Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Education (Page 1 of 4)

Great success is always the sum of many small decisions.

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

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

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

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

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

Take another look at this quilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the same with financial independence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad joke of the day:

A recommended financial reading list.

I’ve always felt that a financial reading list was a necessary thing that this blog lacked. As an educator, this was something I had to fix. What’s the purpose of finding out about things if you can’t share the love with other people?

I thought I’d get onto it straight away. But damn… Retirement’s just so good! The last 10 months have drifted by so quickly, even in lockdowns. It was always on my mind in that annoying, ever-present ‘To Do’ list that I carry around in my brain.

It’s easy to ignore your own list. But then last week I had two readers contact me and ask if I could put them onto some books to buy for their kids to get them off to a good start. What better way to answer than to share the books that I’ve given to my own family?

If you look up at the header, you’ll see I’ve added a new page. This page is a little different to the ones on other blogs because the first list of books are the ones that I’ve been buying for my 4 sons and 2 nieces each Christmas. These are the books that I wanted to have on the kids’ shelves so that when they were ready for the information, they’d have everything they need right at their fingertips.

Some of the books are designed for young people starting off. Others are the books that helped me on my learning curve of getting my head around Financial Independence and investing, back when I was a single mother desperate to claw my way out of the hole I found myself in. Of course, I want the kids to have the information NOW, not to wait until their 40’s and 50’s like I did.

These books are the bare necessities of a great framework for understanding how the financial world works, along with understanding debt, investing, and how to efficiently organise your financial life. Anyone who has them on a shelf within easy reach has a fantastic grounding in how to make money work for them, instead of the other way around.

The second list has the books that I’ve enjoyed but were not bought for the kids. At the moment they’re all about different aspects of retirement, but over time this list will be much broader. So much to learn!

Please jump over and have a look at the lists. Let me know what you think. Do you have any recommendations for books that I can tackle for myself, as well as books I can consider for next Christmas?

I’m open to suggestions.

Dad joke of the day:

What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?

Nacho Cheese.

Smarter than Before.

Soon I’m going to be interviewed about FIRE on a brand-new podcast. It’s called ‘Smarter than Before’ and the aim of it is that each guest will teach the host about a skill/career/something that isn’t usually talked about.

As we all know, financial skills aren’t normally talked about!

I want to make sure I cover everything I need to. It’ll be a 45 minute chat.

If you are following the FIRE path, what do you think I should include?

If you’re newish to this, what would you like to know more about?

I’d really appreciate any and all feedback.

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.


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

My new retirement quest – reading my way to getting my rates for ‘free.’

3 books.
Poems, history and fictional history – what more could you want?

It’s going to storm pretty heavily later today, so I decided to take the dogs and walk up to the library to return a couple of books and pick up an Atwood book of poems that I had on hold. It takes 6,000 steps to get there and back so it’s a good walk to take when you’ve been a bit too ‘at one with the couch’ for a few days.

This morning I thought of another book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. When I got there I posted my returns through the slot and then went to the door and called to the librarians. I had the dogs with me and there was no way I was going to leave them tied up outside. My dogs are too appealing – there’s been an uptick in stolen dogs since covid hit and I don’t want mine to be added to that unhappy crew.

As you can see from the photo – they already had “The Last Tudor”, even though I only put it on hold an hour before. I was one happy customer!

As we were slowly striding home – Scout, being a miniature wire-haired dachshund, has very small legs – I idly began to think of how much money I was carrying home in these books. My father’s remark of, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!” flashed through my mind. He said this when I said that I’d started using the local library.

My rates are $1,800 each year. An average novel costs between $30 – $40. Say, just as a thought exercise, that each book costs $30. That would require someone to borrow and read 60 books in a year to “get their money back.”

(I just want to make something clear. Long-term readers of this blog would be extremely sceptical that I was willing and able to do these mathematical equations. They’d be right. I did them on a calculator when I got home.)

When you consider that last year my Goodreads challenge was fulfilled by the start of December with 80 books read, then this challenge is pretty do-able. I’ve already read 28 books in 2021, so I think I can do this.

A few rules:

  • In order to play fair, I will look online for the paperback version price of each book. After all, I’m a tight**se. I’m never going to buy a hardback version of a book when the paperback version is available.
  • If any books I borrow are eBooks, I’ll count the cost of the kindle version for this quest.
  • I will have a running total of this quest on the sidebar of this blog.
  • Even though I pay my rates in February, I will use the entirety of 2021 for this quest. It’s easier.
  • If I do well at this, there’s nothing stopping me from finding out how much I’ve paid in rates since we moved here to The Best House in Melbourne. A mega-quest will be to work at “earning back” all of the rates I’ve paid. (This could take a while…)
  • This quest ONLY takes into account the books I borrow from my local library. Books I borrow from friends or books I buy for myself do not count.

I’ve just looked up the price of the books in the photo on Booktopia.

Atwood’s ‘Dearly’ only comes in hardcover. It comes in at $22.

Weir’s “Queens of the Crusades’ is priced at $28.

Gregory’s ‘The Last Tudor’ is $31.

With the help of my trusty calculator, the total just with these 3 books is $81. So far, I’ve borrowed and read 22 books from the library.

This could be fun…

Who says schools don’t teach kids about personal finance?

Clearly, when you’re writing in the FIRE pace, a post about giving your retirement speech is something everyone wants to read. Most readers ever in a single day. Gee, if I put some effort into publicising this blog, I would have stumbled across this tactic far earlier and I would’ve retired YEARS ago! This post even beat the numbers I got when I won the Rockstar Finance blog battle in 2018.

Good times…

This morning I woke up, drowsily hearing rain on the tin roof and knew I had the day off. Then I thought, ‘I didn’t ring the daily organiser to tell her I wasn’t coming in!’ and I sat bolt upright in bed before I realised.

It’s a funny thing, being a teacher and retiring at the beginning of the school holidays. For the whole of my working life, I’ve had 5 or 6 weeks of holidays at this time of the year. So, even though I know in my head that I’m not going back to work, in the rest of my body it honestly feels like the summer holidays.

I still have my wage coming in until the end of the holidays, which also makes it seem like business as usual. However, my head, which (as I’ve already told you), knows that I’m retired, made me go to Gardenworld yesterday to buy expensive tree ferns and other plants to fill in the last garden bed in my new outdoor room. I also paid the deposit on getting my ensuite remodelled. I like paying for jobs like this while I still have money coming in.

2021 will be a year of only local travel, staying close to home and enjoying the space I’ve created.

Every year I give my sons and nieces a book on personal finance. Some have read every book, some have thrown them onto their bookshelves unopened while some have dipped in and out of them, but I figure that when it dawns on each person that they need to have a handle on this money stuff, they’ll have info right at their fingertips. Already that makes them better off than most people, right?

After Christmas, I’ll put a new page up at the top, where I’ll list what I’ve given them each year and why.

Coffee grounds and cold sausages.

After my last day, as I was literally leaving the school with the last bounty I’ll be taking from this place – a tray of cooked snags and the last of the coffee grounds from the staff room – ( I wrote about making the most of what your workplace can offer HERE) – one of the economics teachers stopped me and asked if I’d be interested in giving a talk to the year 9s in a new elective they’re offering next year about personal finance.

“It sounds like you’d be the perfect person to talk to them,” he said.

“Are you kidding?!? I’d be rapt!”

“It’d be twice,” he said. “It’s a semester subject.”

“That’s why I’m retiring,” I said. “So I can do the things I want to do. This’ll definitely be one of them.”

It’ll be interesting to see the topics they’ll be covering.

My retirement speech part 2.

So where were we?

Ah yes. I’d “written” my speech the night before – just a series of dot points – and I was raring to go.

My friend Megan volunteered to be my Designated Driver once I asked her, so she arrived to pick me up and we drove into school. Everyone’s desks were piled with Christmas cards, gifts and chocolates and we were all full of anticipation for the day ahead.

“I’m really looking forward to your speech, Frogdancer,” said a friend.

“Oh, I’m not giving a speech. I’m scared of public speaking,” I said. The look of shock on her face before I started laughing was priceless.

As we all found a seat at the big tables in the hall, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky we’ve been in Melbourne, coronavirus wise. We had one of the toughest lockdowns in the world and could barely leave our homes, but now, just before Christmas, life is pretty much back to normal with no new cases in the community for over 40 days.

When I decided to retire earlier in the year I was annoyed to think that I’d have to give my speech via a Google Meet rather than having everyone in the room with me. It’s so much easier to hold people when you’re actually with them. And now? I got my wish. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

Our principal… let’s call her Patricia because it’s a name… gave her speech. She mentioned that she was going to have 2 huge celebrations this year – even though she hates surprise parties – but because of corona she ended up with “just me and Robert” for her milestone birthday, and for their anniversary “just me, Robert, the dog and cat.”

‘Excellent!’ I thought, making a mental note. I’d left mental space to refer to others’ speeches and Patricia had, all unknowing, given me the perfect way to start my speech.

I was expecting to be called last, as due to the school’s tradition the speeches go in order of how long the people have been there, but for some reason I was called second-last. Didn’t matter – I was good to go no matter when I was called.

After she gave her speech about me, calling me a bit of a rebel and saying how I sneak the kids off to the Theatre for drama lessons – how did she know??? – it was my turn to speak.

I got up and bounded towards the podium like a pudgy gazelle. This was my moment in the sun!

People on Twitter have asked that I publish my speech. I can’t give the word-for-word version because whenever I do a speech I speak TO the audience; I don’t read at them. So what follows is an approximation of what I actually said.

(I grab the sides of the podium, lay down my piece of paper with the dot points and half turn to face Patricia.)

“Isn’t it funny how people are different? I’d kill for a surprise birthday party and my kids are USELESS! They’ve never once thought to do it. The only two surprise parties that people have thrown me have been from kids at this school. “

(Murmurs of ‘aww’ from the audience. They think this is going to be a typical teacher speech – except for the people who know me well. They were strapped in and waiting.)

“When I went on my trip to Europe in 2015 – a trip I planned when I was 15 and didn’t get to actually do until I was 51, my year 12 Theatre kids got my son Evan to pretend to take me out for a farewell mother/son dinner. When we got to the restaurant the kids all popped up from behind a booth yelling “SURPRISE!” It was lovely.

“The other time was when a class of year 7s spent all lunchtime blowing up about 500 balloons to fill the classroom. It was hilarious. By the time I got there in period 5 some of them were white-faced and tottering slightly… I think they were hyperventilating from all the balloons!

(Turning again to face Patricia. A bit of background here: every year we have our first staff meeting for the year on the day before the kids arrive back. In her ‘welcome to the staff’ speech she always says, “No parent hands us their child and says, “Do a mediocre job on this one.” It’s a good saying about how every child we have in our classes is important. )

“But speaking as a parent of kids who came to this school Patricia, I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you…

(She laughs and looks slightly apprehensive. She knows me.)

“I would have been HAPPY to have a mediocre job done with my boys!

(Huge laugh from the staff. Turns back to the audience.)

“Look, for those of you who haven’t taught them, they’re affable. They mean well, but they’re as dumb as a box of bricks. A mediocre job would have been just fine. But it’s a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the people here in front of me, all but 4 teachers did an outstanding job with them. (I could see people wondering who the 4 teachers were. heh heh. Just as I wanted!)

“Just to be fair, I taught 2 of them, so I’ll just leave that bit of info with you…

(I looked down to my left and saw a group of young teachers. I don’t know who they were – we have a very large staff – but one girl was staring at me with her jaw dropped literally as far as it could go. You could almost hear her thinking, “How could any mother speak about her children like that?” I started laughing at the look of shock on her face.)

“Speaking of having kids at the school with you, it’s so much fun. Seriously, even if you’re like me and don’t like babies (shocked gasps and laughter) have a shit-ton of them. Have a baker’s dozen! It’s like a sport that’ll give you entertainment here for years.

(I have to whip away the veil of anonymity for a second with my oldest son. On the blogs I call him Tom, but his real name is Jack, with a surname of 3 syllables that start with the letters DA, pronounced like the da in ‘dad’. This is important for the story to follow.)

“We all know Jenny Smith. So nice, so lovely and caring. When my son Jack Da… was in year 8, I bumped into her and asked how he was going.

“I don’t teach your son,” she said.

“Yes you do. He has a different surname to mine,” I said, thinking that might be the problem. “He’s Jack Da…. in year 8.”

“I don’t teach anyone by that name,” she said, getting cross. When I insisted that yes she did, she whisked me off to her desk to check her class list in her chronicle. In those days, it was all handwritten.

So I grabbed the chronicle and scanned the list, looking for the D’s. I have to tell you, it’s a sad day when the kid who had driven you to drink is clearly doing the same to other people. There, clear as day, she’d written “Jack Daniels.”

(The staff roared. Jenny was laughing, red faced and mopping her eyes.)

“But yeah, having kids at school with you is like a sport. Here’s how its done:

“When you realise you have your kid’s class as a sub, you walk towards the class waiting outside the room. Your kid sees you, nods, then as you don’t deviate away, you can see them realising that their Mum is going to teach the class. They avoid eye contact, but we both know it isn’t going to save them.

“You can launch your attack right away, getting up to the class and pretending to see them for the first time. “Jack darling!” and you give him a hug. “I’ve missed you!”

“Or, you play it cool. As you move through them to the door, you hear the kids telling your kid, “That’s your Mum.” See? I told you my kids were dumb – even the other kids know it.

“You unlock the door, then sternly tell the kids to line up. Then you say, “David, sweetie, do you want to go in first and have the pick of all the seats?

(People are laughing like crazy. It’s wonderful.)

“Or you can get them when you’re calling the roll. “Sarah Snozbag, Joe Lunchbucket, (sigh and go all syrupy sweet) Ryan Jones” and blow him a kiss. The best one though, is if you play it cool all through these steps, treating the class as normal. Then, just after you finish the roll, you stand up and say, “Just before I tell you what your teacher wants you to do today, Evan, would you like to grab your books and come and do your work at the big table with Mummy?” Seriously, have kids just for this reason. Its worth it.

“Sometimes though, working at the school means you see things that most parents don’t see. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Like Jack’s first swimming sports day in year 7. It took him a while to find his feet and make friends, so on that day I had to watch my child walking all day, on his own, doing the circuit around the pool over and over again, with a set look on his face which I knew meant he was just countng down the hours before we could go home. It broke my heart to see him, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help. But then, two years later, I was able to watch him on the hill with all his mates, laughing and having so much fun. Given time and positive action – everything always turns out better.

( Now comes the time when I wanted to switch gears and get into the serious stuff. The audience was with me 100%. They were on board. It was time.)

“Working at this school gave a lot of things to my family. A great education for the boys, friends for all of us, but most of all it gave us financial stability. Not everyone here knows, but when I was 34 I left my husband. I had a 5-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old and an eleven-month-old. We had $120 in the bank, so I withdrew all of it and gave my then-husband half. I had a 100K mortgage – and before you all roll your eyes, the interest rate was around 10.8%, so shut up! I drove an old Tarago van, which was as sexy and aerodynamic as driving a loaf of bread. Whenever it rained and I turned right, a trickle of water from the sunroof would run down the back of my neck. Invigorating.

I couldn’t go back to work with so many kids – the childcare fees’ would’ved killed me, so I stayed at home on the Sole Parents pension until Evan went to school. At that time, it was around 18K a year. My ex-husband took cash jobs so he’d avoid child support, so I was getting $20/month from him. We were literally on the bare bones of our arses.

(The room was silent. You could have heard a pin drop.)

A year or two later, it was the beginning of winter The only heater my house had was an oil heater, that ran from a tank of oil at the side of the house that I had to fill up every year. Turned out that just when I was about to get new oil, the brakes went on the car. I only had enough money to take care of one job. I had about this much oil in the tank, (holds up hands maybe 30cms/a foot apart), so I thought that if I could eke it out, we could maybe get through.

“So every morning I’d get the boys up, dress them in their parkas and they’d run around all day. Little kids have great circulatory systems. I’d keep feeling their hands and then in the late afternoon when their hands would start getting chilly, I’d turn the fire on. Dinner, bath, bed, then I’d turn the fire off, snuggle down on the couch under a doona, and drink the one glass of wine I’d allow myself.

“Because the fire was hardly switched on, a family of mice moved in under it and I had to get mouse bait. I think my lowest point was one night, as I was sitting on the couch under the doona, I saw 3 little shapes sneak out from under the heater and start nibbling on the bait. I could hear the sound of the pellets knocking against the side of the tin. I sat there and cried. How could it come to this? I was the first in my family to be tertiary dedicated – hell, on my Mum’s side I was the first one to graduate high school. How could this happen to someone who was supposed to have brains?

“Fast forward a couple of years and Jack was starting year 7 at this school. The previous year I’d done some CRT work here and I saw the principal at the time. It’s funny how your life is held together by such thin threads. At first I thought, ‘maybe I should go over and say hello. But what if he doesn’t recognise me? I’ll look like a fool. ‘

“Then I thought, “What if I DON’T go up to say hi and he sees me and knows who I am. I’ll look like a stuck-up bitch. That’d be WORSE!’

“So I went up to him and of course he recognised me – he’s only human – and we were talking when he suddenly said, “Hang on, you’ve got ESL (English as a second language) on your resume. How would you like a full-time job in terms 2, 3 and 4? Our regular teacher is taking leave.”

I said yes, of course, and then asked when the interview was. He smiled and said, “You’ve just had it.”

“Imagine if I hadn’t have gone up to have a chat?

“I decided that because I had a stable income for the rest of the year, we’d get a new car. So I took the boys up to a car yard and I said, “I want to buy a good second-hand station wagon for around 20K with no sunroof!”

As the contracts kept coming, I renovated the house. The day the ducted heating went in was very sweet. We’d never be cold again.

I then talked briefly about the importance of financial independence for teachers. We influence young people every single day and if you are burnt out and don’t want to be in the classroom you poison your subject for the kids. After all, they’re not stupid. If you don’t want to be there, why should they?

I also told them how to find this blog, dancing as a Frogdancer would. They all laughed at that. They were ready for me to deliver the hilarious kick-arse ending. It was all going beautifully. I was so happy.

I glanced down at my notes, then…

… remember the guy from the English faculty who tried to psych me out on Monday? He’s also a Drama teacher, so he knows full well that you NEVER pull focus from someone who’s performing. Ever. It’s never been done in all my 17 years at the school. Not even when there was a 30-minute speech about fuschia-pink suitcases did anyone interrupt. We all got very drunk waiting for her to finish, but she had her moment uninterrupted.

Anyway, like I said, I glanced at my notes then this guy calls out, “Just stick to your notes, Frogdancer. We’re already 20 minutes over the schedule.”

O. M. GoD. I don’t know if he heard the gasp from the audience but I sure did. It was so rude and I know full well what he did was deliberate. As an English and Drama teacher, he knows all about the narrative flow, how important this performance was to me and he could see how the audience was in the palm of my hand. I don’t know why, but for some reason he wanted all eyes upon him.

I was FURIOUS. But I wasn’t going to let him rock me or pull the rug out from under me. He clearly didn’t stop to think about how Frogdancer Jones wins every work drama people try and drag her into. Admittedly, there haven’t been many of my 17 years, but he knows of a few that I’ve taken on and won.

I turned to face him, taking my piece of paper and turning it very obviously upside down. Then I said, with a glare of ice but with a smile, “Oh no. My speech is written in Arabic now. Guess I’ll just have to continue on as I was. Sorry. “

I turned back to the audience, clapped my hands together and said brightly, “Now where was I? Oh yeah! I’m retiring!’

They laughed, bless them, and we were off on the journey together again. Phew!

“You know the thing I’m most looking forward to about retirement? Getting out from under the thumb of the boss of this school. (A gasp of surprised laughter from the staff, all eyes glancing at Patricia. I didn’t look at her, keeping my gaze on them.)

“You know the woman who makes you have a good or a bad day; a good or bad year; who runs our time from the moment we wake up until we leave this place at the end of the day?

Then I pretended to realise what they were all thinking.

“Oh no! It’s not Patricia! SHE’S not the boss here. It’s Latchy, the timetabler!

(HUGE burst of laughter. I knew this would be a kick-arse ending. This train was still moving, baby! )

“So Latchy, what I’m going to say next is going to infuriate you. On Term 1, day 1 at 9 am, I’m going to send you a photo – actually, I’ll send ALL of you a photo of the dogs and I on the dog beach.

“Then I’m going to come home and have a wee, even though it’s not recess!!!

(I was beginning to think people were having a wee right where they were, they were laughing and clapping so much.)

‘In fact, I’m going to let my bowels and bladder run free all day – toilet paper will be flying around my house like confetti!

“Then, I’m going to sit on the couch and read a book for… a very long time.

“Finally, because I don’t want to let all this freedom go to my head, after lunch I’m going to take a nanna nap – EVEN THOUGH I DON’T HAVE ANY GRANDCHILDREN!!

(Huge laughter. It was music to my ears. I’d wanted to give a great speech ever since I first started at the school and I knew I’d done it. I could leave with my head held high)

They gave me a standing ovation. I bowed, stretching my arms wide and walked back to my seat. I was very happy.

Then I got stuck into the bubbly.

The rest of the day was perfect. The staff band, ‘Duck and Cover’, played a few songs so we were all up on the dancefloor. So much fun! Lunch was delish and we had an icecream van come for dessert. Yum.

The really cool thing was that I had a constant stream of people coming up wanting to talk about my speech. Some just wanted to say how hilarious they found it, but a huge number of people wanted to talk about how the middle part resonated with them. They were brought up by single Mums, or they were doing the single parent thing themselves or had people close to them doing it. My speech really touched them and we had the most amazing conversations.

“I wish I’d known about all this before!” was what a few people said. I felt the same way. People don’t seem to talk much about the struggles we go through. I don’t know why.

It almost made me sad I was leaving. Well, almost…

I had one more day of work to get through. Friday – 9 AM till 12:30 PM.

That was another fun day. Lots of conversations, a breakfast sausage sizzle that quite a few people seemed to need after their partying at the Bowls Club the night before (I was there for a while, talking and dancing) and then it was time to leave.

We call our section of the staffroom ‘The Danger Zone.’ Loz snapped this photo of me after everyone had left. My desk is the one in the bottom left-hand corner.

I spent around a third of my life teaching at this school. I’ve loved it, there’s no doubt about that. But now – time for new adventures!

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…

“You’ll miss this when you retire!”

I was walking on the top oval, doing yard duty at lunchtime yesterday, when my principal said this to me. She and one of the assistant principals were talking with some kids on the oval while the other 2 APs were playing cricket with some girls. I walked up to them, pretending to think they were adults fraternising with the kids and threatening to chase them off.

I got a hug from the principal who said that she was going to miss me, and then she said, “See that group of kids on the table over there? They’ve carried a rock from there”, she pointed, “to there” she pointed again, “and they’ve called it Dwayne.”

“Of course they have,” I said. “I’ll go and check it out.”

As I walked away she laughed and said, “You’re going to miss this when you retire!”

“I probably will!” I replied.

I walked towards the table. There were about 8 year 9s, most of whom I didn’t recognise. As I got closer I saw there were 2 girls from my current Drama class. Let’s just say that this group of kids weren’t from the demographic of the super-keen studying nerd that our school seems to pump out. These were the more… disengaged kids.

As I got closer, I was seen by the ones facing me and obviously the word, “teacher!” was spread. The kids with their backs to me turned around, scowling.

“Hey Miss!” said a skinny boy. “What do you want?”

“Oh, I just wanted to see how Dwayne was,” I said.

Instantly the atmosphere changed. They all leaped up exitedly.

Dwayne was revealed – a HUGE lump of grey rock. I mean massive.

“Jesus!” I said. “I didn’t expect him to be so big.”

They laughed. and all started talking at once.

“You have to touch him, Miss. Here,” and hands guided me to where I had to make contact.

“You have to worship him Miss. We’re trying to get him to stop them putting a second gymnasium on the oval.”

I pulled a face. “I think that boat has sailed, guys. Aren’t they starting work next week?”

“Yeah. But they’ve agreed to put it so that we can still have this table at sit here at lunch. It’s important we have somewhere to sit, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.” I smiled at Ricky, then saw Monique. She’d cut my class period 1 because she had an assessment due.

“Monique!” I said. “Where were you period 1?!?”

“I was … um… sick, Miss,” she said. The boys around the table all laughed.

“Sick of Drama, you mean!” I retorted.

They all laughed again as she smiled and said, “NO! I like Drama. It’s just…”

“Get the costume design drawings in to me as soon as you can,” I said. “It’s the last assessment you’ll ever have to do for me.

She nodded as another boy said, “You know she hasn’t done it, Miss, don’t you?” Monique looked embarrassed.

I put on a shocked face.

“What do you mean? Of course she ‘ll do it. You were planning 1920’s style, weren’t you?”

She nodded.

“Cool then.” I smiled and turned to walk away. “See you, everyone. See you, Dwayne!”

“See you Miss!” “BYE!” “See you next week!”

Yes, she’s right, my principal. Things like this are definitely the things I’m going to miss when I retire. In just over 3 week’s time.

9 weeks to go…

Bright red knitting.
Keeping busy…

It’s been an interesting week and a half. A day after I wrote my last post, we had a virtual staff meeting and my principal announced that i was retiring. Just like that! I guess there’s no turning back now…

There were a few phone calls from people curious to see what I was up to, but most questions poured in when I was back at work on campus. Yes, this past week year 7, 11 and 12 kids have been back at school. I have 2 classes of year 7s so hey ho, it’s back to school I go.

Poppy looking soulful.

Given how youthful and dewy I am, most people are congratulating me and then asking what I’m moving to next. A different job? Another school? Their eyes widen slightly when I laugh and say, “No. It’s a REAL retirement!”

“But you’re too young to retire!” is mostly said by people around my age or older. When I smile and say something about how age isn’t the thing that determines retirement – it’s all about being able to support yourself, they either sigh and say, “The way we’re going, I’ll be working forever” or they ask me how I’ve done it.

That leads into some interesting chats.

So far, I’ve only had one person say how ‘lucky’ I am. I guess after working there for 16 years and having my 4 boys go through the school, people are pretty familiar with my story. I countered by saying that if I hadn’t have done my geoarbitrage move four years ago, I’d still be working.

“Doing that deal saved me 10 years of work,” I said. I didn’t mention all the years of frugality and keeping my eyes on the prize – nobody wants to hear about all of that!

Scout with her ball in her mouth.
Scout with her most prized possession.

A fair few people have nodded wisely and asked if COVID affected my decision. They look a bit surprised when I say that yes, I was planning to work part-time another year so it pushed my retirement forward by a year. That still doesn’t compute with being in my mid fifties and being able to retire.

One young teacher I work with started asking me about savings rates and if keeping an eye on spending was significant, so I shot this blog post over to him. He’s gone down the rabbit hole…

People have been overwhelmingly positive – to my face at least! – with many saying they’re jealous. LOL.

But I’m going to miss some things.

This week my year 7s have been doing their wide reading oral presentations. This is a 3 minute talk about a book they’ve read. Seeing as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and masks are mandatory, I made my kids do their talks while wearing their masks. I don’t want to get so close to escaping and then get killed by an errant droplet!

On Monday one little boy was so scared. He stood up in front of the class and started reading from his cue cards. They were literally shaking in his hands. It’s awful when you see this happening, because sometimes the kids just stop talking and freeze up, which makes it that much harder for them to tackle public speaking next time.

He kept on going, looking up and focusing on me when he wasn’t looking at his cards. His voice was shaking in the beginning, but by the end of the speech he’d sorted that out.

As I watched this kid conquering his fear, I thought, “I’m going to miss this.” As a teacher, you feel so proud when a kid is obviously scared, but they push themselves through that barrier and achieve something they didn’t think they could do.

At the end of his speech I asked him how scared he was. He said, “My knees were knocking together, Miss!”

I told him how proud I was of him for pushing through and succeeding and that this kind of thing is something I’m going to miss seeing. We then gave him a standing ovation. He was embarrassed but pleased.

A couple of the girls spoke about books that sounded really good, so I asked if I could borrow them and I polished them off this week. Every now and then I do this and I find really good reads that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

On Friday we had the last of the orals. I danced at the front of the room, singing, “Yay! I never have to listen to another oral presentation again!!!” One little girl said, “That makes me sad, Miss.”

Coronavirus figures for today.

It’s funny being back at school. Everyone is masked and the kids’ tables are separated as far as they can be, so they’re all in a grid shape, exactly like a Google Meet set up on a computer screen. I said to 7M yesterday that it’s almost like we’re still doing virtual classes, except they’re a lot harder to keep quiet without a mute button.

As you can see, our numbers are looking good, so people are hoping for an easing of lockdown restrictions to be announced tomorrow, especially the 5km travel bubble. Tom28, my oldest son, is working from home and he happens to live just around the corner from the school. I saw him on each day I worked this week – Monday to pick up some facemasks I’d made him that had ‘too-thick’ elastic and to give him a sourdough loaf – Wednesday to give him his repaired masks back – and Friday to give him and his flatmate a second sourdough. First times I’d seen him in person in four months.

And one last thing – WordPress enables us to see where our readers are from. It always gives me a thrill when I see my Antarctic peeps are reading. I thought I’d give a shout-out to my scientific friends down there!

It’s almost as exciting as when I saw that someone from North Korea was reading. But it was probably just someone from the government making sure that the 4 posts I wrote about my holiday there were acceptable.

I wonder where in the world I’ll go next, now that I’ll not be tied to school holidays?

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