Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: FIRE as a single. (page 2 of 3)

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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it was wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heh heh.

A totally scientific experiment. Or metaphor. Or something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hang on…

What starts to happen around every tempting aroma?

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

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

They’re completely off task now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know you want to know the results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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