Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Frugality (Page 1 of 5)

Retirement seems so natural.

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

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

A month later – how does it feel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you miss all this?” asked someone.

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

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

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

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

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

I drove away with a smile on my face.

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

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

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

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

Look at this!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first REAL day of retirement.

Poppy and me.

As promised in my retirement speech that I gave last month, I sent some photos to the staff at school on their first day back. I sent them through at 9:30, while they were all sitting in the first staff meeting of the year. The first was a selfie that I took as Poppy jumped into my lap at the dog beach.

Entitled, “I’m missing you all DREADFULLY.”

The second was entitled, “But where are all the people???”

There were no answers for ages, then after 1PM the replies came flooding through. The poor things had been in meetings up till then. Some people were lovely, writing things like, “Congratulations! Enjoy!”

Others were more succinct.

“Cow.”

How that one made me laugh!

Scout on the sand.
Scout.

The reason I class this as my first day of retirement is that up until now December and January have felt like a normal summer school holidays. I was still getting paid, so every fortnight my wage would come into my account as usual. School kids were out in the wild, roaming the streets. It was Business As Usual.

The only real difference is that I still have a huge pile of ironing to do. Traditionally, on the last day of the holidays I get things ready for the first couple of weeks. I iron my work clothes, I make sure I have a few freezer lunches ready to go… you know, that sort of thing.

Instead, I finished reading The Queen’s Gambit – and started watching the series. Tom29 gave me this novel for Christmas and I’ve been savouring the writing. Usually, I gallop through books to find out what happens, but this was a book I took my time with, reading a chapter and then putting it down again, so I could enjoy how beautifully written it is for a longer time.

So up until the last day of the holidays, it was all “same same.”

But yesterday was different. We woke at the usual time, (thanks to Jeffrey deciding that 6:30 was the proper time to have a good old scratch and shake the bed), but instead of racing out of the house by 7:45, I clipped the dog leads on and we walked to the beach at 8:30 to take the photos you’ve already seen.

It was lovely down there. Strictly speaking, between November and April dogs aren’t supposed to be on the beach, but there were many people there sneaking in a dog walk before the regular people claimed the beach. It was a lovely way to start the day.

Pesto, ready to be frozen.

After I came home and emailed the photos, I had to decide what to do with the day. I felt like continuing to work on the quilt I’m making for Patricia, my ex-boss, but Ryan26 had a friend sleep over and she was still in the guest/sewing room.

Hmmmm… I guess this means that it’s pesto day.

And that’s when I fully realised the beauty of being retired.

There’s always tomorrow!

So what if Wednesday doesn’t work out for quilt making? There’s always tomorrow. Or the next day…

The pressure to Get Things Done by fitting them around my work schedule has gone. It’s quite the heady feeling.

I have an abundance of basil growing and I’ve been putting off making pesto to preserve it. But what better way to start my new life? I gathered platefiuls of it and started work. My hands and my kitchen smelled of basil – one of my favourite smells – and I had a light lunch of pesto pasta with the scrapings from the thermomix bowl.

Usually I’d keep going, processing it until all the basil was used, but meh. After I filled all of the ice cube trays and popped them in the freezer, I decided to leave the rest for another day.

There’s always tomorrow…

Retirement: when frugal hobbies become simple pleasures.

Strawberries hanging free.
Strawberries from a wicking box. Amazingly, Jeffrey the dog missed these.

I started growing our own food well over a decade ago. It began when one of my boys was having a serious battle with depression and it seemed it was like the only concrete thing I could do to help him, by growing veggies and eliminating as many preservatives and things from his diet. I went all-in – by the time we moved out we had over 15m of vegetable beds, over 30 fruit trees and a flock of chooks. I must have been reasonably fond of him.

The thing about growing food is that it definitely saves you money. Not right away; all of those bags of compost, mulch and seedlings don’t come cheap! But over time, I enjoyed the frugality of serving my boys free food – my favourite flavour! – with veggies and eggs that came from our own property. I knew it was the best possible quality food, also at the best possible price.

Growing food not only saves money, but it provides endless entertainment and problem solving. No matter how much knowledge and experience a gardener gains, you’re never in total control of the outcome of any crop. There are variables in weather, soil composition and pests that you have no control of. This keeps things interesting. For me, gardening is conducting a series of experiments to see what works. There’s always something new to try, which makes this a great interest to have to entertain myself in retirement.

At first, like with everyone who starts growing food, it was all a bit hit and miss. But over time, I grew to learn more and more. I started moving towards growing heirloom veggies and saving my own seeds. My food forest in the suburbs was just becoming fully established when I decided to fast-track my retirement by releasing the equity in the property by drawing up plans for 2 massive townhouses to be built on the property.

It hurt to think of all that hard work being ripped out and built over, but for the longer term, it was the right thing to do for my life. I put out the word that there were free fruit trees, chooks and a solar-operated hen house door and friends rescued everything. And so we moved 16kms away to The Best House in Melbourne.

Rhubarb. Lots of it.
57 stalks of rhubarb from the garden. This is all from one plant. This is a perennial plant, so it’ll feed me for the rest of my life, probably.

But you know? The good thing about learning about something is that no matter where you go, you take that knowledge with you. I had to wait around 18 months for the sale of the original property to go through, but once I had the money in hand I could redesign the garden to be how I wanted it to be for my retirement.

And the pastime that began with a feverish wish to do SOMETHING useful for my boy has morphed into one of the key interests that will give me untold hours of interest and pleasure in my retirement. Isn’t it funny how life works?

A post I wrote, entitled ‘How do you GROW wealth?‘ has photos of how I designed the back yard to suit my retirement. The back half is filled with wicking boxes and spaces for fruit trees, while the front half has since been covered over with a huge verandah for entertaining. It was a huge ‘investment’ up front to get all of the work done, but now it’s pretty much finished, just as I retired. I can now look forward to many years of quiet enjoyment, pottering around and having fun at home.

I have enough money to retire, but I still have echoing memories of when we were struggling. I like the idea of minimising my outgoings when I’m no longer drawing a wage, so my garden out the back will scratch two itches: the wonderful feeling of frugality when I harvest free food, and the gift I’ll be giving myself of hours of entertainment with the planning, preparation, maintenance and harvesting of everything I grow.

Baby fruit trees.
The ‘orchard’ 6 months ago, just after we planted it.

While we were in the second lockdown last year, I ordered some fruit trees and the boys and I created an orchard in the front yard. That was a bit of fun as we were coming into spring. I also ordered 4 columnar apple trees that I placed along the edge of the garden bed, ready to be planted beside the driveway sometime this year.

Then I got to thinking. There’s a lot of space going to waste around these trees. One day there’ll be flowering shrubs to bring beauty (and bees) to this space, but why not do an experiment in the meantime?

I filled 3 large pots with potting mix and planted what I thought was pumpkin seeds that I harvested from the garden last year. Imagine the pumpkin vines meandering around underneath the trees? They’ll grow lots of pumpkins – and pumpkins keep well for months and months. What could go wrong?

Baby fruit trees swamped by zucchini plants.
Here’s what the orchard looks like now.

Turns out they were zucchini seeds. Zucchini seeds that are a hybrid of two sorts that I had growing near each other in the yard last year – a mix of ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Tromboccino’. Let’s call them ‘Frogdancer Zucchini.’ There are 11 fruit trees hidden underneath all of this rampant growth. I’m happy… don’t get me wrong… but millions of pumpkins would keep for far longer than millions of zucchini.

I’ve had to swing into action.

8 plump zucchini.
Here are 8 large zucchinis.

Just from these 8 zucchini alone, I’ve chopped and frozen nearly 12kg/26lb worth of 200g bags. I add chopped and frozen zucchini to soups/pasta sauces/casseroles – anything to add a little more goodness and bulk. With 60 meals’ worth in the freezer already, my Ma Ingalls energy for providing for my family for the colder months of 2021 is now satisfied. The hundred or so that are still growing will be eaten fresh or given away.

Frugal free food not just for us but for everyone else!

Gardening for food varies from year to year. Last year I had tomatoes coming out of our ears. It was the perfect year for a glut of tomatoes. In a pandemic, when you don’t want to go to the shops, tomatoes are the perfect base for heaps of different meals. They taste even better when they’re free. I just froze them in 400g bags, just the same size as a tin.

Last year we had hardly any zucchinis. This year it’s the reverse. I guess it keeps things interesting.

As I enter the brave new world of retirement, I like the fact that I have interests that don’t have to break the bank. I’ve spent a lot of money setting up the garden, but from now on it’s all smooth sailing. I’ll be learning more about growing food from seed I’ll harvest myself, so over time the food I grow will be extremely cheap. I’ll be making my own compost and fertiliser so I won’t even have those costs.

The other things I like doing are also pretty cost-effective. Even a hobby like quilting, which can cost a lot when you’re buying brand new fabrics, batting and thread, gives HOURS of entertainment as you’re sewing away. It’s very cheap when you make quilts from scraps and even sew together smaller pieces of batting to use up what you have. Knitting? Also gives hours of entertainment.

This first year of retirement has overseas travel being taken off the table. Australia’s borders aren’t opening up until 2022, which frankly, I’m quite happy with. We’ve fought too hard to beat this virus to let it all go now, especially in Melbourne.

I’m thinking that my first year of retirement will be a quiet one, with short hops to places inside Victoria (in case the borders close again) and for the rest of the time just puddling around here at home. The hard years of HAVING to be frugal have had the happy byproduct of giving me endless ways to entertain myself without having to spend up big.

After I press ‘publish’ on this post I’ll be popping up to the local library to pick up a couple of books I’ve reserved, then I’ll come back home to continue working on a quilt I’m making for Patricia, the principal from my old job. It’s a very hot day today, so I’ll be inside in the aircon, listening to (free) podcasts as I assemble the quilt I’m making from fabric I already had lying around.

Having frugal things to do isn’t a deprivation. I’ll be as happy as a pig in muck. Later today Ryan26 is going to stay at a friend’s house. David27 is over at his girlfriend’s house, so I’ll be Home Alone. I’ll dine on leftovers from the birthday celebration we threw Tom29 yesterday, then I’ll either read one of the library books or watch something on Netflix. If I feel like talking to someone I’ll have the dogs, who hang upon my every word.

Honestly, unless I’m travelling overseas (where I deny myself NOTHING!), I quite happily live off the smell of an oily rag. This gives me confidence moving forward into retirement. I know that if the worst happens, I can cut my expenses to the bone and I’ll be able to weather the storms. I’ve cash-flowed the expensive things while I was still working – I’m getting my ensuite revamped at the moment – and now I can settle into enjoying the simple things that I’ve found give me so much pleasure.

I’ve put a lot of thought into how I’d like my retirement life to look like. In 2 days’ time, teachers go back to work. Up until now I’ve felt like I was still on summer holidays. So in 2 days’ time my retirement will begin.

I can feel my stress levels slowly unravelling at the very thought.

So how was I able to retire early(ish) anyway?

George from Seinfeld.
Me over the last two weeks…

After starting to resurface after Christmas and New Year – so many naps! – I started to wonder what I might write that could interest people now that I’ve reached the goal post of every FIRE blog and actually retired.

There’s no point writing about what retired life actually feels like, because, to be honest, it doesn’t yet feel like I’ve retired. It’s the school holidays, my pay still keeps rolling in until the first day of term 1, so at the moment it still feels like business as usual. The 27th of January 2021 will be when it begins to hit home. The first school day of the year for teachers. My last pay packet ever…

But that’s still 3 weeks away. I started drafting this post yesterday but I wasn’t in the ‘zone’, but this morning I posted a comment about how I retired early(ish) on a teacher’s salary in a high cost of living city. It was in a Facebook group called Aussie FIRE discussion group, run by the guy behind Aussie Firebug. Someone replied, asking about my strategy.

I had to smile. My strategy?

Like most of us, I bumbled my way through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s without a clue about FIRE (financial independence, retire early.) My only motivation, once I started manufacturing kids, was to provide a safe, secure life for them to grow up in. A lot of that was providing emotional security for them, but a huge part was also providing financial security. This involved things like ensuring that we always had a roof over our heads, enough food on the table and that the bills were always paid. When you leave your husband with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash, which is otherwise known as the scariest financial decision of all, it tends to make you focus on the money stuff.

Although I didn’t stumble across the concept of FIRE until I was 50, the actions I took in the previous years accidentally set me up to be in a pretty good place to take the idea and run with it. Even though at that stage I’d just paid off my house, so my bank balance was literally $10 cash, I was primed and ready for the information.

So what enabled me to do the following: find out about FIRE when I had a paid-off house, around 100K in superannuation and $10 in the bank, and then to retire 7 years later?

A combination of the following behaviours:

G.O.T meme

The first tool, and undoubtedly the most important, was cutting my coat to fit my cloth. Otherwise known as spending less than I earned. Being frugal.

Frugality doesn’t mean being cheap – though in the early days when the boys were very young I’m sure I crossed that line a few times simply to survive. A frugal person makes sure that before they spend anything on lifestyle frills, they’ve paid the mortgage or rent, paid the bills and provided for the necessities of life. Then they tuck a little away for a rainy day in an emergency fund/investment portfolio. THEN they decide what to do with what’s left over.

The ‘decide’ in the previous sentence is very important. I feel that the main difference between a spendthrift and a frugal person is that one employs mainly short-term thinking with their everyday spending decisions, while the other employs mainly long-term thinking.

A person who deliberately decides to use frugal principles is sure to get ahead. I used to feel, especially in the early days, that every dollar I was able to keep in my wallet was a win. Those dollars I kept were able to be used to improve our quality of life on things I valued. These things are always a mix of looking to the future and enjoying the now.

Initially, those things I valued were chipping away at the mortgage, improving our car and house, paying for music lessons and sport for the kids and enabling the boys to see a little more of the world, both with family holidays and school trips. Then, as the boys grew older, getting out of debt, indulging in personal travel, (to the UK, Europe and North Koreaso far), and then investing for the future became the things I valued.

The trick with frugality is to spend only as much as you need to enjoy life now, while making damned sure you’re putting away money into appreciating assets so that you’ll be sure to enjoy life later – and not be a financial burden to your kids.

It’s a balance – I found that if Present Frogdancer put too much towards Future Frogdancer, it made me unhappy and discontented. But if I enjoyed a few simple pleasures in the here and now while continuing to look after Future Frogdancer, life became a joy.

Flowchart for hedonic treadmill.

The second tool, which is closely linked to the first tool of frugality, is to recognise when hedonic adaptation, otherwise known as lifestyle creep, is threatening to happen. Then to make a conscious decision as to when, and how much, you let it affect you.

I first became aware of the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ during a Choose FI podcast when they were interviewing Barney Whiter, otherwise known as The Escape Artist. Basically, it’s when your spending increases as your income increases – at first you feel happy but then as time goes on you revert back to the happiness level you were before.

You know how it goes. You get a pay rise. You feel rich! You start getting takeout more often or going to restaurants more often, “because I can afford it.” You might upgrade the car, in order to drive something more befitting a person of your status. Clothes? Sure, upgrade the wardrobe! Get fancy furniture, buy some ski gear, buy a boat… you get the picture.

But over time, that new car doesn’t feel special anymore, it’s just your humdrum car. The boat isn’t a thrill anymore… in fact, it seems so dull and ordinary that you start to feel that you need a new one. The restaurant trips aren’t a treat anymore… they’re just a regular part of your Friday night routine. Humans tend to become used to new things over time and then crave what we perceive to be bigger and better things.

Your big pay rise doesn’t make you feel rich anymore. It’s a struggle to survive on such a small pay-packet. “No one can get ahead these days, it’s hard for the little man to survive.” You feel exactly the way you did before about your life, despite the new toys that initially brought you happiness. That’s the hedonic treadmill at work.

We live in a consumer-driven society. The trick is to only let your lifestyle increase by spending more on the things YOU value. Disregard what other people think that you should be buying. After all, they’re not going to be the ones helping you to retire early(ish!)

When I knew that I had a permanent position at my school, I took out a new mortgage to upgrade my kitchen, bathroom and the heating and cooling systems. I waited until I’d paid off that mortgage before I indulged in the overseas travel for myself that I’d always dreamed of. Could I have done both at the same time?

Yep. But I wouldn’t be retired now. Paying off that mortgage to become debt-free was crucial to becoming financially independent.

Recognising the temptations of lifestyle creep and deliberately choosing to limit your exposure to it means that you can pour your surplus money into assets that can increase your net worth over time. Again, it’s balancing the wants and needs of Present You vs Future You.

The third tool is looking to increase your income. The lucky ones are people who can negotiate pay rises in their day jobs. As a teacher in the government system, my pay was dependent on how many years I taught, so I looked elsewhere for ways to increase my income. When I became a thermomix consultant and team leader, I was able to deploy the extra money I made into paying off my house earlier and then paying cash for my decadent trip to the UK and Europe.

In other words, I used the extra money from my ‘side hustle’ to pay off an appreciating asset, (my home), and then used the excess funds to pay for a frivolous treat, (my trip), while all the while in the background the teaching job continued to pay for day to day expenses and investments for the future.

I did this for around 4 years. I worked my arse off between the two jobs and I was B-U-S-Y! And often very tired. But doing this turbo-charged my finances and put me in the perfect position to recognise the beauty of the FIRE concept when I discovered it.

Yoda meme.

The fourth tool is to be willing to learn.

A bit of background here: all my life I’ve avoided numerals and Maths. At school, I was in the top stream for English and at the same time, I was put into the veggie maths classes. When I see a page full of numbers my brain literally freezes and I can’t begin to work things out. I’m genuinely scared of them.

This is fine for an English teacher, but it’s not so great when it comes to learning things about the investing world.

My point is that, for me, it was HARD to start learning about how to invest. I’m sure it has taken me three times as long to understand about half what any normal person would learn in a given amount of time.

I was talking about this a year ago wth another English teacher who was asking for help with her finances. She said, “I wish it was as easy for me as it is for you, Frogdancer. I know nothing about this stuff.”

“It’s not easy for me at all!” I said. “My brain is like a rock and the information is like drips of water falling onto it. Over time, the drips make an impression, but it takes me longer than most to get it into my head.”

The tipping point for me was 3 weeks after I’d paid off my house. I’d spent three weeks buying ALL the yarn in every colour, brand new sandals, new clothes and I was happy. Then it dawned on me that you can’t eat your house. In other words, what was I going to do about retirement?

The thought of being in poverty scares me. I’ve been there, as anyone who’s read my ‘About’ page or heard my retirement speech would know. It was hard enough being young and being dirt poor – how much scarier would it be to be old and poor? I knew that the spending party was over. I had to start finding out what to do to put myself into a decent position by retirement age. In Australia, that’s 67 years old.

That gave me 17 years.

As luck would have it, the Barefoot Investor had just started an investment club, which has since closed. The first thing he put out was a ‘Rescue Your Retirement’ feature. After I read it, I literally cried tears of relief. My position wasn’t hopeless. There were ways to build a comfortable retirement for Future Frogdancer.

After that, I started reading. Books, blogs… I went down the rabbit hole. The relief I felt when I saw Mr Money Mustache’s post ‘The Shockingly Simple Math to Early Retirement’ and saw on his chart that if I saved 50% of my income I could retire in 17 years… omg. I was doing more than that already!

I just had to stay the course and I was probably going to be fine. I was on track to retire at 67 with a more than comfortable income. Phew! I could have stopped there.

But I kept on reading. The idea of having the freedom to do what I want in each and every day, unfettered by timetables, commutes and the demands of kids was beginning to intoxicate me.

I learned about different types of investments. Individual shares, LICs, ETFs, superannuation options, domestic and foreign geoarbitrage, property… you name it; I was reading about it. Like all learning, it started to open my mind to the possibilities…

The Office meme.

Tool number 5, arguably as important as tool number 1:

ACT ON WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED, and be prepared to pivot if better information comes your way.

This sounds easy but in reality it’s really hard. No one likes the idea of losing money and making mistakes. But there’s a huge opportunity cost to sitting comfortably on your backside, deluding yourself into believing that because you’re reading about all this stuff, you’re ahead of over half the population.

You’re only ahead of the pack if you actually decide to DO SOMETHING with the information you’ve learned.

My first step was to move superannuation funds, first to the one that the Barefoot Investor recommends, but then when my friend The Mayor showed me that the default super fund in the same company actually gave far better returns, I swapped again. I pivoted slightly when better information came my way.

I began putting my savings into shares, index funds and LICs. Over time, it became my ‘shopping’ pastime. Some people shop for clothes, shoes and lattes; I shopped for shares. I looked don it as buying little scraps of my future freedom.

The brilliant thing about learning is that it opens the mind to opportunities that you might otherwise overlook. I learned about the concepts of geoarbitrage and property development, without ever thinking that I’d put them to use. Little did I know… if doing the thermomix side hustle turbo-charged my finances, utilising geoarbitrage and property development sent my finances screaming into outer space!

I wrote in detail about how I tweaked the geoarbitrage concept HERE. In the TL:DR version, I drew up plans to put 2 luxury townhouses on my house block in a desirable school district in Melbourne and moved 16 kms away to a far cheaper – but better- house 5 minutes away from the beach. By doing this, I freed up a TON of equity that was stored in that little house and shaved ten years from my working life.

This would never have happened if I’d been too scared to take the calculated risk and Just Do It.

When I think back to that 34 year old I wrote about in my ‘About’ page, sitting by the heater listening to the mice eating the bait and then I compare her situation to the one I’m living in now, the difference is enormous. I’m living the life that Past Frogdancer would never have even dreamed was possible.

It’d be too simplistic to say that the geoarbitrage decision was the one thing that brought all this to pass. It was certainly important, but I would never have been in a position to do it if not for the thousands of tiny little decisions I made along the way.

Frugality, living below my means no matter what, avoiding lifestyle creep, working to increase my income, learning about how to reach financial independence and then putting those concepts into action in ways that suited me and my family – all came together to bring me to this position.

I’m retired at 57. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I find that a very precious and beautiful idea and I’m looking forward to seeing how my life will unfold.

These tools aren’t the only dishes on the financial independence smorgasbord table. There are many more options and strategies available.

These are simply the ones that I used to get to where I am now. At first they were used for financial survival – then as time went on it morphed into working for financial freedom.

I hope that someone can take all of this and tweak a tool or two to use on their way to gaining their own financial freedom. The more, the merrier!

10.5 weeks to go.

Tweet. 
11 weeks until I retire. 
Seems like such a long time. 
I know it'll pass quickly but right now? Oof.

Today’s Thursday. This week, the 4th (and my last) school term began.

Seeing as Melbourne is still in lockdown, every teacher and student fired up their laptops and settled into another day of remote teaching. The ‘roadmap’ out of teaching from home had been set a few weeks ago. On Monday October 12 all primary kids and years 11 and 12 were back at school. Years 7 – 10 were to go back 2 weeks later.

That suited me fine. I only teach year 7 and year 9, so I was quite happy to avoid the commute and the risk of covid for a little while longer. But our numbers were dropping rapidly. I figured they’d pull the 7 – 10 kids back a week earlier than scheduled.

Then the announcement was made.

Next week, on Monday October 12, year 7 kids are also going back to school.

Bugger!

As of Monday, it’s back to the commute for Frogdancer Jones.

For the first couple of days I was seriously in mourning. I went to get my hair cut and dyed on Tuesday, not realising that hairdressers weren’t open yet. I’m going to have to go to work with PANDEMIC HAIR. (see below…)

Ugh. Long hair with greys and regrowth. Be glad you can't see it.
Argh! I have gold, silver and dark brown hair.

Ah well. I guess that’s why God invented hats.

I’ve started being a bit more philosophical now about going back to work on Monday. It’ll be nice to see the kids in person. Most of the year 7s are seriously sick of remote learning and they’re champing at the bit to get back, so we’ll have a fun time.

The school has paid for teachers to have face shields to be worn over our masks so that we’ll have an extra layer of security. They’ve also supplied every teacher with hand sanitiser, as well as having hand sanitiser stations dotted around all over the school. Everyone who comes on campus gets temperature checked, so I’m pretty comfortable about going back to school under these conditions, especially as our numbers are now so low.

The staff rooms are still quite congested, so I’ll be wearing a mask for most of the day. It’ll be good to get back into the banter of the staffroom again, though.

I’ll be able to collect the coffee grounds for the garden again, as well as the food scraps from the Food Tech classes for my compost. That’ll make my plants happy, which makes me happy.

Exterior shot of The Best House In Melbourne.
Things are getting done!

I’m still wanting to Get Things Done around here before I leave the wage. I’m replacing the guttering on the front of the verandah as it leaks on the corners. Next week the guttering will be a different colour, to match the colour I’m currently in the middle of painting the verandah in. It’ll match the fences and tie the whole place together.

I’m also getting quotes on a bit of landscaping I want done in the front yard. Now that I’ve put the orchard in, I need a sturdy barrier to stop the grass from growing through the mulch underneath the trees. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get someone to come and do that in the next few weeks and then Retired Frogdancer will be able to play with planting pretty things in flowerbeds.

We still need to get the side fence replaced and ideally I’d also like work to get started on upgrading my ensuite. I bought all the fittings for it a year ago when a friend from work mentioned that her husband was working at the Reece samples and seconds outlet. I paid around a quarter of retail prices and we’ve been living with the boxes in the man cave ever since. Once tile shops open, I’ll be measuring up the space and going shopping!!

It’s an interesting thing. Some people would argue that I should wait to get these things done until next year when I’ll have all the time in the world to supervise. But I know how my mind works. Next year I’ll almost certainly be staying pretty close to home and watching my spending, while I get used to drawing down from my savings and dividends, instead of having a wage coming in and living from that.

Given this, I think I’ll be happier with Present Frogdancer spending the money on these last few home improvements now. Future Frogdancer can enjoy them and not stress over shelling out gobs of cash from savings. I’ll need to ease into this new way of running the household expenses.

They say personal finance is personal for a reason. We all handle our finances differently, depending very much on our psychological mindset. While travel overseas isn’t going to happen for at least the next couple of years, now is the perfect time to puddle around at home and enjoy the little things.

Little apricots appearing on my tree.
Apricots! Finally!

Little things like seeing my apricot tree finally producing apricots. Five years ago my first year 12 Theatre Studies class gave me this tree and it’s lived in a pot ever since. Last year I planted it.

I think it’s happy here.

I think I will be too.

Half a year of silver squares!!!

It turns out that when you’re living through 2 lockdowns and you’re not that fond of online shopping, you can really make a “No Spend Days” chart go crazy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I keep track of my spending by using this chart. Every day that I don’t put my hand in my wallet, I colour in a square. At the end of every week with 3 or less no-spend days, I reward myself by colouring in a silver square.

It makes my spending far more intentional and motivates me to stay on track if the week is coming to an end and I’m close to earning a silver square. It’s silly, but it works for me. It also makes collating my “Annual Spend” chart so much easier, because everything is in the one place. It just takes 3 seconds each day to pop in any purchases or colour in a square.

When the pandemic hit and we were all told to STAY HOME, the Jones household was sitting pretty. As the weird flu from Wuhan started to spread to Europe in February, I didn’t like the looks of it so I started stocking up on non-perishables. When things began going crazy here in Australia, we were set, although David27 insisted we take a shopping trip to Costco that I’ll never forget. No worries about TP here!

As the weeks started to slip by without having to fill up on petrol or go to the supermarket very often, the coloured squares began mounting up. The silver squares got more numerous and started looking like a block rather than squares on their own.

“Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could make this streak last for 26 weeks in a row?” I thought to myself. Half a year. Could it be done?

Second half of the no-spend streak.
Wow.

Turns out it can.

Once I started to focus on keeping those silver squares coming without a break, it became a challenge. I began to try and push spend days towards the end of the week, in case something happened and I had to spend money unexpectedly.

For example, look at the week that began on the 1st of August. I wanted to work in the garden and on the verandah so I had 2 spend days on the weekend. *gasp!* I had little wriggle room for the rest of the week. I was determined to keep the silver streak going so I just used what we had in the pantry and garden and pottered around the place entertaining myself with what I have on-site. Hobbies are very useful things.

The week before that, you’ll see on the Friday an entry called “Connor teeth”. One of the boys needed dental work and as he’s still a student I said I’d pay for it. The dental work actually happened 2 days earlier, but by then I could see that I could maybe make my goal. After all, there was only 9 weeks to go!!! When he rang to tell me the total, I told him what I was doing and said, “Is it ok if I pay you on Friday?” He laughed and agreed.

I’ve been using both my local library and the school library for eBooks to scratch my reading itch. As I’ve said before, I read very quickly so paying $30 – $40 for a book isn’t a good use of my money as it only entertains me for a day or so. Downloading an eBook or an audiobook for free is the way to go for me and it saves me having to fill in a square.

During a stringent lockdown such as we in Melbourne have, little challenges like this help to pass the time and give you something to aim for. If I had’ve failed, it’s not the like sky would fall or anything. It wouldn’t have changed anything in my life. But it was a goal to aim for and every week that I coloured in a silver square it became one step closer to that goal. This made me feel good.

Once I actually have to leave the house and go back to work at school, it’ll be interesting to see whether my spending days will slide back to how they were before the pandemic, or whether I’ll be motivated to keep the silver streak going.

I wonder how many weeks the silver streak will last…?

Only buy what you love.

Scout, our mini wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. We certainly love her!

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.

Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.

“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.

But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.

“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”

So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…

If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.

Ugly tv cabinet.
What was I thinking?

Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.

Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.

“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”

But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.

Life happens.

Long-billed bird watering can.
I like this little guy. Haven’t used him as a watering can (yet) but he sits in my window ledge. The rug has since been replaced by a nicer one and moved to the ‘man cave’ at the back of the house.

Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.

One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.

My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’

Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.

Empty rooms in the new house.
A blank canvas. Oh, the possibilities!

For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.

Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.

Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.

Wooden tv cabinet with 6 very long, curved legs.
Most items in my house have these ‘Queen Anne’ type of legs.

Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.

Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.

When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.

Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.

Wooden table with ornaments.
This is what has replaced the ugly tv table.

Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.

The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.

This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.

1020's (I think) treadle Singer sewing machine.
An antique Singer sewing machine.

When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.

Pantry with HUGE spice rack on the door.
My spice rack and pantry light are also happiness-inducing.

The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.

Bright red maple tree.
My red maple. The other maple tree is green.

I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.

Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!

Sleeping Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Poppy, sleeping on our old couch. The couch is now out in the backyard under the verandah.

I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.

Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.

Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.

As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.

Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.

But it’s an effort well worth making.

Sunset at our beach.
Our backyard beach.

Retirement- 108 days to go…

Countdown on the beginning of old films.
Not long to go now…

As of today, I have 108 days to go until I finish work for good.

Yes, I’m retiring.

My friend Scott suggested that I look at working days left, to make it seem even more delicious. Just counted it up. 47 working days to go.

On December 18 2020, Frogdancer Jones will be walking out of the classroom forever to go and live her best life. I’ll be 57 years old, exactly 10 years younger than the ‘traditional’ retirement age of 67 in Australia.

omg. I’ve bought back 10 years of my life.

I’m awash with excitement, anticipation and the tiniest dollop of trepidation. Its a big step, after all.

As you’re reeling back in shock, I hear you ask, “But how can this BE?”

Settle in. Here’s how it all happened:

Kid doing a fist bump.

In August an email went out to all of the staff, asking for our plans for next year. Did we intend to stay at the school, which subjects and year levels would we prefer to teach, would we be intending to take any time off etc. Without really thinking about it, I replied that I’d be working for another year at 3 days/week, just like this year.

In other words, force of habit. Inertia.

A week later, I mentioned to a friend, (let’s just call him ‘the Mayor’), that I’d signed on for another year. It was a conversation over Facebook. His reply?

“Another year. I’m a little surprised. I’ve noted your Covid-related comments and we certainly won’t have dealt with this by next year.”

Now the Mayor is the total opposite to me when it comes to a relationship with Maths. He loves analysing spreadsheets and company financials and everything like that. After my geoarbitrage deal finalised and I had the money from my house sale in my hands, he devised a spreadsheet projecting how my current investments could perform. I was so appreciative – it was a huge favour for him to do for me. So he knows my financial situation.

At the time that he drew up the spreadsheet, he said to me, “You know, you could retire now if you wanted.”

“NO WAY!!” I said. “I just don’t feel safe. “

He chuckled. “You can; you just don’t realise it yet.”

In the intervening years, I worked at making The Best House in Melbourne even BETTER – for Future Frogdancer Jones in retirement. I liked the idea of getting all of the expensive jobs over with while I still had a wage coming in. My post called ‘Why owning a home trumps renting‘ lists all the things I’ve put into this place, plus a few more that I’m thinking of.

After the Mayor’s remark about my Covid-related comments, I started thinking. Was it possible that I could actually retire?

I brought out the old spreadsheets and looked at them, comparing the projected figures with the real ones. I brought up my annual expenses chart, subtracting the costs of all the projects around the house that I’d been doing. I looked at how much I was spending to feed, house, clothe and shelter myself and the two boys I have still living with me.

That figure came in at just over 30K/year. Those meagre years have left their mark – I don’t waste any money on anything that I don’t value. My pleasures are either hellishly expensive (*cough cough Travel*) or are as close to being free that it doesn’t matter.

Hmmmm.

I contacted the Mayor again. Long story short, he’s preparing a document for me to take to a financial planner outlining everything to do with my finances, future plans and goals – all of that stuff.

Turns out I’m going to be fine.

But the clock was ticking at school. Kids were making their subject selections for next year and staffing decisions were being made. I didn’t want to jerk the admin around – getting my job at that school was the single biggest reason that I was able to dig the boys and I out of poverty. I owe the school a lot.

So, once I sat with the decision to leave for a few days and I still felt comfortable with it, I rang my boss.

“OH NO!!” was her reaction. But when we talked about the hows and whys of why I was leaving, there was nothing much else for her to say. She’s not stupid – she knew I’d made my mind up.

So why am I leaving? It’s not simply fear of getting Covid.

F U money.

FU money is a big part of it. After surviving the years at home with pre-school boys when we had hardly two cents to rub together, I’ve been hard at work ever since to do my best to ensure that we were never in that position again.

I’ve reached the position where I feel I have enough.

Enough.

I still love being in the classroom. The kids I teach are lovely and they’re so funny! It’s a rare day when I haven’t had a good laugh in class. I like the idea of going out while I’m still having fun – it’s much better than being ‘that teacher’ – the one who’s hanging on grimly to the job because s/he can’t afford to leave.

What’s getting me down is the insidious increase of admin. As one colleague said to me recently, “Honestly Frogdancer, it feels more and more that we’re becoming data collectors instead of educators.” We’re expected to measure kids’ performances all the time, with results put on tables and studies and projections – maybe the Maths/Science people like it but for me ? For me it’s sucking the soul and the fun from the job.

If I still had a mortgage to pay or debts to get rid of, I’d be staying. If I didn’t have enough to support myself on in retirement, I’d be staying. As I said, I don’t hate everything about the job. Most days are very pleasant days.

But there’s enough on the dark side to make me feel that now is the time for me to leave.

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! Going part-time this year, then having to spend months at home on lockdown has shown me that I have plenty of interests to fill my days. As long as the world contains books, the internet, Netflix and the dogs, there’ll never be an excuse to be bored. Spring has begun and soon I’ll be out planting seeds and designing my front yard. Yesterday I ordered $400 worth of fruit trees to plant there. There’ll be fruit to pick, cook and eat for decades to come.

I can’t see overseas travel being a thing for the next couple of years at least, but that won’t stop me planning for my trips back to the UK and Europe when things settle down. After all, I haven’t been to Windsor Castle to see Henry VIII’s tomb yet! Of course, there’ll be domestic travel as our internal borders open back up, so I’ll be well-placed to take advantage of that. (And I won’t have to wait for the school holidays when prices go up and everything is crowded!!)

Yes, it’s a big change. In one way I’ve moved quickly but in another way – I’ve been writing about retirement and financial independence for as long as this blog has been around, and I’ve been thinking and planning for it well before then! This decision has been years in the making.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage in my life will bring.

Squirrel looking triumphant.
December 18 – Future Frogdancer.

Now is the time to build resilience.

Fabric face masks.
Mandatory face masks. Never thought I’d be churning these out!

“I’m sure no life can be properly developed and rounded out without some trial and sorrow – though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of the Island.

This quote is taken from what would nowadays be called a ‘Young Adult’ novel written in 1915. I loved the Anne of Green Gables novels when I was growing up. Even though some of the messages and themes have dated, human nature is what it is – and it will stay that way forevermore. This means that there are passages such as this one, that I haven’t read for over 30 years, that have stayed with me. Good advice, I guess, which can help carry us through tough times.

Even before the current pandemic, I used to talk about this concept with my kids, both biological and in class. That’s the advantage of being an English teacher – we can cover a lot of ground during class discussions. Basically, it’s when times are tough that people develop grit and resilience.

When times are easy and everything is going your way, there’s absolutely no need to learn how to develop a strong backbone. Why would you actively seek out adversity and tough times? You may develop other traits, such as good interpersonal skills or a strong work ethic, for example, but you have absolutely no need for determination and grit. When life is pretty much handing most things to you on a silver platter, you have no use for them.

But when times get tough? THAT’S when strength and determination become incredibly important. That’s what gets strengthened and built upon.

Mum and Dad wearing the masks I made for them.
Mum and Dad sporting the masks I made for them.

I live in Melbourne, which as of today has entered stage 4 lockdown because community transmission of the virus is getting out of control. We have a curfew from 8 PM – 5 AM every night, you can only leave your home for a total of 1 hour’s exercise a day, you can’t be outside a 5KM radius of your home and only one person per family per day can go out and shop. Masks are mandatory.

This is obviously easier for some people to take than for others. Many businesses have been directed to shut their doors, with pretty much only essential food, medical and infrastructure being allowed to keep their doors open. Some people have suddenly seen their wages and security snatched away. Not everyone has had the foresight or opportunity to build an emergency fund.

I’m one of the lucky ones – but it was a matter of timing. If I was embroiled in the last pandemic – the Spanish flu of 1918 – I wouldn’t be able to work from home. I’m a teacher. I’d either have to walk into crowded, virus-ridden classrooms or be out of a job, at a time when there was no social security.

Now? With the development of mass communications, I can easily work from home while the pandemic is going crazy. My wage continues to be paid and my risk of infection is way down. But not everyone is in my lucky situation.

I know what it’s like to have the financial rug pulled out from under you.

I know what it’s like to look at the pitiful amount of money in your savings and then compare it to the list of bills, a mortgage and the outgoings like groceries to feed my children.

I know what it’s like to wonder bleakly how I was going to be able to stretch things in order to cover everything.

It’s scary. It’s hard to fall asleep with the worry of it. Sometimes, I’d have what I’d call ‘doona days” where I’d go back to bed and stay for a few hours, just drifting in and out of sleep and resting up. Now that I look back, it was usually after a day like this that I’d spring out of bed the next day and Get Things Done. Constant worry is incredibly draining.

But do you know what?

Failure wasn’t an option. I had 4 little boys who were utterly dependent on me to make a good life for them. I knew that their father loved them but practical help from him was a rarity. I was their rock. I HAD to make this work.

Situations like this would be FAR easier if you could make one big gesture and the problem was solved. One action. One declaration. Whatever it was; if you could rise to the occasion ONCE, do or say whatever you needed to and then everything was fine and dandy again – how fantastic would that be? But that’s not how life works.

Getting through tough times means that you make lots of tiny decisions. Lots of little actions that, by themselves, will move the needle very little. But cumulatively – they all make a big difference.

There is so much in our control if we look around for it. There’s no point worrying over the things that aren’t. We can’t stop the pandemic on our own, but we can choose to stay at home whenever possible and wear a mask. If your place of work closes down for 6 weeks while we’re under a state of emergency, you can’t stop that. But you can look at applying for any subsidies you’re entitled to. You can look at your spending and ruthlessly cut anything that isn’t essential. You can start little traditions and fun things that cost little or nothing.

Bottle of champagne with "2019 EARNEST" written on the label. My theatre students' gift.
My students from last year gave me this champagne as a thank you. I could have guzzled it right away – but instead I saved it for a special occasion. Last month, Ryan25 finished his Remedial Massage course. We popped it open in celebration. Delayed gratification.

These repeated actions build character. They build determination and backbone. As a person, you develop resilience, which is a character trait that becomes invaluable throughout the rest of your life.

There’s an added advantage to there being many, instead of one, actions that will get you through times like these. If one day you succumb to temptation and buy that skinny soy latte you’ve been craving instead of waiting to make a coffee when you get home, it’s not going to break the bank. You can enjoy the drink, then get back on the frugality horse you’ve been riding and begin again to make good decisions. It’s not a ‘make or break, like a ‘grand gesture’ action that goes wrong would be. (Just don’t make too many of them!)

It’s the repetition of the little actions and the commitment to keep moving towards a better life that will bring you success.

Another novel I once read was a science fiction classic called ‘Ringworld’, where a character called Teela Brown is the product of 6 generations of a breeding program where people were bred for being lucky. Teela was a sweet girl who simply glided through life, always being in the right place at the right time, happening to meet with people she needed to meet exactly when she’d benefit from it. She always had enough money, but not so much that management of it would be a burden. Her lovers drifted away just as she was starting to get tired of them so she’d never been through a painful breakup and she was pretty enough to appeal to everyone, without being so stunningly good-looking for her looks to be a problem. Sounds good, right?

But she had no resilience or inner strength. She’d never learned to be strong in the face of adversity. She’d never needed to. Another character, Louis Wu, explains this by saying the following:

“She is intelligent, tanjit! She’s just never been hurt!……All you’ve got to do is watch her walk. Clumsy. Every second, it looks like she’s going to fall over. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t knock things over with her elbows. She doesn’t spill things or drop things. She never did. She never learned not to, don’t you see? So she’s not graceful.”
― Larry Niven – Ringworld

COVID is bringing the tough times to many people who had never really experienced them before. It’s a shock to the system when suddenly, all the plans you make and the things you counted on always being there are suddenly swept off the table. Add to all of this the fact that the virus is so contagious and people are literally dying from it. It’s not just a financial crisis. People are really doing it tough and are looking towards the future with fear and trepidation.

I know how it feels. I had my time of fearing for the future 23 years ago. I look back at Past Frogdancer and I’m so glad that she did all of those little things to slowly build stability and security for herself and her boys. She didn’t get everything right, but she did enough small actions in the right direction so that, financially and emotionally, her family survived and thrived.

Looking back now, I’m glad that I went through those tough years. Would I have chosen to go through them at the time? HELL NO! I used to wish that we’d win the lottery (only I was too poor to buy a ticket!)

But tough times breed resilience. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t have had to face the struggle and learned to make my way through. I’m far stronger than that past version of me, the one who sat on the back step watching her children play, hugging herself in fear and wondering if she had the guts to leave this toxic marriage. That girl took the first few steps with desperate faith that things would be ok, then worked to find a way to make it happen.

By doing that, Past Frogdancer developed skills and traits that Present Frogdancer and, hopefully, Future Frogdancer will continue to benefit from.

I wouldn’t have been like this without the struggle. My boys would be in a vastly different place if we didn’t live through it. They’ve also learned skills and developed strength in ways that they would never have had. I’m glad that we went through the struggle.

You will be too. Focus on what you can control and step by step, keep moving incrementally forward. I’m not saying living through tough times is an easy thing. It’s anything but. But one day, years down the track, you’ll look back at how Past You handled all that was thrown at you.

You’ll realise that you’re a better, stronger and more empathetic person. You’ll see that you’ve developed the confidence in yourself to know that you can tackle the curveballs that life throws you. You’ll know that you’ve learned skills and strategies that have enabled you to care for and provide security not only for yourself but also for those you love.

You’ll nod your head and, like me, you’ll acknowledge that the struggle was something that was worthwhile to go through… “though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”

Stay safe, wear a mask and stay at home. And control all the little things that will help propel you forward.

You can do it.

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