Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Delayed Gratification (page 1 of 5)

Having a stockpile. Sin or sensible?

Panic buying fence paint and potting mix at Bunnings.

With all that’s been going on around the place with people panic-buying toilet paper and the like, I thought I’d share my views on having a stockpile of food and non-perishables around the house. I’ve had a stockpile for the last 2 decades and I find it a really useful and economical way to run my household.

Going back 20 or so years, (in the time before Aldi), I started building a supply of food and other things when things were on special. I was living on a single parents pension of around 18K/year with 4 small boys to feed, so money was incredibly tight. Over the course of a year or so, I gradually built up the supplies in my pantry so that in the end, I was pretty much buying as much as I could when something was on special.

In other words, we were eating most of our food at a discount. When baked beans, for example, were half price, I’d buy 10 or 20 of them, depending on how much leeway was in that week’s budget. Then we’d gradually eat them down until the next time when they were on sale, when I’d buy the same amount again.

Short-term, this was a more expensive way to run the household, but I’ve rarely been a short-term thinker. Over the course of a year, I’d easily save a few hundred dollars on meat, groceries, pet food and cleaning products. I was so poor that a few hundred dollars made a HUGE difference to our quality of life. The stockpile was worth doing.

When Aldi came to our neighbourhood, it was different. They had no ‘specials’ as such, but their prices were so much lower that I gladly started shopping with them.

And I still kept a stockpile. Why?

I realised that liked having reserves of food and other staples around. I liked not having to run to the shops every time I ran out of an ingredient, because I almost always had a replacement in the back cupboard. It gave me a sense of security and comfort in the fact that if something unexpected happened, I knew I could look after my boys and that we wouldn’t have to go shopping if people were out there acting crazy.

When ‘The Walking Dead’ came along, I christened my stockpile ‘The Zombie Apocalypse Cupboard’ and that’s its name today. Hearing the supermarkets run on a “just in time” policy of stocking their shelves cemented the idea that having a small stash of necessities wasn’t a bad idea.

So, seeing as I’m a bit of a prepper, how has the Jones household been acting in this time of Coronavirus?

I’ve so far been ahead of the wave. I’m a teacher and sooner or later it appears that Australia will have to close the schools down. The only question is when. I fully expect to have to self-isolate at some stage, given that I work in a school with nearly 2,500 kids and 200 teachers. That’s a lot of bodies that the virus would love to inhabit! Given all of that, it made sense to me to get ahead of the game and make sure that we had everything we’d need if we couldn’t leave our house for a while.

Years ago I read an article about the people of Sarajevo when they were caught in the middle of a war zone. It included a list of all the things they most prized. The number one item? Toilet paper, closely followed by matches and perfume. I’ve never forgotten that, so the Zombie Apocalypse cupboard has a dedicated shelf to the old bog rolls. Back in early February, when stories started to surface about this new virus but it was long before any panic-buying, I quietly stocked up on loo paper.

Then, in the next week or two, I bought a few extra tinned and packaged goods. Things like tuna, chickpeas, pineapple chunks (for pizza) and paracetamol. Grain-free dry dog food and the raw meat patties I feed Poppy, Jeff and Scout were also on the list. Dishwasher tablets, aluminium foil and baking paper came soon after that.

By the time I noticed toilet paper shelves were starting to empty pretty rapidly, I was feeling like our food situation was ok. But what would I do with my time if I had to self-isolate for at least 2 weeks? Remote -teaching my students would take up a bit of time. But there’d still be extra hours to fill…

Reading is my #1 passion. I have at least 15 books piled up beside my bed and a huge number waiting to be read on my kindle app. I have Netflix and Foxtel, so the tv viewing and book reading situations will be fine. But what about other things?

While everyone in the last week has been going crazy in the supermarkets, I’ve been at Spotlight quietly buying quilting supplies and at Bunnings buying fence paint for my new front fence, along with decking oil and potting mix.

Stockpiling doesn’t have to be just about the food. I’ve brought the paint buying forward a month or so, but now it’s done.

Though it hasn’t been all fun and games.

Two days ago, David26 and I went to Costco. It was a Tuesday morning, 10 minutes before opening time. David26 was worried about his girlfriend Izzy’s family and wanted to buy a few staples for them. Against my better judgement I agreed to take him.

The premier of Victoria had issued a state of emergency the day before. S**t was starting to get REAL.

It was incredible. When we arrived, there were easily 1,000 people ahead of us in the queue. It snaked around the carpark. David26 and I looked at each other.

“Well, we’re here now,” I said. “We probably won’t be able to get toilet paper for them, but we can get other things. And while we’re here, we need a 3L bottle of milk and I could always top up the dogs’ grain-free food. Then, if we’re isolating ourselves at home, the dogs’ll definitely be ok.”

It took us 25 minutes to even get to the front door. By the time we got there the signs were up saying ‘NO MORE TOILET PAPER.” By the time we reached the front of the queue, it was almost twice as long as when we got there.

Mini road-rage spats, with honking horns, were happening in the car park. Just as we reached the front, a police van quietly drove through and parked on the corner, clearly to keep an eye on things. Anyone trying to push into the queue was quickly told where to go… and by that I mean down to the end of the queue, not to go straight to hell!!!

Once we were inside, those massive Costco trolleys were racing around in all directions. People with a wild look in their eyes were grabbing everything they could lay their hands on. There was a limit rule of 2 cans of Glen-20 per membership, but at the cash registers I saw quite a few people who, like David26 and I, had come in a pair, trying to argue that they should be able to take 4 cans. No one got away with it though.

As we were waiting to pay, I whispered to David26, “If this is what it’s like on a Tuesday, imagine what the end of the week will be like if the news doesn’t get better? Not sure I’d want to be here then.”

So, what with my normal preparedness and yesterday’s Costco run, I guess I’ve seen both sides. So which is best?

If you’re an adrenaline junkie who likes to pit themselves against the odds, then yes! Leave everything till the last minute and go out and take your chances.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a sin to be prepared. You don’t want to be THAT guy who has 4,000 rolls of toilet paper lining his garage, but I think it makes sense to have a place set aside for things that you regularly eat/use as a back-up. When things are going wrong, the fewer people who are out on the streets competing for things, the better.

If any (or all of us) gets the virus and feels sick, it’s a comfort to know that we have everything we need to look after ourselves well within reach. By having the Zombie Apocalypse cupboard, we’ve eliminated that anxiety from our lives. If Tom28 has to come home if he has no work and can’t pay his rent, there’s food enough to cover him.

Having a stockpile of the basics eliminates that awful fear of not being able to provide for my family. Twenty-two years ago when I left my husband, I had $60 in cash, 4 small boys and no job. I did a Scarlet O’Hara and vowed that, as God is my witness, these boys will not suffer for what I’ve done. I would provide for them, no matter what.

Having a stockpile is, for me, an essential cushion against misfortune. Or a pandemic. So if you don’t have one at the moment, how do you build one up?

DON’T do what all the frenzied shoppers at Costco are doing. Going by the overloaded trolleys we saw, there are going to be lots of people with a massive credit card bill to pay in the next month. Obviously in this time of Coronavirus, buy what you need to get you through, but as for a stockpile for the future?

Do what I did when I was young and poor. Do it gradually.

Buy extra of the things that you’ll eat when they’re on special. If money is tight, buy an extra one. If you have a few more dollars free, buy multiples. Store them in a line in your pantry/zombie apocalypse cupboard. This is so you can keep track of use-by dates.

If you happen to buy more of a particular item before you’ve used up everything in that particular item in your stockpile, PUT THE NEW CANS/PACKETS AT THE BACK AND MOVE THE OLDER THINGS TO THE FRONT.

This is called rotating your stock. It may not be a sin to have a stockpile but it’s certainly a very bad thing to waste time, money and shelf space on food that you have to throw out because you didn’t use it in a timely fashion.

I’ve read that some people mark their stockpile items with a permanent marker of the date they bought them. Me? Nah. But if that idea floats your boat, go for it.

Over time, as various items come on sale or you have a few extra dollars and can buy a few extra things, your stockpile will build up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Only buy what you and your family like to eat and make sure you rotate your stock. This way, there’s no waste and you always have stores available in case something unexpected happens. It’s the most immediate way to provide a safety net for the ones you love. Having a paid-off house comes second.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on stockpiling. I’m proud to say that my two boys who are living on their own also saw which way the wind was blowing and stocked up on a few non-perishables before the supermarkets got crazy.

I normally don’t ask for comments, but I’m curious as to what you all think. I’ve laid out my history and why I’ve always had a store of food and such in the cupboards. Are you like me? Or do you have another way of navigating the world?

Buy practical souvenirs, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

Jeffrey while I was packing. Not sure if he was trying to prevent me or hoping to come too!

I have a rule when I go on holidays. Any souvenirs I buy tend to be useful. I bought an olive oil container in San Gimignano. A spatula in Pyongyang. Christmas tree decorations all over Europe.

So what did I buy on my getaway this week to Bowral?

My stylish yet affordable shopping trolley.

I’m so pleased with this one. I now have a shopping trolley, just like a nanna!!! Living around the corner from Aldi, as I do, I usually load myself up with a few bags and walk to get my groceries. Those bags can get heavy on the walk home.

So yesterday, I looked at my zombie apocalypse cupboard and realised I needed to panic-buy wine. A woman cannot live on toilet paper alone. So I took it out for a spin. It worked a treat. I’m very happy with this one.

But what else did I buy as a souvenir?

A helicopter ride.

I spent $250 on a helicopter ride.

And before you mention the rule about practical souvenirs – in my book this IS practical. I’ve never been in a helicopter before and now I know that I won’t die wondering what it’s like.

Just before lift-off.

When I’m walking the dogs on my Backyard Beach, we get quite a few small planes and helicopters above, following the line of the bay. I thought it’d be nice to create a memory that I’d think of every time I see a helicopter.

Lovely clear morning – Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

There’d been torrential rain two days before, so it all looks beautiful and green, but you can see that the dams in the paddocks are nowhere near full. The farmers could still do with a lot more rain.

I had the headphones on and we could hear the chatter from air traffic control, as well as the conversation from the people in the cabin. (Three of us.) You could hear the sound of the rotor blades but it wasn’t too loud.

The day was already quite warm. The only air-con was a little flap in the door next to me, which I could push open or shut. I left it open and the breeze was beautiful.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales.

I drove over this river the day before.

Two memories for the price of one.

Bowral has a way famous antique/junk market called Dirty Jane’s. I whiled away a couple of hours here and walked away with my rusty bird on a swing for a mere $25. I’m always on the look-out for quirky garden art. The reason I bought this was that the bird looked just like the fried baby pigeons that I saw at a food market in Beijing. Two holiday memories for the price of one!

And in case you’re wondering – no, I didn’t eat one. When I travel I rarely say no to experiences, but I couldn’t face crunching away on a baby bird. Or a skewer of scorpions, some of which were still moving. Fortunately, there was nothing like that on the menu in Bowral!

On the way up I stayed overnight in Albury. In both towns I walked through every art gallery I could find. The Milk Factory was the best one I found in Bowral, but I struck gold when I found the Albury library’s gallery. They had a huge exhibition of Lynley Dodd’s work. You know – ‘Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy‘?

When I walked in, a tour was just starting. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! So I joined it and followed them around. By the way, did you know that in New Zealand a ‘dairy’ is like a corner shop or milk bar? Puts a whole different view on things.

Of course, being Scout’s mum, I had to take a photo of the dachshund!

In keeping with my new view on exercise, I kept the car driving to a minimum. Well, aside from the whole 753 kms/ 468 miles to get there in the first place.

I walked all around the town centre in Albury and discovered their lovely little botanical gardens. Galleries and gardens are free, people! While I was in Bowral for 3 nights, I didn’t get into my car at all. I walked everywhere, which would’ve been unheard of on previous holidays.

In fact, on my last full day there, I didn’t leave the room until 5 PM, when I walked into town to buy some sushi for dinner. I packed my sewing machine and the half-assembled quilt top that I’m making for my sister-in-law and I vowed that I wasn’t leaving town until I’d finished it.

Yes. I didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose me.

Success! I finished it 15 minutes before ‘Survivor’ started! Now all I have to do is assemble and quilt it.

When I planned this holiday, I decided I was going to go to galleries, eat out at restaurants and go for bushwalks. When I took the helicopter ride, I decided that I’d cut out the restaurants. The only meal I had in one was when I met up with a blog reader and her Other Half who took me to an American-style diner in a neighbouring town.

Blogmeets are always good. You all know each other from your writing and so there’s no initial awkwardness when meeting up for the first time.

I bought a delicious sourdough loaf from an artisanal bakery and some dips from Woolworths. They were my breakfasts and dinners for a couple of days. It was DELICIOUS! I’ve always wanted to go to a Turkish restaurant and just order dips and bread and now I feel I’ve finally done it.

That’s a huge advantage of travelling as a single. If I feel like eating sourdough and dip for 2 days, I can.

I also gave myself a treat to look forward to. I always have one bottle of perfume on the go at any one time and I totally use it up before opening another one. For the past year or so I’ve been using a perfume that Mum and Dad gave me after a Bali trip. It’s ok… but it doesn’t fill me with joy when I spray it on every morning. But it’s just a few squirts away from being used up, so I bought my FAVOURITE perfume.

This is what I took away with me. It was lovely to unwrap it the first morning I was away and use it.

Mmmmm Mmmmm!

Sometimes looking forward to something is a gift you can give to yourself.

The same height as the birds.

So, as I sit on the couch before I go back to work for the first time in a week, how do I feel?

The alarm at 6 was a rude awakening. I don’t really want to go in, even though I know I’ll have a good time when I get there. With all the talk of coronavirus, going to a school packed with 2,300 kids and 200 staff is starting to seem slightly reckless.

Still, it’s just the one day, then I’ll have the weekend. And I can always simply close my eyes and remember when I was flying with the birds…

I gave myself the gift of time.

Well, the Australian school year began two weeks ago and I – I have begun my new life of part-time work. Yes, I gave myself the gift of time. And boy, do I have a story to tell you!

At the beginning of last year, I had no intention of going part-time. I was racing towards my FIRE number and I thought I’d simply push on through with full-time work until I reached it. But then Mum had a bad fall and broke her shoulder. It brought home to me the fact that my parents aren’t getting any younger and I really should step up and spend some more time with them. So, before I could talk myself out of it, I went to see my principal and asked for 2 days off a week in 2020 – one for Mum, one for me.

Fortunately, she also has ageing parents so she understood and agreed. This year I’m working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Thursday afternoons devoted to taking Mum to her physical rehab appointments, while Thursday mornings I’ll spend with my brother in his rehab place as he deals with the aftermath of his stroke.

But Tuesdays are for MEEEEE!

The Australian school year started a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve had a bit of a taste of what my life will now look like. And it’s not bad…

The first school day for teachers was on Tuesday January 28. Now, Tuesday is one of my days off but all teachers had to attend school that day due to Important Teacherly Meetings and such, so I got a day off in lieu, where I can choose the date of my day off. Remember this because it’s important later.

At the end of Wednesday, I announced to the staffroom, “I’ve worked two days in a row. I’m exhausted!! I’m never doing this again. See you Friday!”

Judging by the comments flung my way after that, they now all hate me.

Last week was the first week where it was Business As Usual. Monday was a workday, then came Tuesday. That morning, my feet hit the floor at precisely the time when, if it was any other year, I’d be throwing things into my bag and racing out the door. I loved getting up, feeling rested and leisurely making my morning coffee.

I took the dogs for a long walk and then surveyed the hundreds of tomatoes that I had ripening on the benches in the kitchen. I decided that I’d have to spend time harvesting them and putting them into the freezer for meals.

I put on my son’s podcast, grabbed a chopping board, a knife and the thermomixes and got to work. I’ll blog about this in more detail later, but suffice to say that I worked from 9 – 4 processing bags of tomatoes, squash/zucchini and herbs to make the basis of 50 pasta meals. Yes, FIFTY.

They’re all in the freezer and amazingly, my kitchen is now filled with just as many ripening tomatoes as before. My garden has gone crazy. But do you know what the really crazy thing is?

In previous years when I was harvesting produce from the garden, I had to do it on the weekends. I’d be chopping things and bagging things like a threshing machine, all the while thinking, “Argh!!! This is taking so long! I’ve got a million other things I need to be doing! WHY is this taking so long? I don’t have TIME for this!!!

But this time? I was chilled. I was working steadily but it wasn’t a problem. In fact, I wasn’t even conscious of how much time it was all taking until in the afternoon, chatting with Ryan25, I saw a secondary school kid crossing the street. “What’s the time?” I said. “I just saw a kid either walking home or wagging.”

“It’s 3:30,’ he said.

Wow. The whole day passed in the kitchen and I wasn’t stressing out about how long it was taking. This was bonus time – I Got Things Done that would normally have been put off until the next weekend. I was relaxed and feeling productive. What a great feeling!

This really brought home to me how cool this new work/life balance is going to be. There is no way I could have even considered this before I became financially independent, but now I have options. And speaking about cool – how cool is it that it all fell into place just as my parents and brother needed me to have more time?

It definitely shows that working towards financial independence is the way to go, even if you think that you don’t want to give up working. You never know when your priorities will shift and it’s nice to able to have the choice, without money being the major thing holding you back.

But remember that day in-lieu? This story gets better…

The second day back, I was talking with some of the young Maths girls in the staffroom and I mentioned that I’ll be able to choose a day off in the next few weeks.

Emily’s face lit up and she said, “Frogdancer! You should take the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend off. Then you’d get Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off!”

OMG. Mind Blown.

And to think I was planning to teach my 3 classes for a few days, see which class I liked the least and then take off a day when I had them for a double. WHAT an idiot I am!

I raced over to the Daily Organiser and got that day off locked in. I came back to the staffroom and then Emily said, “You know? You really need to go away for a holiday…”

“You know? I really DO!” I said.

I jumped onto my computer and within 15 minutes I booked a three-night getaway in Bowral, just outside Sydney. I was supposed to be working on Important Teacherly Stuff but hey… this was more important.

Bowral is a cute, funky little place with art galleries, cafĂ©s, bushwalks and the Don Bradman Cricket Museum, (not that I’ll be bothering to set foot into THAT place! Hate cricket with a passion.) It’s an 8-hour drive from Melbourne, so I’ll take the car and have a real road trip. It’ll be just me, my podcasts, my books and a thirst for sedate adventure.

It’s already shaping up to be a great year! Hmmm, I wonder how I’ll spend my day off tomorrow???

My backyard beach. 🙂

Sow the seed, so you can reap the harvest.

Cavalier and Dachshund on the couch.
Poppy in the background, Scout seductively in the front. Just chillin’.

I know I said I’d be back when my head clears. I don’t know if I’m quite there, but after today (Monday – a public holiday) I go back to work, so if my head isn’t ready to deal with Real Life by now, it definitely has to be by tomorrow! But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that things I’ve put in place in the past have started to come to fruition in the present. Sow the seed now to enjoy the future.

As people playing along at home may remember, tomorrow is the first day of my new, part-time life. It marks the beginning of a new stage in my life. A stage where, for the first time since I left my marriage 22 years ago, I have actively decided to decrease the amount of money I earn, instead of frantically trying to bring home as much money as I could from my job and any side-hustles I could find.

I never thought I’d be in a position to drop my days of work down to 3 days a week – let along reach financial independence before I was 67! Yet here we are. Seriously people, keep chipping away that that debt/paying off that mortgage/salary sacrificing into superannuation and throwing money at investments. Sow the seeds before you need them, even when you think that the goal of financial independence is so far away you’ll never reach it. Sometimes life will surprise you.

The time will pass anyway, whether you look to the future or not. You might as well be a little bit frugal and put money aside for when you’re older. It can’t hurt and it might help.

It definitely did for me.

Cavalier on the couch.
Jeffrey, just chillin’.

My brother’s condition remains unchanged. Jen, my sister-in-law, has gone to the country for the long weekend to spend time with her family, so yesterday I went to the hospital to see him. When he woke, he was surprisingly lucid. He definitely knew me, laughed when I said I was distraught about having to go back to work in 2 day’s time, noticed my big solitaire diamond ring and even remembered what his dog’s name was when I asked him.

Sometimes the lights are on and some of him is at home, other times not. I was lucky I happened to strike him at a good time.

New paling front fence.
The latest project.

Meanwhile, the projects continue at The Best House in Melbourne. We now have a new front fence and electric gate. I was tired of the little woofs defending us against all other dogs, prams and motorised scooters for the elderly, so I decided to block their line of sight. You may remember a little while ago I decided to harvest some profits from my investments and Get Some Jobs Done? This is the first of them.

In a month or so after the timber has been seasoned, it’ll be painted. Just wait till you see what it looks like! I always think it makes life more fun when you have something to plan and to look forward to.

Tomatoes and squash in the kitchen.
It’s a bit dark. Sorry. Hundreds of free tomatoes ripening, lots of squash and some coffee grounds waiting to be put into the garden soil.

While I’ve been preoccupied with family matters, the garden has been powering along. Currently, I have piles of tomatoes gently ripening in the kitchen where the birds can’t get them, while beans are hanging by the hundreds and squash and zucchini are growing so fast you could almost swear you can see them doing it.

Back in November I wrote a post called ‘Growing a portfolio is just like having a veggie garden.’ Now, 2 months later, we’re reaping the results of putting in that work of fertilising and planning – not to mention the work of installing the beds to begin with! Like a money nerd happily upgrading his/her net worth spreadsheets at the end of the month, there’s something deeply satisfying about being a gardener, walking back to the house with an armful of produce that you’ve grown on your own property.

Even better is when you nourish your family with what your garden has produced. It’s like the feeling you get when it’s cold and stormy outside, yet your kids are tucked up safe and warm in the home that you’ve provided. It’s a good feeling.

Incidentally, scroll back up to the photo and look at the men on the window ledge. One is from Bali, the other from South Africa. Travel is important to me and lots of tiny frugal decisions made along the way has enabled me to be a Valuist – able to have money put aside to spend where I find the most value.

A baby quilt for my brother’s grandson, who’ll be born later this year.

It’s not just spreadsheets, investments and actual plants that the harvest metaphor applies to. Hobbies and skills are another.

Back in 2008 I decided to learn how to quilt. I borrowed a sewing machine from Blogless Sandy and bought a basic pattern from the local quilt shop. The thought that tipped me over the edge was that all quilting was, was sewing little straight lines. Surely even I was capable of that?!? I made a quilt for my youngest son, Evan11, because I thought he’d be the least critical of my efforts.

Thirty-odd quilts later, here I am. The baby quilt above was a result of mixing 2 quilting ideas together to come up with a fun gift for this new little boy. There was Maths involved, (and we all know how much I hate that!), and some slight swearing, but now I have a fabulous gift that cost me nothing but time to create.

I took a break from quilting for years when I was hitting my side-hustle of Thermomix really hard, but now I’m back. I still have the skills I learned and the fabric I bought back in the day and now, given that I’m only working part-time this year, I have the time to devote to creating more beautiful and snuggly things for the people I love.

I didn’t start off intending to write about sowing and reaping, but as I wrote, the thread seemed to be clear. I’m writing from a position where, because of hundreds of tiny actions and decisions made over the last 2 decades, I’m able to begin to start harvesting the rewards. I’m able to spend serious coin on the things that matter to me and to ease off the throttle of full-time teaching to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers.

I hope that anyone reading this who is still on the earlier parts of the journey (how I hate that word but sometimes there’s no alternative!) will see that there’s no need to get discouraged or disheartened by how long a road there seems to be in front of you.

By sowing the seeds of financial independence, learning new skills and hobbies along the way and having little projects and things to look forward to, you’re not only laying the foundations for an excellent life for Future You – you’re also enjoying your current life along the way.

Remember, the time passes whether you’re sowing the seeds or not. You might as well intentionally scatter some as you go.

Does gaming help to develop grit?

Ryan24 with a bandaged foot.
Home for the weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

(The bold emphasis is mine.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The secret to success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poppy on my bed.

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

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

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

The answer was 396.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure out what you want.

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

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

You can do this.

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

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

Something really exciting happened at work yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

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

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

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

“How old are you now?” she asked.

“56,” I said.

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

“She already writes a blog!” said Beth.

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

Laura and Emily’s eyes widened. They gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversations like this are so rewarding.

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

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

Yep, yesterday was definitely a good day at work!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refreshing your working life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step by step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just the same with personal finance.

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

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

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

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

And we did.

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

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

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

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

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

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