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Is it possible to increase your net worth through optimism and hope? Last week, I was listening to this episode of the Australian All in the Mind podcast featuring American positive psychologist Martin Seligman, speaking on the power of positive psychology and optimism in changing our outcomes.
One of the reasons I was drawn to this podcast was because Seligman is an academician. He’s interested in quantifiable research in neuroscience that psychologists can use to improve people’s outcomes, that is, their happiness levels. Seligman is the Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and is widely known as the founder of positive psychology (here’s a TED talk he did from 2004).
In the podcast, Seligman shares how early on in his career, he realized that his colleagues were focused on the alleviation of misery and suffering, but he was interested in how to increase happiness: “I said, look, when you lie in bed at night you are generally not thinking about how to go from -8 to -5, you’re thinking about how to go from +3 to +6 in life. Psychologists have never worked on this, we’ve never worked on happiness, well-being, the stuff that is above zero.”
Happy July Fourth to my US readers! The ThreeYears have just settled in to our new house in North Carolina (ok, “settled in” might be a bit of a stretch. We are navigating through a sea of boxes and questioning why moving into a smaller house was a good idea all while not being able to find anything!).
I wrote this post several days ago and thought it was a good read for Independence Day. Because as we all know, financial freedom is an incredible type of freedom.
Today is Friday. We’re officially 100% debt free, as of 9am this morning.
We just sold our house in New Hampshire and we can enjoy three days of being completely debt free before we purchase our new house in North Carolina.
Going forward, our mortgage is the only debt we’ll have. And that feels really good.
During that whole time, we’d kept paying the mortgage on our apartment in Chile. We bought the apartment back in 2004, with a fifteen year mortgage. A family member currently lives there, and we stay there when we visit.
When we started our three year experiment at the beginning of last year, I realized that if we paid off both cars and the apartment in Chile, we would free up a huge amount of money each month for savings and investing. So, we spent the year channeling extra money to those three accounts, one at a time, in order to pay them off and free ourselves from those three payments.
In January, once we’d paid all three debts off, we began to experience the freedom that not paying car and apartment loans can bring.
We got to keep all that extra money and send it to savings. That felt incredible! We watched our emergency fund grow so quickly. Not owing that money and owning our cars and the apartment outright felt really good.
Even though financing a purchase, like a car, can help you in the beginning, if you don’t have the cash to buy it outright, paying it off early feels so good. Often, while you think about what you can afford, you don’t realize the mental burden that those payments will have on you, month in and month out.
If you’re unhappy in your job, knowing that you have a car payment to make makes it that much harder to leave and find something better, that perhaps pays a little less. It’s one more financial shackle around your ankle that you’re lugging around.
It took us a long time to reach payment freedom, but now that we’re here, we’re not planning to go back. We’ve set aside money to buy a new car outright with cash, should we decide to. We’ve
Now that we’re on the other side, it’s easy to forget how hard we worked to get here. For several years after we got our cars, we paid our monthly payments and didn’t think about paying extra, mainly because the interest rate was so low. Once we realized how much money we’d free up, we made a plan, but it was slow.
In November of 2016, we made a lump sum payment with Mr. ThreeYear’s end-of-the-year bonus and paid off the balance on the Accord (it was under $4000 at that point). Then, we took the Accord payment and snowballed that into the Prius payment. We added $200 to the total Accord payment per month to speed things up. Even with an extra almost $500 per month going to principal payments, it still took the entirety of 2017 to finish paying off the Prius. Every month, I’d record the new balance in our net worth spreadsheet, watching the principal amount slowly tick downward.
We’ve been paying our Chile apartment down for thirteen years, so we made a lump sum payment at the end of the year and paid it off as well. That sucker felt incredible.
It’s sometimes hard to prioritize paying down debt, especially mortgage debt, in the face of so many other financial priorities. As Moose and I discussed in our debt matchup on Rockstar Finance, there are a lot of (good) reasons not to pay off debt and invest the money instead. But I’ve never felt as free as I have after getting rid of the burden of these monthly payments. They’re out of my mind. No more mental energy is sucked up thinking about them. Mental bandwidth has been cleared.
No investment has been able to do that for me, so I’m still firmly convinced that paying off your debt is a smart move.
Paying off the House
Now that we’ve experienced freedom from car and investment property payments, we’ve signed away the next fifteen years of our lives for a new house. What the heck?
We took on a shorter mortgage and may decide to make extra payments, much like Penny from She Picks Up Pennies is doing. I’m not sure yet. But I do know that we won’t have a mortgage in our (early-ish) retirement. We may have to hand over electricity and water payments each month, but the debt payments will be gone.
So happy Independence Day to you! How do you feel about freedom from payments?
There’s a big debate in the personal finance community over whether it’s best to pay off your debt, or keep low interest debt (like a mortgage) and invest more.
After all, with low interest rates, you can likely earn more over time investing more of your money in the stock market and keeping low interest debt around. However, while the math may support keeping debt around, it certainly doesn’t account for the behavioral economics side of things. After all, as smart and logical as we’d like to think we all are, it’s all too easy to prefer a new car or vacation over disciplined investing, especially if a partner is pushing for those things.