Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Frugality (Page 2 of 8)

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?

All good things must come to an end…

'No Spend Days' chart with FOUR days' spending last week.
My winning streak has finished. 🙁

I’ve written about the nitty gritties of the ‘No Spend Days’ chart HERE, way back in 2018, then HERE in the middle of 2020. That last one was funny because I was congratulating myself on an 18-week streak of silver weeks. I never dreamed I’d get to 61!

For the TL;DR version: I have a chart set up from Saturdays to Fridays. Every day I don’t spend money I get to colour in a square. This worked ok at first, but it lacked an incentive. When I added the EXTRA column – the one where, if I spent money on 3 or less days per week I get to colour in a silver square, that’s when my spending ratched up a level. The chart makes me concentrate on when I pull out my credit card. It makes my spending intentional. I still spend money, but never mindlessly.

I wanted to keep my winning streak of low spend weeks going for as long as I could. The first lockdown kicked off the streak of consecutive low-spend weeks, but last week was when it all came to an end. After 61 straight weeks of keeping my spending to 3 days per week or below… along comes a 4 day week.

So what happened last week?

Cavalier asleep on a couch with a dachshund behind him.
Jeffrey (front) and Scout.

It all started when Ryan26 went to Aldi because we’d run out of tinned tuna. He likes to have that for lunch. We’d run out of onions and a few other bits and bobs, so I told him to take my credit card and stock up on a few things. That was Sunday.

I was having lunch with Simone, the old school friend that I caught up with after 40 years when I was on my holiday in South Australia, and another school friend who I’ve stayed in touch with over the years. We were meeting on Thursday, so that was going to be a definite ‘spend’ day.

We’ve just come out of a 2 week lockdown and I was overdue for a visit to the hairdresser. I decided to go on Wednesday. This meant that Friday had to be a ‘no spend’ day. What could go wrong?

Jeff’s eye, that’s what.

Cavaliers have such big, beautiful eyes. Sometimes they get a bit mucky but they clear up in a day or so. This eye slowly got worse. Ryan26 noticed something was a bit wrong with it late Wednesday … Thursday it looked as if it might be getting better but on Friday morning we woke, I looked at it and rang the vet.

My 61 week silver streak had finally run its course. Anyway, I think that 61 straight weeks was pretty good. Jeffrey’s eye is improving and really, that’s the important thing. Poor little man. Having an ulcer on your eye is never a good thing. We caught it early.

But maybe it was always fated to end on this day? A couple of days before, a friend from work rang me and said, “It’s correction day on Friday AND it’s my birthday. I’m going to get all my marking done before Friday – damned if I’m going to work on my birthday! – so do you want to go out for lunch?”

I hesitated. I knew this would be the end of my silver streak, but I knew it had to finish someday. However…

“Will it be just us or will there be other people?”

I knew that if there was going to be a group of us, then that was it. No more winning streak. But if it was just us… then I could serve lunch here instead and my silver week would be saved!

“No, just you and me,” she said.

I explained about the winning streak and she laughed and agreed to come to my place for lunch instead. I knew she’d understand. She’s one of the people at work who talk finances with each other. She’s on a similar path to me, on a quest to pay off her house and retire early(ish).

Apparently, at work they now call it “doing a Frogdancer.”

The chart is one of the ways to make the hard slog in the middle of the FI/RE journey fun. Every day you get to colour in the chart is a little achievement; something to mark the fact that you’re putting in the effort along the way. People need little wins when working towards financial independence and this was a technique that works brilliantly for me.

Yes, I’ve reached FIRE. So why do I still do this?

This chart was one of the things that helped me to get there. So why on earth would I stop using it? It’s proved its worth. It’s also handy when you want to check things like when the dogs’ vaccinations are due, how many weeks since you’ve had a haircut, and it’s invaluable when filling in my ‘Annual Spend’ chart each month.

In the middle of the second lockdown last year, I asked myself the question – “How long can you keep this silver week streak going?”

I’ve discovered the answer.

After 6 months, I’m still learning about retirement.

Granny squares with circular quilting.
One of the placemats.

You know, it always makes me smile when I see a blogger tweet something like, “Sorry everyone, I haven’t released my usual Wednesday blog post. Never fear, I’ll put a post out on Thursday instead. Apologies!!!”

Honestly… no one cares! It’s been a month since I posted here and no one’s sent out a search party. After my little holiday up in the high country I wasn’t feeling the urge to write here, so I didn’t. I threw myself into other things, mainly quilting (2.5 finished plus a couple of placemats), reading, (only $400 or so to go on the ‘Earning my rates back’ challenge) and getting the veggie garden ready to slumber over the winter.

And that’s where I learned something new about transitioning to retired life.

Ian’s quilt. Blogged HERE.

While I was happily down in the quilting rabbit hole, my veggie garden was sitting there, untended and unloved. The shrivelled up beans were hanging, brown and ugly, on their vines, the huge silver beet plant had gone to seed and the basil was running amok. Grass had come under the fence from the neighbour’s place and is under the apple trees, so that needs getting rid of.

It was time to get out there and put it all to rights.

Cathy’s quilt. Blogged HERE.

Monday was a public holiday here in Victoria and the day was dry and slightly overcast. Perfect for a person like me with vampire-like skin that burns at the merest hint of sunlight! I grabbed my secateurs, the garbage bags filled with the autumn leaves that I brought back from my little holiday in the high country – souvenirs don’t have to cost anything – and out I went.

I’m a permaculture gardener, which means that very little gets taken out from the garden in our green waste bins. I ‘chop and drop’, which means that I use the secateurs to cut all of the dead tomato plants, bean stalks or whatever into little, mulch-sized pieces and I leave them on the garden beds. Over time, this breaks down and gives you lovely, lush soil. Very frugal – wastes nothing – and very eco-friendly.

‘Chop and Drop’ is great for the soil, but it takes a lot more time than simply ripping things out and stuffing them in garbage bags.

Once I cleared a section of the wicking beds, I put a thick layer of the souvenir autumn leaves down, then a layer of mushroom compost and then some animal manure. This year it’s cow manure as that was the cheapest one when I went to Bunnings. Over the top goes a layer of pea straw.

Free peas. Just leave them to dry on the plant and you have the makings of pea soup – or plant for more free peas next year!

I love using pea straw for veggies. Usually, you get a free crop of peas. Last year I saved the dried peas and a few days ago I made a hearty pea soup with a ham hock. Bloody beautiful!

All of these layers of leaves, compost and straw are wonderful for the soil but are time-consuming and after a while, rough on the back. After a few hours out there, my back was starting to hurt. But I kept eyeing off the garden beds. ‘Push on! There’s a couple of easy sections over there. There’s still daylight!’

This is how I’ve always worked in the garden. Once you start a job, you push through until it’s finished. Of course, up until now, I’ve only had weekends and school holidays to Get Things Done.

2 dogs sleeping with a ball between them.
Poppy and Scout while I quilt, making sure they keep tabs on the best toy ever.

I worked in the garden from around 10 until just before 6. I did heaps of work – 6/12 sections of wicking beds are now done and dusted for winter. But when I came in, my lower back was in pain. There was a lot of bending and lifting going on out there. Luckily, I have a live-in remedial masseuse. Ryan26 is an RM and myotherapist. I hobbled inside and asked for a treatment.

I lay on the massage table while he treated me, getting lots of information about, “It’s your glutes, Mum. When they’ve had enough, they constrict and it pulls on the muscles of your lower back which makes your back ache,” or something like that. Remedial massage hurts, so I was trying to be in my happy place.

Then he said, “You have to listen to your body. Why didn’t you stop when your back started hurting?”

“Ummm,” I said intelligently. “I wanted to finish the job.”

“Aren’t you retired?” he said. “You know you can always pick it up again tomorrow.”

Oops. While I was out there I fell into the usual way of doing things – get it done NOW because time is short and you’ll be back at work tomorrow!!!

It honestly didn’t occur to me that I could feel the twinges in my back, walk to the shed and put the secateurs and bags of leaves, compost and pea straw away and go inside and read a book. I just kept pushing through because that’s what I’ve always done in the past.

Interesting. Even after 6 months of retirement, it still didn’t dawn on me that now – for the first time in my adult life – I have the time and space to pace myself. To tackle tasks in a more leisurely fashion, rather than race at them and attack like a bull at a gate. In the big scheme of things, does it matter if the garden beds take 2 weeks to be bedded down for winter, rather than 2 days?

It’s nice being out in the garden. Jeffrey curls up on the couch under the verandah and sleeps, positioned where he can open an eye every now and then to check where I am. Scout and Poppy bring the ball for me to throw and when they get tired of that, Poppy curls up next to Jeff and Scout disappears inside. I hear the birds, the people singing in the church next door if it’s Sunday and kids playing. Sometimes I work in silence, other times I have podcasts or an audiobook playing.

It’s lovely. Why wouldn’t I want to savour those moments over lots of sunny days, instead of racing through them? Isn’t this part of what gaining freedom over my time actually means?

Retirement’s so hard…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where we arrive at the extroverted part of the holiday.

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

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

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

Nolan’s ‘Narcissus.’

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

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

Nora Heysen’s ‘Ruth.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

omg.

I can’t be that old, surely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A whopping big tree.

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

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

… which were clearly popular with the local seagull population.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costs of the trip:

Day 1 cost: $272

Day 2 cost: $67 fuel.

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

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

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

$33 food for dinners and breakfast in my room.

Total for Day 3 – $112

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

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

$12 lunch (Frugal FIRE bloggers lunch.)

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

Total for Day 4 – $128.

Day 5 cost – $7 car lock batteries.

$79 quilting fabric for Cathy.

Total for Day 5 – $86

Running total for the trip- $665

London Bridge and other sights.

London Bridge.
London Bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

The Arch is much smaller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waves hitting the beach.
The sea.

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

Isn’t it lovely?

The grotto from above.
The Grotto.

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

The Grotto.

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

Then I went down the steps to The Grotto.

The grotto
The Grotto.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT a fool.

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

Served me right.

Day 1 cost of the trip:

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

*Fuel $55

*Accomodation at the second motel: $138

*Unenjoyable pizza – $20

Running total: $273

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

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

The best things in life are free.

The 12 Apostles.
The 12 Apostles.

Yippee!! I’m on holidays!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clifftop view of Loch Ard Gorge.

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

Imagine.

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

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

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

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

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

And motivated.

Sheer drop to the ocean.
The edge of Australia.

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

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

Port Campbell… to be continued….

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

A little adventure.

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

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

Didn’t even cross my mind to check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

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

Career: Secondary teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDITED:

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

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