Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er). Achieved the first two letters of FIRE, now onto the rest!

Category: Consumerism (page 1 of 4)

Poverty leaves a mark.

Peas in a bowl.
A bowl of ‘free’ peas that grew from the pea straw mulch. We’ve been eating ‘free’ peas for over 2 months.

It’s no secret that financially nowadays, I’m doing ok. Working is a choice, not a necessity, which is why next year I’m dropping back to part-time. Two of the boys have moved out, which means I only have 2 on my hands, but they’re adults so apart from feeding and housing them, they run their own lives. Money isn’t tight anymore… and yet I still cling to my economies. Why is that?

Three years ago I moved into The Best House in Melbourne. After waiting 18 months for my geo-arbitrage plan to come to fruition, the money came through and I installed some gorgeous landscaping in the back yard, including some wicking veggie beds. When the soil the landscaper used turned out to be awful, I had a thought. Why not bring home the veggie scraps from work? The canteen services 2,400 kids and 200 teachers, while the Food Tech rooms throw out heaps of scraps. Compost galore – for free!

A year later, the system is still going strong. I have a little container on my desk that teachers put their scraps in, (you wouldn’t believe how many bananas they go through each day!); the Food Tech room leaves a bag of scraps for me most days, but the real bonanza is the canteen every Wednesday and Friday.

Yesterday I was chatting with the manager as I lifted out the garbage bag from the bin and popped in a fresh one for next week.

“I asked the timetabler if I could work Wednesdays and Fridays next year so I can keep picking up the scraps and it looks like I’ve got them,” I said.

“That’s great,” Tania replied. “Actually, I’m a bit surprised that you’re still doing this. Isn’t it a hassle?”

Wicking beds overflowing with plants.
Some of these plants are what has grown from last year’s plants – self-sown. Some are from the pea straw. Most have grown from the compost materials I brought home from school.

“Sometimes,” I said. Then I went on to say something about organic fertiliser or some such thing, to make me sound legit, like a real tree-hugger.

But really??

I want free fertiliser. Why would I pass up the chance to improve my garden’s soil for free, even if – yes – sometimes it IS a PIA to race down there and then drag it to the car during lunchtimes. Do you know how many bags of compost I would’ve had to buy over the past year to equal what the school scraps + the compost tumblers + time have produced???

Well, I don’t know either, but it would have been a lot of bags bought and a LOT of money spent.

As I was carrying that heavy garbage full of veggie scraps back along the street towards my car, I was thinking about that little conversation. She’s right. Doing this twice a week every week IS a hassle. As soon as I get home I have to deal with the compost, either putting it in the tumbling compost bins or bringing it inside and pulverising some of it in the thermomix for the worms. Sometimes, after school when I get back to the car, it smells a little… fruit cocktail-ish, especially in summer.

This would be more than enough to turn most people off, but not me. Now that I know this resource is here, it’d be such a waste not to use it.

I walked and thought. Maybe people who haven’t had to struggle very much are quicker to let inconvenient things go? I remembered back to the days when the kids were small. They’d go and stay with their father every two weeks, and at the end of the weekend sometimes they’d come home with a box of fruit and veggies from the fruit shop he owned.

Child support was erratic in those days. Money was tight. If those boys came through the door with a box of free food I made sure we used EVERY scrap of it. Anything that got thrown out was like me throwing away money. Child support money. I wasn’t in a position to do that.

Rosemary in a pot.
I grow herbs, like this Rosemary. I cut and dry it sometimes, so I have both fresh and dried whenever I need it. Herbs are ridiculously expensive – grow your own if you can.

Sometimes leftover food gets put into the staff common room. Unused loaves of bread from a fund-raising sausage sizzle, lemons from someone’s tree, a box of tomatoes… that sort of thing. If they’re placed on the tables, they’re free game for anyone who wants them.

It’s astonishing to me how those items can sit there for hours without being snapped up. People, even the young teachers with massive mortgages and/or young kids, won’t pick up a loaf of free bread or a handful of tomatoes to make a pasta sauce for dinner with. I don’t understand it. They’ll let perfectly good food sit there and potentially go to waste because… I don’t know… maybe they don’t want to be seen walking back to their desks with a loaf of yesterday’s bread?

Three days ago someone left a big box piled with potatoes on the table. I walked into the common room to fill up my water bottle and thought, “Great! Both boys are home for dinner tonight,’ so I took 3 potatoes. All good.

The next morning I walked in and there were still some potatoes in the box. Really?? They were the oddly shaped ones; the ones where you’d have to put a little bit of effort into peeling them to get all the skin off. But they were still fine. I waited until recess, then said loudly, “Well, if no one else wants them, I’ll take them!” and I scooped them up.

As I was on my way to my desk, someone said, “It’s great you’re using them for your compost.” I smiled and nodded, but inside I was thinking, ‘Are you crazy? This is another free serve of potatoes for dinner!’

Spice rack.
The dried herbs end up here.

Now, I’m no different from the rest of the staff in many ways. We are all middle-class, we all live within an hour’s drive of the school, we’re all tertiary educated, we’ve all travelled overseas. Of course, I’m astonishingly good-looking, but so are some of the others.

I think the real difference when it comes to things like this is that most of them haven’t been on the bare bones of their ar**s financially. Like I said at the beginning of this post, financially I’m doing ok now. But the years and years of being totally responsible for the well-being of the 4 boys when I was on the sole parents’ pension and with child support at (usually) $20/month have left their mark.

I had a ridiculously small amount of money to manage each fortnight. The mortgage had to be paid, then the bills and then what was leftover was spread among groceries, clothing – little boys grow fast! – and everything else. I owned one credit card, but I paid it off each month. I knew that if I strayed too far into debt I could lose the house and then the boys and I would be even more vulnerable than we were.

Every dollar was important.

When my aunt asked me if I’d like to pick up the unsold bread at a bakery in East Brighton every Tuesday night, I leapt at it. We kept going back to that bakery for the next 15 years. Every Tuesday we’d put 3 laundry baskets in the back of the station wagon and we’d pick up whatever hadn’t sold that day. That shop saved my family thousands of dollars over the time we went there.

Baskets of bread, pies, sausage rolls, bagels, hot cross buns, Boston buns – you name it, it was there. The best rye bread I’ve ever tasted, to this day. The boys and I would go in the back door of the shop and we’d load up the baskets. One basket was for us. I’d put in enough bread to last us a week ( I had a huge freezer) and enough pies and baked goods for dinner that night. One basket would be for friends, while the third one (once I was back at school) was filled with morning tea items to take to work the following day to put in the common room.

Later, when I had the chooks, I’d bring home bread and the unwanted pies and pasties to feed them for a day. It made the chicken feed last that little bit longer.

Feeding my family this unwanted bread definitely tipped the balance of my finances towards the black. It was an absolute life-line that I’ll always be so grateful for. Was it a hassle to drive 2 suburbs away every Tuesday night to do this. YES. It was NEVER convenient. But I did it every week because it was free food and it saved my family from some desperate times.

Me with some bread.
Me, back in 2014, with a laundry basketful of bread in the background.

Is it any wonder now that when I see a box of lemons on the table in the common room, I’ll take a couple? Or when the sausage sizzle bread is piled up, I’ll grab a loaf? Poverty leaves a mark on you, deep inside. On the outside, I’m the same as everyone else at work. But I think about money a little differently.

To me, there’s no shame in taking a loaf of free bread or a handful of potatoes in front of everyone in the room. Why would there be? Free food (or free compost) is a way of eking out my resources just a little bit longer.

Past Frogdancer had to do that as a way of ensuring the boys survived and thrived. Learning how to satisfy our all of our needs and some of our wants wasn’t easy and there were many tears shed and scary moments endured along the way.

As for Present Frogdancer? Because of Past Frogdancer’s efforts, I’m doing ok. But she and I are both agreed – if something is going for free and you can use it, it’s criminally wasteful not to take it and be grateful.

Even if it’s a hassle.

How to be a wonderful Santa with very little money.

Santa in front of a Christmas tree.
Actual photo of me late on Christmas Eve.

This post is very important to me. As a single Mum with 4 little boys and VERY little money, Christmas was always a time when I was on my toes. I wanted it to be a magical morning, with Santa presents that brought joy and delight, because the window of time for that Santa magic is small and very precious. Just because I chose to leave my husband with $60 cash in my hand and 4 boys under 5 under my arm, why should that mean that the boys should miss out?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this problem. Fortunately, there are ways around this to deliver a magical Santa reveal every single year without ruining the family finances every December. The huge advantage that Christmas has over other, more mundane ’emergencies’ is that it happens at the same time every year. Grab any calendar… there it is on December 25. So it can be organised and planned for.

I’m a teacher by trade. English and DRAMA. The Drama teacher hat always comes to the fore at Christmas. What’s one of the best moments whenever people go to the theatre? It’s that moment of anticipation when the house lights go down and the curtain is about to open. The audience’s attention is at its peak, waiting for the magic of being transported to another time and space.

Kids are like this on Christmas morning. Why do you think they wake at 5 AM and race breathlessly down to wherever Santa leaves his gifts at your place? Yes, some of it is pure greed, but most of it is because something crazily wonderful has happened overnight – something has been magically produced out of nothing.

That first moment when they see their pile of gifts – that’s what I call ‘the REVEAL.’ It’s all-important. It’s pure theatre. And I always wanted that first reaction to be “WOW.”

I love Christmas! Always have. To me, Christmas is a time for family and, back when the boys were small, a time to spoil the kids. I love it so much that part of the custody arrangements when my marriage broke up was that I would have the boys every Christmas Day, while my ex-husband would have them every Easter Sunday.

When my oldest was 5, I left the marriage and stayed at home with the boys until my youngest started school. This meant that money was tight during those years. Child support was often only $20/month and the boys and I were dependent on Centrelink payments of around $350/week. I had to pay the mortgage, food, bills and everything else out of this. Fortunately, I was brought up by frugal parents so I had lots of training! But it meant that things like Christmas had to be planned with military precision.

At my place, Santa would leave the presents for each kid in the lounge room, on chairs or on the floor. Each pile of gifts was covered by a blanket, with a label on each pile with a name. The routine was that the kids had to come and wake me up first, then we’d all go into the lounge room together and they’d stand by their particular blanket. Then, on a “ready, set go!”, they’d lift off the blanket and the REVEAL would happen. This routine was a deliberate decision on my part to build the anticipation further and have the energy of the room at fever-pitch. It was always exciting.

Afterwards, I’d have the boys stand together and call out loud, “Thank you, Father Christmas!” When, one by one, the boys started to know the truth, they’d look at me while calling out this – a private way they’d thank me while still keeping the magic going for the younger ones.

Anyway, I’ve set the scene for how the Santa REVEAL was done at my place. Here are the ways that I worked to make that particular December morning a hit for my boys on very little money.

Kids are visual creatures. 

Little kids aren’t very bright. If they get a pile of gifts from Santa, they’re wildly excited. This doesn’t mean that every item has to be brand-new, designer and expensive. What you (as Santa’s helper) are aiming for is the thrill of the REVEAL – when the covering is lifted off their gifts and they see it all for the first time. This allows you, as the official shopper for Santa, to spend strategically. 

What I aimed for, particularly when the kids were small and still believed, was to have a lot of colour and lots of items for their eyes to take in as the blanket came off. A central ‘show-stopper” item that the kid was really hoping to get, but surrounding it – lots of other, more minor things that look impressive in colour and number, but cost very little.

No more than 2 “Show stopper” presents per child. Usually, just one, or none if the child is very young. Spend your money in a way to get more bang for your buck.

Sure, I wanted Christmas to be impressive, but I wasn’t made of money! Plus, with 4 kids, that money had to stretch as far as possible. The boys didn’t need a roomful of expensive gifts from Santa – they’d be getting presents from my family, their father and their father’s family. The REVEAL from Santa is the most important, of course, but their entire Christmas experience didn’t hinge on just this. 

So I’d listen. And I’d arrange to buy one or two brand-new things that the boys were desperate to own. When kids are young, you can buy these things at the July sales, because toys are toys. Kids are easy to plan for when they’re in pre-school to middle primary school. But later I learned to delay buying the “show-stopper” gifts until December. Teenagers are so unpredictable and there’s always a new game or album or something released just before Christmas that turns out suddenly to be the “must-have.”

When kids are very young, these “show stopper” gifts are most impressive when they’re physically large. A dolls house, a trike… things like that. Little kids equate size with value. Funnily enough, as the boys got older their “show stopper” presents started to shrink in size. A particularly coveted console game or CD/DVD used to be VERY successful at our place. Zelda and the Ocarina of Time for the N64, for example, was physically unimpressive but was greeted with hoots of joy.

And now I have that ocarina music in my head. The boys played that game for hundreds of hours. Safe to say that show-stopper gift was a success.

Shop around for “filler” gifts – the more of these, the better. Don’t pay retail prices for these if at all possible.

Garage sales are your friends. Here in Australia, we’re so lucky we have Christmas in summer, because spring cleaning happens and people get rid of the toys their kids are sick of. These toys are PRIME filler material. Their kids may be sick of them but they’re brand-new entertainment for your kids.

Every fortnight, when A had the kids for his access weekend, I’d go and hit the garage sales in my neighbourhood to look for filler gifts for Christmas. I’d start as soon as Spring began because you never know what you’ll find. Fortunately, most toys for little kids are pretty generic – if you buy cars, dolls and lego, you’re good to go, so these things can be bought months in advance and you know they’ll be successful.

I have boys, so anything round and designed to be thrown or kicked was always a hit. Tennis balls, usually second hand, along with bats or cricket stumps, also found at garage sales and op shops. Aussie rules footballs, especially for Tom, were also a good filler item. Sheet music for David, guitar strings for Ryan and quirky fun things for Evan were all things I’d keep my eyes open for and snap up if I came across them at a good price. You know your children – cater to their interests.

I also used to use filler space to buy things for Christmas that I would have been buying anyway. I like the boys to look nice for Christmas Day with my family, so Santa would always bring new clothes for them to wear. Some years the clothes would be brand new, other times they were gently worn clothes that still looked new, depending on my finances. The boys didn’t care either way.

Bathers were another frequent filler, seeing as how Christmas is in summer, along with artsy things like textas and pencils that they’d need for school the next year. Clearly, these weren’t as exciting for the boys as the toys, but they bulked up the piles of presents every year and helped them to look more impressive. Remember, it’s all in the REVEAL.

Start some Christmas traditions that cost next to nothing. 

You know those little bags of gold coins that appear at every supermarket and dollar store checkout in December? The chocolate inside is cheap, but kids love the glint of the gold and the feel of holding treasure. These bags only cost a dollar or two each. Every year they’d have a bag of coins in their pile of Santa gifts.

I’d buy a packet of those little Kellogs mini breakfast cereal packets and the kids would have a couple of mini cereals to have for breakfast on Christmas morning – along with the chocolate coins, of course. I never bought those mini cereals at any other time of the year – far too expensive – so the boys were convinced that this was a Santa thing and looked forward to seeing which breakfast they’d be getting this year.

When the kids grew older a tradition started where they’d be the ones to assemble the Christmas tree. We have a large fake one – being frugal I didn’t want the added expense of buying a real tree year after year – and the boys put it all together and place the decorations on it. Over time, the Christmas tree decorations become treasured memories for them. “Oh! Here’s the aeroplane! I like this one!” or “Has anyone seen the bird that sits on the top of the tree? I want to do it this year.”

One of the most enduring traditions – and by that I mean that we still do this – is something that I first bought as a filler present in poverty-stricken desperation. I bought some little jars of bubble mix as a bit of fun for them. That first Christmas, we went out into the backyard and started blowing bubbles. The dogs went nuts jumping and trying to catch them and we had so much fun. It was a much greater hit than I thought it would be, so the next year I tried it again. The dogs, and later, the cats would come out with us and they’d jump to try and catch the bubbles and we’d laugh and chill in the sun. The house next door to us was a rental and when there were kids living there, the boys would blow bubbles over the fence at them and the neighbour kids would race to pop them first.

Poppy, Jeff and Scout will be chasing bubbles for a while on Christmas morning – it’s fun and costs next to nothing. It’s a corny little throwback to when the kids were little and we enjoy it.

Finally, enlist the older kids into keeping the magic alive for the younger ones.

I had a pretty good run with Santa. Tom, my oldest, was 9 years old before he asked the question one day. Now, just between you and me, Tom9 was a blabbermouth, so I knew he’d be the weak link in the chain of silence, so I whisked him away down to the bottom of the garden under the old fig tree.

I said, “Do you really want to know?” He looked at me as if to say, ‘I’m not an idiot – just by saying that you’re confirming that Santa isn’t real.’

So I smiled and said, “Yes, you’re right. Father Christmas isn’t real.”

He nodded, then said, “So who does it?”

I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I do. Santa is me.”

His mouth dropped open. He looked stunned. He said, No WAY. You can’t afford it!!!”

I laughed and laughed. “Christmas is special. It’s magical. I make sure I can afford it.”

He gave me a huge hug, then looked stricken. “Oh no,” he said. “I’ve been telling the boys to ask Santa for all the expensive things they want, so you don’t have to buy them…”

OMG. How gorgeous is that?? What a beautiful little boy.

I thanked him for looking out for me like that, then we switched into the “you had many years of enjoying the magic, so now you join the grown-up world to preserve the magic for your brothers” talk. I was a bit nervous about it. Like I said, Tom9 was a bit of a blabbermouth, but he came through for the boys and Santa beautifully.

He loved the idea of being more grown-up than the others. He’d write Christmas lists with them and let me know what they were hankering for. he’d help hustle the kids off to bed on Christmas Eve so I’d have time to set up the presents. He’d stay up a little later than the others, so he’d get to bite the carrot we’d leave out for Rudolph and eat the snack for Santa, while I’d drink Santa’s glass of Shiraz.

One by one, the boys found out the truth, but never from their older brothers. Evan was the last one. From memory, he was Evan7 or Evan8 when a nasty little kid told him Santa wasn’t real on Christmas Eve!!!!! I was furious when he asked me about it as I was putting him to bed that night. What a time for him to have doubt put into his mind!

What was I to do? He had been all geared up for a visit from Santa and was so excited. I looked at his little eyes and saw hope there – hope that the kid had lied to him. He was so little… but my parenting style has always been that if a kid is old enough to ask a question, then they’re old enough for the answer.

I made a split decision and broke my rule, opening my eyes wide and saying, “Of course he’s real. How else could all of those presents get there?” He smiled, relieved, and snuggled down to sleep and I tip-toed away, feeling like a heel but wanting him to have just one more Christmas morning of magic.

Just after Easter he asked me again. This time I came clean and when he asked why I’d lied to him before, I told him why, saying that I wanted him to have one last magical Christmas. He thought about it for a second, then nodded and simply said, “Thanks.”

Then he looked up at me and said, “Don’t tell me the Easter Bunny isn’t real either?!?” And like that the magic was gone.

Christmas now has a different kind of magic for our family. The traditions and routines have evolved now that we are a family of adults. Christmas is still hugely important but now we all buy gifts for each other. My extended family has a Kris Kringle where we buy for only one person (price limit of $50) and the boys have the same price limit for each of our nuclear family. Three of them are still students so this is a big expense for them of $250 – 3 brothers, 1 mother and 1 Kris Kringle… but like I did back in the day, they save up for it throughout the year and enjoy the plotting and planning to get gifts that suit the recipients down to the ground.

Christmas is as important to them as it is for me and we put a lot of effort into the presents we organise. We look forward to getting together with Mum and Dad, my sister Kate and her family and of course, each other. The boys still come over every year to assemble my Christmas tree – now with added decorations from my travels in Europe, China and North Korea – and those still at home will blow some bubbles for the pets on Christmas morning.

For those going through a financially challenged Christmas, I hope that I’ve helped with some strategies. The funny thing is – some of the things that I introduced to make Christmas affordable are the very things that are now cherished family traditions! It’s very possible to have a wonderful Christmas with your kids on limited funds. It’s all about a little bit of forward thinking and – of course – the REVEAL!

Locking in the profits.

I’m going to do something that I never thought I’d do. I’m going to pull some profits out of my investments and spend them on some projects around the house. In other words, I’ve decided to harvest some profits and lock them in.

Again, this was something that I never thought I’d do. I’m still working, so income is flowing in to pay for my day-to-day needs. That sweet sweet compounding is doing its thing with my investments and I was sure that I’d continue to let them ride. But then something happened.

I arrived home a week or two ago and it was raining. As I got out of the car and turned towards the house something caught my eye. A steady stream of water coming from the left front corner of the guttering. It fell in a straight line right onto the wooden supports of the verandah.

Crap.

I glanced across at the other corner and sure enough, the same thing was happening, but fortunately, this one was falling onto the brick paving. But the wooden balustrade near both corners was needing to be replaced. I was going to wait, but suddenly this looked like I might now have a rotting verandah on my hands.

It seems like it should be an easy fix – just replace the guttering. Done, right?

But look at this shot. The yuccas at the front of the house have grown up past the roof and are dangerous. The leaves are thick and very pointy and sharp at the ends and the previous owner intelligently planted them next to walkways. A couple of times when I was on the way to the recycling bin, I’ve narrowly missed being poked in the eye. So removing the yuccas has been on my list of Things To Get Done for a while now and the guttering can’t be replaced while the yuccas are there.

So it should be easy. Cut down the yuccas, then replace the guttering, right?

But…

If I cut the yuccas down, our big front windows would then be open to the street. Any stray marauder strolling by would be able to see straight through into my bedroom and our living room. Not exactly ideal. So do I put up some sheer curtains for day-time? Or do I put up a tall fence?

I already have a front fence, but it’s rusting. I’m very close to the beach. The dogs bark at every dog that walks past, so it’s been on my list of Things To Get Done, but in some dark, misty future, aeons from now. But that is going to change, it seems.

Our electric gate is broken, so we’ve been opening and closing it by hand for about a year now. If I get a new fence – a non-see-through one – I’d have to replace the gate as well.

It’s a cascading list of repairs and replacements. So! It all starts at the front fence.

Once I get the new fence, I’ll be able to call an arborist to cut down the yuccas and grind out the stumps. THEN I can replace the guttering and fix any wooden bits of the verandah and balustrading, without worrying that the carpenter will get his eyes poked out.

It’s so annoying. I had a really good plan in place to keep my investments in place and to keep a wage coming in to pay for retirement-proofing the house and so far the plan is working. But the good part about biting the bullet and getting all of these things done now is that once they’re done – they’re done. I can cross them off my list and keep moving forward.

My investments have done really well over the last couple of years, so in effect, I’ll be locking in the profits when I withdraw them and use them on the house. Of course, I’ll be losing any future compounding on those dollars, which is a shame, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that if I delay this water problem until I save up the money to deal with it, I’ll just be giving myself a bigger, more expensive problem down the track.

Ah well. At least Future Frogdancer will be able to walk out onto her front verandah without risking life and limb (or eyes, when I think of the yuccas.) It ruffles me that I’m changing my plans, but I think that the situation warrants it.

Any thoughts?

All it takes is a little bit of foresight.

Is it weird to love a spice rack so much?

Three years ago, when we moved from our little 1950’s weatherboard house to The Best House in Melbourne, I spent up big. I’m a naturally frugal person and I knew that if I waited until we’d developed the block that the old house stood on and sold the units, I’d probably be used to things in The Best House in Melbourne and I wouldn’t change them.

I decided that while I was excited about the new house, I should Get Things Done while I was still in “new house mode”.

I moved things around in the kitchen, massively remodelled the laundry and did a few things in the garden. One of the best things I did though, was spend nearly $300 on a spice rack. You can see it above, hanging from the back of the pantry door, next to the automatic light that my brother-in-law put in for me. (Incidentally, that light is also one of the best things I’ve ever spent money on.)

Ever since I bought the Skinnymixer’s recipe book ‘A Little Taste of India’, I’ve used a lot of spices in my cooking. Having them all together, alphabetised and ready for action, has been fantastic. The jars are clear plastic, so I can see at a glance when a herb or spice is getting low.

One of my rosemary plants in a wicking box.

I grow quite a few herbs in my garden, but sometimes it’s handy to have the dried version on hand. The easy way would be to simply throw a packet of dried rosemary or oregano into my shopping trolley the next time I was at the supermarket. Or, with a little bit of foresight, I could harvest some cuttings and make it myself.

It’s not hard. It’s literally a 5-minute job, but you need to do it a few weeks in advance.

I looked at the rosemary container and saw that it was getting low. I grabbed the scissors, went out to the side deck and hacked away at one of the rosemary plants. I lay the cuttings down on a couple of cake coolers, making sure that the cuttings weren’t too close together so air could circulate around them, then I walked away and left them for a couple of weeks.

Yesterday I came home from work, looked at the rosemary cuttings and saw that they were dried. I stripped the leaves from the stems, put them into the thermomix and speed 10’d them for a few seconds.

Done! By doing this I saved myself a couple of dollars, but that wasn’t why I decided to put this post together.

If you look at the bottom you’ll see where the old rosemary was and where the new rosemary begins.

By looking at the jar, I could see that we’d soon be needing to top up on dried rosemary. It was obviously going to happen. If I ignored it and let the jar run out, I’d more than likely be forced into buying a packet the next time I was out shopping.

But by using foresight and giving myself the time to pick the rosemary and spend two weeks drying it, I was able to use the materials I have to their best ability. I was able to allocate time and resources in the best way possible to utilise their benefit to me.

In a small way, this mirrors working towards Financial Independence.

Let’s face it, it takes foresight to begin preparing for financial security, let along retirement. Most people bury their heads in the sand for decades before starting to get their finances together.

Let me put my hand up for that one. When I first started this blog, I wrote a post on my second-biggest financial mistake. That post describes the way I showed my kids about the power of compounding, (and it won the first Rockstar Rumble, which makes me feel slightly better!), but the fact remains that I cashed in my superannuation of 30K back in 1991. If I’d left it alone and never added another thing to it, it’d be worth over 200K today and I’d more than likely be retired now.

I didn’t think far enough ahead. I was an idiot. All I needed was a little bit of foresight.

If I could say anything to people younger than me, people in my children’s generation, I’d say to them that they all know that old age is coming. Yes, it’s in some dark, misty future but, like Christmas, it IS coming. Future You will be so grateful if you make it a habit – starting from now – to throw a little bit of money their way.

Take it from me – if I had an extra 200K from Past Frogdancer Jones, I’d be very happy. It would almost certainly change the choices that I’ve made about going part-time next year. If I feel that way, I can bet my bottom dollar that Future You would feel the same way too.

The best thing about the power of compounding is that if you start young, you don’t need to throw enormous gobs of money towards Future You. Little amounts squirrelled away regularly will mount up over the decades to become substantial. Life-changing.

It only takes a little bit of foresight to give Future You the enormous gift of being able to have choices. By utilising your resources and time in this way, your life, decades in the future, will be so much easier.

I can guarantee that Future You will be so totally grateful to Present You. Start harvesting those financial cuttings – the future has a habit of arriving much more quickly than we dream of!

Poppy in the herb garden. This is Past Frogdancer Jones’ future.

My chilly ankles Winter Challenge.

Why I don’t buy many things online.

Unlike most of the people I work with in The Danger Zone, (our section of the staffroom), I don’t buy clothes and shoes online as a rule. Sure, the convenience is good and you get the fun of unwrapping the parcel and showing what you bought to the rest of us, because of course, we use the school’s address for deliveries. But what do you do if you don’t like the thing you ordered, or it’s too big, too small or just slightly the wrong colour?

That’s what turns me off going clothes shopping online.

But even Frogdancer Jones can be seduced by the words of others. I was on BookFace 6 months ago and someone was raving about Scarletto shoes, saying that they look good but feel like she’s wearing her comfy old slippers. What could be more seductive than that??? Imagine going to work all day in your comfy old slippers? I leapt across to the website and began flicking through what was on offer.

As it happened, I needed some flat shoes for work. I was looking for Ballerina-style shoes that I could wear with anything – I’m low maintenance like that – and I was hoping there’d be some black ones.

The shoes on the site were more exxy than I was used to, but there was a “Sale” page. No black ballerinas, but there were these black and white ones half price – $60. Hmmm… Not want I wanted but maybe I could accept these as a compromise?

I ordered them. If they measured up and were as comfy as that unknown woman said, then I’d go back and buy the full-priced black ones.

When they arrived I was taken aback at first. They were a lot shinier than I’m used to. I’m a leather shoe person and these were… not. Still, I guess I could put up with shiny feet. They have leather insoles so it wasn’t as if my poor feet would be encased in plastic all day. I began wearing them.

After only two days at work with the black and whites, I came home and kicked them off. As I turned to leave my room, something caught my eye. A big white patch at the heel of the right shoe. I bent down, frowning. A couple of the black spots had peeled off.

I was totally unimpressed. I looked closer. There were a few other spots with the edges starting to peel upwards.

Well wasn’t that lovely? Clearly, they realised there was a problem with this particular design and so instead of pulling it from sale entirely, they flogged them off on the ‘Sale’ page.

I was furious. Both with them and with me. WHY had I broken my rule about shopping online for clothes? I’d only worn them twice, so that means I’d paid $30/wear. That’s outrageously expensive!

I jumped online and checked their returns policy.

Of course, this only applies to shoes that were full-price and unworn. How very convenient for them.

I knew I could contact them and get into a debate about faulty shoes, then have to find packaging to send them back and find time to get to the post office… but could I be bothered with it? But the alternative was to keep these now unusable shoes that started off so cheap and ended up so expensive.

But hang on – were they so unusable?

I looked at my ugg boots that I’d bought in China over 6 years ago. They were mid-calf length, black leather on the outside with proper soles and real sheepskin inside. They’d been my slippers all that time, but now the soles were starting to come loose and they were looking a bit shabby.

On an impulse, I binned them and swapped the black and white ballerinas into the “comfy slipper” category that the unknown woman on BookFace had claimed they were. (She was correct, by the way. They may look like they have a skin disease but they’re very comfortable.) This was going to be my Winter Challenge!

So how did my winter go with my frugal slipper choice?

I won’t lie; I missed the comfort of sheepskin on my feet on winter mornings. My ankles were cold. Nights after school, when I’ve walked the dogs and kicked off my shoes, I wanted the warmth and softness of my old ugg boots to encase my tired feet. But I’ve gritted my teeth and stuck to my guns. I live in a temperate climate where snow never comes. One winter wearing ballerina shoes won’t kill me.

But it did make me slightly uncomfortable. And you know? I think that’s not a bad thing.

I could have driven to the ugg boot warehouse near my home after work any day and bought a new pair of boots to wear as slippers. Lord knows, these days I can afford it. But something inside me feels that if I caved in and did that, I’d be negating all the lessons that were hard-won when I was utterly poverty-stricken, back when the boys were babies.

In those days I had to live with the consequences of my decisions, both in life and in spending. If I bought something on impulse (like I did with these shoes) I had to live with it, often for years. I had absolutely NO spare money to replace things if I made a mistake.

The shirt I bought in a sale from Target, for example. It was only $5. WHAT a bargain!!! Red and white… I didn’t love it. I barely liked it. “Meh,” I said to myself. “It’s only $5. It’ll do for a year.” Nearly 10 years later, I finally binned that thing. Yes, I wore it over that time and felt not-so-good about how I looked every time I pulled it on. But for most of that time, I seriously didn’t have enough money to comfortably replace it. Boys’ needs, the bills and the mortgage took precedence.

The year of the brakes and heating oil that I wrote about in my About page. That was a tough one. I was weighing literally every cent. Would I have even contemplated spending sixty whole dollars on a pair of shoes?? Never in a million years. So how could I casually throw that amount of money away now?

So. I lasted the winter. It was far easier living through this 2019 winter than the 1998 (I think) winter of the brakes and heating oil because, in the big scheme of things, slightly chilly ankles in a house with ducted heating isn’t a patch on living in a house all winter with no heating.

My full-time wage from teaching means that I take home roughly $1/minute of teaching time. My price/wear of these shoes has plummeted, which makes me happy. Why?

If I’m thinking of buying something that isn’t a necessity, I work out how much face-to-face teaching time that item will cost me… and then I think of my least favourite class for that year. (Hello 8K English.) If I’ve put in an hour of putting up with 8K’s shenanigans to only get $30 per wear out of a pair of shoes, that’s definitely not a good use of my time. Change that to an hour of putting up with 8K equaling less than a dollar per wear, then I’ve got a lot more value for my time.

Anyway, these are the games I play. I feel like I can now discard the shoes whenever I feel like it. Every now and then I find more black spots on the floor that the shoes have shed, which reminds me to stick to my guns about not trusting online shopping for clothing and also to not buy anything at all that I don’t totally love.

Sometime this summer I’ll drop into the ugg boot outlet and buy a new pair of mid-calf boots with proper soles and I’ll be so happy.

It’s good to have something to look forward to!

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #4.

House plan for The Best House in Melbourne.

Some of the things that people put in place for retirement are big projects, such as the landscaping I’ve done around the house and the verandah roof I’m currently organising to have built. These things have cost many thousands of dollars, but will reap huge benefits once I leave work and have the time to enjoy them. But not everything has to be a massive project. Sometimes it’s as simple as rearranging a few paintings and pieces of furniture.

I’ve put the house plan of The Best House In Melbourne up on the blog before, when I wrote about how I geoarbitraged my family into it. When we moved in, I had 2 sons in their 20’s still living with me. Naturally, they chose bedrooms 3 and 4 to live in, as far away from their favourite mother as possible.

Evan22, who was at that stage Evan20, chose to keep living in the old house until it was demolished, a move that we thought would only be about 6 months but ended up being almost 18 months. When he came home there was only one bedroom left – bedroom 2.

It’s not a bad space. It has plenty of storage and an inbuilt desk, perfect for putting a huge tv screen on for playing games. It’s south-facing, so it’s bright enough without being too dazzling for a bedroom. It has ducted gas heating for winter and a fan for summer and the room opens up to my main living area, which in summer is cooled by a massive refrigerative air conditioner, so climate control is a breeze.

This was his room until he left to live in Ballarat, a regional town about 2 hours from here. He’s doing an acting degree at the university there. He uses this room as a base when he’s in Melbourne, but that’s only a few nights here and there.

He’s pretty much not coming home for 2 years and will probably move straight out again once his course is finished, so it’s time to RECLAIM THE ROOM.

This will be my guest room/sewing room, at least until Jordan26 moves out and bedroom 4 on the house plan becomes free for me to use as a study. But this room needs to be functional as a guest room.

In years to come, as Old Lady Frogdancer totters towards old age, she’ll have friends and relatives who’ll sometimes want to stay. There’s nothing better than having dinner and then sitting on the couch till the wee hours, telling stories, drinking wine and laughing. It’s even better if people can stay the night and not have to worry about driving or getting Ubers.

Evan22 had covered the walls with photos and the wardrobe doors with pages from a script he was writing. Imagine hundreds of blobs of Blutack everywhere. I used to walk in, take a look at the photos still up there and the blue spots left on the wall from the photos he took with him, silently scream and hurriedly shut the door behind me.

The photos are now gone. He did it without me even asking. There’s one small spot up near the cornice where the paint pulled away, but he says that the rest of the paintwork is fine. I was so relieved! I was certain that I’d have to paint the whole room.

I bought a double bed for him when he moved back in. He’s barely used it and he wanted to take it with him up to Ballarat. The thought of taking it apart, then transporting the bed and mattress up there, then putting it all back together again while still having to buy a bed to put in my guest room was all too much.

I suggested to Evan22 that I simply buy him a new bed, as I’d have to buy one anyway, and we’d get it delivered to Ballarat. He was rapt and he’s already got me to agree to a Queen-sized bed. (What can I say? He’s my baby… plus he’s over 6′ tall.)

This painting was bought in Bali back in 2006. Works beautifully in here.

When I moved all of that in, I looked at the space and thought… “Hang on! My bright ladies from Bali would look perfect in here!”

So the bed is taken care of. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again for the doona. When we moved here, I bought a new wool doona for my bed and stupidly bought a Queen sized one. You’d think that would be perfect for a Queen-sized bed but as we all know, you really need a King-sized doona for a queen-sized bed. Idiot! But now, I just moved my doona to the guest room, complete with the beautiful yellow and white striped doona cover, and bought a proper-sized doona for my bed.

When the boys and I went to Bali, way back in 2006, we came back with lots of wood carvings, lots of jewellery and LOTS of art. It cost more to frame each piece than it did to actually buy them, but 13 years later, they’re still adorning the walls of our house. The yellow of the doona cover picks up the yellow in the painting and it looks great.

I’ll just need to look out for a mirror to put on the wall over the desk and then the room will pretty much be complete as a guest room. I know it’s only a little job, but it’s one step closer to having the house ready for retirement.

When you’re retired you can catch things!

Ok, so I’m not retired yet. But I AM on a two-week school holiday break. Today is Thursday and a little after 9 I was sitting on the couch with the dogs, reading blogs and twitter on my laptop, still in my pjs and bathrobe and luxuriating in the fact that I’d normally be in a classroom with my year 7s at this time on a Thursday.

Then I paused. Something wasn’t right. I cocked my head to the side and waited.

Why was the pump to the water tank turning itself on and off?

I could hear it. It only turns on when the timer to the automatic watering system switches on or if the tap in the backyard is turned on. Neither of those things was happening, yet there it was – turning itself on for about 30 seconds, then off… on then off.

I opened the front door, the delighted dogs running ahead of me and went to have a look.

The brick path around the tank was glistening wet. The fence was wet. The pump was still turning itself on and off. There was clearly a leak. But from where?

Just as I was turning to go, I saw it. A tiny pin-prick of a hole was in a plastic pipe on the pump. The thinnest spray of water was arcing high into the air and then onto the fence. It was so small you had to be in the right place to even see it. But given enough time, it would have drained the water tank, vanished from view and then it would have been impossible to see where the leak was coming from. Or worse – it might have gotten bigger over time and made a small job much more expensive to fix.

All I had was masking tape to try and stop it. Yes, I’m not exactly the DIY type…

Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer! If it had happened a week earlier I would’ve been none the wiser. As I said, I would’ve been teaching the year 7s about ‘Edward Scissorhands’, not being at home and able to pick up on the fact that something wasn’t right. And even more – imagine if it happened in the middle of summer when I really need that water? I’d be very unhappy to find a drained water tank on a 40C day… The more I think about it, the timing of this is impeccable!

Now, this is an advantage of retirement I’d never considered. Being around and having the time to notice small things that need attending to. This will definitely save time, money and drama.

I suppose it makes sense. An old Chinese proverb says that the best fertiliser is the shadow of the gardener. I’ve always loved that saying because it’s so true. A daily walk around the garden is so much more effective than a bi-weekly one. Small weeds get picked. A plant gets tied back onto a stake instead of being left to flap and break in the wind. A wilted plant gets watered.

After coming inside from the water tank, I jumped straight on the phone and booked a plumber. It’s a small job and by the end of the day it’ll be sorted. This makes me look forward even more to when I’ll have all the time in the word to let ‘the shadow of the gardener’ fall on the important things in my life.

Roll on next year to when I go part-time!

***EDITED TO ADD: It’s now 2:20. The plumber I used was from the same company who installed my hot water heater a couple of months ago. The pipe is now fixed and when I asked how much I owed he said, “Nothing. I just put it down as a repair to the HWS. If you don’t tell ’em I won’t!”

How nice is that?!?

Sometimes poverty breeds ingenuity.

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

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

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

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

I think he nailed it.

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

Truly the gift that keeps on giving!

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

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

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

It’s a mystery…

‘Playing with FIRE’ review.

(Screenshot from the trailer.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #3

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

Veggie gardens. A must for any retirement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All finished.

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

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

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

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

I just wish that my next project was as economical…

The naked paved area.

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

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

Along with my savings…

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