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  • My parents always used old Country Crock butter containers as Tupperware.
  • I applied this lesson — using what I have instead of buying new — to pay off my mortgage early.
  • I borrowed other lessons from my parents, too, like never paying interest on my credit card.

“Hey, Joey!” (Yes, growing up I was called Joey by my family and friends.) “Can you go to the fridge and grab the Country Crock butter container?” I walk to the refrigerator, open up the door, and have a choice to make: There are two plastic butter containers sitting on the shelf.

Which container do I grab?

One contains the buttery goodness we’d use on our corn. The other, who knew what was inside? The contents could be creamy mashed potatoes, leftover baked beans, or a plethora of other leftover food items.

That was the deal in our house. We never knew what we might find in a butter container.

Using “recycled” plastic containers to house our leftovers or transport food from one place to another helped me kickstart the journey to financial freedom. By the age of 38, my wife and I had paid off all of our debts, including our house. 

Why we paid off our mortgage early

There are various schools of thought when it comes to paying off your home mortgage. Some financial wizards will tell you to keep the mortgage. You will receive a tax credit at the end of the year for all of the interest you’ve paid toward your house, after all. Others will say you have more disposable income because you’re not making extra house payments. That’s money that could go towards investing in your future retirement.

My wife and I had a different idea. We didn’t want a loan hanging over our heads for 30 years. We took out a traditional 30-year loan months after we married and a few months before I lost my just-above-minimum-wage job working at a bookstore. My wife’s job wasn’t much better, but we were able to survive on her single income while I worked at building a business.

The situation we found ourselves in soon after our marriage and home-buying experience led us to the decision to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible. 

On August 1, 2019, we made our last mortgage payment. We finished paying off our 30-year loan 16 years early. Now, we don’t worry about a monthly mortgage payment, car payment, or payments for fun toys. We can pay cash and that’s a weight off our shoulders.

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How we paid off our mortgage 16 years early

Paying off our mortgage early seemed like a pipe dream. Who does that? Unusual people who live a less-stressful life, that’s who. We wanted to be those people. So we turned to my family’s creative relationship with Country Crock as a starting point.

We find ways to reuse items or use them in new ways

The habit of reusing containers that would typically go into the landfill helped me realize that we could do the same with other household items. Just because they were old or no longer able to be used for their original intended purposes doesn’t mean they didn’t hold value.

We’ve used butter containers and other food containers instead of traditional storage containers. They’re there, they’re free, and they work. I’ve also found myself using fishing line to hang picture frames when we’ve run out of string, or using a plumber’s wrench when I couldn’t find a hammer in the house.

These actions may have seemed small at the time, but they saved a little money here and a little money there. We were able to take those $5 or $10 expenses and add the extra cash to our pay-down-the-house fund.

We always pay off our credit cards

Another tactic I learned was from my father. He grew up during the Great Depression. He was in World War II. He knew a thing or two about being frugal.

While Dave Ramsey will preach against using credit cards, my father didn’t believe credit cards were evil. Instead, he believed you could use credit cards to your advantage … as long as you paid off your balance when the balance came due.

Because of my father’s insistence that you pay off what you owe, I’ve never paid a late fee or interest charge on my credit cards. This has helped us save thousands of dollars over the years when the average credit card interest rate is nearly 20%. Interest adds up quickly. Interest saved and put towards the mortgage instead of a credit card payment adds up fast, too.

We automated increased mortgage payments

We knew that if we only paid the minimum on our mortgage, we would be paying for years to come. The easiest thing we did to pay down our mortgage was to increase our automated mortgage payments. Instead of paying the bare minimum, we chose to add 5% and then 10%, and eventually, we were making double mortgage payments.

Before we knew it, we received the payoff letter from our mortgage company. We had completely paid off our house. We were debt-free.

Our debt-free life feels great

Debt-free living is different for us. We no longer worry about one of us losing our job. We don’t have to think if we have the money for an item we’d enjoy. We don’t even have to think about the next vacation we will take.

The money we’re not paying toward a mortgage is a godsend. 

We can now invest in the things that are important to us. My wife is into ethical fashion. She can buy new pieces of clothing regularly that support the humane treatment of the clothes makers. I’m able to invest in comic book art without guilt. We can put our money into investment accounts where our money works for us.

We’re so thankful my parents taught me how to be frugal with money.



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