Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er). Achieved the first two letters of FIRE, now onto the rest!

Category: FIRE as a single. (page 1 of 5)

Buy practical souvenirs, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

Jeffrey while I was packing. Not sure if he was trying to prevent me or hoping to come too!

I have a rule when I go on holidays. Any souvenirs I buy tend to be useful. I bought an olive oil container in San Gimignano. A spatula in Pyongyang. Christmas tree decorations all over Europe.

So what did I buy on my getaway this week to Bowral?

My stylish yet affordable shopping trolley.

I’m so pleased with this one. I now have a shopping trolley, just like a nanna!!! Living around the corner from Aldi, as I do, I usually load myself up with a few bags and walk to get my groceries. Those bags can get heavy on the walk home.

So yesterday, I looked at my zombie apocalypse cupboard and realised I needed to panic-buy wine. A woman cannot live on toilet paper alone. So I took it out for a spin. It worked a treat. I’m very happy with this one.

But what else did I buy as a souvenir?

A helicopter ride.

I spent $250 on a helicopter ride.

And before you mention the rule about practical souvenirs – in my book this IS practical. I’ve never been in a helicopter before and now I know that I won’t die wondering what it’s like.

Just before lift-off.

When I’m walking the dogs on my Backyard Beach, we get quite a few small planes and helicopters above, following the line of the bay. I thought it’d be nice to create a memory that I’d think of every time I see a helicopter.

Lovely clear morning – Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

There’d been torrential rain two days before, so it all looks beautiful and green, but you can see that the dams in the paddocks are nowhere near full. The farmers could still do with a lot more rain.

I had the headphones on and we could hear the chatter from air traffic control, as well as the conversation from the people in the cabin. (Three of us.) You could hear the sound of the rotor blades but it wasn’t too loud.

The day was already quite warm. The only air-con was a little flap in the door next to me, which I could push open or shut. I left it open and the breeze was beautiful.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales.

I drove over this river the day before.

Two memories for the price of one.

Bowral has a way famous antique/junk market called Dirty Jane’s. I whiled away a couple of hours here and walked away with my rusty bird on a swing for a mere $25. I’m always on the look-out for quirky garden art. The reason I bought this was that the bird looked just like the fried baby pigeons that I saw at a food market in Beijing. Two holiday memories for the price of one!

And in case you’re wondering – no, I didn’t eat one. When I travel I rarely say no to experiences, but I couldn’t face crunching away on a baby bird. Or a skewer of scorpions, some of which were still moving. Fortunately, there was nothing like that on the menu in Bowral!

On the way up I stayed overnight in Albury. In both towns I walked through every art gallery I could find. The Milk Factory was the best one I found in Bowral, but I struck gold when I found the Albury library’s gallery. They had a huge exhibition of Lynley Dodd’s work. You know – ‘Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy‘?

When I walked in, a tour was just starting. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! So I joined it and followed them around. By the way, did you know that in New Zealand a ‘dairy’ is like a corner shop or milk bar? Puts a whole different view on things.

Of course, being Scout’s mum, I had to take a photo of the dachshund!

In keeping with my new view on exercise, I kept the car driving to a minimum. Well, aside from the whole 753 kms/ 468 miles to get there in the first place.

I walked all around the town centre in Albury and discovered their lovely little botanical gardens. Galleries and gardens are free, people! While I was in Bowral for 3 nights, I didn’t get into my car at all. I walked everywhere, which would’ve been unheard of on previous holidays.

In fact, on my last full day there, I didn’t leave the room until 5 PM, when I walked into town to buy some sushi for dinner. I packed my sewing machine and the half-assembled quilt top that I’m making for my sister-in-law and I vowed that I wasn’t leaving town until I’d finished it.

Yes. I didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose me.

Success! I finished it 15 minutes before ‘Survivor’ started! Now all I have to do is assemble and quilt it.

When I planned this holiday, I decided I was going to go to galleries, eat out at restaurants and go for bushwalks. When I took the helicopter ride, I decided that I’d cut out the restaurants. The only meal I had in one was when I met up with a blog reader and her Other Half who took me to an American-style diner in a neighbouring town.

Blogmeets are always good. You all know each other from your writing and so there’s no initial awkwardness when meeting up for the first time.

I bought a delicious sourdough loaf from an artisanal bakery and some dips from Woolworths. They were my breakfasts and dinners for a couple of days. It was DELICIOUS! I’ve always wanted to go to a Turkish restaurant and just order dips and bread and now I feel I’ve finally done it.

That’s a huge advantage of travelling as a single. If I feel like eating sourdough and dip for 2 days, I can.

I also gave myself a treat to look forward to. I always have one bottle of perfume on the go at any one time and I totally use it up before opening another one. For the past year or so I’ve been using a perfume that Mum and Dad gave me after a Bali trip. It’s ok… but it doesn’t fill me with joy when I spray it on every morning. But it’s just a few squirts away from being used up, so I bought my FAVOURITE perfume.

This is what I took away with me. It was lovely to unwrap it the first morning I was away and use it.

Mmmmm Mmmmm!

Sometimes looking forward to something is a gift you can give to yourself.

The same height as the birds.

So, as I sit on the couch before I go back to work for the first time in a week, how do I feel?

The alarm at 6 was a rude awakening. I don’t really want to go in, even though I know I’ll have a good time when I get there. With all the talk of coronavirus, going to a school packed with 2,300 kids and 200 staff is starting to seem slightly reckless.

Still, it’s just the one day, then I’ll have the weekend. And I can always simply close my eyes and remember when I was flying with the birds…

Financial Independence – the most bitter pill of all.

What’s the point of FIRE? Why bother to reach financial independence? Personally, my go-to answer has always been ‘Freedom.’ I propelled my way to FI on the twin goals of wanting security for my family and freedom to spend my days as I, (and not the school timetabler), chose. But imagine my shock and horror when, after reaching my goal, I find out that in order to truly enjoy the FI/RE life to the full, I’ll have to radically change an aspect of myself that I’ve always held dear. It’s a bitter pill indeed.

Ever since the day I left my husband 23 years ago with $60 cash in my hand, (I gave him the other $60 in the account because fair’s fair, it was a joint account), and dragging the 4 little boys under 5 with me, I’ve craved financial security. Over time, as that goal became closer, it morphed into a desire for overall financial freedom. Six or seven years ago I stumbled across Go Curry Cracker’s blog and asked in the comments what ‘FIRE’ meant – (I went back a few weeks ago and yes – it’s still there!) – and I’ve been steadily and intentionally making my way there ever since.

However, since my brother had his stroke on Christmas Day and my aunt died in January, I haven’t been motivated to write very much. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and evaluating. My nephew was also battling lymphatic cancer, while being a father to 2 and expecting number 3 later this year, (he’s all clear now!), while people I’ve known for years at work are struggling with various health issues like Parkinsons and other things. Also, Mum falling and breaking her shoulder has affected her mobility ever since.

Maybe, I began thinking, I should look at what’s happening around me and realise that maybe age is catching up to some of us. Not me, of course! I’m youthful and dewy still. Yes… but still…

… maybe our bodies don’t simply carry on forever? What am I actually doing to maintain fitness?

Ugh.

Fitness.

I’ve never been one to go for a walk just for the sake of it. What’s the point? I’ll walk to the shops, I’ll definitely walk the dogs and I’ll walk to the library to return books, but why on earth would anybody walk for fun?!? As for sports… yeah nah. I don’t mind watching a good tennis match and I watch the AFL Grand Final every year, but as for actually playing a sport? No thanks. God invented books for a reason and that is so people can curl up on the couch and read them.

There’s no denying it. I’m not fit. At all. Never have been. This blog post from 2015 shows a photo of Steep Hill in Lincoln. What I didn’t mention in this post, because I didn’t want to worry my family, was that as we were driving away after walking up this incredibly steep street, I had pains in my chest. Poor Scott thought I was going to have a heart attack. Fast forward to my trip to North Korea in 2018, when I had to quit a walk up to the top of a mountain because I knew I’d never make it.

Yesterday I learned that A, my ex-husband, is going into hospital on Monday for a triple by-pass. He’s only 3 years older than I am! My God, it seems like everyone in their 50’s is dropping like flies!

Now, I realise that I’m writing in a niche where bloggers reveal all when it comes to their intimate figures. On their spreadsheets, that is. Well, I’m not about to reveal any intimate figures, either on my rotund frame or numerically. I don’t think the internet is quite ready for the former. But I haven’t been happy with my level of fitness for many years now, so something has to be done.

First step – I bought a Fitbit, (because there’s no doubt I’m a lazy cow). After all, what isn’t measured can’t be managed. Apparently, exercise helps stave off strokes and stuff. I began with not changing a thing about my life, just to see the baseline of where my steps are. It was in the summer school holidays, so it was always going to be low.

Turns out that if I have a book-reading day, my steps are as low as 2,000. Yikes! A normal day would be around 4,000. No wonder I’m getting to be what used to be described as a “cosy armful.” So I set the goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Turns out going from 4 to 10 thousand steps is really hard. So instead of beating myself up, I’m now looking at my average daily steps each week and aiming to improve on them each week. I figure that’s a more sustainable way to get into the habit of moving more. I’ve now reached the stage of giving the dogs an extra walk if I’m low in steps, which they love.

Though I didn’t think ahead when I bought Scout. Those tiny little legs can’t walk a long way before they get tired. I can’t leave her behind when I walk the other dogs because she literally screams. You’d swear she was being torn limb from limb. Still, I guess me carrying her adds to the weight loss goal.

I was talking with Jen, my sister-in-law today. She says she has a Pilates machine at home and she invited me to test drive it. She’s as thin as a twig and is constantly moving, so I’m going to go over there and have a go. Why not?

I can’t see myself ever being a fitness fanatic, but there’s no doubt that I’d be a fool if I ignored everything that’s going on with the people around me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but better I swallow this than a packetful of Haribo Gummy Bears.

After all, what’s the point of becoming financially independent and retiring early(er) if you’re too fat and unfit to do anything with all that freedom?

Don’t put the cart before the horse!

Who wouldn’t want one of these to get free water with?

Being a bit of a greenie, one of the jobs I wanted to get done around the house before I retire was to put in another rainwater tank, this time in the front yard. Using rainwater to water my gardens would surely help to ‘retire-proof’ my future self by lowering my water bills and giving me more money to use gallivanting around Europe and the UK. It was a good plan. What could possibly go wrong?

I have a paved patch of ground about one and a half metres from the house which would fit a slimline water tank admirably. I surprised myself by being practical and grabbing a tape measure to accurately measure the dimensions at my disposal, then I spent DAYS looking at all the different websites of what was on offer. Finally, I ordered a 3,200L steel water tank for 2K.

Phew! Done. All that was left was for me to get a plumber to install it. What could possibly go wrong?

The sort of tank I was looking at.

Maybe I should’ve asked that question before I ordered the tank.

The plumber came out to give me a quote. Incidentally, working part-time has the unexpected benefit that I can actually be at home when tradies come. Anyway, he walked around, grabbed a camera on a long coil of cord to look down the stormwater drain, he sprayed paint on the grass to mark where the outflow would have to be dug to, then he went away to tot up the quote.

I went inside and spoke to Ryan25. “He’s talking about having to do a lot of digging,” I said. “It might cost as much to put the water tank in as it did to pay for the darned thing in the first place.”

Soon after came a knock at the door and I went out to hear how much this project was going to set me back.

That plumber when he’s at home.

Six Thousand One Hundred Dollars.

Yep. It was going to cost 3 times what the tank cost just to get it installed, plumbed and connected to the pump. Yikes!

I was pretty definite about how I wouldn’t be going ahead with this job. From memory, I think my initial reaction was, “WHAT?!? No. No no no!” I got another quote and it was pretty much the same.

So guess who now has to get a refund from the water tank company? How I wish that I’d sussed out whether it was easily and affordably do-able before I’d actually shelled out 2K to buy the tank in the first place. What an idiot!

I gave myself the gift of time.

Well, the Australian school year began two weeks ago and I – I have begun my new life of part-time work. Yes, I gave myself the gift of time. And boy, do I have a story to tell you!

At the beginning of last year, I had no intention of going part-time. I was racing towards my FIRE number and I thought I’d simply push on through with full-time work until I reached it. But then Mum had a bad fall and broke her shoulder. It brought home to me the fact that my parents aren’t getting any younger and I really should step up and spend some more time with them. So, before I could talk myself out of it, I went to see my principal and asked for 2 days off a week in 2020 – one for Mum, one for me.

Fortunately, she also has ageing parents so she understood and agreed. This year I’m working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Thursday afternoons devoted to taking Mum to her physical rehab appointments, while Thursday mornings I’ll spend with my brother in his rehab place as he deals with the aftermath of his stroke.

But Tuesdays are for MEEEEE!

The Australian school year started a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve had a bit of a taste of what my life will now look like. And it’s not bad…

The first school day for teachers was on Tuesday January 28. Now, Tuesday is one of my days off but all teachers had to attend school that day due to Important Teacherly Meetings and such, so I got a day off in lieu, where I can choose the date of my day off. Remember this because it’s important later.

At the end of Wednesday, I announced to the staffroom, “I’ve worked two days in a row. I’m exhausted!! I’m never doing this again. See you Friday!”

Judging by the comments flung my way after that, they now all hate me.

Last week was the first week where it was Business As Usual. Monday was a workday, then came Tuesday. That morning, my feet hit the floor at precisely the time when, if it was any other year, I’d be throwing things into my bag and racing out the door. I loved getting up, feeling rested and leisurely making my morning coffee.

I took the dogs for a long walk and then surveyed the hundreds of tomatoes that I had ripening on the benches in the kitchen. I decided that I’d have to spend time harvesting them and putting them into the freezer for meals.

I put on my son’s podcast, grabbed a chopping board, a knife and the thermomixes and got to work. I’ll blog about this in more detail later, but suffice to say that I worked from 9 – 4 processing bags of tomatoes, squash/zucchini and herbs to make the basis of 50 pasta meals. Yes, FIFTY.

They’re all in the freezer and amazingly, my kitchen is now filled with just as many ripening tomatoes as before. My garden has gone crazy. But do you know what the really crazy thing is?

In previous years when I was harvesting produce from the garden, I had to do it on the weekends. I’d be chopping things and bagging things like a threshing machine, all the while thinking, “Argh!!! This is taking so long! I’ve got a million other things I need to be doing! WHY is this taking so long? I don’t have TIME for this!!!

But this time? I was chilled. I was working steadily but it wasn’t a problem. In fact, I wasn’t even conscious of how much time it was all taking until in the afternoon, chatting with Ryan25, I saw a secondary school kid crossing the street. “What’s the time?” I said. “I just saw a kid either walking home or wagging.”

“It’s 3:30,’ he said.

Wow. The whole day passed in the kitchen and I wasn’t stressing out about how long it was taking. This was bonus time – I Got Things Done that would normally have been put off until the next weekend. I was relaxed and feeling productive. What a great feeling!

This really brought home to me how cool this new work/life balance is going to be. There is no way I could have even considered this before I became financially independent, but now I have options. And speaking about cool – how cool is it that it all fell into place just as my parents and brother needed me to have more time?

It definitely shows that working towards financial independence is the way to go, even if you think that you don’t want to give up working. You never know when your priorities will shift and it’s nice to able to have the choice, without money being the major thing holding you back.

But remember that day in-lieu? This story gets better…

The second day back, I was talking with some of the young Maths girls in the staffroom and I mentioned that I’ll be able to choose a day off in the next few weeks.

Emily’s face lit up and she said, “Frogdancer! You should take the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend off. Then you’d get Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off!”

OMG. Mind Blown.

And to think I was planning to teach my 3 classes for a few days, see which class I liked the least and then take off a day when I had them for a double. WHAT an idiot I am!

I raced over to the Daily Organiser and got that day off locked in. I came back to the staffroom and then Emily said, “You know? You really need to go away for a holiday…”

“You know? I really DO!” I said.

I jumped onto my computer and within 15 minutes I booked a three-night getaway in Bowral, just outside Sydney. I was supposed to be working on Important Teacherly Stuff but hey… this was more important.

Bowral is a cute, funky little place with art galleries, cafés, bushwalks and the Don Bradman Cricket Museum, (not that I’ll be bothering to set foot into THAT place! Hate cricket with a passion.) It’s an 8-hour drive from Melbourne, so I’ll take the car and have a real road trip. It’ll be just me, my podcasts, my books and a thirst for sedate adventure.

It’s already shaping up to be a great year! Hmmm, I wonder how I’ll spend my day off tomorrow???

My backyard beach. 🙂

Sow the seed, so you can reap the harvest.

Cavalier and Dachshund on the couch.
Poppy in the background, Scout seductively in the front. Just chillin’.

I know I said I’d be back when my head clears. I don’t know if I’m quite there, but after today (Monday – a public holiday) I go back to work, so if my head isn’t ready to deal with Real Life by now, it definitely has to be by tomorrow! But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that things I’ve put in place in the past have started to come to fruition in the present. Sow the seed now to enjoy the future.

As people playing along at home may remember, tomorrow is the first day of my new, part-time life. It marks the beginning of a new stage in my life. A stage where, for the first time since I left my marriage 22 years ago, I have actively decided to decrease the amount of money I earn, instead of frantically trying to bring home as much money as I could from my job and any side-hustles I could find.

I never thought I’d be in a position to drop my days of work down to 3 days a week – let along reach financial independence before I was 67! Yet here we are. Seriously people, keep chipping away that that debt/paying off that mortgage/salary sacrificing into superannuation and throwing money at investments. Sow the seeds before you need them, even when you think that the goal of financial independence is so far away you’ll never reach it. Sometimes life will surprise you.

The time will pass anyway, whether you look to the future or not. You might as well be a little bit frugal and put money aside for when you’re older. It can’t hurt and it might help.

It definitely did for me.

Cavalier on the couch.
Jeffrey, just chillin’.

My brother’s condition remains unchanged. Jen, my sister-in-law, has gone to the country for the long weekend to spend time with her family, so yesterday I went to the hospital to see him. When he woke, he was surprisingly lucid. He definitely knew me, laughed when I said I was distraught about having to go back to work in 2 day’s time, noticed my big solitaire diamond ring and even remembered what his dog’s name was when I asked him.

Sometimes the lights are on and some of him is at home, other times not. I was lucky I happened to strike him at a good time.

New paling front fence.
The latest project.

Meanwhile, the projects continue at The Best House in Melbourne. We now have a new front fence and electric gate. I was tired of the little woofs defending us against all other dogs, prams and motorised scooters for the elderly, so I decided to block their line of sight. You may remember a little while ago I decided to harvest some profits from my investments and Get Some Jobs Done? This is the first of them.

In a month or so after the timber has been seasoned, it’ll be painted. Just wait till you see what it looks like! I always think it makes life more fun when you have something to plan and to look forward to.

Tomatoes and squash in the kitchen.
It’s a bit dark. Sorry. Hundreds of free tomatoes ripening, lots of squash and some coffee grounds waiting to be put into the garden soil.

While I’ve been preoccupied with family matters, the garden has been powering along. Currently, I have piles of tomatoes gently ripening in the kitchen where the birds can’t get them, while beans are hanging by the hundreds and squash and zucchini are growing so fast you could almost swear you can see them doing it.

Back in November I wrote a post called ‘Growing a portfolio is just like having a veggie garden.’ Now, 2 months later, we’re reaping the results of putting in that work of fertilising and planning – not to mention the work of installing the beds to begin with! Like a money nerd happily upgrading his/her net worth spreadsheets at the end of the month, there’s something deeply satisfying about being a gardener, walking back to the house with an armful of produce that you’ve grown on your own property.

Even better is when you nourish your family with what your garden has produced. It’s like the feeling you get when it’s cold and stormy outside, yet your kids are tucked up safe and warm in the home that you’ve provided. It’s a good feeling.

Incidentally, scroll back up to the photo and look at the men on the window ledge. One is from Bali, the other from South Africa. Travel is important to me and lots of tiny frugal decisions made along the way has enabled me to be a Valuist – able to have money put aside to spend where I find the most value.

A baby quilt for my brother’s grandson, who’ll be born later this year.

It’s not just spreadsheets, investments and actual plants that the harvest metaphor applies to. Hobbies and skills are another.

Back in 2008 I decided to learn how to quilt. I borrowed a sewing machine from Blogless Sandy and bought a basic pattern from the local quilt shop. The thought that tipped me over the edge was that all quilting was, was sewing little straight lines. Surely even I was capable of that?!? I made a quilt for my youngest son, Evan11, because I thought he’d be the least critical of my efforts.

Thirty-odd quilts later, here I am. The baby quilt above was a result of mixing 2 quilting ideas together to come up with a fun gift for this new little boy. There was Maths involved, (and we all know how much I hate that!), and some slight swearing, but now I have a fabulous gift that cost me nothing but time to create.

I took a break from quilting for years when I was hitting my side-hustle of Thermomix really hard, but now I’m back. I still have the skills I learned and the fabric I bought back in the day and now, given that I’m only working part-time this year, I have the time to devote to creating more beautiful and snuggly things for the people I love.

I didn’t start off intending to write about sowing and reaping, but as I wrote, the thread seemed to be clear. I’m writing from a position where, because of hundreds of tiny actions and decisions made over the last 2 decades, I’m able to begin to start harvesting the rewards. I’m able to spend serious coin on the things that matter to me and to ease off the throttle of full-time teaching to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers.

I hope that anyone reading this who is still on the earlier parts of the journey (how I hate that word but sometimes there’s no alternative!) will see that there’s no need to get discouraged or disheartened by how long a road there seems to be in front of you.

By sowing the seeds of financial independence, learning new skills and hobbies along the way and having little projects and things to look forward to, you’re not only laying the foundations for an excellent life for Future You – you’re also enjoying your current life along the way.

Remember, the time passes whether you’re sowing the seeds or not. You might as well intentionally scatter some as you go.

The secret to success.

How a skier built up her herd of cows over time.

I saw this on Twitter a little while ago and it tickled my fancy. I loved how she took what the organisers of the skiing event obviously thought of as a novelty prize and used it as the basis of a thriving herd of cows today. Can you imagine the chagrin of the organisers as she blithely took them at their word and walked off with ‘their’ cow??

Obviously, one cow (even a pregnant cow) does not a herd make. But over time, it’s possible to build something from nothing if you keep quietly focussed and take strategic steps towards a goal, just putting one foot in front of the other.

There’s nothing stopping any of us from building our own equivalent of Ms Vonn’s herd of cattle. No matter who you are or where you’re starting from, there’s always room for a goal to be set and to be worked towards.

Picture me, back when I’d just left my husband. I had a starting position of $60 cash, with the added bonus of 4 boys under 5 to feed and water as well. I guess I started with my own little herd of humans! My overarching goal was always to keep a roof over those boys’ heads. But my first goal?

To scrape together 1K for what I called a “Buffer Zone” but which I now call an Emergency Fund. I wrote about how I learned very quickly that having cash between us and a hostile world was a very good thing, and when I was forced to cash it in, the first priority was to get it built back up again.

It’s easy to write about building up 1K in a cash stache nowadays, but back then it wasn’t easy to do. It took months of scrimping and scraping to get that 1K put away safely. It required many small decisions about what to buy and what not to buy; what had to be paid for now and what we could wait to get. It took me putting one foot in front of the other and slowly advancing towards that goal.

Poppy on my bed.

Even though this is a FIRE blog, I’d be stupid to suggest that every single goal worth aiming for has to be financial. We have to enjoy our lives along the path to being financially free, after all. Poppy is pictured above on my string quilt. This quilt is a totally unique creation that I initially started with the aim of using up tiny scraps of fabric instead of throwing them out. I wanted to turn them into something useable.

The concept itself was simple. I sewed strips of fabric together into 5″ square blocks. Some blocks have only 4 or 5 strips in them. Some have way more, which means that this was definitely not a quick job! The smallest strip is, I think, a quarter of an inch wide.

That quilt took me 9 months to complete. I put together square upon square upon square, sewing other quilts in the meantime and using scraps from those to keep putting this one together. It seemed as if it would never be finished, but finally, I got out a tape measure, worked out the dimensions of how big a Queen-sized quilt would be, then *shudder* did the Maths to see how many squares I’d need.

The answer was 396.

That quilt is on my bed to this day. It looks amazing and it’s hard to remember all of the many patient hours I spent at the sewing machine with tiny scraps of fabric, sewing together all of those 5″ squares. By themselves, each scrap of fabric is an inconsequential piece of nothing. But placed together, they represent a goal achieved.

Massed dancing in Pyongyang North Korea, April 2018.
So much fun!
Massed dancing in Pyongyang, North Korea in April 2018. It was so much fun to join in with them all and it was such an amazing spectacle!

On my way towards financial independence, I’ve set many goals and achieved them. Some were financial, though I’d argue that the underlying goal pushing me to achieve these ones was always a deep desire to provide security for my family. Others were more lifestyle goals, such as my Europe and North Korean trips.

For years, my Big Fat Hairy Audacious goal was to become mortgage-free. It took me 17 years, but I did it. But 17 years is a long time. Did I get bored and want to go nuts and spend my money on wine, men and song? You bet I sometimes did. But I kept making many small decisions about where I’d put my money. Every thousand that came off the mortgage made me smile, even though, especially in the early days, those days were very far apart.

But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and, seemingly overnight, that mortgage was gone and the boys and I had a secure base. After all, that 17 years would have passed whether or not I fulfilled that goal. May as well get things done while that time is passing, hey?

Today I’m focussing on getting The Best House in Melbourne ready for Future Frogdancer to live her best life in retirement. Instead of saving and investing money, as I did earlier on, I’m now looking deeply at what gives me the most pleasure and satisfaction in life, then I’m looking at spending my money in the ways that will continue to bring contentment and happiness to my life going forward.

I’m only buying things that have value to me. So upgrading my lovely little 2014 VW Golf is definitely off the table, while paying for self-watering veggie beds, a secure front fence to keep my dogs in and putting a huge verandah out the back to entertain my family on important birthdays and Christmases are things that are definitely happening.

Poppy, Jeff and Scout.
Next year I’m dropping back to part-time work so I can take these 3 to the dog beach more often. I never thought I’d reach the stage where time means more than money, but here we are…

Whether the goal has been a savings/investment goal such as reaching a specific number or getting an emergency fund topped up, or whether it’s a lifestyle goal such as the ones I’m organising right now, the way to reach those seemingly different goals has always been the same.

Figure out what you want.

Then find out how to get there. Break it down into smaller steps.

Then keep putting one foot in front of the other, step after step, until you reach it.

You can do this.

Poppy and Scout at the dog beach.
See? Here we are. So what do YOU want to achieve?

Poverty leaves a mark.

Peas in a bowl.
A bowl of ‘free’ peas that grew from the pea straw mulch. We’ve been eating ‘free’ peas for over 2 months.

It’s no secret that financially nowadays, I’m doing ok. Working is a choice, not a necessity, which is why next year I’m dropping back to part-time. Two of the boys have moved out, which means I only have 2 on my hands, but they’re adults so apart from feeding and housing them, they run their own lives. Money isn’t tight anymore… and yet I still cling to my economies. Why is that?

Three years ago I moved into The Best House in Melbourne. After waiting 18 months for my geo-arbitrage plan to come to fruition, the money came through and I installed some gorgeous landscaping in the back yard, including some wicking veggie beds. When the soil the landscaper used turned out to be awful, I had a thought. Why not bring home the veggie scraps from work? The canteen services 2,400 kids and 200 teachers, while the Food Tech rooms throw out heaps of scraps. Compost galore – for free!

A year later, the system is still going strong. I have a little container on my desk that teachers put their scraps in, (you wouldn’t believe how many bananas they go through each day!); the Food Tech room leaves a bag of scraps for me most days, but the real bonanza is the canteen every Wednesday and Friday.

Yesterday I was chatting with the manager as I lifted out the garbage bag from the bin and popped in a fresh one for next week.

“I asked the timetabler if I could work Wednesdays and Fridays next year so I can keep picking up the scraps and it looks like I’ve got them,” I said.

“That’s great,” Tania replied. “Actually, I’m a bit surprised that you’re still doing this. Isn’t it a hassle?”

Wicking beds overflowing with plants.
Some of these plants are what has grown from last year’s plants – self-sown. Some are from the pea straw. Most have grown from the compost materials I brought home from school.

“Sometimes,” I said. Then I went on to say something about organic fertiliser or some such thing, to make me sound legit, like a real tree-hugger.

But really??

I want free fertiliser. Why would I pass up the chance to improve my garden’s soil for free, even if – yes – sometimes it IS a PIA to race down there and then drag it to the car during lunchtimes. Do you know how many bags of compost I would’ve had to buy over the past year to equal what the school scraps + the compost tumblers + time have produced???

Well, I don’t know either, but it would have been a lot of bags bought and a LOT of money spent.

As I was carrying that heavy garbage full of veggie scraps back along the street towards my car, I was thinking about that little conversation. She’s right. Doing this twice a week every week IS a hassle. As soon as I get home I have to deal with the compost, either putting it in the tumbling compost bins or bringing it inside and pulverising some of it in the thermomix for the worms. Sometimes, after school when I get back to the car, it smells a little… fruit cocktail-ish, especially in summer.

This would be more than enough to turn most people off, but not me. Now that I know this resource is here, it’d be such a waste not to use it.

I walked and thought. Maybe people who haven’t had to struggle very much are quicker to let inconvenient things go? I remembered back to the days when the kids were small. They’d go and stay with their father every two weeks, and at the end of the weekend sometimes they’d come home with a box of fruit and veggies from the fruit shop he owned.

Child support was erratic in those days. Money was tight. If those boys came through the door with a box of free food I made sure we used EVERY scrap of it. Anything that got thrown out was like me throwing away money. Child support money. I wasn’t in a position to do that.

Rosemary in a pot.
I grow herbs, like this Rosemary. I cut and dry it sometimes, so I have both fresh and dried whenever I need it. Herbs are ridiculously expensive – grow your own if you can.

Sometimes leftover food gets put into the staff common room. Unused loaves of bread from a fund-raising sausage sizzle, lemons from someone’s tree, a box of tomatoes… that sort of thing. If they’re placed on the tables, they’re free game for anyone who wants them.

It’s astonishing to me how those items can sit there for hours without being snapped up. People, even the young teachers with massive mortgages and/or young kids, won’t pick up a loaf of free bread or a handful of tomatoes to make a pasta sauce for dinner with. I don’t understand it. They’ll let perfectly good food sit there and potentially go to waste because… I don’t know… maybe they don’t want to be seen walking back to their desks with a loaf of yesterday’s bread?

Three days ago someone left a big box piled with potatoes on the table. I walked into the common room to fill up my water bottle and thought, “Great! Both boys are home for dinner tonight,’ so I took 3 potatoes. All good.

The next morning I walked in and there were still some potatoes in the box. Really?? They were the oddly shaped ones; the ones where you’d have to put a little bit of effort into peeling them to get all the skin off. But they were still fine. I waited until recess, then said loudly, “Well, if no one else wants them, I’ll take them!” and I scooped them up.

As I was on my way to my desk, someone said, “It’s great you’re using them for your compost.” I smiled and nodded, but inside I was thinking, ‘Are you crazy? This is another free serve of potatoes for dinner!’

Spice rack.
The dried herbs end up here.

Now, I’m no different from the rest of the staff in many ways. We are all middle-class, we all live within an hour’s drive of the school, we’re all tertiary educated, we’ve all travelled overseas. Of course, I’m astonishingly good-looking, but so are some of the others.

I think the real difference when it comes to things like this is that most of them haven’t been on the bare bones of their ar**s financially. Like I said at the beginning of this post, financially I’m doing ok now. But the years and years of being totally responsible for the well-being of the 4 boys when I was on the sole parents’ pension and with child support at (usually) $20/month have left their mark.

I had a ridiculously small amount of money to manage each fortnight. The mortgage had to be paid, then the bills and then what was leftover was spread among groceries, clothing – little boys grow fast! – and everything else. I owned one credit card, but I paid it off each month. I knew that if I strayed too far into debt I could lose the house and then the boys and I would be even more vulnerable than we were.

Every dollar was important.

When my aunt asked me if I’d like to pick up the unsold bread at a bakery in East Brighton every Tuesday night, I leapt at it. We kept going back to that bakery for the next 15 years. Every Tuesday we’d put 3 laundry baskets in the back of the station wagon and we’d pick up whatever hadn’t sold that day. That shop saved my family thousands of dollars over the time we went there.

Baskets of bread, pies, sausage rolls, bagels, hot cross buns, Boston buns – you name it, it was there. The best rye bread I’ve ever tasted, to this day. The boys and I would go in the back door of the shop and we’d load up the baskets. One basket was for us. I’d put in enough bread to last us a week ( I had a huge freezer) and enough pies and baked goods for dinner that night. One basket would be for friends, while the third one (once I was back at school) was filled with morning tea items to take to work the following day to put in the common room.

Later, when I had the chooks, I’d bring home bread and the unwanted pies and pasties to feed them for a day. It made the chicken feed last that little bit longer.

Feeding my family this unwanted bread definitely tipped the balance of my finances towards the black. It was an absolute life-line that I’ll always be so grateful for. Was it a hassle to drive 2 suburbs away every Tuesday night to do this. YES. It was NEVER convenient. But I did it every week because it was free food and it saved my family from some desperate times.

Me with some bread.
Me, back in 2014, with a laundry basketful of bread in the background.

Is it any wonder now that when I see a box of lemons on the table in the common room, I’ll take a couple? Or when the sausage sizzle bread is piled up, I’ll grab a loaf? Poverty leaves a mark on you, deep inside. On the outside, I’m the same as everyone else at work. But I think about money a little differently.

To me, there’s no shame in taking a loaf of free bread or a handful of potatoes in front of everyone in the room. Why would there be? Free food (or free compost) is a way of eking out my resources just a little bit longer.

Past Frogdancer had to do that as a way of ensuring the boys survived and thrived. Learning how to satisfy our all of our needs and some of our wants wasn’t easy and there were many tears shed and scary moments endured along the way.

As for Present Frogdancer? Because of Past Frogdancer’s efforts, I’m doing ok. But she and I are both agreed – if something is going for free and you can use it, it’s criminally wasteful not to take it and be grateful.

Even if it’s a hassle.

How to be a wonderful Santa with very little money.

Santa in front of a Christmas tree.
Actual photo of me late on Christmas Eve.

This post is very important to me. As a single Mum with 4 little boys and VERY little money, Christmas was always a time when I was on my toes. I wanted it to be a magical morning, with Santa presents that brought joy and delight, because the window of time for that Santa magic is small and very precious. Just because I chose to leave my husband with $60 cash in my hand and 4 boys under 5 under my arm, why should that mean that the boys should miss out?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this problem. Fortunately, there are ways around this to deliver a magical Santa reveal every single year without ruining the family finances every December. The huge advantage that Christmas has over other, more mundane ’emergencies’ is that it happens at the same time every year. Grab any calendar… there it is on December 25. So it can be organised and planned for.

I’m a teacher by trade. English and DRAMA. The Drama teacher hat always comes to the fore at Christmas. What’s one of the best moments whenever people go to the theatre? It’s that moment of anticipation when the house lights go down and the curtain is about to open. The audience’s attention is at its peak, waiting for the magic of being transported to another time and space.

Kids are like this on Christmas morning. Why do you think they wake at 5 AM and race breathlessly down to wherever Santa leaves his gifts at your place? Yes, some of it is pure greed, but most of it is because something crazily wonderful has happened overnight – something has been magically produced out of nothing.

That first moment when they see their pile of gifts – that’s what I call ‘the REVEAL.’ It’s all-important. It’s pure theatre. And I always wanted that first reaction to be “WOW.”

I love Christmas! Always have. To me, Christmas is a time for family and, back when the boys were small, a time to spoil the kids. I love it so much that part of the custody arrangements when my marriage broke up was that I would have the boys every Christmas Day, while my ex-husband would have them every Easter Sunday.

When my oldest was 5, I left the marriage and stayed at home with the boys until my youngest started school. This meant that money was tight during those years. Child support was often only $20/month and the boys and I were dependent on Centrelink payments of around $350/week. I had to pay the mortgage, food, bills and everything else out of this. Fortunately, I was brought up by frugal parents so I had lots of training! But it meant that things like Christmas had to be planned with military precision.

At my place, Santa would leave the presents for each kid in the lounge room, on chairs or on the floor. Each pile of gifts was covered by a blanket, with a label on each pile with a name. The routine was that the kids had to come and wake me up first, then we’d all go into the lounge room together and they’d stand by their particular blanket. Then, on a “ready, set go!”, they’d lift off the blanket and the REVEAL would happen. This routine was a deliberate decision on my part to build the anticipation further and have the energy of the room at fever-pitch. It was always exciting.

Afterwards, I’d have the boys stand together and call out loud, “Thank you, Father Christmas!” When, one by one, the boys started to know the truth, they’d look at me while calling out this – a private way they’d thank me while still keeping the magic going for the younger ones.

Anyway, I’ve set the scene for how the Santa REVEAL was done at my place. Here are the ways that I worked to make that particular December morning a hit for my boys on very little money.

Kids are visual creatures. 

Little kids aren’t very bright. If they get a pile of gifts from Santa, they’re wildly excited. This doesn’t mean that every item has to be brand-new, designer and expensive. What you (as Santa’s helper) are aiming for is the thrill of the REVEAL – when the covering is lifted off their gifts and they see it all for the first time. This allows you, as the official shopper for Santa, to spend strategically. 

What I aimed for, particularly when the kids were small and still believed, was to have a lot of colour and lots of items for their eyes to take in as the blanket came off. A central ‘show-stopper” item that the kid was really hoping to get, but surrounding it – lots of other, more minor things that look impressive in colour and number, but cost very little.

No more than 2 “Show stopper” presents per child. Usually, just one, or none if the child is very young. Spend your money in a way to get more bang for your buck.

Sure, I wanted Christmas to be impressive, but I wasn’t made of money! Plus, with 4 kids, that money had to stretch as far as possible. The boys didn’t need a roomful of expensive gifts from Santa – they’d be getting presents from my family, their father and their father’s family. The REVEAL from Santa is the most important, of course, but their entire Christmas experience didn’t hinge on just this. 

So I’d listen. And I’d arrange to buy one or two brand-new things that the boys were desperate to own. When kids are young, you can buy these things at the July sales, because toys are toys. Kids are easy to plan for when they’re in pre-school to middle primary school. But later I learned to delay buying the “show-stopper” gifts until December. Teenagers are so unpredictable and there’s always a new game or album or something released just before Christmas that turns out suddenly to be the “must-have.”

When kids are very young, these “show stopper” gifts are most impressive when they’re physically large. A dolls house, a trike… things like that. Little kids equate size with value. Funnily enough, as the boys got older their “show stopper” presents started to shrink in size. A particularly coveted console game or CD/DVD used to be VERY successful at our place. Zelda and the Ocarina of Time for the N64, for example, was physically unimpressive but was greeted with hoots of joy.

And now I have that ocarina music in my head. The boys played that game for hundreds of hours. Safe to say that show-stopper gift was a success.

Shop around for “filler” gifts – the more of these, the better. Don’t pay retail prices for these if at all possible.

Garage sales are your friends. Here in Australia, we’re so lucky we have Christmas in summer, because spring cleaning happens and people get rid of the toys their kids are sick of. These toys are PRIME filler material. Their kids may be sick of them but they’re brand-new entertainment for your kids.

Every fortnight, when A had the kids for his access weekend, I’d go and hit the garage sales in my neighbourhood to look for filler gifts for Christmas. I’d start as soon as Spring began because you never know what you’ll find. Fortunately, most toys for little kids are pretty generic – if you buy cars, dolls and lego, you’re good to go, so these things can be bought months in advance and you know they’ll be successful.

I have boys, so anything round and designed to be thrown or kicked was always a hit. Tennis balls, usually second hand, along with bats or cricket stumps, also found at garage sales and op shops. Aussie rules footballs, especially for Tom, were also a good filler item. Sheet music for David, guitar strings for Ryan and quirky fun things for Evan were all things I’d keep my eyes open for and snap up if I came across them at a good price. You know your children – cater to their interests.

I also used to use filler space to buy things for Christmas that I would have been buying anyway. I like the boys to look nice for Christmas Day with my family, so Santa would always bring new clothes for them to wear. Some years the clothes would be brand new, other times they were gently worn clothes that still looked new, depending on my finances. The boys didn’t care either way.

Bathers were another frequent filler, seeing as how Christmas is in summer, along with artsy things like textas and pencils that they’d need for school the next year. Clearly, these weren’t as exciting for the boys as the toys, but they bulked up the piles of presents every year and helped them to look more impressive. Remember, it’s all in the REVEAL.

Start some Christmas traditions that cost next to nothing. 

You know those little bags of gold coins that appear at every supermarket and dollar store checkout in December? The chocolate inside is cheap, but kids love the glint of the gold and the feel of holding treasure. These bags only cost a dollar or two each. Every year they’d have a bag of coins in their pile of Santa gifts.

I’d buy a packet of those little Kellogs mini breakfast cereal packets and the kids would have a couple of mini cereals to have for breakfast on Christmas morning – along with the chocolate coins, of course. I never bought those mini cereals at any other time of the year – far too expensive – so the boys were convinced that this was a Santa thing and looked forward to seeing which breakfast they’d be getting this year.

When the kids grew older a tradition started where they’d be the ones to assemble the Christmas tree. We have a large fake one – being frugal I didn’t want the added expense of buying a real tree year after year – and the boys put it all together and place the decorations on it. Over time, the Christmas tree decorations become treasured memories for them. “Oh! Here’s the aeroplane! I like this one!” or “Has anyone seen the bird that sits on the top of the tree? I want to do it this year.”

One of the most enduring traditions – and by that I mean that we still do this – is something that I first bought as a filler present in poverty-stricken desperation. I bought some little jars of bubble mix as a bit of fun for them. That first Christmas, we went out into the backyard and started blowing bubbles. The dogs went nuts jumping and trying to catch them and we had so much fun. It was a much greater hit than I thought it would be, so the next year I tried it again. The dogs, and later, the cats would come out with us and they’d jump to try and catch the bubbles and we’d laugh and chill in the sun. The house next door to us was a rental and when there were kids living there, the boys would blow bubbles over the fence at them and the neighbour kids would race to pop them first.

Poppy, Jeff and Scout will be chasing bubbles for a while on Christmas morning – it’s fun and costs next to nothing. It’s a corny little throwback to when the kids were little and we enjoy it.

Finally, enlist the older kids into keeping the magic alive for the younger ones.

I had a pretty good run with Santa. Tom, my oldest, was 9 years old before he asked the question one day. Now, just between you and me, Tom9 was a blabbermouth, so I knew he’d be the weak link in the chain of silence, so I whisked him away down to the bottom of the garden under the old fig tree.

I said, “Do you really want to know?” He looked at me as if to say, ‘I’m not an idiot – just by saying that you’re confirming that Santa isn’t real.’

So I smiled and said, “Yes, you’re right. Father Christmas isn’t real.”

He nodded, then said, “So who does it?”

I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I do. Santa is me.”

His mouth dropped open. He looked stunned. He said, No WAY. You can’t afford it!!!”

I laughed and laughed. “Christmas is special. It’s magical. I make sure I can afford it.”

He gave me a huge hug, then looked stricken. “Oh no,” he said. “I’ve been telling the boys to ask Santa for all the expensive things they want, so you don’t have to buy them…”

OMG. How gorgeous is that?? What a beautiful little boy.

I thanked him for looking out for me like that, then we switched into the “you had many years of enjoying the magic, so now you join the grown-up world to preserve the magic for your brothers” talk. I was a bit nervous about it. Like I said, Tom9 was a bit of a blabbermouth, but he came through for the boys and Santa beautifully.

He loved the idea of being more grown-up than the others. He’d write Christmas lists with them and let me know what they were hankering for. he’d help hustle the kids off to bed on Christmas Eve so I’d have time to set up the presents. He’d stay up a little later than the others, so he’d get to bite the carrot we’d leave out for Rudolph and eat the snack for Santa, while I’d drink Santa’s glass of Shiraz.

One by one, the boys found out the truth, but never from their older brothers. Evan was the last one. From memory, he was Evan7 or Evan8 when a nasty little kid told him Santa wasn’t real on Christmas Eve!!!!! I was furious when he asked me about it as I was putting him to bed that night. What a time for him to have doubt put into his mind!

What was I to do? He had been all geared up for a visit from Santa and was so excited. I looked at his little eyes and saw hope there – hope that the kid had lied to him. He was so little… but my parenting style has always been that if a kid is old enough to ask a question, then they’re old enough for the answer.

I made a split decision and broke my rule, opening my eyes wide and saying, “Of course he’s real. How else could all of those presents get there?” He smiled, relieved, and snuggled down to sleep and I tip-toed away, feeling like a heel but wanting him to have just one more Christmas morning of magic.

Just after Easter he asked me again. This time I came clean and when he asked why I’d lied to him before, I told him why, saying that I wanted him to have one last magical Christmas. He thought about it for a second, then nodded and simply said, “Thanks.”

Then he looked up at me and said, “Don’t tell me the Easter Bunny isn’t real either?!?” And like that the magic was gone.

Christmas now has a different kind of magic for our family. The traditions and routines have evolved now that we are a family of adults. Christmas is still hugely important but now we all buy gifts for each other. My extended family has a Kris Kringle where we buy for only one person (price limit of $50) and the boys have the same price limit for each of our nuclear family. Three of them are still students so this is a big expense for them of $250 – 3 brothers, 1 mother and 1 Kris Kringle… but like I did back in the day, they save up for it throughout the year and enjoy the plotting and planning to get gifts that suit the recipients down to the ground.

Christmas is as important to them as it is for me and we put a lot of effort into the presents we organise. We look forward to getting together with Mum and Dad, my sister Kate and her family and of course, each other. The boys still come over every year to assemble my Christmas tree – now with added decorations from my travels in Europe, China and North Korea – and those still at home will blow some bubbles for the pets on Christmas morning.

For those going through a financially challenged Christmas, I hope that I’ve helped with some strategies. The funny thing is – some of the things that I introduced to make Christmas affordable are the very things that are now cherished family traditions! It’s very possible to have a wonderful Christmas with your kids on limited funds. It’s all about a little bit of forward thinking and – of course – the REVEAL!

Locking in the profits.

I’m going to do something that I never thought I’d do. I’m going to pull some profits out of my investments and spend them on some projects around the house. In other words, I’ve decided to harvest some profits and lock them in.

Again, this was something that I never thought I’d do. I’m still working, so income is flowing in to pay for my day-to-day needs. That sweet sweet compounding is doing its thing with my investments and I was sure that I’d continue to let them ride. But then something happened.

I arrived home a week or two ago and it was raining. As I got out of the car and turned towards the house something caught my eye. A steady stream of water coming from the left front corner of the guttering. It fell in a straight line right onto the wooden supports of the verandah.

Crap.

I glanced across at the other corner and sure enough, the same thing was happening, but fortunately, this one was falling onto the brick paving. But the wooden balustrade near both corners was needing to be replaced. I was going to wait, but suddenly this looked like I might now have a rotting verandah on my hands.

It seems like it should be an easy fix – just replace the guttering. Done, right?

But look at this shot. The yuccas at the front of the house have grown up past the roof and are dangerous. The leaves are thick and very pointy and sharp at the ends and the previous owner intelligently planted them next to walkways. A couple of times when I was on the way to the recycling bin, I’ve narrowly missed being poked in the eye. So removing the yuccas has been on my list of Things To Get Done for a while now and the guttering can’t be replaced while the yuccas are there.

So it should be easy. Cut down the yuccas, then replace the guttering, right?

But…

If I cut the yuccas down, our big front windows would then be open to the street. Any stray marauder strolling by would be able to see straight through into my bedroom and our living room. Not exactly ideal. So do I put up some sheer curtains for day-time? Or do I put up a tall fence?

I already have a front fence, but it’s rusting. I’m very close to the beach. The dogs bark at every dog that walks past, so it’s been on my list of Things To Get Done, but in some dark, misty future, aeons from now. But that is going to change, it seems.

Our electric gate is broken, so we’ve been opening and closing it by hand for about a year now. If I get a new fence – a non-see-through one – I’d have to replace the gate as well.

It’s a cascading list of repairs and replacements. So! It all starts at the front fence.

Once I get the new fence, I’ll be able to call an arborist to cut down the yuccas and grind out the stumps. THEN I can replace the guttering and fix any wooden bits of the verandah and balustrading, without worrying that the carpenter will get his eyes poked out.

It’s so annoying. I had a really good plan in place to keep my investments in place and to keep a wage coming in to pay for retirement-proofing the house and so far the plan is working. But the good part about biting the bullet and getting all of these things done now is that once they’re done – they’re done. I can cross them off my list and keep moving forward.

My investments have done really well over the last couple of years, so in effect, I’ll be locking in the profits when I withdraw them and use them on the house. Of course, I’ll be losing any future compounding on those dollars, which is a shame, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that if I delay this water problem until I save up the money to deal with it, I’ll just be giving myself a bigger, more expensive problem down the track.

Ah well. At least Future Frogdancer will be able to walk out onto her front verandah without risking life and limb (or eyes, when I think of the yuccas.) It ruffles me that I’m changing my plans, but I think that the situation warrants it.

Any thoughts?

Why an Emergency Fund is a very good thing to have.

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a saver. When I was in my teens and twenties I’d willingly save whenever I had a goal in mind, but if I didn’t, I’d tend to drift along the path of life, buying what made me happy in the moment. Heck, in my 20’s I had a VERY expensive dog breeding and showing hobby, which sucked up thousands of dollars over the time I did it. Poppy and Jeff are the descendants of that breeding program, so I’m very glad I did it!

Back in those days, I had no thought for an emergency fund, as I was living with my boyfriend/fiance who had his own small business. In those early days, money wasn’t a problem. It was predominately a cash business. When his accountant asked if he wanted to pay tax on his earnings and A said no, the accountant told him to “Piss it all up against the wall then!”

Dimly, this worried me. It seemed like such a waste. But I told myself it wasn’t my business and it was A’s money, not mine. However, things change. By the time we were married some stiff competition had moved into the town we were living in and the financial good times began to slip away.

Ten years later, by the time I walked out, our finances were dire. By that stage, we had 4 boys under 5, a house with a mortgage just under 100K, two very old and worthless cars and $60 cash each.

Obviously it was easier for my ex to move out of the family home and for the boys and me to stay put while we tried to work out what was going to come next. I allowed him to stay for 6 weeks to get some money together while I slept on the couch. I’m short, but even so, it wasn’t the comfiest of beds! After 6 weeks I asked him when he was moving out and he said, “I haven’t arranged anything. I thought you’d change your mind by now. ” After being informed in a fairly direct way that no, I needed time apart to see if there was anything left of the marriage to save, he borrowed some money from his sister and moved out a couple of days later.

My ex had no money and very little cash-flow from his business, so in lieu of any child support, he agreed to keep paying the mortgage. Meanwhile, I went on what was then called the “Sole Parents’ Pension’, which gave me around $300/week to support the boys.

I felt extremely vulnerable. Every time I looked at the boys I grew more and more determined that they wouldn’t suffer for the mistakes that I’d made in some of my life choices.

I knew I needed some cash to stand between us and a cruel, hard world. I hadn’t heard of an ‘Emergency Fund’ then, so in my head I called it a “Buffer Zone” I decided a thousand dollars would make me feel safer. It seemed like an insurmountable sum to find, but I knew I had to try.

So I started saving. The next 3 months were TIGHT. Every bill was paid as soon as it entered the house and I scrimped and scraped on everything else. If we had a meat meal, the boys had all the meat and I lived on eggs and veggies. Sometimes, if I was really desperate, I’d cut the end off a sausage and devour it. I felt guilty, but sometimes smelling those snags cooking was more than flesh and blood could stand!

The boys’ protein came from mince, sausages, tins of tuna and eggs. We didn’t waste an ounce of food. Funny thing is, some of the meals I made over this time have morphed into our family’s comfort foods. Scotch oatcakes, tuna mornay, cauliflower + macaroni cheese… funny how desperation can turn into fond dinner requests!

At around the 3 month mark I’d saved the one thousand dollars. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a glimmer of pride. I’d done it! We were safe! But then a little niggle of something made me decide to call the bank to check on how the mortgage was going…

“I’m sorry Mrs ******, but your mortgage is $968 in arrears,” said the nice bank man on the end of the phone. I nearly dropped the receiver. How could this be possible? A said he’d pay the mortgage. It was supposed to be his way of supporting his own children, for God’s sake!!!

My first reaction was disbelief. Then it was blinding anger. How could he recklessly put the boys’ security at stake like that?

My third reaction was a mix of resignation and relief when I thought of the Buffer Zone money. It’d cover the arrears. I loaded the boys up into the double stroller and took a walk down to the bank. Within half an hour of that phone call, our account was back where it should be and I now had around $30 to my name. Half what I walked away with 3 months ago when I left my husband. But the house was safe, which meant so were the boys.

If that doesn’t bring home to a person how important it is to have an emergency fund, then I guess nothing will. If I didn’t have that money put aside and the bill for the mortgage got worse and worse, the trajectory of how our lives turned out would have been vastly different.

That little house was the place we lived in for the next 20-odd years, after I bought my ex out in the property settlement a year later. It was in one of the best public school zones in Melbourne and so my boys got a great education. As an unexpected bonus, I’ve been working at the same school for the last 16 years and so my little family ended up having a stable income, no matter what A decided to do with child support. And in 2018, the sale of that little house enabled me to utilise Geoarbitrage in the same city and release a tonne of equity which has probably saved me from a decade of having to work.

As soon as the boys and I walked back from the bank all those years ago, I started building up that Emergency Fund again. When I was at home with them, before Evan, my youngest, started school, my Buffer Zone was 1K. We had to use it a lot as things cropped up, sometimes the Emergency Fund would be depleted and I’d be reminded yet again about how essential it was to have money put away. You just have to read my ‘About‘ page to see that!

However as the years rolled on and I was in a secure job, as the level of cash in the Emergency Find rose, so did the likelihood of me having to tap it. It’s strange how that works.

A few months ago I had to tap it for the first time in years. Our hot water service blew up and I wanted to replace it with a gas continuous hot water service. What could have been a financial drama was just a minor inconvenience, because I had the money on hand to pay for it. I’m in the process of building it back up now.

Sometimes I see posts stating that the need for an emergency fund is overstated and that people would be better off putting that money into the share market and letting it ride. That’s pure stupidity in my opinion. Having a few grand put aside in an online high-interest account that you don’t touch unless something totally unexpected comes up – this won’t slow you down towards your march towards financial independence! Think about it. We’re looking to amass hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ten grand or so in a savings account is a drop in the bucket compared with that.

But by gum! It’ll help you sleep at night.

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