Burning Desire For FIRE

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

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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.

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!!!!

Financial Independence – the most bitter pill of all.

What’s the point of FIRE? Why bother to reach financial independence? Personally, my go-to answer has always been ‘Freedom.’ I propelled my way to FI on the twin goals of wanting security for my family and freedom to spend my days as I, (and not the school timetabler), chose. But imagine my shock and horror when, after reaching my goal, I find out that in order to truly enjoy the FI/RE life to the full, I’ll have to radically change an aspect of myself that I’ve always held dear. It’s a bitter pill indeed.

Ever since the day I left my husband 23 years ago with $60 cash in my hand, (I gave him the other $60 in the account because fair’s fair, it was a joint account), and dragging the 4 little boys under 5 with me, I’ve craved financial security. Over time, as that goal became closer, it morphed into a desire for overall financial freedom. Six or seven years ago I stumbled across Go Curry Cracker’s blog and asked in the comments what ‘FIRE’ meant – (I went back a few weeks ago and yes – it’s still there!) – and I’ve been steadily and intentionally making my way there ever since.

However, since my brother had his stroke on Christmas Day and my aunt died in January, I haven’t been motivated to write very much. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and evaluating. My nephew was also battling lymphatic cancer, while being a father to 2 and expecting number 3 later this year, (he’s all clear now!), while people I’ve known for years at work are struggling with various health issues like Parkinsons and other things. Also, Mum falling and breaking her shoulder has affected her mobility ever since.

Maybe, I began thinking, I should look at what’s happening around me and realise that maybe age is catching up to some of us. Not me, of course! I’m youthful and dewy still. Yes… but still…

… maybe our bodies don’t simply carry on forever? What am I actually doing to maintain fitness?

Ugh.

Fitness.

I’ve never been one to go for a walk just for the sake of it. What’s the point? I’ll walk to the shops, I’ll definitely walk the dogs and I’ll walk to the library to return books, but why on earth would anybody walk for fun?!? As for sports… yeah nah. I don’t mind watching a good tennis match and I watch the AFL Grand Final every year, but as for actually playing a sport? No thanks. God invented books for a reason and that is so people can curl up on the couch and read them.

There’s no denying it. I’m not fit. At all. Never have been. This blog post from 2015 shows a photo of Steep Hill in Lincoln. What I didn’t mention in this post, because I didn’t want to worry my family, was that as we were driving away after walking up this incredibly steep street, I had pains in my chest. Poor Scott thought I was going to have a heart attack. Fast forward to my trip to North Korea in 2018, when I had to quit a walk up to the top of a mountain because I knew I’d never make it.

Yesterday I learned that A, my ex-husband, is going into hospital on Monday for a triple by-pass. He’s only 3 years older than I am! My God, it seems like everyone in their 50’s is dropping like flies!

Now, I realise that I’m writing in a niche where bloggers reveal all when it comes to their intimate figures. On their spreadsheets, that is. Well, I’m not about to reveal any intimate figures, either on my rotund frame or numerically. I don’t think the internet is quite ready for the former. But I haven’t been happy with my level of fitness for many years now, so something has to be done.

First step – I bought a Fitbit, (because there’s no doubt I’m a lazy cow). After all, what isn’t measured can’t be managed. Apparently, exercise helps stave off strokes and stuff. I began with not changing a thing about my life, just to see the baseline of where my steps are. It was in the summer school holidays, so it was always going to be low.

Turns out that if I have a book-reading day, my steps are as low as 2,000. Yikes! A normal day would be around 4,000. No wonder I’m getting to be what used to be described as a “cosy armful.” So I set the goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Turns out going from 4 to 10 thousand steps is really hard. So instead of beating myself up, I’m now looking at my average daily steps each week and aiming to improve on them each week. I figure that’s a more sustainable way to get into the habit of moving more. I’ve now reached the stage of giving the dogs an extra walk if I’m low in steps, which they love.

Though I didn’t think ahead when I bought Scout. Those tiny little legs can’t walk a long way before they get tired. I can’t leave her behind when I walk the other dogs because she literally screams. You’d swear she was being torn limb from limb. Still, I guess me carrying her adds to the weight loss goal.

I was talking with Jen, my sister-in-law today. She says she has a Pilates machine at home and she invited me to test drive it. She’s as thin as a twig and is constantly moving, so I’m going to go over there and have a go. Why not?

I can’t see myself ever being a fitness fanatic, but there’s no doubt that I’d be a fool if I ignored everything that’s going on with the people around me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but better I swallow this than a packetful of Haribo Gummy Bears.

After all, what’s the point of becoming financially independent and retiring early(er) if you’re too fat and unfit to do anything with all that freedom?

I gave myself the gift of time.

Well, the Australian school year began two weeks ago and I – I have begun my new life of part-time work. Yes, I gave myself the gift of time. And boy, do I have a story to tell you!

At the beginning of last year, I had no intention of going part-time. I was racing towards my FIRE number and I thought I’d simply push on through with full-time work until I reached it. But then Mum had a bad fall and broke her shoulder. It brought home to me the fact that my parents aren’t getting any younger and I really should step up and spend some more time with them. So, before I could talk myself out of it, I went to see my principal and asked for 2 days off a week in 2020 – one for Mum, one for me.

Fortunately, she also has ageing parents so she understood and agreed. This year I’m working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Thursday afternoons devoted to taking Mum to her physical rehab appointments, while Thursday mornings I’ll spend with my brother in his rehab place as he deals with the aftermath of his stroke.

But Tuesdays are for MEEEEE!

The Australian school year started a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve had a bit of a taste of what my life will now look like. And it’s not bad…

The first school day for teachers was on Tuesday January 28. Now, Tuesday is one of my days off but all teachers had to attend school that day due to Important Teacherly Meetings and such, so I got a day off in lieu, where I can choose the date of my day off. Remember this because it’s important later.

At the end of Wednesday, I announced to the staffroom, “I’ve worked two days in a row. I’m exhausted!! I’m never doing this again. See you Friday!”

Judging by the comments flung my way after that, they now all hate me.

Last week was the first week where it was Business As Usual. Monday was a workday, then came Tuesday. That morning, my feet hit the floor at precisely the time when, if it was any other year, I’d be throwing things into my bag and racing out the door. I loved getting up, feeling rested and leisurely making my morning coffee.

I took the dogs for a long walk and then surveyed the hundreds of tomatoes that I had ripening on the benches in the kitchen. I decided that I’d have to spend time harvesting them and putting them into the freezer for meals.

I put on my son’s podcast, grabbed a chopping board, a knife and the thermomixes and got to work. I’ll blog about this in more detail later, but suffice to say that I worked from 9 – 4 processing bags of tomatoes, squash/zucchini and herbs to make the basis of 50 pasta meals. Yes, FIFTY.

They’re all in the freezer and amazingly, my kitchen is now filled with just as many ripening tomatoes as before. My garden has gone crazy. But do you know what the really crazy thing is?

In previous years when I was harvesting produce from the garden, I had to do it on the weekends. I’d be chopping things and bagging things like a threshing machine, all the while thinking, “Argh!!! This is taking so long! I’ve got a million other things I need to be doing! WHY is this taking so long? I don’t have TIME for this!!!

But this time? I was chilled. I was working steadily but it wasn’t a problem. In fact, I wasn’t even conscious of how much time it was all taking until in the afternoon, chatting with Ryan25, I saw a secondary school kid crossing the street. “What’s the time?” I said. “I just saw a kid either walking home or wagging.”

“It’s 3:30,’ he said.

Wow. The whole day passed in the kitchen and I wasn’t stressing out about how long it was taking. This was bonus time – I Got Things Done that would normally have been put off until the next weekend. I was relaxed and feeling productive. What a great feeling!

This really brought home to me how cool this new work/life balance is going to be. There is no way I could have even considered this before I became financially independent, but now I have options. And speaking about cool – how cool is it that it all fell into place just as my parents and brother needed me to have more time?

It definitely shows that working towards financial independence is the way to go, even if you think that you don’t want to give up working. You never know when your priorities will shift and it’s nice to able to have the choice, without money being the major thing holding you back.

But remember that day in-lieu? This story gets better…

The second day back, I was talking with some of the young Maths girls in the staffroom and I mentioned that I’ll be able to choose a day off in the next few weeks.

Emily’s face lit up and she said, “Frogdancer! You should take the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend off. Then you’d get Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off!”

OMG. Mind Blown.

And to think I was planning to teach my 3 classes for a few days, see which class I liked the least and then take off a day when I had them for a double. WHAT an idiot I am!

I raced over to the Daily Organiser and got that day off locked in. I came back to the staffroom and then Emily said, “You know? You really need to go away for a holiday…”

“You know? I really DO!” I said.

I jumped onto my computer and within 15 minutes I booked a three-night getaway in Bowral, just outside Sydney. I was supposed to be working on Important Teacherly Stuff but hey… this was more important.

Bowral is a cute, funky little place with art galleries, cafés, bushwalks and the Don Bradman Cricket Museum, (not that I’ll be bothering to set foot into THAT place! Hate cricket with a passion.) It’s an 8-hour drive from Melbourne, so I’ll take the car and have a real road trip. It’ll be just me, my podcasts, my books and a thirst for sedate adventure.

It’s already shaping up to be a great year! Hmmm, I wonder how I’ll spend my day off tomorrow???

My backyard beach. 🙂

Sow the seed, so you can reap the harvest.

Cavalier and Dachshund on the couch.
Poppy in the background, Scout seductively in the front. Just chillin’.

I know I said I’d be back when my head clears. I don’t know if I’m quite there, but after today (Monday – a public holiday) I go back to work, so if my head isn’t ready to deal with Real Life by now, it definitely has to be by tomorrow! But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that things I’ve put in place in the past have started to come to fruition in the present. Sow the seed now to enjoy the future.

As people playing along at home may remember, tomorrow is the first day of my new, part-time life. It marks the beginning of a new stage in my life. A stage where, for the first time since I left my marriage 22 years ago, I have actively decided to decrease the amount of money I earn, instead of frantically trying to bring home as much money as I could from my job and any side-hustles I could find.

I never thought I’d be in a position to drop my days of work down to 3 days a week – let along reach financial independence before I was 67! Yet here we are. Seriously people, keep chipping away that that debt/paying off that mortgage/salary sacrificing into superannuation and throwing money at investments. Sow the seeds before you need them, even when you think that the goal of financial independence is so far away you’ll never reach it. Sometimes life will surprise you.

The time will pass anyway, whether you look to the future or not. You might as well be a little bit frugal and put money aside for when you’re older. It can’t hurt and it might help.

It definitely did for me.

Cavalier on the couch.
Jeffrey, just chillin’.

My brother’s condition remains unchanged. Jen, my sister-in-law, has gone to the country for the long weekend to spend time with her family, so yesterday I went to the hospital to see him. When he woke, he was surprisingly lucid. He definitely knew me, laughed when I said I was distraught about having to go back to work in 2 day’s time, noticed my big solitaire diamond ring and even remembered what his dog’s name was when I asked him.

Sometimes the lights are on and some of him is at home, other times not. I was lucky I happened to strike him at a good time.

New paling front fence.
The latest project.

Meanwhile, the projects continue at The Best House in Melbourne. We now have a new front fence and electric gate. I was tired of the little woofs defending us against all other dogs, prams and motorised scooters for the elderly, so I decided to block their line of sight. You may remember a little while ago I decided to harvest some profits from my investments and Get Some Jobs Done? This is the first of them.

In a month or so after the timber has been seasoned, it’ll be painted. Just wait till you see what it looks like! I always think it makes life more fun when you have something to plan and to look forward to.

Tomatoes and squash in the kitchen.
It’s a bit dark. Sorry. Hundreds of free tomatoes ripening, lots of squash and some coffee grounds waiting to be put into the garden soil.

While I’ve been preoccupied with family matters, the garden has been powering along. Currently, I have piles of tomatoes gently ripening in the kitchen where the birds can’t get them, while beans are hanging by the hundreds and squash and zucchini are growing so fast you could almost swear you can see them doing it.

Back in November I wrote a post called ‘Growing a portfolio is just like having a veggie garden.’ Now, 2 months later, we’re reaping the results of putting in that work of fertilising and planning – not to mention the work of installing the beds to begin with! Like a money nerd happily upgrading his/her net worth spreadsheets at the end of the month, there’s something deeply satisfying about being a gardener, walking back to the house with an armful of produce that you’ve grown on your own property.

Even better is when you nourish your family with what your garden has produced. It’s like the feeling you get when it’s cold and stormy outside, yet your kids are tucked up safe and warm in the home that you’ve provided. It’s a good feeling.

Incidentally, scroll back up to the photo and look at the men on the window ledge. One is from Bali, the other from South Africa. Travel is important to me and lots of tiny frugal decisions made along the way has enabled me to be a Valuist – able to have money put aside to spend where I find the most value.

A baby quilt for my brother’s grandson, who’ll be born later this year.

It’s not just spreadsheets, investments and actual plants that the harvest metaphor applies to. Hobbies and skills are another.

Back in 2008 I decided to learn how to quilt. I borrowed a sewing machine from Blogless Sandy and bought a basic pattern from the local quilt shop. The thought that tipped me over the edge was that all quilting was, was sewing little straight lines. Surely even I was capable of that?!? I made a quilt for my youngest son, Evan11, because I thought he’d be the least critical of my efforts.

Thirty-odd quilts later, here I am. The baby quilt above was a result of mixing 2 quilting ideas together to come up with a fun gift for this new little boy. There was Maths involved, (and we all know how much I hate that!), and some slight swearing, but now I have a fabulous gift that cost me nothing but time to create.

I took a break from quilting for years when I was hitting my side-hustle of Thermomix really hard, but now I’m back. I still have the skills I learned and the fabric I bought back in the day and now, given that I’m only working part-time this year, I have the time to devote to creating more beautiful and snuggly things for the people I love.

I didn’t start off intending to write about sowing and reaping, but as I wrote, the thread seemed to be clear. I’m writing from a position where, because of hundreds of tiny actions and decisions made over the last 2 decades, I’m able to begin to start harvesting the rewards. I’m able to spend serious coin on the things that matter to me and to ease off the throttle of full-time teaching to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers.

I hope that anyone reading this who is still on the earlier parts of the journey (how I hate that word but sometimes there’s no alternative!) will see that there’s no need to get discouraged or disheartened by how long a road there seems to be in front of you.

By sowing the seeds of financial independence, learning new skills and hobbies along the way and having little projects and things to look forward to, you’re not only laying the foundations for an excellent life for Future You – you’re also enjoying your current life along the way.

Remember, the time passes whether you’re sowing the seeds or not. You might as well intentionally scatter some as you go.

Two years into early(ish) retirement – interview.

Yachts from the beach.
Beach views…

I’m always interested when retired people continue writing their blogs, or when people post interviews with people who have already reached early(ish) retirement. So many of us in this space are still working our way towards the time when we can strap on our socks and sandals and skip off towards the sunset, so it gives me great motivation to hear from people who have reached the goal and can let us know what it’s like to live the dream.

Today I have a post from my best friend Blogless Sandy. She and her husband retired a couple of years ago, long enough to settle into it, so I thought it’d be interesting to hear her perspective on this whole retirement thing. The photos she’s attached also means we can literally see her perspective as well!

Here she is:

Blogless Sandy at a vineyard.
After a lazy mid-week lunch at a winery.

I’m Blogless Sandy, aptly named by Frogdancer because my real name is Sandy and I don’t have a blog. Who would have thought an English teacher could be so imaginative!

Anyway, given that Frogdancer is working her way towards retirement and I’m already there, she has asked me to write about my experience of retirement so far, a whole 2½ years of it. This all started after her post quite while back titled “Retire? But what will you DO all day?” and a discussion we had at the time about retirement in general. Frogdancer and I met 24 years ago when our kids were still babies and we’ve remained best friends ever since, so we discuss stuff a lot.

A little bit about me. I’m married with 2 adult children and 2 grandchildren. My husband and I retired to the Mornington Peninsula (about an hour from Melbourne, Australia) 2½ years ago, after selling our large family home in a suburb of Melbourne. My husband, who is 11 years older than me, had just retired. Selling our home and buying a smaller house further from the city meant I could also retire immediately. I was 56, so although not an early retirement by FIRE standards, it was still a lot earlier than most Australians manage.

The beach at the end of her street.
Blogless Sandy, like me, has a dog beach at the end of her street. How handy!

I retired on a Thursday and we moved to our new home (the best house on the Mornington Peninsula) the following Monday. When I look back I contemplate that it could have been a complete disaster. I left our family home of 24 years, my job of 27 years, our friends and everything that was familiar, moved to a totally new location, and all within the space of 4 days. Was I concerned? Not at all… well, if I’m being totally honest, maybe just a little bit.

When I announced to friends and work colleagues that I was retiring and moving, the question asked most often was “But what are you going to do?” I’d never considered that filling my days was going to be a problem, but it seemed to be a concern for others. This is understandable, given we spend a good deal of our lives in the workforce with our schedule dictated by our job. Then when we are at home, for many, much of the time is taken up with raising a family and running a house. Our lives are interspersed with holidays where we get to choose what we want to do, but trying to imagine a life that is essentially one big extended holiday can be difficult.

For me, the biggest change when I retired, apart from the obvious one of not having to work anymore, was the lack of social interaction compared to working in an office environment 4 days a week. Even though we often work with people that we are not necessarily friends with outside work, we tend to socialise quite a bit at work. We usually talk with work colleagues about our weekends, events we go to, activities we participate in and just make comments about things in general. Suddenly all that was gone! It was just me and hubby! But don’t panic, it all worked out fine, without one of us doing serious harm to the other. Just saying though, it was a huge change that I hadn’t really thought about before it happened.

Fortunately for us, we’re both reasonably self-contained people who are quite happy with our own and each other’s company. For people who struggle a little with the whole being on your own thing though, it’s probably worth considering how this will impact you. You might surprise yourself and learn to love all that “aloneness”. You may discover that you’re actually damned good company and that a bit of alone time can be quite replenishing.

Biking near the bathing boxes at Portsea.
Just another afternoon at the office on the beach.

I liked Frogdancer’s post (mentioned above) as she was obviously considering that retirement is not just about travel and sleeping in. The day to day needs to be filled with something too and having a number of projects or interests in mind is a good start. When people asked me what I was going to do in retirement, my response was that for the first 6 months I would sleep, read, knit, take long walks along the beach, spend time with my grandchildren and explore our new location. Then once I got bored with that I would consider what else I wanted to do. Of course, I had projects and activities in mind, but my initial goal was to just unwind and treat the first stage of my retirement as an extended “staycation”. I picked 6 months as an arbitrary length of time, not really knowing if it would take more or less time before the boredom began to set in.

Grandchild running down a path.
Imagine retiring early enough so you can keep up with a toddler?

And there’s that word – boredom – that we all seem to be so afraid of. Now I agree that an extended period of boredom is not a good thing, but I don’t believe that short periods of boredom are all bad. After all, if you’re a bit bored, isn’t that when you start looking for something to do? I know in my life, many a good project or new activity has been kick-started by a little bit of boredom.

One by-product of retirement is that I’ve finally learned to slow down – most of the time anyway. It took quite a while to wind back to a gentler pace, but generally I no longer feel the urgency to get everything done today, not when I can see a whole bunch of ‘todays’ in front of me. Life is not lived at the same frantic pace as before and there is more time to enjoy the small moments. Interestingly too, having learned to slow down, I just don’t need as many things to fill the day. Compared to my pre-retirement life, I now feel like I do a lot of “nothing”. It’s not really that I’m doing nothing of course, but I’m going at a slower pace and enjoying more quiet moments.

Blogless Sandy's dogs snoozing together.
Being able to spend more time with the dogs – sounds good.

I know that before I retired, I generally thought of retirement as a fixed kind of thing. You retire, you do certain things, lead a certain kind of life and that’s it until you’re carried out in a box. I realise now, that for me at least, retirement is more of an evolving process. Initial retirement was the “relax and unwind” phase. After years of raising a family and being in the workforce that’s what I needed. There were lots of sleep-ins and idle mornings, lots of lazing around. There were lots of days with nothing planned and lots of spur of the moment outings. It was wonderful, but I reached a point where I needed more than that. I’m the kind of person who functions better when I have some kind of structure to my week and that’s what I have now.

I like the sameness of familiar activities and pastimes, but I also revel in the challenge of doing new things too. Now, 2½ years into retirement I find I’m busy, but a new kind of busy. I’m busy doing the things that I want to do. I always said that when I retired I wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter, so now I walk the dogs at a shelter one morning a week.

Walking group heading off into the bush.
Taking a hike on a mid-morning Thursday.

I also participate in a walking group one morning each week, always in a different, but nearby location. I get exercise and social interaction and get to explore the local area, all in one activity. We look after our grandchildren 1 or 2 days a week, but that has become fixed days rather than the casual arrangement it started out as. I prefer the fixed arrangement as it fills my need for structure.

Yoga studio overlooking the bush.
Imagine having yoga classes in a studio with this outlook?

I always used to speak about doing yoga or pilates but had never actually done more than talk about it. I no longer had the excuse of being time-poor, so I took up yoga about 15 months ago and currently attend 5 classes a week. Then there’s the small commitment of being a member of the local beach cleaning group and trying to combat the never-ending amount of rubbish that gets left behind or washed up on our local beach. In amongst these things are the outings, the dog walking, the bike rides, the walks along the beach, the catching up with friends, the gardening and the pottering around. Oh, and just a bit of bad news, even in retirement the housework still needs to be done!

It’s a lovely kind of life that I’ve created and I’m very content. That’s not to say things can’t or won’t continue to change though. I feel free to keep creating the kind of retirement I want and as time goes on circumstances are bound to keep changing. We were only recently contemplating that before we know it our caring commitment to our grandchildren will be reduced to just school drops-offs and pick-ups. Then we found out that grandchild number 3 is on the way!

Two grandchildren hand-in-hand.
Little do they know they’ll have company soon…

I spent 12 months volunteering at 2 animal shelters and recently decided to discontinue one of the roles. I was feeling overcommitted (overcommitted in retirement! haha!!) and my role at one of the shelters was very physical and rather thankless. I kept going for the sake of the animals, but ultimately decided to focus my energy on the shelter where I feel my contribution has the most impact and is more valued. If I want to increase my shelter volunteer work again in the future I can easily commit to additional shifts at that same shelter.

As mentioned, I took up yoga about 15 months ago. I was attending classes once or twice a week and decided about 5 months ago to make a bigger commitment. I didn’t feel I was doing my yoga practice justice and wanted to see how I’d feel about the whole yoga thing if I got a bit more serious about it. So now I attend 5 classes a week and yoga is my current obsession!

After another 2½ years of retirement, my weeks may be entirely different. I may decide in the future that I want more in my weeks, less in my weeks, different or new things in my weeks. The beauty of retirement is that it’s an evolving process full of endless possibilities, limited only by what I want it to be.

So don’t be concerned when people ask you what you’re going to do in retirement and you don’t have all the answers. If you have a vague idea of some things you want to do and some interests you might want to explore, you will be able to create the perfect retirement for you.

Spa time with bubbly.
Retirement looks awful, doesn’t it?

It’s me, Frogdancer Jones again!

I really like how Sandy and her husband utilised domestic geoarbitrage in much the same way I did to free up capital that was otherwise locked into real estate. Being able to use that money to downsize and invest has shaved YEARS off her working life (and mine too! It’s 2020 – hello part-time work!!)

Something that she didn’t touch upon is that retirement looks a bit different for her and her ‘hubby’. Blogless Sandy likes a structure to her week, whereas her husband is a more ‘go with the flow’ person who takes each day as it comes.

For me, looking at how they’ve settled into their new life down on the Peninsula, it’s made early(ish) retirement seem far less risky and scary. They live life in their own ways and they’re very happy. I could do with a piece of that…

Thanks, Blogless Sandy. Enjoy your beach and your spa!

Financial stability matters when the sh*t hits the fan.

On Christmas Eve my brother Paul rang me out of the blue. It was just after dinner and I’d stopped all of my “OMG I’m hosting Christmas!” running around, so I poured a glass of wine and sat out on the front verandah and talked with him.

We spoke for maybe 20 or 30 minutes about lots of things. His son, a young dad, is undergoing chemo, my son was still in hospital with a brand-new skin graft on his foot, our Mum is in hospital ‘enjoying’ physical rehab for her broken shoulder… but we also talked about more fun things as well! At the end of his call, I thanked him for taking the time to do it because I really enjoyed it. He replied that it was good to hear my voice.

I may never be able to have a conversation like that with him again.

You see, on Christmas morning my brother had a stroke. He’s 54.

We knew Christmas Day was going to be a bit different this year, what with Mum walking around with a walker and Ryan24 being in hospital waiting to be released. I got everything ready that could possibly be prepared in advance the day before, with David26 and Ryan23 cleaning the house like mad. The next morning, I got the text from Ryan24 saying. ‘Come now. Physio’s going to be here soon‘ so I jumped in the car and raced off to Dandenong hospital. The last thing I saw when I walked out the door was Evan23 – a vegetarian – slicing the Christmas ham.

When we arrived home a couple of hours later, Christmas festivities were in full swing. Ryan24 hobbled in on his crutches, with a bandaged foot and bandaged thigh from where they took the skin graft. He has to keep the foot totally elevated for at least a week, so we settled him down at the end of the table where no one would bump his foot. Ryan23 was holding sway in the kitchen, champagne in hand, while everyone else was gathered around the coffee table enjoying the pre-lunch nibbles and drinks. I smiled. It looked like the perfect Christmas.

We were 10 around the table. My nieces weren’t there because they had to work, but for the first time ever we had a girlfriend – David26’s Izzy. Her family celebrate Christmas at night so she was able to join us. Mum and Dad, my sister Kate and brother-in-law Francis, my boys and me. Paul and Jen were spending Christmas with their immediate family.

On Christmas we always eat the main meal, then break for presents, then finish up with desserts. We were halfway through the gift-giving, where one person opens a gift at a time so we can all see what everyone gets when my phone rang. I grabbed it and slipped into my room to answer it. It was my sister-in-law Jen, telling me that she and the kids were at Monash because Paul had had a stroke that morning.

He was very lucky. He was in the shower when it happened and Jen heard the thump as he went down. Within 10 minutes the ambos were there and he was being hooked up to everything he needed to be hooked up to. He was swept straight to the hospital.

It was a strange conversation. In one ear I was hearing Jen’s voice telling me this dreadful news, while in the other ear I could hear the family laughing and joking, completely unaware of what was going on. I told Jen that I’d wait until after the gifts were open and then I’d tell them. We hung up and I went back into the room.

Sometimes being a drama teacher comes in handy. No one had a clue anything was wrong until after the last present was opened. As you can imagine, Christmas fizzled straight after that, with people leaving for the hospital immediately after hearing the news. A lot of desserts were thrown out that night…

That was 6 days ago. Paul’s speech is totally slurred. It’s major progress that he can lift his hand to scratch his chin. He had to have 2 shunts put into his brain to drain fluid away from his brain when he lapsed into unconsciousness a few days ago. It’s going to be a long road.

One thing that keeps playing on my mind, being the financial independence blogger that I am, was our conversation on Christmas Eve. I mentioned that I was dropping down to part-time next year as a glide-path towards retirement and he replied, “I can’t even think about that. I can’t afford to retire.” He laughed.

Well, no one’s laughing now.

Financial Independence and its little cousin, being Debt-Free, isn’t an optional extra if you want to have freedom and security in life. If you have to turn up to work for the paycheque, even if something catastrophic has happened to you or a loved one, then you aren’t secure and you aren’t free.

We’re coming to the end of the break between Christmas and New Years. Paul will be in hospital for at least 2 months before he goes to rehab. Jen will have to make a lot of decisions going forward, particularly in how she’ll be juggling her full-time job and caring for her husband. The decision-making would be that little bit simpler if things like mortgage and car payments weren’t a consideration.

I’m not pointing the finger at Paul and Jen. No one ever sees this sort of thing coming. But then again, that’s the point, isn’t it?

When we think of FIRE, we think of people taking back years, sometimes decades, to do the things they really want to do. We think of travelling the world, throwing away the alarm clock, going for hikes mid-week and generally having the freedom to design the life that suits each of us. We think of all the enjoyable things we could be doing. We don’t think of being hooked up to machines, unable to make anyone understand you, possibly having brain damage and having to face the possibility of never being independent again.

But isn’t that when you’d really want the freedom to make decisions that aren’t based on finances? To choose to do (or not do) things purely based on what was best for YOU, rather than what was cheapest or what enables the breadwinner to keep bringing home the money needed to keep a roof over your heads? Imagine how much stress would be lifted from the situation if finances weren’t an issue.

Seeing my brother lying in that hospital bed brought home to me the utter importance of financial security. All of these steps are talked about in the FIRE world. But it bears repeating when viewed through the lens of what has happened to Paul and Jen.

  1. Put together an Emergency Fund of around 3 – 6 months of expenses. Then leave it alone. Don’t tap into it unless you have a real emergency. Then, if your hot water service dies or your car breaks down, top it up again as soon as possible. This pool of money is there for when the worst happens. It allows your family the time and space to gather your feet under yourselves and have a calm window of time in which to assess the situation. When something completely unexpected hits, it’s a huge shock to the system. Being able to have the time and space to regroup and begin to move forward is a huge gift to your loved ones.
  2. Get rid of debt. All of it. People talk about “good debt and bad debt” but really… all debt is bad debt. You’ve essentially taken money from your future self to buy things that your present self wants and you’re making your future self pay extra (because of the interest) for the privilege. That’s all fine and dandy when things are going to plan. But if something bad happens? You’ve locked your future self into a very stressful situation. Be kind to your future self. Don’t do that to them. Get out of debt as soon as you can. It may not be quick. It took me 17 years to pay off my house. But the feeling of security and freedom when I made that last payment was unforgettable.
  3. Invest. Make your money start working for you. I’ve been stony broke – hey, I wrote about it on my ‘About’ page. It took years to dig myself out of that hole, but it was worth it. Now, I’m earning more from my investments than I’m making at my full-time job. (It’s incredible. All those charts and tables about compound interest are actually true.) But the really precious thing about it is that by building up my investments, I’m giving Future Frogdancer the gift of security and CHOICES. Hopefully, the only type of choice I’ll be making is deciding which country I’ll be travelling to each year. But if things turn pear-shaped, I, or my children, will be financially able to make the best decisions for my care going forward.

Steadily working on these steps is the smart thing to do. They range from short to long-term goals but in the end, the time is going to pass anyway so I figure that you may as well give yourself some financial stability and freedom while the years go by. Speaking from the vantage point of my mid-fifties, I’m extremely grateful to Past Frogdancer that she didn’t lose sight of the overarching goal of providing a secure base for the family as the years went by.

Financial Independence is a wonderful thing to experience when you’re young and healthy. The world is your oyster and you can live it to the full. But I think that Financial Independence really comes into its own when things don’t exactly run to the plan and you’re backed into a corner by circumstances you can’t control.

When the sh*t hits the fan, the last thing you want to be concerned about is scraping together enough money to pay the bills. That’s the ultimate reason that working towards being financially independent is an essential thing to do.

Financial stability matters. It matters a lot. Please think of your future self and work to make things easier for them.

Future You will be so glad you did.

Does gaming help to develop grit?

Ryan24 with a bandaged foot.
Home for the weekend.

Around 3 days ago I wrote about my son, Ryan24, and a conversation we had in the ER with a nurse when we were in there tending to his burned foot. The foot was damaged more deeply than initially thought and although he’s home for the weekend, he’ll need a couple of skin grafts.

The pain he’s constantly in is strong. Even after 9 days after it happened, on a scale of 1 – 10 his level is a 6 on the strong pain killers and a 9 when they wear off. Yet he doesn’t complain. He hasn’t asked to go back to the ER for stronger stuff. He’s told off David26 and me when we offer to help him with things, saying, “Leave me my independence!”

He’s displaying grit. But where does it come from? Are you born with it or is it something that is learned over time? And how can this help us along the road to financial freedom?

The two of us have talked more about pain in the last few days than we have in his entire lifetime. He’s very articulate about it, which I guess is hardly surprising, given the situation. On Friday morning, a couple of hours after standing beside his bed watching him undergo the most pain I’ve ever seen a human being experience when his bandage was being replaced after a debridement procedure the night before, he explained what intense pain is like.

“Mostly pain is easy to deal with because you can do something to ease it, like moving in a different way or something. But this is like having my foot dipped in molten lava and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. You have a pain level you know is unbearable, but up till then, you can deal with it. But when it goes a level about that, and then a level above that… and then keeps on going, there are only two things that can help you. Tears and mental gymnastics.”

(The bold emphasis is mine.)

Ryan24 is a gamer from way back. He’s been playing on consoles and computers since he was a wee tacker. He’s undergone more quests and challenges than you’ve had hot dinners. He’s used to being confronted with a danger, a problem or a dilemma and then working his way through it logically. According to his friends, he’s a good man to have on the team because he stays level-headed in a crisis and keeps the bigger picture in mind. He also has amazing map-reading skills, but that’s beside the point for this post.

This is a financial independence blog, but like the post I linked to earlier, it strikes me that Rya24 is exhibiting many of the traits that lead to success with handling money.

Like so many people who are appalled when they realise how deeply they’ve dug themselves into debt, he’s in a crisis situation. Some people promptly put their heads back into the sand and refuse to deal with the problem they’ve created for themselves. Others choose to take a clear look at their situation and start taking steps to gain relief from it.

Ryan24 is choosing to take the long view of his problem. He knows that this won’t last forever and the best thing he can do now is to listen to the experts and do everything he can to move through this, no matter how painful it may be in the short-term. His foot hurts less when he elevates it, but he chooses to lower it, endure the pain and move around every hour or so, because it’ll help his recovery further down the track if there’s more blood flow to the area.

Similarly, someone enduring the pain of financial insecurity, (which I can personally attest to being a definite mental pain), can choose to also take the long-term view. When you keep the thought and belief that this will not last forever if I make some changes firmly in the forefront of your mind, it makes it easier to make the decisions and sacrifices you need to get out of the hole easier and more likely to be made.

The “mental gymnastics” that Ryan24 alluded to are very much a gamer thing, but anyone can harness them. He’s giving himself challenges to distract himself, such as single-handedly moving his desktop computer box from his room to the man cave, so he could use his computer with the tv as a screen and be able to elevate his foot on the ottoman, as pictured. He’s wrapped all his Christmas presents, sitting on the floor so his foot is on the same level as the rest of him. Yesterday he had the tv playing clip upon clip of some American painter teaching people how to paint landscapes. He wasn’t watching it, but when I asked why he had it on he replied, “Because his voice is so calming.”

Take a listen. His voice is so soothing it could put a raging toddler to sleep!

Just like Ryan24, someone working their way out of a financial problem can use distractions and challenges to help them along the way. When I was spending all those years raising 4 children on my own and doggedly digging my way out from under the mortgage, I used to do things like see how many days I could stay out of the supermarket, using things I already had in the pantry and fridge to feed us. If you stay out of the shops you can’t be tempted to buy extra things you don’t need, right?

When I got a 9 month contract at my school, I bought a new-to-us car and vowed I’d pay off the 20K loan by the end of the contract, just in case I was out of work after it ran out. It was a stretch, but I did it. I felt like I was super victorious every time I could scrape together an extra few dollars each fortnight to throw at the debt. Meeting challenges makes you feel good. If you feel good you’ll keep on until you hit that goal. I used this tactic a LOT to keep me on the track to providing security for my boys.

That Bob Ross ploy by Ryan24 to distract himself? Costs him nothing. Yet it provides a partial solution to his problem of being overwhelmed by strong emotions when the pain hits. No one wants a panic attack! For the rest of us, there are distractions all around that we can use to take our minds off what we’re being “deprived” of as we work our way out of financial insecurity towards financial independence.

Entertainment and fun doesn’t have to cost the earth. What I found useful was to rejig some activities to enable me to still have fun but not sabotage my over-arching financial goals. For instance, when I was undergoing my 18-month stint of paying for bridging finance on my current house at 74% of my take-home pay, I had to cut my expenses to nothing. I didn’t go out very often, but I took out an $18/month Netflix subscription as my entertainment. Worked a treat! When I wanted to see the girls, I invited them to a potluck at my place instead of us meeting at a restaurant. This has become a regular thing each holidays.

Another “mental gymnastic” that I’m pretty sure Ryan24 is doing is to see how long he can stretch out the time before he takes more pain killers. This is an easily do-able tactic for the financially challenged person. How long can you go before you buy that item you really want? Can you stretch out the use of whatever-it-is before replacing it? Can you keep going for another day/week/month at that side-hustle before you pack it in? How long can you go??

Any of these challenges to stretch things out is bound to keep more money in your pocket that you can throw at your situation to make progress. If your financial goal is to put together some savings in the bank, seeing that account total rise steadily and adding to it becomes a game. It becomes addictive, almost. Seeing that debt total fall, at first slowly, then faster and faster as the amount gets smaller and the principal being paid off gets bigger is exciting. You start to LOOK for ways to avoid spending so you can see that total fall even faster. It’s fun.

Now, I’m in no way advocating that the best way to develop grit is to spill boiling hot coffee on your foot. Ryan24 assures me very eloquently that it isn’t much fun. But there are traits that we all develop from areas far outside the financial sphere that we can harness and use to work towards our goals of financial security and freedom.

Maybe a slight gaming addiction is working out to be a good thing after all?

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