Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: FIRE as a single. (page 1 of 2)

You always have a choice.

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

Do you laugh or do you cry?

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

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

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

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

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

I grabbed the door handle and slid the door open.

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

The kids stared, open-mouthed. 

I stared, open-mouthed. 

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

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

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

I started to laugh. 

I laughed and laughed, practically doubling over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I going for FAT-FIRE?

Waves on our backyard beach

I’m going for FAT FIRE.

Why?

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

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

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

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

It’s my Grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George ran out of money.

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

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

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

I NEVER want to have that talk with my boys. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why I’m going for FAT-FIRE. 

Serene waves and blue sky.

So my test retirement began well.

Silhouette of Scout - a true sausage dog!
Silhouette of Scout – a true sausage dog!

For those people new to the blog, I’m a teacher and the Easter holidays have just started. I’ll have 2 weeks at home, so I’m calling it a ‘test retirement’ to see if I’ll be happy when I pull the pin on my job in a couple of years or so. Today is the first day.

Daylight savings reverted back to winter time on Sunday, so it was easy to sleep in till 7:00 this morning. If that doesn’t sound like a sleep-in, keep in mind that I normally get up at 5:45 on weekdays. It was a nice little novelty to let the dogs out in daylight, instead of switching all the lights on as we walk down the hall.

Twitter post describing my morning

My friend Blogless Sandy was due to come over for lunch with her new dog, a rescue called Buddy. He’s a staffy, and staffys aren’t renowned for their love of small dogs. Blogless Sandy’s Sandy’s other staffy would go for mine on sight, (if we ever let them near each other, which we don’t. We like to keep the friendship intact!), so we wanted to see how Buddy would react to them.

I had the morning to myself, as both the boys had Uni. Ryan24 had to leave early, as there was a pack of vegans who’d chained themselves to vans, protesting about meat-eaters. They were ‘helpfully’ blocking the Flinders st/Swanston st intersection – the busiest one in the whole city – and he knew there’d be delays.

Time in the house all by myself – an introvert’s dream! Thank-you, vegans! Let’s get this test retirement happening!

I did a bit of gardening out the front, some cleaning inside. I finished off a book I began yesterday – Tobias Wolff’s ‘This Boy’s Life’. It’s good – I recommend it. I thought about blogging but … meh. I wasn’t in the zone.

I went out to put some recycling in the bin and had a chat with Dave from next door – all in my pjs and bathrobe standing out in the street. He was home to build a deck on the side of his house. Not sure that a real retirement would have me hobnobbing with the neighbours in my bathrobe every day, but for a test retirement, I’ll let it go.

3 dogs lying down - Poppy and Scout on the ends, Buddy in the middle.

Buddy arrived and all was good. He’s really tall for his breed – just think of a staffy on stilts and you’d have him. He fell in love with Poppy but she wouldn’t have a bar of him. I made some dahl for lunch and we poured ourselves a glass of wine and settled in for a chat.

After they left I simply had to follow the years’ old tradition I’ve laid down for myself – the lengthy nanna nap in the afternoon. I could hear Dave from next door hammering away, but that gradually faded and the dogs and I had a restorative 2 hour sleep.

(Don’t judge me. Teaching takes a lot of energy and my nanna naps are always long when the holidays begin. I wonder how long the nanna naps will last into a real retirement? Anyone know? I have to say – it was pretty darned good in a test retirement scenario.)

Currently, it’s just before dinner time. Some rain is falling and I have the windows open so I can hear it drumming on the tin roof of the verandah. I’m happy because this means I don’t have to go outside and water the garden. I’m sipping a chardonnay and planning out my night’s entertainment – I think I’ll keep watching a documentary about the Roman emperor Commodus on Netflix.

The dogs are curled up next to me, the boys are both home from Uni and we’ll have the leftover dahl for dinner. I’ll just throw some rice in the thermomix to go with it.

If this is what retirement looks like on an ordinary day, I’ll take it!

Let’s test out this whole ‘retirement’ thing!

Teacher looking at clock, counting down, with a wine bottle in her hand.

Today marks the end of term 1 – the Easter holidays are finally here. It’s no secret that I’m working towards retiring in the next few years and the holidays will give me a small taste of the freedom which will one day be mine. Let’s test out whether I’ll enjoy this whole ‘retirement’ thing!

The staff room is full of laughter and Brock is playing music from his computer. Only 6 periods to get through and then sweet, sweet holidays for 2 weeks will be here.

Welcome to Teaching - where salaries are low and everything's your fault.

This morning I had a meeting with a parent at 8AM. She was worried about the mark that her daughter earned in her Theatre Studies assignment. She wants me to generate more work for her daughter so she can practice the task before the end-of-year exam, despite me telling her that the kids will get plenty of practice tasks as the exam gets closer. No – she wants new ones for her child. Now.

I won’t get meetings like that on the holidays – except maybe via email. I’ll just put an automated ‘I’m on holidays’ response so I can still enjoy my free time.

On school holidays but still working

I’ll still be coming into the school on the holidays. My year 12’s are putting on ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in the second week of term, so there’s at least a couple of days of dress rehearsals and set painting still to do. I’ll have to drive down (with the dogs – I have to have some quality time with them, after all!) and open up the Lecture theatre (and make lunch – a vegan curry… there’s always at least 1 or 2 vegans), and stay there from 9 – 6.

I’ve been sensible enough to make sure that all my marking is done for the term, so at least my break won’t be made hideous by having to read essays.

But what will my mini-retirement holidays consist of? What will I do with my days of suddenly free time? How will I test out this whole ‘retirement’ thing?

Holiday workout - opening wine

First up – I’ll have more time to see friends.

Tonight I’m going into town to see Hannah Gadsby’s new show ‘Douglas’. What a fun way to start the break! I’ll take myself to dinner, then meet up with Blogless Liz and her friends to see the show.

My lovely friend Scott is here in Melbourne for the first time in 10 years and we’ll be seeing each other for a couple of days while I’m on holidays. I’m so looking forward to this – he’s one of my dearest friends. Face-to-face time is much better than Skype/Whatsapp time.

Blogless Sandy has adopted a new dog, so we’ll be seeing each other over the holidays to see if Buddy will get along with my 3. Sandy’s older dog has an abiding hatred of small dogs so we were never able to take them for walks or hang out together with them. We both live near dog beaches, so it’d be good to be able to take them for leisurely walks while we chat, especially after I really retire. She likes staffies, so we have to be careful. Mine would definitely come off worst in a squabble!

I have to get the garden ready for winter – AND for visitors. I’m having a couple of lunch dates so the house and garden have to look good. I always say, if your place needs a good clean, ask some visitors over! It’ll be spick and span way before they arrive.

Will I get time to work on Jack’s quilt? Do some knitting? I definitely want to take the dogs to the dog beach every day. Will I go to the movies? I’ll definitely get my hair whipper-snippered into submission. Will I redecorate the Man Cave? Read as many books as I can?

So much time! So much to do!

Not to mention the odd nanna nap (every day I can fit one in… which will hopefully be Every Day.)

Everyone’s so happy at work today. The early finish of one hour earlier helps too. (As does the drinks being put on down at the Bowls Club after work.)

Let’s see how these holidays go. Let my mini-retirement experiment begin!

getting ready to leave work like a runner in a race

Now I’m thinking about Opportunity Cost.

Hey girl, you look good when you pay your blls

Of course, as soon as I wrote a post about possibly going part-time at work, I immediately started to think about the Opportunity Cost of the 20K/year I’d be missing out on if I dropped a day. There’s also the extra year or two I’d probably be adding to my work life.

So what’s Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost of not studying

Opportunity cost is usually talked about in economics, but it basically applies in every area of life. It refers to all the choices and directions that you choose to give up when you make a decision to do/spend something.

For example, I chose to keep 50K from the money I received when I sold my original house to use for landscaping. That money could have been spent on more investments to bring me more income in the future. (At 7% interest, I’m missing out on an extra $3,500/year.) It could have bought me 3 or 4 trips to Europe. It could have paid for a new ensuite, shiny new kitchen appliances and a new car.

But instead, by using that money to pay for wicking vegetable garden beds, brick paving and an automatic watering system attached to my water tank, I’ve turned away from those other alternatives. This is the opportunity cost of my decision.

The opportunity cost of talking to me
(“Fallacy of composition’ means the error of assuming that what is true of a member of a group is true for the group as a whole.

What could I do with the 20K that I’d be giving up if I only taught 4 days a week? There’s no doubt that my work/life balance would be far better if I worked fewer hours. But there are items on my ‘to do’ list that I could quickly knock off if I gritted my teeth and worked full-time for another year.

Below is a list of things that I want to put into place before I leave work. I’ve already achieved the major one, which was the landscaping job. However, there are a few more things I want to get done.

Opportunity cost of being good at your job.
  • I have an ensuite – the first one I’ve ever had. I never realised how much I love having one, but it’s not really suitable for old people. It has a shower over a bath. I’m definitely not a bath person, but even if I was, the main bathroom has one. I can visualise Old Lady Frogdancer trying to get herself in or out of the bath a couple of decades from now, slipping and breaking a hip. An ensuite renovation would probably be around the 20K mark, wouldn’t it?
  • I want to get the inside and outside of my house freshly painted. This isn’t a huge priority, because I’m pretty sure the house was painted just before I bought it 3 years ago. But they painted everything the same colour and used the same paint for everything. This means that the window ledges, skirting boards and doors are all in matt paint, not gloss. This makes them much harder to keep clean.
No opportunity cost to saving money right now!
  • I still need to get the verandah roof put on at the back part of the house. When that’s done I’ll have an outdoor room, looking out towards the veggie garden. I’ll get an old couch and a table, and I’ll loll on the couch and read a book out there in the shade, drinking a glass or two of shiraz while watching my organic food grow. 20K would more than pay for that, wouldn’t it?.
  • Does anyone know if a Tesla battery can be connected to existing solar panels? This house came with an impressive array of solar panels, but ever since I found out from a friend that not only does she have zero bills for electricity since installing panels and a battery, she’s getting money paid to her by the electricity company for the power they’ve passed back to the grid! In around 6 months they’ve received nearly 1K in payments! That sounds very enticing for someone who intends to be a crazy dog lady in retirement. Those dogs need to be fed.
I need a part-time job that pays 20K a week.
  • Speaking of dogs, my dogs bark every time another dog walks past. I know that they’re only doing their jobs, but it gets a bit annoying. I’m thinking I might replace the open-view fence with a more solid one, to stop the dogs from having so much fun. I’d have lots of change from 20K if I started with this one!
  • Another thing that will need to be replaced is the ultra-cheap oven and cooktop that the previous owners put into the kitchen when they were selling. They’re stainless steel, so they look ok, but the oven is terrible. I’d like to get an induction cooktop, so I could put the thermomixes on it, under the fan, and there’d be no chance of them melting. I’d also like to get a better quality oven.
  • I’d also like to put some money aside for things like a car upgrade down the track… expenses that I know will be coming one day, but don’t have to be catered for just yet. There may even be weddings for the boys in the future, though they’re fairly unattractive so maybe this won’t happen…

There’s no denying that my work-life balance would be improved if I went part-time. There’s also no denying that, if I want to get these things knocked off my ‘To Do’ list, I’ll be increasing my work life by another one or two years. Still, as an extroverted introvert, that mightn’t be a bad thing.

When I’m at home, I’m very solitary and I love it. But when I’m at work, I’m surrounded by people and all that goes with it. This morning, I walked into The Danger Zone, (our section of the staff room) and it was filled with people wearing party hats, balloons on the ground and a couple of toddlers blowing bubbles. Someone’s mum was coming to pick up the grandkids and it was her 70th birthday.

Five minutes ago I was holding a baby who had come in with her Dad, who is taking paternity leave for a year. Last year he and his husband went to the US, organised a surrogate and now this little girl is a much-loved and doted upon Aussie.

Last year my year 7 English class threw me a surprise birthday party, while back in 2015 my Theatre Studies class threw a surprise dinner party to farewell me when I took a term off to go to Europe. These things are very special.

The Opportunity Cost of working full-time and leaving work earlier may be the loss of the human interaction I’m so used to. This is without taking into account the day-to-day laughs and general interaction with the students.

If I go part-time then the Opportunity Cost is the money and the continued lack of freedom to have total control over how I spend my time.

I guess I just have to work out which is the most valuable to me going forward…

Should I go part-time next year?

Even typing that title was a bit confronting! But yes, I’ve started to wonder if life wouldn’t be better if I stopped working 5 days a week and started a part-time teaching load.

This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be considering yet. I assumed that I’d be working full-time for another 3 years or so. This was already a HUGE step forward.

Before I sold my original property and geoarbitraged 20 kms away, I thought I’d be working full time until I was eligible to receive the Age Pension (in another 11 years.) By moving down to The Best House in Melbourne by the beach, I already shaved around a decade from my working life. So I’m already in a better position.

And yet…

I’m really tired. All the damned time. So tired that I went had had a full bloodwork thing done to make sure I wasn’t low in vitamin B or suffering from a medical condition. (Fear not, frugal friends. I’m in Australia so it was free.)

Turns out I’m as healthy as a horse.

Which is great, but I’m not sure I want to spend the next 3 years running breathlessly towards my FI figure, while not feeling full of vim. I’d like to get more things done around here, instead of squeezing in a nap every weekend. I have a life to live, people!!

I was having a chat to Dee at work a couple of weeks ago. Her kids are the same age as mine and she’s been working part time for a few years now.

“Don’t you get tired?” she said. “Sometimes I think about going back to full time because the money’d be good, especially since we built the new house, but I don’t know if I’d be able to do it.”

I know how she feels. Being a teacher is a high-octane job. I’m lucky this year – I only have 4 classes and 3 of them are lovely. They’re full of kids who want to work and are keen to do well, so it’s easy to get them on task and doing what they should.

My year 8 class? They take a lot of energy. There’s a group of around 7 boys who need constant monitoring. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. They seem to like me, but I don’t know why because I’m an absolute witch to them.

But even when you’re in front of the good classes you need to be on your game. That’s how it should be – you want your students to have your best – but when it starts leaching energy from other, more important areas of your life, something’s out of balance.

I’ve always said that I don’t live to teach – I teach so that I can do all the things for myself and my family that I want to do. This is why I rarely bring correction home, as I prefer to keep my work and home life separate. Sure, sometimes I go into school on the weekends to work with my year 12’s when we’re doing a play. This year it’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest‘ and I’ll be going in for 2 or 3 days in the Easter school holidays to run rehearsals.

That’s part of the job. I’m ok with that because the kids this year in particular are amazing and are working so hard to bring my favourite play to life.

But do I want to feel like this for the next few years?

If I dropped a day I’d be losing around 20K/year. Is a little more freedom worth that? Will an extra day a week make me that much happier?

My cunning plan was that I’d keep working full time so I could get to my FI number quicker. Then, depending on how I was feeling about life, the universe and everything, I’d THEN go part-time. O maybe I’d resign, or do casual teaching when people were away. I’m a naturally long-term thinker, so it seems sensible to get the hard work out of the way up front, and then once that job’s done and things are as secure as they can be, to then reassess the situation.

But a thought occurred to me today…

What if the “hard work” I was thinking about wasn’t working full-time now? What if it was the 20+ years I was raising the 4 boys on my own AND holding down a full-time job? (AND in the later years, running a Thermomix business as well?) Those years were full of hectic juggling. I worked damned hard.

What if this means that it’d be ok to slow the pace down a little now and have a bit more ‘Frogdancer’ time to do what I want to do in the present?

What if this was the time to start enjoying The Best House in Melbourne, the beach, the dogs and my hobbies a little more?

I won’t deny – the thought is enticing. I think it’s around September when we have to fill in a form stating what time fraction we want for next year and which subjects and classes we’d prefer to teach.

I’ll be mulling it over. I’d like to hear from other people who’ve decided to work part-time, or who made the decision to go the other way. It’s a strange thing to start thinking of abandoning a perfectly good cunning plan when I have only a few short years before I’d be at the finish line…

Things I won’t miss from work.

I like my job – I really do. And yet it isn’t an unmixed blessing. Here are some of the things I won’t miss when I leave.

  • The marking. I won’t miss this! I just finished marking 28 text response essays on the same question about the same book. Each essay has an introduction, three body paragraphs that are all structured the same way, and a conclusion. Only chocolate can get me through this.
  • The parents. I won’t miss (some of) them! I overheard a phone call recently where an irate parent was complaining to a teacher who told her son to put his helmet on when riding his bike. (This is the law, by the way.) This parent accused the teacher of following her son after school and said that it is only the police who can enforce this rule, not a teacher. You’d think that a parent would be pleased that someone is trying to keep their son safe, but clearly not…? The only thing that parent taught her son was that he can get off things through a technicality. Not exactly the sort of lesson I’d personally like to teach my kid, but then… what would I know?
  • The Meetings. I won’t miss this! Ok, no one likes meetings. But mine have doubled from this year compared to last. The two faculties I was in used to have their meetings scheduled on the same days, but now Art has moved their time slot. When you have a long commute an extra meeting or two definitely fails to float your boat.
  • Re-inventing the Wheel. I definitely won’t miss this! Teaching is peculiarly vulnerable to politicians and bureaucrats wanting to make their mark by fiddling and meddling with things. The number of times I’ve seen the same ideas come around, being touted as ‘the next new thing’ is uncountable. Ideas renamed, rebranded and then schools are forced to adopt them, thus creating a huge workload for teachers who are made to change documentation and whole curricula, only to see the next sweeping change come in a couple of years later.
  • Lazy students. *sigh* I won’t miss this! The school I work at is a high-achieving government school and the majority of our students are highly motivated. My year 12 Theatre Studies kids, for example, are staying back until 6 PM tonight to do rehearsals for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ But there are always some kids who “hate reading” and “don’t know where I put the homework” or sit in class day-dreaming while the rest of the kids are writing the assessment task. Then they grizzle about their marks. I have very little patience for people who don’t hold themselves accountable.
  • Having each minute of my day from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM (4:30 if there’s a meeting) rigidly prescribed. This is the one I won’t miss the most. According to the timetable, I know which days are frantically busy and which days allow time to get marking done. (See point 1 at the top of the list.) I have to be in front of certain kids at a certain time in a certain room in 48-minute blocks of time. Teachers can’t even pee when we want to. We’re not to leave the kids for any reason, in case something happens. People who love predictability would probably love this – but it certainly tends to squash spontaneity in the working day!
  • Getting up so early in the morning. I won’t miss this one. Ok, this one is self-inflicted. I used to live a 2-minute drive from school, but now it’s more around 50 minutes since I did the whole geo-arbitrage thing. I like a leisurely morning, sipping my coffee on the couch, reading blogs, tweets and Bookface posts while the dogs snuggle on either side of me. I get up an hour before I have to leave for work so I can enjoy some time with the dogs. I’m looking forward to when I can get up, look at the clock and think, ‘Gee, I would be driving right now if I was still at work! Heh heh.”

Like I said, I love my job and I’m glad I fell into teaching. However, there are a few burrs under my saddle that will make me gleeful when I decide it’s time to pull the pin on my working life. I focus on these things every now and then and it makes me redouble my focus on retiring early(er).

Now it’s time to take the dogs for a walk.

Protect your savings!

I’ve never had a ‘budget’ as such. Too many numbers and maths calculations for me! I run our household under some rigid rules, that oddly enough, gave me great flexibility to pivot financially if I needed to.

Fear not! I’m not going to give you a bullet point list of savings tips that you’ve read a hundred times before. Instead, I’m giving you the principle I followed to keep our financial house afloat:

Any dollar that you manage to put into a savings account, try and keep it there for as long as possible.

I love seeing my savings accounts go up. I loved it even more when I was a young Stay-At-Home Mum with 4 small boys depending on me. I’ve always worked on a fortnightly system and sometimes in those days the end of the fortnight and what was left of my money would go down to the wire.

But we never had money owing on a credit card and we didn’t borrow from friends and family.

Once I deposit money in the bank, I try to keep it there as long as I can.

That means cash flowing expenses as much as possible.

For example, Scout’s operation cost me just over 3K. I had the money in my 5K “pet fund” in my savings. I could have fronted up at the vet and paid cash. But I used my credit card. This bought me time to swing my wage into gear.

Unless I have a fortnight of crazy expenses, such as a 3K vet bill or a whole heap of bills coming in at once, I can count on having around 1K/fortnight of money that I don’t need to deploy on debt or living expenses. I have no debt.

By using the credit card and then putting my wage onto that card when I got paid, I cash flowed this wage’s ‘excess’ 1K straight off that bill. That leaves only 2K left to pay. I have another pay period before the due date of that credit card. Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I’ll have an extra 1K to throw straight at the bill then. That only leaves 1K to pull out of my savings.

I’ve protected my savings by leaving as much of them alone as I can.

Obviously, when I get paid after that I’ll repay my savings to get the ‘pet fund’ back to its original level.

Is this fun? Not particularly. I have a couple of projects that I’m itching to get started on and that money was supposed to go towards those.

But my overarching goal is security. So the top priority is to keep my savings intact. Whenever I empty a savings fund, I refill it before I do anything else.

I love seeing my savings accounts going up in value. But it’s almost as good just seeing them stay the same and not go backwards.

It’s hard for most people to be able to squirrel away money for a rainy day. So when you succeed – I think it’s wise to keep it there for as long as possible. Cash-flowing expenses from your wage is one way to protect your savings and keep making progress towards your goals.


I travel – so why do I love Staycations?

I love Staycations, even though it’s no secret that I also love to travel. I’ve blogged extensively about my trips to the UK, Europe, North Korea and Thailand on my personal blog, while this blog has 4 posts summarising what I saw in North Korea. I wtote about how the regime holds on to political power by using the power of advertising with sculpture, art, education and making everything appear bigger and better than the rest of the world.

Even though I have a hankering for more freedom I’m choosing to continue working for another few years. It’s mostly because I have a number in mind that I’m working towards, but the number is based on my love of travel. When I eventually pull the pin on my job, I’m planning to travel overseas at least once a year. Australia is pretty isolated, so international travel is often very expensive. My FIRE number is higher to account for this.

So, even though I love to travel overseas, most of my holidays are Staycations. I’ve always been a delayed gratification type of girl, where I’ll put off what I want to do today to REALLY enjoy it tomorrow. But having said that, the truth is that I LOVE a Staycation.

Honestly, if you don’t like hanging around in the place that you live in, then you’re doing it wrong.

Your home is the place where you can be yourself – a place where you shut the door behind you and you can simply “be.” And after all, a holiday doesn’t have to be a time to run yourself ragged – it can also be a time to regroup and chill, enjoying what’s around you.

Home is the perfect place to recharge batteries and do -(or not do)- all those little things you’ve been meaning to get to but couldn’t when your time was taken up with a job. Little things like reading a book, lunching like ladies and sorting through that filing cabinet, one drawer at a time.

I had a 5 week Staycation at the end of the school year, right at Christmas time and then on into January. I was so tired when that holiday started, I’m pretty sure I looked like Moon-Moon here in the meme below:

Yes, that’s an accurate representation.

When the holidays start, I take the first few days slowly. I sleep in for as long as the dogs allow me to. There’s only so much ‘claws scratching against floorboards’ noise that I can take before I get up. They probably circle the bed like sharks around a shipwreck victim, waiting for me to wake.

I need downtime. Time to slowly move through the day, doing whatever seems like a good idea in the moment. That’s why I love a Staycaion.

I indulge myself with gobs of freedom.

I leisurely move through the first few days, reading, taking a nanna nap after lunch if I feel like it. Aw, who am I kidding? I usually do feel like it – those Spaniards are onto something with the siesta! If I have the energy and inclination to tackle a task that needs doing, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll ignore it until later in the holiday. I have the time to either use or squander, depending on my mood.

Later on in the holidays, whether it’s the 5 week summer break or the regular 2 week breaks between terms, is when I tend to Get Things Done.

Bigger tasks that need some extra time or boring things that still have to be done whether I like them or not – they get knocked off my mental ‘To Do ‘ list.

Well, mostly. I made soap for Christmas presents in the September holidays and I was going to make more in the summer. We’re down to our last bar of home-made soap and I still haven’t made more. I’m not saying a Staycation makes you perfect – just more rested and chilled.

And probably better looking due to all the relaxation.

I remember when the kids were younger. Life got pretty frantic at times, particularly when you add a young family into the mix. I was working, the children had their own schedules of school and activities and socialising to be worked around; life was lived at fever-pitch and was scheduled out to the minute.

So if every holiday is lived at that frantic pace as well – how is that doing anyone any good?

Revel in a staycation. You’re definitely not depriving yourself. They’re wonderful.

How much financial help should we give our kids?

Kids.

A lot of us have them and in general, we tend to be reasonably fond of them. We take pains over what we name them, we feed and clothe them at regular intervals and we ensure that they come out of school being literate and (at least a little) numerate. We tell them Dad jokes, we pay for music lessons and we cuddle them when life gets hard.

In short – we look up after a few years and realise that we’ve actually made our most favourite humans. At least, that’s what’s happened in my case and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

A huge proportion of FIRE bloggers are young parents. They have babies or primary-aged kids, with a lot of bloggers’ children still being ‘a twinkle in their father’s eye’ as the old saying goes. I’ve gone through that stage and I’m now out at the other side with my boys aged in their twenties. We all made it through alive, but when the boys reached secondary school I had to make up my mind about how much I’d help the boys financially once they were older.

When children are small, as in pre-puberty, they cost as much or as little as their parents decide. The parents have full control. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my case, I said to the boys when they were in primary, (and secondary school, come to think of it), that they could have ONE after school activity each. Swimming lessons were non-negotiable – in Australia everyone needs to know how to swim so I took care of that when they were toddlers, before ‘after school’ activities were a thing. In other words, I staggered the outgoings. It wasn’t their fault that we were a one-income family and I didn’t want them to miss out completely on things that their friends were doing, but I wasn’t going to pour thousands of dollars into classes just to keep them busy. Our financial survival was at stake.

David was easy. When he was David3, he asked if he could learn how to play the piano. I couldn’t afford lessons at the time, but when he asked me 2 years later I took notice. For David, two requests two years apart is tantamount to nagging. He started learning piano when he was around 6 years old and is now in his last year of his Music degree.

Tom tried football, cricket and then decided on guitar. He writes songs now and plays for a football team on the weekends. Ryan started with piano, then after a year switched to guitar and continued with it right up to year 12. Evan follows the beat of his own drum and didn’t end up taking any formal classes. He decided to teach himself musical instruments, write scripts and make videos and is currently doing an Acting degree.

Limiting their after-school activities hasn’t seemed to hurt them at all.

Keeping the costs to a reasonable level when they were at school meant that when opportunities for things like travel came up, I was able to take them to places like Bali, Thailand and Singapore – or send them to places on school excursions like Central Australia, Tasmania and the USA. I’ll never forget the elation in Tom16’s voice when I picked up my phone to hear him say, “Mum… I’m on the top of Ayres Rock!!”

(Nowadays everyone calls it Uluru and we don’t climb it anymore as it’s a sacred site, but things were different a decade ago.)

But what was the tough decision I was talking about?

It was about whether or not to help the boys pay for University.

As my boys were heading into secondary school and going through the ranks, I started to think. Tertiary fees aren’t as expensive as in America, but they’re still pretty exxy, especially for the more creative-type courses I could see most of my boys ending up in.

My dilemma was a simple one. I only have one wage coming in and I have no-one to provide for my old age except for me. Do I help them pay for Uni or not? There’s a finite amount of money that will be coming in. Where would it be best deployed?

When I was wrestling with this decision the older kids were in high school, with the younger two hot on their heels. I’d paid off the house a year or so before, back in 2013, and I was staring down the barrel of what looked like it might be an indigent old age. I’d neglected my retirement savings to pour all of my money into paying off the house, which was a deliberate move. Mathematically, it wasn’t the best thing to do, but I valued our security over my retirement. Once the house was paid for and our security was assured, Old Lady Frogdancer suddenly became a lot more real to me…

So I had to think: Which would be the best long-term prospect for the boys?

  1. For me to pay for their degrees, but then later down the track, just when they’ve presumably got young families to provide for, to possibly have to ask them for financial help?
  2. Or for them to pay for their own education, while I save like crazy so as not to be a burden on them?

When you lay it out like this, there’s really only one way I could go. My situation, with no one else able to prepare for my retirement other than me, meant that the money could only go so far.

So, the financial help I decided to give my kids is as follows:

  • I raised you and supported you all the way through secondary school. My job here is done.
  • I want you to go on to further education, so if you’re a student, you can live with me for free and pay no board. However, you’re responsible for paying for any books and other materials. You’re an adult now.
  • If you live with me and you aren’t a student – you pay board. Even though I love you more than vegemite on toast, I’m not cut out in the shape of a doormat.
  • If you choose to move out, then you’re on your own. You’re definitely an adult!
  • The ‘Bank of Mum’ is there if you need to buy a car/fix a car/ pay some tuition not available with HELP loans from the government. It’s interest-free BUT MUST BE PAID BACK PROMPTLY. Any defaults – the Bank of Mum is closed to you forevermore.

I’m hoping that these rules allow enough of a cushion to fall back on, without weakening them and keeping them as ‘kidults’ indefinitely. Currently, I have the middle two sons living at home with me as students. Tom 27 has been out of home and fully independent for around 3 years now and works full-time as an accountant, while Evan22 is studying at a country campus.

I’d love it if the boys could come out of Uni with no debt dragging behind them. That was the way university worked when I was young, when courses were fully paid for by the government. But sadly, life in the real world isn’t like this any more. In order to do the best for us all, I have to take the long-term view.

My worst fear is to be a financial burden on my boys when I’m old. By putting a priority on my retirement, rather than their university courses, I hope that I’ll be giving them the gift of never having to worry about their mother’s financial stability.

I think that’s probably one of the greatest gifts I can give them. I already gave them LIFE. This will be the next best thing…

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