Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Frugality (page 1 of 3)

My chilly ankles Winter Challenge.

Why I don’t buy many things online.

Unlike most of the people I work with in The Danger Zone, (our section of the staffroom), I don’t buy clothes and shoes online as a rule. Sure, the convenience is good and you get the fun of unwrapping the parcel and showing what you bought to the rest of us, because of course, we use the school’s address for deliveries. But what do you do if you don’t like the thing you ordered, or it’s too big, too small or just slightly the wrong colour?

That’s what turns me off going clothes shopping online.

But even Frogdancer Jones can be seduced by the words of others. I was on BookFace 6 months ago and someone was raving about Scarletto shoes, saying that they look good but feel like she’s wearing her comfy old slippers. What could be more seductive than that??? Imagine going to work all day in your comfy old slippers? I leapt across to the website and began flicking through what was on offer.

As it happened, I needed some flat shoes for work. I was looking for Ballerina-style shoes that I could wear with anything – I’m low maintenance like that – and I was hoping there’d be some black ones.

The shoes on the site were more exxy than I was used to, but there was a “Sale” page. No black ballerinas, but there were these black and white ones half price – $60. Hmmm… Not want I wanted but maybe I could accept these as a compromise?

I ordered them. If they measured up and were as comfy as that unknown woman said, then I’d go back and buy the full-priced black ones.

When they arrived I was taken aback at first. They were a lot shinier than I’m used to. I’m a leather shoe person and these were… not. Still, I guess I could put up with shiny feet. They have leather insoles so it wasn’t as if my poor feet would be encased in plastic all day. I began wearing them.

After only two days at work with the black and whites, I came home and kicked them off. As I turned to leave my room, something caught my eye. A big white patch at the heel of the right shoe. I bent down, frowning. A couple of the black spots had peeled off.

I was totally unimpressed. I looked closer. There were a few other spots with the edges starting to peel upwards.

Well wasn’t that lovely? Clearly, they realised there was a problem with this particular design and so instead of pulling it from sale entirely, they flogged them off on the ‘Sale’ page.

I was furious. Both with them and with me. WHY had I broken my rule about shopping online for clothes? I’d only worn them twice, so that means I’d paid $30/wear. That’s outrageously expensive!

I jumped online and checked their returns policy.

Of course, this only applies to shoes that were full-price and unworn. How very convenient for them.

I knew I could contact them and get into a debate about faulty shoes, then have to find packaging to send them back and find time to get to the post office… but could I be bothered with it? But the alternative was to keep these now unusable shoes that started off so cheap and ended up so expensive.

But hang on – were they so unusable?

I looked at my ugg boots that I’d bought in China over 6 years ago. They were mid-calf length, black leather on the outside with proper soles and real sheepskin inside. They’d been my slippers all that time, but now the soles were starting to come loose and they were looking a bit shabby.

On an impulse, I binned them and swapped the black and white ballerinas into the “comfy slipper” category that the unknown woman on BookFace had claimed they were. (She was correct, by the way. They may look like they have a skin disease but they’re very comfortable.) This was going to be my Winter Challenge!

So how did my winter go with my frugal slipper choice?

I won’t lie; I missed the comfort of sheepskin on my feet on winter mornings. My ankles were cold. Nights after school, when I’ve walked the dogs and kicked off my shoes, I wanted the warmth and softness of my old ugg boots to encase my tired feet. But I’ve gritted my teeth and stuck to my guns. I live in a temperate climate where snow never comes. One winter wearing ballerina shoes won’t kill me.

But it did make me slightly uncomfortable. And you know? I think that’s not a bad thing.

I could have driven to the ugg boot warehouse near my home after work any day and bought a new pair of boots to wear as slippers. Lord knows, these days I can afford it. But something inside me feels that if I caved in and did that, I’d be negating all the lessons that were hard-won when I was utterly poverty-stricken, back when the boys were babies.

In those days I had to live with the consequences of my decisions, both in life and in spending. If I bought something on impulse (like I did with these shoes) I had to live with it, often for years. I had absolutely NO spare money to replace things if I made a mistake.

The shirt I bought in a sale from Target, for example. It was only $5. WHAT a bargain!!! Red and white… I didn’t love it. I barely liked it. “Meh,” I said to myself. “It’s only $5. It’ll do for a year.” Nearly 10 years later, I finally binned that thing. Yes, I wore it over that time and felt not-so-good about how I looked every time I pulled it on. But for most of that time, I seriously didn’t have enough money to comfortably replace it. Boys’ needs, the bills and the mortgage took precedence.

The year of the brakes and heating oil that I wrote about in my About page. That was a tough one. I was weighing literally every cent. Would I have even contemplated spending sixty whole dollars on a pair of shoes?? Never in a million years. So how could I casually throw that amount of money away now?

So. I lasted the winter. It was far easier living through this 2019 winter than the 1998 (I think) winter of the brakes and heating oil because, in the big scheme of things, slightly chilly ankles in a house with ducted heating isn’t a patch on living in a house all winter with no heating.

My full-time wage from teaching means that I take home roughly $1/minute of teaching time. My price/wear of these shoes has plummeted, which makes me happy. Why?

If I’m thinking of buying something that isn’t a necessity, I work out how much face-to-face teaching time that item will cost me… and then I think of my least favourite class for that year. (Hello 8K English.) If I’ve put in an hour of putting up with 8K’s shenanigans to only get $30 per wear out of a pair of shoes, that’s definitely not a good use of my time. Change that to an hour of putting up with 8K equaling less than a dollar per wear, then I’ve got a lot more value for my time.

Anyway, these are the games I play. I feel like I can now discard the shoes whenever I feel like it. Every now and then I find more black spots on the floor that the shoes have shed, which reminds me to stick to my guns about not trusting online shopping for clothing and also to not buy anything at all that I don’t totally love.

Sometime this summer I’ll drop into the ugg boot outlet and buy a new pair of mid-calf boots with proper soles and I’ll be so happy.

It’s good to have something to look forward to!

Is it necessary to spend up big on a Staycation?

Jeffrey getting psyched up for all of the nanna naps we’re going to enjoy.

The last day of term 3! All of the essays are marked, all of the oral presentations are done and my classes are going to be finishing off the ‘Back To The Future’ movies today. Two glorious weeks of freedom await, (except for the two days I’m going in to open up the Theatre for my year 12s to rehearse their monologues for their exam next month.)

At the end of terms, when all of the work is done, I give my classes drama lessons or we watch classic movies. The ‘Back To The Future’ series is now so old that many of the kids haven’t seen them before. My Netflix subscription comes in handy sometimes!

My next big expense is to put a huge verandah roof on the back of the house so Old Lady Frogdancer will be able to actually enjoy going out there without the risk of burning to a crisp. The roof alone is costing around 25K, let alone the cost of a table and couches etc, so the next two weeks will be spent pretty close to home, enjoying things that don’t add too much to my outgoings.

Last weekend I redeemed the first of the 10 free massages that my son Ryan24 gave me for my birthday. He also did some cupping on my arms and back. He found sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had. I’ll use another couple of flowers over the break to keep the momentum going.

Funny thing though; he wouldn’t start the massage until I handed over a flower!

This next one isn’t necessarily frugal: I bought the sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ instead of getting the school library to buy it. It cost $20 for the kindle version. But I’m SO looking forward to diving in on this over the holidays. I still have about 10 books in a pile beside my bed, down from the 30 or so that I began the year with, so I’ll be making inroads into them as well.

Nothing better than getting lost in a great book, with snoozing dogs beside you. Hey, this time next year I’ll be able to sit out in the backyard under my new verandah and look out over my veggie gardens and read out there…

Corn husks I brought home from the Food Tech room at school – I shredded them by hand to use as mulch while listening to a podcast or three.

Speaking of veggie gardens, I’ll have the time to start seeds, plant seedlings and generally wake up the wicking beds again, after putting them to sleep over the winter by fertilising them and mulching them with pea straw. We’ve already had a few ‘free’ peas from the plants that sprang up from the straw – gotta love fresh peas straight from the plant.

I took out a Diggers membership last year and one day these holidays I’ll go up to Dromana with my friend Blogless Cathy and buy some seedlings. They only sell heritage plants, which means I’ll be able to save seeds from them and keep growing new plants every year from the original plants. I trialled mini capsicums last year but they were a bit too mini – I need some normal sized ones this year.

When I go and work with my year 12’s, I’ll take the dogs with me. It’s turned into a Theatre tradition with my classes, along with making timtam fudge when we have an exam and me emailing them 4 Dad jokes a day. This is the last Theatre class I’ll teach, as I’m dropping work down to 3 days a week next year, so I’m enjoying every moment with them. They’re a lovely group of kids.

The downside of teaching year 12s is that I’ll have to mark the practice exams they’ll be writing. They come in for 3 days over the break and write exams. The Theatre Studies one runs for 1.5 hours and has a HEAP of writing. I’ll be setting aside a day to Get This Done before we go back.

Still – at least I can say that it’ll be the last lot of Theatre exams I’ll ever have to mark!

Aside from this, I’ll have lunch with some neighbours I had back when I lived in Bentleigh over 20 years ago, I’ll have dinner with Evan23’s girlfriend’s parents, (better be on my best behaviour!) and I’ll push on with Tom27’s queen-sized quilt. With a bit of luck, given a few rainy days, I may even finish it.

It’s a nice thing to know that I can revel in two weeks of glorious freedom without having to spend a lot of money. Most of the things I enjoy doing are very much home-based and until I get a few big projects around here finished to get my home ready for retirement, I’m glad I can potter around and enjoy the small things.

Who knows – I may even write a few more blog posts…

Sometimes poverty breeds ingenuity.

Last Friday was my birthday. Birthdays are always something we celebrate and Ryan24, my third son, is no exception. However, he’s a poverty-stricken uni student and he literally had no money to organise a gift. He had to dig deep to come up with something.

Fortunately, he has access to coloured paper and a particular set of skills. He put aside an hour or so on my birthday while I was at work to make 10 origami flowers and this card. (By the way, the word ‘Mum’ is spelled correctly, those of you from the US...)

So what does a remedial massage student give? Pretty nice, hey?

I was talking to him after he wrote the card and he said, “I think a gift should be beautiful, practical and from the heart.”

I think he nailed it.

Not to be outdone, David25 used his skills gained from working in kitchens to put together an amazing brunch for me yesterday. His girlfriend Izzy, Ryan24 and I sat down to smashed avo and feta and sourdough toast, with bacon, hummus, scrambled eggs and hash browns. (The hash browns were still cooking when I took this photo.) It was glorious – and there were enough leftovers that Ryan24 and I didn’t need to cook dinner OR breakfast the next day.

Truly the gift that keeps on giving!

After brunch was over, I went into the guest room where I’ve set up my sewing machine and kept plugging away at a queen-sized quilt that I’m making for Tom27 for Christmas. It has over 1500 squares that are 2.5 square inches – I really should have thought through the design more thoroughly before I started it. I’m using some new fabric and some fabric I had in my stash and at the close of sewing yesterday I’ve reached the stage of having the whole quilt top in 3 big pieces.

There’s still a lot of work to go before it’s a finished quilt, but hopefully I’ll get it done before Christmas. If there’s one thing my boys like, it’s a snuggly quilt.

… I don’t know WHERE the boys picked up the skill of producing gifts from what’s at their fingertips…

It’s a mystery…

‘Playing With Fire’ documentary is coming to Melbourne!

I woke up this morning to the news that the ‘Playing With Fire’ doco is coming to Melbourne. Naturally I booked a ticket right away.

The link is HERE. Camberwell’s a fair hike from where I live, but I figure I can always take the next day off – I’m trying to use up my sick days before I pull the pin on the job anyway!

I hope to see some of you there!

It’s so easy to entertain yourself without spending any money!

Backyard beach.

Now that I’ve made the move to go part-time next year, I don’t mind admitting that I’m torn between looking forward to it and feeling slight feelings of unease about the drop in income. It’s illogical – I know I’ll be ok with less money coming in. But after this weekend, I’m feeling much better. It’s so easy to entertain yourself without spending any money!

We’ve just finished week 8 of term 2, which leaves us 2 weeks to go before our 2 week winter holidays. This is the pointy end of the semester, when we have to mark all learning tasks and exams and then write the reports. English marking is the worst. It’s an interesting subject to teach, but we pay for it with the hours of extra time it takes us to mark the kids’ work.

So it’s safe to say that we teachers are getting tired. I brought my year 9 exams home with me on Friday to mark and I made sure that I got them done before Friday was through. The last thing I want to do is give up my weekend if I can avoid it!

So Saturday dawned. The dogs let me sleep in until 8 AM, so I got up in the sunlight, which always makes me happy. I fed them their chicken necks, then I sat down on the couch with a coffee and my laptop and spent the next 2 hours gently surfing the web, reading twitter, facebook and blogs. The dogs were curled up next to me, I had my warm bathrobe on and I was as happy as a pig in mud.

The rest of the day flowed gently on by. I got dressed, made cauliflower cheese for lunch because Ryan24 loves it. He even requests it for his birthday dinner every year when he could have anything that he wants. After lunch I had a long nanna nap, then took the dogs out for a quick gallop. I fed the worms in the garden beds, wrote a post for the personal blog, read a book for while and then, exhausted with all this activity, I made Ryan24 cook fried rice for dinner.

Entertainment for the evening was Netflix. I’m up-to-date with so many shows I’m following, like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Last Week Tonight’, ‘The Blacklist’, ‘Black Mirror’… so I started ‘Star Trek – Discovery.’ It’s weird to see Klingons running around all fighty, but I daresay I’ll get used to it.

Sunday was another sleep-in until David25 woke us all when he was making coffee before starting his shift at the café. It was a nice day, but I didn’t set foot outside until I took the dogs for a long walk in the afternoon. I was on the computer for a lot of that morning, while doing some reading, dog grooming and light housework as well. Coming back from the walk, I went out into the back yard and picked up some autumn leaves to use as mulch around the apple trees.

I should’ve put another garden bed to sleep for the winter, but meh. I wasn’t in the zone. I washed some tops that I bought at an op shop on Friday and put them over the air duct to dry by tomorrow morning. Then I went into the kitchen to see what we’ll have for dinner.

I decided that today was going to be a No-Spend Day, which will give me 2 days straight at the beginning of the week where I can colour in my chart. It always feels good when I can give the week a head-start! So dinner has to be something that we have all the ingredients for.

Lemon and Coconut Dahl it is! I have plenty of meat in the freezer but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a vegetarian meal every now and then to make the meat supplies last that little bit longer. Besides, there’ll be enough for lunch for me tomorrow. While I was there I decided that I’ll throw a crock-pot meal together for Monday night. I have a staff meeting after school so I won’t be back till nearly 6 PM. So I was flicking through cookbooks for a while to choose something that would fit the bill.

At 3PM I decided that I’d sit down and write this post. Dobby, my robot vacuum cleaner, is racing around and the dogs are keen to nap after their walk. After I finish this, I’ll put the crockpot meal together and put it in the fridge, ready for tomorrow. Then I’ll go out and sweep up a few more leaves to put in the compost tumbler.

After that, it’ll be wine o’clock. I’ll give Mum or Blogless Sandy a call to see how their weekend went while I savour a nice Shiraz. Then dinner and probably more Star Trek Discovery afterwards.

Clearly, none of this is very earth-shattering. It’s just normal, everyday tasks being done in an unhurried fashion. I wore comfy clothes, no make-up and did WHAT I felt like doing, WHEN I felt like doing it.

If I have books, the internet, my dogs and my garden, I’ll always have something to do. Getting my books from libraries makes it even better from a financial point of view. Add in my knitting and quilting, neither of which I’ve done for ages but I have lots of WIPs (works in progress) just waiting for me to pick them up again when I have the time. Then think of the boys, my friends and family…

I’ll be able to entertain myself without putting my hand into my wallet every five minutes, that’s for sure. This eases my mind considerably!

Frugal Friday: Frozen Tomatoes save the day!

One of the most frugal things you can do is to cook at home. It’s one of the basic tenants of FI – “cut down on your 3 biggest costs – housing, transportation and FOOD.

Last night I came home from a day at school. It was an annoying day for me because the rest of Australia had a public holiday for ANZAC Day, but my year 12’s seized on the opportunity to have a day of rehearsals for the play we’re putting on next week. So their stupid ultra-professional teacher gave up her precious day public holiday to drive to work and watch them perform ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ – twice over.

When I came home at 6 PM I was tired. I knew that the boys would be home for dinner and when I walked through the door, nothing was cooking. I was so tempted to send one of them down to get some fish and chips – but I’d already done that twice in the holidays for 2 sets of international visitors. I sighed and opened the fridge to see what we had.

There was a packet of garlic bread that I’d bought for some lunch guests on the holidays. I’d forgotten to throw into the oven with the lasagne I’d made. Of course! I’ll throw together a quick pasta sauce, (do I have some frozen meatballs in the freezer??), and the meal will be done.

Turns out I DID have some meatballs. The boys were rapt. I also had the very last of the tomatoes I grew in the veggie garden. I’d thrown them whole into a plastic bag in the freezer, where they’d rolled around like hard red golf balls ever since.

I weighed them on the Thermomix, (see the light glinting on their frosty surfaces?), let them thaw ever so slightly and then threw them into the Thermomix to cook the sauce. It’s a meal that I’ve made a million times before so I was pretty much on auto-pilot. I poured a shiraz, cooked the meatballs in the air-fryer and popped the garlic bread into the oven for 10 minutes to cook. The smells were delectable.

Afterwards, I realised that if I had’ve sent the boys to get fish and chips, that dinner would’ve come in at just under $30.

Instead? The meatballs were just under $4. The pasta was 60c. The garlic bread was the ‘gourmet’ sort because I was buying it for visitors, so it was around $4. The sauce and the sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top would’ve been around $2, due to the home-grown veggies and herbs in it.

With the addition of the garlic bread, which we don’t usually do, that meal was around 1/3 of the price of the takeaway meal. Imagine how much cheaper it normally is?

And honestly, considering all of the appliances I used to cook it, the home-made meal was equally as convenient to organise.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget this.

Simple, home-made food should definitely be the fall-back position.

Why am I going for FAT-FIRE?

Waves on our backyard beach

I’m going for FAT FIRE.

Why?

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

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

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

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

It’s my Grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George ran out of money.

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

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

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

I NEVER want to have that talk with my boys. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why I’m going for FAT-FIRE. 

Serene waves and blue sky.

Lessons from Literature: The Good Earth.

Many novels have basic money lessons woven through them, which is understandable really. After all, money is integral to the human condition, which is what literature is all about. Few novels, however, concern themselves with money lessons so much as Pearl S Buck’s ‘The Good Earth.’

For those who haven’t come across it, this is a cracking good read. It covers the story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese peasant eking out a living on a farm in the days before Communist rule. Wang Lung is poor… dirt poor. But he has ambition and a fierce love of the land. This novel traces his life as he rises from poor peasant to rich landowner and what happens to his character and family along the way.

Wang Lung and O-Lan are married - The Good Earth.
All images are taken from the 1937 film of the same name.

Wang Lung’s wife is chosen for him by his father. A practical man, his father chooses a slave girl from the rich and powerful House of Hwang in the village, a girl who can work hard on the farm as she doesn’t have bound feet, much to Wang Lung’s disappointment. O-Lan is not a beautiful girl, but she is devoted to the farm and to her new family and there is much more to her than meets the eye.

Of necessity, the family is frugal. I first read ‘The Good Earth’ when I was a teen and to this day, I still have to get every grain of rice out of the cooking dish, exactly as O-Lan did. I think of her every time.

They waste nothing. At first, it’s from mere survival instinct, but as time goes on and O-Lan’s skills bring more prosperity to the family, they begin to buy land. In their society, land was the only thing that could buy security and prosperity. This was especially important to them as their family started to grow.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan on the farm.

O-Lan goes back to visit the House of Hwang with her first baby, dressed beautifully. The Hwang family clearly need to read ‘The Millionaire Next Door’. She says to Wang Lung:

  • “I had but a moment for private talk with the cook under whom I worked before, but she said, ‘This house cannot stand forever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concubine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.’ “

However, no bull run in the stock market lasts forever and it’s the same with life on the land. A few years later famine strikes. Despite having resources tucked away, hungry relatives descend upon them demanding to be fed and soon Wang Lung and O-Lan’s ’emergency fund’ of food and money is gone.

The neighbours didn’t know this and, fired up by Wang Lung’s evil uncle, they descend on the house and strip it bare, looking for food and other items of value to steal. There was nothing but a few handfuls of beans. After they leave, Wang Lung comforts himself with the thought that he’d put all of their spare money into investments, which in his case was land:

  • “They cannot take the land from me. The labour of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought [food] with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.”

The lesson here is clear. If you store your net worth in things that cannot be seen, you have a better chance of preserving them when things go wrong. Anyone can run away with a bag of diamonds or a shiny new car, but a share portfolio or a fat superannuation account is easy to hide.

The Good Earth - O-Lan grinding grain

Back then in pre-communist China, of course, there were no unemployment benefits. You either starved when the food ran out, or you found a way to make some money. Or you practise geoarbitrage and move to where things are better.

The family sell every stick of furniture in the house, except for their farm implements, and they set off to a big city 100 miles to the south, where the famine hasn’t reached. Geoarbitrage! Wang Lung picks up work pulling a rickshaw, while O-Lan and the children turn to begging. O-Lan utilised skills she picked up as a child to show the others how to make money as a beggar. One should never forget skills that one picks up along the way!

An easy way to make money was to sell a child to a rich family. O-Lan revealed that this was how she herself had become a slave. The couple had two sons and an infant daughter by this time. No way would they part with the sons, but the daughter? Wang Lung decides not to sell her, but it was a close thing.

The Good Earth - O-Lan finds the jewels

Sometimes the road to financial independence relies on seeing an opportunity and taking action. While the family is stuck in the city, with no way to earn enough to get back home, there is some sort of revolution and the rich homes are looted. Wang Lung is borne along by the crowd and takes nothing, however O-Lan, who has lived in a Big House and knows what to look for, finds a cache of jewels.

The family is now set! They travel back home, with enough money to buy lots of land and set themselves up for life. O-Lan requests that she keep only 2 small pearls from the jewels.

  • ‘If I could have two,’ she went on humbly, ‘only two small ones—two small white pearls even… ‘Pearls!’ he repeated, agape. ‘I would keep them—I would not wear them,’ she said, ‘only keep them.’

The rest they use to buy land from the House of Hwang where O-Lan once lived. That family has now fallen into decline, due to opium addiction and general financial recklessness.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan

There is now money enough to employ others to work on the land, money enough to take the sons from the fields and educate them and money enough to support some leisure activities. Wang Lung eventually buys the House of Hwang’s residence and moves his family in. To think! What was once the pinnacle of wealth and power to him, is now his.

However, lifestyle creep starts to cause problems.

O-Lan continues on as usual, but Wang Lung falls prey to peer group pressure from other rich men and starts going to gambling dens and ‘tea houses’. This is where he meets Lotus, a lady of the night. She looks like a kitten, with the smallest bound feet Wang Lung has ever seen.

The Good Earth - Lotus.

She is incredibly beautiful, totally greedy and selfish and she bedazzles Wang Lung. He showers her with money and even asks O-Lan to give him the 2 pearls she had kept from the cache of jewels, so that he could give them to Lotus. After a while he couldn’t bear the thought of other men sleeping with her, so he buys her from the Tea House and brings her home.

He builds her an inner court where she lives with her own household, so she and O-Lan don’t have to see each other. O-Lan is now totally disregarded by Wang Lung as she quietly goes about doing her regular work for the family until her death.

As the family gets older, lifestyle creep continues to happen. But through it all, even as silver streams from their hands, Wang Lung will never sell any of the land he has accumulated. He knows that it’s the bedrock of their fortunes and everything else they’ve managed to build and to buy is based on that.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung

He’s the definition of first-generation FIRE. But unfortunately, he was so focused on his work, what the rich men of the town thought and on Lotus that he made a huge mistake. The next generation had been allowed to grow up without having much contact with the very thing that had given them their prosperity. They could remember nothing but ease and comfort.

At the end of his life, he is living back on the original farm with his daughter and a concubine. He overhears his two sons talking about how they will divide the estate once Wang Lung has died, which fields they will keep and which ones they will sell:

  • But the old man heard only these words, “sell the land”, and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger, “Now, evil, idle sons – sell the land!” He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up and he began to weep.
  • Then they soothed him and they said, soothing him, ” No – no- we will never sell the land – “
  • “It is the end of a family when – they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go – and if you can hold your land you can live – no one can rob you of land -“
  • And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered, “If you sell the land, it is the end.”
  • And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm, loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over again, the elder son and the second son, “Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”
  • But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

Cut your coat to fit your cloth.

“Cut your coat to fit your cloth.”

That saying used to run through my mind quite a bit when the boys were younger. It’s not a dressmaking tip – it’s about knowing how much money/’cloth’ you have and then not allowing your expenses/’coat’ to exceed your resources.

I did this ruthlessly in the early years when the boys and I were living off the sole parents’ pension and child support was intermittent at best. I had a credit card that I ran all my expenses through – still do, in fact – but I paid it off in full every month.

I know what it’s like to have to cut expenses down to the bone to get by. A quick look at my ‘About’ page will tell you that.

Back in those days, I figured that I got us into this mess by my poor choice of husband and then choosing to stay until we’d produced 4 children, so I didn’t want to hold out my hands for help.

I got the kids and I into this and I’d get us out of it!

So I got very good at making sure that the mortgage and bills were paid, then food, then (if there was) anything left over, I threw it in an emergency fund. Back then I called it a ‘Buffer Zone”. Once I had around a thousand dollars in it, then I could relax a little and give the boys a few little treats.

That credit card never had a cent of interest paid on it. Well… that’s a fib. Twice I paid it a day late and was charged interest. Boy, was I mad at myself!!

Some people say that frugality isn’t as important as raising your income. I can see the logic – there’s only so far you can cut costs until there’s no more room for any more cuts – but I’ve found that a person discounts frugality at their financial peril.

Raising income is good – when the kids grew older I did it myself and it definitely helped us to get ahead – but frugality is the bedrock on which everything rests. If you raise your income but keep merrily spending, you’re going to end up broke no matter what your income is.

I used to make it a game. Particularly with the grocery shopping, I’d see how many days I could stretch out between shopping trips. Everyone knows that you always buy more than you think you’re going to when you go food shopping, so my solution was to go as little as possible.

When I started putting this little ploy into action, I found that there was often a little more “cloth” for me to cut my coat from.


I love this saying. Even now, when I’ve been back at work for over 15 years and those lean, hard days are all in the past, I still practice many of the things I did to survive back then.

The most important one – the one that I will never ever break – is to never let my outgoings exceed my incomings. My coat will always be amply able to be cut from my cloth.





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.

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