Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Frugality (Page 1 of 6)

Retirement’s so hard…

As soon as I finish posting this, I’ll be packing for a mini holiday. Two nights in the high country at a resort near Merrijig. Retirement is so hard – all these holidays I’m forcing myself to take!

I had some points with my stupid timeshare that were due to expire at the end of next month. In my previous life as a productive, teacherly member of society, I’d have had to let those points expire or hope that one of my uni boys could use them up.

But now – I’m on a mission to use up every single point from now until I drop in my tracks.

So for the next 2 days, I’ll be reading, bushwalking (moderately!) and generally looking at gum trees and kangaroos. I’m going to go to the Healesville Sanctuary on the way up – I haven’t been there since I was a kid. I remember seeing the Tasmanian Devils and hearing the weird noise they make.

The resort restaurant isn’t open on Monday and Tuesday nights but that’s ok – I was planning on self-catering anyway. The studio apartment comes with a kitchenette. Frugality meets necessity!

I took the boys here on a holiday once when they were a lot younger. We played mini golf, they fooled around in the gym and we went for walks. It’ll be interesting to see if much has changed here since then.

I was planning on taking a leisurely ride home but I have to attend my great-aunt’s funeral on Wednesday in Melbourne, so I’ll be leaving at the crack of dawn. How’s this for a retirement? Doris was 95 when she died. She lived independently all her life in the house that she and her husband bought in the 1940’s. She was adamant that she didn’t want to go to a nursing home and she maintained her independence (with help from her local council with cleaners, shower girls, etc) until the end. She was also a great-great-grandmother – she lived for her family.

I hope I’m still happily pottering around the Best House in Melbourne when I’m that age!

Where we arrive at the extroverted part of the holiday.

I’ve had 4 or 5 people contact me to ask whether I’d died in a fiery car crash on my holiday – some asked it more tactfully than others! – so I thought I’d better get back into the zone to write. I’ve been busy finishing off a quilt, reading, having a rapturous reunion with the dogs (and with the boys, of course!)

LOOK at this beautiful painting. After I finished looking at the Antarctica exhibition at the Adelaide Art Gallery I walked into the next room, just in time to join an hour-long tour, looking at 10 Australian works of art. Exactly the amount of time I needed to kill before I walked back to the restaurant to meet up with the FIRE bloggers for lunch.

This painting wasn’t one of the 10, but it was hanging on the wall near the UGLIEST cabinet I’ve ever seen – which was one of the 10. So while the tour guide was waxing lyrically about the ugly 1930’s cabinet, I was gazing at this. If it was in a different art gallery – one where you could actually buy the paintings – I’d buy it in a shot. I’ve been looking for a painting to hang near my dining table for the last 5 years. And here it was – unattainable. Still, I thought, at least now I know the colours I’m looking for. (More on this later…)

Nolan’s ‘Narcissus.’

This next one made me chuckle. It was in the Surrealism room and is Sidney Nolan’s take on the greek legend of Narcissus – the boy who was so good looking that he fell in love with his own reflection and starved to death beside a pool of water, because he couldn’t bear to leave the beautiful face he saw in the water.

This was the most beautiful sculpture. It’s called ‘Kathleen’ and was made by Marjorie Fletcher in the 1930’s. There’s all this talk about women’s art not being appreciated in their lifetimes, but sometimes not even THEY appreciated it. She worked in sculpture for around 10 years, then got married and had a family and shoved all of her artwork into a cupboard under the stairs. Over time, her work was given away, left out in the hard rubbish and generally spread far and wide. This one was found by her son, who’s made it his life’s work to track down his mother’s art and bring her the recognition she should have received. I loved this figure.

Nora Heysen’s ‘Ruth.’

Nora Heysen had a way famous artist father – Hans Heysen – but in the end she won the Archibald prize while he never did. I can’t remember the woman’s name in this picture, but she used to sit for Nora quite a lot and they became good friends. One day Nora asked her if she would let Nora paint her in the nude. The woman got up, left and never came back.

I saw this fine fellow on the walk back towards lunch. There’s something distinctive about a well-defined chin, don’t you think?

A couple of weeks before, I’d let Michelle from Frugality and Freedom know that I was coming to Adelaide. She’s exploring the boundaries of what FIRE really means, by freelancing and travelling the world, basically living life on her own terms. Ahhh, the freedom! Covid clipped her wings, so she’s biding her time in her hometown of Adelaide until things open up again.

She put the word out and three more bloggers joined us for lunch.

Captain FI is a pilot who’s normally in Sydney but he happened to be in Adelaide visiting family, so we got to meet him. He’s MUCH more numbers-based than I am, though I suppose you have to have that sort of brain to understand what all the dials and gadgets on the aircrafts’ dashboards are all about. You definitely wouldn’t want someone like me behind the controls of a jet.

He’s just done a post on payday lenders and I really liked this paragraph – “This is why the grassroots Financial Independence movement is so important, and can be so powerful. If we can spread the message of financial health and wellbeing, then gradually these unethical pay-day-lending companies will go out of business.”

The other two bloggers were Sarah and Laura from Keepin’ it Frugal and the booming food blog Wandercooks – I’ve linked to the recipe that we went shopping for after lunch to buy the essential ingredient that I’d never heard of – nduja.

Blog-meets are always a success. You all have things in common, otherwise we wouldn’t be reading each others’ blogs, and so the conversation flows right from the start, with very little of the whole awkward “getting to know you” stuff. After 3 days on my own, otherwise known as indulging my introvert side, I was ready for a few days of talking and laughing with other humans.

After lunch I drove to Jenna’s parents’ place. She and Evan24 have been going out for 3 years now and I was going to stay at her folks’ place that night, after going out to dinner with Simone, an old school friend that I haven’t seen for FORTY YEARS.

omg.

I can’t be that old, surely?

It was either going to be a great night – we were really close back in the day – or incredibly uncomfortable with lots of pauses and dull questions about our children and how they were going, just to fill in the space of the silence. You know the sort of thing.

Fortunately, it was great! We actually walked past each other on the street. To be fair, 40 years is a long time. But once we turned around at the same time and started laughing, the evening just flew.

She lives in Melbourne, like me, after having spent most of the intervening years living in Japan, South Korea and the US. She just happened to be in Adelaide for work and so we caught up there. It’s lovely when you meet up with someone you haven’t seen for ages and it’s almost as if no time has gone by.

The next day I drove to Victor Harbor to meet up with yet another person I’ve never met in real life. Extrovert Frogdancer was 2 days into a 3-day people-fest. This time I was meeting with Lara and her husband. We both belong to a couple of investment groups on FaceBook.

Again, I didn’t know who I was looking for, as she doesn’t have her real photo online, but I recognised her dog, so all was well. We had a really pleasant lunch at a café on the foreshore and then after lunch we walked back to my car so I could show them the sculpture I bought. I was in a bit of a tizz because my car was refusing to lock itself. The battery in the cha-ching thing that opens the door was dead and my car door handles don’t have keyholes.

Lara suggested calling around to see if any local locksmiths were still open on a Saturday afternoon. Talk about good old fashioned country service! The locksmith I talked to suggested I drive to Repco and get a battery there. Took 5 minutes for them to replace the battery for only $7 – and a spare battery. The place at home that I’ve been going to charges $10 per battery.

I’ve never enjoyed locking and unlocking my car more.

A whopping big tree.

After I sorted out the battery problem – thanks Lara! – I headed to the little beach outside of town to look around. On the way I saw a quilting shop so I popped in and bought some fabric for a quilt I’m going to make for another old school friend. Simone and Cathy and I were all close, back in the day.

It was a cool, quiet afternoon. I walked along this little jetty and watched people fishing. The waves were lapping against the rocks…

… which were clearly popular with the local seagull population.

Then, after wandering around there for a while, I jumped in the car and followed my nose in a vaguely southerly direction.

Anywhere that looked interesting, I’d stop the car and have a look.

Then I decided that I’d go down to the bottom of the peninsula to Cape Jervis, which is where you catch the ferry to Kangaroo Island. I wasn’t going to go to the island this time around, but hey! I’ve got all the time in the world now. I’ll come back here sometime.

So I drove through winding roads wth cows, sheep and, once, a herd of goats dotted around the countryside. The area had had a bit of rain so, unusually for Australia, the paddocks were green and lush. I was listening to a really good audiobook ($20 off my challenge!) and all was right with the world.

I got to Cape Jervis just as the sun was going down. There was only one other car at the lookout. The man behind the wheel was looking at the view without getting out of his car, but Frogdancer Jones is made of sterner stuff.

Besides, I wanted to get a shot of these two.

I stayed here for quite a while. It was beautiful. So still and clear.

Then I jumped in the car and drove back to the timeshare in Normanville. Tomorrow I was off to a vintage car rally with Jenna’s parents!

Costs of the trip:

Day 1 cost: $272

Day 2 cost: $67 fuel.

(That’s it. I ate my food I brought from home and basically just drove all day to get to the timeshare.)

Day 3 cost: $70 sculpture. (I’m so happy I bought him. I absolutely love him.)

$9 lunch. (A bagel from the local bakery.)

$33 food for dinners and breakfast in my room.

Total for Day 3 – $112

Day 4 cost- $35 gifts. (For Michelle and for Jenna’s parents.)

$31 parking. (Ouch. Missed the earlybird parking at the market by 15 minutes.)

$12 lunch (Frugal FIRE bloggers lunch.)

$50 dinner (Non-FIRE friend dinner.) 🙂

Total for Day 4 – $128.

Day 5 cost – $7 car lock batteries.

$79 quilting fabric for Cathy.

Total for Day 5 – $86

Running total for the trip- $665

London Bridge and other sights.

London Bridge.
London Bridge.

At the moment I’m pointing the car towards home and I’m in Naracoorte, but this morning I woke to rain hammering down outside. A perfect morning to do a little ‘catching up’ with you all.

I still have some shots to show you of the first day, when I was in Port Campbell looking at the sights on the coast. When I put up this photo, I wondered if I could find a youtube thingy to show you how London Bridge used to look when it was attached to the mainland. I hit the jackpot.

Imagine being the tourists stuck on the wrong end of London Bridge! I’ll bet they were glad they weren’t walking across 5 minutes later…

It would’ve been a very scary dive down to the sea.

Rock formation and pool below.
View of ‘The Arch’ from above.

The Arch is much smaller.

As I said in the post before this one, the tourist board here has made these spectacular features very accessible to view. I was on the boardwalk looking down at The Arch on my way down to the viewing platform to see it properly. As I leaned over the edge, the wind blew up from this little bowl of seawater and the smell…!

It was beautiful. So salty and fresh. I walked down behind a family with 3 little girls all chattering away to see this:

Picture-postcard view of The arch.
The Arch from the viewing platform.

You can see the bowl of seawater below it. I’ll never forget the fresh, salty tang of that lungful of air.

Even though it was school holidays, there weren’t that many people there. When I was doing my research the day before, lots of articles and posts were warning people to get to the 12 Apostles etc at sunrise or sunset, when all of the big tourist buses weren’t there. But here was I, in the middle of the afternoon, wandering around without too many other people around. I was never alone – which for a single woman travelling alone would have probably creeped me out anyway! – but there was plenty of space for everyone.

It couldn’t have been just the weather – covid is still definitely having an effect.

Waves hitting the beach.
The sea.

As I was walking back to the car park, I tried taking a shot of the waves below, hoping I’d get an accurate picture of the colours. I’m just using my iPhone.

Isn’t it lovely?

The grotto from above.
The Grotto.

And now we come to a place I’d never heard of before I came here – but I LOVED it.

The Grotto.

It was a fair walk from the car park but it was all pretty level until the steps descending steeply to the actual grotto. The chatty family with the 3 little grls was with me again and I overtook them on the path as we walked to the top viewing platform.

Then I went down the steps to The Grotto.

The grotto
The Grotto.

The chatty family and I shared this space for about 10 minutes – 10 LONG minutes. I just wanted them to take their pictures and go away, because I knew that this space would be so serene and peaceful if I could stand there in silence. Eventually the family left and I could let it all soak in.

It’s incredibly beautiful. The rocks lined up at the bottom of the photo are at the top of the fence which protects the pool from yahoos who want to wade in it.

To the left is a little cave, but to the right is the arch looking out towards the horizon. It was quiet, with only the sound of the waves washing in and the cry of an occasional seagull. The tide was coming in.

Even on such a dull day, the light was constantly changing.

More grotto.
Still more grotto.
The Grotto and me.

I stayed there for quite a while, then it started raining, so I decided that I’d seen enough.

There were another 2 sights to see, but I decided to leave them for the way home. I’m planning to drive along the Great Ocean Road all the way to the ferry at Queenscliff.

I hadn’t bothered to have lunch so I was starving. I was parked outside the pizza shop in Port Cambell, waiting for it to open when my phone rang with an unfamiliar number.

**** Here’s the story that I was never going to tell anyone, but it’s too funny not to.

Yesterday, when I was researching the trip, a blog had mentioned a particular motel in Port Campbell as being quite good. I pulled up one of those booking sites, booked a night’s stay in Port Campbell, but when I drove down and went to check in at the good motel, there was no one at Reception and no key had been left for me.

A little miffed , I rang the phone number on the door and the woman who answered told me to take room 7 and to flick my booking confirmation across to her when I had a chance.

I dumped my bags in the room, emailed her and then took off.

The phone call was from her. “Frogdancer, I’ve looked at your booking and you’re actually meant to be staying at a different motel.”

I felt like such an idiot. Thank God I hadn’t used anything in the room. So I left the pizza place, grabbed all my bags and loaded up the car again and drove to the other place. I told the girl in Reception about it and we had a good laugh at my expense.

WHAT a fool.

I went back to the pizza place and bought what might be possibly the worst and most expensive pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Served me right.

Day 1 cost of the trip:

*Food I bought from Aldi for meals and snacks: $60

*Fuel $55

*Accomodation at the second motel: $138

*Unenjoyable pizza – $20

Running total: $273

Can you believe that I saw all of these amazing things for NOTHING? I really want to keep the costs down on this trip – I have Antarctica to pay for, after all.

EXTRA THING – Remember when I wrote an imaginary Money magazine article a little while ago? The Joyful Frugalista sent it to the actual magazine and they published ‘How I retired early as a single mother with four kids‘ a couple of days ago.

The best things in life are free.

The 12 Apostles.
The 12 Apostles.

Yippee!! I’m on holidays!

6 days ago I threw my things in the car, kissed the dogs goodbye and patted my sons – or maybe that was the other way round – and set off. I was on my way to Port Campbell to spend the night.

I don’t want to spend a huge amount on this holiday – I have Antarctica coming up, after all, so I’ve packed food for breakfasts and the dinners I’ll be spending on my own.

As you can see from the photo, the weather was overcast and a bit blustery, but I consoled myself that this makes for dramatic seas, which will look atmospheric and interesting. I chose to stay at Post Campbell for the first night because it’s pretty central to all of the features on the coast that I wanted to see – the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge etc. I’d get there at lunchtime, dump my stuff in the room I booked, then scamper out for the rest of the day and see everything.

High wooden pickets spoiling the view.
View of the 12 Apostles from the viewing platform – if you’re 5’2″/157 cms. Safety first!!

The drive from Melbourne to Port Campbell is an easy one. As planned, I got there around lunchtime, dumped my bags**** and then headed for the Great Ocean Road. I knew there’d be signs directing me where to go. As it turned out, there was a visitors centre at the 12 Apostles which, although the centre itself was closed, had a huge map on the wall showing exactly where everything was.

Clear view of the 12 Apostles.
Same view, but now I’m on tiptoes.

This is a great place to come to if you want to entertain yourself without spending a heap of money. All of the attractions are free and the whole area is really well set up for tourists. There are walkways, steps down to a couple of beaches and signs detailing the history, flora and fauna of each spot.

If you want to splash the cash, there are helicopter rides along the coast, but hey. What’s the rush? Besides, I took a helicopter trip when I went to Bowral last year, a couple of weeks before our 13-week lockdown hit. So clearly, I’m an expert.

Clifftop view of Loch Ard Gorge.

I went to Loch Ard Gorge first. I remember coming here with my parents when I was about 8 or 9. I think the story of what happened here caught my interest and I never forgot standing on the little beach, looking out at the small gap out into the ocean and thinking about how lucky those survivors were.

Imagine.

You’re on a clipper from England in 1878. You’ve done the 3 months’ long journey, all cramped together, and it’s the last night of the voyage. Finally you’re about to feel dry land under your feet. So naturally, when people suggest that everyone have a little celebration for the last night, you’re all in.

It all ended pretty abruptly when the fog the ship was wreathed in lifted and the captain realised that they were a tad too close to shore. Oops. The ship scraped a reef and sunk in 10 minutes.

Beach with cliffs to a narrow opening to the open ocean.
A narrow opening – no wonder only 2 people were washed in.

Only 2 people survived – a cabin boy who swam to shore into the gorge after grabbing an overturned lifeboat, and a girl who clung to a piece of wood. When he heard her calling out, he went back in to save her. It took him an hour to get her back to the beach. That’s pretty heroic.

In the morning he climbed the cliffs and got help. As a kid, I remember the exciting story of the shipwreck. As an adult, I gazed around at the sheers cliffs and wondered how on earth he managed to climb up and out of the gorge. There were no convenient steps back then! He must have been very fit.

And motivated.

Sheer drop to the ocean.
The edge of Australia.

These are what the cliffs look like here. It’s a sheer drop to the beach. The views out to the horizon are spectacular. I stood there, wind buffeting my face and the tang of the sea air in my nose, looking out towards the line that’s the edge of the sea and sky and thinking, ‘Sometime soon, either December this year or next, I’ll be in Antarctica on the other side of that line.’

I’ll split the first day into 2 posts. I’m due to leave in 10 minutes to go to a vintage car rally at a winery with Jenna’s parents, so I can’t be late.

Port Campbell… to be continued….

**** I wasn’t going to tell this story, but it’s too funny not to, even though I look like an idiot. I’ll tell it in the next post.

A little adventure.

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

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

Didn’t even cross my mind to check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

I’m not a magazine reader, so it came as news to me when someone on Twitter said that Dave from Strong Money Australia gave a shout out to a few Aussie FIRE bloggers (including me – thanks Dave!) in a Money Magazine story about the FIRE movement in Australia.

Of course, I was anxious to read it, so I downloaded the Libby app and borrowed Money magazine from the library. (That’s another $9 off my “Earn my rates back” reading quest. ) I’d recommend reading the article for yourself, but in a nutshell, they interviewed 7 people who have either finished the FIRE path or are on their way along it. All but one were younger than me and all had different ways of navigating the path towards total financial freedom.

It made me wonder what I would have said, had I been interviewed. I’ve been a single mother for well over 20 years and have brought up my 4 boys on my own, all while working as a secondary teacher. I still have two of them at home with me, while the oldest and the youngest have flown the nest.

I stumbled across the FIRE movement around 8 or 9 years ago by reading a blog called ‘Go Curry Cracker’. I remember asking him in the comments what this ‘FIRE’ acronym stood for. I was 49, I had just paid off the house and was worried about how I could ever possibly afford to retire.

Imagine my relief when I read the famous post by Mr Money Mustache about The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and I realised that by doing what I was already doing – (ie: saving and investing 50%+ of my take-home pay) I was on track to being able to retire at 67 with over a million dollar nest-egg. I could retire at pension age and not need to eke out my life on the pension.

That did it. I was hooked! I wanted to learn all I could about this FIRE stuff. I devoured blogs, books and podcasts. I hate Maths and numerals with a passion, but even someone as Maths-phobic as I am can learn, given enough repetition of the basic concepts.

Last year, at the age of 57, I retired. Ten years ahead of schedule.

I’m not your stereotypical ‘FIREy’ person, being older than a millennial, single with kids, coming from a career not really known for being lucrative and also being female. (And non-American…)

So what would I have said to the Money magazine people if they’d come knocking at my door? Here goes:

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

Lives: beachside in suburban Melbourne with 2 of her 4 sons. Also with her 3 dogs who she possibly loves more than her children.

Career: Secondary teacher.

“I really believe that the secret to becoming financially independent is underpinned by three very important things,” says Frogdancer Jones as she pours a cheeky shiraz. “You have to know what you value in life so you can concentrate your time, effort and money on those things. You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification – to be a long-term thinker, in other words. And you have to be willing to learn, so that when life offers up an opportunity, you can recognise it and – even more importantly, know what to do with it.”

The last point had a huge impact on the trajectory of Ms Jones’ financial life when, after years of struggling to bring up four boys and pay a mortgage on a teacher’s wage, she grabbed hold of an offer to develop her East Bentleigh property in a much sought-after school zone. This enabled her to release the equity in the property and move to a cheaper, but better, house further away from the CBD.

“Being able to pivot from my original plan to stay there until I was carried out in a pine box saved me having to work for an extra decade,” said Frogdancer. “I would never have had the courage to do it if I hadn’t have spent all of that time reading and listening to people who have already trodden the path to financial independence.”

So what does financial independence and early retirement mean to this early(ish) retiree?

“For me, the security of financial independence is an absolute gift. I left my husband back in 1997 with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash. There were years of struggling to provide for my boys and pay the mortgage – it wasn’t easy to live off 18K/year of Centrelink benefits until the boys were all in school and I could go back to work. The frugal habits I learned back then have really paid off! If I have to, we can live off the smell of an oily rag. It took me a long time to lose the fear that I didn’t have ‘enough’ to retire on.

“Also, being able to retire at 57 is an even greater gift. For the first time in my life, I can be totally selfish. My kids are grown, I have no grandchildren and all I have to worry about looking after are the dogs and my garden. I can spend my days entirely as I choose – the freedom is absolutely incredible. I can highly recommend retirement!”

Recommended books and blogs: ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ – Stanley; ‘The Simple Path to Wealth – Collins; Strong Money Australia; The Retirement Manifesto; Aussie Hi-Fire and Late Starter Fire.

EDITED:

After writing this, Money magazine heard about it and asked permission to rewrite it into an article. Here’s the REAL Money Magazine interview.

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

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

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

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

Winning strategies?

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

So how did I reward myself?

omg!!!!

so excited!!!

Remember how I set the goal to go to Antarctica?

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

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

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

What could possibly go wrong…?

My new retirement quest – reading my way to getting my rates for ‘free.’

3 books.
Poems, history and fictional history – what more could you want?

It’s going to storm pretty heavily later today, so I decided to take the dogs and walk up to the library to return a couple of books and pick up an Atwood book of poems that I had on hold. It takes 6,000 steps to get there and back so it’s a good walk to take when you’ve been a bit too ‘at one with the couch’ for a few days.

This morning I thought of another book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. When I got there I posted my returns through the slot and then went to the door and called to the librarians. I had the dogs with me and there was no way I was going to leave them tied up outside. My dogs are too appealing – there’s been an uptick in stolen dogs since covid hit and I don’t want mine to be added to that unhappy crew.

As you can see from the photo – they already had “The Last Tudor”, even though I only put it on hold an hour before. I was one happy customer!

As we were slowly striding home – Scout, being a miniature wire-haired dachshund, has very small legs – I idly began to think of how much money I was carrying home in these books. My father’s remark of, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!” flashed through my mind. He said this when I said that I’d started using the local library.

My rates are $1,800 each year. An average novel costs between $30 – $40. Say, just as a thought exercise, that each book costs $30. That would require someone to borrow and read 60 books in a year to “get their money back.”

(I just want to make something clear. Long-term readers of this blog would be extremely sceptical that I was willing and able to do these mathematical equations. They’d be right. I did them on a calculator when I got home.)

When you consider that last year my Goodreads challenge was fulfilled by the start of December with 80 books read, then this challenge is pretty do-able. I’ve already read 28 books in 2021, so I think I can do this.

A few rules:

  • In order to play fair, I will look online for the paperback version price of each book. After all, I’m a tight**se. I’m never going to buy a hardback version of a book when the paperback version is available.
  • If any books I borrow are eBooks, I’ll count the cost of the kindle version for this quest.
  • I will have a running total of this quest on the sidebar of this blog.
  • Even though I pay my rates in February, I will use the entirety of 2021 for this quest. It’s easier.
  • If I do well at this, there’s nothing stopping me from finding out how much I’ve paid in rates since we moved here to The Best House in Melbourne. A mega-quest will be to work at “earning back” all of the rates I’ve paid. (This could take a while…)
  • This quest ONLY takes into account the books I borrow from my local library. Books I borrow from friends or books I buy for myself do not count.

I’ve just looked up the price of the books in the photo on Booktopia.

Atwood’s ‘Dearly’ only comes in hardcover. It comes in at $22.

Weir’s “Queens of the Crusades’ is priced at $28.

Gregory’s ‘The Last Tudor’ is $31.

With the help of my trusty calculator, the total just with these 3 books is $81. So far, I’ve borrowed and read 22 books from the library.

This could be fun…

Retirement seems so natural.

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

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

A month later – how does it feel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you miss all this?” asked someone.

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

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

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

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

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

I drove away with a smile on my face.

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

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

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

Frugal Friday: Closing in on a year of low-spend weeks.

Look at this!!!

It’s now been 47 straight weeks where I’ve spent money 3 days or less in a given week.

For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I wrote about how I set up my ‘No Spend’ chart three years ago. Every day that I leave my money alone, I get to colour in a square. At the end of each week where I’ve spent money on 3 days or fewer, I get to colour in a silver square as a reward. Silly, but it works. The first lockdown, then the second, meant that I was pretty much staying at home. I had plenty of staples to eat, plus the garden for fresh food, I had books, Nextflix , the dogs and the phone for entertainment and I kept myself busy by working at remote teaching and also painting some fences. Who needed to spend money?

So as a result, I started clocking up the silver squares. A few weeks ago I decided to number them so I wouldn’t lose track.

Now I’m on one hellava winning streak. 47 straight weeks.

Can I make it to a full year? I’m invested in this.

52 weeks is a long time but hey. There’s only 5 short weeks to go…

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I’m going to give it my best shot.

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