Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Delayed Gratification (Page 1 of 8)

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!

Aiming for FI is ALWAYS a good idea.

When it comes right down to it, we’re all responsible for our own financial well-being. A definition on the internet or someone else blathering about how they think you should handle your FIRE journey has no relevance. Everyone has different nuances and circumstances to take into account, which means that the beauty and the terror of personal finance are just that. It’s PERSONAL.

Ultimately, it’s all up to you.

Having said that, however, I’m firmly in the camp of the ‘FI’ part of FIRE being the most important. Retire/don’t retire – I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss what you do. But I do believe that, wherever possible, people should have the goal of being financially independent firmly in their sights.

The reason for this is simple: You never know what’s going to change in the future.

What started me thinking about this was a tweet I saw a little while ago where a guy was saying something like, “I think FIRE is stupid. I love my job. I love my life. I never want to retire.”

Someone pointed out to him that he may feel differently a little way down the track. Having kids, for example, definitely changes the way people look at how they want to spend their time.

His reply was something like, “Oh. I didn’t think of that. I’m single and 25 LOL!”

Oof.

Things change.

I worked at my last school for 17 years. I loved my job. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my holidays too, but every day I’d walk through those doors and be so happy that I worked at that school. Until gradually, things changed and I wasn’t feeling the love so much.

Things change.

If I hadn’t kept steadily moving towards Financial Independence during the years when I absolutely loved my job, I’d have been screwed when I became jaded. I would have had to stay whether I wanted to or not.

Two and a half years ago I wrote a post about a friend’s marriage that had hit a crisis point. It’s called ‘The Scariest Financial Decision of all‘ and in it, I talk not only about my friend but also about the breakdown of my marriage so many years ago. The thing was, I walked away from that marriage as emotionally prepared as I could be, (is anyone ever really emotionally prepared for all that?), but financially???

I was in a woeful state.

A bit like my friend. Two years after I wrote that post, she pulled the pin on her marriage for good. In the interim, she had another baby, so she’s now on her own with 3 kids under 6, a part-time job and a house with a hefty mortgage that is still awaiting property settlement. She has no money of her own behind her and so, like me 24 years ago, she’s essentially starting from scratch.

While my divorce wasn’t exactly amicable; hers is just awful. Nothing has been able to be agreed upon between the parties and even simple things like access to children and child support have had to be dragged through the courts. As you can imagine, solicitors, barristers and the drawing up of documents etc can run up expenses really quickly. My friend would be up shit creek without a paddle, let alone being able to afford a canoe, if it wasn’t for one thing.

Quite a while ago, her parents decided that they wanted a slice of this Financial Independence pie and so they made it their goal to reach it. Their goal was FAT-FI, which is basically a snappy way of saying that they ended up retiring with more than they needed for their basic living expenses. Since then the share market has been burbling along, they were living their lives and all was serene until the separation.

My friend can pay her legal team. She’s getting the best advice possible to ensure the safety and security of her kids. She can do so because her parents worked towards financial independence years ago.

I’m darned sure that when her parents were saving, investing and doing all they could to ensure a solid retirement, the thought of this situation happening never entered their heads. Like all of us on this path, they were focussing on what they wanted to have put by to make sure their retirement would be a good one.

But now? They’re so thankful to be able to help their daughter and grandchildren. If they’d YOLO-d their way through life, my friend’s situation would be pretty grim right now. Part of her parents’ view of having a great retirement has altered. They now view being able to help look after their grandchildren’s lives as being very valuable to them.

Things change.

We can foresee some things, such as getting older and reaching life’s milestones, but some things are absolutely hidden from us until they happen. Seeing as how that’s the case, the only way we can prepare for them is to get our financial acts together.

If something happens and we need to drop everything to be there for someone we care about, it’s far easier to do that if we don’t have to be juggling having to go to a job to pay our bills at the same time. Knowing that we have a solid financial footing means our brains are free to focus on the other things that the person needs. It frees us up to be totally in the space with that person, instead of money worries shredding away at the edges of our minds.

Fingers crossed that we never have to experience this! I know I’d prefer to have my boys merrily sailing off into the sunset with never a worry. I know that I’d prefer to have a retirement where the weightiest decision I have to make each year is which country I’m travelling to… but life is tricky.

Money doesn’t solve everything, but it sure makes a lot of situations just a little easier to bear.

Financial Independence is always a great goal.

You never know when it’ll come in handy.

Then vs now.

It’s 8:57 AM on a Wednesday morning.

In my previous life as a teacher, I would have left the house at 7:45 AM, driven all the way to school, parked in Hall st and then made it to my desk in the staff room by 8:30 AM. I’d chat with the colleagues at the desks near mine, then we’d look at the time, grab our computers, our books and whiteboard markers and gallop off to where we need to be for period 1.

The walkways between the buildings and portables would be packed. There were 1,200 kids and around 200 teachers all on the same mission, but all moving to different points of the campus. All of us had to be on time.

By 8:50 I’d be in my classroom, facing the first of the day’s crop of kids, ready to mark the roll. My lesson plan would already be laid out for me, with every class at the same year level doing the same work with the same resources at the same time.

Practically the only point of difference between my class and everyone else’s is that I’d write a couple of Dad jokes on the board at the start of every lesson. The kids loved it.

The bells define the day when you work at a school. The periods go for 48 minutes, lunch is an hour and recess is just under half an hour. There’s a bell at the middle of lunch so that the teachers on yard duty know that it’s time to swap in or out.

Now?

I’m on the couch in my pjs. I’ve written a blog post for the Frog Blog and I’m thinking vaguely about getting some breakfast before I take the dogs to the beach. Yesterday I googled “Quilting shops near me” and found there’s one just a few minutes drive away. I might have a look and see if there’s anything I’d like to buy for the next few quilts I have in mind.

Two minutes ago I was reading a blog post and I absently reached out to give Poppy a cuddle. She stretched out and I felt her silky fur under my hand. I glanced out the window behind her to see the blue sky, with just a touch of wind stirring the trees. I had a flashback as to where I’d be if I hadn’t retired.

I’d be in a room with 28 other people, locked away from most of this beautiful day. I’d have fun some of the time, sure. Kids can always make me laugh! But most of the time would be spent making them do work put together by earnest, serious young teachers that frankly, used to bore even me. Teaching used to be a lot more creative and fun. Now it’s getting more and more “cookie-cutter” style lessons, with the belief that one size fits all.

Thank God I was frugal, paid off my mortgage and was in a position to take advantage of an opportunity to accelerate my retirement date when it presented itself.

The whole day stretches out before me. I can spend it however I want. There’s no excuse for me to be bored! I’m the one in control.

THIS is why I put in the work to retire early(ish).

The ability to control your own time is worth its weight in gold.

Yesterday I went to a free talk at my library. An excellent author, Rosalie Ham, was talking about her books and the making of her first book, The Dressmaker, into a movie. Today I’ll potter around here, maybe go to that shop, while tomorrow? Who knows? I’ll probably decide what I want to do when my feet hit the floor tomorrow morning.

Next week I’m going away for a few days into the high country of Victoria. My timeshare had a few points that were going to expire at the end of June and for the first time – I’m in the position of being able to use them up because I’m free to travel midweek.

Five months into retirement, I’m loving it. My days are filled with quiet contentment and I’m happy.

Cars and Caves.

Cute car.

When I was a kid we’d go to vintage car rallies ALL THE TIME. Dear God, it was so boring. My Dad was a Riley enthusiast – beautiful British cars. Dad has a 1930 Riley 9, a Drophead and a couple of others. My first car was a Riley Elf, which is basically a mini with a Riley grill on the front.

We’d drive to car parks/wineries/paddocks/whatever. All of the Rileys would line up in a row and the men would crawl all over them, the women would pull up picnic chairs and chat and the kids would be bored. I think this is when my addiction to reading became cemented.

So when Jenna’s parents suggested that we go to a car rally in a town on the peninisula, I inwardly groaned.

But it was actually quite fun.

Red Morgan. LOVE!

I think the difference was that it was a huge mix of different cars and they drove down the main drag of the town in a procession that lasted around an hour.

Black corvette.

Jenna’s parents and I drove to a mid point to meet up, then I hopped in their car and off we went. No, the corvette is not their car!

We found a spot at a table under a verandah and settled in to watch the parade.

Cute cop car.

There was everything from a model T Ford, dune buggies, Morgans, VW combis and beetles, muscle cars, sedans – something for everyone.

Red 3 wheeler.

There was even this 3 wheeled thing!

For a while I stood on the kerb with Andrew and watched the parade, looking for any Rileys, but after a while I got a little bored and thought I’d better go back and sit with Ann-Marie.

We were chatting away when I glanced over at the parade. A car was smoothly driving past with a silhouette that has been ingrained on my psyche since childhood.

“Holy shit, that’s a Riley!” I exclaimed, ever the lady, and I leapt up to join Andrew. I was ridiculously excited.

There were about 5 or 6 of them, one of them a mint-green Riley Elf. I could’ve taken photos but I called Dad instead and described what I was seeing. He was reliving his glory days as I was talking. It was pretty special.

Then we went to a winery for unch. I thought I did pretty well to get to pay for their lunches – I’ve learned from David27’s “in-laws” that you have to be quick to stop them paying for everything. Jenna’s parents are the same.

I sneakily overheard what they were going to order, then made sure I was ahead of Ann-Marie in the queue to order. When I ordered my meal, then went on to list theirs, I heard, “Oh you better not!” behind me. I put my card on the payment thingy, then turned around and said, “OMG, my card just slipped. Oh well…”

I thought I got away with it too, until we went to another winery for a wine tasting and I raved about a shiraz that was priced in the 3 figures and made them taste it. Guess who went home with a bottle of it? I’ve told them that they’re invited to my 60th and we’ll all crack it open then.

It’s so nice to see that my boys are choosing to be with partners with such lovely families. Andrew and Ann-Marie let me stay with them Friday night and they gave up their Sunday to spend time with me. That’s going above and beyond! I’m looking forward to enjoying that bottla wine with them in a few years time.

Pretty house.

Monday. Time to start heading home. I had no fixed plans, other than wanting to see the Ulpherstone Sinkhole in Mt Gambier that I missed on the way up – and I knew I wanted to spend ages in Port Fairy. Everyone says how pretty it is.

I wanted to learn from the mistake of my rushed trip over and take my time on the way back.

As I headed out, I thought I may as well drive up to Murray Bridge and have a look at the river. Why not? I put a generic address into the TomTom, ( 1 Main st / Smith St /First st ; whatever works), and I set off.

Then I started seeing signs to Harndorf.

I’ve been hearing about Hahndorf for 17 years. It’s the first German settlement in Australia and every year the German students from our school would go over there for an excursion and report back at the next General Assembly.

I had to see it for myself. I wanted to follow my nose home and this was an ideal place to start.

Pretty restaurant.

I pulled up in the Main st and parked outside an art gallery. Following my nose, I walked in.

And you wouldn’t believe it – I finally found the perfect painting for my dining room. I’ve only been living here and looking for the last 5 YEARS.

It’s absolutely nothing like I thought I’d buy. The subject is SO not me, it’s smaller than I visualised and the colours are different to what I was looking for, but when I saw it I knew it’d fit really well. So $1,100 lighter I walked out of the shop.

What are the odds? I had no plans to go to Hahndorf and there just happened to be a spot for my car directly outside the gallery. The painting had been put up less than 24 hours before I arrived. Maybe it was meant to be?

It’s being delivered sometime this week. If it looks awful then I only have myself to blame.

Bust and a row of sketches.
Hans Heysen – bust and sketches.

Look who I found in the museum behind the information centre!!!!

Remember when I showed you the picture of Ruth by Nora Heysen? Here’s her Dad – the way famous one of the two of them. The bust is of him and the sketches are his.

I like how when you travel in an area, the stories loop around. It reminds me of when Scott and I were walking on the battlements of Lincoln Castle, listening to the guided tour through our headphones, when I suddenly heard that Henry VIII and Katharine Howard had walked along the very same stones I was walking on. I’ll never forget the unexpected thrill.

Photo of Prince Philip looking interested.

Speaking of royalty, the museum behind the information centre was tiny, yet Prince Philip had visited it. One huge advantage to being a working royal is the amount of travel you could do. Imagine all the countries he must have seen? But imagine all the hours of tedium he must have gone through as well. No wonder he sometimes said the odd non-PC quip.

Exquisite lace collar.

In its day, the building was a school for boys and also a hospital. Look at the lacework, or is it tatting? This was on a maternity dress. I think I’d go blind, squinting, if I tried to do this, though I have some tatting that my great-grandmother did. Amazingly detailed.

Hahndorf was a very pretty little place. A few shops had jolly German music spilling out onto the street as thr tourists walked by. It was still school holidays in South Australia so there were a fair few people about.

Scott suggested that I mark all the school holidays in my calendar at the start of every year so I don’t make the mistake of travelling while the kids are free. I’m going to have to mark every state’s holidays, I think.

Murray River.

Then I drove to Murray Bridge.

Here’s the river Murray. It’s long. It’s wet. I had a look, ate lunch and drove on. I was aiming for Mt Gambier but then, as it was getting to late afternoon, the heavens opened up. I drove into Narracoorte.

There was a huge sign on the highway just before you enter the town, spruiking their caves. I vaguely remembered that Narracoorte was way famous for its caves, so I thought I’d get a cheap motel, stay the night and have a bit of a look around underground the next day.

Giant extinct wombat.

When I reached the caves the next day, I saw another instance of stories looping around. See this massive Diprotadon? Otherwise known as a giant wombat. What does he look a bt like?

My sculpture.

Remember my sculpture that I bought from the arts festival, thinking that it was going to be my only souvenir? They look like they might be cousins.

Beautiful cave.

The Narracoorte limestone caves are a world heritage listed site. They offer a few different tours but the lady in the information centre said to go on the fossils tour, because that is why they made it to the heritage list.

Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that the caves would be chilly. I wore my duckdown coat. It’s actually really warm down there.

Stalactites in a row.

See how the stalactites are hanging in a row here? Our guide said that in the early 1900’s guides used to clamber up there and ‘play’ the stalactites like a xylophone for their customers by hitting them. Sometimes one would break. Can you believe it???

Incidentally, I learned how to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Stalagmites MIGHT reach the roof one day, while stalactites have to hold on TIGHT to the roof to stop from falling.

Never say that this blog isn’t informative about the issues that matter!

Hole in the roof.

This fascinating photo is of a hole in the roof that leads up to the ground. This one was man-made to get all of the rubble out so that the tours like the one I was now on could be made. These also occur naturally, which is how the fossils have ended up in the caves.

Animals (and people, probably) would be innocently walking along and then fall down these shafts into the caves below. Some died immediately, but others survived until they died of thirst. They know this because they have complete skeletons of animals who look as if they’ve just curled up and gone to sleep, but with bones that have started to heal from their initial fall.

Drop bear skeleton.

This guy is a literal drop bear. Yes, they used to exist! He was some sort of carnivorous koala-type.

Nasty claw.

See the massive claw on his opposable thumb? Imagine that slicing into your soft underbelly?

Kangaroo bones.

This one was a kangaroo, but with only one toe. I took this photo to show you, but I like this next one a lot better.

Shadow on the cave wall.

That shadow is very Star Wars, isn’t it?

The caves that were initially found were just open caverns full of the rock formations, but then a couple of cavers found their way into some massive caverns further in that were jam-packed full of bones and fossils.

Bones scattered on the cave floor.

These are real bones that have been left as they were.

Behind the cave where we were standing is a massive cave where they’ve removed a small section of bones to study. They plan to leave the rest where they are for as long as possible. Our guide, who is a palaeontologist herself, said that they’ve removed enough bones and other material to keep many universities busy for decades. Maybe by the time they need to take another look, they might have technology that can study what’s in the caves but be able to leave everything untouched.

It’s an interesting thought.

Country road.

And then I was off and away. I pointed the car towards Mt Gambier and off I went. It was just before lunch and the day was still young!

Costs of the trip:

Running total so far: $665

Costs for day 6: $85 for lunch.

Costs forDay 7:

$1,100 painting

$10 lunch (Subway – eat fresh.)

$69 fuel

$91 accommodation

Total for Day 7: $1,270

Running total for trip: $1,935 (Yikes! I hope I still love this painting when it arrives!)

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

I’m not a magazine reader, so it came as news to me when someone on Twitter said that Dave from Strong Money Australia gave a shout out to a few Aussie FIRE bloggers (including me – thanks Dave!) in a Money Magazine story about the FIRE movement in Australia.

Of course, I was anxious to read it, so I downloaded the Libby app and borrowed Money magazine from the library. (That’s another $9 off my “Earn my rates back” reading quest. ) I’d recommend reading the article for yourself, but in a nutshell, they interviewed 7 people who have either finished the FIRE path or are on their way along it. All but one were younger than me and all had different ways of navigating the path towards total financial freedom.

It made me wonder what I would have said, had I been interviewed. I’ve been a single mother for well over 20 years and have brought up my 4 boys on my own, all while working as a secondary teacher. I still have two of them at home with me, while the oldest and the youngest have flown the nest.

I stumbled across the FIRE movement around 8 or 9 years ago by reading a blog called ‘Go Curry Cracker’. I remember asking him in the comments what this ‘FIRE’ acronym stood for. I was 49, I had just paid off the house and was worried about how I could ever possibly afford to retire.

Imagine my relief when I read the famous post by Mr Money Mustache about The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and I realised that by doing what I was already doing – (ie: saving and investing 50%+ of my take-home pay) I was on track to being able to retire at 67 with over a million dollar nest-egg. I could retire at pension age and not need to eke out my life on the pension.

That did it. I was hooked! I wanted to learn all I could about this FIRE stuff. I devoured blogs, books and podcasts. I hate Maths and numerals with a passion, but even someone as Maths-phobic as I am can learn, given enough repetition of the basic concepts.

Last year, at the age of 57, I retired. Ten years ahead of schedule.

I’m not your stereotypical ‘FIREy’ person, being older than a millennial, single with kids, coming from a career not really known for being lucrative and also being female. (And non-American…)

So what would I have said to the Money magazine people if they’d come knocking at my door? Here goes:

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

Lives: beachside in suburban Melbourne with 2 of her 4 sons. Also with her 3 dogs who she possibly loves more than her children.

Career: Secondary teacher.

“I really believe that the secret to becoming financially independent is underpinned by three very important things,” says Frogdancer Jones as she pours a cheeky shiraz. “You have to know what you value in life so you can concentrate your time, effort and money on those things. You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification – to be a long-term thinker, in other words. And you have to be willing to learn, so that when life offers up an opportunity, you can recognise it and – even more importantly, know what to do with it.”

The last point had a huge impact on the trajectory of Ms Jones’ financial life when, after years of struggling to bring up four boys and pay a mortgage on a teacher’s wage, she grabbed hold of an offer to develop her East Bentleigh property in a much sought-after school zone. This enabled her to release the equity in the property and move to a cheaper, but better, house further away from the CBD.

“Being able to pivot from my original plan to stay there until I was carried out in a pine box saved me having to work for an extra decade,” said Frogdancer. “I would never have had the courage to do it if I hadn’t have spent all of that time reading and listening to people who have already trodden the path to financial independence.”

So what does financial independence and early retirement mean to this early(ish) retiree?

“For me, the security of financial independence is an absolute gift. I left my husband back in 1997 with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash. There were years of struggling to provide for my boys and pay the mortgage – it wasn’t easy to live off 18K/year of Centrelink benefits until the boys were all in school and I could go back to work. The frugal habits I learned back then have really paid off! If I have to, we can live off the smell of an oily rag. It took me a long time to lose the fear that I didn’t have ‘enough’ to retire on.

“Also, being able to retire at 57 is an even greater gift. For the first time in my life, I can be totally selfish. My kids are grown, I have no grandchildren and all I have to worry about looking after are the dogs and my garden. I can spend my days entirely as I choose – the freedom is absolutely incredible. I can highly recommend retirement!”

Recommended books and blogs: ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ – Stanley; ‘The Simple Path to Wealth – Collins; Strong Money Australia; The Retirement Manifesto; Aussie Hi-Fire and Late Starter Fire.

EDITED:

After writing this, Money magazine heard about it and asked permission to rewrite it into an article. Here’s the REAL Money Magazine interview.

I was born to be retired!

Empty beach.

It’s just past 3 months since I gave my epic retirement speech and stepped away from being a teacher. Teaching is a profession that requires dedication, hard work and an endless supply of patience. It’s a job that seeps into your ‘after-hours’ life in ways that are both rewarding and tedious. It’s probably not too much to say that teaching is more of a vocation than simply a way to earn a living. You either love it and stay, or you find an exit pretty quickly. It’s a job where you have to put in 100% whenever you’re in front of the kids. It’s exhausting by the end of term/the year.

But it’s so much fun as well. The kids make you laugh every day.

And I’m not missing it at all.

River meeting the sea.
The mouth of the river near my house.

Three months out, here’s one of the main differences I’m noticing about my life:

There’s no stress. It’s the strangest thing. For as long as I can remember, even during the long 5 weeks of summer holidays, there was always a small imperative voice in my mind, nudging me to remember that I had to Get Things Done before work started again. There was always the feeling that time was limited and there was no one else to help me to run the house and do the tasks, so I was always conscious of time ticking by – even on my ‘lazy’ days.

Now?

After 3 months I’ve been able to quiet that little voice. It took some doing, I won’t lie.

For example, when I write a blog post, I usually take a couple of hours and bang it out all at once. Can’t waste time dilly-dallying around! But yesterday, I paused after writing the paragraph above this one. I wasn’t feeling the love and I’d just posted something on my personal blog, so the itch to write had already been scratched. I closed my laptop and went on with my life.

Today, we went down to the beach a little before 9 AM. The weather is going to be horrible for the next few days so I thought we’d better get a decent walk in while we could. As I stepped onto the sand and took the leads from around the dogs’ necks, I took a deep, appreciative breath. The sea was sparkling. The sky was a brilliant blue, with only a few grey clouds appearing.

The sand was nearly empty, which made Scout happy. She prefers it when there aren’t too many other dogs there. She ran straight down to the sea and plunged in as far as her belly. (She’s a miniature dachshund, so it isn’t as intrepid as it might sound!) The cavalier twins stayed close as we walked along the waterline.

The shades of blue were stunning. I glanced at my watch – 8:55 AM.

In my previous life, at 8:45AM on a Monday I’d have been walking up the stairs in A Block. This is where most of the year 7 classes are. There are 11 classrooms with 28 students in each. Plus 11 teachers. Thanks to my trusty calculator, (aka “the devil’s machine’ when I was teaching), I can confidently tell you that I would have to push through a crowd of 318 other people every time I taught up there.

Imagine over 300 12 and 13 year olds crowded together? Imagine the noise? The lack of social distancing? The heat all those bodies generate? As you climb the stairs to the first floor in that building, the heat hits you in the face.

As I glanced at my watch this morning, I smiled. The contrast was incredible.

All I could hear was the sound of the waves gently lapping, the cry of an occasional seagull flying over head and the cheery “Good morning”s as people passed by each other as we walked along the sand. The view was beautiful and so unpopulated!

I couldn’t help but appreciate the difference. As much as I loved my time in the classroom, this new life is making me far less tightly-wound. When Scout had had enough, we turned back and walked home. Her little legs get tired pushing through that sand.

As I’m typing this it’s 10:38 AM. Recess time.

The dogs are snoozing on the couch beside me. I’ve had a lime verbena tea from the herb garden and I’m quietly typing away. Blogless Sandy just messaged me, setting up a lunch date with ourselves and a woman we used to live in the same street with over 20 years ago. Thursday lunch? Sounds great!

The rest of the day is spread before me. I’ve looked on the radar and a huge band of rain is going to sweep over us. I probably have an hour or two before it hits and I’ll be stuck inside. I might duck up to Aldi with my shopping trolley and pick up a few things. I might get out into the veggie garden and do a bit more ‘chop and drop’ pruning to get the beds ready for winter. I might harvest the rest of the basil – except the plant I’m saving for seed – and make some more pesto to freeze for our pizzas.

After the rain hits, I’ll be starting a new sourdough loaf. That takes a day or two before it’s ready to bake. I have a quilt I’m working on, three new books from the library and an active Netflix and Stan account. I’ll be roasting some of the 20 pumpkins and zucchini we picked on Saturday. I’ll portion them out and freeze them for soups and pasta bakes later in the year. I also have a mountain of ironing, but somehow, that’s not as appealing to think about.

There’s a myriad of little things to do. All of them are my choice on my timeline.

It’s so lovely to be able to live this way. It’s true – I think I was born to be retired!

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