Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Delayed Gratification (page 1 of 4)

Does gaming help to develop grit?

Ryan24 with a bandaged foot.
Home for the weekend.

Around 3 days ago I wrote about my son, Ryan24, and a conversation we had in the ER with a nurse when we were in there tending to his burned foot. The foot was damaged more deeply than initially thought and although he’s home for the weekend, he’ll need a couple of skin grafts.

The pain he’s constantly in is strong. Even after 9 days after it happened, on a scale of 1 – 10 his level is a 6 on the strong pain killers and a 9 when they wear off. Yet he doesn’t complain. He hasn’t asked to go back to the ER for stronger stuff. He’s told off David26 and me when we offer to help him with things, saying, “Leave me my independence!”

He’s displaying grit. But where does it come from? Are you born with it or is it something that is learned over time? And how can this help us along the road to financial freedom?

The two of us have talked more about pain in the last few days than we have in his entire lifetime. He’s very articulate about it, which I guess is hardly surprising, given the situation. On Friday morning, a couple of hours after standing beside his bed watching him undergo the most pain I’ve ever seen a human being experience when his bandage was being replaced after a debridement procedure the night before, he explained what intense pain is like.

“Mostly pain is easy to deal with because you can do something to ease it, like moving in a different way or something. But this is like having my foot dipped in molten lava and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. You have a pain level you know is unbearable, but up till then, you can deal with it. But when it goes a level about that, and then a level above that… and then keeps on going, there are only two things that can help you. Tears and mental gymnastics.”

(The bold emphasis is mine.)

Ryan24 is a gamer from way back. He’s been playing on consoles and computers since he was a wee tacker. He’s undergone more quests and challenges than you’ve had hot dinners. He’s used to being confronted with a danger, a problem or a dilemma and then working his way through it logically. According to his friends, he’s a good man to have on the team because he stays level-headed in a crisis and keeps the bigger picture in mind. He also has amazing map-reading skills, but that’s beside the point for this post.

This is a financial independence blog, but like the post I linked to earlier, it strikes me that Rya24 is exhibiting many of the traits that lead to success with handling money.

Like so many people who are appalled when they realise how deeply they’ve dug themselves into debt, he’s in a crisis situation. Some people promptly put their heads back into the sand and refuse to deal with the problem they’ve created for themselves. Others choose to take a clear look at their situation and start taking steps to gain relief from it.

Ryan24 is choosing to take the long view of his problem. He knows that this won’t last forever and the best thing he can do now is to listen to the experts and do everything he can to move through this, no matter how painful it may be in the short-term. His foot hurts less when he elevates it, but he chooses to lower it, endure the pain and move around every hour or so, because it’ll help his recovery further down the track if there’s more blood flow to the area.

Similarly, someone enduring the pain of financial insecurity, (which I can personally attest to being a definite mental pain), can choose to also take the long-term view. When you keep the thought and belief that this will not last forever if I make some changes firmly in the forefront of your mind, it makes it easier to make the decisions and sacrifices you need to get out of the hole easier and more likely to be made.

The “mental gymnastics” that Ryan24 alluded to are very much a gamer thing, but anyone can harness them. He’s giving himself challenges to distract himself, such as single-handedly moving his desktop computer box from his room to the man cave, so he could use his computer with the tv as a screen and be able to elevate his foot on the ottoman, as pictured. He’s wrapped all his Christmas presents, sitting on the floor so his foot is on the same level as the rest of him. Yesterday he had the tv playing clip upon clip of some American painter teaching people how to paint landscapes. He wasn’t watching it, but when I asked why he had it on he replied, “Because his voice is so calming.”

Take a listen. His voice is so soothing it could put a raging toddler to sleep!

Just like Ryan24, someone working their way out of a financial problem can use distractions and challenges to help them along the way. When I was spending all those years raising 4 children on my own and doggedly digging my way out from under the mortgage, I used to do things like see how many days I could stay out of the supermarket, using things I already had in the pantry and fridge to feed us. If you stay out of the shops you can’t be tempted to buy extra things you don’t need, right?

When I got a 9 month contract at my school, I bought a new-to-us car and vowed I’d pay off the 20K loan by the end of the contract, just in case I was out of work after it ran out. It was a stretch, but I did it. I felt like I was super victorious every time I could scrape together an extra few dollars each fortnight to throw at the debt. Meeting challenges makes you feel good. If you feel good you’ll keep on until you hit that goal. I used this tactic a LOT to keep me on the track to providing security for my boys.

That Bob Ross ploy by Ryan24 to distract himself? Costs him nothing. Yet it provides a partial solution to his problem of being overwhelmed by strong emotions when the pain hits. No one wants a panic attack! For the rest of us, there are distractions all around that we can use to take our minds off what we’re being “deprived” of as we work our way out of financial insecurity towards financial independence.

Entertainment and fun doesn’t have to cost the earth. What I found useful was to rejig some activities to enable me to still have fun but not sabotage my over-arching financial goals. For instance, when I was undergoing my 18-month stint of paying for bridging finance on my current house at 74% of my take-home pay, I had to cut my expenses to nothing. I didn’t go out very often, but I took out an $18/month Netflix subscription as my entertainment. Worked a treat! When I wanted to see the girls, I invited them to a potluck at my place instead of us meeting at a restaurant. This has become a regular thing each holidays.

Another “mental gymnastic” that I’m pretty sure Ryan24 is doing is to see how long he can stretch out the time before he takes more pain killers. This is an easily do-able tactic for the financially challenged person. How long can you go before you buy that item you really want? Can you stretch out the use of whatever-it-is before replacing it? Can you keep going for another day/week/month at that side-hustle before you pack it in? How long can you go??

Any of these challenges to stretch things out is bound to keep more money in your pocket that you can throw at your situation to make progress. If your financial goal is to put together some savings in the bank, seeing that account total rise steadily and adding to it becomes a game. It becomes addictive, almost. Seeing that debt total fall, at first slowly, then faster and faster as the amount gets smaller and the principal being paid off gets bigger is exciting. You start to LOOK for ways to avoid spending so you can see that total fall even faster. It’s fun.

Now, I’m in no way advocating that the best way to develop grit is to spill boiling hot coffee on your foot. Ryan24 assures me very eloquently that it isn’t much fun. But there are traits that we all develop from areas far outside the financial sphere that we can harness and use to work towards our goals of financial security and freedom.

Maybe a slight gaming addiction is working out to be a good thing after all?

The secret to success.

How a skier built up her herd of cows over time.

I saw this on Twitter a little while ago and it tickled my fancy. I loved how she took what the organisers of the skiing event obviously thought of as a novelty prize and used it as the basis of a thriving herd of cows today. Can you imagine the chagrin of the organisers as she blithely took them at their word and walked off with ‘their’ cow??

Obviously, one cow (even a pregnant cow) does not a herd make. But over time, it’s possible to build something from nothing if you keep quietly focussed and take strategic steps towards a goal, just putting one foot in front of the other.

There’s nothing stopping any of us from building our own equivalent of Ms Vonn’s herd of cattle. No matter who you are or where you’re starting from, there’s always room for a goal to be set and to be worked towards.

Picture me, back when I’d just left my husband. I had a starting position of $60 cash, with the added bonus of 4 boys under 5 to feed and water as well. I guess I started with my own little herd of humans! My overarching goal was always to keep a roof over those boys’ heads. But my first goal?

To scrape together 1K for what I called a “Buffer Zone” but which I now call an Emergency Fund. I wrote about how I learned very quickly that having cash between us and a hostile world was a very good thing, and when I was forced to cash it in, the first priority was to get it built back up again.

It’s easy to write about building up 1K in a cash stache nowadays, but back then it wasn’t easy to do. It took months of scrimping and scraping to get that 1K put away safely. It required many small decisions about what to buy and what not to buy; what had to be paid for now and what we could wait to get. It took me putting one foot in front of the other and slowly advancing towards that goal.

Poppy on my bed.

Even though this is a FIRE blog, I’d be stupid to suggest that every single goal worth aiming for has to be financial. We have to enjoy our lives along the path to being financially free, after all. Poppy is pictured above on my string quilt. This quilt is a totally unique creation that I initially started with the aim of using up tiny scraps of fabric instead of throwing them out. I wanted to turn them into something useable.

The concept itself was simple. I sewed strips of fabric together into 5″ square blocks. Some blocks have only 4 or 5 strips in them. Some have way more, which means that this was definitely not a quick job! The smallest strip is, I think, a quarter of an inch wide.

That quilt took me 9 months to complete. I put together square upon square upon square, sewing other quilts in the meantime and using scraps from those to keep putting this one together. It seemed as if it would never be finished, but finally, I got out a tape measure, worked out the dimensions of how big a Queen-sized quilt would be, then *shudder* did the Maths to see how many squares I’d need.

The answer was 396.

That quilt is on my bed to this day. It looks amazing and it’s hard to remember all of the many patient hours I spent at the sewing machine with tiny scraps of fabric, sewing together all of those 5″ squares. By themselves, each scrap of fabric is an inconsequential piece of nothing. But placed together, they represent a goal achieved.

Massed dancing in Pyongyang North Korea, April 2018.
So much fun!
Massed dancing in Pyongyang, North Korea in April 2018. It was so much fun to join in with them all and it was such an amazing spectacle!

On my way towards financial independence, I’ve set many goals and achieved them. Some were financial, though I’d argue that the underlying goal pushing me to achieve these ones was always a deep desire to provide security for my family. Others were more lifestyle goals, such as my Europe and North Korean trips.

For years, my Big Fat Hairy Audacious goal was to become mortgage-free. It took me 17 years, but I did it. But 17 years is a long time. Did I get bored and want to go nuts and spend my money on wine, men and song? You bet I sometimes did. But I kept making many small decisions about where I’d put my money. Every thousand that came off the mortgage made me smile, even though, especially in the early days, those days were very far apart.

But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and, seemingly overnight, that mortgage was gone and the boys and I had a secure base. After all, that 17 years would have passed whether or not I fulfilled that goal. May as well get things done while that time is passing, hey?

Today I’m focussing on getting The Best House in Melbourne ready for Future Frogdancer to live her best life in retirement. Instead of saving and investing money, as I did earlier on, I’m now looking deeply at what gives me the most pleasure and satisfaction in life, then I’m looking at spending my money in the ways that will continue to bring contentment and happiness to my life going forward.

I’m only buying things that have value to me. So upgrading my lovely little 2014 VW Golf is definitely off the table, while paying for self-watering veggie beds, a secure front fence to keep my dogs in and putting a huge verandah out the back to entertain my family on important birthdays and Christmases are things that are definitely happening.

Poppy, Jeff and Scout.
Next year I’m dropping back to part-time work so I can take these 3 to the dog beach more often. I never thought I’d reach the stage where time means more than money, but here we are…

Whether the goal has been a savings/investment goal such as reaching a specific number or getting an emergency fund topped up, or whether it’s a lifestyle goal such as the ones I’m organising right now, the way to reach those seemingly different goals has always been the same.

Figure out what you want.

Then find out how to get there. Break it down into smaller steps.

Then keep putting one foot in front of the other, step after step, until you reach it.

You can do this.

Poppy and Scout at the dog beach.
See? Here we are. So what do YOU want to achieve?

Sometimes it’s possible to talk to co-workers about finances!

Something really exciting happened at work yesterday.

I walked into the Danger Zone, (our little area in our staff room), and came slap bang in the middle of a conversation that Beth, Emily and Laura were having. Beth is well along the path to FI. We’ve had many a conversation about investing and she’s going great guns.

Laura is much younger than us. She’s already looking towards the future, having bought a couple of apartments as investments. I guess it helps to be a Maths teacher when it comes to understanding the whole ‘numeral’ thing.

Apparently they’d started talking about passive investments and Beth shared how much she earned over the last 12 months from the interest on her investments and her super. This blew Laura’s mind and got her attention. Then I walked in.

“Talk to Frogdancer,” said Beth. “I’d still be spinning my wheels if it wasn’t for her. She got me started with this whole thing.”

“Beth said that she made ($Xnumber)* last year, all from doing nothing!” said Laura. “How is that possible? It’s blowing my mind.”

I grabbed my laptop. “I have a net worth chart,” I said. “I check it at the end of every month.” I pulled it up and showed her.”See? Once your investments hit a certain mass, they take on a life of their own.”

Laura’s eyes popped. “OMG, why isn’t my net worth going up like that?”

Beth and I both said, “You’re young! You haven’t had time to build it up yet.”

Laura and Emily both jumped onto their banks’ websites and pulled up their own net worths. Both have mortgages and Melbourne is a really expensive place to buy real estate. Both of them are over half a million in the hole.

“That’s totally age-appropriate,” said Beth. I nodded. “You’re just starting out.”

Laura looked at me. “Beth and my parents say that I should be salary sacrificing into my super,” she said. “I don’t know – shouldn’t I be paying down my mortgages first, though?”

“It depends what you want,” I said, pulling up a chair. “Mathematically, it probably makes more sense to start making some outside investments while interest rates are so low. But if you have a paid-off mortgage then you have security. No one can kick you out or make you sell it if you can’t make the payments.”

She nodded.

“I made the deliberate decision to pay off the house first because I had the kids,” I continued, “and security was the most important thing for me. I was always terrified that if I messed up, I’d lose the house and the kids would have nowhere to go. Three weeks after I paid off that house, I was starting to learn about investments.”

“How old were you then?” Emily asked. She’s another young Maths teacher. “What was your net worth?”

I laughed. “I paid off the house when I logged onto my banking and saw that I had $10 more in my savings account than I had on the mortgage. I was 50. So I guess my net worth was $10 just after I turned 50!”

“How old are you now?” she asked.

“56,” I said.

Her eyes widened. “In six years you’re worth **($myFInumber)???? You should write a book!”

“She already writes a blog!” said Beth.

“When I was your age, I pulled my super out, all 30K of it, to put a deposit on a block of land,” I said. “When we sold the block a couple of years later, we sold it for 30K less than we paid for it, so effectively my super was lost to the wind. A couple of years ago I calculated what that 30K would have been worth today if I’d left it alone. It would have been 200K.”

Laura and Emily’s eyes widened. They gasped.

“Learn from my mistakes!” I said. “Money put in for retirement when you’re young is worth a hellava lot more than money put in when you’re my age. It’s the second-biggest mistake I’ve made.”

“So how much do you need to retire?” said Laura.

“Don’t you need a million?” asked Emily.

“Close enough,” I said. I wasn’t going to dive into the 4% Rule just then!

“Right!” said Laura, turning back to her laptop. “I’m going to salary sacrifice into Super. How much should I be putting in?”

“You can put in 25K a year,” I said. “That includes all of the super that the Education Department pays. But you’re paying those mortgages and you probably don’t want to tie up every dollar into an investment that you can’t touch till you’re 60. If I were you, I’d start off with $100/pay. You won’t miss it and you’ll get used to putting extra aside. You can always increase it if you want.”

While Laura was out of the Danger Zone, talking to HR I pulled up a compound interest calculator and put in her basic figures, starting with the $100 depososit and then kicking in $100 fortnightly.

When she came back into the room she said, “I’ve done it! I’m now salary sacrificing!!” We all cheered and then I gave her a hug.

When I showed her the calculator she loved it, changing it to plug in her current superannuation amount, then taking a screenshot to send to her Mum, saying, “She’s going to be rapt I’ve finally started this.”

Conversations like this are so rewarding.

It might sound a bit corny, but it makes me think that all my struggles have been worthwhile if someone else can benefit from my experience and avoid making similar mistakes. Laura and Emily are young women who are full of plans and are going places, but as I said to them, this one little tweak to their finances will give them so many more options later in life.

“When you’re as old as I am”, I said, “you’re going to be really glad that you started doing this. You’ll have a lot more choices available to you than if you didn’t have this money stashed away.”

Yep, yesterday was definitely a good day at work!

  • *and ** I’m not sharing anyone’s numbers on the blog. But we definitely shared them in the conversation we had.

Why an Emergency Fund is a very good thing to have.

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a saver. When I was in my teens and twenties I’d willingly save whenever I had a goal in mind, but if I didn’t, I’d tend to drift along the path of life, buying what made me happy in the moment. Heck, in my 20’s I had a VERY expensive dog breeding and showing hobby, which sucked up thousands of dollars over the time I did it. Poppy and Jeff are the descendants of that breeding program, so I’m very glad I did it!

Back in those days, I had no thought for an emergency fund, as I was living with my boyfriend/fiance who had his own small business. In those early days, money wasn’t a problem. It was predominately a cash business. When his accountant asked if he wanted to pay tax on his earnings and A said no, the accountant told him to “Piss it all up against the wall then!”

Dimly, this worried me. It seemed like such a waste. But I told myself it wasn’t my business and it was A’s money, not mine. However, things change. By the time we were married some stiff competition had moved into the town we were living in and the financial good times began to slip away.

Ten years later, by the time I walked out, our finances were dire. By that stage, we had 4 boys under 5, a house with a mortgage just under 100K, two very old and worthless cars and $60 cash each.

Obviously it was easier for my ex to move out of the family home and for the boys and me to stay put while we tried to work out what was going to come next. I allowed him to stay for 6 weeks to get some money together while I slept on the couch. I’m short, but even so, it wasn’t the comfiest of beds! After 6 weeks I asked him when he was moving out and he said, “I haven’t arranged anything. I thought you’d change your mind by now. ” After being informed in a fairly direct way that no, I needed time apart to see if there was anything left of the marriage to save, he borrowed some money from his sister and moved out a couple of days later.

My ex had no money and very little cash-flow from his business, so in lieu of any child support, he agreed to keep paying the mortgage. Meanwhile, I went on what was then called the “Sole Parents’ Pension’, which gave me around $300/week to support the boys.

I felt extremely vulnerable. Every time I looked at the boys I grew more and more determined that they wouldn’t suffer for the mistakes that I’d made in some of my life choices.

I knew I needed some cash to stand between us and a cruel, hard world. I hadn’t heard of an ‘Emergency Fund’ then, so in my head I called it a “Buffer Zone” I decided a thousand dollars would make me feel safer. It seemed like an insurmountable sum to find, but I knew I had to try.

So I started saving. The next 3 months were TIGHT. Every bill was paid as soon as it entered the house and I scrimped and scraped on everything else. If we had a meat meal, the boys had all the meat and I lived on eggs and veggies. Sometimes, if I was really desperate, I’d cut the end off a sausage and devour it. I felt guilty, but sometimes smelling those snags cooking was more than flesh and blood could stand!

The boys’ protein came from mince, sausages, tins of tuna and eggs. We didn’t waste an ounce of food. Funny thing is, some of the meals I made over this time have morphed into our family’s comfort foods. Scotch oatcakes, tuna mornay, cauliflower + macaroni cheese… funny how desperation can turn into fond dinner requests!

At around the 3 month mark I’d saved the one thousand dollars. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a glimmer of pride. I’d done it! We were safe! But then a little niggle of something made me decide to call the bank to check on how the mortgage was going…

“I’m sorry Mrs ******, but your mortgage is $968 in arrears,” said the nice bank man on the end of the phone. I nearly dropped the receiver. How could this be possible? A said he’d pay the mortgage. It was supposed to be his way of supporting his own children, for God’s sake!!!

My first reaction was disbelief. Then it was blinding anger. How could he recklessly put the boys’ security at stake like that?

My third reaction was a mix of resignation and relief when I thought of the Buffer Zone money. It’d cover the arrears. I loaded the boys up into the double stroller and took a walk down to the bank. Within half an hour of that phone call, our account was back where it should be and I now had around $30 to my name. Half what I walked away with 3 months ago when I left my husband. But the house was safe, which meant so were the boys.

If that doesn’t bring home to a person how important it is to have an emergency fund, then I guess nothing will. If I didn’t have that money put aside and the bill for the mortgage got worse and worse, the trajectory of how our lives turned out would have been vastly different.

That little house was the place we lived in for the next 20-odd years, after I bought my ex out in the property settlement a year later. It was in one of the best public school zones in Melbourne and so my boys got a great education. As an unexpected bonus, I’ve been working at the same school for the last 16 years and so my little family ended up having a stable income, no matter what A decided to do with child support. And in 2018, the sale of that little house enabled me to utilise Geoarbitrage in the same city and release a tonne of equity which has probably saved me from a decade of having to work.

As soon as the boys and I walked back from the bank all those years ago, I started building up that Emergency Fund again. When I was at home with them, before Evan, my youngest, started school, my Buffer Zone was 1K. We had to use it a lot as things cropped up, sometimes the Emergency Fund would be depleted and I’d be reminded yet again about how essential it was to have money put away. You just have to read my ‘About‘ page to see that!

However as the years rolled on and I was in a secure job, as the level of cash in the Emergency Find rose, so did the likelihood of me having to tap it. It’s strange how that works.

A few months ago I had to tap it for the first time in years. Our hot water service blew up and I wanted to replace it with a gas continuous hot water service. What could have been a financial drama was just a minor inconvenience, because I had the money on hand to pay for it. I’m in the process of building it back up now.

Sometimes I see posts stating that the need for an emergency fund is overstated and that people would be better off putting that money into the share market and letting it ride. That’s pure stupidity in my opinion. Having a few grand put aside in an online high-interest account that you don’t touch unless something totally unexpected comes up – this won’t slow you down towards your march towards financial independence! Think about it. We’re looking to amass hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ten grand or so in a savings account is a drop in the bucket compared with that.

But by gum! It’ll help you sleep at night.

Refreshing your working life.

Anyone who’s been here on the blog before would probably know that I’m dropping down to part-time work next year, as a glide-path towards retirement. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, because as a rule I’ve been trying to earn MORE money ever since I left my husband with 4 kids under 5. To voluntarily drop from a full-time wage of over 100K down to working 3 days (but getting paid for 4 days) was stepping outside my comfort zone in a big way.

You’d think that now I’ve made the decision and set the wheels in motion I’d be all set and raring to go. I’ve got permission from my principal and I’ve let the timetabler know, as well as notifying the heads of departments that I work in, English and Theatre Studies being in different areas. I’m colouring squares on a calendar and I should be happy to see the number of days until the end of the year shrinking daily. As days tend to do…

But something’s happening at work. Something that’s messing with my head. People my age are leaving, either for new jobs or for retirement. They’re looking happy, saying things like “A weight has been lifted” and this is all making me feel restless and starting to question my life choices.

Two, in particular, have got me feeling envious. The main one is a woman who is retiring at the end of the year. She’s married to a teacher, they have no kids and for years she’s been one of the year 7 student managers, which is a very demanding position. She’s decided that it’s time to pull the pin and her husband is fully behind her decision, even though he has no plans to retire for a while. The thing is – we were in the same year of teachers’ college together!!!!

It’s hard not to compare. She’s happy. She has a gleam in her eye that I haven’t seen since we were at Rusden together…

The other person has taken a direction that, while I don’t want to do the same thing myself, is nevertheless very clever. She’s also the same age as me and our kids have been through both primary and secondary schools together. She heard about a part-time position going at a local selective secondary school which is all about running the admin for VCE classes, (years 11 and 12.)

In other words: No teaching. No marking. No meetings. No parent/teacher days. No yard duty.

And get THIS – if she stays behind for any reason, she can bill the admin and get paid for her time!!!!!

This is unheard-of in teaching. She’ll be able to leave work and not take any of it home with her. Ever.

I mean, I’m really good at separating work and home life and the only time I take marking home with me is when I correct the year 12 practice exams that they do over the September holidays, so I’ll have them ready for the kids when they get back. I learned how to smash out marking at school when the kids were young and I’d take marking home, then it would inevitably all go back with me to work the next day, untouched. But most teachers aren’t like me, and the thought of having their evenings and weekends being designated a ‘Correction-Free Zone” is intoxicating.

What I find enticing about what she’s done is that it beautifully solves the problem of burn-out. It’s a total change, but it’s an easier job in so many ways. It’ll be a total refresh of her professional life and will make a perfect glide-path to retirement.

When she was in the job interview, she was asked by the principal why she was applying for the job.

She said to me, “I could’ve replied with some high falutin’ thing about personal growth or something. But I just looked him in the eye and said, “I’ve spent the last 35 years telling year 7’s where to stick their apostrophes. I’m getting a bit over it!” “

Me? Well, I’m hoping that only working 3 days will be enough to refresh how I feel about my working life so that I’ll get back to where I used to be. Coming into work with a song in my heart and a spring in my step and feeling glad to be doing a job I enjoy. I hope that only coming in for 3 days a week will minimise the things that are sucking all the fun out of teaching, but still contain the things that I still love doing… the actual TEACHING part of the job.

Having 4 days a week to do the things I choose to do will hopefully be enough freedom for me to feel that the job is adding more to my life than it’s taking away. After all, every year I’m able to delay retirement is another year for my investments to keep compounding without hindrance. Old Lady Frogdancer will be better off in the long run if Present Frogdancer doesn’t start eating away at that money.

Next year will hopefully be like a breath of fresh air. The freedom to do things at home and the freedom of enjoying my job again. As I said to someone in the staffroom who asked why I was feeling so restless:

“I’m in my mid-50’s. In previous centuries I’d probably be DEAD by now. No wonder I feel like I’m ready for a new life!!”

Step by step.

I’m sitting here in front of my year 8 class as they are writing their “Persuasive Letters.” They spent their last lesson before this one filling in a chart with dot points that they were allowed to take in with them – a roadmap, if you will, of what they want to achieve and where they want to end up.

Writing well is definitely not something that happens overnight. It’s the result of years of learning about different techniques; reading and gaining new words and phrases to add to your repertoire; talking through new (to you) ideas to broaden your horizons and finally, writing writing and more writing.

All the theory in the world won’t help you if you don’t actually put pen to paper and do it.

The task is pretty simple. They had to pick a topic, like “Smoking in all public places should be banned”, or “The school system is fundamentally flawed” and then write two letters on it. Each letter has to differ in tone and audience, so in effect, they’re learning how to pitch their arguments in two different ways to appeal to differing demographics.

As you can imagine, this is easier for some kids than others.

Some kids are more fluent than others, or have chosen a topic they feel passionately about, so the words and ideas flow easily. Others have struggled. But look at them now… everyone is silently writing and all of them will produce their finished letter by the end of the period in 12 minutes time.

Step by step, they will all make it, even the kid who has just migrated from China, who is sitting there looking through his Chinese/English dictionary to find the right word.

It’s just the same with personal finance.

Some people are naturally drawn to the world of spreadsheets, portfolios and numbers. They come across the lessons of how to succeed financially and they’re off and running. They draw out a plan in about 5 minutes flat and set off, dragging their hapless spouse behind them.

Other people may need to have the lessons presented to them a few more times before they start to take any real action. They ‘get it’ intellectually, but they’re not motivated to actually put the lessons in action until something in their life changes.

My writing students have the external motivation of Ms Jones marking their work to get them to produce a finished product, and this may be true in the financial realm too. A job loss, a baby, a divorce… all these can cause someone to re-evaluate how they handle their money. But sometimes it’s a more internal, personal motivation.

For me, when I decided to strike out on my own and leave my husband – if you can call being a single mother of 4 boys under 5 as ever being “on my own!” – with only $60 to our names, it was with sheer gritted teeth determination not to fail and drag the boys down with me. I was in pure survival mode. I’d look at those little faces that were totally dependent on me and I’d vow to myself that we’d succeed.

And we did.

I knew where I wanted us to be and over time, we reached and then surpassed it. But it wasn’t done overnight. It took twenty years of small choices, both personal and financial, to get us there. Did each little decision have a huge impact on where we ended up?

No. But the cumulative effect of all the little decisions and choices, along with a couple of really big ones, set the scene for our “overnight” success.

The thing that kept me going, even when things in the early years seemed darkest, is that if I made more “good” money choices than bad, I couldn’t help but move closer to where I wanted us to be. Achieving financial independence is definitely not a sprint, so I knew I had time to correct our course and recover from any mistakes I might make. I had time to learn frugality and to pay off the house so we’d be safe.

Once that was done, I had the mental bandwidth available to go onto the next big step – investing. This led to FIRE. I was just starting my 50’s when I started working on my retirement. The goal seemed insurmountable. But step by step, I’m turning it into a reality.

Step by step. No need to get stressed about how long it’s going to take. Just set things in motion and keep going. You’ll get there.

My chilly ankles Winter Challenge.

Why I don’t buy many things online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I jumped online and checked their returns policy.

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

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

But hang on – were they so unusable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it necessary to spend up big on a Staycation?

Jeffrey getting psyched up for all of the nanna naps we’re going to enjoy.

The last day of term 3! All of the essays are marked, all of the oral presentations are done and my classes are going to be finishing off the ‘Back To The Future’ movies today. Two glorious weeks of freedom await, (except for the two days I’m going in to open up the Theatre for my year 12s to rehearse their monologues for their exam next month.)

At the end of terms, when all of the work is done, I give my classes drama lessons or we watch classic movies. The ‘Back To The Future’ series is now so old that many of the kids haven’t seen them before. My Netflix subscription comes in handy sometimes!

My next big expense is to put a huge verandah roof on the back of the house so Old Lady Frogdancer will be able to actually enjoy going out there without the risk of burning to a crisp. The roof alone is costing around 25K, let alone the cost of a table and couches etc, so the next two weeks will be spent pretty close to home, enjoying things that don’t add too much to my outgoings.

Last weekend I redeemed the first of the 10 free massages that my son Ryan24 gave me for my birthday. He also did some cupping on my arms and back. He found sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had. I’ll use another couple of flowers over the break to keep the momentum going.

Funny thing though; he wouldn’t start the massage until I handed over a flower!

This next one isn’t necessarily frugal: I bought the sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ instead of getting the school library to buy it. It cost $20 for the kindle version. But I’m SO looking forward to diving in on this over the holidays. I still have about 10 books in a pile beside my bed, down from the 30 or so that I began the year with, so I’ll be making inroads into them as well.

Nothing better than getting lost in a great book, with snoozing dogs beside you. Hey, this time next year I’ll be able to sit out in the backyard under my new verandah and look out over my veggie gardens and read out there…

Corn husks I brought home from the Food Tech room at school – I shredded them by hand to use as mulch while listening to a podcast or three.

Speaking of veggie gardens, I’ll have the time to start seeds, plant seedlings and generally wake up the wicking beds again, after putting them to sleep over the winter by fertilising them and mulching them with pea straw. We’ve already had a few ‘free’ peas from the plants that sprang up from the straw – gotta love fresh peas straight from the plant.

I took out a Diggers membership last year and one day these holidays I’ll go up to Dromana with my friend Blogless Cathy and buy some seedlings. They only sell heritage plants, which means I’ll be able to save seeds from them and keep growing new plants every year from the original plants. I trialled mini capsicums last year but they were a bit too mini – I need some normal sized ones this year.

When I go and work with my year 12’s, I’ll take the dogs with me. It’s turned into a Theatre tradition with my classes, along with making timtam fudge when we have an exam and me emailing them 4 Dad jokes a day. This is the last Theatre class I’ll teach, as I’m dropping work down to 3 days a week next year, so I’m enjoying every moment with them. They’re a lovely group of kids.

The downside of teaching year 12s is that I’ll have to mark the practice exams they’ll be writing. They come in for 3 days over the break and write exams. The Theatre Studies one runs for 1.5 hours and has a HEAP of writing. I’ll be setting aside a day to Get This Done before we go back.

Still – at least I can say that it’ll be the last lot of Theatre exams I’ll ever have to mark!

Aside from this, I’ll have lunch with some neighbours I had back when I lived in Bentleigh over 20 years ago, I’ll have dinner with Evan23’s girlfriend’s parents, (better be on my best behaviour!) and I’ll push on with Tom27’s queen-sized quilt. With a bit of luck, given a few rainy days, I may even finish it.

It’s a nice thing to know that I can revel in two weeks of glorious freedom without having to spend a lot of money. Most of the things I enjoy doing are very much home-based and until I get a few big projects around here finished to get my home ready for retirement, I’m glad I can potter around and enjoy the small things.

Who knows – I may even write a few more blog posts…

Having another pair of eyes look over my figures.

On Monday the school had people from VicSuper come out to talk with people about their retirement plans. VicSuper is the default retirement company for teachers, so the vast majority of staff are with them. I don’t have my superannuation with them anymore, but I booked a half-hour slot during my lunch hour to have a chat with someone anyway. I thought that they wouldn’t be able to talk in detail, but I could at least have someone more mathematically gifted than myself to have a look at what I’ve set up and tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

Let’s call her ‘Ms VS’. It has a certain ring to it.

  • For the non-Aussies: Superannuation is the name for our retirement funds. Every employer is required to pay in 9.5% of every employee’s wage into a super fund of the employee’s choice. It guarantees that by the time people reach retirement, they’ll have at least some money behind them, instead of solely relying on the Age Pension.

When we first starting talking, I said to her that although I’ve been working full-time, I’m dropping back to part-time next year as a sort of glide-path towards retirement. I said that retirement might be 3 years off (when I can access my super) or it could be as soon as 1 year off, if I find that I’m still hankering towards total freedom over my days even with the reduced hours.

Apparently, from what Ms VS said later, this is pretty standard. She said that she normally doesn’t have people book a time with her unless they’re very close to retirement, when they suddenly become aware that they’ll have to rely on what they’ve put away in their super. She clicked her pen, leaned forward and asked me if I knew what I have in my investments.

Did I know what I have in my investments?!? Little did she know that she was talking to Frogdancer Jones. I’ve been reading blogs about net worth, share portfolios, savings accounts, superannuation and the like for YEARS. Hell, with all the US blogs I’ve read, I know more about American retirement accounts than you could shake a stick at!

I was primed, ready and prepared.

I had period 1 off that day so I had time to make a full list for her. Well, to be honest, I just took all my numbers from the ‘Net Worth Table’ I have in the cloud, which I update at the end of every month. Took me less than 5 minutes. I flipped open my notebook at the correct page and passed it across.

I don’t think Ms VS meets a lot of FIRE-y people in her line of work.

She was pretty surprised, not so much at my figures, though she said they were unusual, but by how I’d thought about the share market ups and downs and where I’d pull money from when the market tanks. She didn’t need to explain how the share market ebbs and flows; how risk can affect people in different ways depending on how close they are to retirement; how, if I retired earlier than 59, how I’d have to find the money to fund my lifestyle and what a safe withdrawal rate was, etc, etc.

Thank you, blogs and books in the FIRE movement! I looked like I had a financial brain!!

The talk about my actual figures only took up about half the time, so we moved on to talk about other things, which is why I wanted to write this. Some of what she said was scary, particularly for women.

I guess when we’re interested in FI and we read all the blogs and books and start to absorb the knowledge, we assume that most people are more financially literate than they really are. According to Ms Vs, this is far from the truth.

She said that when I mentioned that I was looking to pull the pin in the next year or two, she thought I’d be like most of the people who come to see her. They give no thought to their retirement, assuming that the compulsory 9.5% of our wages that our employers are legally required to put into Super is enough. Then, a year or two out from retirement, they decide to look at their figures, they have a heart attack at what they see and they come running to see what they can do about it.

I guess that’s not so much of a surprise – we hear this a lot about huge swathes of the population not getting ready for retirement in time. At the risk of sounding like a Nelly Know-it-all though: I just don’t understand that mentality. When I was in my 30’s and 40’s I deliberately ignored putting extra money into my retirement account because I made a conscious choice to pay off my house first. Security for the boys and I was my paramount objective. But 3 weeks after I’d made that last mortgage repayment, I was stressing over what I had to do to get my Superannuation account looking more lively. Maybe that’s the blessing/curse of being a long-term thinker??

“I see a lot of women in their 50’s and 60’s who come in after a divorce,” Ms VS said. “They’ve only got around 70K in their Super and they still have a mortgage. They’ve never dealt with finances in their lives before and it’s a scary time for them.”

I smiled. “I went through the divorce thing twenty-two years ago,” I said.

“You’ve had time to recover,” Ms VS said. “It’s really good to see a woman as well-prepared as you. Though I suppose you’ve had to be organised, being on your own.”

“I wasn’t on my own!” I said. “I also had 4 kids under 5 with me.”

Photo of my mini wire-haired dachshund, Scout.
Miss Scout – anyone who’s owned Dachshunds, like Ms VS and I, are part of a special club. 🙂

We talked a bit about where the boys and I started from, veered off into talking about dachshunds, (because why wouldn’t we?) then back onto finances.

“Have you ever taken what you’d consider being a financial risk to get into the position you’re now in?” she asked.

“OMG, yes,” I said. “Years ago, back when the boys were still in school, I decided to take a 15K pay cut from teaching by dropping a day and using that time to run a group of Thermomix consultants as a team leader. 15K was a lot of money to me back then… well, it still is!… but I was assured that if I worked hard I could pull in 30K. Turned out to be true, so I kept doing that for 3 or 4 years.

“Then, when I decided to go into partnership with a developer and draw up plans to put a couple of massive townhouses on my property, I took on a 750K bridging loan when I bought The Best House In Melbourne and still owned the original place. The interest payments took up over 70% of my take-home pay. I thought it’d be for 6 months or so but the council took so long to approve things that it was 18 months before I was able to sell the property with approved plans and pay off my new place. I was terrified the property bubble would burst, but it turned out that I sold at the peak of the market so, in the end, it worked out. It was a calculated risk – but it paid off.”

We talked about whether I’d seen a financial planner. I said I hadn’t and she said, “You’ve managed very well so far, so why would you hand it all over to someone else and pay them a fee to look after it for you? “

I said that before I leave work, I want to see someone to stress-test my plans in case there was something I’ve missed, and she thought that was a good idea.

As the bell for the end of lunchtime rang and I got up to go, she said, “It’s rare that I see someone who’s all over it like you are – and if I do, they’re usually Maths teachers.”

I’m glad that I was able to fly the flag for the Drama and English teachers for a change!

Sometimes poverty breeds ingenuity.

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

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

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

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

I think he nailed it.

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

Truly the gift that keeps on giving!

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

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

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

It’s a mystery…

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