Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er). Achieved the first two letters of FIRE, now onto the rest!

Build for the future.

Fruit trees in the front lawn.
The orchard last week, just after everything was planted.

Anyone who’s been reading FI/RE blogs for more than 5 minutes would be utterly familiar with the whole ‘Ant and the Grasshopper‘ philosophy that runs through this way of looking at finances. Bloggers instruct people to utilise these tools: frugality, delayed gratification, increasing income, saving, investing and avoiding lifestyle creep in order to reach the holy grail of financial independence. Work hard now so you have options later! Build for the future!

It’s a theme that runs through many things in life.

Such as an orchard.

In our old house, I spent many years establishing a food forest, complete with chooks, metres of vegetable beds and over 30 fruit trees. When I sold that place and moved down here to The Best House in Melbourne, I had to leave most of that behind. I dragged a few wicking boxes and fruit trees in pots with us, but the carefully nurtured soil and the veggie beds are now buried underneath the townhouses that are now on the block.

Poppy standing in front of the wicking boxes.
The wicking beds are on the side deck. So were the fruit trees.

But the wicking beds weren’t the only things I brought with me. I had a ton of learning and information stuffed in my brain about all I wanted to grow. Those years at the old place weren’t wasted.

Landscaper's plan for the back yard.
The roadmap.

While I was waiting for the property deal to go through, I had 18 months of time where I could plot and plan. I focussed on the backyard first, where I eventually installed 16 metres of wicking vegetable beds, an asparagus patch, areas for a few fruit trees and roofed over literally half the yard to create a huge outdoor room.

Empty veggie beds and paving.
Just after the job was completed. There’s a roof over where Poppy and Scout are standing now.

But the front yard was pretty much left to its own devices. Until now.

My vision for this house has always been clear. I want this place to be a haven and a refuge for my family. I want it to be a place where we can all gather and enjoy our time together. I want the boys- and one day, their families – to to walk through the front gate and know that this is a place where they are welcomed, loved and appreciated.

I want people to open the front gate and be amazed at the beautiful and bountiful oasis that is hidden behind the high front fence, with a mix of blossoms and edibles that are a feast for the eye as well as the stomach. I see some quirky artworks scattered throughout the house and garden, chosen with no one’s aesthetic taste but my own. Hey, being single has to have some advantages!

I’m designing this house and plot of land with a definite eye for the future – just as everyone who is on the FI/RE path does when they encounter these ideas and start to put them into action.

But like everyone on the FI/Re path, I haven’t performed every step towards this orchard perfectly. I’ve made mistakes:

Two sickly looking avocado trees.
oops.

Take these sorry specimens. These are avocado trees that I bought last year. I left them sitting in a old dog bowl that contained a lot of water. They were there for months. I didn’t realise that avocados hate wet feet…

It’s a bit like someone thinking they’re doing the right thing by putting all of their money into term deposits instead of investing. Any vigorous growth that money might have seen is instead cut short and turns all wilty.

I’ve planted them anyway, hoping that at least one of them will come good. If they both die, I’ll plant something else. If only one dies, I’ll drive down to Diggers and pick out another one. They need two trees to pollinate.

Naked mandarin tree.
Yeah… my bad. Should’ve kept an eye on it.

This is what happens when you don’t keep an eye on things. This poor naked tree is a mandarin. I brought it with me from the old house and it was parked among the wicking boxes. I walk past it quite a bit, but apart from noticing that the possums were eating the top growth, I stopped paying it much heed.

Until the day I decided I wanted to create an orchard in the front yard. I went to drag it out of its pot and I gasped. Where have all the leaves gone?!? The lemon tree in the pot next to it, also a tree from the old house, was half naked. I searched the leaves and found some little brown caterpillars, which I crushed.

Exactly like a FIRE person who parks their investments somewhere and then doesn’t keep an eye on fees and charges and other costs. When they eventually wander back to see how their pot of money is going, all the luxuriant growth they were expecting has been eaten away.

The actual plant is still alive, so I’ve put it in the ground, fed and watered it well. I’m expecting that with the added attention it’ll get from being in my direct line of vision ever time I open my front door, it’ll bounce back.

I don’t think I need to extend the metaphor any more. You get the point.

Driving 4 apples and 2 plums home.

On my birthday last week, I treated myself to 2 plum trees and 4 columnar apples. The plums were so large that they touched the windscreen and I had to sit crookedly all the way home. The apples are destined to be planted beside the car in the driveway, as they’ll take up very little room, but I had bigger plans for the plums.

I decided to take over half my front lawn and plant an orchard. I knew that it would look AWFUL in the short-term, especially with the bedraggled survivors from my years of benign neglect. But imagine in the future…

… glossy green leaves and trees loaded with fruit. Underplanted bulbs and flowery shrubs adding pops of colour. Artfully placed sculptures adding humour and life. Old Lady Frogdancer sitting on the verandah with a shiraz or gin and tonic, chatting with a visitor while enjoying the view. People walking past on the street outside, unaware of the beauty hidden within.

The next step – a no dig garden.

After the boys planted the trees for me, I dragged them out again to construct a no-dig garden over the lawn. I’d done this before at the old house for my orchard there, so I know it’ll work. We’d positioned the trees so they wouldn’t shade each other, or the tumbling compost bins, too much, but now we had to kill the grass.

The plan is that I’ll not touch this garden bed until Spring next year, except to kill off any stray bits of grass that might pop up. I’ll let it burble away, creating the rich soil that I’ll plant the flowers in. Both with gardening and investing – things take time to come to fruition.

Mulched garden bed with trees.
Photo taken this morning. 2 avos, 2 plums, a lemon, a mandarin and a blood orange. 4 apples in pots.

I have nothing but time. The edging will one day be made permanent, the apple trees in their pots will be planted on the other side of the yard once I get the new side fence built and painted, the flowers will be underplanted to provide colour and softness to the whole yard and it will all look beautiful.

It’s funny to think that a bit of effort up-front – (two afternoon’s work by David26, Ryan25 and myself) – will be feeding us for years to come. It’s a very satisfying thing to build for the future, whether it be financially or in other, more ‘hands-on’ ways. I like to think that the skills and knowledge I gained from working in the old house is now being passed on to the boys. In the future, they’ll know how to build a food garden. They’ll know how to invest.

And step by step, this place will become the place I’ve envisioned.

The first of the “lasts.”

Scout with a ball in her mouth.
Ryan25 bought Scout this ball – the BEST THING EVER!!! (In her eyes…)

In lockdown, teaching from home, I look across at the shitshow that American education is becoming as schools try to enforce face-to-face contact in their worsening pandemic. I’m so thankful that we’re conducting things differently. I’m finishing up at the end of the year, which means I have a term and a bit to continue my job, while knowing that as I go along, I’ll be doing things for the very last time. Yesterday (and tomorrow) was the first of the “lasts.”

Parent/Teacher days.

Here’s how it usually works: Parent/teacher day runs from 10 AM – 8:30 PM. The regular school day is cancelled, with students expected to accompany their parents to their interviews in full school uniform. (That’s the kids, not the parents.) Teachers are set up on tables with 3 chairs in front of them, in the assembly hall, the library, the music auditorium, the computer labs… there’s a lot of us so it takes up a fair bit of ground.

The interviews take 5 minutes each. Parents arrive with a list of the times and teachers they’ve booked, then have to sprint from one area to another to find each teacher. We sit in alphabetical order, so if a family has booked Mr Anderson, then has Ms Zimmerman next, they’re going to have an invigorating stroll in front of them.

Last year we tested having food trucks, market stalls and music students performing. This was a big hit and it was going to be repeated this year. Then Covid struck.

Last semester, during the first lockdown, the school cancelled Parent/Teacher interviews. This semester they decided to go ahead with an online version.

Parents still book the usual way. The times are set out slightly differently. Instead of 5 minute time-slots one after the other, there is a five minute gap between each interview. This allows the teacher time to finish one interview, send an email invitation to the Meet to the next kid, wait for them to jump onto the Meet and then off it goes again. Because the interviews have that 5 minute buffer between them, we have 2 days instead of 1, running from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Clear? I hope so.

Yesterday was Day 1.

OMG. It ran perfectly! It was so ordered and serene. Everyone was happy and calm, sitting in their lounge rooms instead of being breathless from racing from pillar to post. There was no need to almost shout to project what you’re saying over hundreds of other people talking. The interviews tended to be a couple of minutes longer than usual, so there was time for a bit of banter and mucking around. (At least, that’s what happens in my interviews. I like to start with a joke to get everyone laughing. Then the rest of the interview is fun.)

The five minute buffer in between also meant that I could quickly look up the next kid’s marks for the year, so I was ultra-prepared for each family, instead of having to keep a block of kids’ marks in my head if they were stacked back-to-back.

I knew that this was my last ever round of parent/teacher interviews. Unless I take on a short-term contract in the future if the school is desperate for someone, this will be it. When the last interview finishes tomorrow at 4:20, then that is a page that will be closed for good.

When you think about it, it’s rare in life to know when the ‘last’ thing will be as you’re living it.

It’s rare that we kiss someone knowing it will be the last time.

When the baby wakes one night, we never know that this will be the last time before s/he starts sleeping through the night.

Evan23, when he was in late primary school, went through a phase of wanting to sleep in my bed with me every now and then. I don’t know what was going on in his world at that time but he clearly needed the comfort of having me close. I let him, knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that this would go on forever. He wasn’t going to be coming home from a party when he was 18, tossing his car keys on the hall table and then sleeping in my room! Sure enough, one night was the last time he ever did it. I wasn’t aware at the time that that night was the last one.

It’s only after something hasn’t happened for a while that you realise that it was the end.

So I’m going to enjoy the next few months leading up to December 18.

Some of the ‘lasts’ will be sweet. “That’s the last grammar test I’ll ever have to mark!” I’m looking forward to that one. “That’s the last meeting I’ll ever have to attend!” That’ll be a goodie, too.

Some will be a bit sad though. “This is the last drama class I’ll ever give.” “This is the last time I’ll call the roll and finish with a different kid each time… . and the hideous blah blah blah.”” Kids love being hideous.

With the lockdown being extended, we may not be back in the classroom until the middle of October. Whenever it ends up happening, I’m planning on noticing each moment. All of the ‘lasts.’

After all, life is made up of these little moments. If you don’t stop and savour them, then what’s the point?

Retirement- 108 days to go…

Countdown on the beginning of old films.
Not long to go now…

As of today, I have 108 days to go until I finish work for good.

Yes, I’m retiring.

My friend Scott suggested that I look at working days left, to make it seem even more delicious. Just counted it up. 47 working days to go.

On December 18 2020, Frogdancer Jones will be walking out of the classroom forever to go and live her best life. I’ll be 57 years old, exactly 10 years younger than the ‘traditional’ retirement age of 67 in Australia.

omg. I’ve bought back 10 years of my life.

I’m awash with excitement, anticipation and the tiniest dollop of trepidation. Its a big step, after all.

As you’re reeling back in shock, I hear you ask, “But how can this BE?”

Settle in. Here’s how it all happened:

Kid doing a fist bump.

In August an email went out to all of the staff, asking for our plans for next year. Did we intend to stay at the school, which subjects and year levels would we prefer to teach, would we be intending to take any time off etc. Without really thinking about it, I replied that I’d be working for another year at 3 days/week, just like this year.

In other words, force of habit. Inertia.

A week later, I mentioned to a friend, (let’s just call him ‘the Mayor’), that I’d signed on for another year. It was a conversation over Facebook. His reply?

“Another year. I’m a little surprised. I’ve noted your Covid-related comments and we certainly won’t have dealt with this by next year.”

Now the Mayor is the total opposite to me when it comes to a relationship with Maths. He loves analysing spreadsheets and company financials and everything like that. After my geoarbitrage deal finalised and I had the money from my house sale in my hands, he devised a spreadsheet projecting how my current investments could perform. I was so appreciative – it was a huge favour for him to do for me. So he knows my financial situation.

At the time that he drew up the spreadsheet, he said to me, “You know, you could retire now if you wanted.”

“NO WAY!!” I said. “I just don’t feel safe. “

He chuckled. “You can; you just don’t realise it yet.”

In the intervening years, I worked at making The Best House in Melbourne even BETTER – for Future Frogdancer Jones in retirement. I liked the idea of getting all of the expensive jobs over with while I still had a wage coming in. My post called ‘Why owning a home trumps renting‘ lists all the things I’ve put into this place, plus a few more that I’m thinking of.

After the Mayor’s remark about my Covid-related comments, I started thinking. Was it possible that I could actually retire?

I brought out the old spreadsheets and looked at them, comparing the projected figures with the real ones. I brought up my annual expenses chart, subtracting the costs of all the projects around the house that I’d been doing. I looked at how much I was spending to feed, house, clothe and shelter myself and the two boys I have still living with me.

That figure came in at just over 30K/year. Those meagre years have left their mark – I don’t waste any money on anything that I don’t value. My pleasures are either hellishly expensive (*cough cough Travel*) or are as close to being free that it doesn’t matter.

Hmmmm.

I contacted the Mayor again. Long story short, he’s preparing a document for me to take to a financial planner outlining everything to do with my finances, future plans and goals – all of that stuff.

Turns out I’m going to be fine.

But the clock was ticking at school. Kids were making their subject selections for next year and staffing decisions were being made. I didn’t want to jerk the admin around – getting my job at that school was the single biggest reason that I was able to dig the boys and I out of poverty. I owe the school a lot.

So, once I sat with the decision to leave for a few days and I still felt comfortable with it, I rang my boss.

“OH NO!!” was her reaction. But when we talked about the hows and whys of why I was leaving, there was nothing much else for her to say. She’s not stupid – she knew I’d made my mind up.

So why am I leaving? It’s not simply fear of getting Covid.

F U money.

FU money is a big part of it. After surviving the years at home with pre-school boys when we had hardly two cents to rub together, I’ve been hard at work ever since to do my best to ensure that we were never in that position again.

I’ve reached the position where I feel I have enough.

Enough.

I still love being in the classroom. The kids I teach are lovely and they’re so funny! It’s a rare day when I haven’t had a good laugh in class. I like the idea of going out while I’m still having fun – it’s much better than being ‘that teacher’ – the one who’s hanging on grimly to the job because s/he can’t afford to leave.

What’s getting me down is the insidious increase of admin. As one colleague said to me recently, “Honestly Frogdancer, it feels more and more that we’re becoming data collectors instead of educators.” We’re expected to measure kids’ performances all the time, with results put on tables and studies and projections – maybe the Maths/Science people like it but for me ? For me it’s sucking the soul and the fun from the job.

If I still had a mortgage to pay or debts to get rid of, I’d be staying. If I didn’t have enough to support myself on in retirement, I’d be staying. As I said, I don’t hate everything about the job. Most days are very pleasant days.

But there’s enough on the dark side to make me feel that now is the time for me to leave.

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! Going part-time this year, then having to spend months at home on lockdown has shown me that I have plenty of interests to fill my days. As long as the world contains books, the internet, Netflix and the dogs, there’ll never be an excuse to be bored. Spring has begun and soon I’ll be out planting seeds and designing my front yard. Yesterday I ordered $400 worth of fruit trees to plant there. There’ll be fruit to pick, cook and eat for decades to come.

I can’t see overseas travel being a thing for the next couple of years at least, but that won’t stop me planning for my trips back to the UK and Europe when things settle down. After all, I haven’t been to Windsor Castle to see Henry VIII’s tomb yet! Of course, there’ll be domestic travel as our internal borders open back up, so I’ll be well-placed to take advantage of that. (And I won’t have to wait for the school holidays when prices go up and everything is crowded!!)

Yes, it’s a big change. In one way I’ve moved quickly but in another way – I’ve been writing about retirement and financial independence for as long as this blog has been around, and I’ve been thinking and planning for it well before then! This decision has been years in the making.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage in my life will bring.

Squirrel looking triumphant.
December 18 – Future Frogdancer.

Financial Independence = reaping the harvest.

When a harvest occurs, it’s usually the end result of actions that have gone before. A farmer plants his crops and reaps the harvest, a gardener plants her seeds and has a glut of tomatoes, and a student studies diligently and scores well in the end-of-year exams.

Six years ago I had a paid-off house and $10 in the bank. Today I have the option to never work again if I feel like it. I’m a cautious soul though and that’s why I dropped back to part-time work this year. I only have myself to depend upon because I’m unlikeable and have no man to lean on, (LOL) so I want to play it safe.

But by combining the long-term strategies of frugality and being a Valuist with shorter-term strategies such as working a second job, investing and taking advantage of an opportunity when it came along, I now have financial independence.

This state of affairs didn’t come out of nowhere. I read hundreds, if not thousands of blog posts, gradually picking up ideas and concepts about esoteric things like investing… the 4% Rule… index funds vs individual shares… geoarbitrage… the concept that spreadsheets are fun, (though the jury’s still out on this one, by the way!)

These things didn’t come naturally to me. I’m scared, quite literally, when I see a lot of numbers. But like drops of water falling steadily onto a rock, over time the new concepts gradually made an impression and I began to put things into action.

A very young Poppy and Jeff in our old veggie garden.

When I began to walk along the road leading to financial independence, I had a very hazy idea that I’d like to be able to have a dignified retirement where I’d never have to ask my kids for money. My grandfather lived until his early nineties and by the time he was in his late eighties he’d run out of money. The Age Pension wasn’t enough to pay for all his needs, so Mum and Dad had to step in and give financial help every now and then.

In contrast my father’s mother was comfortably cared for up until the time she died at 96. She didn’t lead a flashy lifestyle, but every need and a huge percentage of her wants was catered for by the work she and my other grandfather put into their savings and investments.

Their portfolio was put together over decades of slow and careful work. My grandpa went out and earned the money – both by his ‘day job’ running a shop and by his ‘side hustle’ of performing on the Tivoli Circuit as a rope spinner, juggler and hypnotist. (Interesting man!) My grandma stayed at home to raise the family, but at the same time, she also ran a boarding house for international students and was FRUGAL. (To be honest… nowadays we’d definitely call her cheap.)

Their comfortable and secure retirement was the result of thousands of small decisions taken over decades, with each small step leading inexorably towards the harvest.

As a young woman, particularly after I spawned the ugly and smelly beings that I affectionately call my family, I observed and learned from these stories, even though I wasn’t fully conscious of it. When I began to learn about financial independence, FIRE and everything in between, I didn’t know exactly how I’d get to my hazy goal.

I decided that I wanted to be financially secure (whatever that was!!) by the time I reached Pension Age. AND – stretch target – to not need the pension at all!!! I was around 50 years old. Pension age in Australia is 67. I’d paid off my house and I had a secure job. The table that Mr Money Mustache had on his Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement showed me that I could do it, especially now that the kids were growing up and gradually becoming independent.

I set off, determined to work until I was 67 and retire on a very secure combination of superannuation, shares and no debt.

Good enough harvest for you?

In gardening, it’s not enough to throw some seed on the ground, walk away and come back a few months later and expect a bountiful harvest. There are hundreds of little actions that the gardener has to perform, such as weeding, watering, thinning out the seedlings and protecting them from frost and pests. The same is true of reaching the goal of financial independence.

It’s a game for the patient.

The good news is that patience can be learned.

Ask me how I know!

There’s a quiet satisfaction when you walk to your garden beds and see the seedlings steadily growing. It’s akin to the feeling when you see your mortgage heading down, further every month. The feeling you get around your heart as you deposit money from every pay and you see your FU Fund or Emergency account growing bigger.

You know that each little action, no matter how small and ineffectual it may seem on its own, is a little step closer to your goal.

And the closer you get to your goal, the sharper and more defined it becomes. Life is a funny thing. Sometimes shortcuts appear that you would probably never have noticed if you weren’t steadily working on achieving something.

Achieving the goal? Now that’s more than a quiet satisfaction! Bringing in the harvest is a sweet and precious thing. Look towards it and keep stepping to it.

After all, the time will pass anyway. You may as well enjoy living with a bountiful harvest, instead of a head full of empty wishes and dreams.

In answer to LateStarterFire…

Fast typing.
Ok. Here I go!

A few weeks ago, latestarterfire nominated me for an “awesome blogger award”, where you answer some questions about yourself. True to my lackadaisical attitude towards blogging since lockdown began, it’s taken me until now to answer.

Questions about blogging:

1. Why did you start blogging?

Seeing as I have 2 blogs, I’ll split this answer 2 ways.

I began this blog because I’d been reading FIRE blogs and finance blogs for around 2 years. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but I became increasingly fed up with reading blogs written by young whippersnappers telling me how to do what I’ve already done – and they hadn’t even done it themselves!!!! One day I read one too many of these posts and it pushed me over the edge…

My personal blog, Dancing With Frogs, has been going since September 2007. Yep, I’ve been blogging for a long time. I discovered blogs that year, mainly simple living and crafting blogs and I loved that community. In all that time, I’ve only ever had ONE snarky comment on that blog and my regular readers defended me in the comments. I’m still friendly with several people from those long ago days, though most of them have moved from blogs to Instagram.

2. What do you enjoy most about being a blogger?

I like to write. I’ve tried writing fiction but I’m awful at it. This allows me to connect with like-minded people in a way that’s easy to work in around all the busy-ness of day to day life. I’ve also found that my personal blog is a fantastic resource. For example, I wanted to start soap making again after many years hiatus, and all I had to do was look up the old posts to remember how to do it and what the best recipes were. It’s also really handy when looking at what worked and didn’t work in the garden.

3. What is the hardest part of blogging?

The personal blog is easy – I just walk around with the camera and then write about what’s going on. With the FIRE blog, I don’t want to be too repetitious about the concepts I’m writing about. As time has gone on, I’m taking a more personal approach to the whole FI/RE thing. I hope that my story will motivate someone further back along the trail than I am to keep going.

4. Has blogging led you to other paths that you did not expect? What are they?

One fairly recent one was being asked to be on the panel after the Melbourne screening of ‘Playing With Fire.’ That was a lot of fun – it was a good night. Over the years, I’ve also had blogmeets with various other bloggers. A blogmeet is fantastic – you’ve read each other’s blogs so you already have a feel for the other person. You skip by the ‘getting to now you’ stuff and get stuck into the good conversations.

I was also asked to contribute to a book about Australian FIRE. Each section is being released weekly, so my chapter is yet to be out there, but it’s coming!

5. Have you ever wanted to stop blogging? Why or why not?

Nope. Interestingly though, during the pandemic I’ve radically slowed down the number of posts I write, which is odd really. You’d think with more time on my hands I’d actually write more, not less. Though, looking at my Feedly, I’m not the only one by a long shot.

I really enjoy getting comments and having that feedback from readers. I get it a little bit on Twitter, but I guess I’m an old-school blogger – it means more when it’s a comment on the actual post. I have readers that have been commenting for over a decade on the frog blog – that continuity is precious.

Questions about you:

6. What does your perfect day look like?

Oof.

If I’m on holiday, it’d be a day where I’m seeing new things and exploring what a new country and culture looks like. My 2015 trip to the UK and Europe was a 9 week extravaganza of this – I was so happy! – and my 2018 trip to North Korea was a peek into another world. Fascinating.

If I’m at home, then my life in lockdown pretty much covers it. A leisurely couple of hours on the couch in the morning with my dogs all around me while I read or write; then the rest of the day to puddle around doing whatever I’m “in the zone” for. It could be reading, creating something, gardening, cooking…. whatever I feel like.

Pure freedom, in other words.

7. Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. That’s why I loved my time in Paris so much – nearly every lunch was a salad with goats cheese.

Having said that though, I wouldn’t ever say no to a Caramello.

8. What is your dream holiday destination / scenario?

I’m a huge English history buff, so when the plane touched down at Heathrow airport in 2015 it was a dream come true. The day we spent at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived, still remains as one of the very best days of my life.

Once we can travel again – and I feel safe to do so – I’ll be heading back over there. There’s so much history just hanging around in the UK. I want to read up more about Scottish and Irish history and then go around and see where these people actually lived and hung out. It’s absolutely fascinating to me.

MUCH more interesting than Australian history – convicts, bushrangers, gold and sheep.

9. Who is your role model?

I don’t really have one. There have been so many admirable people throughout history – maybe I just scavenge bits and pieces from lots of different people?

10. What would you advise your 12 year old self?

Not to worry so much about what other people think. People are far too concerned with their own issues so, ultimately, they don’t really care about what you’re doing. Just go your own way, even more than you did, and enjoy life.

Thanks for asking these questions, LSF.

Have some fun during lockdown!

Pic of a red and orange fake flower
A fake flower from North Korea.

Melbourne is a few days into our second week of stage 4 lockdown – only 4 more weeks to go, baby! We can only have 1 person leave the house to shop for groceries a day; we must wear a mask at all times outside the home; you can only move around within a 5km bubble from your home – (pity half of mine is taken up by Port Phillip Bay!), and there are only 4 valid reasons to leave your home anyway. But there are still ways to have some fun with other people during lockdown.

Personally, being a bit of a home-body hermit, lockdown is going along swimmingly. Ryan25, my third son, is a quiet introvert and David26 is spending the week at his girlfriend’s place, so the house is chill and groovy. But not everyone in my world is taking it so well.

Some of my students aren’t enthused at having to endure another round of remote learning. The extroverts are struggling and some have distractions at home, such as little brothers and sisters. One of my kids, Joy, has a 3-year-old sister who insists on coming to every English class after I said she was very cute, which on reflection was probably a mistake on my part. Remote learning is harder for some kids, so I’m trying a few things to keep them engaged.

See the photo at the top? This was what greeted my year 7 classes today as they logged into our Google Meet. At our school we have to start each scheduled period with a Meet. We mark the roll, set up the lesson etc before we set them loose to do the work. Each teacher stays on the Meet (camera and mike muted) so that any kid who needs help with the lesson can pop back and ask a question.

I’ve decided to begin each Meet with something different. It only lasts about 2 minutes, so the kids are learning quickly that they don’t want to be late for English or they’ll miss it. (This means I can mark the roll quickly – heh heh heh.)

They logged on. I waited until about half the class was there, then I joined the meet. I could hear their comments as they looked at the image. “What IS that?” “It’s either a flower or a fruit.” “I can’t tell what it is…”

Then I sat down and said, “Hey everyone. This is a flower I stole from a restaurant in North Korea.” Their eyeballs bulged. I haven’t told them that I went there a couple of years ago. “Want to know the story?”

So I described to them how restaurants in North Korea look – wedding reception rooms planned by people with flamboyant taste and a penchant for disco balls, artificial flowers in arches and painted backdrops of improbable scenes – and then told them how one night, as we were leaving a restaurant after dinner, my Irish friend James grabbed a flower off the big table at the front of the room, shoved it into my hands and said, “Take it Frogdancer! Go! Go! GO!”

As we raced down 3 flights of stairs, him giggling like a child and me fearing at every step to feel a heavy hand on my shoulder, hauling me away to a North Korea gulag, I knew that ‘d never forget that moment. It was so out of character for me – I’m a bit of a rule-follower – but hey. I have a good story and a fake flower to entertain my students with.

Wait until they see the propaganda postcards in a future Meet!

Poppy.

Of course I use the dogs too. One lesson last week, the kids joined the meet to “discover” me reading the novel we’re studying to the dogs. Before I turned around to see them, I said, “I have to stop reading to you soon. My next class is a group of the ugliest children I’ve ever seen and I have to get ready to… OH! Hello!! Oops, is my microphone on? ” as they giggled in the background.

Once, by pure chance, I caught the best moment. Jeffrey was asleep on the back of the couch. I had the camera trained on him and then, just as I was going to grab my laptop and start talking to the kids, Scout jumped up beside him and Jeff fell off the couch and disappeared on the seat below. You should have heard the kids! Especially when Jeff’s puzzled face rose up over the top of the couch while Scout was prancing and wagging her tail.

This is all silly stuff, but it brings an element of fun into what is a stressful time for some.

It’s not just kids who are feeling it. I check in with my parents once a day (usually) and the last couple of phone calls Dad has been a bit flat. They’re in their 80’s, which is the group that are dropping like flies, so he and Mum are strictly following the guidelines. When I asked how their day has been, Dad sighed and said, “Fine. I mean, nothing actually happens. We watch a bit of Netflix, someone might call and we have a chat, your mother and I might go for a walk, but that’s about it.”

This got me thinking and I came up with a cunning plan. I rang the boys and we’re all into it.

At random times, but at least once a week from each of us, we’re going to send them something in the mail. I don’t want it to be every day, because that would quickly become routine, but every couple of days or so, there’ll be a little snippet in the mail to make that day a bit different.

I kicked it off with the magnificent drawing you see above. Mum loves going on walks, Dad hates them but since her fall he has to go with her. The picture is entitled “Mummy and Daddy going on a walk” and she has a big smile while he looks grumpy. (The orange thing is his moustache, by the way.)

I posted it to them yesterday. On the back of the envelope I didn’t write my address, just “I hope this is good enough to go on the fridge.” Mum is an artist, so she’ll probably get the shivers at how bad it is, but I think they’ll still get a smile from it.

I’m thinking I could send them some seeds to plant, more drawings, a poem or song lyrics – any more ideas, just stick them in the comments. I’ll be grateful. I’m hoping that it’ll be fun for them to receive the mail, but it’s also fun for us to think up silly little things to send them. It keeps the brain moving.

Patchwork pic of a dachshund.
Dog #1. Fourteen more to go!

On Monday, I had a brainwave.

It doesn’t happen often, so allow me to enjoy the moment.

I was showing the year 7s the patchwork dachshunds I’m making for a quilt for Ryan25. I figured, they’re kids, they’d like cute things. Then I suddenly thought of how quickly time passes when you’re in ‘the zone’ creating things. I know for me, when I’m making these dogs, 2 hours passes in a flash and I don’t give a thought to covid, lockdown or anything serious. It’s a total break from the world.

Maybe some of these kids would find the same?

I talked to them about creativity. How it’s an innate part of the human condition to find pleasure in creating something that has never existed before. How satisfying it is to put an image on a blank sheet of paper, to write a song that fills a silent space, to knit a beanie from what’s essentially just two bits of twig and some string.

I asked them to think about what they might create during the lockdown. Not something like playing a computer game to the finish, because that’s intangible. What could they create that they could actually hold in their hands? That they could point to, long after the pandemic has gone and say, “I made that during the second lockdown in 2020.”

Some of them looked bewildered. Some started asking questions about what qualified. And some looked thoughtful.

We have a catch-up lesson scheduled for Friday. If kids have finished all their work, we log on for a Google Meet and then they’re directed to do wide reading. But I’ve said to my classes – “Make sure you get ALL your work finished. Then after I call the roll on Friday, let’s have a show and tell of what you’ve been creating. I’d love it if someone waved a knitting needle with a few lines of knitting on it, or a half-finished drawing of your radiantly beautiful English teacher. Maybe you’ve baked a loaf of bread, (Amit danced around excitedly at that), or you’ve planted some seeds.”

I paused.

“This is NOT compulsory. I’m not your Art teacher. I can’t say, “Be creative. NOW!” But I want you to have a think about what you could possible do. Lockdown is hard. Making something from your hands makes tha time go by so much faster.”

One little boy asked, “But do we have to do it?” As he asked that I saw a mum in the background of another kid.

I saw her laugh as I said, “Did you hear what I just said??? NO. You don’t have to do it. But humans make things. I’m asking you to practice being a human.”

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. My goal isn’t for 28/28 kids…. actually that’s 56/56 kids (I have 2 classes)… to all magically develop a hobby to sustain them during these long lockdown days. This won’t grab everyone.

I’m aiming for a few.

56 kids is a fairly big sample. There’ll be a few who’ll think about what I’ve said and will cast around for something to show. Some of them will already be creating – I had a convo after the Meet with a couple of boys who wanted to show me their artwork and it was AMAZING – but others will try something they haven’t done before.

Others will come along to the Meets on Friday and maybe see something that someone else has done and be inspired. I don’t know.

But just think.

How cool would it be if even a couple of kids created something in the pandemic that they were proud of? Something that would never have existed if we weren’t in this situation?

How cooler would it be if someone discovered a talent, or started a hobby that they kept on doing even when the doors open after lockdown?

Again… I don’t know. But it’s going to be fun to find out.

Janis from 'Friends'.

Now is the time to build resilience.

Fabric face masks.
Mandatory face masks. Never thought I’d be churning these out!

“I’m sure no life can be properly developed and rounded out without some trial and sorrow – though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne Of The Island

This quote is taken from what would nowadays be called a ‘Young Adult’ novel written in 1915. I loved the Anne of Green Gables novels when I was growing up. Even though some of the messages and themes have dated, human nature is what it is – and it will stay that way forevermore. This means that there are passages such as this one, that I haven’t read for over 30 years, that have stayed with me. Good advice, I guess, which can help carry us through tough times.

Even before the current pandemic, I used to talk about this concept with my kids, both biological and in class. That’s the advantage of being an English teacher – we can cover a lot of ground during class discussions. Basically, it’s when times are tough that people develop grit and resilience.

When times are easy and everything is going your way, there’s absolutely no need to learn how to develop a strong backbone. Why would you actively seek out adversity and tough times? You may develop other traits, such as good interpersonal skills or a strong work ethic, for example, but you have absolutely no need for determination and grit. When life is pretty much handing most things to you on a silver platter, you have no use for them.

But when times get tough? THAT’S when strength and determination become incredibly important. That’s what gets strengthened and built upon.

Mum and Dad wearing the masks I made for them.
Mum and Dad sporting the masks I made for them.

I live in Melbourne, which as of today has entered stage 4 lockdown because community transmission of the virus is getting out of control. We have a curfew from 8 PM – 5 AM every night, you can only leave your home for a total of 1 hour’s exercise a day, you can’t be outside a 5KM radius of your home and only one person per family per day can go out and shop. Masks are mandatory.

This is obviously easier for some people to take than for others. Many businesses have been directed to shut their doors, with pretty much only essential food, medical and infrastructure being allowed to keep their doors open. Some people have suddenly seen their wages and security snatched away. Not everyone has had the foresight or opportunity to build an emergency fund.

I’m one of the lucky ones – but it was a matter of timing. If I was embroiled in the last pandemic – the Spanish flu of 1918 – I wouldn’t be able to work from home. I’m a teacher. I’d either have to walk into crowded, virus-ridden classrooms or be out of a job, at a time when there was no social security.

Now? With the development of mass communications, I can easily work from home while the pandemic is going crazy. My wage continues to be paid and my risk of infection is way down. But not everyone is in my lucky situation.

I know what it’s like to have the financial rug pulled out from under you.

I know what it’s like to look at the pitiful amount of money in your savings and then compare it to the list of bills, a mortgage and the outgoings like groceries to feed my children.

I know what it’s like to wonder bleakly how I was going to be able to stretch things in order to cover everything.

It’s scary. It’s hard to fall asleep with the worry of it. Sometimes, I’d have what I’d call ‘doona days” where I’d go back to bed and stay for a few hours, just drifting in and out of sleep and resting up. Now that I look back, it was usually after a day like this that I’d spring out of bed the next day and Get Things Done. Constant worry is incredibly draining.

But do you know what?

Failure wasn’t an option. I had 4 little boys who were utterly dependent on me to make a good life for them. I knew that their father loved them but practical help from him was a rarity. I was their rock. I HAD to make this work.

Situations like this would be FAR easier if you could make one big gesture and the problem was solved. One action. One declaration. Whatever it was; if you could rise to the occasion ONCE, do or say whatever you needed to and then everything was fine and dandy again – how fantastic would that be? But that’s not how life works.

Getting through tough times means that you make lots of tiny decisions. Lots of little actions that, by themselves, will move the needle very little. But cumulatively – they all make a big difference.

There is so much in our control if we look around for it. There’s no point worrying over the things that aren’t. We can’t stop the pandemic on our own, but we can choose to stay at home whenever possible and wear a mask. If your place of work closes down for 6 weeks while we’re under a state of emergency, you can’t stop that. But you can look at applying for any subsidies you’re entitled to. You can look at your spending and ruthlessly cut anything that isn’t essential. You can start little traditions and fun things that cost little or nothing.

Bottle of champagne with "2019 EARNEST" written on the label. My theatre students' gift.
My students from last year gave me this champagne as a thank you. I could have guzzled it right away – but instead I saved it for a special occasion. Last month, Ryan25 finished his Remedial Massage course. We popped it open in celebration. Delayed gratification.

These repeated actions build character. They build determination and backbone. As a person, you develop resilience, which is a character trait that becomes invaluable throughout the rest of your life.

There’s an added advantage to there being many, instead of one, actions that will get you through times like these. If one day you succumb to temptation and buy that skinny soy latte you’ve been craving instead of waiting to make a coffee when you get home, it’s not going to break the bank. You can enjoy the drink, then get back on the frugality horse you’ve been riding and begin again to make good decisions. It’s not a ‘make or break, like a ‘grand gesture’ action that goes wrong would be. (Just don’t make too many of them!)

It’s the repetition of the little actions and the commitment to keep moving towards a better life that will bring you success.

Another novel I once read was a science fiction classic called ‘Ringworld’, where a character called Teela Brown is the product of 6 generations of a breeding program where people were bred for being lucky. Teela was a sweet girl who simply glided through life, always being in the right place at the right time, happening to meet with people she needed to meet exactly when she’d benefit from it. She always had enough money, but not so much that management of it would be a burden. Her lovers drifted away just as she was starting to get tired of them so she’d never been through a painful breakup and she was pretty enough to appeal to everyone, without being so stunningly good-looking for her looks to be a problem. Sounds good, right?

But she had no resilience or inner strength. She’d never learned to be strong in the face of adversity. She’d never needed to. Another character, Louis Wu, explains this by saying the following:

“She is intelligent, tanjit! She’s just never been hurt!……All you’ve got to do is watch her walk. Clumsy. Every second, it looks like she’s going to fall over. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t knock things over with her elbows. She doesn’t spill things or drop things. She never did. She never learned not to, don’t you see? So she’s not graceful.”
― Larry Niven – Ringworld

COVID is bringing the tough times to many people who had never really experienced them before. It’s a shock to the system when suddenly, all the plans you make and the things you counted on always being there are suddenly swept off the table. Add to all of this the fact that the virus is so contagious and people are literally dying from it. It’s not just a financial crisis. People are really doing it tough and are looking towards the future with fear and trepidation.

I know how it feels. I had my time of fearing for the future 23 years ago. I look back at Past Frogdancer and I’m so glad that she did all of those little things to slowly build stability and security for herself and her boys. She didn’t get everything right, but she did enough small actions in the right direction so that, financially and emotionally, her family survived and thrived.

Looking back now, I’m glad that I went through those tough years. Would I have chosen to go through them at the time? HELL NO! I used to wish that we’d win the lottery (only I was too poor to buy a ticket!)

But tough times breed resilience. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t have had to face the struggle and learned to make my way through. I’m far stronger than that past version of me, the one who sat on the back step watching her children play, hugging herself in fear and wondering if she had the guts to leave this toxic marriage. That girl took the first few steps with desperate faith that things would be ok, then worked to find a way to make it happen.

By doing that, Past Frogdancer developed skills and traits that Present Frogdancer and, hopefully, Future Frogdancer will continue to benefit from.

I wouldn’t have been like this without the struggle. My boys would be in a vastly different place if we didn’t live through it. They’ve also learned skills and developed strength in ways that they would never have had. I’m glad that we went through the struggle.

You will be too. Focus on what you can control and step by step, keep moving incrementally forward. I’m not saying living through tough times is an easy thing. It’s anything but. But one day, years down the track, you’ll look back at how Past You handled all that was thrown at you.

You’ll realise that you’re a better, stronger and more empathetic person. You’ll see that you’ve developed the confidence in yourself to know that you can tackle the curveballs that life throws you. You’ll know that you’ve learned skills and strategies that have enabled you to care for and provide security not only for yourself but also for those you love.

You’ll nod your head and, like me, you’ll acknowledge that the struggle was something that was worthwhile to go through… “though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”

Stay safe, wear a mask and stay at home. And control all the little things that will help propel you forward.

You can do it.

What does Pandemic Spending look like?

First shot of my 'no spend' chart.
Just an ordinary summer’s spending.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while might remember my “No Spend Days” chart. It’s a little thing I do to keep track of where my money goes. Every day that I don’t spend anything, I colour a square on the chart. It really became very effective once I added the silver box at the end of every week that has 3 or less ‘spend’ days in it. This gave me something to aim for and made my spending much more intentional.

At the end of every month I transfer the $$ amounts to my annual spend chart, so I know how I’m tracking year by year. The ‘No Spend Days’ chart is a useful little thing to have and it only takes a second or two each day to fill in.

This year has been an interesting one, what with the pandemic and the two lockdowns. I thought I’d show you how the pattern of my spending has changed since all of this covid stuff ramped up.

The top pic is of January spending. Typically for a school holiday period, I’m out and about a bit more and I tend to make more purchases for projects I have on the go. I also like to stock up the pantry a bit, to make those days in the future when I’m coming home from work feeling tired just that little bit easier.

The news of covid in China was about and my spidey senses were a little alarmed, but my spending was much the same as for any January. Hmmm… maybe it was a bit worse? Only ONE week where I earned a silver square for keeping my spending days under control.

February and March. This section shows a normal type of February (three silver squares) and then ramped up spending again. The beginning of March includes my little road trip getaway to Bowral – how glad I am that I was able to go! Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! We won’t be able to go anywhere for a very long time now.

The rest of the weeks show the lead-up to lockdown. When I got back from my holiday I was sure that covid was going to be a problem and I didn’t want to be out and about any more that absolutely necessary, so I started adding to my stockpile. At this stage we had no idea that the premier would call a lockdown – he called it on the 16th March, which was on the last line of this section. The next day we had the crazy trip to Costco that I wrote about in this post – Having a stockpile. Sin or sensible?

Then the first lockdown began.

From now on, the chart shows what has happened during covid.

The first week of lockdown, I bought a few things that we needed to complete our preparations. Yeast for bread, (little did I know that I’d be making sourdough instead – I haven’t touched it!), potting mix and fertiliser for the garden… things like that.

Then we hunkered down.

In this section you can see that we had 9 straight weeks of silver squares. Three months of minimal spending. Every now and then we’d go to Aldi for fresh stuff, but we were basically eating out of the pantry and garden, while I was keeping myself occupied by doing some of the quilting, fencing and gardening projects that I’d planned for.

Up to date!

Look at this. Another 9 weeks of silver squares! EIGHTEEN straight weeks of being intentional with my spending! We’re now in the middle of our second lockdown, but even in the middle when I was back at work and life was easing back to a near-normal, I still watched when I spent my money.

Why? I was seeing a success streak happening and I didn’t want to break it.

Eighteen weeks is a long time. I’m curious to see how long I can keep it up for. It’s like that Jerry Seinfeld story when he told a young comedian that the secret to success was to write a joke a day and then put a big red cross on a calendar for every day he does it. After a while, you won’t want to break the line of crosses.

Me? I don’t want to break that line of silver blocks along the side of my chart. It’s stupid, it’s childish but it works.

I started my weeks on this chart with the weekend. The secret to making the weeks on this chart easy is to delay spending for as long as you can each week. If you avoid weekend spending, (easy in a lockdown!), then there are only 2 more days left in the week that you have to be careful. Too easy!

The thing that can derail you is that there could be an unexpected expense pop up and if you’ve burned through your spend days early in the week, you won’t get that square.

An example of this is when I asked Evan23 to buy some elastic for face masks and post it over to me from Adelaide. No one’s making face masks there so there’s plenty of elastic – the one thing I ran out of. He posted them on Monday.

So Monday became a Spend Day. Later, I sent David26 to Aldi to pick up a few things we needed so that I wouldn’t ‘waste’ this Spend Day. Hey – now that I have 18 weeks under my belt, I’m becoming a little competitive. I’m becoming even more strategic in my quest to see how long this silver square streak will go!

Tuesday and Wednesday have been no spend days so even if I run amok with my credit card on the last two days, I’ve earned my silver square. Eighteen weeks, baby!!!

Well, I’m off now to make a pumpkin and feta tart for dinner. The pumpkin is home-grown, we need to use up the feta and onion, (no waste in a pandemic kitchen!) and the rosemary that absolutely makes the dish sing is growing right outside my back door.

I’ve finished a day of teaching from home, I have a day off tomorrow and a glass of shiraz is in my very near future. It’s payday today and I love the thought that I can put a big chunk of it aside to help pay for my new ensuite later in the year because I’m keeping my spending way under control.

I hope that you’re all keeping safe and well in these strange times. I’m so thankful that I’m able to teach from home and that the rest of Australia isn’t seeing the crazy numbers we are in Victoria.

Wear a mask and wash your hands!!

Home-made masks for Tom28 to wear to work.

How quilting is exactly like working towards Financial Independence.

Photo of yellow and grey coloured quilt.
Pandemic quilt number 2 – Evan23’s quilt.

It was January, long before the words “global pandemic” were a thing. Evan23 and his girlfriend were down from Ballarat where they’re studying to spend a few days in the Big City and Evan23 mentioned that he’d love it if I’d make him a new quilt. Ballarat is a very cold place.

We picked out a design from a couple of pictures on the internet. I worked out how I could do it, then we jumped into the car and drove to Spotlight to choose the fabric. It was during the massive bushfires – remember those? – and the air smelled faintly smokey and the sun looked a little orange. It was hot.

Once we got into Spotlight with its cool aircon, we were energised. It was exciting. We spent about an hour, circling the fabric stands, choosing, then discarding and choosing some more.

Is this shade of yellow too yellow?

Is this grey too blue?

Which fabric will look good on the back?

Should I do the quilting in yellow or grey thread?

We piled up bolts of fabric, peering at them to make sure we picked the BEST ones, the ones that would go together the best to make the quilt top sing. We talked animatedly, becoming ridiculously picky until we finally made our final choices. It was fun. Our brains were buzzing.

A new project! Always exciting. Things to learn, tasks to do… it’s all go! go! go!

But then the quilt didn’t get finished – or even started – for another 6 months.

Sound familiar? It’s exactly like the process everyone goes through when we first hear about the concept of early financial independence.

It’s new. It’s exciting! It’s a little intimidating… so many new things to learn, to think about and to get our heads around. It’s all go! go! go!

What’s an ETF?

How do I invest in shares? And how does the whole sharemarket thing work, anyhow? Isn’t it too risky?

What’s this Trinity Study 4% thingy?

Why do these FIRE bloggers have such weird names? (But then again, I’m called Frogdancer Jones so I can’t really point the finger at anyone…)

We gobble financial information as if it was candy. Books, blogs, websites… we can’t get enough. It’s like Evan23 and I at Spotlight piling bolt upon bolt of fabric on top of each other. We grab at everything related to financial independence within our reach – tell me more! MORE! MORE!

Pandemic quit number 1. Yes, I got distracted after buying the fabric for Evan23’s quilt.

But then… life happens. No one learns about FIRE in a vacuum. No one quilts or does other creative things in a vacuum either. We get distracted by little things like global pandemics, job insecurity and the everyday happenings of day-to-day life.

Often, people start off all excited, then spend a period of time paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision. Quilters agonise over colour placement and which order the blocks will go. FI/RE people worry about which investments to buy and the long-term ramifications of what will happen if/when the share market falls. No one, whether they be a quilter or investor, wants to f**k it up.

So we sit. And ponder. And go over in our minds what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do. And meanwhile time and the share market marches on.

This is my next project, apart from face masks.

Another thing that makes quilting and the march towards financial independence similar is that the middle part is so BORING…

Case in point, look at the picture above. Who wouldn’t be enticed with all of those little dachshunds, especially when we have one ourselves?

While Evan23 and I were looking online for quilt ideas, I stupidly showed this photo to Ryan25, who gloomily reminded me that he only has one quilt and I’ve been making them for around 12 years.

“One quilt a decade is all I ask, Mum!” he went on. “I wouldn’t mind a quilt like that one, though.”

I felt stricken. It’s true, he only has one quilt, while Tom28 and Evan23 have 3 each. It was then, when he had me feeling guilty, that I made the stupidest error.

“How would you like it if I made one of the dogs to look like Scout?”

His face lit up. He’s besotted by Scout. When he decides to leave home I’m going to have to frisk him on the way out, just in case he tries to smuggle her out with him.

Fooling myself that I was doing “research.”

So I bought the pattern. I dabbled with it by adapting it to a baby quilt I was making at the time, by using the head and tail sections. I was just like someone who buys a book entitled “How to invest and what to invest in” and then either doesn’t read it or reads it and then decides to mull it over. I rationalised that I was progressing but in reality, nothing was happening.

Until last weekend.

What was stopping me until then? A couple of things. One was the knowledge that this quilt will be SO BORING to work on. It has many different pieces in each block – hell, I have to cut over 150 one square inch squares alone! BORING.

This is just like working towards FI – once the initial flurry of activity subsides and you’ve set up all of your saving + investing + frugality + side hustle + retirement stuff, then all you can do is stay the course and let time and your initial actions do their work. That’s BORING. There’s nothing exciting and sexy about watching your direct debits go to your superannuation and investment accounts. It’s mundane and, frankly, slightly dull.

So yeah – setting myself up for eventual success with this quilt is an exercise in patient baby steps. Just like FI/RE.

The next thing paralysing me was this little face.

NOT a sleek, short-haired dachshund face.

Scout is a miniature wire-haired dachshund. Somehow, I have to work out how to get her beard and eyebrows onto that quilt filled with smooth-haired faces. I was paralysed in case I decided to do something that would screw the whole quilt up – just like our novice investor.

And just like that novice investor, I eventually decided that I had to start moving. Somewhere along the way, I have faith that I’ll work it out. While s/he (our investor) tentatively begins buying parcels of index funds, ETFs, shares or property, I decided that I’d have to start cutting out the pieces for this mammoth project. Just like earning our freedom, this quilt is not an overnight project.

So far, I’ve spent two afternoons standing over the cutting board, churning out squares and rectangles of varying sizes. There are 37 different sized fabric pieces and 15 different dogs to make. I have yet to finish the cutting out. There are more BORING afternoons in my future.

I’m like the FI/RE enthusiast in the middle of the journey. It’s all so BORING. But if I want to succeed, I have to stay the course and keep doing the BORING little steps towards success.

I have a feeling that the end goal with both the quilt and enjoying ultimate freedom in retirement will be worth it.

Scout’s never worked a day in her life. She seems to have a good time.

Why owning your home trumps renting.

The front view of my house.
My house before I started working on the front garden.

Dave from Strong Money Australia wrote a post this morning about whether or not he and his wife should cash out their share portfolio and buy a house. I enjoyed reading it, as it’s the perpetual question with FIRE people who are good at Maths – is it better to invest in the share market and rent, or to buy a house and save on living costs down the road when it’s all paid off?

Me? I’m a home-owner through and through, not for any mathematical reasons (because Maths is hard) but purely because the security of having my own place that nobody can boss me around and kick me out of is too precious to give up. Also, having three dogs means that no landlord would rent to me anyway – and having the dogs is one thing that I will definitely not give up. So the freedom of home ownership is something that is integral to the Frogdancer Jones lifestyle.

When I bought my current house, I bought it with one eye to the view of the floorplan being perfect should any of the boys need to come back home after living away. Basically, the house is a rectangle divided into 2 main parts, so I can happily live in the front part while the boy/s have their privacy at the other end. The land was smaller than our original house, which was a plus because I was finding it hard to keep up with the upkeep at the old place. Also throw in that it’s just around the corner from an Aldi, 5 minutes walk to the dog beach and 4 minutes walk from the train station – the bones of this property are all great!

However, even though this house is pretty darned perfect, there have been things that I’ve decided to alter. Being in my mid-fifties, I know myself pretty week by now and there are some things that I know Future Frogdancer would love to have at her fingertips.

My plan is to get these things done while I still have a pay packet coming in so that I can cashflow some of the jobs, though in mid last year I took 40K in profits from my shares to kickstart the whole thing. I still have 20K left to spend.

I’ve spoken before about how 2020 was always going to be the year of getting The Best House in Melbourne retirement-ready for when Older Me/Future Frogdancer decides to stop teaching. The list of things I’ve done here since the money came through from the Domestic Geoarbitrage adventure is as follows:

Apple trees growing in the veggie garden.
Apple trees in the background. The back half of my yard is devoted to food growing.
  • Before we moved in I had the hardwood floors sanded and polished. Real timber floors were a ‘must-have’ and I enjoy looking at them every day.
  • Added a wall of cupboards to the laundry for my zombie apocalypse cupboard. It’s come in handy during lockdown! Also, put in some new cupboards in the kitchen, along with a fantastic wine glass storage feature. Easy access to wine is also a ‘must-have’!
  • Totally ripped out the backyard and landscaped it with old bricks – no more lawn mowing and no more weeds. I’m very lazy.
  • Installed 18m of wicking veggie gardens, plus a small ‘orchard’ of 5 apples, a pomegranate, an apricot and 2 limes.
The new big verandah roof.
Now I have to decide what to plant around my outdoor room so that it flowers in summer for Christmas.
  • Installed a whopping great verandah along the entire back of the house, creating an outdoor room for family get-togethers and parties. With 4 boys in their 20’s, I have a feeling that over the next decade or so the family is going to get larger!
  • Bought a teak table that extends to seat 12 for this new space.
  • Once our cats Daphne and Maris died, I bought brand new leather lounge suites to cut down on pet hair sticking to the furniture.
  • I also found a dining table and chairs, a tv cabinet, a couple of stools for the kitchen bench, an armchair for my room and a coffee table on Gumtree. These antique pieces are totally individual and will see me out. I love them and they were second hand, so they were far cheaper than new furniture of comparable quality.
Painted paling front fence. Beautiful!
My new front fence with my stellar painting. Now the dogs aren’t on guard duty all day.
  • We’ve put up a side fence between us and the new neighbours. They have a staffy who hates little dogs and both households definitely don’t want any bloodshed!
  • I wasn’t planning to replace the front fence as it was a metal picket fence and built to last, but the dogs kept barking every time they saw a dog go by. I figured if it was annoying me, it must be annoying the people around us. This new paling fence blocks the view and if it ever gets tagged by teenagers I can simply put another coat of paint over it.
  • If you look at the photo at the top of the page, you can see that there were two yucca trees on either side of the house. Whoever planted these next to walkways was clearly no brain surgeon. Every time I went to put something in the bin I’d nearly get my eyes poked out by the spiky leaves. These trees are now gone. I’ve bought a couple of avocado trees to take their place. I’ll be able to stand on the verandah to prune the trees and to pick the fruit. These trees have soft leaves so they’ll be a pleasure to brush past.
  • I live in a slightly dodgier neighbourhood than I used to. I put Crimsafe safety screens on all windows and doors.
Bosch oven.
I bought German-made appliances – I know they’ll be well built and will last far longer than cheaper ones.
  • When the people before us did up the place to sell, they installed the cheapest stainless steel appliances that they could. It was on my list to replace them ‘someday’… but during lockdown the oven and dishwasher both died, so it seems that my kitchen renovation is suddenly pretty much done!
  • When our hot water service died I replaced it with a continuous gas hot water service. Expensive to set up, but over time it saves on gas and as an added bonus, people can program their showers to be the exact temperature that they want. I like this little luxury!
  • When a friend at work told me that her husband worked at the Reece plumbing ‘samples and seconds’ shop, I ducked in and bought all the fixings for my new ensuite I’ll have installed one day. I saved at least 8K on what I bought because he gave me mates rates on top of the already cheap prices. At the moment it’s all in boxes and bubble wrap cluttering up the boys’ lounge room, but that’s ok in the short term.

Astute readers will have noticed that few of these renovations are what people would consider “essential.” We could have moved into this place and lived quite happily without the brick paving, the new cupboards and the polished floors etc. After all, the families who lived here before us did just that.

But owning this home means that I can tailor it to the way I want to live. For example, I enjoy growing some of our food. To me, having literally half the backyard set aside for this is a great use of the space. But I don’t want to have to mow a lawn or weed all the time, so spending money on paving makes me happy, as I know I’ve freed up Future Frogdancer’s time. I don’t want her to fall down and break a hip trying to pull up a weed in about 30 years time! I could have put concrete down at a fraction of the price of the bricks, but I like the natural look of the bricks, so again – money well spent.

Scout, my miniature wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. She’ll be 4 next month – where does the time go?

I value a calm, peaceful home without any troubles from the council and the neighbours. The fencing I’ve put up isn’t the most exciting way to spend money, but it’s worth it because it keeps Poppy, Jeff and Scout safe, secure and QUIET.

I’m basically thinking about the things I like to do and the values I want to live my life by and then seeing how I can design my home to include as many of these things as possible. I want to have Future Frogdancer fit into this house like a happy little pea in a pod.

So remember I said I still have 20K left? I feel like a bit of an idiot because I had one job that absolutely needed to be done, but I kept putting it off because I was scared about how much it would cost.

Rotting timber balustrading.
Yeah… this doesn’t look good…

My front verandah has timber balustrading that has seen better days. I had absolutely no idea how much it would cost and then with coronavirus coming along, I shoved it into the back of my mind and tried to stop thinking about it.

Except… this job was only going to get worse with time and turn into something that would just get more and more expensive the longer I ignored it. So, after a year of resolutely turning my face away from it, I called in a couple of tradies to quote.

ARGH! I’m such a fool! I thought it’d cost thousands! I got the first quote back last night – $1,040. I could have had this done AGES ago. I’ve been needing to get this done so I could then plant my avocado trees. They’re still in their little pots, instead of getting their feet in the ground and producing those smashed avos that my millennial boys dream about.

As part of this job, I’m also getting a piece of laserlight nailed to the underside of the verandah, where an access door is. This will be where I’ll put our lawnmower. It’ll be tucked away out of sight, safe from any rain and it’ll be right where the lawn is – no wrestling it down from the backyard. Again – I’ll be getting something done that suits me.

So what else is on my list?

  • The other side fence. It’s literally falling apart, so once I get this done I won’t have to worry about fencing for decades.
  • Beautifying the new back verandah. I’ve bought the dining table and chairs and we have an old couch there, but it needs plants around the perimeter and I want to get a couple of half wine barrels to put splashes of colour in. I also want some sort of artwork on the wall of the house to make it all look pretty.
  • A new ensuite. My old one is perfectly serviceable, but it has a shower over a bath. I HATE THIS – it’s so pov. Plus I think it’ll be unsafe when Future Frogdancer will be getting in and out of it – one slip and she’ll be in a world of trouble.
  • A Tesla power wall. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get one of these, but I’d love it if I could. I’m looking for ways to future-proof Future Frogdancer’s bills and seeing as I already have solar panels, this could dovetail in quite nicely. Plus, I like the idea of having a back-up when power cuts and brownouts happen during the summers. I have a niggling feeling that these will get worse as time goes on and peak oil starts to bite and I don’t want to suffer through hot temperatures or have my freezer lose all of its contents. I freeze A LOT of things, particularly from the garden and I’d be incandescent with rage if I had to throw it all out.
  • An office/crafting room. OMG. I’ve never had one of these in my life and I’d love one. When we looked at this place, one of the back bedrooms was set up as an office. It has a door through to the backyard and it has a wall of cupboard save lined with shelves. THIS is the space. Unfortunately, Ryan25 lives in here and he’s not going anyplace soon – he’s finishing his remedial massage course and going straight into a 12-month myotherapy course. So this one will have to wait. But when I have all of my paperwork, my sewing machine, my yarn and my fabric all organised in the one room, I’ll be a very happy woman.
  • Painting the inside of the house. This isn’t urgent, but like the kitchen fittings, the previous owners did a very quick spray job. I’d like enamel paint on the skirting and doors, instead of the matt paint I currently have. It’s impossible to wipe down properly.
  • Landscaping the front yard. I have a vision of people coming through the high front gate and being greeted with a beautiful oasis of flowers, fruit trees and lawn that is invisible from the street. Apart from my avocados, I have absolutely no clue what I’ll be planting here. None whatsoever. But it’ll come to me.

The beauty of having my own place is that once I set it up, I’ll be able to live here with minimal ongoing costs and I’ll be perfectly happy with everything I have around me. I plan to travel overseas every year (once this pesky pandemic sorts itself out) but when I’m at home, my dogs, my crafts, my books, my blogging and my gardening will occupy me very nicely.

Once you buy furniture, that expense goes away as you have it for YEARS. Given this, it’s worth it to hunt around for items that really suit you. I found this out the hard way. When I moved in with my boyfriend back in the day, we bought some ugly cheap pine furniture “just for now”. A marriage, divorce, 4 kids and twenty years later, I finally got rid of those eyesores. It’s better to buy things you love looking at (like my bedroom setting that I’ve had for 25 years and have no plans to replace), because furniture hangs around for decades. My rule now is to allow nothing through the door that I don’t love, no matter how “practical” that thing may be.

Propaganda poster from my trip to North Korea.
One of my propaganda posters from my trip to North Korea, along with a North Korean banknote that I smuggled out.

My plan, once the world opens up again, is to gradually fill my walls with paintings and drawings from places that I’ve visited. I’m in no hurry to fill the empty walls I have. I’ll see something on my travels and know that I’ll want to look at it for the rest of my life and it’ll find its way home.

I love the idea of slowly building a collection of art that will spark memories of my travels and will make my house look totally different to anyone else’s. My house will reflect ME. So far we have Balinese paintings, pieces from North Korea and Venice and France. I wonder what else will join them as time goes on?

I save vegetable seeds and grow from them year after year. I love the idea of feeding myself and my boys food that started from seeds I bought years ago, but which still feed and nourish us years into the future. There’s something about the continuity and the tradition that appeals to me.

Home ownership is something that is definitely a financial struggle in the beginning. Homes are not something that vendors just casually give away! But over time, as the mortgage is paid off and there’s extra money available, there’s a beautiful opportunity to craft your living space into the perfect space for YOU.

Being on the FI/RE path as we are, the vision of decades of freedom in a space we simply enjoy living in is something to be aimed for. At the moment I’m having the fun of planning and ticking tasks off the list one by one. In a couple of years, I’ll have the fun of actually spending huge gobs of time in this home I’ve created. A home that keeps costs to a minimum. A home that makes me happy and fulfils my needs.

A home that suits ME.

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