Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: FIRE as a single. (Page 1 of 6)

A little adventure.

You’d think after having been a school teacher for so many years, I’d be naturally attuned to when the school holidays are. Years of looking forward to them; having to plan holidays when they were on; looking forward wistfully to the time when I’d be retired and could go on holidays any time I want…

So in conclusive proof that I’m not as smart as I should be, a few weeks ago I woke up at 3 AM, decided to check my timeshare to see which properties they had available and I booked a holiday to the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia – in the second week of the school hiolidays.

Didn’t even cross my mind to check.

Maybe this proves beyond all doubt that I’ve fully embraced the retirement lifestyle. Or maybe it just proves that I’m an idiot…

After that nocturnal flurry of activity, I’ve done remarkably little further research or preparation for this trip. I’ve arranged 3 catch-ups – one with someone I’ve never met in person, one with Evan24’s girlfriend’s family and one with a school friend I haven’t clapped eyes on for 40 years.

I was vaguely planning to go over there via the Great Ocean Road – another thing I haven’t clapped eyes on for years – but now I’m thinking that overnight accommodation might be hard to get in beachside spots while school holidays are on, so I guess I’ll cut inland for the way over and do the picturesque ocean drive on the way back. The school holidays will be over by then.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Twelve Apostles again.

Doughnut Days* – don’t fail me now! I have to fill out a travel permit to get back into Victoria, apparently. If the borders suddenly slam shut again, at least I have the freedom to kick my heels until they open up again.

I mentioned my timeshare a few paragraphs above. Over 10 years ago, in a moment of complete and utter madness, I bought a timeshare with Accor. The thing that appealed to me about it was that instead of being locked in to one particular property one one particular week of each year, it’s run on a points system with many properties scattered around Australia, New Zealand and Bali.

Since then, after a few holidays when the boys were small, we’ve barely used it. So far it’s been a huge waste of money – but now I’ve retired – by God I plan to use it to its fullest potential!

Last year, just before Covid hit, I went away for a long weekend to Bowral using the timeshare. I had a lovely time, meeting up with a blog reader and poking around in art galleries and just spending some quality time with my good self.

This time, I had 3,300 points that were due to expire in June. This holiday uses up 3,030 of them. This makes me happy. I might book a night in Melbourne and go and see a play or something, just to use up the last 300 points.

So – South Australia means wineries, beaches and fresh produce to me. I’ll be staying down near the bottom of the peninsula, in Normanville, while taking the hour’s drive to Adelaide once or twice to see people and have a look at the city. I’ve only been there once, when I was about 10. I remember liking the taste of the tap water, which astonished everyone else.

Does anyone have any recommendations of ‘must-do and see” things while I’m there? I’ll be there for 5 days, with a day or two on either side for the drive. I’ve stocked up on podcasts and audiobooks (from the library – can’t forget my Quest!) for when I’m in the car, I have around 5 books from the Lincoln Rhyme series to read as well. At night I’m planning to catch up on the second season of Dickinson and AppleTv. My free subscription runs out in June, so I’d better start making the most of it.

So my solitary time in the car and the room is accounted for. Now I need to work out how to fill the days. 🙂 Any advice will be gratefully received.

I’ve decided that when I’m on holidays, my “Low Spend” chart is suspended. There’s no way I’m going to mess with a holiday by limiting the frequency of my spending. That sort of stuff is for the rest of the time, so that when I DO lash out and go on holidays I can do whatever I like with a clear conscience!

This is, I think, the essence of frugality. You pull your horns in for much of the time, only spending on things you need or things you truly value – and because you do this, it gives you the ability and resources to lash out and indulge when you want to. For me, it’s when I’m on holidays.

You should’ve seen me on my 9 week holiday to the UK and Europe. I first planned that trip when I was 15 and I finally went when I was 51. I denied myself NOTHING when I was there and it was incredible. I spent money like a drunken sailor – so much so that I had to send a big box of souvenirs home via post – and I don’t regret a second of it.

This holiday won’t be quite like that, but I’m looking forward to exploring a new-to-me part of Australia. This will be me dipping my toe into the almost infinite possibilities that having total control over my time has brought.

*Doughnut Days are what we call days with zero new covid cases and deaths. We have quite a string of them now, which is why I feel comfortable going interstate.

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.

A full year of ‘low-spend’ – and a reward.

Well, people following along at home – I did it!

52 straight weeks of only spending money 3 days a week or less. To be honest, going into 13 weeks of hard lockdown kicked off the winning streak, but then once I had momentum I was loathe to stop it.

I’m proud that I only manipulated my habits once – Evan24 had la birthday and I wanted to shoot him some money. I asked, instead of sending it on Friday, if I could make it Saturday instead, to keep the winning streak going. He laughed and agreed.

Winning strategies?

  1. Starting your spending week on a Saturday and then avoiding shopping over the weekend. (Harder to do with a job.) Then you start each week with 2 success days already under your belt.
  2. Marking ahead on the chart if you’re going to be going out or if there’s an event coming up. You can then avoid using up your 3 days and then getting hit with an expense that you could’ve foreseen.
  3. Making a game of it. Honestly, the world wouldn’t have caved in if I had’ve slipped up. But it’s satisfying to have set the goal for a complete year of disciplined spending and hit it.

So how did I reward myself?

omg!!!!

so excited!!!

Remember how I set the goal to go to Antarctica?

I booked my place on a tour that leaves in December this year.

It’s with the company that I went to North Korea with back in 2018 and their price is 1/3 of the price than if we left from New Zealand – and it’s only a fortnight at sea instead of a full month. I have no idea of the sort of sailor I am. Latestarterfire is coming with me and we’re set to go.

I believe that with vaccinations ramping up, travel will open up pretty quickly. We’re both pretty covid-averse and will wear masks on the plane etc and the ship is requiring proof of vaccination for all passengers and crew. If the tour does end up having to be cancelled, we can postpone our trip to a safer time.

What could possibly go wrong…?

I was born to be retired!

Empty beach.

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

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

And I’m not missing it at all.

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

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

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

Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retirement seems so natural.

Cavalier on the back of the couch with his head on the clean laundry.
Jeffrey. Just chillin’.

I retired on December 18 2020, but of course, that’s when the summer school holidays start. I officially (in my head) retired when the school holidays finished and all of my fellow chalkies went back to work.

A month later – how does it feel?

Well, I think I’ve given it away by the title of this post – it seems so natural.

I’ve definitely been living at a slower, unhurried pace. I’m still getting up at the usual time, mainly because I share the bed with the Cavalier twins and Jeffrey hasn’t twigged to the fact that we can sleep in a bit longer if we wish. You try sleeping in when the dog starts every day with a hearty scratch that shakes the bed!

I’m still taking naps most days, although for the last two days I haven’t needed to. Maybe I’m coming to the end of this phase of retirement? Or maybe it’s too soon to tell.

I’m definitely reading more. I’ve finished my 25th book since January 1 and I’m half-way through my 26th. I thought that losing access to the school library would hit me hard, because they buy books that teachers want to read, as well as all of the Young Adult books for the kids. But I’ve discovered that my local library is EXCELLENT.

I’ve lived here in The Best House in Melbourne for 5 years and never once used the library. I signed up when I moved here but never went down to the local branch. But wow!

Even though my local branch is tiny and only opens for 4 hours a day, it’s part of an extensive network of libraries. I’ve been browsing their website and finding that they have just about everything that I want to read. I’ve been placing ‘holds’ left, right and centre. At the moment I have 7 books on hold and I picked up 3 on Friday – a novel and 2 very weighty historical tomes by Alison Weir about the queens of England in Medieval times.

I follow a few authors on Twitter and when they mention a book that they’ve either written themselves or recommend, I just whack a ‘hold’ on it. WHAT a time we live in! I’m doing all of this reading for free! Though when I mentioned to my parents that I’ve suddenly started using the library, Dad laughed and said, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!”

(I’ll put a list of some of the books I’ve read at the end of the post.)

Hose hanging up on the brand-new fence.
I got the plumber to extend the tap and screw in a hanger for the hose. Soon there’ll be apple trees planted here.

I’ve had workmen in the house for the past month or so, finishing off the last renovation to make this place retirement-ready. Thank goodness I saved all of my Long Service Leave money because that job ballooned out unexpectedly. I’ll write about that another day, but it was an interesting exercise in how prepared I feel about the financial side of things, because I ok’d the extra job without a second’s thought.

So far this cold summer has felt more like autumn. Seeing as autumn is my favourite time of the year, I’ve been really happy about that. Perfect weather for longer walks with the dogs. If I’m in the sun for more than three-and-a-half minutes I start to burn, so the milder weather has been lovely.

Operation Beautify the House has been put on hold, though I suppose, strictly speaking, the workmen have been doing their part with this. I keep putting on my painting gear to slap some more paint on the front verandah or the new side fence, but then realise I’m not in the zone for it and so I go and do some weeding or read yet another book instead. THIS WILL HAVE TO CHANGE. I’m getting sick of looking out of my windows and seeing a half-finished verandah.

Home-made pesto in iceblocks ready to be frozen.
Pesto! The basil is from the garden.

The biggest change I’ve noticed so far is getting my head around the fact that I don’t have to fit in everything around the demands of the job. I used to leave home at 7:40 am and get home at 4:30 pm, (or 5:45 pm if we had a meeting after work), which is a huge slice out of every day, I think we can all agree. To suddenly have all of these hours available to do whatever I want – it’s an adjustment.

The main difference with this is with the dogs. I used to get home from work and drag them quickly around the block so I could get back home and do everything else that I needed to get done. But now? If we go to the beach for an hour or two, it’s ok. We have the time. A few days ago I walked them to the library in the next suburb, over 2 kms away. I dropped in on a couple of women I met at the beach who also have dachshunds, then the dogs and I walked back home. It took all morning.

Didn’t matter. I still had all afternoon to Get Things Done.

I’m still timing myself by the school timetable. It’s fun – sometimes I’ve had a really productive morning and I’ll look at the clock and think, “Wow! It’s the start of period 3 and I’ve already made 3 batches of pesto, walked the dogs on the beach for an hour, watered all of the gardens and I’ve put a load of washing on the clothesline!”

OR I’ll look at the clock and think, “Oh shit. It’s period 6 and all I’ve done is walk the dogs, read a book, had some brunch and taken a nap.”

But it’s ok either way. That takes a bit of mental adjustment to realise, too.

Flowers in a jar. :)
Flowers from Latestarterfire’s garden.

A few days ago Latestarterfire came over for lunch. We’ve met in person only once before when we were at the Melbourne screening of the documentary about FIRE. When I blogged in October about my plans to go to Antarctica in a couple of years, she contacted me and asked if she could come along too. This lunch was only the second time we’d met face to face.

We had a great time. Phew! I think we’ll have no problems sharing a cabin. Imagine how awkward it’d be if the conversation flagged. As it was, we talked so long and so hard that she had to battle peak hour traffic on her way home.

We’ve agreed that we’re not feeling confident about leaving from South America, with the covid situation in Brazil being what it is, so New Zealand it is. We’ve set a goal of 2 – 3 years, which gives us both time to save up and set our plans in motion. Plus, in 2023 I’ll be turning 60 (yikes!) and I like the idea of giving myself such an impressive birthday present.

Zuchinni vines swallowing my orchard.
There are fruit trees – 11 of them – under all of these vines.

The day after our lunch, I had another lunch date – I went back to the school to see everyone. I got there just before the lunch bell, dragging a shopping trolley full of enormous zucchinis and pumpkin/zucchini crosses that I picked from the garden. I could barely lift the trolley up the front steps!

This may sound all wonderfully generous – good on Frogdancer Jones for giving her colleagues free food that she grew herself! – but honestly, it was wonderful to find a place where I could offload so many of the darned things. I filled the trolley and I counted at least 20 more growing. I knew it’d be a good idea to plant 3 big pots with saved seed and let the vines ramble under the new trees in my orchard. I just didn’t expect that the growth would be so rampant.

Still, it’s free food. My favourite flavour.

It was funny to go back to work. Everything and everyone was all so familiar, yet I felt no stirrings of regret about my decision to leave.

“Do you miss all this?” asked someone.

“NO,” I said. It was the truth. I loved seeing the people I’ve worked with for 17 years, but sitting at my desk, looking at the piles of corrections on the desks around me, I knew I’d made the right decision. It was week 6 of first term, which is when the first round of assessments tend to roll in. Everyone was under the pump to get the marking done and handed back to the students. People around us were working through lunch and lots of people looked tired.

Apparently I don’t. According to nearly everyone who saw me, I look “rested’ and “happy” – as one person said, “She has the retirement face.” I wondered if they’d see a difference; after all it’s only been a few weeks since they’d seen me. It seems that all of that napping has done wonders for my appearance.

After a few of us went to the food tech room and chopped up the huge zucchinis into more manageable chunks, I went around distributing them to anyone I saw and then after the bell for period 5 rang, I left to drop in on my parents, who live just 10 minutes away from the school.

As I walked to my car I saw one of my good friend pop out of a music room to talk to a student who she had put outside, then she opened the door for him and followed him into the room. It was a beautiful day. I knew exactly what she was walking back into – a room full of desks, 28 students and material that she had to get through before the bell went.

Meanwhile, I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted.

I drove away with a smile on my face.

Some of the books I’ve read so far this year:

  • ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ – Tevis. This one was so beautifully written – I kept putting it down after each chapter just to savour the writing. Jack29 gave me this for Christmas so I read it before I watched the tv show. Both were excellent.
  • Wife After Wife’ – Hayfield. This one was quite clever – a re-telling of Henry VIII and his wives – but set in the present day. I’m a huge Tudor history fan, so this was right up my alley.
  • Find You First‘ – Barclay. Stephen King tweeted that this book “Blew my mind” so I was curious to read it. Couldn’t put it down.
  • The Thursday Murder Club‘ – Osman. This was another gift from Jack29 and so far, he’s nailing it with the book choices! This is a gently funny, very original and very English murder mystery tale. I’m already hanging out for the next in the series.
  • ‘Olive, Mabel and Me; Life and Adventures with 2 very good dogs’ – Cotter. Those of you who have seen the videos that Andrew Cotter, a Scottish sports commentator, made with his dogs during the lockdowns will know Olive and Mabel. This is one book I had to have – it was one of the books I bought with the book voucher my friends at work gave me. I’ll include a clip at the end.

No financial books? That’s right. These books are the best of the ones I’ve tackled so far this year and let’s face it – life isn’t all about money. Nothing’s better than curling up with a good novel.

Morning routine in retirement.

Deserted beach. Just the way we like it!
It’s all ours! Ours!

Now that school has started again and our world is back to its normal rhythms, here is how my morning routine is evolving.

The beach that The Best House in Melbourne is near is a designated dog beach. Which is great for a family like ours – our house is little more than a glorified dog kennel when it’s all said and done – but it has some restrictions over summer.

For most of the days from November to April, dogs aren’t allowed on the beach at all or at some times they must be on a leash. As we all know, that’s no fun! But it does leave the mornings…

White sand, white-capped waves and a cloudy sky. Brilliant blue above the clouds.
Our backyard beach.

We pretty much kept away from the beach during January, otherwise known as ‘the month of naps.’ Lots of people get to the beach very early during summer holidays and I didn’t want the hassle of trying to keep the dogs away from toddlers and others who might be leery.

But now that everyone is back to school and work? This is now a whole new ball game.

Scout and Jeffrey are a little nervous around big dogs. Jeff and Poppy had a few too many undisciplined boisterous dogs rush up to them at the dog park where we used to live, while Scout is so short that any dog bigger than a Jack Russell towers over her. So I prefer to go down when there are few others around.

Poppy and Scout enjoying the freedom.
Poppy and Scout.

I figured that most people who walk their dogs before work would go down there between 6 – 7:30, to allow enough time to get back home, shower and race off to the office.

Young Mums might plan to meet their friends at the beach for a coffee and a chat, but they’d get there after the school run at 9.

This leaves a sweet spot between 8 – 9 AM. So far, this theory has tested out perfectly.

Poppy and Scout at the water's edge.
So many smells at the beach!

These shots were all taken this morning, between 8 – 8:45. When we got down to the beach there were only 2 other people there, both walking dogs. The bay was throwing waves, with white caps. The tide was coming in so there wasn’t any flat, hard sand to walk on, so my legs got a decent workout. Much more interesting than going to the gym!

All 3 dogs tend to stay pretty close to me, but sometimes Poppy and Scout will run ahead, while Jeff might lag behind a bit if he smells something interesting. When we get here, Scout will race straight into the water to cool herself, no matter what the weather. Poppy will only go in if I throw a ball, while Jeff will only get wet if I go swimming. This happens very rarely.

Scout walking along the waterline.
Happy Scout.

This morning there was a dead fish washed up on the shore, much to Poppy’s interest. She’s a bird dog, so she had fun chasing a couple of seagulls who had the temerity to walk along the waterline in front of her. We met a 13-year-old poodle, an 18-year-old bulldog and a few other kelpies, goldens and mongrels.

We often stop t have a quick chat with people, as Scout is pretty distinctive looking and people what to know which breed she is. As one woman said yesterday, “Look at her eyebrows! She looks like a wee fairy-like thing.”

To be honest, the restriction on dog walking in the middle of summer suits me down to the ground. I burn incredibly easily in the sun, so early morning walks are the only ones I’ll even consider taking in the summer.

Every year once April rolls around, the dog owners reclaim our beach, walking at all times of the day.

Just one other person and his dog on our beach this morning.
Our view when we got there.

So what’s the routine for the rest of the day?

There’s none.

I do whatever I bloody well feel like doing on each given day.

Yesterday was gardening, a bit of cooking and hanging out the washing, in between finishing off a book of Emily Dickenson’s poetry. I’m watching ‘Dickinson’ on Apple TV at the moment and so I wanted to know more about her writing.

Today I’m going to go and buy some books with the voucher my friends from the staffroom gave me as a retirement present, then I’m meeting my mum and sister for lunch.

Tomorrow? Who knows? I have no idea what I’ll feel like doing in 24 hours. I’m not psychic.

I think I’m going to like this retirement stuff.

Retirement: when frugal hobbies become simple pleasures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve had to swing into action.

8 plump zucchini.
Here are 8 large zucchinis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George from Seinfeld.
Me over the last two weeks…

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

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

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

I had to smile. My strategy?

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

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

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

A combination of the following behaviours:

G.O.T meme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowchart for hedonic treadmill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoda meme.

The fourth tool is to be willing to learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That gave me 17 years.

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

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

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

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

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

The Office meme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only buy what you love.

Scout, our mini wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. We certainly love her!

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.

Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.

“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.

But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.

“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”

So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…

If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.

Ugly tv cabinet.
What was I thinking?

Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.

Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.

“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”

But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.

Life happens.

Long-billed bird watering can.
I like this little guy. Haven’t used him as a watering can (yet) but he sits in my window ledge. The rug has since been replaced by a nicer one and moved to the ‘man cave’ at the back of the house.

Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.

One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.

My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’

Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.

Empty rooms in the new house.
A blank canvas. Oh, the possibilities!

For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.

Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.

Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.

Wooden tv cabinet with 6 very long, curved legs.
Most items in my house have these ‘Queen Anne’ type of legs.

Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.

Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.

When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.

Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.

Wooden table with ornaments.
This is what has replaced the ugly tv table.

Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.

The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.

This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.

1020's (I think) treadle Singer sewing machine.
An antique Singer sewing machine.

When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.

Pantry with HUGE spice rack on the door.
My spice rack and pantry light are also happiness-inducing.

The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.

Bright red maple tree.
My red maple. The other maple tree is green.

I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.

Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!

Sleeping Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Poppy, sleeping on our old couch. The couch is now out in the backyard under the verandah.

I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.

Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.

Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.

As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.

Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.

But it’s an effort well worth making.

Sunset at our beach.
Our backyard beach.
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