Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Maybe we should keep our big mouths shut?

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

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

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

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

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

Woah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was gobsmacked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the worst thing possible happened…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad dodging that bullet.

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

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

So how did the holidays end up going for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have.

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

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

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

And every now and then we went to the movies.

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

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

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

I did this for a couple of very good reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked. It was $38.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang in there. It gets better.

‘Playing With Fire’ documentary is coming to Melbourne!

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

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

I hope to see some of you there!

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 cafĂ©. 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.

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