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What would you do to burn your mortgage? Add to ...

Christine Sharanewych wants to burn her mortgage, and she's not afraid to look like a fool on national television to do so.

On Oct. 5, Christine and her husband, Roman, will air their financial dirty laundry on Burn My Mortgage, a new reality showon the W Network that puts overspending families through a series of physical challenges designed to drive home the point that a mortgage doesn't have to be a life sentence.

In the first episode, we watch the Sharanewych family trying to keep up with their affluent Toronto neighbours: They're spending $17,000 a year on sports for the kids, $12,000 a year dining out, ordering in and entertaining friends, and another $17,000 annually on vacations, housekeeping, landscaping and dry cleaning. ( Click here to watch the first episode online.)

By the end of the show, the family learns that by cutting spending on these luxuries in half, they can pay their mortgage off 14 years sooner and save $55,000 in interest.

"We get caught up with this keeping up with the Joneses, but what you realize, certainly what they're realizing in the U.S., is that the Joneses are broke," says co-host Chad Bisch, who acts as the motivator on the show, putting the families through sweat-inducing challenges with a $5,000 prize at stake.

To get the Sharanewych family to prioritize their sports spending, Mr. Bisch laid out all their equipment on a soccer field and gave them 10 minutes to cut the pile in half. In another challenge, the family raced through an obstacle course, suitcases full of money in tow, stopping along the way to clean windows, fold laundry and mow grass - a challenge specifically designed to address their spending habits.

"It was a lot of frigging grass," Ms. Sharanewych says, but the message hit the mark. She is willing to cut her spending in return for mortgage freedom and has stocked her new deep freezer with home-cooked meals to prove it.

Shedding years off our amortizations is a goal most Canadian mortgage-holders share. A recent Research House survey shows more than two-thirds of Canadians rank being debt-free among their top financial priorities. But a report this past spring by the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals shows 75 per cent of borrowers failed to make any type of extra payment on their mortgages in the 12 months leading up to the study.

Executive producer Kit Redmond hopes Burn My Mortgage will help change those statistics. "Most of us don't realize how much we spend on takeout. We're all really busy," says the mom of three, who managed to pay off her own mortgage in an impressive seven years. "I think what Burn My Mortgage does for families is it shows how much influence making small changes in their financial habits will have on their lives."

Handing over her financial statements to the show's number crunchers was like going through an intervention, Ms. Sharanewych jokes. "Most people are concerned about skeletons in their closet around relationships and intimacy and things like that. I think having someone go through your finances is sort of the final frontier. You feel really vulnerable having to disclose where you're spending your money."

Burn My Mortgage co-host and financial expert Kelley Keehn says the show aims to bring finances out of the realm of taboo topics, much like Sex and the City did for women and pillow talk. "What we really hope this show does is give families permission to sit down and talk about this, to talk to neighbours and friends."

Taking part in the show's challenges was an eye-opening experience for her sons, Ms. Sharanewych says. Since being on the show, the boys have taken it upon themselves to find part-time work, stop playing at private golf courses and sell the paintball equipment they no longer use.

"Having the kids as part of that show, and having the kids understand where our spending habits were, really helped us make better financial decisions as a family."

While she admits she's a bit nervous about how friends will react to her television debut, Ms. Sharanewych says the experience was well worth any embarrassment it brings. "In the end, it's all about my family and about the changes we needed. It's not about impressing other people," she says.

"If you want to make a change, you really have to take stock of where you're at, and if we look like horses' asses doing it, well, so be it."

Burn My Mortgage premieres Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. (ET). Join The Globe and Mail for an online discussion with co-hosts Kelley Keehn and Chad Bisch on Oct. 6, at 11 a.m. (ET).

 
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