Paying off our mortgage with a bunch of rocks
If you’ve ever been over to our house you may’ve noticed 2 vases with a bunch of rocks in each.
The rocks aren’t there for Feng Shui. The rocks aren’t there as some kind of weird hipster decoration.
The rocks are there to help us pay off our mortgage.
No, these are not magic rocks.
No, these are not really gold nuggets.
No, they’re not diamonds. Just rocks.
So how are they helping us pay off our mortgage? We’ll get there in just a minute.
Earlier this year I ran a 5k to help raise money for wounded veterans.
It’d been years since I left the Army and done any serious running. So leading up to the race, I ran 2-3 miles 2-3 times/week to get back in the swing of things.
I had no illusions about winning the race, I was just going to support my friends and a worthy cause. Even while in the Army, I was never all that fast. Now several years and injuries later all I cared about was not hurting myself or getting shamed by a 12 year old or a 72 year old.
Fortunately, neither happened. I finished the race in one piece with a “decent time.”
That was a few months ago. Now the race is done and over, guess how much I’ve been running since?
If you guessed 0 miles, 0 times per week you’d be right.
Similarly, over the summer, Andrea and I had a wedding and family reunion in Hawaii. There’d be beaches and bathing suits involved.
So in the months leading up to the trip I got strict with my diet and exercise to look decent in a bathing suit. I didn’t want to embarrass my wife, who BTW looks great in a bathing suit.
The trip came and went. We had a great time. But do you think I’m still eating as clean or working out as hard?
If you said yes, the quart of ice cream in my freezer would beg to differ.
So what do these stories of my fickle-minded, vanity driven diet and exercise have to do with our mortgage and a pile of rocks?
We’ll get there soon. Promise.
We can only focus on so much at any given time. So naturally, our attention will go to the urgent things. Those things with a deadline. The squeaky wheels, getting in our faces, screaming for oil.
Maybe you, like me, have always prided yourself on “getting things done.” Maybe you’ve haven’t had to face this, yet. But you will. Years of psychological research say so.
Don’t believe me? Just google “primacy and recency” and the “Von Restorff Effect.”
We have a limited amount of time, effort, and energy to give and we tend to give it to the most urgent things in our lives.
The race came and went, and it was no longer urgent for me to run. So I stopped running.
The trip to Hawaii came and went, and with it so did the prospect of me being in a bathing suit. No more urgency to work out and eat clean. So I stopped, at least to the extent I was.
Sure, the health-and-fitness crazed folks reading this are probably rolling their eyes and judging me. But please don’t miss the point.
We’re fickle creatures.
Working around our fickle nature
Paying off a mortgage is a long term play. So incredibly long some people go out and get a mortgage, then treat it like rent. Dutifully paying the minimum each month, assuming it’s just one of those things they’ll always have in their life.
Not Andrea and I. We know it’s going to take time, but we want to pay off our mortgage sooner than later.
For starters, we bought a less expensive house than we could have meaning we took out a smaller mortgage than we were approved for. And then on top of that, we went with a 15 year mortgage instead of the more common 30 year mortgage.
But even 15 years is too long for us. Once you get a taste of true debt freedom, you want more.
We want to own our home outright. The house we sleep in, the well we drink from, the yard our dogs play in. The whole thing.
This isn’t just a math problem or a financial decision for us. We want to know whatever happens, we’ll always have a place to call home. A place no one else can lay claim to. A little slice of America for ourselves.
But we know this is a long term play.
A lot’s going to happen between now and the day we get rid of our mortgage. There’s going to be things we want to do, stuff we want to buy. And then life’s just going to happen, too. It’s all going to cost us money, effort, and attention we’d otherwise put towards paying off our mortgage.
Here’s where the rocks come in.
We have 2 glass vases with a specific number of rocks in each.
Each rock represents a portion of our mortgage. The rocks in one vase represent how much we’ve already paid off. The rocks in the other represent how much we still owe.
Each month we knock down the amount owed on our mortgage, we move rocks from the “owed” vase to the “paid” vase.
This silly little ritual helps us to visually track our progress towards owning our home outright. It helps us stay focussed and maintain a sense of urgency. Otherwise, we might get distracted. We might start to think there’s something else we’d rather do or have than a paid-off house.
Instead, at the end of each month we meet at the rocks, transfer some from one vase to the other, and celebrate moving a bit closer to our goal.
So no matter what it is you and your partner are trying to do…save up an emergency fund, pay off your debts, or whatever else…I’d encourage you to find a way to maintain your focus and sense of urgency.
We’re all a little fickle sometimes. But in our case, we’re beating our fickle-nature with a bunch of rocks. What will it be for you?
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