Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Using the 4% Rule to estimate future costs is depressing.

This house is clean, says housekeeper.

Today I’m having a few friends over for lunch. My dear friend Scott, who used to be my work husband before he and his real-life husband moved to the UK 10 years ago, is back for a visit. He’s such a good friend and it’s so much better to talk away with him in person, rather than over Skype. I’ve invited a few other people over for lunch and then he’ll hang around for dinner.

He’ll see the Backyard Beach, the dogs and, of course, The Best House in Melbourne. Which means, of course, I want it to look its best.

Every now and then it’s good to invite people over. I’ve learned that it makes me do a deep clean of the house and then I can relax for a while and just keep tidying as I go. There are many things ahead of cleaning on my ‘What do I want to do for fun?’ list.

One of my goals when I retire is to have a cleaner come in, maybe once a fortnight. At the moment I do the cleaning myself, or better yet, I nag the boys to do it. They’re responsible for their bathroom and toilet and their own rooms, which works out pretty well.

It’s amazing the difference having a girlfriend makes! David 25 keeps his room vacuumed, dusted and neat… “Izzy’s coming over!” he’ll say as he drags the vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard. Ryan24, on the other hand? Let’s just say he really needs to get out more and meet a nice, sensible gamer girl – his room’s a mess.

As an organised, responsible financial blogger, I decided to see how much I would have to put away in an account to pay for a cleaner in perpetuity, using the 4% Rule. The result was depressing.

(For those not sure about what the 4% Rule is, I blogged about it here in ‘The 4% Rule For People Who Are Scared of Maths.’)

Maids make housecleaning way more fun.

Assuming a cleaner costs around $30/hour, which appears to be the going rate here, if I hired someone to toddle over once a fortnight for a couple of hours to wave a mop and duster around, it would cost $1,560/year. Let’s round that up to $1,600 because it’ll make it easier.

$1,600 X 25 = 40K. Yikes!

As I look at that total, it really brings home how every single cost we have is amplified when we’re looking to save for retirement. $60/fortnight doesn’t seem like a really big thing, yet if it’s included as part of the annual running costs of living, then over time it becomes significant.

Of course, the question then becomes… how much do I really hate cleaning? Do I hate cleaning 40K’s worth? I’m frugal, but in my spending I’m a Value-ist. I don’t mind laying out the big bucks if I feel something significantly adds value to my life.

The answer will almost certainly be that while I still have boys living with me that are big enough and ugly enough to wield a broom, a lawn mower and a toilet brush, I’ll probably hold off on getting a cleaner. But once I’m on my own… hmmm…

The house won’t get nearly as messy. I’ll still loathe having to mop and dust. It’d probably be worth it to get someone to come in. Just as a little reward to myself.

I love a clean and tidy house. I just hate having to do it because it never stays that way. I wouldn’t mind doing a perfect job of cleaning if I only had to do it once and then it would stay that way for years. Because it doesn’t, it seems like a waste of effort, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it’s 8AM and that lasagne won’t make itself! I’ll go and make what I can for lunch early, mop the floor, dust my room and, if I’m lucky, get out into the veggie garden and sweep all the bougainvillia flowers off the paving. I know there are some visitors who’ll want to see how it looks.

You know, the more I think about it, a cleaner would be a valuable time-saving resource… imagine all the other, more creative and interesting things I could be doing with my life instead of mopping and dusting? It’s dawning on me that it’d almost be irresponsible NOT to hire a cleaner… how much is Future Frogdancer’s time worth, anyway?

Probably much more than $30/hour…

See you after lunch!

Sometimes you’ve just got to do it now.

This morning I woke up to the news that Notre Dame in Paris is burning. My heart is so heavy. Back in 2015, on my big 9 week trip to Europe and the Uk, I went to Notre Dame on my last day of the bus tour through Europe.

Thankfully, if you blog, you keep the memories. Here is my account of that day, complete with photos of that beautiful cathedral. It’s been standing since the 1100’s… how could we have any inkling that less than 4 years later it would be alight?

When I woke up today, I reached out to grab my laptop from the bedside table and saw the news. After my first feeling of horror, my next thought was , ‘Thank God I got to see it.’

People who are on the path to FI are very focussed. We’ve found out about the 4% rule, the amazing benefits of compounding, frugality, side hustles and the importance of our savings rates. We know that if we keep our eyes on the prize and hustle, we can shave years off our need to go and work for the Man.

I first saw Notre Dame on a river cruise we took on our first night in Paris.

But life is a balancing act. How much do you put aside to work for the future and how much do you ‘YOLO’?

For those of you who don’t know my story about my trip to Europe – I first planned this trip when I was 15. I’m a history buff, particularly English and French history, so I had a huge burn to get over there and see all the things I’d only read about.

But then life intervened.

Ironically for a teacher, I’m not a natural student. While most people who were going to travel took a gap year after high school, I knew in my bones that if I took a break from study, I’d probably never go back. I wanted that degree under my belt, so I decided to go straight to Uni, get my Bachelors and then go travelling. What could go wrong?

My biggest mistake, that’s what. I met the man I was stupidly going to marry and he had no desire to travel at all. I put my dreams on hold again.

I kept snapping as we glided past. The spire is gone now.

Of course, once I divorced him, walking away with $60 cash and with 4 small boys under the age of 5 to support, there was no money for travel. I was scrabbling just to keep the roof over our heads. Europe and the Uk faded away into an impossible dream while I kept my head down and worked to support my family.

But if you work hard, things have a way of changing.

I paid off my mortgage. My kids were growing up. I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I discovered FI/RE and got excited about investing for the future.

But I still wanted to see Europe.

I had a choice. Keep going as I was going, putting everything aside into investments and working towards a comfortable retirement where I could travel as much as I want – or bite the bullet and go now.

The rear of the cathedral.

I decided to wait until Connor17, my youngest child, was finished with high school, take a term of fully paid long service leave and Just Do It.

When I got there, I was 51.

That’s fully 36 years since I first planned a trip there. (I know – I did some Maths. I did it so you don’t have to.)

I spent around 30K on that trip. I don’t have exact figures – it’s too scary to tot everything up – but after a lifetime of waiting, I decided to deny myself very little and do, see and experience everything I possibly could. The investment opportunity cost of that trip is huge – but do I regret it?

Not for a moment. Especially this morning, when this awful thing is happening and it brings home the fact that in this life, some things can’t be put off. You never know when things or people are going to come to an end.

It’s all very well to be practical and have an eye to the future. After all, it’s one of the things that Frogdancer Jones knows all too well how to do, being a natural long-term thinker. But also…

Sometimes you just have to do it now.

This shot captures my trip.

Mindfulness

This year our school is rolling out weekly Mindfulness sessions throughout the whole school. Every Monday morning after we mark the roll, there’ll be the sound of a Tibetan bell and all the kids will be guided for a 10-minute Mindfulness/meditation session by their teachers. We start next week and I’ll be guiding my little year 7s through it. They’re going to love it.

The school has had mindfulness classes for a couple of years now, but these were optional classes at lunchtime. Now, after more data has been collected, particularly by Monash University, everyone is going to get the benefit.

Blogless Liz, the woman I sit next to in the staffroom, has been a huge fan of meditation and mindfulness for years. She’s talked a bit about it but I’ve never actually done a session like this until we started the teacher training when term started a few weeks ago.

Basically, it’s a little like meditation but with no mantras. You sit or stand quietly, noticing sounds, smells, your breathing, the way your feet feel on the floor etc. Any time your thoughts start to wander, when you realise it you bring your attention back to the ‘here and now’. It’s incredibly grounding and refreshing.

When we finished the first session, Blogless Liz asked me what I thought.

“I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years – I just didn’t know it had a name!” I said. ” I’ve been calling it ‘Noticing the little things,‘ “

This was brought to my mind today when I was listening to a podcast, where the Mad FIentist was interviewing Grant Sabatier about his new book. Towards the end of the podcast, they talk about the first times they were ‘in the moment’, truly contented and enjoying what was around them, instead of constantly thinking and hustling and striving or the next goal.

Mindfulness.

The choice to focus inward, with no judgement, to centre yourself and focus on what IS, not what you’re working towards and planning towards. This is a novel experience for FIRE people – we’re always looking to optimise habits, earning capacity and spending to get to where we want to be as fast as possible.

For anyone who’s interested, Monash University is running a free online course, starting at the end of April. I’ve signed up to it, along with everyone else in The Danger Zone (our section of the staffroom.) Monash Uni has made mindfulness a core part of most of their undergraduate programmes, particularly the high-stress ones like Medicine and Law.

Here’s the link. Enjoy! Anything that lowers stress and makes people feel good without doing stupid or illegal things is a Good Thing in my book!

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Please keep your fingers crossed for Scout.

As I write this, Scout is undergoing emergency surgery for a suspected intestinal obstruction. She is a very, very sick little dog.

She looked a little off colour when I came home from work on Tuesday. (It’s Thursday now.) David25 said that she wasn’t really herself. Every now and then she’d cry out, but she’s done that before and it’s always been fine. She didn’t eat her dinner though, which isn’t like her.

I went to work the next day after she got up and ate breakfast. I gave her dry food, not a chicken neck, as I was worried that maybe the chicken neck was the problem. Ryan24 was going to be home all day so I knew she’d be under observation, but just as a precaution I rang the vet and booked an appointment for later that day. I figured that if Scout was better when I got back, I’d take Jeff for his vaccinations. He was due for them anyway.

When I walked through the door, Scout came out and jumped on the couch, wagging her tail. She still seemed a little flat, but she was definitely chirpier than when I left that morning.

I decided to give here a test and threw her favourite ball down the hallway. She ran after it, and even though Poppy got to it first, which is rare, Scout looked so much better that I thought she was on the mend from whatever ailed her, so I took Jeff to the vet instead.

Wrong decision.

When I left for the vet with Poppy and Jeff, we could hear Scout barking indignantly from my bedroom where I’d locked her in. By the time we came back she was flatter. She didn’t eat dinner.

The dogs sleep in my room, which turned out to be a good thing when she threw up twice in the middle of the night. It was clear that her stomach hadn’t absorbed anything for at least a day and a half. She lay in her bed, moaning softly.

I was at the vet practically banging on the door at 8AM.

When the vet rang me at 2PM, he said that she wasn’t in a good way. They were so concerned about her that they’d rushed her bloodwork by courier to be tested. The results weren’t great. They’d given her a barium drink, and even after 2 hours the xrays showed only the barest trace had escaped from her stomach. There was clearly something in the way.

I okayed the surgery over the phone, but he insisted that I come in to discuss it. After I got over the phone I said to the boys, “I get the feeling he’s giving us the chance to say goodbye, just in case.” So all 3 of us went down.

I’ve never seen a dog look so sick, and I’ve owned a lot of dogs and been in quite a few vet surgeries in my time. She’s such a little scrap of a thing and dehydration hits little dogs (and humans) hard. She barely reacted to us being there, which we assumed was due to her being sedated, but the vet said that she had only had mild pain relief. This wasn’t sedation. This was how she was.

She looked as if she had retreated into herself.

The vet said it would be three hours until he could ring us. As luck would have it, yesterday was the only day I’ve ever left my phone at work, so he’s communicating with us through Ryan24’s phone. I can’t talk directly to my friends, only through Messenger, so I guess that’s why I’m writing this to you. I have to communicate somehow. Besides, she’s been in so many photos here, and featured in a few posts.

It’s funny though, how even in the midst of intense worry, life has its own weird sense of humour.

About an hour after her operation started, I said to Ryan24, “I just don’t want your phone to ring until about 5:30. That’ll mean she’s made it through the operation.”

I then thought to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have said that. It’s tempting fate.’

Then, not one minute later, his phone rang.

We looked at each other and my eyes filled. Neither one of us wanted to pick up. Finally, I did.

It was a damned salesman trying to sell Ryan24 – a student without a house of his own – some subsidised solar panels. We had to smile, but it was from utter relief.

Never Tempt Fate. Fate doesn’t have a very good sense of comedic timing.

Anyway, I’ll press ‘publish’ on this. I should be hearing from the vet within this next hour. Please keep our little girl in your thoughts – she needs all the goodness she can get.

Thanks.

FRIDAY MORNING: I just talked with the vet. He went in to check on her at 10PM last night and said that she was lethargic but stable. This morning when I rang he sad that she’s turned the corner. She’s wagging her tal, they’ve taken the drip off her – I was so pleased about this one because it proves she’s feeling better – and they’ll be test-feeding her today to see if she can keep food down.

If she continues o do well, she might be coming home tonight.

If I wasn’t typing this in front of a class I’m subbing, I’d be dancing for joy.

I’m visiting Principal FI today!

I’m sure we can all identify with Principal FI – it must be awful to think you’re going to get a day off and then you don’t.

Anyway, please jump across and read the interview I did for him on his ‘Educators on FI/RE’ series. (Sounds like something the kids might do to stay warm if the school was snowed in!!!)

This is an interview that, when it came out, I read and thought, ‘Yeah, I’m really happy with this one.’ I’d like to thank him for allowing me to share with his readers.

HERE IT IS.

Just Do It.

This morning I got up and fully intended to write a blog post that would knock everyone’s socks off.

But first I had to take the dogs for a walk. It was forecast to be about 39C/ 102F today, so I needed to walk them before it got too hot. This shot is when we got down to the beach at about 8 AM.

We lingered for around half an hour. Lots of other dogs were there and it was warm, the sea was like glass and everyone was happy.

I got home and watered the veggies. I noticed that a couple of cherry tomatoes had withered on the vine in the heat, so I harvested what I could.

Not bad! I watered the garden to give the plants a sporting chance of surviving the next two days, because tomorrow is going to be even hotter. Then, just as I was settling down to write, Mum and Dad dropped in.

By the time they left, it was time to leave for Blogless Sandy’s place for lunch.

I got home, intending to write…. but then I saw that the Rockstar Rumble round that I was in had taken a turn for the worse. When I left for lunch, I had over 60% of the vote. When I got back, I was behind by 10 votes. Yikes!

I spent the next hour or so publicising the vote around different forums and social media. I may lose this round and my place in the competition, but never let it be said that I went down without a fight!

Now it’s nearly 10PM. I’m here on the couch with Jeff and Scout, air con going, watching Jack Irish on Netflix and periodically pulling up the Rockstar Rumble results page to see how the votes are going. (The summer holidays aren’t meant to be this stressful!!)

I had a goal to post 3 times a week. It’s on my chart that I blogged about a little while ago. Even though today didn’t go as planned, I still wanted to colour in that task. It’d be easy to pour another Shiraz and say that the day got away from me, but really… I’m on holidays. I have the whole day. If I can’t plug away at changing my habits now, how will I go from next week when I’m back at work?

I want to embed these habits within myself. I need to do what needs to be done, even if occasionally what I do isn’t as polished and well-thought-out as I’d like. At the risk of sounding like a sporting goods ad, sometimes I should Just Do It.

Apologies for the meandering post. Like the guy in the photo, I’ll keep paddling until I reach where I want to go.

I’m guessing you will too.

The secret to happiness.

I’ve always been a long-term thinker. I bought our old house because it was in the zone of one of the best secondary schools in the state. I did this when my oldest was still in kindergarten. He wasn’t yet 5 years old.

I set a goal to pay off that house before I decided to start investing. It took me a long time, as I wrote about here in ‘The story of how Frogdancer Jones won her Freedom.‘ But I had the goal of complete security for myself and the boys in front of me and I kept chipping away at it until the job was done.

I have always wanted to travel. I mapped out my dream holiday in the UK and Europe when I was 15.

It took me until I was 51 before I finally got to go. Actually, the header picture of this blog is the skyline above Hampton Court Palace in England, which was a dream come true for this Tudor-history buff. Those clouds remind me that I’m one of the luckiest people around.

Yes, I consider myself to be extremely lucky, so much so that nearly every day I’m calling myself “Fortunate Frogdancer!” when yet another thing goes my way. But I didn’t always see myself like this.

The first few years after I left my husband and set out on a life on my own – if you can ever say that when you have 4 small boys under 5 with you! – life was tough. I was a teacher, but there was no point even thinking about going to work with all the boys still at home. The child-care fees would have killed me, even back then.

Money was tight. I had good friends and family, but it’s still quite an isolated life being at home with small children. There’s only so many times you can sing, “I’m a little teapot” along with the presenters of ‘Play School’ before you feel like your brain is turning to mush and dribbling out from your mouth as you sing.

Because money was tight, I didn’t go out very often. It took 2 years after the separation before I could even think about dating again, but when I started, most men obviously heard the magical sentence “I have four children” and that was it. The ones who didn’t seem to care were sometimes a bit creepy so that wasn’t anything I wanted to pursue.

I remember sitting on the front porch one night after the kids were in bed, feeling anxious about the future and worrying that we were never going to get ahead. I was probably still about 2 years away from going back to work at that point and it seemed as if the position I was in was never going to change. It all looked pretty bleak.

I was getting teary, thinking about our bleak, poverty-stricken future and wondering how it was that all my goals were so far out of reach when I was a well-educated person who should have run things better. That started to get a bit depressing, so I thought I’d better do something productive, so I started watering the garden.

This garden was pretty much one that I’d inherited from the old lady who lived in there before me. One of the plants was a big, lush rose bush with huge white flowers ruffled with pink. As I was worrying about all of my big goals being so far out of reach, I leaned forward on a whim and smelled one of the roses. (You can see the rose bush in the photo – Evan18’s Valedictorydinner 4 years ago.)

I smiled. The scent was glorious. I turned around to put the hose onto another section of garden and realised that I was still smiling.

My eyes widened as I realised that I’d just been given the secret to happiness.

Appreciate the little joys in life. They come along much more frequently than the big things!

It’s so true. From that moment on my life has been wonderful.

Did I feel great when I finally paid off that mortgage? You bet. One of the best moments of my life.

How did I feel when I was walking through Westminster Abbey, seeing all of those tombs of the English Kings and Queens? I was overcome with happiness and awe and I knew I’d never forget that day.

Was it worth all of the angst when the geo-arbitrage gamble I made paid off and I was debt-free again? Absolutely.

But these things only happened on a handful of days that I’ve lived. If I waited for all of the big things to happen so that I could feel great, I have to tell you that it’d be a long time between drinks!

But little things happen every single day. We just choose to gloss over them while we have our eyes on the bigger prizes.

When you switch your focus to living more in the moment, then your life becomes so much happier. The little things glitter like jewels when you stop to really enjoy them. Things like these:

*The smell of a cup of French Earl Grey tea as you raise it to your lips. It’s a tiny luxury.

*When you come home after a long day at work and someone else has started dinner!!! You sit down on the couch and they bring you a glass of wine. (I had to wait a long time for this to happen. Kids take a long time to grow up.)

*The completely unselfconscious sound of a small child laughing.

*Getting the last car park.

*The gentle weight of a dog’s head lying in your lap as you read a book. So much love and trust.

*The sound of the sea. The smell of the salty air. Seagulls soaring overhead.

*Hearing a bird sing as you’re waking up in the morning.

*The sound of a storm outside, while you’re warm and snug inside. It’s even better if you eat a bowl of icecream while you’re listening to it. So cold outside the house and inside your belly, yet you’re so warm and safe everywhere else.

*Finding out that the next season of a favourite tv show is out on Netflix. Or the next instalment of a series of books you love is being released. Or a sequel to a novel you’ve loved for decades is being written. (Margaret Attwood is releasing a sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ later this year. Pretty darned exciting…)

*Cracking a joke and everyone laughs. Or even better – someone else cracks a joke that you didn’t see coming and YOU laugh.

*Dancing, especially if you know the song so you can make all the moves, baby.

*Trying out a new recipe and that first taste-test when you realise that you nailed it. You feel like the greatest chef ever.

*That lovely feeling after you cut your toenails. So freeing. Or is that just me?

*Teaching somebody something and that look in their eye when they understand it.

*Catching a ball. This has happened very rarely in my life, but I think that even if you’re used to doing it, it must still be very satisfying.

*Still on the subject of balls – throwing a ball for a dog. They’re convinced that it’s the Best Game Ever and they never get sick of it. Such a simple thing.

*A cat’s purr. I think that’s one of the most contented sounds in the world.

*Hearing a song that you haven’t heard for YEARS and you can still sing along to all the lyrics.

*That satisfied feeling of tiredness at the end of a really productive day when you’ve gotten a whole lot of things done.

*Realising that you’re having a good hair day.

*When you silently share a glance with someone and you realise that you’re both on the same wave-length.

*Finding $20 in a pocket that you forgot you put there. It’s like free money!!

*Sunlight on your skin on an autumn day.

*The laughter and chatter of friends sitting around a dinner table.

*When your child actually acts on your advice, or when they compliment you on your taste in music.

That’s a list of 25 small things that I put down completely randomly off the top of my head.

Normally I don’t finish my posts with questions for my readers, but do you have a small thing that brings joy for you? It might be cool if we get a list of small things in the comments. I’ve started the ball rolling – so what little thing brings a smile to your face?

When the rug gets pulled out from under you.

When I’m working, I get up before the sun. I leave at around 7AM and drive for 50 minutes or so, walking into the staff room just as the place is starting to get that “buzz” as people arrive. There’s always banter between people, but when the locker bell rings we know that the countdown has begun. At 8:50 AM the bell for period 1 rings and the day ticks inexorably onwards until the final bell at 3:10 PM.

There’s always the sound of children. In class, of course, but during recess and lunchtime there’s no escaping that noise. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a happy noise of kids talking, laughing, calling out to each other – but it’s constant. Kids are right outside the staff room windows, so sometimes we put the blinds down if we see them peering in.

The school I teach at has around 2,300 kids. That’s a lot of noise, buzz and activity.

Whereas right now, the only thing I hear is the sound of the keys on my keyboard and the air conditioner softly going. Ryan24 has just walked down the hall to talk about something with me. My phone rang and Tom26 and I had a quick chat, because he was at work.

This morning we found out that David25’s girlfriend has leukaemia.

It’s funny how when bad news hits you just want to touch base with family. As soon as David25 left to be with Izzy, I rang my sister and my best friend. When Tom26 heard, he talked to his Mum.

Ryan24 came to tell me that apparently her style of the disease has an 80% success rate and they think they’ve caught it early.

She’s only 21.

I’m here, with the sound of the keys on the laptop, the gentle sound of the air conditioner and the warmth of Jeff snuggled up beside me even though the day is too hot for him to be doing it. With news like this, I’m glad I’m home. It’s pure chance that it wasn’t a normal Tuesday, where I’d be surrounded by thousands of people and their concerns. I don’t have to put my game-face on and pretend that the only thing on my mind is teaching the proper essay techniques they need to know to get a good mark.

I can take the time to sit and think of her and my son. They’ve been going out for around 18 months. They met at uni when they were doing the same music course. He absolutely adores her. Her family is one of the closest-knit families I’ve ever seen and there’s no doubt they’ll rally around her with all the love and support that you could wish for.

It’s such a shock.

This isn’t a ‘proper’ FI post.

I guess it’s just a reminder to cherish the people you’re going through life with. Expectations and all the plans in the world can be derailed without the slightest warning.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.

Go and hug a friend.

 

The scariest financial decision of all.

I was going to post about something else today, but last night I heard about a friend of mine whose marriage has hit a huge speed bump. They have 2 very young kids and one of the things that’s on her mind is how she’d manage financially on her own.

I remember that feeling so well.

The scariest thing I ever did was to end my marriage with 4 boys under 5. When I was making the decision, I remember sitting on my back step, watching my little boys happily playing in the backyard. I remember hugging myself and whispering, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard. What if I muck them up?”

And then the thought occurred to me. It wasn’t the clincher – A. provided that for me a week or so later when he leaned against the door jamb and said, “In marriage, you always get another chance” and I realised I was pushing s**t uphill – but this back-step thought was hugely important in making me face my situation.

I was watching these beautiful, loving, innocent boys running around and I thought, “What if they grow up thinking that this unhappy marriage is normal and then THEY end up getting divorces because you were too gutless to break the cycle?”

All my worries about finances and the mortgage and ‘how-will-I-support-so-many-kids-on-my-own’ fell away when I confronted their emotional futures. It was 1997. If, in 1997, I was desperately unhappy with how I was being treated, then women in 2020 (say) would DEFINITELY not be happy. My boys would be wrecking relationships left, right and centre and they’d be miserable without knowing what they were doing to cause it. And it would all come down to me being a coward or not.

Up until then, I had told no one how I was feeling about the marriage. I hadn’t mentioned a word of the dynamic that was going on and the things that were happening. I told myself that it was because I didn’t want to worry anyone.

But really, deep down, I knew that if I breathed a word about it, then I’d be forced to act. Once people know what’s going on, it forces you to confront your choices. It was easier to be an ostrich and try and let things go. To focus on being a mother and to ignore that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see the husband walking up the driveway – is it a ‘walking on eggshells’ type of day? Or is it not? To visit friends and smile and pretend that this man that I didn’t even respect anymore was truly my heart’s choice.

It was a week after the door jamb remark that I ended our marriage. I talked to A. first, then I rang my sister. We were talking about that phone call a couple of years ago and she said, “At first I thought you were just having a whinge, but then I realised that this was something serious.”

That phone call changed everything. Then, word spread around my family and friends. Finally, the cold hard light of publicity was shining into the dark little fog of that marriage.

It’s amazing how easy it is to rationalise things when you’re within a relationship. Especially when there are small children involved – the amount of white noise and mind-numbing activity when there are toddlers enables so much prioritising of ceaseless activity instead of thoughtful reflection. Things can drift along for years without people dealing with them. I know that’s what happened with us.

But once other people start to get an idea of what’s really going on, you can’t continue to ignore. Not if you want to have a shred of credibility again. Once the words are out, there’s no way to unsay them and it forces you to move forward.

And that’s a very good thing. This is what’s happening to my friend and I’m pretty sure she’s weighing things up very seriously right now.

I understand my friend’s concern about finances. Those children aren’t going to go out and get jobs and support themselves – they’re 3 and 1. Thinking about finances in this situation is the mark of a good, responsible parent. When you have those little lives depending on you, you have to make adult decisions.

I remember thinking about having to sell the house – where would we live? Who would rent to a single mother with 4 kids? Who would rent to this family AND 2 dogs? No one, that’s who. Given this, how could I buy A. out and keep the house? I had no money. How would I support them all adequately? I knew I couldn’t go back to work – the childcare fees for the boys would eat up my entire wage. I knew I’d get the Sole Parents’ payment, as it was called back then. But would it be enough? There were so many financial unknowns I was stepping into. It was truly frightening.

Our financial situation was parlous. We had a mortgage of a little under 100K and $120 in the bank. To say that I was worried about how we’d manage is an understatement. I remember, the morning after my talk with A, I went to the bank and closed down our joint savings account. I gave $60 to A and kept $60 for us.

That’s what the boys and I started our new life with.

And you know what? We made it work.

My first priority was to save 1K as soon as possible. I called it my ‘Buffer Zone’. I wanted that financial cushion between the big bad world and my children. I saved it in 3 months. Talk about extreme frugality! Our protein sources were tinned tuna, sausages and eggs, with the boys getting all the meat. (Well, sometimes I’d sneak the end of a sausage. I’m only human.) I filled them up on bread. We went to bed early to save electricity. I looked at every dollar 3 times before I spent it.

That first success in achieving that goal was hugely important for 2 reasons.

First, it showed me that I COULD DO THIS. I could cut my coat to fit my cloth and my boys were safer.

The second reason? This was a HUGE lesson in why having an emergency account is so very important. After I saved the 1K and mentally patted myself on the back, I decided to call the bank to check on the mortgage. A. and I had agreed that, in lieu of child support, he’d continue to pay it.

(People who’ve been through a divorce know what’s going to happen next… )

“I’m sorry, Ms Jones, but this account is in arrears.”

I wanted to throttle him. How dare he play with our kids’ security just to get back at me?

“How much is owed?” I asked. I spoke through visions of the bank reclaiming the house and selling it, the kids and dogs and I being forced onto the streets, apocalypse and flame and destruction raining down…

There was some clicking on a keyboard.

“963 dollars,” she said.

I paid it within the hour. I never trusted A. again with finances – which stood me in good stead in the future – and I learned the solid gold value of having some savings to fall back on. It’s a lesson that’s burned deep into my psyche. I gritted my teeth and built that ‘Buffer Zone’ back up again.

My advice to my friend, if she ever asks for it, would be to make decisions based on what’s best for the family’s future. Don’t let short-term fears derail reflection on what’s best for the long-term health and happiness of everyone concerned, particularly the kids. It’s funny how we parents won’t do things for ourselves, but once we view it through the lens of what’s best for our children, we’ll make the hard decisions.

I’d advise her to scrape together at least 1K as soon as possible. Keep it in an online bank that is a different one to the one she uses for her everyday banking, so she isn’t looking at that tempting pile of money slowly growing.

I’ve always been extremely debt-averse, so I didn’t have any debt owing on my credit card etc. If there’s debt in my friend’s situation, I’d be advising a scorched-earth policy – sell stuff, stop subscriptions, get rid of as much debt as possible asap. Be careful of joint accounts and joint loans – if he walks away from them, guess who is liable for the whole amount?

A week after I had The Talk with A, the bank rang. He’d applied for a 40K business loan and had put my name on it as well. The bank (thank God!) was calling to confirm that I was ok with that. When I said that no I was definitely NOT ok with that because we had recently separated, they denied him the loan. I knew he’d be angry. (For the record, he was.) But imagine if my name was on that? He’d walked away from the mortgage – he would’ve walked away from this too and I would’ve been on the hook for it. I never would have been able to carry that loan and be able to keep the house.

I would tell her not to be scared, even though this is the scariest decision she’ll make. She has a degree and a career path open to her in the future. I’d tell her that this is exactly what I had and it saved our financial bacon.

I’d tell her that being frugal is probably the biggest weapon she has at her disposal. Whether she stays or goes, her situation will always be better if she spends less than she makes.

I’d tell her to never let finances and the fears of “what if” lock her into an unhappy situation. She’s a smart woman. She knows the value of a dollar. She loves her kids and (probably) her husband. She’s more than capable of taking the time to look at the relationship clearly and with her priorities in place and to work out where to go from here.

Is this crunch time for this marriage? I have no idea. I know that it took me a long time to weigh up everything, battle my fears and then make my decision. You know, I think that because I took so long to clearly weigh up everything, this was a huge part of why, when I chose to take action and leave, I’ve never felt even a pang of regret. In my case, leaving was the correct thing to do.

I know that this is a very difficult time for my friend. The cold hard light of day is now shining in on her marriage. She’s not alone. Around 50% of marriages end in divorce.

My heart goes out to her. When I think of her, I go back to that scared young woman back in 1997, sitting on the back doorstep and hugging herself while watching her children play. Embarking on a new life as the sole provider for your children is taking a huge leap of faith. Whether she chooses to take that path is not my call to make.

But I know that whatever she decides to do, she has enough grit, brains and backbone to make it a success. Her children are very lucky to have her.

 

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