One of our Simple Family goals is to free ourselves from debt, including mortgage or any rent outside of annual taxes. 

We already have paid-for cars that look fine and run fine and are in no need of immediate repacement.  We have no credit card debt.  But we do still have one student loan and our biggest bill, our mortgage.  Freeing yourself from mortgage is a pretty ambitious thought, you say, especially in this time of all-time-high foreclosures…but it can be done.  And think of this…..what would life be like without a mortgage hanging over your head?  

You hate your job?  Great, quit and find a new one.  You want to change your career, excellent, you are now in a position to do so because you don’t have a mortgage.  You want to move into a bigger, better house?  If you current house is paid for, the entire selling price is profit to be rolled over into your knew home because federal law does not require you to pay capital gains taxes on profit from a sold home so long as it is reinvested into a new home within a specific time period.  Then the small mortgage you have there can be paid off early and man, you are in your dream home with no mortgage.  The point is, these days keeping a roof over your head often means you have to compromise your life and stay in work that may not be satisfying to you.  It also may prevent you from saving for your children’s education and your retirement.  

But how do you do it?  Did you know that paying only ONE extra mortgage payment a year on a traditional 30-year fixed rate loan will cut your loan in half?  My husband and I have figured if we add $100 a month to our $1200 a month mortgage, we will cut our 30 year mortgage to 15 years.  BUT! We have decided that wasn’t good enough, we want to repay our loan in this decade, not the next.  We decided to find $300 a month to apply to our mortgage.  This will take our repayment down to 5 years!  Think of all the interest we are saving!  Money in our pockets that will pay for our retirement (early perhaps) and our son’s education.

So how do we scour the budget and find the extra $300 a month to pay toward the mortgage?  Easy, we eliminate most of our entertainment budget.   We already do things free or at low cost but we can do better.   But we don’t want to feel deprived so we mystery shop.  We get paid to eat out.  We get paid to go to the movies.  We get paid to go to an entertainment complex, have lunch and spend the day rock climbing, playing glow in the dark mini golf, and playing laser tag.  

On a typical night out, I spend another 20 minutes filling out a form on service quality and we are reimbursed most or all of our costs.  We get paid for fast food, we get paid for high end food, movie tickets and popcorn.  All I have to do is be observant – and if you do this often enough, you get it down to where it isn’t even noticeable to you and then you find yourself rating every place you visit even if you aren’t getting paid for it!

Here is a quick run down of our latest fun-filled adventures.  Last month, my husband and I had a date at a high-end restaurant.  The meal was almost $150 for the two of us, we paid $15 because we ordered the most expensive entrees as a treat.  This month, I took a few friends, my sister and my niece out for a Christmas Dinner at another high-end restaurant while my husband was away on business.  The evening included drinks, appetizer, entrees, and dessert.  I paid nothing.   And then just before Christmas I am taking my son for an afternoon of lunch and rock climbing.  For free.   Next month, my husband and I have a movie date that includes dinner and a movie and my sister and I will have lunch the next day at a local restaurant. 

My sister is a single mother and the budget is tight.  She has a great job but lets face it, money is never flowing for a single mother.   So, routinely, I take her to her favorite restaurant for lunch and get reimbursed.  It is one of the easiest shops available so we enjoy lunch and catch up on local gossip, spending sister time together without the kids and the spouses.  We also love “chick flicks” or girly movies and we look for opportunities to have a girls night out with me, her and my niece.  So, even though this isn’t mystery shopping, we watch the movie premiers at our local radio stations and get tickets to the premiers (which we will be enjoying tonight) at no cost.  No cost to us and we just give our opinion of the movie once it is over.   

If you think you want to mystery shop for fun, I have a few pointers from my years in the business.  

  1. Never pay to sign with a mystery shopping company.  These are scam artists and will take your money and leave you without any fun. 
  2. Check out MSPA, the mystery shopping association, and consider getting certified.  Certification does cost money but it opens you up to some of the better shops. 
  3. Be reliable and thorough.  If you sign up for a shop, make sure you perform the shop and submit your reports on time.    Make sure your reports are thorough and well written.  This will give you a solid reputation as a mystery shopper and get you the better shops out there!  Remember, you are doing a job and don’t let your enjoyment of the evening distract you from doing your best, quality work.
  4. Consider using a credit card (without a balance of course) – this ensures you will always get a receipt, which is required for all shops for verification and payment.  It also helps with your accounting.  I have a specific bank account I use.  I “seeded” it with my own money and make all payments to my credit card out of that account before the end of the month (the card carries no balance so I pay no interest).   Then my reimbursement goes back into that account and, for the most part, I stay even in that account.  This just simplifies things – which as you know is my life long goal – simplicity.

Other free or cheap entertainment ideas:

  1. Pay attention to free events in your city that will have local radio personalities.  Radio stations usually give away tickets to movie premiers happening in your area.  A great way to see a movie without the costs.
  2. Take advantage of free events.  We just toured a lovely lighting of the local wildflower center.  The cost was cans of food donate to the local soup kitchen.  I tend to buy canned goods and then either forget about them or never use them because we all prefer fresh vegetables or I get them with free promotions at the grocery store.   They aren’t weird foods that won’t be eaten but things like canned corn, canned green beans, packets of dried beans, etc. etc.  I got to clean out my pantry by taking two bags full of good, quality canned goods and donating them in exchange for seeing the lovely Luminaria Lighting (a Mexican traditional Christmas Lighting).  It was beautiful, there were carollers, cheap hot chocolate for the kids, free movie tickets to a movie premier, and holiday crafts.
  3. Do outdoor activities like ride bikes together or discover hiking trails in your area. 
  4. I believe I mentioned this before but letterboxing is a great family activity that sneaks learning into the day.  Kids learn to read maps, clues, directions, and compasses.  They learn to follow directions and get a good dose of outdoor air and exercise, which kids today sorely need.  Lots of letterboxes are hidden in state parks.  We also enjoy the playgrounds, cheaper camping and swimming, canoeing  or boating.   We purchase an annual pass to our state and county parks.  We easily pay for the passes within the first few months of owning the pass.   

The point is, entertainment shouldn’t cost a fortune and you don’t have to feel deprived to live on a tight budget.  You can have fun and enjoy time together, you can eat out and get what other people are paying for – for the price of a bit of your time, a little research and some creativity.

Now get out there and get debt free so you to can simplify your life.