Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Delayed Gratification (Page 1 of 9)

So how are my challenges going?

People who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that I like to keep track of things that I want to achieve. Usually, I draw up a basic chart and colour in the days that I succeed in my goals, though I’ve branched out to use a widget for one of the challenges I’ve set myself.

So how am I going so far this year?

The first challenge is the one I cleverly did to harness an activity I simply can’t live without to a bill that I absolutely hate paying.

If you cast your eyes to the sidebar of this blog, you’ll see that I’ve been progressing pretty well with my “Earn my rates back by reading” challenge. I set this goal in 2021 when I was outraged at having to pay $1,800 a year to the local council just for being able to live in my own house. Oh sure, the council provides garbage pickups every week and maintenance on public areas, but it still seemed like a lot of money.

BUT things changed when it occurred to my mighty intellect that if I utilise the local library instead of buying books, I can satiate my reading addiction and, in effect, ‘earn’ back my rates by using the books that my rates have helped to buy. It took 8 months to ‘earn’ back that $1,800, so I set my sights higher for 2022.

This time, I’ve included the council fees for the dogs in addition to the rates for my house. In September last year, I began chipping away at the grand total of $2,200 for council fees.

Going back to work as a casual teacher has really impacted the time I have for reading, but I’m pleased to report that I only have $333 to go. That’s roughly 10 more books to go before I reach my goal.

I’m glad I set myself this challenge, not only for the satisfaction I get from succeeding at reaching a goal. It’s also opened me up to reading books I might not have come across, so it’s added to my quality of life to a huge degree. I follow some prominent authors on Twitter and every now and then they’ll either spruik a book that they’re releasing, or they’ll recommend a great book that they’ve just finished reading.

It’s a simple matter to flick across to the library website to see if they have it. In a surprisingly high number of times – they do. And it’s awesome.

Am I really earning back my rates by doing this? Of course not! But it’s a bit of fun. Retirement and reaching financial independence are all about having fun, baby!

My CRT teaching chart is the newest addition. I designed this in my post about deciding to pivot and go back to teaching – not as a ‘real’ job but as a CRT (casual relief teacher.) I knew that if I was dragging myself back to work, getting up before it was daylight, and selling my sweet, sweet freedom that I’ve cherished so much; I needed to chip away at ‘paying for’ things that I’ve bought.

I knew that would keep me motivated.

Every payday since then, I’ve entered the amounts onto the chart and I’ve seen my progress. It’s very satisfying to be able to cross things off the list and move on to the next line.

To be honest, I never expected that I’d have as much work as I’ve been getting. Schools are reeling with the huge numbers of staff getting sick from either covid or the flu. So far this term I’ve had 3 straight weeks of full-time work and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. And I’m only teaching at one school!

The other CRTs tend to work at a few different schools, so it’s been interesting hearing what other schools are like. I think I’m on a pretty sweet deal working here – the kids are beautiful and working here is usually an absolute pleasure.

Even if a kid is naughty, it’s always a silly teenage naughtiness, not a nasty thing. I can certainly live with that.

I’ve decided that unless something really changes, I’ll accept as much work as I can get from the school. They definitely need CRTs, I’m putting the money to good use and after all, the school absolutely saved our financial bacon by giving me a job when the boys were small. The admin was incredible when one of my boys needed a lot of extra support due to depression in his teens. It seems like the right thing to do to help cover the classes while people are sick.

I’m just keeping my mask on during the whole day. I’d prefer not to get the flu or covid if I can help it.

The No-Spend Days chart.

I’ve been keeping this chart for years. It was one of the first things I wrote about when I started this blog. It came about because it dawned on me that no matter how frugal a person wants to be, no one can avoid spending money. Sooner or later food has to be bought, the car needs petrol or your kid needs new shoes.

Trying not to spend money is an exercise that inevitably ends in failure.

But what if I tried to restrict the days in the week that I spend money on?

Instead of letting money dribble from my wallet whenever I felt like spending it – what would happen if I became far more intentional about WHEN I spent money? I’m a naturally frugal person, except when I go on holidays, so restricting the dollar amounts wasn’t a particular issue for me. But when I started bundling up my spending so that I only waved the credit card around 3 days per week or less… a couple of things happened.

I saved some money. Anything that was an impulse buy on a day when I was trying not to spend money got put off. “I’ll buy that tomorrow,” I’d think. Usually, what was an impulse buy on one day was totally forgotten about by the next. A little more money stayed in my bank account.

The simple act of keeping the chart meant that I had to write it down. If it was a silly waste of money like buying a Caramello Koala when I was marking a stack of essays, I sometimes wouldn’t buy it. Every time, I was glad the next day when I woke up. I’d saved a precious square on my chart!

This chart has also come in handy when I wanted to check on when I’d bought something, such as a computer, the little woofs’ vaccinations, or when I’d last had the car serviced. Every now and then I’ve been pleased that I had the chart to refer to.

It’s become part of the lexicon of this house.

“Mum, we’re out of ham. Can you get some more?”

“I’ll do an Aldi shop tomorrow, babe. Today’s a no-spend day.” Everyone knows what I’m talking about, and we’re all good with it.

Keeping track of personal challenges like this definitely works for me. If you’re still reading this, maybe something like this will work for you too. The saying “What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed” has a lot of truth to it.

Like I said above, if nothing else, it’s a bit of fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

(Here’s a link to the chicken stock paste recipe that I mentioned yesterday. You make veggie stock paste by simply removing the chicken thigh. )

Dad joke of the day:

Why is it called a “dad-bod” and not a “father figure”?

Having an Emergency Fund is a waste of money – until it isn’t.

I first learned the value of having what I then called a ‘Buffer Zone’ back in the days when I was newly separated, with 4 small boys under 6. When we split, we had a mortgage, 2 old cars and $120 in the bank. I withdrew the money and gave him half, so we each had $60. I took the people mover and he took the van he needed for work. We agreed that the boys and I would live in the house and in lieu of child support, he’d pay the mortgage.

(Anyone who’s ever been in this situation, or knows people who have, knows what’s coming next. It’s the classic move of the non-custodial who wants to punish their ex.)

Establishing a new life with $60 and 4 kids isn’t as much fun as you might think. We were able to get the Sole Parent’s Pension, as it was called then, so basic bills were covered. But I had a huge urge to get some security for us and so I decided to scrape together one thousand dollars as a ‘Buffer Zone’ for us.

It took 4 or 5 months but I did it. I scrimped and scraped, I barely ate any meat during this period – though I remember cutting off the end of a sausage that the boys were having as part of their spaghetti and ‘meatballs’ meal and devouring it. Any way that I could save money, or at the very least wring every cent’s worth of value from each dollar, I did.

And yes – one day I checked the bank account and there was $1,000 sitting there.

I breathed a sigh of relief. We had our Buffer Zone. Job done!

But something was niggling me. A few days later, I decided to call the bank and check on the balance of our mortgage.

I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. The person on the other end of the line told me that the mortgage hadn’t been paid for a couple of months and that the account was $963 in arrears.

“After another month, we would’ve called to discuss it.” But of course, I wouldn’t have been the one they would’ve called. This was 25 years ago – the male name on the mortgage would’ve received the call. I was lucky that I decided to check.

But of course, I didn’t feel lucky at the time. As I threw the younger kids into the massive double stroller I had and began to walk up the street towards the bank with the older two boys skipping along beside me, I was furious. Actually, I felt incandescent with rage.

But I also felt thankful that I had the money behind me to fix it. A simple transfer from my Buffer Zone account to the mortgage and the situation was safe.

And that’s what a Buffer Zone/Emergency Account is for.

To save your bacon in the event of an unexpected expense.

Cute as a button dachshund pup.
Scout’s a big fam of the Emergency Fund – with good reason.

Naturally, I immediately began work on building that Buffer Zone back up. It was even harder this time because I was now paying the mortgage on top of everything else. But like everything else on this FI/RE trip, if you keep at it step by step, you eventually get there.

Would I ever be without an Emergency Fund again? Hell, no! That thing not only kept a roof over our heads when we were at our most vulnerable, but every now and then over the years it’s smoothed the ride when surprising things happened.

What about the day I loaded the boys into the Tarago and swung the roller door closed, only to have it keep on going and the bottom half swung off the car? Ok, I admit that it was stressful trying to secure the door well enough so we could drive home safely, but the next day, thanks to the emergency fund, I was able to get it fixed.

(When it happened, the boys stared at me in shock as the door was swinging wildly from one hinge. I remember thinking, “I can either laugh or cry.” With those little boys looking at me, all I could do was start laughing. The situation was so awful as to be hilarious. )

The time that Scout swallowed a seed pod and almost died was another one. Her surgery cost $3,200. I was telling that to a friend at work and she gasped and said, “I’d never be able to afford that. The vet and I would have been having a very different discussion.” Fortunately, I have a separate emergency fund for the dogs, so money wasn’t an issue. Three years later, we still have our little girl who makes us laugh every single day.

A couple of years ago I leapt blithely into my morning shower – only to leap straight back out, screaming. The hot water system had died. Three days later we had a continuous gas hot water system installed – luxury! I tell you – I loved my emergency fund when I took my first hot shower.

These are just a smattering of the times that problems that can be fixed with money were taken care of with minimal stress and no debt.

New fridge.

Over time, as I became more financially secure and started work again, the size of my emergency fund grew. It started out at $1,000, then grew to $5,000 and then up to $15,000, before settling down at my current level of $10,000.

My gauge of how much cash for an emergency I need to have behind me is pretty much the ‘can I sleep at night?’ test. With 10K, I feel that it pretty much covers most things that could go wrong with my house and car. As I mentioned before, I have a separate account for the dogs that I set up when I got Scout and then found out about the 25% risk dachshunds have of getting IVDD. I’m devoutly hoping I never have to touch that money but it’s there if she needs it.

The Emergency Fund is a funny beast. In my experience, I can go for YEARS without tapping into it, to the point where it almost feels like a waste having all that money just sitting there earning next to no interest.

Then WHAM! Something happens. Or two things happen. They seem to come in waves.

Consider the last 2 weeks. My fridge dies. After weighing the options, I decide to buy a new one. $1,900 later, the shiny new fridge is installed in my kitchen. No credit card debt, no drama. Excellent!

A week later we experience the first cold snap of the year, so we try to switch on our gas ducted heating. Nothing. Turns out that it was a 20-year-old model that has valiantly served its time but was now up for renewal. No problem. $3,000 later, a new model was installed on the same day.

Annoying? Yes. But stressful? No.

In the space of 2 weeks, I had 5K of unexpected expenses. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a little more than simple walking around money. Over the next little while, I’ll steadily pump money back into the emergency fund until it’s at the ‘can I sleep at night?’ level again – ready for next time.

Because we know that there’ll always be a next time.

The brilliant thing is that there are no set rules.

YOU decide how much money you want to have in there – the ‘can I sleep at night?’ rule is totally individual. Some people, particularly those with insecure or erratic jobs, like to keep 3 – 6 months of expenses in there. Some like to have a year. Personally, because the job I had was incredibly secure, I was happy with the 10K – 15K level.

YOU decide where to leave it – my personal choice is to put it in an online bank account away from my everyday bank, so it’s not always in my face. The Emergency Fund is intended to lurk in the background like a benevolent stalker until it’s needed, not to be a constant temptation to spend the money on fun stuff.

The only requirement is self-discipline. First to build up the thing in the first place; then to not tap into it unless it’s a genuine surprise expense that’s popped up. But as we all know, fiscal discipline and delayed gratification make you stronger.

The Emergency Fund is like having a friend who is always ready to have your back. And who doesn’t like that feeling?

The rewards of Delayed Gratification.

Our first pizza in the new oven.

It’s funny how my perception of worthwhile purchases has changed since I reached financial independence, (FI). The latest thing I’ve bought – the pizza oven – is a perfect example of this.

I’ve always made pizzas for my family. Firstly, I married an Italian, so I learned to make pizza, pasta and lasagne very quickly after I moved in. I was brought up in a Skip family in the 60’s and 70’s, and Mum’s repertoire was pretty much meat and 3 veg with tinned fruit for dessert. The Italian cuisine was definitely a step up!

Then, after the divorce, when the boys and I were living off the Sole Parent’s pension of around 18K per year and, (for the first few years when I wasn’t teaching), $20/month child support, pizza, pasta, pancakes and mince were my best friends. You can feed an army with those items and, with 4 boys, I practically was.

Back then, the only pizza ovens that were around were in pizza shops. But if domestic pizza ovens were a thing in the 1990’s/2000’s, there would have been NO WAY I would’ve even considered buying one.

So what if the taste of pizza made in a proper pizza oven was superior? I was baking perfectly adequate pizzas in my regular oven, thank you very much.

So it only takes a minute to cook a pizza, as opposed to around 12 – 15 minutes in a regular oven? That sounds good, but really… it’s dinner time. We’re already in the kitchen where we need to be – a few minutes saved isn’t that big a deal.

And of course – the clincher:

They cost HOW MUCH??? Are you KIDDING me? Who in their right mind would pay hundreds of dollars to make a pizza taste better and save a few minutes? Not this little black duck! I have far better things to do with my money.

And Past Frogdancer would have been correct. She DID have better things to do with her money, such as pay off the house, send the boys through school, buy braces and glasses for whoever needed them etc etc. I called myself a ‘little black duck’ a few sentences back and that’s a pretty apt description for how life was back then. My little webbed feet were paddling furiously under the surface to make sure that the boys and I stayed afloat.

But now that I’ve reached FI?

It seems that the rules have changed a bit.

The second pizza. We need to practice launching them into the oven a little more!

When I first saw that Thermomix was selling pizza ovens, the first thing I thought of was how fantastic entertaining would be with one of these working with me. I realised this was something that could definitely make a positive difference in my life. Safe to say, I was interested in finding out more.

But hey, let’s not get crazy here! The next thing I did was check out the price. I haven’t changed that much! There’s no point fantasising about owning something if it’s impossible to pay for.

Fortunately, the price was reasonable.

It’s interesting though. Unlike buying a thermomix, I won’t be using this pizza oven nearly as much. There’ll be weeks that go by when it won’t be touched. Granted, it’s not as pricey as a thermomix, but even so. The cost per use won’t be nearly as good.

But for the first time, that wasn’t the important part. The major tipping point for me was the thought of seeing my boys, my wider family and my friends gathering together and having fun, enjoying good food – because who doesn’t like pizza? – and it being something that everyone could look forward to doing.

In other words, the emotional draw of this product trumped (ugh – hate that word… I wonder why) the financial considerations.

This is the side of practising delayed gratification that we don’t often hear of. Everyone talks about front-loading the sacrifices to get to a point where you can loosen the reins and start indulging yourself. Not many people talk about what it’s like once they reach the point of being able to relax and reap the rewards earned by being disciplined with expenditure for so long.

Well, I’m at that point. I don’t want to run crazy, buying every shiny new bauble in sight, but it’s nice to have other things be the deciding consideration, rather than simply “How much does it cost?”

The decades of frugal living have left their mark, but in ways that I really like. I live a life filled with simple pleasures that don’t cost a lot, if anything. I love to go travelling – fingers crossed Antarctica can still go ahead this year – but I’m also extremely happy puddling around at home.

I spent years and years living on the knife’s edge of poverty when the boys were small, determined not to fall off. My theme song was Bon Jovi’s “We’re Halfway There”, except I changed the line to “It DOES make a difference if we make it or not.” I went without many things and made probably thousands of little sacrifices that, while I obviously noticed them at the time, have mostly faded into obscurity over the years.

All of those little daily frugal habits have brought me here. I hope that there’s someone reading this… maybe someone who feels like they’re stuck in the boring middle ground of FI when it seems like you’ve optimised every expense and now you’re just plodding through… someone who can catch a glimpse that it’ll all be worth it.

After all, the time will pass, regardless of whether you’re using the tool of delayed gratification or not. But it can make a huge difference as to where you’ll be when you’re older.

It’s 11:34 AM on a Tuesday. I’m about to get up and plant some new flowers into some hanging baskets, before making some bread rolls for lunches and then finishing off a quilt for my cousin. Tom30 is working from home and I can hear him singing in his room. Luckily, he has a beautiful voice! As I’m typing this I’m throwing a ball for Polly and Sout to chase, while Jeffrey is snoring beside me.

In an alternate universe, 11:34 AM on a weekday would mean that I’d be either in a classroom teaching 28 kids, or at my desk in the staffroom marking papers or preparing lessons. Not a bad life, granted, but I know which one I’m very happy to be living!

(In the comments last week, Maureen asked me for a review of the Ovana. Here’s the link, in case she missed it.)

Dad joke of the day:

Frugal Friday: See you later!

This book just came up on my library holds. When I reserved it, I was number 39 in the queue. I didn’t know if I could stop myself from buying it. After all, I have the previous 8 books in my kindle app. But here we are – frugality for the win. But I had to wait 4 months to dive into it.

Anyone who hasn’t read the “Outlander‘ novels, (or at the very least, seen the series), is missing out big time.

It’s 900 pages – with very small font – of Claire and Jamie magnificence. So much to read!! I’m so happy.

See you on the other side!

Great success is always the sum of many small decisions.

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

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

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

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

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

Take another look at this quilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the same with financial independence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad joke of the day:

Frugal Friday: Off to the fruit shop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad joke of the day:

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

Frugal Friday: The no-spend week.

screenshot of a chart.

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

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

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

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

meme

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

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

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

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

Poppy the cavalier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad joke of the day:

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

He would stop at nothing to avoid them.

It’s the little things.

Bedding.

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

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

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

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

Sewing.

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

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

I want to have this quilt finished by Christmas.

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

How often have I said that sentence over the years?

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

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

I like retirement. It’s so soothing.

Twitter.

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

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

Goodreads challenge.

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

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

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

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

So my new books were almost always read during holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

Dad joke for today:

The rotation of Earth really makes my day.  

Operation Beautify continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frugality and forward-thinking for the win!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

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

Dad jokes for today:

And one for the Maths people:

Frugal Friday: Your freezer is your best friend.

20 pumpkins.

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

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

So they were TOTALLY free.

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

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

And I froze some.

Chopped up pumpkins.

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

Chopped up pieces in the oven.

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

You know… later ‘ron.

Roasted pieces bagged up.

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

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

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

Bagged up pumpkin and carrot bits.

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

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

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

I like it when she does that.

Bowl of pumpkin soup with pepper.

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

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

I love my freezers! We barely waste a thing.

Dad jokes for yesterday and today:

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

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

« Older posts