Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Delayed Gratification (Page 1 of 9)

Great success is always the sum of many small decisions.

The quilt I made for my parents for Christmas is the perfect metaphor for the journey to financial independence. Quilting, like becoming financially free, has basic, simple steps but it certainly isn’t easy.

It’s not quick, either. But each seemingly insignificant decision that we make along the way contributes to the whole, beautiful product at the end.

The broad brush strokes of this quilt are the same as every other quilt in the world – it has a top of smaller pieces of fabric sewed together; a middle piece of warm batting and a backing fabric, sewing through all 3 layers to hold it all together and with a binding fabric sewn around the edges to stop it from fraying and falling apart. All quilts are the same basic construction.

Financial Independence s the same. The basic construction is that a financially independent person has gathered together the resources, usually over a time-period of decades, to support themselves financially without having to turn up to a job or business for money. Every financially independent person falls into this broad brush stroke category.

But as with the quilt, once you zoom in, the details can vary tremendously.

Take another look at this quilt.

This is a quilt made from scraps. There is no other quilt the same as this in the whole world. When I decided to make it, the broad brush stroke decisions were already decided. I knew how this quilt would be put together. But then some further decisions had to be made.

  • Each square would be made from scraps of one colour.
  • I would not buy any more fabric – I would make this quilt from what I already had. (It was in the middle of lockdowns, after all!)
  • Each square would measure 12.5″ square.
  • Most squares would be rainbow hues, but a couple would be brown, black-and-white and pink, just to tone it down a bit.
  • The quilt would be double-bed sized, as that’s the size bed my parents have.

Very similar to how we start along the path to financial independence. When I found out about FI/RE and decided to see if I could swing it, there were a few decisions to be made as to how I was going to go about it.

  • I had already paid off my house, so I decided I’d concentrate on putting together a share portfolio. House prices, even back then, were prohibitive for a sole parent on one teaching wage. Buying rentals was out of the question.
  • I decided to drop back a day a week at work and become a Thermomix Group Leader, running a team of consultants in my area. In other words, I chose to augment my wage by running a side hustle.
  • I was still supporting my four teenage boys. Reducing my expenses by installing solar panels, creating a food forest with fruit trees, veggie gardens and chooks, and cooking from scratch would cost more in the short-term, but over the long haul would make my journey towards financial independence much easier.

So far so good. But just deciding these things will not produce either a finished quilt or a financially secure retirement. You have to go smaller. Which specific actions are you going to take to get these things done?

Zoom in on the quilt. Every single piece of fabric here is the result of a deliberate decision and a deliberate action. See the black and white square? If you zoom in on that, you’ll see pieces of fabric that are less than a quarter of an inch wide. (Yes, I’m crazy.)

Some of the pieces in these squares are much larger and therefore contribute more towards the overall finished quilt. But the quilt would not be finished without every single one of these pieces, no matter how small. Every single decision and action in putting these fabrics together has mattered.

You could make the argument that the smallest pieces of fabric in the quilt almost matter the most, as they show that the commitment was there to finish the overall quilt top, by using every single piece of fabric at my disposal – no matter how small. I knew that even though a 1/4″ stripe of colour wouldn’t contribute a huge amount; IT STILL HELPED. After all, all I needed was enough pieces of coloured fabric to cover the top of a double bed. Keep at it long enough, keep putting fabric pieces together no matter how small and I knew I’d eventually get there.

It’s the same with financial independence.

All you need to do is cover 25X your annual expenses and you’re golden. The broadest brush stroke of all, I know! But how we all choose to get there is incredibly varied. Each one of us has a FI/RE journey that is exactly like this quilt – – a one of a kind. I can’t speak for anyone else, but like the strips and squares of colour in the quilt top, here are some of the things I chose to do each day to push myself along the path to FI/RE:

The most day-to-day decisions were all about frugality. I upped my income through the Thermomix side-hustle but I also deliberately chose to make the pool of money I had last a long time. I stretched my dollars any way I could. Some, like the quarter-inch strips, barely moved the needle. Others, like the big red and white polka-dot squares, covered much more ground. But they all contributed to the mindset of paying attention to the dollars:

  • When Tom13 started secondary school, he had to choose between learning French and German. The other boys didn’t have a choice. They all used the same textbooks – each book was used four times. Bargain!
  • Same with school uniforms. Everything was handed down from boy to boy and, wherever possible, bought at the school’s second-hand uniform shop. Boys are tough on their clothes, so why pay full price?
  • I bought grocery specials in bulk. If we ate it and it was on special, I bought up big. The aim was to eat as much as we could at half-price. Over time, that makes a difference.
  • If a cut of meat cost over $10/KG, I didn’t buy it. Even now, with only 2 of us in the house, I still look at the unit cost of everything.
  • The boys were all given swimming lessons. That’s a non-negotiable for Australian kids. But after that, each boy was only allowed to take ONE extra-curricular activity at a time. None of this running each kid around to forty-seven different gym classes, dance classes and sport clinics every week! At first they tried sport, but then over time, they all gravitated to music lessons. Instead of being ‘Jacks of all trades, masters of none’, they’re all very proficient in their instruments of choice. David27 has made a career out of it!
  • Once I found out about FI/RE, I read everything I could lay my hands on about investing. The share market was a big mystery to me and, being deathly afraid of numerals and maths, I had a lot of mental blocks to slowly overcome. It was hard, I won’t lie, but I knew that if I kept at it, blog post by blog post, book by book, things would slowly become clearer.
  • I kept food costs low by growing as much of our food as we could. I kept chooks, not just for the eggs but also for the free fertiliser they provided. If I grew it – we ate it.
  • I also grew the food that I needed to take to Thermomix demos as much as possible. After all, I was there to MAKE money; not spend it! My customers all had the herb and garlic dip instead of the hommus, (I grew the garlic, parsley and spring onions) , and they always had the rissotto (I grew the spinach.)
  • We were given free bread from a bakery every Tuesday night. We picked up everything they hadn’t sold that day for YEARS – all of their breads, pies, cakes and doughnuts. I stuffed my boys full of that free food – and I gave it away to friends and took the excess cakes and pastries into work every Wednesday. the chooks would also have a day of leftover bakery food each week. I made that free food COUNT!
  • I prioritised my goals. My first, most immediate goal was security for myself and the boys. Leaving a marriage with only $60 cash and 4 boys under 5 will do that to you! My over-arching goal was financial freedom, but I also had a life-long dream of going to England and Europe. In the end, I slotted that trip in between paying off the house and retirement. It cost around 30K and I thought it’d significantly delay my retirement… but I have never regretted going on that trip. It was truly a dream come true. And I never dropped my gaze from the FI/RE goal.
  • I took advantage when opportunity knocked. Obvously, making the decision to geoarbitrage and sell my original house was a HUGE clincher for my early(ish) retirement, but I also did smaller things, such as forming a close friendship with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder who bred my first bitch. For two decades, we had dogs from her kennels living with us. They were either older dogs who were past their breeding and showing days, or they were bitches I got for free on breeding terms. Poppy is the last of the line for this- I got her for free on condition Jenny could breed from her. (She ended up having only one litter. ) It was a bit of a shock to the system to have to pay for Scout!!

Every day there were tiny little decisions that on the face of it meant absolutely nothing and were noticed by no-one but me, yet collectively those tiny decisions swept me along the path to being financially free.

Many of you are in the boring middle part of the FI/RE journey. You’ve made all of the big and middle-tier decisions and put them into gear. It’s easy to lose heart and think that it’s all just too slow. But remember, just like piecing together a quilt, all of the little decisions and actions continuously help move the needle – and I’m here to say that a life without having to turn up to a job every weekday is a mighty fine life indeed.

Keep your eyes on what YOUR finished product will look like! Decide what YOUR little decisions and actions will be and then keep on doing them. Future You will thank you.

Dad joke of the day:

Frugal Friday: Off to the fruit shop!

Last week on the Frogblog I talked about stewing and freezing blocks of plums to use in my breakfast for the rest of the year. It makes sense to buy up big while the fruit is in season and preserve it to last through the rest of the year. Today – it’s apricot time!

As soon as I press ‘publish’, I’ll be jumping in the car and hunting down a box of apricots.

I already grow my own rhubarb – a $7 baby plant for Aldi 2 years ago has been an excellent investment! – so in a little while I’ll be buying a box of apples to make cubes of apple and rhubarb. My breakfasts will be healthy, full of variety and wonderfully easy. Oats, water, 3 cubes of fruit and into the microwave for 2.5 minutes. Couldn’t be simpler!

A couple of days ago I went to Costco while Ryan27 was at a job interview. (Spoiler: he got the job as a myotherapist.) While I was there I saw bags of garlic, so I grabbed a couple. Probably tomorrow, I’ll pop a podcast on the iPad and spend a tedious couple of hours peeling each clove. Then, I’ll freeze them.

I saw a friend of mine pull out ready-to-use cloves of garlic from her freezer and it Changed. My. Life. Sometimes the most obvious hacks are the most brilliant. I love to use fresh garlic but it’s a pain when it starts to sprout. This way – there’s no waste and I always have it on hand.

Along with fresh ginger. I just buy a pack from Costco every 6 months or so, slice it into coins and freeze. Works brilliantly.

Preparing the garlic this way is a perfect representation of delayed gratification and long-term thinking over short-term. Peeling the garlic is a nasty job. It’s boring and smelly and I’d rather be doing almost anything else. But the short-term pain is by FAR outweighed by the long-term pleasure of always having such a staple ingredient on hand whenever I want it. No rushed trips to the supermarket to get some more garlic for this little black duck!

Summer is the time when crops ripen and cooks all over the world start to frantically preserve the abundance for the leaner times. Usually by this time, I’m being overrun by tomatoes, but for the second year in a row, it looks like tomatoes are going to be a failure. Damn this El Ninâ weather pattern!

So, if I can’t save money on growing my own tomatoes, I’ll make use of whatever I can to fill the space in the freezers. It’s really a no-brainer. I save money, I save time and it gives me peace of mind. Why wouldn’t I do it?

Dad joke of the day:

Welcome to the plastic surgery addiction group. I see a lot of new faces here.

Frugal Friday: The no-spend week.

screenshot of a chart.

After my mammoth 61 week streak on the No Spend Days chart which ended when Jeffrey had to go to the vet on a Friday, I had a 14-week stint before I had to keep going to the hardware to buy things that David28 needed when he was building frames over the wicking beds. Now I’ve started again…

If you look at the chart, I’ve technically already performed a 7-day in-a-row streak of not spending any money, but I’m holding off so that there’s a full line of colour on the chart. It looks far more like a full week when it’s all in the one line.

These are the stupid ways that make this chart work so well for me. By far the best idea was making each week that I spend money on 3 days or less a ‘silver’ week. Once you start to get a continuous streak going it’s hard to break the chain.

This all serves to make my spending intentional. I still spend money – but I now do it in blocks, rather than just let dollars dribble from my wallet without realising.

meme

Another bonus to having this chart is that it makes it very easy to track spending in various categories. This came in very handy when a friend at work and then a neighbour told me about a very good – and far cheaper – vet in the next suburb over. Of course, I had to check him out.

The vet that the Little Woofs have been going to since we moved here is literally around the corner. Over the 5 years we’ve been living here I’ve spent thousands there, what with Scout swallowing a pip and getting an intestinal blockage; Poppy and Jeff having teeth extractions left, right and centre, as well as the usual injections and stuff.

When Jeff put his back out a few weeks ago I was able to easily compare prices by quickly scanning last year’s chart. Again, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s nice to have an easily-accessible way to look things up.

And yes; this vet is cheaper and I got a good vibe from him. We’ve swapped over.

Poppy the cavalier.

It helps that this week has been a quiet one, where I pretty much stayed home and puddled around. This is where I’m really reaping the benefits of preparing The Best House in Melbourne for retirement, while I was still working. There have been a couple of days in the garden, a few more reading and sewing days, while at night I have Netflix, Stan or Apple+.

I had a few self-sown silverbeet plants that after a year or so were going to seed themselves, so I chopped off all of the good leaves, added some water and ground them down to a paste in the thermomix. I’ve frozen them in ice cubes and I’ll add them to soups, stews and bologneses in the winter. Just like a green vitamin pill!

I’m a ‘chop and drop’ gardener, so the rest of the stalks and leaves were chopped into small pieces and left to lie on the wicking beds as a mulch. This adds so much goodness to the soil – for free! It takes a lot more time to do this, rather than just ripping them out and throwing them in the green bin, but the improvement in the soil over time is absolutely worth it. Plus – I’m retired! I have the time.

I don’t switch the tv on during the day, unless it’s 45C outside and all anyone wants to do is sit under the air-con and zone out, so my days are spent doing whatever I feel like doing, while at night I chip away at whatever series I’m watching at the time.

Today, in order to make sure that I don’t accidentally rush out in a frenzy and spend money, I’ve taken the dogs out to post a letter to Vanguard – (how ANYONE can fill in that stupid US taxation form is beyond me… this is my second go at it) – and then we took a detour home and went for a walk beside the river.

On the way home I went and had a look at a house that was sold recently for what seemed like a LOT of money for what looked like a bit of a dogbox. It was even worse than it looked online. Oof.

Then I wrote this post. After this, will I go and have a nap? Or will I keep working on David28’s quilt? Or will I go out and do some more ‘chopping and dropping’ in the veggie garden? Or maybe I should go out to the front garden and tidy up the weeds in the garden bed near the apple trees? Hmmm, there’s that book Tom29 bought me for my birthday that I haven’t yet picked up. The Colour of Money – maybe I should crack that open and dive in? I loved the writing in The Queen’s Gambit, so this one should be good too.

So many options. All able to be done here, without having to race off elsewhere.

I’m really enjoying this new phase in my life, eleven months in. I have yet to be bored, which I think is pretty special.

Dad joke of the day:

Did you hear about the maths teacher that was afraid of negative numbers?

He would stop at nothing to avoid them.

It’s the little things.

Bedding.

This morning was another cold and rainy one in Melbourne’s bout of wintery weather. It’s a Tuesday morning during term 4 of school. It was probably around 7 AM. I stirred, then heard heavy rain start to fall on the tin roof outside.

“Hmmm, guess I’ll roll over and go back to sleep. Don’t want to take the dogs out in that,” I thought.

We ended up with feet hitting the floor at 7:50 AM… exactly the time that in years gone by I’d be racing out the door, thinking, “Oh shit, I’m late!!”

I like retirement. The mornings are so peaceful, warm and snuggly.

Sewing.

I’m making a quilt for my son David28. It was designed by his younger brother, Ryan26, and it’s HUGE!. It’s queen-sized and will measure 99″ X 99″ (251cm X 251cm). ****

I was happily sewing away yesterday when I made a mistake which needed what seemed like 1400 hours with the Quickunpick. I was ripping seams and trying to get corners right and it was quite the exercise in concentration.

I want to have this quilt finished by Christmas.

In days gone by, the only times I had available to quilt was weekends and school holidays, where I had to fit it around everything else that also needed doing. Fixing a mistake like this used to have an extra layer of angst because “I don’t have TIME for this!!!!”

How often have I said that sentence over the years?

Yesterday, as I sat doggedly ripping and stitching away, I knew it’d take some time but I’d work it out. If necessary, I could take all afternoon to get it right and it wouldn’t matter at all. Instead of only having 5 weekends before Christmas to finish this absolute monster-sized quilt, I have 5 whole weeks.

It was such a novelty to feel so calm when I was working on a mistake.

I like retirement. It’s so soothing.

Twitter.

On Twitter, I saw a post by Gwen. She was asking about how many alarms people have on their phones. People were sending in videos of them scrolling down, showing 10, 20 , 30+ alarms. Others were replying, saying they had 50+ alarms, ranging from wake-ups to 5 minute warnings before meetings.

I like retirement. No more startling noises in the early mornings.

Goodreads challenge.

I’ve always loved reading. I could read before I went to school and it has always been a beautiful refuge for me. I’ve been tracking my reading each year on the Frog Blog since 2007 and this is definitely the year that I’ve read the most.

My ‘Earn My Rates Back’ challenge has definitely helped, but suddenly having 10 extra hours each weekday – and that’s only if there wasn’t an hour-long meeting tacked on at the end of the school day; then it’s be closer to 12 hours because of peak hour traffic – means that if I choose to spend an afternoon engrossed in a storyline, then I can.

When I read a new-to-me book, I find that I have to gulp it down in huge chunks. No spreading it out over 4 weeks reading a page or so a day for me! No – I have to find out what happens as soon as possible, so when I pick up a new book it’s lots of consecutive hours spent with that book and nothing else.

Because of that, most of my reading during term times was RE-reading books. I already knew what was going to happen, so I could pick them up and put them down far more easily. It’s like visiting an old friend. And really, who has the time to fully immerse yourself in a world during term times?

So my new books were almost always read during holidays.

Now? Every day’s a holiday. I’ve read more new-to-me books than I ever have before. And I’m loving it.

I like retirement. I’ve been able to live so many more lives than I ever have before.

And now, before I zip off into the sewing room to chip away at David28’s quilt, here’s why I used inches instead of the by FAR more sensible centimetres when I was talking about it before:

**** Some of you who aren’t quilters might wonder why I’ve measured the monster-sized quilts in inches. Despite being one of only 3 countries IN THE WHOLE WORLD to use imperial measurements, the majority of quilters are in the US, so inches are used.

Ugh. Even the people who invented imperial measurements have moved to metric!

Dad joke for today:

The rotation of Earth really makes my day.  

Operation Beautify continues.

The last few weeks have gone by in a hurry. Time is odd, isn’t it? The individual days slip past in no particular rush, but then you look up and it’s the middle of October. How did that happen? Even in the middle of the longest lockdown in the whole world, time still flies. Meanwhile, Operation Beautify is continuing along.

A while ago, before I retired last year, I thought that it might be fun to call in some real estate agents to value The Best House in Melbourne. I paid 750K at the end of 2015 for this place, with an extra 68K (or so) for bridging finance payments.

Self!‘ I thought to myself. ‘Why don’t I give myself a year to smarten the place up, then call in people to see how much this place is worth? It might be fun.

Since moving here 5 years ago, I’ve done a lot to the property, particularly in the gardens. I have no intention of selling. For the first time in my life I have total freedom over how I want my house and garden to look and I have the time to spend on making it all happen. This is the place where I’m happy to spend a lot of time in retirement.

My idea for this place is to make it practical and capable of supporting my interests. It needs to be a warm and nurturing place for my children, family and friends. I want the decorations and little touches around the place to be built around memories, so that more and more over time my house will be a reflection of who I am and where I’ve been.

Still, having said all that, I’m curious to see how much it’s worth now. I’m only human.

I gutted the entire backyard and built a wicking bed vegetable garden and mini orchard on the top level, with a huge verandah and entertainment area against the house. The entire backyard is paved with bricks, so Future Frogdancer doesn’t have to drag a lawnmower around up here. David28 just finished putting up these wooden frames on the top of the beds. Much neater and I can either throw netting over them or grow plants over them instead.

This is a photo taken at the beginning of spring. Give it a month or so and the wicking beds will be brimming over with veggies and flowers. I’ve left some lettuce and rainbow chard to go to seed – gotta love free food! – but the rest of the beds will be a mass of green and spots of orange, yellow and white from the flowers I’ve planted among the veggies. They’ll look pretty and bring the pollinators.

Now that there’s only two of us living here, not counting the little woofs, I can leave some space in this food growing space for prettiness.

The side yards are also paved with bricks, with hanging baskets along the more public pathway. These were put up last week and I’m hoping that the masses of petunias I’ve planted in them will billow out over the edges of the baskets and look lush and wonderful.

All of the fences have been replaced, with the front fence being totally changed by replacing a rusting metal picket fence with a tall paling fence and electric gate. All of the front yard fences are painted, but I’ve left the back yard fences to age naturally.

I transformed half of the front yard into a mini orchard and last week I underplanted the trees with masses of petunias and daisies. Again, there should be a mass of colour in a few weeks.

I’ve slowly been working on the front of the house too. I had a chippie come around and replace some rotting rails on the verandah. While he was there, he asked if I wanted to lower the height of the rails. I didn’t realise, but they were way higher than they needed to be. When he lowered them, it opened up the whole space.

They were white, but I painted them to match the fences and installed new guttering in the same colour. (It’s ‘Monument’, for those interested. I think there’s an unwritten law that every house in Melbourne has to use this colour somewhere.)

I’ve planted a maple on either side of the entrance, underplanted with white flowery groundcovers. One maple is always red, the other is green with pinkish new growth, so it’s the same look but not being absolutely ‘matchy-matchy.

Two more hanging baskets will hopefully fill the space with a huge pop of colour. Because of lockdowns I couldn’t go and select the plants in the hanging baskets in person. I had to select from the colours and plants that a local nursery had left in their online shop. This year the plants are petunias and the colours are red, purple and white. I figure every year I can have a different colour scheme. It’ll be fun.

The bay tree in the terracotta pot on the left of the steps is a plant I bought in K-Mart about 20 years ago when the boys were little. It cost me $6 – I still remember because I was horrified at the price they were asking for a mere twig – and I brought it home and planted it in the biggest pot I had. There it is, still there. I haven’t ever had to buy bay leaves again.

Frugality and forward-thinking for the win!

I have 2 couches on the front verandah. The green one on the right is Jeffrey’s favourite, while I prefer the old white one on the left. I’ve created a little conversation nook here. The pink painted pot plant was a gift from a friend years ago, while the succulent in it is a cutting I took from the backyard last week. The sunburnt palm is part of an indoor palm that I divided and got 4 new plants from and will be repotted into a terracotta pot when lockdown ends and I can go and see what’s available.

The front verandah will have mainly terracotta pots. I like the look of orange against the grey, with some being planted with permanent plants while the rest will be flowers and colour.

I also want to have a little bit of whimsy in the garden. I like the idea of the eye finding something beautiful or quirky in odd little spots. On the back steps leading up to the wicking beds, I have a combi van planter I found for $17 in Mitre 10 and I filled it with more free succulent cuttings from a plant in a pot on the other side of the steps.

I also have the sculpture of the dinosaur that I brought back from my last holiday in South Australia, up the top of the steps near the kaffir lime tree in a pot. It’s not the right place for him, but I’ll find it. I have nothing but time…

I found this little guy in the ‘marked down’ section of a garden supplies shop. He was part of a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” set, but I didn’t like the other two so only he came home. He’s under the apricot tree among some bluebells I saved when we were digging up the side pathways for the paving.

This is right at the side entrance to the verandah at the back. My rusty bird in a cage. I bought the bird when I went for a little mini break to Bowral a couple of years ago, then months later I saw this birdcage at Gardenworld. The daisy draws the eye, then you see my sweet, sad little rusty bird. My son David28 walked by this the last time he was here and said, “You know, I really like that bird.” Made me smile.

How great is this guy? My brother-in-law gave this to me as part of our family’s Kris Kringle thing two years ago. My sister said that they were at a local market, took one look at this guy and said, “Frogdancer would LOVE this!” He’s secured to the stump of the old grevilia that used to be here and he watches over the entertaining area. Who doesn’t want Grievous coming to Christmas dinner?

Before I call the real estate agents in to have a look, I still need to paint the ensuite, buy terracotta pots for both the front and back verandahs, fill them with flowers, and do a few other little bits and pieces.

If I’d placed a tighter time frame upon myself this all would’ve been done much more quickly, but tight time frames are what I retired to escape from. So far in the 10 months of retirement, I’ve read 110 books, made 6 quilts (with 2 more on the go), had many nanna naps and transformed my guest bedroom into a sewing room/office. (More on that in a later post.)

The thing I like about Operation Beautify is that most of the expensive projects like the landscaping and the huge verandah roof were done while I was still at work. My ensuite and the half-reno of the boys’ bathroom was paid for by my Long Service Leave payout, so basically this year I’ve been able to puddle along spending smaller wads of cash on plants, potting mix and mulch, but nothing like the amounts of money I spent on the big things. The landscaping of the back and side yards alone was over 50K. Oof…

By putting these jobs at the front of the queue, I was essentially able to cash flow a lot of it while I still had a wage. Next year, now that I have all of the trees and other plants in, should be even cheaper.

Just as well. I have Antarctica 2022 to pay for, after all.

🙂

This was the view I woke up to from my nanna nap yesterday.

Just to show that it isn’t all ‘Instagram perfect’ around here!

Dad jokes for today:

And one for the Maths people:

Frugal Friday: Your freezer is your best friend.

20 pumpkins.

Last summer I grew pumpkiny things in the front yard under all of the brand new fruit trees. This is a photo of the haul after Ryan26 ripped out all the plants – there were plenty more where these came from! This was less than half of all we grew.

In the spirit of Frugal Friday, they came from seeds that I saved from the summer before. Those pumpkins came from seeds that I brought home in the veggie scraps from the school canteen and food tech room.

So they were TOTALLY free.

Unfortunately, while they were growing in the back yard last year, most of them crossed with some zucchini plants that I also had growing nearby. This set of pumpkins weren’t quite as flavoursome, so I didn’t save seed from them. But no way was I going to waste them!

We ate pumpkins A LOT. We gave away pumpkins up and down the street. I went to school with a shopping trolley full and gave them away to anyone who would stand still long enough in the staffroom. We kept the last 10 in the laundry and gradually worked our way through them.

And I froze some.

Chopped up pumpkins.

I had 2 recipes that I had in mind. One was a curried pumpkin pasta bake that I made up. This required the pumpkin pieces to be roasted beforehand.

Chopped up pieces in the oven.

I attacked a large pumpkiny thing and did around 6 batches at a time. One was used that night – the rest were tucked away in the freezer for Ron.

You know… later ‘ron.

Roasted pieces bagged up.

If I feel like a quick, almost vego meal, I boil some pasta and make a bechamel sauce in the thermomix. I add some curry powder and the pumpkin to it. Mix in some parsley from the garden (always love fresh green!) and stir through the pasta and some chopped up ham.

You could serve it like this, I guess, but I like to add a layer of breadcrumbs for crunch and bake in the oven. So quick and easy. Great for when I’ve spent the day sewing or gardening and I don’t feel like cooking.

By having the roasted pumpkin already cooked, it saves so much time. By the time the pasta is done, the bechamel has finished in the thermomix and I can throw it all together in less than 15 minutes.

Bagged up pumpkin and carrot bits.

The other recipe I prepared for was this one. It’s one of my favourite soups and I serve it a lot when people drop in for lunch. This recipe doesn’t need the pumpkin to be cooked ahead of time so it was even quicker to prepare. I just weighed pumpkin and carrot into the thermomix, chopped them up and then bagged them for the freezer.

Oh! I always label everything in the freezer using masking tape. I learned after taking what I thought was a lunch of leftovers to school, only to find at lunchtime that it was actually 2 UNCOOKED chicken drumsticks.

Anyway, back to the soup. I put the bags of carrot and pumpkin into the freezer drawer, then completely forgot about them. Tuesday, after lifting out a bag of frozen peas, I rediscovered them. I was so happy! Past Frogdancer gave Present Frogdancer a gift.

I like it when she does that.

Bowl of pumpkin soup with pepper.

Mmm. So good. Especially when I added some frozen home-grown zucchini, some home-grown parsley from the wicking pots and some homemade coconut milk.

This batch of soup fed us for lunches over 3 days. Not bad.

I love my freezers! We barely waste a thing.

Dad jokes for yesterday and today:

Why did the coffee file a police report? It got mugged.  

How does an Eskimo build his house? Igloos it together.

Financial Independence – the road less travelled.

Prediction: There will be a minor baby boom in 9 months ans then one day in 2033, we shall witness the rise of THE QUARANTEENS.

Something happened yesterday that made me smile.

It’s been 9 months almost to the day since I retired. Since then we’ve had 3 (I think) lockdowns and the only times I set foot in a school are the times when I’ve been in the area and I’ve popped into the staffroom to have a chat.

Do I miss work?

Nope. Not at all.

Are there things I miss about being at work?

The banter in the staffroom every day was fun. A group of us from work have just finished watching Australian Survivor and having a group chat about what was going on as we were all watching. That was great – though again I’ve lost a bet as to who would win. I should never bet with Alice – this is the second time she’s chosen the winner. I’ll be trekking into the staffroom at some stage with another bottle of Aldi French champagne under my arm, dammit!

I’ve had 2 ‘work’ dreams that I remember, where I was in a classroom talking away with the kids. I enjoyed those, though I realised one of the reasons that the dream was so good was that there were only about 12 kids in the class, instead of 28!

Yard Duty on sunny days wasn’t bad. You’d get your steps up and have some jokes with the kids. If you were put on ‘North’ duty – the oval – you’d be paired with someone else. Usually, they were people I’d never really come in contact with before, so it was a good chance to meet someone new and get to know them over the space of a term.

But there are three things I don’t miss – The 3 M’s.

Meetings, Moaning and Marking.

Meetings are self-explanatory, I think. No one likes an after-work meeting, especially if it catapults you into evening peak hour which adds 30 minutes to your after-work commute. Our English meetings always had great snacks, which eased the pain slightly, but the best thing about them was that they always finished Right On The Dot after an hour. The drive home was a killer though, especially in winter when it was dark by the time I pulled into the driveway.

Moaning? Ugh. Teachers are pretty optimistic people in general, but OMG there were a few people who were never happy. I got pretty good at avoiding conversations with them most times, but every now and then I’d be trapped, especially if their desk was close by. ARGH!

And marking. My least favourite part of the classroom. Maths teachers have it easy. All ticks or crosses, with an occasional “Please show your workings.” They have heaps of tests to mark but they can finish a whole classes results in less than a period. English teachers have LOTS of marking.

Every speeling nistake needs to be corrected, the quality and order of arguments need to be evaluated and/or challenged and the pile of essays from a single class takes hours to go through thoroughly. Add in the appalling handwriting that most kids have these days and marking is not something that we look forward to.

Though looking on the bright side, there’s no handwriting I can’t decipher! This comes in handy sometimes.

So what made me smile yesterday?

Naplan Writing Test.

There’s a teacher I know from another school who is clearly worried about my decision to retire early. Every now and then he sends me links to work that I might like to do. I don’t know if he’s worried I’ll go broke or worried I might be bored, bless him, but yesterday an email with a link came through.

It had information about how to apply to mark Naplan papers.

Oof. That’s one of the 3M’s right there! But, slightly curious, I clicked on to see what I could find out.

List of requirements to do the job.

So not only does it require Marking; it also requires Meetings.

For 27 days you have to mark a minimum of 4 hours per day, with only 2 days off. Of course, that means that the third of the 3M’s would have to be endured.

Moaning. Otherwise known as whingeing.

From me.

You know, it brought home to me how really enjoyable my life is now, even in lockdown, and how much I treasure my freedom. I’m not opposed to doing a day’s work here and there – hell, I just renewed my VIT membership, (Victorian Institute of Teaching), more as an insurance policy than anything else. I could do exam invigilation or casual teaching if I felt like it.

But putting aside 27 days to do an activity that I don’t actively enjoy? Where’s the fun in that?

I’m so glad that I stumbled across the Financial Independence blogs and books when I did. It was late in the day – I was hurtling towards 50 – but without this goal to aim for I’d still be working. I’d have the goal of retiring when I was 67, because of course, “that’s what everyone does.”

I wouldn’t have the freedom to pick and choose how I spend my days. When the boys were younger, I was so broke that I’d definitely do this marking for Naplan, especially because nowadays you do it from home. I couldn’t have passed up the extra money. I would’ve settled them all to bed, then sat up for hours marking as many papers as I could.

It reminds me of one of my favourite poems in all the world:

The Road Not Taken poem by Robert Frost.

I’ve been reading a few blogs that talk about how dull the middle stage of working towards Financial Independence is. About how once the thrill of changing investments, increasing savings and maximising the lifestyle adjustments wears off, then there are years of the quiet put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other slog until the thrill of seeing the finish line in sight happens.

Some people decide it’s all too hard and decide that FI/RE isn’t for them. Fair enough, I suppose. FI/RE requires a firm grip on delayed gratification, which is something that some people find hard to focus on.

However, as I sit in my yard on a beautiful spring day just before lunchtime, tapping away on my laptop, being able to pick and choose how I spend my time and whether I decide to earn a few extra dollars or not, one thing stands out.

That delayed gratification that some people find so hard? Imagine if I never practised it? The time would still pass. The future always turns into the present and then the past.

That misty future that I was working towards when I was learning about financial independence is THE PRESENT.

It’s worth it to take the road less travelled.

Frugal Friday – respect the past by not wasting things.

Stalks of rainbow chard in a glass.

Look at this bunch of rainbow chard. Whoever grew these babies knew what she was doing!

We have a saying in this house: If we grows it, we eats it.

The only exception to that rule is kale. Ugh. I grew it one year and it was so horrible I let the cabbage moths swarm all over it. It was a fitting way for it to go. It also meant that it wasn’t wasted. It was a decoy for the moths so that other, more delicious veggies, could grow.

Now that I only have one other person living here, meals tend to go a lot further. Last night we had bolognese with sweet potato gnocchi. I’ve blogged before about the one tomato plant I had that decided it wasn’t going to go down to winter and death without a fight. It kept producing tomatoes until a month ago, when it dropped some seeds and turned up its toes.

I wasn’t going to let those tomatoes go to waste. I threw them into the freezer. There were 200g worth – not enough for a can’s worth but still useable. Last night I grabbed them and threw them into the sauce. I wasn’t going to let that plant’s heroic efforts go to waste!

The extra dollop of tomatoes made the sauce extra large and so there was enough left to make a lasagne for us tonight. My rule is that if we have greens in the garden, a lasagne must have layers of leaves and our pizzas must have lots of greens on them.

I picked enough rainbow chard to make a lasagne and a couple of pizzas for tomorrow night.

Half-assembled lasagne.

This is layered by tomato, pasta, tomato, leaves… then it’ll continue until I run out of sauce. Then I’ll top it with a cheesy bechamel sauce and into the oven it’ll go. I love getting extra greens into my kids. Even when they’re taller than me.

But I don’t like using the stalks in this dish. So what do I do with them?

Chopped up red stalks in front of a grey compost tin.

Sometimes their fate is to end up in the compost tin where, over time, their elements will make more plants in the garden, but not today. I make my own stock pastes. It was the item that pushed me over the edge to buy a thermomix when I went to my first demo. I don’t stick to the exact veggies in the recipe, but use whatever comes to hand. I simply cut these stalks up and popped them in the freezer for when I make my next batch.

It won’t matter if they go a bit freezer-burny. They’re going to be chopped into a mush and cooked when I drag them out, so it’s all good. Just because they’re stalks doesn’t mean that it’s ok to throw them away. They still have fibre and nutrients, whether I use them for humans’ benefits or for the next generation of plants in the garden.

Soap curing.

The soap recipe I usually use has 500g of copha in it. For some reason, I had 125g of it sitting in my fridge. I decided that rather than throw it out, I’d force myself to do some maths (sigh) and make a 1/4 batch.

When making proper soap, you have to stay strictly to the recipe, otherwise it won’t work. For prettiness, I threw some dried calendula and cornflower petals on top. I bought these a while ago and they’ll last me for YEARS. They don’t lose colour when the soap is curing and they add a touch of fanciness. They weren’t exactly cheap, but that doesn’t matter if I actually use them.

Soap cut into bars.

Only 6 bars of soap, but they’ll be ready to use when I finish using up my motel soaps. They’ll tide us over until I can get to Coles and buy some more copha.

And I got to use up the little block. No waste!

They’ll be sitting in the laundry for at least 6 weeks, curing until they’ll be ready to use.

Washcloths piled on a table, with Scout looking on.

My washcloths are finished. I sent one to a teacher friend who I know likes them, but I haven’t heard back from her so I hope I have her address right. Or maybe she just didn’t like this one…

I know there’ll probably be some people who’ll think that doing things like this and being conscious of not wasting things that I make and grow is an ironic waste of my time. I’ve retired early(ish), so why am I mucking around with things like this? For many years when the boys were kids, I HAD to do things like this to make our dollars stretch as far as they possibly could just to survive. But those days are over. So why bother to do them now?

A part of it is looking after the Earth and sustainability – though probably not as big a part as it should be, if I’m honest.

Mostly it’s to do with respecting the time and money I’ve put into things. I feel that buying something isn’t a waste of money if you use it. So that’s why I unpicked the bamboo top and reknitted it into washcloths. There was a lot of money tied up in an item of clothing that was never going to be used. This way – I get to make gifts and people will use them. The money spent on that beautiful bamboo tape won’t be wasted. Plus it kept me entertained for nearly a week as I knitted and listened to audiobooks.

We make sure we use as much as possible of the food that I grow. I’ll never recoup the money that I poured into setting up the food garden in the first place. But growing some of our food was never an economic decision.

The garden offers so many things to my retired life. Obviously, it gives us the freshest organic food that it’s possible to eat. But it also offers the chance to run experiments, to problem solve and to get outside and quietly while away the hours being productive. Poppy loves to steal beans from the vine. As I chop and drop, I kick the ball for Scout and Poppy to chase while Jeffrey snoozes on the couch on the verandah. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or audiobooks as I work, while other times I let the birds and the wind do their thing.

(Incidentally, I’d like to thank Nic for posting a comment this afternoon on my previous post. They mentioned planting potatoes and that reminded me that I had some seed potatoes and some grow bags that were still sitting in the laundry. They’d been there for more weeks than I’d care to own up to. Within 10 minutes the potatoes were planted and I’d used the potatoes and seed bags that I’d spent good money for. Plus I felt good that I’d ticked another job from my list.)

When I was working I used to look at the price of things I wanted to buy and work out how many hours of my life I’d put into teaching to get that much money. It was roughly $50/period. Then I’d think of my absolute worst class. Was this pair of shoes equal to putting up with 8K for 3 periods????

Sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. But it would NEVER be worth it if I bought the shoes and then never wore them. What a waste of my mental anguish putting up with that group of kids for all of those periods!

This is why I try not to waste anything. Time, money and hours of my life have gone into the things I have around me. I respect Past Frogdancer and so I don’t want to ignore what she did to get to where we are.

Does that make sense?

Dad joke of the day:

Joke.

After I posted a couple of days ago, I realised that I forgot to include a Dad joke. Sincere apologies to anyone who felt let down by such unprofessional Personal Finance blogging behaviour.

So here’s an extra one to make up for it:

I saw a magician yesterday that turned audience members into wind turbines.

I immediately became a big fan.   

Frugal Friday: Repurpose, reuse, recycle!

Scout on the back of the couch looking towards a table with balls of bamboo yarn.
Scout keeping an eye on what’s happening.

In 2010 I fell in love with a knitting pattern and made a top out of hellishly expensive bamboo knitting tape. It had a drape and sheen that was amazing. I’d made a trip to Camberwell to a tiny shop called Sunspun and they had a pink top on display. I loved it. But the pattern book was $40. Yikes!

A blog reader pointed me in the direction of the Rowan website, where I found it on their ‘Free Patterns’ page. I bought the bamboo tape and made the top.

A much younger Frogdancer in a pale blue knitted top.
One of the few times in my life where I’ve had long hair.

There I am in 2010 with the finished product.

Which, after only a couple of wears, languished in a drawer for the next 11 years.

It looked ok on its own … but it looked AWFUL if I wore anything with long sleeves under it and it was too heavy to wear in summer. Turns out, that beautiful top was a total white elephant.

“One day I’ll unpick it and use that bamboo for something else,” I thought. For 11 years.

Turns out that lockdown is a perfect opportunity to Get Things Done.

Close up of the balls of yarn.

The sheen on these balls of bamboo tape is beautiful. Turns out I wasn’t able to salvage all of it – apparently I’m very thorough when it comes to sewing things together and I had to cut some of the seams, resulting in lots of reject bits.

But now I’m happily knitting washcloths to be given with the home-made soap I make for presents. I like having things like this tucked away that I can give when people pop by. The bamboo is beautifully squashy and smoochy so I think people will really like using them.

I’m pleased that I’m not wasting Past Frogdancer’s money by continuing to ignore this top. In 2010 I still had 3 kids at secondary school, I was paying off the mortgage and life was still very pinched when it came to finances. Buying this yarn was an expensive decision. Although I won’t be enjoying it, I know that people dear to me will be using them for years.

And the best thing? Once the washcloths get worn, they’re able to be thrown into people’s worm farms, compost bins or even buried in their gardens. The yarn is organic and the worms will eat them and turn them into fertiliser for the garden.

Though that won’t be for a while. I knitted 5 or 6 cotton washcloths for this place when we moved in 5 years ago. I use them in the kitchen instead of buying sponges. Five years later after continuous use – still going strong. The worms in my worm farms will have to wait a little longer before they get those tasty treats!

Frugality and FI is the gift that keeps on giving.

Pea soup in a bowl.
Not my soup – mine’s still cooking!

There’s a rumour that’s been circulating for a while now that Frogdancer Jones – that’s me – is frugal. Or maybe a tightarse… take your pick. I was told about a conversation that happened in the staff room at work where people were describing a continuum of spending. Apparently, I was on the thriftiest end, while the others spaced themselves along the rest of the line up to the biggest spender.

But hey, I like being frugal. I like the challenges of making material things last longer, enabling my money to go a little further and only shelling out for things I HAVE to have and things I WANT to have. Middle of the road ‘meh’ stuff doesn’t cut it in this household.

Being frugal means that I can cut down unnecessary spending, freeing up my cash for fun things. You know, things we’ve all wanted to buy… a mini dachshund puppy, a trip to North Korea, 6 more apple trees… Things that are by far more important to me than designer handbags and the like.

It’s fun for me to save dried peas from the garden and turn them into soup, using my slow cooker that I’ve had for over 20 years. It makes me smile to look down at my slippered feet and see the ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ patches. My ‘Earn back my council rates’ challenge costs me nothing, but because of it I’ve read 86 books so far this year for free. If you think getting lost in a good book doesn’t add to your quality of life, then I have news for you!

I’m a big fan of finding experiences and activities that entertain and inspire you without having to necessarily cost a whole lot. This automatically leaves money that you can put towards something else.

Being frugal doesn’t mean that you never lash out on expensive items.

Which is why I’m really excited about my latest purchase.

Big box with Poppy ( a cavalier) sniffing it.

This is a gift for David27 and Izzy. It’s an engagement + wedding gift because it’d be an extraordinarily generous engagement gift and I’m not that rich! It was delivered here in the middle of lockdown #5 so it’ll be a while until I can drive over there with it to give it to them.

It’s a product that I hold very dear to my heart. I have 2 of them and I can’t possibly do without them. Just this morning I used one to make bread dough, pizza dough and gratin sauce for cauliflower cheese for lunch. We now have 8 bread rolls and 4 balls of pizza dough in the freezer for literally mere cents. And absolutely no artificial ingredients. Izzy and David27 both have health issues and she’s also lactose intolerant, so this will be perfect for them to eat cleanly and with fresh ingredients, while being able to produce gourmet meals. They’re both foodies.

I’m so excited to be able to provide this for them.

Just to make it fair for the rest of the boys – because 2 have already bought their own thermomixes, while Evan24’s housemate owns one – I’ve decided to give a little less towards the wedding. I’ve always thought that I’d give 5K per boy per FIRST wedding – (any subsequent weddings and they’re on their own!!) – so I’ll give 4K towards this one.

Come to think of it, I also gave them the diamond for Izzy’s engagement ring. There are definite advantages to being the first cab off the rank when weddings come along! This is a product of the practical thinking that frugality brings. I had a very good quality diamond in a ring sitting in the jewellery box, back from when I was in my twenties. I’m never going to wear it again. It makes no sense for it to sit there for decades when Izzy could have it put into a setting she loves and then get to enjoy looking at it every day.

By doing this, I release something that was useless to me and David27 gets to put the money that he would’ve spent on a diamond towards the wedding. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Being frugal and FI is almost like a superpower. When I think back to the days when the boys were small, when I could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads, I feel so very lucky to be able to buy a gift like this now. Back then, I would never have believed it would ever be possible.

All I have to do now is wait for this current lockdown to be over. The box can sit in the hallway, just like the boxes of my customers used to do when I sold thermomixes as a second job. Once we’re free to drive further than 5 km from our homes, I’ll look forward to driving over to Izzy’s parents’ place to deliver it, just as I used to do back in the day for my customers. It’ll be fun.

But if you know them in real life.. sssshhhh!

Don’t spoil the surprise!

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