Monday, March 11, 2013

Of Marathons and Mortgages

Well, this week is my college's spring break, and it's also the tapering week right before my marathon, so I seem to have both time on my hands and energy to do extra stuff.  And since (by a lovely numerical coincidence), it's been 101 days since I signed off the blogosphere, it sounds like perfect timing for a few quick updates on life in the Miser Mom household.

The kiddos keep me hopping.   K-daughter got accepted to a college 2 hours away, which has me simultaneously proud-as-punch and also biting my fingernails at the prospect of losing her next fall.  N-son has found a New-Orleans-style drum teacher, and life in our home will never be as quiet again.  And I heard just last week that two years of paperwork finally resulted in qualifying J-son for our local dyslexia center.  Hallelujah!

My new bike -- the Sudden Painful Death Machine -- hasn't gotten much use yet, mostly because I'm a wimp about riding a bike on ice.  (Or just a wimp about bikes in general?   For now, let's blame the ice).   But the triathalon training has nonetheless proceeded apace, with some seriously long distance running under my belt, getting ready for a marathon I'll do with a passel of friends this upcoming Saturday.

Ooh -- oooh -- oooooh!  But what I really wanted to say was this:

Three weeks ago, my husband and I completely paid off our mortgage.   

Woo-hoo!  We celebrated by taking a leisurely 20-mile run together (which we were going to do anyway, but it felt a lot better doing the run as a "celebration" than as yet-another-multi-hour training run).

And having finally zeroed out this balance, I just want to shout: Frugality Works!  It does!  

On the one hand, paying off a mortgage in just 16 years might not seem like a huge feat.  After all, my husband and I both make significant piles of money, and my penny-pinching ways are legendary.   So maybe zeroing out the mortgage in 16 years seems rather ho-hum.

But our marriage has sailed along in turbulent financial waters, with many dangerous reefs and tides and heavy headwinds.  Not the least of these were a few huge obligations we started out with, like . . .
  • We bought the house with no money down and with completely-wiped-out savings.  Don't even ask me how that happened -- at the start of our marriage, I just assumed my husband knew what he was doing when he figured a down-payment would come along.  It took about six months into our marriage before I took over handling our finances, and a year into our marriage before we realized that he was always overly optimistic about money.  By then, it was too late to move our sizable clan to something less costly.  
  • We entered the marriage committed to paying in full for one of his daughters' very expensive private schooling (grades K-12), and also to other very non-Miser-Mom types of clothing/grooming/activity costs.   These expenses combined to a significant fraction of my husband's paycheck for almost all of our marriage so far.  We're glad we did this, but the expense has been nonetheless significant.
  • Even after I took over the finances and we understood the challenges ahead of us, my husband did not become a convert to The Frugal Way of Life.   So we learned to live (happily, I swear) in a marriage where he'd buy Starbucks Lattes and expensive bikes, and I'd figure out a way to buy clothing for my two sons and me for an entire year for only $60.
  • Several times during our marriage, my husband's job situation got extremely rocky.  At one point, he was laid off.  After a few months of severance pay, he began freelancing and eventually got a full-time job again.  In 2009, he spent the year soldiering in Iraq at a much lower salary (but he actually spent so little for once, that we still managed to save a bit of money).

But our time together hasn't entirely been one of deprivation and suffering, focused only on a joyless version of scraping by.  In fact, along the way, we've managed to do a bunch of things that I look back on with a warm glow of pride.   Like these:
  • We helped to rear three beautiful girls who (as of May) will all have graduated from college.  Because of re-marriages/grandparents/employer benefits, it's hard to calculate just what fraction we contributed to each child's tuition, but it wasn't mere peanuts in any of the cases.
  • We adopted N-son and J-son out of foster care and unofficially co-opted K-daughter.  We've also begun the process of adopting a teenage boy from Haiti.
  • We spent a bunch of optional money --- about half of the original purchase price of the house -- insulating it and air-sealing it so that it's about one-third more energy efficient than it was when we bought it.
  • We've bought three different vehicles; we gave two old cars to friends who needed them, and during the time we owned a large van, we shared it around with all sorts of friends and church groups.
  • And we donated a lot of money to charity.  It didn't feel like a lot of money at the time, but I recently went over our records since we got married, and was surprised to find how it adds up.  We have actually given more money to charity than the purchase price of our home.  
All this is to say, again (and again):  Frugality works.  Even if it's just one person doing the frugal dance, dance it!  Even if there are large parts of your life that are insanely expensive, cherish those cheap parts!  Even if there are set-backs, or side-tracks, or reversals, keep plodding forward!  Because even though sixteen years felt like an impossibly long time when it was still stretching into the distance in front of us . . . now I can say it's a great feeling to get to the end of those sixteen years and see how far we've come.

I'll post a bit more on Wednesday and Friday; then I'll go back to math and marathons.


  1. Yay! Congratulations! And yay K-daughter!

    #2 on our blog got tenure. :)

    1. There are Yays all around! Kudos to you, as well.

      (I did get to read your very exciting news, but I wasn't logged in under my super-hero "Miser Mom" identity, and was just too wiped to switch alter egos and chime with timely congrats in your comments section. But I had enough energy to do my own little happy dance, here in my math office. Again: YAY!).

    2. FYI, you can just type in an e-mail address and your super-hero "Miser Mom" name.

      Thanks for the update!

      -New reader (I read all your entries after you stopped posting--a very exciting ride.)

    3. Ooohhh! Thanks for this super advice. And glad to know you managed to survive reading all that stuff I wrote. You're a glutton for punishment! (Welome to Miser Mom world!) -MM

  2. Woot! Woot! Thanks for popping in with such a wonderful update, and thanks for reminding us of all the reasons paying off your mortgage early should not have worked. As someone still climbing that hill, I find it easy to get discouraged with the HUGE balance remaining.

    Were there any re-fi efforts in there?

    1. I think we started off with a 30-year mortgage, and about two or three years into it all, refinanced to a lower interested rate. In 2009, when I did all the insulation/remodeling work, we took out a home equity line of credit to do so, and that actually had an even lower rate than our mortgage (with no points for refinancing needed).

      You could consider that another kind of refinancing, in fact. Two years ago, we "technically" paid off the mortgage by moving the remaining balance over to the lower-interest HELoC . . . and that's what we've been throwing our money at ever since.

  3. So good to hear from you again. AND, I really apprecate the encouragement to keep going with a non-frugal spouse. Your accomplishments give me hope to keep going. Thanks for much for sharing. Congrats on your progress for the marathon and triathalon. You're impressive. Keep up the good work.

    1. AND good to hear from you, too! I've missed the Rozy encouragements I used to get regularly -- glad I could give a little bit of it back! -MM

  4. Hi: So good to hear of your excellent news. I only have myself to wrestle with, but it is worse than a spouse or kids. I wonder if you should change your mindset about your
    "sudden death machine"? If you thought of it as a "pedaling through the daisies machine", it may just be safer. I worry about aphorisms and how they work to bring or repulse events into our lives. I would much rather see you pedaling through daisies than --- you know what I mean. This particular concept has bothered me for awhile and I am glad you wrote again and I can address it while it is all fresh. I have enjoyed your husbands blog since before Iraq and check in regularly. So as I say, do give a thought about how you think of your lovely, beautiful and frugal mode of transport and do continue to up date your interesting blog. With love and prayers of blessings sent your way, lorraine

    1. Thanks for this concern! It might reassure you to know that in my head there's a very different set of meanings to this name. The first one, of course, is that I am making fun of my own bike apprehension by giving an over-the-top name to what I fear.

      But the second, and (in my own head) more significant meaning is that I'm declaring a death *to that fear*. Yes, in just a few short months I'll go from a decades-long bike wimp to a person comfortable riding lots and lots of miles. I'm actually very excited about this.

      (In fact, although I didn't say this in the post, I've been riding my old bike with fat, multi-weather tires a lot more than I used to. And I've got an experienced bike buddy lined up who will start riding with me after the marathon . . . ) But I'm going to continue to make fun of myself and my bike-naivete along the way, because I've found that makes it easier for me to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them than if I'm taking myself too seriously. -MM