I am so excited to kickoff this new interview series featuring young debt-free families. Hopefully you enjoy stories about living debt-free as much as I do. My hope is that these stories will help to inspire other young families to pay down debt and become financially free.
Our first interview series guest is Marc from VitalDollar.com. I was excited when Marc agreed to participate in this interview series as I had recently listened to his story on the Do You Even Blog podcast.
As you’ll read below, Marc worked hard to build a blog that he eventually sold for six figures. It took years for him to build his former blog up to where he could make that kind of money, but it goes to show what years of hard work and consistency will do.
So what did Marc do after his big payout? I’m sure you can guess, but I’ll let you get the story directly from him. Now, here’s Marc from Vital Dollar with his debt-free story!
Start by telling us about yourself. Please include any details you feel comfortable sharing about your family, job situation, income level, and amount of debt paid.
My name is Marc. I’m 40-years-old and I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our two kids (6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son). In 2014, we paid off our mortgage to be completely debt-free. It was a 30-year mortgage that was paid off in 4 years (we paid $230,000 for the house).
The only consumer debt we’ve had in the past was from 2 car loans. We bought new cars in 2010 and 2011, but we chose fairly inexpensive cars ($16,000 and $18,000) and each of those loans was paid off in one year.
When we paid off the car loans we were a dual-income family with no kids, but since our daughter was born in late 2012, my wife has been a stay-at-home mom and we’ve been a single-income family.
It’s hard to say what my income is because I’m self employed and it varies pretty significantly, but it’s been six figures since 2010.
What inspired you to pay off your debt? Did you have a specific moment where you decided to make it a goal to pay off your debt?
When we purchased the house in 2010, we had no plans to try to pay off the mortgage early. We made the regular payment each month and nothing extra. At that point we had made a decision to prioritize retirement savings instead of trying to pay off the mortgage.
In 2013, I sold a blog that had been my primary source of income for the past 5 years. I got part of the money up front, and the rest of it a year later. With the initial money, we invested as much as we could. A year later, we got the final check (which was $100,000) and we started to talk about paying off the mortgage.
We had become parents about 6 months earlier, and we had just made a transition from a family of two living on two incomes to a family of three living on one income. We talked and we both felt like paying off the mortgage would help us to feel a little bit safer being a single-income family with an inconsistent and unpredictable income. At that time we owed something like $150,000 – $160,000. We decided to use the $100,000 (minus what we set aside for taxes) that we got from the sale as well as some money from savings to pay off the rest of the mortgage.
We felt like we were in a pretty decent spot with our retirement savings, so we felt like paying off the mortgage was the right thing to do for our family. We always thought that on paper it probably made more sense to invest the money, but the added peace and reduced stress of having no mortgage was more important.
How did you stay disciplined throughout the process to pay down your debt?
We didn’t really have a long process of paying off the debt, it was more like one big chunk. But we did stay disciplined with our spending up until that point to get to the position that we were able to do that.
The sale of the blog gave us a nice lump sum (split into two payments) but we didn’t splurge or really do anything special with the money. We paid taxes, donated a percentage, and used the rest to either invest or pay off the mortgage.
Our discipline with the money was due to having a long-term focus and trying to decide what was the best way to use the money for our family.
Were there any apps, tools, or websites that were especially helpful in paying down debt?
Just simple spreadsheets. We keep a budget and most of our financial records in spreadsheets. Now I use Personal Capital as a dashboard to see all of our accounts and track net worth, but I only started using that about a year ago.
What advice would you provide to other young families who are overcome by the stresses of debt?
My biggest piece of advice would be to talk about it with your spouse or significant other. Don’t avoid the subject and hope it goes away. Talk about it and get on the same page.
Come up with a plan and determine the priorities for your family. If you have credit cards, student loans, or other types of debts, read about the debt snowball and the debt avalanche to see which approach seems to suit you. Create a budget and get aggressive about spending less and paying down the debt quickly.
What was the most challenging part in your journey to become debt-free?
Our debt was paid off fairly quickly, but it took a lot of work, effort, and sacrifice to create and grow the blog that I sold, which is what made it possible.
When I first started the blog, it was a side hustle. My wife and I both had full-time jobs and I would work on my blog Monday through Thursday evenings, pretty much all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. There was a lot of sacrifice from both of us, but after 1.5 years of that I was able to quit my full-time job.
How has becoming debt-free changed your family’s life? How do you expect it will impact your family’s life going forward?
The biggest change has just been peace of mind knowing that we don’t have to make a mortgage payment every month. We still have plenty of other living expenses, but it’s reduced the amount of money that I need to make.
Aside from added peace of mind, I don’t feel like it’s had that much of a change on our daily lives. We don’t have the mortgage payment, so that frees up some room in our budget for other things, but our lifestyle is very similar to how it was before paying off the mortgage.
As far as my business is concerned, nothing has really changed. I still work the same hours and still have the same motivation to do well with my business. But it is nice to know that I don’t have to worry about being able to make a mortgage payment if my income drops.
Our kids are a little young to really understand the concept of debt, so we haven’t really had any talks with them about it yet. We do talk to them about money and we’re trying to teach them to spend wisely and to take good care of money, so at some point we’ll talk more about debt and how it can impact your life.
What are future plans for your family after becoming debt-free?
About two years after we paid off the mortgage we actually moved and sold that house. We wanted more land and privacy. After not having a mortgage for two years, we didn’t want to go back, so we paid for our current house with cash.
Are you pursuing (or have you reached) financial independence?
Yes, our biggest financial goals are related to saving for retirement and reaching financial independence. Our goal is to be able to retire in about 15 years when our son (the younger of our two kids) will be graduating from high school.
In terms of financial independence, my goal is to reach a net worth of 50x our annual income. We’re just a little more than halfway there.
Where can we learn more about your story?
I’ve written an article called The Realities of Mortgage-Free Living that covers some of the details of our story, as well as some pros and cons of paying off the mortgage. That article talks a little bit about our decision to pay off the mortgage instead of investing that money.
Like anything else in life, I think the context of the situation is important. I don’t think there is a clear right or wrong answer on the debate between paying off a mortgage vs. investing. The context of our family’s situation is that we’re a single-income family, and being self-employed only increases our risk financially. Considering that context, we felt like the added safety and security of having the mortgage paid off outweighed the possibility to earn a little bit more from investing the money. I don’t have any regrets.
Thanks again to Marc for being willing to share his family’s story. What a great way to kick off this interview series! If you have questions for Marc, please leave them below in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.