Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er). Achieved the first two letters of FIRE, now onto the rest!

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Financial Independence = reaping the harvest.

When a harvest occurs, it’s usually the end result of actions that have gone before. A farmer plants his crops and reaps the harvest, a gardener plants her seeds and has a glut of tomatoes, and a student studies diligently and scores well in the end-of-year exams.

Six years ago I had a paid-off house and $10 in the bank. Today I have the option to never work again if I feel like it. I’m a cautious soul though and that’s why I dropped back to part-time work this year. I only have myself to depend upon because I’m unlikeable and have no man to lean on, (LOL) so I want to play it safe.

But by combining the long-term strategies of frugality and being a Valuist with shorter-term strategies such as working a second job, investing and taking advantage of an opportunity when it came along, I now have financial independence.

This state of affairs didn’t come out of nowhere. I read hundreds, if not thousands of blog posts, gradually picking up ideas and concepts about esoteric things like investing… the 4% Rule… index funds vs individual shares… geoarbitrage… the concept that spreadsheets are fun, (though the jury’s still out on this one, by the way!)

These things didn’t come naturally to me. I’m scared, quite literally, when I see a lot of numbers. But like drops of water falling steadily onto a rock, over time the new concepts gradually made an impression and I began to put things into action.

A very young Poppy and Jeff in our old veggie garden.

When I began to walk along the road leading to financial independence, I had a very hazy idea that I’d like to be able to have a dignified retirement where I’d never have to ask my kids for money. My grandfather lived until his early nineties and by the time he was in his late eighties he’d run out of money. The Age Pension wasn’t enough to pay for all his needs, so Mum and Dad had to step in and give financial help every now and then.

In contrast my father’s mother was comfortably cared for up until the time she died at 96. She didn’t lead a flashy lifestyle, but every need and a huge percentage of her wants was catered for by the work she and my other grandfather put into their savings and investments.

Their portfolio was put together over decades of slow and careful work. My grandpa went out and earned the money – both by his ‘day job’ running a shop and by his ‘side hustle’ of performing on the Tivoli Circuit as a rope spinner, juggler and hypnotist. (Interesting man!) My grandma stayed at home to raise the family, but at the same time, she also ran a boarding house for international students and was FRUGAL. (To be honest… nowadays we’d definitely call her cheap.)

Their comfortable and secure retirement was the result of thousands of small decisions taken over decades, with each small step leading inexorably towards the harvest.

As a young woman, particularly after I spawned the ugly and smelly beings that I affectionately call my family, I observed and learned from these stories, even though I wasn’t fully conscious of it. When I began to learn about financial independence, FIRE and everything in between, I didn’t know exactly how I’d get to my hazy goal.

I decided that I wanted to be financially secure (whatever that was!!) by the time I reached Pension Age. AND – stretch target – to not need the pension at all!!! I was around 50 years old. Pension age in Australia is 67. I’d paid off my house and I had a secure job. The table that Mr Money Mustache had on his Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement showed me that I could do it, especially now that the kids were growing up and gradually becoming independent.

I set off, determined to work until I was 67 and retire on a very secure combination of superannuation, shares and no debt.

Good enough harvest for you?

In gardening, it’s not enough to throw some seed on the ground, walk away and come back a few months later and expect a bountiful harvest. There are hundreds of little actions that the gardener has to perform, such as weeding, watering, thinning out the seedlings and protecting them from frost and pests. The same is true of reaching the goal of financial independence.

It’s a game for the patient.

The good news is that patience can be learned.

Ask me how I know!

There’s a quiet satisfaction when you walk to your garden beds and see the seedlings steadily growing. It’s akin to the feeling when you see your mortgage heading down, further every month. The feeling you get around your heart as you deposit money from every pay and you see your FU Fund or Emergency account growing bigger.

You know that each little action, no matter how small and ineffectual it may seem on its own, is a little step closer to your goal.

And the closer you get to your goal, the sharper and more defined it becomes. Life is a funny thing. Sometimes shortcuts appear that you would probably never have noticed if you weren’t steadily working on achieving something.

Achieving the goal? Now that’s more than a quiet satisfaction! Bringing in the harvest is a sweet and precious thing. Look towards it and keep stepping to it.

After all, the time will pass anyway. You may as well enjoy living with a bountiful harvest, instead of a head full of empty wishes and dreams.

In answer to LateStarterFire…

Fast typing.
Ok. Here I go!

A few weeks ago, latestarterfire nominated me for an “awesome blogger award”, where you answer some questions about yourself. True to my lackadaisical attitude towards blogging since lockdown began, it’s taken me until now to answer.

Questions about blogging:

1. Why did you start blogging?

Seeing as I have 2 blogs, I’ll split this answer 2 ways.

I began this blog because I’d been reading FIRE blogs and finance blogs for around 2 years. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but I became increasingly fed up with reading blogs written by young whippersnappers telling me how to do what I’ve already done – and they hadn’t even done it themselves!!!! One day I read one too many of these posts and it pushed me over the edge…

My personal blog, Dancing With Frogs, has been going since September 2007. Yep, I’ve been blogging for a long time. I discovered blogs that year, mainly simple living and crafting blogs and I loved that community. In all that time, I’ve only ever had ONE snarky comment on that blog and my regular readers defended me in the comments. I’m still friendly with several people from those long ago days, though most of them have moved from blogs to Instagram.

2. What do you enjoy most about being a blogger?

I like to write. I’ve tried writing fiction but I’m awful at it. This allows me to connect with like-minded people in a way that’s easy to work in around all the busy-ness of day to day life. I’ve also found that my personal blog is a fantastic resource. For example, I wanted to start soap making again after many years hiatus, and all I had to do was look up the old posts to remember how to do it and what the best recipes were. It’s also really handy when looking at what worked and didn’t work in the garden.

3. What is the hardest part of blogging?

The personal blog is easy – I just walk around with the camera and then write about what’s going on. With the FIRE blog, I don’t want to be too repetitious about the concepts I’m writing about. As time has gone on, I’m taking a more personal approach to the whole FI/RE thing. I hope that my story will motivate someone further back along the trail than I am to keep going.

4. Has blogging led you to other paths that you did not expect? What are they?

One fairly recent one was being asked to be on the panel after the Melbourne screening of ‘Playing With Fire.’ That was a lot of fun – it was a good night. Over the years, I’ve also had blogmeets with various other bloggers. A blogmeet is fantastic – you’ve read each other’s blogs so you already have a feel for the other person. You skip by the ‘getting to now you’ stuff and get stuck into the good conversations.

I was also asked to contribute to a book about Australian FIRE. Each section is being released weekly, so my chapter is yet to be out there, but it’s coming!

5. Have you ever wanted to stop blogging? Why or why not?

Nope. Interestingly though, during the pandemic I’ve radically slowed down the number of posts I write, which is odd really. You’d think with more time on my hands I’d actually write more, not less. Though, looking at my Feedly, I’m not the only one by a long shot.

I really enjoy getting comments and having that feedback from readers. I get it a little bit on Twitter, but I guess I’m an old-school blogger – it means more when it’s a comment on the actual post. I have readers that have been commenting for over a decade on the frog blog – that continuity is precious.

Questions about you:

6. What does your perfect day look like?

Oof.

If I’m on holiday, it’d be a day where I’m seeing new things and exploring what a new country and culture looks like. My 2015 trip to the UK and Europe was a 9 week extravaganza of this – I was so happy! – and my 2018 trip to North Korea was a peek into another world. Fascinating.

If I’m at home, then my life in lockdown pretty much covers it. A leisurely couple of hours on the couch in the morning with my dogs all around me while I read or write; then the rest of the day to puddle around doing whatever I’m “in the zone” for. It could be reading, creating something, gardening, cooking…. whatever I feel like.

Pure freedom, in other words.

7. Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. That’s why I loved my time in Paris so much – nearly every lunch was a salad with goats cheese.

Having said that though, I wouldn’t ever say no to a Caramello.

8. What is your dream holiday destination / scenario?

I’m a huge English history buff, so when the plane touched down at Heathrow airport in 2015 it was a dream come true. The day we spent at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived, still remains as one of the very best days of my life.

Once we can travel again – and I feel safe to do so – I’ll be heading back over there. There’s so much history just hanging around in the UK. I want to read up more about Scottish and Irish history and then go around and see where these people actually lived and hung out. It’s absolutely fascinating to me.

MUCH more interesting than Australian history – convicts, bushrangers, gold and sheep.

9. Who is your role model?

I don’t really have one. There have been so many admirable people throughout history – maybe I just scavenge bits and pieces from lots of different people?

10. What would you advise your 12 year old self?

Not to worry so much about what other people think. People are far too concerned with their own issues so, ultimately, they don’t really care about what you’re doing. Just go your own way, even more than you did, and enjoy life.

Thanks for asking these questions, LSF.

Have some fun during lockdown!

Pic of a red and orange fake flower
A fake flower from North Korea.

Melbourne is a few days into our second week of stage 4 lockdown – only 4 more weeks to go, baby! We can only have 1 person leave the house to shop for groceries a day; we must wear a mask at all times outside the home; you can only move around within a 5km bubble from your home – (pity half of mine is taken up by Port Phillip Bay!), and there are only 4 valid reasons to leave your home anyway. But there are still ways to have some fun with other people during lockdown.

Personally, being a bit of a home-body hermit, lockdown is going along swimmingly. Ryan25, my third son, is a quiet introvert and David26 is spending the week at his girlfriend’s place, so the house is chill and groovy. But not everyone in my world is taking it so well.

Some of my students aren’t enthused at having to endure another round of remote learning. The extroverts are struggling and some have distractions at home, such as little brothers and sisters. One of my kids, Joy, has a 3-year-old sister who insists on coming to every English class after I said she was very cute, which on reflection was probably a mistake on my part. Remote learning is harder for some kids, so I’m trying a few things to keep them engaged.

See the photo at the top? This was what greeted my year 7 classes today as they logged into our Google Meet. At our school we have to start each scheduled period with a Meet. We mark the roll, set up the lesson etc before we set them loose to do the work. Each teacher stays on the Meet (camera and mike muted) so that any kid who needs help with the lesson can pop back and ask a question.

I’ve decided to begin each Meet with something different. It only lasts about 2 minutes, so the kids are learning quickly that they don’t want to be late for English or they’ll miss it. (This means I can mark the roll quickly – heh heh heh.)

They logged on. I waited until about half the class was there, then I joined the meet. I could hear their comments as they looked at the image. “What IS that?” “It’s either a flower or a fruit.” “I can’t tell what it is…”

Then I sat down and said, “Hey everyone. This is a flower I stole from a restaurant in North Korea.” Their eyeballs bulged. I haven’t told them that I went there a couple of years ago. “Want to know the story?”

So I described to them how restaurants in North Korea look – wedding reception rooms planned by people with flamboyant taste and a penchant for disco balls, artificial flowers in arches and painted backdrops of improbable scenes – and then told them how one night, as we were leaving a restaurant after dinner, my Irish friend James grabbed a flower off the big table at the front of the room, shoved it into my hands and said, “Take it Frogdancer! Go! Go! GO!”

As we raced down 3 flights of stairs, him giggling like a child and me fearing at every step to feel a heavy hand on my shoulder, hauling me away to a North Korea gulag, I knew that ‘d never forget that moment. It was so out of character for me – I’m a bit of a rule-follower – but hey. I have a good story and a fake flower to entertain my students with.

Wait until they see the propaganda postcards in a future Meet!

Poppy.

Of course I use the dogs too. One lesson last week, the kids joined the meet to “discover” me reading the novel we’re studying to the dogs. Before I turned around to see them, I said, “I have to stop reading to you soon. My next class is a group of the ugliest children I’ve ever seen and I have to get ready to… OH! Hello!! Oops, is my microphone on? ” as they giggled in the background.

Once, by pure chance, I caught the best moment. Jeffrey was asleep on the back of the couch. I had the camera trained on him and then, just as I was going to grab my laptop and start talking to the kids, Scout jumped up beside him and Jeff fell off the couch and disappeared on the seat below. You should have heard the kids! Especially when Jeff’s puzzled face rose up over the top of the couch while Scout was prancing and wagging her tail.

This is all silly stuff, but it brings an element of fun into what is a stressful time for some.

It’s not just kids who are feeling it. I check in with my parents once a day (usually) and the last couple of phone calls Dad has been a bit flat. They’re in their 80’s, which is the group that are dropping like flies, so he and Mum are strictly following the guidelines. When I asked how their day has been, Dad sighed and said, “Fine. I mean, nothing actually happens. We watch a bit of Netflix, someone might call and we have a chat, your mother and I might go for a walk, but that’s about it.”

This got me thinking and I came up with a cunning plan. I rang the boys and we’re all into it.

At random times, but at least once a week from each of us, we’re going to send them something in the mail. I don’t want it to be every day, because that would quickly become routine, but every couple of days or so, there’ll be a little snippet in the mail to make that day a bit different.

I kicked it off with the magnificent drawing you see above. Mum loves going on walks, Dad hates them but since her fall he has to go with her. The picture is entitled “Mummy and Daddy going on a walk” and she has a big smile while he looks grumpy. (The orange thing is his moustache, by the way.)

I posted it to them yesterday. On the back of the envelope I didn’t write my address, just “I hope this is good enough to go on the fridge.” Mum is an artist, so she’ll probably get the shivers at how bad it is, but I think they’ll still get a smile from it.

I’m thinking I could send them some seeds to plant, more drawings, a poem or song lyrics – any more ideas, just stick them in the comments. I’ll be grateful. I’m hoping that it’ll be fun for them to receive the mail, but it’s also fun for us to think up silly little things to send them. It keeps the brain moving.

Patchwork pic of a dachshund.
Dog #1. Fourteen more to go!

On Monday, I had a brainwave.

It doesn’t happen often, so allow me to enjoy the moment.

I was showing the year 7s the patchwork dachshunds I’m making for a quilt for Ryan25. I figured, they’re kids, they’d like cute things. Then I suddenly thought of how quickly time passes when you’re in ‘the zone’ creating things. I know for me, when I’m making these dogs, 2 hours passes in a flash and I don’t give a thought to covid, lockdown or anything serious. It’s a total break from the world.

Maybe some of these kids would find the same?

I talked to them about creativity. How it’s an innate part of the human condition to find pleasure in creating something that has never existed before. How satisfying it is to put an image on a blank sheet of paper, to write a song that fills a silent space, to knit a beanie from what’s essentially just two bits of twig and some string.

I asked them to think about what they might create during the lockdown. Not something like playing a computer game to the finish, because that’s intangible. What could they create that they could actually hold in their hands? That they could point to, long after the pandemic has gone and say, “I made that during the second lockdown in 2020.”

Some of them looked bewildered. Some started asking questions about what qualified. And some looked thoughtful.

We have a catch-up lesson scheduled for Friday. If kids have finished all their work, we log on for a Google Meet and then they’re directed to do wide reading. But I’ve said to my classes – “Make sure you get ALL your work finished. Then after I call the roll on Friday, let’s have a show and tell of what you’ve been creating. I’d love it if someone waved a knitting needle with a few lines of knitting on it, or a half-finished drawing of your radiantly beautiful English teacher. Maybe you’ve baked a loaf of bread, (Amit danced around excitedly at that), or you’ve planted some seeds.”

I paused.

“This is NOT compulsory. I’m not your Art teacher. I can’t say, “Be creative. NOW!” But I want you to have a think about what you could possible do. Lockdown is hard. Making something from your hands makes tha time go by so much faster.”

One little boy asked, “But do we have to do it?” As he asked that I saw a mum in the background of another kid.

I saw her laugh as I said, “Did you hear what I just said??? NO. You don’t have to do it. But humans make things. I’m asking you to practice being a human.”

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. My goal isn’t for 28/28 kids…. actually that’s 56/56 kids (I have 2 classes)… to all magically develop a hobby to sustain them during these long lockdown days. This won’t grab everyone.

I’m aiming for a few.

56 kids is a fairly big sample. There’ll be a few who’ll think about what I’ve said and will cast around for something to show. Some of them will already be creating – I had a convo after the Meet with a couple of boys who wanted to show me their artwork and it was AMAZING – but others will try something they haven’t done before.

Others will come along to the Meets on Friday and maybe see something that someone else has done and be inspired. I don’t know.

But just think.

How cool would it be if even a couple of kids created something in the pandemic that they were proud of? Something that would never have existed if we weren’t in this situation?

How cooler would it be if someone discovered a talent, or started a hobby that they kept on doing even when the doors open after lockdown?

Again… I don’t know. But it’s going to be fun to find out.

Janis from 'Friends'.

Now is the time to build resilience.

Fabric face masks.
Mandatory face masks. Never thought I’d be churning these out!

“I’m sure no life can be properly developed and rounded out without some trial and sorrow – though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne Of The Island

This quote is taken from what would nowadays be called a ‘Young Adult’ novel written in 1915. I loved the Anne of Green Gables novels when I was growing up. Even though some of the messages and themes have dated, human nature is what it is – and it will stay that way forevermore. This means that there are passages such as this one, that I haven’t read for over 30 years, that have stayed with me. Good advice, I guess, which can help carry us through tough times.

Even before the current pandemic, I used to talk about this concept with my kids, both biological and in class. That’s the advantage of being an English teacher – we can cover a lot of ground during class discussions. Basically, it’s when times are tough that people develop grit and resilience.

When times are easy and everything is going your way, there’s absolutely no need to learn how to develop a strong backbone. Why would you actively seek out adversity and tough times? You may develop other traits, such as good interpersonal skills or a strong work ethic, for example, but you have absolutely no need for determination and grit. When life is pretty much handing most things to you on a silver platter, you have no use for them.

But when times get tough? THAT’S when strength and determination become incredibly important. That’s what gets strengthened and built upon.

Mum and Dad wearing the masks I made for them.
Mum and Dad sporting the masks I made for them.

I live in Melbourne, which as of today has entered stage 4 lockdown because community transmission of the virus is getting out of control. We have a curfew from 8 PM – 5 AM every night, you can only leave your home for a total of 1 hour’s exercise a day, you can’t be outside a 5KM radius of your home and only one person per family per day can go out and shop. Masks are mandatory.

This is obviously easier for some people to take than for others. Many businesses have been directed to shut their doors, with pretty much only essential food, medical and infrastructure being allowed to keep their doors open. Some people have suddenly seen their wages and security snatched away. Not everyone has had the foresight or opportunity to build an emergency fund.

I’m one of the lucky ones – but it was a matter of timing. If I was embroiled in the last pandemic – the Spanish flu of 1918 – I wouldn’t be able to work from home. I’m a teacher. I’d either have to walk into crowded, virus-ridden classrooms or be out of a job, at a time when there was no social security.

Now? With the development of mass communications, I can easily work from home while the pandemic is going crazy. My wage continues to be paid and my risk of infection is way down. But not everyone is in my lucky situation.

I know what it’s like to have the financial rug pulled out from under you.

I know what it’s like to look at the pitiful amount of money in your savings and then compare it to the list of bills, a mortgage and the outgoings like groceries to feed my children.

I know what it’s like to wonder bleakly how I was going to be able to stretch things in order to cover everything.

It’s scary. It’s hard to fall asleep with the worry of it. Sometimes, I’d have what I’d call ‘doona days” where I’d go back to bed and stay for a few hours, just drifting in and out of sleep and resting up. Now that I look back, it was usually after a day like this that I’d spring out of bed the next day and Get Things Done. Constant worry is incredibly draining.

But do you know what?

Failure wasn’t an option. I had 4 little boys who were utterly dependent on me to make a good life for them. I knew that their father loved them but practical help from him was a rarity. I was their rock. I HAD to make this work.

Situations like this would be FAR easier if you could make one big gesture and the problem was solved. One action. One declaration. Whatever it was; if you could rise to the occasion ONCE, do or say whatever you needed to and then everything was fine and dandy again – how fantastic would that be? But that’s not how life works.

Getting through tough times means that you make lots of tiny decisions. Lots of little actions that, by themselves, will move the needle very little. But cumulatively – they all make a big difference.

There is so much in our control if we look around for it. There’s no point worrying over the things that aren’t. We can’t stop the pandemic on our own, but we can choose to stay at home whenever possible and wear a mask. If your place of work closes down for 6 weeks while we’re under a state of emergency, you can’t stop that. But you can look at applying for any subsidies you’re entitled to. You can look at your spending and ruthlessly cut anything that isn’t essential. You can start little traditions and fun things that cost little or nothing.

Bottle of champagne with "2019 EARNEST" written on the label. My theatre students' gift.
My students from last year gave me this champagne as a thank you. I could have guzzled it right away – but instead I saved it for a special occasion. Last month, Ryan25 finished his Remedial Massage course. We popped it open in celebration. Delayed gratification.

These repeated actions build character. They build determination and backbone. As a person, you develop resilience, which is a character trait that becomes invaluable throughout the rest of your life.

There’s an added advantage to there being many, instead of one, actions that will get you through times like these. If one day you succumb to temptation and buy that skinny soy latte you’ve been craving instead of waiting to make a coffee when you get home, it’s not going to break the bank. You can enjoy the drink, then get back on the frugality horse you’ve been riding and begin again to make good decisions. It’s not a ‘make or break, like a ‘grand gesture’ action that goes wrong would be. (Just don’t make too many of them!)

It’s the repetition of the little actions and the commitment to keep moving towards a better life that will bring you success.

Another novel I once read was a science fiction classic called ‘Ringworld’, where a character called Teela Brown is the product of 6 generations of a breeding program where people were bred for being lucky. Teela was a sweet girl who simply glided through life, always being in the right place at the right time, happening to meet with people she needed to meet exactly when she’d benefit from it. She always had enough money, but not so much that management of it would be a burden. Her lovers drifted away just as she was starting to get tired of them so she’d never been through a painful breakup and she was pretty enough to appeal to everyone, without being so stunningly good-looking for her looks to be a problem. Sounds good, right?

But she had no resilience or inner strength. She’d never learned to be strong in the face of adversity. She’d never needed to. Another character, Louis Wu, explains this by saying the following:

“She is intelligent, tanjit! She’s just never been hurt!……All you’ve got to do is watch her walk. Clumsy. Every second, it looks like she’s going to fall over. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t knock things over with her elbows. She doesn’t spill things or drop things. She never did. She never learned not to, don’t you see? So she’s not graceful.”
― Larry Niven – Ringworld

COVID is bringing the tough times to many people who had never really experienced them before. It’s a shock to the system when suddenly, all the plans you make and the things you counted on always being there are suddenly swept off the table. Add to all of this the fact that the virus is so contagious and people are literally dying from it. It’s not just a financial crisis. People are really doing it tough and are looking towards the future with fear and trepidation.

I know how it feels. I had my time of fearing for the future 23 years ago. I look back at Past Frogdancer and I’m so glad that she did all of those little things to slowly build stability and security for herself and her boys. She didn’t get everything right, but she did enough small actions in the right direction so that, financially and emotionally, her family survived and thrived.

Looking back now, I’m glad that I went through those tough years. Would I have chosen to go through them at the time? HELL NO! I used to wish that we’d win the lottery (only I was too poor to buy a ticket!)

But tough times breed resilience. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t have had to face the struggle and learned to make my way through. I’m far stronger than that past version of me, the one who sat on the back step watching her children play, hugging herself in fear and wondering if she had the guts to leave this toxic marriage. That girl took the first few steps with desperate faith that things would be ok, then worked to find a way to make it happen.

By doing that, Past Frogdancer developed skills and traits that Present Frogdancer and, hopefully, Future Frogdancer will continue to benefit from.

I wouldn’t have been like this without the struggle. My boys would be in a vastly different place if we didn’t live through it. They’ve also learned skills and developed strength in ways that they would never have had. I’m glad that we went through the struggle.

You will be too. Focus on what you can control and step by step, keep moving incrementally forward. I’m not saying living through tough times is an easy thing. It’s anything but. But one day, years down the track, you’ll look back at how Past You handled all that was thrown at you.

You’ll realise that you’re a better, stronger and more empathetic person. You’ll see that you’ve developed the confidence in yourself to know that you can tackle the curveballs that life throws you. You’ll know that you’ve learned skills and strategies that have enabled you to care for and provide security not only for yourself but also for those you love.

You’ll nod your head and, like me, you’ll acknowledge that the struggle was something that was worthwhile to go through… “though I suppose it is only when we are pretty comfortable that we admit it.”

Stay safe, wear a mask and stay at home. And control all the little things that will help propel you forward.

You can do it.

What does Pandemic Spending look like?

First shot of my 'no spend' chart.
Just an ordinary summer’s spending.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while might remember my “No Spend Days” chart. It’s a little thing I do to keep track of where my money goes. Every day that I don’t spend anything, I colour a square on the chart. It really became very effective once I added the silver box at the end of every week that has 3 or less ‘spend’ days in it. This gave me something to aim for and made my spending much more intentional.

At the end of every month I transfer the $$ amounts to my annual spend chart, so I know how I’m tracking year by year. The ‘No Spend Days’ chart is a useful little thing to have and it only takes a second or two each day to fill in.

This year has been an interesting one, what with the pandemic and the two lockdowns. I thought I’d show you how the pattern of my spending has changed since all of this covid stuff ramped up.

The top pic is of January spending. Typically for a school holiday period, I’m out and about a bit more and I tend to make more purchases for projects I have on the go. I also like to stock up the pantry a bit, to make those days in the future when I’m coming home from work feeling tired just that little bit easier.

The news of covid in China was about and my spidey senses were a little alarmed, but my spending was much the same as for any January. Hmmm… maybe it was a bit worse? Only ONE week where I earned a silver square for keeping my spending days under control.

February and March. This section shows a normal type of February (three silver squares) and then ramped up spending again. The beginning of March includes my little road trip getaway to Bowral – how glad I am that I was able to go! Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! We won’t be able to go anywhere for a very long time now.

The rest of the weeks show the lead-up to lockdown. When I got back from my holiday I was sure that covid was going to be a problem and I didn’t want to be out and about any more that absolutely necessary, so I started adding to my stockpile. At this stage we had no idea that the premier would call a lockdown – he called it on the 16th March, which was on the last line of this section. The next day we had the crazy trip to Costco that I wrote about in this post – Having a stockpile. Sin or sensible?

Then the first lockdown began.

From now on, the chart shows what has happened during covid.

The first week of lockdown, I bought a few things that we needed to complete our preparations. Yeast for bread, (little did I know that I’d be making sourdough instead – I haven’t touched it!), potting mix and fertiliser for the garden… things like that.

Then we hunkered down.

In this section you can see that we had 9 straight weeks of silver squares. Three months of minimal spending. Every now and then we’d go to Aldi for fresh stuff, but we were basically eating out of the pantry and garden, while I was keeping myself occupied by doing some of the quilting, fencing and gardening projects that I’d planned for.

Up to date!

Look at this. Another 9 weeks of silver squares! EIGHTEEN straight weeks of being intentional with my spending! We’re now in the middle of our second lockdown, but even in the middle when I was back at work and life was easing back to a near-normal, I still watched when I spent my money.

Why? I was seeing a success streak happening and I didn’t want to break it.

Eighteen weeks is a long time. I’m curious to see how long I can keep it up for. It’s like that Jerry Seinfeld story when he told a young comedian that the secret to success was to write a joke a day and then put a big red cross on a calendar for every day he does it. After a while, you won’t want to break the line of crosses.

Me? I don’t want to break that line of silver blocks along the side of my chart. It’s stupid, it’s childish but it works.

I started my weeks on this chart with the weekend. The secret to making the weeks on this chart easy is to delay spending for as long as you can each week. If you avoid weekend spending, (easy in a lockdown!), then there are only 2 more days left in the week that you have to be careful. Too easy!

The thing that can derail you is that there could be an unexpected expense pop up and if you’ve burned through your spend days early in the week, you won’t get that square.

An example of this is when I asked Evan23 to buy some elastic for face masks and post it over to me from Adelaide. No one’s making face masks there so there’s plenty of elastic – the one thing I ran out of. He posted them on Monday.

So Monday became a Spend Day. Later, I sent David26 to Aldi to pick up a few things we needed so that I wouldn’t ‘waste’ this Spend Day. Hey – now that I have 18 weeks under my belt, I’m becoming a little competitive. I’m becoming even more strategic in my quest to see how long this silver square streak will go!

Tuesday and Wednesday have been no spend days so even if I run amok with my credit card on the last two days, I’ve earned my silver square. Eighteen weeks, baby!!!

Well, I’m off now to make a pumpkin and feta tart for dinner. The pumpkin is home-grown, we need to use up the feta and onion, (no waste in a pandemic kitchen!) and the rosemary that absolutely makes the dish sing is growing right outside my back door.

I’ve finished a day of teaching from home, I have a day off tomorrow and a glass of shiraz is in my very near future. It’s payday today and I love the thought that I can put a big chunk of it aside to help pay for my new ensuite later in the year because I’m keeping my spending way under control.

I hope that you’re all keeping safe and well in these strange times. I’m so thankful that I’m able to teach from home and that the rest of Australia isn’t seeing the crazy numbers we are in Victoria.

Wear a mask and wash your hands!!

Home-made masks for Tom28 to wear to work.

How quilting is exactly like working towards Financial Independence.

Photo of yellow and grey coloured quilt.
Pandemic quilt number 2 – Evan23’s quilt.

It was January, long before the words “global pandemic” were a thing. Evan23 and his girlfriend were down from Ballarat where they’re studying to spend a few days in the Big City and Evan23 mentioned that he’d love it if I’d make him a new quilt. Ballarat is a very cold place.

We picked out a design from a couple of pictures on the internet. I worked out how I could do it, then we jumped into the car and drove to Spotlight to choose the fabric. It was during the massive bushfires – remember those? – and the air smelled faintly smokey and the sun looked a little orange. It was hot.

Once we got into Spotlight with its cool aircon, we were energised. It was exciting. We spent about an hour, circling the fabric stands, choosing, then discarding and choosing some more.

Is this shade of yellow too yellow?

Is this grey too blue?

Which fabric will look good on the back?

Should I do the quilting in yellow or grey thread?

We piled up bolts of fabric, peering at them to make sure we picked the BEST ones, the ones that would go together the best to make the quilt top sing. We talked animatedly, becoming ridiculously picky until we finally made our final choices. It was fun. Our brains were buzzing.

A new project! Always exciting. Things to learn, tasks to do… it’s all go! go! go!

But then the quilt didn’t get finished – or even started – for another 6 months.

Sound familiar? It’s exactly like the process everyone goes through when we first hear about the concept of early financial independence.

It’s new. It’s exciting! It’s a little intimidating… so many new things to learn, to think about and to get our heads around. It’s all go! go! go!

What’s an ETF?

How do I invest in shares? And how does the whole sharemarket thing work, anyhow? Isn’t it too risky?

What’s this Trinity Study 4% thingy?

Why do these FIRE bloggers have such weird names? (But then again, I’m called Frogdancer Jones so I can’t really point the finger at anyone…)

We gobble financial information as if it was candy. Books, blogs, websites… we can’t get enough. It’s like Evan23 and I at Spotlight piling bolt upon bolt of fabric on top of each other. We grab at everything related to financial independence within our reach – tell me more! MORE! MORE!

Pandemic quit number 1. Yes, I got distracted after buying the fabric for Evan23’s quilt.

But then… life happens. No one learns about FIRE in a vacuum. No one quilts or does other creative things in a vacuum either. We get distracted by little things like global pandemics, job insecurity and the everyday happenings of day-to-day life.

Often, people start off all excited, then spend a period of time paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision. Quilters agonise over colour placement and which order the blocks will go. FI/RE people worry about which investments to buy and the long-term ramifications of what will happen if/when the share market falls. No one, whether they be a quilter or investor, wants to f**k it up.

So we sit. And ponder. And go over in our minds what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do. And meanwhile time and the share market marches on.

This is my next project, apart from face masks.

Another thing that makes quilting and the march towards financial independence similar is that the middle part is so BORING…

Case in point, look at the picture above. Who wouldn’t be enticed with all of those little dachshunds, especially when we have one ourselves?

While Evan23 and I were looking online for quilt ideas, I stupidly showed this photo to Ryan25, who gloomily reminded me that he only has one quilt and I’ve been making them for around 12 years.

“One quilt a decade is all I ask, Mum!” he went on. “I wouldn’t mind a quilt like that one, though.”

I felt stricken. It’s true, he only has one quilt, while Tom28 and Evan23 have 3 each. It was then, when he had me feeling guilty, that I made the stupidest error.

“How would you like it if I made one of the dogs to look like Scout?”

His face lit up. He’s besotted by Scout. When he decides to leave home I’m going to have to frisk him on the way out, just in case he tries to smuggle her out with him.

Fooling myself that I was doing “research.”

So I bought the pattern. I dabbled with it by adapting it to a baby quilt I was making at the time, by using the head and tail sections. I was just like someone who buys a book entitled “How to invest and what to invest in” and then either doesn’t read it or reads it and then decides to mull it over. I rationalised that I was progressing but in reality, nothing was happening.

Until last weekend.

What was stopping me until then? A couple of things. One was the knowledge that this quilt will be SO BORING to work on. It has many different pieces in each block – hell, I have to cut over 150 one square inch squares alone! BORING.

This is just like working towards FI – once the initial flurry of activity subsides and you’ve set up all of your saving + investing + frugality + side hustle + retirement stuff, then all you can do is stay the course and let time and your initial actions do their work. That’s BORING. There’s nothing exciting and sexy about watching your direct debits go to your superannuation and investment accounts. It’s mundane and, frankly, slightly dull.

So yeah – setting myself up for eventual success with this quilt is an exercise in patient baby steps. Just like FI/RE.

The next thing paralysing me was this little face.

NOT a sleek, short-haired dachshund face.

Scout is a miniature wire-haired dachshund. Somehow, I have to work out how to get her beard and eyebrows onto that quilt filled with smooth-haired faces. I was paralysed in case I decided to do something that would screw the whole quilt up – just like our novice investor.

And just like that novice investor, I eventually decided that I had to start moving. Somewhere along the way, I have faith that I’ll work it out. While s/he (our investor) tentatively begins buying parcels of index funds, ETFs, shares or property, I decided that I’d have to start cutting out the pieces for this mammoth project. Just like earning our freedom, this quilt is not an overnight project.

So far, I’ve spent two afternoons standing over the cutting board, churning out squares and rectangles of varying sizes. There are 37 different sized fabric pieces and 15 different dogs to make. I have yet to finish the cutting out. There are more BORING afternoons in my future.

I’m like the FI/RE enthusiast in the middle of the journey. It’s all so BORING. But if I want to succeed, I have to stay the course and keep doing the BORING little steps towards success.

I have a feeling that the end goal with both the quilt and enjoying ultimate freedom in retirement will be worth it.

Scout’s never worked a day in her life. She seems to have a good time.

Why owning your home trumps renting.

The front view of my house.
My house before I started working on the front garden.

Dave from Strong Money Australia wrote a post this morning about whether or not he and his wife should cash out their share portfolio and buy a house. I enjoyed reading it, as it’s the perpetual question with FIRE people who are good at Maths – is it better to invest in the share market and rent, or to buy a house and save on living costs down the road when it’s all paid off?

Me? I’m a home-owner through and through, not for any mathematical reasons (because Maths is hard) but purely because the security of having my own place that nobody can boss me around and kick me out of is too precious to give up. Also, having three dogs means that no landlord would rent to me anyway – and having the dogs is one thing that I will definitely not give up. So the freedom of home ownership is something that is integral to the Frogdancer Jones lifestyle.

When I bought my current house, I bought it with one eye to the view of the floorplan being perfect should any of the boys need to come back home after living away. Basically, the house is a rectangle divided into 2 main parts, so I can happily live in the front part while the boy/s have their privacy at the other end. The land was smaller than our original house, which was a plus because I was finding it hard to keep up with the upkeep at the old place. Also throw in that it’s just around the corner from an Aldi, 5 minutes walk to the dog beach and 4 minutes walk from the train station – the bones of this property are all great!

However, even though this house is pretty darned perfect, there have been things that I’ve decided to alter. Being in my mid-fifties, I know myself pretty week by now and there are some things that I know Future Frogdancer would love to have at her fingertips.

My plan is to get these things done while I still have a pay packet coming in so that I can cashflow some of the jobs, though in mid last year I took 40K in profits from my shares to kickstart the whole thing. I still have 20K left to spend.

I’ve spoken before about how 2020 was always going to be the year of getting The Best House in Melbourne retirement-ready for when Older Me/Future Frogdancer decides to stop teaching. The list of things I’ve done here since the money came through from the Domestic Geoarbitrage adventure is as follows:

Apple trees growing in the veggie garden.
Apple trees in the background. The back half of my yard is devoted to food growing.
  • Before we moved in I had the hardwood floors sanded and polished. Real timber floors were a ‘must-have’ and I enjoy looking at them every day.
  • Added a wall of cupboards to the laundry for my zombie apocalypse cupboard. It’s come in handy during lockdown! Also, put in some new cupboards in the kitchen, along with a fantastic wine glass storage feature. Easy access to wine is also a ‘must-have’!
  • Totally ripped out the backyard and landscaped it with old bricks – no more lawn mowing and no more weeds. I’m very lazy.
  • Installed 18m of wicking veggie gardens, plus a small ‘orchard’ of 5 apples, a pomegranate, an apricot and 2 limes.
The new big verandah roof.
Now I have to decide what to plant around my outdoor room so that it flowers in summer for Christmas.
  • Installed a whopping great verandah along the entire back of the house, creating an outdoor room for family get-togethers and parties. With 4 boys in their 20’s, I have a feeling that over the next decade or so the family is going to get larger!
  • Bought a teak table that extends to seat 12 for this new space.
  • Once our cats Daphne and Maris died, I bought brand new leather lounge suites to cut down on pet hair sticking to the furniture.
  • I also found a dining table and chairs, a tv cabinet, a couple of stools for the kitchen bench, an armchair for my room and a coffee table on Gumtree. These antique pieces are totally individual and will see me out. I love them and they were second hand, so they were far cheaper than new furniture of comparable quality.
Painted paling front fence. Beautiful!
My new front fence with my stellar painting. Now the dogs aren’t on guard duty all day.
  • We’ve put up a side fence between us and the new neighbours. They have a staffy who hates little dogs and both households definitely don’t want any bloodshed!
  • I wasn’t planning to replace the front fence as it was a metal picket fence and built to last, but the dogs kept barking every time they saw a dog go by. I figured if it was annoying me, it must be annoying the people around us. This new paling fence blocks the view and if it ever gets tagged by teenagers I can simply put another coat of paint over it.
  • If you look at the photo at the top of the page, you can see that there were two yucca trees on either side of the house. Whoever planted these next to walkways was clearly no brain surgeon. Every time I went to put something in the bin I’d nearly get my eyes poked out by the spiky leaves. These trees are now gone. I’ve bought a couple of avocado trees to take their place. I’ll be able to stand on the verandah to prune the trees and to pick the fruit. These trees have soft leaves so they’ll be a pleasure to brush past.
  • I live in a slightly dodgier neighbourhood than I used to. I put Crimsafe safety screens on all windows and doors.
Bosch oven.
I bought German-made appliances – I know they’ll be well built and will last far longer than cheaper ones.
  • When the people before us did up the place to sell, they installed the cheapest stainless steel appliances that they could. It was on my list to replace them ‘someday’… but during lockdown the oven and dishwasher both died, so it seems that my kitchen renovation is suddenly pretty much done!
  • When our hot water service died I replaced it with a continuous gas hot water service. Expensive to set up, but over time it saves on gas and as an added bonus, people can program their showers to be the exact temperature that they want. I like this little luxury!
  • When a friend at work told me that her husband worked at the Reece plumbing ‘samples and seconds’ shop, I ducked in and bought all the fixings for my new ensuite I’ll have installed one day. I saved at least 8K on what I bought because he gave me mates rates on top of the already cheap prices. At the moment it’s all in boxes and bubble wrap cluttering up the boys’ lounge room, but that’s ok in the short term.

Astute readers will have noticed that few of these renovations are what people would consider “essential.” We could have moved into this place and lived quite happily without the brick paving, the new cupboards and the polished floors etc. After all, the families who lived here before us did just that.

But owning this home means that I can tailor it to the way I want to live. For example, I enjoy growing some of our food. To me, having literally half the backyard set aside for this is a great use of the space. But I don’t want to have to mow a lawn or weed all the time, so spending money on paving makes me happy, as I know I’ve freed up Future Frogdancer’s time. I don’t want her to fall down and break a hip trying to pull up a weed in about 30 years time! I could have put concrete down at a fraction of the price of the bricks, but I like the natural look of the bricks, so again – money well spent.

Scout, my miniature wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. She’ll be 4 next month – where does the time go?

I value a calm, peaceful home without any troubles from the council and the neighbours. The fencing I’ve put up isn’t the most exciting way to spend money, but it’s worth it because it keeps Poppy, Jeff and Scout safe, secure and QUIET.

I’m basically thinking about the things I like to do and the values I want to live my life by and then seeing how I can design my home to include as many of these things as possible. I want to have Future Frogdancer fit into this house like a happy little pea in a pod.

So remember I said I still have 20K left? I feel like a bit of an idiot because I had one job that absolutely needed to be done, but I kept putting it off because I was scared about how much it would cost.

Rotting timber balustrading.
Yeah… this doesn’t look good…

My front verandah has timber balustrading that has seen better days. I had absolutely no idea how much it would cost and then with coronavirus coming along, I shoved it into the back of my mind and tried to stop thinking about it.

Except… this job was only going to get worse with time and turn into something that would just get more and more expensive the longer I ignored it. So, after a year of resolutely turning my face away from it, I called in a couple of tradies to quote.

ARGH! I’m such a fool! I thought it’d cost thousands! I got the first quote back last night – $1,040. I could have had this done AGES ago. I’ve been needing to get this done so I could then plant my avocado trees. They’re still in their little pots, instead of getting their feet in the ground and producing those smashed avos that my millennial boys dream about.

As part of this job, I’m also getting a piece of laserlight nailed to the underside of the verandah, where an access door is. This will be where I’ll put our lawnmower. It’ll be tucked away out of sight, safe from any rain and it’ll be right where the lawn is – no wrestling it down from the backyard. Again – I’ll be getting something done that suits me.

So what else is on my list?

  • The other side fence. It’s literally falling apart, so once I get this done I won’t have to worry about fencing for decades.
  • Beautifying the new back verandah. I’ve bought the dining table and chairs and we have an old couch there, but it needs plants around the perimeter and I want to get a couple of half wine barrels to put splashes of colour in. I also want some sort of artwork on the wall of the house to make it all look pretty.
  • A new ensuite. My old one is perfectly serviceable, but it has a shower over a bath. I HATE THIS – it’s so pov. Plus I think it’ll be unsafe when Future Frogdancer will be getting in and out of it – one slip and she’ll be in a world of trouble.
  • A Tesla power wall. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get one of these, but I’d love it if I could. I’m looking for ways to future-proof Future Frogdancer’s bills and seeing as I already have solar panels, this could dovetail in quite nicely. Plus, I like the idea of having a back-up when power cuts and brownouts happen during the summers. I have a niggling feeling that these will get worse as time goes on and peak oil starts to bite and I don’t want to suffer through hot temperatures or have my freezer lose all of its contents. I freeze A LOT of things, particularly from the garden and I’d be incandescent with rage if I had to throw it all out.
  • An office/crafting room. OMG. I’ve never had one of these in my life and I’d love one. When we looked at this place, one of the back bedrooms was set up as an office. It has a door through to the backyard and it has a wall of cupboard save lined with shelves. THIS is the space. Unfortunately, Ryan25 lives in here and he’s not going anyplace soon – he’s finishing his remedial massage course and going straight into a 12-month myotherapy course. So this one will have to wait. But when I have all of my paperwork, my sewing machine, my yarn and my fabric all organised in the one room, I’ll be a very happy woman.
  • Painting the inside of the house. This isn’t urgent, but like the kitchen fittings, the previous owners did a very quick spray job. I’d like enamel paint on the skirting and doors, instead of the matt paint I currently have. It’s impossible to wipe down properly.
  • Landscaping the front yard. I have a vision of people coming through the high front gate and being greeted with a beautiful oasis of flowers, fruit trees and lawn that is invisible from the street. Apart from my avocados, I have absolutely no clue what I’ll be planting here. None whatsoever. But it’ll come to me.

The beauty of having my own place is that once I set it up, I’ll be able to live here with minimal ongoing costs and I’ll be perfectly happy with everything I have around me. I plan to travel overseas every year (once this pesky pandemic sorts itself out) but when I’m at home, my dogs, my crafts, my books, my blogging and my gardening will occupy me very nicely.

Once you buy furniture, that expense goes away as you have it for YEARS. Given this, it’s worth it to hunt around for items that really suit you. I found this out the hard way. When I moved in with my boyfriend back in the day, we bought some ugly cheap pine furniture “just for now”. A marriage, divorce, 4 kids and twenty years later, I finally got rid of those eyesores. It’s better to buy things you love looking at (like my bedroom setting that I’ve had for 25 years and have no plans to replace), because furniture hangs around for decades. My rule now is to allow nothing through the door that I don’t love, no matter how “practical” that thing may be.

Propaganda poster from my trip to North Korea.
One of my propaganda posters from my trip to North Korea, along with a North Korean banknote that I smuggled out.

My plan, once the world opens up again, is to gradually fill my walls with paintings and drawings from places that I’ve visited. I’m in no hurry to fill the empty walls I have. I’ll see something on my travels and know that I’ll want to look at it for the rest of my life and it’ll find its way home.

I love the idea of slowly building a collection of art that will spark memories of my travels and will make my house look totally different to anyone else’s. My house will reflect ME. So far we have Balinese paintings, pieces from North Korea and Venice and France. I wonder what else will join them as time goes on?

I save vegetable seeds and grow from them year after year. I love the idea of feeding myself and my boys food that started from seeds I bought years ago, but which still feed and nourish us years into the future. There’s something about the continuity and the tradition that appeals to me.

Home ownership is something that is definitely a financial struggle in the beginning. Homes are not something that vendors just casually give away! But over time, as the mortgage is paid off and there’s extra money available, there’s a beautiful opportunity to craft your living space into the perfect space for YOU.

Being on the FI/RE path as we are, the vision of decades of freedom in a space we simply enjoy living in is something to be aimed for. At the moment I’m having the fun of planning and ticking tasks off the list one by one. In a couple of years, I’ll have the fun of actually spending huge gobs of time in this home I’ve created. A home that keeps costs to a minimum. A home that makes me happy and fulfils my needs.

A home that suits ME.

So what’s your story, Frogdancer Jones?

I was interviewed for the Late Start to FIRE series.

While I’m stuck here at work, putting in my last day before the winter holidays, please duck across and have a read of this series. There’s some very interesting and determined people there, who all prove that you can still retire early, even if you don’t discover FIRE until your 40’s or 50’s.

Thanks to LateStarter Fire for letting me share my story!

Accidentally frugal and slightly extravagant.

The last few months of lockdown have allowed me to be slightly extravagant because I’ve been accidentally frugal. By ‘accidentally frugal’ I mean that by staying at home for the last 3 months, I’ve brought my day to day expenses to nearly zero while pulling in a wage by working from home. Sadly, I’m now back at school, (wearing a face mask because there’s no way those kids will socially distance), teaching crowded classrooms and sitting in staffroom with lots of others, but the past 3 months have allowed me to (almost) finish a very expensive job on my ‘things to do’ list.

But today, one of those expenses I dropped from my shopping list is now back.

As I sit in the hairdressing salon, 15 weeks after having my last hair appointment, I feel a little uneasy. When I walked in there were 2 women sitting o the couches waiting, while 2 women were having their hair worked on. I went to sit down and my hairdresser raced over, waving her hands frantically. 

“NO, No, don’t sit down – there’ll be too many people in here!” she said. I waited on a bench outside while she finished blow-drying her client’s hair.

One hairdresser is wearing a helmet-y device with a clear plastic shield over her face. ‘My’ hairdresser is wearing a face mask. When I saw that, I pulled out one of the home-made face masks that I’ve been wearing to work and I put it on.

Now, I’m ensconced in a corner of one of the couches and I’m waiting my turn.

Honestly, I’d be happy to leave my hair looking like a haystack for a few more weeks, but it occurred to me that the best time to get a cut and colour would be between the two waves of the virus, assuming we get a second wave, which I feel in my waters that we will. Although I’m obviously still youthful and dewy,  I’m at the awkward age of having grey hair around my face but my hair is still darker at the back. I thought about going gracefully grey but in the end I’ve decided against it.

So here I am. I used to get a cut and colour every 6 weeks or so at a cost of $85. I know – it’s crazy cheap! Lockdown has saved me around $200 on this one recurring expense, which is nothing to be sneezed at. I’ve also goy a different look now – leaving my hair to grow has given me a bob, rather than a short hairdo. I’m going with it for the moment, just as a change.

Lockdown has been a strangely frugal, yet expensive time. Long-term readers of this blog would know that I’ve made a list of things to get done here in The Best House in Melbourne before I retire.  Updating my major kitchen appliances was on the list, but way down. Now, it appears that I’ve accidentally attacked this job without meaning to.

A few days after lockdown started – and just as I began a sourdough starter – my oven died. Given that I’m looking to retire-proof my house, I wasn’t going to buy a cheap and nasty replacement. I’m going to do that job right! So in went a $1400 made-in-Germany oven. Then, 2 weeks ago our dishwasher died. Again, I’m going to replace it with something that’ll last for Old Lady Frogdancer, so another $1600 went on the same made-in-Germany brand. (Both these prices include installation and removal of the old models.)

At the same time, I haven’t been spending money. Petrol? Nup. Been staying at home. Food? We stocked up before the lockdown, so apart from buying a few fresh ingredients, we haven’t been going to the shops. Entertainment has been taken care of by books, Netflix, Foxtel (my free 2 months runs out next week so I’ve been bingeing) and my latest awesome discovery – audiobooks from my local library. I had to replace my 8 year old iPad just before lockdown and I’ve scored a free 12 month subscription to Apple TV. When I cancel my Foxtel I’ll move across to this.

I’m not a big online shopper at the best of times. The only things I’ve bought have been the oven, dishwasher and a gorgeous earthenware water bowl for the dogs as a lockdown present to myself.

Poppy.
Poppy.

All in all, my biggest expense apart from the kitchen appliances has been three trips to the vet. Poppy has had a couple of eye ulcers, which sounds incredibly painful, so of course we have to get rid of them. No one said that having pets was a cheap thing to do, but of course in this household, the dogs are the heartbeat around which the house revolves. After all, I only bought this house when I did so that we could continue to keep them!

So, by being accidentally frugal, I’ve been able to cashflow the bigger expenses because my wage isn’t being frittered away, which has the huge bonus of allowing me to protect my savings. Just between you and me, I’d rather have the 3K that I’ve spent on an oven and dishwasher sitting in my savings account waiting to pay for a new ensuite or new front verandah, but hey – I’m a glass half-full kind of girl. At least I’ve just about finished my kitchen reno! A new cooktop and exhaust fan is all that I need

But they can wait…

… as I am. My hairdresser doesn’t accept appointments so I’ve been sitting here for an hour. I’m next up, though! In a couple of hours I’ll be ravishingly beautiful again. (Edited to add – it took 4 hours all up. But at $85 for a cut and colour, I’ve learned to take my laptop and a good book in with me. You never know how long you’ll have to wait.)

Now that I’ve finished this blog post, I’ll be firing up my kindle app and beginning Noel Whittacker’s ‘Superannuation Made Simple.’ If I’m heading towards retirement in the next little while, this is an area I’ll need to be very familiar with! 

Lockdown was my retirement ‘training wheels’.

My leisurely Lockdown mornings. Scout knows darned well she’s blocking the computer screen.

When we were told to go into lockdown, it was a bit scary but also – to be honest – I was a little bit excited. I felt like I’d been training for lockdown my whole life. I love being at home. I have so many things to do, books to read and things to think about and plan for. It also occurred to me that being at home 24/7 for weeks on end would also be a crash course in what everyday life would be like in retirement but without the little outings and holidays. In other words – retirement on steroids!.

Writing this blog as I do, it’s obvious that preparing for retirement, both financially and emotionally, has been on my mind for a while. The money side isn’t a worry. I have enough, or nearly enough, I think. Anyway, my early training in being frugal, when I was at home with 4 small boys living on 18K/year means that if money ever got tight I can live on the smell of an oily rag. But… would life get dull and boring after a while?

I didn’t think it would be… but you never really know these things until you start to live them. I’m a bit of a hermit when I’m home. I love shutting the gate and being in my own little world. That’s fine and dandy when I spend most of my time at work, knee-deep in 2,300 kids and 200 other teachers, but it niggles at me that maybe it would be a different kettle of fish when my days at home are all I have. Would I get bored and lonely?

After 11 weeks of staying at home, I have a much clearer idea of what my days will look like in retirement. Granted, it’s not exactly the same as retirement because remote teaching takes up lots of my time on the 3 days a week I work. However, my days without an hour and a half being taken up by the commute have given me a sneak peek at what life will be like when I can call my days my own.

Most of the things that I’ve revelled in during lockdown have been the little things. But they all seem to have the same basic thing in common – freedom.

Lockdown gave me the time to create. This is a quilt for Evan23.

It seems that my natural awakening time is anywhere from 7:30 – 8 AM. Did you know that the difference between being forced to wake up in the dark and being able to wake up whenever your body wants to can put a spring in your step first thing in the morning? The best mornings are the ones where I get up at the same time as when I’d be backing the car out of the driveway to get to work. Oh yeah, baby! Without the commute, I can still wake up at 7:45 and be ready to go online to teach my classes by 8:50.

Oh, the freedom!

On my non-working days (aka Retirement Training Days) I spend the early morning reading on the laptop, mostly blogs, Twitter and Facebook, though a novel will sneak its way in every now and then. Interestingly, during lockdown I didn’t have the urge to write. The dogs are glued to me on the couch and the mornings are peaceful as I tap away on the laptop and they snuggle and snore.

These luxurious starts to my mornings will be very sweet when I can do them every day.

The interesting thing about this lockdown was that it was impossible to over-schedule myself, once I staged an intervention on myself to stop me from working 7 day weeks in remote learning when I was only getting paid for 3. There was nowhere else I had to be, no one I was allowed to meet and so my son and I were thrown onto our own resources. This, of course, was more than a crash-course in retirement. It was like ‘retirement on steroids’ – and yet, we weren’t bored. Not even for a day.

Another project – find some plants for the front door that stick upwards. I’m hoping this ‘lockdown project’ will last for years.

After I slowly got over the tiredness I felt at the end of the term, I began to find that I felt much better if I accomplished something practical each day. Lockdown, as lovely as it is, wasn’t going to last forever, so I set a series of projects to try and get done before it finished. I liked the idea of being able to point to something and say, “That’s my Pandemic Quilt/Fence/Whatever.”

I wanted to finish painting my front fence – 2 coats.

Same with the side fence.

My veggie garden had to be made ready for winter.

I have 2 quilts to finish.

I have a lot of pruning down the sideway to get done.

I needed to master sourdough bread making.

If, at the end of each day I’d accomplished something on at least a couple of these things to push them forward, I was happy.

The main difference I’ve noticed is that the pace of my days changed – just as retired people report. There’s no mad rush to get as many things done during the weekends as possible. There’s no pile-up of scheduled blocks of time, where I’m racing to get as much done as I can before the work week begins again.

Instead – if I can sit on the couch with a wine and the dogs at the end of the day and think, “I painted some more of the fence, made 2 sourdough loaves and chopped half a bed of dead tomato plants into little bits to use for mulch… that’s a day well-spent.”

There’s a beauty in having a day filled with simple tasks around the home. I’m not one who loves the drudgery of housework; instead, I like projects. Much more fun, particularly as once a project is done, it STAYS done. Not like housework.

So, after having spent 11 weeks at home and having barely pushed my nose outside the front gate (except for painting the fence, walking the dogs and the off Aldi trip every fortnight or so), I’m here to report that I’m ripe and ready for retirement. I wasn’t bored at all… not even for a day. I was as happy as a pig in muck, which bodes well for when I’ll be home all day every day.

I’ll almost certainly work at least another year – I have a lot of projects that I want to have finished and paid for before I give the wage the flick – but yes. Emotionally, Lockdown has given me the certainty that when I retire, I’ll be just fine.

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