August Report: Trial Run at Financial Freedom = WONDERFUL



I now write one post per month about our debt-repayment progress here at Prudence Debtfree. Thanks for reading our report for August ’16! I post weekly at Fruclassity, and here are my September posts so far:


Photo: The view (including my feet) while camping 

DH = Dear Husband


Mr. SSC (Slowly Sipping Coffee) recently wrote the post, “Will your retirement have an ikigai?” Ikigai (pronounced icky-guy) is a Japanese term meaning “the reason to wake up in the morning”, and in his post, Mr. SSC explores the idea of life purpose during retirement. (He and his wife are very close to achieving early financial freedom.)

My decadent summer of ’16

For the past two months, I’ve had the great privilege of test driving financial freedom. I’m a teacher, and for the first time in seven years, I chose to take July and August completely off. No additional qualifications courses (summers ’09, ’10, ’11). No teaching English through July (summer of ’12). No teaching co-op through July and August (summers ’13, ’14, ’15). Next summer? We’ll see.

The summer of ’16 has been the most decadent of my career. For every other summer that I’ve taken off to be home, I was on full-time mommy duty. It was wonderful for me to be able to spend all of those summer months with our 3 daughters, but it wasn’t “decadent” – it was super busy. This summer, we’ve only had our youngest at home, and as a seventeen-year-old, she has not required me to be on full-time mommy duty. Not even close. She has her part-time job and her social life. We’ve enjoyed some great times together over the past two months, but they’ve been more laid-back than “super busy”.

So no job to go to + no course to study + laid-back family life = My trial run at financial freedom.

Increased fitness in retirement forecast

If the summer of ’16 is any indication of what retirement will be like, I’m going to be a very fit retiree. Most weeks involved 6 workouts: 3 early morning bike rides with a neighbour – 30-40 km (18-25 miles), and 3 visits to the gym with DH for cardio kickboxing and weights. The benefits of regular workouts are so worth pursuing! Better sleep. Clearer head. More productive. Happier. What’s not to like?

Writing project #1: Debt-reduction talk at the library

More writing is also in the retirement forecast. As my summer of ’16 began, I had three writing goals. And I’ve met each one. They’ll all take a bit of time to come to fruition, but I’ll share one for this month’s post.

I was very impressed when Brian at Debt Discipline wrote about his talk on debt reduction at the local public library. Brian and his wife paid off $109,000 in credit card debt and then went on to save an emergency fund that saw them through a tough year of unemployment for Brian. “What a gutsy move!” I thought of his initiative to speak at the library. It’s one thing to share your struggles with debt online, and a very different thing to speak about them in a room full of strangers. I admired the combination of humility and confidence that Brian showed, and I had no doubt that his talk had been effective. Who better to motivate than someone who has been through the ups and downs of turning his own finances around?

Then I started to wonder if I could do the same thing. I had spoken at church about our journey out of debt. Why not follow Brian’s lead and speak at a local library?

I’m not much of an initiator, and so it took a real step out of my comfort zone to contact the Ottawa Public Library. When I did, things went remarkably quickly. I’d need to fill in a proposal form. Provide references. Indicate dates of availability. Summarize my topic of presentation. Within days, I was fulfilling a request to provide PowerPoint slides.

“A presentation from a personal point of view,” I was informed early in the process, “is a new approach for the area of financial literacy programs at the Ottawa Public Library.” So this was new territory for the library too – not just for me. There were a few weeks’ worth of back-and-forth emails about detailed edits . . . And then it was a “Yes.” As it stands now, I’ll be speaking at the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library (120 Metcalfe St. for any Ottawa readers who might be interested in attending) the evening of Monday November 7 from 6:30-8:00.

This opportunity means a great deal to me for many reasons:

  • From the start, I’ve hoped that my writings about our debt-reduction would encourage others who had the desire to turn their finances around – especially those who, like us, felt powerless or incompetent to make it happen. I know from experience that speaking about personal debt can be very powerful in breaking down walls that keep people isolated in their financial struggles. There can be a huge relief in witnessing someone else being open about a topic you’ve always experienced as oppressively taboo.
  • I feel a “cutting edge” excitement about being the first speaker in this venue to present from “a personal point of view.” An old friend – who has no problem speaking her mind – recently asked me, “What makes you think you have the authority to write about debt-reduction?” I got a chuckle out of the question, but I appreciated it and answered her. “I write as someone who is going through it,” I explained to her. “We have a history of financial mistakes, but we’re learning, and we ARE strengthening our financial reality.” I compared our situation to people in AA who had been sober for 4 years. “People who have never struggled with debt don’t have the same insight into everything that’s involved in dealing with it,” I said. My friend nodded her head. She got it.
  • Even more personally, I feel an “I can do it!” growth in confidence. That may seem a bit premature since the presentation is still 2 months away, but I really have overcome an anxious hurdle just in going through with my proposal of the talk. There will be plenty more anxiety in the coming weeks as I practice, refine, practice, refine . . . Mr. Money Mustache’s latest post deals with his preparation for a recent public speaking event, and it brought home to me the work that still lies ahead. Very different type of event! But the point is, there’s a lot of effort that goes into a good presentation. So here we go!

Debt-reduction milestone

The summer of ’16 leaves me with no doubt that there will be plenty of “ikigai” in my retirement.

August brought our mortgage down another $2,000. So of our original grand total debt (consumer, business, and mortgage debts) of $257,400, we have paid off $156,600. If you’re good at math, you’ll quickly calculate that we’re on the verge of a very significant milestone. Our 6-figure debt is about to become a 5-figure debt.

That kind of milestone is worthy of celebration, and DH and I have been wondering how to mark it. But that ties into Writing Goal #2. And you’ll have to wait for next month’s post to find out about it : )

Do you ever wonder what the “ikigai” (reason to wake up in the morning) of your retirement will be? Have you ever had a practice run at financial freedom? Your comments are welcome.




Financial Goals And Tolerance for Ugly Stuff


DH = Dear Husband

Last week, Laurie wrote about how tough it can be to get out of a financial rut. Through her summer of high expenses, when just keeping her head above water has been enough of a challenge, Laurie has had to face down this temptation: “And wouldn’t you know it, the furniture set we fell in love with last month just went on super sale. Our ugly, ragged twenty year old couches have been an eyesore to me for about four years now and are begging to be replaced. But even on super sale, I cannot justify a new furniture purchase as it would have to go on credit.”

Have you been there? I have! My stamina for old, stained, ripped, scratched, rusting, mismatching, or otherwise ugly stuff has increased dramatically since DH and I started our journey out of debt 4 years ago, but there are still times when the temptation to buy shiny and new is just cruel.

Allow me to introduce you to a collection of our ugly stuff:

Click here to continue reading.

Move Over Maslow: Prudence Debtfree’s Hierarchy of Conditions for Debt Reduction


(Just so you know, that’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs up there.)

DH = Dear Husband

Combination of factors that led to success in our journey out of debt

I often reflect upon the fact that it took me SO LONG to adopt the basics of financial wisdom. From chaotic-overdraft-mode in my young adult, single years to hands-off, head-in-the-sand, leave-it-to-the-man denial through most of my married life . . . It took a combination of powerful factors to get me going in the right direction, starting in June 2012:

  1. 6 years of DH’s under/unemployment had made us extremely stressed by our finances from 2003-2009.
  2. DH had launched a home business in 2009, and it was succeeding.
  3. Those financially stressed years had been very tough on our marriage, but we’d stuck it out, and we were feeling a new hope together – for more than just the new business.
  4. In May of 2012, we listened to Dave Ramsey’s CD book, The Total Money Makeover. DH and I shared an “Ah-ha” moment: We were weighed down by our debts, and we had to get rid of them. We were psyched, energized by a new sense of power. We could pay off ALL the debts!
  5. Again thanks to Ramsey, we were inspired by a vision of how life would be once we were debt-free.

(The bold words are building blocks for the hierarchy coming up.)

Click here to continue reading.

The Lottery Fantasy vs. The Lottery Curse


DH = Dear Husband

Have you ever bought lottery tickets?

Have you ever bought a lottery ticket? Here’s a true confession: I have been chipping in with a group at work for a long time. Twice a year, about 24 of us fork over $20 for the privilege of membership in the lottery club. So far, we have won enough to buy extra tickets every once in a while. Is it worth it? Sure! It’s fun to “What would you do if . . . ?” with other members of the group. Besides, how would I feel if I suddenly stopped participating – and then our work group won? (Do not tell Dave Ramsey! It’s a big no-no to have anything to do with lottery tickets according to his Total Money Makeover plan – which I am following.)

DH has firmly maintained throughout our marriage that it would be disastrous for us to win the lottery. “We would fight about what to do with the money. We’d be lost. We’d be ruined.” I, on the other hand, have always said that it would be GREAT to win the lottery. How could it not be?

“Lottery curse”

“‘Lottery curse’ can disrupt lives” said a headline in a local newspaper yesterday. In 2006, 24-year-old Daniel Carley, “a small-time weed dealer”, won $5 million. He was given the advice that all winners are given: “Get a financial adviser . . . Then delist your phone and change the locks on your home.” Unfortunately, Carley did not follow this advice – at least not the bit about seeking professional guidance for his sudden wealth. “He blew more than half the money in the first three years, at a rate approaching $20,000 per week.” Yikes! How do you even do that?

To continue reading, click here.

Image courtesy of

Prudence Debtfree’s July Report: Olympic Inspiration Squashes Mortgage-Payoff Complacency


I’m finding it really hard to pull myself away from the Olympic Games coverage! Ever since my early teens, I’ve manifested symptoms of Olympic Addiction Disorder (not a real thing – at least I don’t think so). So I’ll make this quick!

Here’s a recap of where we are in our journey out of debt since June of 2012:

  • Consumer debts of $21,400
  • Business debt of $80,800
  • Mortgage debt of $155,000
  • Grand total debt of $257,200

Following Dave Ramsey’s strategy as outlined in The Total Money Makeover, we attacked our two smaller consumer debts first, and then moved on to our business debt. It took us just over 3 years to pay off all non-mortgage debt. In July of 2015, we were left with the mortgage to tackle, and the new step of saving up our big emergency fund (to cover 3-6 months of expenses in the case of job loss).

From June 2012 to July 2015, we paid about $27,000 off our mortgage just by our regular monthly payments. Starting in August 2015, we put extra against our mortgage, and in the last year, we have paid off almost another $26,000.

  • The grand total of our debt (just the mortgage) now sits at $102,800

Psychology of debt-reduction: Focus on what has been paid off, not on what’s left

In June, I made the discovery that it is better for the psychology of our debt reduction to focus upon what we have paid off rather than what we still have left to pay. In the first few years of our debt reduction, it was natural to think in terms of how much we had paid off. Once we got past the half way mark of our grand total, it became natural to think in terms of what we had left to pay off. But that had a discouraging impact, so I’m trying to focus again upon how much we have paid off.

In July, we paid $2,000 against our mortgage, bringing our total mortgage reduction since June 2012 to $53,000.

2 significant milestones

  1. Our emergency fund is now full (I should be more excited about this than I am), but we will continue to save at the same rate for big upcoming expenses as well as for retirement.
  2. The mortgage that we have left is roughly equivalent to the total amount of non-mortgage debt that we paid off from 2012-2015.

A wall of exhaustion? Or a wall of complacency?

Ramsey talks about people “hitting a wall” when they reach this stage of debt reduction. Consumer and other non-mortgage debts are gone; the emergency fund is saved; and all that’s left is the mortgage. Ramsey compares this wall-hitting stage to a marathon runner reaching mile #18 out of 26. Exhaustion sets in, and every muscle in the body screams, “Enough already!”

I think I might be facing a wall, but it’s not of exhaustion. It’s of complacency. We are at the point now where we’re “normal” – even for people in our age group (in our fifties). No longer do we have a debt-to-income ratio that is way above the record breaking household national average. We’re well below that average. While we felt a sense of urgency about our non-mortgage debts, it’s hard to muster that same urgency for a mortgage – and a pretty modest one at that.


Hold on here! We were never going for “normal” to begin with. We were going for complete freedom from debt. When it comes time for us to retire, we don’t want to fit in with “normal” – which is to retire while still in debt. So time to refocus, to stare down that wall of complacency, and to attack our mortgage debt like champions. The Olympic athletes, whose competitions I’ve been watching, strive for way beyond “normal”, and they certainly don’t give up before they reach the finish line. My finish line still lies ahead. The course has changed, but it still needs to be covered. On to the next stretch of the race!

Do you have a lower sense of urgency about your mortgage debt? Do you have Olympic Addiction Disorder? Do Olympic athletes inspire you – either towards physical fitness or some other pursuit of excellence? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of

Frugal Vacation Option: The 24-Hour Camping Get-Away


DH = Dear Husband

There’s our canoe up there. Soon, we’ll be hoisting it down to strap to our van for a camping trip. Of 24 hours.

It’s good to get away.

DH is self-employed and runs a home business. Although there are many great perks to this situation, one complaint I do hear from time to time is, “I find it so hard to relax at home! There’s always a job to do – administrative paperwork to finish – e-mails to answer . . .” When we recently went on a 3-day road trip, DH in particular LOVED it. “Wasn’t that great? We had so much fun! It was a real break,” he said more than once afterwards.

For DH, getting out of the house is important. But the demands of his work make it so that he can’t leave for too long. And our goal to be completely debt-free in another three years makes it so that we can’t spend too much on these get-aways. What to do?

What to do when time and money are limited?

Camping has got to be the most frugal form of vacation out there. All of the paraphernalia of tents, sleeping bags, cooler, camping stove, and canoe cost quite a bit to start with, but we’ve

Click to continue reading

No Honour in Secrecy about Personal Debt


DH = Dear Husband

“Honour” killing

I once taught a girl who was later killed by her brother in an “honour killing“. She was in a large grade 10 class of mine for a short period of time before the class was split into two smaller ones. News of the killing a few years later was utterly shocking. Just this past spring, a colleague of mine talked with me about his connection with the girl. “She came and sat in my class after school every day because she said it was the only place where she felt safe. I told her she needed to contact the police about her brother’s threats, but she said she couldn’t ‘dishonour her family’ like that.”

Secrets for family “honour”

Yesterday, I was on the phone with someone for close to 2 hours. I didn’t say much at all. A steady stream of words flowed out of this normally quiet woman whom I’ve known at a polite surface level for almost 2 decades. It was like a cork had been unplugged, and the family secret

Click here to continue reading.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Barray

A Brief Step out of Frugal Mode – Good for the Long Term Goal


Don’t they look happy up there? DD1 and DD3.

  • DD1 = Dear first daughter
  • DD2 = Dear second daughter
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter
  • DH = Dear husband

It’s been a time of relative extravagance around here, and it’s been lovely.

Travel (and dreams . . . )

Shortly after last Christmas, DH and I realized that it would be best to cancel our planned trip to Orlando with our three daughters this year. We were going to piggy-back a family vacation onto DH’s annual business trip in July, but with the plummeting Canadian dollar, it just wasn’t turning out to be a good idea. Consolation prize? We gave each daughter a round-trip flight:

  1. DD2 flew to Alberta to compete in Nationals/Olympic trials for track & field. (Unfortunately, she pulled her hamstring.) While DD2 wasn’t a contender for the Olympics, it was wonderful for her to meet and compete against Olympians and to get a taste of her dream for greater excellence in her sport.
  2. DD3 flew to British Columbia for two weeks to visit with DD1 (who has lived there for 5 years going to school and working). In the photo above, DD1 and DD3 are on a ferry on
Click here to continue reading.

Value of Financial Shock Absorbers

maxresdefault (1)

Shock absorbers in action

DH = Dear Husband

Numbers for June

Once per month, I report on our debt-reduction and savings progress. In terms of numbers June was not stellar. Our goal each month is to put as much as possible against our mortgage up to a maximum payment of $3,000. As for savings, our goal for last month was to top off our emergency fund so that it would be 100% full.

What actually happened was that we put $2,200 against our mortgage (down to $104,000 now), and we didn’t save anything. We would have made a smaller mortgage payment if we’d known what was ahead of us.

Real story for June

The numbers aren’t the real story. The real story is that in June, we hit a significant bump in the road.

DH is self-employed. He’s been running a franchise successfully for seven years now. Let me say that again: “He’s been running a franchise successfully for seven years now.” Such a short sentence. It can’t convey the “Hallelujah!” inherent in it for us. DH’s successful business is the happy, happy resolution to years of career uncertainty and under/unemployment. It will be a long time before I take it for granted.

Although DH has a lot of autonomy in his work, certain things are standard in the company and otherwise beyond his control. For the most part, no complaints. In fact, it’s been a huge help to have a structure and network in place. But in June, there was a company-wide glitch that lasted a bizarrely long time and that had the impact of butchering business.

DH had absolutely no control over this business-stopping “technical difficulty” (sorry I have to be so vague about it), but it had a staggering control over him. It was something that blindsided all concerned, and it brought home to us the fact that there are no guarantees when it comes to DH’s work and income.

The crisis did eventually pass, but while it lasted, it was the focus of just about every conversation that DH and I had. What if it lasted for several months? What options did DH have? How would we absorb a possible huge loss of income? 

DH carried an understandable amount of stress for those couple of weeks. But I carried almost none.

Shock . . . but a smooth ride

Let me say that again: “I carried almost none.”

A little over 3 years ago, still in the first 12 months of our journey out of debt, DH had slow business through the spring. Although I knew objectively that his income varied, that brief period of low income set me off. I wrote a post at the time about debt and depression, and how women in particular feel financial angst. “Dave Ramsey notes the same gendered difference in response to financial stress in his book, The Total Money Makeover.  ‘Somewhere down inside the typical lady is a ‘security gland’, and when financial stress enters the scene, that gland will spasm’ (Ramsey, p. 144).  My ‘security gland’ was in a spasmodic state for the better part of six years, so there is a trigger effect now, even though logic and perspective don’t justify it.”

Since that time, I’ve learned to go with the flow when it comes to our variable income. This past May, for instance, was possibly DH’s lowest income month ever, and that was completely OK. What happened in June was of a different order of magnitude. There was no “going with the flow”. There was no flow to go with. It was a random anomaly that we had no power to resolve.

And it didn’t stress me.

I was actually able to play the role of stabilizing spouse. DH’s day-to-day life was dominated by this crisis, but mine wasn’t. And so I listened, empathized, acted as sounding board, offered perspective, and confirmed our strategy. We’d batten down the hatches and be ready to respond to whatever was going to come our way. Ultimately, if worse came to worst, we’d close up shop and move. Significant, but nothing to get my “security gland” in a spasm.

Financial shock absorbers

So why the difference? Why were May and June of 2016 not difficult for me when March and April of 2013 were so depressing? I can think of 3 reasons:

  1. Less debt. In the spring of 2013, our business debt sat at about $65,000. Now, we have no business debt. Our mortgage debt was also about $43,000 more than it is now.
  2. More savings. In the spring of 2013, we had a mini-emergency fund of about $1,000. Now we have an almost fully funded big emergency fund that would see us through 6 months of expenses if we lost an income.
  3. Different attitude. “As you pay off your debt, you’ll realize it wasn’t about the money at all.” This statement, from Ramsey as well as other sources, annoyed me at first, but I’ve found it to be true. In 2013, the prospect of having to sell our house because we couldn’t afford it was mortifying. Now, there’s no ego obstacle to such a move.

I hope that “normal” will last through July – and many years to come for that matter. But if it doesn’t – if we hit more bumps in the road – I’m so glad we have these financial shock absorbers in place.

Would you say that you have “financial shock absorbers” in place? What is the most significant one for you? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of herrtichy