How a couple with 3 children paid off their mortgage in 10 years

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Sam and Kari Zelinka from Madison, Wisconsin are an adorable couple. They work comfortably and live beyond their means. Given their academic and professional background, they could live anywhere in the world, but they settled with their three young daughters near where they grew up. They are busy, but Sam finds time to write the popular blog cover. personal finance questions for federal employees.

It didn’t take long for a recent interview with Sam to realize that the 38-year-old has a clear list of priorities. He never mentioned that he was the recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the US government to a select group of scientists and engineers.

Instead, Sam focused on what mattered to him: his family, financial freedom, and helping other government employees enjoy myriad (sometimes confusing) government benefits.

Here we take a look at each of his hobbies and talk about how Sam and Kari managed to pay for their mortgage in 10 years – three children and that’s it.

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Path to freedom

About five years ago, Zelinka decided to take the little-known path. While other couples their age were buying new SUVs and large homes to house growing families, Sam and Kari decided to pay off all the debts. In their opinion, debts were all that prevented them from caring sincerely – spending time together with the whole family.

They took over advice from Financial independence, early retirement (FIRE) and have come up with their own strategies to get rid of debt in their life. Their two most significant financial liabilities at the time were mortgages and childcare

It so happened that the two older children aged and moved on to primary school, which helped to keep these costs to a minimum. Since there is only one left in the kindergarten, it is only a matter of time before she will go to school. So, the couple was able to turn their attention to the removal of the mortgage. They still had bills and monthly obligations, but here’s a snapshot of how they paid off their mortgage in full.

Counting every dollar

When they first got married, Kari had just graduated from college and started her first job, while Sam was still in high school. He admits that things were pretty tense in those days. Although they didn’t know it at the time, budgeting method they used from scratch.

In short, zero budgeting means there is “zero” difference between your monthly income and your monthly expenses. This is how it works:

  • Find out how much you bring each month
  • Subtract the amount you need to pay from this income (including fixed expenses and savings).
  • Feel free to spend the rest, but keep track of where every dollar goes

Having a plan for “found” money

Another clever thing that Sam and Kari did is put aside the “found” money. If any of them received a raise, tax refund or any other “additional” funds, they set aside this money to cover expenses that necessarily arose, for example, car repairs, home renovations and vacations. Everything else went to check.

By refinancing and using reserve change

Interest rates fell around 2016, Sam said. It was then that they decided:

As Sam explained, “It didn’t increase our mandatory payments too much because interest rates fell, but it did speed up how much we invest in principal every month.”

And, according to Sam, every extra coin they got went into their mortgage lender… “Sometimes we made 10 or 12 principal deposits a month,” Sam said.

By reducing transport costs

While they can certainly afford a more expensive car, Sam and Kari use a 2015 Mazda 5 and spend less than $ 2,000 on transportation, including about $ 600 for full coverage. auto insurance

Otherwise, they use one of the six bicycles they have for getting around and even have a cargo bike big enough for their parents and all three girls. Both Sam and Kari work within two miles of home, so when they are not cycling, they go to the office. Saving on transport was one of the reasons Zelinka could pay off her mortgage.

According to Sam, he and Kari still have a Mazda. “We drive it less than 5,000 miles a year,” he said. “I think we will have it forever.”

Hiding “allowances”

Living far beyond our means can exacerbate any relationship. Sam and Kari avoid feelings of disadvantage by investing a certain amount of money monthly in personal checking accounts that the other has no access.

Sam explains, “It works really well for us. We’re not arguing about whether someone buys lunch at restaurants or fancy coffee. This is a relatively large percentage of our expenses (5%), but it’s worth it not to argue over the money. … “

Focusing on experience, not things

Asked how his three girls felt about the family’s modest lifestyle, Sam replied that they weren’t missing out on anything because nothing had been subtracted from their lives. In addition, they never hear their parents argue about money and are not subject to financial stress.

When they want to have fun, they go outside to go cycling and have a picnic. And a few years ago they lived in Denmark for a month. Sam calls travel “the biggest waste of the family.”

Blogging to help others

Sam started his blog GovWorkerFi as a way to document his path to financial independence. It has evolved into an easy-to-understand guide that helps other government officials to better understand their benefits.

Sam now has a place where other government employees can learn more about things like retirement, background checks, federal cost-of-living adjustments, and parental leave. And, as mentioned, Sam uses the blog to write about the path he and Kari are taking towards complete financial independence.

Whether the girls get the latest toys at the same time as their friends, or whether Sam and Kari ever buy a new car, doesn’t matter, because they’ve figured out how to live life to the fullest without going to bed. stressed about money… He is now working to help others do the same.

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