Freedom from Payments

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.

Freedom from Payments www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Today is Friday. We’re officially 100% debt free, as of 9am this morning.

Until Monday.

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.

In 2008, we started our debt free journey. We paid off $38,000 in consumer and car loan debt in 18 months. Then we moved to New Hampshire in 2010, selling our house at a loss. We saved up a 20% down payment for a new house over two years, but when we used every available dollar in savings for that, we went ahead and financed two cars.

Back of the house--www.thethreeyearpexperiment.com
Our house in New Hampshire.

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

The Process

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.

Paid off apartment in Chile www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our apartment in Chile is now paid off.

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?

There are plenty of people, like John from ESI, who pay off their homes early. There are plenty of others, like Liz and Nate from Frugalwoods, who choose to keep the debt.

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? 

June Net Worth Update

Hi! I missed you last week. First, we had a joint work conference for Mr. ThreeYear, then we spent one day loading the moving truck, then one day cleaning the house, two days traveling from New Hampshire to North Carolina, and one day prepping for our close. By the time you’re reading this, we’ll be homeowners once again, this time in North Carolina.

June Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I wanted to blog so much but it wasn’t happening.

I’ve never been so tired. Maybe after having the kids. Definitely after having the kids. But man, this is a close second. Moving is hard. Of course, we know it will be amazing once we get moved in and settled down, but for now, not knowing where my pjs are, or Mr. ThreeYear’s iPad, or pretty much anything, is disconcerting. Throw a mandatory joint work conference, an 8-year-old birthday party, and a graduate class with tons of work into the mix, and I was fried.

Charlotte sign www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Seeing that sign after two full days in a car felt very good.

Also, yesterday, my sister thought she’d speed up my transition into North Carolina living, by taking me to a yoga class on someone’s back porch in 88 degree weather. Ten minutes into class, there was a puddle of sweat on my mat. And I think (ok, I know!) I belong in the beginner yoga class. These ladies were popping up into headstands on a dime. It’s a really good thing there’s no picture of that.

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Since we’ve achieved the latter goal, we’ll be primarily focused on the former in each of these reports going forward. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try.

This month’s net worth report will be a little strange. It will take into account the (massive) loss of equity in our net worth from the move. We paid for realtors’ fees, closing costs, repairs, the move itself, attorneys’ fees, hotel stays, eating out, and the other myriad costs to move. Was it worth it? 100%! We’re living our dream of location independence (very firmly in one location, but hey, that’s what we want). It is a little hard to write down in black and white, though. Continue reading “June Net Worth Update”

Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save?

Bankrate recently reported that Americans are saving less, despite low unemployment and rising wages. And it turns out that some regions of the country are not as good at saving. On Wednesday, I wrote about the best places to live in the US. But could where you live impact your ability to reach FI, even subtly? Does where you live really impact how much you can save?

Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save? www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

How Much Do You Really Need?

We’re talking about emergency savings. The article makes the oft-repeated claim that you should have six months’ savings in an emergency fund. First of all, let’s think about that claim: who makes it, and who stands to profit from it? Keeping a lot of money tied up in a checking or savings account helps banks because they then have more money to lend out (they must have 10% of the money they lend on hand). But do you really need six months of savings? Continue reading “Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save?”

Do You Live in One of the Best Areas in the US?

Where do you live? Is it on purpose or by chance? Since we’re moving in a few more days, I thought I’d take a look at some of the best places to live in the US (sorry international readers!).

Do You Live in the One of the Best Areas in the US? www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

US News and World Reports tallied major metropolitan areas in the US to come up with this list. They used a strong job market, cost of living, quality of life, desirability (whether you want to live there), and migration to rank the cities.

Here are the top ten: Continue reading “Do You Live in One of the Best Areas in the US?”

How to Outsmart Your Mental Accounting to Save More

Have you ever gotten an unexpected check in the mail or a big tax refund, and your first impulse is to go spend it on something amazing that you wouldn’t normally buy yourself, like a lavish dinner? Me too. Why do we do that and how do we make better choices with these “bonus” windfalls?

How to Outsmart Your Mental Accounting to Save More www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I know that money is fungible, that I can use any part of my money on any one of my expenses, even though I have different mental buckets for my money. So rationally, I would add those bonus windfalls to my biggest goal of the moment, doubling my net worth. But that’s not always how it works.

We use mental accounting, or dividing our money up into “mental buckets,” for a lot of reasons. It’s a lot easier to think “I have $700 to spend on groceries this month” than to pull it out of one big account. That’s too confusing and I might spend too much without those mental buckets in place to help me categorize things. If we get extra money that falls outside of those buckets, then it does feel like extra, and shouldn’t have to be spent according to the same rules. Continue reading “How to Outsmart Your Mental Accounting to Save More”

Our Location Independence: Your Questions Answered

After I posted our news that we’re moving to North Carolina this summer and will officially be location independent, some of you had questions. I thought I’d publish a follow up post to answer those questions and hopefully shed a bit more light on some of the decisions we made.

But first, make sure you read this post that details that plan. It contains a lot of information about where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing!

Okay, on to your questions!

The Numbers

Jalpan from Passive Engineering asks, “My question would be on the numbers. How did you decide your original number  and how did you reach the conviction that you’ll still be okay even though you’ve not hit it?”

Great question, Jalpan. When we first decided the net worth number we wanted to hit, we knew it wasn’t the same as our FI number. In order to be completely financially independent, we’d need to save up more than our double net worth goal. But, we assumed that during location independence we’d either:

  • be working full time or
  • be traveling for a short amount of time, like a year

Continue reading “Our Location Independence: Your Questions Answered”

How Fixing What’s Broken Helps Your Financial Life

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure statement on the Start Here page for all the fun details. Thanks for supporting the site!

In the months leading up to putting our house on the market, we spent a lot of time fixing the broken areas in our house. Our kitchen sink had been leaking for months and we finally hired a plumber to install a new faucet. There were two plastered spots in the bathroom where we’d removed a towel rack and we painted over them. For the entire time that we’d lived in the house, we’d had a light fixture in the bathroom that we’d removed, because we were scared it wasn’t water safe, and had put a metallic plate over. We finally got a water safe light installed.

How Fixing What's Broken Helps Your Financial Life www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

These fixes cost money, but not near as much as I thought they would. Once I found a handyman and an electrician who’d fix everything, I think we ended up spending around $350 to: Continue reading “How Fixing What’s Broken Helps Your Financial Life”

May Net Worth Update

We’re well into June now, and the end of school is almost here. Our school year ends Wednesday, and then we’ll be spending entire days packing and getting ready for our big move to North Carolina. The weather in New Hampshire has been beautiful–cool mornings and warm days, with lots of sunshine. This time of year always has the power to hypnotize you with its beauty and leave you wondering why you were ever complaining about the weather.

May Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

On the home front, I’ve been finishing school work, packing, and doing graduate work (I have three courses more in my master’s program and I’m taking one in June and July). I’m so frayed that I’ve let all the non-important stuff go (you know, like dishes and laundry). Our house looks like we hosted a college frat party, minus all the empty bottles. We have all these random items in our corner, waiting for a yard sale, and there’s a dresser standing on its head in our entry, waiting for its Facebook buyer to come pick it up.

Mountain of moving boxes May Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The mountain of boxes in our basement.

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try.

May showed us more steady growth. Much of our financial progress was on autopilot last month, as we found a buyer for our house and looked for places to live in our new town. We know that our net worth will take a big dip when we sell the house, so I’m enjoying these numbers while we can.

Continue reading “May Net Worth Update”

How We Save Money on Travel with Kids: Guest Post on M$M

Travel with kids can be a scary concept for some people. Just thinking about flying with your baby can inspire terror in the most stoic of travelers.

How We Save Money on Travel with Kids: Guest Post on M$M www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

And while I admit that flying with our youngest was the reason that we have two, rather than three, kids today, traveling with kids can be done in a way that creates good memories for the whole family. Yesterday our story was featured on Millennial Money Man‘s blog and in it, I shared some tips we’ve gathered during the past few years for traveling with kids and sticking to your budget.

Related Reading:

Bobby is the millennial behind Millennial Money Man and his story is pretty cool. He used to be a high school band director, but after paying off $40,000 in debt on his teacher’s salary, he started a blog, and then decided he was going to turn the blog into a business. He shares his monthly blog income reports and he’s been pretty successful so far. While our family is obviously far from the millennial category (although my sister tells me I am now officially a millennial because they’ve decided to include ’79ers), I know there are a lot of people with kids, or thinking about having kids (like Bobby and his wife Coral) and they’re wondering how to fit kids into their travel plans.

While I didn’t include details about how to survive the plane rides (drug your kids), I did include other tips about making travel work with limited travel dollars. So read on! (And I’m kidding about the drugs–sort of).

A Year of Good Food: Survive the Move

June is here and with it, summer weather and summer eating! We love the beginning of fresh fruits and vegetables and the lighter meals we tend to eat during the summer months. There’s no air conditioning in most places in New Hampshire, our house included, so keeping our house cool is important. That means limited time using the stove and oven.

A Year of Good Food: Survive the Move www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can save and travel more. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about our A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.

And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. Last month, we focused on shopping the perimeter of the store only. It meant we ate healthier. You may have read the news that we’re moving at the end of the month. That’s right; our dream of location independence is coming true.

May

Because of the move, there was zero planning for May’s food shopping. We went to the store when we could, didn’t use lists, didn’t meal plan, and generally just pieced our meals together as best we could. Despite the chaos, I’m happy to report that we spent $775.95 in May. Yes, I know that figure goes over our budget, but it only goes over $3.95, and believe me, we were spending left and right with no plan. Our house was on the market and we sold it this month. Plus, we had one visitor during the month of May and took two quick weekend trips, meaning our routine was even further skewed. So the fact that we were able to keep the spending down even while not really thinking about it makes me feel like we’re changing our underlying spending habits around groceries.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Survive the Move”