Burning Desire For FIRE

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

It’s so easy to entertain yourself without spending any money!

Backyard beach.

Now that I’ve made the move to go part-time next year, I don’t mind admitting that I’m torn between looking forward to it and feeling slight feelings of unease about the drop in income. It’s illogical – I know I’ll be ok with less money coming in. But after this weekend, I’m feeling much better. It’s so easy to entertain yourself without spending any money!

We’ve just finished week 8 of term 2, which leaves us 2 weeks to go before our 2 week winter holidays. This is the pointy end of the semester, when we have to mark all learning tasks and exams and then write the reports. English marking is the worst. It’s an interesting subject to teach, but we pay for it with the hours of extra time it takes us to mark the kids’ work.

So it’s safe to say that we teachers are getting tired. I brought my year 9 exams home with me on Friday to mark and I made sure that I got them done before Friday was through. The last thing I want to do is give up my weekend if I can avoid it!

So Saturday dawned. The dogs let me sleep in until 8 AM, so I got up in the sunlight, which always makes me happy. I fed them their chicken necks, then I sat down on the couch with a coffee and my laptop and spent the next 2 hours gently surfing the web, reading twitter, facebook and blogs. The dogs were curled up next to me, I had my warm bathrobe on and I was as happy as a pig in mud.

The rest of the day flowed gently on by. I got dressed, made cauliflower cheese for lunch because Ryan24 loves it. He even requests it for his birthday dinner every year when he could have anything that he wants. After lunch I had a long nanna nap, then took the dogs out for a quick gallop. I fed the worms in the garden beds, wrote a post for the personal blog, read a book for while and then, exhausted with all this activity, I made Ryan24 cook fried rice for dinner.

Entertainment for the evening was Netflix. I’m up-to-date with so many shows I’m following, like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Last Week Tonight’, ‘The Blacklist’, ‘Black Mirror’… so I started ‘Star Trek – Discovery.’ It’s weird to see Klingons running around all fighty, but I daresay I’ll get used to it.

Sunday was another sleep-in until David25 woke us all when he was making coffee before starting his shift at the café. It was a nice day, but I didn’t set foot outside until I took the dogs for a long walk in the afternoon. I was on the computer for a lot of that morning, while doing some reading, dog grooming and light housework as well. Coming back from the walk, I went out into the back yard and picked up some autumn leaves to use as mulch around the apple trees.

I should’ve put another garden bed to sleep for the winter, but meh. I wasn’t in the zone. I washed some tops that I bought at an op shop on Friday and put them over the air duct to dry by tomorrow morning. Then I went into the kitchen to see what we’ll have for dinner.

I decided that today was going to be a No-Spend Day, which will give me 2 days straight at the beginning of the week where I can colour in my chart. It always feels good when I can give the week a head-start! So dinner has to be something that we have all the ingredients for.

Lemon and Coconut Dahl it is! I have plenty of meat in the freezer but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a vegetarian meal every now and then to make the meat supplies last that little bit longer. Besides, there’ll be enough for lunch for me tomorrow. While I was there I decided that I’ll throw a crock-pot meal together for Monday night. I have a staff meeting after school so I won’t be back till nearly 6 PM. So I was flicking through cookbooks for a while to choose something that would fit the bill.

At 3PM I decided that I’d sit down and write this post. Dobby, my robot vacuum cleaner, is racing around and the dogs are keen to nap after their walk. After I finish this, I’ll put the crockpot meal together and put it in the fridge, ready for tomorrow. Then I’ll go out and sweep up a few more leaves to put in the compost tumbler.

After that, it’ll be wine o’clock. I’ll give Mum or Blogless Sandy a call to see how their weekend went while I savour a nice Shiraz. Then dinner and probably more Star Trek Discovery afterwards.

Clearly, none of this is very earth-shattering. It’s just normal, everyday tasks being done in an unhurried fashion. I wore comfy clothes, no make-up and did WHAT I felt like doing, WHEN I felt like doing it.

If I have books, the internet, my dogs and my garden, I’ll always have something to do. Getting my books from libraries makes it even better from a financial point of view. Add in my knitting and quilting, neither of which I’ve done for ages but I have lots of WIPs (works in progress) just waiting for me to pick them up again when I have the time. Then think of the boys, my friends and family…

I’ll be able to entertain myself without putting my hand into my wallet every five minutes, that’s for sure. This eases my mind considerably!

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #2

Jeff sleeping in front of the house
Very unsafe house, security-wise. I don’t know how Jeff can sleep so peacefully…

After the big decision to drop back to part-time work next year was made by my good self, certain plans have now been put in motion. I still really like the idea of getting big renovations and other jobs done around the house done while I still have money coming in from a wage. It’s a little scary to think about paying for anything more pricey than a good holiday once I reach the stage of dipping into savings in retirement instead of simply cash flowing it from my wage.

One of the jobs that I was going to organise in some misty future once the boys leave home was to beef up security on this place. This new neighbourhood isn’t dodgy as such, but it definitely has a few more dodgy elements than where we used to live. It’s a suburb that is slowly being gentrified, but there’s a fair bit of public housing which means that there’ll always be some inequities in income.

At the moment it seems that we have an arsonist in our midst. I blogged about it here, and although it’s not a huge worry – I don’t think he’ll be desperately trying to torch my place any time soon – David25 came home last night and said he saw 3 fire engines attending a fire a few streets over. I think my place is pretty safe with the two boys living here… I call them boys but they’re both in their mid-twenties … but Old Lady Frogdancer will definitely want to feel secure when all of the kids have flown from the nest.

Plus, ever since David25 took off the flyscreens to wash the windows for me and bent most of the screens so they were unusable, I knew I had to get them replaced. You don’t want to go through an Aussie summer without flyscreens!

So guess whose house is now totally Crimsafed?

Old door propped up in the sideway.
Scary how easily the Crimsafe guy popped this ‘security’ door off its hinges.

The weather forecast was hellish, with torrential rain all day, high winds, you name it. The guy arrived at 7:30 in the morning and managed to get the 2 sliding doors on before the rain struck. See the photo above? I’m not kidding: within 3 seconds of him walking up to the locked door he had it off the track and he was putting it aside.

“Wow, to think of all those summer nights I locked that door to let the breeze in and felt so safe!” I said. He just laughed.

Then the rain came.

Looking through my new front screen door while the guy escaped the rain for a little.

This guy was about my vintage, in his 50’s and it’s his own business. He worked right through. I carried a coffee out to him at one stage and delicately hinted that perhaps the weather was getting too bad, but he shook his head.

“I’ve got so much work booked up that I have to keep on going. Besides, it’s only rain.”

To be honest, the selfish part of me was glad that the job was going to be done that day. I’d taken a day off and I didn’t want to drag it out.

But the other part of me was thinking that this was a perfect advertisement for reaching FI as soon as possible. The man was saturated. He was cold, wet and having to go onto another job when he finished mine. Sure, it’s his own business, but he’s clearly working as much and as hard as he can. If he wasn’t, he would definitely have postponed the job. Anyone would.

Looking out through our new back door.
Look at this – no more white grid in the way!

The above picture is the door leading onto the backyard from Ryan24’s room. Once this room is free, it’ll be my study/sewing room. Look at the beautiful view I’ll have, unimpeded by the white diamond-shaped grill of the old aluminium door.

Old white screen door.
Old front door…

When he was giving me the quote, I asked him which colour I should use for the new door. I couldn’t make up my mind and I thought that he’d seen a few doors in his time and would know better than me which colours worked. He suggested black. I’m so glad I listened to him.

Jeff in front of the new front door.
Look at the stylish house we live in!

All white would’ve been a bit much. The black looks sleek and stylish, just like me.

View from the kitchen window.
Kitchen window.

I put steel mesh screen across every single one of the sliding windows. With the old screens, even if the window was shut, a burglar would’ve just had to slice the flywire with a knife, jimmy the window and he’d have been in. This won’t happen now. And the view outside is so clear. I’m really pleased.

All in all, it cost just over 8K to Get This Job Done. As I said before, it wasn’t a job I was initially planning to get done this year, but I’m glad it’s off the list and I don’t have to think about it anymore. I’m a person who likes to do a job once, do it right and then never have to worry about it again.

On to the next job on my list!

Yikes! Yabba Dabba Dooo.

Normally, you don’t get a window into how other people may see you, but last week I did. It was pretty confronting, to be honest. It actually stopped me blogging, while I mulled over it.

I’ve known Fred and Wilma pretty much all my life. They’re old friends of the family and, now that I’ve changed the way I drive home each night, I drop in on them occasionally.

Anyway, I was visiting Fred and Wilma after work one night last week and having a cuppa and a chat. We were talking about their family and mine and just generally catching up on what’s been going on.

We’d been talking about money matters a few minutes before. Fred and I share a similar interest, so I told them about a financial goal I’d achieved. Then the conversation moved on, as it does. Coincidentally, Wilma had talked with my sister a day before and she shared a story about a win that my sister had. Kate’s a Thermomix consultant and she did a demo at a gorgeous Bed And Breakfast place in the country – and ended up being able to stay there that night for nothing. She had a lovely time.

“Looks like being a good week for the Jones girls,” I said. “We’ve both had wins.”

“Yes, but yours are only ever about money,” replied Wilma.

Wait… what?!?

Yeeouch!

This has been reverberating around my head ever since she sad it. At the time I made some sort of verbal come-back, but it was pretty feeble, as she’d well and truly caught me on the back foot.

I’m still not sure exactly what she meant by it, though I have a sneaking suspicion that me still being single, 22 years after I left my husband, might have a bit to do with it. I don’t think it can be the boys – no one’s in jail, on drugs or living on the street. All of them have either finished University or are well on the way to.

I’ve held down a full-time job for the last 15/16 years – I’m never quite sure how long I’ve been at the school – and I’m pretty sure I’m good at what I do. After all, I’m changing lives… one English or Theatre Studies lesson at a time.

It’s a weird thought to think that just when I’m closer than ever to reaching my goal of early(ish) retirement and I’m stepping back from a six-figure wage, I’m being called on for being too mercenary.

The thing is… I don’t think I measure my life’s success simply by how big my net worth is. Sure, it’s a part of it, because I’ve worked too hard and planned too much for it not to be. But I’m investing and planning so that all the intangibles in my life will be easier – things like the freedom to spend my time how I choose; the ability to help anyone I feel like; the choice to share things like theatre tickets and other fun things with the people I care about and the ability to go traveling any time I want.

Ok, so maybe that first and last ones on the list might appear a bit selfish, but so be it! I bought a beautiful house three years ago when I did the whole geoarbitrage gamble, but part of the decision to buy this place was that the layout of the space meant that when the boys want to move back for any reason, we won’t be living cheek to jowl with each other. Part of my job as a parent is to provide a roof over their heads and I feel glad that I can provide it if they need it, even though they’re all adults now.

Doesn’t mean I still don’t love my house. Doesn’t mean I still don’t think it’s beautiful. But it’s an example of the way I make decisions – there’s often a long-term plan behind the spending/life decisions I make.

It’s an interesting question though – money is behind a lot of the decisions, obligations and freedoms we have in life. It’s obviously important. We in the Personal Finance and FI/RE blogging communities write about it all the time.

But Wilma’s perception of me rocked me back on my heels a bit. It makes me wonder. Is she alone in her view of how I view success, or do others feel the same?

Of course, short of asking everyone I know, I’ll never get the answer to that curly question! But it was interesting to have that little window into how someone else perceives me.

I guess it does you good to get the wind knocked out of your sails every once in a while, to stop you getting complacent.

I’ll still drop in every now and then to see Fred and Wilma, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred and I have our little financial chats in private from now on…

How to work for 3 days and get paid for 4.

I walked into HR today with a very particular question to ask. Basically, the crux of it was, “I wish to work 3 days a week next year and be paid for 4. Can you grant this wish?”

Turns out she can. She’s like a fairy godmother, granting wishes all over the place.

Long Service Leave is a perfectly brilliant thing!

In Australia we have LSL, which is earned after you work with the same employer for more than 7 years. You get extra days’ holidays that you MUST take as an actual holiday – you can’t cash them out or transfer them to someone else. You can store them up or years if you want to and then take a holiday when it suits. This is what I did when I took a whole term off in 2015 and went to Europe and used up 50 days on full pay, and I did it again last year when I took an extra week’s holiday in April (5 days on full pay) and went to North Korea.

There’s nothing so sweet as standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower/Juche Tower and knowing that you’re getting paid while you’re looking out over Paris/Pyongyang.

People who job-hop obviously forego gaining LSL, but for people like me, who work as teachers in the government system, LSL works brilliantly. Even if we hop from school to school, the State Government is still our employer, so our LSL gently piles up until we’re ready to use it. I don’t know how many days we get/year. I tried googling it but the website had a mathematical formula to explain it so I got out of there quick smart. I’ll just call it magic.

I always assumed that you have to take LSL in biggish blocks of time until I talked with a retiring work colleague late last year. She said that she was going to spend the last 6 months of her career working part-time but getting paid full-time, by using a couple of LSL days every week.

Mind. Blown.

This has rocked my world.

Think about it. In two or three years I’m going to be retired, so I’ll be able to take holidays whenever I want. I won’t be restricted to school holiday times with their exorbitant prices. I won’t need to have access to some holiday days – the whole year will be my holiday smorgasbord table.

I have around 45 LSL days available. Roughly speaking, school terms are 10 weeks long. There’s 4 of them a year.

Imagine being able to work 3 days a week, while having another day’s pay coming in over the first year to Get Things Done and smooth the ride down to retirement?

Now THAT seems like a good use of Long Service Leave!

I sat down 5 minutes later with my principal and ran the idea past her. She’s officially approved it. In writing. It’s really going to happen, folks!

Of course, there’s the other option, which is what most people do. Work and get paid for your normal days, “retire”, then stay on the books and use up the LSL in one fell swoop at the end. This also has its charms.

But I like my way better.

One big step closer…

Well, I’ve bitten the bullet. After weighing up all the pros and cons of whether to work full-time, part-time or pull the pin altogether, something happened that made me walk into my principal’s office a few days ago and formally let her know that I’ll be looking to cut back my time at work by 2 days a week.

From next year I’ll be working 3 days a week.

Mum is the final nudge that led me to make a decision. She’s nearly 80 and has been having problems with her health for years. What with the rheumatoid arthritis, heart bypass and breast cancer episode, she’s certainly not a boring patient! However, for the last few years she’s been feeling constantly dizzy and this has affected the way she moves around the world.

She can’t drive anymore and she walks with her father’s walking stick. Dad is there to lend a steadying arm and she’s become increasingly reliant on him. Then a couple of weeks ago she fell across the coffee table in their lounge room and broke her arm.

Shot of my backyard beach.

This has taken things to a whole new level.

She’s totally dependent on Dad now. She can’t get out of bed, go to the toilet or do anything without him being there to support her. Dad has barely cooked a meal in their 60 years of marriage, so my sister Kate and I are supplementing Meals on Wheels with cooked frozen dinners for them. They’re going to get people from the council in to do some cleaning. I thought things were on an even keel – well, as much as possible anyway – until they came over for lunch on Sunday.

I asked them over so Ryan24 could give his grandpa a back massage. Ryan24 needs to get 20 people massaged in the next 4 weeks as part of his remedial massage course and I thought that Dad would probably need a back massage, what with having to lift Mum on and off the toilet, in and out of bed and supporting her onto every chair that she sits in.

Shot of my backyard beach.

I made date scones for when they arrived. Dad loves them. Then, while he and Ryan24 went into the Man Cave and did the massage, Mum and I sat over cups of tea and talked one on one.

It was really nice. As we were talking it occurred to me that I can’t remember the last time we talked like this in person. Sure, we talk on the phone every week, but when we’re in the same room there are always other people around. It was a novel experience to sit down and talk one-on-one with my mother. How bad is that?

Then, Dad helped her out to the car and she stood beside it while he opened her door. She was too far forward and Dad asked her to step sideways so he could manoeuvre her in. She couldn’t move her feet sideways. She couldn’t move.

I looked at her feet, trying to move in the direction she wanted them to but just stepping on the spot. I thought, ‘I think it’s time. They’re going to need more help.’

Before I could talk myself out of it, I went to see my principal and let her know that I’ll need to drop back my days next year. I can’t do it this year because I have my year 12s. I told her that ideally, I’ll be working 3 days a week next year. That’ll give me a day for me and a day for Mum.

Then, once I left her office, I started telling some friends on staff. This ensures that I’ll be forced to go through with it.

And now I’m telling the whole world – or at least the part of the whole world I care about – which is of course YOU. This will really lock me in!

All of this happened a week ago, but I’ve found it hard to write about it. Crazy, really, when you’d think that a FI/RE blogger would be really excited about telling everyone that she’s taken a big step closer to reaching the big goal. But it’s taken 5 days to get my head around how much life will change next year.

Ever since I made what was probably the biggest decision I’ll ever make in my life – the scariest financial decision of all – I’ve always been on the hunt to make more money. Deciding to leave your husband, taking 4 boys under 5 with you and with only $60 cash to your name tends to make you focus on your income and expenses with laser-intensity! Raising my income and lowering my expenses has been at the forefront of the way I’ve run the household for the last 22 years.

So choosing to slash my income by 2/5ths goes very much against the grain. It’s taken a few days to embrace the thought, which is probably why I haven’t been able to finish this post until now.

I’m used to the idea now and I’m starting to look forward to having more of my life back. I’ve been running around like a crazy woman ever since my youngest hit school age and I began working full-time. Today, as I’m writing this, it’s Friday afternoon. I had to take the day off because the NBN was being installed and someone had to be here to let the technician in.

It’s been a good day. I walked into the hairdressers first thing and didn’t have to wait. I did some grocery shopping after I’d finished being beautified, then came home and read a book. After lunch I had a quick restorative nanna nap, then after I finish this post the dogs and I will go down for a walk on the beach.

Tomorrow we’re driving up to Ballarat to see Evan22 in his second-year play. That’ll take up all of Saturday. Normally, I’d be stressed by having half the weekend gone… how will I find the time to Get Everything Done? But with this extra time, it’s been lovely.

Soon every week will feel like this. I’ll have TIME. Time for me and time for my parents. I’m looking forward to how this next stage of my life is going to play out.

Start from where you are.

Lime verbena plant.
Lime Verbena. All of the images in this post are taken from when I first decided to Start Where I Was.

I was driving to work this morning, listening to a podcast, as I always do. This particular one was Choose FI: Alan Donegan. A lot of what he was talking about wasn’t really applicable to my situation, but I liked his zest for life (and I’m always a sucker for a British accent) so I kept it on as I drove. Then, towards the end of the podcast they started talking about people who may feel as if they’ve missed the boat with financial independence because they only stumbled across the idea in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. Alan Donegan declared, “Start where you are!” and that resonated with me.

Because 6 years ago, I was that person.

My house in the middle of painting it dark blue.
I decided to paint the house once I’d paid it off. It looked fabulous!

Just after I turned 50, I finally paid off my house. I’ve written about accomplishing that HUGE goal here. For about three weeks, I felt terrific. I’d done it! The boys and I were finally secure! No-one could ever take that place away from us and the boys would always have a place to come back to if they ever needed it. I lashed out and bought a brand new pair of sandals (Poppy the puppy chewed them up a week later), and I ordered $300 worth of knitting yarn to celebrate – yes. I bought ALL the colours.

Then, after the euphoria started to fade, I realised that I’d only achieved the base-line level of security. Ok, so we always have a safe place to lay our heads. But what about when I get old? How was Old Lady Frogdancer going to pay for her retirement?

2 white chickens
My first chickens – Buffy and Willow. They were joined by many more, mostly pure breeds.

I had no idea where to turn. Sure, my parents had self-funded their retirements, but they did it with property. I was living in the midst of one of the biggest property bubbles on Earth. That was wasn’t open to me – after all, it took me 17 years to pay off my house. I was running out of time – I definitely wasn’t getting any younger…

I knew I had a couple of things in my favour to put against the fact that I was elderly and tottering towards the grave.

  • I’m a saver. Right at that stage of my life, I was literally starting with $0 in savings because I’d poured them all into getting rid of the mortgage, but I knew that I’d build my savings up again. After all, I’d done it before.
  • The boys were coming to the end of their total financial dependence on me. Two of them were already ay University and the other two were in upper secondary. They were still a huge expense – have you ever seen how much adult men can EAT??? – but I could see light at the end of the tunnel.
  • I’m frugal. Sure, I can spend when I want to, but my living expenses and hobbies are cheap to run.
  • I was on the top tier of the teaching pay scale, so I was on a decent wage. Given all of the above, once I learned about investing, I’d have something to play with.
3 of the boys, with Poppy as a pup.
3 of the boys back then, with baby Poppy. They were all living with me then. How time moves on!

However, it wasn’t all beer and skittles:

  • I had no idea where to start. This is seriously what stops most people from even beginning. The investing world is seriously intimidating.
  • I have a real fear of numbers. I joke about hating numerals, but when I see a whole heap of them on the one page, my brain seizes up. Give me pages of text and I’m happy, but change it to numbers and it’s horrifying.
  • I didn’t know much about the investing world, but I was pretty sure that numbers have a good bit to do with it.
The day's egg collection.
I used to love collecting the eggs every day.

I don’t mind telling you, I was scared. Very scared. I was on my own, with no partner’s income and knowledge to smooth the ride. Any decision, or lack of decision, that I made could possibly have huge ramifications for Future Frogdancer down the track. It was paralysing, to tell the truth.

The risk of inertia putting people’s retirements at risk is a very real thing. Often, doing nothing is riskier than taking action. Inflation eats away at savings and you can find you’re like a hamster on a wheel, forever racing and getting nowhere.

Shopping for compost to build up the soil.
I put a lot of effort to build up the soil in that garden. The knowledge hasn’t gone to waste – I know what to do in my new place.

In my case, a thread on the Simple Savings forum, which mentioned that the Barefoot Investor was starting an investing group, was what saved me from that trap. They mentioned that the first thing he was planning to do was ‘Rescue Your Retirement’. It was a workbook and video that promised to lay out a gameplan for people like me who had no idea what to do.

I signed up immediately. When the ‘RYR’ was released a week later, I watched the video and looked through the workbook and at the end, I cried real tears of relief. I’d been so scared that my situation was hopeless. I was in my 50’s and, apart from the paid-off house, I had not a penny to my name. But here was a guideline to follow that meant that by the time I reached retirement age (which is 67 in Australia) I’d be able to be a self-funded retiree and not rely on the Age Pension.

Beans growing.
I grew things everywhere I could. Here are some beans growing in a wicking bed in the driveway.

It was shortly after this that I read Go Curry Cracker’s and Mr Money Moustache’s explanations about the 4% Rule, which I summarised in the post called “The 4% Rule for people who are scared of Maths.” (The original links are in that post.) I’d found the FIRE community.

Hooray!! I had a figure to aim for! It was daunting, sure, but as the saying says, “Shoot for the stars. If you miss, you’ll at least hit the moon.” This meant that if I couldn’t reach my 4% FI number, at the very least I’d reach retirement age at 67 with a healthy portfolio behind me and (hopefully, all going well) a vastly decreased risk of having to eat dog food in my old age.

I was excited. I rolled up my sleeves and got started. I figured that I might not make it to the best result, but it stands to reason that Future Frogdancer would be better off than if I did nothing and continued to freeze in fear.

Baby peaches growing.
My first peaches! This tree is now growing in a friend’s garden. Her little girl loves the pink blossoms.

I read as many FI blogs and books as I could lay my hands on. I learned to invest, firstly from Barefoot, then, as his advice became too simplistic, from others. Bit by bit, ever so slowly but steadily, my knowledge and confidence continued to grow.

As people who’ve read this blog before would know, sometimes things change. With all the reading and talking I was doing, I picked up a smattering of knowledge about lots of financial things. This came in useful when I decided to completely up-end my life and move down to The Best House in Melbourne 3 years ago.

Poppy and Jeff.
Poppy and Jeff at around 18 months old, I think.This is long before we dreamed Scout would come along!

If I hadn’t decided to put the “start from where you are” philosophy in motion, things would be very different.

If I hadn’t tweaked geoarbitrage to free up the equity in my little weatherboard house in the best school zone in Melbourne, I know what my next 11 years would look like.

I’d be working full-time until I was 67. By then, all things going well, I’d have close to a million dollars in investments. I’d still be living in my tiny 1950’s weatherboard with the food forest and the chickens. I’d be happy enough, but locked in to the job and the lifestyle.

Instead, I have choices. Choices I would never have been able to have access to if I didn’t elect to start where I was.

Peach with a bite taken from it.
Bloody beautiful! Nothing like fruit fresh from the tree.

I’m not saying everyone can do what I did with the geoarbitrage. I got lucky with that one. But everyone can start to make moves towards financial independence, no matter how old you are.

I was 50 years old, with no savings behind me. I had my house paid off, my car was paid for and I had no credit card debt. I was essentially starting from nothing.

But the important word in that previous sentence is “starting.” It was scary and intimidating, but honestly, if I can do it you can too.

Don’t get to the end of your life and look back with regret. Start from where you are.

One More Year?

Dwight Shrute meme

I tot up my net worth at the end of each calendar month. It doesn’t take long – it’s not as if I have a hugely complicated estate, after all – and I have a table that I record my figures on. I don’t include The Best House in Melbourne’s value on the table because the purpose of the exercise is to track my progress towards my “FI” number. You can’t eat your house, after all!

My ‘FI number’ is the dollar amount that I’ve estimated I’ll need before I can think about pulling the pin on my job. Financial Independence is the goal I’m aiming for. I want to have enough money coming in so that I can afford to maintain the lifestyle I have, along with a few added extras like an overseas holiday every year or so.

I’m a pretty frugal person, so when I say that I’m aiming for ‘FAT FIRE’, I mean that it’s a figure that’s far more than I need to survive on. For many people, my “FAT FIRE” figure will be their ‘LEAN FIRE’ number.

They don’t call it personal finance for nothing!

Anyway, I was totting up my numbers last month and it appears that I’ve passed a fairly significant figure, which puts me at 80% of the way towards my goal. Already! (I was vaguely aiming to get there by the end of the year.) I won’t stay at this level – I’m going to get those security doors and screens I was telling you about last week, along with finishing off the landscaping in the back yard. But still, it’s encouraging to see that this compounding effect that all of the numbers people keep telling us about actually appears to be working.

Last week I was on a podcast, where I was talking with Breanna about how important it is for teachers to get to FI as soon as they can. It gives options and helps us to avoid being one of “those teachers”… the teachers who are burnt out and don’t want to be in the classroom anymore, but they’re forced to stay there because they can’t afford to walk away.

Those of us who are teachers know exactly what I’m talking about – we’ve all worked alongside them. Those of us who have been students know exactly what I’m talking about – we’ve all been taught by at least one person who’s heart has clearly gone out of it, but they plug along regardless.

Teachers like this can do a lot of damage. Kids always know who wants to be in front of them and who doesn’t.

A teacher can make or break kids’ passion for a subject. When I was a student manager I used to interview kids for the subjects they wanted to do for the next year. It was so common for kids to be fired up about a subject because they liked the teacher that had taught them. It’s so important to have people teaching subjects that they love and who eagerly share the really cool things about them.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a burned-out and bitter old crone, but for the first time since I came back to teaching after my 10-year gap when I was raising my pre-schoolers, I can see that the time is approaching when the annoying things about the job will outweigh the fun stuff.

This morning, as my feet hit the floor, I thought to myself, “How about I make it One More Year?” One more year of full-time work, then either pull the pin entirely or drop back to part-time work, but not just for 4 days/week. How about if it was 2 or 3 days?

How would that feel?

One more year of the long commute every weekday…

One more year of getting up in the dark every weekday for most of the year…

One more year of earning over 6 figures so I can Get Things Done…

I reckon I could put up with another year of full-time work if it was the last year of full-time work.

This is an interesting idea for me to kick around. I could always drop back to part-time in 2021 if my ‘FIRE figure’ wasn’t where I wanted it to be, or if the share market looked shaky. One more year of full-time work would mean that all of the big, expensive jobs I want to tick off would almost certainly be finished. Especially if I knew that it was the last year of that level of income.

Then, a trickle of part-time or CRT (supply/emergency teaching) would be enough to have day-to-day expenses taken care of and would keep me in touch with the young folk and all of their newfangled ways.

Hmmm…

I don’t mind saying that the very idea has made a huge difference to my day.

Of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, once I thought of this, today has turned out to be a very easy day on the job. I read ‘Coraline’ aloud to one group of year 7’s and I watched the movie for 2 periods with the other year 7’s. I’m in front of my angelic year 9’s who are working their way through some language analysis in their textbook and no one needs any help. The only class that’ll have any sort of grunt in them will be my year 8’s at the end of the day.

When I have days like today, I wonder why I’d ever contemplate leaving. Why would I leave such a cushy job paying 6 figures to loll around at home with my dogs all day? Am I mad?!?

Given this, and assuming I’m not actually mad, towards the end of 2020, I’d better hope for any of the following to happen:

  • an annoying helicopter parent to pop up and harass me.
  • a new government teaching initiative to come along that will either offer nothing new at all/has been tried 20 years ago and it didn’t work then either/will mean bucketfuls of extra work for no benefit to the students in front of us.
  • notification that a staff member that I find intensely annoying will be moved to the desk beside mine in the staffroom.
  • I’ve been named to teach year 12 English the next year.

Any one of those will be enough to push me over the edge and get my to drop my hours. A combination of these would probably get me to drop the job entirely!

It’s an idea that I’ll continue to mull over. It gives me time to sort out what I want to do before I jump into anything too reckless. I can access my Super in 3 years, so the part-time/CRT route gives a gentle glide-path down towards being fully reliant on that money.

If I keep on working full-time without any clear end in sight, I can see that I’ll become burnt-out and I’ll be one of ‘those’ teachers.

But I can certainly keep going at the pace I’m at if I know it’s for one more year…

Things I won’t miss: Parent/teacher days.

Today is parent/teacher day. I’m writing this in a half-hour gap I have between parents, as I sit at my desk with a coffee and a biscuit.

Our school has a full day set aside for talking to parents. We start at 9:45 AM and finish at 8:30 PM, with parents shuttling through on 5 minute increments. I have 4 full classes, with one being a year 12 class and the rest are English, so my dance card is always jam-packed. I’m seeing nearly 80 sets of parents today.

It’s a long day. The school feeds us dinner, which is a nice little bonus, but all the talking is hard on the voice. Some teachers hate these days, but personally, I don’t mind them. It’s not the interviews that bother me, it’s simply the length of the day.

The kids are expected to come with their parents, dressed in full school uniform. (The kids, not the parents.) It’s a nice opportunity to congratulate the good kids, rev up the lazy kids and sink the boot into the naughty kids.

This year I have a year 8 class with a clot of very immature, loud boys that have been driving all their teachers and the rest of their class crazy. They’ve been eating the new, young teachers alive because they work in tandem to create disruption, which we rarely see at our school. I’ve brought up lots of boys and taught hundreds more, but even I sometimes feel as if I have to carry a whip ad chair into class when I have them, particularly at the end of the day.

A few weeks ago we instituted a seating plan for them across all of their classes. It’s spoiled all their fun and so it’s a great success. It’s been interesting to see which parents know about it and which don’t. I’ll give you three guesses as to which parents fall into which camp!

These interviews are very therapeutic to a teacher’s soul. The parents look daggers at their son and the kid looks sheepish. I never start off on the attack – instead, I ask the kid what they think I’d say if I was asked to comment on how they’re going.

Kids are pretty honest. It’s very rare that I have to cough, lean forward and say, “That’s a very interesting interpretation of what’s going on in the class. However…”

But yeah, as I said before, it’s the sheer length of the day that gets you.

After 8:30, by the time you get to your desk, grab your stuff and get to your car it’s pushing 8:45. Granted, the drive home takes far less time at this hour of the day than the morning and afternoon commute, but I’m still walking through the door at 9:15 at night.

A couple of students asked me if we get extra pay for this. I laughed and laughed.

We go through this twice a year. I know that when I retire, even though I don’t have a bad time while they’re going on, these parent/teacher days are definitely not ones that I’ll be looking nostalgically back upon.

So I took the day off…

Poppy and Scout on the beach
Poppy and Scout chasing sunbeams.

I took the day off yesterday because I was getting quotes for the Crimsafe security doors and window screens I was telling you about a few days ago. All of the shots are from the walk the dogs and I took on the beach, while the rest of the English faculty were stuck in a meeting after work.

Moments like this make retirement seem ever more enticing…

Totally blue sky over the Backyard Beach.
Autumnal blue sky.

A couple of weeks ago I went into a Crimsafe business and asked about prices. Given what they told me, I went home and totted up what I’d be up for. It came to around the 10K mark.

Exxy, but Old Lady Frogdancer wants to be safe when she’s home alone, once the boys move out. I figure that it’s the kind of bill that hurts once you’re paying it, but down the track you forget the sting of it and are simply glad that you got the job done.

Seagulls on a sandbar hidden under the water
The seagulls are actually standing on a sandbar. Poppy longed to reach them, but she’d have to get wet.

How often in life do quotes come back well under what you estimate??? That happened with all 3 quotes that I received. I didn’t take into account that they’d all knock off anywhere from 1K – 2K to get a ‘full house’ job.

No one else on the beach.
There are few places more peaceful than a totally empty beach.

An added bonus is that the guy who was going to come over at 3 PM actually arrived at 12. So I had the afternoon free. So, while I was waiting for a couple of the quotes to come in via email, I had a short, revivifying nap, (simply because I could), and then took the dogs down to the beach.

We had the place pretty much to ourselves. I looked at my watch. It was 3:30 – just the time when all of the primary-school Mums were picking up their kids.

It was also the time that my colleagues at work were walking into their meeting…

Scout on the sand.
Scout.

The day was sparkling – a gorgeous autumn day. The sun was warm and it seemed incomprehensible that people were spending it sitting in a meeting, talking about spelling bees and literacy strategies.

Poppy and Scout chasing each other on the sand.
Poppy and Scout chasing each other on the sand. Jeff stayed beside me.

When I got home, after a full hour spent enjoying the afternoon, the quotes were waiting for me.

The first guy was an ex-builder, based on the Peninsula. He was a nice guy, appearing to be very thorough in his measurements and he was also very flexible with the job, saying that if I decided to do the work in stages, the quoted prices would be valid for anywhere up to 2 years. Apparently people sometimes choose to do this room by room, or they do the doors first and then work their way around the house with the windows. Little does he know that Frogdancer Jones likes to get a job over and done with!

The third guy sent in a hand-written, scanned quote with illegible handwriting – and I’m an English teacher so I can read just about anyone’s writing – and he didn’t even add up the totals, so I had to do MATHS. On closer inspection, he didn’t even quote me on some of the windows, so his quote was ridiculous.

Looking towards the Melbourne CBD.
On the horizon is the Melbourne CBD.

The first guy was the cheapest by a couple of hundred dollars. The second guy, who was young and hungry, pushed me to contact him if anyone was cheaper so he could price-match, but meh.

I think I’ll going with the first guy. He gave me the cheapest price upfront and he seems to know his stuff.

I have to say, having the day to myself was really good. I got quite a few little things done after we got back from the beach. It felt like a full day had elapsed, but when I looked at my watch I said out loud, “My God – I’d still be in traffic now!”

It’s another sparkling day today. I’m here, sitting at my desk like a dutiful working girl. I have to say, though, it was hard work to go out to the car at 7:30 and start driving to work, knowing what I could be doing instead…

Sunlight on the waves.

Thankful to my younger self.

Shot of my backyard beach.

“I was thankful to my younger self for planning and anticipating our future needs.”

This was a quote I saw a few days ago on the Simple Savings forum, written by a woman in (I think) her 50’s, who was detailing the day she’d planned. She was able to retire in her early 40’s, she and her husband had a big veggie and fruit garden with chickens and they lived in a rural town that was close enough to the capital city to get there if they needed anything, but far enough away that their housing costs were small.

Her sentence really jumped out at me.

I’m hoping that I’ll be saying the same thing in a decade or so.

Poppy modelling the paving.

Here’s one way I’ve hopefully ‘future-proofed’ my retirement lifestyle. I’ve paved my entire backyard and the sides of the house with reclaimed bricks, so that Old Lady Frogdancer won’t have to bend down and pull weeds or mow grass. The paving runs around my wicking veggie beds, so that she’ll be able to grow organic veggies for as long as she pleases, saving on grocery bills and providing a way to spend some untroubled hours in the sunshine.

The paving on the lower level of the yard will be the floor for my outdoor room, which will be in place by the end of the year, unless something really unexpected comes up. Just have to hire someone to put up the roof.

These projects are not at all what you’d call cheap, but once the sting of paying the bill has faded, I know I’ll have decades of enjoyment out of them.

Doorway to The Best House in Melbourne.
Welcome to The Best House in Melbourne!

It’s no secret that I love love love my house – everyone who steps through the door for the first time gets a walk-through, as recent visitors can attest. But I’ve never been happy with the look or strength of the screen door.

A couple of weeks ago a caravan parked in the driveway of a house a street away was torched. It went up like a … well, like a great big fire and all the neighbours gathered to watch the firemen put it out. I’m away from home a lot, with the full-time job and all, and I met a few neighbours I’ve never met before and heard a few bits of gossip that I was blissfuly unaware of.

It seems we have an arsonist in our midst.

Around a year ago Evan21 came back after a run and said that he’d passed a burning bush. Nothing biblical about this one, it was alight. We’d forgotten about it until I heard from the neighbours that an empty house on Station St was burned to the ground a couple of months ago. A little while after the fire in the caravan, which was deliberately lit, I was talking to the young couple next to me who said that the local scout hall a couple of streets over had burned to the ground a couple of nights ago.

As he was telling me this, a couple of teenagers rode past. Now, I work with teenagers and I like them a lot, but these ones looked dodgy. In fact, I’ve seen them around a lot and I know they’re dodgy. My neighbour said to me as they rode past, “The next generation of (suburb name) Crime.”

He didn’t see the second kid, in a red beanie, swivel his head and look at him as they rode past, then keep looking back at us as he rode off down the street. Great, I thought. I had the dogs with me and everyone in the street knows my dogs. I’d be easy to identify, even though I hadn’t said it.

I was planning to upgrade security around the house once the boys left home, but even though I still have 2 adult men around the place, they’re away more often now and I’ve decided I should probably move that project forward. I have security screens on the windows at the front of the house, but anyone going around the back would be free from prying eyes.

I’m having some people from ‘Crimsafe’ come in and give quotes next week on window screens and security doors. Again, this will definitely not be a cheap exercise, but I’m putting it in the category of a younger self putting things in place for my older self. I’ve written before about how much being financially secure means to me, but I definitely want Old Lady Frogdancer to feel physically secure in her own home as she totters into her twilight years.

Jeff sleeping on the couch on the verandah.
One of my guard dogs on the front verandah.

There’s so much to consider as you make the moves towards setting up a secure retirement. It’s not just the financials, though that’s stressful enough! It’s the other things that, while we have a secure income rolling in, we can set aside some funds to smooth the way for our older selves and pay for things now that they don’t have to shell out for.

I’m putting things in place to ensure that Old Lady Frogdancer will be able to travel the world for as long as she wants to. But I also know that I’m a real homebody, so making The Best House in Melbourne comfortable, safe and cheap to run is VERY high on my list of priorities as I get nearer to retirement.

I hope that in a couple of decades, I, too, can look back and say, “I was thankful to my younger self for planning and anticipating our future needs.” It sounds like such a nice position to be in.

Sunset on my backyard beach.
I’m very thankful my younger self bought the house that made this view a brief five minute walk away!

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