Debt Free: When The Vision Becomes Reality

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I wrote the biggest check of my life this week,

and became debt free.

 

house payoff

As many of you know, we’ve been in the process of implementing a major downsizing move in preparation for retirement.  This week was a big one for us, and worthy of a final article on our housing transition.  I’ve been walking you through this process so you can observe how we’ve moved from a planning stage (read our downsizing strategy here) to an execution stage (read how we sold our house in 7 days here, and how we downsized 30 years worth of stuff here).  Now, it’s time for the completion stage.

Today, we’ll focus on how the execution of the strategy has led to completing the plan, and achieving the desired result.  We moved a lot of money around this week, and are now well positioned for financial independence within a few years.  More importantly, it shows how a well thought out plan can lead to positive results, keeping us on track for this blogger’s objective of “Helping People Achieve A Great Retirement”.

The Story

On April 11, we received a large wire transfer into our checking account from the closing of the sale on our “primary residence”.  The check representing the liquidation of our primary home’s equity, which we’d been dutifully paying into for almost 30 years. I smiled when my robotic friends at Mint notified me via an e-mail of a “large deposit” just received into our checking account…..(numbers deleted, I have to maintain SOME privacy out here!):

large deposit

I’ve been looking forward to this email for several years now, and knew exactly what we were going to do with the money.  Within 15 hours of receiving the wire transfer, I was writing the biggest check of my life.

A legitimate “6-figure” personal check for the payoff of our “cabin” mortgage, in line with the downsizing strategy we’d outlined in this article.  Earlier today, I put the envelope in the U.S. postal service for our…

Final

Mortgage

Payment.

Ever!

As of a few hours ago….

WE’RE DEBT FREE.

fireworks1

Dave Ramsey, eat your heart out!  (those fans, like I, will get the reference to Dave Ramsey, a gifted man of God who has helped hundreds of thousands of folks to get out of debt.)  After I published this article, I ended up tweeting to the infamous Dave Ramsey, “We’re Debt Free”!  I figured it was worth a shout out!

 

Were Debt Free

The Vision

I don’t write of our debt free status from a perspective of pride, and sincerely hope it’s not perceived as such. Rather, it’s an example of a long term strategic approach to personal finance and early retirement, and the achievement of a major milestone.

To Achieve The Goals You're Striving For, You Need To Have A Plan Click To Tweet

Several years ago we had developed The Vision toward a debt free life, which I outlined last year in my article on our Downsizing Strategy.  The writing of that check was more than “paying off the house”.  It was, rather, a symbolic moment marking the successful completion of this major strategy.  With the stroke of that pen, a multi-year strategy was officially executed.

Mission Accomplished!

Target Achieved!

What a feeling of accomplishment!

This, more than officially achieving debt free status, was the true satisfaction of the pen.

 

stroke of a pen

The Payoff

When I looked online for the payoff statement on our cabin mortgage, I came across a line that read, in effect: “wire transfer preferred, if not, then cashier’s check requested.”  NO WHERE did it say personal check NOT ACCEPTED. So, I made a decision based on principle.

Since 1987,  my wife and I have written a mortgage check…..

EVERY.  

SINGLE.  

MONTH

For 30 years, a monthly check for our mortgage payment has dutifully flowed from our personal checking account to the mortgage holder we adored.  (In complete transparency, we moved to electronically paying our bills several years ago, but the principle of “writing a personal check” stilll holds).

Today, a personal check would also flow.  It was my final act of defiance.

They can take my personal check for a payoff, just as they’ve readily taken my personal checks for 3 decades.  I’m only going to live this moment once, I’m going to do it my way. And I CHOOSE to pay by personal check.  (Think about it, how often do you get a chance in life to write a check paying off your your final debt obligation?  You can, I hope, appreciate why I feel giddy in writing about it….)

The Mortgage Is Paid Off.

A Lifelong Achievement.

A major goal accomplished.

It had been our vision.

And in the stroke of that pen, draining ink ever so smoothly onto the surface of my last personal check (ever) to a mortgage company….

….It became a reality.

 

Have you ever had a vision become reality?

If so, did you take some time to “celebrate” your achievement?

Our achievement was accomplished by many complex steps along the route. We decided to celebrate the steps along the journey. For example, we took a break after the home offer was finalized.

Today, I had only a minute to pause and reflect as I executed the final step in the strategy.

I was in my office, at work. Urgent e-mails barked over my shoulder as I took a few minutes to write that memorable check. A quick jaunt down the hall, en route to a coffee refill, and the envelope was placed in our outgoing mail system.  A bit anti-climatic, I must admit.

Rather than saving all of the celebration until the final step, we enjoyed the journey.  I’m glad we chose to do it that way.  The achievement of the individual steps are worthy of celebration, and it’s only if all of the steps are successfully taken that the ultimate goal is achieved.

The “Celebration” I’ll remember the most

A few weeks ago, I posted, in celebration,  a significant update to my personal Facebook page on our move to Blue Ridge.  (By the way, to any of my faithful readers, feel free to “friend” me on my personal FB page, I believe in having a relationship with my readers and look forward to getting to know you.  Forgive me if I mistake you for a troll and don’t accept your friendship, I’ll try to have a look and find clues that you’re a reader!)

The posting was a “life event” update, titled “Moved To Blue Ridge”.  It was, in my mind, the most symbolic “celebration” of the entire downsizing process.   To me, this was a symbol of our move to the mountains, and the achievement of an intentional change in our lifestyle toward what my wife and I have dreamed for in retirement.  I love the fact that the update was posted within 15 minutes of having carried the final moving box into our cabin.  The last of our friends to leave the cabin took the picture on their way out of our driveway, and I’ll treasure it always.  Here’s the post:

Moved To Blue Ridge

The title of this article is a direct result of that Facebook posting.  One of my good friends replied with the following:

When The Dream Becomes Reality

“When The Vision Becomes Reality”

The title, first suggested by my friend Kirk’s comment on my Facebook page , now proudly resides at the top of this, my 97th article.  Thanks, Kirk, for your suggestion on my Facebook post.  (By the way, Kirk has written guest articles on my blog here and here, and is leaving this week for his bucket list item of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada!  We’ll keep you in our prayers, Kirk & family, during your adventure!  Be safe, and enjoy the experience!)

Summary

How about you? Do you have goals that you’re striving to accomplish, or are you just wandering through life?  Take the time to develop a strategy, then write out some Vision statements about what you’re trying to achieve.  Develop a plan to identify the steps you need to take to move from “here” to “there”.  Celebrate when you accomplish the steps along the way.

Do it enough, and you’ll see a noticeable improvement in your ability to make plans become reality, and will begin to see a direct result from your efforts.  In addition, you’ll help me to accomplish another of my goals in life…..that of:

Helping Others Achieve A Great Retirement!!

 

 

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20 comments

  1. What a tremendous article and we could not be happier for you and your wonderful bride of many years. I could not agree more at how important it is to develop these “long term plans” and work at them diligently over several years as they indeed pave the way for a more enjoyable and fulfilling life ahead. In this same light I spoke with some people this week (roughly 5 couples) who had been retired for 10 years and asked what they had been doing and what was the advice they wanted to pass along to someone newly retired. As I waited for the pearls of wisdom they never came …. They were lost in the day to day grind of life that had overcome them. I then took away, even when you accomplish a “Huge Goal” as you have outlined here, again congratulations, and take some time to reflect and cherish the journey,. Then another Big Goal should be set, and the journey and excitement of new challenge can be gained. I look forward to seeing what new challenges you guys will concur and maybe even visiting the cabin the fall.

    1. Great comments, Kirk. Thanks for your insight, and I agree with the “another Big Goal” concept. Even after retirement has been achieved, “the big goals” help define purpose, which is one of the core elements required for a truly great retirement. No…go hike the PCT!! (for the benefit of the readers, Kirk is getting on a plane tomorrow morning to start his ~6 month walk from Mexico to Canada)!

  2. Does the grass feel better on your bare feet after you paid off your cabin? Congratulations on becoming DEBT FREE! We’ve been debt free for about 3 years now and our stress level went way down concerning finances. Setting big goals in life is important to keep you focused. You need laser focus to achieve your goals in life, so having a written plan is essential. My next “Big Goal” is retirement. How can I replace my paycheck with a reliable source of income? That is the problem I’m working through right now, but I’ll figure it out with the help from the man above and friends who write retirement and financial blogs. 🙂

    Good luck on your next Big Goal.

    1. Brandon – congrats on “debt free”, it is an incredible feeling. The best source for help that all of have is, indeed, “The Man Above”. I couldn’t do it without Him, regardless of how good “MY” plans were. Ultimately, it’s His plan, we just need to keep that in mind when we’re thinking about our personal goals and plans. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I love the concept of setting goals, but I was not always that way. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my father came when I was in my early 30’s and at a bit of a crossroads both professionally and personally. He told me and I am sure I am greatly simplifying the discussion we had, that I needed to set goals for my life. I do not think I had set any up til then. I had always been steadily employed and had never failed to maintain my own lifestyle, but I tended to go through life like a pool ball, moving from one collision to the next on a path dictated to me by the objects in my path or those exterior forces that acted upon me. Rarely was I doing a thing that I planned to be doing or with my mind firmly fixed on some desired future outcome. Looking back over 20 years ago on that discussion , I ask myself why the hell did you wait til then to tell me this? I am sure if I asked him why he would tell me that I would not have listened sooner, which may be true to some degree, but I think mostly my parents tended to not tell us what to do in hopes that we would figure it out on our own. I take a more pessimistic view with my children and started preaching about goal setting when they were in high school.

    1. Brian, great comments. I particularly like the “pool ball” analogy. A surprisingly accurate analogy to life without a plan. The good news: you’ve recognized the error of your ways, and you’re taking a modified approach with your own children! Congrats on that!

    2. I also like the pool table analogy but taking it a little further I think we eventually learn to understand the game and how to line up our shots. We don’t make all of the shots we try but we keep going until eventually we’ve cleared the table. Then we rack ’em up and do it again. Keep playing and have fun!

  4. Debt free! what a great milestone. It is one of these milestones that I look forward to myself.

    Having a plan is indeed one of the best guarantees to reach a goal. I like it that you started with a vision an took it from there. Our plan now is to pay off the mortgage debt over the next 9 years. We might throw in early payments, but keep the timing, mainly for fiscal reasons. It might not be the best and optimal financial action we take, it makes us feel good. It will also allow more flexibility and risk talking in life once paid off

  5. Congratulations to you two!!! What a wonderful prize for the commitment and hard work you two have done!! I loved Brian’s analogy of the “pool ball”! Been there! So excited that all the pieces are falling into place for you to have the retirement you desire…when you desire it.

    1. Mona – great to hear from you! You’ve been on my mind today w Kirk’s flight West to the PCT! Let us know if you need ANYTHING, and thanks again for your comments on my blog!

  6. Fritz – congratulations on this milestone. I wish you the best in your Georgia home and hope that you can make the transition to being there full time even earlier than planned. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  7. CONGRATULATIONS! We are also debt-free including the house… last payment also to Wells Fargo! This was about 5 years ago, and I always mark our “debt-free anniversary” on our calendar and we have a family celebration (might just be a big ice cream sundae… etc.) I feel it is important for DD to know that we are where we are because we are debt-free. That includes Mom being home in the summer and home after school. I feel this is one of the great accomplishments of our marriage.

    1. Great note, Jen! Love the idea of ice cream to celebrate the “debt free” anniversary! Thanks for you comment, and congrats on “debt free” and summers home with the kiddos!

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