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‘I’ve conquered the mortgage (but haven’t told my wife)’

'Occasionally I’ve almost blurted out the truth but I can’t wait to see her face when I tell her' - The Telegraph

Marriage Diaries is a column by Telegraph Family in which people share snapshots of their relationships and their dilemmas. It is published every Wednesday at 5pm

When I met my wife a year after university, my finances couldn’t have been worse. I’d gone mad on student overdrafts and loans, taken a gap year and was only doing pub work and casual labouring. That was nearly 25 years ago and my debts were over £20,000. My wife had spent her summers working, graduated with savings and gone straight into a good job. 

When we decided to get married I was embarrassed at how pathetic I’d been with money and was determined to change. When I got a decent job, I went to my bank. Back then we still had friendly local managers and this chap was very helpful, suggesting a five-year loan to cover all my debts. He also offered us a mortgage and suggested that we kept an account each, so my debt didn’t tarnish my wife’s excellent financial habits, as well as a joint account for all bills. 

Although she’s good with money my wife isn’t that interested in it, whereas I became obsessed with saving. Less than a year after we got married I got an excellent promotion, so I suggested to her that I start paying extra into the mortgage. She asked if we could afford it as I was still paying off my loan and, honestly, that’s the last time she’s mentioned it. I cleared the loan 15 years ago and it’s as if she’s completely forgotten it, though I still put that loan amount plus more into the mortgage every month. I think once she realised I’d shaken off my dodgy money habits she never thought about it again.

We’ve told each other about wage rises ever since, putting money into a savings account for holidays and practicalities, but every other spare penny I get goes into the mortgage. I’m that crashing bore who changes utilities, insurance, phone and TV contracts every year and I tell her all about it, but she just pretends to yawn and says to carry on, as I’m obviously doing it right. Every £10 saved goes into the mortgage and it’s plummeting. I changed providers a couple of times when the nice bank manager retired and we extended it once because we did up the house, but I swear she barely glanced at the documents each time before signing them. 

I know I sound boring but you’re rarely advised to pay off your mortgage early. It’s assumed that we’ll all stick with this massive debt and pay it off over 25/30 years but once you start paying it off you realise how much you’re saving – I’m on track now to pay ours off nearly 15 years early and we’ll save around £40,000 in interest. 

We’re both 49 now and our two children are adults and working, though we helped them as students. Every so often my wife talks regretfully about never having a gap year and how she’d love us to travel for a year but we can’t really afford it. I cuddle her and remind her that we have lovely holidays – which is true, I’m not actually Scrooge – and good pension plans, but I have this huge secret that will transform our lives. Occasionally I’ve almost blurted out the truth but I can’t wait to see her face when I tell her, although I feel guilty when she frets about being boring and old. 

She’s 50 next year and we’re celebrating with a big party and a holiday in Venice. The first night there I’m planning room service and champagne and I’ll give her an official-looking letter with an old-fashioned wax seal. In beautiful calligraphy, it will say, “Take a year to plan what you’d like to do next. The mortgage will be paid off in June 2021. Will you retire early, travel the world or enjoy your gap year?”

If she’s at all cross that I’ve kept this quiet, I think she’ll forgive me pretty quickly.

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