Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Consumerism (page 1 of 3)

Yikes! Yabba Dabba Dooo.

Normally, you don’t get a window into how other people may see you, but last week I did. It was pretty confronting, to be honest. It actually stopped me blogging, while I mulled over it.

I’ve known Fred and Wilma pretty much all my life. They’re old friends of the family and, now that I’ve changed the way I drive home each night, I drop in on them occasionally.

Anyway, I was visiting Fred and Wilma after work one night last week and having a cuppa and a chat. We were talking about their family and mine and just generally catching up on what’s been going on.

We’d been talking about money matters a few minutes before. Fred and I share a similar interest, so I told them about a financial goal I’d achieved. Then the conversation moved on, as it does. Coincidentally, Wilma had talked with my sister a day before and she shared a story about a win that my sister had. Kate’s a Thermomix consultant and she did a demo at a gorgeous Bed And Breakfast place in the country – and ended up being able to stay there that night for nothing. She had a lovely time.

“Looks like being a good week for the Jones girls,” I said. “We’ve both had wins.”

“Yes, but yours are only ever about money,” replied Wilma.

Wait… what?!?

Yeeouch!

This has been reverberating around my head ever since she sad it. At the time I made some sort of verbal come-back, but it was pretty feeble, as she’d well and truly caught me on the back foot.

I’m still not sure exactly what she meant by it, though I have a sneaking suspicion that me still being single, 22 years after I left my husband, might have a bit to do with it. I don’t think it can be the boys – no one’s in jail, on drugs or living on the street. All of them have either finished University or are well on the way to.

I’ve held down a full-time job for the last 15/16 years – I’m never quite sure how long I’ve been at the school – and I’m pretty sure I’m good at what I do. After all, I’m changing lives… one English or Theatre Studies lesson at a time.

It’s a weird thought to think that just when I’m closer than ever to reaching my goal of early(ish) retirement and I’m stepping back from a six-figure wage, I’m being called on for being too mercenary.

The thing is… I don’t think I measure my life’s success simply by how big my net worth is. Sure, it’s a part of it, because I’ve worked too hard and planned too much for it not to be. But I’m investing and planning so that all the intangibles in my life will be easier – things like the freedom to spend my time how I choose; the ability to help anyone I feel like; the choice to share things like theatre tickets and other fun things with the people I care about and the ability to go traveling any time I want.

Ok, so maybe that first and last ones on the list might appear a bit selfish, but so be it! I bought a beautiful house three years ago when I did the whole geoarbitrage gamble, but part of the decision to buy this place was that the layout of the space meant that when the boys want to move back for any reason, we won’t be living cheek to jowl with each other. Part of my job as a parent is to provide a roof over their heads and I feel glad that I can provide it if they need it, even though they’re all adults now.

Doesn’t mean I still don’t love my house. Doesn’t mean I still don’t think it’s beautiful. But it’s an example of the way I make decisions – there’s often a long-term plan behind the spending/life decisions I make.

It’s an interesting question though – money is behind a lot of the decisions, obligations and freedoms we have in life. It’s obviously important. We in the Personal Finance and FI/RE blogging communities write about it all the time.

But Wilma’s perception of me rocked me back on my heels a bit. It makes me wonder. Is she alone in her view of how I view success, or do others feel the same?

Of course, short of asking everyone I know, I’ll never get the answer to that curly question! But it was interesting to have that little window into how someone else perceives me.

I guess it does you good to get the wind knocked out of your sails every once in a while, to stop you getting complacent.

I’ll still drop in every now and then to see Fred and Wilma, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred and I have our little financial chats in private from now on…

Lessons from Literature: The Good Earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Earth - O-Lan grinding grain

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

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

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

The Good Earth - O-Lan finds the jewels

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

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

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

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

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan

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

However, lifestyle creep starts to cause problems.

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

The Good Earth - Lotus.

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

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

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

The Good Earth - Wang Lung

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

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

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

Now I’m thinking about Opportunity Cost.

Hey girl, you look good when you pay your blls

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

So what’s Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost of not studying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I travel – so why do I love Staycations?

I love Staycations, even though it’s no secret that I also love to travel. I’ve blogged extensively about my trips to the UK, Europe, North Korea and Thailand on my personal blog, while this blog has 4 posts summarising what I saw in North Korea. I wtote about how the regime holds on to political power by using the power of advertising with sculpture, art, education and making everything appear bigger and better than the rest of the world.

Even though I have a hankering for more freedom I’m choosing to continue working for another few years. It’s mostly because I have a number in mind that I’m working towards, but the number is based on my love of travel. When I eventually pull the pin on my job, I’m planning to travel overseas at least once a year. Australia is pretty isolated, so international travel is often very expensive. My FIRE number is higher to account for this.

So, even though I love to travel overseas, most of my holidays are Staycations. I’ve always been a delayed gratification type of girl, where I’ll put off what I want to do today to REALLY enjoy it tomorrow. But having said that, the truth is that I LOVE a Staycation.

Honestly, if you don’t like hanging around in the place that you live in, then you’re doing it wrong.

Your home is the place where you can be yourself – a place where you shut the door behind you and you can simply “be.” And after all, a holiday doesn’t have to be a time to run yourself ragged – it can also be a time to regroup and chill, enjoying what’s around you.

Home is the perfect place to recharge batteries and do -(or not do)- all those little things you’ve been meaning to get to but couldn’t when your time was taken up with a job. Little things like reading a book, lunching like ladies and sorting through that filing cabinet, one drawer at a time.

I had a 5 week Staycation at the end of the school year, right at Christmas time and then on into January. I was so tired when that holiday started, I’m pretty sure I looked like Moon-Moon here in the meme below:

Yes, that’s an accurate representation.

When the holidays start, I take the first few days slowly. I sleep in for as long as the dogs allow me to. There’s only so much ‘claws scratching against floorboards’ noise that I can take before I get up. They probably circle the bed like sharks around a shipwreck victim, waiting for me to wake.

I need downtime. Time to slowly move through the day, doing whatever seems like a good idea in the moment. That’s why I love a Staycaion.

I indulge myself with gobs of freedom.

I leisurely move through the first few days, reading, taking a nanna nap after lunch if I feel like it. Aw, who am I kidding? I usually do feel like it – those Spaniards are onto something with the siesta! If I have the energy and inclination to tackle a task that needs doing, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll ignore it until later in the holiday. I have the time to either use or squander, depending on my mood.

Later on in the holidays, whether it’s the 5 week summer break or the regular 2 week breaks between terms, is when I tend to Get Things Done.

Bigger tasks that need some extra time or boring things that still have to be done whether I like them or not – they get knocked off my mental ‘To Do ‘ list.

Well, mostly. I made soap for Christmas presents in the September holidays and I was going to make more in the summer. We’re down to our last bar of home-made soap and I still haven’t made more. I’m not saying a Staycation makes you perfect – just more rested and chilled.

And probably better looking due to all the relaxation.

I remember when the kids were younger. Life got pretty frantic at times, particularly when you add a young family into the mix. I was working, the children had their own schedules of school and activities and socialising to be worked around; life was lived at fever-pitch and was scheduled out to the minute.

So if every holiday is lived at that frantic pace as well – how is that doing anyone any good?

Revel in a staycation. You’re definitely not depriving yourself. They’re wonderful.

Why I never had to bother with other people’s expectations.

Lifestyle creep. When you start earning more money and everyone expects you to reward yourself. You buy a bigger house, new/er cars, better clothes. You become spendier. People see you advancing along in your career and they expect to see outward signs of this. They expect you to have a more lavish lifestyle.

But do you know the HUGE advantage I’ve had throughout these 21 years?

Nobody expects a single mother of 4 boys to be able to spend money on lifestyle creep. No one even expects her to have it. Nobody!

Everyone knows how expensive kids are, especially as they move into high school and start living with their heads inside the fridge, eating everything in sight. They grow like weeds, while you can almost see their feet get bigger. They have school fees, school books and school excursions. They have outside interests that need to be paid for.

They probably also need braces. For those who don’t know, braces are hellishly expensive. I had 3 boys who needed them. Fortunately, their father paid for Ryan14’s braces, but I had to come up with the goods for the other two sets.

So here was I, with these 4 boys standing around growing ever taller and looking expensive. With straight teeth, though. That’s got to mean something…

If I needed some new clothes for my family, no one raised an eyebrow if I’d shop at the op shops first. If anyone had clothes to give away, we’d happily accept them. I’d grow my own veggies and people nodded.

Travel is also important to me. If a person has no international travel under their belt, their view on life is limited to the place that they grew up in. I wanted my boys to see outside the bubble of comfortable middle-class suburbia in a first-world nation. Documentaries on TV are great, but they’re no substitute for seeing things for yourself. So I took the boys to Bali, Thailand and Singapore, and paid for 2 of them to go on a school music tour to the USA. They went to the US with some of their uniform and schoolbooks being second-hand, but they still got to go. 

(On re-reading this before publication, I realise that I’m inferring that the USA is a third-world nation!! It made me laugh, so I’ve left it in. Though, now that I think about it, the boys were a bit shocked at the level of decay in the infrastructure of Hollywood/L.A… just saying…)

After school interests? With 4 kids to look after, I told the boys that each child could only have ONE class/sport/lesson each. Just one. While every other kid in the neighbourhood was racing off to something after every school day, my boys, after a bit of trying out of various things, elected to do music lessons.

Tom and Ryan did guitar for years, while David learned piano and is now getting his Bachelor’s degree in music. Evan didn’t end up doing anything at all – he was content to chill and do his own thing. Did any of the other Mums at school raise their eyebrows and make ‘tsk tsk’ noises and insinuate that my boys were being deprived? No.

I had the ‘Single  Mother/Single Wage’ card. I could fly under the radar. I have never had to cope with battling the expectations of anyone else.

And it was wonderful.

It left me free to be the ‘Valuist’ spender that I was born to be.

It’s left me free to organise my finances the way that I – and only I – want to. I like nice clothes as much as the next woman, but our security was more important. That little weatherboard house had to be paid for. And it was. One cheap shopping trip to Aldi for all of those groceries at a time, while wearing the same clothes for years.

My big trip to the Uk and Europe that I’d waited my whole life to do? Once the house was paid for and the boys had all finished high school, I quietly saved up the money and went.

I’m happy to keep wearing the same jewellery and drive the same car while I put improvements in place in The Best House in Melbourne so that I can retire with the infrastructure that I want around me.

Lots of little expenses, like daily coffees from 7/11, or doughnut runs to AJs are things I’ve never done. The peer pressure has never happened, though I’ve seen it put to work all around me. Everyone else is fair game for Lifestyle Creep to be expected of them, but “poor Frogdancer Jones can’t afford it with all those boys…”

I guess being a single parent has to have some advantages.

Heh heh.

Geoarbitrage: all the cool kids are doing it #4.

Late last year I wrote a post on how I sold my house, with fully-approved plans to build 2 massive townhouses on it, to a developer. I was going to do the build myself, but when I was offered a crazy sum of money to sell the house ‘as is’, I decided that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, so I sold it.

Last November it was passed in at auction. In the time between me selling and them building, the wildly expensive property market in Melbourne had begun to soften. They had a reserve of 1.6M for the right-hand townhouse, but at the auction they didn’t even get one bid. Standing with my old neighbours watching this unfold, I felt bad for the developers. They’ve done a beautiful job on the build. I was also incredibly thankful that I’d made the decision to sell when I did.

Since then they’ve reduced the price twice and last Saturday it went up for auction again. I was planning to drive down to see it, hoping that this time the developers would get lucky. It’s all too easy to put myself in the situation and imagine how I’d be feeling.

I was paying bridging finance for The Best House in Melbourne at 72% of my take-home pay for 8 months, then when I dropped my gig as a thermomix consultant and went back to full-time teaching it was “only” 55% for a further 8 months or so. Imagine if I was still paying that today? I would be beside myself with worry if it didn’t sell.

The reserve price at the last auction was 1.6M. On the actual ‘For Sale’ on the website, it now suggests a range of between 1.4M – 1.480M. I was interested to see where the sellers’ heads were really at. The lowest suggested price on a real estate board is rarely what the sellers will accept!

But, just as I was planning to get ready to leave, I thought I’d check the website to make sure I had the auction time correct. This is what I saw:

There was no sticker on the board at the front of the property yesterday morning, but when I rang Tom27 he said that he drove past in the late afternoon and saw them putting the ‘Sold’ sticker on it then. You’d think he’d tell his mother straight away, but I guess not…

I sent a text to the real estate agent, asking what they got for it…

… then I waited. Saturdays are a busy time for real estate agents.

The suspense was killing me…


… and then he rang.

The townhouse went for 1.45Million, with the buyer paying an extra 47K for modifications to be done to the house by the builder. Imagine having the money to pay an EXTRA 47K to pay for ‘improvements’ after you just spent just under one and a half million dollars…?

I’m so glad for the builder that he finally managed to sell this property, but the scary thing is that he had a reserve amount of 1.6M back in November and had to drop 155K off his projected profit to be free of it. That’s a substantial amount of money.

Still, no doubt he still made a profit. I’m also VERY glad I took the money and ran when I did. Part of financial success is hard work, attention to detail, making a plan and sticking to it for a long time. And part of it is timing.

Clearly, I’ve benefitted from both. May we all be as fortunate!

“We both spend money – just on different things.”

I was talking with a friend a couple of years ago. I’ve known her all my life and we chat nearly every week. Our kids have grown up together and it’s safe to say we’re close.

Our lives have worked out very differently. She’s still on her first marriage of nearly 30 years, whereas I’ve been single for most of that time. I live in suburbia, while she lives in the country. Our spending habits are very different too.

She was over at my place, staying for a few days over the summer holidays and she mentioned that maybe we could go out and grab a coffee one day. This is something that she does every day of her life, always with friends or family.

I don’t. Not because I don’t have friends or family, but because I don’t like doing it as a part of my regular routine.

I have my 16c cup of coffee in the morning before I leave home and usually that’s about it. I spend recess and lunchtimes with my friends at work in the staffroom or common room. Going to cafés to spend heaps on a coffee and a cake just isn’t my thing. It’s probably because I’m lazy at heart, but I’d rather loll around at home than dress up to go out and drink the very same things that I have in my kitchen.

I can’t remember exactly what I said in reply to Sharon, but it was clearly unenthusiastic. She curled her lip at me and said, “What’s wrong? Don’t you like the taste of coffee?”

“Of course, I do,” I said. “But we have a coffee machine right here.”

She rolled her eyes. “My God Frogdancer, you never spend money on anything! Don’t you want to live a little? Get out and do things?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I pointed to Scout.

“Sharon, you DO realise you’re talking to the person who paid two thousand dollars for a puppy last year? And spent around thirty thousand for the Europe trip? I’m going to be spending over 50 thousand on landscaping soon. How can you say I don’t spend anything?”

“Yeah ok, but you never buy new shoes or clothes and you’ve had your car for 5 years…”

I interrupted. “Sharon, I spend money on myself every single month.”

“On what?” she asked, looking around. I think she was hoping to see shopping bags piled up in a corner somewhere.

“The only difference between us is that you buy things people can see. You buy things – I buy time. I don’t give a (bleep) about fashion; what I care about is setting myself up so I don’t need to go to work if I don’t want to. I’m buying back years of my life. “

“What do you mean? How can you buy time?”

“Every month I put money in shares, I salary sacrifice to the max into super and I put any extra into my share portfolio. If everything goes as it should, in 5 years or so I’ll be able to choose whether I want to work or not.”

She sighed. “Yeah, that’s fine for you. I’ll be working until I die…”

I thought she was probably right, but it wasn’t the sort of conversation I wanted to have with her just then. I decided to say something that would make the point and end the topic without actually pointing the finger at her.

” We both spend money on ourselves; it’s just on different things.”

So we took our dogs for a walk instead.

The Freedom Ring.

(This post was prompted by J. Money at Budgets are Sexy He posted a tweet about an ad he saw that said something like “No outfit is complete without a diamond!” I tweeted back and said, “Every outfit I wear has a diamond with it! My engagement ring. Except I wear mine on my right hand. I call it my Freedom Ring.” He said I should blog about it, so here it is.)

Some might say that wearing a diamond ring from a defunct relationship is the very essence of frugality. Why buy yourself jewellery if you already have something lying around? Now, I’ve been known to be reluctant to spend money if I don’t need to, but the Freedom ring has a bit more behind it than just wanting to save a few bucks on bling.

Way back in 1985, my boyfriend popped the question and I accepted. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, as we’d been living together for around 18 months. We were in the city having lunch, then after we finished we went straight to where my cousin worked.

He’s a diamond-setter.

I wanted an emerald ring… not your usual wishy-washy faded green emerald but one that was a deep, brilliant green. My cousin John showed us all the emeralds he had in his office, then when none matched up he left us there to go downstairs to borrow some from another jeweller who might have the colour of emerald I wanted.

While he was gone, A said, “Frogdancer, I don’t want to buy an emerald. I want to get you a diamond. A big diamond. That’s what I’ve had in my head.”

I really wanted the emerald – after all, the emerald was what I’d had in my head! – but I thought, hey, A is paying for it so I should really get what he wants. I know, I know… I was going to be the one wearing it, but I was young and stupid back then.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. See this photo? This is taken in England, with my hand touching the actual table where Jane Austen wrote her novels. See the ring? It’s an emerald that I bought for myself when I took the kids to Thailand. Dreams DO come true!

But I digress.

When John came back into the room, carrying a box full of emeralds, we said we’d changed our minds. He laughed and said that this happens more often than not.

He put the emeralds down and asked A how much he was willing to spend.

“Five thousand dollars,” he replied.

I nearly fell off my chair. Back in 1985 that was a LOT of money.

In fact, I just googled what it would be worth today and I nearly fell off my chair again. The equivalent amount in today’s dollars is FOURTEEN THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.

I gaped at him. I thought he was mad. But I certainly wasn’t going to say no.

John nodded, got up and came back with diamonds. This is the ring we designed:

Everyone called it “The Rock.” I can’t remember just how big it was, but it’s just over 1 carat and it’s of very good quality. The wedding ring was designed to fit under it. It’s gold because he wanted gold – everything else I wear is silver – really, I should have realised back then that this relationship wasn’t destined to work!

We got married in 1987, had our 4 children from 1992-1996 and I left him a year later in 1997.

During the ‘discussion’ in front of the registrar from the Family Court when we were doing our financial settlement, A asked for many things. He wanted the furniture, the car and more of a share to the house than he was entitled to. The registrar was getting increasingly disgusted with him, considering we had 4 small boys to consider. Finally, A asked for the engagement ring to be returned.

The registrar turned to me, rolled his eyes and said, “And how do you feel about that, Mrs Married-Name?”

“After 4 kids and 10 years of marriage, I feel I’ve earned it!” I said.

For a few years the ring languished in the bottom of my jewellery box. I didn’t want to wear it. Then, one day, I took it out and put it on my right hand. There it stayed for a few months, until one day, when I was at work, I glanced down and saw, to my horror, that the claws of the ring were empty.

The diamond was gone.

I searched, but I had no idea when it had gone missing and you can’t search an entire school to look for a pebble. I was upset, but what can you do? I put the useless ring in my jewellery box and went on with my life.

Two years later, Evan came out of his room, holding something in the palm of his hand. He would’ve been around 9 or 10, I suppose.

“Mum, I found this in the corner of my sock drawer. What is it?”

I gasped as I looked at what appeared to be a weirdly-shaped stone. Could it be? I turned it over and it gleamed.

Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer!

After John put the ring back together again – “I was so sorry when you lost this diamond. It’s a beautiful stone” – I put it back into the jewellery box. A and I were having child support ‘discussions’ and I didn’t need the reminder of him.

And there it stayed until around this time last year.

I sit near a group of women in our staffroom who are in their late twenties/early thirties. They’re all in that stage of life where they’re getting engaged/married/buying houses/having babies. We were talking engagement rings and I was describing mine. Alice said, “Why don’t you bring it in? I’d love to see it.”

That night, I opened my jewellery box and sifted through the contents until I found the box. I opened it and the diamond shone. I looked at it and remembered so many things. My wedding, the babies, the good times as well as the bad.

I smiled as I slipped it onto my ring finger. The ring finger on my RIGHT hand.

The ring has been there ever since. The girl that it was designed for has long gone and the woman I am now has taken her place.

On the surface, it’s still a beautiful piece of jewellery and I take pleasure in looking at it. It’s simple and elegant, (both qualities that I aspire to be one day) and it goes with everything.

On a deeper level, every now and then I glance at the ring and I think of that girl in my cousin’s office, excited at the new life in front of her and having no idea how it was all going to pan out. She made so many mistakes, deferring her own judgement so many times – but I suppose without all of those mis-steps and blunders my life wouldn’t look the way it does today.

I have a nickname for the ring on my right hand. I call it “The Freedom Ring.” It’s a symbol of how you sometimes begin a journey and end up in an entirely different destination to where you thought you were going to be.

And sometimes where you end up is wonderful.

Doing the Ironing.

Some of you may remember the post I did early in the summer holidays, where I went mad buying clothes, after not having bought many in the last 5 years.

And it’s been great! I’ve had a week of swishing through the front door of the school, people complimenting me, kids also saying nice things about my level of style, sophistication and downright beauty… I’ve been having a ball. But there’s just one problem with all of these new clothes.

Linen looks much better when it’s ironed.

Now, I’m not stupid. I knew this up-front. As I was standing in the fitting room at David Jones with roughly 4,000 different items of clothing I’d dragged in to try on, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Frogdancer Jones – if you buy any of these clothes you have to start ironing again.”

*sigh* I bought about 2,000 different things. Around 120% of them are linen. Or at least that’s how it feels right at this moment.

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne nearly 3 years ago, I threw out the ironing board cover. I’d say that it “didn’t spark joy” but that was long before anyone heard of that expression. Ever since then, if I ever needed to iron anything I’d put a towel on the bench in the laundry. David25, clearly not a fan of this work-around, bought his own ironing board for his work clothes and just before going back to work, I borrowed it to start the year off right.

The next day he did a Bunnings run to get a few things that he needed and he came home with an ironing board for me in my favourite colour. I was touched – and also resigned to my fate. There was no excuse now!

I set everything up in the lounge room. It was stinking hot outside and the cooling was on. Poppy, who is my keen ‘halper’ with everything, was a bit bewildered by this new item of furniture.

Close up shot. I think she’d prefer it to be IN the kitchen rather than near it, so she can have a sporting chance of getting something to eat.

I looked at my watch. It was nearly 4:40PM on a Sunday afternoon – twenty minutes away from Wine O’clock. I could do this.

The bottom things are the Christmas tablecloths. They can wait. I grabbed the first item of clothing – some Bali pants Mum and Dad brought back for me the last time they were there – and I set off.

Of course, I had a podcast on. This was a really good episode by Millionaires Unveiled, where they were talking with the guy from ‘Stacking Benjamins.’ You could do worse than listen to an interview they did a few months ago with a single mother from Australia called Frogdancer Jones… just saying.


I didn’t escape unscathed. Stupid iron. You’d think someone would invent an iron which would move out of the way.

By the time I finished, the podcast was over, my arm was sore and Poppy had given up on me completely.

But Scout was watching. She had a ball ready and waiting for me to throw.

So what’s the financial takeaway from this post? Seeing as this is a FIRE blog and all. Maybe… when you practice delayed gratification to reach your financial goals and then you finally get there – it makes sense to look after what you reward yourself with.

Or maybe I felt that I’ve written quite a few serious posts and it was time to mix it up a bit.

Stay safe out there! Be careful of hot irons!

The Single Advantage.

I think that the road to financial independence as a single has a big and clear advantage. There’s a reason why a ship only has one captain and why too many cooks spoil the broth.

I’m a member of a few “Single FI” threads on FB and I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in the last couple of weeks with people having a whinge about how much harder it is for singles to reach Financial Independence in a world apparently geared for couples. According to these people, housing is more expensive, food is more expensive, entertainment is definitely more expensive. It’s not fair! Those selfish couples with their unfair societal advantages are rubbing their privileged FIRE journeys into our disadvantages singes’ faces!!!

At first, I was just “meh” about it. I don’t know these people and I have no way to walk in their shoes. However, as more and more people started chiming in, it got me thinking.

Why is my thinking about financial independence as a single so different?

I’ve been single for the last 21 years, ever since I left my husband. I walked away with my 4 boys aged 5, 3, 2 and 11 months. For the first 4 years, I was supporting us and paying a mortgage on the Sole Parents’ Pension, which (from memory) was around 18K a year. After my youngest son started school, I began working full-time as a teacher.  People ‘pooh-pooh’ teacher’s wages, even in Australia, but compared to the pension I felt we were on Easy Street.

So, long story short, for the last 21 years my family has been supported by one wage, controlled by one person. Why do I see this as not necessarily the disadvantage that others do?

Yes, on paper it would have been far easier if I’d been fortunate enough to meet someone compatible who could bring another wage into the household. Imagine all the investments we could have made once the mortgage was paid off?? We’d be rolling in money!

But I don’t know that it would have automatically happened quite like that.

Lifestyle creep appears to happen with almost every couple I’ve ever seen. Sure, the prudent ones max out their super funds and put aside money for investments and for a rainy day. The really smart ones have a healthy ‘FU Fund’ like the one I have. But even so, as life goes on and couples start to earn more, the little luxuries start to become part of the everyday. Clothes get nicer. Cars get newer. Houses get bigger. Holidays get more glamorous and are often spent further away from home. No more caravan park holidays at the Rye back beach! Now it’s taking the family to Thailand or Fiji or, (if you really want to make it memorable), to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.

The food budget goes up too. Not just on the average shop, but also when eating out. Dinner parties at home become far less common, even for lunches. Everyone wants to go out to eat. Theatre tickets replace movie tickets and lunches at wineries replace picnics in the park.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. You’ve both worked hard to get where you are and you deserve to taste some of the finer things in life. Your wife/husband/partner or yourself earned that big promotion and the expectation of the people around you at that new job is that you look the part. So, gradually, you do. It’s human nature to blend in with the tribe, after all.

I’m sure that with even the best will in the world, even the most perfect partner will come with some expenses in tow. There is no way that a man or woman would say, “Here’s my entire pay packet. Take it and invest it for our future. I have no wants, needs or desires. None whatsoever!”

Of course, some single people also fall prey to lifestyle creep. But when you’re on your own, it’s just YOU making the choices. I remember some of the (what I thought was) stupid things my ex-husband used to spend money on. So annoying. But I’ll bet that he could say the exact same thing about me. Everyone has things that individually drive them and if you’re snugly coupled-up, you have to accommodate the other person’s things, or you won’t be very snug for very long!

 

Rather than focusing on what we as singles don’t have –

2 X the pay packet;

someone to lift heavy things and open jars;

unbridled romance every time s/he walks through the door…

– we singles should be happy for the clear advantage of what we do have:

The opportunity to set a financial game plan in place and execute it without another person’s distractions or agenda getting in the way.

That’s huge.

It’s also an advantage that each person who’s single has, regardless of how much income they bring in.  Of course,  couples may very well be on the same financial page, working together for the benefit of their relationships, but we all know that it’s not the truth for each and every couple.

But we singles can choose the destiny of every dollar we bring in. On the path to FI, that’s not to be sneezed at.

There’s a lot to be said for personal, as well as financial independence.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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