Marvelous Money: Our mortgage plan update

10 April 2024

One of the most frequent requests I get, on all platforms, is for a mortgage plan update. This is funny to me (the requests are usually random and out of the blue!), but I welcome it, and I understand it: there are not many people willing to talk about finances in a personal and detailed way. But here I am! Willing to talk! So let’s get into it, because we have made a shift since our last conversation…

A brief overview of where we’ve been:

Spring 2013: We buy our house! We pull together a 13% down payment, because that’s the most we could afford.

Fall 2014: After paying off our car loans, we use about half of what we had been paying to make an extra mortgage payment each month (directly to the bank), and the other half to build up a fund for our next car purchase.

Fall 2015: Car fund complete, we shift that amount we’d been paying toward our mortgage, too. Instead of paying down our mortgage directly, though, we begin transferring the extra monthly amount into a specific home brokerage account and invest it, with the goal of paying off the mortgage balance in one lump sum once we reach the amount we need. I talked about that here.

2018: We shift our strategy. Instead of paying off our mortgage as soon as our home brokerage account reaches the right amount, we plan to keep saving a little longer, until we’ve reached a large-enough amount of money that, if carefully invested, the returns themselves would be large enough to cover our monthly mortgage payment (meaning our mortgage would no longer need to be a part of our household budget). I talked about that here.

2022: With June in (public) kindergarten, we shift most of the money we had been paying for preschool each month towards an increased monthly transfer to our home brokerage account.

2023: Our home brokerage account reached the amount where we could begin taking withdrawals for the monthly mortgage payment… but we didn’t begin taking withdrawals.

Wait, what?!

Yes, indeed. In yet another change to the plan, after much discussion, we agreed that we wanted to keep rolling with our current situation indefinitely: paying the monthly mortgage payment to the bank out of our salaries, and contributing to the home brokerage account each month while letting it grow.


To put it simply, our standard of living was (and is) perfectly comfortable. We don’t see a compelling need in our budget for our mortgage payment right now. Our current plan is to do this for the foreseeable future, or until our needs change, or until it no longer makes sense. Just as I shared in my last post, the hope is that this account will eventually pay for college tuitions, weddings, a rental property, some really extravagant generosity, or – most likely – all of the above.

Suffice it to say, this gives us an incredible amount of flexibility, and peace of mind. We knew that, I think, but we recently had an experience that drove home just how much we value living below our means. Story time? :)

Recently, a house came on the market that we were very interested in. Though we had a few alerts set up, we didn’t consider ourselves actively looking, and so scrambled to get in touch with a realtor and get prequalified for a loan. We went to see it on a Friday, the day it went on the market, and then debated whether we should put in an offer almost constantly for the next 36-ish hours.

We ultimately decided not to. As we were debriefing on Monday (when, naturally, the house went pending), John asked me how I felt. Relief was my overwhelming feeling. The weekend had been incredibly stressful: not only because we were thrust into making a fast decision (when we are two of the slowest decision makers on the planet!) but, had we gone forward, we would have taken on a much larger mortgage with a much higher interest payment. Our monthly discretionary payment to our home brokerage account would have been essentially redirected towards paying our new mortgage.

Could we have done it without much change to our lifestyle? Yes, because we were already used to forgoing that money.

Would it have potentially made us feel more stressed? Almost certainly. When we’re paying ourselves each month, we know we can always skip a transfer if something comes up – but you can’t skip a mortgage payment. At work, John doesn’t have to hustle harder than he wants, or feel pressure to take the extra appointment at the expense of our time together as a family. We feel the peace of knowing we can release my salary if something were to change with our circumstances.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t like our current plan. It’s so open-ended! We don’t have a specific goal we’re trying to reach! The larger part of me, though, is extremely grateful. This margin that we’ve fought for — keeping our standard of living stable while our income has risen and costs, like daycare/preschool, have gone away — has given us an incredible peace of mind. It has helped us to be more present, joyful parents. It has helped keep our marriage happy and stress-free. It has allowed us to give generously and freely to the people and causes we love. All of this is of almost incalculable value to me.

As I was writing this post, chapter 10 from Morgan Housel’s exceptional book came to mind. “You don’t need a specific reason to save,” he writes. “You can save just for saving’s sake. And indeed you should. Everyone should.”

Does this mean we will never move to a more expensive home? It does not. Our run-in with the market last month actually gave us a lot of clarity on what we’re looking for in a next home, and what we would and would not be willing to move for. With a narrowed scope, we feel ready to go if the right home comes on the market, but also perfectly content to wait several years should it not. And while we wait, that brokerage account will (hopefully) continue to grow – making action even easier when the time comes.

And now, to one more practical question before we close:

Over the years, readers have asked whether our feelings about this strategy have changed since we shared it, especially given the market volatility during the pandemic. Did the market drop in March 2020 make us wish we’d made payments directly on our mortgage? What has been the emotional impact of this plan, now that we’ve been at it for a bit?

This is an excellent question, and one of the most important ones to get clear on before embarking on a plan like this yourself. In a way, I’m grateful that the pandemic drop proved what we thought all along: that we both have a high tolerance for market volatility and risk. We set out on this plan knowing what we had set aside could decrease in value – and we were okay with that, considering our time horizon and the purpose of these savings. Also, not all of the money is invested in stocks, and most of it is managed in a defensive style which is more protected from volatility. We also have a fully-funded emergency fund, which helped assure us that even if something really unfortunate were to have happened (like, both of us losing our jobs WHILE the market plummeted), we still would have had options.

Key to our plan? We practice dollar cost averaging, or investing on a regular schedule, whether the market is up or down. No trying to time the market over here! Some months it will be up, which is great, and some months it will be down, which is also great – we can get in at a discount :) Over the long-term, though, we believe the market will continue to go up.

I’ll end this post the same way I’ve ended previous ones: if you like the idea of trying something like this, I would highly recommend working with a financial advisor. Of course, it’s possible to make investment decisions on your own, but I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s just me over here knowing all the things and that you should be able to do the same — John IS a financial advisor, and if he weren’t, we would definitely be seeking expertise on decisions of such magnitude.

And finally, I know this is a bit more of a niche Marvelous Money topic than we usually cover, and perhaps it feels wildly out of reach for you right now. I get that. I share this not to brag (!!!) or make you feel defeated (hopefully you know that!), but to perhaps stretch your imagination of what’s possible. At the very least, I hope it encourages you to value the peace of mind that comes from living below your means, whatever that looks like for you.

A few past posts that might be of interest:
Investing 101
Our Net Worth Meetings
Managing Money Together
Making Trade-Offs

A final reminder: I am not a financial professional, and nothing I say here should be construed as investment advice! I’m just one gal sharing her story :)

Let’s discuss! What questions does this post bring up for you? Anything we could discuss in a future Marvelous Money post?

April 2024 goals

3 April 2024

We had two wild and completely unexpected events in March, and their ripples affected almost every one of my goals and updates today. These events required a lot of conversation between John and me (and others), and left me feeling scattered and anxious many days. And so, for example, we spent more of our evening walks talking to each other instead of listening to Outlive. We didn’t have time to take the Birds & Bees course. I opted to turn out the light instead of read many nights. My deep work cratered and I made minimal progress on the audio course.

These events weren’t disastrous – one had to do with a house we were considering buying – but they were disruptive. Seeing this month for what it was helps me to have compassion on my lack of progress. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, the transition from frustration to compassion is almost instantaneous, but it’s still only possible by pausing to notice and reflect, and by adjusting expectations along the way.

There is one March goal I feel total peace with as I look back, and it’s the most important one: wholeheartedly enjoying and being present with my family in Connecticut as we celebrated my grandmother’s life. Really, really grateful for that.

On my calendar:
— A week in Texas for work. I was nervous about this same trip last year, since I’d never met most of my coworkers in person, but this year it feels more like returning to see old friends, and I’m grateful for that.
— Finance meetings with my younger sister. She recently started a new job (very exciting!) and John and I have been helping her roll over and set up various accounts, reimagine her budget, and set new goals, all of which has been just the nerdiest kind of fun.
— A pickle ball tournament with our church small group! We do something fun on months with a fifth week, and it’s a round robin challenge for April.

What I’m loving right now:
— I bought this sweatshirt on a whim while browsing in Connecticut, and I’m obsessed. Since I don’t shop for clothes often, I’ve learned (and given myself permission!) to just make the purchase when I find something I love, especially when I’m able to try it on in person. Currently having to restrain myself from wearing it daily. Also, this is a new brand to me and I’m in love?! Reminds me very much of Boden, another British brand that perfectly encapsulates my dream style!
— Our preordered copies of The Anxious Generation arrived on our doorstep last week, and I’m already several chapters in. This is Jonathan’s Haidt’s newest book, and I highly, highly recommend everyone read it who has kids they love. My full review will be May’s first (free!) post on The Connected Family, and I’ll be giving away a copy then, too!
— Run, don’t walk, to Trader Joe’s to get their Limone Alfredo Sauce. I think it’s the best alfredo I’ve ever had?! We tossed it with farfalle pasta, frozen grilled chicken strips (also from TJ’s), halved cherry tomatoes, and frozen peas. SO GOOD – I went back to buy two more jars the next day.

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What you’re loving right now:

This is where I highlight a few items here that have been popular in the last month with fellow readers, based on my analytics. Here’s hoping this will help you find something you’ll love!

— The delightful sketchbooks from our kids’ Easter baskets were by far the most popular link this month, and for good reason!
— The best best sunscreen, mentioned in my beauty post
— …followed closely behind by my face wash bar (for going on 7 years).
— A Bluey coloring book and water squirters.
— And, randomly, June’s new socks. Tis the season? :)

Last month on The Connected Family:
My Least Favorite Feature of the Smart Phone | And an essay that permanently changed the way I parent and move through the world.
Phones on the Fringe | A follow-up that asks: what about other people’s children?
How I’ve Kept Instagram a Positive Part of My Life | 8 small ways
The Magic of Taking Kids to the Grocery Store | And my nails-on-a-chalkboard moment (eep)

What I read in March:
Did I Say That Out Loud? | This is Kristin van Ogtrop’s midlife offering. Kristin was the beloved, long-time editor in chief of Real Simple in its heyday, and I’d read somewhere that she covered the highs and the lows of life at the magazine here. She does, which was rather cathartic to read as a long-time fan and someone with a background in magazines. I gave myself permission to scan the other essays and enjoyed many of them, even though they were geared more toward the 40’s-50’s crowd.
Drums of Autumn | I picked up this installment of the Outlander series on a whim at the library. (I’d read the first three in 2017, and this one is the fourth.) While I remember enjoying the first three, this one was a slog. It’s absolutely massive (1000+ pages!), it moved at a snail’s pace, and I found it hard to remember who everyone was and what had happened to them with such a large gap since I’d last picked up the series (very different from the books in the Kingsbridge historical series, which are also massive but zip right along). It felt a bit like defeat to give up after 250 pages, but I’m choosing to see it as clearing the way for something I’ll feel more excited to dive into each night :)

My reading list for 2024, if you’d like to follow along!

Revisiting my March goals:
Take the Birds & Bees course with John
Read chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Outlive (We made it just halfway through chapter 7!)
Choose fabric and send chairs off for reupholstering
Complete at least 45 hours of deep work (22!)
Finish the leadership program slides + deliver my talk
Write the second lesson of the TCF course
Wholeheartedly enjoy my extended family and time in Connecticut

April goals:
— Film Annie in April
— Write the second lesson of the TCF course
— Complete at least 50 hours of deep work
— Read chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Outlive
— Take the Birds & Bees course with John

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2024 goals!

How was your March? Any irate Outlander fans in the house? :) Or Real Simple fans from back in the day? (It was the best!)

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Family faith formation practices, part 2

25 March 2024

Yipes! I truly cannot believe that it has been just over a year since I wrote the first installment of this series. At least I noted in that first post that this series would “stretch for many years into the future” and that it would be “occasional.” Can’t say I didn’t warn you :)

I’ll repeat my caveats from part one: there will likely be no groundbreaking ideas here. But if you’re anything like me, you need the regular and very simple reminder that family discipleship does not always have to be complicated. More than perhaps any other area of my life, I have the instinct here to build the big machine, to devise the elaborate practice – and still, more often than not, to worry that I’m not doing enough.

This is not all bad: I believe there is a direct relationship between how much creating a fertile environment for our children to know and trust Jesus matters to me (and John) and how much thought we put into how we are doing that. But I hope through this series I can encourage you (if it’s something that matters to you) AND MYSELF that little by little adds up.

Here are three more (very simple) family faith formation practices that we’ve been practicing with our 8-year-old, 5-year-old, and 2-year-old.

We say “great question!” a lot.

Basically any time any of my children ask me anything about faith, the first thing out of my mouth is “great question!” More than any individual answer I can give, I want them to know that their questions are valued, desired, and honored, and that I’m grateful and delighted they’d bring their questions to me.

“Great question!” also buys me a beat. Instead of rushing into an answer, it’s a pause that reminds me to slow down, calm down, and get curious. It leads naturally into follow-up questions, like “What made you ask that?” or “Can you tell me more about what you want to know?” This entry into the conversation helps me meet them where they are and figure out what kind of answer might serve them best.

Worth noting: I didn’t always feel this way! Questions used to make me nervous! But as I’ve grown more knowledgeable myself over the last few years, I’ve gotten more confident – both because I do know a bit more, but also because I know that I’ll never know it all. That’s okay. No one knows it all this side of heaven, but I now know where to go so we can try and figure things out together.

We read the Jesus Storybook Bible.

John and I were marveling the other day about how the idea of the Bible being one unified, overarching story with Jesus at the center is common these days – and yet was simply not a part of our upbringing. There are so many resources now to help connect the dots (The Bible Project, for one!), but I think the Jesus Storybook Bible, with over three million copies sold, deserves a ton of credit, too. Sally Lloyd Jones is raising up a generation of kids who understand that Jesus is at the center of both the Old and New Testament in a way that I never did.

And our kids love it! Our go-to reading time is while they’re splashing in the tub – we leave a copy on the half wall in our bathroom. At 8, June is beginning to add in other resources, but she still enjoys it – she and John have recently been going through the stories one-by-one together and talking about them in a deeper way.

Sally’s writing hits such a sweet spot – winsome and accessible for kids, but delightful for parents to read, too. Highly recommend.

We faithfully go to community group.

Community groups are a staple at many churches, and they are at our church, too. Our group, which is made up of young families (June is actually the oldest kid!) and some singles, is very precious to us.

It hasn’t always been that way. We’ve been a part of community groups that we lightly dreaded going to – that felt like an obligation – but our current group is truly a highlight of our week. Whether we’re meeting with the full group for dinner and Bible study or splitting off into guys and gals, it’s a chance to gather with people who care about us, our kids, our marriage, and our faith lives. It’s a place where we’re known, loved, and spurred on to grow. In a time in our country of great loneliness, isolation, and individualism, it’s a balm.

Our kids reap the benefits, too. They’re forming relationships with the other kids, yes, but also with adults who know and care about them. That’s important now, and it will be invaluable as they grow.

So there you have it! Three (relatively) simple faith formation practices our family has found helpful. I hope there’s something you can take away, whether fostering your kids’ faith also matters to you or if there’s something else you hope to grow in your kids (or the kids you love). If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear a practice that has been helpful in your family, or something that has stuck with you from your own upbringing!

What’s going in our kids’ Easter baskets this year

13 March 2024

Just a quick post to share what’s going in our kids’ Easter baskets this year! (This might be as much for me as you – I love having the record of what they’re loving and how they’re growing each year.)

I know Easter baskets are not for everyone, but I’ve really grown to love the opportunity they give me to celebrate an important holiday in our faith, support small businesses, replenish basics at the turn of the season, and create some magic for our kids. And personally, as a creative person, they’re just really fun for me to collect, curate, arrange, and fluff! I might enjoy them even more than the kids :)

This year, it turns out everyone is well-stocked with some of my usual suspects: bathing suits (I usually turn to Boden, Hanna Andersson, or a consignment sale), pajamas (consignment sale, always), swim goggles, water bottles, sunglasses, chalk, and Natives. I still came up with some sweet goodies, though :) Here’s what each of our kids will be getting in their Easter baskets this year (note that some items are still en route to me!):

June, age 8, will have a sketch pad (this brand is the best, and reasonably priced!), a spiral notebook bought from a favorite local shop, socks, stickers, a jump rope, a Brain Quest deck, a stopwatch (I predict this will be one of the most popular items), a few Yoto cards I’ve stored up from our Yoto Club membership, dark chocolate caramel bunnies, conditioner, and the CSB One Big Story Bible. (We were going back and forth between it and the Explorer Bible!)

Shep, age 5, will have a sketch pad, a stopwatch (it was a two-pack!), dive gems, a snack container for kindergarten, bath bombs, a paint-by-sticker book, a few Yoto cards, chocolate pocky sticks, and new sneakers. We’re going with Kiziks (the Athena) since he’s busted through the velcro on his last two pairs when the rest of the sneaker still looked brand new – argh! You can use this link for $20 off a pair, if you’d like.

Annie, age 2, will have a sketch pad (she’ll fill it with scribbles but will love being just like her big sibs), a Gabby’s Dollhouse magic coloring set, dot-a-dot markers, Bluey water squirters for the pool, Laura Wifler’s new book, a mini Squishmallow (weirdly, this pack was $20 less when I bought it in November?!), bath bombs, and a few Yoto cards.

If you’re shopping for different ages than we are this year, I’ve got you covered:
A 7-year-old girl, a 4-year-old boy, and a 1-year-old girl
A 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy
A 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy
A 4-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy

I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Easter basket books and picks here, too! Affiliate links are used in this post.

Happy celebrating, friends!