (or WANT to), be there to help them through their illness, you feel like you can’t take unpaid time off.
Heck, when my husband was in the ICU, in a coma, and I didn’t know if he was going to live or what life would be like later, do you know how much time off I took?
One week and three days.
Three days was pre-planned for his surgery, and the one week was the week he was in the ICU. The rest of the time he was in the hospital, and in the live-in rehabilitation center, I worked.
People asked me why I didn’t take FMLA. And the answer was simple.
FMLA is unpaid.
At the time, I had two kids at home. Medical bills piling up through the roof. A mortgage to pay. School loans for my MBA. A car payment. I needed to put my middle son in daycare. Some money in savings, but not enough, since my husband had lost his job in the Great Recession and hadn’t been able to find another one.
The simple answer is I could never have afforded it. Even with me still working, we treaded water financially for about a year before I was able to get back to my prior level of saving and investing. And then, of course, we embarked on this journey.
A similar story played out when my kids were born. I was fortunate to work for companies where I had disability coverage. And disability coverage covered six weeks. So with each child, I took six weeks off work.
Today, if my husband were to fall ill again, or if I had another child (no plans though!!!), I could take FMLA without blinking. To me, that’s powerful.
I Don’t Need To Worry About Losing My Job
I used to be utterly paranoid about losing my job, because I knew what a tremendous financial burden that would be on my family.
Things are going great at work – in fact, in the last three months I was promoted – I know that the economy can change in the blink of an eye.
Industries change. Business needs change. Life changes. One thing I’ve learned in my thirty nine years, and especially over the last ten years, is that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. And you don’t know what you’re going to need, or want, and how that will change as time goes on and life happens.
Without a mortgage, and with a continued high savings rate, we have financial flexibility and a low monthly required outlay.
That flexibility is powerful, and changes the way I think about what I really want in my life. I can honestly say my entire perspective about work and money has changed.
How so? Money is no longer a source of stress. Knowing that my family will always have a roof over our heads, no matter what happens, is still a bit unbelievable. I know that even if something unexpected happened – and I needed to take a new job with a pay cut, or we had to have my husband work, or I decided to start a business, or I needed time off to help out someone else – we would be OK.
Life Is Still The Same
When I pushed the button to make the final payment on the mortgage, something inside myself shifted. But at the same time, life in many ways stayed exactly the same.
We still live in the same house. We drive the same cars. I still get up and go to work every day, and the kids go to school. I still shop at consignment shops for clothes (although I did recently get a Macy’s gift card for my birthday). We go to the library for entertainment, like this past weekend where we went to our library’s comic-con.
The habits you build over years to get you to big financial goals don’t leave you once you’ve reached them. There’s often a perception that people who “have money” spend money, and if you don’t spend money, it’s because you don’t have any.
But if you’ve built up habits of living frugally, having a low spending rate, and saving, those habits don’t leave you once you have more money than you once did.
Just Because You Have Money Doesn’t Mean You Need To Spend It
Interestingly, there are people out there who think that once you have money, you “should” or “must” spend it.
There are those who dream of being debt free just so they can spend more money.
You shouldn’t keep that ten year old Honda Accord because you could afford to buy a new SUV. You shouldn’t keep that $8 purse, because you could easily go spend hundreds of dollars on a new one.
Shopping at thrift stores, tag sales, and consignment shops should be reserved for people who “have to” – because you can afford more, you should buy new.
You shouldn’t use coupons to save money on groceries, or at Target, because you don’t have to.
Free entertainment? You shouldn’t seek that out, you should spend money on concerts and activities for the kids.
Going camping for vacation? Nah, you should only take fancy trips.
Hogwash, I say. To all of it.
Yes, I mentioned above that we’re splurging a bit more on some things now that we’re mortgage free. Although braces for your child are debatable as a splurge. But overall, our spending hasn’t changed. And once we get back from our dream trip, I fully expect to get back into a normal baseline.
I still have that $8 purse, and no plans to change out my ten year old car with 127k miles on it. We still seek out free entertainment, and low-cost entertainment in the form of thrift store shopping.
There are a lot of things I would rather do with my money than spend it on external trappings of wealth.
For example, I want to ensure my kids don’t have to work full time and go to school full time to pay for college, like I had to.
I want to start a community college scholarship, to give others who go to the same community college I did the chance to succeed.
I would love to be able to use the Chief Mom Officer platform and brand to create courses, workbooks, etc. that I could give away to underserved communities. That takes investment.
There are causes near and dear to my heart that I want to support financially. I want to be able to be here for my kids, and my extended family, when they need me without worrying about money.
All of that is much more important to me than a new purse.