I walked into HR today with a very particular question to ask. Basically, the crux of it was, “I wish to work 3 days a week next year and be paid for 4. Can you grant this wish?”
Turns out she can. She’s like a fairy godmother, granting wishes all over the place.
Long Service Leave is a perfectly brilliant thing!
In Australia we have LSL, which is earned after you work with the same employer for more than 7 years. You get extra days’ holidays that you MUST take as an actual holiday – you can’t cash them out or transfer them to someone else. You can store them up or years if you want to and then take a holiday when it suits. This is what I did when I took a whole term off in 2015 and went to Europe and used up 50 days on full pay, and I did it again last year when I took an extra week’s holiday in April (5 days on full pay) and went to North Korea.
There’s nothing so sweet as standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower/Juche Tower and knowing that you’re getting paid while you’re looking out over Paris/Pyongyang.
People who job-hop obviously forego gaining LSL, but for people like me, who work as teachers in the government system, LSL works brilliantly. Even if we hop from school to school, the State Government is still our employer, so our LSL gently piles up until we’re ready to use it. I don’t know how many days we get/year. I tried googling it but the website had a mathematical formula to explain it so I got out of there quick smart. I’ll just call it magic.
I always assumed that you have to take LSL in biggish blocks of time until I talked with a retiring work colleague late last year. She said that she was going to spend the last 6 months of her career working part-time but getting paid full-time, by using a couple of LSL days every week.
This has rocked my world.
Think about it. In two or three years I’m going to be retired, so I’ll be able to take holidays whenever I want. I won’t be restricted to school holiday times with their exorbitant prices. I won’t need to have access to some holiday days – the whole year will be my holiday smorgasbord table.
I have around 45 LSL days available. Roughly speaking, school terms are 10 weeks long. There’s 4 of them a year.
Imagine being able to work 3 days a week, while having another day’s pay coming in over the first year to Get Things Done and smooth the ride down to retirement?
Now THAT seems like a good use of Long Service Leave!
I sat down 5 minutes later with my principal and ran the idea past her. She’s officially approved it. In writing. It’s really going to happen, folks!
Of course, there’s the other option, which is what most people do. Work and get paid for your normal days, “retire”, then stay on the books and use up the LSL in one fell swoop at the end. This also has its charms.
I tot up my net worth at the end of each calendar month. It doesn’t take long – it’s not as if I have a hugely complicated estate, after all – and I have a table that I record my figures on. I don’t include The Best House in Melbourne’s value on the table because the purpose of the exercise is to track my progress towards my “FI” number. You can’t eat your house, after all!
My ‘FI number’ is the dollar amount that I’ve estimated I’ll need before I can think about pulling the pin on my job. Financial Independence is the goal I’m aiming for. I want to have enough money coming in so that I can afford to maintain the lifestyle I have, along with a few added extras like an overseas holiday every year or so.
I’m a pretty frugal person, so when I say that I’m aiming for ‘FAT FIRE’, I mean that it’s a figure that’s far more than I need to survive on. For many people, my “FAT FIRE” figure will be their ‘LEAN FIRE’ number.
They don’t call it personal finance for nothing!
Anyway, I was totting up my numbers last month and it appears that I’ve passed a fairly significant figure, which puts me at 80% of the way towards my goal. Already! (I was vaguely aiming to get there by the end of the year.) I won’t stay at this level – I’m going to get those security doors and screens I was telling you about last week, along with finishing off the landscaping in the back yard. But still, it’s encouraging to see that this compounding effect that all of the numbers people keep telling us about actually appears to be working.
Last week I was on a podcast, where I was talking with Breanna about how important it is for teachers to get to FI as soon as they can. It gives options and helps us to avoid being one of “those teachers”… the teachers who are burnt out and don’t want to be in the classroom anymore, but they’re forced to stay there because they can’t afford to walk away.
Those of us who are teachers know exactly what I’m talking about – we’ve all worked alongside them. Those of us who have been students know exactly what I’m talking about – we’ve all been taught by at least one person who’s heart has clearly gone out of it, but they plug along regardless.
Teachers like this can do a lot of damage. Kids always know who wants to be in front of them and who doesn’t.
A teacher can make or break kids’ passion for a subject. When I was a student manager I used to interview kids for the subjects they wanted to do for the next year. It was so common for kids to be fired up about a subject because they liked the teacher that had taught them. It’s so important to have people teaching subjects that they love and who eagerly share the really cool things about them.
Now, I’m not saying I’m a burned-out and bitter old crone, but for the first time since I came back to teaching after my 10-year gap when I was raising my pre-schoolers, I can see that the time is approaching when the annoying things about the job will outweigh the fun stuff.
This morning, as my feet hit the floor, I thought to myself, “How about I make it One More Year?” One more year of full-time work, then either pull the pin entirely or drop back to part-time work, but not just for 4 days/week. How about if it was 2 or 3 days?
How would that feel?
One more year of the long commute every weekday…
One more year of getting up in the dark every weekday for most of the year…
One more year of earning over 6 figures so I can Get Things Done…
I reckon I could put up with another year of full-time work if it was the last year of full-time work.
This is an interesting idea for me to kick around. I could always drop back to part-time in 2021 if my ‘FIRE figure’ wasn’t where I wanted it to be, or if the share market looked shaky. One more year of full-time work would mean that all of the big, expensive jobs I want to tick off would almost certainly be finished. Especially if I knew that it was the last year of that level of income.
Then, a trickle of part-time or CRT (supply/emergency teaching) would be enough to have day-to-day expenses taken care of and would keep me in touch with the young folk and all of their newfangled ways.
I don’t mind saying that the very idea has made a huge difference to my day.
Of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, once I thought of this, today has turned out to be a very easy day on the job. I read ‘Coraline’ aloud to one group of year 7’s and I watched the movie for 2 periods with the other year 7’s. I’m in front of my angelic year 9’s who are working their way through some language analysis in their textbook and no one needs any help. The only class that’ll have any sort of grunt in them will be my year 8’s at the end of the day.
When I have days like today, I wonder why I’d ever contemplate leaving. Why would I leave such a cushy job paying 6 figures to loll around at home with my dogs all day? Am I mad?!?
Given this, and assuming I’m not actually mad, towards the end of 2020, I’d better hope for any of the following to happen:
an annoying helicopter parent to pop up and harass me.
a new government teaching initiative to come along that will either offer nothing new at all/has been tried 20 years ago and it didn’t work then either/will mean bucketfuls of extra work for no benefit to the students in front of us.
notification that a staff member that I find intensely annoying will be moved to the desk beside mine in the staffroom.
I’ve been named to teach year 12 English the next year.
Any one of those will be enough to push me over the edge and get my to drop my hours. A combination of these would probably get me to drop the job entirely!
It’s an idea that I’ll continue to mull over. It gives me time to sort out what I want to do before I jump into anything too reckless. I can access my Super in 3 years, so the part-time/CRT route gives a gentle glide-path down towards being fully reliant on that money.
If I keep on working full-time without any clear end in sight, I can see that I’ll become burnt-out and I’ll be one of ‘those’ teachers.
But I can certainly keep going at the pace I’m at if I know it’s for one more year…
Today is parent/teacher day. I’m writing this in a half-hour gap I have between parents, as I sit at my desk with a coffee and a biscuit.
Our school has a full day set aside for talking to parents. We start at 9:45 AM and finish at 8:30 PM, with parents shuttling through on 5 minute increments. I have 4 full classes, with one being a year 12 class and the rest are English, so my dance card is always jam-packed. I’m seeing nearly 80 sets of parents today.
It’s a long day. The school feeds us dinner, which is a nice little bonus, but all the talking is hard on the voice. Some teachers hate these days, but personally, I don’t mind them. It’s not the interviews that bother me, it’s simply the length of the day.
The kids are expected to come with their parents, dressed in full school uniform. (The kids, not the parents.) It’s a nice opportunity to congratulate the good kids, rev up the lazy kids and sink the boot into the naughty kids.
This year I have a year 8 class with a clot of very immature, loud boys that have been driving all their teachers and the rest of their class crazy. They’ve been eating the new, young teachers alive because they work in tandem to create disruption, which we rarely see at our school. I’ve brought up lots of boys and taught hundreds more, but even I sometimes feel as if I have to carry a whip ad chair into class when I have them, particularly at the end of the day.
A few weeks ago we instituted a seating plan for them across all of their classes. It’s spoiled all their fun and so it’s a great success. It’s been interesting to see which parents know about it and which don’t. I’ll give you three guesses as to which parents fall into which camp!
These interviews are very therapeutic to a teacher’s soul. The parents look daggers at their son and the kid looks sheepish. I never start off on the attack – instead, I ask the kid what they think I’d say if I was asked to comment on how they’re going.
Kids are pretty honest. It’s very rare that I have to cough, lean forward and say, “That’s a very interesting interpretation of what’s going on in the class. However…”
But yeah, as I said before, it’s the sheer length of the day that gets you.
After 8:30, by the time you get to your desk, grab your stuff and get to your car it’s pushing 8:45. Granted, the drive home takes far less time at this hour of the day than the morning and afternoon commute, but I’m still walking through the door at 9:15 at night.
A couple of students asked me if we get extra pay for this. I laughed and laughed.
We go through this twice a year. I know that when I retire, even though I don’t have a bad time while they’re going on, these parent/teacher days are definitely not ones that I’ll be looking nostalgically back upon.
I just finished a pile of year 7 persuasive essays about whether or not to ban plastic. I read 28 of these, with varying degrees of neatness, correct spelling and originality. A couple of them made me want to throw myself out a window, but others made me smile. But truly, none made me smile more than Toby’s one – because it was the last one.
I have a choice for the rest of the day – I can live in the moment and be happy that I’ve finished that marking, or I can look forward with dread to the end of the day. This is when my year 9s are due to finish their ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘ essays and hand them in.
Why do I use the word ‘dread’?
28 essays all on the same topic, using the same novel and written to pretty much the same formula. Most of these kids have very bad handwriting since they spend most of their time using computers. This is why God invented the chocolates for sale in the staff common room. When I get a couple of bad ones, it takes a sugar hit to get me through.
So what should I do?
Call me crazy, but Ryan here seems to know what he’s talking about.
I have three hours before the next pile of essays lands on my desk to be marked. I also have period 4 off – what will I do with those 48 precious minutes of freedom now that I’ve chosen to live in the moment?
The possibilities are endless…
Well… as endless as the possibilities are when you’re stuck at work. I could:
Begin the book that the school library bought and reserved for me. It’s been sitting on my desk for the last couple of days, untouched, unopened, unread.
Write a blog post or two.
Have a chat with someone else who’s also free.
Do some lesson prep for next week. (Though who am I trying to fool? This probably won’t happen…)
I can guarantee that Mr Gosling’s right – each of these will be far better if I immerse myself in the moment and just enjoy them. Those year 9 essays are going to come at me whether I focus on them or not.
So why on earth would I poison the last 3 hours of freedom I’ll have before they get here?
I like my job – I really do. And yet it isn’t an unmixed blessing. Here are some of the things I won’t miss when I leave.
The marking. I won’t miss this! I just finished marking 28 text response essays on the same question about the same book. Each essay has an introduction, three body paragraphs that are all structured the same way, and a conclusion. Only chocolate can get me through this.
The parents. I won’t miss (some of) them! I overheard a phone call recently where an irate parent was complaining to a teacher who told her son to put his helmet on when riding his bike. (This is the law, by the way.) This parent accused the teacher of following her son after school and said that it is only the police who can enforce this rule, not a teacher. You’d think that a parent would be pleased that someone is trying to keep their son safe, but clearly not…? The only thing that parent taught her son was that he can get off things through a technicality. Not exactly the sort of lesson I’d personally like to teach my kid, but then… what would I know?
The Meetings. I won’t miss this! Ok, no one likes meetings. But mine have doubled from this year compared to last. The two faculties I was in used to have their meetings scheduled on the same days, but now Art has moved their time slot. When you have a long commute an extra meeting or two definitely fails to float your boat.
Re-inventing the Wheel. I definitely won’t miss this! Teaching is peculiarly vulnerable to politicians and bureaucrats wanting to make their mark by fiddling and meddling with things. The number of times I’ve seen the same ideas come around, being touted as ‘the next new thing’ is uncountable. Ideas renamed, rebranded and then schools are forced to adopt them, thus creating a huge workload for teachers who are made to change documentation and whole curricula, only to see the next sweeping change come in a couple of years later.
Lazy students. *sigh* I won’t miss this! The school I work at is a high-achieving government school and the majority of our students are highly motivated. My year 12 Theatre Studies kids, for example, are staying back until 6 PM tonight to do rehearsals for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ But there are always some kids who “hate reading” and “don’t know where I put the homework” or sit in class day-dreaming while the rest of the kids are writing the assessment task. Then they grizzle about their marks. I have very little patience for people who don’t hold themselves accountable.
Having each minute of my day from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM (4:30 if there’s a meeting) rigidly prescribed. This is the one I won’t miss the most. According to the timetable, I know which days are frantically busy and which days allow time to get marking done. (See point 1 at the top of the list.) I have to be in front of certain kids at a certain time in a certain room in 48-minute blocks of time. Teachers can’t even pee when we want to. We’re not to leave the kids for any reason, in case something happens. People who love predictability would probably love this – but it certainly tends to squash spontaneity in the working day!
Getting up so early in the morning. I won’t miss this one. Ok, this one is self-inflicted. I used to live a 2-minute drive from school, but now it’s more around 50 minutes since I did the whole geo-arbitrage thing. I like a leisurely morning, sipping my coffee on the couch, reading blogs, tweets and Bookface posts while the dogs snuggle on either side of me. I get up an hour before I have to leave for work so I can enjoy some time with the dogs. I’m looking forward to when I can get up, look at the clock and think, ‘Gee, I would be driving right now if I was still at work! Heh heh.”
Like I said, I love my job and I’m glad I fell into teaching. However, there are a few burrs under my saddle that will make me gleeful when I decide it’s time to pull the pin on my working life. I focus on these things every now and then and it makes me redouble my focus on retiring early(er).
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.
A few days ago I read a blog post by a reader here. It was exploring a corker of an idea called ‘Homework for Life’, which sounded a little bit like a Gratitude Journal. It’s a simple idea, much like the things I talked about in my post about The Secret to Happiness about taking time to notice the little things, but it takes it a step further by getting you to actually write things down.
I read the post through a couple of times, then posted it to Twitter, tagging in a couple of my teacherlyfriends, saying, ‘Wouldn’t this be a fantastic thing to do with our kids?
A few days ago I tried it with my year 7 English class.
I asked them to sit silently for a few moments and think back across their day so far. I asked them to recall any pleasant moments that have happened. They could be big if they were desperate, but preferably they’d be really tiny. Things like noticing a pretty flower in someone’s garden on the walk to school, or patting a cat and hearing it purr, or laughing with your friends about something funny that happened.
The point is that it should be something that was a small thing in the scheme of things… something so small that it would soon be forgotten if it wasn’t written down.
Little smiles began to appear on people’s faces as they began remembering.
I set the timer for a couple of minutes and we all began writing.
After we’d finished, everyone read out what they’d written. There were some beautiful moments.
One little girl said that as she got out of the car as she was being dropped off at school, her grandpa called her name. She turned around and looked back in the car. “Have a great day, love,” he said. She said that made her feel warm and special.
A boy said that his best friend has been away sick for a few days. When he got to school today he saw his friend at the lockers and it made him really happy.
One boy said that he solved a really hard Maths problem in class and he felt proud of himself.
A girl took my flower example to heart and described in great detail one that she’d noticed that morning, right down to the bright yellow pollen in the centre.
Another boy said that when his friends turned up at his house this morning to walk to school he was ready for them and they didn’t have to wait. He felt really good about that.
(The background to this last one is that whenever I call the roll for a class, I mix up the order and whoever is last I say, “And the hideous Joe Lunchbucket… or whatever the name is.) A girl said,” I haven’t been hideous all year and I’ve been waiting to be. Ms Frogdancer called me hideous today and it made me smile.”
Of course, this is something that we can all do.
As we’re going along the path that leads to financial freedom, it’s all too easy to put all our focus on the future and forget to enjoy all of the little things that make each day a good one to be alive.
Why not jot down one thing that made you smile each day?
My friend Blogless Liz has kept a Gratitude Journal for years. At the end of the day she lists the things that have brought her pleasure that day. She told me that she told her year 8 class about this, and then a few days later one of the boys hung back after class and said, “Ms Blogless Liz, After you said that, I’ve started keeping a Gratitude Journal too and I’m feeling much happier.”
I’m going to start doing this. I fall into the trap of becoming impatient with the pace of my impending Financial Independence and I want it to happen NOW!!! I have the feeling that I’m not the only one.
Having something concrete to leaf through when we’re feeling like this will probably be helpful in making us remember that yes – our present lives are actually pretty darned good and we should enjoy it more as we finish off the job of becoming FI.
Even having the discipline of knowing that we have to have at least ONE thing to write down at the end of the day will make us notice the little things more – which of course is The Secret to Happiness.
**Just an update on Scout after her surgery. It’s now been two weeks and you’d never know that she was so sick. Her stitches are out, she’s still ball-obsessed and life is back to normal – but with an added dollop of thankfulness every time I look at her.
I’ve decided that every year, at least for the next few years while the kids are mostly in their early 20’s, I’ll be buying my sons and nieces a finance book for Christmas.
As written about in this post, Iast year I gave them ‘The Richest Man in Babylon.” Hey, it’s a classic and it’s short. I wanted to start them off easy. Ryan23 read it but wasn’t a fan. He asked for something a bit meatier to read on the train on his commute to uni, so I bought him ‘The Millionaire Next Door’, which he loved. He’s now tackling ‘Your Money or Your Life’, but I don’t think that’s grabbed him as much.
I also bought them ‘The Barefoot Investor’, which is a Dave Ramsey-esque layout of how to organise finances and stay out of debt.
In the middle of October, my mighty intellect realised that Christmas was coming, so I began to think about which book I was going to buy for the kids this year. I put up a few enquires on FB and twitter, bought and downloaded a few to my ipad to test-drive them, but none of them seemed quite right.
I wanted something that had a bit more of a nuts-and-bolts approach about finances and investing, which could teach them about how to deploy the money they’ve (presumably) been accumulating if they’ve taken the Babylon lessons to heart.
I remembered a book I’d read years ago by Noel Whittaker, called ‘Making Money Made Simple’, which has chapters on banking, insurance, investing, the property market, the share market etc. I jumped onto his website to see if it had been updated, (it had), so I sent him an email to ask if the books he was selling on his website were the latest editions.
He wrote back saying yes they were, but then recommended another book he and his son had written, which was aimed at the demographic the kids are from. ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Wealth.’
I bought the kindle version and settled down for a read.
At first, I was a bit ‘ho-hum’ about it. The first part of the book talks about the mindset and attitudes needed to succeed, not just with finances but with life in general. I was thinking, “Yeah yeah, I’ve heard this all before…” when it suddenly struck me. The kids probably haven’t come across this information before, so it would be invaluable.
I kept reading with renewed enthusiasm.
At the end of the day I ordered 6 copies. It’s a well-balanced book, with the first part about positive thinking, being a lifelong learner and basically getting off your behind and getting out there; while the second part is a little like ‘Making Money Made Simple’ with basic information about finances and such.
I think it’s a good ‘next step’ book for them, with the logical next buy being the original book. However, with all of the FI books being released lately, who knows what next year’s book will be?