Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

Category: FIRE as a single. (page 1 of 3)

The scary sound of silence.

It’s been over a week since my last post. If there’s a gap like this, it can only mean one of three things:

  • I’m dead.
  • I’m travelling in a place with no internet, like I was last year in North Korea.
  • I’m mulling over something.

It’s number 3. I’m mentally chewing over something and it’s either totally irrational or it’s a definite thing to be wary of. Turns out, this whole getting ready for retirement thing is a bit of a struggle in some unexpected ways. Who knew?

Ironic really, because in financial terms it seems that I’m pretty much here. I could crack the sads at something, walk out the door and the likelihood is that I wouldn’t end up eating cat food in an indigent old age. I should be singing my way into work every day, laughing like a loon with the kids and smiling my way through all the meetings.

Instead…

well, I have to say that going into work each day is a real struggle. Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s winter. This morning Melbourne is being buffeted by 130km/hr winds straight off Antarctica. When I woke up at 5:30 and went out to sit on the couch with my dogs and my coffee, I could hear the wind and rain. I wanted nothing more than to turn on the central heating and have a pyjama day.

Ok, so it’s understandable that I’d want to stay home on a day like this, when we’re all walking around wearing puffer jackets to class. But this reluctance to turn up to work is happening nearly every day. On Sundays, I’m experiencing a feeling of dread when I think about Monday. I’ve heard about it happening with other people, but I’ve never felt like this before and I don’t like it.

When I actually turn up to work I’m pretty happy to be here. The kids are still funny and engaging and I love the people in my staff room. I like my job and I’m good at it. I like the fact that after every period, I can think “that’s $50 in my wallet.” (Or thereabouts – you know how bad my Maths Skillz are.)

But there’s a change. I’m starting to get resentful about the number of meetings we have. Ok, some of them are necessary but it’s surprising how many aren’t. At this time of the year, being the middle of winter, I get back just as dusk is falling. When you leave home in the dark and get home in the dark, it really brings home to you that a HUGE chunk of your day has been spent totally out of your control. The timetabler has dictated to me how busy my day has been, not me.

So far, anyone reading this would be thinking, “So why not quit?” Or, if they’ve been reading the blog for a little while, they’d think, “But you’re going part-time next year. What’s the big deal? Suck it up, Princess.” And they’d be right.

However, there’s something that’s been gnawing away in my mind at the thought of totally retiring; something that sounds perfectly wonderful but might just come to bite me as time goes on.

How will I cope with the silence?

I’m an extroverted introvert. This means that I can love being the centre of attention and I soak it up. I teach Theatre, for goodness sakes, as well as English. This means that every 48 minutes I have a new “audience” to perform to. It’s great. The extrovert part of me is very well-nourished by my work.

I teach at a school with 2,300 kids and over 200 teachers. There’s noise around me constantly. There are people around me constantly. Even in my free periods when I’m working at my desk, there’s always the hum of voices and activity nearby. When I walk from class to class there’s a stream of kids along the way who greet me as we walk past each other – the constant interaction is everywhere.

When I come home my inner introvert is tired. She needs to replenish. I revel in the quiet. I don’t switch music on. I walk around the place, talking to the dogs and just doing my thing. I live with adult sons who are also introverts, so when we all get home we’re happy to have a quick debrief before we retreat to our own little pools of quiet to regroup after our days. If I have school holidays coming up and I see there’s little or nothing scheduled – I LOVE IT! Fist-pump in the air when that happens.

So silence is good, right? The answer to this is an emphatic YES. Yes, it is.

But what I’m scared about is what happens when the silence becomes all day every day. When does a good thing become too much of a good thing?

I’m absolutely positive that the first year or two of retirement will be fine. I love my own company – after all, I’m absolutely delightful – and I know I’ll be able to fill in my days easily. The boys will still be here and so I’ll have conversation and company. But what happens after some time has passed and the boys move away? I’ll still have the dogs, but their vocabulary isn’t quite as large as my sons’ ones are.

My situation is a little different from most people who write in the Personal Finance niche, in that I’m single. And when I say ‘single’, I mean LONG TERM. I haven’t lived with another adult (apart from my kids) for 22 years. Most people who are joyfully heading off into retirement have a partner to share their days with. Someone to make idle chit-chat with and build a routine together. Me? I already talk to myself a bit when I’m alone because, let’s face it, I’m such good company. I definitely talk to the dogs. I’m just a bit worried that, after a while, the silence around us might make me think that the dogs are starting to reply…

(That last paragraph definitely doesn’t mean that I want to have a partner. Frankly, after 22 years of having everything in the house my own way, I can’t see what I’d do with someone being around all the time, cluttering up the place. I like the independence I have in my life and I treasure it deeply. So I won’t be ‘swiping right’ any time soon.)

It also occurred to me that it’s one thing to enjoy the silence at home when it’s school holidays. Even in the summer holidays, with around 5 weeks off, you know that there’s a definite end to the glorious quiet, and you’ll soon be knee-deep in noise again. But what happens when the glorious quiet stretches on for years?

Me in retirement – like this dog on the beach.

I have an aunt who was widowed when she was quite young. Her son lived with her for about 10 years before he left to get married. She kept his dog with her after he moved, but after he died she never replaced him. (The dog died, I mean. Not the son!) She’s been living in a house on her own for well over 30 years.

(As a side note: I can’t understand how people could bear to live on their own for decades without having a pet or three. I’m scared of the silence, but without the dogs, even with their limited vocabulary, the silence would be crushing.)

Maybe I should go over and ask my aunt how she managed it? I know she has grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she used to look after, but I don’t like the thought of relying on my boys to reproduce just so I can have a little colour and movement in my life when I’m old. (Besides, have you SEEN my boys? They’ll be lucky if anyone wants to pass those genes on to the next generation…)

It’s a weird situation to be in – torn between not wanting my days to be filled with the time-tabler’s directions, but at the same time being slightly nervous about what will be waiting for me when I decide to jump ship and leave.

I’m hoping that next year when I drop back to only working 3 days a week instead of five, I’ll find the perfect balance. If dropping my time fraction works and I can ease my way into the silence instead of plunging headlong into it, then maybe I’ll be able to get used to it. I won’t be filled with resentment at the thought that all of my time is being taken because I’ll have two extra days a week to do whatever I feel like doing. Going to work would become a welcome thing again, instead of a stressor.

I don’t know – am I way overthinking this? Is this something that warrants feeling leery about or am I worrying about something that simply comes with the territory of retiring? This wasn’t an easy post to write, perhaps because I know that if I’m still unhappy with working next year when I’m part-time, I’ll likely pull the pin. So the silence is something that, though it may a few years off, could be something I’ll be dealing with in the near future.

I’ll end with a Dad joke, because this post is a bit of a downer. The Dad joke is part of what being in Ms Frogdancer Jones’ classes means – at the start of every lesson you get at least one Dad joke on the board.

Here it is: I accidentally swallowed a tin of paint. The doctor says I’ll be fine, but I feel like I’ve dyed a little inside.

Didn’t like that one? Here’s another: I have a horse named Mayo. Mayo neighs.

(Cue the sound of crickets as Frogdancer Jones backs quietly out of the room…)

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

These past two weeks have proven the words of John Lennon. Two weeks ago I was blissfully planning for two weeks of school holidays – granted, it’s in the middle of winter, but I was still dreaming of two weeks of unencumbered bliss… and then the phone rang.

I’ve blogged before about how my Mum’s health is not the best, particularly since she fell and broke her arm a couple of months ago. Two days before the holidays began, I got a call from my sister.

“Dad’s been taken to hospital with suspected internal bleeding. Mum can’t be left on her own, so I’m staying with her tonight. I can’t stay with her on Friday night, can you?”

I told her I’d pack a bag for the weekend and I’d be over there after work on Friday. Not the way I was visualising spending the start of my holidays, but how lucky that it happened when I had the time free to look after her for a couple of weeks, if needed!

Then the worst thing possible happened…

I leapt into the shower at 6 AM the next morning and found, to my horror, that our hot water system had broken. Nooooooooooooo!!!!!

I’d always thought that when this happened I’d upgrade to a continuous gas system, which is far more expensive because you need to install a bigger gas line to the house, but on the plus side you never run out of hot water and you can program it to the exact temperature you want. We had this at the old house and I loved it. So I decided to go through with this, but it wasn’t exactly a convenient time.

But then again, when is your hot water suddenly cutting out ever going to happen at a convenient time?

I was lucky. I’d be at my parents’ place for at least over the weekend while Dad was in hospital, but the boys would have to bear the brunt of it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with getting plumbers out until the next week. So I trotted off to the last day of term and then went over to look after Mum.

It’s funny how you might intellectually know something, but when you actually live with it you realise the reality. I knew that Mum needed 24/7 care, but it’s not until I was walking her to the toilet and helping her with all of that, getting up in the middle of the night to take her to the commode, washing her in the mornings and walking beside her, supporting her with every single step she took that I realised just how much Dad was doing.

It was constant. She’s totally dependent. And if Dad was seriously ill or popped his clogs, we’d be in a seriously bad place with Mum’s care.

Long story short, Dad DID have internal bleeding from a small tear in his upper bowel, a condition that had obviously been going on for months and months without anyone picking it up. The doctors thought his breathlessness and dizziness was asthma. He just thought that he was eating too much liquorice!! 4 bags of blood to replenish all the blood he’d lost, a cauterisation and he was back home in a couple of days.

Dad dodging that bullet.

The Jones family dodged a bullet. If it hadn’t have been noticed by a different GP to the one he usually went to, we could quite easily have been planning a funeral and racing around trying to find a nursing home for Mum.

It brings home the fact that when people get elderly, their situation can meander along for years and then change in an instant. We have to set things in place now in case we’re not so lucky next time. This is turning out to be a huge learning curve.

So how did the holidays end up going for me?

The hot water system was an inconvenience, not a full-blown drama thanks to my Emergency Account. I got around $700 taken off the cost of the system because I work with someone whose husband works in a plumbing clearance centre. It still ended up costing just under 9K all up, but I had the cash. By Wednesday we were able to shower again. (Before that, I simply made sure I was standing up-wind from the boys… heh heh)

I haven’t had to tap the Emergency Fund for YEARS. But instead of getting complacent and spending it, I let it ride. Sooner or later, I knew I’d need it.

Both blogs have been silent for the last couple of weeks. I thought this meme summed it up pretty well. 🙂

My situation with Mum and Dad is a little more tricky. Power of attorney, being put on their medical and “My Aged Care” accounts, attending medical appointments and dealing with people from their council who are supplying food, cleaning and showering services – this is a whole new ball game. Yes – see how out-of-the-ordinary it is? I, Frogdancer Jones, just used a sporting metaphor…!

I have a younger brother and sister. My sister is very practical and good with things like seeing a need and supplying the solution for it. Things like organising a walker and commode, going to medical appointments and keeping track of what’s going on… that sort of thing. Her schedule is a little more flexible than mine, so she’s going to carry on with these sorts of things. I, on the other hand, have put my hand up to be the ‘Admin person’, helping Dad with all the paperwork that’s piling up with all the new organisational things that need doing.

As you know, next year I’m dropping down from full-time teaching to working 3 days a week to be able to build in time to care for my parents a little more. I’ve pretty much reached FI and this has given me the flexibility to be able to make this choice. A small part of me is wishing that I brought that change forward to this term, but realistically, with teaching year 12s, suddenly changing to part-time just wouldn’t be fair to them.

The woman who came to assess my parents’ eligibility for Respite and Residential Care said to me, “So this is your part-time job on top of your full-time one!” I laughed and nodded, but that remark resonated with me. It’s taken a fair few days for me to think about and accept.

Here in the FI/RE movement we’re told to think about what we’ll do in retirement. We’re cautioned against racing full-tilt towards the goal of early retirement without working out what we’re going to do with ourselves when we get there. Plenty of people pull the pin on their jobs and then wander around aimlessly, unsure of how to fill the suddenly empty hours that head out in front of them.

I had it all planned out. I wasn’t going to make that mistake! Travel is big on my list – at least one overseas holiday a year, going to different places all over the globe (but especially the UK and Europe.) I have the food garden that I’ve set up, my knitting, quilting and writing. My dogs – how I’m looking forward to spending more time with them! In the fullness of time, perhaps my ugly boys will find some kind-hearted/short-sighted partners and reproduce, so I might be wrangling grandchildren.

I didn’t give any serious consideration that I would become a carer to my parents. It’s a stupid thing to admit, but again… intellectually I knew that they’d one day become frail, but emotionally?? That’s just crazy talk. They’ve always been around, looking after themselves and everyone else. Why would anything change?

I guess my over-arching goal in retirement was to engineer a life for myself where I have the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. That’s the foundation of it and all of the other things I had in mind to do are just the detail. Things can be added and taken away without changing the basic idea of my retirement – the freedom to spend my days as I please.

The thing I’ve realised over these holidays is that I’ve now chosen to spend a good proportion of my time looking after my folks. Time moves on and changes things and that’s what’s happened with us. I’ll still do all of the other things on my retirement list, but I’ve added another activity, that of Carer, to it.

It’s a big thing to wrap my head around. It’s a bit painful to have to adjust my view of my parents from them being the bullet-proof backstops between me and a cold, harsh world to a view where they’re the ones needing protecting. I know it comes to us all if we’re lucky, but I guess you always think that you’re going to have more time.

Still, things could be a lot worse. My advice to anyone reading this is to get your financial life sorted before any of this starts to happen. I’ll no doubt have stressors and strains that I have no idea about yet, but worrying about how I’ll be paying the bills while putting other things aside to care for my parents won’t be one of them.

Yet another reason why aiming for FI is a great idea!

‘Playing With Fire’ documentary is coming to Melbourne!

I woke up this morning to the news that the ‘Playing With Fire’ doco is coming to Melbourne. Naturally I booked a ticket right away.

The link is HERE. Camberwell’s a fair hike from where I live, but I figure I can always take the next day off – I’m trying to use up my sick days before I pull the pin on the job anyway!

I hope to see some of you there!

It’s so easy to entertain yourself without spending any money!

Backyard beach.

Now that I’ve made the move to go part-time next year, I don’t mind admitting that I’m torn between looking forward to it and feeling slight feelings of unease about the drop in income. It’s illogical – I know I’ll be ok with less money coming in. But after this weekend, I’m feeling much better. It’s so easy to entertain yourself without spending any money!

We’ve just finished week 8 of term 2, which leaves us 2 weeks to go before our 2 week winter holidays. This is the pointy end of the semester, when we have to mark all learning tasks and exams and then write the reports. English marking is the worst. It’s an interesting subject to teach, but we pay for it with the hours of extra time it takes us to mark the kids’ work.

So it’s safe to say that we teachers are getting tired. I brought my year 9 exams home with me on Friday to mark and I made sure that I got them done before Friday was through. The last thing I want to do is give up my weekend if I can avoid it!

So Saturday dawned. The dogs let me sleep in until 8 AM, so I got up in the sunlight, which always makes me happy. I fed them their chicken necks, then I sat down on the couch with a coffee and my laptop and spent the next 2 hours gently surfing the web, reading twitter, facebook and blogs. The dogs were curled up next to me, I had my warm bathrobe on and I was as happy as a pig in mud.

The rest of the day flowed gently on by. I got dressed, made cauliflower cheese for lunch because Ryan24 loves it. He even requests it for his birthday dinner every year when he could have anything that he wants. After lunch I had a long nanna nap, then took the dogs out for a quick gallop. I fed the worms in the garden beds, wrote a post for the personal blog, read a book for while and then, exhausted with all this activity, I made Ryan24 cook fried rice for dinner.

Entertainment for the evening was Netflix. I’m up-to-date with so many shows I’m following, like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Last Week Tonight’, ‘The Blacklist’, ‘Black Mirror’… so I started ‘Star Trek – Discovery.’ It’s weird to see Klingons running around all fighty, but I daresay I’ll get used to it.

Sunday was another sleep-in until David25 woke us all when he was making coffee before starting his shift at the café. It was a nice day, but I didn’t set foot outside until I took the dogs for a long walk in the afternoon. I was on the computer for a lot of that morning, while doing some reading, dog grooming and light housework as well. Coming back from the walk, I went out into the back yard and picked up some autumn leaves to use as mulch around the apple trees.

I should’ve put another garden bed to sleep for the winter, but meh. I wasn’t in the zone. I washed some tops that I bought at an op shop on Friday and put them over the air duct to dry by tomorrow morning. Then I went into the kitchen to see what we’ll have for dinner.

I decided that today was going to be a No-Spend Day, which will give me 2 days straight at the beginning of the week where I can colour in my chart. It always feels good when I can give the week a head-start! So dinner has to be something that we have all the ingredients for.

Lemon and Coconut Dahl it is! I have plenty of meat in the freezer but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a vegetarian meal every now and then to make the meat supplies last that little bit longer. Besides, there’ll be enough for lunch for me tomorrow. While I was there I decided that I’ll throw a crock-pot meal together for Monday night. I have a staff meeting after school so I won’t be back till nearly 6 PM. So I was flicking through cookbooks for a while to choose something that would fit the bill.

At 3PM I decided that I’d sit down and write this post. Dobby, my robot vacuum cleaner, is racing around and the dogs are keen to nap after their walk. After I finish this, I’ll put the crockpot meal together and put it in the fridge, ready for tomorrow. Then I’ll go out and sweep up a few more leaves to put in the compost tumbler.

After that, it’ll be wine o’clock. I’ll give Mum or Blogless Sandy a call to see how their weekend went while I savour a nice Shiraz. Then dinner and probably more Star Trek Discovery afterwards.

Clearly, none of this is very earth-shattering. It’s just normal, everyday tasks being done in an unhurried fashion. I wore comfy clothes, no make-up and did WHAT I felt like doing, WHEN I felt like doing it.

If I have books, the internet, my dogs and my garden, I’ll always have something to do. Getting my books from libraries makes it even better from a financial point of view. Add in my knitting and quilting, neither of which I’ve done for ages but I have lots of WIPs (works in progress) just waiting for me to pick them up again when I have the time. Then think of the boys, my friends and family…

I’ll be able to entertain myself without putting my hand into my wallet every five minutes, that’s for sure. This eases my mind considerably!

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #2

Jeff sleeping in front of the house
Very unsafe house, security-wise. I don’t know how Jeff can sleep so peacefully…

After the big decision to drop back to part-time work next year was made by my good self, certain plans have now been put in motion. I still really like the idea of getting big renovations and other jobs done around the house done while I still have money coming in from a wage. It’s a little scary to think about paying for anything more pricey than a good holiday once I reach the stage of dipping into savings in retirement instead of simply cash flowing it from my wage.

One of the jobs that I was going to organise in some misty future once the boys leave home was to beef up security on this place. This new neighbourhood isn’t dodgy as such, but it definitely has a few more dodgy elements than where we used to live. It’s a suburb that is slowly being gentrified, but there’s a fair bit of public housing which means that there’ll always be some inequities in income.

At the moment it seems that we have an arsonist in our midst. I blogged about it here, and although it’s not a huge worry – I don’t think he’ll be desperately trying to torch my place any time soon – David25 came home last night and said he saw 3 fire engines attending a fire a few streets over. I think my place is pretty safe with the two boys living here… I call them boys but they’re both in their mid-twenties … but Old Lady Frogdancer will definitely want to feel secure when all of the kids have flown from the nest.

Plus, ever since David25 took off the flyscreens to wash the windows for me and bent most of the screens so they were unusable, I knew I had to get them replaced. You don’t want to go through an Aussie summer without flyscreens!

So guess whose house is now totally Crimsafed?

Old door propped up in the sideway.
Scary how easily the Crimsafe guy popped this ‘security’ door off its hinges.

The weather forecast was hellish, with torrential rain all day, high winds, you name it. The guy arrived at 7:30 in the morning and managed to get the 2 sliding doors on before the rain struck. See the photo above? I’m not kidding: within 3 seconds of him walking up to the locked door he had it off the track and he was putting it aside.

“Wow, to think of all those summer nights I locked that door to let the breeze in and felt so safe!” I said. He just laughed.

Then the rain came.

Looking through my new front screen door while the guy escaped the rain for a little.

This guy was about my vintage, in his 50’s and it’s his own business. He worked right through. I carried a coffee out to him at one stage and delicately hinted that perhaps the weather was getting too bad, but he shook his head.

“I’ve got so much work booked up that I have to keep on going. Besides, it’s only rain.”

To be honest, the selfish part of me was glad that the job was going to be done that day. I’d taken a day off and I didn’t want to drag it out.

But the other part of me was thinking that this was a perfect advertisement for reaching FI as soon as possible. The man was saturated. He was cold, wet and having to go onto another job when he finished mine. Sure, it’s his own business, but he’s clearly working as much and as hard as he can. If he wasn’t, he would definitely have postponed the job. Anyone would.

Looking out through our new back door.
Look at this – no more white grid in the way!

The above picture is the door leading onto the backyard from Ryan24’s room. Once this room is free, it’ll be my study/sewing room. Look at the beautiful view I’ll have, unimpeded by the white diamond-shaped grill of the old aluminium door.

Old white screen door.
Old front door…

When he was giving me the quote, I asked him which colour I should use for the new door. I couldn’t make up my mind and I thought that he’d seen a few doors in his time and would know better than me which colours worked. He suggested black. I’m so glad I listened to him.

Jeff in front of the new front door.
Look at the stylish house we live in!

All white would’ve been a bit much. The black looks sleek and stylish, just like me.

View from the kitchen window.
Kitchen window.

I put steel mesh screen across every single one of the sliding windows. With the old screens, even if the window was shut, a burglar would’ve just had to slice the flywire with a knife, jimmy the window and he’d have been in. This won’t happen now. And the view outside is so clear. I’m really pleased.

All in all, it cost just over 8K to Get This Job Done. As I said before, it wasn’t a job I was initially planning to get done this year, but I’m glad it’s off the list and I don’t have to think about it anymore. I’m a person who likes to do a job once, do it right and then never have to worry about it again.

On to the next job on my list!

Yikes! Yabba Dabba Dooo.

Normally, you don’t get a window into how other people may see you, but last week I did. It was pretty confronting, to be honest. It actually stopped me blogging, while I mulled over it.

I’ve known Fred and Wilma pretty much all my life. They’re old friends of the family and, now that I’ve changed the way I drive home each night, I drop in on them occasionally.

Anyway, I was visiting Fred and Wilma after work one night last week and having a cuppa and a chat. We were talking about their family and mine and just generally catching up on what’s been going on.

We’d been talking about money matters a few minutes before. Fred and I share a similar interest, so I told them about a financial goal I’d achieved. Then the conversation moved on, as it does. Coincidentally, Wilma had talked with my sister a day before and she shared a story about a win that my sister had. Kate’s a Thermomix consultant and she did a demo at a gorgeous Bed And Breakfast place in the country – and ended up being able to stay there that night for nothing. She had a lovely time.

“Looks like being a good week for the Jones girls,” I said. “We’ve both had wins.”

“Yes, but yours are only ever about money,” replied Wilma.

Wait… what?!?

Yeeouch!

This has been reverberating around my head ever since she sad it. At the time I made some sort of verbal come-back, but it was pretty feeble, as she’d well and truly caught me on the back foot.

I’m still not sure exactly what she meant by it, though I have a sneaking suspicion that me still being single, 22 years after I left my husband, might have a bit to do with it. I don’t think it can be the boys – no one’s in jail, on drugs or living on the street. All of them have either finished University or are well on the way to.

I’ve held down a full-time job for the last 15/16 years – I’m never quite sure how long I’ve been at the school – and I’m pretty sure I’m good at what I do. After all, I’m changing lives… one English or Theatre Studies lesson at a time.

It’s a weird thought to think that just when I’m closer than ever to reaching my goal of early(ish) retirement and I’m stepping back from a six-figure wage, I’m being called on for being too mercenary.

The thing is… I don’t think I measure my life’s success simply by how big my net worth is. Sure, it’s a part of it, because I’ve worked too hard and planned too much for it not to be. But I’m investing and planning so that all the intangibles in my life will be easier – things like the freedom to spend my time how I choose; the ability to help anyone I feel like; the choice to share things like theatre tickets and other fun things with the people I care about and the ability to go traveling any time I want.

Ok, so maybe that first and last ones on the list might appear a bit selfish, but so be it! I bought a beautiful house three years ago when I did the whole geoarbitrage gamble, but part of the decision to buy this place was that the layout of the space meant that when the boys want to move back for any reason, we won’t be living cheek to jowl with each other. Part of my job as a parent is to provide a roof over their heads and I feel glad that I can provide it if they need it, even though they’re all adults now.

Doesn’t mean I still don’t love my house. Doesn’t mean I still don’t think it’s beautiful. But it’s an example of the way I make decisions – there’s often a long-term plan behind the spending/life decisions I make.

It’s an interesting question though – money is behind a lot of the decisions, obligations and freedoms we have in life. It’s obviously important. We in the Personal Finance and FI/RE blogging communities write about it all the time.

But Wilma’s perception of me rocked me back on my heels a bit. It makes me wonder. Is she alone in her view of how I view success, or do others feel the same?

Of course, short of asking everyone I know, I’ll never get the answer to that curly question! But it was interesting to have that little window into how someone else perceives me.

I guess it does you good to get the wind knocked out of your sails every once in a while, to stop you getting complacent.

I’ll still drop in every now and then to see Fred and Wilma, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred and I have our little financial chats in private from now on…

How to work for 3 days and get paid for 4.

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.

Mind. Blown.

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.

But I like my way better.

One More Year?

Dwight Shrute meme

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.

Hmmm…

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…

You always have a choice.

1985 Tarago Van, just like Frogdancer Jones used to drive!

Do you laugh or do you cry?

When I was at home with the boys, right after my marriage failed and we were living on nothing, I drove a Tarago van. It had seen better days. It was rusty, about as aerodynamic as a loaf of bread and the skylight leaked. Every time it was raining and I had to turn right, a trickle of water would sneak down the back of my neck. If you think that doesn’t snap you to attention, you’d be wrong!

But I owned it outright, so I kept on driving it.

One Saturday, we’d been to watch Tom8 play football. After the game, we went home via JB Hi Fi, an electronics shop that had a peculiar fascination for my boys. They’d save up their pocket money to buy games, cds and dads. One or two of them had some money that was burning a hole in their pockets, so to JB Hi Fi we went!

How the back door used to slide open.
How the back door used to slide open.

Once they’d finished, they followed me back to the car.

I grabbed the door handle and slid the door open.

Except it kept on going. The door slid right off the car, with only one set of bolts or screws or something holding it on. It hung by one screw, gently swinging.

The kids stared, open-mouthed. 

I stared, open-mouthed. 

My thoughts were racing. My mobile was at home. Speaking of home, we were too far away from there to walk. The car was now unroadworthy and the door was hanging off like a drunken teenager off a tram. How could I sort this out? What was it going to cost?

My choice was clear. I could either laugh or cry.

I swung around to face the kids. They were looking at me, awaiting their cue. I knew whatever I did next would be important.

I started to laugh. 

I laughed and laughed, practically doubling over.

The kids’ faces relaxed and they followed my lead, all 5 of us laughing like crazy.

I mean, why wouldn’t we? The whole situation was ludicrous. 

If something happens that you can’t change – unless it’s an absolute life tragedy – you always have a choice on your attitude towards it. Whether you laugh or act like it’s the biggest drama EVER, it’s not going to change the situation. So why not make things easier for yourself and everyone around you by seeing the lighter side of it? Nobody likes a Debbie Downer.

And if there’s one thing those hard years have taught me, everything bad, embarrassing or uncomfortable that happens to you ends up being a damned good story one day. Think about it – it’s true.

We ended up walking to a car yard a few hundred metres up the road, where they let me use their phone to call the RACV. The mechanic came and secured the door and we were able to drive home. All’s well that ends well.

And ironically, one of my most treasured memories of those hard days is swinging around to see the kids’ faces after the door kept going, and then our (probably slightly hysterical) laughter on the side of the road as the door hung crookedly, still swinging as we laughed.

Why am I going for FAT-FIRE?

Waves on our backyard beach

I’m going for FAT FIRE.

Why?

I’m working towards (what I consider to be) FAT-FIRE. I have a very important reason why I’m going for FAT-FIRE and it’s definitely rooted in my past and in my future. But what do I mean by FAT-FIRE?

I’ve seen many definitions for lean-FIRE and Fat-FIRE, and most of them put a dollar value on these terms. I think that’s pretty ridiculous, to tell you the truth. How does my lifestyle equate to anyone else’s? I’m going for FAT-FIRE, but the amount I’ll be pulling out is far less than the 100K/year which is “supposed” to be what the benchmark is for this.

The amount of money I’m aiming to amass in my portfolios and Superannuation is slated to provide me with around 20K – 25K/year more than I’ll need for my current lifestyle. That sounds like FAT-FIRE to me! I’ll be able to travel and indulge in going to the theatre, while still enjoying the frugal delights of growing my own food, walking the dogs on our “backyard beach” and reading, Netflixing and crafting. 

Aside from indulging myself with trips to Europe and the like, there’s another hugely important reason why I’m still working to scrape my FI number together. 

It’s my Grandfather.

We always called him George. Never Grandad, always George. He was my Mum’s father. He and Gran lived a couple of suburbs away when we were growing up, so we saw a fair bit of them when we were young. They were our go-to grandparents, because Dad’s parents moved to the Gold Coast, (aka ‘God’s Waiting Room), when we were little and so we only saw them every couple of years. 

George was old-school when it came to his career. He grew up in the Depression era and so had to leave school at the age of 13 and get a job as a packer in a clothing warehouse down on Flinders Lane. He worked as an unskilled labourer and brought his wages home to his mother every week. 

He was ambitious though. Every week he’d go upstairs and ask if there were any vacancies for salespeople. He was knocked back every week for 6 months or more, but he kept on climbing those stairs. Finally, probably just to shut him up, they offered him a place, but it had a pay cut of 6 shillings. When he ran home to proudly tell his mother that he was moving up the ladder, when she heard about the pay cut she burst into tears. In that era, they relied on every penny coming in to survive.

Over the years he rose through the ranks of salesman, travelling salesman, right up to being part of the management team. He stayed at the one company all of his working life in a career that was only interrupted by 5 years as an aircraft mechanic in Darwin during WWII. 

He bought their house in Murrumbeena only when his solicitor offered to lend him the money. He paid it off quickly, then in 1970, just a couple of years before he retired, he and Gran bought a little holiday house right on the beach at Inverloch for 10K. 

He retired when he was 59. I remember going over to their house to see the fat gold watch the company gave him as a farewell gift. Then he and Gran moved down to Inverloch, selling the house in Murrumbeena to pay off the mortgage. They settled into their retirement.

They were grey nomads, pulling their caravan up to Kurramine Beach, just past Cairns, for 6 months during our winter, then coming down again for 6 months during our summer. Even after Gran died, George kept up this routine until he grew too old. He then settled into Inverloch all year round, eventually dying when he was 94, after he took a fall and broke his hip.

The thing about this tale that impels me to aim for FAT-FIRE is what happened about 5 years before he died. 

George ran out of money.

I remember Mum telling me that George asked them if they’d buy the caravan from him for 5K. By that stage the van hadn’t been used for years and it was shabby and old. Mum and Dad definitely didn’t want it, but what could they do? They had to help him save his pride. So they “bought” it.

George had the Age Pension to live off, so the 5K was for extras. I can’t imagine that it would have lasted him the rest of his life, so I’m sure that Mum and Dad would have had to dip their hands into their pockets a few more times. Mum was his only child. He refused to sell Inverloch, telling Mum that “this block will be the family fortune.” (He was right about that – when Mum and Dad eventually sold it, they got nearly 700K for it. A buy and hold strategy for real estate certainly seems like the way to go!)

I can imagine the uncomfortable talk when George was asking for financial help. He was a proud man…

I NEVER want to have that talk with my boys. 

I truly believe that the best gift I can give them is the gift of my financial independence. 

When I’m George’s age… (well, he’s dead… I mean the age when the lack of money began to bite!) … my boys will presumably be raising young families, paying off mortgages, dealing with school fees and all of the expenses that come with being Dads of teenagers. They’ll be thinking of their own retirements and trying to put money away in investments, while still living their lives. 

The LAST thing they’ll want is for their Dear Old Mum to be holding out her hand for money.

The last thing I want is for their Dear Old Mum to have to ask them for money. 

If it ever happens, both they and I will know that something catastrophic must have happened, because nothing short of that would make it a reality. They’ll know that I worked my ar$e off to try and ensure that I’d be ok financially. It still wouldn’t make the conversation any less uncomfortable, though.

This is why I’m not paying for their Uni degrees. This is why I’m still at work, putting money into investments instead of setting up a glide path towards the Age Pension and leaving work now. Future Frogdancer, along with Present Frogdancer, wants to stand on her own two feet.

This is why I’m going for FAT-FIRE. 

Serene waves and blue sky.
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