Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Delayed Gratification (page 1 of 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refreshing your working life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step by step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just the same with personal finance.

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

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

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

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

And we did.

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

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

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

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

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

My chilly ankles Winter Challenge.

Why I don’t buy many things online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I jumped online and checked their returns policy.

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

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

But hang on – were they so unusable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it necessary to spend up big on a Staycation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having another pair of eyes look over my figures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was primed, ready and prepared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes poverty breeds ingenuity.

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

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

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

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

I think he nailed it.

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

Truly the gift that keeps on giving!

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

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

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

It’s a mystery…

Monkey see; monkey do… or do they?

This morning, a few minutes ago, a little thing happened that made me think about the effect we have on the people around us. We don’t realise it but in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways, the things we do and say often rubs off on those around us.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I always put at least one ‘Dad joke’ up on the board at the start of each lesson. I started doing this a year ago and the kids love it. If I start the lesson and forget to put them up, they always remind me. Admittedly, my year 9 class have asked me to stop doing this before the corniness kills them… but they never fail to ask for the Dad joke when I ‘forget’ to do it. They’ve already asked me to email them next year with a Dad joke a day when I’m not their teacher anymore.

After a few months of this, some kids have started emailing me with Dad jokes that they’ve found. A typical email might read, “Hi Ms Jones. I was away today and I was wondering what work I missed. To make up for it, here’s a Dad joke: ‘I saw a magician yesterday that turned audience members into wind turbines. I immediately became a big fan.’ See you tomorrow!”

I love it, especially when it happens in my own house.

Ryan24 called me into his room to read a Dad joke he stumbled across on a website. He said it was two Dad jokes in one. Seeing as it’s a joke on finance, I thought I’d share it with you. Are you ready for the glory of the Dad joke…?

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‘I’ve started buying heaps of stocks. Chicken, beef and vegetarian stock cubes. One day, I’m hoping to be a bouillonaire…’

I hope no one strained a muscle from laughing too hard.

It got me thinking though. People pick up on what you do. If they think it has value, they’ll copy it for themselves. Because Ryan24’s joke was a financial one, it got me thinking about how the boys are running their financial lives.

When they were growing up, we were living on a financial knife’s edge. You might not think it, but it takes a long time to claw your way out from the pit of starting a new life with 4 kids under 5, $60 in cash and a mortgage just under 100K. I wrote about it here.

Those boys grew up watching me living within the financial rules I set out for myself:

1. NEVER borrow anything. Always spend less than you earn. Actually, the only exception was when I landed the first teaching contract at my current school. It was for 9 months of full-time work and I knew we could afford to get a new(er) car. The Tarago we were driving was as aerodynamic as a loaf of bread and the skylight leaked every time it rained. Whenever I made a right-hand turn, a trickle of water would run down the back of my neck. When I traded it in for a 5-year-old Ford station wagon and took out a 20K loan, I said to them, “I don’t know if I’ll have a job next year, so I’ll be paying this off before my contract finishes, just to be safe.” The kids were Tom13 (now Tom27) down to Evan9 (now Evan22). They watched me do it.

2. You should have everything you NEED, but only some of what you WANT. This translates to their after school interests. I knew that with 4 kids and only my income, we’d never get ahead if I spent lavishly on everything that the boys might have wanted to do. So I got them to prioritise. They were allowed ONE after school class a week each. It could be anything they wanted – sports, music, art, dance, whatever. But only one thing at a time. David25 was David2 when he first asked for piano lessons. He stuck with those and is now putting the finishing touches on a Music degree in piano. Other kids tried a few different things before settling on what they liked. It was ok. They had to decide what they really wanted to explore and then focus on that. I think that’s a good thing.

3. Your money is a finite amount. Don’t spend on things you don’t value, but spend on the things you do. An example of this is overseas travel. I didn’t want my boys to miss out as I had. (I planned a big trip to Europe with my best friend when we were 15… but I didn’t get to go until I was 51; after the boys were old enough to be left alone.) When the boys were younger, I took them on holidays to Bali, Thailand and Singapore and also sent the 2 middle boys to the US with the school’s band. I had to forego a lot of coffees, new clothes and other fripperies to afford to do this, but to me, it was worth it. They watched me saving and planning for all of this.

4. ALWAYS have an emergency fund in place. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. When the boys were very small I had a few years when I literally had no money at our backs if a real emergency happened. I’ve touched on it a bit in my ‘About’ page. I don’t think they have any strong memories of those hand-to-mouth times, (I should ask them!) but what they DO know is that Mum always has some money put away for when we need it.

5. Christmas is important. Always make it a special day for everyone. I insisted that the boys always had Christmas Day with me. As Mum said to me, “You have all of the hard days – you deserve to have the fun one.” A. always used to pick them up at around 6PM that day, after we’d had Christmas lunch with my family. One day soon I’ll write about my strategies for Christmas Day when we were so poor. The boys didn’t miss out on a thing.

So given all this, what are the boys doing with their finances now they’re in their twenties?

At our “We’re out of debt (again!) celebratory dinner 2 years ago.

NEVER borrow anything. Always spend less than you earn. Interestingly, none of them uses credit cards, only debit cards, even though I’ve always used a credit card. I run all my expenses through a credit card, but I run it like a debit card so I rarely dip into the ‘credit’ part of it. They’ve seen how being free of debt has helped our family to become financially independent and I think they realise the importance of it. When we sold the old house to the developer and I was finally able to pay off the bridging loan of 750K that I was carrying on The Best House in Melbourne, I took them all out to dinner to celebrate.

Whenever they’ve needed to buy things like cars, they’ve either paid for them themselves out of savings or they’ve come to me for an interest-free loan. This month, Tom27 decided that he needed a new car. We talked about what he could afford, given his wage, so instead of buying a tinny but shiny new car, he bought himself a 5-year-old Prius. He was spending 18K, which is bigger than the Bank of Mum is prepared to lend. Initially, he applied for a loan from the car yard’s financing, but after getting home and doing some research and some Maths, he realised that getting a loan from someone else will save him over 2K in interest, so that’s what he did. Interestingly, the car yard tried to entice him by saying, “If you get the loan through us you can have the car tomorrow!!!” Tom27’s response? “I’d rather wait a week and have the two extra grand, thanks!”

You should have everything you NEED, but only some of what you WANT. I guess this follows on from not having access to credit, but they seem to be quite good at prioritising what they spend their money on. If they need cash for something, they’ll either sell something to free up some money (which is David25’s go-to), or they’ll tighten the belt and wait until they have the means to get what they want.

Your money is a finite amount. Don’t spend on things you don’t value, but spend on the things you do. Poverty and student life has forced Evan22, in particular, to take this on as a survival mechanism. If he spends all of his Austudy allowance on wine, women and song, then he doesn’t eat for the rest of the fortnight. He lives in Ballarat, so he can’t pop home very often for a free feed, so he’s had to learn to be very self-reliant and to balance his money.

Tom27 is an accountant, (yeah… I don’t know how that happened either…) and he plans out his expenses months ahead to ensure he has enough to do what he has to do, such as rent, petrol car payments etc, before he does what he wants to do, such as recording a new album, travelling overseas and going out.

David25 has a girlfriend and at first, a lot of his money went on eating out, flashy dates etc. Now, nearly 2 years on, he and Izzy spend a lot of time at each other’s houses, watching videos, composing songs and popping up to Coles to get a litre of gourmet icecream as a treat. Ryan24 is the king of slashing expenses to make his money go further.

Christmas is important. Always make it a special day for everyone. Well, everyone’s onboard for this one! David25 doesn’t spend as much on dates anymore, but when it’s their anniversary he pulls out all the stops to make the date a memorable one. He’s learned the art of prioritising in this regard.

We all put thought and effort into Christmas, probably even more so than birthdays. No one’s allowed to buy anything for themselves in December in case they muck up someone’s gift for them and we all sneak around buying and making things that we hope will really hit the spot. I love seeing the boys plotting and planning gifts for their brothers and grandparents – I feel like I’ve passed the baton onto the next generation.

So, given that they’re following all but one of the financial things I modelled for them as they were growing up, I guess you could say that the “Monkey See; Monkey Do” saying is pretty apt. Also, I’m putting it out there that when they get a bit older and start pulling in some real money, the Emergency Funds will come.

This wasn’t what I started off intending to write about – it began with Dad jokes – but I guess it’s a useful exercise to step back and observe the people around you and see what’s rubbing off on them. It seems my legacy will be a love of the Dad joke and a leaning towards the thrifty!

‘Playing with FIRE’ review.

(Screenshot from the trailer.)

A few days ago I went to see the Melbourne premiere of the ‘Playing With Fire.’ I was asked to be on the panel for the ‘Q and A’ afterwards, so there was double the reason to go along. I love a good chinwag! There have been heaps of showings in the US and UK, so I’d heard a bit about it, but there’s nothing like seeing the finished product for yourself.

I met up with Girt, one of the 3.5 readers of this blog, for dinner and then we dashed to the venue, meeting up with latestarterfire, Mr and Mrs Hack and another couple of blog readers. It’s always fun when people come hesitantly up to you, saying, “Um… excuse me… are you Frogdancer?” It’s not exactly a common thing to call someone!

For those not in the know, the basic storyline is that a young couple finds out about FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) and decide that they want to make some changes to their lifestyle so that they can gain more freedom and get to spend more time with their infant daughter. The husband, Scott, is waaaay more gung-ho about this than Taylor, his wife. The film shows a year in their lives after they make the decision to sell their incredibly expensive house in (I think) California and move to a lower cost of living state in order to kick-start their FIRE plans.

I enjoyed the film, particularly the cameos of famous FIRE bloggers which were interspersed along the way. I’m pleased to see that the concept of financial independence is inching its way towards becoming more mainstream and projects like this can only help.

This film is obviously designed as an introduction to the FIRE world. People who are totally unaware of it or who have just dipped their big toe into the waters are the target audience. Overall, I liked the film very much, but there were a couple of niggling things that I’ll get off my chest before I dive into what I liked about it.

Obviously, the film’s structure of showing one couple’s year diving into FIRE meant that while some things were duplicatable for most people, other things they did weren’t. Strategies like living with both sets of parents for a few months, Travis leaving his job to set up a vague, unspecified ‘entrepreneurial gig’ while his wife still worked and leaving their home for a totally new state are things that were very personal to this couple. However, there were other things that I thought might be very valuable to viewers in the target audience.

The most interesting thing I found about the movie was watching the slow transformation of a short-term thinker into a long(er) term one. Taylor started off being very reluctant to make any changes to the lifestyle that she found very comfortable. She wanted to free up more time to spend with her baby daughter, yes, but she also used her baby as a knee-jerk reaction excuse when she didn’t like what her husband was suggesting.

When Scott suggested trading the expensively-leased family car over to something older and more affordable, her instant come-back was, “But will it be safe?” When he put up the idea about moving from their expensive beachside townhouse in order to move to a cheaper, landlocked place, she didn’t like the idea, saying that she didn’t want to move their daughter away from such a safe neighbourhood and good school district, as if this was the only place in the world where such a place exists. Plus, the baby is around a year old… plenty of time to worry about school districts. It was interesting to see rationalisation in action!

Slowly, over the course of the movie, her attitude started to change. It wasn’t all beer and skittles – working all day while she could hear other people interacting with her child was hard, but she had to do it because her husband wasn’t working; and driving the older secondhand car after giving up her new one clearly wasn’t a good day – but by the end of the movie she said that she was happy with what they’d put in place.

Will she keep going with it? If her husband starts pulling his weight with the income situation, then I think she probably will. Someone after the movie said that his new ‘Side-hustle” was actually making the movie, (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t actually stated in the film – let me know if I’m wrong) so I hope for her sake that it’s making a healthy profit!

I also really liked the graphic that would flash up every now and then, showing the couple’s current savings rate at that point in the movie and how many years they had until they reached FI if they continued at that savings rate. Obviously, they weren’t going to live with their parents forever, which is when they were making a 70% savings rate, but it showed in a concrete way how reducing your expenses (or raising them) can make YEARS worth of differences in the length of your working life. This is something that everyone can take away with them and apply to their lives, unlike some of the other more drastic strategies Scott and Taylor used.

Of course, the little cameos of various FIRE bloggers and podcasters were a highlight. After reading these people for years, it was nice to see them pop up on the screen. It was almost like seeing old friends. This feature also gave balance to the whole movie, showing those at the other end who are reaping the benefits of making the sort of choices that Scott and Taylor were beginning to grapple with.

I pinched the next 2 photos from The Bludger’s twitter feed. I forgot to ask anyone to take pictures. I was Living In The Moment!

The audience in the Melbourne showing was far smaller than that in Sydney and a big proportion of us were FI bloggers, readers and practitioners. The film was preaching to the converted to us. However, there were a few people who’d come along with friends and who were being introduced to these ideas for the first time. The FIRE might be spreading!

Here’s The Bludger introducing us. I’m in the middle, with Mark and Sophie either side.

Being on the Q and A panel was fun. The other members were Sophie Elsworth, a financial journo for Newscorp and Mark, who along with his wife is making huge strides along the FI trail using property. Mark’s also a teacher, but in the Maths area *shudder!* We fielded many questions, with Sophie being able to comment on the bigger picture areas as she’s interviewed LOTS of people over her career, while Mark and I were able to talk about our personal ways of reaching FI and how we did it. Mark’s wife was in the audience too and she gave some useful insights. They started early… the lucky dogs!!

All in all, an enjoyable night. I’m glad to have finally seen the film for myself and I’ve met some lovely people from the FIRE community. Thanks to The Bludger for organising the screening. Hopefully, this will be the first of many in Melbourne.

Maybe we should keep our big mouths shut?

I don’t know if I’ve blogged about this goal here, but one of my dreams for years was to be able to afford to buy 2 sets of subscription tickets to the Melbourne Theatre Company, then take a different person with me each time to see a play. We’d meet in the city, have dinner and catch up, then see the play and talk about it afterwards. I thought it would be great!

For the last two years, ever since I did the whole Geoarbitrage thing, I’ve been able to do it. Those tickets don’t come cheap, at around $90/seat, but for years I was starved of seeing live theatre and now I can finally share it. My kids, my sister, my niece, my parents and various friends have all come with me and it’s been lovely having one-on-one time with the people I like and care about.

I have a friend who I’ve known for 20 years. His name is Leo and we met when I was newly out on the dating scene after leaving my marriage. We dated briefly, but that was over a decade ago and we agreed we’d be better off as friends. We see each other every few months for lunch or dinner and it’s good for both of us to be able to talk about what’s happening in our lives and get another perspective from someone not actively involved.

We talk about everything, including finances. Coincidentally, as I was embroiled with the property-developing and geoarbitrage thing, he was also investing in a property venture… but unfortunately his didn’t turn out as well as mine did. He’s now looking at retiring overseas in a few years in a low cost of living country like Thailand or Cambodia, or maybe Bali, where the Age Pension can go a lot further. Anyway, last week it was his turn to come and see a play with me.

He had to leave work later than I did, so I grabbed a table in the restaurant next to the theatre and sent a photo of the menu so he could decide what he wanted to have. He selected the lamb, then a few minutes later he sent another text: “U paying?? Add winter veggies.”

Woah!

I don’t mind admitting that I was rocked back on my heels a little. I don’t mind paying for my own meal if money’s tight for him, but considering I’d already paid for his theatre ticket… Wow.

As it turned out, he paid for both our dinners, which was nice of him, but by the time we reached this point in the evening, there was more.

Twice during dinner he made a remark about how much money I must have now, which was weird and made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t in a complimentary, “Look how far you’ve come, Frogdancer, that’s fantastic!” way. It was more of a ‘what would you know? You’re made of money’ sort of tone. I inwardly raised my eyebrows but let the comments slide.

The last remark he made, though… that one made me mad.

We were in the queue at the theatre to get in and I gave him his ticket. He said, “You must’ve seen a lot of plays lately. How many have you been to this year?”

I said, “I’ve been to a couple of plays with my Theatre kids, plus Harry Potter and I think this subscription is for 7 plays.”

He glanced at his ticket, which has the price ($91.00) on it, whistled and said in a sardonic tone, “Gee. What does it feel like to be rich?”

I was gobsmacked.

At the end of the night, after I dropped him home, he thanked me and said, “If you’ve got any more theatre tickets I’ll be happy to come with you. I love these things.”

As it happens, I have one play that I haven’t asked anyone to come with me yet, but he won’t be getting it. The main reason is that the whole idea of this is to share the love around and catch up with a range of people, but the other reason that I won’t be asking him is that I drove home feeling sad that my good fortune has changed the dynamic between us.

Well, I say ‘good fortune’ but the reality is that he could have been in a similar position to me, but his life has been all about the wine, women and song, whereas mine has been pretty different. Bringing up 4 kids on your own necessitates a more frugal, stay-at-home-more-often way of living.

I’m left wishing that we didn’t have those conversations when we were both making our moves in the property market.

I don’t want to be made to feel guilty or to apologise for my deal working out. It could so easily have gone the other way and, knowing this, I lived on a knife-edge of stress for over eighteen months while the whole thing played out. I took a calculated risk and it paid off. Leo knows all of this – after all, he was around during the days when I could barely keep food on the table and the bills paid, back when the kids were little. I guess the reason why I’m left with a nasty taste in my mouth is that this snide, envious attitude is coming out of left field when they are coming from my old friend.

Sometimes I see people in the FI world saying, “We should talk more about finances. We should make discussions about money more normal and open.” Well, maybe we should.

But on the other hand, maybe it’s better if we keep our big mouths shut?

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