Burning Desire For FIRE

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

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Start from where you are.

Lime verbena plant.
Lime Verbena. All of the images in this post are taken from when I first decided to Start Where I Was.

I was driving to work this morning, listening to a podcast, as I always do. This particular one was Choose FI: Alan Donegan. A lot of what he was talking about wasn’t really applicable to my situation, but I liked his zest for life (and I’m always a sucker for a British accent) so I kept it on as I drove. Then, towards the end of the podcast they started talking about people who may feel as if they’ve missed the boat with financial independence because they only stumbled across the idea in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. Alan Donegan declared, “Start where you are!” and that resonated with me.

Because 6 years ago, I was that person.

My house in the middle of painting it dark blue.
I decided to paint the house once I’d paid it off. It looked fabulous!

Just after I turned 50, I finally paid off my house. I’ve written about accomplishing that HUGE goal here. For about three weeks, I felt terrific. I’d done it! The boys and I were finally secure! No-one could ever take that place away from us and the boys would always have a place to come back to if they ever needed it. I lashed out and bought a brand new pair of sandals (Poppy the puppy chewed them up a week later), and I ordered $300 worth of knitting yarn to celebrate – yes. I bought ALL the colours.

Then, after the euphoria started to fade, I realised that I’d only achieved the base-line level of security. Ok, so we always have a safe place to lay our heads. But what about when I get old? How was Old Lady Frogdancer going to pay for her retirement?

2 white chickens
My first chickens – Buffy and Willow. They were joined by many more, mostly pure breeds.

I had no idea where to turn. Sure, my parents had self-funded their retirements, but they did it with property. I was living in the midst of one of the biggest property bubbles on Earth. That was wasn’t open to me – after all, it took me 17 years to pay off my house. I was running out of time – I definitely wasn’t getting any younger…

I knew I had a couple of things in my favour to put against the fact that I was elderly and tottering towards the grave.

  • I’m a saver. Right at that stage of my life, I was literally starting with $0 in savings because I’d poured them all into getting rid of the mortgage, but I knew that I’d build my savings up again. After all, I’d done it before.
  • The boys were coming to the end of their total financial dependence on me. Two of them were already ay University and the other two were in upper secondary. They were still a huge expense – have you ever seen how much adult men can EAT??? – but I could see light at the end of the tunnel.
  • I’m frugal. Sure, I can spend when I want to, but my living expenses and hobbies are cheap to run.
  • I was on the top tier of the teaching pay scale, so I was on a decent wage. Given all of the above, once I learned about investing, I’d have something to play with.
3 of the boys, with Poppy as a pup.
3 of the boys back then, with baby Poppy. They were all living with me then. How time moves on!

However, it wasn’t all beer and skittles:

  • I had no idea where to start. This is seriously what stops most people from even beginning. The investing world is seriously intimidating.
  • I have a real fear of numbers. I joke about hating numerals, but when I see a whole heap of them on the one page, my brain seizes up. Give me pages of text and I’m happy, but change it to numbers and it’s horrifying.
  • I didn’t know much about the investing world, but I was pretty sure that numbers have a good bit to do with it.
The day's egg collection.
I used to love collecting the eggs every day.

I don’t mind telling you, I was scared. Very scared. I was on my own, with no partner’s income and knowledge to smooth the ride. Any decision, or lack of decision, that I made could possibly have huge ramifications for Future Frogdancer down the track. It was paralysing, to tell the truth.

The risk of inertia putting people’s retirements at risk is a very real thing. Often, doing nothing is riskier than taking action. Inflation eats away at savings and you can find you’re like a hamster on a wheel, forever racing and getting nowhere.

Shopping for compost to build up the soil.
I put a lot of effort to build up the soil in that garden. The knowledge hasn’t gone to waste – I know what to do in my new place.

In my case, a thread on the Simple Savings forum, which mentioned that the Barefoot Investor was starting an investing group, was what saved me from that trap. They mentioned that the first thing he was planning to do was ‘Rescue Your Retirement’. It was a workbook and video that promised to lay out a gameplan for people like me who had no idea what to do.

I signed up immediately. When the ‘RYR’ was released a week later, I watched the video and looked through the workbook and at the end, I cried real tears of relief. I’d been so scared that my situation was hopeless. I was in my 50’s and, apart from the paid-off house, I had not a penny to my name. But here was a guideline to follow that meant that by the time I reached retirement age (which is 67 in Australia) I’d be able to be a self-funded retiree and not rely on the Age Pension.

Beans growing.
I grew things everywhere I could. Here are some beans growing in a wicking bed in the driveway.

It was shortly after this that I read Go Curry Cracker’s and Mr Money Moustache’s explanations about the 4% Rule, which I summarised in the post called “The 4% Rule for people who are scared of Maths.” (The original links are in that post.) I’d found the FIRE community.

Hooray!! I had a figure to aim for! It was daunting, sure, but as the saying says, “Shoot for the stars. If you miss, you’ll at least hit the moon.” This meant that if I couldn’t reach my 4% FI number, at the very least I’d reach retirement age at 67 with a healthy portfolio behind me and (hopefully, all going well) a vastly decreased risk of having to eat dog food in my old age.

I was excited. I rolled up my sleeves and got started. I figured that I might not make it to the best result, but it stands to reason that Future Frogdancer would be better off than if I did nothing and continued to freeze in fear.

Baby peaches growing.
My first peaches! This tree is now growing in a friend’s garden. Her little girl loves the pink blossoms.

I read as many FI blogs and books as I could lay my hands on. I learned to invest, firstly from Barefoot, then, as his advice became too simplistic, from others. Bit by bit, ever so slowly but steadily, my knowledge and confidence continued to grow.

As people who’ve read this blog before would know, sometimes things change. With all the reading and talking I was doing, I picked up a smattering of knowledge about lots of financial things. This came in useful when I decided to completely up-end my life and move down to The Best House in Melbourne 3 years ago.

Poppy and Jeff.
Poppy and Jeff at around 18 months old, I think.This is long before we dreamed Scout would come along!

If I hadn’t decided to put the “start from where you are” philosophy in motion, things would be very different.

If I hadn’t tweaked geoarbitrage to free up the equity in my little weatherboard house in the best school zone in Melbourne, I know what my next 11 years would look like.

I’d be working full-time until I was 67. By then, all things going well, I’d have close to a million dollars in investments. I’d still be living in my tiny 1950’s weatherboard with the food forest and the chickens. I’d be happy enough, but locked in to the job and the lifestyle.

Instead, I have choices. Choices I would never have been able to have access to if I didn’t elect to start where I was.

Peach with a bite taken from it.
Bloody beautiful! Nothing like fruit fresh from the tree.

I’m not saying everyone can do what I did with the geoarbitrage. I got lucky with that one. But everyone can start to make moves towards financial independence, no matter how old you are.

I was 50 years old, with no savings behind me. I had my house paid off, my car was paid for and I had no credit card debt. I was essentially starting from nothing.

But the important word in that previous sentence is “starting.” It was scary and intimidating, but honestly, if I can do it you can too.

Don’t get to the end of your life and look back with regret. Start from where you are.

Lessons from Literature: The Good Earth.

Many novels have basic money lessons woven through them, which is understandable really. After all, money is integral to the human condition, which is what literature is all about. Few novels, however, concern themselves with money lessons so much as Pearl S Buck’s ‘The Good Earth.’

For those who haven’t come across it, this is a cracking good read. It covers the story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese peasant eking out a living on a farm in the days before Communist rule. Wang Lung is poor… dirt poor. But he has ambition and a fierce love of the land. This novel traces his life as he rises from poor peasant to rich landowner and what happens to his character and family along the way.

Wang Lung and O-Lan are married - The Good Earth.
All images are taken from the 1937 film of the same name.

Wang Lung’s wife is chosen for him by his father. A practical man, his father chooses a slave girl from the rich and powerful House of Hwang in the village, a girl who can work hard on the farm as she doesn’t have bound feet, much to Wang Lung’s disappointment. O-Lan is not a beautiful girl, but she is devoted to the farm and to her new family and there is much more to her than meets the eye.

Of necessity, the family is frugal. I first read ‘The Good Earth’ when I was a teen and to this day, I still have to get every grain of rice out of the cooking dish, exactly as O-Lan did. I think of her every time.

They waste nothing. At first, it’s from mere survival instinct, but as time goes on and O-Lan’s skills bring more prosperity to the family, they begin to buy land. In their society, land was the only thing that could buy security and prosperity. This was especially important to them as their family started to grow.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan on the farm.

O-Lan goes back to visit the House of Hwang with her first baby, dressed beautifully. The Hwang family clearly need to read ‘The Millionaire Next Door’. She says to Wang Lung:

  • “I had but a moment for private talk with the cook under whom I worked before, but she said, ‘This house cannot stand forever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concubine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.’ “

However, no bull run in the stock market lasts forever and it’s the same with life on the land. A few years later famine strikes. Despite having resources tucked away, hungry relatives descend upon them demanding to be fed and soon Wang Lung and O-Lan’s ’emergency fund’ of food and money is gone.

The neighbours didn’t know this and, fired up by Wang Lung’s evil uncle, they descend on the house and strip it bare, looking for food and other items of value to steal. There was nothing but a few handfuls of beans. After they leave, Wang Lung comforts himself with the thought that he’d put all of their spare money into investments, which in his case was land:

  • “They cannot take the land from me. The labour of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought [food] with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.”

The lesson here is clear. If you store your net worth in things that cannot be seen, you have a better chance of preserving them when things go wrong. Anyone can run away with a bag of diamonds or a shiny new car, but a share portfolio or a fat superannuation account is easy to hide.

The Good Earth - O-Lan grinding grain

Back then in pre-communist China, of course, there were no unemployment benefits. You either starved when the food ran out, or you found a way to make some money. Or you practise geoarbitrage and move to where things are better.

The family sell every stick of furniture in the house, except for their farm implements, and they set off to a big city 100 miles to the south, where the famine hasn’t reached. Geoarbitrage! Wang Lung picks up work pulling a rickshaw, while O-Lan and the children turn to begging. O-Lan utilised skills she picked up as a child to show the others how to make money as a beggar. One should never forget skills that one picks up along the way!

An easy way to make money was to sell a child to a rich family. O-Lan revealed that this was how she herself had become a slave. The couple had two sons and an infant daughter by this time. No way would they part with the sons, but the daughter? Wang Lung decides not to sell her, but it was a close thing.

The Good Earth - O-Lan finds the jewels

Sometimes the road to financial independence relies on seeing an opportunity and taking action. While the family is stuck in the city, with no way to earn enough to get back home, there is some sort of revolution and the rich homes are looted. Wang Lung is borne along by the crowd and takes nothing, however O-Lan, who has lived in a Big House and knows what to look for, finds a cache of jewels.

The family is now set! They travel back home, with enough money to buy lots of land and set themselves up for life. O-Lan requests that she keep only 2 small pearls from the jewels.

  • ‘If I could have two,’ she went on humbly, ‘only two small ones—two small white pearls even… ‘Pearls!’ he repeated, agape. ‘I would keep them—I would not wear them,’ she said, ‘only keep them.’

The rest they use to buy land from the House of Hwang where O-Lan once lived. That family has now fallen into decline, due to opium addiction and general financial recklessness.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan

There is now money enough to employ others to work on the land, money enough to take the sons from the fields and educate them and money enough to support some leisure activities. Wang Lung eventually buys the House of Hwang’s residence and moves his family in. To think! What was once the pinnacle of wealth and power to him, is now his.

However, lifestyle creep starts to cause problems.

O-Lan continues on as usual, but Wang Lung falls prey to peer group pressure from other rich men and starts going to gambling dens and ‘tea houses’. This is where he meets Lotus, a lady of the night. She looks like a kitten, with the smallest bound feet Wang Lung has ever seen.

The Good Earth - Lotus.

She is incredibly beautiful, totally greedy and selfish and she bedazzles Wang Lung. He showers her with money and even asks O-Lan to give him the 2 pearls she had kept from the cache of jewels, so that he could give them to Lotus. After a while he couldn’t bear the thought of other men sleeping with her, so he buys her from the Tea House and brings her home.

He builds her an inner court where she lives with her own household, so she and O-Lan don’t have to see each other. O-Lan is now totally disregarded by Wang Lung as she quietly goes about doing her regular work for the family until her death.

As the family gets older, lifestyle creep continues to happen. But through it all, even as silver streams from their hands, Wang Lung will never sell any of the land he has accumulated. He knows that it’s the bedrock of their fortunes and everything else they’ve managed to build and to buy is based on that.

The Good Earth - Wang Lung

He’s the definition of first-generation FIRE. But unfortunately, he was so focused on his work, what the rich men of the town thought and on Lotus that he made a huge mistake. The next generation had been allowed to grow up without having much contact with the very thing that had given them their prosperity. They could remember nothing but ease and comfort.

At the end of his life, he is living back on the original farm with his daughter and a concubine. He overhears his two sons talking about how they will divide the estate once Wang Lung has died, which fields they will keep and which ones they will sell:

  • But the old man heard only these words, “sell the land”, and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger, “Now, evil, idle sons – sell the land!” He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up and he began to weep.
  • Then they soothed him and they said, soothing him, ” No – no- we will never sell the land – “
  • “It is the end of a family when – they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go – and if you can hold your land you can live – no one can rob you of land -“
  • And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered, “If you sell the land, it is the end.”
  • And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm, loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over again, the elder son and the second son, “Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”
  • But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

Should I go part-time next year?

Even typing that title was a bit confronting! But yes, I’ve started to wonder if life wouldn’t be better if I stopped working 5 days a week and started a part-time teaching load.

This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be considering yet. I assumed that I’d be working full-time for another 3 years or so. This was already a HUGE step forward.

Before I sold my original property and geoarbitraged 20 kms away, I thought I’d be working full time until I was eligible to receive the Age Pension (in another 11 years.) By moving down to The Best House in Melbourne by the beach, I already shaved around a decade from my working life. So I’m already in a better position.

And yet…

I’m really tired. All the damned time. So tired that I went had had a full bloodwork thing done to make sure I wasn’t low in vitamin B or suffering from a medical condition. (Fear not, frugal friends. I’m in Australia so it was free.)

Turns out I’m as healthy as a horse.

Which is great, but I’m not sure I want to spend the next 3 years running breathlessly towards my FI figure, while not feeling full of vim. I’d like to get more things done around here, instead of squeezing in a nap every weekend. I have a life to live, people!!

I was having a chat to Dee at work a couple of weeks ago. Her kids are the same age as mine and she’s been working part time for a few years now.

“Don’t you get tired?” she said. “Sometimes I think about going back to full time because the money’d be good, especially since we built the new house, but I don’t know if I’d be able to do it.”

I know how she feels. Being a teacher is a high-octane job. I’m lucky this year – I only have 4 classes and 3 of them are lovely. They’re full of kids who want to work and are keen to do well, so it’s easy to get them on task and doing what they should.

My year 8 class? They take a lot of energy. There’s a group of around 7 boys who need constant monitoring. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. They seem to like me, but I don’t know why because I’m an absolute witch to them.

But even when you’re in front of the good classes you need to be on your game. That’s how it should be – you want your students to have your best – but when it starts leaching energy from other, more important areas of your life, something’s out of balance.

I’ve always said that I don’t live to teach – I teach so that I can do all the things for myself and my family that I want to do. This is why I rarely bring correction home, as I prefer to keep my work and home life separate. Sure, sometimes I go into school on the weekends to work with my year 12’s when we’re doing a play. This year it’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest‘ and I’ll be going in for 2 or 3 days in the Easter school holidays to run rehearsals.

That’s part of the job. I’m ok with that because the kids this year in particular are amazing and are working so hard to bring my favourite play to life.

But do I want to feel like this for the next few years?

If I dropped a day I’d be losing around 20K/year. Is a little more freedom worth that? Will an extra day a week make me that much happier?

My cunning plan was that I’d keep working full time so I could get to my FI number quicker. Then, depending on how I was feeling about life, the universe and everything, I’d THEN go part-time. O maybe I’d resign, or do casual teaching when people were away. I’m a naturally long-term thinker, so it seems sensible to get the hard work out of the way up front, and then once that job’s done and things are as secure as they can be, to then reassess the situation.

But a thought occurred to me today…

What if the “hard work” I was thinking about wasn’t working full-time now? What if it was the 20+ years I was raising the 4 boys on my own AND holding down a full-time job? (AND in the later years, running a Thermomix business as well?) Those years were full of hectic juggling. I worked damned hard.

What if this means that it’d be ok to slow the pace down a little now and have a bit more ‘Frogdancer’ time to do what I want to do in the present?

What if this was the time to start enjoying The Best House in Melbourne, the beach, the dogs and my hobbies a little more?

I won’t deny – the thought is enticing. I think it’s around September when we have to fill in a form stating what time fraction we want for next year and which subjects and classes we’d prefer to teach.

I’ll be mulling it over. I’d like to hear from other people who’ve decided to work part-time, or who made the decision to go the other way. It’s a strange thing to start thinking of abandoning a perfectly good cunning plan when I have only a few short years before I’d be at the finish line…

Things I won’t miss from work.

I like my job – I really do. And yet it isn’t an unmixed blessing. Here are some of the things I won’t miss when I leave.

  • The marking. I won’t miss this! I just finished marking 28 text response essays on the same question about the same book. Each essay has an introduction, three body paragraphs that are all structured the same way, and a conclusion. Only chocolate can get me through this.
  • The parents. I won’t miss (some of) them! I overheard a phone call recently where an irate parent was complaining to a teacher who told her son to put his helmet on when riding his bike. (This is the law, by the way.) This parent accused the teacher of following her son after school and said that it is only the police who can enforce this rule, not a teacher. You’d think that a parent would be pleased that someone is trying to keep their son safe, but clearly not…? The only thing that parent taught her son was that he can get off things through a technicality. Not exactly the sort of lesson I’d personally like to teach my kid, but then… what would I know?
  • The Meetings. I won’t miss this! Ok, no one likes meetings. But mine have doubled from this year compared to last. The two faculties I was in used to have their meetings scheduled on the same days, but now Art has moved their time slot. When you have a long commute an extra meeting or two definitely fails to float your boat.
  • Re-inventing the Wheel. I definitely won’t miss this! Teaching is peculiarly vulnerable to politicians and bureaucrats wanting to make their mark by fiddling and meddling with things. The number of times I’ve seen the same ideas come around, being touted as ‘the next new thing’ is uncountable. Ideas renamed, rebranded and then schools are forced to adopt them, thus creating a huge workload for teachers who are made to change documentation and whole curricula, only to see the next sweeping change come in a couple of years later.
  • Lazy students. *sigh* I won’t miss this! The school I work at is a high-achieving government school and the majority of our students are highly motivated. My year 12 Theatre Studies kids, for example, are staying back until 6 PM tonight to do rehearsals for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ But there are always some kids who “hate reading” and “don’t know where I put the homework” or sit in class day-dreaming while the rest of the kids are writing the assessment task. Then they grizzle about their marks. I have very little patience for people who don’t hold themselves accountable.
  • Having each minute of my day from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM (4:30 if there’s a meeting) rigidly prescribed. This is the one I won’t miss the most. According to the timetable, I know which days are frantically busy and which days allow time to get marking done. (See point 1 at the top of the list.) I have to be in front of certain kids at a certain time in a certain room in 48-minute blocks of time. Teachers can’t even pee when we want to. We’re not to leave the kids for any reason, in case something happens. People who love predictability would probably love this – but it certainly tends to squash spontaneity in the working day!
  • Getting up so early in the morning. I won’t miss this one. Ok, this one is self-inflicted. I used to live a 2-minute drive from school, but now it’s more around 50 minutes since I did the whole geo-arbitrage thing. I like a leisurely morning, sipping my coffee on the couch, reading blogs, tweets and Bookface posts while the dogs snuggle on either side of me. I get up an hour before I have to leave for work so I can enjoy some time with the dogs. I’m looking forward to when I can get up, look at the clock and think, ‘Gee, I would be driving right now if I was still at work! Heh heh.”

Like I said, I love my job and I’m glad I fell into teaching. However, there are a few burrs under my saddle that will make me gleeful when I decide it’s time to pull the pin on my working life. I focus on these things every now and then and it makes me redouble my focus on retiring early(er).

Now it’s time to take the dogs for a walk.

The secret to happiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*The completely unselfconscious sound of a small child laughing.

*Getting the last car park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Sunlight on your skin on an autumn day.

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

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

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

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

The FU Fund gets brought to the table.

I had the weirdest experience two days ago.

It was the second-last day of school. In Australia, our school year runs from January – December, so we were looking at 5 glorious weeks of summer holidays galloping towards us. First thing in the morning I walked into our staffroom and the principal was there trying to allocate extra jobs for people. The expectation is that if you’re on the highest pay grade, (like I am), you’re expected to take on another task above your teaching ones to add more value to the school.

Our principal looked at me and her eyes lit up.

“YOU can do debating!” she said.

My reaction was immediate and completely visceral. And may have been a little bit shouty.

“NOOOOO!”

She looked shocked. Understandable, because my reaction probably looked a bit over-the-top.

“But why?” she asked.

My heart was beating fast. I was suddenly in a cold sweat. All I could come up with was, “I hate debating with a passion. I’d be really shit at it. You need to find someone else.”

I reminded her of what I’d already put myself down for – Junior English help – and the conversation moved on.  Then we went into the staff end-of-year luncheon.

This function is bigger than Ben Hur. We have around 200 staff at the school and every year we have a full sit-down lunch, with speeches from staff who are leaving, the ‘Pineapple Awards’ for staff who have done stupid things over the year and a Christmas giveaway, where names are drawn out of a hat and you get some chocolates. This year Kevin Sheedy, a famous Aussie Rules footballer/coach, came and gave a short speech. He looked a little familiar but I don’t do sport. I had to be told who he was. Plus Essendon is my ex-husband’s team… yuck.

I was one of the lucky ones who had my name pulled out of the hat for the chocolates. Not being one to avoid the spotlight, I leapt out of my seat, punching the air and shouting, “YES! YES!”

Our principal laughed and said, “You’re paying for those chocolates by doing debating next year.”

“I quit!” I said and went back to my seat and the function moved on.

I was really upset. I felt like the rug had just been pulled out from under me. I sat back down and the people next to me laughed and said, “Did you put your hand up for debating next year?”

“No.”

“When did you find out about it?”

“Just now,” I replied, and my eyes started filling up with tears.

I was the teacher in charge of debating in my first year of teaching. Admittedly, the school was in the country and I was just out of teachers college, but the experience was horrendous. The first challenge is getting enough kids to fill the teams. Then you have to organise practice runs either at lunchtime or after school. When the actual debate dates are announced, there’s always kids that can’t or won’t make it, so you have to scramble around trying to fill up the spots in the team so that the good kids who are keen to do it won’t be forced to forfeit. You are always trying to pull in favours, people start to avoid eye contact when they see you coming and there’s always someone having a tantrum or making things difficult at the last minute. I vowed and dclared I would NEVER do it again.

The debates nowadays are always at night – in the opposite direction to the school than where I live. I already live a 50-minute drive from school. So I’d have really late nights and be expected to leap joyfully up and go and teach the next day.

The debates finish at around 9 or 10. But you can’t leave right away – oh no. There are always children whose parents either can’t or won’t go to the actual debate, so you have to hang around until someone comes to pick them up. (I already have this when we do our Theatre Studies rehearsals and performances, but at least that’s at school.) It’d be quicker to drop them off home, but of course you can’t drive a child anywhere without permission and honestly, perception is everything and no one wants to be letting a teenage child in their car late at night…

So after every debate, you’re hanging around for at least 30 extra minutes waiting for parents. You can’t leave kids alone to wait. Imagine if something went wrong?

This would all be ok if, as a person, you enjoy the cut and thrust of debating and you enjoy teaching these skills to students. That’s not me. A debating mentor needs to have the thrill of the debate in their blood and pass on their enthusiasm to the kids. That’s effective teaching. I know that I’d be faking it. Kids can always tell.So I was floored that I was assigned to do it.

I understood our principal’s position. The guy who’d been running it for 3 years wanted to step down from the job and it had to be filled. Fair enough. I’m the Theatre Studies teacher. It would seem to her like a perfect fit.

I sat at the table and the tears welled up. People were laughing, then when they saw I was upset they became concerned.

“What do you mean, you only heard just now? That’s terrible.”

“Go and see her after the lunch is over and sit down with her.”

“Are you ok? Surely you can do something else…?”

I got my sh*t together and sat there as the function rolled on. For the first few minutes I wallowed in self-pity, but then, for the first time, I seriously thought about FU money.

For those who’ve never heard this term before, the ‘FU’ stands for exactly what you think it does. It’s a sum of money that you save, enough so that if a boss or a job is making your life hell, you can simply say “FU” (hopefully just to yourself!) and walk away, without having to suck it up and stay in a horrible situation because you’re dependent on the pay packet to survive week-to-week.  It’s a financial cushion which isn’t big enough to actually retire on, but it’s enough to give you some breathing space while you look around for other opportunities. I first saw it coined in James Clavell’s ‘Tai Pan’ and then later I saw it on JL Collins’ blog and although I thought I’d never need it, I liked the concept.

You see, I have my FU money in a bank account. I have 3 years of expenses put away. I kept it back after I did the whole geoarbitrage thing a year ago, but I earmarked it for a buffer fund in case the sharemarket tanked after I retired. I figured I’d have that money to live off so I wouldn’t have to sell my shares while they were under valued.

But now…? I sat there, my brain whirling. I knew I hated the thought of running debating, but did I hate it so much that I’d be prepared to threaten to leave my job? You can’t threaten anything unless you’re prepared to follow through…

My gut was telling me to leave. I knew it would make my life hell. But then other thoughts intruded.

My Theatre Studies class are doing my favourite play next year – ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ We just did the casting this week and I’m excited to be doing it. The people I work with – I love them. I’ll miss the banter every day. The rest of my allotment is English classes down in the junior school, which is fun and entertaining. I want to keep renovating the house, so I need cash flow to keep doing that. I really don’t want to dip into my savings for that, even though I could.

BUT… with my FU money and my teaching experience, I’m not tied to this job. The school I’m at was just ranked 2nd in the state for non-selective government schools. I’ve been there for nearly 2 decades. I could pick up a job anywhere with (insert name of school) on my resume. Heck, there’s a school at the end of my street! I could walk to work!

AND, with my FU money as a buffer, I could go part-time, or pick up short-term contracts or simply do CRT. (Casual/Relief teaching for when teachers are away. ) Doing CRT is a cool $330/day and you don’t have to attend meetings or do correction etc. Hmmm…

As I sat there, listening to the speeches and then a bit later on having lunch, behind all the conversation and joking, my mind was ticking over.

  1. Was I ready to fully retire? On paper, possibly YES. But being the security-valuing person that I am, probably NO.
  2. Am I tied to the job at (insert name of school here)? NO. I am ongoing/fully tenured, but I can get that anywhere else.
  3. Could I work somewhere else? YES.
  4. Could I support myself and the boys by working part-time or CRT if necessary? YES. (It’d probably add to my quality of life, to be honest!)
  5. If for some reason I couldn’t find any work, could I support myself until I could access my superannuation? YES.
  6. Am I prepared to go into a meeting with the principal over this debating issue and ultimately be prepared to follow through on a threat to resign?… I guess the answer is… YES. (Yikes!)

By the end of lunch, I had an empty feeling in my stomach which had nothing to do with the food. I’d realised that the only thing standing between me and being free of the spectre of debating was being fearless enough to walk away from my (up-till-now) lovely job if I had to.

The money wasn’t the issue. Security wasn’t an issue. I had those pretty well covered.

It was the fear of the unknown. The fear that, even if she turned down my offer of resignation, I’d have damaged that working relationship. Which, on the other hand, was already damaged by the debating debacle in the first place…

But as lunch came to a close and we were getting up from the table to clear our plates and go over to the gelato bar for dessert, I knew that I was going to stick to my guns and have a meeting with her. My FU money was there for a reason, after all, and I knew without a doubt that the debating assignment was a deal-breaker for me.

As I was walking back to the table, my principal walked over to me and said, “I can always rely on you to give a good reaction when you win something!”

I smiled and said, “Hey, tell me you were joking when you said that thing about me getting debating.” I crossed my fingers.

“She laughed. “Of course I was! I only said it because of what you said before!!”

I said, “Oh God I love you!!” and hugged her.

FU Fund emergency averted! I have no idea which job I’ll be allocated next year but I know it’s not the one from which clearly I carry scars from my first year of teaching.

But how interesting that whole episode was. I’m really happy where I work and I assumed that I’d be working there until I chose to leave the workforce. I hadn’t given that chunk of money in the bank a second thought once I put it in there. It was for Old Lady Frogdancer to be safe from bear markets, not for me.

But when the situation changed, having that chunk of money/FU Fund seriously changed the whole dynamic of how I thought about my quality of life. I was free to make a stand, if I needed to, about my job.

If that money wasn’t there and my principal wasn’t joking, I would have had to suck it up and be the debating organiser. I wouldn’t have much of a choice. It’s the end of the year and schools have filled their positions for next year. Either way, I couldn’t move seamlessly from one job to another. I’d have to stay and be miserable. I’d need that pay packet every fortnight.

Having an FU Fund gives the courage to be able to sidestep and walk away into a world with new pathways.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to have that ‘courageous conversation’ with my boss. I’m relieved that the status quo will continue. I love my school and my students and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’

But how liberating is it to know that, should the situation at work ever change to a point where I find it untenable, I’m financially free enough to walk away?

It was a half-hour misunderstanding. Absolutely nothing in the big scheme of things. But in that half an hour I was free to evaluate my life and to weigh up what was important to me. I realised that I am finally free to draw a line in the sand and say, “This far and no more.”

That’s a very precious position for a person to be in. It makes me think about my job in a whole new light. It makes me think about my LIFE in a whole new light.

The possibilities are bigger than I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Putting infrastructure in place now for retirement #1.

The quest to make The Best House in Melbourne as schmicko as possible for when Old Lady Frogdancer pulls the pin on full-time work has reached another stage. Previously, I had the backyard paved with beautiful reclaimed bricks, all fully grouted in so that Old Lady Frogdancer won’t break a hip bending down to pull out a weed. I’ve installed wicking garden beds to save on her water bills and to make sure her organic veggies stand the best chance of surviving in a drought, and the permanent plants such as asparagus and apple trees have been planted, so that the old girl won’t go hungry.

One of the neighbours stopped and asked me about how much the bricks cost. He’s a builder and he got all of his from work. He said he paved a similar area for around $150. Mine cost astronomically higher than that. I should have been a builder instead of going into teaching!

The question is – do I finish the backyard by putting a roof over the lower part and creating a huge outdoor room, or do I finish the paving by getting the sides of the house done?

The roof would be more fun…

… but when I was talking to my new neighbours the decision was pretty much made for me.

Early on in the life of this blog, I wrote about the nightmare of a house that was being built beside us. You can quickly skim through the post here. Three years after the build began, the owners have finally moved in. They’re a young family, with 4 kids under 4, (they went for baby number 3 and got twins instead), and two dogs.

The dogs sound like bad news for my pack. They’re staffies and, according to my neighbour, they hate little dogs. He suggested replacing the fence with one that’s as high as we’re allowed to go to stop his dog from jumping over it to get mine. I suggested digging down to put wire so that my stupid dogs wouldn’t dig their way under.  I’m not rapt with the sound of these dogs, as my 3 wouldn’t stand a chance if it came to a fight. The Cavaliers only have half their teeth left and Scout is only 3 inches tall.

Thankfully, the neighbour is just as keen as I am to make a secure fence. As he said, “I don’t want my dogs being put down.” So we’re both on the same page with keeping our animals safe and definitely apart.

So along with the fence, I’m putting paving all down the sideway right up to the fence. There’s no way anyone can dig their way through a brick path, no matter how determined they might be. Old Lady Frogdancer will have a weed-free life and Poppy, Jeff and Scout will live to a ripe old age. As will Old Lady Frogdancer, of course!

The landscaper began work a few days ago and has already had to book a plumber to unblock a pipe we need for drainage. I’m consoling myself with the thought that I can deal with the problem much better now than if I was old and retired. Suddenly, the fact I have a job and a regular wage is a comforting thought!

When I lived in the old house, I gradually put in a food forest with an eye to feeding us all in the years to come. When my plans changed and I sold that house, I knew that someday, I’d like to do that again. I enjoyed the fresh produce, as well as the ‘science experiments’ of gardening, where you try this idea and that idea and see how it works.

Currently, with just under 2 hours a day being snatched by my commute, I don’t have a lot of time to spend on a garden. But that’s ok. I’m slowly setting it up by building the solid infrastructure and then over the next few years I’ll play around with it, slowly building up the soil so when Old Lady Frogdancer retires, it’ll all be there, ready to go.

The new fence will cost $1,200. The next stage of the landscaping work has been initially costed at 10K, but the plumber and the installation of a watering system for the non-wicking beds will probably send that amount skywards. I’m thinking I’ll probably get him to use any unused bricks to put a border at ground level around the lawn near the fence lines, so that a lawn mower can run over the bricks and the grass will be kept under control. More dollars, but it should make Ryan23’s life easier, and when she’s all alone in the house after the boys leave, Old Lady Frogdancer will be able to mow her lawn without a care in the world.

On the face of it, it’s all a huge amount of money to spend. But, as usual, I’m looking at the long view. The current fence is falling apart. The new one will last at least 20 years. The paving will last forever. I really like to do a job properly once and then not have to do it again. (That’s why I hate housework.)

My goals in retirement are to travel and to potter around at home doing anything I feel like doing. I have absolutely no desire to have a ‘side hustle’ in retirement, though I may work part-time in teaching as I get closer to it. Once I finally reach my FI number – I’m parking my fat behind on the couch and doing whatever I want to do.

So in the short term, this project is extravagant. But in the long term, it fits in with setting up my house to be exactly what I want for retirement. I also quite like the idea that I got the boring stuff done first – now I can save up and get the fun stuff, like the roof, outdoor furniture, outdoor lighting etc.

Here’s the first part of the new fence. I’m loving it. It’s very tall and very new. It’s nice to have a checklist of things that I want to have done by the time I retire, and it’s a good feeling to be able to tick one item off is a good feeling.

By the end of this week, the paving on both sides of the house will be done and that’ll be another tick off the list. Sadly though, the money I put aside from the sale of the old house to attend to the backyard will be gone, so I’ll be cash-flowing the rest of the projects. By retirement, my goal is to have my house totally ready to house me and mine for the next few years without a thing to be done to it – all the little niggling jobs will have been taken care of while I still have a wage flowing in.

My plan is to cashflow while leaving my investments to burble along contentedly without me. Though if the stockmarket takes a sharp dive, that plan may change.

Ahhhh, life! You never know what’s going to happen. You wouldn’t be dead for quids, hey?

 

Why would ANYONE want to retire early(er) from teaching?!?

Don’t get me wrong – I love the actual teaching part of teaching. The kids are lively and funny and I laugh like a loon every single day at something someone does or says. Anyone who says teenagers are hard to handle hasn’t taken into account their wonderful senses of humour.

The people I work with are great, too. A few days ago I came into work early and had a long conversation with Alice about last night’s episode of Australian Survivor. She’s a twenty-something Maths teacher who sits near me in The Danger Zone (our little section of a very large staff room). Brock, who sits diagonally opposite to me, has opened up a Milk Bar on his desk, which, when he opens it, has lollies that he gives away to give everyone a boost.  I’m a fan of the Sherbies and the green snakes. Liz, who sits next to me, is another podcast person and we share hot tips about the ones we’re listening to. She gives me the heads up on really interesting books that she finds, too.

BUT – it’s not a total pleasure-palace here.

Yard duty on the oval in either the depth of winter or the heat of summer is no fun. No shade, no shelter from the elements and having to keep an eye out for footballs, soccer balls and balls in general. We don’t even have the fun of nabbing smokers since they cut the Smokers’ Tree down. Getting the after-school-on-Friday yard duty at the front of the school is also terrible. The kids hang around in clumps and talk, instead of zipping off home to start the weekend. WHY?!?

Though, on the other hand – It was my birthday last week. Every year, when it’s my birthday I give lollies out to my classes. On the last period of the day, I climbed the stairs to my year 7 English class. They threw me a surprise party. They filled the room with balloons, brought some lollies of their own and put this GORGEOUS fluorescent tutu skirt on my head as a hat. I wore it for the entire lesson. In the last 5 minutes, we played Silent Balloon Tennis. (It wasn’t silent…) Then, when the bell went we popped all the balloons. It was wonderful.

Granted, that day was pretty good – but there are some things that drive me crazy about this job.

The marking. Honestly, English teachers may have far more fun and have more interesting things to talk about in the classroom than Maths teachers, but we pay for it in the marking. I share space in The Danger Zone with a few Maths teachers. They come back with a pile of tests – a few ticks and crosses and they’re done. If only essays could be marked like that… I’m considered a fast marker and it still takes around 3 hours to mark a typical class of 28 essays. Multiply that by 5 classes, which is the full-time teaching load and that’s… (reaching for her calculator because it’s numbers)…  roughly 15 hours marking essays per term. Then there are grammar tests, wide reading assignments, Letters to the Editor etc.

Teaching English is great – assessing it is a little dull.

Though… every Friday we have ‘Handcream Friday” in our staff room. Brock goes around with a couple of tubes and we can choose the fragrance and we all go off to class with beautiful-smelling hands. It’s a little luxury we look forward to all week. I brought back this tube of Horse Oil hand cream from North Korea to add to the collection. Not many people wanted to try it, especially the vegetarians and vegans. To my surprise, it’s actually not too bad.

At the moment our staffroom is full of really great people, but there have been times in the past when people have been sitting near me who really annoyed me. Anyone in an office can identify, I’m sure. They’re either stupid, or selfish, or incredibly egotistical. And you have to put up with them in your general vicinity every day, sometimes for YEARS.

However, in this job you can make your own entertainment. When I had to stand on a street corner during the latest Cross Country to direct kids along the way they had to go, I wore my North Korean soldier’s hat and my number from the Pyongyang marathon. That was a lot of fun. I had kids saluting me as they ran past, with kids from China and South Korea doing double-takes when they saw me. I’m not a sporty person, but these days are ok.

But does anyone really find Meetings enjoyable? Especially when they’re held just because the time has been set aside for them and there’s really nothing of ground-breaking importance to discuss. If I’ve taken the train to work on a meeting day, it makes the difference between catching a direct train to my station, where I’m home in 45 minutes, to catching a train that stops at Mordialloc, where I have to get off and wait for another train to come through, which adds anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes to my trip. Meetings. Not a fan.

Though it’s not all gloom and doom. As a teacher, you get to escape the school sometimes. I’ve been on many trips to the Theatre, Art gallery, beaches on the peninsula, the Werribee Sewage farm, the Zoo, walks along the Yarra river etc. Also lots of incursions, where Authors, artists, motivational speakers and dance/drama/martial arts/ sports groups visit the school and our classes attend. We have a thing called ‘Medieval Day’, where the year 8 History classes come to school in fancy dress and they spend all day going to specialist classes where they learn about medieval weaponry, crafts, education, sports and they finish with a huge feast in the Hall. Every year I hope that my Year 8 class has English on that day, so I’m rostered on to supervise. It’s so interesting!

 The commute isn’t so hot, though in all fairness I have to say that I brought this one upon myself when I geoarbitraged 2 years ago. I used to live 2 minutes from work. Now it’s more like an hour’s commute each way. That’s a LOT of time taken out of your day. I did it for the money and it was totally worth it, but on those dark winter’s mornings at 5:20AM, I think wistfully back to the days when I’d get up at 7:30.

On balance, I’m one of the fortunate ones who, once I get to work, I enjoy it. It’s varied enough to be interesting and I’m surrounded by people I like and who seem to like me. I have a curriculum I have to teach, but once that classroom door closes behind me I can teach it without being micromanaged.

So what had me coming home last week and going through my financials, hoping against hope that another couple of hundred thousand dollars had miraculously landed into my accounts overnight?

Stuff like this, that’s what.

Things like a brilliant new idea for marking essays, which, when I tried it last week, moved my marking time to 70 minutes for just 7 essays. It’s more intricate, which will be good for the kids, but the technology on the spreadsheet isn’t working properly. It was rushed out, probably because it’s someone’s pet project higher up and they wanted the bragging rights. It’ll make them look good, but in the meantime, it’s added so much stress and extra (unnecessary) work for the rest of us. At the moment it’s only being used in year 8, but the admin has plans to roll it out over the whole school in the future. Yikes!

I had to ask myself: do I really want to spend extra hours upon hours of my life doing this?

As it happens, I still have to put my head down and barrel along for the next couple of years. I’ve reached lean FI, but I want my retirement to include lots of travel, which, when you’re coming from an isolated country such as Australia, is expensive. I need to work longer to include some extra padding in my portfolio to pay for those plane flights.

But if they keep on loading us up with unnecessary bureaucracy and ‘busy-work’, I may not be answerable for the consequences… (Fiji and Bali instead of Europe and the UK??)

As I said before, I’m lucky in that I like most parts of my job. However, I’ve realised that I don’t want to be doing it into my 60’s.

But I’m interested to hear from others. I’ve been a teacher my whole life so I know very little about other careers. What parts of your job are the spurs that drive YOU onwards to FIRE?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: Early Bird train travel.

It seems like travel hacking is splashing itself all over the internet lately – Americans flying first class all over the world for about $11.50, all due to the amazing reward points they can get on their credit cards.

This isn’t going to be a post about that.

This is about how I’ve tweaked my morning routine to take advantage of the scheme called Early Bird train travel that operates here in Melbourne. 

Two years ago I was living a kilometre away from work in the house I’d owned for 20 years. Classes start at 8:50am, so I’d leave home at 8:36, drive through the back streets, park in Hall street, walk briskly to my desk, scoop up the books I’d left in a pile the day before for my first two classes, grab my keys and I’d be walking in the classroom door at 8:50 every day without fail. I did this for 12 years and I had it down to a fine art. People in my staffroom knew it was time to grab their books and go to class when they heard me say, “Good morning!” as I came through the door.

Then I moved 21kms away from work. I experimented with driving into work and taking the train. The train is a 5-minute walk from my house, with a 10-minute walk at the other end to school. Both modes of transport took just under an hour each way, so the only real benefit was the comfort of the car vs the extra steps on my fitbit with the train. So I started driving in. Call me lazy – I don’t care.

Then late last year, this happened.

ARGH!!! Why?!? Of course, there was no note on the windscreen. It cost me just over $300 to get fixed.

Suddenly train travel was looking far more affordable.

So in the September school holidays, I got the car fixed, charged up my Myki for the train and discovered an interesting titbit of information about something called the Early Bird. If you begin and end your train journey before 7:15am on a weekday, you don’t get charged for the trip. They’ve obviously brought it in to try and reduce congestion on the morning peak travel times. Hmmmm……….. Maybe I could be a civic-minded citizen AND slash my transport bill in half at the same time?

This meant that I had to do some Maths. I steeled myself to the task. If I got up an hour earlier each morning I could travel to and from work for only $2.80/day, instead of $5.60. On the face of it, it wasn’t much of a saving. But if you multiply that over a week… $14 instead of $28… or over a 10-week term… $140 instead of $280…. the numbers become more interesting.

I decided to give it a go. I also decided to track it on a chart, so that I wouldn’t lose sight of the money I was saving. I knew that if I was staying late for some reason, or I needed to go somewhere after school, I could always drive in. But why not take advantage of an offer for free transport?

So on day 1, term 4 I got up very early and made my way to the station.

Here are the downsides to doing this:

  1. In order to catch the train that guarantees me to get to my destination a full 10 minutes before the 7:15 deadline, (because of possible train delays) I have to leave the house by 6:20am to walk to the station. This means getting up at 5:30am. OMG.
  2. It tends to be a little nippy first thing in the morning.
  3. I have to be organised with my lunches and breakfasts. It defeats the purpose if I score a free train trip but have to buy my lunch from the canteen because I was too sleepy to get my act together in time to make lunch.
  4. If I’m running late, I have to run for the train. I’m not a fan of rapid movement.
  5. It was a massive adjustment for the people in Staffroom 2. For a couple of weeks, people were getting to their classes late because I was no longer saying, “Good morning!” at 8.45. The habits of 12 years or so are pretty hard to break.
  6. They raised the price of the trip by a massive 14c on Jan 1. This makes the Maths more difficult. Thank goodness there’s a calculator on my laptop.

Here are the pros:

  1. It’s really nice to start each day with a few wins. Getting up as soon as the alarm goes off in what seems like the dead of night? Win. (I cheat a bit here… the dogs sleep in my room so as soon as the alarm goes off Poppy jumps onto my bed with joy, giving massive head butts and cuddles, so it’s impossible to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.) Leaving the house at 6:20am so I don’t have to run? Win. Touching off with my Myki and seeing ‘Fare deducted: $0.00? Win. Walking to school and seeing nearly 4,000 steps already on my fitbit? Win.
  2. Usually, I’m the only one in the staffroom when I get there, so it’s nice and quiet. I put the kettle on for a cup of coffee, I go to the ladies to put my makeup on, I come back, fire up the laptop and eat breakfast at my desk, browsing on blogs or Facebook. As people drift into work, the place slowly gets louder and livelier. I’ve had my quiet start to the day and I’m now ready for the rest of it.
  3. If I need any photocopying done, there’s no queue. Correction? It’s nice and quiet.
  4. I have to be organised with my lunches and breakfasts. (Yes, I know this was in the cons list, but it’s also a pro.) I’m not hungry at 5 in the morning, so I tend to take a couple of hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and I eat them at breaky time… about 7:30. It’s awful when I don’t have an easy breakfast to grab – the default position is a ‘fast’ morning or day, which is good when I’m slightly pudgy but not so good if I’m starving. My lunches tend to be leftovers from the night before or a Mystery Meal from the freezer.
  5. My car will hold its value for far longer. In a normal week, I’ll only take it out once or twice, as I can pick things up from the Aldi around the corner on the way home; if I need to go to a shopping centre I can get off the train at Southland and then hop back on the train to come home; and I hate wasting time on the weekends so I group shopping visits together… all leading up to low kilometres on the clock and no wear and tear on tyres etc.
  6. My overall transportation costs have plummeted. I was buying a tank of petrol every 2 weeks at $50-$60 a tank. Now, it’s around 6 weeks between refills. (It’d possibly be more, but I’m teaching Evan21 to drive so we’re using fuel on that.) 
  7. The table of running savings. Admittedly, I don’t much like doing the Maths for it, but it’s getting to the stage when it’s really starting to add up. Sometimes a friend from work will offer to drive me home, especially if we’re here working late, so I get double dipping on that day. It’s lovely when they offer, but I certainly don’t go chasing it… that’d be rude.

I know that if I saw $183.26 on the footpath I’d bend down to pick it up! It’s nice to know that it’s still in my bank account, but also kind of creepy when you think that it’s a sizeable chunk of money that I would have had to have spent if this offer from Metro trains wasn’t in place.

This is such a little thing, but I like the idea of seeing little opportunities and taking advantage of those that are do-able in your life. Transportation is a big expense for many families, so being able to get to and from work for under $15 a week is insanely cheap. After all, I geoarbitraged to save money and to get ahead, not to spend it all on train rides and petrol!

Of course, I’ve been doing this as the mornings are light and the weather is fine. Spring and summer are ideal for early morning starts. It’ll be interesting to see if my resolve crumbles as the winter kicks in. I don’t run the heating overnight and my beautiful hardwood floors are chilly the first thing in the morning…

I’ll keep you posted.

#winning

Podcasts

If there’s one thing I absolutely adore about living life in the modern age, it’s getting my commute entertainment and education for free. I have around 10 hours of what could be ‘dead’ time every working week, where I’m either sitting on the train or walking to the station/school/home. Now, if I was a deep, spiritual person who’s sprinting down the Dharmic Path to enlightenment, perhaps I’d be happy to spend those hours with my thoughts squirrelling around inside my head.

Sadly, I need more stimulation. Knitting on the train worked pretty well for a while, but it was when Ryan23 gave me his old headphones that my love for podcasts really took off. I have an old iPad that, up until a few of years ago, was only used as my eBook reader. Tom26, my oldest son, installed the free kindle app on it and away I went.  Then I discovered podcasts through listening to ‘Serial’, like so many others. After that, I circled podcasts cautiously, poking them with a stick, but it wasn’t until I geoarbitraged and moved an hour away from work that podcasts became important.

Again… how lucky are we? All you have to spend money on is your device, whether it be a phone, iPad or computer. Once you’ve set that up, you log onto iTunes, create an account and the world opens up. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems as if the number of podcasts has exploded in the last year or so. It seems like every man and his dog is making one. And the crazy thing is that they’re all FREE.

My podcast list changes as I find new things to listen to, but here are some of my tried-and-tested ones that I’ve been listening to for ages. I’d love it if anyone could recommend some that I haven’t come across yet. My FIRE date isn’t for another few years so I have lots of commuting hours in front of me. Here goes:

Finance podcasts:

The Dave Ramsey Show – the quintessential ‘Get out of Debt’ show. I found it really motivating while I was paying off my house, but now I cherry-pick my episodes, all the while hoping for a ‘Millionaire Theme Hour’ to be played.

Mad Fientist – not a huge amount of new material but a wealth of interviews from the past. It’s good to have a FIRE podcast from someone who’s already achieved it.

Choose FI – I was lucky enough to get onto this one pretty soon after it started. The hosts are based in the US, but the vast majority of the material is applicable to Australia as well. This podcast has gone viral in its first year and is a good place to start with FIRE ideas.

The Dough Roller Money podcast – This one’s been going for years. The host gently chats away – sometimes I feel like yelling at him to stop rambling and get a move on! – but it’s a good place to come to if you feel you need information on the basics. He certainly gives you the details you need to know. Just do what I did and scan the episode titles to download the ones that are applicable to you. There’s a LOT to choose from!

So Money with Farnoosh Torabi – I’ve just started listening to this one. She posts a few times a week so I’ve been only downloading those topics and guests that sound interesting to me.

Aussie Firebug – It’s good to see an Australian throwing his hat in the ring. It’s a little bit ‘blokey’ and not entirely relevant to me, but his enthusiasm for the subject of FI is infectious.

The FIRE Drill – I’ve only been listening to this over the last couple of weeks. Initially I had to get used to the banter between the two hosts, but now that I’m familiar with them I’ve warmed up to this podcast. They have some interesting guests.

The Fairer Cents – 2 female US bloggers host this show. I heard Tonya from the blog ‘Our Next Life’ being interviewed on a podcast somewhere and I really liked the way she expressed her philosophy of life. I started reading her blog and now I’ve listened to most episodes of this podcast. It doesn’t get to the point as quickly as most other blogs… lots of chat and catch-ups… but I guess that would make some people feel like they were part of a catch-up session with friends. They talk about some interesting topics and it’s good to have a female perspective.

Humorous podcasts:

Cumberbin’s Treasure- easily the funniest podcast I’ve ever heard. It’s a British BBC production, originally called ‘Cabin Pressure’, about a struggling charter airline company. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Martin. It’s a 3 season show that is SO worth downloading. I’ve laughed out loud on the train.

My Dad Wrote a Porno – Another British podcast that comes a very close second to the one above. Definitely NSFW, this one is roll-in-the-aisles funny. Definitely start from the beginning, back in season 1 episode 1, as you have to follow the adventures of Belinda Blumenthal, an ambitious woman making her way in the fiercely competitive pots and pans industry.

Fiction:

Welcome to Nightvale – How I love Nightvale! Spo, a reader of my personal blog, put me onto Nightvale last year. I binge-listened 3 year’s worth of podcasts, which immersed me into the world of Cecil Baldwin, the man behind the microphone of the Nightvale Community Radio Station. Nightvale is a town that is just a little bit different to the places you and I inhabit…

Alice Isn’t Dead – also made by the people who put ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ together.  So it’s set in a world almost but not quite like our own.

Homecoming – David Schwimmer is on this one. There have been 2 seasons so far and I’m hoping a 3rd comes out. Apparently, there’s going to be a TV series based on this.

Interesting:

Serial – I keep hoping a season 3 will come out so I’ve left it on my iPad. This was the first podcast I listened to. Investigative journalism at its best.

This American Life – Serial comes from the same people. I resisted listening to this one for ages, because of the title. ‘What does being American have to do with me?’ I thought. Once I caved and started listening, I realised I was an idiot. This is a top-quality podcast. Every week they bring out a show on an entirely stand-alone topic, so you never know what’s going to be looked at. It’s hands-down one of my favourite podcasts.

The Infinite Monkey Cage – Science with a huge dollop of comedy. Prof Brian Cox is a regular on the panel, with a mix of scientists, comedians and academics who discuss the topic of the week. Very funny and gets you thinking. Another BBC production.

Trace – this is an Australian podcast, where a journalist looks at an unsolved murder from 1970’s Melbourne and goes back through the evidence. Every now and then there’s an update if anything new comes up. Really intriguing and sometimes horrific stuff.

10 Questions with Adam Zwar – He interviews various celebrities from all different areas and – you guessed it – asks them all the same 10 questions. It’s sometimes fascinating what you find out about how these people value things and how they see the world.

On my list right now that I haven’t yet heard:

The Financial Mentor podcast – I heard this guy being interviewed on ‘Choose FI’ ( I think) and he sounded knowledgeable. Thought I might give this one a go…

Millionaires Unveiled – interviews with millionaires. Could be interesting…?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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