Today I’m going to discuss the three prongs of the mortgage mutilation fork. Yeah I know, forks normally have four prongs… but just go with it! These are the three things that for me have made the biggest difference in killing off my enormous debt and I hope that by sharing them, they will help you too.
Prong 1: Tracking Via Spreadsheet
As I’ve already covered, tracking is incredibly powerful. It puts your mortgage in context, makes sure that you constantly pay attention to it, doesn’t take nearly as long as people think and can even get addictive as being good with them can answer many theoretical questions. Think of it like Google. Before Google (BG), if there was ever something you’d like to know more about well… tough crap.
However now that it’s so easy to access all that information, we use it all the time. We all have the occasional “what if” questions like is it better to rent or buy? Or would I be better off saving up more money now and buying later? Or the age old question of should I invest this extra money or pay down my debt? Whatever your questions though, getting good at spreadsheets and tracking things makes these questions easily answerable. And once you are able to quickly figure out the answer to a reasonably complex financial question… you use it all the time. One of the most important questions I answered using spreadsheets was “What day will we finish paying off our mortgage?“. Now the more work I put in to the other three prongs, the closer that date gets and it is an extremely good motivator. With good tracking you can see how your power bill is going compared to 2 years ago. How much electricity prices have gone up over the past 3 years and even how your income has changed over your working life. A good rule of thumb I’ve always kept is:
Track every detail even if you think it’s irrelevant, as you’ll use it!
Here are just a few of the things that I track and that have helped to mutilate our mortgage quicker.
- Power rate prices, daily power usage
- Gas rate prices, daily gas usage
- Water rate prices, daily water usage
- Car services, petrol, insurance, registration
- Mortgage repayments
Tracking is simply the start but it’s a very important one. Once you track something you’ll automatically try and make it more efficient, which leads into prong number 2…
Prong 2: Spend Less and Be More Efficient
Once you’ve started tracking and setup your automatic mortgage repayments, you can focus all your energy on spending less money and/or being more efficient. This one can take quite a decent amount of time and is normally a continuous process as quite often you’ll find companies trying to “up” your rates/bills/whatever without you noticing, so stay sharp! I check all major bills annually and do a quick re-shop around to make sure I’m not getting screwed.
The first part is to simply spend less. Cut your Foxtel (I still don’t get why people pay to have Foxtel advertise to them???), get a cheaper mobile phone plan, don’t consume so much food/petrol/alcohol/gadgets/etc and so on. Now I might cover some more specific tactics I’ve employed over the years in later posts, but for now you can easily go to Google and simply look up any of the great frugal living sites for ideas. You should also be well aware that having more money and things will not make you happy, in fact it will often make you less happy. This isn’t just some opinion of mine, it has been proven over and over in many different trials. True happiness has nothing to do with money or stuff, so if this is something you disagree with, you’d be well advised to read up about it more.
For me, some of the biggest savings have come from checking Home and Contents Insurance, Car Insurance, Internet Bills, Private Health and/or Life Insurance, Banking Fees and finally Power/Gas/Water rates. These are all normally very high price items that you can normally knock over in an hour or two each by asking for discounts or simply switching. The plus side is that you can normally make huge wins in that hour or two such as saving $400 off a yearly insurance premium with one phone call (as I just recently did). Some complainypants people might say “oh I don’t have the time for that!” and that’s when I’d answer with “Don’t you like getting paid $400 per hour???“. Make sure when you’re focussing on “spending less” that you focus on the biggest items first. Make a very rough list of your expenses and then attack them one at a time from biggest to smallest. Sure, you might want to reduce your $70 Internet bill… but if your Car Insurance is $2,000 it can wait!
Being more efficient to me at least comes naturally. I find I’m in a similar boat as Jacob when he describes his “laziness” in this article.
…my laziness is of a certain peculiar kind in that I will go to great lengths to avoid having to go to great lengths. For instance, in stead of adding to the amount of dirty utensils when I am cooking by using a different pot, a different spoon, etc. for everything, I will tend to combine ingredients in the same pot or rinse off the ladle I am currently using to use it in another pot. Rinsing something off is far easier than letting the food dry and then try to get it off. I will even go so far as to not make certain dishes if they take too long. For instance, I will not spend 60 minutes making something that takes 10 minutes to eat when I can make something in 10 minutes that is just as a fulfilling.
I am always looking for the quickest way to do something, especially if it is something I do on a regular basis. I too refuse to spend hours cooking something when I can just throw a 10 minute meal together and have it fill me up just the same. And when it comes to our mortgage, automation, spreadsheets and tracking tie in to make things very, very efficient. I can tell you to the exact day when we will finish paying off our mortgage (assuming all things remain equal). If they don’t remain equal, a quick adjustment to a value and the new date is spat out. As I go through each expense trying to optimize it and make it as small as possible, I make sure it is as efficient as possible so that I have to spend little time on it in the future, plus when your expenses are efficient (for example the efficient use of power) they are normally cheaper too.
When you cook efficiently and eat efficiently you waste less food, save water from cleaning, save gas from cooking and everything gets quicker and cheaper. As an added bonus, the time you save from each activity adds up all on top of each other to the point where you will soon find that you have easily done everything that’s needed to be done! Jacob’s blog over at earlyretirementextreme.com is a fantastic resource for very extreme frugal living as well as efficiency. I’m also a great fan of efficiency due to the environmental impact it has. Sustainability to me is the ultimate goal, to have a house that needs no outside resources not only helps the planet but costs $0. Now you might not want to go as far as Jacob does and that’s fine, but still have a browse through as it will no doubt give you some idea’s on where things can be made more efficient.
Prong 3: Making More Money
At some point, after a few months or even years of adjustment with prong 2, you’ll find that you can’t really ‘cut’ anything else without impacting your life in ways that isn’t comfortable to you. For instance you might have got your food bill from $150 a week down to $100 a week… but if you try and cut it more you’re just living on sub-par food that isn’t really worth the extra $10/week savings to you. It’s at this point that I like to push my focus more to the earning more money side of things. As there is only so far that you can go to save money, (I’ll get to exactly how much you should be aiming to save in a later post) if you want to still get that mortgage even lower then it stands to reason that you’ll have to start earning more somehow.
Now this is obviously going to be different for everyone and once again, I may go into further details in later posts but for now I’d suggest heading over to Ramit Sethi’s blog at www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com as this is basically his speciality. Everything from getting a raise at your current job, to earning side income while you work and even to complete career changes into your Dream Job are covered with the most detail I’ve ever seen anywhere (including expensive work and Uni courses). I will admit the domain name does sound a bit “dodgy” and often these “get rich” type things are full of crap, however he is a well trusted author who has helped thousands of people make thousands of dollars over almost a decade of work. If you still don’t think it’s on the level that’s cool too, there is plenty of his best work that he gives away for free so simply try it, none of it requires you to spend any money, just your time investing in yourself.
The End Result
All three of these prongs can be done simultaneously, however it can be hard to keep yourself motivated and/or find the time. My suggestion is to focus first on numbers 1 and 2. Tracking really doesn’t take much time at all and to start with you can just record numbers without analysing them. Simply write down what you gas bill was, or your salary, or the bulk of your expenses as they come in and then forget about it. Let the data build up over time and leave the analysing part for later on. Analysing is what takes far more time and quite frankly it works a lot better once you’ve got a few months (maybe 6+) worth of data already at your disposal. At the same time, start going through each big ticket item and trying to make it more efficient and cheaper. Also start looking around at everything you do and try and make it more efficient, or question yourself on if it is really needed in the first place. Do you really need to spend 2 hours driving to the gym to walk on a treadmill? Or can you simply alter your routine and get off at the stop before your stop and walk a bit further to work each day instead? This extra efficiency will not only save you time but will give you the motivation you’ll need to keep going step by step.
After you’ve made a large amount of things in your life more efficient and cheaper, you’ll find that you’ll have a bit more spare time up your sleeves to start analysing your tracked data. You also might have time to start devising a way to get that promotion or start some on the side part time work. Overall though, you will no doubt find that with each step, you will cut away at that mortgage end date bit by bit. The more time you put in, the closer that end date will become. Many might think that this is an odd thing to be spending so much time on, but for most it is the most important thing as it saves you the most money. Be sure to take it one step at a time though and not get drowned in the size of it all, this will take you many months, likely a few years, so make sure you’re in it for the long haul. By focussing on these three prongs it will ensure that you’re doing to three most effective things you can to mutilate your mortgage.