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.
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.
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.”
Before you read this post, could you please jump across to the blog tournament I’m competing in and have a read of the post in Game 2 with the tag ‘GIFT’ – if you like what you read could you please sling a vote my way? I had lots of fun writing that post and it has a lot of useful takeaways.
HERE IS THE LINK. Then, please come back to read this post. I had a lot of fun writing this one, too!
(Friday, period 2, Year 8 English.)
There’s a lot to be said for attacking tasks in a huge rush of focus, urgency and… if you have a deadline looming.. panic. You can get a lot of things done in a short period of time. But there’s also a lot to be said for using snippets of time to chip away at things. Tasks don’t get done so quickly, but they still get done.
Every English class I teach, I start off with 10 minutes of silent reading or writing time. The kids bring in any book they want to read, either fiction or non-fiction and they have 10 minutes 5 times a week to enjoy themselves with whichever they want to do.
Some kids hate reading, so they can write. Each kid has a dedicated A4 exercise book that is their own personal space to write whatever they want to. This writing is never marked/graded or checked for spelling, punctuation and grammar. The kids are allowed to simply express themselves.
The research finds that the more writing kids are allowed to do, especially ‘low stakes’ writing, the better their skills get. A child who decides to write for most of the 10-minutes in each class will get 50 minutes a week of writing under their belt. By the end of the year that’s a lot of time to practice and improve.
Right at this moment, there are 3 minutes remaining of my year 8’s 10-minute time on Friday. They’re absolutely silent, most of them reading, but some are writing.
I told them about a couple of year 7 kids I had last year.
One boy, Jack, is a mad car enthusiast. On his first reading time, he asked if he could write about why the Mercedes XYZ (whatever it is) was so awful. When he finished it he let me read it and I was blown away. It read just like an article in a car magazine. Bythe end of the year he had 2 big exercise books filled with articles, stories and rants – all about cars.
Another boy got an idea for a novel while he was writing in class, so in every English lesson, he wrote a little bit more of it. His novel would never have been written if he hadn’t used these little slivers of time.
That’s really powerful.
(Friday, period 4, year 9 English.)
Ok, I’m now in front of my year 9 class. I’ve given them the huge ‘rev up’ talk about how these 10 minutes every day are probably the only time they’ll get to choose what they want to do in a usual day. I’ve told them to take advantage of the freedom to either consume something they want to read or create something they want to write. It’s silent. Again, most kids are reading but some are writing.
Using little snippets of time can add up to really substantial results.
Actually, it just occurred to me that we bloggers are the poster children for this. We write WHAT we want to write, we write WHEN we want to write and we put it out there. I’ll guarantee you that after a year or two, most bloggers who look back at their early posts wince and wish that they could do a re-write because their writing has improved so much. The writing has only become better because we keep coming back to it.
All of the bloggish writing that we do is being done in little moments of time that we squirrel away from our day-to-day lives. For example, in the last 7 minutes of lunchtime, I found the memes for the first 2 images in this post. I knew I had to get to class when the bell went, so I used the time I had available to get a little job done.
(It’s now Monday, period 3. I’m looking at my year 8 as they read or write.)
Going on from what I was writing last week, little bits of time are usually SO productive. Your phone rings, you pick it up and someone says, “Thought I’d drop in. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” It’s AMAZING how much housecleaning you can get done in that time! (Or is that just me?)
(Monday, period 5 – a year 10 French class I’m supervising.)
I remember years ago, when my Dad was standing in my front yard with me. The garden was overgrown and weeds were everywhere. I sighed, really disheartened, and he turned to me and said, “Never forget, Frogdancer, people move much faster than weeds can grow. Any bit of time you spend out here means you’ll be in front, because you can pull the weeds faster than they can spread. “
I’ve never forgotten his words, mainly because he was expressing the bleeding obvious. Why is it that we can never think of these things ourselves, but the minute someone else says them you recognise the truth in them? He was right – if you decide you’re going to pull out weeds for 5 minutes a day, eventually your garden will be weed-free.
Even the biggest tasks can be achieved if you keep coming back to them.
I was worried about whether I’d stop writing so much for this blog after I went back to work. I’m addicted to reading and I was using the 10-minutes in each class last year to get my Goodreads challenge done. It helped – I read 72 books last year, which still fell 8 short of my target. However, what if I swapped some or all of the reading time for writing time? Hmm… I’d still be modelling creative behaviour for the students which is what a good teacher does…
How could I make this work? I began by lowering this year’s Goodreads target to 60 books. I decided that I’d use the 10-Minute morsels of time on blog posts during the week while saving big chunks of time for writing on the weekends and I raised my blogging target to 3 posts a week. I included ‘Write Every Day’ and ‘Post 3X a week’ columns on my chart that I started at the beginning of the year.
(Tuesday period 1 – year 7 English.)
I’m only in my second week back at work, but so far its been working like a charm. I’ve written things for the blog every single day. It’s easy on the weekdays – as the kids read or write I’m tapping away on my keyboard – but even on the weekends I make sure I’m productive. I hate having to record on my chart that I didn’t do something!
There’s a lot to be said for long swathes of time where creativity has the chance to sit and ponder and let ideas mature and develop. That’s what the weekends are for. But there’s also merit in giving yourself a tight deadline with little smidgens of time and letting productivity go wild.
I thought it might be fun to include the periods that I was writing this post in, so you can see how the 10-Minutes works. I’ve also been editing as I went along, which is why the lengths of the writing during each lesson varies. It wasn’t because kids were talking and I had to take time to shut them down. The kids really love this time. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it!
(Thispost 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.
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.
Something happened on the second-last week of the holidays and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I was walking the dogs around the block. It was mid-morning and for some reason we had left it too late to go to the dog beach. We rounded the corner near the primary school and there was a woman sitting at the bus stop, talking on her mobile.
“Yeah, I’m on my way home,” she said as we passed. “I was volunteering but it’s finished now.”
I glanced at my watch, thinking, ‘It’s only 10 o’clock. How could a job be finishing up now?’ I shrugged and then kept walking. The sun was shining and the dogs’ tails were wagging. It was all good.
As we walked further up the street, an elderly lady and her son were walking towards us, pushing a trolley loaded up with boxes of fruit and vegetables. I could see that they were commenting about the dogs, so as we got closer I smiled and we stopped to exchange a few words. Her son looked to be in his forties and he had Downs Syndrome. He was torn between being taken with the dogs and worried that they might bite. His mother, who was clearly his carer, reassured him and we talked briefly about the dogs, then we moved on again.
As we kept going, there were another couple of people walking towards us, also loaded up with bags of what looked like shopping. I thought nothing of it and kept going up to the corner, where the church is.
As we got closer I could see people coming in and out of the church hall. They were wheeling shopping trolleys in and carrying boxes full of food out. It was a hive of activity in there.
This was on a Thursday morning, when I’m usually at work.
A woman and her husband were coming along the path towards us, so I pulled the dogs in beside me to let them pass. The woman stopped and after the usual compliments about the dogs, said, “Do you know what’s going on in there?”
When I shook my head, she said, “They’re giving away free food!”
I glanced towards the church. “Really?”
“Yes. It’s so wonderful. My son is starting year 7 this year so we’ve been buying books and uniform and paying the school fees… it’s so expensive. I was worrying about how we were going to pay for everything, but look at all this!”
She gestured to the boxes of produce that her husband was carrying.
“This takes all the pressure off. And guess what’s in this?”
She patted the tartan shopping trolley that she was pushing.
“It’s FULL of lunch box snacks! Like LCMs and Uncle Toby’s. I won’t have to worry about school lunches for ages! You should go in and have a look.”
I laughed and looked at the dogs. “I don’t think they’d like it too much if I brought the dogs in with me!”
She urged me to go in again, then she found out I was a teacher and we talked about starting secondary school She was nice enough to thank me for being a teacher, which (to be frank) is a bit of a novelty. Most people whinge about the holidays we get, especially at this time of the year!
As we headed towards home, I could see quite a few people heading for the church, shopping trolleys and bags in hand. If I hadn’t have talked with the woman outside the church, I would never have noticed them.
I didn’t go into the church to grab some free food, because it wasn’t put there for people like me. I have a full-time job, my kids are grown and I’m financially secure. But my head was spinning.
Because you see, it wasn’t so long ago that it would have been for me.
Back when I was at home with my 4 small boys, money was tight. I was watching every penny like a hawk and it was definitely on the cards that if something went wrong financially, I could lose the house and the kids and they would lose that security. It was incredibly stressful.
Then, one day my Aunty Doris asked if I’d be interested in getting free bread every week. Her brother-in-law was a member of a church that sent people to pick up everything that wasn’t sold at a gourmet bakery in East Brighton and then deliver it to people who needed it. The Tuesday night woman couldn’t do it any more and he thought of the boys and me. I couldn’t believe my luck!
We went to that bakery every Tuesday night for the next 14 years. We’d drive into the laneway at the back of the shop, armed with 3 or 4 empty laundry baskets and lots of plastic bags. It wasn’t just bread – there were cakes and buns, pies and pasties… it was a lucky dip every week.
The boys ate a LOT of bread growing up. Every Tuesday night was pie night. We’d eat whatever hot food was there. We grew very tired of pies and pasties but I insisted we keep the tradition going. That was a night where feeding the 5 of us didn’t cost me a cent!
It was a crazy thought that we were so poor, yet we were eating the same bread as the “rich” people in East Brighton. Some of it was your ordinary white loaves, but mixed among that was the BEST rye bread and gourmet wholemeal seedy loaves that I’ve ever eaten. Nothing better than a chewy crust of rye bread with lashings of butter. Now that I’m writing about it, I really miss that rye bread…
After a few years we bought chickens. Every Wednesday was bread day for the chooks, which saved me a day’s worth of pellets. The neighbourhood birds soon got to know our backyard – it wasn’t an unusual sight to see a raven flying away with a Boston bun in its beak and sparrows snatching dinner rolls and squabbling over them.
Every week, I’d pack the leftovers from the bakery into different laundry baskets, depending on who was going to get the contents. At first, when I was home with the kids, there was our basket, Mum’s basket, and then various friends who’d put their hands up for free bread. Later on, the chook basket, for the food that wasn’t as pristine. Then, when I went back to work, there was the school basket. Every Wednesday morning I’d walk from the car to the common room, basket loaded up with loaves of bread and all the cakes and buns. People loved that they had a free morning tea every week and that they could take home some bread to use for toast.
When I bought The Best House in Melbourne and moved 50 minutes away, I knew the bread run had to come to an end. I tried it once and the trip home at peak hour along Nepean Highway was awful. I didn’t get home until 6:30. There was no way I was going to make my Tuesdays that long and I knew that times had changed. Although I was paying over 70% of my takehome pay in bridging finance, I knew that we’d be able to survive without it. It was time to pass the baton to someone else.
I walked away from my conversation with the couple outside the church and my eyes widened as I started to recognise how far the boys and I have come. She was once me, with all these bills to pay and barely enough money to keep things going. Once, there is no way I would have walked away from that free food! I would have tied the dogs up on the fence outside and dived in, desperate to save some money so I could put it towards uniforms, bills or servicing the car.
Instead, the dogs and I quietly walked home, seeing the other people clearly making their way towards the church hall. Some were young mothers pushing prams, some were older people and some looked like they’d clearly had a hard life.
I opened the gate to The Best House in Melbourne and brought the dogs inside and bent down to take off their leads. I stood up and looked at my beautiful, fully-paid-for house and I sighed a deep sigh of thankfulness that things have ended up as they have.
I kept my head together and didn’t waste anything while we were struggling, whether it be free bread, donated kids’ clothes or my teaching degree. We were very fortunate to have had help along the way, such as the bakery run and we didn’t squander it. I will be eternally grateful for the impulse that led that man to offer the Tuesday night run to the boys and me. It was a huge help when we were struggling and it also taught the boys about spreading our good fortune by sharing with others.
But the thing I’m now most grateful for? When I looked at that excited woman who urged me to go on and get some of this miraculous bounty for myself and I felt nothing but a calm certainty that this generosity was not for me. I can safely leave it on the table for others to use.
I’m not used to the feeling of financial security. It’s lovely.
Earlier this week I wrote a post about The Single Advantage, where I wrote about the path to FI as a single person.
Yesterday, on my daily walk with Poppy, Jeff and Scout, it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to do a totally scientific experiment to see if my post was accurate.
You see, Poppy and Jeff have been partners since they were in the womb together and they always go for walks on a brace lead. This is simply a leash for 2 dogs which is in a ‘Y’ shape, so I only have to hang on to one loop.
Scout, being the baby sister of the pack, came along later so she has her own lead.
Which lead is the most efficient? The ‘couple’ lead, or the ‘single’ lead? WHAT a metaphor for life! How could anyone possibly say that this is unrealistic?
Ok. My hypothesis is that the two different leads accurately depict two different pathways to FI – one as a couple and one as a single. For the purposes of this experiment, we’ll assume that both the couple and the single are starting from the same position, (a wild enthusiasm to get to FI as quickly as possible), and they have the same goal in mind, (to have a fully-paid-off kennel and to never need to fetch tennis balls again, unless they choose to.)
I had the materials needed. The dogs were raring to go, my phone was in my hand and I was filled with the thirst for scientific endeavour. Off we set around the block to make financial research history!
It was clear right from the start that when Poppy and Jeff were in synch, they were unstoppable. Shoulder to shoulder, facing the same way, they forged ahead of Scout. They make a great team. The fully-paid-off kennel of their dreams is well within reach.
“It’s not fair! There’s 2 of them and I have very little legs. They’re getting ahead of me and it’s not fair! They’re sharing the work, they have 2 food bowls and THEIR LEGS ARE LONGER.”
But hang on…
What starts to happen around every tempting aroma?
Scout takes the opportunity to nip past them as Jeff lifts his leg on investigates every conceivable thing on our path, thus slowing Poppy down and delaying their path to FI. In the interests of decorum, I won’t show you exactly what he was doing. This is a family-friendly blog, after all.
Oh no! While Poppy was waiting for Jeff to get back on task, she sees a bird! She goes out of shot to try and get closer, yanking him off-balance.
They’re completely off task now…
Meanwhile, Scout, her heart filled with joy at not having her dreams of FI and a fully-paid-for kennel delayed by a distracted partner, skips ahead with glee, her eyes on the prize. As for not needing to fetch tennis balls? She’s a modern independent woman and she LOVES her side-hustle of bringing back anything that’s thrown.
This is an action shot; joy requires movement and flopping ears. Please excuse any fuzzy edges in this shot. Science requires sacrifices from all of us to get to the truth.
However, once Poppy and Jeff have some counselling and get their goals back into realignment, we all set off together.
The Cavaliers have been partners since birth – they’re not going to let anyone stop them! Whereas Scout is as stubborn as dachshunds normally are and she’ll get to her goals with or without a partner. “A man is not a financial plan” is her mantra.
Well, considering I call my place a glorified kennel, the result was never in doubt, was it? Here they all are, enjoying the fruits of their labour. No matter how tempting the scents, the birds and the possum poo along the way, they all got there in the end.
Scout’s route was by far the most focussed and direct, but Poppy and Jeff, when they decided to stop getting distracted on their individual interests and they started working together, were a force.
I know you want to know the results.
Amazingly, both leads ended up at our destination of FI and a fully-paid-off kennel at the same time. I know – I’m as surprised as you!!
What does this totally scientific and non-rigged experiment show?
We can all get to our goals, regardless of our relationship status.
Scout’s little legs meant that she had to take more steps than the others to get there, but she made it in the end. Poppy and Jeff were sometimes pulled off-course by their partner, but they got back on track and also got to their destination.
And now everyone’s sleeping on the couch, safe and happy.
Come to think of it, that’s not a bad result for any of us!
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.
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.
I’m pretty much an ‘all or nothing’ sort of person.
When I was two years old I was scared of dogs after I was bitten by one. Mum and Dad adopted a puppy when I was about seven to get me over the fear. It worked. When I was in my twenties, before I had kids, I bred and showed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for years. I had MANY dogs. Poppy and Jeff are descendants of the dogs I bred.
I wasn’t all that fussed about having kids. Then I made four of them within five years.
I thought I might like to try and make a quilt. How hard could it be? It’s only lots and lots of straight seams, right? Literally twenty-seven quilts later… (and I even made one that had circles on it.)
Someone suggested I grow veggies to save money. Then my son grew very ill with depression and I thought that organic fruit and vegetables couldn’t hurt and might help. By the time I sold the house, I had well over thirty fruit trees and over 35 square metres of vegetable gardens. I had plans drawn up to grow a food forest in the front yard.
So you can imagine that when I dig my heels in and purchased Scout, my family was worried. But so far, I’ve been good. There’s still only one miniature wire-haired dachshund living in The Best House in Melbourne!
I have a new rule for clothes shopping. I don’t buy it if I don’t love it. We all have things that we bought because we thought they were ok, but they were so cheap!!! Then they live in the dark recesses of your wardrobe, barely if ever seeing the light of day, until they get donated five years later. Not so cheap if you don’t actually like them enough to wear them, right?
I’m VERY all-or-nothing when it comes to clothes shopping. In 2013 I was a thermomix consultant and I earned a free trip to Hong Kong. One day some of us took the train to the border and we went shopping in Shenzhen, China. I came back with fifteen dresses, jewellery, ugg boots that I still wear as slippers to this day, woollen jumpers and who knows what else? I could barely close my suitcase and I learned the lesson that you should ALWAYS buy a suitcase with wheels. However, I’ve barely bought any clothes since. I’ve been happily wearing my Shenzhen wardrobe.
In fact, I did my figures for 2018 on New Year’s Day. Last year I spent a grand total of $35 on clothes, mostly on a jumper and some t-shirts for the North Korea trip. The year before it was $0, unless you count $30 to get a pair of Aldi boots resoled. To be fair, this was when we were living through the bridging finance, when 54% – 74% of my take-home wage was going to the 750K loan on The Best House in Melbourne. Money was slightly tight.
However… this frugal heaven can’t last forever.
I may have run slightly mad over the last couple of days. Clothes will definitely last if you look after them, but they don’t last indefinitely. They get faded, stained or damaged. Shoes are durable, but eventually, they get scuffed and tired -looking. For the last couple of years, no one at work knew if Frogdancer Jones was going to turn up looking presentable or if she’d turn up looking as if she’d pitchforked clothes from the rag bag onto herself.
It was time to turn my attention to my attire.
I’m now the proud owner of five pairs of new shoes. Two pairs of flats have yet to arrive in the mail from Scarlettos, while I bought these beauties today. I used to walk past the shop for years and glance at the displays, but never even go inside, because I knew I couldn’t afford them so why go in and look?
The black boots are obviously for winter, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I wear the $60 Aldi boots for the fourth year. After all, they’ve been re-soled, right? Waste not, want not!
But today, I was primarily looking for clothes, particularly tops to go over the Bali pants Mum and Dad brought back with them after their last holiday. I thought I’d buy about 5 new casual tops that I can wear for work. Nothing too drastic…
But no one told me that stripes and linen were back in.
And – wait for it….. stripey linen.
I wandered into David Jones all unaware of this fact, and staggered out of there under the weight of many shopping bags, $800 poorer but with a new wardrobe that will make me look GORGEOUS! I was lucky that the Christmas sales are still on, but just between you and me… I’d have bought most of these things without the sale. Remember? I don’t buy clothes I don’t love.
Speaking of that, there’s been a site I’ve been stalking for two years that has clothes that I adore. Unfortunately, they’re mainly made for stick-thin people, but they have wraps and coats that cater for portly frames like mine. I haven’t bought a thing from them for two long years. I kept looking at their emails, then deleting, saying, “No. I’m not ready yet.”
However, it’s possible I may have spent the first day of 2019 buying $400 worth of swishy and drapey outer-wear for autumn and winter from them. I guess I’m now set for clothing for the next few years. Woohoo!
I’m already aware that this time next year, when Future Frogdancer Jones is going through the figures for 2019, she’ll probably be wincing a bit. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of money on clothing and shoes this week.
But you know what?
I’m really looking forward to hearing what the beautifully dressed women in The Danger Zone* will say when I keep turning up in wonderful clothing, day after day after day. After day. (Yes, I did run a little crazy…)
I’m looking forward to walking into my wardrobe after my shower in the morning looking forward to creating my outfit for that day, instead of thinking, “Ok, what’s not in the wash? What can I get away with wearing?”
I’m looking forward to finally wearing clothes that look like ME, instead of clothes that are old and were always bought with an eye for price rather than anything much else. Those clothes are a real downer to wear when that’s pretty much all you have to choose from.
There are around two and half of you who have been reading this blog for a while. You’ll remember that I class myself as a value-ist. I only like to buy things that I hold as adding great value to my life, while I’ll be dragged kicking and screaming before I’ll waste money on things that I perceive as NOT doing this.
After I hit publish on this post, I’m going to pour myself a shiraz, then I’ll go into my wardrobe and start culling all of those faded, stained ‘ok, but so cheap!’ clothes. When that’s done and my new clothes are all washed, ironed and hanging up in there, my wardrobe will be a thing of beauty.
And so will I.
* The Danger Zone is the nickname that our little section of staff room 2 is called. I share it with Blogless Adrian, Blogless Liz and a group of young twenty-and-thirty something girls who all look fabulous. Fortunately, they’re all fabulously nice as well. It’s a happy place.
I read a tweet from Angela an hour ago about how her family doesn’t “do” Santa at Christmas and as a Santa enthusiast, it got me thinking and remembering. Angela and her family have thought about this and haven’t made their decision lightly, but I have a differing point of view. Christmases here are very different now, but when the boys were kids and money was tight, it was a challenge to make Christmas morning magical. And, as I’ll tell you in a second, yesterday I discovered that it paid off big time.
As a single parent, when the boys were small, money was tight. I went back to full-time work when the boys were Tom10, David8, Ryan6 and Evan5. When I was on the sole parents’ pension as it was called then, I was paying a mortgage and the bills and we were living pretty much hand-to-mouth. We were on roughly 18K/year, of which nearly half was going to the mortgage, so there was little room for fripperies in the budget.
But… I’m a Value-ist. I was a Value-ist before the term was coined. I’ll scrimp and scrape to save money for my family to survive, but if there is something that I see adds huge value to our lives, I’ll spend the money to achieve it.
Santa was definitely one of those things.
When Tom26 was Tom9, he came home from school in the middle of the year and said to me, “Joe Lunchbucket said to me that Santa wasn’t real.” Now, Tom is a communicative boy, so I hastily got him away from his brothers by suggesting we go into the backyard for a chat.
We walked down to the fig tree, where I asked him whether he really wanted to know. He said yes. I looked him right in the eye, smiled and said, “That’s right. I’m Santa.”
Tom9 gasped and said, “NO WAY!” To be frank, I wasn’t expecting this reaction.
I laughed and said, “What do you mean?”
“YOU can’t be Santa! You couldn’t afford it!!!”
After convincing him that yes, I was indeed Santa, he became struck with guilt.
“Oh no. I’ve been telling all the boys to ask for the expensive things for Christmas so you wouldn’t have to get them.”
Oh, my baby. That’s real love right there. And fiscal responsibility. No wonder he became an accountant! That remark went straight to my heart. I laughed, hugged him and we had The Talk. The Talk about how knowing about Santa means that you’re now with the grown-ups and we NEVER spoil Santa for little kids by blabbing it out just to make ourselves feel important. We keep the secret so they get to enjoy it just as we did.
Having all of your children caught up in the magic of Santa is special. But it’s also special when your older ones start joining in with keeping the magic alive for the little ones. When they help the little ones with the spelling on their Santa lists, when they distract them when we’re shopping so I can smuggle a present past them, and when they all yell out, “Thank you Santa Claus!!” and the older one/s turn and smile with you, or give you a secret hug and whisper, “Thanks Mum.”
To be honest, I had an advantage on my side, in that the boys were little when money was ultra-tight. This meant that I was able to get away with quantity over quality. I knew that little kids have no idea what things cost. They just get excited by piles of things. So every year each boy would get one “big” present. Something that they wanted that was ultra-fun or ultra-pricey that they needed AND wanted. Then there’d be a present or two that was medium exciting, like computer games (often bought second-hand) or smaller toys. The rest required ingenuity.
I created traditions.
Every year Santa brought bubble mix. Part of Christmas morning was that we’d all go out into the backyard and blow bubbles and see who could blow the biggest ones. We’d laugh as the dogs tried to catch them. It was fun and cost about $1/child.
Every year Santa brought those mini packets of Kellogs cereals. The kids LOVED these, as normally it was just home-brand wheat bix and cornflakes in the pantry.
You know those packets of chocolate gold coins that you can get from $2 shops? My kids were in the money every Christmas.
Santa was also a bit of a fashionista. If the kids needed new bathers, t-shirts or the like, they’d go into the pile. Usually, each child had their Christmas Day outfit given to them, so they’d be all dressed up in their best for the day. I was going to buy them anyway, so why not add it to the mix? It all looks impressive.
But the biggest savings hack was shopping at garage sales. The little presents, and to be honest, some of the really big ones too, were bought here. The boys were away with their father every second weekend, so from about September onwards I’d drive around and visit garage sales when the kids weren’t with me. People just want to get rid of things their kids have outgrown, so I’d pick up toys and other things for absolute pennies on the dollar that they would have been when new. My kids never had any idea that a huge percentage of their Santa gifts were pre-loved.
All that mattered to them was the magic.
Yesterday I listened to a podcast that Tom26 was on. He and a friend were talking about all things Christmas – the carols, the commercialism, the memories and, of course, Santa. Tom26 brought up the Santa reveal story I’ve already shared with you, but he also said this:
“As a young kid, Christmas is everything. And the one thing I’ll say about my mother who, I think, will end up hearing this episode…”
“Tread carefully!!!” said his friend. (Made me laugh.)
“… My family did not grow up with any sort of money. We were really, like, dirt poor. But Christmas – Mum went above and beyond. At the time, you’re young, you don’t know, but you look back and you realise what she did. And that’s something that I cherish, looking back on.”
He went on:
“Then as you get older, as you get busier, it’s about taking a break, saying, “I’m going to put all my problems away for a second, put them in a box, and go and see friends and family. The people that matter most. And they don’t have to believe, either, (they’d touched on religion in the conversation earlier). We can just say thanks for one another on one day. The gifts really are a symbol of thanks, really, for just putting up with me (laughs), well, maybe not entirely! But also thanks for being YOU, through the thick and thin.”
The good thing about podcasts is that you can go through and get it down, word for word. I really wanted to be accurate in putting down what he said because I was so blown away with how perfectly he’s internalised the true meaning of Christmas. Family and friends – the people closest to you. The gifts you buy are only there as a symbol of how much you value those people in your life. Taking time out to be with them and acknowledging them and their importance to you.
I believe Santa lays the groundwork for this.
First, kids learn to receive.
Then they learn how to give.
Merry Christmas everyone! May your holiday season be happy and mirthful and your dinner plate always be full. 🙂