Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

Category: The ‘why’ of FI. (page 1 of 4)

You always have a choice.

1985 Tarago Van, just like Frogdancer Jones used to drive!

Do you laugh or do you cry?

When I was at home with the boys, right after my marriage failed and we were living on nothing, I drove a Tarago van. It had seen better days. It was rusty, about as aerodynamic as a loaf of bread and the skylight leaked. Every time it was raining and I had to turn right, a trickle of water would sneak down the back of my neck. If you think that doesn’t snap you to attention, you’d be wrong!

But I owned it outright, so I kept on driving it.

One Saturday, we’d been to watch Tom8 play football. After the game, we went home via JB Hi Fi, an electronics shop that had a peculiar fascination for my boys. They’d save up their pocket money to buy games, cds and dads. One or two of them had some money that was burning a hole in their pockets, so to JB Hi Fi we went!

How the back door used to slide open.
How the back door used to slide open.

Once they’d finished, they followed me back to the car.

I grabbed the door handle and slid the door open.

Except it kept on going. The door slid right off the car, with only one set of bolts or screws or something holding it on. It hung by one screw, gently swinging.

The kids stared, open-mouthed. 

I stared, open-mouthed. 

My thoughts were racing. My mobile was at home. Speaking of home, we were too far away from there to walk. The car was now unroadworthy and the door was hanging off like a drunken teenager off a tram. How could I sort this out? What was it going to cost?

My choice was clear. I could either laugh or cry.

I swung around to face the kids. They were looking at me, awaiting their cue. I knew whatever I did next would be important.

I started to laugh. 

I laughed and laughed, practically doubling over.

The kids’ faces relaxed and they followed my lead, all 5 of us laughing like crazy.

I mean, why wouldn’t we? The whole situation was ludicrous. 

If something happens that you can’t change – unless it’s an absolute life tragedy – you always have a choice on your attitude towards it. Whether you laugh or act like it’s the biggest drama EVER, it’s not going to change the situation. So why not make things easier for yourself and everyone around you by seeing the lighter side of it? Nobody likes a Debbie Downer.

And if there’s one thing those hard years have taught me, everything bad, embarrassing or uncomfortable that happens to you ends up being a damned good story one day. Think about it – it’s true.

We ended up walking to a car yard a few hundred metres up the road, where they let me use their phone to call the RACV. The mechanic came and secured the door and we were able to drive home. All’s well that ends well.

And ironically, one of my most treasured memories of those hard days is swinging around to see the kids’ faces after the door kept going, and then our (probably slightly hysterical) laughter on the side of the road as the door hung crookedly, still swinging as we laughed.

Why am I going for FAT-FIRE?

Waves on our backyard beach

I’m going for FAT FIRE.

Why?

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

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

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

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

It’s my Grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George ran out of money.

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

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

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

I NEVER want to have that talk with my boys. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why I’m going for FAT-FIRE. 

Serene waves and blue sky.

So my test retirement began well.

Silhouette of Scout - a true sausage dog!
Silhouette of Scout – a true sausage dog!

For those people new to the blog, I’m a teacher and the Easter holidays have just started. I’ll have 2 weeks at home, so I’m calling it a ‘test retirement’ to see if I’ll be happy when I pull the pin on my job in a couple of years or so. Today is the first day.

Daylight savings reverted back to winter time on Sunday, so it was easy to sleep in till 7:00 this morning. If that doesn’t sound like a sleep-in, keep in mind that I normally get up at 5:45 on weekdays. It was a nice little novelty to let the dogs out in daylight, instead of switching all the lights on as we walk down the hall.

Twitter post describing my morning

My friend Blogless Sandy was due to come over for lunch with her new dog, a rescue called Buddy. He’s a staffy, and staffys aren’t renowned for their love of small dogs. Blogless Sandy’s Sandy’s other staffy would go for mine on sight, (if we ever let them near each other, which we don’t. We like to keep the friendship intact!), so we wanted to see how Buddy would react to them.

I had the morning to myself, as both the boys had Uni. Ryan24 had to leave early, as there was a pack of vegans who’d chained themselves to vans, protesting about meat-eaters. They were ‘helpfully’ blocking the Flinders st/Swanston st intersection – the busiest one in the whole city – and he knew there’d be delays.

Time in the house all by myself – an introvert’s dream! Thank-you, vegans! Let’s get this test retirement happening!

I did a bit of gardening out the front, some cleaning inside. I finished off a book I began yesterday – Tobias Wolff’s ‘This Boy’s Life’. It’s good – I recommend it. I thought about blogging but … meh. I wasn’t in the zone.

I went out to put some recycling in the bin and had a chat with Dave from next door – all in my pjs and bathrobe standing out in the street. He was home to build a deck on the side of his house. Not sure that a real retirement would have me hobnobbing with the neighbours in my bathrobe every day, but for a test retirement, I’ll let it go.

3 dogs lying down - Poppy and Scout on the ends, Buddy in the middle.

Buddy arrived and all was good. He’s really tall for his breed – just think of a staffy on stilts and you’d have him. He fell in love with Poppy but she wouldn’t have a bar of him. I made some dahl for lunch and we poured ourselves a glass of wine and settled in for a chat.

After they left I simply had to follow the years’ old tradition I’ve laid down for myself – the lengthy nanna nap in the afternoon. I could hear Dave from next door hammering away, but that gradually faded and the dogs and I had a restorative 2 hour sleep.

(Don’t judge me. Teaching takes a lot of energy and my nanna naps are always long when the holidays begin. I wonder how long the nanna naps will last into a real retirement? Anyone know? I have to say – it was pretty darned good in a test retirement scenario.)

Currently, it’s just before dinner time. Some rain is falling and I have the windows open so I can hear it drumming on the tin roof of the verandah. I’m happy because this means I don’t have to go outside and water the garden. I’m sipping a chardonnay and planning out my night’s entertainment – I think I’ll keep watching a documentary about the Roman emperor Commodus on Netflix.

The dogs are curled up next to me, the boys are both home from Uni and we’ll have the leftover dahl for dinner. I’ll just throw some rice in the thermomix to go with it.

If this is what retirement looks like on an ordinary day, I’ll take it!

Let’s test out this whole ‘retirement’ thing!

Teacher looking at clock, counting down, with a wine bottle in her hand.

Today marks the end of term 1 – the Easter holidays are finally here. It’s no secret that I’m working towards retiring in the next few years and the holidays will give me a small taste of the freedom which will one day be mine. Let’s test out whether I’ll enjoy this whole ‘retirement’ thing!

The staff room is full of laughter and Brock is playing music from his computer. Only 6 periods to get through and then sweet, sweet holidays for 2 weeks will be here.

Welcome to Teaching - where salaries are low and everything's your fault.

This morning I had a meeting with a parent at 8AM. She was worried about the mark that her daughter earned in her Theatre Studies assignment. She wants me to generate more work for her daughter so she can practice the task before the end-of-year exam, despite me telling her that the kids will get plenty of practice tasks as the exam gets closer. No – she wants new ones for her child. Now.

I won’t get meetings like that on the holidays – except maybe via email. I’ll just put an automated ‘I’m on holidays’ response so I can still enjoy my free time.

On school holidays but still working

I’ll still be coming into the school on the holidays. My year 12’s are putting on ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in the second week of term, so there’s at least a couple of days of dress rehearsals and set painting still to do. I’ll have to drive down (with the dogs – I have to have some quality time with them, after all!) and open up the Lecture theatre (and make lunch – a vegan curry… there’s always at least 1 or 2 vegans), and stay there from 9 – 6.

I’ve been sensible enough to make sure that all my marking is done for the term, so at least my break won’t be made hideous by having to read essays.

But what will my mini-retirement holidays consist of? What will I do with my days of suddenly free time? How will I test out this whole ‘retirement’ thing?

Holiday workout - opening wine

First up – I’ll have more time to see friends.

Tonight I’m going into town to see Hannah Gadsby’s new show ‘Douglas’. What a fun way to start the break! I’ll take myself to dinner, then meet up with Blogless Liz and her friends to see the show.

My lovely friend Scott is here in Melbourne for the first time in 10 years and we’ll be seeing each other for a couple of days while I’m on holidays. I’m so looking forward to this – he’s one of my dearest friends. Face-to-face time is much better than Skype/Whatsapp time.

Blogless Sandy has adopted a new dog, so we’ll be seeing each other over the holidays to see if Buddy will get along with my 3. Sandy’s older dog has an abiding hatred of small dogs so we were never able to take them for walks or hang out together with them. We both live near dog beaches, so it’d be good to be able to take them for leisurely walks while we chat, especially after I really retire. She likes staffies, so we have to be careful. Mine would definitely come off worst in a squabble!

I have to get the garden ready for winter – AND for visitors. I’m having a couple of lunch dates so the house and garden have to look good. I always say, if your place needs a good clean, ask some visitors over! It’ll be spick and span way before they arrive.

Will I get time to work on Jack’s quilt? Do some knitting? I definitely want to take the dogs to the dog beach every day. Will I go to the movies? I’ll definitely get my hair whipper-snippered into submission. Will I redecorate the Man Cave? Read as many books as I can?

So much time! So much to do!

Not to mention the odd nanna nap (every day I can fit one in… which will hopefully be Every Day.)

Everyone’s so happy at work today. The early finish of one hour earlier helps too. (As does the drinks being put on down at the Bowls Club after work.)

Let’s see how these holidays go. Let my mini-retirement experiment begin!

getting ready to leave work like a runner in a race

Add some fun on your way to FIRE!

Best teacher ever! (meme)

Something I’ve learned from teaching that I’ve taken into my FI/RE life is that life is a whole lot more interesting if you add some fun along the way. I have to teach boring things like grammar and language analysis, but if I add in some silliness every now and then it’s really motivating for both the students and myself.

Spend a few minutes on a game! It only has to be vaguely related to your subject – mine’s English – but it changes up the routine and adds some fun to an otherwise humdrum lesson. Sometimes I spring ‘The Food Game’ on them. They line up around the room and they have to come up with food or drink starting with the letter ‘A’, then when someone freezes, repeats an item, (or can’t spell) they move on to the letter ‘B’ until we have one man or woman left standing.

The next level up – which we normally start in term 2 once they’ve mastered the basic game, is something I call ‘The Food Game on Steroids.’ The last letter of the food someone says is now the first letter of the next one. It keeps ’em on their toes!

Another welcome change from the regular routine is a quick spelling bee in teams to get them up and moving around a bit. My kids actually ask for them, which is something that you wouldn’t expect. For some reason, thinking on their feet is something most kids really enjoy.

Card with 'Ms Jones is jumping for joy. Today you did brilliantly in English!
Strange… Where did my name go on this card??? (heh heh)

I shamelessly stole the idea for these cards from my dear friend Scott, whose plane is probably touching down in Melbourne even as I’m typing this. They’re just business cards from Vistaprint, so they’re as cheap as chips, but they’re worth their weight in gold.

I give out these cards whenever someone earns an ‘Outstanding’ on their work, which is the equivalent of an A+. I hand it to the child, we shake hands and the rest of the class applauds. The kids love them. They take them home to show their parents and sometimes a kid will excitedly come to school the next day and tell us that they received a monetary reward. That doesn’t happen all the time, though.

Once, I was in a year 12 class observing the teacher and a kid I taught back in year 8 or 9 said that he’d earned one of these cards.

“No way!” I said. “You’re not bright enough!”

The joke was on me when he fished a battered “Ms Jones is pleased with you‘ card out of his wallet and proudly flashed it at me. He’d carried it around with him for years…

How does this equate to FIRE?

Remember how excited you got when you first discovered the concept of FIRE? I know when I first read about the 4% Rule it changed my world!

I'm more bored than this slumped over cat.

Surely it’s not just me who’s found that it’s sometimes hard to keep the fun in the FIRE journey after we’ve been on the trail of it for a few years. We’ve got the frugality down pat, we’ve negotiated our bills and we’ve automated everything we can to gain the most bounce per ounce with all of our income.

Then we settle back and over time all of this new exciting finance FIRE stuff becomes our new routine. It’s hard to keep the excitement up.

One thing that worked for me for at least 3 years was when I worked out how much I was taking home per teaching period every day. I’d teach a period and think, “There’s another $50!!” It made teaching seem that little bit more rewarding, especially when you had a PIA class.

As a side benefit it also helped when I was looking at buying something. Was it worth half a day’s teaching? Was it worth a period and a half? Sometimes it stopped me buying things I didn’t really want.

Update on my goals chart.

Some of you may have been around when I posted how I was going to track 7 behaviours that I wanted to turn into habits. Here’s how it’s been going so far. Funny how as the term dragged along, the more yellow and white squares began to appear! Hopefully, once I get a few nanna naps under my belt then the green will surge back.

For me, the reward is in colouring in the squares on Saturday morning. Interestingly, the only habit I’ve kept up without a break is the only one that doesn’t require action every single day – the column second from the left which is the ‘Post 3 times a week’ habit for this blog. (The other figure in this column refers to how many times I post on my personal blog.)

Why not take this idea and tweak it to your FIRE habits? Colour in a square every time you add to your Emergency Fund, or make an investment, or bring your lunch to work to save money.

It’s strangely satisfying to actually see your achievements laid out on a chart. All of a sudden, you’re adding fun instead of plodding morosely on into oblivion, all by yourself, with no one to notice your actions.

Add some fun – whatever works for you. You’re already attempting something extraordinary by reaching for FIRE – encourage yourself by rewarding yourself and smiling along the way.

Now I’m thinking about Opportunity Cost.

Hey girl, you look good when you pay your blls

Of course, as soon as I wrote a post about possibly going part-time at work, I immediately started to think about the Opportunity Cost of the 20K/year I’d be missing out on if I dropped a day. There’s also the extra year or two I’d probably be adding to my work life.

So what’s Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost of not studying

Opportunity cost is usually talked about in economics, but it basically applies in every area of life. It refers to all the choices and directions that you choose to give up when you make a decision to do/spend something.

For example, I chose to keep 50K from the money I received when I sold my original house to use for landscaping. That money could have been spent on more investments to bring me more income in the future. (At 7% interest, I’m missing out on an extra $3,500/year.) It could have bought me 3 or 4 trips to Europe. It could have paid for a new ensuite, shiny new kitchen appliances and a new car.

But instead, by using that money to pay for wicking vegetable garden beds, brick paving and an automatic watering system attached to my water tank, I’ve turned away from those other alternatives. This is the opportunity cost of my decision.

The opportunity cost of talking to me
(“Fallacy of composition’ means the error of assuming that what is true of a member of a group is true for the group as a whole.

What could I do with the 20K that I’d be giving up if I only taught 4 days a week? There’s no doubt that my work/life balance would be far better if I worked fewer hours. But there are items on my ‘to do’ list that I could quickly knock off if I gritted my teeth and worked full-time for another year.

Below is a list of things that I want to put into place before I leave work. I’ve already achieved the major one, which was the landscaping job. However, there are a few more things I want to get done.

Opportunity cost of being good at your job.
  • I have an ensuite – the first one I’ve ever had. I never realised how much I love having one, but it’s not really suitable for old people. It has a shower over a bath. I’m definitely not a bath person, but even if I was, the main bathroom has one. I can visualise Old Lady Frogdancer trying to get herself in or out of the bath a couple of decades from now, slipping and breaking a hip. An ensuite renovation would probably be around the 20K mark, wouldn’t it?
  • I want to get the inside and outside of my house freshly painted. This isn’t a huge priority, because I’m pretty sure the house was painted just before I bought it 3 years ago. But they painted everything the same colour and used the same paint for everything. This means that the window ledges, skirting boards and doors are all in matt paint, not gloss. This makes them much harder to keep clean.
No opportunity cost to saving money right now!
  • I still need to get the verandah roof put on at the back part of the house. When that’s done I’ll have an outdoor room, looking out towards the veggie garden. I’ll get an old couch and a table, and I’ll loll on the couch and read a book out there in the shade, drinking a glass or two of shiraz while watching my organic food grow. 20K would more than pay for that, wouldn’t it?.
  • Does anyone know if a Tesla battery can be connected to existing solar panels? This house came with an impressive array of solar panels, but ever since I found out from a friend that not only does she have zero bills for electricity since installing panels and a battery, she’s getting money paid to her by the electricity company for the power they’ve passed back to the grid! In around 6 months they’ve received nearly 1K in payments! That sounds very enticing for someone who intends to be a crazy dog lady in retirement. Those dogs need to be fed.
I need a part-time job that pays 20K a week.
  • Speaking of dogs, my dogs bark every time another dog walks past. I know that they’re only doing their jobs, but it gets a bit annoying. I’m thinking I might replace the open-view fence with a more solid one, to stop the dogs from having so much fun. I’d have lots of change from 20K if I started with this one!
  • Another thing that will need to be replaced is the ultra-cheap oven and cooktop that the previous owners put into the kitchen when they were selling. They’re stainless steel, so they look ok, but the oven is terrible. I’d like to get an induction cooktop, so I could put the thermomixes on it, under the fan, and there’d be no chance of them melting. I’d also like to get a better quality oven.
  • I’d also like to put some money aside for things like a car upgrade down the track… expenses that I know will be coming one day, but don’t have to be catered for just yet. There may even be weddings for the boys in the future, though they’re fairly unattractive so maybe this won’t happen…

There’s no denying that my work-life balance would be improved if I went part-time. There’s also no denying that, if I want to get these things knocked off my ‘To Do’ list, I’ll be increasing my work life by another one or two years. Still, as an extroverted introvert, that mightn’t be a bad thing.

When I’m at home, I’m very solitary and I love it. But when I’m at work, I’m surrounded by people and all that goes with it. This morning, I walked into The Danger Zone, (our section of the staff room) and it was filled with people wearing party hats, balloons on the ground and a couple of toddlers blowing bubbles. Someone’s mum was coming to pick up the grandkids and it was her 70th birthday.

Five minutes ago I was holding a baby who had come in with her Dad, who is taking paternity leave for a year. Last year he and his husband went to the US, organised a surrogate and now this little girl is a much-loved and doted upon Aussie.

Last year my year 7 English class threw me a surprise birthday party, while back in 2015 my Theatre Studies class threw a surprise dinner party to farewell me when I took a term off to go to Europe. These things are very special.

The Opportunity Cost of working full-time and leaving work earlier may be the loss of the human interaction I’m so used to. This is without taking into account the day-to-day laughs and general interaction with the students.

If I go part-time then the Opportunity Cost is the money and the continued lack of freedom to have total control over how I spend my time.

I guess I just have to work out which is the most valuable to me going forward…

I travel – so why do I love Staycations?

I love Staycations, even though it’s no secret that I also love to travel. I’ve blogged extensively about my trips to the UK, Europe, North Korea and Thailand on my personal blog, while this blog has 4 posts summarising what I saw in North Korea. I wtote about how the regime holds on to political power by using the power of advertising with sculpture, art, education and making everything appear bigger and better than the rest of the world.

Even though I have a hankering for more freedom I’m choosing to continue working for another few years. It’s mostly because I have a number in mind that I’m working towards, but the number is based on my love of travel. When I eventually pull the pin on my job, I’m planning to travel overseas at least once a year. Australia is pretty isolated, so international travel is often very expensive. My FIRE number is higher to account for this.

So, even though I love to travel overseas, most of my holidays are Staycations. I’ve always been a delayed gratification type of girl, where I’ll put off what I want to do today to REALLY enjoy it tomorrow. But having said that, the truth is that I LOVE a Staycation.

Honestly, if you don’t like hanging around in the place that you live in, then you’re doing it wrong.

Your home is the place where you can be yourself – a place where you shut the door behind you and you can simply “be.” And after all, a holiday doesn’t have to be a time to run yourself ragged – it can also be a time to regroup and chill, enjoying what’s around you.

Home is the perfect place to recharge batteries and do -(or not do)- all those little things you’ve been meaning to get to but couldn’t when your time was taken up with a job. Little things like reading a book, lunching like ladies and sorting through that filing cabinet, one drawer at a time.

I had a 5 week Staycation at the end of the school year, right at Christmas time and then on into January. I was so tired when that holiday started, I’m pretty sure I looked like Moon-Moon here in the meme below:

Yes, that’s an accurate representation.

When the holidays start, I take the first few days slowly. I sleep in for as long as the dogs allow me to. There’s only so much ‘claws scratching against floorboards’ noise that I can take before I get up. They probably circle the bed like sharks around a shipwreck victim, waiting for me to wake.

I need downtime. Time to slowly move through the day, doing whatever seems like a good idea in the moment. That’s why I love a Staycaion.

I indulge myself with gobs of freedom.

I leisurely move through the first few days, reading, taking a nanna nap after lunch if I feel like it. Aw, who am I kidding? I usually do feel like it – those Spaniards are onto something with the siesta! If I have the energy and inclination to tackle a task that needs doing, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll ignore it until later in the holiday. I have the time to either use or squander, depending on my mood.

Later on in the holidays, whether it’s the 5 week summer break or the regular 2 week breaks between terms, is when I tend to Get Things Done.

Bigger tasks that need some extra time or boring things that still have to be done whether I like them or not – they get knocked off my mental ‘To Do ‘ list.

Well, mostly. I made soap for Christmas presents in the September holidays and I was going to make more in the summer. We’re down to our last bar of home-made soap and I still haven’t made more. I’m not saying a Staycation makes you perfect – just more rested and chilled.

And probably better looking due to all the relaxation.

I remember when the kids were younger. Life got pretty frantic at times, particularly when you add a young family into the mix. I was working, the children had their own schedules of school and activities and socialising to be worked around; life was lived at fever-pitch and was scheduled out to the minute.

So if every holiday is lived at that frantic pace as well – how is that doing anyone any good?

Revel in a staycation. You’re definitely not depriving yourself. They’re wonderful.

The daytime people…

I chucked a sickie the other day.

It was a Grammar Monday, so the kids would be working from their grammar books, which is easy for another teacher to set up. I had Things To Do that I’d been putting off, so it all seemed right. Plus the meeting that was scheduled to start at 7 PM that night might have had a little to do with it.

Every time I take a day off, the same thing astounds me.

The number of people.

People walking, people shopping, people sitting in cafés as if they have a perfect right to be there.

It’s insane. How can so many people not be working?!? Don’t they realise that everyone should be locked up in an office or a school somewhere, earning a living?

It’s funny how quickly your paradigms change. A couple of decades ago, I was one of these strange people who could roam at will during the daylight hours. I was at home with my four boys and I didn’t start working again until Evan5 was at school. It was perfectly normal to go to the supermarket in the middle of the morning, or visit a friend for coffee and a chat in the afternoon. We’d visit the park on sunny days with never a thought for people stuck inside, working.

Now, after 15 years of being in the classroom?

The paradigm has completely shifted the other way. Now it seems perfectly normal to be unavailable to the outside world from 8 – 4. The Real World is right where I am and any awareness of an alternate way of living is pretty slight.

Sometimes, when I’m teaching upstairs in ‘A’ Block, I’ll stand by the window and see someone casually walking down the street, seemingly without a care in the world. Or I’ll see one of the neighbours serenely working in their garden.

It gives a little jolt to my brain. It’s a reminder that life doesn’t always have to be like this. People can and do live their lives on different rhythms than the traditional 9 – 5 work day.

It’s a reminder that one day I’ll be one of those people.

Blogless Sandy, my best friend, has paved the way a bit for me with the whole retirement thing. She and her husband retired nearly two years ago and it’s interesting to hear about the patterns of their days. They’ve chosen to delay any travelling while they still have their old dog with them, so their days are very much ‘in place’ with nothing tying then down except the things they’ve chosen themselves to include.

I had no idea there was so much on offer for people to do when they “should” be at work. It’s almost outrageous! Blogless Sandy gallivants around doing bushwalking, yoga, picking up litter on their beach, walking dogs in shelters, while her husband has picked up some art classes. They have a couple of grandchildren and they look after them a couple of days a week while their daughter picks up teaching work.

They’re on the peninsula, so they regularly choose a winery and they go and enjoy a leisurely lunch. Because they are there in the middle of the week, they have conversations with staff who, on the weekends, either aren’t rostered on or who are too busy with the massive influx of Melbournians who make the drive down to enjoy their limited weekend fun time.

A few months ago they were lunching at Montalto, where the restaurant uses produce from a large kitchen garden.

After lunch, there was no pressing need to go home straight away. Their time is their own. They went for a walk around the kitchen garden and struck up a conversation with one of the gardeners. They were looking at all of the heirloom vegetables that were growing and talking of all things gardening. At the end of the day, they went home with some heirloom bean seeds from the garden that the gardener gave them. Without the leisurely time and space that they had, that encounter would never have happened.

I’m writing this on a Sunday. It’s nearly 9:45 AM. It’s a glorious sparkling summer’s day. In a second I’ll pop the dogs’ leads on and we’ll go for a gallop. This time tomorrow, I’ll be telling the kids to start putting their grammar books away because the bell is about to go. When it goes, all 28 kids and myself will leave the room and go on to our next class.

The weather will still be the same. The dogs and their leashes will still be here. But I’ll be 27kms away, writing a Dad joke* on the board and telling a new batch of 28 kids that it’s ‘Grammar Monday – open your books to the next unit.”

*sigh*

How strange to think that one day soon(ish), if I keep doing the things I’ve set in place, I’ll be able to do whatever I want on a Monday. How strange to think that I’ll be able to stride around in the daylight hours with confidence and surety, instead of scuttling to the doctors pretending to be sick, just to get a medical certificate for work. Stranger still to think that one day, it will all seem perfectly normal, and that my memories of the classroom will slowly fade.

The world outside work, in the daylight hours, is one that we workers tend not to think about a lot. But it’s there. It’s teeming with life, with sunlight and opportunities.

Every now and then, maybe it’s good to chuck a sickie just to be reminded.

*The Dad joke for tomorrow is: I’ve been reading a horror novel in braille. Something bad is going to happen – I can feel it!

Create – don’t simply consume.

When I was 7 my Gran taught me how to knit. I still remember the wool she used. It was bright red. Gran’s hands moved effortlessly as she showed me what to do, while mine wrestled incompetently with the wool and the needles. We were in the dining nook, she was to the left of me, while Mum was in the kitchen, where she could keep an eye on what was going on without being in the way.

My brother and sister weren’t interested in learning, but for some reason it stuck with me and I’ve been knitting ever since. 

Years later, long after Gran died, Mum and I were talking about her, and Mum said something that I’ve never forgotten.

“Mum said to me, when I left work to have you, that I needed to learn a skill,” she said. “Something that I could point to at the end of the day and say, ‘That’s how I spent some time today’. Something that will LAST. When you’re a young Mum at home with kids, so much of your time is spent on work that will need to be done again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. It’s disheartening. You need something you can hold in your hand and know that it’s not going to go away any time soon. You need something for YOU.”

Gran’s ‘tangible thing’ was knitting. Mum’s was sewing. Many’s the time I’d hear her swearing at the sewing machine when I was a kid. She made our clothes, but she also made aprons and other things for sale. She sewed the curtains for our family room and dabbled with embroidery as well. 

These women from the past were motivated in part by frugality – back then it was cheaper to handmade clothes, not like today! – but they were also satisfying that innate human urge to create.

Maybe this is why so many people in the FIRE movement are drawn to blogging? Many jobs are essentially the same as being at home with children. Every day the kids need feeding. You can’t cook the perfect meal and say, “Nailed it! I never have to do this again! Behold my perfect meal!” 

Or you vacuum and dust the lounge room and it looks terrific. “Hooray! I never have to clean this room again!” said no-one ever. It always has to be done again.

It’s the same with our jobs. We pitch the perfect proposal/write the most wonderful report/teach an amazing lesson and we feel great… but it all has to be done again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. There are few jobs, particularly in office environments, where the work you do today is still around years from now.

No wonder people get burned out.

So much of the advice about retiring early revolves around the money, but there’s also that recurring advice of “You already know what you’re retiring FROM. Work out what you’re retiring TO.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many early retirees find that they’re drawn to work that they do with their hands. Creativity is deep within the human psyche and making something appear that would never have been there without you is deeply satisfying. Once people free up the hours each day that were once spent commuting and working, it’s not surprising that many are drawn to scratching that creative itch that was left neglected for so long.

So here’s the crazy idea – what if you built in some time before you leave work to develop these skills you’re drawn to?

Surely it’s got to make the time we spend between finding out about FIRE and finally being able to pull the pin on the job a little more pleasant. Learning how to work with your hands, or practising a skill like songwriting or sketching doesn’t have a time limit on it. It won’t matter if you take a year of weekend/after work time to master a basic skill, or 2 years or 10. Who cares? You’re doing it for YOU. There’s no ‘Skillz Boss’ looking over your shoulder.

I’m guessing most people would already know what they’d spend creative time doing, but some people may not. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box a little.

For example – what if you really love cooking? Each meal or dessert you make gets eaten and enjoyed, but you might feel there’s nothing tangible left for YOU. What about putting a book of ‘Family Favourite’ recipes together? Or maybe a collection of ‘Incredible Dessert’ recipes or ‘Excellent Meals to bring to Pot-Lucks’ to give to your friends? That’s creative.

What if you enjoy playing an instrument, but you have zero interest in songwriting? I live with musicians and I know for a fact that it’s never been easier to record yourself and create a video or (if you want to delight your Mum) make a CD of you playing your favourite songs. You don’t have to write your own songs to be able to create beautiful music that makes people feel good.

Me? Obviously, I have my blogs, but I also knit small, deliciously soft cowls and hats for people, made from skeins of Peruvian alpaca wool hand-dyed by virgins in large kettles over open fires. (If you believe the advertising.) I have a queen-sized quilt on the go for Tom27. The squares are 2.5 inches each, so he’ll probably be known as Tom58 by the time he gets it. I write the (very) occasional poem. I garden.

It’s too easy to get lost in spreadsheets and projections with hideous Maths and numerals when we’re racing towards FI/RE. Every one of us needs to nurture that little creative spark within us, so that when we reach FIRE and we can choose to spend our time in whichever ways we want – we actually have a few clear desires to follow.

No one wants to be that persnickety guy in socks and sandals worried about those pesky kids coming onto his lawn. If we’re putting in all this work to reach our personal freedom, let’s be running TOWARDS something that will give us joy. Life’s too short to die wondering.

Let’s find out what we enjoy and get going on actually enjoying it. Could be fun…

The FIRE Quilt.

It’s funny how the things you see every day, without really noticing them anymore, can suddenly hit you in a different way.(

This quilt lives on my bed during summer. I made it at least ten years ago, back in the days before my side-hustle of selling thermomixes stopped me quilting. 

Being slightly frugal by nature, I liked the idea of using scraps that most people would throw away to make a useable-sized quilt, so as I made other quilts, I’d save the tiny scraps. Every now and then I’d have an afternoon where I’d sew these scraps together into squares. Each square is 5″. (I know it’s weird to talk in inches, but that’s what quilting deals with, probably because so many Americans do it, those wild and crazy people!)

Some of these scraps are only 1/4” wide. I liked the idea of randomly coming across a sliver of material and making it part of the larger whole. Most strips are wider, but few are wider than 1”. I wanted to use the scrips and scraps and create a riot of colour. 

This quilt was definitely a long-term project. It took me 9 months to complete. Yes, it was the baby I made when I didn’t want to make a fifth actual baby!!

I didn’t buy any extra fabric for this one; I just used what I had. This means that there are recurring fabrics throughout, but no square is the same as any other.

The funny thing is that you could point to any strip in this quilt and I’d be able to tell you where it came from. The doll quilts I made and sold on Etsy to try and earn some money when I was stuck at home with the kids. The quilts I made for the boys with a sewing machine I borrowed from Blogless Sandy, because I couldn’t afford to buy one for myself. The quilts I made for friends and for my family. The quilts I made for David25’s friends who supported him when he was a teenager and dealing with debilitating depression. They’re all there and I remember them.

It occurred to me this morning that our collective hike towards FI/RE is put together a little like this scrappy quilt. 

We begin with the big picture in mind. A life free of any commitments that we don’t want to do. A life where we can build our days as we please. 

But there are So Many Days between when we find out about FI and when we reach it. 

On its own, each day seems insignificant. Just a scrap of time, neither here nor there. We move through our days, sometimes almost sleepwalking through them as the day-to-day routines swamp us. We realise this is happening only when the end of the month comes as a shock – “Where did February go?!?” – or “OMG!! Christmas is nearly here! How did that happen?”

And yet, every day is a strip of time that’s building a bigger whole.

I have to admit, I get impatient when I think about retirement. I like my job but it seems that my days of freedom are so far away. My job and the commute become irritants which are standing in my way of living how I want to live. A little bit of this thinking is good, because it keeps you moving towards your goal. Too much of it, though, isn’t good. It sucks the fun out of life.

I think that the whole concept of FIRE appeals to long-term thinkers. We’re really good at focussing on the far-away goal and moving towards it. This is a terrific trait, but we run the risk of letting it ruin the very thing we’re striving for – improving our quality of life.

Certain sacrifices need to be made in order to reach the over-riding, lofty goal. But just like the quilt, the goal won’t be reached without every strip of time being included in it. What a waste if all we do is focus on the future!

No one on Earth has a quilt that is the same as this one. 

Do I need to make the obvious comment about our lives?

Make each strip count. Do something every day – no matter how small – to bring a smile to your face. We all have a ‘FIRE Quilt’ – it’s just that mine is lying on my bed and yours is your life. On the way to bringing your ‘quilt’ together, take the time to let those colours sing.

****** For those who’d like an update on how Scout is doing after her brush with death, I wrote about her on my other blog.

Here she is, looking sleepy, but alive.

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