Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Is money the only investment for FI/RE?

A huge amount of posts in this section of the blogosphere are all about the MONEY – investing, saving, spending, laying the groundwork for the future when we’re all retired and living off our investments. It’s fair enough that so many words are written about this – it’s important stuff.

But as I get closer to the day I pull the pin, I’m getting more conscious of just how many hours are taken up by my job. Since I moved to the Best House In Melbourne, I tend to get up at 5:30AM, go to work and then be back home at 4:30PM at the earliest. Usually, it’s around 5PM or later, depending on whether we have a meeting after the kids leave school for the day or not.

Every now and then I wonder – how will I fill in the days when it isn’t just school holidays, but decades of time stretching out in front of me? That’s around 12 hours a day that will be suddenly made free. No alarm, no school, no bells, no ‘have to be in front of a class at 10:53 AM…”

Many of the people I work with take reams of correction home on weekdays and weekends to mark. One man in my staffroom said to me, “You know, Frogdancer, I looked up at 3:30 yesterday (Sunday) and I realised that I’ve done nothing besides work all weekend.”

If this is a regular occurrence for most people, then they’re going to have a difficult time transitioning to retirement. It’s a bit pointless to fill an entire life with work-related activities and then expect other interests to magically appear once retirement hits. I truly believe that the secret to enjoying the time in retirement relies on setting up interests and projects well before. Investing some time and money into activities that will bring you dividends in the future – not monetarily, but with dividends of satisfaction and pleasure.

People, including my good self, say that they want to travel when they retire. But realistically, unless you’re planning on packing up the caravan and doing the ‘grey nomad’ route around Australia for the first 2 years of your freedom, travel isn’t going to take up a huge amount of time. How else to fill it?

The solution for Frogdancer Jones is to have lots of different hobbies that gently take up time, without necessarily costing a huge amount of money. Activities that feed the mind as well as feed creativity, which, funnily enough, in my case, all seem to have a very practical underpinning. I don’t describe myself as particularly practical, but the things I choose to spend my free time doing would say otherwise.

The picture above is of the oatmeal soap I made a couple of weeks ago. Making soap is an interesting way to spend some time. It’s like doing a science experiment every time. There are so many different recipes and additives that you can play with. Perfumes, colourings, things to add texture or decoration – different moulds to make soap look like cupcakes/dog bones/cars/stars whatever. After the actual mixture is made, you have to wrap it up for 24 hours to cure, before unwrapping it to see what it looks like. This keeps the mystery alive in my life. Did it work? Did it not? This is when the slab of soap gets cut into bars.

Then the soap bars cure for 6 weeks at least, before being hard enough to use. I’ve made 3 batches of soap, some for us but most for Christmas presents. People love them, especially because they’re luxurious to use and it doesn’t add to clutter. A half hour of actually making the soap stretches into weeks before the actual job is complete. Not bad.

Anyone who has learned the skill of reading will never be bored. Give me a good book and I’ll be happy for the whole day. Give me a good series and a week could flow past very easily. That’s why I can never read anything new if I’m going to be busy at work. Once I’m lost in a new story, the world has to get along without me.

Making things with your hands. I think that creating an object out of bare materials satisfies something deep within the human psyche. Personally, I knit and quilt. The things I make keep people warm. See what I mean about being practical?

This also can cost as much or as little as you please. After I paid off my first house I ran amok on the internet and spent up big on knitting yarn. It was all skeins of hand-dyed Peruvian alpaca wool, made by virgins living on mountaintops eating all-organic food. You know the type of thing I mean. Top dollar for the most beautiful yarn you can imagine. Now I’m on a mission to work through it all. I’m not buying another strand until I’m done with what I’ve got. It’ll keep me busy for years…

The other end of the scale is to buy hand-knitted jumpers and cardigans in op shops and unpick them to recycle the wool. You’ll still have the fun of creating, but for 1/100th of the price.

Not everything has to be frugal. I just spent 40K completely ripping out everything in the backyard and totally paving it with reclaimed bricks, putting in a large veggie garden at the back. Honestly, I think that if I live till 110 I’d never get my money back in free veggies – but I will have hundreds of hours of entertainment out here. Providing food for my family from my yard without having to go and buy it is a simple pleasure that can’t be overstated.

Food gardening itself isn’t easy. It’s not just a matter of digging a hole, throwing in a seed or a plant, then harvesting food a few weeks later. There are always problems to solve, new things to grow, experiments to devise and the weather to curse.

Keeps the brain nimble.

Of course, life in retirement isn’t limited to your own backyard. Cultivate an interest in the theatre, art galleries, museums and there’ll be no excuse to be bored. Grab a couple of friends and buy a subscription to the theatre, or set up a monthly ‘excursion day’, where you all meet and go into the city to see an exhibition, an exhibit or a performance.

See? It’s fun!

Little luxuries are also key. I went to lunch at a friend’s place over the holidays and at the end of the meal she served this tea. Before I tasted it I steeled myself. After all, everyone knows that green tea tastes like grass clippings.

Well! Tickle me with a feather and make me giggle! This tea was GLORIOUS! It has a few other things added, such as apricot flowers. We all had about 3 cups and Liz, the girl I sit next to in the staffroom, looked at me and said, “We have to order this when we get back to work.”

It’s not a cheap blend, let’s just say. If you bought a kilo of the stuff you’d be up for a gazillion dollars.  But tea is already dried and preserved. It doesn’t weigh much, so you don’t need to buy a tonne to have enough to last a long while. And then, every so often, you get to sit down, pour a cup and … enjoy.

Marry things like this with trips overseas, weekends away, a good old Netflix binge and the retirement life is off to a good start. Add in some family and friends, some dogs and a beach, and the prospect of retirement starts to look very enticing indeed…

I’m fairly sure I won’t be bored.








  1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    That was me in 2006-2012: When I DID have a free hour I literally did not know what to do with myself but all my time was spent working. It’s been a progressive but pleasant detox ever since, not entirely due to having a child but certainly influenced by welcoming that life into ours. Now we spend a lot of time together as a family being silly and creative, or reading, and this weekend’s latest, hand sewing! It’s a double pleasure: being able to create something with old fabric, needle and thread, and my two hands when 15 years ago I thought I would lose the use of my hands for fine crafting like this. The garden is an anticipated pleasure, can’t get to it now, but I love dreaming about the things we’d like to cultivate. The dogs and kiddo keep me anchored in the pleasure of walks and throwing a ball and enjoying the fine weather. In fact, I did need to work this weekend but a confluence of friends having events meant I just had to choose not to work and enjoy my fleeting moments with dear friends instead.

    • Frogdancer Jones

      It’s funny how obvious it is that there’s a REAL life outside of work when you are either forced to or you choose to step out of that’career’ box.
      It happens to everyone. The lucky ones are those who discover it in their 20’s and 30’s…

  2. foodnstuff

    I sometimes think that (in company with a lot of others), you’re still not getting the energy decline (aka peak oil) thing. Your best investment in a net energy-declining world is shelter, food and water. You’ve got the shelter, you’re doing the food, now you need a water tank that can provide enough drinking water for you to survive when there’s limited, or no energy to pump water via the present system. Of course, a small suburban garden won’t provide enough food to keep you alive, but you’ll have to hope all your neighbours wake up soon and start prepping too, so there’s plenty for all.
    I’d also advise doing your overseas sightseeing well before the price of jet fuel makes travelling very expensive and ultimately impossible. Have you factored increasing energy costs into your finances?
    The experts are saying a couple of years before the wheels really start falling off, energy-wise. They’re just very wobbly at the moment.
    I’ve got the shelter and water, but no way am I self-sufficient in food; but then I’m older than you and hoping I’ll be pushing up daisies before it all gets really bad.
    And I haven’t even mentioned climate change!

    • Frogdancer Jones

      Didn’t I tell you we have a water tank and solar panels on the roof??? We’ll have water. ________________________________

  3. Elise

    Lovely to read your new blog. I used to follow you on SS, I am still a member but prefer to read about more ‘finance’ things now than just the saving/being frugal. We just took an unpaid term off to travel around in our caravan and now I am back in to teaching. I’ve got 10 years until the kids finish high school so will likely teach in a permanent role then, & then move to Crt.

    • Frogdancer Jones

      CRT is brilliant when transitioning to retirement. $330/day for being in front of classes, then at the end of the day you nad the keys back and walk away…
      Good plan!
      Like you, I’m still a Simple Savings member but I don’t comment much. (Thought I’d better give it it’s full title before people come out with their torches and pitchforks!!)

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