Payoff 2020

This post may contain affiliate links. View our disclosure.

Payoff 2020

Alright, now that I’ve told you guys about our goals for 2018, let me tell you about our doozy of a long-term goal. We’ve actually been working on it in secret for almost two years.

Paper Chain

Back in February of 2016, I posted about the paper chain that we’d created to represent our mortgage. It consisted of a link for each month that we had remaining on our mortgage. When we hung it in our office, it had 54 links.

Each time we made a payment, we removed a link from the chain. Seeing that chain get shorter was so motivating for us that it wasn’t long before we started to talk about changing our goal. What if, instead of focusing on paying off our mortgage, we focused on paying off all of our debt by the time our oldest daughter graduated high school?

The idea was tantalizing. But it was also pretty crazy.

Because aside from paying off our mortgage, it also meant paying off our cabin

and all of the remaining debt from when this happened back in 2011…

Tree on House

That tree changed everything for us.

Could we really pay all of that off by the time our oldest daughter graduated high school? We crunched the numbers, and decided we could.

So, we calculated our new monthly payments for everything, and we adjusted the length of the chain to reflect our new goal.

And month after month, we’ve been making it happen. We’re now 28 links, or two years and four months, away from meeting our goal.

Here’s where we’re stand with our debt today (January 2018):

Mortgage: $36,154.18
Cabin: $59,244.24
Tree: $27,036.14

Updated Debt Total (January 2021):

Mortgage: Paid off!
Cabin: $36,468.66
Tree: $21,661.76

If we stick to our plan, by May 2020 it’ll all be gone, and that feels really good.

Now, we did just take on a new debt when we bought our office, so we’ll still have that to deal with once we meet our goal. Right now, we’re thinking we’ll give ourselves five years to pay it off.

But bottom line: we’re making a hard push towards financial independence, and all that debt has to go!

I’ll update this post as the payoff amount goes down, and let you know if we run into any snags along the way.

Have any questions about our goal or our debts? Ask away!

Similar Posts


  1. Wow, Erin. I wish you and Aaron the best of luck. If anyone can do this you are the couple that can.

    God bless.

  2. Great plan! A few years and you will be done! I recently decided we need to pay off our mortgage to possibly retire early. Probably about 8 years to pay it off.
    I would love to know the story of the tree. Was it your tree or the neighbors? Hit your house or theirs? Insurance didn’t cover it? What was the original tree debt? Sorry I’m so nosey 🙂 My house is surrounded by trees and it is a horrible fear of mine that one will fall on my house or the neighbors. I have insurance, but I worry it isn’t enough especially living in a hurricane prone area.

    1. Marlena,

      As an insurance agent/underwriter, I TOO have trees surrounding me and my neighbor (also an agent;) had a tree that fell and hit my fence…his comment to me…”better call my agent” (no comment). What I DO know that he has a couple of trees that are leaning over my house, but in our area, I am responsible for having his trees trimmed (the portion that is hanging over my house) so he and I need to have that conversation. I would talk to your agent about how your policy is written as well as what your EXCLUSIONS are (people worry too much about what is “covered” and not enough about what is excluded (in the case of hurricanes whether a loss is covered would be what caused the initial damage, wind that took off your roof that caused water damage on the inside which would probably be covered, but if it was due to massive amount of rain/flood, then it would not be covered unless you have a flood policy. Rule of thumb as to coverage, what caused the initial damage and is it a covered cause and in the case of a neighbors tree that falls on your house, your policy will “probably” cover, but your company will go on the back end go after your neighbors insurance company for reimbursement, but as someone who is licensed in all 50 states, every state is different, so best to talk to your agent…

      1. All good advice. Having lived through the experience of having a neighbor’s tree fall on our house, there are a few things that I think everyone should do to better protect themselves against things like this. A couple of them completely fly in the face of what most “financial experts” tell you. I’m going to start working on a post today.

    1. We used a calculator on our bank’s website. You can access it here:

      When entering your current monthly payment amount, only include the principal and interest amounts. Do not include PMI or insurance/property tax escrow contributions.

      Play with the additional payment amount until you find the magic number that gives you the “months to payoff” number that you want.

  3. Erin,

    Congratulations and I am SO happy for you. If I am being too nosey, please forgive me and don’t respond, but what are the sources of income you are using to pay these amounts off as well as other than the things you reference in your blog, what EXTRA ways are you using to cut back?

  4. Hi Rhonda,

    We’re basically doing two things to make this happen: we’re finding ways to get the things we need/want without spending money, and we’re working hard to boost our earnings.

    We earn a good income, but it’s really no more than you would expect two college graduates to earn in a year. What makes this huge goal possible for us is that we’ve learned to live way below our means. You could definitely say the school of hard knocks has taught us a lot. When the economy tanked my husband lost 40% of his income, and I lost 25% of mine. When the tree fell on our house we found ourselves footing an unplanned six-figure renovation. shortly after moving back in, I lost two-thirds of my income (our only income at the time). And this year a major client cut my earnings by 25%. We never got behind on any of our bills through any of that because we’ve always chosen to live on way less than we make. So when things are going well for us, we are able to use that extra money to work on goals that are important to us.

    Living below our means, for us, has meant buying our home and staying in it, not paying for cable/satellite, sharing a $50/yr Tracphone, etc. But it’s really grown past that over the years. Now when we need or want something, our next thought is, “Is there a way I can get it for free.” And the answer is yes a surprising amount of the time.

    Since we’ve already built our payoff goal into our monthly budget, we aren’t applying any “extra” money that we bring in to our goal. Instead that’s going into our bank account as a cushion to ensure that we’ll be able to continue to meet our goal month after month. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that stuff happens.

    Some of our short-term goals, like working on the cabin, aren’t a part of our current budget, so we’ll have to find ways to bring in extra money to meet those goals. We’ll likely pay for those by having a yard sale, participating in consignment sales, doing odd jobs and continuing to grow our income from the website and shop.

    Writing about our goals has made me realize that there are a lot of other posts that I need to write about how we budget, save for things, overcome setbacks, etc. Writing about our experience with the tree is first on the list.

    1. Erin, thank you for sharing. I am fortunate enough not to have any debt (house and car included) and have been reading your blog etc since 2008 and look forward to any and all tips you have given so that I can continue to do so. Thank you.

  5. Sending best wishes to you and your husband on reaching your goals!!! We did it long ago (we’re senior citizens) and retired so there is no financial crunch! It was totally worth the effort.

  6. I was able to pay off my mortgage in 10 years by living below my means. The first two years I paid nothing extra on my mortgage. Then I refinanced from 9.88% to 6.88% and started making extra payments each month. Paying off my mortgage was the primary reason I was able to retire early. Good luck! You can do it.

  7. This is an amazing plan. I’m going to talk it over with my husband and see how we can adjust all of our bills into this wonderful plan. Thanks for letting out your secret.

  8. If you don’t mind me asking, what does your family do for health insurance since you are both self employed and how affordable is that?

    1. Hey, Maureen.

      We buy our own insurance. For the past five years we paid between $300-400 a month, and we were very happy with our coverage. We didn’t have any co-pays; and we had free well visits. We had high deductibles (2,500), but set it up that way to keep our premiums low. This year is a completely different story. The Affordable Health Care act caused our insurance company (Humana) to drop out of the state. When we checked the Heathcare Marketplace, we only had two choices: a Blue Cross Blue Shield policy with decent coverage for $14k a year, or another company that covered well visits and nothing else — no sick visits, hospital stays, etc. for around $400 a month. So, really that meant Blue Cross was the only choice to stay compliant. There’s a tax credit to help with the cost, and we’re right on the edge of qualifying. If we make less than the threshold, we’ll have free insurance this year. But if we make too much, we’ll have to pay the whole $14k! So, that’s a huge stress point for us this year — and the driving force behind our goal to max out our retirement contribution this year.

      1. Wow! 3-400 per month didn’t sound bad at all for the previous plan, but wow…. cannot believe what they can charge now! Do you have to pay the premium and get reimbursed at tax time? I can never seem to grasp how that all works! I was just curious how others handled the convoluted marketplace. We currently have insurance through my husbands employer but always looking at other alternatives if something were to change with that.

  9. You have the choice of paying the premiums up front and getting reimbursed at tax time, or having the gov’t cover the premiums up front. We opted for the later option. We don’t want to have to pay that back, so if our income ends up over the threshold, we plan to add more to our retirement account and invest in growing our business. Hopefully that’ll get our income where it needs to be because 14K is just insane. I feel like our whole year is now shaped around meeting this one requirement.

    The Affordable Healthcare Act has been great for people who weren’t able to get insurance before, but it sure hasn’t been good for the people who could. Before we learned about the tax credit, we gave serious thought to self-
    insuring. Put 14k a year into an account, and it’ll build to be quite a bit of “insurance” over time. It seemed crazy to be considering that, but given the choices, it wasn’t so out there.

  10. I can completely understand the self-insurance thought. It makes a lot more sense than shelling out that kind of money unknowingly especially if you are a relatively healthy family! Maxing out the retirement will definitely help bring that income down too. It’s a catch 22 because we are always trying to increase our income over time and build and grow a business, but at the same time feels like you get dinged for it on the other side if income is too high! You guys are amazing and so smart with these decisions. You are a wealth of knowledge to others! (and I’m sure some of it has to be from trial and error?)

    1. This is our first home. We weren’t interested in up-sizing a bunch of times, so we focused on buying a forever home that would could pay off as quickly as possible. At 1600 square feet, it’s enough house for our family of four, but not so much house that it’ll feel overwhelming when the kids move out. It has a super wide staircase, so we can even add a chair lift when we’re older and continue to use both floors. We even had accessibility in mind when we renovated the upstairs bathroom. Safe to say we’re here for the long haul 🙂

  11. You guys are definitely great planners 🙂 We are still in our starter house that was a 3 year plan and it has now been 15 years ha ha. The difference is, our house is only 1100 sq feet and no basement and we are literally busting at the seams for space! We’ve started the search for something bigger but we’ll see how that goes. Most of our friends and family joke and tell us we will never move because we have talked about it for years but we are still here lol.

  12. Hi Erin,

    Do you know about Dave Ramsey? He is the author of The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace. I have been listening to him on Stitcher and really learned a lot. His philosophy is to live debt free – Live like no one else (meaning you will not be like everyone else going on vacation, out to dinner etc.) while you are paying off debt so you can live like no one else (meaning you will no be in debt when you retire).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *