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

Category: Delayed Gratification (Page 1 of 6)

7 weeks to go…

My desk has holiday snaps all over it. Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

Seven weeks of formal work to go.

I’ve begun returning text books to the library and soon I’ll begin either taking home things from my desk or binning them. I had a partial clean-out at the end of last year when I went part-time and had to share a desk this year, but I still have a lot of travel photos, cards from kids and other memorabilia that will have to come down before I go.

You can see the hand sanitiser on my desk in the bottom right of the photo. The school has issued a mask, a face shield and heaps of hand sanitiser to every teacher. It’s become second nature to sanitise after every class. I have a feeling this will be around for a long time.

I didn’t feel safe at work when the pandemic started and I was furious whenever pollies banged on about opening up schools. Now, with numbers of new cases in the zeros or single digits, with every single person wearing masks and bucketfuls of sanitiser everywhere, I feel safer at school. The kids don’t socially distance, but honestly, that was never going to happen. When everyone in sight is wearing a mask, it’s very reassuring, especially when paired with such low numbers.

A birthday card. My colleagues know I'm a huge 'Survivor' fan. My head is superimposed onto an image from Survivor.
A birthday card. My colleagues know I’m a huge ‘Survivor’ fan.

Word has started to filter down to the students that I’m retiring. One of my best friends at work is teaching kids this year that I had last year for year 7 English. She told me that she mentioned to the class that I was retiring at the end of the year and one little boy, Nick, was very upset. He said, “Oh noooo! I wanted my brother and sister to have her for English when they got here!”

She replied, “Well, that’s too bad. Tell them they should have been born earlier if they didn’t want to miss out!”

Participation certificate for a test where the kid said s/he was Boo Radley.
Makes me smile.

I’m very fond of this. We used to make every kid go into an English competition and they all got a participation certificate – not that most of them cared. Those of you who have read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ will appreciate the humour in this – imagine Boo Radley leaving the house to go and sit this test? So proud of him.

I popped into an art class to talk to the teacher about fixing up a couple of minor dings on the paintings from the UK of the dogs. While I was there a girl called me over. I taught her 3 years ago in year 7 English, and every now and then I’d sneak the class into the theatre to do some drama. So many kids from my junior English classes go on to select Drama as a subject. 🙂

“I’m taking year 11 drama next year Miss, so I’ll be having you again!” she said, beaming. When I told her that no, she definitely would NOT be having me, her face fell. “But we all know that you’re taking year 11 Theatre so Ms OtherDramaTeacher can take year 12!” she said.

First time I’ve heard that rumour…

Pyongyang, North Korea 2018. What a trip!

It appears I’ll have a travel buddy for Antarctica. LateStarterFire messaged me and she wants to come too! My timeline of roughly 2 – 3 years suits her and so it could be a thing. My thinking at the moment is that if COVID is still a thing, we’ll leave from New Zealand. If COVID’s gone, then South America (and Easter Island) will be the way to go.

My New Challenge:

I decided to set a challenge for myself. Either way, it’s going to be a hellishly expensive trip, so I’m going to see if I can earn 20K in 2 years to help with the costs. Even though I didn’t want to set foot in a classroom next year, I decided that penguins, icebergs and whales were enough of an incentive to pick up some CRT (Emergency) teaching next year, as well as anything else I can pick up, such as online surveys, exam invigilation etc.

I talked to the Daily Organiser at work and I now have paperwork to fill in. I’ll look at schools closer to home too, because it’s the commute to the school I’m in now which is a huge time-suck. I didn’t retire just to go straight back into sitting in a car for an hour and a half each day! There’s a tutoring program that is starting next year to make sure kids who struggled with remote learning this year won’t be disadvantaged. I’ve put my name down for that as well, but seeing there’s apparently over double the amount of applicants for spaces available, I’m not holding my breath.

Rome and a postcard from North Korea.

I hear about a group of people called ‘The Retirement Police” from other blogs, who point the finger at anyone who earns money after they retire and say that it means they’re not REALLY retired. Fair enough, I guess, but I plan for every penny I earn to be popped in the bank for this holiday. Besides, if you’ve read this blog for more than 5 minutes you’ll know I like a challenge. Imagine when I get a thousand dollars? Ten thousand? It’ll be very satisfying.

(Besides, after all those years of living hand-to-mouth when the boys were young, it feels odd to not hustle, even a little bit, for some extra cash. I think the memory of those years will take a long time to fade.)

I’m knitting some beautifully warm, soft, thick cowls for David27 and Evan24’s girlfriends Izzy and Jenna – both November babies – and I thought of maybe knitting some of these to sell. I use kettle-dyed wool from South America, probably spun by virgins, and the cowls are fabulous to wear in the middle of winter. The wool costs just under $40, so I thought that asking $100 plus postage would be reasonable.

But then I went onto Etsy and saw what people are charging for hand-knitted items. Nothing has changed since I used to have an Etsy shop for baby hats and quilts about a decade ago. People are barely getting more than the cost of the yarn for the things they spend hours knitting – it’s just not worth spending 6 or 7 hours knitting to earn $5 or $10 profit. It’s a shame because I like knitting, but if I’m going to reach my challenge target I need to do things that give me more bang for my buck time.

Bright pink rice stitch cowl.
Jenna’s cowl.

I know Izzy will like her cowl. I got her to choose the wool I used, holding out 2 skins of red wool and asking her which one she thought Jenna would prefer. Heh heh. Little did she know she was choosing the wool for herself.

I asked Jenna’s Mum which colours Jenna likes, so hopefully Jenna will be pleased too. They’re both brunettes with olive skin so they can wear the bright, bold colours that I can’t. It’s been fun making these.

Today is Melbourne Cup Day, a public holiday for a horse race. Tuesdays are normally one of my days off, but it still feels like a holiday regardless.

Today I’ll be making all of the Christmas presents for my friends at work and doing a bit more painting on the verandah and gardening. Later, I’ll be keeping a slightly nervous look at how things are panning out in the US with their election. Crazy times when shopfronts are being boarded up because people are scared of the possible fallout from an election. Usually, elections are the staidest things on earth…

Happy Melbourne Cup day, everyone!

My new goal.

Meme

Well, I’m not one for crystals and dream catchers or “putting things out there and letting the universe decide”, but sometimes there are massive coincidences that seem to be telling you something. This happened to me a couple of days ago and now I know what my next big goal is. I’m so excited!

A couple of posts ago I sent a shout-out to my Antarctica reader/s (?). It always gives me a thrill when I see that they’ve hopped on to have a read. Anyway, Penguindancer! commented on that post. I have to admit, I had a little fangirl moment. I sent a reply, saying that I’d love to go there one day, then hurriedly left the house. It was Thursday, my day off, and my hairdresser doesn’t take appointments. With hairdressers now allowed to open after a couple of months of being locked down, I knew I’d have to get in early to avoid a long queue. The whole of Melbourne is clamouring to get our hair cut so we can look human again.

I got there soon after 8AM and was 4th in line. The guy who was number 1 was talking with number 3 about travel. He said to her, “By far the best trip I’ve taken was to Antarctica.”

You can imagine how my ears pricked up at this.

I joined the conversation, telling him about my new best friend Penguindancer! and before I knew it I was looking at photos and film of icebergs, penguins, seals, and I was taking down the name of the boat and tour company he used. I was able to return the favour – Frank had no idea you can travel to North Korea and his eyes lit up when I mentioned I’d been.

He also gave me a fabulous tip – on the way to South America, stop off at Easter Island.

omg.

As the door opened to the hairdresser, he said, “I hope you’ll be able to go one day.”

“Oh, I WILL go!” I said.

“I warn you… it’s not cheap,” he said.

“I don’t mind spending money on things like this,” I said. “You only do them once, so it’s worth it.”

Newly-styled hair

A few hours later I arrived home with all of those strange silvery hairs – surely impossible for one so youthful and dewy to grow??? – all disappeared. I felt like a new woman. Over lunch I pulled up my Feedly blog reader and saw that Bonnie from 43 Blue Doors had written a post about Mission Beach, right in the far north of Queensland in the tropics. I settled down for a read.

As I was reading, she included a link to this post about her trip to Antarctica.

Are you KIDDING me?!?

Three times in the one day?

What are the odds of a blog post talking about Cassowaries and the tropics in Australia linking to a post full of photos of Antarctica? Add to that the odds of having conversations with Penguindancer! and Frank on the exact same day…

Clearly I need to get my good self down to Antarctica.

The last two days I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of exploring all the possibilities.

Map

If you go from South America, this is basically the no-frills route that most expedition ships seem to cover. You can get tours that go to the Falklands and South Georgia as well, but this is the area that most tours seem to go. I want to sail on a smaller ship, as they seem to be able to let people go onto the land. I can’t see the point of going all that way, only to merrily sail all around the area without being able to physically set foot there.

However, South America is riddled with covid at the moment, so I’m not in a tearing hurry to pack my bags and leave this instant.

Map

However, as Penguindancer! wrote in the comments section this morning, there is another option. Leaving from New Zealand. Prices are eye-wateringly more expensive, but the covid consideration is practically non-existent. Plus I guess the cost might work out roughly the same when you take the shorter flight into consideration. (I haven’t looked at flights yet – no point really since our borders are closed to all except New Zealand.)

The islands they visit on the way have had vastly fewer tourists see them. Hmmm…

So, here’s what I’m thinking at the moment:

  • The open water part of the trip is much less in South America. I don’t know good a sailor I am.
  • No one knows what’s going to happen with Covid. New Zealand is far more viable a destination in the near future than South America.
  • The boats from NZ take fewer passengers. That could be either a good or a bad thing, depending on who else is on board!
  • Easter Island would be only a short hop from South America.
  • I like to have something to look forward to. What if I set this trip as a goal for my 60th birthday? That’d mean I’d have 3 years to save up for it and plan for it.
  • I could work some CRT and exam invigilation over that time. That income could be stashed in an account to help pay for it. Frank was correct – this will NOT be a cheap trip.
Iceberg

But imagine seeing something like this in real life? This is why I’ve worked so hard to free up my time – the world is full of incredible things to do and see.

So I’ve set my newest Big Goal. I thought my next big trip would be going back to the UK and Europe, but sometimes life offers up attractive alternatives.

You wouldn’t be dead for quids, hey?

When you hit a goal you never knew you had.

Shot of the beach near my home.
Backyard beach.

It was July 3, 2016. I was just shy of my 53rd birthday.

Poppy, Jeff and I were walking on the beach. Scout wasn’t even born yet, let alone being part of the pack. It was a cool day, with a bit of a wind whipping along the shore. We’d moved into The Best House in Melbourne 3 months before and our spending was austere. That happens when you’re paying interest on a 750K bridging finance loan.

I’d taken a big risk – a risk that I thought I’d never take again once my little house in Bentleigh East was paid off and we were totally debt-free. I thought I would never borrow money again. But here we were, 750K in debt, waiting for that same little house to be torn down and townhouses put there in its place.

If it all worked out, I’d have swung a deal that would save me years of work because I could bump up my superannuation and investments with the equity I’d released. If the property bubble took a dive, then I’d have done all this with no real financial benefit at all. I would have swapped my commute from 2 minutes to 45 minutes for the next 14 years…

Sure, I was paying 70+% of my wage purely on the interest for my new house. This would go on for 18 months. We were living on a shoestring. But if all went well, my overall dream of financial security would be brought forward by years.

Spoiler alert: it all worked out. I’m retiring in December this year, fully 10 years short of what I ever thought I’d be able to do. But walking on that beach 4 years ago, I didn’t know that then.

As we walked, I threw the ball over and over again for Poppy and I started thinking. To me, financial independence has always meant security first and foremost, but it also means freedom. Retirement coupled with financial independence means freedom on steroids – the ability to do whatever you want to do when you want to do it. Swinging this property deal would mean that this goal of a financially-free retirement that I knew I would reach when I was 67 could be brought forward. But I wondered…

When would I actually be able to retire?

What if I tracked the days? What if I set a stretch target of say… when I was 60? Surely, if the deal worked, I could shave 7 years off my working life. How cool would that be?

I already tracked my spending. Why not set a target, then track my working days? It’ll be a bit of fun, plus it would be FREE. (This was a heady consideration back then!)

Chart.
Three and a half years just on this one page…

So the ‘Days to Retirement’ chart was born.

Every day, or every few days if I get busy and forget, I colour in another number. I decided I wanted it to look a little like a patchwork quilt, so every month has its own colour. Every July 3rd, I colour that square red, as I’m a sentimental old fool and it’s the chart’s anniversary. Every December 31 is red too, just the mark the passing of another year.

It takes surprisingly long to fill in this baby. The first page took just over three and a half years to complete. It had turned into a habit, something I drowsily did first thing in the morning before I got out of bed.

In a fit of industriousness a long while ago, I’d filled in the numbers for the days until the end of 2020, then I just let it be.

Maybe it was prophetic…?

Look at all those empty squares!

It occurred to me the other day how strange it was that I’d only filled on the days until the end of 2020, which has turned out to be the end of my working life. When I was filling in the numbers, I was fully intending for my ‘stretch target’ to be when I was 60. I was going to keep filling in the numbers but, frankly, it was boring and I thought, ‘Meh. I’ll save it for another day. I’ve done enough.’

(Just in case there’s someone counting the number of days in the years of 58, 59 and 60 – those markers are only approximate. I did a rough estimate, knowing that I’d get to them later.)

But still! Look at those days.

Look at how many of them there are! I just did some Maths – 365 X 3 = 1,095 days of me being able to do whatever I want.

A thousand days. That’s as long as Anne Boleyn was on the throne of England.

My mother once said to me, “A house revolves around the rhythms of either the oldest or the youngest people in it.” She meant that if you have either very young children or someone elderly, then everyone else’s routines and habits tend to bend to cater to the needs of these people.

My boys are all in the mid twenties and are years away from starting families. I’m selfish enough to relish having a few years to myself before I have to consider when/if I’ll put my hand up for childcare for grandchildren. Up until now there have always been demands on my time. School, then uni, then work, then kids, then work/kids again.

I have a feeling these next few years might be a gentle sweet spot where – for the first time in my life – how I spend my days is entirely my choice.

Look at all the empty days in the bottom of that chart.

Mightn’t be too bad…

9 weeks to go…

Bright red knitting.
Keeping busy…

It’s been an interesting week and a half. A day after I wrote my last post, we had a virtual staff meeting and my principal announced that i was retiring. Just like that! I guess there’s no turning back now…

There were a few phone calls from people curious to see what I was up to, but most questions poured in when I was back at work on campus. Yes, this past week year 7, 11 and 12 kids have been back at school. I have 2 classes of year 7s so hey ho, it’s back to school I go.

Poppy looking soulful.
Poppy.

Given how youthful and dewy I am, most people are congratulating me and then asking what I’m moving to next. A different job? Another school? Their eyes widen slightly when I laugh and say, “No. It’s a REAL retirement!”

“But you’re too young to retire!” is mostly said by people around my age or older. When I smile and say something about how age isn’t the thing that determines retirement – it’s all about being able to support yourself, they either sigh and say, “The way we’re going, I’ll be working forever” or they ask me how I’ve done it.

That leads into some interesting chats.

So far, I’ve only had one person say how ‘lucky’ I am. I guess after working there for 16 years and having my 4 boys go through the school, people are pretty familiar with my story. I countered by saying that if I hadn’t have done my geoarbitrage move four years ago, I’d still be working.

“Doing that deal saved me 10 years of work,” I said. I didn’t mention all the years of frugality and keeping my eyes on the prize – nobody wants to hear about all of that!

Scout with her ball in her mouth.
Scout with her most prized possession.

A fair few people have nodded wisely and asked if COVID affected my decision. They look a bit surprised when I say that yes, I was planning to work part-time another year so it pushed my retirement forward by a year. That still doesn’t compute with being in my mid fifties and being able to retire.

One young teacher I work with started asking me about savings rates and if keeping an eye on spending was significant, so I shot this blog post over to him. He’s gone down the rabbit hole…

People have been overwhelmingly positive – to my face at least! – with many saying they’re jealous. LOL.

But I’m going to miss some things.

This week my year 7s have been doing their wide reading oral presentations. This is a 3 minute talk about a book they’ve read. Seeing as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and masks are mandatory, I made my kids do their talks while wearing their masks. I don’t want to get so close to escaping and then get killed by an errant droplet!

On Monday one little boy was so scared. He stood up in front of the class and started reading from his cue cards. They were literally shaking in his hands. It’s awful when you see this happening, because sometimes the kids just stop talking and freeze up, which makes it that much harder for them to tackle public speaking next time.

He kept on going, looking up and focusing on me when he wasn’t looking at his cards. His voice was shaking in the beginning, but by the end of the speech he’d sorted that out.

As I watched this kid conquering his fear, I thought, “I’m going to miss this.” As a teacher, you feel so proud when a kid is obviously scared, but they push themselves through that barrier and achieve something they didn’t think they could do.

At the end of his speech I asked him how scared he was. He said, “My knees were knocking together, Miss!”

I told him how proud I was of him for pushing through and succeeding and that this kind of thing is something I’m going to miss seeing. We then gave him a standing ovation. He was embarrassed but pleased.

A couple of the girls spoke about books that sounded really good, so I asked if I could borrow them and I polished them off this week. Every now and then I do this and I find really good reads that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

On Friday we had the last of the orals. I danced at the front of the room, singing, “Yay! I never have to listen to another oral presentation again!!!” One little girl said, “That makes me sad, Miss.”

Coronavirus figures for today.

It’s funny being back at school. Everyone is masked and the kids’ tables are separated as far as they can be, so they’re all in a grid shape, exactly like a Google Meet set up on a computer screen. I said to 7M yesterday that it’s almost like we’re still doing virtual classes, except they’re a lot harder to keep quiet without a mute button.

As you can see, our numbers are looking good, so people are hoping for an easing of lockdown restrictions to be announced tomorrow, especially the 5km travel bubble. Tom28, my oldest son, is working from home and he happens to live just around the corner from the school. I saw him on each day I worked this week – Monday to pick up some facemasks I’d made him that had ‘too-thick’ elastic and to give him a sourdough loaf – Wednesday to give him his repaired masks back – and Friday to give him and his flatmate a second sourdough. First times I’d seen him in person in four months.

And one last thing – WordPress enables us to see where our readers are from. It always gives me a thrill when I see my Antarctic peeps are reading. I thought I’d give a shout-out to my scientific friends down there!

It’s almost as exciting as when I saw that someone from North Korea was reading. But it was probably just someone from the government making sure that the 4 posts I wrote about my holiday there were acceptable.

I wonder where in the world I’ll go next, now that I’ll not be tied to school holidays?

10.5 weeks to go.

Tweet. 
11 weeks until I retire. 
Seems like such a long time. 
I know it'll pass quickly but right now? Oof.

Today’s Thursday. This week, the 4th (and my last) school term began.

Seeing as Melbourne is still in lockdown, every teacher and student fired up their laptops and settled into another day of remote teaching. The ‘roadmap’ out of teaching from home had been set a few weeks ago. On Monday October 12 all primary kids and years 11 and 12 were back at school. Years 7 – 10 were to go back 2 weeks later.

That suited me fine. I only teach year 7 and year 9, so I was quite happy to avoid the commute and the risk of covid for a little while longer. But our numbers were dropping rapidly. I figured they’d pull the 7 – 10 kids back a week earlier than scheduled.

Then the announcement was made.

Next week, on Monday October 12, year 7 kids are also going back to school.

Bugger!

As of Monday, it’s back to the commute for Frogdancer Jones.

For the first couple of days I was seriously in mourning. I went to get my hair cut and dyed on Tuesday, not realising that hairdressers weren’t open yet. I’m going to have to go to work with PANDEMIC HAIR. (see below…)

Ugh. Long hair with greys and regrowth. Be glad you can't see it.
Argh! I have gold, silver and dark brown hair.

Ah well. I guess that’s why God invented hats.

I’ve started being a bit more philosophical now about going back to work on Monday. It’ll be nice to see the kids in person. Most of the year 7s are seriously sick of remote learning and they’re champing at the bit to get back, so we’ll have a fun time.

The school has paid for teachers to have face shields to be worn over our masks so that we’ll have an extra layer of security. They’ve also supplied every teacher with hand sanitiser, as well as having hand sanitiser stations dotted around all over the school. Everyone who comes on campus gets temperature checked, so I’m pretty comfortable about going back to school under these conditions, especially as our numbers are now so low.

The staff rooms are still quite congested, so I’ll be wearing a mask for most of the day. It’ll be good to get back into the banter of the staffroom again, though.

I’ll be able to collect the coffee grounds for the garden again, as well as the food scraps from the Food Tech classes for my compost. That’ll make my plants happy, which makes me happy.

Exterior shot of The Best House In Melbourne.
Things are getting done!

I’m still wanting to Get Things Done around here before I leave the wage. I’m replacing the guttering on the front of the verandah as it leaks on the corners. Next week the guttering will be a different colour, to match the colour I’m currently in the middle of painting the verandah in. It’ll match the fences and tie the whole place together.

I’m also getting quotes on a bit of landscaping I want done in the front yard. Now that I’ve put the orchard in, I need a sturdy barrier to stop the grass from growing through the mulch underneath the trees. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get someone to come and do that in the next few weeks and then Retired Frogdancer will be able to play with planting pretty things in flowerbeds.

We still need to get the side fence replaced and ideally I’d also like work to get started on upgrading my ensuite. I bought all the fittings for it a year ago when a friend from work mentioned that her husband was working at the Reece samples and seconds outlet. I paid around a quarter of retail prices and we’ve been living with the boxes in the man cave ever since. Once tile shops open, I’ll be measuring up the space and going shopping!!

It’s an interesting thing. Some people would argue that I should wait to get these things done until next year when I’ll have all the time in the world to supervise. But I know how my mind works. Next year I’ll almost certainly be staying pretty close to home and watching my spending, while I get used to drawing down from my savings and dividends, instead of having a wage coming in and living from that.

Given this, I think I’ll be happier with Present Frogdancer spending the money on these last few home improvements now. Future Frogdancer can enjoy them and not stress over shelling out gobs of cash from savings. I’ll need to ease into this new way of running the household expenses.

They say personal finance is personal for a reason. We all handle our finances differently, depending very much on our psychological mindset. While travel overseas isn’t going to happen for at least the next couple of years, now is the perfect time to puddle around at home and enjoy the little things.

Little apricots appearing on my tree.
Apricots! Finally!

Little things like seeing my apricot tree finally producing apricots. Five years ago my first year 12 Theatre Studies class gave me this tree and it’s lived in a pot ever since. Last year I planted it.

I think it’s happy here.

I think I will be too.

Half a year of silver squares!!!

It turns out that when you’re living through 2 lockdowns and you’re not that fond of online shopping, you can really make a “No Spend Days” chart go crazy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I keep track of my spending by using this chart. Every day that I don’t put my hand in my wallet, I colour in a square. At the end of every week with 3 or less no-spend days, I reward myself by colouring in a silver square.

It makes my spending far more intentional and motivates me to stay on track if the week is coming to an end and I’m close to earning a silver square. It’s silly, but it works for me. It also makes collating my “Annual Spend” chart so much easier, because everything is in the one place. It just takes 3 seconds each day to pop in any purchases or colour in a square.

When the pandemic hit and we were all told to STAY HOME, the Jones household was sitting pretty. As the weird flu from Wuhan started to spread to Europe in February, I didn’t like the looks of it so I started stocking up on non-perishables. When things began going crazy here in Australia, we were set, although David27 insisted we take a shopping trip to Costco that I’ll never forget. No worries about TP here!

As the weeks started to slip by without having to fill up on petrol or go to the supermarket very often, the coloured squares began mounting up. The silver squares got more numerous and started looking like a block rather than squares on their own.

“Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could make this streak last for 26 weeks in a row?” I thought to myself. Half a year. Could it be done?

Second half of the no-spend streak.
Wow.

Turns out it can.

Once I started to focus on keeping those silver squares coming without a break, it became a challenge. I began to try and push spend days towards the end of the week, in case something happened and I had to spend money unexpectedly.

For example, look at the week that began on the 1st of August. I wanted to work in the garden and on the verandah so I had 2 spend days on the weekend. *gasp!* I had little wriggle room for the rest of the week. I was determined to keep the silver streak going so I just used what we had in the pantry and garden and pottered around the place entertaining myself with what I have on-site. Hobbies are very useful things.

The week before that, you’ll see on the Friday an entry called “Connor teeth”. One of the boys needed dental work and as he’s still a student I said I’d pay for it. The dental work actually happened 2 days earlier, but by then I could see that I could maybe make my goal. After all, there was only 9 weeks to go!!! When he rang to tell me the total, I told him what I was doing and said, “Is it ok if I pay you on Friday?” He laughed and agreed.

I’ve been using both my local library and the school library for eBooks to scratch my reading itch. As I’ve said before, I read very quickly so paying $30 – $40 for a book isn’t a good use of my money as it only entertains me for a day or so. Downloading an eBook or an audiobook for free is the way to go for me and it saves me having to fill in a square.

During a stringent lockdown such as we in Melbourne have, little challenges like this help to pass the time and give you something to aim for. If I had’ve failed, it’s not the like sky would fall or anything. It wouldn’t have changed anything in my life. But it was a goal to aim for and every week that I coloured in a silver square it became one step closer to that goal. This made me feel good.

Once I actually have to leave the house and go back to work at school, it’ll be interesting to see whether my spending days will slide back to how they were before the pandemic, or whether I’ll be motivated to keep the silver streak going.

I wonder how many weeks the silver streak will last…?

Only buy what you love.

Scout, our mini wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. We certainly love her!

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.

Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.

“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.

But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.

“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”

So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…

If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.

Ugly tv cabinet.
What was I thinking?

Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.

Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.

“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”

But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.

Life happens.

Long-billed bird watering can.
I like this little guy. Haven’t used him as a watering can (yet) but he sits in my window ledge. The rug has since been replaced by a nicer one and moved to the ‘man cave’ at the back of the house.

Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.

One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.

My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’

Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.

Empty rooms in the new house.
A blank canvas. Oh, the possibilities!

For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.

Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.

Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.

Wooden tv cabinet with 6 very long, curved legs.
Most items in my house have these ‘Queen Anne’ type of legs.

Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.

Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.

When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.

Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.

Wooden table with ornaments.
This is what has replaced the ugly tv table.

Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.

The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.

This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.

1020's (I think) treadle Singer sewing machine.
An antique Singer sewing machine.

When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.

Pantry with HUGE spice rack on the door.
My spice rack and pantry light are also happiness-inducing.

The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.

Bright red maple tree.
My red maple. The other maple tree is green.

I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.

Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!

Sleeping Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Poppy, sleeping on our old couch. The couch is now out in the backyard under the verandah.

I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.

Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.

Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.

As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.

Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.

But it’s an effort well worth making.

Sunset at our beach.
Our backyard beach.

Build for the future.

Fruit trees in the front lawn.
The orchard last week, just after everything was planted.

Anyone who’s been reading FI/RE blogs for more than 5 minutes would be utterly familiar with the whole ‘Ant and the Grasshopper‘ philosophy that runs through this way of looking at finances. Bloggers instruct people to utilise these tools: frugality, delayed gratification, increasing income, saving, investing and avoiding lifestyle creep in order to reach the holy grail of financial independence. Work hard now so you have options later! Build for the future!

It’s a theme that runs through many things in life.

Such as an orchard.

In our old house, I spent many years establishing a food forest, complete with chooks, metres of vegetable beds and over 30 fruit trees. When I sold that place and moved down here to The Best House in Melbourne, I had to leave most of that behind. I dragged a few wicking boxes and fruit trees in pots with us, but the carefully nurtured soil and the veggie beds are now buried underneath the townhouses that are now on the block.

Poppy standing in front of the wicking boxes.
The wicking beds are on the side deck. So were the fruit trees.

But the wicking beds weren’t the only things I brought with me. I had a ton of learning and information stuffed in my brain about all I wanted to grow. Those years at the old place weren’t wasted.

Landscaper's plan for the back yard.
The roadmap.

While I was waiting for the property deal to go through, I had 18 months of time where I could plot and plan. I focussed on the backyard first, where I eventually installed 16 metres of wicking vegetable beds, an asparagus patch, areas for a few fruit trees and roofed over literally half the yard to create a huge outdoor room.

Empty veggie beds and paving.
Just after the job was completed. There’s a roof over where Poppy and Scout are standing now.

But the front yard was pretty much left to its own devices. Until now.

My vision for this house has always been clear. I want this place to be a haven and a refuge for my family. I want it to be a place where we can all gather and enjoy our time together. I want the boys- and one day, their families – to to walk through the front gate and know that this is a place where they are welcomed, loved and appreciated.

I want people to open the front gate and be amazed at the beautiful and bountiful oasis that is hidden behind the high front fence, with a mix of blossoms and edibles that are a feast for the eye as well as the stomach. I see some quirky artworks scattered throughout the house and garden, chosen with no one’s aesthetic taste but my own. Hey, being single has to have some advantages!

I’m designing this house and plot of land with a definite eye for the future – just as everyone who is on the FI/RE path does when they encounter these ideas and start to put them into action.

But like everyone on the FI/Re path, I haven’t performed every step towards this orchard perfectly. I’ve made mistakes:

Two sickly looking avocado trees.
oops.

Take these sorry specimens. These are avocado trees that I bought last year. I left them sitting in a old dog bowl that contained a lot of water. They were there for months. I didn’t realise that avocados hate wet feet…

It’s a bit like someone thinking they’re doing the right thing by putting all of their money into term deposits instead of investing. Any vigorous growth that money might have seen is instead cut short and turns all wilty.

I’ve planted them anyway, hoping that at least one of them will come good. If they both die, I’ll plant something else. If only one dies, I’ll drive down to Diggers and pick out another one. They need two trees to pollinate.

Naked mandarin tree.
Yeah… my bad. Should’ve kept an eye on it.

This is what happens when you don’t keep an eye on things. This poor naked tree is a mandarin. I brought it with me from the old house and it was parked among the wicking boxes. I walk past it quite a bit, but apart from noticing that the possums were eating the top growth, I stopped paying it much heed.

Until the day I decided I wanted to create an orchard in the front yard. I went to drag it out of its pot and I gasped. Where have all the leaves gone?!? The lemon tree in the pot next to it, also a tree from the old house, was half naked. I searched the leaves and found some little brown caterpillars, which I crushed.

Exactly like a FIRE person who parks their investments somewhere and then doesn’t keep an eye on fees and charges and other costs. When they eventually wander back to see how their pot of money is going, all the luxuriant growth they were expecting has been eaten away.

The actual plant is still alive, so I’ve put it in the ground, fed and watered it well. I’m expecting that with the added attention it’ll get from being in my direct line of vision ever time I open my front door, it’ll bounce back.

I don’t think I need to extend the metaphor any more. You get the point.

Driving 4 apples and 2 plums home.

On my birthday last week, I treated myself to 2 plum trees and 4 columnar apples. The plums were so large that they touched the windscreen and I had to sit crookedly all the way home. The apples are destined to be planted beside the car in the driveway, as they’ll take up very little room, but I had bigger plans for the plums.

I decided to take over half my front lawn and plant an orchard. I knew that it would look AWFUL in the short-term, especially with the bedraggled survivors from my years of benign neglect. But imagine in the future…

… glossy green leaves and trees loaded with fruit. Underplanted bulbs and flowery shrubs adding pops of colour. Artfully placed sculptures adding humour and life. Old Lady Frogdancer sitting on the verandah with a shiraz or gin and tonic, chatting with a visitor while enjoying the view. People walking past on the street outside, unaware of the beauty hidden within.

The next step – a no dig garden.

After the boys planted the trees for me, I dragged them out again to construct a no-dig garden over the lawn. I’d done this before at the old house for my orchard there, so I know it’ll work. We’d positioned the trees so they wouldn’t shade each other, or the tumbling compost bins, too much, but now we had to kill the grass.

The plan is that I’ll not touch this garden bed until Spring next year, except to kill off any stray bits of grass that might pop up. I’ll let it burble away, creating the rich soil that I’ll plant the flowers in. Both with gardening and investing – things take time to come to fruition.

Mulched garden bed with trees.
Photo taken this morning. 2 avos, 2 plums, a lemon, a mandarin and a blood orange. 4 apples in pots.

I have nothing but time. The edging will one day be made permanent, the apple trees in their pots will be planted on the other side of the yard once I get the new side fence built and painted, the flowers will be underplanted to provide colour and softness to the whole yard and it will all look beautiful.

It’s funny to think that a bit of effort up-front – (two afternoon’s work by David26, Ryan25 and myself) – will be feeding us for years to come. It’s a very satisfying thing to build for the future, whether it be financially or in other, more ‘hands-on’ ways. I like to think that the skills and knowledge I gained from working in the old house is now being passed on to the boys. In the future, they’ll know how to build a food garden. They’ll know how to invest.

And step by step, this place will become the place I’ve envisioned.

Retirement- 108 days to go…

Countdown on the beginning of old films.
Not long to go now…

As of today, I have 108 days to go until I finish work for good.

Yes, I’m retiring.

My friend Scott suggested that I look at working days left, to make it seem even more delicious. Just counted it up. 47 working days to go.

On December 18 2020, Frogdancer Jones will be walking out of the classroom forever to go and live her best life. I’ll be 57 years old, exactly 10 years younger than the ‘traditional’ retirement age of 67 in Australia.

omg. I’ve bought back 10 years of my life.

I’m awash with excitement, anticipation and the tiniest dollop of trepidation. Its a big step, after all.

As you’re reeling back in shock, I hear you ask, “But how can this BE?”

Settle in. Here’s how it all happened:

Kid doing a fist bump.

In August an email went out to all of the staff, asking for our plans for next year. Did we intend to stay at the school, which subjects and year levels would we prefer to teach, would we be intending to take any time off etc. Without really thinking about it, I replied that I’d be working for another year at 3 days/week, just like this year.

In other words, force of habit. Inertia.

A week later, I mentioned to a friend, (let’s just call him ‘the Mayor’), that I’d signed on for another year. It was a conversation over Facebook. His reply?

“Another year. I’m a little surprised. I’ve noted your Covid-related comments and we certainly won’t have dealt with this by next year.”

Now the Mayor is the total opposite to me when it comes to a relationship with Maths. He loves analysing spreadsheets and company financials and everything like that. After my geoarbitrage deal finalised and I had the money from my house sale in my hands, he devised a spreadsheet projecting how my current investments could perform. I was so appreciative – it was a huge favour for him to do for me. So he knows my financial situation.

At the time that he drew up the spreadsheet, he said to me, “You know, you could retire now if you wanted.”

“NO WAY!!” I said. “I just don’t feel safe. “

He chuckled. “You can; you just don’t realise it yet.”

In the intervening years, I worked at making The Best House in Melbourne even BETTER – for Future Frogdancer Jones in retirement. I liked the idea of getting all of the expensive jobs over with while I still had a wage coming in. My post called ‘Why owning a home trumps renting‘ lists all the things I’ve put into this place, plus a few more that I’m thinking of.

After the Mayor’s remark about my Covid-related comments, I started thinking. Was it possible that I could actually retire?

I brought out the old spreadsheets and looked at them, comparing the projected figures with the real ones. I brought up my annual expenses chart, subtracting the costs of all the projects around the house that I’d been doing. I looked at how much I was spending to feed, house, clothe and shelter myself and the two boys I have still living with me.

That figure came in at just over 30K/year. Those meagre years have left their mark – I don’t waste any money on anything that I don’t value. My pleasures are either hellishly expensive (*cough cough Travel*) or are as close to being free that it doesn’t matter.

Hmmmm.

I contacted the Mayor again. Long story short, he’s preparing a document for me to take to a financial planner outlining everything to do with my finances, future plans and goals – all of that stuff.

Turns out I’m going to be fine.

But the clock was ticking at school. Kids were making their subject selections for next year and staffing decisions were being made. I didn’t want to jerk the admin around – getting my job at that school was the single biggest reason that I was able to dig the boys and I out of poverty. I owe the school a lot.

So, once I sat with the decision to leave for a few days and I still felt comfortable with it, I rang my boss.

“OH NO!!” was her reaction. But when we talked about the hows and whys of why I was leaving, there was nothing much else for her to say. She’s not stupid – she knew I’d made my mind up.

So why am I leaving? It’s not simply fear of getting Covid.

F U money.

FU money is a big part of it. After surviving the years at home with pre-school boys when we had hardly two cents to rub together, I’ve been hard at work ever since to do my best to ensure that we were never in that position again.

I’ve reached the position where I feel I have enough.

Enough.

I still love being in the classroom. The kids I teach are lovely and they’re so funny! It’s a rare day when I haven’t had a good laugh in class. I like the idea of going out while I’m still having fun – it’s much better than being ‘that teacher’ – the one who’s hanging on grimly to the job because s/he can’t afford to leave.

What’s getting me down is the insidious increase of admin. As one colleague said to me recently, “Honestly Frogdancer, it feels more and more that we’re becoming data collectors instead of educators.” We’re expected to measure kids’ performances all the time, with results put on tables and studies and projections – maybe the Maths/Science people like it but for me ? For me it’s sucking the soul and the fun from the job.

If I still had a mortgage to pay or debts to get rid of, I’d be staying. If I didn’t have enough to support myself on in retirement, I’d be staying. As I said, I don’t hate everything about the job. Most days are very pleasant days.

But there’s enough on the dark side to make me feel that now is the time for me to leave.

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! Going part-time this year, then having to spend months at home on lockdown has shown me that I have plenty of interests to fill my days. As long as the world contains books, the internet, Netflix and the dogs, there’ll never be an excuse to be bored. Spring has begun and soon I’ll be out planting seeds and designing my front yard. Yesterday I ordered $400 worth of fruit trees to plant there. There’ll be fruit to pick, cook and eat for decades to come.

I can’t see overseas travel being a thing for the next couple of years at least, but that won’t stop me planning for my trips back to the UK and Europe when things settle down. After all, I haven’t been to Windsor Castle to see Henry VIII’s tomb yet! Of course, there’ll be domestic travel as our internal borders open back up, so I’ll be well-placed to take advantage of that. (And I won’t have to wait for the school holidays when prices go up and everything is crowded!!)

Yes, it’s a big change. In one way I’ve moved quickly but in another way – I’ve been writing about retirement and financial independence for as long as this blog has been around, and I’ve been thinking and planning for it well before then! This decision has been years in the making.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage in my life will bring.

Squirrel looking triumphant.
December 18 – Future Frogdancer.

Now is the time to build resilience.

Fabric face masks.
Mandatory face masks. Never thought I’d be churning these out!

“I’m sure no life can be properly developed and rounded out without some trial and sorrow – though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of the Island.

This quote is taken from what would nowadays be called a ‘Young Adult’ novel written in 1915. I loved the Anne of Green Gables novels when I was growing up. Even though some of the messages and themes have dated, human nature is what it is – and it will stay that way forevermore. This means that there are passages such as this one, that I haven’t read for over 30 years, that have stayed with me. Good advice, I guess, which can help carry us through tough times.

Even before the current pandemic, I used to talk about this concept with my kids, both biological and in class. That’s the advantage of being an English teacher – we can cover a lot of ground during class discussions. Basically, it’s when times are tough that people develop grit and resilience.

When times are easy and everything is going your way, there’s absolutely no need to learn how to develop a strong backbone. Why would you actively seek out adversity and tough times? You may develop other traits, such as good interpersonal skills or a strong work ethic, for example, but you have absolutely no need for determination and grit. When life is pretty much handing most things to you on a silver platter, you have no use for them.

But when times get tough? THAT’S when strength and determination become incredibly important. That’s what gets strengthened and built upon.

Mum and Dad wearing the masks I made for them.
Mum and Dad sporting the masks I made for them.

I live in Melbourne, which as of today has entered stage 4 lockdown because community transmission of the virus is getting out of control. We have a curfew from 8 PM – 5 AM every night, you can only leave your home for a total of 1 hour’s exercise a day, you can’t be outside a 5KM radius of your home and only one person per family per day can go out and shop. Masks are mandatory.

This is obviously easier for some people to take than for others. Many businesses have been directed to shut their doors, with pretty much only essential food, medical and infrastructure being allowed to keep their doors open. Some people have suddenly seen their wages and security snatched away. Not everyone has had the foresight or opportunity to build an emergency fund.

I’m one of the lucky ones – but it was a matter of timing. If I was embroiled in the last pandemic – the Spanish flu of 1918 – I wouldn’t be able to work from home. I’m a teacher. I’d either have to walk into crowded, virus-ridden classrooms or be out of a job, at a time when there was no social security.

Now? With the development of mass communications, I can easily work from home while the pandemic is going crazy. My wage continues to be paid and my risk of infection is way down. But not everyone is in my lucky situation.

I know what it’s like to have the financial rug pulled out from under you.

I know what it’s like to look at the pitiful amount of money in your savings and then compare it to the list of bills, a mortgage and the outgoings like groceries to feed my children.

I know what it’s like to wonder bleakly how I was going to be able to stretch things in order to cover everything.

It’s scary. It’s hard to fall asleep with the worry of it. Sometimes, I’d have what I’d call ‘doona days” where I’d go back to bed and stay for a few hours, just drifting in and out of sleep and resting up. Now that I look back, it was usually after a day like this that I’d spring out of bed the next day and Get Things Done. Constant worry is incredibly draining.

But do you know what?

Failure wasn’t an option. I had 4 little boys who were utterly dependent on me to make a good life for them. I knew that their father loved them but practical help from him was a rarity. I was their rock. I HAD to make this work.

Situations like this would be FAR easier if you could make one big gesture and the problem was solved. One action. One declaration. Whatever it was; if you could rise to the occasion ONCE, do or say whatever you needed to and then everything was fine and dandy again – how fantastic would that be? But that’s not how life works.

Getting through tough times means that you make lots of tiny decisions. Lots of little actions that, by themselves, will move the needle very little. But cumulatively – they all make a big difference.

There is so much in our control if we look around for it. There’s no point worrying over the things that aren’t. We can’t stop the pandemic on our own, but we can choose to stay at home whenever possible and wear a mask. If your place of work closes down for 6 weeks while we’re under a state of emergency, you can’t stop that. But you can look at applying for any subsidies you’re entitled to. You can look at your spending and ruthlessly cut anything that isn’t essential. You can start little traditions and fun things that cost little or nothing.

Bottle of champagne with "2019 EARNEST" written on the label. My theatre students' gift.
My students from last year gave me this champagne as a thank you. I could have guzzled it right away – but instead I saved it for a special occasion. Last month, Ryan25 finished his Remedial Massage course. We popped it open in celebration. Delayed gratification.

These repeated actions build character. They build determination and backbone. As a person, you develop resilience, which is a character trait that becomes invaluable throughout the rest of your life.

There’s an added advantage to there being many, instead of one, actions that will get you through times like these. If one day you succumb to temptation and buy that skinny soy latte you’ve been craving instead of waiting to make a coffee when you get home, it’s not going to break the bank. You can enjoy the drink, then get back on the frugality horse you’ve been riding and begin again to make good decisions. It’s not a ‘make or break, like a ‘grand gesture’ action that goes wrong would be. (Just don’t make too many of them!)

It’s the repetition of the little actions and the commitment to keep moving towards a better life that will bring you success.

Another novel I once read was a science fiction classic called ‘Ringworld’, where a character called Teela Brown is the product of 6 generations of a breeding program where people were bred for being lucky. Teela was a sweet girl who simply glided through life, always being in the right place at the right time, happening to meet with people she needed to meet exactly when she’d benefit from it. She always had enough money, but not so much that management of it would be a burden. Her lovers drifted away just as she was starting to get tired of them so she’d never been through a painful breakup and she was pretty enough to appeal to everyone, without being so stunningly good-looking for her looks to be a problem. Sounds good, right?

But she had no resilience or inner strength. She’d never learned to be strong in the face of adversity. She’d never needed to. Another character, Louis Wu, explains this by saying the following:

“She is intelligent, tanjit! She’s just never been hurt!……All you’ve got to do is watch her walk. Clumsy. Every second, it looks like she’s going to fall over. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t knock things over with her elbows. She doesn’t spill things or drop things. She never did. She never learned not to, don’t you see? So she’s not graceful.”
― Larry Niven – Ringworld

COVID is bringing the tough times to many people who had never really experienced them before. It’s a shock to the system when suddenly, all the plans you make and the things you counted on always being there are suddenly swept off the table. Add to all of this the fact that the virus is so contagious and people are literally dying from it. It’s not just a financial crisis. People are really doing it tough and are looking towards the future with fear and trepidation.

I know how it feels. I had my time of fearing for the future 23 years ago. I look back at Past Frogdancer and I’m so glad that she did all of those little things to slowly build stability and security for herself and her boys. She didn’t get everything right, but she did enough small actions in the right direction so that, financially and emotionally, her family survived and thrived.

Looking back now, I’m glad that I went through those tough years. Would I have chosen to go through them at the time? HELL NO! I used to wish that we’d win the lottery (only I was too poor to buy a ticket!)

But tough times breed resilience. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t have had to face the struggle and learned to make my way through. I’m far stronger than that past version of me, the one who sat on the back step watching her children play, hugging herself in fear and wondering if she had the guts to leave this toxic marriage. That girl took the first few steps with desperate faith that things would be ok, then worked to find a way to make it happen.

By doing that, Past Frogdancer developed skills and traits that Present Frogdancer and, hopefully, Future Frogdancer will continue to benefit from.

I wouldn’t have been like this without the struggle. My boys would be in a vastly different place if we didn’t live through it. They’ve also learned skills and developed strength in ways that they would never have had. I’m glad that we went through the struggle.

You will be too. Focus on what you can control and step by step, keep moving incrementally forward. I’m not saying living through tough times is an easy thing. It’s anything but. But one day, years down the track, you’ll look back at how Past You handled all that was thrown at you.

You’ll realise that you’re a better, stronger and more empathetic person. You’ll see that you’ve developed the confidence in yourself to know that you can tackle the curveballs that life throws you. You’ll know that you’ve learned skills and strategies that have enabled you to care for and provide security not only for yourself but also for those you love.

You’ll nod your head and, like me, you’ll acknowledge that the struggle was something that was worthwhile to go through… “though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”

Stay safe, wear a mask and stay at home. And control all the little things that will help propel you forward.

You can do it.

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