Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: FIRE as a single.

Why I never had to bother with other people’s expectations.

Lifestyle creep. When you start earning more money and everyone expects you to reward yourself. You buy a bigger house, new/er cars, better clothes. You become spendier. People see you advancing along in your career and they expect to see outward signs of this. They expect you to have a more lavish lifestyle.

But do you know the HUGE advantage I’ve had throughout these 21 years?

Nobody expects a single mother of 4 boys to be able to spend money on lifestyle creep. No one even expects her to have it. Nobody!

Everyone knows how expensive kids are, especially as they move into high school and start living with their heads inside the fridge, eating everything in sight. They grow like weeds, while you can almost see their feet get bigger. They have school fees, school books and school excursions. They have outside interests that need to be paid for.

They probably also need braces. For those who don’t know, braces are hellishly expensive. I had 3 boys who needed them. Fortunately, their father paid for Ryan14’s braces, but I had to come up with the goods for the other two sets.

So here was I, with these 4 boys standing around growing ever taller and looking expensive. With straight teeth, though. That’s got to mean something…

If I needed some new clothes for my family, no one raised an eyebrow if I’d shop at the op shops first. If anyone had clothes to give away, we’d happily accept them. I’d grow my own veggies and people nodded.

Travel is also important to me. If a person has no international travel under their belt, their view on life is limited to the place that they grew up in. I wanted my boys to see outside the bubble of comfortable middle-class suburbia in a first-world nation. Documentaries on TV are great, but they’re no substitute for seeing things for yourself. So I took the boys to Bali, Thailand and Singapore, and paid for 2 of them to go on a school music tour to the USA. They went to the US with some of their uniform and schoolbooks being second-hand, but they still got to go. 

(On re-reading this before publication, I realise that I’m inferring that the USA is a third-world nation!! It made me laugh, so I’ve left it in. Though, now that I think about it, the boys were a bit shocked at the level of decay in the infrastructure of Hollywood/L.A… just saying…)

After school interests? With 4 kids to look after, I told the boys that each child could only have ONE class/sport/lesson each. Just one. While every other kid in the neighbourhood was racing off to something after every school day, my boys, after a bit of trying out of various things, elected to do music lessons.

Tom and Ryan did guitar for years, while David learned piano and is now getting his Bachelor’s degree in music. Evan didn’t end up doing anything at all – he was content to chill and do his own thing. Did any of the other Mums at school raise their eyebrows and make ‘tsk tsk’ noises and insinuate that my boys were being deprived? No.

I had the ‘Single  Mother/Single Wage’ card. I could fly under the radar. I have never had to cope with battling the expectations of anyone else.

And it was wonderful.

It left me free to be the ‘Valuist’ spender that I was born to be.

It’s left me free to organise my finances the way that I – and only I – want to. I like nice clothes as much as the next woman, but our security was more important. That little weatherboard house had to be paid for. And it was. One cheap shopping trip to Aldi for all of those groceries at a time, while wearing the same clothes for years.

My big trip to the Uk and Europe that I’d waited my whole life to do? Once the house was paid for and the boys had all finished high school, I quietly saved up the money and went.

I’m happy to keep wearing the same jewellery and drive the same car while I put improvements in place in The Best House in Melbourne so that I can retire with the infrastructure that I want around me.

Lots of little expenses, like daily coffees from 7/11, or doughnut runs to AJs are things I’ve never done. The peer pressure has never happened, though I’ve seen it put to work all around me. Everyone else is fair game for Lifestyle Creep to be expected of them, but “poor Frogdancer Jones can’t afford it with all those boys…”

I guess being a single parent has to have some advantages.

Heh heh.

A totally scientific experiment. Or metaphor. Or something.

Earlier this week I wrote a post about The Single Advantage, where I wrote about the path to FI as a single person.

Yesterday, on my daily walk with Poppy, Jeff and Scout, it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to do a totally scientific experiment to see if my post was accurate.

You see, Poppy and Jeff have been partners since they were in the womb together and they always go for walks on a brace lead. This is simply a leash for 2 dogs which is in a ‘Y’ shape, so I only have to hang on to one loop.

Scout, being the baby sister of the pack, came along later so she has her own lead.

Which lead is the most efficient? The ‘couple’ lead, or the ‘single’ lead? WHAT a metaphor for life! How could anyone possibly say that this is unrealistic?

Ok. My hypothesis is that the two different leads accurately depict two different pathways to FI – one as a couple and one as a single. For the purposes of this experiment, we’ll assume that both the couple and the single are starting from the same position, (a wild enthusiasm to get to FI as quickly as possible), and they have the same goal in mind, (to have a fully-paid-off kennel and to never need to fetch tennis balls again, unless they choose to.)

I had the materials needed. The dogs were raring to go, my phone was in my hand and I was filled with the thirst for scientific endeavour. Off we set around the block to make financial research history!

It was clear right from the start that when Poppy and Jeff were in synch, they were unstoppable. Shoulder to shoulder, facing the same way, they forged ahead of Scout. They make a great team. The fully-paid-off kennel of their dreams is well within reach.

“It’s not fair! There’s 2 of them and I have very little legs. They’re getting ahead of me and it’s not fair! They’re sharing the work, they have 2 food bowls and THEIR LEGS ARE LONGER.”

But hang on…

What starts to happen around every tempting aroma?

Scout takes the opportunity to nip past them as Jeff lifts his leg on investigates every conceivable thing on our path, thus slowing Poppy down and delaying their path to FI. In the interests of decorum, I won’t show you exactly what he was doing. This is a family-friendly blog, after all.

Oh no! While Poppy was waiting for Jeff to get back on task, she sees a bird! She goes out of shot to try and get closer, yanking him off-balance.

They’re completely off task now…

Meanwhile, Scout, her heart filled with joy at not having her dreams of FI and a fully-paid-for kennel delayed by a distracted partner, skips ahead with glee, her eyes on the prize. As for not needing to fetch tennis balls? She’s a modern independent woman and she LOVES her side-hustle of bringing back anything that’s thrown.

This is an action shot; joy requires movement and flopping ears. Please excuse any fuzzy edges in this shot. Science requires sacrifices from all of us to get to the truth.

 However, once Poppy and Jeff have some counselling and get their goals back into realignment, we all set off together.

The Cavaliers have been partners since birth – they’re not going to let anyone stop them! Whereas Scout is as stubborn as dachshunds normally are and she’ll get to her goals with or without a partner. “A man is not a financial plan” is her mantra.

Well, considering I call my place a glorified kennel, the result was never in doubt, was it? Here they all are, enjoying the fruits of their labour. No matter how tempting the scents, the birds and the possum poo along the way, they all got there in the end.

Scout’s route was by far the most focussed and direct, but Poppy and Jeff, when they decided to stop getting distracted on their individual interests and they started working together, were a force.

I know you want to know the results.

Amazingly, both leads ended up at our destination of FI and a fully-paid-off kennel at the same time. I know – I’m as surprised as you!!

What does this totally scientific and non-rigged experiment show?

We can all get to our goals, regardless of our relationship status.

Scout’s little legs meant that she had to take more steps than the others to get there, but she made it in the end. Poppy and Jeff were sometimes pulled off-course by their partner, but they got back on track and also got to their destination.

And now everyone’s sleeping on the couch, safe and happy.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad result for any of us!

 

If it gets measured, it gets managed. (I hope.)

I’m a firm believer that if you find a strategy that works for you, KEEP DOING IT.

Then, if possible, see how you can utilise that winning strategy in other ways.

It’s January 9, 2019, and I thought I’d share a little experiment I’m doing to see if I can manage my time more productively.

Clearly, filling in charts works for me. 2019 is the third year I’ve been tracking my spending using my handy-dandy “No Spend Days” chart that I’ve blogged about before.

This year, I thought I’d use the same ‘colouring in’ type of chart to map other areas of my life that I want to improve in. At the end of every day, I’ll log onto the cloud and add that day’s totals to the chart. At the end of the week, I get to colour-in every square that has a full week’s worth of completed tasks.

I know… it sounds stupid and babyish, but the visual reward seems to work for me. So last week I began to fill in the chart every night. It only takes 2 seconds.

After a few days of doing this, I added an important modification.

What if I have a really busy day and some of the tasks simply can’t get done? That’s hugely de-motivating for the rest of the week. No way to earn success by colouring-in.   🙁

So I added the yellow to mark the squares where I only missed by one day.

I think this is important. I can just see myself writing off the entire week because I didn’t get home from work till 8PM on a Monday night, for example, and I couldn’t do anything in the garden or walk the dogs. This chart is meant to get me doing things, not giving me the excuse to sign off altogether! So I get a second chance with the yellow.

Theoretically, I could award myself a kaleidoscope of colours, but I want to hold myself accountable, so I figure one day’s grace in each task should be enough.

Here are the tasks broken down with a bit more detail:

  1. Write every day. This is linked with column number 2. These posts take a long time to write and so if I’m going to hit my target I’ll have to be far more disciplined with when I try and contact my muses. Only writing when I ‘feel like it’ isn’t a good strategy.
  2. Post 3 times a week. This is hard to do with the full-time job. Those pesky students demand that their teacher actually engages with them and teaches them stuff. Outrageous! Hence the need for column number 1.
  3. Walk dogs. My long commute has meant that some days I get home and feel too tired to take the dogs out. Poppy, Jeff and Scout deserve better. I knew that this was going to be a goal of mine in 2019, so I bought a dedicated dog walking bag from America. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s very sturdy. I figure it’ll probably see out these puppers so it’s a good investment. Everything I need is in it – I just have to grab it and go. If I can remove any barriers to getting tasks done, then it’s worth it.
  4. No junk food. It may be hard for some of you to imagine, but although Frogdancer Jones may write like a skinny girl, she’s actually the tubbiest she’s ever been. To be honest, it’s probably wine that’s the main culprit here but I’m not ready to deal with ditching the shiraz just yet. Junk food is next. This is easy to cut out in the holidays, but I’m wondering how I’ll go during term time… Blogless Brock has a desk just across from mine and he has what he calls “The Milk Bar”, which is a set of large glass jars full of different lollies. He hands them out to anyone in need of a quick ‘pick me up’. Unfortunately, he hates green snakes while I LOVE them. This is going to be a big test of my character once school starts again.
  5. Clean. I hate housework. I could never understand why until I read an article that explained why Virgos love order but hate cleaning. It’s because we love to do a job properly right at the start, so that it never has to be re-done. Cleaning definitely doesn’t fit that bill! I keep my house very tidy, but if I have a spare hour free, I’m going to elect to spend it reading a book rather than getting out the Spray and Wipe and giving the kitchen benches a good going over just for the sake of it. So I get the boys to do it in lieu of paying me board, or I invite people over for dinner. THEN I’ll clean like crazy! So I need to do a little something every day to get myself into the habit.
  6. Garden. This one is easier for me to do, but I was still noticing that my front yard was looking a bit raggedy. I decided that if I take care of one task a day, (watering the veggies doesn’t count!), then the overall job of maintaining the look of The Best House in Melbourne will be much easier.
  7. Read a book. I don’t mean a whole book! I didn’t make my Goodreads goal of reading 80 books last year – I fell short by 7 – but I would have easily hit that target if I wasn’t reading so many blogs, tweets and FB entries. I have to remind myself to chip away at that goal. To be honest, this one is probably the easiest one of all for me. I’m addicted to reading.

Anyway, there it is. I’m interested to see if using the chart will give me the motivation to kick some goals with these goals.

Let’s see if the old saying is true – “If it gets measured, it gets managed!”

The Single Advantage.

I think that the road to financial independence as a single has a big and clear advantage. There’s a reason why a ship only has one captain and why too many cooks spoil the broth.

I’m a member of a few “Single FI” threads on FB and I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in the last couple of weeks with people having a whinge about how much harder it is for singles to reach Financial Independence in a world apparently geared for couples. According to these people, housing is more expensive, food is more expensive, entertainment is definitely more expensive. It’s not fair! Those selfish couples with their unfair societal advantages are rubbing their privileged FIRE journeys into our disadvantages singes’ faces!!!

At first, I was just “meh” about it. I don’t know these people and I have no way to walk in their shoes. However, as more and more people started chiming in, it got me thinking.

Why is my thinking about financial independence as a single so different?

I’ve been single for the last 21 years, ever since I left my husband. I walked away with my 4 boys aged 5, 3, 2 and 11 months. For the first 4 years, I was supporting us and paying a mortgage on the Sole Parents’ Pension, which (from memory) was around 18K a year. After my youngest son started school, I began working full-time as a teacher.  People ‘pooh-pooh’ teacher’s wages, even in Australia, but compared to the pension I felt we were on Easy Street.

So, long story short, for the last 21 years my family has been supported by one wage, controlled by one person. Why do I see this as not necessarily the disadvantage that others do?

Yes, on paper it would have been far easier if I’d been fortunate enough to meet someone compatible who could bring another wage into the household. Imagine all the investments we could have made once the mortgage was paid off?? We’d be rolling in money!

But I don’t know that it would have automatically happened quite like that.

Lifestyle creep appears to happen with almost every couple I’ve ever seen. Sure, the prudent ones max out their super funds and put aside money for investments and for a rainy day. The really smart ones have a healthy ‘FU Fund’ like the one I have. But even so, as life goes on and couples start to earn more, the little luxuries start to become part of the everyday. Clothes get nicer. Cars get newer. Houses get bigger. Holidays get more glamorous and are often spent further away from home. No more caravan park holidays at the Rye back beach! Now it’s taking the family to Thailand or Fiji or, (if you really want to make it memorable), to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.

The food budget goes up too. Not just on the average shop, but also when eating out. Dinner parties at home become far less common, even for lunches. Everyone wants to go out to eat. Theatre tickets replace movie tickets and lunches at wineries replace picnics in the park.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. You’ve both worked hard to get where you are and you deserve to taste some of the finer things in life. Your wife/husband/partner or yourself earned that big promotion and the expectation of the people around you at that new job is that you look the part. So, gradually, you do. It’s human nature to blend in with the tribe, after all.

I’m sure that with even the best will in the world, even the most perfect partner will come with some expenses in tow. There is no way that a man or woman would say, “Here’s my entire pay packet. Take it and invest it for our future. I have no wants, needs or desires. None whatsoever!”

Of course, some single people also fall prey to lifestyle creep. But when you’re on your own, it’s just YOU making the choices. I remember some of the (what I thought was) stupid things my ex-husband used to spend money on. So annoying. But I’ll bet that he could say the exact same thing about me. Everyone has things that individually drive them and if you’re snugly coupled-up, you have to accommodate the other person’s things, or you won’t be very snug for very long!

 

Rather than focusing on what we as singles don’t have –

2 X the pay packet;

someone to lift heavy things and open jars;

unbridled romance every time s/he walks through the door…

– we singles should be happy for the clear advantage of what we do have:

The opportunity to set a financial game plan in place and execute it without another person’s distractions or agenda getting in the way.

That’s huge.

It’s also an advantage that each person who’s single has, regardless of how much income they bring in.  Of course,  couples may very well be on the same financial page, working together for the benefit of their relationships, but we all know that it’s not the truth for each and every couple.

But we singles can choose the destiny of every dollar we bring in. On the path to FI, that’s not to be sneezed at.

There’s a lot to be said for personal, as well as financial independence.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

All … or nothing at all.

I’m pretty much an ‘all or nothing’ sort of person.

When I was two years old I was scared of dogs after I was bitten by one. Mum and Dad adopted a puppy when I was about seven to get me over the fear. It worked. When I was in my twenties, before I had kids, I bred and showed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for years. I had MANY dogs. Poppy and Jeff are descendants of the dogs I bred.

I wasn’t all that fussed about having kids. Then I made four of them within five years.

I thought I might like to try and make a quilt. How hard could it be? It’s only lots and lots of straight seams, right? Literally twenty-seven quilts later… (and I even made one that had circles on it.) 

Someone suggested I grow veggies to save money. Then my son grew very ill with depression and I thought that organic fruit and vegetables couldn’t hurt and might help. By the time I sold the house, I had well over thirty fruit trees and over 35 square metres of vegetable gardens. I had plans drawn up to grow a food forest in the front yard.

So you can imagine that when I dig my heels in and purchased Scout, my family was worried. But so far, I’ve been good. There’s still only one miniature wire-haired dachshund living in The Best House in Melbourne!

I have a new rule for clothes shopping. I don’t buy it if I don’t love it. We all have things that we bought because we thought they were ok, but they were so cheap!!! Then they live in the dark recesses of your wardrobe, barely if ever seeing the light of day, until they get donated five years later. Not so cheap if you don’t actually like them enough to wear them, right?

I’m VERY all-or-nothing when it comes to clothes shopping. In 2013 I was a thermomix consultant and I earned a free trip to Hong Kong. One day some of us took the train to the border and we went shopping in Shenzhen, China. I came back with fifteen dresses, jewellery, ugg boots that I still wear as slippers to this day, woollen jumpers and who knows what else? I could barely close my suitcase and I learned the lesson that you should ALWAYS buy a suitcase with wheels. However, I’ve barely bought any clothes since. I’ve been happily wearing my Shenzhen wardrobe.

In fact, I did my figures for 2018 on New Year’s Day. Last year I spent a grand total of $35 on clothes, mostly on a jumper and some t-shirts for the North Korea trip. The year before it was $0, unless you count $30 to get a pair of Aldi boots resoled. To be fair, this was when we were living through the bridging finance, when 54% – 74% of my take-home wage was going to the 750K loan on The Best House in Melbourne. Money was slightly tight.

However… this frugal heaven can’t last forever.

I may have run slightly mad over the last couple of days. Clothes will definitely last if you look after them, but they don’t last indefinitely. They get faded, stained or damaged. Shoes are durable, but eventually, they get scuffed and tired -looking. For the last couple of years, no one at work knew if Frogdancer Jones was going to turn up looking presentable or if she’d turn up looking as if she’d pitchforked clothes from the rag bag onto herself.

It was time to turn my attention to my attire.

I’m now the proud owner of five pairs of new shoes. Two pairs of flats have yet to arrive in the mail from Scarlettos, while I bought these beauties today. I used to walk past the shop for years and glance at the displays, but never even go inside, because I knew I couldn’t afford them so why go in and look?

The black boots are obviously for winter, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I wear the $60 Aldi boots for the fourth year. After all, they’ve been re-soled, right? Waste not, want not!

But today, I was primarily looking for clothes, particularly tops to go over the Bali pants Mum and Dad brought back with them after their last holiday. I thought I’d buy about 5 new casual tops that I can wear for work. Nothing too drastic…

But no one told me that stripes and linen were back in.

And – wait for it….. stripey linen.

OMG!

I wandered into David Jones all unaware of this fact, and staggered out of there under the weight of many shopping bags, $800 poorer but with a new wardrobe that will make me look GORGEOUS! I was lucky that the Christmas sales are still on, but just between you and me… I’d have bought most of these things without the sale. Remember? I don’t buy clothes I don’t love.

Speaking of that, there’s been a site I’ve been stalking for two years that has clothes that I adore. Unfortunately, they’re mainly made for stick-thin people, but they have wraps and coats that cater for portly frames like mine. I haven’t bought a thing from them for two long years. I kept looking at their emails, then deleting, saying, “No. I’m not ready yet.”

However, it’s possible I may have spent the first day of 2019 buying  $400 worth of swishy and drapey outer-wear for autumn and winter from them. I guess I’m now set for clothing for the next few years. Woohoo!

I’m already aware that this time next year, when Future Frogdancer Jones is going through the figures for 2019, she’ll probably be wincing a bit. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of money on clothing and shoes this week.

But you know what?

I’m really looking forward to hearing what the beautifully dressed women in The Danger Zone* will say when I keep turning up in wonderful clothing, day after day after day. After day. (Yes, I did run a little crazy…)

I’m looking forward to walking into my wardrobe after my shower in the morning looking forward to creating my outfit for that day, instead of thinking, “Ok, what’s not in the wash? What can I get away with wearing?”

I’m looking forward to finally wearing clothes that look like ME, instead of clothes that are old and were always bought with an eye for price rather than anything much else. Those clothes are a real downer to wear when that’s pretty much all you have to choose from.

There are around two and half of you who have been reading this blog for a while. You’ll remember that I class myself as a value-ist. I only like to buy things that I hold as adding great value to my life, while I’ll be dragged kicking and screaming before I’ll waste money on things that I perceive as NOT doing this.

After I hit publish on this post, I’m going to pour myself a shiraz, then I’ll go into my wardrobe and start culling all of those faded, stained ‘ok, but so cheap!’ clothes. When that’s done and my new clothes are all washed, ironed and hanging up in there, my wardrobe will be a thing of beauty.

And so will I.

* The Danger Zone is the nickname that our little section of staff room 2 is called. I share it with Blogless Adrian, Blogless Liz and a group of young twenty-and-thirty something girls who all look fabulous. Fortunately, they’re all fabulously nice as well. It’s a happy place.

 

 

 

 

In defence of Santa – from a Value-ist.

I read a tweet from Angela an hour ago about how her family doesn’t “do” Santa at Christmas and as a Santa enthusiast, it got me thinking and remembering. Angela and her family have thought about this and haven’t made their decision lightly, but I have a differing point of view. Christmases here are very different now, but when the boys were kids and money was tight, it was a challenge to make Christmas morning magical. And, as I’ll tell you in a second, yesterday I discovered that it paid off big time.

As a single parent, when the boys were small, money was tight. I went back to full-time work when the boys were Tom10, David8, Ryan6 and Evan5. When I was on the sole parents’ pension as it was called then, I was paying a mortgage and the bills and we were living pretty much hand-to-mouth. We were on roughly 18K/year, of which nearly half was going to the mortgage, so there was little room for fripperies in the budget.

But… I’m a Value-ist. I was a Value-ist before the term was coined. I’ll scrimp and scrape to save money for my family to survive, but if there is something that I see adds huge value to our lives, I’ll spend the money to achieve it.

Santa was definitely one of those things.

When Tom26 was Tom9, he came home from school in the middle of the year and said to me, “Joe Lunchbucket said to me that Santa wasn’t real.” Now, Tom is a communicative boy, so I hastily got him away from his brothers by suggesting we go into the backyard for a chat.

We walked down to the fig tree, where I asked him whether he really wanted to know. He said yes. I looked him right in the eye, smiled and said, “That’s right. I’m Santa.”

Tom9 gasped and said, “NO WAY!” To be frank, I wasn’t expecting this reaction.

I laughed and said, “What do you mean?”

“YOU can’t be Santa! You couldn’t afford it!!!”

After convincing him that yes, I was indeed Santa, he became struck with guilt.

“Oh no. I’ve been telling all the boys to ask for the expensive things for Christmas so you wouldn’t have to get them.”

Oh, my baby. That’s real love right there. And fiscal responsibility. No wonder he became an accountant! That remark went straight to my heart. I laughed, hugged him and we had The Talk. The Talk about how knowing about Santa means that you’re now with the grown-ups and we NEVER spoil Santa for little kids by blabbing it out just to make ourselves feel important. We keep the secret so they get to enjoy it just as we did.

Having all of your children caught up in the magic of Santa is special. But it’s also special when your older ones start joining in with keeping the magic alive for the little ones.  When they help the little ones with the spelling on their Santa lists, when they distract them when we’re shopping so I can smuggle a present past them, and when they all yell out, “Thank you Santa Claus!!” and the older one/s turn and smile with you, or give you a secret hug and whisper, “Thanks Mum.”

To be honest, I had an advantage on my side, in that the boys were little when money was ultra-tight. This meant that I was able to get away with quantity over quality. I knew that little kids have no idea what things cost. They just get excited by piles of things. So every year each boy would get one “big” present. Something that they wanted that was ultra-fun or ultra-pricey that they needed AND wanted. Then there’d be a present or two that was medium exciting, like computer games (often bought second-hand) or smaller toys. The rest required ingenuity.

I created traditions.

  1. Every year Santa brought bubble mix. Part of Christmas morning was that we’d all go out into the backyard and blow bubbles and see who could blow the biggest ones. We’d laugh as the dogs tried to catch them. It was fun and cost about $1/child.
  2. Every year Santa brought those mini packets of Kellogs cereals. The kids LOVED these, as normally it was just home-brand wheat bix and cornflakes in the pantry.
  3. You know those packets of chocolate gold coins that you can get from $2 shops? My kids were in the money every Christmas.
  4. Santa was also a bit of a fashionista. If the kids needed new bathers, t-shirts or the like, they’d go into the pile. Usually, each child had their Christmas Day outfit given to them, so they’d be all dressed up in their best for the day. I was going to buy them anyway, so why not add it to the mix? It all looks impressive.

But the biggest savings hack was shopping at garage sales. The little presents, and to be honest, some of the really big ones too, were bought here. The boys were away with their father every second weekend, so from about September onwards I’d drive around and visit garage sales when the kids weren’t with me. People just want to get rid of things their kids have outgrown, so I’d pick up toys and other things for absolute pennies on the dollar that they would have been when new.  My kids never had any idea that a huge percentage of their Santa gifts were pre-loved.

All that mattered to them was the magic.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast that Tom26 was on. He and a friend were talking about all things Christmas – the carols, the commercialism, the memories and, of course, Santa. Tom26 brought up the Santa reveal story I’ve already shared with you, but he also said this:

“As a young kid, Christmas is everything. And the one thing I’ll say about my mother who, I think, will end up hearing this episode…”

“Tread carefully!!!” said his friend. (Made me laugh.)

“… My family did not grow up with any sort of money. We were really, like, dirt poor. But Christmas – Mum went above and beyond. At the time, you’re young, you don’t know, but you look back and you realise what she did. And that’s something that I cherish, looking back on.”

He went on:

“Then as you get older, as you get busier, it’s about taking a break, saying, “I’m going to put all my problems away for a second, put them in a box, and go and see friends and family. The people that matter most. And they don’t have to believe, either, (they’d touched on religion in the conversation earlier). We can just say thanks for one another on one day. The gifts really are a symbol of thanks, really, for just putting up with me (laughs), well, maybe not entirely! But also thanks for being YOU, through the thick and thin.”

The good thing about podcasts is that you can go through and get it down, word for word. I really wanted to be accurate in putting down what he said because I was so blown away with how perfectly he’s internalised the true meaning of Christmas. Family and friends – the people closest to you. The gifts you buy are only there as a symbol of how much you value those people in your life. Taking time out to be with them and acknowledging them and their importance to you.

I believe Santa lays the groundwork for this.

First, kids learn to receive.

Then they learn how to give.

Merry Christmas everyone! May your holiday season be happy and mirthful and your dinner plate always be full.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Guest post about my past…

I’m such a doofus sometimes! I forgot to let you know about a guest post I did for XRAYVSN.

He’s got a thing going on his blog about how divorce affects FI and he asked me to write something about my experiences. My divorce was over 20 years ago when Evan22 was 11 months old and Tom26 was 6 years old. The other two boys were somewhere in between. Hey, you have 4 children in 5 years and their details tend to get a little fuzzy…

There’s a list of questions participants can choose from so I told my story while weaving my way through. I have to say, it all seems like ancient history now but it was interesting to go back and revisit Frogdancer Jones when she was so scared to leave the marriage and strike out on her own with the 4 small boys. I wish I could go back in time and tell her that it was all going to work out fine.

Here’s the link to go and read it.

 

The single woman’s track to FI.

A few years ago, I remember looking with envy at women on staff with me who were married. Not because I wanted their husbands (!!) but because I thought that it would be so much easier to get ahead financially with 2 incomes flowing into a household. I looked back at what I’d been able to achieve over the last 10… 15…18 years while raising the four boys and working as a teacher on my own and I’d think, “If I could do all this with one wage, how much more could I have done if there was a partner working alongside me? OMG.”

It’s true… I have been able to make my teacher’s salary stretch. My parents, particularly my Dad, were frugal and kids are sponges. I learned the lessons growing up. My boys have travelled overseas with me 3 times, two of them have travelled to the US with the school band, they’ve all had extracurricular activities while growing up, all the while living in (an eventually) paid-for house in one of the best public school zones in Melbourne. They may have come from a broken home but I was damned if I was going to let it hobble them. I caught the investing bug after paying off the mortgage and started scratching together a small share portfolio. Life was good but I always assumed I’d be working until pension age, which for me is 67.

I’d look across at the multitude of female teachers my age who were able to work part-time because their husbands earned the larger wages in their households. They’d come into work talking about the lunches they’d been on, the tennis they’d played or just the simple luxury of having a morning/day/two days to Get Things Done during the week so their weekends were free to chill with their families. True, for 4 years I worked 4 days a week,  but I was working part-time because I had a side hustle that I had to attend meetings for on my day off, so I was still working. The things that my colleagues were talking about seemed to come from another world. A happier world. A cushier, easier world. I wasn’t bitter and twisted about it; after all their lives were a result of the choices they’d made when they were younger, just as mine was. However, it all seemed so different.

Then I discovered the concepts behind FIRE. It was really encouraging because I was already doing most of them.

Reduce expenses? No worries… been living like that for years! I started to smile.

Pay off debt? Done! My wages were all my own to do with as I would. Giggling now… this was looking all too easy.

Start investing in index funds? Well, I didn’t know an index fund from my own left foot, but I could learn. Hey, I already had my shares that were bubbling over nicely, so I had a teeny head start there. Laughing now, mate. Laughing.

Harness the power of compounding? Umm… crap.

I was staring down the barrel of my 50’s, so that magical 30 and 40-year compounding magical money machine was not for me. I looked over at those married people with their married incomes and their married lifestyles of married discretionary spending money and I thought, ‘It must be so EASY for them to get ahead. They must be awash with money and investments and paid-for real estate. Good on them… but how can I get there too?’

But then it occurred to me. I had a huge advantage in doing this thing on my own. Ok, I still had the kids living with me, the minimal child support I’d spasmodically received was now a distant memory so they were still mainly financially dependent on me, but it wasn’t as if the household was run by a financial committee. The Frogdancer household is more like a benevolent dictatorship, where there is only one set of hands on the financial reins. Mine.

That’s huge.

When I was getting out of debt by throwing everything I could at the mortgage, I’d listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast on iTunes. The religion thing definitely isn’t my bag, but I’m not so bigoted that I can’t look past it. What I loved was the motivation I gained from hearing people’s debt-free screams and hearing the sound, sensible, boring steps to making it to Babystep 7… Build wealth and give generously. When he introduced the Millionaire theme hours I was rapt! Ok, most of them were people who got married and stayed married. But there were a few single women in jobs who paid comparable or less than mine who had also made it. This gave me hope that maybe I could do it too. But there was another thing about the people calling in on other sections of the podcast that I couldn’t help noticing.

It seemed like nearly every day there was someone calling in saying, “Dave, how do I get my wife/husband on board? I’m excited about getting out of debt and building a future for my family but s/he’s resisting me every step of the way.” Sometimes it would be a person ringing in and asking for advice on how to deal with a partner who has been hiding substantial debt from them, or who has a gambling problem and raking up huge debt… etc.

It wasn’t just Americans on a podcast. For years I’ve been a member of a site called Simple Savings. It’s a site that is overwhelmingly female, with the number of men who are members being less than you could count on one hand. It was a godsend to me, particularly in the years when we were incredibly hand-to-mouth when the boys were small. This is a site where I’d see frequent posts from Australian women asking about how to stop their husbands from blowing hundreds of dollars a month on fast food, boys’ toys, cigarettes and alcohol. These women were working hard to curb expenses, make their grocery money go further so they could provide extra activities or financial security for their families, only to watch seemingly helplessly as their partners spent all of the gains that the women had so painstakingly built up.

I tell you, these things started to make me feel very glad that I was single!

I may not have the lifelong romance, music playing as I rush heedlessly into my beloved’s arms every time I see him or the joy of reading poetry together in front of an open fire every night as he gives me a foot massage and hands me a single red rose… but I DO have the power of focus.

I set the rules. I decide which goals the Frogdancer finances are going to work towards. I decide which expenses are valuable and which can be cut. I’m the one doing the shopping, paying the bills and planning for the future. That’s an extremely valuable position to be in and every person who is single should relish it.

I don’t care if you have the most harmonious marriage in the world and both parties are working together towards FIRE and any other big goals you have. There’s still going to be expenses and values that each partner has that the other one doesn’t share, and so there has to be that dreaded thing…. compromise. Easier to finance this on two incomes, but when there’s only one? Single people rejoice! We don’t have to keep an expensive cable package because our partner just can’t do without sport. We don’t have to bite our tongues when our partner comes home with bags and bags of clothes that were “such a bargain” because they were “on sale”. We don’t have to smile and feign interest when our partner comes home with yet another watch, handbag or game to add to his or her collection. Our resources may be smaller, but we have total control over how those resources get deployed.

I think this is really powerful. The curse of the single person on the way to FI is that there is no one to blame but yourself if you don’t get there. That’s also the blessing. There’s no one else to blame if money gets wasted, there’s no one else to allow you to shove financial responsibility to one side while they handle it all, and there’s no one else to shelter you from the realities of finances and life in general, which weakens you. The blessing is that we’re empowered to get out there and make it happen, according to our own values and our own desires. It’s a wonderful thing, which historically has happened all too rarely for women.

Mathematically, being single certainly has an effect on how quickly a person can achieve FI. But it certainly has its advantages as well. Enjoy the journey!