Fare Thee Well, Dear Old Portage

Debt Tower Update: 2017 #3

March 4th, 2011, we bought our first house. Norah was but two.

March 3rd, 2017, we sold our first house. Now she is eight, the bricks are red, and we have our gravel road acreage.

We picked the name Portage for its meaning: carry (a boat or its cargo) between navigable waters. As it so happens, our first house fulfilled its name in more ways than one.


Looking back on the past seven years since we moved to Minnesota, I am amazed–at the arc of grief, giddiness, and the unexpected graces of God in our journey. We began Financial Peace University in the first months of 2011, while Brett worked construction jobs and his parents welcomed us to live with them.

Our story is unusual. We specifically looked for properties under 100k, but ended up finding decent fixer-uppers for less than half that amount. We offered the entire four thousand dollars in our savings account for one acre an hour away that sold for five. Then our realtors found a foreclosure across the street! Over the next four years we worked on the bathroom and kitchen, keeping our eyes open for a similarly priced acreage, but content to live in town if we didn’t find the right place. In October 2014 we stumbled across one. The timing was perfect, enabling us to pay off our first mortgage before we took out a second mortgage in December.

Okay, so we’re weird? Or do these opportunities plop into our lap because we’re willing? Are we really so very odd? We simply desire to rescue and restore old castoffs that no one else seems to want. Lord, make us willing to wait for the plans You have for us.

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.


Second mortgage bricks, before.

Debt has become our dragon to vanquish. Each day we chip away at the monstrous scales. Often our progress feels imperceptible. Pizza delivery weekends. Chip. Childcare on the side. Chip. Brett enrolled in school full time and worked night shift. Chip, chip. Until Norah was five, we used WIC and Angel Food Ministries and Community Food Distribution as our main grocery supply. Every tax return and bonus inevitably goes toward medical bills and car repairs–but prevents more debt.

Second mortgage bricks, after.

One summer a dear friend sent us a generous gift which we immediately put toward our debt snowball. Several friends and family members came to visit for extended periods, helping with various projects. We enjoyed hosting children through Safe Families. More than a few vacations were saved up and paid for, often with aid from folks we cherish. In the first four years, we managed to remodel our bathroom, paint the house, and buy a new garage door. Those are just the big things—the small things are innumerable.

Financial struggles tend to reveal character—including character flaws. My hardest battle has been impatience; Brett’s, discipline. Choosing to give things up is not easy. Making sacrifices that others don’t make (or talk about making) is lonely. Waiting is so hard, but forges a resilient, abiding trust. Every day we are learning:

How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

Navigable Waters

For a while we’ve kept a bulletin board for tracking our loan balances, to count LEGO bricks, and because I just like visual aides. The question “What does a debt-free life look like?” inspired us to design a new board/map/chart for posting our dreams, plotting our course. Of course, then we had to create a ship to carry all of the dreams that come true!

Debt balance tracking, 2013 – present.

The Dregge Steward Ship is another visual reminder of how much we have to be thankful for, not least of which are family, friends, life, liberty, and the One who made and redeemed and sustains it all.

Astounding facts and astonishing figures:

  • In March 2011 our student loans and credit card debt totaled 50k.
  • We paid 75k for our first house and our second house combined.
  • We paid off our first mortgage before we took out our second one.
  • We paid off over $100,000 in six years. (?!?!?!!!!! *disbelief*)
  • We did that on one income.
  • Brett’s first temp machining job paid $10/hr. Now he earns $20/hr plus benefits.
  • For two and a half years we owned two houses, paid taxes on two houses, paid insurance on two houses, paid utilities on two houses. Today we own ONE house!
  • Closing was at a title company in Le Center. I was so excited that I forgot to take a photo of the family of taxidermy black bears in the lobby. Or the fox. Or the Husky-occasionally-known-as-Norah befriending the stuffed critters.
  • We net 5k on the sale, all of which we put directly toward our student loans.
  • Last month we had 11k in student loans. This month we have 6k. SIX.
  • If we continue to surpass our snowball goal of 1k/month, we could be done by July.
  • Norah is excited about her new LEGO bricks.

Hebrews 12:11

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


6 thoughts on “Fare Thee Well, Dear Old Portage

  1. So great! I’ve really enjoyed keeping up on your journey. Thanks for sharing it, and getting specific with numbers and information too. Helpful and inspiring! Happy celebrating in the coming months 🙂

  2. Dave Ramsey — ‘If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.’

    It’s so awesome to learn that we aren’t the only ones with this goal. I’m so excited for you guys!

  3. So very happy for you, Brett and Norah! Your words are inspiring and convicting. Comforting and confronting. God is using you to bolster others, even when you feel lonely. He has blessed you richly indeed!

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