How I paid off my mortgage in 12 years

Despite battling some serious health issues, Tracy Bell paid off her mortgage with sacrifice, patience and some careful planning. She shares her story with Donna Webeck.

The purchase

so I bought and moved into my house on February 1, 2000 – my 39th birthday! I held off moving in for a couple of days so it would be a birthday present.

I also bought a house that was realistically priced for my income. I didn’t want a huge house because having previously lived in Japan for 6 years in my thirties, it influenced my thinking about how much space a person actually requires.

I purchased a comfortable 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom terrace with small front- and backyards. The footprint is not large but it is well designed and there is enough room for visitors. I also thought about choosing something that was easy to maintain if I was unwell, as I have Crohn’s Disease.

Although I initially preferred a freestanding house rather than one with shared walls, that would have been slightly out of my budget. I am glad now I stuck to it: the shared walls are not important to me and I prefer that there is less maintenance required.

The payments

After the first year, I always paid more than the mortgage payment and if any extra money came my way (through savings, money from tax return, for example) I put it on the mortgage so it was reducing quickly. I received a small inheritance in 2012 that enabled me to pay the mortgage off.

The rate switch


The sacrifices

You do have to make sacrifices in order to be mortgage free. I only bought necessities to furnish the house, along with some dated furniture I had from my flat and things my parents gave me. The house style was very ‘minimalist’ for the first few years! But it meant I didn’t have any debt except for the house mortgage – and that meant I felt more comfortable.

I also drove a cheap but reliable second hand Mazda 121 (which I paid cash for) and didn’t buy another car until I could afford to pay cash for it. And despite my love of travel, I didn’t go overseas for seven years after buying the house.

I’ve had to endure my health battles while paying down my mortgage and, at one stage, my situation was severe enough to make me worry about losing the house. I had to work part time to manage doctors appointments and monthly day admissions to hospital. I couldn’t afford the loss in salary so I worked longer hours on the days I worked. Of course, this didn’t help my health and I spent most weekends recovering.

Six years ago, I paid off my mortgage, age 51. I no longer had to worry about losing my home due to my health. I didn’t have to work so hard and was able to reduce my hours, improving my wellbeing as a result. I was then able to consider early retirement from my role as a public servant. All in all, being mortgage-free has increased my sense of security, personal independence, confidence, wellbeing and freedom.

As well, I now have savings to deal with life’s emergencies or unexpected costs, or to be generous with family or charities (I have been making a monthly donation to charity since 2007). I also get to enjoy myself, especially through travel.

In short, life is more fun!”

If you too want to be mortgage-free, don’t expect to have everything at once. Here’s how I made it work:

  • I bought an apartment in 1992. It is an example of what not to do because I bought at the high end of the market and sold it to buy the house. But if I had held onto it just a little longer it’s value would have skyrocketed. I could have managed on a very tight budget to keep it but I was influenced by others, against my own judgement, to sell it. The sale did however enable me to buy my house, which I love.

UNO tips:

With interest rates at an all time low, if the value of your property has increased since you got your home loan, your Loan-to-Value Ratio (LVR) has likely decreased – which is a good thing. It means you’re potentially eligible for a lower interest rate than you’re on now. You can plug in what you estimate your property is currently worth and get a read on the low rates you could be able to unlock here.

  • Be prepared to consider a purchase that doesn’t tick all the boxes (there are negotiable and non-negotiables) to keep within your price range.

    If you have a clear idea of what you want, enlisting the help of a buyer’s agent can help take some of the stress out of property hunting and grant you access to properties you won’t see being advertised. Buyer’s agents can also bid on your behalf. Read:
  • Do your research so you know what is happening in the market and choose when and where to buy carefully, if you can. Research your loans. I saved thousands in interest by changing my bank. This all means that you get a reasonable mortgage to start with.

    Many Australians miss out on savings because they are not prepared to refinance.

    UNO research found Aussies who have switched their rate are paying 13 basis points less on average than those who haven’t, with the common roadblocks to not switching being loyalty to their current bank or lender, the perceived amount of effort required to switch, and the fear of talking about finances. Do yourself a favour and see if you qualify for a better rate by clicking
  • Be clear on how much you can afford and don’t stray from that.

    While home buyers usually focus on asking
  • Try to always pay more than the minimum on your mortgage. Put financial windfalls and salary increases onto your mortgage if possible. Be consistent about putting money away. It shouldn’t have a major effect on your standard of living but it is quite satisfying to see that mortgage get smaller.

    A good way to add a little more to your mortgage is to round up the amount you pay each month. If you’re monthly repayment is an odd number, like $3,467.80, for example, why not round your repayments up to $3,500 or even $4000 a month to get ahead. The extra few dollars will amount to big bucks over the course of a few years. For more info read our
  • Keep control of your finances. Have what you can afford and don’t go into debt when you know you can’t manage it.
  • You can still have a great social life by socialising with friends at home or less expensive restaurants.

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