Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

For those going to the shindig on Monday.

Right! I’ve just seen that the organiser on Monday’s screening of the “Playing With FIRE’ documentary has shared the link to this blog with all who are attending, which is fair enough, seeing as I’m speaking on a panel after the show.

This made me feel weird, seeing as the last couple of posts have been fairly introspective and therefore boring to anyone other than the 3.75 people who read my blog, so in the interest of giving background to everyone else, here are a few posts offering my credentials, so to speak.

How I earned my freedom. It was a Pantene thing, but that’s ok. When you leave your marriage with $60 cash, 4 kids under 5 and a 100K mortgage, it takes a while to get your feet back under you.

How I was able to recognise an opportunity to shave 10 years off my working life.

How financial independence allows you to take advantage of the weird opportunities life can throw at you. Like travelling to North Korea.

I’m not your stereotypical FIRE blogger. Some of them paved the way and for that I’m grateful. But there’s room for more stories. You don’t have to be in your twenties or thirties, married and in a 200K a year job to get this FIRE thing done.

I’m NOT a numbers person… I’m someone who had to survive with 4 boys depending on her – failure was not an option. I can talk about how Bon Jovi kept me going. (With a slight tweak in the lyrics of a particular song.)

I’m looking forward to Monday night and meeting up with like-minded people. Sadly, at the moment we’re a rare breed, but maybe with docos like ‘Playing With Fire’ the word will start spreading and igniting. (See what I did there?)

Looking forward to meeting everyone at the showing. Come up and introduce yourself… we’ll have a great time!!

Getting the pizzaz back.

Getting excited about making this bad boy for Izzy or myself… or maybe I’ll make 2 of them in different colours?

I’ve decided that part of the reason why I’m a little scared about leaving work entirely is that I haven’t been creative lately. Sure, I’ve been writing on the blog and gardening, but I think that I need to be making something that’s tangible in the real world to feel completely happy.

The following pictures are from my Pinterest feed. So many quilts! So many ideas! So little time!

So I dragged out the trestle table that I bought for Christmas dinners and the like, when we have heaps of people over, and I put it up in the spare room next to mine. I found my neglected sewing machine in my walk-in wardrobe and placed it on the table. Then I hauled out the big plastic tub that contains the blocks I started 18 months ago for a quilt for Tom27 (back when he was Tom25).

I’m setting myself up for success.

I’ve always had a fondness for wonky blocks.

My thinking is that I’ll be far more likely to do more creating when the machine is already set up. Instead of unearthing everything from the depths of my wardrobe, dragging it all out, setting it up on the dining table and then putting it all away when I’ve finished for the day, I’ll be casually strolling in, flicking the switch of the machine and leisurely quilting for 10, 20 or 30 minutes before putting the cover on the machine and strolling out again. In fact, once I had everything set out in the one space, out of the way of the rest of the house, I made another square.

Tom27 may get that quilt before he’s Tom77 yet…

How cool is this one?

I firmly believe that humans aren’t happy unless we’re creating something. Something that we can point to and say, “I made that!” Some people get that glow from baking, some from drawing and some from making jewellery, to pick just a few examples. It seems that personally, I get the creative glow from making practical, beautiful things that tend to keep people warm. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s leftover from the year I didn’t have enough money for heating oil, back when the boys were little…?

You can also do fun designs like this one. Easy to do. Or, if you’re a more ordered person, you’d do the block without cutting it in half.

Before I put the sewing machine away to work on my side-hustle for 5 years, I made over 20 quilts, most for family and friends. I’m a nervous sewer, but I figured that quilting was only lots of little straight seams all put together and I could surely do that! I made sure I could by making 4 quilts for my sons first, before branching out to make quilts for adults. You know, people whose opinions I really care about. After all, kids have to be useful for something…

Love this pop of colour. This would be great to make as a gift – just find out their favourite colour and off you go!

As I was scrolling through the page where most of my quilts are made, I’d forgotten some of them. I loved the look of some, while wrinkling my nose at others. I’d forgotten just how productive I could be when I got excited about a project and pushed everything aside to Get It Done! The Sister Quilts, for example, were both finished in the 3 days before Christmas Day. Obviously I wasn’t hosting Christmas that year, so I was able to push absolutely everything aside and meet that deadline. It was a crazy thing to do, but gee… I knew I was alive!

A half-log cabin quilt.

Now that I’m coming to the end of full-time work, it’s time to start dusting off the old hobbies and maybe trying out some new ones. Moving the sewing machine and dusting off Pinterest has got me looking forward to all the projects I can do. It’s going to be good to get my hands making things again!

The scary sound of silence.

It’s been over a week since my last post. If there’s a gap like this, it can only mean one of three things:

  • I’m dead.
  • I’m travelling in a place with no internet, like I was last year in North Korea.
  • I’m mulling over something.

It’s number 3. I’m mentally chewing over something and it’s either totally irrational or it’s a definite thing to be wary of. Turns out, this whole getting ready for retirement thing is a bit of a struggle in some unexpected ways. Who knew?

Ironic really, because in financial terms it seems that I’m pretty much here. I could crack the sads at something, walk out the door and the likelihood is that I wouldn’t end up eating cat food in an indigent old age. I should be singing my way into work every day, laughing like a loon with the kids and smiling my way through all the meetings.

Instead…

well, I have to say that going into work each day is a real struggle. Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s winter. This morning Melbourne is being buffeted by 130km/hr winds straight off Antarctica. When I woke up at 5:30 and went out to sit on the couch with my dogs and my coffee, I could hear the wind and rain. I wanted nothing more than to turn on the central heating and have a pyjama day.

Ok, so it’s understandable that I’d want to stay home on a day like this, when we’re all walking around wearing puffer jackets to class. But this reluctance to turn up to work is happening nearly every day. On Sundays, I’m experiencing a feeling of dread when I think about Monday. I’ve heard about it happening with other people, but I’ve never felt like this before and I don’t like it.

When I actually turn up to work I’m pretty happy to be here. The kids are still funny and engaging and I love the people in my staff room. I like my job and I’m good at it. I like the fact that after every period, I can think “that’s $50 in my wallet.” (Or thereabouts – you know how bad my Maths Skillz are.)

But there’s a change. I’m starting to get resentful about the number of meetings we have. Ok, some of them are necessary but it’s surprising how many aren’t. At this time of the year, being the middle of winter, I get back just as dusk is falling. When you leave home in the dark and get home in the dark, it really brings home to you that a HUGE chunk of your day has been spent totally out of your control. The timetabler has dictated to me how busy my day has been, not me.

So far, anyone reading this would be thinking, “So why not quit?” Or, if they’ve been reading the blog for a little while, they’d think, “But you’re going part-time next year. What’s the big deal? Suck it up, Princess.” And they’d be right.

However, there’s something that’s been gnawing away in my mind at the thought of totally retiring; something that sounds perfectly wonderful but might just come to bite me as time goes on.

How will I cope with the silence?

I’m an extroverted introvert. This means that I can love being the centre of attention and I soak it up. I teach Theatre, for goodness sakes, as well as English. This means that every 48 minutes I have a new “audience” to perform to. It’s great. The extrovert part of me is very well-nourished by my work.

I teach at a school with 2,300 kids and over 200 teachers. There’s noise around me constantly. There are people around me constantly. Even in my free periods when I’m working at my desk, there’s always the hum of voices and activity nearby. When I walk from class to class there’s a stream of kids along the way who greet me as we walk past each other – the constant interaction is everywhere.

When I come home my inner introvert is tired. She needs to replenish. I revel in the quiet. I don’t switch music on. I walk around the place, talking to the dogs and just doing my thing. I live with adult sons who are also introverts, so when we all get home we’re happy to have a quick debrief before we retreat to our own little pools of quiet to regroup after our days. If I have school holidays coming up and I see there’s little or nothing scheduled – I LOVE IT! Fist-pump in the air when that happens.

So silence is good, right? The answer to this is an emphatic YES. Yes, it is.

But what I’m scared about is what happens when the silence becomes all day every day. When does a good thing become too much of a good thing?

I’m absolutely positive that the first year or two of retirement will be fine. I love my own company – after all, I’m absolutely delightful – and I know I’ll be able to fill in my days easily. The boys will still be here and so I’ll have conversation and company. But what happens after some time has passed and the boys move away? I’ll still have the dogs, but their vocabulary isn’t quite as large as my sons’ ones are.

My situation is a little different from most people who write in the Personal Finance niche, in that I’m single. And when I say ‘single’, I mean LONG TERM. I haven’t lived with another adult (apart from my kids) for 22 years. Most people who are joyfully heading off into retirement have a partner to share their days with. Someone to make idle chit-chat with and build a routine together. Me? I already talk to myself a bit when I’m alone because, let’s face it, I’m such good company. I definitely talk to the dogs. I’m just a bit worried that, after a while, the silence around us might make me think that the dogs are starting to reply…

(That last paragraph definitely doesn’t mean that I want to have a partner. Frankly, after 22 years of having everything in the house my own way, I can’t see what I’d do with someone being around all the time, cluttering up the place. I like the independence I have in my life and I treasure it deeply. So I won’t be ‘swiping right’ any time soon.)

It also occurred to me that it’s one thing to enjoy the silence at home when it’s school holidays. Even in the summer holidays, with around 5 weeks off, you know that there’s a definite end to the glorious quiet, and you’ll soon be knee-deep in noise again. But what happens when the glorious quiet stretches on for years?

Me in retirement – like this dog on the beach.

I have an aunt who was widowed when she was quite young. Her son lived with her for about 10 years before he left to get married. She kept his dog with her after he moved, but after he died she never replaced him. (The dog died, I mean. Not the son!) She’s been living in a house on her own for well over 30 years.

(As a side note: I can’t understand how people could bear to live on their own for decades without having a pet or three. I’m scared of the silence, but without the dogs, even with their limited vocabulary, the silence would be crushing.)

Maybe I should go over and ask my aunt how she managed it? I know she has grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she used to look after, but I don’t like the thought of relying on my boys to reproduce just so I can have a little colour and movement in my life when I’m old. (Besides, have you SEEN my boys? They’ll be lucky if anyone wants to pass those genes on to the next generation…)

It’s a weird situation to be in – torn between not wanting my days to be filled with the time-tabler’s directions, but at the same time being slightly nervous about what will be waiting for me when I decide to jump ship and leave.

I’m hoping that next year when I drop back to only working 3 days a week instead of five, I’ll find the perfect balance. If dropping my time fraction works and I can ease my way into the silence instead of plunging headlong into it, then maybe I’ll be able to get used to it. I won’t be filled with resentment at the thought that all of my time is being taken because I’ll have two extra days a week to do whatever I feel like doing. Going to work would become a welcome thing again, instead of a stressor.

I don’t know – am I way overthinking this? Is this something that warrants feeling leery about or am I worrying about something that simply comes with the territory of retiring? This wasn’t an easy post to write, perhaps because I know that if I’m still unhappy with working next year when I’m part-time, I’ll likely pull the pin. So the silence is something that, though it may a few years off, could be something I’ll be dealing with in the near future.

I’ll end with a Dad joke, because this post is a bit of a downer. The Dad joke is part of what being in Ms Frogdancer Jones’ classes means – at the start of every lesson you get at least one Dad joke on the board.

Here it is: I accidentally swallowed a tin of paint. The doctor says I’ll be fine, but I feel like I’ve dyed a little inside.

Didn’t like that one? Here’s another: I have a horse named Mayo. Mayo neighs.

(Cue the sound of crickets as Frogdancer Jones backs quietly out of the room…)

The best part of financial independence is having options.

Yesterday I walked into the staff common room after period 4, looking forward to the beef stew I’d brought from home for lunch when I saw a familiar face. “Russ”, (short for Ms Russsell), was standing there. She’d retired last year at 63, after a long and illustrious career at the school and we’d always had our desks in the same staff room.

It was lovely to see her. She was a very popular member of staff. We laughed over a clip I posted on FB a couple of days before, others joined us and then I left to go find lunch.

A few minutes later she joined me in the staff room. She was standing behind me, chatting away with everyone, then all of a sudden she felt dizzy. She had to sit down. After a few minutes she tried to make it to sickbay to lie down but even with help, she couldn’t make it to the door. Someone called the nurse, who arrived with a wheelchair while someone else called an ambulance.

Turns out that once she lay down she felt better, but earlier this year she’d suddenly collapsed and had a triple bypass, so no one wanted to take any chances.

After she left the staffroom, a few of us who are looking forward to retiring in the next few years got together.

“Do you think she left it a few years too late to retire?” said one.

“When she suddenly sat down, I started to wonder the same thing,” said another.

“Wow. So it wasn’t just me that was thinking this!” I said.

“It really makes you think,” said the first person. “A few years ago she was the healthiest person you could ever find. But when she came into the room I thought that she looked older.”

“She said last year that heart disease runs in her family,” said someone else.

I thought of Russ in the sickbay and hoped that she was feeling better. I thought of my Mum who’s going into hospital tomorrow to see if her broken arm has finally healed enough to take the brace off. So far, her arm has refused to heal after a certain point, which is a real worry. She’s now using a walker and a wheelchair to get around. I thought of Dad, bleeding internally for who knows how long, who was incredibly lucky for it to be picked up just in time.

I shivered. I was suddenly very glad that I’m cutting back on my hours next year to go part-time. YOLO!

To all intents and purposes, I’ve reached FI. It doesn’t feel like it, as the actual number I want to hit is still a little way off, but in all honesty, I could retire tomorrow and I’d more than likely be ok. It’s not as if I’m retiring in my 30’s and I have to make my portfolio last for 50 years or so. I’m in my 50’s so my ‘golden years’ will be far fewer. Usually, that’d be a downer, but in this instance, it’s actually good luck!

This money stuff is so important. I wish more people realised this when they were younger. Earlier on the same day, at recess, the young teachers were talking about how much mad money/discretionary spending they gave themselves each fortnight. It averaged out that each young woman was spending around $400/week on eating out, clothes, gifts etc.

I was literally gobsmacked. That’s a LOT of money each week. That’s an even bigger amount of money each year. Even someone with my rudimentary Maths skills knows this.

I just pulled up a calculator and worked it out. Just over 20K/year.

Imagine if, instead of spending all of this money, they instead chose to invest a half (or even a quarter) of it in a boring old index fund or as salary sacrifice into their superannuation? They’re all in their late 20’s. Even if they did that for the next 5 years, assuming they don’t have children first, then they let that money quietly compound for the next few decades, they’d be SO much better off than I was when I reached 50.

When I turned 50, I was locked in. I’d paid off the house, so I’d established absolute physical security for myself and the boys, but that was pretty much it. I had just over 100K in super and no other investments. I knew that unless a miracle occurred, I was going to turn up to full-time work at the school until I turned 70. I wouldn’t be able to afford to retire before then.

Like most teachers, I like my job. The kids make you laugh every day and I like the people I work with. But that being said, teaching is a job that takes a lot out of you. If you’re doing it right, it’s high-octane, high performance and whenever you’re in front of the kids you need to be switched on. Not all that many people are capable of that sort of sustained effort when they’re elderly. People get burned out.

That’s hard to visualise when you’re young. I know that when I was a young teacher working out in the furthest western suburb when I was a DINK, I’d look at the burned-out older teachers dragging themselves to work and think, “I’ll never be like them. I’d find another job if I felt like that.”

I didn’t stop to consider that these people were locked in. They had families to support, mortgages to pay, probably credit card bills and who knows what else? It’s easy to say blithely “I’d get another job” but when a particular job is all you’ve ever known and you need to provide a secure base for the people you love, it’s very hard to switch things up.

I wish these young teachers could look ahead and see that they’re selling themselves short. One of them said, “I know this’ll shock you Frogdancer, but when I see something I want, I buy it.” I laughed because I remember those fun years – I did it myself before kids – but I know that when they get older they won’t remember most of the clothes and shoes and dinners out. If they cut those things back, just a bit, they can still have their fun and at the same time put some money away to quietly work for them in the background, they’ll be very glad that they have an extra pile of money that can give them options.

I don’t know if Russ worked a few years too long or not. That’s her business and I’ll never know. But I wonder if she had her time over again, whether she would have pulled the pin a little earlier than she did…?

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #3

Un-netted veggie garden bed.
Naked veggie garden bed. A danger to worms.

Veggie gardens. A must for any retirement.

Well, ok, maybe not for everyone, but they fall into the category of setting up interests and activities for retirement before you actually reach that golden time. I spent a fortune getting the paving and wicking veggie beds installed, then I spent some more cash setting up the composting system that’s steadily improving the soil quality. Added onto that, I bought some worm farms that sit in the actual garden bed to also help with the soil.

What I didn’t factor in was the church at the back of my house. I approve of God looking after all the animals and birds and such, but why He allows them to nest in His roof and then use MY worms as tasty tasty snacks is something that I just can’t fathom. Something had to be done.

Short of bribing the local pyromaniac to burn the church down – and yes, we seem to have one of those in the suburb and he hasn’t been caught yet- it was obvious that I needed to do something to save my skinny slimy friends. I needed to put something in place that would be cost-effective and easy for a more elderly version of me to use.

Clamp on the side of the wicking bed.
This cost about 25c.

I saw a post by Late Starter Fire showing bird netting above her garden beds. A couple of twitter messages later and I had the gist of it. She’d had everything installed together, but I was coming late to the party and I had to work things out for myself.

A trip to the local hardware store and I had everything I needed. Clamps. Screws. 50 metres of hose pipe. Cutters to cut the hose pipe. All up? Around $60 or so.

Thus proving that not every project to improve the house for retirement needs to cost a bomb.

It's working! Hose pipe in the clamps.
So far, so good.

Thank goodness for adult sons who own a cordless drill and who don’t mind helping out around the place!

We cut 3-metre lengths of hose, stuffed them through the clamps and arched them over. Worked a treat.

All finished.

It didn’t take all that long before the job was done.

This is a very flexible system. I can take the lengths of hosepipe out if I want to grow a particularly tall crop like beans or tomatoes on a section of the garden beds, but in general, the height will be perfect for most crops.

Honestly, I’d prefer to have the beds without the netting, but aesthetics can’t win out over practicalities. The birds were throwing mulch all over the place and digging up not only worms but seeds as well. Old Lady Frogdancer doesn’t need to deal with that in her retirement!

This little job is an example of getting something done now, while I have the cash-flow, rather than waiting until I retire and then having to pay for it out of savings. Yes, it’s a little thing, but I know that Old Lady Frogdancer will be using it for decades. This is a job that only required a small bit of cash and an hour or so of time, but it helps make my home just that little bit more practical for retirement.

I just wish that my next project was as economical…

The naked paved area.

The last thing that I need to get done in the backyard is to put a verandah roof over this lower paved area and get some furniture for it. I’ve been getting quotes for the verandah over the last couple of weeks and I’ll be signing with a company on Tuesday. I feel a bit lop-sided because everyone seems to charge an arm and a leg for jobs like these.

My list of things to Get Done before I leave work is slowly shrinking, which is good.

Along with my savings…

Not bad, hey?

I’m sitting in front of my year 9 class as I’m writing this. I’m casting the movie we’re studying, (Yolngu Boy), onto the interactive whiteboard and so I can work on another tab on my laptop while they’re watching. I’ve taught this movie for the last 15 years at least, so I don’t need to sit there glued to it for the 401st time.

I know I’ve blogged quite a bit in recent months about making the decision to drop down to working 3 days a week, about feeling tired and more than a little burned out, but it would be a horrible job that didn’t have any good things about it! Teaching is far from being a horrible job – each day there are things that make me glad to be here.

One of the best things about teaching is that every day is different. When you’re working with kids, they always say or do things to make you laugh. For example, yesterday I was running a grammar lesson with my year 7’s. They were working out of their textbooks and I started to get a bit bored, so I began to draw caricatures of some of them up on the board.

“Draw yourself, Miss!” called out someone.

“No, I could never draw such radiant beauty as my face,” I said.

“Yeah, you could never draw so many wrinkles!!!” said Curtis.

Lucky for him that I’m not very vain! I laughed and laughed.

Stand-up comedy and I get paid for it. Not bad, hey?

Tomorrow is going to be a good day. When you teach Theatre Studies, guess what? You get to take the kids to see plays. Tomorrow we’re going to the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. I get to see it for free, with the school paying for my ticket and train fare, plus of course I get paid for the day. I have 4 classes that other people will cover for me while I’m off enjoying myself. Not bad, hey?

Next week I’m going on an excursion with the German faculty. Every year they take the kids to the Cuckoo restaurant up in the hills. This is an excursion every teacher wants to go on, but with 250 teachers in the school, it’s hard to get a spot. But this year, after 16 years of being at the school, my turn has finally come. Yes, Frogdancer Jones will get paid to go to a restaurant and get fed. I’ll hear rollicking German songs and we’ll have some laughs. Not bad, hey?

There are also other benefits to working here. I’ve written about how I bring home the used newspapers and the veggie scraps from the canteen and Food Tech rooms to use for my compost for my veggie gardens. I’ve also set up a Tupperware container on my desk and people drop their banana peels, tea bags and other food scraps for me to take home. A couple of girls who live in apartments bring in all of their veggie scraps from home. They’re rapt that the scraps don’t go into landfill and I’m rapt that I’m getting free compost to build up the soil in my garden beds. Not bad, hey?

Sometimes, now that I’m getting close to retirement, I get really impatient. The alarm goes off in the dark and I get up, at least an hour before I really want to. It’s cold and quiet as I settle down on the couch with my coffee after feeding the dogs. They curl up, warm beside me, as I balance my laptop in front of me and read. Then, I have to get up and start the day, when all the dogs and I want to do is to stay where we are.

Our train line is getting Skyrail, so buses are replacing trains and the traffic on the roads has increased. Yesterday it was raining and obviously many people decided they’d drive into work instead. My usual 45-minute commute blew out to 75 minutes. My couch and the dogs were looking pretty darned enticing, I don’t mind telling you! I made it to my period 1 class with only 3 minutes to spare. I was doing some very creative shortcuts through the back streets to be able to get to work on time.

My challenge in these last couple of years before I retire is to keep my eyes on the good things. The little things that happen every day that makes me coming into work worthwhile. I’ll have decades of lolling on the couch, having easy starts to my days, so I should rein in my impatience and focus instead on the people I work with and the fun things that happen.

Fortunately, this job is one where good things happen every day. Not bad, hey?

Maybe we should keep our big mouths shut?

I don’t know if I’ve blogged about this goal here, but one of my dreams for years was to be able to afford to buy 2 sets of subscription tickets to the Melbourne Theatre Company, then take a different person with me each time to see a play. We’d meet in the city, have dinner and catch up, then see the play and talk about it afterwards. I thought it would be great!

For the last two years, ever since I did the whole Geoarbitrage thing, I’ve been able to do it. Those tickets don’t come cheap, at around $90/seat, but for years I was starved of seeing live theatre and now I can finally share it. My kids, my sister, my niece, my parents and various friends have all come with me and it’s been lovely having one-on-one time with the people I like and care about.

I have a friend who I’ve known for 20 years. His name is Leo and we met when I was newly out on the dating scene after leaving my marriage. We dated briefly, but that was over a decade ago and we agreed we’d be better off as friends. We see each other every few months for lunch or dinner and it’s good for both of us to be able to talk about what’s happening in our lives and get another perspective from someone not actively involved.

We talk about everything, including finances. Coincidentally, as I was embroiled with the property-developing and geoarbitrage thing, he was also investing in a property venture… but unfortunately his didn’t turn out as well as mine did. He’s now looking at retiring overseas in a few years in a low cost of living country like Thailand or Cambodia, or maybe Bali, where the Age Pension can go a lot further. Anyway, last week it was his turn to come and see a play with me.

He had to leave work later than I did, so I grabbed a table in the restaurant next to the theatre and sent a photo of the menu so he could decide what he wanted to have. He selected the lamb, then a few minutes later he sent another text: “U paying?? Add winter veggies.”

Woah!

I don’t mind admitting that I was rocked back on my heels a little. I don’t mind paying for my own meal if money’s tight for him, but considering I’d already paid for his theatre ticket… Wow.

As it turned out, he paid for both our dinners, which was nice of him, but by the time we reached this point in the evening, there was more.

Twice during dinner he made a remark about how much money I must have now, which was weird and made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t in a complimentary, “Look how far you’ve come, Frogdancer, that’s fantastic!” way. It was more of a ‘what would you know? You’re made of money’ sort of tone. I inwardly raised my eyebrows but let the comments slide.

The last remark he made, though… that one made me mad.

We were in the queue at the theatre to get in and I gave him his ticket. He said, “You must’ve seen a lot of plays lately. How many have you been to this year?”

I said, “I’ve been to a couple of plays with my Theatre kids, plus Harry Potter and I think this subscription is for 7 plays.”

He glanced at his ticket, which has the price ($91.00) on it, whistled and said in a sardonic tone, “Gee. What does it feel like to be rich?”

I was gobsmacked.

At the end of the night, after I dropped him home, he thanked me and said, “If you’ve got any more theatre tickets I’ll be happy to come with you. I love these things.”

As it happens, I have one play that I haven’t asked anyone to come with me yet, but he won’t be getting it. The main reason is that the whole idea of this is to share the love around and catch up with a range of people, but the other reason that I won’t be asking him is that I drove home feeling sad that my good fortune has changed the dynamic between us.

Well, I say ‘good fortune’ but the reality is that he could have been in a similar position to me, but his life has been all about the wine, women and song, whereas mine has been pretty different. Bringing up 4 kids on your own necessitates a more frugal, stay-at-home-more-often way of living.

I’m left wishing that we didn’t have those conversations when we were both making our moves in the property market.

I don’t want to be made to feel guilty or to apologise for my deal working out. It could so easily have gone the other way and, knowing this, I lived on a knife-edge of stress for over eighteen months while the whole thing played out. I took a calculated risk and it paid off. Leo knows all of this – after all, he was around during the days when I could barely keep food on the table and the bills paid, back when the kids were little. I guess the reason why I’m left with a nasty taste in my mouth is that this snide, envious attitude is coming out of left field when they are coming from my old friend.

Sometimes I see people in the FI world saying, “We should talk more about finances. We should make discussions about money more normal and open.” Well, maybe we should.

But on the other hand, maybe it’s better if we keep our big mouths shut?

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

These past two weeks have proven the words of John Lennon. Two weeks ago I was blissfully planning for two weeks of school holidays – granted, it’s in the middle of winter, but I was still dreaming of two weeks of unencumbered bliss… and then the phone rang.

I’ve blogged before about how my Mum’s health is not the best, particularly since she fell and broke her arm a couple of months ago. Two days before the holidays began, I got a call from my sister.

“Dad’s been taken to hospital with suspected internal bleeding. Mum can’t be left on her own, so I’m staying with her tonight. I can’t stay with her on Friday night, can you?”

I told her I’d pack a bag for the weekend and I’d be over there after work on Friday. Not the way I was visualising spending the start of my holidays, but how lucky that it happened when I had the time free to look after her for a couple of weeks, if needed!

Then the worst thing possible happened…

I leapt into the shower at 6 AM the next morning and found, to my horror, that our hot water system had broken. Nooooooooooooo!!!!!

I’d always thought that when this happened I’d upgrade to a continuous gas system, which is far more expensive because you need to install a bigger gas line to the house, but on the plus side you never run out of hot water and you can program it to the exact temperature you want. We had this at the old house and I loved it. So I decided to go through with this, but it wasn’t exactly a convenient time.

But then again, when is your hot water suddenly cutting out ever going to happen at a convenient time?

I was lucky. I’d be at my parents’ place for at least over the weekend while Dad was in hospital, but the boys would have to bear the brunt of it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with getting plumbers out until the next week. So I trotted off to the last day of term and then went over to look after Mum.

It’s funny how you might intellectually know something, but when you actually live with it you realise the reality. I knew that Mum needed 24/7 care, but it’s not until I was walking her to the toilet and helping her with all of that, getting up in the middle of the night to take her to the commode, washing her in the mornings and walking beside her, supporting her with every single step she took that I realised just how much Dad was doing.

It was constant. She’s totally dependent. And if Dad was seriously ill or popped his clogs, we’d be in a seriously bad place with Mum’s care.

Long story short, Dad DID have internal bleeding from a small tear in his upper bowel, a condition that had obviously been going on for months and months without anyone picking it up. The doctors thought his breathlessness and dizziness was asthma. He just thought that he was eating too much liquorice!! 4 bags of blood to replenish all the blood he’d lost, a cauterisation and he was back home in a couple of days.

Dad dodging that bullet.

The Jones family dodged a bullet. If it hadn’t have been noticed by a different GP to the one he usually went to, we could quite easily have been planning a funeral and racing around trying to find a nursing home for Mum.

It brings home the fact that when people get elderly, their situation can meander along for years and then change in an instant. We have to set things in place now in case we’re not so lucky next time. This is turning out to be a huge learning curve.

So how did the holidays end up going for me?

The hot water system was an inconvenience, not a full-blown drama thanks to my Emergency Account. I got around $700 taken off the cost of the system because I work with someone whose husband works in a plumbing clearance centre. It still ended up costing just under 9K all up, but I had the cash. By Wednesday we were able to shower again. (Before that, I simply made sure I was standing up-wind from the boys… heh heh)

I haven’t had to tap the Emergency Fund for YEARS. But instead of getting complacent and spending it, I let it ride. Sooner or later, I knew I’d need it.

Both blogs have been silent for the last couple of weeks. I thought this meme summed it up pretty well. 🙂

My situation with Mum and Dad is a little more tricky. Power of attorney, being put on their medical and “My Aged Care” accounts, attending medical appointments and dealing with people from their council who are supplying food, cleaning and showering services – this is a whole new ball game. Yes – see how out-of-the-ordinary it is? I, Frogdancer Jones, just used a sporting metaphor…!

I have a younger brother and sister. My sister is very practical and good with things like seeing a need and supplying the solution for it. Things like organising a walker and commode, going to medical appointments and keeping track of what’s going on… that sort of thing. Her schedule is a little more flexible than mine, so she’s going to carry on with these sorts of things. I, on the other hand, have put my hand up to be the ‘Admin person’, helping Dad with all the paperwork that’s piling up with all the new organisational things that need doing.

As you know, next year I’m dropping down from full-time teaching to working 3 days a week to be able to build in time to care for my parents a little more. I’ve pretty much reached FI and this has given me the flexibility to be able to make this choice. A small part of me is wishing that I brought that change forward to this term, but realistically, with teaching year 12s, suddenly changing to part-time just wouldn’t be fair to them.

The woman who came to assess my parents’ eligibility for Respite and Residential Care said to me, “So this is your part-time job on top of your full-time one!” I laughed and nodded, but that remark resonated with me. It’s taken a fair few days for me to think about and accept.

Here in the FI/RE movement we’re told to think about what we’ll do in retirement. We’re cautioned against racing full-tilt towards the goal of early retirement without working out what we’re going to do with ourselves when we get there. Plenty of people pull the pin on their jobs and then wander around aimlessly, unsure of how to fill the suddenly empty hours that head out in front of them.

I had it all planned out. I wasn’t going to make that mistake! Travel is big on my list – at least one overseas holiday a year, going to different places all over the globe (but especially the UK and Europe.) I have the food garden that I’ve set up, my knitting, quilting and writing. My dogs – how I’m looking forward to spending more time with them! In the fullness of time, perhaps my ugly boys will find some kind-hearted/short-sighted partners and reproduce, so I might be wrangling grandchildren.

I didn’t give any serious consideration that I would become a carer to my parents. It’s a stupid thing to admit, but again… intellectually I knew that they’d one day become frail, but emotionally?? That’s just crazy talk. They’ve always been around, looking after themselves and everyone else. Why would anything change?

I guess my over-arching goal in retirement was to engineer a life for myself where I have the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. That’s the foundation of it and all of the other things I had in mind to do are just the detail. Things can be added and taken away without changing the basic idea of my retirement – the freedom to spend my days as I please.

The thing I’ve realised over these holidays is that I’ve now chosen to spend a good proportion of my time looking after my folks. Time moves on and changes things and that’s what’s happened with us. I’ll still do all of the other things on my retirement list, but I’ve added another activity, that of Carer, to it.

It’s a big thing to wrap my head around. It’s a bit painful to have to adjust my view of my parents from them being the bullet-proof backstops between me and a cold, harsh world to a view where they’re the ones needing protecting. I know it comes to us all if we’re lucky, but I guess you always think that you’re going to have more time.

Still, things could be a lot worse. My advice to anyone reading this is to get your financial life sorted before any of this starts to happen. I’ll no doubt have stressors and strains that I have no idea about yet, but worrying about how I’ll be paying the bills while putting other things aside to care for my parents won’t be one of them.

Yet another reason why aiming for FI is a great idea!

Doing it tough? Hang in there- it gets better!

Woody and Forky.
On Saturday night I saw this movie with my 24-year-old son.

I had a couple of reasons for starting this blog. The one that initially pushed me over the edge and made me begin to write was that I grew so sick of reading posts by 20-and-30-somethings telling people how to become financially free, when they haven’t even done it themselves.

I have.

The second one was that I wanted to let people who are currently struggling know that there’s hope. Twenty-two years ago I left my husband with $60 cash in my wallet and 4 boys under 5 in tow after me. I wasn’t sure how we were going to keep our heads above water but I was determined that the boys wouldn’t suffer for my poor choice in a partner.

We had many years where we were living literally hand-to-mouth, but over time I managed to pay off the mortgage. I did this while working full-time as a teacher and being frugal. I never spent more than I made and I kept the long view in sight, always chipping away at the goals that would make us financially free.

Of course, we had fun along the way. I didn’t want the boys to miss out, so we went on a couple of family holidays to Bali and Thailand. (It was going to be the Gold Coast until I found out that it was cheaper to take them overseas than to travel domestically. How crazy is that?) The middle two boys went to America with the school’s stage band and they all had music lessons, school camps and the like.

And every now and then we went to the movies.

Now, taking 5 people to the movies isn’t for the frugal-minded, even back in the noughties. It was EXPENSIVE. So it wasn’t a regular thing. When they were very little we saw the classic Disney movies, then the new ‘classics’ like ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters Inc’ etc. I made it a family tradition that we’d see every single Harry Potter movie on the first day of release, along with the Star Wars movies. We’d probably go to the movies once or twice a year, so it was a Big Deal.

I kept the costs as low as I could. Before we left the house I’d feed them and water them. No rumbling tummies near that kiosk at the theatre! Movie tickets for 5 were expensive enough without paying stupidly inflated prices for lollies and popcorn. Instead, before we’d check into the movie, we’d take a short stroll to Target. Back then Target had a little self-serve lolly bar, so I’d hand out a SMALL bag to each person, then we were all let loose to choose what we wanted to snack upon.

In everything you do, add a touch of luxury!
David Niven is so right!

I did this for a couple of very good reasons.

The first reason was that going to the lolly place made the trip to the movies even more special. The whole ritual of driving to Southland or Chadstone and being able to choose the lollies they were going to eat with no need to compromise on anyone else’s preferences = luxury!

The second reason was that as four boys so close together in age, by necessity they had to share pretty much everything. This was a little way to give that extra little dollop of pleasure to the treat. When we were seated, I’d look down the row of boys all delightedly dipping into their lolly bags and it’d make me smile.

These movie visits were fun but had a huge amount of stress built into them as well. What if the movie was boring and the kids hated it? It wasn’t as if they see a movie every week so it didn’t matter. (I’m looking at you, ‘Star Wars Phantom Menace‘…) What if someone needed to go to the toilet half way through and we had to miss out on a huge slab of the movie I’d saved up so long for? (For the record, this never happened.) There was always a thin thread of tension until the movie finished and I could hear their reactions.

Fast forward fifteen-odd years to last Saturday night. It was Jordan25’s second anniversary with his girlfriend Izzy and he asked if Ryan24 and I could leave the house for the evening so he could make dinner for her. It felt a bit strange to be booted out of my own house, but we decided that dinner and a movie would be a good way to spend the time.

I booked the tickets to ‘Toy Story 4’ online and we drove into Southland. On the way, Evan22 rang. He and his girlfriend were in Melbourne for a party and he wanted to let me know that they’d be home later that night, around midnight and would be staying all day Sunday. It was turning into quite the family weekend!

Ryan24 and I walked along the line of cafĂ©s, looking at the menus. The first one we looked at ended up being the one we went back to. As we sat down I said to him, “Order whatever you like. “

He looked at me sideways. I said, “We’re here to make a memory, not save a couple of bucks.”

He smiled, then looked at the menu. “Look at the price of the steak!!” he said.

I looked. It was $38.

“Never order a steak from a place that doesn’t specialise in it,” he said. “You never get what you pay for.”

Ryan24’s definitely a valu-ist and is probably the most frugal of my boys. He used to work in kitchens a couple of years ago and he picked up a few things.

We ordered some wine and sat sipping it while we waited for dinner. He ended up going for a burger while I went for the parma. After we finished eating we still had an hour to kill so we ordered another couple of wines and kept on talking. Even though we share the same house, it’s rare that we talk for more than half an hour at a time, so this was really nice to be able to kick back with him, chat about what was going on in our lives and relax without stressing about the bill for the meal in the back of my mind.

Some things haven’t changed though. We saw ‘Toy Story 4’, so the family tradition continues! Also, I bought two bags of mixed lollies earlier that day from Aldi, so that was what we had to snack upon. My financial situation has definitely improved from where it was in the olden days, but I still don’t have to bend over and assume the position when it comes to getting ripped off with cinema food! Old habits die hard.

How life moves on! When the kids were little and I wasn’t working, taking them to the movies needed weeks of scrimping and planning. I’d shave $5 here and $10 there off the groceries and put that money aside. When I loaded the kids into the Torago (God what an awful car it was!) and we took off for the movies, it was an event. The boys were excited that they were going and I was excited that I’d pulled it off after weeks of planning.

Going to the movies with adult children is an entirely different beast.

Nowadays, the cost of tickets, while still what I’d consider expensive, isn’t a real concern. The event is more to generate conversation and to catch up with each other, so we build in a meal either before or after. Three of my boys are still students, so even though they’re in their twenties I still pay for everything, but that’s ok. I can afford it and I love spending time with them.

Again, it’s not something we do all the time. It’s still an event. But I’ve got to say, the warm feeling I felt as I sat in the cafĂ© watching Ryan24 eating that enormous burger as I compared that night with the stress of how it used to be?

SO satisfying. I guess I wrote this post just to say to anyone who is struggling through a financially tough time, especially while bringing up little kids:

Hang in there. It gets better.

‘Playing With Fire’ documentary is coming to Melbourne!

I woke up this morning to the news that the ‘Playing With Fire’ doco is coming to Melbourne. Naturally I booked a ticket right away.

The link is HERE. Camberwell’s a fair hike from where I live, but I figure I can always take the next day off – I’m trying to use up my sick days before I pull the pin on the job anyway!

I hope to see some of you there!

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