I’ve never had a ‘budget’ as such. Too many numbers and maths calculations for me! I run our household under some rigid rules, that oddly enough, gave me great flexibility to pivot financially if I needed to.
Fear not! I’m not going to give you a bullet point list of savings tips that you’ve read a hundred times before. Instead, I’m giving you the principle I followed to keep our financial house afloat:
Any dollar that you manage to put into a savings account, try and keep it there for as long as possible.
I love seeing my savings accounts go up. I loved it even more when I was a young Stay-At-Home Mum with 4 small boys depending on me. I’ve always worked on a fortnightly system and sometimes in those days the end of the fortnight and what was left of my money would go down to the wire.
But we never had money owing on a credit card and we didn’t borrow from friends and family.
Once I deposit money in the bank, I try to keep it there as long as I can.
That means cash flowing expenses as much as possible.
For example, Scout’s operation cost me just over 3K. I had the money in my 5K “pet fund” in my savings. I could have fronted up at the vet and paid cash. But I used my credit card. This bought me time to swing my wage into gear.
Unless I have a fortnight of crazy expenses, such as a 3K vet bill or a whole heap of bills coming in at once, I can count on having around 1K/fortnight of money that I don’t need to deploy on debt or living expenses. I have no debt.
By using the credit card and then putting my wage onto that card when I got paid, I cash flowed this wage’s ‘excess’ 1K straight off that bill. That leaves only 2K left to pay. I have another pay period before the due date of that credit card. Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I’ll have an extra 1K to throw straight at the bill then. That only leaves 1K to pull out of my savings.
I’ve protected my savings by leaving as much of them alone as I can.
Obviously, when I get paid after that I’ll repay my savings to get the ‘pet fund’ back to its original level.
Is this fun? Not particularly. I have a couple of projects that I’m itching to get started on and that money was supposed to go towards those.
But my overarching goal is security. So the top priority is to keep my savings intact. Whenever I empty a savings fund, I refill it before I do anything else.
I love seeing my savings accounts going up in value. But it’s almost as good just seeing them stay the same and not go backwards.
It’s hard for most people to be able to squirrel away money for a rainy day. So when you succeed – I think it’s wise to keep it there for as long as possible. Cash-flowing expenses from your wage is one way to protect your savings and keep making progress towards your goals.
That saying used to run through my mind quite a bit when the boys were younger. It’s not a dressmaking tip – it’s about knowing how much money/’cloth’ you have and then not allowing your expenses/’coat’ to exceed your resources.
I did this ruthlessly in the early years when the boys and I were living off the sole parents’ pension and child support was intermittent at best. I had a credit card that I ran all my expenses through – still do, in fact – but I paid it off in full every month.
I know what it’s like to have to cut expenses down to the bone to get by. A quick look at my ‘About’ page will tell you that.
Back in those days, I figured that I got us into this mess by my poor choice of husband and then choosing to stay until we’d produced 4 children, so I didn’t want to hold out my hands for help.
I got the kids and I into this and I’d get us out of it!
So I got very good at making sure that the mortgage and bills were paid, then food, then (if there was) anything left over, I threw it in an emergency fund. Back then I called it a ‘Buffer Zone”. Once I had around a thousand dollars in it, then I could relax a little and give the boys a few little treats.
That credit card never had a cent of interest paid on it. Well… that’s a fib. Twice I paid it a day late and was charged interest. Boy, was I mad at myself!!
Some people say that frugality isn’t as important as raising your income. I can see the logic – there’s only so far you can cut costs until there’s no more room for any more cuts – but I’ve found that a person discounts frugality at their financial peril.
Raising income is good – when the kids grew older I did it myself and it definitely helped us to get ahead – but frugality is the bedrock on which everything rests. If you raise your income but keep merrily spending, you’re going to end up broke no matter what your income is.
I used to make it a game. Particularly with the grocery shopping, I’d see how many days I could stretch out between shopping trips. Everyone knows that you always buy more than you think you’re going to when you go food shopping, so my solution was to go as little as possible.
When I started putting this little ploy into action, I found that there was often a little more “cloth” for me to cut my coat from.
I love this saying. Even now, when I’ve been back at work for over 15 years and those lean, hard days are all in the past, I still practice many of the things I did to survive back then.
The most important one – the one that I will never ever break – is to never let my outgoings exceed my incomings. My coat will always be amply able to be cut from my cloth.
I love Staycations, even though it’s no secret that I also love to travel. I’ve blogged extensively about my trips to the UK, Europe, North Korea and Thailand on my personal blog, while this blog has 4 posts summarising what I saw in North Korea. I wtote about how the regime holds on to political power by using the power of advertising with sculpture, art, education and making everything appear bigger and better than the rest of the world.
Even though I have a hankering for more freedom I’m choosing to continue working for another few years. It’s mostly because I have a number in mind that I’m working towards, but the number is based on my love of travel. When I eventually pull the pin on my job, I’m planning to travel overseas at least once a year. Australia is pretty isolated, so international travel is often very expensive. My FIRE number is higher to account for this.
So, even though I love to travel overseas, most of my holidays are Staycations. I’ve always been a delayed gratification type of girl, where I’ll put off what I want to do today to REALLY enjoy it tomorrow. But having said that, the truth is that I LOVE a Staycation.
Honestly, if you don’t like hanging around in the place that you live in, then you’re doing it wrong.
Your home is the place where you can be yourself – a place where you shut the door behind you and you can simply “be.” And after all, a holiday doesn’t have to be a time to run yourself ragged – it can also be a time to regroup and chill, enjoying what’s around you.
Home is the perfect place to recharge batteries and do -(or not do)- all those little things you’ve been meaning to get to but couldn’t when your time was taken up with a job. Little things like reading a book, lunching like ladies and sorting through that filing cabinet, one drawer at a time.
I had a 5 week Staycation at the end of the school year, right at Christmas time and then on into January. I was so tired when that holiday started, I’m pretty sure I looked like Moon-Moon here in the meme below:
Yes, that’s an accurate representation.
When the holidays start, I take the first few days slowly. I sleep in for as long as the dogs allow me to. There’s only so much ‘claws scratching against floorboards’ noise that I can take before I get up. They probably circle the bed like sharks around a shipwreck victim, waiting for me to wake.
I need downtime. Time to slowly move through the day, doing whatever seems like a good idea in the moment. That’s why I love a Staycaion.
I indulge myself with gobs of freedom.
I leisurely move through the first few days, reading, taking a nanna nap after lunch if I feel like it. Aw, who am I kidding? I usually do feel like it – those Spaniards are onto something with the siesta! If I have the energy and inclination to tackle a task that needs doing, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll ignore it until later in the holiday. I have the time to either use or squander, depending on my mood.
Later on in the holidays, whether it’s the 5 week summer break or the regular 2 week breaks between terms, is when I tend to Get Things Done.
Bigger tasks that need some extra time or boring things that still have to be done whether I like them or not – they get knocked off my mental ‘To Do ‘ list.
Well, mostly. I made soap for Christmas presents in the September holidays and I was going to make more in the summer. We’re down to our last bar of home-made soap and I still haven’t made more. I’m not saying a Staycation makes you perfect – just more rested and chilled.
And probably better looking due to all the relaxation.
I remember when the kids were younger. Life got pretty frantic at times, particularly when you add a young family into the mix. I was working, the children had their own schedules of school and activities and socialising to be worked around; life was lived at fever-pitch and was scheduled out to the minute.
So if every holiday is lived at that frantic pace as well – how is that doing anyone any good?
Revel in a staycation. You’re definitely not depriving yourself. They’re wonderful.
This morning I got up when my alarm went off at 5:55 AM, let the dogs out and then fed them their breakfast. I fed Scout her chicken neck in the front yard and Poppy and Jeff in the back yard. This started from when Scout was a puppy and was so much smaller than the others and the routine has simply continued from there.
When I let her in and she started trotting down the hallway to get to the doggie door to the backyard, she stopped and looked around at me, her eyebrows raised. She’s been doing this for the last week or so. When I said, “Outside!” she turned and raced up the hallway to the doggie door, tail wagging – the picture of joy.
‘Well, I guess this is a new part of the morning routine,’ I murmured as I went to put the kettle on for coffee.
This got me thinking about how much we humans rely on routines to set up habits – both good and bad – and to get us through the day.
Scout’s new ‘thing’ in the morning is harmless. For some reason unclear to me, her new ‘wait for the instruction and then dash out the door’ is fun. If only all routines were like this!
The best, most productive routines are the ones that you’ve put in place for yourself, knowing that they’re most likely going to get you the results you want.
The routines that work best for me are things like:
Taking the dogs for a walk as soon as I get home. If I sit down to check emails, it’s fatal. Once my backside hits the couch, I’m not going to go for a walk. So I try to grab the dog walking bag as soon as I walk in. As soon as they see me with that bag, I have to put the leads on them. Works like a charm!
Making my lunch for the next day while dinner is being cooked. Then all I have to do the next morning is grab it as I head out the door. I didn’t do this last night – Ryan23 made pizzas for dinner and I forgot to get him to make me a salad while he was doing the pizza toppings. So today’s lunch is a microwave rice bowl from Aldi. Not nearly as nice as a fresh garden salad, but honestly, it serves me right!
Before I go home for the evening, I look at the first 2 classes I’ve got and put whatever materials I may need, in a pile at the end of my desk. In case something happens and I’m running late, I don’t need to get my head around what I’m going to be doing – it’s already organised.
As soon as I get paid each fortnight, the first thing I do when I log in is to transfer 1K across to my credit card. This ensures that there’ll be enough to keep running it as a debit card, but I still get points and the lights and water still stay on. Then I decide what to do with what’s left.
A glass of wine at 5 o’clock (‘wine o’clock’) as a reward for making it to the end of another day. This may not be the most productive routine, but it’s one of my favourites!
Routines like this are great because they’re aligned with your personal values and there’s an intrinsic motivation to keep to them. I’d love to hear in the comments about any routines that you’ve made yourself stick to.
It’s not quite the same when a routine is imposed upon you.
Work routines are like this. Being a teacher, my work days are defined by bells. Classes start at set times and finish the same way. I know that Mondays and Tuesdays will always begin with my year 7 classes, while the last 2 periods of the week will always be with my year 12 Theatre Studies kids. Unless there’s a fire drill, there’s usually no surprises.
Lunch is at the same time each day, as is recess, whether you’re hungry or not.
It takes a month or so before I know which classes I have on which days and which rooms they’re in. The working week takes on a familiar ebb and flow for all of us. But these routines are dictated to me by the timetabler. She has decided that Wednesday and Thursday are my frantic days, while Monday and Friday are cruisier. Personally, I prefer to start off the week busy busy busy and then ease off as the week goes along. But I have no choice in the matter.
To mix things up a bit, because I’m a wild and crazy rebel, I drove a different way to work this morning. It took 5 minutes longer but I got to nod hello to ‘Maisie’, a beautiful little tree on a nature strip on a busy road that I used to see every morning until I found a more optimised route to school. Tomorrow? Odds are I’ll be back to the usual routine. It’s quicker.
There’s nothing so wonderful as when a bolt of inspiration hits, or you get into the flow of doing an activity and time seems to vanish. Moments like this are golden. But, as William Golding, (above), said; it’s a matter of getting into the habit of hammering out the material. Every day, making sure that you’re doing something to advance you along the way to where you want to be. Stephen King, the novelist, writes about this in his fabulous book On Writing. He writes 2,000 words every day, without fail. He won’t switch off his computer until those words are done… and coincidentally, he’s completed over 65 books.
Remember my chart of productive habits that I started at the beginning of the year? It’s now March and it’s working like a charm. It’s become a habit to mentally tick off the categories as I do them. For example, in today’s first lesson, I used the 10 minutes silent reading/writing to read from an actual book. *details at the end of the post. I can now tick off the ‘write every day’ box. I wiped over the bathroom before I left home this morning, so the cleaning one’s been done too.
It’s now become part of the dogs’ routine to expect a walk when I come home from work. Their delighted expectation makes this one easy to tick off.
The chart is a simple way to make sure that the habits I want to instil in myself are going to be formed.
We all have routines that are placed upon us. But if we have the self-discipline to impose routines that are meaningful and relevant upon ourselves, we’ve immediately optimised our chances of success.
*The book I was reading is called ‘The Gay Galliard’ by Margaret Irwin. It’s about the relationship between Lord Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots.
Yes, I know that the title hasn’t passed the test of time well, (it was written in 1944), and it’s very long-winded, but I’ve wanted to read it since I was young.
It’s a shame that Ms Irwin has the unfortunate gift of turning the Interesting into the Dull-as-Ditchwater…
Lifestyle creep. When you start earning more money and everyone expects you to reward yourself. You buy a bigger house, new/er cars, better clothes. You become spendier. People see you advancing along in your career and they expect to see outward signs of this. They expect you to have a more lavish lifestyle.
But do you know the HUGE advantage I’ve had throughout these 21 years?
Nobody expects a single mother of 4 boys to be able to spend money on lifestyle creep. No one even expects her to have it. Nobody!
Everyone knows how expensive kids are, especially as they move into high school and start living with their heads inside the fridge, eating everything in sight. They grow like weeds, while you can almost see their feet get bigger. They have school fees, school books and school excursions. They have outside interests that need to be paid for.
They probably also need braces. For those who don’t know, braces are hellishly expensive. I had 3 boys who needed them. Fortunately, their father paid for Ryan14’s braces, but I had to come up with the goods for the other two sets.
So here was I, with these 4 boys standing around growing ever taller and looking expensive. With straight teeth, though. That’s got to mean something…
If I needed some new clothes for my family, no one raised an eyebrow if I’d shop at the op shops first. If anyone had clothes to give away, we’d happily accept them. I’d grow my own veggies and people nodded.
Travel is also important to me. If a person has no international travel under their belt, their view on life is limited to the place that they grew up in. I wanted my boys to see outside the bubble of comfortable middle-class suburbia in a first-world nation. Documentaries on TV are great, but they’re no substitute for seeing things for yourself. So I took the boys to Bali, Thailand and Singapore, and paid for 2 of them to go on a school music tour to the USA. They went to the US with some of their uniform and schoolbooks being second-hand, but they still got to go.
(On re-reading this before publication, I realise that I’m inferring that the USA is a third-world nation!! It made me laugh, so I’ve left it in. Though, now that I think about it, the boys were a bit shocked at the level of decay in the infrastructure of Hollywood/L.A… just saying…)
After school interests? With 4 kids to look after, I told the boys that each child could only have ONE class/sport/lesson each. Just one. While every other kid in the neighbourhood was racing off to something after every school day, my boys, after a bit of trying out of various things, elected to do music lessons.
Tom and Ryan did guitar for years, while David learned piano and is now getting his Bachelor’s degree in music. Evan didn’t end up doing anything at all – he was content to chill and do his own thing. Did any of the other Mums at school raise their eyebrows and make ‘tsk tsk’ noises and insinuate that my boys were being deprived? No.
I had the ‘Single Mother/Single Wage’ card. I could fly under the radar. I have never had to cope with battling the expectations of anyone else.
And it was wonderful.
It left me free to be the ‘Valuist’ spender that I was born to be.
It’s left me free to organise my finances the way that I – and only I – want to. I like nice clothes as much as the next woman, but our security was more important. That little weatherboard house had to be paid for. And it was. One cheap shopping trip to Aldi for all of those groceries at a time, while wearing the same clothes for years.
My big trip to the Uk and Europe that I’d waited my whole life to do? Once the house was paid for and the boys had all finished high school, I quietly saved up the money and went.
Lots of little expenses, like daily coffees from 7/11, or doughnut runs to AJs are things I’ve never done. The peer pressure has never happened, though I’ve seen it put to work all around me. Everyone else is fair game for Lifestyle Creep to be expected of them, but “poor Frogdancer Jones can’t afford it with all those boys…”
I guess being a single parent has to have some advantages.
I was talking with a friend a couple of years ago. I’ve known her all my life and we chat nearly every week. Our kids have grown up together and it’s safe to say we’re close.
Our lives have worked out very differently. She’s still on her first marriage of nearly 30 years, whereas I’ve been single for most of that time. I live in suburbia, while she lives in the country. Our spending habits are very different too.
She was over at my place, staying for a few days over the summer holidays and she mentioned that maybe we could go out and grab a coffee one day. This is something that she does every day of her life, always with friends or family.
I don’t. Not because I don’t have friends or family, but because I don’t like doing it as a part of my regular routine.
I have my 16c cup of coffee in the morning before I leave home and usually that’s about it. I spend recess and lunchtimes with my friends at work in the staffroom or common room. Going to cafés to spend heaps on a coffee and a cake just isn’t my thing. It’s probably because I’m lazy at heart, but I’d rather loll around at home than dress up to go out and drink the very same things that I have in my kitchen.
I can’t remember exactly what I said in reply to Sharon, but it was clearly unenthusiastic. She curled her lip at me and said, “What’s wrong? Don’t you like the taste of coffee?”
“Of course, I do,” I said. “But we have a coffee machine right here.”
She rolled her eyes. “My God Frogdancer, you never spend money on anything! Don’t you want to live a little? Get out and do things?”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I pointed to Scout.
“Sharon, you DO realise you’re talking to the person who paid two thousand dollars for a puppy last year? And spent around thirty thousand for the Europe trip? I’m going to be spending over 50 thousand on landscaping soon. How can you say I don’t spend anything?”
“Yeah ok, but you never buy new shoes or clothes and you’ve had your car for 5 years…”
I interrupted. “Sharon, I spend money on myself every single month.”
“On what?” she asked, looking around. I think she was hoping to see shopping bags piled up in a corner somewhere.
“The only difference between us is that you buy things people can see. You buy things – I buy time. I don’t give a (bleep) about fashion; what I care about is setting myself up so I don’t need to go to work if I don’t want to. I’m buying back years of my life. “
“What do you mean? How can you buy time?”
“Every month I put money in shares, I salary sacrifice to the max into super and I put any extra into my share portfolio. If everything goes as it should, in 5 years or so I’ll be able to choose whether I want to work or not.”
She sighed. “Yeah, that’s fine for you. I’ll be working until I die…”
I thought she was probably right, but it wasn’t the sort of conversation I wanted to have with her just then. I decided to say something that would make the point and end the topic without actually pointing the finger at her.
” We both spend money on ourselves; it’s just on different things.”
Before you read this post, could you please jump across to the blog tournament I’m competing in and have a read of the post in Game 2 with the tag ‘GIFT’ – if you like what you read could you please sling a vote my way? I had lots of fun writing that post and it has a lot of useful takeaways.
HERE IS THE LINK. Then, please come back to read this post. I had a lot of fun writing this one, too!
(Friday, period 2, Year 8 English.)
There’s a lot to be said for attacking tasks in a huge rush of focus, urgency and… if you have a deadline looming.. panic. You can get a lot of things done in a short period of time. But there’s also a lot to be said for using snippets of time to chip away at things. Tasks don’t get done so quickly, but they still get done.
Every English class I teach, I start off with 10 minutes of silent reading or writing time. The kids bring in any book they want to read, either fiction or non-fiction and they have 10 minutes 5 times a week to enjoy themselves with whichever they want to do.
Some kids hate reading, so they can write. Each kid has a dedicated A4 exercise book that is their own personal space to write whatever they want to. This writing is never marked/graded or checked for spelling, punctuation and grammar. The kids are allowed to simply express themselves.
The research finds that the more writing kids are allowed to do, especially ‘low stakes’ writing, the better their skills get. A child who decides to write for most of the 10-minutes in each class will get 50 minutes a week of writing under their belt. By the end of the year that’s a lot of time to practice and improve.
Right at this moment, there are 3 minutes remaining of my year 8’s 10-minute time on Friday. They’re absolutely silent, most of them reading, but some are writing.
I told them about a couple of year 7 kids I had last year.
One boy, Jack, is a mad car enthusiast. On his first reading time, he asked if he could write about why the Mercedes XYZ (whatever it is) was so awful. When he finished it he let me read it and I was blown away. It read just like an article in a car magazine. Bythe end of the year he had 2 big exercise books filled with articles, stories and rants – all about cars.
Another boy got an idea for a novel while he was writing in class, so in every English lesson, he wrote a little bit more of it. His novel would never have been written if he hadn’t used these little slivers of time.
That’s really powerful.
(Friday, period 4, year 9 English.)
Ok, I’m now in front of my year 9 class. I’ve given them the huge ‘rev up’ talk about how these 10 minutes every day are probably the only time they’ll get to choose what they want to do in a usual day. I’ve told them to take advantage of the freedom to either consume something they want to read or create something they want to write. It’s silent. Again, most kids are reading but some are writing.
Using little snippets of time can add up to really substantial results.
Actually, it just occurred to me that we bloggers are the poster children for this. We write WHAT we want to write, we write WHEN we want to write and we put it out there. I’ll guarantee you that after a year or two, most bloggers who look back at their early posts wince and wish that they could do a re-write because their writing has improved so much. The writing has only become better because we keep coming back to it.
All of the bloggish writing that we do is being done in little moments of time that we squirrel away from our day-to-day lives. For example, in the last 7 minutes of lunchtime, I found the memes for the first 2 images in this post. I knew I had to get to class when the bell went, so I used the time I had available to get a little job done.
(It’s now Monday, period 3. I’m looking at my year 8 as they read or write.)
Going on from what I was writing last week, little bits of time are usually SO productive. Your phone rings, you pick it up and someone says, “Thought I’d drop in. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” It’s AMAZING how much housecleaning you can get done in that time! (Or is that just me?)
(Monday, period 5 – a year 10 French class I’m supervising.)
I remember years ago, when my Dad was standing in my front yard with me. The garden was overgrown and weeds were everywhere. I sighed, really disheartened, and he turned to me and said, “Never forget, Frogdancer, people move much faster than weeds can grow. Any bit of time you spend out here means you’ll be in front, because you can pull the weeds faster than they can spread. “
I’ve never forgotten his words, mainly because he was expressing the bleeding obvious. Why is it that we can never think of these things ourselves, but the minute someone else says them you recognise the truth in them? He was right – if you decide you’re going to pull out weeds for 5 minutes a day, eventually your garden will be weed-free.
Even the biggest tasks can be achieved if you keep coming back to them.
I was worried about whether I’d stop writing so much for this blog after I went back to work. I’m addicted to reading and I was using the 10-minutes in each class last year to get my Goodreads challenge done. It helped – I read 72 books last year, which still fell 8 short of my target. However, what if I swapped some or all of the reading time for writing time? Hmm… I’d still be modelling creative behaviour for the students which is what a good teacher does…
How could I make this work? I began by lowering this year’s Goodreads target to 60 books. I decided that I’d use the 10-Minute morsels of time on blog posts during the week while saving big chunks of time for writing on the weekends and I raised my blogging target to 3 posts a week. I included ‘Write Every Day’ and ‘Post 3X a week’ columns on my chart that I started at the beginning of the year.
(Tuesday period 1 – year 7 English.)
I’m only in my second week back at work, but so far its been working like a charm. I’ve written things for the blog every single day. It’s easy on the weekdays – as the kids read or write I’m tapping away on my keyboard – but even on the weekends I make sure I’m productive. I hate having to record on my chart that I didn’t do something!
There’s a lot to be said for long swathes of time where creativity has the chance to sit and ponder and let ideas mature and develop. That’s what the weekends are for. But there’s also merit in giving yourself a tight deadline with little smidgens of time and letting productivity go wild.
I thought it might be fun to include the periods that I was writing this post in, so you can see how the 10-Minutes works. I’ve also been editing as I went along, which is why the lengths of the writing during each lesson varies. It wasn’t because kids were talking and I had to take time to shut them down. The kids really love this time. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it!
(Thispost was prompted by J. Money at Budgets are Sexy He posted a tweet about an ad he saw that said something like “No outfit is complete without a diamond!” I tweeted back and said, “Every outfit I wear has a diamond with it! My engagement ring. Except I wear mine on my right hand. I call it my Freedom Ring.” He said I should blog about it, so here it is.)
Some might say that wearing a diamond ring from a defunct relationship is the very essence of frugality. Why buy yourself jewellery if you already have something lying around? Now, I’ve been known to be reluctant to spend money if I don’t need to, but the Freedom ring has a bit more behind it than just wanting to save a few bucks on bling.
Way back in 1985, my boyfriend popped the question and I accepted. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, as we’d been living together for around 18 months. We were in the city having lunch, then after we finished we went straight to where my cousin worked.
He’s a diamond-setter.
I wanted an emerald ring… not your usual wishy-washy faded green emerald but one that was a deep, brilliant green. My cousin John showed us all the emeralds he had in his office, then when none matched up he left us there to go downstairs to borrow some from another jeweller who might have the colour of emerald I wanted.
While he was gone, A said, “Frogdancer, I don’t want to buy an emerald. I want to get you a diamond. A big diamond. That’s what I’ve had in my head.”
I really wanted the emerald – after all, the emerald was what I’d had in my head! – but I thought, hey, A is paying for it so I should really get what he wants. I know, I know… I was going to be the one wearing it, but I was young and stupid back then.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. See this photo? This is taken in England, with my hand touching the actual table where Jane Austen wrote her novels. See the ring? It’s an emerald that I bought for myself when I took the kids to Thailand. Dreams DO come true!
But I digress.
When John came back into the room, carrying a box full of emeralds, we said we’d changed our minds. He laughed and said that this happens more often than not.
He put the emeralds down and asked A how much he was willing to spend.
“Five thousand dollars,” he replied.
I nearly fell off my chair. Back in 1985 that was a LOT of money.
In fact, I just googled what it would be worth today and I nearly fell off my chair again. The equivalent amount in today’s dollars is FOURTEEN THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.
I gaped at him. I thought he was mad. But I certainly wasn’t going to say no.
John nodded, got up and came back with diamonds. This is the ring we designed:
Everyone called it “The Rock.” I can’t remember just how big it was, but it’s just over 1 carat and it’s of very good quality. The wedding ring was designed to fit under it. It’s gold because he wanted gold – everything else I wear is silver – really, I should have realised back then that this relationship wasn’t destined to work!
We got married in 1987, had our 4 children from 1992-1996 and I left him a year later in 1997.
During the ‘discussion’ in front of the registrar from the Family Court when we were doing our financial settlement, A asked for many things. He wanted the furniture, the car and more of a share to the house than he was entitled to. The registrar was getting increasingly disgusted with him, considering we had 4 small boys to consider. Finally, A asked for the engagement ring to be returned.
The registrar turned to me, rolled his eyes and said, “And how do you feel about that, Mrs Married-Name?”
“After 4 kids and 10 years of marriage, I feel I’ve earned it!” I said.
For a few years the ring languished in the bottom of my jewellery box. I didn’t want to wear it. Then, one day, I took it out and put it on my right hand. There it stayed for a few months, until one day, when I was at work, I glanced down and saw, to my horror, that the claws of the ring were empty.
The diamond was gone.
I searched, but I had no idea when it had gone missing and you can’t search an entire school to look for a pebble. I was upset, but what can you do? I put the useless ring in my jewellery box and went on with my life.
Two years later, Evan came out of his room, holding something in the palm of his hand. He would’ve been around 9 or 10, I suppose.
“Mum, I found this in the corner of my sock drawer. What is it?”
I gasped as I looked at what appeared to be a weirdly-shaped stone. Could it be? I turned it over and it gleamed.
Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer!
After John put the ring back together again – “I was so sorry when you lost this diamond. It’s a beautiful stone” – I put it back into the jewellery box. A and I were having child support ‘discussions’ and I didn’t need the reminder of him.
And there it stayed until around this time last year.
I sit near a group of women in our staffroom who are in their late twenties/early thirties. They’re all in that stage of life where they’re getting engaged/married/buying houses/having babies. We were talking engagement rings and I was describing mine. Alice said, “Why don’t you bring it in? I’d love to see it.”
That night, I opened my jewellery box and sifted through the contents until I found the box. I opened it and the diamond shone. I looked at it and remembered so many things. My wedding, the babies, the good times as well as the bad.
I smiled as I slipped it onto my ring finger. The ring finger on my RIGHT hand.
The ring has been there ever since. The girl that it was designed for has long gone and the woman I am now has taken her place.
On the surface, it’s still a beautiful piece of jewellery and I take pleasure in looking at it. It’s simple and elegant, (both qualities that I aspire to be one day) and it goes with everything.
On a deeper level, every now and then I glance at the ring and I think of that girl in my cousin’s office, excited at the new life in front of her and having no idea how it was all going to pan out. She made so many mistakes, deferring her own judgement so many times – but I suppose without all of those mis-steps and blunders my life wouldn’t look the way it does today.
I have a nickname for the ring on my right hand. I call it “The Freedom Ring.” It’s a symbol of how you sometimes begin a journey and end up in an entirely different destination to where you thought you were going to be.
Some of you may remember the post I did early in the summer holidays, where I went mad buying clothes, after not having bought many in the last 5 years.
And it’s been great! I’ve had a week of swishing through the front door of the school, people complimenting me, kids also saying nice things about my level of style, sophistication and downright beauty… I’ve been having a ball. But there’s just one problem with all of these new clothes.
Linen looks much better when it’s ironed.
Now, I’m not stupid. I knew this up-front. As I was standing in the fitting room at David Jones with roughly 4,000 different items of clothing I’d dragged in to try on, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Frogdancer Jones – if you buy any of these clothes you have to start ironing again.”
*sigh* I bought about 2,000 different things. Around 120% of them are linen. Or at least that’s how it feels right at this moment.
When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne nearly 3 years ago, I threw out the ironing board cover. I’d say that it “didn’t spark joy” but that was long before anyone heard of that expression. Ever since then, if I ever needed to iron anything I’d put a towel on the bench in the laundry. David25, clearly not a fan of this work-around, bought his own ironing board for his work clothes and just before going back to work, I borrowed it to start the year off right.
The next day he did a Bunnings run to get a few things that he needed and he came home with an ironing board for me in my favourite colour. I was touched – and also resigned to my fate. There was no excuse now!
I set everything up in the lounge room. It was stinking hot outside and the cooling was on. Poppy, who is my keen ‘halper’ with everything, was a bit bewildered by this new item of furniture.
Close up shot. I think she’d prefer it to be IN the kitchen rather than near it, so she can have a sporting chance of getting something to eat.
I looked at my watch. It was nearly 4:40PM on a Sunday afternoon – twenty minutes away from Wine O’clock. I could do this.
The bottom things are the Christmas tablecloths. They can wait. I grabbed the first item of clothing – some Bali pants Mum and Dad brought back for me the last time they were there – and I set off.
Of course, I had a podcast on. This was a really good episode by Millionaires Unveiled, where they were talking with the guy from ‘Stacking Benjamins.’ You could do worse than listen to an interview they did a few months ago with a single mother from Australia called Frogdancer Jones… just saying.
I didn’t escape unscathed. Stupid iron. You’d think someone would invent an iron which would move out of the way.
By the time I finished, the podcast was over, my arm was sore and Poppy had given up on me completely.
But Scout was watching. She had a ball ready and waiting for me to throw.
So what’s the financial takeaway from this post? Seeing as this is a FIRE blog and all. Maybe… when you practice delayed gratification to reach your financial goals and then you finally get there – it makes sense to look after what you reward yourself with.
Or maybe I felt that I’ve written quite a few serious posts and it was time to mix it up a bit.
Something happened on the second-last week of the holidays and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I was walking the dogs around the block. It was mid-morning and for some reason we had left it too late to go to the dog beach. We rounded the corner near the primary school and there was a woman sitting at the bus stop, talking on her mobile.
“Yeah, I’m on my way home,” she said as we passed. “I was volunteering but it’s finished now.”
I glanced at my watch, thinking, ‘It’s only 10 o’clock. How could a job be finishing up now?’ I shrugged and then kept walking. The sun was shining and the dogs’ tails were wagging. It was all good.
As we walked further up the street, an elderly lady and her son were walking towards us, pushing a trolley loaded up with boxes of fruit and vegetables. I could see that they were commenting about the dogs, so as we got closer I smiled and we stopped to exchange a few words. Her son looked to be in his forties and he had Downs Syndrome. He was torn between being taken with the dogs and worried that they might bite. His mother, who was clearly his carer, reassured him and we talked briefly about the dogs, then we moved on again.
As we kept going, there were another couple of people walking towards us, also loaded up with bags of what looked like shopping. I thought nothing of it and kept going up to the corner, where the church is.
As we got closer I could see people coming in and out of the church hall. They were wheeling shopping trolleys in and carrying boxes full of food out. It was a hive of activity in there.
This was on a Thursday morning, when I’m usually at work.
A woman and her husband were coming along the path towards us, so I pulled the dogs in beside me to let them pass. The woman stopped and after the usual compliments about the dogs, said, “Do you know what’s going on in there?”
When I shook my head, she said, “They’re giving away free food!”
I glanced towards the church. “Really?”
“Yes. It’s so wonderful. My son is starting year 7 this year so we’ve been buying books and uniform and paying the school fees… it’s so expensive. I was worrying about how we were going to pay for everything, but look at all this!”
She gestured to the boxes of produce that her husband was carrying.
“This takes all the pressure off. And guess what’s in this?”
She patted the tartan shopping trolley that she was pushing.
“It’s FULL of lunch box snacks! Like LCMs and Uncle Toby’s. I won’t have to worry about school lunches for ages! You should go in and have a look.”
I laughed and looked at the dogs. “I don’t think they’d like it too much if I brought the dogs in with me!”
She urged me to go in again, then she found out I was a teacher and we talked about starting secondary school She was nice enough to thank me for being a teacher, which (to be frank) is a bit of a novelty. Most people whinge about the holidays we get, especially at this time of the year!
As we headed towards home, I could see quite a few people heading for the church, shopping trolleys and bags in hand. If I hadn’t have talked with the woman outside the church, I would never have noticed them.
I didn’t go into the church to grab some free food, because it wasn’t put there for people like me. I have a full-time job, my kids are grown and I’m financially secure. But my head was spinning.
Because you see, it wasn’t so long ago that it would have been for me.
Back when I was at home with my 4 small boys, money was tight. I was watching every penny like a hawk and it was definitely on the cards that if something went wrong financially, I could lose the house and the kids and they would lose that security. It was incredibly stressful.
Then, one day my Aunty Doris asked if I’d be interested in getting free bread every week. Her brother-in-law was a member of a church that sent people to pick up everything that wasn’t sold at a gourmet bakery in East Brighton and then deliver it to people who needed it. The Tuesday night woman couldn’t do it any more and he thought of the boys and me. I couldn’t believe my luck!
We went to that bakery every Tuesday night for the next 14 years. We’d drive into the laneway at the back of the shop, armed with 3 or 4 empty laundry baskets and lots of plastic bags. It wasn’t just bread – there were cakes and buns, pies and pasties… it was a lucky dip every week.
The boys ate a LOT of bread growing up. Every Tuesday night was pie night. We’d eat whatever hot food was there. We grew very tired of pies and pasties but I insisted we keep the tradition going. That was a night where feeding the 5 of us didn’t cost me a cent!
It was a crazy thought that we were so poor, yet we were eating the same bread as the “rich” people in East Brighton. Some of it was your ordinary white loaves, but mixed among that was the BEST rye bread and gourmet wholemeal seedy loaves that I’ve ever eaten. Nothing better than a chewy crust of rye bread with lashings of butter. Now that I’m writing about it, I really miss that rye bread…
After a few years we bought chickens. Every Wednesday was bread day for the chooks, which saved me a day’s worth of pellets. The neighbourhood birds soon got to know our backyard – it wasn’t an unusual sight to see a raven flying away with a Boston bun in its beak and sparrows snatching dinner rolls and squabbling over them.
Every week, I’d pack the leftovers from the bakery into different laundry baskets, depending on who was going to get the contents. At first, when I was home with the kids, there was our basket, Mum’s basket, and then various friends who’d put their hands up for free bread. Later on, the chook basket, for the food that wasn’t as pristine. Then, when I went back to work, there was the school basket. Every Wednesday morning I’d walk from the car to the common room, basket loaded up with loaves of bread and all the cakes and buns. People loved that they had a free morning tea every week and that they could take home some bread to use for toast.
When I bought The Best House in Melbourne and moved 50 minutes away, I knew the bread run had to come to an end. I tried it once and the trip home at peak hour along Nepean Highway was awful. I didn’t get home until 6:30. There was no way I was going to make my Tuesdays that long and I knew that times had changed. Although I was paying over 70% of my takehome pay in bridging finance, I knew that we’d be able to survive without it. It was time to pass the baton to someone else.
I walked away from my conversation with the couple outside the church and my eyes widened as I started to recognise how far the boys and I have come. She was once me, with all these bills to pay and barely enough money to keep things going. Once, there is no way I would have walked away from that free food! I would have tied the dogs up on the fence outside and dived in, desperate to save some money so I could put it towards uniforms, bills or servicing the car.
Instead, the dogs and I quietly walked home, seeing the other people clearly making their way towards the church hall. Some were young mothers pushing prams, some were older people and some looked like they’d clearly had a hard life.
I opened the gate to The Best House in Melbourne and brought the dogs inside and bent down to take off their leads. I stood up and looked at my beautiful, fully-paid-for house and I sighed a deep sigh of thankfulness that things have ended up as they have.
I kept my head together and didn’t waste anything while we were struggling, whether it be free bread, donated kids’ clothes or my teaching degree. We were very fortunate to have had help along the way, such as the bakery run and we didn’t squander it. I will be eternally grateful for the impulse that led that man to offer the Tuesday night run to the boys and me. It was a huge help when we were struggling and it also taught the boys about spreading our good fortune by sharing with others.
But the thing I’m now most grateful for? When I looked at that excited woman who urged me to go on and get some of this miraculous bounty for myself and I felt nothing but a calm certainty that this generosity was not for me. I can safely leave it on the table for others to use.
I’m not used to the feeling of financial security. It’s lovely.