I scared myself silly when we signed up for our first mortgage in 2006 to buy a block of land and cover the ensuing house construction. That mountain of debt looked insurmountable and, considering the higher interest rates at the time, the repayments felt like an invisible shackle binding us to the daily grind of working life. The system had us by the balls and would continue to hold on for the next thirty years—according to the bank’s timeline.
This mortgage was, in many ways, a necessity (of modern life, anyway) as it would fund the establishment of our family home and promote us from the status of mere tenants. As projected, we now have two young children and are proceeding to raise them in the house we built.
In the years preceding the build we rented, paying what felt like dead money to our landlords—around $125/week or so. After repaying a student loan to my mom and moving to Perth we had very little money to our names, despite the fact I’d been working full-time as a professional for two years. My infamous frugality comes to me honestly after several years of having to live on the cheap!
On deciding to buy the block, the savings we had put aside for a deposit were all but spent by the time the deposit (we borrowed 95%, from memory) and stamp duty were paid and then we had that fun little surprise of lender’s mortgage insurance to deal with.
It was around this time I casually voiced my apprehensions about all of this to a work colleague (the CIO where I was working at the time, Colin Macdonald). His simple advice to me—which I would readily pass on to anyone else in a similar position—was to repay the loan as quickly as possible.
The bank had us down for thirty years. Colin’s advice was to clear the loan in ten years.
Say what now?!
I broke out a spreadsheet and projected some numbers forward in time. At best, I thought we might be able to repay the principal amount by 2018 (so ten or eleven years). I played with the bank calculators and quickly realised we could save the value of the property itself in interest costs—hundreds of thousands of dollars—by making extra repayments. I was intrigued.
We had a basic home loan at the time with no offset facility. The bank did include a free redraw facility with this product, however. With the redraw setup, we could manually (electronically) transfer our savings into the mortgage and therefore save the associated interest costs that would otherwise be charged on that amount. Better yet, the redraw funds were fluid, meaning we could redraw, on demand, some or all of funds we put in if we needed that money (in an emergency, to fund a car purchase, for a holiday, or for any reason).
There is one caveat to note with redraw, which I only learned about more recently: the ATO considers funds contributed to redraw to have contributed to paying down the original debt. In brief, if you think you might rent out your property in the future, you’ll only be able to tax deduct costs associated with the loan amount you haven’t yet repaid (even if you redraw the surplus funds). Offset accounts may attract a small fee but are immune from the ATO, work in the same way as redraw, and are more convenient.
And so we set ourselves a goal, which would later become our very basic financial strategy: put it all into redraw. Rather than making interest at whatever low interest rate the bank would offer, we save the interest the bank would charge for some of the mortgage amount (whatever we could put in).
With me working as a contractor and the wife working long hours in a good job (that doesn’t pay terribly well) we continued to live as we had: simply. We didn’t spend excessively—we didn’t often have the opportunity to do so with the wife working 60-80 hours a week. Entertainment costs were out!
Instead of keeping our savings in a regular bank account, we kept them in the redraw account.
Slowly but surely the extra contributions started to add up with the added benefit of reversing the huge impact of compounding interest fees the bank would have otherwise been charging us. The Albert Einstein quote says it all: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.”
But today’s post isn’t about compound interest, it’s about goals—specifically the huge goal we set out to achieve nine or so years ago.
Admittedly I’ve been a little distracted by being back to work and the kids and I’d neglected for some time to update my spreadsheet that tracks the balance of our home mortgage and the offset account we now employ in place of redraw. I updated this spreadsheet recently and noticed what I first thought was an anomaly in the data: the negative amount highlighted red I normally show for the balance of our home loan minus the offset balance was no longer negative and it was no longer red: it was black and it was positive. The balance in our redraw account was more than what was owing on the mortgage.
I do keep an eye on our monthly repayments so I knew before this point we were heading in the right direction. In the last six months the monthly interest charge had plummeted steadily from a couple of hundred dollars to less than $10.00.
It then dawned on me: we’d met our goal. We’d met our goal a year early. Although the mortgage account was still open (and will remain so for a couple of specific reasons), we effectively have the option to repay the mortgage balance in full, if and when we choose to do so.
Back in 2006, this milestone was equivalent in my mind to being financially free. Today that’s not quite the case as our commitments—financial and life-related—have increased and of course there is a cost of living in groceries, petrol, clothing, and so on. I can say achieving this goal feels as good as I hoped it would back in 2006—perhaps all the more so because I neglected to watch as the odometer tick over.
This post is isn’t to boast, it’s to celebrate and inspire. From a very low base, ten years of hard work and time has allowed us to meet our single financial goal. Your goal(s) might be different depending on your circumstances: your timeline to repay your mortgage, depending on the value of your mortgage and your income, might be the same or it might be a shorter timeframe or a longer timeframe. You may also favour a better balance in life than what we’ve managed to achieve (I believe strongly in delayed gratification but I’m also nearing forty…). Nonetheless, set a goal and then plan to achieve it. The world can then be yours.
I suppose a disclaimer is also worth posting: I'm just a guy, I'm not an accountant, lawyer, solicitor, tax agent, mortgage broker, banker, financial adviser, insurance agent, land developer, builder, government agent, or anything else so I disclaim your application of anything I write here is to be applied at your own risk. What I write may be incorrect and you are best to seek your own professional advice (tax, legal, financial, and otherwise) before entering into contracts or spending your money. Your situation is unique to you and what I write here reflects my experience only. This content is not professional advice and is not tailored to your situation. I'm learning too and expect to make many, many mistakes along the way.