Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Month: March 2019 (page 1 of 2)

Lessons from Literature: The Good Earth.

Many novels have basic money lessons woven through them, which is understandable really. After all, money is integral to the human condition, which is what literature is all about. Few novels, however, concern themselves with money lessons so much as Pearl S Buck’s ‘The Good Earth.’

For those who haven’t come across it, this is a cracking good read. It covers the story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese peasant eking out a living on a farm in the days before Communist rule. Wang Lung is poor… dirt poor. But he has ambition and a fierce love of the land. This novel traces his life as he rises from poor peasant to rich landowner and what happens to his character and family along the way.

Wang Lung and O-Lan are married - The Good Earth.
All images are taken from the 1937 film of the same name.

Wang Lung’s wife is chosen for him by his father. A practical man, his father chooses a slave girl from the rich and powerful House of Hwang in the village, a girl who can work hard on the farm as she doesn’t have bound feet, much to Wang Lung’s disappointment. O-Lan is not a beautiful girl, but she is devoted to the farm and to her new family and there is much more to her than meets the eye.

Of necessity, the family is frugal. I first read ‘The Good Earth’ when I was a teen and to this day, I still have to get every grain of rice out of the cooking dish, exactly as O-Lan did. I think of her every time.

They waste nothing. At first, it’s from mere survival instinct, but as time goes on and O-Lan’s skills bring more prosperity to the family, they begin to buy land. In their society, land was the only thing that could buy security and prosperity. This was especially important to them as their family started to grow.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan on the farm.

O-Lan goes back to visit the House of Hwang with her first baby, dressed beautifully. The Hwang family clearly need to read ‘The Millionaire Next Door’. She says to Wang Lung:

  • “I had but a moment for private talk with the cook under whom I worked before, but she said, ‘This house cannot stand forever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concubine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.’ “

However, no bull run in the stock market lasts forever and it’s the same with life on the land. A few years later famine strikes. Despite having resources tucked away, hungry relatives descend upon them demanding to be fed and soon Wang Lung and O-Lan’s ’emergency fund’ of food and money is gone.

The neighbours didn’t know this and, fired up by Wang Lung’s evil uncle, they descend on the house and strip it bare, looking for food and other items of value to steal. There was nothing but a few handfuls of beans. After they leave, Wang Lung comforts himself with the thought that he’d put all of their spare money into investments, which in his case was land:

  • “They cannot take the land from me. The labour of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought [food] with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.”

The lesson here is clear. If you store your net worth in things that cannot be seen, you have a better chance of preserving them when things go wrong. Anyone can run away with a bag of diamonds or a shiny new car, but a share portfolio or a fat superannuation account is easy to hide.

The Good Earth - O-Lan grinding grain

Back then in pre-communist China, of course, there were no unemployment benefits. You either starved when the food ran out, or you found a way to make some money. Or you practise geoarbitrage and move to where things are better.

The family sell every stick of furniture in the house, except for their farm implements, and they set off to a big city 100 miles to the south, where the famine hasn’t reached. Geoarbitrage! Wang Lung picks up work pulling a rickshaw, while O-Lan and the children turn to begging. O-Lan utilised skills she picked up as a child to show the others how to make money as a beggar. One should never forget skills that one picks up along the way!

An easy way to make money was to sell a child to a rich family. O-Lan revealed that this was how she herself had become a slave. The couple had two sons and an infant daughter by this time. No way would they part with the sons, but the daughter? Wang Lung decides not to sell her, but it was a close thing.

The Good Earth - O-Lan finds the jewels

Sometimes the road to financial independence relies on seeing an opportunity and taking action. While the family is stuck in the city, with no way to earn enough to get back home, there is some sort of revolution and the rich homes are looted. Wang Lung is borne along by the crowd and takes nothing, however O-Lan, who has lived in a Big House and knows what to look for, finds a cache of jewels.

The family is now set! They travel back home, with enough money to buy lots of land and set themselves up for life. O-Lan requests that she keep only 2 small pearls from the jewels.

  • ‘If I could have two,’ she went on humbly, ‘only two small ones—two small white pearls even… ‘Pearls!’ he repeated, agape. ‘I would keep them—I would not wear them,’ she said, ‘only keep them.’

The rest they use to buy land from the House of Hwang where O-Lan once lived. That family has now fallen into decline, due to opium addiction and general financial recklessness.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan

There is now money enough to employ others to work on the land, money enough to take the sons from the fields and educate them and money enough to support some leisure activities. Wang Lung eventually buys the House of Hwang’s residence and moves his family in. To think! What was once the pinnacle of wealth and power to him, is now his.

However, lifestyle creep starts to cause problems.

O-Lan continues on as usual, but Wang Lung falls prey to peer group pressure from other rich men and starts going to gambling dens and ‘tea houses’. This is where he meets Lotus, a lady of the night. She looks like a kitten, with the smallest bound feet Wang Lung has ever seen.

The Good Earth - Lotus.

She is incredibly beautiful, totally greedy and selfish and she bedazzles Wang Lung. He showers her with money and even asks O-Lan to give him the 2 pearls she had kept from the cache of jewels, so that he could give them to Lotus. After a while he couldn’t bear the thought of other men sleeping with her, so he buys her from the Tea House and brings her home.

He builds her an inner court where she lives with her own household, so she and O-Lan don’t have to see each other. O-Lan is now totally disregarded by Wang Lung as she quietly goes about doing her regular work for the family until her death.

As the family gets older, lifestyle creep continues to happen. But through it all, even as silver streams from their hands, Wang Lung will never sell any of the land he has accumulated. He knows that it’s the bedrock of their fortunes and everything else they’ve managed to build and to buy is based on that.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung

He’s the definition of first-generation FIRE. But unfortunately, he was so focused on his work, what the rich men of the town thought and on Lotus that he made a huge mistake. The next generation had been allowed to grow up without having much contact with the very thing that had given them their prosperity. They could remember nothing but ease and comfort.

At the end of his life, he is living back on the original farm with his daughter and a concubine. He overhears his two sons talking about how they will divide the estate once Wang Lung has died, which fields they will keep and which ones they will sell:

  • But the old man heard only these words, “sell the land”, and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger, “Now, evil, idle sons – sell the land!” He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up and he began to weep.
  • Then they soothed him and they said, soothing him, ” No – no- we will never sell the land – “
  • “It is the end of a family when – they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go – and if you can hold your land you can live – no one can rob you of land -“
  • And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered, “If you sell the land, it is the end.”
  • And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm, loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over again, the elder son and the second son, “Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”
  • But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

Now I’m thinking about Opportunity Cost.

Hey girl, you look good when you pay your blls

Of course, as soon as I wrote a post about possibly going part-time at work, I immediately started to think about the Opportunity Cost of the 20K/year I’d be missing out on if I dropped a day. There’s also the extra year or two I’d probably be adding to my work life.

So what’s Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost of not studying

Opportunity cost is usually talked about in economics, but it basically applies in every area of life. It refers to all the choices and directions that you choose to give up when you make a decision to do/spend something.

For example, I chose to keep 50K from the money I received when I sold my original house to use for landscaping. That money could have been spent on more investments to bring me more income in the future. (At 7% interest, I’m missing out on an extra $3,500/year.) It could have bought me 3 or 4 trips to Europe. It could have paid for a new ensuite, shiny new kitchen appliances and a new car.

But instead, by using that money to pay for wicking vegetable garden beds, brick paving and an automatic watering system attached to my water tank, I’ve turned away from those other alternatives. This is the opportunity cost of my decision.

The opportunity cost of talking to me
(“Fallacy of composition’ means the error of assuming that what is true of a member of a group is true for the group as a whole.

What could I do with the 20K that I’d be giving up if I only taught 4 days a week? There’s no doubt that my work/life balance would be far better if I worked fewer hours. But there are items on my ‘to do’ list that I could quickly knock off if I gritted my teeth and worked full-time for another year.

Below is a list of things that I want to put into place before I leave work. I’ve already achieved the major one, which was the landscaping job. However, there are a few more things I want to get done.

Opportunity cost of being good at your job.
  • I have an ensuite – the first one I’ve ever had. I never realised how much I love having one, but it’s not really suitable for old people. It has a shower over a bath. I’m definitely not a bath person, but even if I was, the main bathroom has one. I can visualise Old Lady Frogdancer trying to get herself in or out of the bath a couple of decades from now, slipping and breaking a hip. An ensuite renovation would probably be around the 20K mark, wouldn’t it?
  • I want to get the inside and outside of my house freshly painted. This isn’t a huge priority, because I’m pretty sure the house was painted just before I bought it 3 years ago. But they painted everything the same colour and used the same paint for everything. This means that the window ledges, skirting boards and doors are all in matt paint, not gloss. This makes them much harder to keep clean.
No opportunity cost to saving money right now!
  • I still need to get the verandah roof put on at the back part of the house. When that’s done I’ll have an outdoor room, looking out towards the veggie garden. I’ll get an old couch and a table, and I’ll loll on the couch and read a book out there in the shade, drinking a glass or two of shiraz while watching my organic food grow. 20K would more than pay for that, wouldn’t it?.
  • Does anyone know if a Tesla battery can be connected to existing solar panels? This house came with an impressive array of solar panels, but ever since I found out from a friend that not only does she have zero bills for electricity since installing panels and a battery, she’s getting money paid to her by the electricity company for the power they’ve passed back to the grid! In around 6 months they’ve received nearly 1K in payments! That sounds very enticing for someone who intends to be a crazy dog lady in retirement. Those dogs need to be fed.
I need a part-time job that pays 20K a week.
  • Speaking of dogs, my dogs bark every time another dog walks past. I know that they’re only doing their jobs, but it gets a bit annoying. I’m thinking I might replace the open-view fence with a more solid one, to stop the dogs from having so much fun. I’d have lots of change from 20K if I started with this one!
  • Another thing that will need to be replaced is the ultra-cheap oven and cooktop that the previous owners put into the kitchen when they were selling. They’re stainless steel, so they look ok, but the oven is terrible. I’d like to get an induction cooktop, so I could put the thermomixes on it, under the fan, and there’d be no chance of them melting. I’d also like to get a better quality oven.
  • I’d also like to put some money aside for things like a car upgrade down the track… expenses that I know will be coming one day, but don’t have to be catered for just yet. There may even be weddings for the boys in the future, though they’re fairly unattractive so maybe this won’t happen…

There’s no denying that my work-life balance would be improved if I went part-time. There’s also no denying that, if I want to get these things knocked off my ‘To Do’ list, I’ll be increasing my work life by another one or two years. Still, as an extroverted introvert, that mightn’t be a bad thing.

When I’m at home, I’m very solitary and I love it. But when I’m at work, I’m surrounded by people and all that goes with it. This morning, I walked into The Danger Zone, (our section of the staff room) and it was filled with people wearing party hats, balloons on the ground and a couple of toddlers blowing bubbles. Someone’s mum was coming to pick up the grandkids and it was her 70th birthday.

Five minutes ago I was holding a baby who had come in with her Dad, who is taking paternity leave for a year. Last year he and his husband went to the US, organised a surrogate and now this little girl is a much-loved and doted upon Aussie.

Last year my year 7 English class threw me a surprise birthday party, while back in 2015 my Theatre Studies class threw a surprise dinner party to farewell me when I took a term off to go to Europe. These things are very special.

The Opportunity Cost of working full-time and leaving work earlier may be the loss of the human interaction I’m so used to. This is without taking into account the day-to-day laughs and general interaction with the students.

If I go part-time then the Opportunity Cost is the money and the continued lack of freedom to have total control over how I spend my time.

I guess I just have to work out which is the most valuable to me going forward…

Live in the moment.

Live in the moment - Dog. Worrying - Man. Dog is happier.

I just finished a pile of year 7 persuasive essays about whether or not to ban plastic. I read 28 of these, with varying degrees of neatness, correct spelling and originality. A couple of them made me want to throw myself out a window, but others made me smile. But truly, none made me smile more than Toby’s one – because it was the last one.

I have a choice for the rest of the day – I can live in the moment and be happy that I’ve finished that marking, or I can look forward with dread to the end of the day. This is when my year 9s are due to finish their ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘ essays and hand them in.

Why do I use the word ‘dread’?

28 essays all on the same topic, using the same novel and written to pretty much the same formula. Most of these kids have very bad handwriting since they spend most of their time using computers. This is why God invented the chocolates for sale in the staff common room. When I get a couple of bad ones, it takes a sugar hit to get me through.

So what should I do?

Ryan Gosling - Hey girl, live in the moment

Call me crazy, but Ryan here seems to know what he’s talking about.

I have three hours before the next pile of essays lands on my desk to be marked. I also have period 4 off – what will I do with those 48 precious minutes of freedom now that I’ve chosen to live in the moment?

The possibilities are endless…

Well… as endless as the possibilities are when you’re stuck at work. I could:

  • Begin the book that the school library bought and reserved for me. It’s been sitting on my desk for the last couple of days, untouched, unopened, unread.
  • Write a blog post or two.
  • Have a chat with someone else who’s also free.
  • Do some lesson prep for next week. (Though who am I trying to fool? This probably won’t happen…)

I can guarantee that Mr Gosling’s right – each of these will be far better if I immerse myself in the moment and just enjoy them. Those year 9 essays are going to come at me whether I focus on them or not.

So why on earth would I poison the last 3 hours of freedom I’ll have before they get here?

I admire people who live in the moment.

Should I go part-time next year?

Even typing that title was a bit confronting! But yes, I’ve started to wonder if life wouldn’t be better if I stopped working 5 days a week and started a part-time teaching load.

This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be considering yet. I assumed that I’d be working full-time for another 3 years or so. This was already a HUGE step forward.

Before I sold my original property and geoarbitraged 20 kms away, I thought I’d be working full time until I was eligible to receive the Age Pension (in another 11 years.) By moving down to The Best House in Melbourne by the beach, I already shaved around a decade from my working life. So I’m already in a better position.

And yet…

I’m really tired. All the damned time. So tired that I went had had a full bloodwork thing done to make sure I wasn’t low in vitamin B or suffering from a medical condition. (Fear not, frugal friends. I’m in Australia so it was free.)

Turns out I’m as healthy as a horse.

Which is great, but I’m not sure I want to spend the next 3 years running breathlessly towards my FI figure, while not feeling full of vim. I’d like to get more things done around here, instead of squeezing in a nap every weekend. I have a life to live, people!!

I was having a chat to Dee at work a couple of weeks ago. Her kids are the same age as mine and she’s been working part time for a few years now.

“Don’t you get tired?” she said. “Sometimes I think about going back to full time because the money’d be good, especially since we built the new house, but I don’t know if I’d be able to do it.”

I know how she feels. Being a teacher is a high-octane job. I’m lucky this year – I only have 4 classes and 3 of them are lovely. They’re full of kids who want to work and are keen to do well, so it’s easy to get them on task and doing what they should.

My year 8 class? They take a lot of energy. There’s a group of around 7 boys who need constant monitoring. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. They seem to like me, but I don’t know why because I’m an absolute witch to them.

But even when you’re in front of the good classes you need to be on your game. That’s how it should be – you want your students to have your best – but when it starts leaching energy from other, more important areas of your life, something’s out of balance.

I’ve always said that I don’t live to teach – I teach so that I can do all the things for myself and my family that I want to do. This is why I rarely bring correction home, as I prefer to keep my work and home life separate. Sure, sometimes I go into school on the weekends to work with my year 12’s when we’re doing a play. This year it’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest‘ and I’ll be going in for 2 or 3 days in the Easter school holidays to run rehearsals.

That’s part of the job. I’m ok with that because the kids this year in particular are amazing and are working so hard to bring my favourite play to life.

But do I want to feel like this for the next few years?

If I dropped a day I’d be losing around 20K/year. Is a little more freedom worth that? Will an extra day a week make me that much happier?

My cunning plan was that I’d keep working full time so I could get to my FI number quicker. Then, depending on how I was feeling about life, the universe and everything, I’d THEN go part-time. O maybe I’d resign, or do casual teaching when people were away. I’m a naturally long-term thinker, so it seems sensible to get the hard work out of the way up front, and then once that job’s done and things are as secure as they can be, to then reassess the situation.

But a thought occurred to me today…

What if the “hard work” I was thinking about wasn’t working full-time now? What if it was the 20+ years I was raising the 4 boys on my own AND holding down a full-time job? (AND in the later years, running a Thermomix business as well?) Those years were full of hectic juggling. I worked damned hard.

What if this means that it’d be ok to slow the pace down a little now and have a bit more ‘Frogdancer’ time to do what I want to do in the present?

What if this was the time to start enjoying The Best House in Melbourne, the beach, the dogs and my hobbies a little more?

I won’t deny – the thought is enticing. I think it’s around September when we have to fill in a form stating what time fraction we want for next year and which subjects and classes we’d prefer to teach.

I’ll be mulling it over. I’d like to hear from other people who’ve decided to work part-time, or who made the decision to go the other way. It’s a strange thing to start thinking of abandoning a perfectly good cunning plan when I have only a few short years before I’d be at the finish line…

Things I won’t miss from work.

I like my job – I really do. And yet it isn’t an unmixed blessing. Here are some of the things I won’t miss when I leave.

  • The marking. I won’t miss this! I just finished marking 28 text response essays on the same question about the same book. Each essay has an introduction, three body paragraphs that are all structured the same way, and a conclusion. Only chocolate can get me through this.
  • The parents. I won’t miss (some of) them! I overheard a phone call recently where an irate parent was complaining to a teacher who told her son to put his helmet on when riding his bike. (This is the law, by the way.) This parent accused the teacher of following her son after school and said that it is only the police who can enforce this rule, not a teacher. You’d think that a parent would be pleased that someone is trying to keep their son safe, but clearly not…? The only thing that parent taught her son was that he can get off things through a technicality. Not exactly the sort of lesson I’d personally like to teach my kid, but then… what would I know?
  • The Meetings. I won’t miss this! Ok, no one likes meetings. But mine have doubled from this year compared to last. The two faculties I was in used to have their meetings scheduled on the same days, but now Art has moved their time slot. When you have a long commute an extra meeting or two definitely fails to float your boat.
  • Re-inventing the Wheel. I definitely won’t miss this! Teaching is peculiarly vulnerable to politicians and bureaucrats wanting to make their mark by fiddling and meddling with things. The number of times I’ve seen the same ideas come around, being touted as ‘the next new thing’ is uncountable. Ideas renamed, rebranded and then schools are forced to adopt them, thus creating a huge workload for teachers who are made to change documentation and whole curricula, only to see the next sweeping change come in a couple of years later.
  • Lazy students. *sigh* I won’t miss this! The school I work at is a high-achieving government school and the majority of our students are highly motivated. My year 12 Theatre Studies kids, for example, are staying back until 6 PM tonight to do rehearsals for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ But there are always some kids who “hate reading” and “don’t know where I put the homework” or sit in class day-dreaming while the rest of the kids are writing the assessment task. Then they grizzle about their marks. I have very little patience for people who don’t hold themselves accountable.
  • Having each minute of my day from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM (4:30 if there’s a meeting) rigidly prescribed. This is the one I won’t miss the most. According to the timetable, I know which days are frantically busy and which days allow time to get marking done. (See point 1 at the top of the list.) I have to be in front of certain kids at a certain time in a certain room in 48-minute blocks of time. Teachers can’t even pee when we want to. We’re not to leave the kids for any reason, in case something happens. People who love predictability would probably love this – but it certainly tends to squash spontaneity in the working day!
  • Getting up so early in the morning. I won’t miss this one. Ok, this one is self-inflicted. I used to live a 2-minute drive from school, but now it’s more around 50 minutes since I did the whole geo-arbitrage thing. I like a leisurely morning, sipping my coffee on the couch, reading blogs, tweets and Bookface posts while the dogs snuggle on either side of me. I get up an hour before I have to leave for work so I can enjoy some time with the dogs. I’m looking forward to when I can get up, look at the clock and think, ‘Gee, I would be driving right now if I was still at work! Heh heh.”

Like I said, I love my job and I’m glad I fell into teaching. However, there are a few burrs under my saddle that will make me gleeful when I decide it’s time to pull the pin on my working life. I focus on these things every now and then and it makes me redouble my focus on retiring early(er).

Now it’s time to take the dogs for a walk.

It’s the little things…

All 3 trouble-makers are absent on the same day.

Sometimes it’s the little things that turn an ordinary day into a good one.

Normally, I practically have to carry a whip and a chair into my year 8 class to keep them quiet and able to learn. But today? Three boys were away.

I was able to read ‘The Outsiders’ to the class without a single interruption.

I love my job today!

Anyone have any other ‘little things’ that make an ordinary working day seem special?

A mindful way to think about FI/RE.

I had a busy weekend. My blog post came second place in the Rockstar Rumble and I went out to see two plays with Evan22, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. I did a lot of reading on Saturday – when I start a new book I can’t help but gallop through it till the end. (This one was NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. It wasn’t bad.) Sunday I Got Practical Things Around The House Done.

This meant that I didn’t do much writing. Those of you who’ve read my post on my ‘Goal Setting’ chart might remember that I have a goal to write on this blog 3 times a week. I dragged myself into work today feeling as if I didn’t want to be here and cross that I didn’t have an article ready to post today.

Every Monday for the first 10 minutes of the day we have ‘Mindfulness Mondays’, where the teachers direct their classes in a Mindfulness session. Up until now, I’ve been doing sessions totally directed by me, where we concentrate on feeling how they’re breathing, how their feet feel in their shoes, how their bodies feel in the chairs etc.

When I run out of things to talk about I direct them to look at the ‘Mindfulness Tree’, which is a gum tree outside our second-floor window. I get them to look at the leaves, how they’re blowing in the wind, how the sky looks behind it and so on. But I was getting a little bit tired of doing the same old thing every week.

I walked into the staffroom and decided that this week I was going to do something different. The kids were going to colour in!

This is actually quite a good mindfulness technique. While colouring in, you’re effectively in the moment, focused on the selection of colours and what the pencil is doing. I passed out the sheets and the Tibetan bell chimed over the loudspeaker to begin the session.

The kids were silent. Engrossed. I’ve never seen this group of 12-year-olds so intent.

The minutes slipped by. They were totally absorbed by the task. Each child started at a different spot on the design and used different colours to fill in the spaces. Vikki wanted to keep reading instead, but I made her put her book away and start colouring. “We’re here to be mindful in the life we’re in now, not escaping to other worlds!”

I wasn’t sure how much they would finish in the ten minutes. I haven’t coloured in anything for decades! When the Tibetan bell sounded at the end of the session, hardly anything had been finished. But the kids had been working so hard.

“Can we keep colouring?” one little optimist said.

“No, we have to get on with work,” I said. “But how about if everyone puts their name on the top and I save them for next week?”

They liked that idea… well, probably everyone except Vikki! I collected them up and we went on with the lesson.

It’ll take another 3 or 4 lessons, no doubt, until the pictures are complete.

It was when I was wandering around the room as they worked that I saw a parallel to our FI/RE treks.

Given time, all of the children will complete the task.

They all started from different spots, with different materials. Some had only a couple of pencils, some had heaps; one boy had a single grey lead.

Now that they know where they’re headed, some kids will prepare and make sure to bring extra pencils to class next week. Just like someone finding out about FI/RE and beginning to educate themselves by reading books and blogs, going to Meet-ups and rearranging their finances.

When the time is up, it won’t matter what they started with or where they started from.

They’ll have finished the task and they’ll have a beautiful picture to enjoy.

Protect your savings!

I’ve never had a ‘budget’ as such. Too many numbers and maths calculations for me! I run our household under some rigid rules, that oddly enough, gave me great flexibility to pivot financially if I needed to.

Fear not! I’m not going to give you a bullet point list of savings tips that you’ve read a hundred times before. Instead, I’m giving you the principle I followed to keep our financial house afloat:

Any dollar that you manage to put into a savings account, try and keep it there for as long as possible.

I love seeing my savings accounts go up. I loved it even more when I was a young Stay-At-Home Mum with 4 small boys depending on me. I’ve always worked on a fortnightly system and sometimes in those days the end of the fortnight and what was left of my money would go down to the wire.

But we never had money owing on a credit card and we didn’t borrow from friends and family.

Once I deposit money in the bank, I try to keep it there as long as I can.

That means cash flowing expenses as much as possible.

For example, Scout’s operation cost me just over 3K. I had the money in my 5K “pet fund” in my savings. I could have fronted up at the vet and paid cash. But I used my credit card. This bought me time to swing my wage into gear.

Unless I have a fortnight of crazy expenses, such as a 3K vet bill or a whole heap of bills coming in at once, I can count on having around 1K/fortnight of money that I don’t need to deploy on debt or living expenses. I have no debt.

By using the credit card and then putting my wage onto that card when I got paid, I cash flowed this wage’s ‘excess’ 1K straight off that bill. That leaves only 2K left to pay. I have another pay period before the due date of that credit card. Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I’ll have an extra 1K to throw straight at the bill then. That only leaves 1K to pull out of my savings.

I’ve protected my savings by leaving as much of them alone as I can.

Obviously, when I get paid after that I’ll repay my savings to get the ‘pet fund’ back to its original level.

Is this fun? Not particularly. I have a couple of projects that I’m itching to get started on and that money was supposed to go towards those.

But my overarching goal is security. So the top priority is to keep my savings intact. Whenever I empty a savings fund, I refill it before I do anything else.

I love seeing my savings accounts going up in value. But it’s almost as good just seeing them stay the same and not go backwards.

It’s hard for most people to be able to squirrel away money for a rainy day. So when you succeed – I think it’s wise to keep it there for as long as possible. Cash-flowing expenses from your wage is one way to protect your savings and keep making progress towards your goals.


Cut your coat to fit your cloth.

“Cut your coat to fit your cloth.”

That saying used to run through my mind quite a bit when the boys were younger. It’s not a dressmaking tip – it’s about knowing how much money/’cloth’ you have and then not allowing your expenses/’coat’ to exceed your resources.

I did this ruthlessly in the early years when the boys and I were living off the sole parents’ pension and child support was intermittent at best. I had a credit card that I ran all my expenses through – still do, in fact – but I paid it off in full every month.

I know what it’s like to have to cut expenses down to the bone to get by. A quick look at my ‘About’ page will tell you that.

Back in those days, I figured that I got us into this mess by my poor choice of husband and then choosing to stay until we’d produced 4 children, so I didn’t want to hold out my hands for help.

I got the kids and I into this and I’d get us out of it!

So I got very good at making sure that the mortgage and bills were paid, then food, then (if there was) anything left over, I threw it in an emergency fund. Back then I called it a ‘Buffer Zone”. Once I had around a thousand dollars in it, then I could relax a little and give the boys a few little treats.

That credit card never had a cent of interest paid on it. Well… that’s a fib. Twice I paid it a day late and was charged interest. Boy, was I mad at myself!!

Some people say that frugality isn’t as important as raising your income. I can see the logic – there’s only so far you can cut costs until there’s no more room for any more cuts – but I’ve found that a person discounts frugality at their financial peril.

Raising income is good – when the kids grew older I did it myself and it definitely helped us to get ahead – but frugality is the bedrock on which everything rests. If you raise your income but keep merrily spending, you’re going to end up broke no matter what your income is.

I used to make it a game. Particularly with the grocery shopping, I’d see how many days I could stretch out between shopping trips. Everyone knows that you always buy more than you think you’re going to when you go food shopping, so my solution was to go as little as possible.

When I started putting this little ploy into action, I found that there was often a little more “cloth” for me to cut my coat from.


I love this saying. Even now, when I’ve been back at work for over 15 years and those lean, hard days are all in the past, I still practice many of the things I did to survive back then.

The most important one – the one that I will never ever break – is to never let my outgoings exceed my incomings. My coat will always be amply able to be cut from my cloth.





Want to be happier? Try this!

A few days ago I read a blog post by a reader here. It was exploring a corker of an idea called ‘Homework for Life’, which sounded a little bit like a Gratitude Journal. It’s a simple idea, much like the things I talked about in my post about The Secret to Happiness about taking time to notice the little things, but it takes it a step further by getting you to actually write things down.

I read the post through a couple of times, then posted it to Twitter, tagging in a couple of my teacherly friends, saying, ‘Wouldn’t this be a fantastic thing to do with our kids?

A few days ago I tried it with my year 7 English class.

I asked them to sit silently for a few moments and think back across their day so far. I asked them to recall any pleasant moments that have happened. They could be big if they were desperate, but preferably they’d be really tiny. Things like noticing a pretty flower in someone’s garden on the walk to school, or patting a cat and hearing it purr, or laughing with your friends about something funny that happened.

The point is that it should be something that was a small thing in the scheme of things… something so small that it would soon be forgotten if it wasn’t written down.

Little smiles began to appear on people’s faces as they began remembering.

I set the timer for a couple of minutes and we all began writing.

After we’d finished, everyone read out what they’d written. There were some beautiful moments.

  • One little girl said that as she got out of the car as she was being dropped off at school, her grandpa called her name. She turned around and looked back in the car. “Have a great day, love,” he said. She said that made her feel warm and special.
  • A boy said that his best friend has been away sick for a few days. When he got to school today he saw his friend at the lockers and it made him really happy.
  • One boy said that he solved a really hard Maths problem in class and he felt proud of himself.
  • A girl took my flower example to heart and described in great detail one that she’d noticed that morning, right down to the bright yellow pollen in the centre.
  • Another boy said that when his friends turned up at his house this morning to walk to school he was ready for them and they didn’t have to wait. He felt really good about that.
  • (The background to this last one is that whenever I call the roll for a class, I mix up the order and whoever is last I say, “And the hideous Joe Lunchbucket… or whatever the name is.) A girl said,” I haven’t been hideous all year and I’ve been waiting to be. Ms Frogdancer called me hideous today and it made me smile.”

Of course, this is something that we can all do.

As we’re going along the path that leads to financial freedom, it’s all too easy to put all our focus on the future and forget to enjoy all of the little things that make each day a good one to be alive.

Why not jot down one thing that made you smile each day?

My friend Blogless Liz has kept a Gratitude Journal for years. At the end of the day she lists the things that have brought her pleasure that day. She told me that she told her year 8 class about this, and then a few days later one of the boys hung back after class and said, “Ms Blogless Liz, After you said that, I’ve started keeping a Gratitude Journal too and I’m feeling much happier.”

I’m going to start doing this. I fall into the trap of becoming impatient with the pace of my impending Financial Independence and I want it to happen NOW!!! I have the feeling that I’m not the only one.

Having something concrete to leaf through when we’re feeling like this will probably be helpful in making us remember that yes – our present lives are actually pretty darned good and we should enjoy it more as we finish off the job of becoming FI.

Even having the discipline of knowing that we have to have at least ONE thing to write down at the end of the day will make us notice the little things more – which of course is The Secret to Happiness.

**Just an update on Scout after her surgery. It’s now been two weeks and you’d never know that she was so sick. Her stitches are out, she’s still ball-obsessed and life is back to normal – but with an added dollop of thankfulness every time I look at her.

« Older posts