Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Doing it tough? Hang in there- it gets better!

Woody and Forky.
On Saturday night I saw this movie with my 24-year-old son.

I had a couple of reasons for starting this blog. The one that initially pushed me over the edge and made me begin to write was that I grew so sick of reading posts by 20-and-30-somethings telling people how to become financially free, when they haven’t even done it themselves.

I have.

The second one was that I wanted to let people who are currently struggling know that there’s hope. Twenty-two years ago I left my husband with $60 cash in my wallet and 4 boys under 5 in tow after me. I wasn’t sure how we were going to keep our heads above water but I was determined that the boys wouldn’t suffer for my poor choice in a partner.

We had many years where we were living literally hand-to-mouth, but over time I managed to pay off the mortgage. I did this while working full-time as a teacher and being frugal. I never spent more than I made and I kept the long view in sight, always chipping away at the goals that would make us financially free.

Of course, we had fun along the way. I didn’t want the boys to miss out, so we went on a couple of family holidays to Bali and Thailand. (It was going to be the Gold Coast until I found out that it was cheaper to take them overseas than to travel domestically. How crazy is that?) The middle two boys went to America with the school’s stage band and they all had music lessons, school camps and the like.

And every now and then we went to the movies.

Now, taking 5 people to the movies isn’t for the frugal-minded, even back in the noughties. It was EXPENSIVE. So it wasn’t a regular thing. When they were very little we saw the classic Disney movies, then the new ‘classics’ like ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters Inc’ etc. I made it a family tradition that we’d see every single Harry Potter movie on the first day of release, along with the Star Wars movies. We’d probably go to the movies once or twice a year, so it was a Big Deal.

I kept the costs as low as I could. Before we left the house I’d feed them and water them. No rumbling tummies near that kiosk at the theatre! Movie tickets for 5 were expensive enough without paying stupidly inflated prices for lollies and popcorn. Instead, before we’d check into the movie, we’d take a short stroll to Target. Back then Target had a little self-serve lolly bar, so I’d hand out a SMALL bag to each person, then we were all let loose to choose what we wanted to snack upon.

In everything you do, add a touch of luxury!
David Niven is so right!

I did this for a couple of very good reasons.

The first reason was that going to the lolly place made the trip to the movies even more special. The whole ritual of driving to Southland or Chadstone and being able to choose the lollies they were going to eat with no need to compromise on anyone else’s preferences = luxury!

The second reason was that as four boys so close together in age, by necessity they had to share pretty much everything. This was a little way to give that extra little dollop of pleasure to the treat. When we were seated, I’d look down the row of boys all delightedly dipping into their lolly bags and it’d make me smile.

These movie visits were fun but had a huge amount of stress built into them as well. What if the movie was boring and the kids hated it? It wasn’t as if they see a movie every week so it didn’t matter. (I’m looking at you, ‘Star Wars Phantom Menace‘…) What if someone needed to go to the toilet half way through and we had to miss out on a huge slab of the movie I’d saved up so long for? (For the record, this never happened.) There was always a thin thread of tension until the movie finished and I could hear their reactions.

Fast forward fifteen-odd years to last Saturday night. It was Jordan25’s second anniversary with his girlfriend Izzy and he asked if Ryan24 and I could leave the house for the evening so he could make dinner for her. It felt a bit strange to be booted out of my own house, but we decided that dinner and a movie would be a good way to spend the time.

I booked the tickets to ‘Toy Story 4’ online and we drove into Southland. On the way, Evan22 rang. He and his girlfriend were in Melbourne for a party and he wanted to let me know that they’d be home later that night, around midnight and would be staying all day Sunday. It was turning into quite the family weekend!

Ryan24 and I walked along the line of cafés, looking at the menus. The first one we looked at ended up being the one we went back to. As we sat down I said to him, “Order whatever you like. “

He looked at me sideways. I said, “We’re here to make a memory, not save a couple of bucks.”

He smiled, then looked at the menu. “Look at the price of the steak!!” he said.

I looked. It was $38.

“Never order a steak from a place that doesn’t specialise in it,” he said. “You never get what you pay for.”

Ryan24’s definitely a valu-ist and is probably the most frugal of my boys. He used to work in kitchens a couple of years ago and he picked up a few things.

We ordered some wine and sat sipping it while we waited for dinner. He ended up going for a burger while I went for the parma. After we finished eating we still had an hour to kill so we ordered another couple of wines and kept on talking. Even though we share the same house, it’s rare that we talk for more than half an hour at a time, so this was really nice to be able to kick back with him, chat about what was going on in our lives and relax without stressing about the bill for the meal in the back of my mind.

Some things haven’t changed though. We saw ‘Toy Story 4’, so the family tradition continues! Also, I bought two bags of mixed lollies earlier that day from Aldi, so that was what we had to snack upon. My financial situation has definitely improved from where it was in the olden days, but I still don’t have to bend over and assume the position when it comes to getting ripped off with cinema food! Old habits die hard.

How life moves on! When the kids were little and I wasn’t working, taking them to the movies needed weeks of scrimping and planning. I’d shave $5 here and $10 there off the groceries and put that money aside. When I loaded the kids into the Torago (God what an awful car it was!) and we took off for the movies, it was an event. The boys were excited that they were going and I was excited that I’d pulled it off after weeks of planning.

Going to the movies with adult children is an entirely different beast.

Nowadays, the cost of tickets, while still what I’d consider expensive, isn’t a real concern. The event is more to generate conversation and to catch up with each other, so we build in a meal either before or after. Three of my boys are still students, so even though they’re in their twenties I still pay for everything, but that’s ok. I can afford it and I love spending time with them.

Again, it’s not something we do all the time. It’s still an event. But I’ve got to say, the warm feeling I felt as I sat in the café watching Ryan24 eating that enormous burger as I compared that night with the stress of how it used to be?

SO satisfying. I guess I wrote this post just to say to anyone who is struggling through a financially tough time, especially while bringing up little kids:

Hang in there. It gets better.


  1. Aussie HIFIRE

    I really enjoy these family stories and it’s great that you obviously still have a fantastic relationship with your boys!

    Ryan24 is definitely on the money about the steak, you’ll often end up disappointed if it’s not a specialty at the restaurant/pub, it hurts even worse when you’re out close to 40 bucks for the experience as well.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I think the FIRE space attracts value-ists like flies to honey!

  2. OFG

    This quote made me pause. “I had a couple of reasons for starting this blog. The one that initially pushed me over the edge and made me begin to write was that I grew so sick of reading posts by 20-and-30-somethings telling people how to become financially free, when they haven’t even done it themselves.” I can completely understand your desire to share your thoughts when you didn’t hear other voices echoing your sentiments. I didn’t start my blog to tell people how to become financially free, but a decade or so after starting it my husband and I reached the goal of FI. Having blogged for nearly fifteen years it’s interesting to read blogs written by 20 and 30 somethings. At one time I was the young whipper snapper and now I feel like the grandma of PF blogs 😉 I hope they all achieve their dreams, but I think it’s great that you proved it could be done. I love to see the diversity in blogs these days. So many more voices adding to the FI movement.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I started my personal blog in 2007 and it’s still going strong. Like you, I’ve been around this blogging thing for a while.
      I’m not sure that I’d agree that there are “many more voices” in this niche. I’ll agree that there are many more blogs, but unfortunately, so many of them sound the same.

  3. Diana E Sung

    Thanks for the encouragement. Some of us are a wee bit past the arrogant age of telling everyone else how to live but not quite where we should be yet (still living paycheck to paycheck, in debt, stressing about movie outings and the like), but see the future through your blog and faith in the process. Much appreciated!

    • FrogdancerJones

      When you’re caught up in the hurley-burley of surviving day-to-day, it’s hard to realistically imagine life being different.
      When I look at my life now as opposed to even 6 years ago, the things that are stressors aren’t financially related. Back when the boys were small, this was only a distant dream.
      I wish I had had a crystal ball back then, to get a glimpse that things would be ok. It would’ve saved a lot of worry!!
      Keep going. You’ll get there.

  4. freddy smidlap

    we almost never went to the movies when i was growing up. i still haven’t seen some of the 70’s blockbusters but we did manage to get to the drive-in theater for most of the burt reynolds movies like smokey and the bandit. it really was a treat for us in those days. it was the same with the rare occasion we went into town as a family and got to stop for an ice cream. now i’ve had it easy for years and have become soft and taken those small things for granted.

    i was like you when i first started reading blogs from people who hadn’t had much turmoil or hardship…yet. i kept the comments to myself but couldn’t help think about mike tyson saying “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” i really enjoyed this post.

  5. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    Glad you’ve come so far. You’re right that it gets better. Nine years ago I was on disability, unable to work, married to a spender (who also had health problems and was going on disability). Then I got a job from home and things began to improve exponentially. Now I’m a high income earner (and have ditched the spender) and life looks pretty darn good!

    • FrogdancerJones

      There’s a saying here that says, “You wouldn’t be dead for quids!”
      Life is gooood.

  6. Edwena

    Great post! I know a lot of others that would find great encouragement in it – do you mind if I post a link to it on facebook?

  7. Roz

    Great post that reminded me of my kids and movies as a treat when we had to pop the popcorn at home before we went! Unfortunately I stayed in my bad bad marriage for 16 horrendous years with 3 children. I have read all of your posts and you have shown such courage in your life path. For me that was all 20 years ago and all my kids are in their early 30s and now we have movie and dinner dates just like you are with your adult kids. I love having the opportunity for a one on one with them.

    • FrogdancerJones

      It’s amazing how sweet life is now, when you look back and compare. Adult kids are fun!
      (And handy when you need some mowing or pruning done…)

  8. Chris

    I grew up around Southland and remember the day they opened the cinemas there. Movies were free that day and I went and saw Ghost. Moved to Queensland since, but every time I visited my grandparents back in Cheltenham — including straight after my divorce to inherit their car, which my ex got — I used to pine for the days when things were simple and money worries were something grown ups had.

    Like you, I had to restart with nothing. I didn’t have kids thankfully, but I do now and am so grateful for the lessons my hardship taught me. At the time my brother told me the same thing you have here — things will improve. I went from negative $10 grand on the day of my divorce to essentially FI in 12 years. This and many other finance blogs have shown me the way and I’ll be forever grateful.

    I’ll also be grateful for the suggestion to take my kids to the lolly shop before their next movie… such a great idea!

    • FrogdancerJones

      I grew up near Southland too… never would have conceived how big it is now, (forget about Chaddie!!!).
      Yes – hardship is absolute SHIT to live through but by gum! it teaches you how to survive and also what’s valuable and what isn’t.

      • Chris

        Nothing worth having comes easy, it seems 🙂

  9. Mr. Groovy

    “I kept the costs as low as I could. Before we left the house I’d feed them and water them.”

    Damn, FDJ! You definitely have a keen ability to turn a phrase. What is it with Brits and Aussies when it comes to the English language? You guys put us Yanks to shame. Anyway, what an endearing story. I loved it. But it did give me some flashbacks, though. Mrs. G and I paid $22 AUD each to see Shazam in Sydney. And like you, we didn’t come within three feet…er…three metres of the snack stand. After buying our tickets we ducked into a nearby IGA for candy and soda. We then went back to the theatre with our contraband. How pathetic is that? Two 50-somethings sneaking candy and soda into a movie theatre! Yep, the value-ist mindset is tough to shake even on holiday. Hope all is well down under. Cheers.

    P.S. My mother now loves vegemite! She has it on her toast every morning.

    • FrogdancerJones

      Let me know if she needs a care package sent when she runs out.

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