Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Frugality (Page 1 of 7)

Great success is always the sum of many small decisions.

The quilt I made for my parents for Christmas is the perfect metaphor for the journey to financial independence. Quilting, like becoming financially free, has basic, simple steps but it certainly isn’t easy.

It’s not quick, either. But each seemingly insignificant decision that we make along the way contributes to the whole, beautiful product at the end.

The broad brush strokes of this quilt are the same as every other quilt in the world – it has a top of smaller pieces of fabric sewed together; a middle piece of warm batting and a backing fabric, sewing through all 3 layers to hold it all together and with a binding fabric sewn around the edges to stop it from fraying and falling apart. All quilts are the same basic construction.

Financial Independence s the same. The basic construction is that a financially independent person has gathered together the resources, usually over a time-period of decades, to support themselves financially without having to turn up to a job or business for money. Every financially independent person falls into this broad brush stroke category.

But as with the quilt, once you zoom in, the details can vary tremendously.

Take another look at this quilt.

This is a quilt made from scraps. There is no other quilt the same as this in the whole world. When I decided to make it, the broad brush stroke decisions were already decided. I knew how this quilt would be put together. But then some further decisions had to be made.

  • Each square would be made from scraps of one colour.
  • I would not buy any more fabric – I would make this quilt from what I already had. (It was in the middle of lockdowns, after all!)
  • Each square would measure 12.5″ square.
  • Most squares would be rainbow hues, but a couple would be brown, black-and-white and pink, just to tone it down a bit.
  • The quilt would be double-bed sized, as that’s the size bed my parents have.

Very similar to how we start along the path to financial independence. When I found out about FI/RE and decided to see if I could swing it, there were a few decisions to be made as to how I was going to go about it.

  • I had already paid off my house, so I decided I’d concentrate on putting together a share portfolio. House prices, even back then, were prohibitive for a sole parent on one teaching wage. Buying rentals was out of the question.
  • I decided to drop back a day a week at work and become a Thermomix Group Leader, running a team of consultants in my area. In other words, I chose to augment my wage by running a side hustle.
  • I was still supporting my four teenage boys. Reducing my expenses by installing solar panels, creating a food forest with fruit trees, veggie gardens and chooks, and cooking from scratch would cost more in the short-term, but over the long haul would make my journey towards financial independence much easier.

So far so good. But just deciding these things will not produce either a finished quilt or a financially secure retirement. You have to go smaller. Which specific actions are you going to take to get these things done?

Zoom in on the quilt. Every single piece of fabric here is the result of a deliberate decision and a deliberate action. See the black and white square? If you zoom in on that, you’ll see pieces of fabric that are less than a quarter of an inch wide. (Yes, I’m crazy.)

Some of the pieces in these squares are much larger and therefore contribute more towards the overall finished quilt. But the quilt would not be finished without every single one of these pieces, no matter how small. Every single decision and action in putting these fabrics together has mattered.

You could make the argument that the smallest pieces of fabric in the quilt almost matter the most, as they show that the commitment was there to finish the overall quilt top, by using every single piece of fabric at my disposal – no matter how small. I knew that even though a 1/4″ stripe of colour wouldn’t contribute a huge amount; IT STILL HELPED. After all, all I needed was enough pieces of coloured fabric to cover the top of a double bed. Keep at it long enough, keep putting fabric pieces together no matter how small and I knew I’d eventually get there.

It’s the same with financial independence.

All you need to do is cover 25X your annual expenses and you’re golden. The broadest brush stroke of all, I know! But how we all choose to get there is incredibly varied. Each one of us has a FI/RE journey that is exactly like this quilt – – a one of a kind. I can’t speak for anyone else, but like the strips and squares of colour in the quilt top, here are some of the things I chose to do each day to push myself along the path to FI/RE:

The most day-to-day decisions were all about frugality. I upped my income through the Thermomix side-hustle but I also deliberately chose to make the pool of money I had last a long time. I stretched my dollars any way I could. Some, like the quarter-inch strips, barely moved the needle. Others, like the big red and white polka-dot squares, covered much more ground. But they all contributed to the mindset of paying attention to the dollars:

  • When Tom13 started secondary school, he had to choose between learning French and German. The other boys didn’t have a choice. They all used the same textbooks – each book was used four times. Bargain!
  • Same with school uniforms. Everything was handed down from boy to boy and, wherever possible, bought at the school’s second-hand uniform shop. Boys are tough on their clothes, so why pay full price?
  • I bought grocery specials in bulk. If we ate it and it was on special, I bought up big. The aim was to eat as much as we could at half-price. Over time, that makes a difference.
  • If a cut of meat cost over $10/KG, I didn’t buy it. Even now, with only 2 of us in the house, I still look at the unit cost of everything.
  • The boys were all given swimming lessons. That’s a non-negotiable for Australian kids. But after that, each boy was only allowed to take ONE extra-curricular activity at a time. None of this running each kid around to forty-seven different gym classes, dance classes and sport clinics every week! At first they tried sport, but then over time, they all gravitated to music lessons. Instead of being ‘Jacks of all trades, masters of none’, they’re all very proficient in their instruments of choice. David27 has made a career out of it!
  • Once I found out about FI/RE, I read everything I could lay my hands on about investing. The share market was a big mystery to me and, being deathly afraid of numerals and maths, I had a lot of mental blocks to slowly overcome. It was hard, I won’t lie, but I knew that if I kept at it, blog post by blog post, book by book, things would slowly become clearer.
  • I kept food costs low by growing as much of our food as we could. I kept chooks, not just for the eggs but also for the free fertiliser they provided. If I grew it – we ate it.
  • I also grew the food that I needed to take to Thermomix demos as much as possible. After all, I was there to MAKE money; not spend it! My customers all had the herb and garlic dip instead of the hommus, (I grew the garlic, parsley and spring onions) , and they always had the rissotto (I grew the spinach.)
  • We were given free bread from a bakery every Tuesday night. We picked up everything they hadn’t sold that day for YEARS – all of their breads, pies, cakes and doughnuts. I stuffed my boys full of that free food – and I gave it away to friends and took the excess cakes and pastries into work every Wednesday. the chooks would also have a day of leftover bakery food each week. I made that free food COUNT!
  • I prioritised my goals. My first, most immediate goal was security for myself and the boys. Leaving a marriage with only $60 cash and 4 boys under 5 will do that to you! My over-arching goal was financial freedom, but I also had a life-long dream of going to England and Europe. In the end, I slotted that trip in between paying off the house and retirement. It cost around 30K and I thought it’d significantly delay my retirement… but I have never regretted going on that trip. It was truly a dream come true. And I never dropped my gaze from the FI/RE goal.
  • I took advantage when opportunity knocked. Obvously, making the decision to geoarbitrage and sell my original house was a HUGE clincher for my early(ish) retirement, but I also did smaller things, such as forming a close friendship with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder who bred my first bitch. For two decades, we had dogs from her kennels living with us. They were either older dogs who were past their breeding and showing days, or they were bitches I got for free on breeding terms. Poppy is the last of the line for this- I got her for free on condition Jenny could breed from her. (She ended up having only one litter. ) It was a bit of a shock to the system to have to pay for Scout!!

Every day there were tiny little decisions that on the face of it meant absolutely nothing and were noticed by no-one but me, yet collectively those tiny decisions swept me along the path to being financially free.

Many of you are in the boring middle part of the FI/RE journey. You’ve made all of the big and middle-tier decisions and put them into gear. It’s easy to lose heart and think that it’s all just too slow. But remember, just like piecing together a quilt, all of the little decisions and actions continuously help move the needle – and I’m here to say that a life without having to turn up to a job every weekday is a mighty fine life indeed.

Keep your eyes on what YOUR finished product will look like! Decide what YOUR little decisions and actions will be and then keep on doing them. Future You will thank you.

Dad joke of the day:

“I just can’t believe that you shop the way you do. It’s hysterical!”

Pantry door with Poppy.

I have a friend who I’ve known for more years than I care to think about. She doesn’t live near me, so when we were in the midst of all the lockdowns we didn’t see each other for months. So once lockdowns were over I was excited to finally clap eyes on her in person.

She and her husband came over for a coffee. She walked into the house, dropped her bag on the table and went over to my pantry door, throwing it open and standing there gazing inside.

I looked at Ryan26 and he raised an eyebrow.

She stood there.

I knew she was probably waiting for attention, but I asked the question anyway.

“Beks, are you looking for anything?”

She turned to face me, saying, “I just can’t believe that you shop the way you do. It’s hysterical!”

Oof.

A bit of background…

Well-trdered shelf in pantry.

I’ve always bought our groceries in bulk. Back when the boys were little and we were living hand-to-mouth, it was a survival tool. In the years before Aldi came to Australia, I used to shop the specials at the supermarkets and buy 5 or 10 tins/packets/jars of our staple foods when they were cheaper.

This meant that, over time, we were eating a lot of our food at a discounted price. When you’re a struggling single mum with 4 hungry mouths to feed, not counting your own, every single dollar saved is worthwhile. Sure, it costs a little more up-front, but over time the groceries actually work out cheaper.

Having bought that food, it was imperative to keep track of it. No point buying bulk food to save money if you end up having to throw it out because you forgot about it! So my pantry was and is always well-organised. Everything stacked neatly, tins etc rotated with the newer ones going to the back so nothing goes out of date and labels to the front so you can see at a glance what and how many you have of everything.

I remember seeing an Oprah show back when the kids were small where she had a kitchen organiser go through people’s fridges and pantries. I remember him stuffing shopping bags full of one woman’s rotting produce from her crisper and saying, “If you don’t eat the food you bring home, you may as well take $50 notes and throw them straight into the garbage. It’d be quicker and it’d have the same result.”

I never forgot that.

Shelf in pantry.

I twigged pretty early on that the longer you stay out of the supermarket, the more money you save. It’s amazing how little treats get popped into the trolley whenever you go shopping. So if I make sure that my house is well-stocked with all of the things we use, then instead of going to the supermarket for inspiration each night for dinner, I can cook meals from what we already have.

Particularly now that there’s only 2 of us living here, I rarely go to Aldi more than once a week – and now that the garden is starting to ramp up, it’ll probably drift out to nearly once a fortnight. After all, if I don’t see those little treats, I can’t buy them! Money saved.

So my pantry has always been well-stocked. During lockdowns, this became a godsend. In between lockdowns, I’d drive to far-away shops like Costco and stock up on the essentials, which for this house is the Little Woofs’ dry and raw dog food, with coffee grounds and dried blueberries for the humans.

Lots of tinned sardines.
Sardines for the Little Woofs.

When I see tinned sardines in oil at Aldi, for example, I grab a heap because usually, only the sardines in tomato sauce tins are on the shelf. I feed the Little Woofs sardines every week… I’d hate for them to miss out because I didn’t think ahead. Tomato sauce with their sardines isn’t really their thing. (Is it anybody’s?)

What began as a survival strategy when the kids were small has morphed into a convenience thing now that I shop primarily at Aldi. There are no specials anymore, but the money and the time I save by not popping into the supermarket every day or so is worth the cupboard space I have for my zombie apocalypse stores.

Beks, however, is of a different mindset to me.

She and her husband are empty-nesters, so like my household, they’re also feeding just 2 people. The way we handle that job starts off the same, but then quickly veers apart.

We start off thinking about what we’d like to eat that night. Neither of us menu plans for the week or the month like some ultra-organised people do. We ask our husband/son their opinion (sometimes) and we make a decision.

Mine is usually based on what we have a lot of and what needs using up. At the moment, for example, we have a lot of diced chicken that I’ve put into 500g bags in the freezer. At least twice a week, I’ll be pulling out one of those bags to use.

Beks, on the other hand, decides what they’ll eat that night regardless of what’s in the house. She goes food shopping almost daily.

They also refuse to eat the same thing two nights running. Ryan26 and I have fallen into the habit of cooking one night, then eating the same meal again the next night, or freezing the leftovers if we need to. Beks just cooks half-portions of what she used to cook when the kids were home, so they don’t have m/any leftovers.

There’s no right or wrong to this. It’s just two different ways of tackling the “what will we have for dinner?” question that we all have to answer every day.

Shelf in pantry.

Beks turned away from my pantry and said, “I just can’t believe that you shop the way you do. It’s hysterical!”

I knew that there was no point in getting all riled up or defensive. She does her thing and I do mine. It’s all good. But I wasn’t going to let her get away with making a dig at me for no reason. A girl has to stand her ground in her own kitchen, after all.

I cocked my head to one side and said, “Comes in bloody handy during a pandemic, though. While everyone was dodging covid doing their shopping, I was here all safe and sound.”

BIG tub of Vegemite. Yum.
The offending tub of Vegemite. She’s right – it IS big.

She looked back into the pantry and said, “It’s funny, the way you have a bucket of Vegemite here.”

I chuckled. “Won’t have to even think about buying more for years!”

Coffee grounds etc in a thermomix jug.
Coffee grounds etc in the thermomix jug, ready to be blitzed for the worms.

She shrugged and I moved past her to put the kettle on. She saw the bowl of used coffee grounds and eggshells that we have beside the kettle. When the bowl is full I blitz the contents and dig them into the veggie gardens to feed the worms. In turn, they feed my veggies, which in turn, feed us.

Circle of life. Hakuna Matata.

“You DO know that it’s not normal to have coffee grounds just sitting there?” she said.

“Of course it is, Beks… when you’re a permaculture household,” I said. I don’t know if she’s up to speed on what permaculture is, but as her husband came in from outside the conversation moved on.

As I made the coffees, Ryan26 and I exchanged a simple shake of the head and a smile. Ahhh Beks. Every now and then she has to try and take a dig…

We know why we run the house the way we do, and we know that the things we do work well for us. For me, the comfort of having a well-stocked pantry and zombie apocalypse cupboard gives me a sense of security that is a beautiful thing to live with.

It’s simply another tool for designing my life so that my retirement is stress-free and comfortable. And yes; 11 months in, retirement is still bloody wonderful!

Dad joke of the day:

What do you call a fat psychic?

A four-chin teller.

Do I have a BARGAIN for you????

Cover of Boy Swallows Universe.

Do I have an absolute BARGAIN for you??? I should have waited until tomorrow for a Frugal Friday post, but instead, I’ll call this a ‘Thrifty Thursday’ post.

A couple of months ago I read one of the best books I’ve read in a month of Sundays. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. He’s a journo and this is his first novel.

I loved it. The way Dalton uses language is lyrical, unlike anyone I’ve read before. The sort of writing where, after you read a particular sentence, you stop, close your eyes and savour it. Just beautiful writing.

I’m a couple of chapters into his next one, All Our Shimmering Skies and I’ve just finished his non-fiction book about the sailing and landing of the First Fleet. By Sea and Stars is a short but entertaining read, based on the diaries and letters of the people on those ships, as well as the indigenous people of the land. It had a fair bit about Arthur Phillip, the leader of the expedition and our first Governor, which I found really interesting. When I was in Bath in 2015 there were many Arthur Phillip memorials, and our walking tour guide pointed out the balcony that he supposedly jumped from – was it murder or suicide???

Anyway, the point of all this is that I’ve stumbled across an hour-long talk by Trent Dalton that Readings bookshops are sponsoring. FOR ONLY $5!!!

omg.

It’s a zoom event, so it’s open to everyone.

It’s on next Monday at 6:30 PM AEST, which is the perfect time to enjoy a literary chat over dinner, or, if you’re on the other side of the world, to get up early and enjoy a literary chat before breakfast.

He’s going to be talking about his book Love Stories, which is another on my list of Books To Read. After this, I’ll be all set!

For those who are interested, here’s the link to the tickets. I think $5 for an hour’s entertainment is, as I said at the start, an absolute BARGAIN!!

I hope that some of you can join me. 🙂

Dad joke of the day:

5/4 of people admit that they’re bad with fractions.

Frugal Friday: Entertain yourself with what you have at home.

Let’s be honest. I’ll bet we all have things tucked away in cupboards or on shelves that we bought, intending to use, but have somehow never seen the light of day again. Some would be practical, some for hobbies or for trips we’ve planned but never taken, but the end result is the same. We’ve spent money on things that are simply taking up space, both physically and in our heads.

The thing is – it’s not wasted money if you actually USE the thing you bought.

Me? I’m a quilter. I don’t know how to sew, even though I use a sewing machine. Quilting is the only thing I do. And yeah, over the years I’ve amassed quite the stash of fabric. Even when I took a 5-year break from the hobby because I was spending every spare second selling thermomixes, I kept the bins and boxes full of colours. I had an inkling that one day I’d come back to it.

Mix the “not wasted money if you use it” and the “I’ll come back to this hobby” ideas and for the last 18 months I’ve been making a concerted effort to use what’s actually in the house, rather than racing off to buy shiny and new items.

During Melbourne’s world-breaking lockdown, online shopping has been a godsend for most things, but honestly… some things you have to actually see for yourself in person. For me, fabric is one of these. So I decided to entertain myself in lockdown by restricting myself to only using the fabric that I have right here. Some I’ve had for over a decade!

Time to use it.

Some of these are gifts, some are for around the house and others are baby quilts, like the one pictured here, that I’ve put aside for the boys and myself to give as gifts when people we know and love start reproducing.

The boys are in their mid to late twenties so this time is definitely coming.

In fact, this baby quilt was made for a friend of Tom29’s. A little girl named Ava uses this quilt every single day. I was stoked when Tom29’s friend told him this. We quilters don’t make these things to be put away in a cupboard. We want them to be used and loved and wrapped around the people we care for.

These blocks were actually all sewn up and all they needed was to be assembled and sewn together. They were sitting in a box for 11 years, all because I was too scared I’d make a mistake and ruin them. I’m sitting on it right now – I decided to sew them together as a couch quilt. The Little Woofs love to sleep on the couch next to their Mum.

All from the stash. I’m running low on purple – you’ll notice there are 2 triangles with purple flowers. But I still managed to get the quilt top done without online shopping. Winning!

This one is a queen-sized monster. Yellows and greys.

Another gift for a friend. I’ve known her for over 40 years – thought it was time I made her a quilt… She has a cat, so I made sure there was cat fabric on it. I saw this pattern on a Youtube clip, so I gave it a whirl.

So many patterns, so little time.

Here’s another little baby quilt. The pattern was designed by Ryan26 for his older brother. David28 wants a queen-sized quilt so we tested out the pattern first. The queen-sized quilt will NOT be part of the stash challenge. He wants only solids for it and I don’t have the correct colours, so I’ve ordered them online. Eclectic Mumma has the best range of Moda solids I’ve found.

And I’m working on a huge quilt using crumbs and strings, some only 1/2 inch wide, for my parents. It’s a combined Christmas and birthday gift, which is fair enough, as it’ll take me way more than 40 hours to put this all together. I’m definitely using up lots of little scraps here, but after an afternoon of high concentration, I totter out feeling a bit discombobulated. When it’s finished I’ll share it on a future ‘Frugal Friday’ post.

I’m using up what’s here in the house and being vastly entertained at the same time. My brain’s hard at work designing and making hundreds of decisions with colour placement, I’m grooving to Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers on Spotify and my afternoons slip by with much fun, no money spent and a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day.

Why not do as I did and drag those unused items from your cupboards and start using them? After all, you bought them for a reason. If they genuinely don’t interest you anymore, flog them off on Marketplace or give them away, but if you see them and smile, then get your money’s worth from them!

After making all of these quilts from fabric that I already had at home, I still have bucketloads of fabric here. So many hours of entertainment! I feel very lucky.

As I said above, it’s only a waste of money if you don’t USE what you have.

So use it.

Dad jokes of the day:

What did the grape do when he got stepped on? He let out a little wine. 

I wouldn’t buy anything with velcro. It’s a total rip-off.

Operation Beautify continues.

The last few weeks have gone by in a hurry. Time is odd, isn’t it? The individual days slip past in no particular rush, but then you look up and it’s the middle of October. How did that happen? Even in the middle of the longest lockdown in the whole world, time still flies. Meanwhile, Operation Beautify is continuing along.

A while ago, before I retired last year, I thought that it might be fun to call in some real estate agents to value The Best House in Melbourne. I paid 750K at the end of 2015 for this place, with an extra 68K (or so) for bridging finance payments.

Self!‘ I thought to myself. ‘Why don’t I give myself a year to smarten the place up, then call in people to see how much this place is worth? It might be fun.

Since moving here 5 years ago, I’ve done a lot to the property, particularly in the gardens. I have no intention of selling. For the first time in my life I have total freedom over how I want my house and garden to look and I have the time to spend on making it all happen. This is the place where I’m happy to spend a lot of time in retirement.

My idea for this place is to make it practical and capable of supporting my interests. It needs to be a warm and nurturing place for my children, family and friends. I want the decorations and little touches around the place to be built around memories, so that more and more over time my house will be a reflection of who I am and where I’ve been.

Still, having said all that, I’m curious to see how much it’s worth now. I’m only human.

I gutted the entire backyard and built a wicking bed vegetable garden and mini orchard on the top level, with a huge verandah and entertainment area against the house. The entire backyard is paved with bricks, so Future Frogdancer doesn’t have to drag a lawnmower around up here. David28 just finished putting up these wooden frames on the top of the beds. Much neater and I can either throw netting over them or grow plants over them instead.

This is a photo taken at the beginning of spring. Give it a month or so and the wicking beds will be brimming over with veggies and flowers. I’ve left some lettuce and rainbow chard to go to seed – gotta love free food! – but the rest of the beds will be a mass of green and spots of orange, yellow and white from the flowers I’ve planted among the veggies. They’ll look pretty and bring the pollinators.

Now that there’s only two of us living here, not counting the little woofs, I can leave some space in this food growing space for prettiness.

The side yards are also paved with bricks, with hanging baskets along the more public pathway. These were put up last week and I’m hoping that the masses of petunias I’ve planted in them will billow out over the edges of the baskets and look lush and wonderful.

All of the fences have been replaced, with the front fence being totally changed by replacing a rusting metal picket fence with a tall paling fence and electric gate. All of the front yard fences are painted, but I’ve left the back yard fences to age naturally.

I transformed half of the front yard into a mini orchard and last week I underplanted the trees with masses of petunias and daisies. Again, there should be a mass of colour in a few weeks.

I’ve slowly been working on the front of the house too. I had a chippie come around and replace some rotting rails on the verandah. While he was there, he asked if I wanted to lower the height of the rails. I didn’t realise, but they were way higher than they needed to be. When he lowered them, it opened up the whole space.

They were white, but I painted them to match the fences and installed new guttering in the same colour. (It’s ‘Monument’, for those interested. I think there’s an unwritten law that every house in Melbourne has to use this colour somewhere.)

I’ve planted a maple on either side of the entrance, underplanted with white flowery groundcovers. One maple is always red, the other is green with pinkish new growth, so it’s the same look but not being absolutely ‘matchy-matchy.

Two more hanging baskets will hopefully fill the space with a huge pop of colour. Because of lockdowns I couldn’t go and select the plants in the hanging baskets in person. I had to select from the colours and plants that a local nursery had left in their online shop. This year the plants are petunias and the colours are red, purple and white. I figure every year I can have a different colour scheme. It’ll be fun.

The bay tree in the terracotta pot on the left of the steps is a plant I bought in K-Mart about 20 years ago when the boys were little. It cost me $6 – I still remember because I was horrified at the price they were asking for a mere twig – and I brought it home and planted it in the biggest pot I had. There it is, still there. I haven’t ever had to buy bay leaves again.

Frugality and forward-thinking for the win!

I have 2 couches on the front verandah. The green one on the right is Jeffrey’s favourite, while I prefer the old white one on the left. I’ve created a little conversation nook here. The pink painted pot plant was a gift from a friend years ago, while the succulent in it is a cutting I took from the backyard last week. The sunburnt palm is part of an indoor palm that I divided and got 4 new plants from and will be repotted into a terracotta pot when lockdown ends and I can go and see what’s available.

The front verandah will have mainly terracotta pots. I like the look of orange against the grey, with some being planted with permanent plants while the rest will be flowers and colour.

I also want to have a little bit of whimsy in the garden. I like the idea of the eye finding something beautiful or quirky in odd little spots. On the back steps leading up to the wicking beds, I have a combi van planter I found for $17 in Mitre 10 and I filled it with more free succulent cuttings from a plant in a pot on the other side of the steps.

I also have the sculpture of the dinosaur that I brought back from my last holiday in South Australia, up the top of the steps near the kaffir lime tree in a pot. It’s not the right place for him, but I’ll find it. I have nothing but time…

I found this little guy in the ‘marked down’ section of a garden supplies shop. He was part of a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” set, but I didn’t like the other two so only he came home. He’s under the apricot tree among some bluebells I saved when we were digging up the side pathways for the paving.

This is right at the side entrance to the verandah at the back. My rusty bird in a cage. I bought the bird when I went for a little mini break to Bowral a couple of years ago, then months later I saw this birdcage at Gardenworld. The daisy draws the eye, then you see my sweet, sad little rusty bird. My son David28 walked by this the last time he was here and said, “You know, I really like that bird.” Made me smile.

How great is this guy? My brother-in-law gave this to me as part of our family’s Kris Kringle thing two years ago. My sister said that they were at a local market, took one look at this guy and said, “Frogdancer would LOVE this!” He’s secured to the stump of the old grevilia that used to be here and he watches over the entertaining area. Who doesn’t want Grievous coming to Christmas dinner?

Before I call the real estate agents in to have a look, I still need to paint the ensuite, buy terracotta pots for both the front and back verandahs, fill them with flowers, and do a few other little bits and pieces.

If I’d placed a tighter time frame upon myself this all would’ve been done much more quickly, but tight time frames are what I retired to escape from. So far in the 10 months of retirement, I’ve read 110 books, made 6 quilts (with 2 more on the go), had many nanna naps and transformed my guest bedroom into a sewing room/office. (More on that in a later post.)

The thing I like about Operation Beautify is that most of the expensive projects like the landscaping and the huge verandah roof were done while I was still at work. My ensuite and the half-reno of the boys’ bathroom was paid for by my Long Service Leave payout, so basically this year I’ve been able to puddle along spending smaller wads of cash on plants, potting mix and mulch, but nothing like the amounts of money I spent on the big things. The landscaping of the back and side yards alone was over 50K. Oof…

By putting these jobs at the front of the queue, I was essentially able to cash flow a lot of it while I still had a wage. Next year, now that I have all of the trees and other plants in, should be even cheaper.

Just as well. I have Antarctica 2022 to pay for, after all.

🙂

This was the view I woke up to from my nanna nap yesterday.

Just to show that it isn’t all ‘Instagram perfect’ around here!

Dad jokes for today:

And one for the Maths people:

Frugal Friday – respect the past by not wasting things.

Stalks of rainbow chard in a glass.

Look at this bunch of rainbow chard. Whoever grew these babies knew what she was doing!

We have a saying in this house: If we grows it, we eats it.

The only exception to that rule is kale. Ugh. I grew it one year and it was so horrible I let the cabbage moths swarm all over it. It was a fitting way for it to go. It also meant that it wasn’t wasted. It was a decoy for the moths so that other, more delicious veggies, could grow.

Now that I only have one other person living here, meals tend to go a lot further. Last night we had bolognese with sweet potato gnocchi. I’ve blogged before about the one tomato plant I had that decided it wasn’t going to go down to winter and death without a fight. It kept producing tomatoes until a month ago, when it dropped some seeds and turned up its toes.

I wasn’t going to let those tomatoes go to waste. I threw them into the freezer. There were 200g worth – not enough for a can’s worth but still useable. Last night I grabbed them and threw them into the sauce. I wasn’t going to let that plant’s heroic efforts go to waste!

The extra dollop of tomatoes made the sauce extra large and so there was enough left to make a lasagne for us tonight. My rule is that if we have greens in the garden, a lasagne must have layers of leaves and our pizzas must have lots of greens on them.

I picked enough rainbow chard to make a lasagne and a couple of pizzas for tomorrow night.

Half-assembled lasagne.

This is layered by tomato, pasta, tomato, leaves… then it’ll continue until I run out of sauce. Then I’ll top it with a cheesy bechamel sauce and into the oven it’ll go. I love getting extra greens into my kids. Even when they’re taller than me.

But I don’t like using the stalks in this dish. So what do I do with them?

Chopped up red stalks in front of a grey compost tin.

Sometimes their fate is to end up in the compost tin where, over time, their elements will make more plants in the garden, but not today. I make my own stock pastes. It was the item that pushed me over the edge to buy a thermomix when I went to my first demo. I don’t stick to the exact veggies in the recipe, but use whatever comes to hand. I simply cut these stalks up and popped them in the freezer for when I make my next batch.

It won’t matter if they go a bit freezer-burny. They’re going to be chopped into a mush and cooked when I drag them out, so it’s all good. Just because they’re stalks doesn’t mean that it’s ok to throw them away. They still have fibre and nutrients, whether I use them for humans’ benefits or for the next generation of plants in the garden.

Soap curing.

The soap recipe I usually use has 500g of copha in it. For some reason, I had 125g of it sitting in my fridge. I decided that rather than throw it out, I’d force myself to do some maths (sigh) and make a 1/4 batch.

When making proper soap, you have to stay strictly to the recipe, otherwise it won’t work. For prettiness, I threw some dried calendula and cornflower petals on top. I bought these a while ago and they’ll last me for YEARS. They don’t lose colour when the soap is curing and they add a touch of fanciness. They weren’t exactly cheap, but that doesn’t matter if I actually use them.

Soap cut into bars.

Only 6 bars of soap, but they’ll be ready to use when I finish using up my motel soaps. They’ll tide us over until I can get to Coles and buy some more copha.

And I got to use up the little block. No waste!

They’ll be sitting in the laundry for at least 6 weeks, curing until they’ll be ready to use.

Washcloths piled on a table, with Scout looking on.

My washcloths are finished. I sent one to a teacher friend who I know likes them, but I haven’t heard back from her so I hope I have her address right. Or maybe she just didn’t like this one…

I know there’ll probably be some people who’ll think that doing things like this and being conscious of not wasting things that I make and grow is an ironic waste of my time. I’ve retired early(ish), so why am I mucking around with things like this? For many years when the boys were kids, I HAD to do things like this to make our dollars stretch as far as they possibly could just to survive. But those days are over. So why bother to do them now?

A part of it is looking after the Earth and sustainability – though probably not as big a part as it should be, if I’m honest.

Mostly it’s to do with respecting the time and money I’ve put into things. I feel that buying something isn’t a waste of money if you use it. So that’s why I unpicked the bamboo top and reknitted it into washcloths. There was a lot of money tied up in an item of clothing that was never going to be used. This way – I get to make gifts and people will use them. The money spent on that beautiful bamboo tape won’t be wasted. Plus it kept me entertained for nearly a week as I knitted and listened to audiobooks.

We make sure we use as much as possible of the food that I grow. I’ll never recoup the money that I poured into setting up the food garden in the first place. But growing some of our food was never an economic decision.

The garden offers so many things to my retired life. Obviously, it gives us the freshest organic food that it’s possible to eat. But it also offers the chance to run experiments, to problem solve and to get outside and quietly while away the hours being productive. Poppy loves to steal beans from the vine. As I chop and drop, I kick the ball for Scout and Poppy to chase while Jeffrey snoozes on the couch on the verandah. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or audiobooks as I work, while other times I let the birds and the wind do their thing.

(Incidentally, I’d like to thank Nic for posting a comment this afternoon on my previous post. They mentioned planting potatoes and that reminded me that I had some seed potatoes and some grow bags that were still sitting in the laundry. They’d been there for more weeks than I’d care to own up to. Within 10 minutes the potatoes were planted and I’d used the potatoes and seed bags that I’d spent good money for. Plus I felt good that I’d ticked another job from my list.)

When I was working I used to look at the price of things I wanted to buy and work out how many hours of my life I’d put into teaching to get that much money. It was roughly $50/period. Then I’d think of my absolute worst class. Was this pair of shoes equal to putting up with 8K for 3 periods????

Sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. But it would NEVER be worth it if I bought the shoes and then never wore them. What a waste of my mental anguish putting up with that group of kids for all of those periods!

This is why I try not to waste anything. Time, money and hours of my life have gone into the things I have around me. I respect Past Frogdancer and so I don’t want to ignore what she did to get to where we are.

Does that make sense?

Dad joke of the day:

Joke.

After I posted a couple of days ago, I realised that I forgot to include a Dad joke. Sincere apologies to anyone who felt let down by such unprofessional Personal Finance blogging behaviour.

So here’s an extra one to make up for it:

I saw a magician yesterday that turned audience members into wind turbines.

I immediately became a big fan.   

Frugal Friday: Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers.

Dorky guy dancing

When we moved here I brought with me a big bureau-type thing that used to live in the lounge room and had the tv on top. It has shelves and also drawers which were perfect for storing DVDs and CDs – remember those things?

Dog on a couch.

You can see how it used to look in this old photo. Look behind Jeff on the couch – the couch which now lives on the backyard verandah – and there it is.

Soon after we moved here I found a dining table and chairs that were on Gumtree. When I went to look at them, the people were also selling the strangest-looking bureau I’ve seen. It was all business on the top but it has the weirdest legs. I wasn’t sure if I liked it but I knew I’d probably regret walking away from it so I bought it.

Cabinet with long spindly legs

It’s in my lounge room with the tv on top of it. I’m still not sure if I like it but I’m used to it and in an odd way I’m fond of my strange-looking cabinet. If it ever came alive like in nightmares, those spider-like legs would be impossible to escape.

So we moved the original bureau to the Man Cave, where it sits covered by family photos and, other than being dusted every now and then, hasn’t been touched by human hands since.

It has the family DVDs, the boys’ old games, computer cables and my CDs. We only have one device capable of playing CDs and I’ve packed it away somewhere. In the last few years, I’ve veered away from listening to music and am more a podcast girl. However, Ryan26 has an excellent Spotify account and he plays music a lot so I still get to hear some groovy tunes. If I want to hear something specific, Youtube is handy.

Boxes and tubs piled on top of each other.

I’m a lazy soul at heart, which is one of the reasons why retiring early appealed to me so much. A couple of months ago I spent a couple of days sorting through tubs of my fabric stash and putting them into colours. I put them, all sorted, into the tubs and piled them into the wardrobe of the guest/sewing room.

There! All together! All sorted! Nothing can stop me now!

Tangle of fabric strings

Except… ugh.

Who wants to go and lift all those tubs out if you want a colour from the bottom of the pile? Or worse – if you want to PUT AWAY a fabric that belongs in the bottom tub? Look at this pile of selvedges and strings. I’d have to lift out at least 3 tubs to put these away.

It’s such a hassle.

I didn’t retire just so my life can become so difficult.

I started looking at chests of drawers on the LKEA website, but we were in lockdown … then I remembered the old bureau. I mentioned to Ryan26 that I was thinking about taking it over for my fabric. He had a look in there and started dragging out all my old CDs.

“How about I make a Spotify list for you?” he asked. This is how ‘Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers’ was born.

We had the best afternoon! He put all of my CDs on there – except Michelle Shock’s album ‘Short, Sharp Shocked’, which apparently isn’t on Spotify. Pity, because that whole album is a banger.

After a while, he started playing random tracks and I’d try and guess the title and artist before they started singing. It’s amazing how many songs I remember, though Madonna’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’ had me stumped.

Then he called me in, sat me down and said, “What are the other songs you want to put here?” Now that was a gloriously fun rabbit hole to go down. I think it was 3 hours and over 3,100 songs later that we decided it was time to stop and make dinner.

That was two days ago. One of today’s tasks is to swap over the fabric for the junk in that bureau. I’m happy for never-used boys’stuff to sit in the tubs, but this Frugal Friday win is to utilise the space we have in a far more user-friendly way, without racing out to buy more furniture. I’m far more likely to use the fabric I have if I can access it easily. Lazy at heart, remember?

The monetary loss is, of course, once Ryan26 started playing ‘Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers’, I realised that I wanted to be able to hear it whenever I wanted. It’s got some damned fine… well… bangers on it.

So we’ve splitting a Spotify account between us. $7/month each is a small price to pay for hearing songs like this again:

I haven’t heard this song for I don’t know how long. Just imagine how many other excellent songs are lurking on ‘Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers’ waiting for me to rediscover them?

(But apologies for all of the grammatical errors on this vid. Ugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have retired – the world clearly needs English teachers to help the Youtubers.)

Speaking of English teaching – one of the things I miss about teaching is putting up Dad jokes on the board at the start of each lesson. So guess what? At the bottom of each post from now on, I’ll put a Dad joke.

I know it’s not in the Financial Independence vein, but hey. Don’t you try and repress me! My blog – my rules. Besides, I have a huge list of jokes saved. It isn’t frugal to let them moulder and go to waste.

Today’s Dad joke:

I dig.
You dig.
He digs.
She digs.
We dig.
They dig.

It’s not the most imaginative poem. But it’s quite deep.  

Frugal Friday: Anyone for pizza?

Even without a thermomix, pizza dough is so easy and cheap to make. When the kids were really little, I used to cop out and use wraps as bases, but honestly… that’s a travesty. A good pizza needs a good base, so I love the pizza bases I make. Have a look at the ingredients – could it be cheaper?

2 tsps dry Yeast

220g lukewarm water

30g olive oil

1 tsp sugar (At the moment I’m using the sugar sachets I liberated from the motels I stayed in on my South Australian trip – SO EVEN CHEAPER!!!!!) heh heh…

420g bakers flour. (Though plain will do as well.)

1 tsp salt.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll put garlic, chilli and some fresh rosemary in there as well. (I freeze whole peeled garlic cloves and whole chillis and grow rosemary in wicking boxes – SO NO WASTE!!! EVEN CHEAPER!!!!!!!) Ok, I’ll stop now.

How thrifty is this? It costs literally mere cents to make this dough – enough for 4 or 5 pizzas, depending on how large you like them.

I keep the yeast in the freezer in the blue insulated thermos-y thing. It’s the yeast I bought a few days before our very first lockdown back in March 2020. Still going strong.

Oh! Did you notice the olive oil container? I bought that in San Gimignano in Italy on my 2015 trip. Another frugal tip – buy souvenirs that you’ll USE, not ones you merely look at. Nearly every day when I reach for the olive oil, I think of that trip.

Here’s the dough, just before I wrap it up in a silicon mat and put it near a heating vent. (It’s the middle of winter here in Melbourne.)

After an unfortunate incident when Poppy was a puppy, many years ago, we’ve learned that we have to keep dough that we’re proving up high.

There is a very strict rule in this house, brought in when the kids were little, that EVERY pizza must have green on it. No matter what else is happening in the garden, I always have leaves growing and so they must go on.

Edited to add – in the background is a ceramic tea caddy that I bought in Beijing when my friends Helen, Rick and I went to North Korea. Another useful souvenir!

Ryan26 is the pizza maker in this household. The toppings vary, depending on what’s in the fridge and the garden. This was last night’s effort.

Of course, I forgot to take a photo when he pulled them from the oven. I was starving. But we fed 2 adults an incredibly cheap, yet incredibly delicious dinner for 2 or 3 dollars at most.

And here’s the answer to Toni’s question in the last post.

I have a side-by-side fridge and freezer in the kitchen and the lowest basket is devoted to ice-cube sized portions of home-made pesto – which always goes on our pizzas – and balls of frozen pizza dough.

Ryan26 just divides up the dough after it’s risen and put’s individual-sized balls into freezer bags. They’re so handy if someone, such as an adult son who lives away from home, drops in and is starving. He can whip up a meal very quickly.

I also like it when it gets to around 5PM and I’m not in the zone for cooking. I just throw 2 frozen pizza dough balls onto the kitchen counter and by the time Ryan26 is ready to start cooking, the dough is ready to roll.

Some people recommend freezing them in flat discs so they’ll defrost quicker, but I don’t like the sound of that. How many times have you gone to the freezer to get a sheet of puff pastry, only to find that it’s broken? It’s a PIA. I’d rather it take a little more time to defrost and then you can roll it to to the size that you want.

Thanks, Toni, for asking the question. I got to have the night off from cooking last night. Love pizza nights!

Frugality and FI is the gift that keeps on giving.

Pea soup in a bowl.
Not my soup – mine’s still cooking!

There’s a rumour that’s been circulating for a while now that Frogdancer Jones – that’s me – is frugal. Or maybe a tightarse… take your pick. I was told about a conversation that happened in the staff room at work where people were describing a continuum of spending. Apparently, I was on the thriftiest end, while the others spaced themselves along the rest of the line up to the biggest spender.

But hey, I like being frugal. I like the challenges of making material things last longer, enabling my money to go a little further and only shelling out for things I HAVE to have and things I WANT to have. Middle of the road ‘meh’ stuff doesn’t cut it in this household.

Being frugal means that I can cut down unnecessary spending, freeing up my cash for fun things. You know, things we’ve all wanted to buy… a mini dachshund puppy, a trip to North Korea, 6 more apple trees… Things that are by far more important to me than designer handbags and the like.

It’s fun for me to save dried peas from the garden and turn them into soup, using my slow cooker that I’ve had for over 20 years. It makes me smile to look down at my slippered feet and see the ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ patches. My ‘Earn back my council rates’ challenge costs me nothing, but because of it I’ve read 86 books so far this year for free. If you think getting lost in a good book doesn’t add to your quality of life, then I have news for you!

I’m a big fan of finding experiences and activities that entertain and inspire you without having to necessarily cost a whole lot. This automatically leaves money that you can put towards something else.

Being frugal doesn’t mean that you never lash out on expensive items.

Which is why I’m really excited about my latest purchase.

Big box with Poppy ( a cavalier) sniffing it.

This is a gift for David27 and Izzy. It’s an engagement + wedding gift because it’d be an extraordinarily generous engagement gift and I’m not that rich! It was delivered here in the middle of lockdown #5 so it’ll be a while until I can drive over there with it to give it to them.

It’s a product that I hold very dear to my heart. I have 2 of them and I can’t possibly do without them. Just this morning I used one to make bread dough, pizza dough and gratin sauce for cauliflower cheese for lunch. We now have 8 bread rolls and 4 balls of pizza dough in the freezer for literally mere cents. And absolutely no artificial ingredients. Izzy and David27 both have health issues and she’s also lactose intolerant, so this will be perfect for them to eat cleanly and with fresh ingredients, while being able to produce gourmet meals. They’re both foodies.

I’m so excited to be able to provide this for them.

Just to make it fair for the rest of the boys – because 2 have already bought their own thermomixes, while Evan24’s housemate owns one – I’ve decided to give a little less towards the wedding. I’ve always thought that I’d give 5K per boy per FIRST wedding – (any subsequent weddings and they’re on their own!!) – so I’ll give 4K towards this one.

Come to think of it, I also gave them the diamond for Izzy’s engagement ring. There are definite advantages to being the first cab off the rank when weddings come along! This is a product of the practical thinking that frugality brings. I had a very good quality diamond in a ring sitting in the jewellery box, back from when I was in my twenties. I’m never going to wear it again. It makes no sense for it to sit there for decades when Izzy could have it put into a setting she loves and then get to enjoy looking at it every day.

By doing this, I release something that was useless to me and David27 gets to put the money that he would’ve spent on a diamond towards the wedding. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Being frugal and FI is almost like a superpower. When I think back to the days when the boys were small, when I could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads, I feel so very lucky to be able to buy a gift like this now. Back then, I would never have believed it would ever be possible.

All I have to do now is wait for this current lockdown to be over. The box can sit in the hallway, just like the boxes of my customers used to do when I sold thermomixes as a second job. Once we’re free to drive further than 5 km from our homes, I’ll look forward to driving over to Izzy’s parents’ place to deliver it, just as I used to do back in the day for my customers. It’ll be fun.

But if you know them in real life.. sssshhhh!

Don’t spoil the surprise!

Frugal Friday: Support the Arts and save some uggs all at the same time.

I’ve noticed that it’s been nippier in the mornings lately. It’s not just that we’re in the middle of winter, though that’s a factor – it’s also that BOTH my ugg boots have a hole right where my big toes are. It’s surprising how much colder you feel when a little breeze is whipping across your toes first thing in the morning.

The easiest thing to do would be to chuck these out and buy another pair, but I didn’t want to do this. My son, Ryan26, bought these for me 2 Christmases ago for over $100. That’s a lot of money for a student. And apart from the toe holes, the rest of the boots were in tiptop condition.

Then came an email from one of my favourite podcasts, ‘Welcome to Nightvale.’

This poddie has been going for 9 years and it has quite a bit of merch. Including cloth patches…

Hmmmm…

I could send away for 2 patches for $24, or spend $100+ on a new pair of uggs. But gee – do I have the time required to actually sew the patches on?

Well yes. Yes I do. I’m retired, after all.

I LOVE THEM!

When the patches arrived I put on a podcast that I wanted to listen to, brought a cup of lime verbena tea from the garden over to the couch and started sewing. It was a pleasant way to spend some time and I knocked over both the repair job and a couple of podcast eps. Now that’s being productive!

My uggs are now snug again and I have a totally individual pair. I’ve respected my son’s gift and now they’re even more special to me than before. Plus I’ve stopped 2 boots from disappearing into landfill.

I’ve also supported a podcast that has given me YEARS of entertainment and I’ve saved a chunk of cash as well.

Who says that frugality has to be drudgery?

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