Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Delayed Gratification (Page 1 of 7)

Then vs now.

It’s 8:57 AM on a Wednesday morning.

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

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

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

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

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

Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cars and Caves.

Cute car.

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

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

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

But it was actually quite fun.

Red Morgan. LOVE!

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

Black corvette.

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

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

Cute cop car.

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

Red 3 wheeler.

There was even this 3 wheeled thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty house.

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

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

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

Then I started seeing signs to Harndorf.

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

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

Pretty restaurant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Prince Philip looking interested.

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

Exquisite lace collar.

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

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

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

Murray River.

Then I drove to Murray Bridge.

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

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

Giant extinct wombat.

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

My sculpture.

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

Beautiful cave.

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

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

Stalactites in a row.

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

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

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

Hole in the roof.

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

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

Drop bear skeleton.

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

Nasty claw.

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

Kangaroo bones.

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

Shadow on the cave wall.

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

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

Bones scattered on the cave floor.

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

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

It’s an interesting thought.

Country road.

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

Costs of the trip:

Running total so far: $665

Costs for day 6: $85 for lunch.

Costs forDay 7:

$1,100 painting

$10 lunch (Subway – eat fresh.)

$69 fuel

$91 accommodation

Total for Day 7: $1,270

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

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

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

Career: Secondary teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDITED:

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

I was born to be retired!

Empty beach.

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

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

And I’m not missing it at all.

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

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

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

Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frugal Friday: Closing in on a year of low-spend weeks.

Look at this!!!

It’s now been 47 straight weeks where I’ve spent money 3 days or less in a given week.

For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I wrote about how I set up my ‘No Spend’ chart three years ago. Every day that I leave my money alone, I get to colour in a square. At the end of each week where I’ve spent money on 3 days or fewer, I get to colour in a silver square as a reward. Silly, but it works. The first lockdown, then the second, meant that I was pretty much staying at home. I had plenty of staples to eat, plus the garden for fresh food, I had books, Nextflix , the dogs and the phone for entertainment and I kept myself busy by working at remote teaching and also painting some fences. Who needed to spend money?

So as a result, I started clocking up the silver squares. A few weeks ago I decided to number them so I wouldn’t lose track.

Now I’m on one hellava winning streak. 47 straight weeks.

Can I make it to a full year? I’m invested in this.

52 weeks is a long time but hey. There’s only 5 short weeks to go…

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I’m going to give it my best shot.

My first REAL day of retirement.

Poppy and me.

As promised in my retirement speech that I gave last month, I sent some photos to the staff at school on their first day back. I sent them through at 9:30, while they were all sitting in the first staff meeting of the year. The first was a selfie that I took as Poppy jumped into my lap at the dog beach.

Entitled, “I’m missing you all DREADFULLY.”

The second was entitled, “But where are all the people???”

There were no answers for ages, then after 1PM the replies came flooding through. The poor things had been in meetings up till then. Some people were lovely, writing things like, “Congratulations! Enjoy!”

Others were more succinct.

“Cow.”

How that one made me laugh!

Scout on the sand.
Scout.

The reason I class this as my first day of retirement is that up until now December and January have felt like a normal summer school holidays. I was still getting paid, so every fortnight my wage would come into my account as usual. School kids were out in the wild, roaming the streets. It was Business As Usual.

The only real difference is that I still have a huge pile of ironing to do. Traditionally, on the last day of the holidays I get things ready for the first couple of weeks. I iron my work clothes, I make sure I have a few freezer lunches ready to go… you know, that sort of thing.

Instead, I finished reading The Queen’s Gambit – and started watching the series. Tom29 gave me this novel for Christmas and I’ve been savouring the writing. Usually, I gallop through books to find out what happens, but this was a book I took my time with, reading a chapter and then putting it down again, so I could enjoy how beautifully written it is for a longer time.

So up until the last day of the holidays, it was all “same same.”

But yesterday was different. We woke at the usual time, (thanks to Jeffrey deciding that 6:30 was the proper time to have a good old scratch and shake the bed), but instead of racing out of the house by 7:45, I clipped the dog leads on and we walked to the beach at 8:30 to take the photos you’ve already seen.

It was lovely down there. Strictly speaking, between November and April dogs aren’t supposed to be on the beach, but there were many people there sneaking in a dog walk before the regular people claimed the beach. It was a lovely way to start the day.

Pesto, ready to be frozen.

After I came home and emailed the photos, I had to decide what to do with the day. I felt like continuing to work on the quilt I’m making for Patricia, my ex-boss, but Ryan26 had a friend sleep over and she was still in the guest/sewing room.

Hmmmm… I guess this means that it’s pesto day.

And that’s when I fully realised the beauty of being retired.

There’s always tomorrow!

So what if Wednesday doesn’t work out for quilt making? There’s always tomorrow. Or the next day…

The pressure to Get Things Done by fitting them around my work schedule has gone. It’s quite the heady feeling.

I have an abundance of basil growing and I’ve been putting off making pesto to preserve it. But what better way to start my new life? I gathered platefiuls of it and started work. My hands and my kitchen smelled of basil – one of my favourite smells – and I had a light lunch of pesto pasta with the scrapings from the thermomix bowl.

Usually I’d keep going, processing it until all the basil was used, but meh. After I filled all of the ice cube trays and popped them in the freezer, I decided to leave the rest for another day.

There’s always tomorrow…

Retirement: when frugal hobbies become simple pleasures.

Strawberries hanging free.
Strawberries from a wicking box. Amazingly, Jeffrey the dog missed these.

I started growing our own food well over a decade ago. It began when one of my boys was having a serious battle with depression and it seemed it was like the only concrete thing I could do to help him, by growing veggies and eliminating as many preservatives and things from his diet. I went all-in – by the time we moved out we had over 15m of vegetable beds, over 30 fruit trees and a flock of chooks. I must have been reasonably fond of him.

The thing about growing food is that it definitely saves you money. Not right away; all of those bags of compost, mulch and seedlings don’t come cheap! But over time, I enjoyed the frugality of serving my boys free food – my favourite flavour! – with veggies and eggs that came from our own property. I knew it was the best possible quality food, also at the best possible price.

Growing food not only saves money, but it provides endless entertainment and problem solving. No matter how much knowledge and experience a gardener gains, you’re never in total control of the outcome of any crop. There are variables in weather, soil composition and pests that you have no control of. This keeps things interesting. For me, gardening is conducting a series of experiments to see what works. There’s always something new to try, which makes this a great interest to have to entertain myself in retirement.

At first, like with everyone who starts growing food, it was all a bit hit and miss. But over time, I grew to learn more and more. I started moving towards growing heirloom veggies and saving my own seeds. My food forest in the suburbs was just becoming fully established when I decided to fast-track my retirement by releasing the equity in the property by drawing up plans for 2 massive townhouses to be built on the property.

It hurt to think of all that hard work being ripped out and built over, but for the longer term, it was the right thing to do for my life. I put out the word that there were free fruit trees, chooks and a solar-operated hen house door and friends rescued everything. And so we moved 16kms away to The Best House in Melbourne.

Rhubarb. Lots of it.
57 stalks of rhubarb from the garden. This is all from one plant. This is a perennial plant, so it’ll feed me for the rest of my life, probably.

But you know? The good thing about learning about something is that no matter where you go, you take that knowledge with you. I had to wait around 18 months for the sale of the original property to go through, but once I had the money in hand I could redesign the garden to be how I wanted it to be for my retirement.

And the pastime that began with a feverish wish to do SOMETHING useful for my boy has morphed into one of the key interests that will give me untold hours of interest and pleasure in my retirement. Isn’t it funny how life works?

A post I wrote, entitled ‘How do you GROW wealth?‘ has photos of how I designed the back yard to suit my retirement. The back half is filled with wicking boxes and spaces for fruit trees, while the front half has since been covered over with a huge verandah for entertaining. It was a huge ‘investment’ up front to get all of the work done, but now it’s pretty much finished, just as I retired. I can now look forward to many years of quiet enjoyment, pottering around and having fun at home.

I have enough money to retire, but I still have echoing memories of when we were struggling. I like the idea of minimising my outgoings when I’m no longer drawing a wage, so my garden out the back will scratch two itches: the wonderful feeling of frugality when I harvest free food, and the gift I’ll be giving myself of hours of entertainment with the planning, preparation, maintenance and harvesting of everything I grow.

Baby fruit trees.
The ‘orchard’ 6 months ago, just after we planted it.

While we were in the second lockdown last year, I ordered some fruit trees and the boys and I created an orchard in the front yard. That was a bit of fun as we were coming into spring. I also ordered 4 columnar apple trees that I placed along the edge of the garden bed, ready to be planted beside the driveway sometime this year.

Then I got to thinking. There’s a lot of space going to waste around these trees. One day there’ll be flowering shrubs to bring beauty (and bees) to this space, but why not do an experiment in the meantime?

I filled 3 large pots with potting mix and planted what I thought was pumpkin seeds that I harvested from the garden last year. Imagine the pumpkin vines meandering around underneath the trees? They’ll grow lots of pumpkins – and pumpkins keep well for months and months. What could go wrong?

Baby fruit trees swamped by zucchini plants.
Here’s what the orchard looks like now.

Turns out they were zucchini seeds. Zucchini seeds that are a hybrid of two sorts that I had growing near each other in the yard last year – a mix of ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Tromboccino’. Let’s call them ‘Frogdancer Zucchini.’ There are 11 fruit trees hidden underneath all of this rampant growth. I’m happy… don’t get me wrong… but millions of pumpkins would keep for far longer than millions of zucchini.

I’ve had to swing into action.

8 plump zucchini.
Here are 8 large zucchinis.

Just from these 8 zucchini alone, I’ve chopped and frozen nearly 12kg/26lb worth of 200g bags. I add chopped and frozen zucchini to soups/pasta sauces/casseroles – anything to add a little more goodness and bulk. With 60 meals’ worth in the freezer already, my Ma Ingalls energy for providing for my family for the colder months of 2021 is now satisfied. The hundred or so that are still growing will be eaten fresh or given away.

Frugal free food not just for us but for everyone else!

Gardening for food varies from year to year. Last year I had tomatoes coming out of our ears. It was the perfect year for a glut of tomatoes. In a pandemic, when you don’t want to go to the shops, tomatoes are the perfect base for heaps of different meals. They taste even better when they’re free. I just froze them in 400g bags, just the same size as a tin.

Last year we had hardly any zucchinis. This year it’s the reverse. I guess it keeps things interesting.

As I enter the brave new world of retirement, I like the fact that I have interests that don’t have to break the bank. I’ve spent a lot of money setting up the garden, but from now on it’s all smooth sailing. I’ll be learning more about growing food from seed I’ll harvest myself, so over time the food I grow will be extremely cheap. I’ll be making my own compost and fertiliser so I won’t even have those costs.

The other things I like doing are also pretty cost-effective. Even a hobby like quilting, which can cost a lot when you’re buying brand new fabrics, batting and thread, gives HOURS of entertainment as you’re sewing away. It’s very cheap when you make quilts from scraps and even sew together smaller pieces of batting to use up what you have. Knitting? Also gives hours of entertainment.

This first year of retirement has overseas travel being taken off the table. Australia’s borders aren’t opening up until 2022, which frankly, I’m quite happy with. We’ve fought too hard to beat this virus to let it all go now, especially in Melbourne.

I’m thinking that my first year of retirement will be a quiet one, with short hops to places inside Victoria (in case the borders close again) and for the rest of the time just puddling around here at home. The hard years of HAVING to be frugal have had the happy byproduct of giving me endless ways to entertain myself without having to spend up big.

After I press ‘publish’ on this post I’ll be popping up to the local library to pick up a couple of books I’ve reserved, then I’ll come back home to continue working on a quilt I’m making for Patricia, the principal from my old job. It’s a very hot day today, so I’ll be inside in the aircon, listening to (free) podcasts as I assemble the quilt I’m making from fabric I already had lying around.

Having frugal things to do isn’t a deprivation. I’ll be as happy as a pig in muck. Later today Ryan26 is going to stay at a friend’s house. David27 is over at his girlfriend’s house, so I’ll be Home Alone. I’ll dine on leftovers from the birthday celebration we threw Tom29 yesterday, then I’ll either read one of the library books or watch something on Netflix. If I feel like talking to someone I’ll have the dogs, who hang upon my every word.

Honestly, unless I’m travelling overseas (where I deny myself NOTHING!), I quite happily live off the smell of an oily rag. This gives me confidence moving forward into retirement. I know that if the worst happens, I can cut my expenses to the bone and I’ll be able to weather the storms. I’ve cash-flowed the expensive things while I was still working – I’m getting my ensuite revamped at the moment – and now I can settle into enjoying the simple things that I’ve found give me so much pleasure.

I’ve put a lot of thought into how I’d like my retirement life to look like. In 2 days’ time, teachers go back to work. Up until now I’ve felt like I was still on summer holidays. So in 2 days’ time my retirement will begin.

I can feel my stress levels slowly unravelling at the very thought.

So how was I able to retire early(ish) anyway?

George from Seinfeld.
Me over the last two weeks…

After starting to resurface after Christmas and New Year – so many naps! – I started to wonder what I might write that could interest people now that I’ve reached the goal post of every FIRE blog and actually retired.

There’s no point writing about what retired life actually feels like, because, to be honest, it doesn’t yet feel like I’ve retired. It’s the school holidays, my pay still keeps rolling in until the first day of term 1, so at the moment it still feels like business as usual. The 27th of January 2021 will be when it begins to hit home. The first school day of the year for teachers. My last pay packet ever…

But that’s still 3 weeks away. I started drafting this post yesterday but I wasn’t in the ‘zone’, but this morning I posted a comment about how I retired early(ish) on a teacher’s salary in a high cost of living city. It was in a Facebook group called Aussie FIRE discussion group, run by the guy behind Aussie Firebug. Someone replied, asking about my strategy.

I had to smile. My strategy?

Like most of us, I bumbled my way through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s without a clue about FIRE (financial independence, retire early.) My only motivation, once I started manufacturing kids, was to provide a safe, secure life for them to grow up in. A lot of that was providing emotional security for them, but a huge part was also providing financial security. This involved things like ensuring that we always had a roof over our heads, enough food on the table and that the bills were always paid. When you leave your husband with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash, which is otherwise known as the scariest financial decision of all, it tends to make you focus on the money stuff.

Although I didn’t stumble across the concept of FIRE until I was 50, the actions I took in the previous years accidentally set me up to be in a pretty good place to take the idea and run with it. Even though at that stage I’d just paid off my house, so my bank balance was literally $10 cash, I was primed and ready for the information.

So what enabled me to do the following: find out about FIRE when I had a paid-off house, around 100K in superannuation and $10 in the bank, and then to retire 7 years later?

A combination of the following behaviours:

G.O.T meme

The first tool, and undoubtedly the most important, was cutting my coat to fit my cloth. Otherwise known as spending less than I earned. Being frugal.

Frugality doesn’t mean being cheap – though in the early days when the boys were very young I’m sure I crossed that line a few times simply to survive. A frugal person makes sure that before they spend anything on lifestyle frills, they’ve paid the mortgage or rent, paid the bills and provided for the necessities of life. Then they tuck a little away for a rainy day in an emergency fund/investment portfolio. THEN they decide what to do with what’s left over.

The ‘decide’ in the previous sentence is very important. I feel that the main difference between a spendthrift and a frugal person is that one employs mainly short-term thinking with their everyday spending decisions, while the other employs mainly long-term thinking.

A person who deliberately decides to use frugal principles is sure to get ahead. I used to feel, especially in the early days, that every dollar I was able to keep in my wallet was a win. Those dollars I kept were able to be used to improve our quality of life on things I valued. These things are always a mix of looking to the future and enjoying the now.

Initially, those things I valued were chipping away at the mortgage, improving our car and house, paying for music lessons and sport for the kids and enabling the boys to see a little more of the world, both with family holidays and school trips. Then, as the boys grew older, getting out of debt, indulging in personal travel, (to the UK, Europe and North Koreaso far), and then investing for the future became the things I valued.

The trick with frugality is to spend only as much as you need to enjoy life now, while making damned sure you’re putting away money into appreciating assets so that you’ll be sure to enjoy life later – and not be a financial burden to your kids.

It’s a balance – I found that if Present Frogdancer put too much towards Future Frogdancer, it made me unhappy and discontented. But if I enjoyed a few simple pleasures in the here and now while continuing to look after Future Frogdancer, life became a joy.

Flowchart for hedonic treadmill.

The second tool, which is closely linked to the first tool of frugality, is to recognise when hedonic adaptation, otherwise known as lifestyle creep, is threatening to happen. Then to make a conscious decision as to when, and how much, you let it affect you.

I first became aware of the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ during a Choose FI podcast when they were interviewing Barney Whiter, otherwise known as The Escape Artist. Basically, it’s when your spending increases as your income increases – at first you feel happy but then as time goes on you revert back to the happiness level you were before.

You know how it goes. You get a pay rise. You feel rich! You start getting takeout more often or going to restaurants more often, “because I can afford it.” You might upgrade the car, in order to drive something more befitting a person of your status. Clothes? Sure, upgrade the wardrobe! Get fancy furniture, buy some ski gear, buy a boat… you get the picture.

But over time, that new car doesn’t feel special anymore, it’s just your humdrum car. The boat isn’t a thrill anymore… in fact, it seems so dull and ordinary that you start to feel that you need a new one. The restaurant trips aren’t a treat anymore… they’re just a regular part of your Friday night routine. Humans tend to become used to new things over time and then crave what we perceive to be bigger and better things.

Your big pay rise doesn’t make you feel rich anymore. It’s a struggle to survive on such a small pay-packet. “No one can get ahead these days, it’s hard for the little man to survive.” You feel exactly the way you did before about your life, despite the new toys that initially brought you happiness. That’s the hedonic treadmill at work.

We live in a consumer-driven society. The trick is to only let your lifestyle increase by spending more on the things YOU value. Disregard what other people think that you should be buying. After all, they’re not going to be the ones helping you to retire early(ish!)

When I knew that I had a permanent position at my school, I took out a new mortgage to upgrade my kitchen, bathroom and the heating and cooling systems. I waited until I’d paid off that mortgage before I indulged in the overseas travel for myself that I’d always dreamed of. Could I have done both at the same time?

Yep. But I wouldn’t be retired now. Paying off that mortgage to become debt-free was crucial to becoming financially independent.

Recognising the temptations of lifestyle creep and deliberately choosing to limit your exposure to it means that you can pour your surplus money into assets that can increase your net worth over time. Again, it’s balancing the wants and needs of Present You vs Future You.

The third tool is looking to increase your income. The lucky ones are people who can negotiate pay rises in their day jobs. As a teacher in the government system, my pay was dependent on how many years I taught, so I looked elsewhere for ways to increase my income. When I became a thermomix consultant and team leader, I was able to deploy the extra money I made into paying off my house earlier and then paying cash for my decadent trip to the UK and Europe.

In other words, I used the extra money from my ‘side hustle’ to pay off an appreciating asset, (my home), and then used the excess funds to pay for a frivolous treat, (my trip), while all the while in the background the teaching job continued to pay for day to day expenses and investments for the future.

I did this for around 4 years. I worked my arse off between the two jobs and I was B-U-S-Y! And often very tired. But doing this turbo-charged my finances and put me in the perfect position to recognise the beauty of the FIRE concept when I discovered it.

Yoda meme.

The fourth tool is to be willing to learn.

A bit of background here: all my life I’ve avoided numerals and Maths. At school, I was in the top stream for English and at the same time, I was put into the veggie maths classes. When I see a page full of numbers my brain literally freezes and I can’t begin to work things out. I’m genuinely scared of them.

This is fine for an English teacher, but it’s not so great when it comes to learning things about the investing world.

My point is that, for me, it was HARD to start learning about how to invest. I’m sure it has taken me three times as long to understand about half what any normal person would learn in a given amount of time.

I was talking about this a year ago wth another English teacher who was asking for help with her finances. She said, “I wish it was as easy for me as it is for you, Frogdancer. I know nothing about this stuff.”

“It’s not easy for me at all!” I said. “My brain is like a rock and the information is like drips of water falling onto it. Over time, the drips make an impression, but it takes me longer than most to get it into my head.”

The tipping point for me was 3 weeks after I’d paid off my house. I’d spent three weeks buying ALL the yarn in every colour, brand new sandals, new clothes and I was happy. Then it dawned on me that you can’t eat your house. In other words, what was I going to do about retirement?

The thought of being in poverty scares me. I’ve been there, as anyone who’s read my ‘About’ page or heard my retirement speech would know. It was hard enough being young and being dirt poor – how much scarier would it be to be old and poor? I knew that the spending party was over. I had to start finding out what to do to put myself into a decent position by retirement age. In Australia, that’s 67 years old.

That gave me 17 years.

As luck would have it, the Barefoot Investor had just started an investment club, which has since closed. The first thing he put out was a ‘Rescue Your Retirement’ feature. After I read it, I literally cried tears of relief. My position wasn’t hopeless. There were ways to build a comfortable retirement for Future Frogdancer.

After that, I started reading. Books, blogs… I went down the rabbit hole. The relief I felt when I saw Mr Money Mustache’s post ‘The Shockingly Simple Math to Early Retirement’ and saw on his chart that if I saved 50% of my income I could retire in 17 years… omg. I was doing more than that already!

I just had to stay the course and I was probably going to be fine. I was on track to retire at 67 with a more than comfortable income. Phew! I could have stopped there.

But I kept on reading. The idea of having the freedom to do what I want in each and every day, unfettered by timetables, commutes and the demands of kids was beginning to intoxicate me.

I learned about different types of investments. Individual shares, LICs, ETFs, superannuation options, domestic and foreign geoarbitrage, property… you name it; I was reading about it. Like all learning, it started to open my mind to the possibilities…

The Office meme.

Tool number 5, arguably as important as tool number 1:

ACT ON WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED, and be prepared to pivot if better information comes your way.

This sounds easy but in reality it’s really hard. No one likes the idea of losing money and making mistakes. But there’s a huge opportunity cost to sitting comfortably on your backside, deluding yourself into believing that because you’re reading about all this stuff, you’re ahead of over half the population.

You’re only ahead of the pack if you actually decide to DO SOMETHING with the information you’ve learned.

My first step was to move superannuation funds, first to the one that the Barefoot Investor recommends, but then when my friend The Mayor showed me that the default super fund in the same company actually gave far better returns, I swapped again. I pivoted slightly when better information came my way.

I began putting my savings into shares, index funds and LICs. Over time, it became my ‘shopping’ pastime. Some people shop for clothes, shoes and lattes; I shopped for shares. I looked don it as buying little scraps of my future freedom.

The brilliant thing about learning is that it opens the mind to opportunities that you might otherwise overlook. I learned about the concepts of geoarbitrage and property development, without ever thinking that I’d put them to use. Little did I know… if doing the thermomix side hustle turbo-charged my finances, utilising geoarbitrage and property development sent my finances screaming into outer space!

I wrote in detail about how I tweaked the geoarbitrage concept HERE. In the TL:DR version, I drew up plans to put 2 luxury townhouses on my house block in a desirable school district in Melbourne and moved 16 kms away to a far cheaper – but better- house 5 minutes away from the beach. By doing this, I freed up a TON of equity that was stored in that little house and shaved ten years from my working life.

This would never have happened if I’d been too scared to take the calculated risk and Just Do It.

When I think back to that 34 year old I wrote about in my ‘About’ page, sitting by the heater listening to the mice eating the bait and then I compare her situation to the one I’m living in now, the difference is enormous. I’m living the life that Past Frogdancer would never have even dreamed was possible.

It’d be too simplistic to say that the geoarbitrage decision was the one thing that brought all this to pass. It was certainly important, but I would never have been in a position to do it if not for the thousands of tiny little decisions I made along the way.

Frugality, living below my means no matter what, avoiding lifestyle creep, working to increase my income, learning about how to reach financial independence and then putting those concepts into action in ways that suited me and my family – all came together to bring me to this position.

I’m retired at 57. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I find that a very precious and beautiful idea and I’m looking forward to seeing how my life will unfold.

These tools aren’t the only dishes on the financial independence smorgasbord table. There are many more options and strategies available.

These are simply the ones that I used to get to where I am now. At first they were used for financial survival – then as time went on it morphed into working for financial freedom.

I hope that someone can take all of this and tweak a tool or two to use on their way to gaining their own financial freedom. The more, the merrier!

Monday: 5 days to go…

So! WHAT a day I had yesterday!

Day one of my last week of work.

Today consisted of 2 meetings and the English faculty farewell lunch. The meetings were ok but honestly, pretty pointless for me. The art meeting, which I have to attend because I teach drama, was all about next year. So was the English meeting an hour and a half later. One of the additional jobs was ‘tidy your desk” so when everyone split into year level groups to finalise the lesson plans for next semester, I walked out, telling Sam – the head of the English faculty – that I was tidying my desk as per the list.

Instead, I decided that there was no point in hanging onto these cards. My very good friend Scott first had the idea of ordering ally things from Vistaprint to liven up classes and I’ve continued the tradition since he left the profession almost 10 years ago. I give them out when I hand back their work. Anyone who earns an ‘OUTSTANDING” ( anything between 18 -20/20) gets a round of applause from the class, one of these cards and a hearty handshake from me. 

Anyone who gives me a ‘limp fish’ handshake gets a lesson in how to shake hands properly. Ugh… nothing worse.

At first I walked around to all of the English teachers’ desks and put a card on each. After all, I knew it would be a surprise because everyone else was at the meeting. There was still a stack of cards left, so I grabbed a biro and crossed out the ‘in English’ line and left them on everyone else’s desks until I ran out. Just a bit of fun to finish on.

Then it was back to the English meeting for the lunch, where the 3 people who were leaving were expected to make a speech.

According to the other two women leaving, none of us had given this much thought. I’m a bleeding-edge type of teacher, so I knew I’d come up with something on the spur of the moment. The other teachers who were leaving were immensely popular and were moving on to different schools next year, one to advance her career, the other to be closer to home and her young family.

Sam gave a little speech before each one, then a close friend of the others also said some words. In both cases it was all very emotional and heartfelt, with tears, hugging and phrases such as “loves the kids to bits”, “exceptional teacher” and “full of empathy for everyone” were said.

I determined that my speech would be a bit different. After all, I’m a stranger to the gentler emotions of love and empathy.

Sam gave his speech, talking about how my quirkiness would be missed.Apparently collecting compost materials from the school, showing off quilting and knitting projects and other things like that are things that not everyone does at work. Amazing. Frogdancer loves the students, very professional, blah blah blah.

Then he asked Adrian, the closest thing to a work husband I’ve had since Scott left, to say a few words.

“What?!?” Adrian spluttered. “Geeze Sam, it’d be nice to have some notice!”

“I emailed you this morning!”

Adrian got up, casting an apologetic look my way. “I’m sorry Frogdancer, but this will be from the top of my head,” he said.

He gave a lovely little speech, saying things about how I always come to work expecting to have fun. Fun is starting to leach away from the profession in the last few years, he said, (which I whole-heartedly agree with), but Frogdancer Jones still extracts every drop of fun she can. Loves the students, not so keen on meetings with adults,  blah blah… 

Then Brock got up and said part of the quirkiness I apparently exit is my frugality. Well, let’s be honest, he called me a tightarse, bringing up the months that I used to take the train into work really early in the morning to get a free train ride.

He obviously had no idea that at that stage I was paying over 70% of my take-home wage on bridging finance for The Best House in Melbourne, so literally every penny counted. But that’s ok.

Then it was my turn… at last!

“Well guys, thanks for the lovely things you said but your speeches have made me really sad. Clearly you don’t know me AT ALL!!”

The big laugh showed that I was off to a good start. 

“I don’t love the kids – couldn’t give a rat’s arse about them!” Another laugh… phew. “ I only come to work to socialise and pick up coffee grounds and rotting veggie scraps for the garden!”

Then I went all serious to give some light and shade to this thing that’s coming out of my mouth. (Really should’ve thought about this beforehand.)

I talked about how lucky we all are to be teaching English. We get to know our kids in a way that no other faculty does, though drama comes close. Our lessons cover all sorts of areas so we’re never bored and the kids will make you laugh every single day, if you let them.

Then I looked around the room and said how fortunate I felt to be have spent my career working with such extraordinary people who do their jobs so well. “But if I never see any of you again, hey, that’s ok!!”

Another big laugh. Another internal phew! That joke could’ve gone either way… LOL.

I can’t remember what else I said. My speech was shorter than the others, mainly because I saw some glazed looks starting to appear on people’s faces earlier. Me, I like to make ‘em laugh and leave with them wanting more.

Everyone in the faculty had a choice of bubbly, wine or gin to take. I picked out a bottle of Mother’s Ruin. I’d noticed on Sunday night when I made a G & T that I only had enough gin for one more drink so it came at the perfect time. 

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

The afternoon was free, so I used it to fill in and submit the exit and CRT paperwork. There’s no going back now! I decided to hand in my keys at the same time. I can’t see why I’d need to unlock a classroom with no kids around. 

I also walked down to the canteen and picked up the bin I’d bought to collect the veggie scraps. It’s perfect for a weed/dog poo bin for the back yard. No point buying another one if the original bin I bought wasn’t being used. Now is that frugality or tightarsery at work?

I’m typing this sitting at the hairdresser waiting to get beautified for my official leaving speech on Thursday. It’s one of my days off but there’s no way Frogdancer Jones is giving up the opportunity to perform with all eyes upon her! I live for this stuff.

I have no clear idea of what I’m going to say yet, but no doubt inspiration will strike between then and now. My friend Megan is my designated driver, so watch me have some fun when my speech is over and I can relax! The bowls club is going to ROCK!

Send good vibes for me on Thursday. If inspiration DOESN’T hit I’ll be a nervous wreck. 

I suppose it’ll serve me right, though…

On your own terms.

If not now, when?

Yesterday was my last day of actual teaching.

People kept asking me how I was feeling. It was a surreal sort of day. In my head of course I knew that this was the last time I was going to walk into the Theatre and teach my group of year 9s, but emotionally, I don’t think it’s hit me yet.

As I said to all the people who asked, “I honestly don’t think it’ll feel totally real until Term 1, Day 1 next year when I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and race off to be at school by 8:35.”

The year 7s and 8s were at school but they had an activity day. The year 8s rotated around different sports but I – thank god! – was with the year 7s. They had a day of indigenous activities, where they learned aboriginal games, drawings, dancing and such. Much more interesting.

I had the first 2 periods of the day with 7M, my wriggly puppies class. The middle of the day was free, so I started moving more stuff from my desk to the bins/car, and also did some hand-stitching on the quilt I’m making for Jenna, Evan24’s girlfriend.

Then I had my last real class. Year 9 Drama.

As the bell went, I walked through the staff common room calling, “Just in case anyone’s interested, I’m off to teach my last class ever!!”

There was cheering , clapping, with some people calling out, “Aw, shut up!” and others shouting, “You’ll be back!”

Otter in a basket: Just a little further then freedom."

I rounded the corner to the Theatre and the kids were gathered at the door, waiting. I saw a couple of gift bags out of the corner of my eye but I pretended not to see as I grabbed my keys and unlocked the sliding glass door.

I looked up and there were Darby and Izzy, from my semester 1 class.

“Well this is a blast from the past!” I said. “What are you two doing here?”

Atahan, who is the sweetest kid, stepped forward with an enormous box of chocolates.

“We made this a group of 3 effort,” he said. Izzy gave me another box of chocolates, while Darby handed me a gift bag with a bottle of red wine.

“Don’t ask me where I got this,” he muttered. Bloody hell, I thought. He probably swiped it from the back of his parents’ liquor cabinet…

They also gave me a card. Whenever I mark the roll, I mix up the order of the kids and the last one is always announced by, “… and the hideous blah blah blah!” Kids, once they get over the shock of hearing this for the first couple of lessons, look forward to being hideous. The three of them signed the card with “hideous Darby”, “hideous Isabel” and “hideous Atahan.”

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again, with all of the lazy kids not bothering to turn up for the last day of classes. I had 11 really keen drama students to work with.

“Ok,” I said, once I marked the roll and Atahan was the last hideous student I’ll ever teach, “what are the games that you most like to play?”

In true Drama class form, they chose Theatre Sports games, so we had almost an hour of the funniest improvisational games. We had such a good time. Every now and then I’d join in and they loved it. Drama kids have the best senses of humour!

It was truly the best way to close this chapter of my life.

Two puppies crawling out of a pen.

At the end of the day, as the kids were leaving, a year 9 girl came up to me and said, “I heard you were retiring. I just wanted to say thank you for year 7 English. I loved coming to class that year.” She paused and said, “Do you remember me?”

“Of course I do!” I said. “It’s just that you’ve changed so much – you’re so TALL!”

I gave her a hug – we were both wearing masks so it felt safe – and I thought, wow. The kids here at this school are so lovely.

At the end of the day, as I raised a glass to myself to toast this memorable day, I felt satisfied. This may sound big-headed, but as I looked back on my career I felt proud that I did it well. I’m a damned good teacher, The kids enjoyed my classes and so it was easy to shoehorn the knowledge that they needed into their heads. If they enjoy being in front of you then the job is so much easier.

A couple of years ago I had the idea to write Dad jokes on the board at the beginning of every English lesson. That was a stroke of genius. I only wish I’d been bright enough to think of it years before. The kids absolutely loved it, and if by any chance I’d forget, someone would always ask for them.

Oh my god, how unprofessional of me to forget!” I’d say, and I’d grab the whiteboard marker. Every time I’d finish a quilt, I’d bring it in to show the kids and we’d talk about creativity and how important it is to explore that side of ourselves. When I was teaching the year 12s, I’d make timtam fudge and bring it in whenever they were doing an assessment “to keep their strength up.”

I’ll miss those little things, I think.

Yoda- inestimable value is the possession of freedom.

Adrian, one of my friends at work, was laughing at me, saying that I’m deluding myself about all of this being the last time.

“We all know you’ll be back,” he said. “There’ll be someone who gets sick or wants to go on holidays early and they’ll call you back in.”

“I’ll probably say yes,” I said. “That trip to Antarctica isn’t going to pay for itself, you know!”

Someone else, I don’t remember who, then said, “Yeah, but the difference will be that you’ll be doing it on your own terms. You don’t want to work that day, you just say no. You’ll be choosing to come here and teach. That’ll make all the difference.”

Only a week to go… I give my farewell speech at the staff Christmas luncheon on Thursday. I think I’m going to enjoy myself!

(My friend Mr Groovy wrote this post about what to expect from early retirement when he heard that I was pulling the pin. The film clip is a classic!)

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