Burning Desire For FIRE

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

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No one knows better than Maths Guy.

I don’t often go for end-of-week drinks, but this one was a bit special. An end-of-week drinks and sausage sizzle to celebrate the end of year 12 classes. Seeing as how I teach year 12 Theatre Studies, I moseyed on down to the local bowls club, grabbed a drink and a sausage in bread and settled in for a chat.

As often happens with these things, I was sitting near people I don’t normally hang out with. If people aren’t in the same faculty or staffroom, your orbits rarely collide. I was talking with a Geography Guy and a Maths Guy and the subject of retirement came up.

“Do you have a definite figure in mind?” Maths Guy asked me.

I laughed. (Do I have a figure in mind?? LOL! LMAO! ROFL!  He was talking to Frogdancer Jones!!!)

I said, “Yep, I do. I’m looking to pull the pin when my investments reach  50K/year.”

He looked at me, frowned and shook his head. “That’s not enough.”

I smiled. “Well, seeing as I live off 30K/year now, I figure 50K a year will be plenty.”

“No, you’re wrong. It won’t be enough.”

I blinked. Seemed slightly dogmatic for someone I barely knew. Then I noticed his wedding ring. Of course! He’s thinking of supporting two people, not one.

“Well, it’ll probably be enough money. I’m single so I’m only supporting one person – myself.”

He sighed, as if talking to an idiot. “I’m telling you, it won’t be enough. I have enough put away now that I could retire and we’d have 60K a year, but that isn’t much for any sort of lifestyle.”

Now it was my turn to blink. That’s double what the boys and I live on. If I had that amount of money in retirement I’d be as happy as a pig in muck. I’d buy diamond-studded dog collars for Poppy, Jeff and Scout; diamond-studded underwear for my good self and a solid gold spade to do the gardening with. I’d go to Europe and the UK every year for 2 months and I’d see EVERYTHING. Imagine the HISTORY…

I don’t know what expression I was wearing while I was imagining all this, because he went on to say, “Of course, we go out to dinner a lot. My wife saves nearly all her money – I’m the spender. She says that she’s about at the point where she can retire, but that I’m nowhere near. Gives me the irrits because we’re spending my money when we go out all the time!”

Then he doubled down on the fact that 50K wouldn’t be enough for me to live, thrive and survive. (That’s a Blues Brothers reference for all the people playing at home.) 

I let it go. I knew what the problem was. He didn’t have as close a handle on his expenses as I have. There’s nothing wrong with that – he obviously has a two-income family and they’d be able to afford the extra things that clearly bring them pleasure. But what I found really interesting was that he seemed utterly incapable of picturing a lifestyle where spending thousands of dollars less per year was anything other than the utmost deprivation.

Whereas from my perspective, I think that working a few more years to lay down a nest egg capable of paying 20K over what my expenses are, is being extremely conservative – almost prudent beyond belief.

This is only the second time someone has questioned my financial plans. Two years ago, when I told my Mum that I was aiming for 40K/year, she advised me to rethink it. She said that she and Dad live off 30K/year each, so 40K for one person mightn’t be enough. I had a think about it, agreed that she was right and raised my target to 50K. With no mortgage and no debt of any kind and 50K rattling around in my wallet, I think that I should be able to have an awesome lifestyle when I walk away from teaching.

This conversation with Maths Guy was a classic case of a ‘spendier’ person coming up against a more frugal person. The thing I found most interesting was just how dogmatic he was about my situation – of which he knew nothing. No matter what I could say, he had his mind made up and that was that.

Will I raise my target again after my chat with Maths Guy?

Unlikely.

***

(I was on a podcast last week, being interviewed about my North Korea trip. If you’re interested in listening, here’s where to go. I listened to it on the way into work this morning and boy! You can tell my nationality from my vowels alone!)

Advertising North Korea style (3): Teach the children well.

After the second post in this little series, I had a comment sent in from The Firestarter which said in part:

“Absolutely fascinating subject… I really enjoyed the post! While I get the point that the techniques used on the population are very similar, there is surely a large element of “if you do not comply you will be hurt” and the people there must know this as well. I’m not saying that a large portion of them don’t engage in loving the leaders “willingly” because they’ve been brainwashed, but law of averages suggests that with 25 million there will be a lot of free thinkers in there that have to toe the line anyway or be subject to brutality. This makes it a world apart from consumerism, which although has the “brainwashing” part by using all the psychological tricks they can throw at us, really lets people act out their own free will.”

Of course, that’s true – there are people who are able to see past the spin and, if they’re able, they take steps to evade and/or escape the country altogether. However, I went in expecting there to be more evidence of citizens cynically regarding the constant spin about the regime – but there wasn’t. People genuinely regard themselves and the country as a whole as being utterly blessed in their heritage and their leadership.

A huge part of this is as a result of their education system.

The regime in North Korea inherited an illiterate population when WWII ended. In the years since then, they’ve worked hard to develop the education system throughout the country with great success. Both primary and secondary schooling is compulsory, with many, particularly in the more privileged pockets of the country such as Pyongyang, going on to further education.

But the curriculum is very different from those of other countries. Children, particularly in the country, are taught basic reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, with hours a day spent on memorising long passages from books either written by or about the Great Leaders. They are expected to spout stories and accounts off by heart from these books, while at the other end of their schooling, a lot of the extra tuition people undertake after their work hours are Studies in Juche Philosophy, (Juche was first developed by Kim Il Sung – it means self-reliance and only looking within the DPRK to solve any problems. It’s an entire philosophy too detailed to go into here), and studies from the collected works of Kim Il Sung. This, of course, means that people in the DPRK are woefully under-educated when compared with the rest of the world. Escapees are horrified when they reach South Korea and realise how much studying they have to do to catch up. Re-education is also required, due to the many fanciful tales of the Great Leaders’ exploits and the history of their country which are out and out lies.

This room was one of the first things we were shown when we toured the primary school. They were proud of this natural history room, which the teachers had made themselves “in the manner of our Juche ideals.”

The children are taught this philosophy, which encourages total focus to be on North Korea and its superiority to the rest of the world. They are taught that everywhere beyond its borders are downtrodden, poor and we’re all envious of the way the DPRK runs the country and looks after the interests of its people. The fact that the teachers built this room themselves, with no outside help or input, was seen as a source of much pride.

This was the first classroom we went it – a computer class. I was the second person in the room and as I walked in and moved along the back, I couldn’t help but notice the IT guy frantically working to connect the big screen.

I took this shot to show the IT guys back home at school. They couldn’t believe it! I suppose this is more Juche ideals at work.

We were shown an English class, a dance class, a singing class and a sports class. It was all designed to show us how modern and cosmopolitan their curriculum was, how talented and bright their children were and how North Korea is thriving, judging by these cherubs.

While we were watching these gorgeous little girls do their dance class for us, trying their little hearts out, Wally slipped away. He took a wander all by himself around the halls with his trusty camera around his neck. The next photo is mine, but all of the following photos of the art in the halls of the primary school are from him.

This was at the top of the stairs on the second floor. It gave me quite a turn to see this as we rounded the stairway and came up the second flight. I work at a secondary school and last year we had a political photographer put up huge blown-up photos of refugees and people in bomb shelters in the Middle East around the campus. Our principal purposefully selected photos that wouldn’t be too confronting to the sensibilities of our students. No guns, wounds, bodies etc. Too scary for our 12 – 18 year-olds.

Yet this image is positioned at the head of the stairs where these 5 – 11 year-olds would see it every day. Things like this inevitably leave a mark.

The narrative that the North Korean people have been told for the last 60 years is that for 150 years the Japanese ruled their country and the Koreans were treated worse than animals. (Which, to be fair, has quite a bit of truth to it.) Then, during WWII, the brave and glorious Kim Il Sung and his soldiers fought the Japanese and drove them away from Korea and finally – the Koreans were FREE! (In actual fact, the Russians were the ones to drive the Japanese out – Kim Il Sung didn’t have his own army of guerillas. He was in the Russian army as a minor officer. The Russians thought he’d be a good man to run the country.)

Then the evil American Aggressors divided the Korean peninsula down the middle and stole half of it. They would have taken it all but the wisdom and bravery of General Kim Il Sung prevented that from happening and so the North Korean people are the only Koreans who are free.

In 1950 the American Aggressors and the South Korean puppets invaded North Korea without warning. (Actually, the opposite happened.) General Kim Il Sung mobilised his country’s army and they fought the Americans all the way down to the bottom of the peninsula – near;y driving them into the sea. The cowardly Americans called up 17 satellite countries to help them fight and between the might of all these countries, the DPRK fighting on all on its own was driven back. (This was an account which is clearly referring to when the UN stepped in to help with the war. On our tour of the War Museum in Pyongyang, our guide recited the list of countries 3 times. Australia was third each time. Awkward…)

The country of North Korea was nearly bombed out of existence by the US. (True. A third of their population was killed in the Korean War. That’s horrific by any standards. ) So now the DPRK must stand alone, vigilant to protect its borders, knowing that the American Aggressors and the Japanese Imperialists would like nothing better than to sweep in and retake their glorious country.

It’s a wonderful mixture of paranoia, fiction and myth-telling, based on truths, half-truths and complete lies. This means that the population is very easy to handle. Sell them this story constantly, coupled with the constant stories about how fortunate they are that the Kim family is prepared to sacrifice their own lives to work for the good of the people for the first time in 200 years, and you’ll have just about everybody believing in you. Take away the internet and close the borders and there are very few people left to argue.

Once that’s done, surround children like this little girl with constant lessons and images like the following ones:

Judging by the date on the bottom left of this ‘artwork’, this is showing the kids how the evil American and South Korean puppets invaded their beloved country.

Graphic image. Look at how resolute she appears.

See how young they are?

This looks like Holocaust material, doesn’t it? With roughly one-third of their population bombed out of existence by the UN in the Korean War, it would be easy to play on their fears of such a thing happening again. These children would have Grandparents and Great-Grandparents who would remember the war. But failing that, every family would have stories that were handed down.

These children were singing shrill songs that sounded like marching songs. Songs about love and the individual desires for fulfilment are not sung in North Korea. Instead, the popular songs are all about the struggle for Reunification, the adoration they have for Kim Jong Un and how by pulling together they will bring the DPRK back to its rightful place as the country that the rest of the world looks up to.

See the long nose on the priest? This picture is having a go at both organised religion and Americans.

Meanwhile, the children smile sweetly and perform for the tourists. I was wondering what went through their minds when the embodiment of all they’ve been taught to fear rolls up in their school in a group and smiles at them. It must feel very strange.

The following pages are taken from a fascinating book called “This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood” by Hyok Kang. The Maths questions he’s talking about are the very same sort of problems that these children in the photographs would be learning. They are all phrased like this.

Kang goes on to write that “Our schoolbooks would spend page after page glorifying the ‘victory’ of the DPRK against Japan in 1945 and against the United States and the Southern puppets in 1954. (In fact, North Korea was invaded by Russian troops and was not liberated by the armies of Kim Il Sung. As for the Korean War, (1950 – 3) it did not conclude with a victory of the North over the South, because the demarcation line was left unchanged.) And just as the definitions in our dictionaries were politicised, we were trained to speak in ready-made phrases. We didn’t say ‘the Americans’ but ‘the American imperialists’ or ‘the American bastards’ or even the ‘yangkubegi‘ (western long-noses.)”

When you train people to think and speak in sound-bites, you’re controlling how they think. But then again, we all know that Coke adds life, a Diamond is Forever and that we should Just Do It. And when we Have a Break, we should have a Kit-Kat. And of course, when all else fails, For Everything Else, There’s Mastercard.

(Please excuse the mug! This shot was taken at my desk after we got back.)

This book is a prime example of the books that children and young people are made to read. The language is flowery and over-the-top, with Kim Jong Il portrayed as a man who is vastly superior to anyone else. Even at 6 years of age, he was instructing adults in anything from political science to agriculture. Truly a leader to admire!

This is the first of three pages of the table of contents. Here’s the opening page:

The children of North Korea have textbooks written exactly like this. Their minds are sponges and this is what they grow up absorbing. The regime’s message falls on fertile ground.

Incidentally, the whole book was around 200 pages filled with over-the-top language such as this. I ploughed through it and finished it, but it was a hard read. From what I’ve read and researched after I came back, everything written to or about the Leaders must be phrased in this effusive over-exaggerated way. It must be exhausting.

But still, kids are kids. Oliver, one of the tallest and kindest men I’ve ever met, brought heaps of toys and pencils and textas from Germany. He was very popular with the children once they realised that he was giving away free things. Kids were walking away clutching small trinkets, eyes round with wonder.

Maybe little things like this will make some of the kids realise that not all they’re told and sold about Westerners is true…

Or maybe not. The education system is a solid base that the government has grabbed to ensure that they deliver their message to the population when the people are too young and unsophisticated to know fact from fiction. And when everyone around you is immersed in the same bubble of stories, fear and lies, it must be very hard to step back and think critically about what is real and what is not.

Going back to the comment I quoted at the start of this post by  ‘The Firestarter’, I’ll close with another quote from the book ‘This is Paradise!’ by Hyok Kang, about when his parents decided to try and escape into China and were trying to get him to agree to come with them. He was 18 years old at this time.

“I told him I would rather be a beggar in North Korea than follow him to China. I replied in set phrases that I had learned at school, along the lines of, ‘Let us safeguard socialism’, or, ‘I will fight to the death to protect socialism and the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung!’ …I had stopped going to school. It was my decision, but I should also point out that, given my state of mind, and since my father was worried that I would report him to my classmates, he himself had forbidden me to go… [My mother also] tried to persuade me to follow them. … She added that we would spend a year in China, no more, and that we would earn money and come back to North Korea. Reluctantly, I finally agreed.”

This book was written in 2007. It’s pretty safe to say that he has never elected to go back!

I’ve linked all of this talk on education in with advertising, which in a fast-and-loose sort of way it is. The regime has been selling the stories about itself to the children for over 60 years. Here in the West we have tv ads and product placement bombarding our kids and us from our earliest years. In a strange sort of way, it’s similar to what the kids in the DPRK are also bombarded with. It’s just that their ‘products’ are far more focused and powerful than ours…

We all have to spend – just make it intentional.

 

I firmly believe that one of the cornerstones of Financial Independence is frugality. But ‘frugality’ is a funny concept. One man’s latte is another man’s wild extravagance. I’ll come clean right now and confess that I consider myself to be an extremely frugal person. After all, any single person who’s brought up 4 kids and paid off a mortgage on their own hasn’t exactly been throwing the avocados on toast around. However, my frugality has certain limits. There’s a fine line between frugal and stingy. The annoying thing about any discussion about frugality is that every person seems to draw the line in the sand between the two concepts in a different place.

The kids and I have been on our own – if you can call 5 people being “on our own”! – for 20 years. When my marriage hit the skids I’d been a stay-at-home-Mum for nearly 6 years. I had 4 years to go before my youngest was due to start primary school. My goal as a parent was always to stay at home with my kids until they were all at school, so when their world turned upside-down with the divorce I vowed to stick to that plan, to give them a rock-solid foundation upon which to build their worlds. This meant tightening the belt.

I had a couple of advantages to start off with. The first was that my ex-husband was never what you’d call a wildly successful businessman, so for a fair few years I’d been watching the household finances and being reasonably careful. The other was my upbringing. My Dad watched every penny, so unbeknownst to me, I had excellent training in making every penny count. Those lessons have stood us in good stead over the last couple of decades. But the most useful tool I’ve come up with is something I only started using in the last 20 months when frugality became a necessity again.

Ever tried living on 27% of your take-home pay for month after month? That’s what we were doing while I was paying bridging finance for The Best House In Melbourne while getting all the plans and permits to develop our old property. What should have taken 6 months took 17 months, thanks to the local council and various tradies dragging their heels. That’s a long time to be living off the smell of an oily rag. I had an emergency fund in place, just in case something awful happened, but the rest of our lives was cash-flowed. I had to watch every cent that came in and out of the house.

I’ve never had a ‘budget’ as such, but I’ve always spent less than I earned. I heard someone say somewhere that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” That made sense to me, as nit-picky as it appeared. You can’t steer a car in the right direction if you don’t know which road you’re on to start with.

So why not measure my spending? Why not rig up a basic chart on my computer that documents every amount I spend? The challenge, because you’ve got to make it fun, is obviously to spend as little as possible on non-essentials.

Have a look at the chart. I made a few rules to start with. After all, if I didn’t it would be anarchy and we simply can’t have spendings and savings running amock all over the place. That way madness lies.

I direct debit my bills, so I couldn’t choose which day of the week they’d be paid. So rule 1 was that they were excluded from the table. Imagine my agonised expression if I’d thought I earned a silver square and then Telstra took the money from my credit card on a Tuesday instead of a Friday. It just doesn’t bear thinking of.  Next rule: even one dollar is to be counted. Our money situation was so tight that I had to be conscious of everything. Third rule: no cheating the table, no matter how tempting.

But the best thing I did, a few weeks into it, was to put the last column in – where I can colour in the square if I have 3 or fewer days that I spend in a week. Now this suddenly made the whole exercise INTENTIONAL. And that’s when it really took off.

It’s crazy the way the human mind works. I really wanted to colour in a silver square at the end of each week, so I started grouping my spending together. We live around the corner from an Aldi. Before the chart, if I was getting low on one ingredient for dinner, it was too easy to send one of the boys galloping to get it. But now, the game had changed. Was this ingredient important enough to use up one of my spending squares? If so, I’d send them to Aldi with a shopping list, to avoid this happening again with other things that might be running out in the pantry. But if it was something that I could leave out of the dish altogether, or I had a substitute I could use if I thought for 2 seconds about what else I had in the pantry, then the boys stayed home and I could triumphantly colour in a square that night.

If I knew I was going to go to Costco on the weekend, I’d schedule other shopping trips at the same time. If I needed some wine, (always a staple in the Frogdancer house), I’d swing by Dan Murphy’s on the way home. Aldi doesn’t sell everything we use, so the Coles or Woolworths might also get a look-in on the same day. I always buy my petrol at Costco, so there was another stop on the same day. I would consciously try and spend only on the one day so that I wasn’t using up my squares willy-nilly.

This had another additional saving that I wasn’t consciously aiming for when I started it, but it soon became evident that I was using less petrol. The car wasn’t being dragged out for ‘one-off’ trips to the shops but was being used for multiple things. The saving was significant enough for me to notice that an extra week was being added before I had to refill the car – obviously not enough to pay for a trip to Europe or something. Still, every little bit helps.

I believe that we all have a couple of little things that we spend money on. Things that are so cheap that we buy them without really thinking about it, because “it’s only $2”, or “it’s just a coffee.” Mine isn’t coffee. It’s so stupid that I feel a bit embarrassed even writing about it. Mine is $1 Caramello Koalas/Summer Rolls/Honey Nougat logs from the staff common room when I ‘m correcting essays.

The school I teach at is incredibly popular. We’re one of the top non-selective government schools in the state, which basically means that if any child lives in our zone, we have to take them, regardless of gender, religious views, sexual orientation or intelligence. The kid could be a certified genius or a dribbling idiot and if they live in our designated area, we have to take them. Our VCE results each year are so high that people literally pay thousands more per house or apartment to move into our area, which leads to a lot of kids lining up to be taught each year.

Our school currently has over 2,000 students.  Our 3 youngest levels have around 14 classes of 28 students each. With 4 or 5 classes in a regular teaching allotment, that’s a lot of essays to mark. Sadly, once the chart was in operation for a while, it became clear that I’d become dependent upon the sweet sweet taste of chocolate and caramel to get me through the hard yards.

The really good essays are easy. No problem. You zoom through them, scattering ticks and the occasional minor suggestion or correction here and there. No need for chocolate here… in fact you almost feel like doing a lap of honour around the staffroom because you clearly taught these kids so well. But then you get to the strugglers and the lazy ones. The kids who are genuinely trying hard aren’t so bad. You want to knuckle down and help them. But their essays take a lot more time to mark because there are so many grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and flaws in the structure of the essays. But then you get the doozies – the ones who couldn’t be bothered reading the novel. They watched the movie instead. Some of them even absent-mindedly write “the movie” instead of “the novel”. One boy in year 12 a few years ago was meant to be writing about Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” and he began his essay talking about the tank that crashed through into the bunker of the Lancasters and how the gas mask made Richard seem evil. I agree, it was a wonderful movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s play but it wasn’t what we’d actually studied. Shakespeare isn’t terribly well-known for his twentieth-century modes of warfare and transport in his plays. To his credit, the student and I both had a good laugh when I tackled him over it. But when things like that happen… it’s a blow to a teacher’s fortitude. These essays are definitely not a pleasure to read and there seems to be a lot more of them than the excellent ones. Unfortunately, it’s unprofessional to turn to hard liquor. For some reason, the school frowns upon alcohol being consumed while correcting. The next resort is chocolate.

Having the chart definitely cut down on that mindless spending of, “Dammit, I’m working hard and I deserve it!” I’m not saying that it stopped it altogether… there’s a square that is clearly marked “$4 marking”. I must have had 2 classes worth of essays to mark at the same time, which is a stupid move on my part. Or else I had a class of remarkably stupid kids! However, the chart tended to make me stop and think.

When I first started using the chart, I tried to push on through, but that sugar rush was hard to ignore. Then I had a brilliant idea. What if I substituted nuts and dried fruit for the chocolate bars? I started buying the ingredients for trail mix from Aldi, then making up bags of it and making sure I had some in my desk, particularly at the end of term, always a peak marking time. I was still able to have the sugar rush from the dried fruit, while the nuts and seeds satisfied the ‘junk food’ comfort nibbling. It’s probably cheaper, but the main advantage is that the ingredients are bought during normal grocery shopping and I don’t have to make the dash to the common room and wilfully squander a square.

It’s stupid, but the chart works. You get to Thursday and you could pop into the supermarket on the way home, but you only have one square left. Better leave off going till Friday in case something comes up… or even Saturday. It stops a lot of impulse buys, because you’ve got Rule 3… don’t cheat the table… and you really want the reward of that silver square. It’s totally individual, with no-one but yourself accounting for what you spend. Which is brilliant, because then you can then tailor your week to when you need or want to spend money.

I’ve been doing this for nearly 18 months now. I have control over what I spend my income on. It takes less than 2 minutes a day to do, and if you’re like me and use a credit or debit card for all your spending, it’s so easy to jot things down on the chart because you have the record there. For me, the secret sauce to this is obvious.

It’s the final column that has made me stick with it because my spending is now totally deliberate and INTENTIONAL. I consciously choose what I want to buy and what I choose to avoid. That accelerates my progress towards the things I truly value.

At the end of the day, I’m a valuist. I put my money towards things I think are important and I bypass the things that aren’t. And these are the things that are different for everyone – the line in the sand that we all have with frugality. When you measure this, you can absolutely manage it and get to where you really want to go.

 

 

 

 

How my Emergency Fund proved its worth against the virus. Twice.

Scout, feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that we have a sturdy emergency fund behind us. It means everything to a dog.

I’ve had an emergency fund for the last 2 decades. When I left my husband 22 years ago with $60 cash in my hand and with 4 boys under 5 to support, the first thing I set myself to achieving was building a $1,000 ‘buffer zone’ (as I called it then) to provide some security for the boys and me. I’ve written about how an emergency fund is a very good thing to have but is this still the case?

It’s been interesting to see how having that stash of cash has made life so much easier in this pandemic.

When, in December 2019 and January 2020, news started coming out from China, then Italy about this weirdo new virus, my spidey senses started tingling. I’m a bit of a germophobe at the best of times, so the thought of having to deal with a possible pandemic wasn’t a great feeling. Add to that my job as a teacher, being surrounded by germ-ridden teenagers all generously sharing their viruses with everyone around them – it meant that I was paying attention to what was going on.

Over January and February, I didn’t use my Emergency Fund at all. I quietly topped up on staples and non-perishables as part of my normal shops. By the beginning of March I was looking to be in good shape. I took a little holiday and enjoyed myself. Then, a week or so later was when the proverbial hit the fan. You remember – when people started panic buying toilet paper, flour and tissues.

The middle of March was the first time I deployed my Emergency Fund. The last time I tapped it was the beginning of 2019 when Tom28 needed a loan to repair his car. He paid it back within 2 months and then the emergency fund just sat there, biding its time.

Sourdough, baked with flour bought in The Great Costco Shop of March 17.

Remember when I wrote about going to Costco the day after our state Premier announced a state of emergency? As David26 and I rounded the corner after parking our car and saw the 1,000+ people ahead of us in the queue, I decided that if we were going to brave this, we were going to make it worth while.

In the back of my head were all my fears about the ‘just in time’ policy that our supermarkets have. For years I’ve been telling the boys that you don’t want to be out panic-buying supplies when everyone else is fighting for them too. Far safer to be at home while everyone else is wild-eyed and desperate. That trip to Costco was illuminating. Turns out I was correct.

We were only there in the first place because David25 wanted to bring some supplies to his girlfriend’s family. Ok, fair enough, but I was damned if I was going to race around behind one of those huge Costco trolleys, dodging hundreds of last-minute panic buyers just to buy things for other people! If I was going to be doing this crazy thing, I was going to top up our own supplies as well.

So we bought bulk bags of plain flour, bulk dry pasta, another big bag of grain-free dog food, oil, eggs, coffee, cleaning supplies… between what we bought for Izzy’s family and ours we loaded up the trolley.

On the way home we passed Dan Murphy’s. Seeing as we were already stocking up and it was definitely a ‘Spend Day,’ (more on that later), we turned in. There were only about 6 other people in the whole place. We were definitely ahead of the trend in buying alcohol! We bought heaps of wine, ( I don’t want to do without my shiraz in the evenings!) and I shouted David26 and Ryan25 some vodka, beer and spiced rum.

Earlier that day, at 8AM, I’d been to Bunnings, buying fence paint and potting mix. I’d thought ahead and realised that I’d need to occupy myself in the lockdown I was sure was going to come.

All up on that day we spent around 2K.

That’s when I deployed the Emergency Fund. I pulled 2K out from it and put it straight onto my credit card. I didn’t have to go into debt to shore up our defences – we had the cash. After all, if a pandemic isn’t classed as an emergency, I don’t know what is!!!

But then came something else…

A week after we went into iso, my oven broke down. Great timing, hey? It had come with the house, was cheap and nasty and was always something that I was going to get replaced, but I wasn’t planning on doing it any time soon.

Now this WAS an emergency. I’d just begun a sourdough starter – I needed an oven to cook in!

This was where the Emergency Fund proved its worth yet again. If I had no money set aside and had to buy something on my credit card, I know full well I would have probably bought another cheap and nasty oven – anything to get food hot and ready for dinner. I’d want to limit what I put on the card, so it would have been the cheapest I could buy. This would mean that a couple of years down the track I’d be in the exact same position that I was now – hating the oven and wanting to buy a new one.

But now? I knew that I wanted a German-built self-cleaning oven. Something sturdy and of good quality that would last for years. These ovens don’t come cheap.

I’m of the mindset that I’d rather do something right and only have to do it once, rather than trying to cheaply do things and end up having the same problem over and over. The Emergency Fund meant that I had the money there to get the job done right – first time. Sure, I was a bit annoyed at having to spend the money right now – this was a job that I would have been happy to palm off to some future time – but having the Emergency Fund meant that I could take care of it properly.

(On an aside – you should have seen the guys who came to deliver and install it a week later. They were gloved and masked – it almost looked like they were going to rob the place!!)

So the oven, plus installation, cost nearly $1,800. That’s nearly 4K to come out of that account in a couple of weeks. So how does running the Emergency Fund look like after this?

Easy.

As soon as you tap the Emergency Fund, the iron-clad rule is that you devote the next however-many-pay-packets-long to building it up again. You want to get it back to its original level as soon as you can, ready for the next unexpected event.

Sure, the timing’s been a little annoying. With that dip in the share market, I would have loved to be buying cheapish shares with my surplus money like a lot of FI/RE people have been saying that they’ve been doing, but in the Jones household financial security comes first. This means that a strong Emergency Fund is the top priority.

My next pay is on Wednesday. I have $500 to go to get my Emergency Fund back to its pre Covid-19 level. How have I done it so quickly?

Haha! My secret weapon – my ‘No Spend Days’ chart. It’s all about turning buying things and spending money from a mindless activity to an INTENTIONAL one.

I posted about how it works HERE. It’s worth reading if you think that this might be something that will help you have fun tracking your spending. It really works for me.

Basically, every day that I don’t spend anything, I get to colour in a square. if I have 3 or less days a week where I’ve spent money, I get to colour in a silver square at the end of the week.

The idea isn’t that I never spend any money at all – that’s obviously unsustainable. But what it does is to force me to consciously consider WHEN and WHAT I spend my money on. It turns spending from a constant dribble out of my wallet to a truly deliberate decision.

Now have a look at the screenshot I took from my chart. It’s showing March and April. April is orange – March is yellow.

It’s amazing how, if you don’t need anything, how your spending can go down!

From the 7th of March, I was away on my little holiday at Bowral. You can see there’s a spend of $260 on a helicopter ride – that’s not a usual item in my budget! I arrived home the following Tuesday, had a ‘no spend’ day after that where I just chilled at home… but then I swung into gear mopping up the last of the Covid-19 lockdown preparations.

On the 14th March you can see my ‘panic-buy’ at Spotlight, where I bought $174 worth of quilting supplies. A few days after that, on March 17, was the hideous Costco shop, along with the Bunnings and Dan Murphy buys. I deliberately grouped them all together, knowing that they’d be substantial. Geographically, they were close together too – saving on petrol. Why not? 🙂

The rest of March, the shopping was just for little incidentals to pick up tiny things I may have missed. An example is the $10 yeast on the 25th March.

But look at what happens once April starts:

Well ok, buying the oven on the first day of the month was annoying, as well as having to take a sick dog to the vet. But after that, the spending has plummeted. Why do I need to spend money once everything I need has been taken care of?

Some people I see on Twitter and Facebook are preening themselves on their cleverness in using online shopping to buy food and anything else they want, saying that they’re taking themselves out of the line of infection. But that doesn’t sit right with me – I think that by doing that, you’re putting other people INTO the line of infection by having to get your order to you. I know people need the work, but for me? I’d rather know that I’ve looked after ourselves and we’re not asking other people to risk their health just so we can bunker down and feel safe.

I’m lucky in that I still have a wage coming in. Most of that wage has so far been replenishing the Emergency Fund. But this is something that anyone can do whether they have a job or not – I know because I did it myself when I was absolutely broke and living on the Sole Parents Pension.

It doesn’t matter if you can afford to tip a thousand, a hundred or ten dollars a pay into building your emergency Fund back up – IF YOU KEEP ON DOING IT EVERY PAY, IT WILL GET THERE EVENTUALLY. You just have to keep the long view in mind and know that it will happen and you’ll be all the more secure for it.

As for our long streak of not spending any money, this will end tomorrow. With all of the delicious sourdough I’ve been making – (RECIPE HERE, thanks to latestarterfire’s recommendation), we’re down to our last stick of butter.

I’ll be whisking myself off to Aldi to buy butter, top up our fresh produce (though the garden has been a godsend in keeping us away from the shops – (another security measure I should maybe write about??) and to buy some chicken chips. I still have some chocolate, but nothing beats the salty crunch of potato chips/crisps when I’m watching ‘Survivor’.

In a few days my Emergency fund will be back to normal and I can relax, knowing that when – not if – the next unexpected thing hits us, the one thing we won’t have to worry about is money.

And that’s a precious thing.

How quilting is exactly like working towards Financial Independence.

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

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

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

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

Is this shade of yellow too yellow?

Is this grey too blue?

Which fabric will look good on the back?

Should I do the quilting in yellow or grey thread?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s an ETF?

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

What’s this Trinity Study 4% thingy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my next project, apart from face masks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fooling myself that I was doing “research.”

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

Until last weekend.

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

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

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

The next thing paralysing me was this little face.

NOT a sleek, short-haired dachshund face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why owning your home trumps renting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what else is on my list?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A home that suits ME.

Accidentally frugal and slightly extravagant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poppy.
Poppy.

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

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

But they can wait…

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

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

Lockdown was my retirement ‘training wheels’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the freedom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same with the side fence.

My veggie garden had to be made ready for winter.

I have 2 quilts to finish.

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

I needed to master sourdough bread making.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown at Frogdancer’s place.

Scout was very sick for a couple of days, but now she’s back to normal.

So it’s been a week since schools shut down when the school holidays were brought forward by 4 days and we’re now in official ‘school holiday’ time. Lockdown was officially brought in on Saturday night (I think), so what has been going on here while the country grinds slowly to a halt?

David26 packing his bags to move over to his girlfriend’s place. She lives at home with her parents…

We had the uncomfortable chat with adult kids that a lot of families are having, especially since the new laws came in forbidding meetings of more than 2 people. David26 was over at Izzy’s place when all of this came into effect. For newer readers, Izzy is immunocompromised as she’s fighting leukaemia. After checking with Izzy’s family, David26 has elected to stay there for the duration.

He came back, masked and gloved, to pack some clothes, food and musical equipment. He’s spending his days helping Izzy’s Dad with major renovations on their house, (aka learning some manly skillz) and writing lots of music with Izzy. He’s happy.

Evan23, facetiming from Ballarat. Strike a pose!

Evan23 is up in Ballarat with the other people from his acting course. This photo was what he sent after I said that his hair looked lustrous. It made me laugh! Apple doesn’t fall far, as they say. He’s moved into the share house that his girlfriend lives in, along with one of the other podcast guys. Lots of board games, lots of drinking, lots of painting. He bought canvases and paint as part of his panic buying before the lockdown.

Tom28 is an accountant and so far he’s been able to hang onto his job. We have long phone calls nearly every day.

Fortunately, I’m sharing lockdown with the quietest and most introverted son. Our house is blissfully quiet. The only sounds I hear, apart from his lectures from his uni course, are music or ‘Animal Crossing’ drifting from his room. We have little chats, then part to do our own things, then we meet up again to share things we’ve seen online etc. It’s chilled.

I posted this shot below, after a wonderful moment on Saturday night.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been back since, because on Sunday little Scout came down with a tummy bug and was really quite sick for a couple of days. Then, just as she was getting better, Jeffrey came down with it.

Jeff this morning.

Jeffrey was VERY sick. So sick that I took him to the vet at 8 AM yesterday. She couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so directed me to feed him boiled chicken and rice. This morning he ate some, the first food he’s had for over 2 days. He then wagged his tail. I’d say he’s turning the corner. Phew!

Correction still goes on…

I had to bring home some correction and I was getting kids who had self-isolated earlier to send me work via email, so I was still keeping busy in the last few weeks of term. One poor little boy, who only scored 4/30 on his grammar test, sent me what sounded like a chirpy little email after I released his mark to him.

Something along the lines of “Hi Ms Jones! Could you please send me my grammar test so my Mum and tutor can go over it with me? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!”

Poor kid. That’s the LAST thing anyone would want. His Mum was almost certainly standing by his shoulder, dictating what to type. I’d already given him 15 extra minutes to complete the test, as I knew he struggles with English. Fortunately – or UNfortunately, depending on whether you’re the student or his Mum – his was a test I’d brought home. So I photo-ed the pages and emailed them across.

Another chirpy email thanked me. Poor kid…

Our fence – naked.

One of the projects I want to get done is to paint the front fence. Over the fullness of time, the lawn will be mostly replaced by garden beds. It’ll be an oasis. The following photo is the colour scheme I’ve chosen.

Soon…

My parents have been gallivanting around, so I had a stern talking-to with them. They’re over 80, for God’s sake. Anyway, after this, they’ll either heed what I say or they just won’t tell me. After all we’ve been through with them, health-wise, over the past year, you’d think they’d be more sensible.

My first pumpkin.

It was the end of the month yesterday, so I did my usual monthly net worth check. I estimated that it would’ve gone down around 150K due to the wild ride that the share market has been delivering. Imagine my relief when I was ‘only’ down 107K!! Feels like a bargain! Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

But look at this fine pumpkin. I’ve never been able to grow them before, but the compost materials I’ve been bringing home from work, coupled with the wicking beds, have brought forth a bonanza of pumpkins. I’m so happy. This one was so heavy it fell off the vine, so Ryan25 brought it in. It’s sitting next to the tromboncino zucchini seeds I’m drying for next year.

Ryan25 just came in to tell me that it looks like Australia is starting to flatten out the curve, which is good news. Meanwhile in the US, this is happening:

It beggars belief, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I hope that you and yours are safe and well. It’s a time to quietly enjoy our nearest and dearests and live life at a slower pace. It’s Wednesday morning at 10:30 and I’m still sitting on the couch in my pjs. On a normal Wednesday I would have taught 2 classes by now! Jeff is snoring beside me, Ryan25 is playing some 80’s music and the sun is shining. I’ll have brunch and get out into the garden today, I think.

Stay safe! Stay home!

Teaching in the time of Coronavirus.

Cartoon of schoolroom crowded with kids.
People don’t realise, but kids are often this close together in schools, just walking to and from classes. Trying to keep social distancing is impossible. There’s not enough room.

“May you live in interesting times” goes the ancient blessing/curse. Well here we are. Two weeks ago today I was flying in a helicopter without a care in the world and now the world is in covid19 lockdown.

All except Australian schools.

As a public teacher in a very large secondary school, I’m not altogether pleased about this. In fact, I’m getting angry. Everywhere else in the world schools have been closed and kids have been taught by the teachers online. It’s exactly the same as all of these office workers now working from home. And just what has our government done? Looked around the world and latched on to the only country who has kept kids at school and has dampened down the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re following the Singapore model of keeping kids in school,” says our Prime Minister.

Except they’re NOT.

In Singapore every kid is temperature tested before they enter the school. If they have a temperature, they’re sent home. As soon as they’re through the school gates, they’re made to wash their hands with soap. This is critical to the success of the Singapore model.

In Australia?

The kids wander in, mingling freely with their friends. Their lockers are jammed together in little areas, so the kids are literally standing over, around and under each other to get their books and laptops to get to class. No one takes their temperature. No one makes them wash their hands unless they go to the toilet where (hopefully) they do that then.

The government is refusing to do the very things that make the Singapore and Taiwan models work. Yet they’re saying that we’re following these models to keep our schools safe. It’s total BS.

So if even one kid is incubating, we won’t know about it. The alarming thing is, given all of the crowding together that is a natural part of school life, a kid who is incubating the coronavirus won’t just pass it on to the 2.6 people that we see in the graphs and charts. They’ll pass it on to far more.

Ever seen kids in a line at the canteen at lunchtime??? Even the kids that aren’t buying anything swarm around the area, drawn by the smell of hot food and the hope that they’ll be able to scavenge a chip from someone. I have yard duty at the canteen at lunchtime tomorrow. I’ll be surrounded by literally hundreds of kids. It only takes one kid to be carrying the virus…

We have a school with around 2,300 teenagers and 200 teachers. It’s not a huge, sprawling campus. The corridors and passageways between buildings are always crowded in between classes. You’d be lucky to get 1.5cms between people at these times, let alone 1.5 metres, which is the official guideline for social distancing.

Two days ago the Prime Minister announced new rules for indoor gatherings. “…what we are now moving to is an arrangement for gatherings of less than 100, is that there would be 4 square metres provided per person in an enclosed space, in a room. So that’s 2 metres by 2 metres.”

Great. Sounds good. But schools are exempt from this rule. Imagine how big classrooms would have to be to allow that much space for 28 kids and a teacher? So although everyone else in society has to stay away from each other, we’re still all jammed into small rooms for 6 periods a day.

School desks in a rows.
An accurate representation of ‘social distancing’ in our classrooms at present.

As of Friday, we were directed to move all tables apart in rows, in an attempt to keep kids as far away from each other as possible. I had a year 7 class. Twenty kids were at school, while 8 had chosen to stay home.

“Why are we doing this?” asked Shaye, as the kids were obediently moving their tables into the new positions.

“It’s the coronavirus. We’re just trying to keep people as safe as we can,” I said.

“But it’s pointless!” she said. “Our lockers are centimetres apart!!”

If a 13-year-old girl can see it and our politicians can’t, there’s more to worry about than covid19. And then of course, during the course of the lessons that followed, I walked up and down and around those set-apart desks to keep an eye on the kids’ work, to offer help and to generally make sure the kids were on track.

If I’d kept appropriate social distancing, I’d be teaching them from outside through an open window. It’s ridiculous.

I want to state very clearly that I don’t blame my principal or the admin team for this at all. Their hands are tied. We’re a public school and until the government changes their mind, they have to keep the school open.

Our school is doing the best it can, such as staggering the beginning of lunchtimes, ( years 7 and 8 go out 10 minutes before the end of period 4 to reduce congestion at the canteen) and staggering the end of the day (years 9 and 10 leave 10 minutes earlier than everyone else to reduce the congestion at the school gates.) Hand sanitiser containers have been fixed to the wall outside staff toilets and in places like the Theatre where I teach drama. All my year 9’s now have ultra-clean hands before we start our lessons!

But it’s not enough. The whole philosophy underpinning this is that “Kids don’t get sick from coronavirus.” That doesn’t mean that they can’t carry it. And guess what? Not everyone in a school is in their teens. To the surprise of no one, teachers tend to be older than their students. Sometimes much older. But who cares? Teachers are expected to soldier on, coming in close contact every day with kids who could be asymptomatic.

The definition is as follows: “In medicine, a disease is considered asymptomatic if a patient is a carrier for a disease or infection but experiences no symptoms.”

I’m 56. I’m in a high-risk work environment. Because of this, I’ve decided to self-isolate from my elderly parents and my brother who suffered a stroke on Christmas Day last year. Ironic, because the very reason I went part-time this year was to spend time with my Mum and brother. I, and many teachers like me, are growing increasingly aware that our employer is gambling with our health. We’re the sacrificial lambs in all of this.

As of last week, teachers have been directed to take everything we need to teach from our homes home each night. Kids have been told to take the contents of their lockers home, only bringing to school the textbooks and materials needed for each day’s classes. We’re ready for on-line education. Heck, we’re doing it now for the kids who are already self-isolating. But the government refuses to act.

One kid who is coming down with the virus or is a carrier is a huge risk to the school community. It’s not as if the virus respects school gates, stepping back and waiting politely for the end-of-day bell to ring before continuing on its biological imperative of infecting as many hosts as possible. Students, teachers and the support staff are all living with what seems to be a ticking time bomb.

Personally, I’d rather teach kids where ALL of us can be safe. At the moment, that is on-line. The government is gambling with teachers’ and students’ health and I’m not happy about it.

Finally, let me post an article I saw on Facebook that was written by a doctor last week. He argues the points why he and his wife chose to pull their kids out of school last week to self-isolate. It deserves a read.

Adam Roberts18 March at 22:14

LOCKDOWN FOR YOUR FAMILY

This is why I have pulled my kids from school. I’m a doctor who works at two hospitals in a city of 300,000 people. The hospitals aren’t in overload. We have hardly any cases of suspected coronavirus cases in hospital. It’s the calm before the storm. Medical staff are bracing themselves for whatever might be in a few weeks. School holidays are 9 days away for public schools.

The government won’t close down schools early because:
Reason #1. “It will take essential health professionals away from looking after sick patients”
Concerns: If my child comes home from school with a sore throat or cough my child won’t get tested for COVID-19 as per state health policy. As a parent of a potentially infected child, I will be quarantined for 14 days even if I don’t have symptoms. Even if I get tested, if I don’t have symptoms, a negative test won’t clear me to go back to work. If I stay home to look after my sick child, my quarantine will last longer than 14 days at a high risk that at some point I may develop symptoms and end up being also infected. If I allow my wife to soldier on without my involvement, I must quarantine myself somewhere outside the home (probably in a tent in the backyard feeling absolutely fine, while I watch the rest of my family become infected. Then after 14 days of braving out my quarantine, I will wave my sick family goodbye to save the patients who don’t mean as much to me (sorry, have to be honest).

Reason #2. “Unsupervised teenagers will flock to malls spreading contagion everywhere”
Concerns: Don’t sick teenagers usually stay at home rather than running around the mall coughing all over people. Is hanging out at the mall in groups of 3-5 friends more or less of a transmission risk than hanging out in classes of 20 to 30 students at school? And I didn’t think teenagers hung out at the mall with grownups. But they do hangout with susceptible grownups at schools. Have we thought about the teachers altruistically looking after our children, who then go home hoping they haven’t just passed on the virus to their own family?

Reason #3: “Grandparents will be exposed to children who may be carriers”
Concerns: Consider this. The government believes there isn’t a lot of infection in schools at present. Which makes now the perfect time to have grandparents locked in with their grandkids at home leaving parents to save the world. If we wait till there is community spread, we’ve lost the chance to have grandparents save the day. In fact, we have now made it impossible for grandchildren to hug their grandparents without worrying that they’ve dealt a death blow to Nana. We are acting as if numbers are really quite low and that we have time, when in fact waiting to act limits our options.

So today, I came home from work, changed my clothes, sanitised and washed my hands, and wrestled with my 5 year old son who has been in lockdown since Friday. How many health professionals can do that now with confidence? Closing schools and locking down now gives us a huge advantage which we will lose if we don’t do the inevitable now. If you don’t think it’s inevitable then you will need to explain why you think we are immune when almost all of Europe is in lockdown.

In the end, you’ve gotta laugh… What else can we do?

Edited to add: look what happened a few hours after I pressed ‘publish’.

I’m a miracle worker!!!!

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