I was driving down Nepean Highway, shortly after 8 AM. Although the traffic is better than it was before COVID, it was still fairly busy and when the light ahead of us turned red, traffic on my side of the highway, (the one leading into the city) banked up.
A car was stopped on the other side of the road, waiting to turn into one of the side streets leading to parking beside the beach.
The driver was an older guy, with a kayak strapped to the roof of his car. He waited patiently for a break in the traffic.
I smiled as I realised. What a perfect portrait for retirement, early or otherwise!
Here were the lemmings all jammed together on their way to work, while the guy who has his freedom was choosing to spend this early, sparkling Spring morning out on the bay.
I’m typing this from a classroom while my year 7s are completing a very dull assessment task on a very worthy movie called ‘Whale Rider.’ I’ll have to read every word that they’re writing.
The sky from the window is a clear blue with a few faint strips of cloud. The leaves on the tree outside are barely moving.
Five weeks (and 1 day) of work left before I retire! It seems real and yet not, if you know what I mean.
I’m constantly being asked at work, “Counting down the days?” and yes, I suppose I am.
I’ve had people saying they’re specifically coming to the staff luncheon at the end of the year because they know my speech will be hilarious – oof, no pressure everyone! – and others saying that they’ll miss me next year. That’s nice of them to say, but we all know how quickly workplaces move on. Today’s superstar is barely remembered a month into next year. It’s all about the here and now.
One thing I’m kicking myself about.
Due to remote learning being hard on some of the kids, the year 7s didn’t have to write a full essay on their novel this year, just 3 body paragraphs. This means that I read my very last essay ever LAST YEAR!!!! This means that I read my very last essay ever and I didn’t even know it. ARGH!!!! That would have been a sweet, sweet feeling.
I’ve made my very last Work Christmas presents. For the last couple of years I’ve made soap to give to people. This year I bought cornflower and calendula petals to make them look pretty. The soap takes 6 weeks to cure so it can be safely used, so it means that you have to be organised early. I’m really pleased with how these look.
Oh, and if you’re a work friend who’s reading this, just pretend to be surprised in the last week of term. 🙂
I decided to bite the bullet and finish off the front yard. New guttering on the verandah, a new garden bed and brick path have all been put in. This means that, apart from the side fence that has to be replaced, the bones of the yard have been completed and now the pottering about bit – otherwise known as planting and gardening – are ready to be worked on next year when I have all the time in the world.
I still have no clear idea what is going to be planted in this garden bed. All I know for sure is that I want it to be full of flowers to bring the bees to pollinate all the fruit trees. The dark fence behind it will be the perfect backdrop for splashes of colour.
The other cheap entertainment I’ll have for myself is seriously learning how to grow food from seed. I’ve been doing it for years, but in a haphazard sort of way, so I’m looking forward to refining how I do it and being more consistent and productive.
There’s nothing so rewarding as harvesting food that you’ve grown yourself from seeds you’ve saved. Free food is my favourite flavour!
Speaking about growing food from saved seed, last year was the first time I successfully grew pumpkins. Never have pumpkins tasted better! I saved seed from the largest one and I’ve planted them in pots which I’ve popped in the new orchard. The idea is that while the grass underneath the mulch is slowly being killed off, the pumpkin plants can tumble over the sides of the pots and ramble all over the ground under the baby trees.
It’s an experiment. Hopefully, they’ll produce glorious pumpkins and I’ll be making use of all that spare ground. That’s the great thing about food gardening. There’s always a new experiment to be carried out to keep things interesting.
There are unexpected benefits to growing your own food. Last summer we had a tomato glut. I’ve never seen so many tomatoes in one garden in my life before. By the time summer ended I had packed away around 50 kilos in bags of chopped-up tomatoes in 400g lots in the freezers. Anytime a recipe called for a tin of tomatoes, I’d just defrost a bag. Along with other produce from the garden, our big freezer in the laundry and our smaller one in the kitchen was jam-packed full.
Then covid happened. Having all of that food saved meant that our visits to the shops were dramatically cut. I planned our meals around what we had to use up and now, in late spring, we have just 4 bags of tomatoes left. I’m so rapt. The utter convenience of having all of this on-site, along with the motivation of “if we grows it, we eats it!” meant that it was easier to simply throw a meal together from home, rather than get takeaway and risk getting the virus.
I’ve spent so much money on landscaping the yard to include the wicking vegetable beds that I’ll NEVER make my money back on grocery savings. But that wasn’t why I did it.
Old Lady Frogdancer’s ongoing grocery bills will be slightly smaller, yes. But she’ll also have endless hours of entertainment, plotting and planning for next year’s crops, devising the next new experiment, getting out in the sun to enjoy the weather and look after her plant babies. She’ll be able to give away produce to her boys and they’ll all be eating the cheapest, healthiest organic fruit and vegetables possible.
Assuming that some charitable souls take on my unfortunate-looking sons, in years to come Old Lady Frogdancer, in between overseas trips, will be able to teach the next generation how to get their hands dirty and show them where food actually comes from. That’ll be pretty cool, I think.
Well, as the title at the top of this post says, time’s ticking away. The timer is about to ding for the last kneading for today’s sourdough loaves and once that’s done I have to go out and water the gardens. It’s a beautifully sunny day today and Thursday is my day off.
Hmm.. will I take the dogs down to the beach? Will I plant out some of the seedlings in the greenhouse? Will I continue painting the verandah? Ryan25’s quilt and Jenna’s scarf need to be finished soon, should I attack one or both of them? Should I knock over a couple more chapters in that retirement book I’m reading?
You know, it’s almost impossible to comprehend that soon I’ll be asking these questions of myself every single day… and then doing whatever I feel like.
I’ve begun returning text books to the library and soon I’ll begin either taking home things from my desk or binning them. I had a partial clean-out at the end of last year when I went part-time and had to share a desk this year, but I still have a lot of travel photos, cards from kids and other memorabilia that will have to come down before I go.
You can see the hand sanitiser on my desk in the bottom right of the photo. The school has issued a mask, a face shield and heaps of hand sanitiser to every teacher. It’s become second nature to sanitise after every class. I have a feeling this will be around for a long time.
I didn’t feel safe at work when the pandemic started and I was furious whenever pollies banged on about opening up schools. Now, with numbers of new cases in the zeros or single digits, with every single person wearing masks and bucketfuls of sanitiser everywhere, I feel safer at school. The kids don’t socially distance, but honestly, that was never going to happen. When everyone in sight is wearing a mask, it’s very reassuring, especially when paired with such low numbers.
Word has started to filter down to the students that I’m retiring. One of my best friends at work is teaching kids this year that I had last year for year 7 English. She told me that she mentioned to the class that I was retiring at the end of the year and one little boy, Nick, was very upset. He said, “Oh noooo! I wanted my brother and sister to have her for English when they got here!”
She replied, “Well, that’s too bad. Tell them they should have been born earlier if they didn’t want to miss out!”
I’m very fond of this. We used to make every kid go into an English competition and they all got a participation certificate – not that most of them cared. Those of you who have read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ will appreciate the humour in this – imagine Boo Radley leaving the house to go and sit this test? So proud of him.
I popped into an art class to talk to the teacher about fixing up a couple of minor dings on the paintings from the UK of the dogs. While I was there a girl called me over. I taught her 3 years ago in year 7 English, and every now and then I’d sneak the class into the theatre to do some drama. So many kids from my junior English classes go on to select Drama as a subject. 🙂
“I’m taking year 11 drama next year Miss, so I’ll be having you again!” she said, beaming. When I told her that no, she definitely would NOT be having me, her face fell. “But we all know that you’re taking year 11 Theatre so Ms OtherDramaTeacher can take year 12!” she said.
First time I’ve heard that rumour…
It appears I’ll have a travel buddy for Antarctica. LateStarterFire messaged me and she wants to come too! My timeline of roughly 2 – 3 years suits her and so it could be a thing. My thinking at the moment is that if COVID is still a thing, we’ll leave from New Zealand. If COVID’s gone, then South America (and Easter Island) will be the way to go.
My New Challenge:
I decided to set a challenge for myself. Either way, it’s going to be a hellishly expensive trip, so I’m going to see if I can earn 20K in 2 years to help with the costs. Even though I didn’t want to set foot in a classroom next year, I decided that penguins, icebergs and whales were enough of an incentive to pick up some CRT (Emergency) teaching next year, as well as anything else I can pick up, such as online surveys, exam invigilation etc.
I talked to the Daily Organiser at work and I now have paperwork to fill in. I’ll look at schools closer to home too, because it’s the commute to the school I’m in now which is a huge time-suck. I didn’t retire just to go straight back into sitting in a car for an hour and a half each day! There’s a tutoring program that is starting next year to make sure kids who struggled with remote learning this year won’t be disadvantaged. I’ve put my name down for that as well, but seeing there’s apparently over double the amount of applicants for spaces available, I’m not holding my breath.
I hear about a group of people called ‘The Retirement Police” from other blogs, who point the finger at anyone who earns money after they retire and say that it means they’re not REALLY retired. Fair enough, I guess, but I plan for every penny I earn to be popped in the bank for this holiday. Besides, if you’ve read this blog for more than 5 minutes you’ll know I like a challenge. Imagine when I get a thousand dollars? Ten thousand? It’ll be very satisfying.
(Besides, after all those years of living hand-to-mouth when the boys were young, it feels odd to not hustle, even a little bit, for some extra cash. I think the memory of those years will take a long time to fade.)
I’m knitting some beautifully warm, soft, thick cowls for David27 and Evan24’s girlfriends Izzy and Jenna – both November babies – and I thought of maybe knitting some of these to sell. I use kettle-dyed wool from South America, probably spun by virgins, and the cowls are fabulous to wear in the middle of winter. The wool costs just under $40, so I thought that asking $100 plus postage would be reasonable.
But then I went onto Etsy and saw what people are charging for hand-knitted items. Nothing has changed since I used to have an Etsy shop for baby hats and quilts about a decade ago. People are barely getting more than the cost of the yarn for the things they spend hours knitting – it’s just not worth spending 6 or 7 hours knitting to earn $5 or $10 profit. It’s a shame because I like knitting, but if I’m going to reach my challenge target I need to do things that give me more bang for my buck time.
I know Izzy will like her cowl. I got her to choose the wool I used, holding out 2 skins of red wool and asking her which one she thought Jenna would prefer. Heh heh. Little did she know she was choosing the wool for herself.
I asked Jenna’s Mum which colours Jenna likes, so hopefully Jenna will be pleased too. They’re both brunettes with olive skin so they can wear the bright, bold colours that I can’t. It’s been fun making these.
Today is Melbourne Cup Day, a public holiday for a horse race. Tuesdays are normally one of my days off, but it still feels like a holiday regardless.
Today I’ll be making all of the Christmas presents for my friends at work and doing a bit more painting on the verandah and gardening. Later, I’ll be keeping a slightly nervous look at how things are panning out in the US with their election. Crazy times when shopfronts are being boarded up because people are scared of the possible fallout from an election. Usually, elections are the staidest things on earth…
Well, I’m not one for crystals and dream catchers or “putting things out there and letting the universe decide”, but sometimes there are massive coincidences that seem to be telling you something. This happened to me a couple of days ago and now I know what my next big goal is. I’m so excited!
A couple of posts ago I sent a shout-out to my Antarctica reader/s (?). It always gives me a thrill when I see that they’ve hopped on to have a read. Anyway, Penguindancer! commented on that post. I have to admit, I had a little fangirl moment. I sent a reply, saying that I’d love to go there one day, then hurriedly left the house. It was Thursday, my day off, and my hairdresser doesn’t take appointments. With hairdressers now allowed to open after a couple of months of being locked down, I knew I’d have to get in early to avoid a long queue. The whole of Melbourne is clamouring to get our hair cut so we can look human again.
I got there soon after 8AM and was 4th in line. The guy who was number 1 was talking with number 3 about travel. He said to her, “By far the best trip I’ve taken was to Antarctica.”
You can imagine how my ears pricked up at this.
I joined the conversation, telling him about my new best friend Penguindancer! and before I knew it I was looking at photos and film of icebergs, penguins, seals, and I was taking down the name of the boat and tour company he used. I was able to return the favour – Frank had no idea you can travel to North Korea and his eyes lit up when I mentioned I’d been.
He also gave me a fabulous tip – on the way to South America, stop off at Easter Island.
As the door opened to the hairdresser, he said, “I hope you’ll be able to go one day.”
“Oh, I WILL go!” I said.
“I warn you… it’s not cheap,” he said.
“I don’t mind spending money on things like this,” I said. “You only do them once, so it’s worth it.”
A few hours later I arrived home with all of those strange silvery hairs – surely impossible for one so youthful and dewy to grow??? – all disappeared. I felt like a new woman. Over lunch I pulled up my Feedly blog reader and saw that Bonnie from 43 Blue Doors had written a post about Mission Beach, right in the far north of Queensland in the tropics. I settled down for a read.
What are the odds of a blog post talking about Cassowaries and the tropics in Australia linking to a post full of photos of Antarctica? Add to that the odds of having conversations with Penguindancer! and Frank on the exact same day…
Clearly I need to get my good self down to Antarctica.
The last two days I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of exploring all the possibilities.
If you go from South America, this is basically the no-frills route that most expedition ships seem to cover. You can get tours that go to the Falklands and South Georgia as well, but this is the area that most tours seem to go. I want to sail on a smaller ship, as they seem to be able to let people go onto the land. I can’t see the point of going all that way, only to merrily sail all around the area without being able to physically set foot there.
However, South America is riddled with covid at the moment, so I’m not in a tearing hurry to pack my bags and leave this instant.
However, as Penguindancer! wrote in the comments section this morning, there is another option. Leaving from New Zealand. Prices are eye-wateringly more expensive, but the covid consideration is practically non-existent. Plus I guess the cost might work out roughly the same when you take the shorter flight into consideration. (I haven’t looked at flights yet – no point really since our borders are closed to all except New Zealand.)
The islands they visit on the way have had vastly fewer tourists see them. Hmmm…
So, here’s what I’m thinking at the moment:
The open water part of the trip is much less in South America. I don’t know good a sailor I am.
No one knows what’s going to happen with Covid. New Zealand is far more viable a destination in the near future than South America.
The boats from NZ take fewer passengers. That could be either a good or a bad thing, depending on who else is on board!
Easter Island would be only a short hop from South America.
I like to have something to look forward to. What if I set this trip as a goal for my 60th birthday? That’d mean I’d have 3 years to save up for it and plan for it.
I could work some CRT and exam invigilation over that time. That income could be stashed in an account to help pay for it. Frank was correct – this will NOT be a cheap trip.
But imagine seeing something like this in real life? This is why I’ve worked so hard to free up my time – the world is full of incredible things to do and see.
So I’ve set my newest Big Goal. I thought my next big trip would be going back to the UK and Europe, but sometimes life offers up attractive alternatives.
It was July 3, 2016. I was just shy of my 53rd birthday.
Poppy, Jeff and I were walking on the beach. Scout wasn’t even born yet, let alone being part of the pack. It was a cool day, with a bit of a wind whipping along the shore. We’d moved into The Best House in Melbourne 3 months before and our spending was austere. That happens when you’re paying interest on a 750K bridging finance loan.
I’d taken a big risk – a risk that I thought I’d never take again once my little house in Bentleigh East was paid off and we were totally debt-free. I thought I would never borrow money again. But here we were, 750K in debt, waiting for that same little house to be torn down and townhouses put there in its place.
If it all worked out, I’d have swung a deal that would save me years of work because I could bump up my superannuation and investments with the equity I’d released. If the property bubble took a dive, then I’d have done all this with no real financial benefit at all. I would have swapped my commute from 2 minutes to 45 minutes for the next 14 years…
Sure, I was paying 70+% of my wage purely on the interest for my new house. This would go on for 18 months. We were living on a shoestring. But if all went well, my overall dream of financial security would be brought forward by years.
Spoiler alert: it all worked out. I’m retiring in December this year, fully 10 years short of what I ever thought I’d be able to do. But walking on that beach 4 years ago, I didn’t know that then.
As we walked, I threw the ball over and over again for Poppy and I started thinking. To me, financial independence has always meant security first and foremost, but it also means freedom. Retirement coupled with financial independence means freedom on steroids – the ability to do whatever you want to do when you want to do it. Swinging this property deal would mean that this goal of a financially-free retirement that I knew I would reach when I was 67 could be brought forward. But I wondered…
When would I actually be able to retire?
What if I tracked the days? What if I set a stretch target of say… when I was 60? Surely, if the deal worked, I could shave 7 years off my working life. How cool would that be?
I already tracked my spending. Why not set a target, then track my working days? It’ll be a bit of fun, plus it would be FREE. (This was a heady consideration back then!)
So the ‘Days to Retirement’ chart was born.
Every day, or every few days if I get busy and forget, I colour in another number. I decided I wanted it to look a little like a patchwork quilt, so every month has its own colour. Every July 3rd, I colour that square red, as I’m a sentimental old fool and it’s the chart’s anniversary. Every December 31 is red too, just the mark the passing of another year.
It takes surprisingly long to fill in this baby. The first page took just over three and a half years to complete. It had turned into a habit, something I drowsily did first thing in the morning before I got out of bed.
In a fit of industriousness a long while ago, I’d filled in the numbers for the days until the end of 2020, then I just let it be.
Maybe it was prophetic…?
It occurred to me the other day how strange it was that I’d only filled on the days until the end of 2020, which has turned out to be the end of my working life. When I was filling in the numbers, I was fully intending for my ‘stretch target’ to be when I was 60. I was going to keep filling in the numbers but, frankly, it was boring and I thought, ‘Meh. I’ll save it for another day. I’ve done enough.’
(Just in case there’s someone counting the number of days in the years of 58, 59 and 60 – those markers are only approximate. I did a rough estimate, knowing that I’d get to them later.)
But still! Look at those days.
Look at how many of them there are! I just did some Maths – 365 X 3 = 1,095 days of me being able to do whatever I want.
A thousand days. That’s as long as Anne Boleyn was on the throne of England.
My mother once said to me, “A house revolves around the rhythms of either the oldest or the youngest people in it.” She meant that if you have either very young children or someone elderly, then everyone else’s routines and habits tend to bend to cater to the needs of these people.
My boys are all in the mid twenties and are years away from starting families. I’m selfish enough to relish having a few years to myself before I have to consider when/if I’ll put my hand up for childcare for grandchildren. Up until now there have always been demands on my time. School, then uni, then work, then kids, then work/kids again.
I have a feeling these next few years might be a gentle sweet spot where – for the first time in my life – how I spend my days is entirely my choice.
Look at all the empty days in the bottom of that chart.
It’s been an interesting week and a half. A day after I wrote my last post, we had a virtual staff meeting and my principal announced that i was retiring. Just like that! I guess there’s no turning back now…
There were a few phone calls from people curious to see what I was up to, but most questions poured in when I was back at work on campus. Yes, this past week year 7, 11 and 12 kids have been back at school. I have 2 classes of year 7s so hey ho, it’s back to school I go.
Given how youthful and dewy I am, most people are congratulating me and then asking what I’m moving to next. A different job? Another school? Their eyes widen slightly when I laugh and say, “No. It’s a REAL retirement!”
“But you’re too young to retire!” is mostly said by people around my age or older. When I smile and say something about how age isn’t the thing that determines retirement – it’s all about being able to support yourself, they either sigh and say, “The way we’re going, I’ll be working forever” or they ask me how I’ve done it.
That leads into some interesting chats.
So far, I’ve only had one person say how ‘lucky’ I am. I guess after working there for 16 years and having my 4 boys go through the school, people are pretty familiar with my story. I countered by saying that if I hadn’t have done my geoarbitrage move four years ago, I’d still be working.
“Doing that deal saved me 10 years of work,” I said. I didn’t mention all the years of frugality and keeping my eyes on the prize – nobody wants to hear about all of that!
A fair few people have nodded wisely and asked if COVID affected my decision. They look a bit surprised when I say that yes, I was planning to work part-time another year so it pushed my retirement forward by a year. That still doesn’t compute with being in my mid fifties and being able to retire.
One young teacher I work with started asking me about savings rates and if keeping an eye on spending was significant, so I shot this blog post over to him. He’s gone down the rabbit hole…
People have been overwhelmingly positive – to my face at least! – with many saying they’re jealous. LOL.
But I’m going to miss some things.
This week my year 7s have been doing their wide reading oral presentations. This is a 3 minute talk about a book they’ve read. Seeing as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and masks are mandatory, I made my kids do their talks while wearing their masks. I don’t want to get so close to escaping and then get killed by an errant droplet!
On Monday one little boy was so scared. He stood up in front of the class and started reading from his cue cards. They were literally shaking in his hands. It’s awful when you see this happening, because sometimes the kids just stop talking and freeze up, which makes it that much harder for them to tackle public speaking next time.
He kept on going, looking up and focusing on me when he wasn’t looking at his cards. His voice was shaking in the beginning, but by the end of the speech he’d sorted that out.
As I watched this kid conquering his fear, I thought, “I’m going to miss this.” As a teacher, you feel so proud when a kid is obviously scared, but they push themselves through that barrier and achieve something they didn’t think they could do.
At the end of his speech I asked him how scared he was. He said, “My knees were knocking together, Miss!”
I told him how proud I was of him for pushing through and succeeding and that this kind of thing is something I’m going to miss seeing. We then gave him a standing ovation. He was embarrassed but pleased.
A couple of the girls spoke about books that sounded really good, so I asked if I could borrow them and I polished them off this week. Every now and then I do this and I find really good reads that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
On Friday we had the last of the orals. I danced at the front of the room, singing, “Yay! I never have to listen to another oral presentation again!!!” One little girl said, “That makes me sad, Miss.”
It’s funny being back at school. Everyone is masked and the kids’ tables are separated as far as they can be, so they’re all in a grid shape, exactly like a Google Meet set up on a computer screen. I said to 7M yesterday that it’s almost like we’re still doing virtual classes, except they’re a lot harder to keep quiet without a mute button.
As you can see, our numbers are looking good, so people are hoping for an easing of lockdown restrictions to be announced tomorrow, especially the 5km travel bubble. Tom28, my oldest son, is working from home and he happens to live just around the corner from the school. I saw him on each day I worked this week – Monday to pick up some facemasks I’d made him that had ‘too-thick’ elastic and to give him a sourdough loaf – Wednesday to give him his repaired masks back – and Friday to give him and his flatmate a second sourdough. First times I’d seen him in person in four months.
And one last thing – WordPress enables us to see where our readers are from. It always gives me a thrill when I see my Antarctic peeps are reading. I thought I’d give a shout-out to my scientific friends down there!
Today’s Thursday. This week, the 4th (and my last) school term began.
Seeing as Melbourne is still in lockdown, every teacher and student fired up their laptops and settled into another day of remote teaching. The ‘roadmap’ out of teaching from home had been set a few weeks ago. On Monday October 12 all primary kids and years 11 and 12 were back at school. Years 7 – 10 were to go back 2 weeks later.
That suited me fine. I only teach year 7 and year 9, so I was quite happy to avoid the commute and the risk of covid for a little while longer. But our numbers were dropping rapidly. I figured they’d pull the 7 – 10 kids back a week earlier than scheduled.
Then the announcement was made.
Next week, on Monday October 12, year 7 kids are also going back to school.
As of Monday, it’s back to the commute for Frogdancer Jones.
For the first couple of days I was seriously in mourning. I went to get my hair cut and dyed on Tuesday, not realising that hairdressers weren’t open yet. I’m going to have to go to work with PANDEMIC HAIR. (see below…)
Ah well. I guess that’s why God invented hats.
I’ve started being a bit more philosophical now about going back to work on Monday. It’ll be nice to see the kids in person. Most of the year 7s are seriously sick of remote learning and they’re champing at the bit to get back, so we’ll have a fun time.
The school has paid for teachers to have face shields to be worn over our masks so that we’ll have an extra layer of security. They’ve also supplied every teacher with hand sanitiser, as well as having hand sanitiser stations dotted around all over the school. Everyone who comes on campus gets temperature checked, so I’m pretty comfortable about going back to school under these conditions, especially as our numbers are now so low.
The staff rooms are still quite congested, so I’ll be wearing a mask for most of the day. It’ll be good to get back into the banter of the staffroom again, though.
I’ll be able to collect the coffee grounds for the garden again, as well as the food scraps from the Food Tech classes for my compost. That’ll make my plants happy, which makes me happy.
I’m still wanting to Get Things Done around here before I leave the wage. I’m replacing the guttering on the front of the verandah as it leaks on the corners. Next week the guttering will be a different colour, to match the colour I’m currently in the middle of painting the verandah in. It’ll match the fences and tie the whole place together.
I’m also getting quotes on a bit of landscaping I want done in the front yard. Now that I’ve put the orchard in, I need a sturdy barrier to stop the grass from growing through the mulch underneath the trees. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get someone to come and do that in the next few weeks and then Retired Frogdancer will be able to play with planting pretty things in flowerbeds.
We still need to get the side fence replaced and ideally I’d also like work to get started on upgrading my ensuite. I bought all the fittings for it a year ago when a friend from work mentioned that her husband was working at the Reece samples and seconds outlet. I paid around a quarter of retail prices and we’ve been living with the boxes in the man cave ever since. Once tile shops open, I’ll be measuring up the space and going shopping!!
It’s an interesting thing. Some people would argue that I should wait to get these things done until next year when I’ll have all the time in the world to supervise. But I know how my mind works. Next year I’ll almost certainly be staying pretty close to home and watching my spending, while I get used to drawing down from my savings and dividends, instead of having a wage coming in and living from that.
Given this, I think I’ll be happier with Present Frogdancer spending the money on these last few home improvements now. Future Frogdancer can enjoy them and not stress over shelling out gobs of cash from savings. I’ll need to ease into this new way of running the household expenses.
They say personal finance is personal for a reason. We all handle our finances differently, depending very much on our psychological mindset. While travel overseas isn’t going to happen for at least the next couple of years, now is the perfect time to puddle around at home and enjoy the little things.
Little things like seeing my apricot tree finally producing apricots. Five years ago my first year 12 Theatre Studies class gave me this tree and it’s lived in a pot ever since. Last year I planted it.
Earlier this year, way before Melbourne went into our second lockdown and the world was a sunnier place, a call went out to put together a book about FIRE, with Australian FIRE bloggers collaborating to write for an Australian audience. Much as we love the Americans, much of what is applicable to them isn’t the same in our corner of the world. We need Australian hints and tips to tweak to find the way to financial independence, and luckily there are some very clever people who have trodden the path before us to help show the way.
The very clever people and I were each assigned chapter/s and now, a few months later, the book has been released. It’s free on the Pearler website. It’s a comprehensive look at how the Financial Independence, Retire Early idea is being adopted and adapted by ordinary Australians who wish to take back control over their lives.
My chapter is towards the end of the book, where I talk about the possibilities in life without mandatory work. Interestingly, this was written way before I decided to actually retire at the end of this year. Maybe writing this piece was the first nudge towards my decision?
Chapter 21: Find your FIREstyle
If a genie emerged from a magic lamp and granted you 2 extra days a week to do whatever you wanted – what would you do with that extra time? Do you even know?
If this scenario sounds improbable, think again. It happened to me at the start of this year. Well, ok… it wasn’t a genie but my principal who granted me the extra 2 days though I was so happy when she said yes that the moment appeared magical! I’m a secondary teacher and I decided, after 30 years in the classroom and 6 years on the FIRE path, that now was the time to go from full-time to part-time work.
Think of it – that’s 2 full workdays suddenly transformed into “me” time. Instead of the job taking over the lion’s share of my week, I’m now there for 3 days. Over the course of a year, that’s a LOT of extra free time.
Now put yourself in that picture. Whether you decide to slow down as I did or to pull the pin entirely from your job, there’s going to come a time when you have lots of free time in every week, month and year. Those weeks, months and years are going to keep on coming. It’s important to start thinking NOW about how you’re going to use that time in ways that bring joy and fulfilment to your life.
You’ve read plenty of good advice about money, numbers and spreadsheets in the chapters before this one. It’s important to get your head around these things. But ultimately, money is only a tool to facilitate every other area of your life. I’ll say it again – money is a tool. It’s the other areas of your post-retirement life that often get overlooked in the planning stages. Yet these are the very areas in which our lives are built.
Let’s assume your financial plans are in place – one day you’ll be able to enjoy many decades of life in retirement. Terrific! Now… how are you going to fill your days?
I don’t mind admitting that this question still fills me with a creeping kind of fear. I know I’m not alone. The questions of “But what if I get bored?” and, “But what will I do all day?” are real. Our jobs take up a huge part of each workday, especially when the time spent on commuting is taken into account. Many people leave home in the dark and get home in the dark, only having the weekends to race around to get everything else done.
Given this, it makes total sense that people might be a bit leery about what life in early retirement will be like. And yet, that’s precisely why we should be looking towards that time and building relationships, friendships, investigating possible interests, and building expectations about how we’ll design our lives once we’re the ones deciding how our hours will be spent.
There’s no point running towards having total freedom over our time if we don’t know what we’ll do with it once we get there!
Early retirement This sounds fabulous but really; what does “early” even mean? Depending on where you currently stand on the continuum between the cradle and the grave, “early” can mean anything from 25 to 65.
Speaking as a woman who’s heading into the shady end of her fifties, “early” to me means anything a few years before pension age. Anyone who has been able to get their financial act together and retire before they “have to” is doing alright in my book. But to someone in their thirties or forties, the prospect of retiring at 60 might seem impossibly old. It’s all relative.
An important consideration about early retirement, especially if you’re on the younger end of that continuum is that your plans need to have the flexibility to pivot and change as your interests and situations evolve. My wishes and needs as a single parent of 4 small boys, back when I was on the Sole Parents Pension over 20 years ago are now very different as my family has grown and I’ve reached FI. Same person, but different life stages. You won’t remain as you are now – take my word for it!
Beware of remaining too rigid in your plans and expectations – it’s smart to allow some wriggle-room in your plans for how your retirement will appear.
Whether you’re aiming at 20 or 50 years of retirement, those days will have to be filled. We’ve already assumed that you have your finances in order, so before you actually pull the pin and charge off into the sunset, it’s an excellent idea to put some serious thought into the core beliefs and values that underpin your life.
In other words: what brings you a deep sense of satisfaction – of a day well spent? Who (or what) brings laughter and joy to your life? Are there any skills or creative endeavours that you’ve always had a yen to master but simply never had the time? Think of travel. Which destinations lift your heart and make you want to pack your bags to head out there??
Do you feel a desire to give back to the community in some way? Our society is run on the work of volunteers in so many different areas. Is there a niche where you’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that you’d enjoy working in?
Maybe you don’t want to create works of art, but instead, you’d like to be a consumer. Are there books you’ve always wanted to get lost in? Galleries that you’d love to wander around in, unfettered by time? Bands or orchestras that you’ve always wanted to hear? Sporting teams or events that you’d love to be able to soak up the atmosphere and get lost in the excitement?
Retirement is definitely the time to dust off those dreams and start living them. If not then, when? And if you’ve set yourself up for ‘early’ retirement, that’s even better! Imagine all the possibilities…
Isn’t that a great term? PASSION PROJECTS! How could you not want to sink your teeth into something like this?
For me, a passion project is something that you do for yourself. I’ll be covering voluntary work next – but a passion project is an activity that you’ve always hankered to spend more time on but had to back off from, due to the pressures of life and work. Now – as you leave work, time is no longer a barrier.
What do you want to achieve?
Just let that question sit with you for a bit…
Can you feel your spirits lift as ideas start to rise to the surface?
Creative types can dust off the woodworking tools, the paintbrushes or dive headlong into their stashes of crafting materials. A guy I went to school with retired a little while ago and has turned his garage into a studio. In his youth, he went to art school but then spent decades in the police force in order to support his family. Now, he finally has the time to spend honing his craft – and he loves it.
My cousin chooses to spend a lot of time on the golf course. She’s always been active throughout her life but golf is a game that takes up a fair chunk of time. She’s happily engaged in improving her game as often as she likes now – her job is no longer standing in her way.
People with itchy feet, whether for local or international travel, are in for a treat. The world is almost literally their oyster. This is something that I’m definitely looking forward to exploring. I’m an English history buff and it was so thrilling to actually walk in the same rooms and streets as the people I’ve been reading about my whole life. My trip to North Korea, by contrast, was fascinating (and a little unnerving) in very different ways. The world is such a wide and wonderful place and I can’t wait to see more of it.
So many passion projects that revolve around the home! Gardening, pottering around the shed and doing projects around the place – all bring a great sense of pride and satisfaction.
My father spent years doing up vintage cars. His passion was for an English brand – the Riley. It was his first car, so naturally, he has a warm spot in his heart for them. He’d find old wrecks, bring them home in boxes and spend the next few years painstakingly restoring them, one by one, back to their former glory. Along the way he taught himself many skills such as rebuilding motors, painting the exterior, rewiring them, varnishing the woodwork dashboards and door features. He spent HOURS in the garage, happy as a clam. He now has some beautiful cars to drive – almost like works of art. Without a doubt, he counts those hours as time well spent.
Ultimately, the people we love and care about are what our lives revolve around. Our friends and family are a passion project in themselves! This can run the full spectrum of just chilling and having fun to becoming caregivers. When my mother fell and was very frail for a long while afterwards, I realised that the time spent with her is something to be cherished as it wasn’t going to last forever. One of the reasons I decided to work part-time was so I could see her more often and enjoy little moments that we’d otherwise not have had. Looking after grandchildren is definitely a passion project – apparently, people who have grandchildren are quite fond of them and like to spend time developing that relationship. Not something I know much about as of yet!
These passion projects are one thing, but what if you take it a step further and push these interests out into the wider world? You have the joy of doing things you enjoy, with the added benefits of working with other people and adding value to the community.
Volunteering I have a friend, Mandy, who retired a couple of years ago when she was 56. She and her husband downsized to the Peninsula, where they were nearer to their grandchildren and a more relaxed lifestyle near the beach. Even before she left her job, she said to me a couple of times, “When I retire, I’m going to find a dog shelter and walk the dogs. Not the little dogs; the big dogs that no one wants to walk.”
This is what she says about the role of volunteering in her life: “I spent 12 months volunteering at 2 animal shelters and recently decided to discontinue one of the roles. I was feeling overcommitted, (overcommitted in retirement! Haha!!), and my role at one of the shelters was very physical and rather thankless. I kept going for the sake of the animals but ultimately decided to focus my energy on the shelter where I feel my contribution has the most impact and is more valued. If I want to increase my shelter volunteer work again in the future I can easily commit to additional shifts at that same shelter.”
Her voluntary work also has a little bonus – Buddy, one of the dogs she walked eventually found his way home with her.
Mandy also volunteers once a month in a local group that picks up rubbish at their local beach. She sometimes takes her little grandchildren with her, which reinforces the value held in their family of looking after the environment while also doubling as a fun afternoon on the beach with Gran.
You can see by Mandy’s example that volunteering needn’t be a huge time-suck.
She walks the dogs on Monday mornings and is home for lunch. The beach clean- ups are once a month for an hour or two, yet doing these things means that she satisfies a need to be useful and valuable in society. She’s also naturally building new friendships and ties with her town, avoiding feeling isolated or lonely.
Mandy chose her voluntary work based on her love of dogs and the environment. You, too, might have interests or values that would lend themselves beautifully to a voluntary gig or two.
Religious? Why not teach a Sunday school class, or do R.E. classes at primary school? Many churches seem to have opportunity shops, so a few hours a week in one of those would help raise much-needed funds for charity. If you’re sporty, then there’s a myriad of community sporting groups that need coaches, people who look after the sporting equipment and people to run the canteens. As a teacher, I know for a fact that schools are always looking for people to give their time to help out with kids who are having trouble with basic literacy and numeracy. Volunteering your time in a task like this can literally change a kid’s life for the better.
I have another friend, Libby, who is a keen advocate for social justice. When she retired a few years ago, she put her hand up to help out at a charity for refugees. She collects and assembles food parcels and clothes for families who have arrived here after escaping the most horrific conditions. Libby lives in the inner suburbs and has a beautifully busy social life, but her face lights up when she talks about her days at the charity. She absolutely loves it
As for me, I haven’t really thought that far ahead when it comes to volunteering. I’ve vaguely thought that I might teach a class in literature or poetry at U3A – the University of the Third Age, which are classes run for and by retirees. I’ll probably knit warm hats and scarves for the homeless – I hate the cold and I like making quilts and knitting things to keep my loved ones warm.
But who knows what may emerge? The beauty of volunteering is that there is literally something for everyone. It’s just a matter of being open to possibilities and keeping your eye out.
Less stress I don’t know about you, but almost every retired person I’ve talked to laughs and says, “I don’t know how I ever found the time to work!”
Don’t you hate that? Especially if you’re at work and the person has dropped in to gloat to visit their old work-mates.
I asked Mandy about whether the pace of life has changed for her since she left work two years ago. She said, “One by-product of retirement is that I’ve finally learned to slow down – most of the time anyway. It took quite a while to wind back to a gentler pace, but generally, I no longer feel the urgency to get everything done today, not when I can see a whole bunch of ‘todays’ in front of me. Life is not lived at the same frantic pace as before and there is more time to enjoy the small moments. Interestingly too, having learned to slow down, I just don’t need as many things to fill the day. Compared to my pre-retirement life, I now feel like I do a lot of “nothing”. It’s not really that I’m doing nothing of course, but I’m going at a slower pace and enjoying more quiet moments.”
The FIRE lifestyle has so much going for it! Free of financial constraints and with years of extra time to spend on what you decide, it’s a lifestyle that’s hard to beat. When you fill those decades of extra time with activities that mesh with your core beliefs and values, you have the recipe for an extremely rewarding life.
For me, that’s worth striving for.
I highly recommend that you jump over to Pearler’s website and snag yourself a copy if you haven’t already. So many really clever people – most of whom aren’t scared of Maths like I am – have contributed to this book. Hence there are subjects about getting on the road to FIRE that I’ll never cover!
I’d like to thank Pearler, (a new trading platform) and Michelle for the chance to collaborate with all of the other writers.
It turns out that when you’re living through 2 lockdowns and you’re not that fond of online shopping, you can really make a “No Spend Days” chart go crazy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I keep track of my spending by using this chart. Every day that I don’t put my hand in my wallet, I colour in a square. At the end of every week with 3 or less no-spend days, I reward myself by colouring in a silver square.
It makes my spending far more intentional and motivates me to stay on track if the week is coming to an end and I’m close to earning a silver square. It’s silly, but it works for me. It also makes collating my “Annual Spend” chart so much easier, because everything is in the one place. It just takes 3 seconds each day to pop in any purchases or colour in a square.
When the pandemic hit and we were all told to STAY HOME, the Jones household was sitting pretty. As the weird flu from Wuhan started to spread to Europe in February, I didn’t like the looks of it so I started stocking up on non-perishables. When things began going crazy here in Australia, we were set, although David27 insisted we take a shopping trip to Costco that I’ll never forget. No worries about TP here!
As the weeks started to slip by without having to fill up on petrol or go to the supermarket very often, the coloured squares began mounting up. The silver squares got more numerous and started looking like a block rather than squares on their own.
“Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could make this streak last for 26 weeks in a row?” I thought to myself. Half a year. Could it be done?
Turns out it can.
Once I started to focus on keeping those silver squares coming without a break, it became a challenge. I began to try and push spend days towards the end of the week, in case something happened and I had to spend money unexpectedly.
For example, look at the week that began on the 1st of August. I wanted to work in the garden and on the verandah so I had 2 spend days on the weekend. *gasp!* I had little wriggle room for the rest of the week. I was determined to keep the silver streak going so I just used what we had in the pantry and garden and pottered around the place entertaining myself with what I have on-site. Hobbies are very useful things.
The week before that, you’ll see on the Friday an entry called “Connor teeth”. One of the boys needed dental work and as he’s still a student I said I’d pay for it. The dental work actually happened 2 days earlier, but by then I could see that I could maybe make my goal. After all, there was only 9 weeks to go!!! When he rang to tell me the total, I told him what I was doing and said, “Is it ok if I pay you on Friday?” He laughed and agreed.
I’ve been using both my local library and the school library for eBooks to scratch my reading itch. As I’ve said before, I read very quickly so paying $30 – $40 for a book isn’t a good use of my money as it only entertains me for a day or so. Downloading an eBook or an audiobook for free is the way to go for me and it saves me having to fill in a square.
During a stringent lockdown such as we in Melbourne have, little challenges like this help to pass the time and give you something to aim for. If I had’ve failed, it’s not the like sky would fall or anything. It wouldn’t have changed anything in my life. But it was a goal to aim for and every week that I coloured in a silver square it became one step closer to that goal. This made me feel good.
Once I actually have to leave the house and go back to work at school, it’ll be interesting to see whether my spending days will slide back to how they were before the pandemic, or whether I’ll be motivated to keep the silver streak going.
I wonder how many weeks the silver streak will last…?
When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.
Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.
“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.
But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.
“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”
So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…
If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.
Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.
Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.
“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”
But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.
Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.
One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.
My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’
Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.
For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.
Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.
Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.
Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.
Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.
When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.
Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.
Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.
The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.
This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.
When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.
The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.
I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.
Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!
I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.
Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.
Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.
As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.
Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.