Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Shop smarter and stop wastage.

A few days ago someone asked me if the rising prices that seem to be hitting everything from food to haircuts was the reason why I was picking up so much CRT work. The question took me a little by surprise because this hasn’t been the reason at all.**

The conversation around the table then shifted to sharing sad tales of how our lives have already started to be impacted by things getting more expensive. I kept pretty quiet because no one likes a know-it-all. But I wondered if people might be interested in a post where I share some of the strategies that I’ve used over the years to help us get the most bounce per ounce in our grocery shopping.

I picked groceries because I think this is the main area where people can stretch their dollars. There are so many different ways here to tweak how and where we spend our money to keep more of it in our wallets. I know that once I got the other bills under control, grocery shopping was where I was able to keep finding ways to stretch our dollars further. These strategies have now become habits.

Over the years, as my financial situation improved, I’ve allowed some relaxation in some areas of our grocery spending. But the good thing about knowing how to stretch the dollars is that, if you ever need to, you can immediately tighten your spending up again because you already know how to.

The control lies with you. There’s power in that.

The two main ways to save money on groceries are to:

  1. Shop smarter, and
  2. Stop wastage.

The best way to save money on food is to (obviously) pay as little as possible for it. Shopping the specials and stocking up on items that have a long ‘use-by’ is a winning strategy.

If you’re feeding your family on food that has been purchased at a discount, obviously that means that more dollars stay in your pocket. The way I ramp up this is to have a store of food that I’ve bought cheaply… in bulk.

I’ve always had a store of food and other things that we regularly use at home. The habit of doing this started when I was a stay-at-home parent with many small mouths to feed. I’ve always been a long-term thinker, so it just made sense to stock up on items when they were on special, knowing that it meant that over time, I’d be feeding my family for less money per serve.

Yes, I’m that person who has multiples of the same things in their trolley. My pantry in the kitchen looks like anyone else’s, but open my ‘zombie apocalypse’ cupboard in the laundry and it’s a different story.

Currently, there are around 20 tins of different legumes; 30 tins of sardines for the little woofs; around 6 cartons of UHT milk; 3 boxes of tissues; 3 slabs of diced tinned tomatoes (my home-grown tomatoes were awful this year – normally I’d have heaps bagged up in the freezer); 2 huge bags of rice; around 20kgs of bread flour for bread rolls and pizzas; lots of different sorts of tea bags and dried home-grown herbal tea leaves; lots of toilet paper; dried red lentils, peas, and chickpeas; hand sanitiser; garbage bags and baking paper; red wine; ground coffee and a heap of other things.

When you buy multiples of an item that you’ll eat, you can then spread the savings out to magnify the savings. One tin of diced tomatoes at 50% off will save you, say, 50c. Buying 10 tins will save you $5.****

Over time, and with lots of different grocery items, those savings add up. Given enough time, those savings add up substantially.

I’m guessing that most people who read this post will have enough money to immediately start taking advantage of staples by buying them in bulk when they’re on special. For those of us in that position, then the main inhibitor on the size of our stash of groceries will be the amount of storage that we have available. No point stocking up on 4 slabs of toilet paper if you’ve got nowhere to put them! No one wants to be tripping over stacks of tins and packages in the hallway. as we make our way to the kitchen. So the size of our cupboards/shelves and other spots will be our guide.

If, however, you’re on an income with not much disposable money, storage isn’t usually the main issue. Instead, it’s gathering together the money to actually start buying extras of the groceries that your family uses. A store of extra groceries like this takes a fair bit of time to build up because you might only be able to buy 1 or 2 extra things, instead of 5 or 10. Sometimes, buying even a few extra things can be a real stretch. I know – I’ve definitely been there.

If this is your situation, then it helps to keep in mind that even buying ONE extra item at a great price is helping your overall situation. It might not move the needle much, but every tiny good decision is a step forward. Looking long-term, which is what I tend to do, many tiny good decisions can move you a long way.

And if you’re moving a long way, then as time goes on your position will improve and you can then take larger steps. That’s what happened with me.

An unexpected advantage of having a home ‘supermarket’ came to light during the pandemic. In the lockdowns, especially before the vaccinations came around, having these stores meant that we weren’t forced to go out and mingle with people. We were able to stay at home for far longer without being the slightest bit deprived.

I really loved that unexpected benefit of having a store of staples available.

Now, you can buy cheap food and store it away until the cows come home, but if you’re not actually using it, then you’re deluding yourself. Reducing food waste is the second essential part of stretching our grocery dollars.

I remember when I was at home with the kids, back when they were really little. I saw an ‘Oprah’ show where she had an efficiency expert come in. They were looking at food waste in random people’s houses.

He was going through a woman’s fridge and throwing food from her fridge crisper and pantry shelves into a garbage bag. He said something like, “Every time you don’t use food and have to throw it away, you may as well cut out the middleman and throw $50 notes straight into the trash.”

That made me sit up straight. He was absolutely right.

Due to my little family being on the bare bones of our ar##s anyway, our food waste was already pretty small. I couldn’t afford to waste much. But that remark made me redouble my efforts. Every time I was tempted to throw perfectly good food away, I’d see actual money being scraped into the bin.

It was more than flesh and blood could stand.

A few years later, when I decided I needed to grow some of our own food to help cut down on artificial additives in our food, the anti-waste thing REALLY came into its own.

A definite food chain developed. First humans. Then dogs. Then chooks. Then the worm farm. Then compost. Finally – the garbage bin.

Hardly anything went out the door. Our food stayed here, either nourishing our bodies or nourishing our garden, which in turn produced food to nourish us. It was an almost closed cycle.

That cycle, minus the chooks, continues today, even after we moved to The Best House in Melbourne. It’s extremely rare that the boys and I throw food away. We try and use up everything we buy, grow and make.

As the boys grew and some of them moved away and our household became smaller, sometimes we began to eat the same meal two nights running. The amount of food that would once be used up for one night to feed five of us can easily be stretched to feed three adults over two nights.

Any smaller servings are great to throw in the freezer and be used for a quick lunch a few days later. Today’s lunch of bolognese came straight from last night’s dinner. I think it was even tastier the second time around.

Speaking of small servings, sometimes I have steamed veggies left over from dinner. I have a container in the freezer that I throw them in. Every couple of months I make chicken stock paste and veggie stock paste… SO MUCH TASTIER AND CHEAPER than using the cubes and liquid stock from the supermarket. Each batch uses enough fresh veggies (and chicken, if I’m making a chicken stock paste) to fill up a thermomix jug. Of course, I pull anything that needs using up out of the crisper drawer from the fridge, but having the frozen ‘waste’ veggies from previous meals means that I’m using up ingredients that need to be used and saving some other veggies, that may be fresher, to be included in another meal later on.

Every little bit helps.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the two strategies of buying grocery specials in bulk and reducing food wastage as much as possible are the bedrock of being able to stretch grocery spending further. I know that to me it became almost like a game, where every time I used up something, found a great deal and bought up big, or made something stretch further, it was fun.

Let’s face it, the road to financial independence isn’t quick. It takes many years to get there. Anything that helps to get us closer and is like a game has GOT to be a win!

** Sequence of Return Risk and volunteering to help pay for a wedding are the reasons I’m doing casual relief teaching. 🙂

**** Of course, being me, I was going to keep the maths simple!

Dad joke of the day:

What’s it called when a chameleon can’t change its colours anymore?

A reptile dysfunction.

Wednesday W’s #20.

What’s top of my mind: I haven’t heard from the company that has my deposit for Antarctica in December.

Yeah. I’m not happy.

I’ve repeatedly emailed, both to the people from the company who were organising it last year and through their official website. Yesterday I tagged the company on Twitter, asking them to please contact me to either confirm my booking or to refund my deposit.

Fortunately, the deposit isn’t huge, but all the same, it’s MY money. They are the same company that I went to North Korea with in 2018 and they were fantastic. The difference this time is staggering.

As of midday Wednesday, there’s still been no reply.

Not happy Jan.

Where I’ve been: to the Vet.

Every week for the last 4 weeks I’ve been getting home from work on a Monday and driving Poppy to the vet to get some anti-arthritis injections. She and Jeffrey are nearly 9 years old and it’s recommended that dogs over 8 get these injections to stave off arthritis.

Jeff has been having them for a while now and his limp is much better. For Miss Pop, it’s more of a preventative measure.

They have a series of 4 weekly injections at the start, then every 3 months or so they have another one. It’s an expense that I hope will be well worth it to give them a good quality of life as they get older. They deserve it.

Where I’m going: to a CPR course after lunch.

The year 9s are doing a series of short courses at the moment – things like a barista course, food safety and CPR. By the end of the day, I might have a CPR certificate!

What I’m watching: Celebrity Apprentice Australia.

I haven’t seen anything on a commercial tv station for ages and I’m gobsmacked by how many ads they run in each commercial break. There are about 6 or 7 ads in a row. Every time.

Oof. Even with catch-up tv the ads are pretty full-on. Over the last 2 nights I feel like I’ve been assaulted by 1,400 ads.

This might end up killing the show for me.

What I’ve been reading: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

How I love Anne Tyler’s writing! I’m going through an Anne Tyler phase, with 4 or 5 of her novels piled up beside my bed, waiting to be read.

In the foreword to this one, she wrote that, (at least back in 2014), it was her favourite book that she’d written. Who knows – it may have changed by now, but I went into this story with high hopes. I wasn’t let down.

I actually became very emotional when I finished this one. If Ryan27 wasn’t in the room with me, I probably would’ve howled like a baby. As it was, it was touch and go as to whether I’d cry.

What I’m listening to: My son’s podcast.

Friend of the pod is now on its second episode. To be honest, the first ep wasn’t their best work, but I really enjoyed listening to the second ep this morning on the drive into work. The link I gave you is for the second episode.

For friends of this blog – try and guess which silly boy is Evan25!! Is it Will or is it Connor???? (The answer is given before the end of the episode.)

What I’m eating: Food. I’m eating food.

I woke up really late today. My stupid alarm didn’t go off so I woke 20 minutes later than I should have. Interestingly, I was moving so fast that I left the house a few minutes earlier than I usually do.

Today’s lunch is a homemade bread roll, as usual, but instead of home-grown lettuce with cheese, it’s peanut butter.

Much quicker to make.

What I’m planning: The girls’ weekend.

I booked the accommodation for July and all of the girls are in! In order to get the place for the weekend that I wanted, I had to book 4 nights, so guess who’s having a little holiday at the end of July? I’ll be at the place for a couple of nights before the others turn up.

It wasn’t what I originally intended, but I think getting there early will be a good thing. On Friday night the apartment will be warm, I’ll have dinner ready and waiting and it’ll be warm and snug and cozy.

Who needs a good slap: My iPhone.

Seriously, when I click “all weekdays” for an alarm, I expect it to stick to the agreement. I was galloping around like an idiot this morning.

What has made me smile: Getting a coffee from a junior barista.

Yesterday I was in the barista course, watching as the kids were learning how to make espresso shots. When they moved onto making Long Blacks, a boy brought one to me with such pride. I’d mentioned the day before that this was my coffee of choice and he’d remembered.

Long Black, no sugar. That’s the stuff!

I tell you, having a fresh coffee brought to you while you’re working is wonderful.

Dad joke of the day:

Wednesday W’s #19.

Close up of a mini wire-haired dachshund with a luxurious beard.
Scout.

What’s top of my mind: It’s Payday today!

After working a full week last week and then accepting a further two weeks’ worth of work, I finally get to see why I’m working so hard.

It better be worth it!!!!

Where I’ve been: Wedding dress shopping.

No, not for me! The last thing I want is a husband!

I asked Izzy a little while ago if I could come along one day, because unless one of my sons gets married in a dress I’m never going to have the experience.

It was fun, though it got a little tedious by the end. There are only so many beads and lace that you can look at before they all start to look the same. I went with Izzy, her Mum and her sister. Afterwards we went for coffee and cake and I feel like I know her sister a little better now, which is great.

We didn’t find “THE dress”, though Izzy kept talking about one she tried on a month ago, so I have a feeling that THE dress has already been found – it just hasn’t been ordered yet.

Where I’m going: Straight home.

I still haven’t had that haircut though. I might sneak that in.

What I’m watching: Year 8 boys pretending to be working on their essays on their laptops.

Every now and then, just when they’re looking really engrossed in their “essays”, I take a short stroll around the room and watch them switch their screens. It’s easy to tell when they’re not working – they stop typing and start using their touchpads.

What I’ve been reading: Miriam Margolyes’ memoir.

This was ok. I enjoyed the first part, where she talked about her childhood, and the last part, where she talked about movies, plays and people that I actually knew.

The middle part was all gossip about plays and people that I’ve never heard of, but I ploughed through regardless. This book would probably be riveting to someone twenty years older than me.

What I’m listening to: An audiobook.

Someone commented on a post here about liking Fiona Lowe’s novels. I realised I’d already read one and enjoyed it, so when I decided that I’d have a break from podcasts and listen to a book instead, I decided to try another one. I’m only up to the second chapter of ‘A Home Like Ours‘ but I’m liking it. The prologue was very good.

The trouble with being a speed reader is that I can read a physical book much more quickly than it takes to get through an audiobook. Sixteen hours!!! That’s a huge chunk of time for one story.

What I’m eating: Evan25’s easter eggs.

David28 left some easter eggs here for Evan25. They sat on my dressing table for weeks without being touched. But…

… I’m only human.

Who needs a good slap: Probably me, after that last entry.

What I’m planning: A walk with the little woofs.

I’m hoping that the forecast rain holds off so that the little woofs can have a run on the beach. The smells there must be intoxicating for them.

What has made me smile: The kids at school.

It’s been a couple of months since I first started work as a CRT. I expected that the kids I used to teach would be happy to see me when I first arrived and yes, they were. What I didn’t expect was that I’d still be having rapturous reunions with kids after so much time has gone by.

Last Friday, for example, I was on yard duty at the canteen. A girl that I taught 2 years ago for a semester of Drama in year 9 was sitting at a table, talking with her friends. I recognised her but walked past, thinking that my time with her was so far back into the past that she probably wouldn’t remember me. All of a sudden I heard a screech of “Miss Jones!” and she came racing up to have a chat, bringing a friend with her.

The year 8 kids, who I’d never taught and so didn’t expect that they’d notice me as a ‘sub’ – they’ve been the real shock. They’ve been warm and welcoming and so happy to see me. I think the Dad jokes that I start the lesson with might have something to do with it.

There’s no wonder that I choose to drive to work here, rather than simply work at the school at the end of my street. The kids here are just lovely.

Dad joke of the day:

I passed an RACV van and the driver was in tears.

I thought, ‘This guy is heading for a breakdown.’

(That joke was for Aussies. Google RACV, everyone else.)

For everyone else in the world:

What do you call a beat-up Batman?

A bruised Wayne.

Little Adventures #14. Mt Buller etc. May 2022.

Many many years ago I bought into a time-share. I used to call it my second-biggest mistake, but now I’m not so sure that it was. (A mistake, I mean.)

I was attracted to this timeshare because of its relative flexibility. It uses points and has about 20 or so properties across Australia, New Zealand and Bali. You can use your points to reserve holidays across any of the properties – as long as they have the vacancies for when you want them, of course.

Mum and Dad have a couple of timeshares in Bali, but these are the old-style ones where you are only able to go to the same property at the same week/s each year. That doesn’t suit me. I want to be free to see new things.

I bought into it back in 2006, just after I took the boys to Bali. I wanted to take them on more trips away and I thought it would force me to do that. I also had the VERY long-term thought that one day… having the points and properties available would allow me to give the boys accommodation for honeymoons to help save them money.

I’ve now found an unexpected benefit. When I bought into the timeshare, I bought into a level that allowed me to use a 3BR apartment for a week each year. I needed the space with the 4 boys. Now that I’m travelling on my own, those 5,000 points a year can be broken up into many more trips. If I feel like being luxurious, a 1BR space is more than ample. A studio apartment is perfectly fine if I want to squeeze more value from the points.

Last week I was THRILLED to be able to book David27 and Izzy’s honeymoon accommodation in New Zealand. I play the long game in a lot of things and so it was incredibly satisfying to have a plan come together.

But when I was on the site, I saw that I had just under 5,000 points that needed using up before June 30 this year.

Yikes! With all of the lockdowns last year, it completely slipped my mind that this could happen. I grabbed a calculator and a calendar, logged onto the website and started reviewing my options.

So far I’ve booked a week in Manly Beach in Sydney at the end of June. Then I thought, ‘What am I doing this coming weekend?’ Nothing on the calendar… so I looked at what was available within driving distance. The Sebel Pinnacle Valley resort at the foot of Mt Buller had a 1 bedder free.

So off I went.

I arrived after dark on the first night, as I picked up a CRT day at school. I brought food (of course – the restaurant on-site is expensive), so I had a relaxed night in front of the tv and rolled into a bed I didn’t have to share with Poppy and Jeff.

The next morning I was woken by kookaburras. I was enchanted. I know I’m in the country when I hear this!

After a leisurely breakfast, I decided to go for a walk around the lake. The air, being up so high in the mountains, was cold and crisp, but it’s not snow season yet so it was pleasant. (Snow. Ugh. So uncivilised!)

As I was walking I heard the kookaburras again, along with lots of magpie song. We have maggies at home, but their song is beautiful. Here’s a clip for overseas people who might not have heard it:

I’m a bit cross with this photo because the kangaroos were far closer than it appears. Anyway, here are some kangaroos!

I finished the lake circuit and headed back, where I saw this:

Remember last year when I collected 9 garbage bags full of leaves for the veggie garden? I had a few garbage bags in the car so I helpfully unblocked the drain.

A short time later I was in the car and driving down the driveway. I decided I’d turn right once I hit the main road. I had a vague idea I’d explore a little country town or something.

I had no idea that the next stop was Mt Buller.

The road is pretty much a one-lane-each-way all the way up the mountain for about 20 kms. I imagine that it’d be pretty frustrating during snow season, but I was literally the only car on the road. I zipped up there, really enjoying the drive with no slow coach in front of me spoiling it.

Same on the way back.

Along the way there were some pretty spots:

When I reached the Mt Buller resort, I decided that I’d park the car somewhere and walk to the summit, then come back and grab some lunch. The place was pretty much a ghost town. There were a few people around, but mostly, I had the place to myself.

I found a track to the top and set off.

It was a cold morning and rain clouds were gathering. I didn’t bring a coat but I figured that I’d be fine with just a jumper. The track was clearly marked, but steep. At first I was walking fast but then it occurred to my mighty mind that I wasn’t racing anyone, so I took my time.

I don’t know if anyone else read the Silver Brumby books when they were a kid? I loved them. As I was walking, I was wondering if maybe there were brumbies hanging around on the mountains.

The chairlifts looked almost sculptural, hanging motionless.

I kept walking. This mountain track kept going up. And up. And up.

At one stage I was thinking about turning back. The clouds were coming closer and I was getting out of breath. But then I saw these signs… taunting me…

I knew I had to keep going. No building was going to taunt me and get away with it!

But as I kept walking higher, the clouds descended. I was so very close to the top, but when I looked around all I could see was this:

And this:

However, soon I had to call it a day. The clouds descended and I couldn’t see more than a few metres in any direction. I was so close to the summit, but I wouldn’t see anything if I got there.

I decided that close enough was good enough – no point busting a gut if I couldn’t see anything when I got there – and walked back down, starting to think about lunch.

To my chagrin, as I was walking down I was passed by a car.

You mean I could’ve driven all the way up??!?

Anyway, I made it back to the car and drove around, looking for a cafe.

My plan seemed like it was about to come undone. NOTHING seemed to be open! The one time I decided to treat myself to a meal and this happens!

Fortunately, I asked a workman and he pointed to two places. One was nearby, the other was up quite a steep hill.

LOL. As if I’d be walking up another steep hill anytime soon!

Imagine this place in a couple of weeks time in the snow season, once the snow has started to fall. A Saturday lunchtime. I’m sure the place would be full.

I ordered my meal and settled down with my book.

I really liked this quote. Just thought I’d share.

The pear and rocket salad was delicious!

After I had lunch, I wandered around the place on the way back to my car.

There was absolutely no one around.

There didn’t seem to be anything left to see here, so I jumped back in the car and headed down the mountain again.

My original plan was to see what was around in Merrijig, the closest little town to my resort, but there’s no actual town, just a couple of pubs. I kept going and hit the next town, Mansfield.

As I was driving through, I saw this cute little cellar door for Ros Ritchie wines. I’ve never heard of them, but the thought of a little wine tasting on a nippy autumn afternoon sounded Just The Thing, so I went in. Sip some wines, buy a bottle to be polite, read my book while I’m doing it.

The joint was jumping. They had a bus tour out the back, with 50 people tasting the wines. There were 2 parties going on and some couples enjoying wine and cheese platters.

The young guy running the tastings sat me by the fire and then gave me a menu.

“All the tastings are free,” he said, which surprised me a bit. Last year when I went to the wineries in South Australia with Jenna’s parents, there was a charge per head to do wine tasting. He asked if I wanted to start with a sparkling wine, but when I said that i still have 8 bottles left over from David28 and Izzy’s engagement party, we started with a white.

This guy was so good at his job. He was racing around looking after everyone inside, but whenever he came back with the next wine for me to try, he’s stay and have a chat about the flavours and aromas. I didn’t feel neglected at all. In fact, it was entertaining watching him keep all those plates spinning! When I got home I sent an email to the winery, commending his work.

I walked out with 5 bottles. It was very nice wine.

It was getting close to 5 PM, so I headed back to the resort. I had a voucher for a free drink at the restaurant, so I settled in beside the open fire with a cheeky shiraz and my book. The autumn colours were able to be seen from every window and it was too early for the dinner rush. I enjoyed the vibe until my iPad ran out of batter and my book died. Home to my room and a ‘Big Bang Theory’ marathon.

I had a plan for the next day to drop in at the Healesville Sanctuary on the way home, but I think I’m the sort of traveller that once the car is pointed towards home, I just want to get there. Is anyone else like that? I saw the turn-off to Healesville but took the turning for Melbourne.

This was a very peaceful, relaxing break. As much as I love my house, it was lovely to get out and see mountains, trees, cows and kangaroos instead of suburbia.

Plus there’s not too many driveways that look like this where I live – ESPECIALLY with the best footie team!

I’ve popped the wine I bought at the winery away. Later in the year, I think it’ll be cool to open a bottle and remember my little getaway.

Dad joke of the day:

To the person who stole my place in the queue – I’m after you now.

Those who don’t read, live only one life…

… But those who DO read, live thousands.

This thought occurred to me when I was sitting in a year 8 classroom earlier today, watching as they were silently reading at the beginning of the class. Normally, I’d be reading right alongside them, but I’d intelligently left my book in the car and so I was waiting for the 10 minutes to be over.

As I drew my gaze back from the window with the beautiful sunny day outside, I saw that a couple of kids were looking at the same view. Two boys were yawning, so clearly they’d picked dud books and were bored. But the rest of the class were buried deep in their books.

As I looked at the bent heads, I started to wonder where they all were.

Some of them were reading from the class novel, ‘The Outsiders‘ by S E Hinton, preparing for the work that they were going to have to do in the rest of the class. I knew they were in 1960’s Chicago. But looking around at the others, they could have been anywhere.

Far into the future, perhaps? Way back in the past? Maybe they were experiencing life from the point of view of a different gender or nationality. All of us were physically together, but within their minds they were anywhere but here.

Once their 10 minutes of wide reading time was finished, I wrote the saying I began this post with up on the board and we had a quick chat about it.

The thing is – this saying doesn’t just relate to novels. It also relates to any kind of reading, but of course, seeing as this is a FI/RE blog, I was thinking about financial independence blogs and books.

I think it’s a real shame that the Australian government has chosen to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it came to the new rules they’ve put in place about fin-fluencers. Strong Money Australia and Late Starter Fire are two bloggers who have written about this, and they’ve both done a good job. I don’t need to repeat what they say.

It saddens me, though, that these new ‘guidelines’ about what we can and cannot say are going to take valuable stories about life experiences away from those people who can learn from them. When most people realise they need to get their sh*t together when it comes to money, they are scared and worried.

I know for sure that I was.

I think, like most people in this space, I started to learn about investing, the stock market, financial independence etc from American bloggers and Australian books. American content is all very well for gaining an understanding of the basics, but when it comes to knowledge that’s applicable to Australia, there’s no substitute for Australians sharing their knowledge and experience.

When I first started blogging on my personal blog back in 2008, I was part of the crafting/gardening niche and it was wonderful. So many people sharing their knowledge and inspiration online, helping each other and creating a really supportive community. It was wonderful – and still is.

I was so happy to find a similar space for the people interested in gaining financial independence. Clearly, our life stories are all very different, but that didn’t stop me gleaning what I could use in my own situation, while enjoying watching people’s stories unfold.

Over the years I, a single mother of 4 boys on the shady side of 50, have learned so much from the blogs of Australians who lead lives vastly different to mine. Let’s face it – not many people have travelled the same pathway to financial independence than I have! If I was holding out for information from someone who began their journey with 4 boys under 5, $60 cash, and was driving an ancient Tarago whose sunroof leaked when it rained, I’d still be sitting around, 8 years later, terrified about how I was going to prepare for the future.

Instead, I’ve learned from single people in their 20’s and 30’s, coupled up people without kids, and coupled up people WITH young kids/teenagers/grown families. Some of these couples are married, some are not. Some are straight, some gay and some don’t disclose. A few are older than I am, and I learned a lot about what retirement life is like and what to prepare myself for.

Some write under a nom de plume, others (like me – obviously) write under their own names. Some have degrees, while others have barely finished secondary school. Most seem to live in cities on the east coast, but there are also people living in regional towns or in the bush.

We’re all very different but we all have one thing in common – we want to learn about how to handle our finances responsibly and we want to help others by sharing what we’ve learned.

The huge variety is a strength. We all come to this problem of how to gain financial independence with different ways of thinking, because we’ve all led very different lives. This means that someone who has come at this whole “FI/RE” thing from a totally different angle to you can offer valuable insights into angles that may never have occurred to you.

Sure, it may be a little confusing at first, but it doesn’t take long to sort the wheat from the chaff. I know that the more I read – and listened – the more familiar the concepts became and I was gradually able to move forward with a growing confidence that i wasn’t going to muck things up.

One of the most interesting things about hanging around in the space over a few years is to read when people have decided to pivot in their financial independence strategies and they give their reasoning. One of the most fundamental tenets of the FI/RE movement is the importance of flexibility and being able to change what you’re doing if the situation demands it – or if you discover better information.

My fear is that now that the rules have changed, people will be too scared to share valuable insights and information that could add value to the whole space. People coming up, like my sons, won’t have the same freedom to information willingly and freely shared, that I was lucky enough to benefit from.

I’m not sure where we go from here. Some people are massively editing their blogs and removing specific bits and pieces that are suddenly forbidden for public consumption. Podcasts are suddenly in hiatus (or stopped altogether) while the podcasters work out where they now stand.

Fortunately, due to me being scared of numbers and also – as a single woman – being very conscious that there are a lot of crazies out there, I was never granular about the topics I talked about, so I think this tiny blog should be ok.

I’d like to thank all of those creators who enabled me to live many lives as I was navigating my way around this financial independence thing. Your work has been so very huge in enabling me to gain my freedom and to provide a secure base for my sons.

Thank you.

Dad joke of the day:

To whoever stole my dictionary –

I’m at a loss for words.

Wednesday W’s #18.

What’s top of my mind: Work.

I’ve picked up a full week of work. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here, but I’ve worked out that every FULL day of work pays for TWO places at the wedding reception next year.

I know; on one level it’s a bit depressing. That’s a lot of hours to pay for a couple of meals and some drinks. But on another level, I get up and say, “Today I’m working for my brother and sister-in-law!” Or whoever.

People at work find that funny. “Who are you working for today?” they ask as I come through the door.

So far I haven’t said no to a single day of work. Let’s see how long that continues. This week will be a real test. I keep looking ahead to October, though. Traditionally, as soon as the year 12 exams start, then all CRT work stops. I know I’ll have a nice long break over late spring and summer.

Where I’ve Been: ‘Kill Climate Deniers.’

Sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? Well, that’s appropriate, seeing as it was a play. One of my ex-students from my 2019 Theatre Studies class messaged me and asked if I’d like to come and see her play.

Of course! When I saw that another of my students was doing the multi media, I was rapt. Two birds – one stone, baby!

I was so proud of the work they did. It was lovely to catch up with Helena after the show. Can’t believe they’re now 21…!

Where I’m going: nowhere.

A full week of work. There’s not much room for anything else. I like being here with the kids and my friends, but yet… I miss my untrammelled days of freedom.

Though I am taking Poppy to the vet next Monday for her anti-arthritis shot. At least I have that to look forward to…

What I’m watching: Better Call Saul.

A year ago, Ryan27 finally convinced me to watch ‘Breaking Bad.’ We watched all 5 seasons together as a mother/son thing, even though he’d already seen it before.

I think the same thing might happen with Saul.

What I’ve been reading: The new Dervla McTiernan book.

I forgot to bring my book to work yesterday and I was so cross with myself! I had 4 periods of English, all with 10 minutes of silent reading, so imagine how much I would’ve been able t get through?

I’ve only read a couple of chapters so far, but it seems promising. The Murder Rule is a stand-alone story, which is fine, I guess… I really want to find out what happens next in the life of Cormac Reilly, her protagonist in the series that starts with The Ruin. I’ve got my sister reading this one at the moment. 🙂

What I’m listening to: Podcasts.

I tend to listen to poddies in the car and music when I’m quilting, so this week has been a Casefile, Dan Smow’s History Hit and Welcome to Nightvale time.

My son, Evan25, is starting a comedy podcast next week with his friend. I’ll post a link when it’s live.

What I’m eating: Home-made bread rolls for lunches.

I’m working to earn money, not to spend it at the school canteen! (Though having said that, the school canteen has really lifted its game – the food is fantastic… though not cheap.)

My go-to for lunch when I’m working is a home-made bread roll with home-grown lettuce and some cheese. This week it’s Red Leicester. Yesterday I tried putting some nasturtium leaves in as well, thinking they’d give a peppery flavour, but I couldn’t tell the difference.

It’s quick to make, fills me up and is quick to eat. That last point is handy when you usually have a yard duty for half of lunch.

Who needs a good slap: Me.

Normally when I work, I set the alarm for 6:30.

I gently awoke this morning, then lazily reached out and grabbed my laptop. It was 7:20. I didn’t set the alarm.

I didn’t know I could start running first thing in the morning. I got here on time, but oof!

Note to self: when you know you’re working, set the alarm immediately! Don’t wait until the night before.

What I’m planning: a ‘girls weekend’ away.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to swing it, but I’m thinking a couple of nights away with Jenna, Izzy and my two nieces might be fun. It’ll give them all a chance to connect – I like the idea of the young women of my family all being friends.

What has made me smile: The little woofs.

Apparently they wait for me ALL DAY. This is a photo of Poppy and Jeff asleep on Ryan27’s Oodie.

We really don’t deserve dogs.

Dad joke of the day:

My boss asked me why I was only sick on work days.

I said, “It must be my weekend immune system.”

Frugal Friday: Perennial plants – the gifts that keep on giving.

On Christmas Eve last year, Ryan27 and I drove over to Mt Eliza to his friend’s place. She had some lilies and elephant garlic that she was happy to give away.

I stood and watched while Ryan27 dug them up and we brought them home.

The elephant garlic was planted last week in one of the wicking vegetable beds. The lilies were planted as soon as we got home in the backyard, right near the pizza oven.

The main entertainment up till now has been watching how quickly these plants have been leaping up from the ground.

But two days ago I went out to get some green leaves for dinner and there it was – the first flower.

There are two more flowers quietly growing that will soon be out.

Over time, I’m looking forward to being able to have these as cut flowers in the house. I’ve always loved their shape – so simple and elegant.

Why am I writing about this on Frugal Friday? Because I’ll be enjoying these flowers for (possibly) the rest of my life… and they were free.

Not to mention the elephant garlic – a lifetime’s supply of garlic for free as well.

If you have the space, setting aside spots for perennial flowers and vegetables is a great investment, both financially and for personal satisfaction.

My $7 rhubarb plant I bought from Aldi 3 years ago has provided huge amounts of rhubarb stalks each year – enough to supply our household, my parents and my sister. I think it paid for itself in the first 3 months of being planted. Imagine how much free food it’ll give when I dig it up and divide it into more plants?

I have a lime verbena, 3 lemon verbenas and a lemon myrtle, as well as many different types of peppermint. Free herbal tea, anyone? They’re great either fresh or dried and make great little gifts.

I haven’t bought bean seeds for years – I just let some dry on the vine and then plant the dried beans in the following Spring. Free beans are my favourite type.

I’m not even going to try listing my fruit trees. Once they become well-established I’ll be one happy little gardener.

One piece of advice – only plant what you’ll want to eat!

Do you have any perennial plants that have been absolutely worth it?

Dad joke of the day:

If Satan ever lost his hair, there’d be hell toupee.

Wednesday W’s #17.

What’s top of my mind: The importance of timing.

We went for a beach walk this morning. The radar said that my suburb wasn’t going to get rain but when we were out there I saw rain falling over Frankston and decided to turn back.

Five minutes after we got home, the rain arrived. Fortunte Frogdancer strikes again! I’ll include shots from today’s walk in this post.

Where I’ve been: May’s Little Adventure.

Post to come.

Where I’m going: Aldi to get bocconcini.

The boys are all coming over for a pizza lunch on Mothers Day and David28 asked for bocconcini on his pizza. On the next ‘spend day’, which will probably be tomorrow, I’ll hunt down those cheese balls.

Nothing but the best for my boys!

What I’m watching: How very beautiful Poppy is.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are a very pretty breed to begin with, (unless their owners stuff them so full of treats that they waddle when they walk.) I’ve owned this breed since I was 20 and I’ve had many Cavaliers, particularly when I was breeding and showing them before I started breeding humans.

But hand on my heart, I’d have to say that Poppy is the best example of the breed I’ve ever owned. She’s utterly beautiful and moves like a dream. She’s my shadow… unless someone else walks into the kitchen.

It’s a pity that she doesn’t have a sense of humour. Life’s a serious business for Poppy.

What I’ve been reading: Men Cause 100% of unwanted pregnancies.

I first saw this on a Twitter thread ages ago, but with the news coming out of America that their Supreme Court is likely to be overturning Roe Vs Wade, this article is incredibly timely.

I’ve never been more glad to be a woman living in Australia. I don’t know what the hell is happening in the US, but between their healthcare system, the guns and now this – I’m VERY glad that my ancestors got onto the boats headed for here instead of there.

Sorry if this upsets any US readers, but this is how it looks from over here. There are many wonderful things about the US and her people, but things seem to be slipping in a nasty direction.

What I’m listening to: A Wrinkle in Time.

I’ve never read this book and apparently it’s a classic. So I downloaded it from the library, thinking that it was an eBook. But no… it’s an audiobook. So I guess I’ll put ‘Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers’ on Spotify to the side for a while and catch up on my reading while I’m quilting.

What I’m eating: Home-made hommus.

I brought back an uneaten Turkish bread from my last Little Adventure, so Ryan27 and I used it up with some hommus that I whipped up. There was some hommus left over, so yesterday I spread it on a freshly-baked bread roll and polished it off for lunch.

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make all the difference.

No, it’s not the same photo!

Who needs a good slap: Ummm

This is always the hardest one to fill in. My life is pretty chill. Total freedom – aka retirement – suits me well.

What I’m planning: A little nap after lunch.

The Spanish were certainly onto something when they invented the siesta. I love a good nanna nap!

What has made me smile: Finding out how to delete shows from my “Currently watching” list on Netflix.

You know how sometimes a show sounds as if it’ll be good, then you start watching and realise that it’s AWFUL? And then it stays on your ‘watching’ list forever, unless you get sick of it and whizz through every episode on fast forward just to get rid of it?

Turns out that if you log into Netflix on your computer, there’s an option to ‘clean’ lists. I knew that there must be an easier way! I’m so happy I found it.

Dad joke of the day:

Little Adventures #13: Cranbourne Botanical Park. April 2022.

Remember last year, when people from our pasts reconnected on Facebook because we were all in lockdown and had lots of time on our hands? After things eased up, I went on quite a few reunion lunches and coffees.

On one of these, I heard how a school friend’s husband was working at the Cranbourne Botanical Gardens. I’d vaguely heard about this place before, but when Blogless Sandy mentioned that her walking group had been there and really enjoyed it, I decided to use it for my latest Little Adventure.

(Basically, when I retired I decided to take a Little Adventure once a month. I’ll go somewhere/do something that I never have before. What’s the point of freedom if you don’t explore a little?)

When I got there I made straight for the lookout, which was perched on the highest part of the whole area. Here I found a map of the place. I decided to save the top part for a further Little Adventure sometime in the future and to hang a right just after the Perched Swamp and walk along the bottom part of the property.

That’ll be enough for one morning!

So I set off. The track was on a gentle incline. One thing I really didn’t like about this place is that they didn’t allow dogs, so the little woofs had to stay at home. But further up the trail I spotted two labradors. Turns out they were Assistance dogs being trained.

I didn’t want to muck up their training so I held back while they went up the lookout tower first. While they were there I saw this sign underneath:

Phew! Thank goodness there wasn’t a cloud in the sky!

I climbed the steps to the top of the lookout and surveyed my surroundings. The assistance dogs were disappearing down the hill.

I don’t know what’s causing the sparkle on the horizon, but it looked pretty.

It was a bit of a shock to read that on a clear day I could see both Port Philip and Westernport bays from here. Despite having lived here for 6 years, I haven’t yet made the adjustment to realising that I’m far nearer the Peninsula than the city.

Anyway, after a long look around, I set off down the track.

Isn’t this lovely? It’s a little door under the fence so that echidnas can move through.

To be honest, most of the walk wasn’t that exciting, view-wise. This was the usual ‘vista’… fairly boring scrub. But the air was fresh and pure and all I could hear was birdsong and my feet crunching on the gravel.

That wasn’t so hard to take.

Then I got to the turnoff to the Perched Swamp and went down the path. I found this bit really interesting.

If you read the sign, it turns out that this patch of land is like a teacup suspended between the dunes. Water seeps in and it turns into a swamp. Hence the name – the swamp is perched, suspended (in a way) between the dunes.

This hasn’t been filled since 2001, which goes to show how dry this area is. The photo on the sign shows a vastly different view than the one I was seeing.

Two wallabies were having a snack to the right.

If the sign wasn’t there, you’d never dream that you were looking at swampland.

That’s the edge of the ‘teacup.’

A little further along the main track, I saw the sign that told me to diverge and take the road less travelled* to the wetlands.

*Just a little nod to the literature buffs.

Looks inviting, doesn’t it?

All this time I was walking along, totally alone (as I thought), just enjoying the day. I was walking in a shady part of the track, totally alone (as I thought) when I saw a tree with bright green moss on it.

Still walking, I suddenly stopped dead and lifted my phone to take the shot when something moved. For a split second I froze. A woman walking alone NEVER likes unexpected movements near her.

Then I saw…

And something else moved…

They were so close to me! I was so rapt. What an absolute gift.

If I hadn’t have stopped unexpectedly to take that photo and scared the living daylights out of them for a split second, I never would have known they were there.

Here’s the tree with the moss, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.

Considerably buoyed by my wallaby encounter, I set off again. The track turned sandy and then I found the lake.

I walked off the track to get closer, trying to avoid stepping on the wallaby poo that seemed to be everywhere.

Then I saw a duck!

It was even better when she turned out to have ducklings. I stayed there for a while, just enjoying the vibe, then I set off again. My next goal was to get back to the car park.

That quilt isn’t going to make itself.

This part of the walk seemed to go on FOREVER. I was glad I brought my hat as it got quite sunny. I saw a couple of Mums with prams in this section, and I caught a glimpse of the assistance dogs a long way behind me.

Look! Some more duck-like things!

They were a brilliant shade of blue, though it’s only on the left-hand one in this photo that you can get an idea.

I kept walking.

I had no choice…

It was a long track with not much to look at. Fortunately, I had my thoughts to keep me company. I find myself very interesting.

Before you label me as egotistical – just imagine if I didn’t find my thoughts interesting. How awful would that be? You can never escape yourself. You’re always with you, so you may as well enjoy it.

This was quite interesting. When I was walking up towards it I couldn’t make out what these strange little boxes were. Nesting boxes for endangered birds?? Turns out it was far more scientific.

Started wondering if dinosaurs lived in the bush as well as wallabies.

The track had curved and we were back in the trees again. Surely I was getting closer?

I’m a busy woman. I have things to do at home.

Plus, look at how close those trees grew together. Crazy.

There’s no real reason for this shot. I just liked the colours.

Success!!!!

This was a long walk for me because I’m very unfit, but it was easy. The paths are well maintained and there’s no way you could stray off them and get lost.

When I was talking to Blogless Sandy about it, she mentioned that I’d apparently chosen the most untouched part of the garden to explore. This means that when I next choose to go back, I’ll be wandering around a more planned part, which showcases Australian plants.

Should be good.

All in all, I enjoyed this Little Adventure. It’s nice to think that in these modern times there’s some land so close to the city where for a split second wallabies and humans can scare the living daylights out of each other.

Good times.

Having an Emergency Fund is a waste of money – until it isn’t.

I first learned the value of having what I then called a ‘Buffer Zone’ back in the days when I was newly separated, with 4 small boys under 6. When we split, we had a mortgage, 2 old cars and $120 in the bank. I withdrew the money and gave him half, so we each had $60. I took the people mover and he took the van he needed for work. We agreed that the boys and I would live in the house and in lieu of child support, he’d pay the mortgage.

(Anyone who’s ever been in this situation, or knows people who have, knows what’s coming next. It’s the classic move of the non-custodial who wants to punish their ex.)

Establishing a new life with $60 and 4 kids isn’t as much fun as you might think. We were able to get the Sole Parent’s Pension, as it was called then, so basic bills were covered. But I had a huge urge to get some security for us and so I decided to scrape together one thousand dollars as a ‘Buffer Zone’ for us.

It took 4 or 5 months but I did it. I scrimped and scraped, I barely ate any meat during this period – though I remember cutting off the end of a sausage that the boys were having as part of their spaghetti and ‘meatballs’ meal and devouring it. Any way that I could save money, or at the very least wring every cent’s worth of value from each dollar, I did.

And yes – one day I checked the bank account and there was $1,000 sitting there.

I breathed a sigh of relief. We had our Buffer Zone. Job done!

But something was niggling me. A few days later, I decided to call the bank and check on the balance of our mortgage.

I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. The person on the other end of the line told me that the mortgage hadn’t been paid for a couple of months and that the account was $963 in arrears.

“After another month, we would’ve called to discuss it.” But of course, I wouldn’t have been the one they would’ve called. This was 25 years ago – the male name on the mortgage would’ve received the call. I was lucky that I decided to check.

But of course, I didn’t feel lucky at the time. As I threw the younger kids into the massive double stroller I had and began to walk up the street towards the bank with the older two boys skipping along beside me, I was furious. Actually, I felt incandescent with rage.

But I also felt thankful that I had the money behind me to fix it. A simple transfer from my Buffer Zone account to the mortgage and the situation was safe.

And that’s what a Buffer Zone/Emergency Account is for.

To save your bacon in the event of an unexpected expense.

Cute as a button dachshund pup.
Scout’s a big fam of the Emergency Fund – with good reason.

Naturally, I immediately began work on building that Buffer Zone back up. It was even harder this time because I was now paying the mortgage on top of everything else. But like everything else on this FI/RE trip, if you keep at it step by step, you eventually get there.

Would I ever be without an Emergency Fund again? Hell, no! That thing not only kept a roof over our heads when we were at our most vulnerable, but every now and then over the years it’s smoothed the ride when surprising things happened.

What about the day I loaded the boys into the Tarago and swung the roller door closed, only to have it keep on going and the bottom half swung off the car? Ok, I admit that it was stressful trying to secure the door well enough so we could drive home safely, but the next day, thanks to the emergency fund, I was able to get it fixed.

(When it happened, the boys stared at me in shock as the door was swinging wildly from one hinge. I remember thinking, “I can either laugh or cry.” With those little boys looking at me, all I could do was start laughing. The situation was so awful as to be hilarious. )

The time that Scout swallowed a seed pod and almost died was another one. Her surgery cost $3,200. I was telling that to a friend at work and she gasped and said, “I’d never be able to afford that. The vet and I would have been having a very different discussion.” Fortunately, I have a separate emergency fund for the dogs, so money wasn’t an issue. Three years later, we still have our little girl who makes us laugh every single day.

A couple of years ago I leapt blithely into my morning shower – only to leap straight back out, screaming. The hot water system had died. Three days later we had a continuous gas hot water system installed – luxury! I tell you – I loved my emergency fund when I took my first hot shower.

These are just a smattering of the times that problems that can be fixed with money were taken care of with minimal stress and no debt.

New fridge.

Over time, as I became more financially secure and started work again, the size of my emergency fund grew. It started out at $1,000, then grew to $5,000 and then up to $15,000, before settling down at my current level of $10,000.

My gauge of how much cash for an emergency I need to have behind me is pretty much the ‘can I sleep at night?’ test. With 10K, I feel that it pretty much covers most things that could go wrong with my house and car. As I mentioned before, I have a separate account for the dogs that I set up when I got Scout and then found out about the 25% risk dachshunds have of getting IVDD. I’m devoutly hoping I never have to touch that money but it’s there if she needs it.

The Emergency Fund is a funny beast. In my experience, I can go for YEARS without tapping into it, to the point where it almost feels like a waste having all that money just sitting there earning next to no interest.

Then WHAM! Something happens. Or two things happen. They seem to come in waves.

Consider the last 2 weeks. My fridge dies. After weighing the options, I decide to buy a new one. $1,900 later, the shiny new fridge is installed in my kitchen. No credit card debt, no drama. Excellent!

A week later we experience the first cold snap of the year, so we try to switch on our gas ducted heating. Nothing. Turns out that it was a 20-year-old model that has valiantly served its time but was now up for renewal. No problem. $3,000 later, a new model was installed on the same day.

Annoying? Yes. But stressful? No.

In the space of 2 weeks, I had 5K of unexpected expenses. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a little more than simple walking around money. Over the next little while, I’ll steadily pump money back into the emergency fund until it’s at the ‘can I sleep at night?’ level again – ready for next time.

Because we know that there’ll always be a next time.

The brilliant thing is that there are no set rules.

YOU decide how much money you want to have in there – the ‘can I sleep at night?’ rule is totally individual. Some people, particularly those with insecure or erratic jobs, like to keep 3 – 6 months of expenses in there. Some like to have a year. Personally, because the job I had was incredibly secure, I was happy with the 10K – 15K level.

YOU decide where to leave it – my personal choice is to put it in an online bank account away from my everyday bank, so it’s not always in my face. The Emergency Fund is intended to lurk in the background like a benevolent stalker until it’s needed, not to be a constant temptation to spend the money on fun stuff.

The only requirement is self-discipline. First to build up the thing in the first place; then to not tap into it unless it’s a genuine surprise expense that’s popped up. But as we all know, fiscal discipline and delayed gratification make you stronger.

The Emergency Fund is like having a friend who is always ready to have your back. And who doesn’t like that feeling?

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