Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Consumerism (Page 1 of 6)

Cars and Caves.

Cute car.

When I was a kid we’d go to vintage car rallies ALL THE TIME. Dear God, it was so boring. My Dad was a Riley enthusiast – beautiful British cars. Dad has a 1930 Riley 9, a Drophead and a couple of others. My first car was a Riley Elf, which is basically a mini with a Riley grill on the front.

We’d drive to car parks/wineries/paddocks/whatever. All of the Rileys would line up in a row and the men would crawl all over them, the women would pull up picnic chairs and chat and the kids would be bored. I think this is when my addiction to reading became cemented.

So when Jenna’s parents suggested that we go to a car rally in a town on the peninisula, I inwardly groaned.

But it was actually quite fun.

Red Morgan. LOVE!

I think the difference was that it was a huge mix of different cars and they drove down the main drag of the town in a procession that lasted around an hour.

Black corvette.

Jenna’s parents and I drove to a mid point to meet up, then I hopped in their car and off we went. No, the corvette is not their car!

We found a spot at a table under a verandah and settled in to watch the parade.

Cute cop car.

There was everything from a model T Ford, dune buggies, Morgans, VW combis and beetles, muscle cars, sedans – something for everyone.

Red 3 wheeler.

There was even this 3 wheeled thing!

For a while I stood on the kerb with Andrew and watched the parade, looking for any Rileys, but after a while I got a little bored and thought I’d better go back and sit with Ann-Marie.

We were chatting away when I glanced over at the parade. A car was smoothly driving past with a silhouette that has been ingrained on my psyche since childhood.

“Holy shit, that’s a Riley!” I exclaimed, ever the lady, and I leapt up to join Andrew. I was ridiculously excited.

There were about 5 or 6 of them, one of them a mint-green Riley Elf. I could’ve taken photos but I called Dad instead and described what I was seeing. He was reliving his glory days as I was talking. It was pretty special.

Then we went to a winery for unch. I thought I did pretty well to get to pay for their lunches – I’ve learned from David27’s “in-laws” that you have to be quick to stop them paying for everything. Jenna’s parents are the same.

I sneakily overheard what they were going to order, then made sure I was ahead of Ann-Marie in the queue to order. When I ordered my meal, then went on to list theirs, I heard, “Oh you better not!” behind me. I put my card on the payment thingy, then turned around and said, “OMG, my card just slipped. Oh well…”

I thought I got away with it too, until we went to another winery for a wine tasting and I raved about a shiraz that was priced in the 3 figures and made them taste it. Guess who went home with a bottle of it? I’ve told them that they’re invited to my 60th and we’ll all crack it open then.

It’s so nice to see that my boys are choosing to be with partners with such lovely families. Andrew and Ann-Marie let me stay with them Friday night and they gave up their Sunday to spend time with me. That’s going above and beyond! I’m looking forward to enjoying that bottla wine with them in a few years time.

Pretty house.

Monday. Time to start heading home. I had no fixed plans, other than wanting to see the Ulpherstone Sinkhole in Mt Gambier that I missed on the way up – and I knew I wanted to spend ages in Port Fairy. Everyone says how pretty it is.

I wanted to learn from the mistake of my rushed trip over and take my time on the way back.

As I headed out, I thought I may as well drive up to Murray Bridge and have a look at the river. Why not? I put a generic address into the TomTom, ( 1 Main st / Smith St /First st ; whatever works), and I set off.

Then I started seeing signs to Harndorf.

I’ve been hearing about Hahndorf for 17 years. It’s the first German settlement in Australia and every year the German students from our school would go over there for an excursion and report back at the next General Assembly.

I had to see it for myself. I wanted to follow my nose home and this was an ideal place to start.

Pretty restaurant.

I pulled up in the Main st and parked outside an art gallery. Following my nose, I walked in.

And you wouldn’t believe it – I finally found the perfect painting for my dining room. I’ve only been living here and looking for the last 5 YEARS.

It’s absolutely nothing like I thought I’d buy. The subject is SO not me, it’s smaller than I visualised and the colours are different to what I was looking for, but when I saw it I knew it’d fit really well. So $1,100 lighter I walked out of the shop.

What are the odds? I had no plans to go to Hahndorf and there just happened to be a spot for my car directly outside the gallery. The painting had been put up less than 24 hours before I arrived. Maybe it was meant to be?

It’s being delivered sometime this week. If it looks awful then I only have myself to blame.

Bust and a row of sketches.
Hans Heysen – bust and sketches.

Look who I found in the museum behind the information centre!!!!

Remember when I showed you the picture of Ruth by Nora Heysen? Here’s her Dad – the way famous one of the two of them. The bust is of him and the sketches are his.

I like how when you travel in an area, the stories loop around. It reminds me of when Scott and I were walking on the battlements of Lincoln Castle, listening to the guided tour through our headphones, when I suddenly heard that Henry VIII and Katharine Howard had walked along the very same stones I was walking on. I’ll never forget the unexpected thrill.

Photo of Prince Philip looking interested.

Speaking of royalty, the museum behind the information centre was tiny, yet Prince Philip had visited it. One huge advantage to being a working royal is the amount of travel you could do. Imagine all the countries he must have seen? But imagine all the hours of tedium he must have gone through as well. No wonder he sometimes said the odd non-PC quip.

Exquisite lace collar.

In its day, the building was a school for boys and also a hospital. Look at the lacework, or is it tatting? This was on a maternity dress. I think I’d go blind, squinting, if I tried to do this, though I have some tatting that my great-grandmother did. Amazingly detailed.

Hahndorf was a very pretty little place. A few shops had jolly German music spilling out onto the street as thr tourists walked by. It was still school holidays in South Australia so there were a fair few people about.

Scott suggested that I mark all the school holidays in my calendar at the start of every year so I don’t make the mistake of travelling while the kids are free. I’m going to have to mark every state’s holidays, I think.

Murray River.

Then I drove to Murray Bridge.

Here’s the river Murray. It’s long. It’s wet. I had a look, ate lunch and drove on. I was aiming for Mt Gambier but then, as it was getting to late afternoon, the heavens opened up. I drove into Narracoorte.

There was a huge sign on the highway just before you enter the town, spruiking their caves. I vaguely remembered that Narracoorte was way famous for its caves, so I thought I’d get a cheap motel, stay the night and have a bit of a look around underground the next day.

Giant extinct wombat.

When I reached the caves the next day, I saw another instance of stories looping around. See this massive Diprotadon? Otherwise known as a giant wombat. What does he look a bt like?

My sculpture.

Remember my sculpture that I bought from the arts festival, thinking that it was going to be my only souvenir? They look like they might be cousins.

Beautiful cave.

The Narracoorte limestone caves are a world heritage listed site. They offer a few different tours but the lady in the information centre said to go on the fossils tour, because that is why they made it to the heritage list.

Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that the caves would be chilly. I wore my duckdown coat. It’s actually really warm down there.

Stalactites in a row.

See how the stalactites are hanging in a row here? Our guide said that in the early 1900’s guides used to clamber up there and ‘play’ the stalactites like a xylophone for their customers by hitting them. Sometimes one would break. Can you believe it???

Incidentally, I learned how to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Stalagmites MIGHT reach the roof one day, while stalactites have to hold on TIGHT to the roof to stop from falling.

Never say that this blog isn’t informative about the issues that matter!

Hole in the roof.

This fascinating photo is of a hole in the roof that leads up to the ground. This one was man-made to get all of the rubble out so that the tours like the one I was now on could be made. These also occur naturally, which is how the fossils have ended up in the caves.

Animals (and people, probably) would be innocently walking along and then fall down these shafts into the caves below. Some died immediately, but others survived until they died of thirst. They know this because they have complete skeletons of animals who look as if they’ve just curled up and gone to sleep, but with bones that have started to heal from their initial fall.

Drop bear skeleton.

This guy is a literal drop bear. Yes, they used to exist! He was some sort of carnivorous koala-type.

Nasty claw.

See the massive claw on his opposable thumb? Imagine that slicing into your soft underbelly?

Kangaroo bones.

This one was a kangaroo, but with only one toe. I took this photo to show you, but I like this next one a lot better.

Shadow on the cave wall.

That shadow is very Star Wars, isn’t it?

The caves that were initially found were just open caverns full of the rock formations, but then a couple of cavers found their way into some massive caverns further in that were jam-packed full of bones and fossils.

Bones scattered on the cave floor.

These are real bones that have been left as they were.

Behind the cave where we were standing is a massive cave where they’ve removed a small section of bones to study. They plan to leave the rest where they are for as long as possible. Our guide, who is a palaeontologist herself, said that they’ve removed enough bones and other material to keep many universities busy for decades. Maybe by the time they need to take another look, they might have technology that can study what’s in the caves but be able to leave everything untouched.

It’s an interesting thought.

Country road.

And then I was off and away. I pointed the car towards Mt Gambier and off I went. It was just before lunch and the day was still young!

Costs of the trip:

Running total so far: $665

Costs for day 6: $85 for lunch.

Costs forDay 7:

$1,100 painting

$10 lunch (Subway – eat fresh.)

$69 fuel

$91 accommodation

Total for Day 7: $1,270

Running total for trip: $1,935 (Yikes! I hope I still love this painting when it arrives!)

Art, art and more art – plus a Blue Lake.

Kangaroos on the golf course.

Today is the day where I learned a really big lesson about the difference in mind-set between being retired and being on holidays from a job.

Two days ago, I planned to stop at Port Campbell to see all the sights. I’d drive in the morning, then have all afternoon to scurry around. The next day – (Wednesday)- I had to be tucked up in bed in my timeshare, because I’d booked my stay to start that night.

8 hours of driving…

What was I thinking?

Well, I know now what I was thinking. It was the usual “don’t waste precious time on the journey!!! You have to go!go!go! to get there asap! There’s no time to waste!!!”

But of course, that’s simply not trie anymore.

It only dawned on me when I was at The Blue Lake in Mt Gambier.

This was one of the “must-sees” for me on this trip. I have a vague memory of coming here when I was a kid and I thought Mt Gambier would be a good place to stop for lunch. I’d see the lake, the Ulpherstone Sinkhole, maybe take the walk around the lake and then head off on my merry way.

But when I got there at midday, it was raining.

I sat in my car on the other side of the road and read a book while I waited to see if the rain would stop. There was a break in the clouds. I dashed out and stepped up to the lookout and snapped the photo above as the rain clouds swept in again.

Odd to think that this was once a volcano.

Then, after a little while, the sun came out. I drove around to the other side of the lake and finally – it was blue.

Same lake, same day, with the sun out.

The nice woman at the Tourist Centre told me that if I was lucky enough to see it when the sun was out, I should look at the edges. There’ll be turquoise colouring there. She was right. I tried to capture it but the camera couldn’t pick it up. It was beautiful though.

Here’s where the learning happened. I wanted to take the walk around the entire lake. The sun was out – it’d be nice. Then it dawned on my that if I was going to get to Normanville at a reasonable hour, I simply didn’t have the time. I also didn’t have the time to visit the Sinkhole or anything else.

The penny dropped. Why was I racing to travel there? For the first time ever, I have enough time at my disposal that the journey can now become PART of the destination.

As I drove out of town the rain clouds came back and it started to bucket down. At least I wasn’t walking around the lake and getting saturated.

Coonalpyn silo.

If I’d done my research properly I’d have been expecting to drive past this, but as it was, it came as a wonderful surprise.

One day I’m going to do the Silo Trail.

I arrived at Normanville after dark, a bit relieved that I hadn’t hit any kangaroos or wallabies. There were a few sad bodies on the side of the road every now and then. I lugged everything into my room, has a tin of baked beans for dinner and went to bed.

In the morning I looked at a brochure my FB friend Lara sent me. On Saturday I’d be meeting her for lunch. The Fleurieu Peninsula was in the middle of an arts festival, so I spent much of the day driving around to little galleries and enjoying the creativity and the scenery.

I couldn’t leave this little man behind.

The artist makes sculptures out of old nails, screws, metal and wood. He was sitting outside on a table next to another dinosaur. The other one was pretty, but this one spoke to me.

I already had my souvenir for this trip!

Rapid Bay.

When it started raining again I packed it in and went to a bakery for lunch, then bought cheese and dips for dinners. Because I’m travelling alone, I prefer to be out and about during the day, then in my room at night. Safety first!

Rundle Mall, Adelaide.

Friday was the beginning of the SOCIAL part of the trip. I call myself an extroverted introvert, so this trip was bookended by lots of alone time, while the middle 3 days had actual people that I’d be seeing.

I drove up to Adelaide to see some FIRE bloggers for lunch. To while away the time before we were ue to meet, I walked over to the Adelaide Art Museum. My son Tom29 visits there whenever he goes to Adelaide to see his football team play.

Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer!

I get there and ask the nice guard what there is to see.

“In the first gallery we have an exhibition on Antarctica,” he says.

Can you believe it???

They even had a film from the early 1900’s showing an expedition there. The universe is clearly telling me that I’ll get there.

David27 has synesthesia, which in his case means that he sees colour whenever he hears things. This painting is all about that. I sent it to him and he loved it.

I’ve just realised I have to check out in 20 minutes and I’m not ready. I’ll pick this up later.

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

I’m not a magazine reader, so it came as news to me when someone on Twitter said that Dave from Strong Money Australia gave a shout out to a few Aussie FIRE bloggers (including me – thanks Dave!) in a Money Magazine story about the FIRE movement in Australia.

Of course, I was anxious to read it, so I downloaded the Libby app and borrowed Money magazine from the library. (That’s another $9 off my “Earn my rates back” reading quest. ) I’d recommend reading the article for yourself, but in a nutshell, they interviewed 7 people who have either finished the FIRE path or are on their way along it. All but one were younger than me and all had different ways of navigating the path towards total financial freedom.

It made me wonder what I would have said, had I been interviewed. I’ve been a single mother for well over 20 years and have brought up my 4 boys on my own, all while working as a secondary teacher. I still have two of them at home with me, while the oldest and the youngest have flown the nest.

I stumbled across the FIRE movement around 8 or 9 years ago by reading a blog called ‘Go Curry Cracker’. I remember asking him in the comments what this ‘FIRE’ acronym stood for. I was 49, I had just paid off the house and was worried about how I could ever possibly afford to retire.

Imagine my relief when I read the famous post by Mr Money Mustache about The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and I realised that by doing what I was already doing – (ie: saving and investing 50%+ of my take-home pay) I was on track to being able to retire at 67 with over a million dollar nest-egg. I could retire at pension age and not need to eke out my life on the pension.

That did it. I was hooked! I wanted to learn all I could about this FIRE stuff. I devoured blogs, books and podcasts. I hate Maths and numerals with a passion, but even someone as Maths-phobic as I am can learn, given enough repetition of the basic concepts.

Last year, at the age of 57, I retired. Ten years ahead of schedule.

I’m not your stereotypical ‘FIREy’ person, being older than a millennial, single with kids, coming from a career not really known for being lucrative and also being female. (And non-American…)

So what would I have said to the Money magazine people if they’d come knocking at my door? Here goes:

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

Lives: beachside in suburban Melbourne with 2 of her 4 sons. Also with her 3 dogs who she possibly loves more than her children.

Career: Secondary teacher.

“I really believe that the secret to becoming financially independent is underpinned by three very important things,” says Frogdancer Jones as she pours a cheeky shiraz. “You have to know what you value in life so you can concentrate your time, effort and money on those things. You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification – to be a long-term thinker, in other words. And you have to be willing to learn, so that when life offers up an opportunity, you can recognise it and – even more importantly, know what to do with it.”

The last point had a huge impact on the trajectory of Ms Jones’ financial life when, after years of struggling to bring up four boys and pay a mortgage on a teacher’s wage, she grabbed hold of an offer to develop her East Bentleigh property in a much sought-after school zone. This enabled her to release the equity in the property and move to a cheaper, but better, house further away from the CBD.

“Being able to pivot from my original plan to stay there until I was carried out in a pine box saved me having to work for an extra decade,” said Frogdancer. “I would never have had the courage to do it if I hadn’t have spent all of that time reading and listening to people who have already trodden the path to financial independence.”

So what does financial independence and early retirement mean to this early(ish) retiree?

“For me, the security of financial independence is an absolute gift. I left my husband back in 1997 with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash. There were years of struggling to provide for my boys and pay the mortgage – it wasn’t easy to live off 18K/year of Centrelink benefits until the boys were all in school and I could go back to work. The frugal habits I learned back then have really paid off! If I have to, we can live off the smell of an oily rag. It took me a long time to lose the fear that I didn’t have ‘enough’ to retire on.

“Also, being able to retire at 57 is an even greater gift. For the first time in my life, I can be totally selfish. My kids are grown, I have no grandchildren and all I have to worry about looking after are the dogs and my garden. I can spend my days entirely as I choose – the freedom is absolutely incredible. I can highly recommend retirement!”

Recommended books and blogs: ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ – Stanley; ‘The Simple Path to Wealth – Collins; Strong Money Australia; The Retirement Manifesto; Aussie Hi-Fire and Late Starter Fire.

EDITED:

After writing this, Money magazine heard about it and asked permission to rewrite it into an article. Here’s the REAL Money Magazine interview.

A full year of ‘low-spend’ – and a reward.

Well, people following along at home – I did it!

52 straight weeks of only spending money 3 days a week or less. To be honest, going into 13 weeks of hard lockdown kicked off the winning streak, but then once I had momentum I was loathe to stop it.

I’m proud that I only manipulated my habits once – Evan24 had la birthday and I wanted to shoot him some money. I asked, instead of sending it on Friday, if I could make it Saturday instead, to keep the winning streak going. He laughed and agreed.

Winning strategies?

  1. Starting your spending week on a Saturday and then avoiding shopping over the weekend. (Harder to do with a job.) Then you start each week with 2 success days already under your belt.
  2. Marking ahead on the chart if you’re going to be going out or if there’s an event coming up. You can then avoid using up your 3 days and then getting hit with an expense that you could’ve foreseen.
  3. Making a game of it. Honestly, the world wouldn’t have caved in if I had’ve slipped up. But it’s satisfying to have set the goal for a complete year of disciplined spending and hit it.

So how did I reward myself?

omg!!!!

so excited!!!

Remember how I set the goal to go to Antarctica?

I booked my place on a tour that leaves in December this year.

It’s with the company that I went to North Korea with back in 2018 and their price is 1/3 of the price than if we left from New Zealand – and it’s only a fortnight at sea instead of a full month. I have no idea of the sort of sailor I am. Latestarterfire is coming with me and we’re set to go.

I believe that with vaccinations ramping up, travel will open up pretty quickly. We’re both pretty covid-averse and will wear masks on the plane etc and the ship is requiring proof of vaccination for all passengers and crew. If the tour does end up having to be cancelled, we can postpone our trip to a safer time.

What could possibly go wrong…?

My new retirement quest – reading my way to getting my rates for ‘free.’

3 books.
Poems, history and fictional history – what more could you want?

It’s going to storm pretty heavily later today, so I decided to take the dogs and walk up to the library to return a couple of books and pick up an Atwood book of poems that I had on hold. It takes 6,000 steps to get there and back so it’s a good walk to take when you’ve been a bit too ‘at one with the couch’ for a few days.

This morning I thought of another book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. When I got there I posted my returns through the slot and then went to the door and called to the librarians. I had the dogs with me and there was no way I was going to leave them tied up outside. My dogs are too appealing – there’s been an uptick in stolen dogs since covid hit and I don’t want mine to be added to that unhappy crew.

As you can see from the photo – they already had “The Last Tudor”, even though I only put it on hold an hour before. I was one happy customer!

As we were slowly striding home – Scout, being a miniature wire-haired dachshund, has very small legs – I idly began to think of how much money I was carrying home in these books. My father’s remark of, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!” flashed through my mind. He said this when I said that I’d started using the local library.

My rates are $1,800 each year. An average novel costs between $30 – $40. Say, just as a thought exercise, that each book costs $30. That would require someone to borrow and read 60 books in a year to “get their money back.”

(I just want to make something clear. Long-term readers of this blog would be extremely sceptical that I was willing and able to do these mathematical equations. They’d be right. I did them on a calculator when I got home.)

When you consider that last year my Goodreads challenge was fulfilled by the start of December with 80 books read, then this challenge is pretty do-able. I’ve already read 28 books in 2021, so I think I can do this.

A few rules:

  • In order to play fair, I will look online for the paperback version price of each book. After all, I’m a tight**se. I’m never going to buy a hardback version of a book when the paperback version is available.
  • If any books I borrow are eBooks, I’ll count the cost of the kindle version for this quest.
  • I will have a running total of this quest on the sidebar of this blog.
  • Even though I pay my rates in February, I will use the entirety of 2021 for this quest. It’s easier.
  • If I do well at this, there’s nothing stopping me from finding out how much I’ve paid in rates since we moved here to The Best House in Melbourne. A mega-quest will be to work at “earning back” all of the rates I’ve paid. (This could take a while…)
  • This quest ONLY takes into account the books I borrow from my local library. Books I borrow from friends or books I buy for myself do not count.

I’ve just looked up the price of the books in the photo on Booktopia.

Atwood’s ‘Dearly’ only comes in hardcover. It comes in at $22.

Weir’s “Queens of the Crusades’ is priced at $28.

Gregory’s ‘The Last Tudor’ is $31.

With the help of my trusty calculator, the total just with these 3 books is $81. So far, I’ve borrowed and read 22 books from the library.

This could be fun…

Frugal Friday: Closing in on a year of low-spend weeks.

Look at this!!!

It’s now been 47 straight weeks where I’ve spent money 3 days or less in a given week.

For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I wrote about how I set up my ‘No Spend’ chart three years ago. Every day that I leave my money alone, I get to colour in a square. At the end of each week where I’ve spent money on 3 days or fewer, I get to colour in a silver square as a reward. Silly, but it works. The first lockdown, then the second, meant that I was pretty much staying at home. I had plenty of staples to eat, plus the garden for fresh food, I had books, Nextflix , the dogs and the phone for entertainment and I kept myself busy by working at remote teaching and also painting some fences. Who needed to spend money?

So as a result, I started clocking up the silver squares. A few weeks ago I decided to number them so I wouldn’t lose track.

Now I’m on one hellava winning streak. 47 straight weeks.

Can I make it to a full year? I’m invested in this.

52 weeks is a long time but hey. There’s only 5 short weeks to go…

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I’m going to give it my best shot.

10.5 weeks to go.

Tweet. 
11 weeks until I retire. 
Seems like such a long time. 
I know it'll pass quickly but right now? Oof.

Today’s Thursday. This week, the 4th (and my last) school term began.

Seeing as Melbourne is still in lockdown, every teacher and student fired up their laptops and settled into another day of remote teaching. The ‘roadmap’ out of teaching from home had been set a few weeks ago. On Monday October 12 all primary kids and years 11 and 12 were back at school. Years 7 – 10 were to go back 2 weeks later.

That suited me fine. I only teach year 7 and year 9, so I was quite happy to avoid the commute and the risk of covid for a little while longer. But our numbers were dropping rapidly. I figured they’d pull the 7 – 10 kids back a week earlier than scheduled.

Then the announcement was made.

Next week, on Monday October 12, year 7 kids are also going back to school.

Bugger!

As of Monday, it’s back to the commute for Frogdancer Jones.

For the first couple of days I was seriously in mourning. I went to get my hair cut and dyed on Tuesday, not realising that hairdressers weren’t open yet. I’m going to have to go to work with PANDEMIC HAIR. (see below…)

Ugh. Long hair with greys and regrowth. Be glad you can't see it.
Argh! I have gold, silver and dark brown hair.

Ah well. I guess that’s why God invented hats.

I’ve started being a bit more philosophical now about going back to work on Monday. It’ll be nice to see the kids in person. Most of the year 7s are seriously sick of remote learning and they’re champing at the bit to get back, so we’ll have a fun time.

The school has paid for teachers to have face shields to be worn over our masks so that we’ll have an extra layer of security. They’ve also supplied every teacher with hand sanitiser, as well as having hand sanitiser stations dotted around all over the school. Everyone who comes on campus gets temperature checked, so I’m pretty comfortable about going back to school under these conditions, especially as our numbers are now so low.

The staff rooms are still quite congested, so I’ll be wearing a mask for most of the day. It’ll be good to get back into the banter of the staffroom again, though.

I’ll be able to collect the coffee grounds for the garden again, as well as the food scraps from the Food Tech classes for my compost. That’ll make my plants happy, which makes me happy.

Exterior shot of The Best House In Melbourne.
Things are getting done!

I’m still wanting to Get Things Done around here before I leave the wage. I’m replacing the guttering on the front of the verandah as it leaks on the corners. Next week the guttering will be a different colour, to match the colour I’m currently in the middle of painting the verandah in. It’ll match the fences and tie the whole place together.

I’m also getting quotes on a bit of landscaping I want done in the front yard. Now that I’ve put the orchard in, I need a sturdy barrier to stop the grass from growing through the mulch underneath the trees. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get someone to come and do that in the next few weeks and then Retired Frogdancer will be able to play with planting pretty things in flowerbeds.

We still need to get the side fence replaced and ideally I’d also like work to get started on upgrading my ensuite. I bought all the fittings for it a year ago when a friend from work mentioned that her husband was working at the Reece samples and seconds outlet. I paid around a quarter of retail prices and we’ve been living with the boxes in the man cave ever since. Once tile shops open, I’ll be measuring up the space and going shopping!!

It’s an interesting thing. Some people would argue that I should wait to get these things done until next year when I’ll have all the time in the world to supervise. But I know how my mind works. Next year I’ll almost certainly be staying pretty close to home and watching my spending, while I get used to drawing down from my savings and dividends, instead of having a wage coming in and living from that.

Given this, I think I’ll be happier with Present Frogdancer spending the money on these last few home improvements now. Future Frogdancer can enjoy them and not stress over shelling out gobs of cash from savings. I’ll need to ease into this new way of running the household expenses.

They say personal finance is personal for a reason. We all handle our finances differently, depending very much on our psychological mindset. While travel overseas isn’t going to happen for at least the next couple of years, now is the perfect time to puddle around at home and enjoy the little things.

Little apricots appearing on my tree.
Apricots! Finally!

Little things like seeing my apricot tree finally producing apricots. Five years ago my first year 12 Theatre Studies class gave me this tree and it’s lived in a pot ever since. Last year I planted it.

I think it’s happy here.

I think I will be too.

Half a year of silver squares!!!

It turns out that when you’re living through 2 lockdowns and you’re not that fond of online shopping, you can really make a “No Spend Days” chart go crazy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I keep track of my spending by using this chart. Every day that I don’t put my hand in my wallet, I colour in a square. At the end of every week with 3 or less no-spend days, I reward myself by colouring in a silver square.

It makes my spending far more intentional and motivates me to stay on track if the week is coming to an end and I’m close to earning a silver square. It’s silly, but it works for me. It also makes collating my “Annual Spend” chart so much easier, because everything is in the one place. It just takes 3 seconds each day to pop in any purchases or colour in a square.

When the pandemic hit and we were all told to STAY HOME, the Jones household was sitting pretty. As the weird flu from Wuhan started to spread to Europe in February, I didn’t like the looks of it so I started stocking up on non-perishables. When things began going crazy here in Australia, we were set, although David27 insisted we take a shopping trip to Costco that I’ll never forget. No worries about TP here!

As the weeks started to slip by without having to fill up on petrol or go to the supermarket very often, the coloured squares began mounting up. The silver squares got more numerous and started looking like a block rather than squares on their own.

“Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could make this streak last for 26 weeks in a row?” I thought to myself. Half a year. Could it be done?

Second half of the no-spend streak.
Wow.

Turns out it can.

Once I started to focus on keeping those silver squares coming without a break, it became a challenge. I began to try and push spend days towards the end of the week, in case something happened and I had to spend money unexpectedly.

For example, look at the week that began on the 1st of August. I wanted to work in the garden and on the verandah so I had 2 spend days on the weekend. *gasp!* I had little wriggle room for the rest of the week. I was determined to keep the silver streak going so I just used what we had in the pantry and garden and pottered around the place entertaining myself with what I have on-site. Hobbies are very useful things.

The week before that, you’ll see on the Friday an entry called “Connor teeth”. One of the boys needed dental work and as he’s still a student I said I’d pay for it. The dental work actually happened 2 days earlier, but by then I could see that I could maybe make my goal. After all, there was only 9 weeks to go!!! When he rang to tell me the total, I told him what I was doing and said, “Is it ok if I pay you on Friday?” He laughed and agreed.

I’ve been using both my local library and the school library for eBooks to scratch my reading itch. As I’ve said before, I read very quickly so paying $30 – $40 for a book isn’t a good use of my money as it only entertains me for a day or so. Downloading an eBook or an audiobook for free is the way to go for me and it saves me having to fill in a square.

During a stringent lockdown such as we in Melbourne have, little challenges like this help to pass the time and give you something to aim for. If I had’ve failed, it’s not the like sky would fall or anything. It wouldn’t have changed anything in my life. But it was a goal to aim for and every week that I coloured in a silver square it became one step closer to that goal. This made me feel good.

Once I actually have to leave the house and go back to work at school, it’ll be interesting to see whether my spending days will slide back to how they were before the pandemic, or whether I’ll be motivated to keep the silver streak going.

I wonder how many weeks the silver streak will last…?

Only buy what you love.

Scout, our mini wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. We certainly love her!

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.

Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.

“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.

But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.

“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”

So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…

If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.

Ugly tv cabinet.
What was I thinking?

Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.

Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.

“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”

But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.

Life happens.

Long-billed bird watering can.
I like this little guy. Haven’t used him as a watering can (yet) but he sits in my window ledge. The rug has since been replaced by a nicer one and moved to the ‘man cave’ at the back of the house.

Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.

One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.

My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’

Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.

Empty rooms in the new house.
A blank canvas. Oh, the possibilities!

For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.

Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.

Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.

Wooden tv cabinet with 6 very long, curved legs.
Most items in my house have these ‘Queen Anne’ type of legs.

Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.

Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.

When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.

Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.

Wooden table with ornaments.
This is what has replaced the ugly tv table.

Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.

The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.

This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.

1020's (I think) treadle Singer sewing machine.
An antique Singer sewing machine.

When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.

Pantry with HUGE spice rack on the door.
My spice rack and pantry light are also happiness-inducing.

The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.

Bright red maple tree.
My red maple. The other maple tree is green.

I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.

Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!

Sleeping Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Poppy, sleeping on our old couch. The couch is now out in the backyard under the verandah.

I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.

Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.

Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.

As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.

Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.

But it’s an effort well worth making.

Sunset at our beach.
Our backyard beach.

Now is the time to build resilience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But do you know what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can do it.

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