Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Having another pair of eyes look over my figures.

On Monday the school had people from VicSuper come out to talk with people about their retirement plans. VicSuper is the default retirement company for teachers, so the vast majority of staff are with them. I don’t have my superannuation with them anymore, but I booked a half-hour slot during my lunch hour to have a chat with someone anyway. I thought that they wouldn’t be able to talk in detail, but I could at least have someone more mathematically gifted than myself to have a look at what I’ve set up and tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

Let’s call her ‘Ms VS’. It has a certain ring to it.

  • For the non-Aussies: Superannuation is the name for our retirement funds. Every employer is required to pay in 9.5% of every employee’s wage into a super fund of the employee’s choice. It guarantees that by the time people reach retirement, they’ll have at least some money behind them, instead of solely relying on the Age Pension.

When we first starting talking, I said to her that although I’ve been working full-time, I’m dropping back to part-time next year as a sort of glide-path towards retirement. I said that retirement might be 3 years off (when I can access my super) or it could be as soon as 1 year off, if I find that I’m still hankering towards total freedom over my days even with the reduced hours.

Apparently, from what Ms VS said later, this is pretty standard. She said that she normally doesn’t have people book a time with her unless they’re very close to retirement, when they suddenly become aware that they’ll have to rely on what they’ve put away in their super. She clicked her pen, leaned forward and asked me if I knew what I have in my investments.

Did I know what I have in my investments?!? Little did she know that she was talking to Frogdancer Jones. I’ve been reading blogs about net worth, share portfolios, savings accounts, superannuation and the like for YEARS. Hell, with all the US blogs I’ve read, I know more about American retirement accounts than you could shake a stick at!

I was primed, ready and prepared.

I had period 1 off that day so I had time to make a full list for her. Well, to be honest, I just took all my numbers from the ‘Net Worth Table’ I have in the cloud, which I update at the end of every month. Took me less than 5 minutes. I flipped open my notebook at the correct page and passed it across.

I don’t think Ms VS meets a lot of FIRE-y people in her line of work.

She was pretty surprised, not so much at my figures, though she said they were unusual, but by how I’d thought about the share market ups and downs and where I’d pull money from when the market tanks. She didn’t need to explain how the share market ebbs and flows; how risk can affect people in different ways depending on how close they are to retirement; how, if I retired earlier than 59, how I’d have to find the money to fund my lifestyle and what a safe withdrawal rate was, etc, etc.

Thank you, blogs and books in the FIRE movement! I looked like I had a financial brain!!

The talk about my actual figures only took up about half the time, so we moved on to talk about other things, which is why I wanted to write this. Some of what she said was scary, particularly for women.

I guess when we’re interested in FI and we read all the blogs and books and start to absorb the knowledge, we assume that most people are more financially literate than they really are. According to Ms Vs, this is far from the truth.

She said that when I mentioned that I was looking to pull the pin in the next year or two, she thought I’d be like most of the people who come to see her. They give no thought to their retirement, assuming that the compulsory 9.5% of our wages that our employers are legally required to put into Super is enough. Then, a year or two out from retirement, they decide to look at their figures, they have a heart attack at what they see and they come running to see what they can do about it.

I guess that’s not so much of a surprise – we hear this a lot about huge swathes of the population not getting ready for retirement in time. At the risk of sounding like a Nelly Know-it-all though: I just don’t understand that mentality. When I was in my 30’s and 40’s I deliberately ignored putting extra money into my retirement account because I made a conscious choice to pay off my house first. Security for the boys and I was my paramount objective. But 3 weeks after I’d made that last mortgage repayment, I was stressing over what I had to do to get my Superannuation account looking more lively. Maybe that’s the blessing/curse of being a long-term thinker??

“I see a lot of women in their 50’s and 60’s who come in after a divorce,” Ms VS said. “They’ve only got around 70K in their Super and they still have a mortgage. They’ve never dealt with finances in their lives before and it’s a scary time for them.”

I smiled. “I went through the divorce thing twenty-two years ago,” I said.

“You’ve had time to recover,” Ms VS said. “It’s really good to see a woman as well-prepared as you. Though I suppose you’ve had to be organised, being on your own.”

“I wasn’t on my own!” I said. “I also had 4 kids under 5 with me.”

Photo of my mini wire-haired dachshund, Scout.
Miss Scout – anyone who’s owned Dachshunds, like Ms VS and I, are part of a special club. 🙂

We talked a bit about where the boys and I started from, veered off into talking about dachshunds, (because why wouldn’t we?) then back onto finances.

“Have you ever taken what you’d consider being a financial risk to get into the position you’re now in?” she asked.

“OMG, yes,” I said. “Years ago, back when the boys were still in school, I decided to take a 15K pay cut from teaching by dropping a day and using that time to run a group of Thermomix consultants as a team leader. 15K was a lot of money to me back then… well, it still is!… but I was assured that if I worked hard I could pull in 30K. Turned out to be true, so I kept doing that for 3 or 4 years.

“Then, when I decided to go into partnership with a developer and draw up plans to put a couple of massive townhouses on my property, I took on a 750K bridging loan when I bought The Best House In Melbourne and still owned the original place. The interest payments took up over 70% of my take-home pay. I thought it’d be for 6 months or so but the council took so long to approve things that it was 18 months before I was able to sell the property with approved plans and pay off my new place. I was terrified the property bubble would burst, but it turned out that I sold at the peak of the market so, in the end, it worked out. It was a calculated risk – but it paid off.”

We talked about whether I’d seen a financial planner. I said I hadn’t and she said, “You’ve managed very well so far, so why would you hand it all over to someone else and pay them a fee to look after it for you? “

I said that before I leave work, I want to see someone to stress-test my plans in case there was something I’ve missed, and she thought that was a good idea.

As the bell for the end of lunchtime rang and I got up to go, she said, “It’s rare that I see someone who’s all over it like you are – and if I do, they’re usually Maths teachers.”

I’m glad that I was able to fly the flag for the Drama and English teachers for a change!

Sometimes poverty breeds ingenuity.

Last Friday was my birthday. Birthdays are always something we celebrate and Ryan24, my third son, is no exception. However, he’s a poverty-stricken uni student and he literally had no money to organise a gift. He had to dig deep to come up with something.

Fortunately, he has access to coloured paper and a particular set of skills. He put aside an hour or so on my birthday while I was at work to make 10 origami flowers and this card. (By the way, the word ‘Mum’ is spelled correctly, those of you from the US...)

So what does a remedial massage student give? Pretty nice, hey?

I was talking to him after he wrote the card and he said, “I think a gift should be beautiful, practical and from the heart.”

I think he nailed it.

Not to be outdone, David25 used his skills gained from working in kitchens to put together an amazing brunch for me yesterday. His girlfriend Izzy, Ryan24 and I sat down to smashed avo and feta and sourdough toast, with bacon, hummus, scrambled eggs and hash browns. (The hash browns were still cooking when I took this photo.) It was glorious – and there were enough leftovers that Ryan24 and I didn’t need to cook dinner OR breakfast the next day.

Truly the gift that keeps on giving!

After brunch was over, I went into the guest room where I’ve set up my sewing machine and kept plugging away at a queen-sized quilt that I’m making for Tom27 for Christmas. It has over 1500 squares that are 2.5 square inches – I really should have thought through the design more thoroughly before I started it. I’m using some new fabric and some fabric I had in my stash and at the close of sewing yesterday I’ve reached the stage of having the whole quilt top in 3 big pieces.

There’s still a lot of work to go before it’s a finished quilt, but hopefully I’ll get it done before Christmas. If there’s one thing my boys like, it’s a snuggly quilt.

… I don’t know WHERE the boys picked up the skill of producing gifts from what’s at their fingertips…

It’s a mystery…

Monkey see; monkey do… or do they?

This morning, a few minutes ago, a little thing happened that made me think about the effect we have on the people around us. We don’t realise it but in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways, the things we do and say often rubs off on those around us.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I always put at least one ‘Dad joke’ up on the board at the start of each lesson. I started doing this a year ago and the kids love it. If I start the lesson and forget to put them up, they always remind me. Admittedly, my year 9 class have asked me to stop doing this before the corniness kills them… but they never fail to ask for the Dad joke when I ‘forget’ to do it. They’ve already asked me to email them next year with a Dad joke a day when I’m not their teacher anymore.

After a few months of this, some kids have started emailing me with Dad jokes that they’ve found. A typical email might read, “Hi Ms Jones. I was away today and I was wondering what work I missed. To make up for it, here’s a Dad joke: ‘I saw a magician yesterday that turned audience members into wind turbines. I immediately became a big fan.’ See you tomorrow!”

I love it, especially when it happens in my own house.

Ryan24 called me into his room to read a Dad joke he stumbled across on a website. He said it was two Dad jokes in one. Seeing as it’s a joke on finance, I thought I’d share it with you. Are you ready for the glory of the Dad joke…?

*

*

*

‘I’ve started buying heaps of stocks. Chicken, beef and vegetarian stock cubes. One day, I’m hoping to be a bouillonaire…’

I hope no one strained a muscle from laughing too hard.

It got me thinking though. People pick up on what you do. If they think it has value, they’ll copy it for themselves. Because Ryan24’s joke was a financial one, it got me thinking about how the boys are running their financial lives.

When they were growing up, we were living on a financial knife’s edge. You might not think it, but it takes a long time to claw your way out from the pit of starting a new life with 4 kids under 5, $60 in cash and a mortgage just under 100K. I wrote about it here.

Those boys grew up watching me living within the financial rules I set out for myself:

1. NEVER borrow anything. Always spend less than you earn. Actually, the only exception was when I landed the first teaching contract at my current school. It was for 9 months of full-time work and I knew we could afford to get a new(er) car. The Tarago we were driving was as aerodynamic as a loaf of bread and the skylight leaked every time it rained. Whenever I made a right-hand turn, a trickle of water would run down the back of my neck. When I traded it in for a 5-year-old Ford station wagon and took out a 20K loan, I said to them, “I don’t know if I’ll have a job next year, so I’ll be paying this off before my contract finishes, just to be safe.” The kids were Tom13 (now Tom27) down to Evan9 (now Evan22). They watched me do it.

2. You should have everything you NEED, but only some of what you WANT. This translates to their after school interests. I knew that with 4 kids and only my income, we’d never get ahead if I spent lavishly on everything that the boys might have wanted to do. So I got them to prioritise. They were allowed ONE after school class a week each. It could be anything they wanted – sports, music, art, dance, whatever. But only one thing at a time. David25 was David2 when he first asked for piano lessons. He stuck with those and is now putting the finishing touches on a Music degree in piano. Other kids tried a few different things before settling on what they liked. It was ok. They had to decide what they really wanted to explore and then focus on that. I think that’s a good thing.

3. Your money is a finite amount. Don’t spend on things you don’t value, but spend on the things you do. An example of this is overseas travel. I didn’t want my boys to miss out as I had. (I planned a big trip to Europe with my best friend when we were 15… but I didn’t get to go until I was 51; after the boys were old enough to be left alone.) When the boys were younger, I took them on holidays to Bali, Thailand and Singapore and also sent the 2 middle boys to the US with the school’s band. I had to forego a lot of coffees, new clothes and other fripperies to afford to do this, but to me, it was worth it. They watched me saving and planning for all of this.

4. ALWAYS have an emergency fund in place. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. When the boys were very small I had a few years when I literally had no money at our backs if a real emergency happened. I’ve touched on it a bit in my ‘About’ page. I don’t think they have any strong memories of those hand-to-mouth times, (I should ask them!) but what they DO know is that Mum always has some money put away for when we need it.

5. Christmas is important. Always make it a special day for everyone. I insisted that the boys always had Christmas Day with me. As Mum said to me, “You have all of the hard days – you deserve to have the fun one.” A. always used to pick them up at around 6PM that day, after we’d had Christmas lunch with my family. One day soon I’ll write about my strategies for Christmas Day when we were so poor. The boys didn’t miss out on a thing.

So given all this, what are the boys doing with their finances now they’re in their twenties?

At our “We’re out of debt (again!) celebratory dinner 2 years ago.

NEVER borrow anything. Always spend less than you earn. Interestingly, none of them uses credit cards, only debit cards, even though I’ve always used a credit card. I run all my expenses through a credit card, but I run it like a debit card so I rarely dip into the ‘credit’ part of it. They’ve seen how being free of debt has helped our family to become financially independent and I think they realise the importance of it. When we sold the old house to the developer and I was finally able to pay off the bridging loan of 750K that I was carrying on The Best House in Melbourne, I took them all out to dinner to celebrate.

Whenever they’ve needed to buy things like cars, they’ve either paid for them themselves out of savings or they’ve come to me for an interest-free loan. This month, Tom27 decided that he needed a new car. We talked about what he could afford, given his wage, so instead of buying a tinny but shiny new car, he bought himself a 5-year-old Prius. He was spending 18K, which is bigger than the Bank of Mum is prepared to lend. Initially, he applied for a loan from the car yard’s financing, but after getting home and doing some research and some Maths, he realised that getting a loan from someone else will save him over 2K in interest, so that’s what he did. Interestingly, the car yard tried to entice him by saying, “If you get the loan through us you can have the car tomorrow!!!” Tom27’s response? “I’d rather wait a week and have the two extra grand, thanks!”

You should have everything you NEED, but only some of what you WANT. I guess this follows on from not having access to credit, but they seem to be quite good at prioritising what they spend their money on. If they need cash for something, they’ll either sell something to free up some money (which is David25’s go-to), or they’ll tighten the belt and wait until they have the means to get what they want.

Your money is a finite amount. Don’t spend on things you don’t value, but spend on the things you do. Poverty and student life has forced Evan22, in particular, to take this on as a survival mechanism. If he spends all of his Austudy allowance on wine, women and song, then he doesn’t eat for the rest of the fortnight. He lives in Ballarat, so he can’t pop home very often for a free feed, so he’s had to learn to be very self-reliant and to balance his money.

Tom27 is an accountant, (yeah… I don’t know how that happened either…) and he plans out his expenses months ahead to ensure he has enough to do what he has to do, such as rent, petrol car payments etc, before he does what he wants to do, such as recording a new album, travelling overseas and going out.

David25 has a girlfriend and at first, a lot of his money went on eating out, flashy dates etc. Now, nearly 2 years on, he and Izzy spend a lot of time at each other’s houses, watching videos, composing songs and popping up to Coles to get a litre of gourmet icecream as a treat. Ryan24 is the king of slashing expenses to make his money go further.

Christmas is important. Always make it a special day for everyone. Well, everyone’s onboard for this one! David25 doesn’t spend as much on dates anymore, but when it’s their anniversary he pulls out all the stops to make the date a memorable one. He’s learned the art of prioritising in this regard.

We all put thought and effort into Christmas, probably even more so than birthdays. No one’s allowed to buy anything for themselves in December in case they muck up someone’s gift for them and we all sneak around buying and making things that we hope will really hit the spot. I love seeing the boys plotting and planning gifts for their brothers and grandparents – I feel like I’ve passed the baton onto the next generation.

So, given that they’re following all but one of the financial things I modelled for them as they were growing up, I guess you could say that the “Monkey See; Monkey Do” saying is pretty apt. Also, I’m putting it out there that when they get a bit older and start pulling in some real money, the Emergency Funds will come.

This wasn’t what I started off intending to write about – it began with Dad jokes – but I guess it’s a useful exercise to step back and observe the people around you and see what’s rubbing off on them. It seems my legacy will be a love of the Dad joke and a leaning towards the thrifty!

But sometimes – you get what you need.

Sometimes the nicest things happen, just when you need them to.

Yesterday I had the last two periods of the day free, almost certainly for the last time this term. It’s the mid-point of term 3 and after this is when all of the English assessments begin to pile in. Given this, I thought I might slip out and see Mum and Dad for a half an hour, come back to school and then I’d be able to go straight home at the end of the day.

As I was walking to my car, I passed by a garden on the corner that I’ve always admired. I’ve been parking in the same street for over 15 years and I’ve never seen anyone working in it. As I rounded the corner to get to my car, I saw a woman around my own age near the front door, cutting some jonquils.

I called out to her, “Excuse me! I just wanted to say that I’ve been looking at your garden for years and I really enjoy it.”

She smiled, said thank you and we started chatting. I said I was a teacher at the school across the road and when she asked if I was finished for the day, I made a show of looking over my shoulder and said, “Ssssh… I have some spare periods so I’m sneaking off to see my mother. She fell and broke her arm 3 months ago and it still hasn’t healed, poor thing.”

She immediately held out the jonquils she was holding and said “Take them. Tell her I hope she feels better soon.”

I demurred, but she said, “No, I love to share them. The houses up and down the street all get bunches when they come into flower.”

Well, after that it’d be rude NOT to accept. We kept talking. When she said she retired from work 3 years ago I asked about what retired life was like. She used to be a radiographer and she and her husband retired together. He’s heavily involved in the SES, but she’s chosen other ways to fill her time.

“I found that I missed the people I worked with the most”, she said. “The social aspect of work especially, because when I retired most of my friends were still working. I had to look out for things that I could do on my own. “

OMG!!! This sounds exactly like what I’m going to have to do when I pull the pin.

“I think that you should do something for the head, something for the heart and something for the soul,” she said. “So I do classes at U3A, I go to the gym and I take myself out to art galleries and the theatre. I have a lovely time!”

I could hardly believe my luck. Just when I’ve been all in the swithers about whether or not I’d enjoy retirement, along comes a woman who has designed the very same sort of retirement I’d thought about – and she loved it. It was so reassuring to hear. And to think, if I hadn’t have snuck out to see Mum and Dad, I wouldn’t have met her. After all, I’d been parking in that street for over 16 years and this was the first time I’d seen her.

Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer striking again!

We spoke for about 10 minutes, then I raced off to see how Mum and Dad were doing. It felt lovely to go in with the bunch of jonquils and tell them about our conversation.

Isn’t it funny how life sometimes delivers exactly what we need?

‘Playing with FIRE’ review.

(Screenshot from the trailer.)

A few days ago I went to see the Melbourne premiere of the ‘Playing With Fire.’ I was asked to be on the panel for the ‘Q and A’ afterwards, so there was double the reason to go along. I love a good chinwag! There have been heaps of showings in the US and UK, so I’d heard a bit about it, but there’s nothing like seeing the finished product for yourself.

I met up with Girt, one of the 3.5 readers of this blog, for dinner and then we dashed to the venue, meeting up with latestarterfire, Mr and Mrs Hack and another couple of blog readers. It’s always fun when people come hesitantly up to you, saying, “Um… excuse me… are you Frogdancer?” It’s not exactly a common thing to call someone!

For those not in the know, the basic storyline is that a young couple finds out about FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) and decide that they want to make some changes to their lifestyle so that they can gain more freedom and get to spend more time with their infant daughter. The husband, Scott, is waaaay more gung-ho about this than Taylor, his wife. The film shows a year in their lives after they make the decision to sell their incredibly expensive house in (I think) California and move to a lower cost of living state in order to kick-start their FIRE plans.

I enjoyed the film, particularly the cameos of famous FIRE bloggers which were interspersed along the way. I’m pleased to see that the concept of financial independence is inching its way towards becoming more mainstream and projects like this can only help.

This film is obviously designed as an introduction to the FIRE world. People who are totally unaware of it or who have just dipped their big toe into the waters are the target audience. Overall, I liked the film very much, but there were a couple of niggling things that I’ll get off my chest before I dive into what I liked about it.

Obviously, the film’s structure of showing one couple’s year diving into FIRE meant that while some things were duplicatable for most people, other things they did weren’t. Strategies like living with both sets of parents for a few months, Travis leaving his job to set up a vague, unspecified ‘entrepreneurial gig’ while his wife still worked and leaving their home for a totally new state are things that were very personal to this couple. However, there were other things that I thought might be very valuable to viewers in the target audience.

The most interesting thing I found about the movie was watching the slow transformation of a short-term thinker into a long(er) term one. Taylor started off being very reluctant to make any changes to the lifestyle that she found very comfortable. She wanted to free up more time to spend with her baby daughter, yes, but she also used her baby as a knee-jerk reaction excuse when she didn’t like what her husband was suggesting.

When Scott suggested trading the expensively-leased family car over to something older and more affordable, her instant come-back was, “But will it be safe?” When he put up the idea about moving from their expensive beachside townhouse in order to move to a cheaper, landlocked place, she didn’t like the idea, saying that she didn’t want to move their daughter away from such a safe neighbourhood and good school district, as if this was the only place in the world where such a place exists. Plus, the baby is around a year old… plenty of time to worry about school districts. It was interesting to see rationalisation in action!

Slowly, over the course of the movie, her attitude started to change. It wasn’t all beer and skittles – working all day while she could hear other people interacting with her child was hard, but she had to do it because her husband wasn’t working; and driving the older secondhand car after giving up her new one clearly wasn’t a good day – but by the end of the movie she said that she was happy with what they’d put in place.

Will she keep going with it? If her husband starts pulling his weight with the income situation, then I think she probably will. Someone after the movie said that his new ‘Side-hustle” was actually making the movie, (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t actually stated in the film – let me know if I’m wrong) so I hope for her sake that it’s making a healthy profit!

I also really liked the graphic that would flash up every now and then, showing the couple’s current savings rate at that point in the movie and how many years they had until they reached FI if they continued at that savings rate. Obviously, they weren’t going to live with their parents forever, which is when they were making a 70% savings rate, but it showed in a concrete way how reducing your expenses (or raising them) can make YEARS worth of differences in the length of your working life. This is something that everyone can take away with them and apply to their lives, unlike some of the other more drastic strategies Scott and Taylor used.

Of course, the little cameos of various FIRE bloggers and podcasters were a highlight. After reading these people for years, it was nice to see them pop up on the screen. It was almost like seeing old friends. This feature also gave balance to the whole movie, showing those at the other end who are reaping the benefits of making the sort of choices that Scott and Taylor were beginning to grapple with.

I pinched the next 2 photos from The Bludger’s twitter feed. I forgot to ask anyone to take pictures. I was Living In The Moment!

The audience in the Melbourne showing was far smaller than that in Sydney and a big proportion of us were FI bloggers, readers and practitioners. The film was preaching to the converted to us. However, there were a few people who’d come along with friends and who were being introduced to these ideas for the first time. The FIRE might be spreading!

Here’s The Bludger introducing us. I’m in the middle, with Mark and Sophie either side.

Being on the Q and A panel was fun. The other members were Sophie Elsworth, a financial journo for Newscorp and Mark, who along with his wife is making huge strides along the FI trail using property. Mark’s also a teacher, but in the Maths area *shudder!* We fielded many questions, with Sophie being able to comment on the bigger picture areas as she’s interviewed LOTS of people over her career, while Mark and I were able to talk about our personal ways of reaching FI and how we did it. Mark’s wife was in the audience too and she gave some useful insights. They started early… the lucky dogs!!

All in all, an enjoyable night. I’m glad to have finally seen the film for myself and I’ve met some lovely people from the FIRE community. Thanks to The Bludger for organising the screening. Hopefully, this will be the first of many in Melbourne.

For those going to the shindig on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the pizzaz back.

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

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

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

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

I’m setting myself up for success.

I’ve always had a fondness for wonky blocks.

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

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

How cool is this one?

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

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

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

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

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

A half-log cabin quilt.

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

The scary sound of silence.

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

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

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

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

Instead…

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will I cope with the silence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me in retirement – like this dog on the beach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best part of financial independence is having options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #3

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

Veggie gardens. A must for any retirement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All finished.

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

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

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

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

I just wish that my next project was as economical…

The naked paved area.

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

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

Along with my savings…

« Older posts