Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

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Why am I going for FAT-FIRE?

Waves on our backyard beach

I’m going for FAT FIRE.

Why?

I’m working towards (what I consider to be) FAT-FIRE. I have a very important reason why I’m going for FAT-FIRE and it’s definitely rooted in my past and in my future. But what do I mean by FAT-FIRE?

I’ve seen many definitions for lean-FIRE and Fat-FIRE, and most of them put a dollar value on these terms. I think that’s pretty ridiculous, to tell you the truth. How does my lifestyle equate to anyone else’s? I’m going for FAT-FIRE, but the amount I’ll be pulling out is far less than the 100K/year which is “supposed” to be what the benchmark is for this.

The amount of money I’m aiming to amass in my portfolios and Superannuation is slated to provide me with around 20K – 25K/year more than I’ll need for my current lifestyle. That sounds like FAT-FIRE to me! I’ll be able to travel and indulge in going to the theatre, while still enjoying the frugal delights of growing my own food, walking the dogs on our “backyard beach” and reading, Netflixing and crafting. 

Aside from indulging myself with trips to Europe and the like, there’s another hugely important reason why I’m still working to scrape my FI number together. 

It’s my Grandfather.

We always called him George. Never Grandad, always George. He was my Mum’s father. He and Gran lived a couple of suburbs away when we were growing up, so we saw a fair bit of them when we were young. They were our go-to grandparents, because Dad’s parents moved to the Gold Coast, (aka ‘God’s Waiting Room), when we were little and so we only saw them every couple of years. 

George was old-school when it came to his career. He grew up in the Depression era and so had to leave school at the age of 13 and get a job as a packer in a clothing warehouse down on Flinders Lane. He worked as an unskilled labourer and brought his wages home to his mother every week. 

He was ambitious though. Every week he’d go upstairs and ask if there were any vacancies for salespeople. He was knocked back every week for 6 months or more, but he kept on climbing those stairs. Finally, probably just to shut him up, they offered him a place, but it had a pay cut of 6 shillings. When he ran home to proudly tell his mother that he was moving up the ladder, when she heard about the pay cut she burst into tears. In that era, they relied on every penny coming in to survive.

Over the years he rose through the ranks of salesman, travelling salesman, right up to being part of the management team. He stayed at the one company all of his working life in a career that was only interrupted by 5 years as an aircraft mechanic in Darwin during WWII. 

He bought their house in Murrumbeena only when his solicitor offered to lend him the money. He paid it off quickly, then in 1970, just a couple of years before he retired, he and Gran bought a little holiday house right on the beach at Inverloch for 10K. 

He retired when he was 59. I remember going over to their house to see the fat gold watch the company gave him as a farewell gift. Then he and Gran moved down to Inverloch, selling the house in Murrumbeena to pay off the mortgage. They settled into their retirement.

They were grey nomads, pulling their caravan up to Kurramine Beach, just past Cairns, for 6 months during our winter, then coming down again for 6 months during our summer. Even after Gran died, George kept up this routine until he grew too old. He then settled into Inverloch all year round, eventually dying when he was 94, after he took a fall and broke his hip.

The thing about this tale that impels me to aim for FAT-FIRE is what happened about 5 years before he died. 

George ran out of money.

I remember Mum telling me that George asked them if they’d buy the caravan from him for 5K. By that stage the van hadn’t been used for years and it was shabby and old. Mum and Dad definitely didn’t want it, but what could they do? They had to help him save his pride. So they “bought” it.

George had the Age Pension to live off, so the 5K was for extras. I can’t imagine that it would have lasted him the rest of his life, so I’m sure that Mum and Dad would have had to dip their hands into their pockets a few more times. Mum was his only child. He refused to sell Inverloch, telling Mum that “this block will be the family fortune.” (He was right about that – when Mum and Dad eventually sold it, they got nearly 700K for it. A buy and hold strategy for real estate certainly seems like the way to go!)

I can imagine the uncomfortable talk when George was asking for financial help. He was a proud man…

I NEVER want to have that talk with my boys. 

I truly believe that the best gift I can give them is the gift of my financial independence. 

When I’m George’s age… (well, he’s dead… I mean the age when the lack of money began to bite!) … my boys will presumably be raising young families, paying off mortgages, dealing with school fees and all of the expenses that come with being Dads of teenagers. They’ll be thinking of their own retirements and trying to put money away in investments, while still living their lives. 

The LAST thing they’ll want is for their Dear Old Mum to be holding out her hand for money.

The last thing I want is for their Dear Old Mum to have to ask them for money. 

If it ever happens, both they and I will know that something catastrophic must have happened, because nothing short of that would make it a reality. They’ll know that I worked my ar$e off to try and ensure that I’d be ok financially. It still wouldn’t make the conversation any less uncomfortable, though.

This is why I’m not paying for their Uni degrees. This is why I’m still at work, putting money into investments instead of setting up a glide path towards the Age Pension and leaving work now. Future Frogdancer, along with Present Frogdancer, wants to stand on her own two feet.

This is why I’m going for FAT-FIRE. 

Serene waves and blue sky.

So my test retirement began well.

Silhouette of Scout - a true sausage dog!
Silhouette of Scout – a true sausage dog!

For those people new to the blog, I’m a teacher and the Easter holidays have just started. I’ll have 2 weeks at home, so I’m calling it a ‘test retirement’ to see if I’ll be happy when I pull the pin on my job in a couple of years or so. Today is the first day.

Daylight savings reverted back to winter time on Sunday, so it was easy to sleep in till 7:00 this morning. If that doesn’t sound like a sleep-in, keep in mind that I normally get up at 5:45 on weekdays. It was a nice little novelty to let the dogs out in daylight, instead of switching all the lights on as we walk down the hall.

Twitter post describing my morning

My friend Blogless Sandy was due to come over for lunch with her new dog, a rescue called Buddy. He’s a staffy, and staffys aren’t renowned for their love of small dogs. Blogless Sandy’s Sandy’s other staffy would go for mine on sight, (if we ever let them near each other, which we don’t. We like to keep the friendship intact!), so we wanted to see how Buddy would react to them.

I had the morning to myself, as both the boys had Uni. Ryan24 had to leave early, as there was a pack of vegans who’d chained themselves to vans, protesting about meat-eaters. They were ‘helpfully’ blocking the Flinders st/Swanston st intersection – the busiest one in the whole city – and he knew there’d be delays.

Time in the house all by myself – an introvert’s dream! Thank-you, vegans! Let’s get this test retirement happening!

I did a bit of gardening out the front, some cleaning inside. I finished off a book I began yesterday – Tobias Wolff’s ‘This Boy’s Life’. It’s good – I recommend it. I thought about blogging but … meh. I wasn’t in the zone.

I went out to put some recycling in the bin and had a chat with Dave from next door – all in my pjs and bathrobe standing out in the street. He was home to build a deck on the side of his house. Not sure that a real retirement would have me hobnobbing with the neighbours in my bathrobe every day, but for a test retirement, I’ll let it go.

3 dogs lying down - Poppy and Scout on the ends, Buddy in the middle.

Buddy arrived and all was good. He’s really tall for his breed – just think of a staffy on stilts and you’d have him. He fell in love with Poppy but she wouldn’t have a bar of him. I made some dahl for lunch and we poured ourselves a glass of wine and settled in for a chat.

After they left I simply had to follow the years’ old tradition I’ve laid down for myself – the lengthy nanna nap in the afternoon. I could hear Dave from next door hammering away, but that gradually faded and the dogs and I had a restorative 2 hour sleep.

(Don’t judge me. Teaching takes a lot of energy and my nanna naps are always long when the holidays begin. I wonder how long the nanna naps will last into a real retirement? Anyone know? I have to say – it was pretty darned good in a test retirement scenario.)

Currently, it’s just before dinner time. Some rain is falling and I have the windows open so I can hear it drumming on the tin roof of the verandah. I’m happy because this means I don’t have to go outside and water the garden. I’m sipping a chardonnay and planning out my night’s entertainment – I think I’ll keep watching a documentary about the Roman emperor Commodus on Netflix.

The dogs are curled up next to me, the boys are both home from Uni and we’ll have the leftover dahl for dinner. I’ll just throw some rice in the thermomix to go with it.

If this is what retirement looks like on an ordinary day, I’ll take it!

Let’s test out this whole ‘retirement’ thing!

Teacher looking at clock, counting down, with a wine bottle in her hand.

Today marks the end of term 1 – the Easter holidays are finally here. It’s no secret that I’m working towards retiring in the next few years and the holidays will give me a small taste of the freedom which will one day be mine. Let’s test out whether I’ll enjoy this whole ‘retirement’ thing!

The staff room is full of laughter and Brock is playing music from his computer. Only 6 periods to get through and then sweet, sweet holidays for 2 weeks will be here.

Welcome to Teaching - where salaries are low and everything's your fault.

This morning I had a meeting with a parent at 8AM. She was worried about the mark that her daughter earned in her Theatre Studies assignment. She wants me to generate more work for her daughter so she can practice the task before the end-of-year exam, despite me telling her that the kids will get plenty of practice tasks as the exam gets closer. No – she wants new ones for her child. Now.

I won’t get meetings like that on the holidays – except maybe via email. I’ll just put an automated ‘I’m on holidays’ response so I can still enjoy my free time.

On school holidays but still working

I’ll still be coming into the school on the holidays. My year 12’s are putting on ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in the second week of term, so there’s at least a couple of days of dress rehearsals and set painting still to do. I’ll have to drive down (with the dogs – I have to have some quality time with them, after all!) and open up the Lecture theatre (and make lunch – a vegan curry… there’s always at least 1 or 2 vegans), and stay there from 9 – 6.

I’ve been sensible enough to make sure that all my marking is done for the term, so at least my break won’t be made hideous by having to read essays.

But what will my mini-retirement holidays consist of? What will I do with my days of suddenly free time? How will I test out this whole ‘retirement’ thing?

Holiday workout - opening wine

First up – I’ll have more time to see friends.

Tonight I’m going into town to see Hannah Gadsby’s new show ‘Douglas’. What a fun way to start the break! I’ll take myself to dinner, then meet up with Blogless Liz and her friends to see the show.

My lovely friend Scott is here in Melbourne for the first time in 10 years and we’ll be seeing each other for a couple of days while I’m on holidays. I’m so looking forward to this – he’s one of my dearest friends. Face-to-face time is much better than Skype/Whatsapp time.

Blogless Sandy has adopted a new dog, so we’ll be seeing each other over the holidays to see if Buddy will get along with my 3. Sandy’s older dog has an abiding hatred of small dogs so we were never able to take them for walks or hang out together with them. We both live near dog beaches, so it’d be good to be able to take them for leisurely walks while we chat, especially after I really retire. She likes staffies, so we have to be careful. Mine would definitely come off worst in a squabble!

I have to get the garden ready for winter – AND for visitors. I’m having a couple of lunch dates so the house and garden have to look good. I always say, if your place needs a good clean, ask some visitors over! It’ll be spick and span way before they arrive.

Will I get time to work on Jack’s quilt? Do some knitting? I definitely want to take the dogs to the dog beach every day. Will I go to the movies? I’ll definitely get my hair whipper-snippered into submission. Will I redecorate the Man Cave? Read as many books as I can?

So much time! So much to do!

Not to mention the odd nanna nap (every day I can fit one in… which will hopefully be Every Day.)

Everyone’s so happy at work today. The early finish of one hour earlier helps too. (As does the drinks being put on down at the Bowls Club after work.)

Let’s see how these holidays go. Let my mini-retirement experiment begin!

getting ready to leave work like a runner in a race

Add some fun on your way to FIRE!

Best teacher ever! (meme)

Something I’ve learned from teaching that I’ve taken into my FI/RE life is that life is a whole lot more interesting if you add some fun along the way. I have to teach boring things like grammar and language analysis, but if I add in some silliness every now and then it’s really motivating for both the students and myself.

Spend a few minutes on a game! It only has to be vaguely related to your subject – mine’s English – but it changes up the routine and adds some fun to an otherwise humdrum lesson. Sometimes I spring ‘The Food Game’ on them. They line up around the room and they have to come up with food or drink starting with the letter ‘A’, then when someone freezes, repeats an item, (or can’t spell) they move on to the letter ‘B’ until we have one man or woman left standing.

The next level up – which we normally start in term 2 once they’ve mastered the basic game, is something I call ‘The Food Game on Steroids.’ The last letter of the food someone says is now the first letter of the next one. It keeps ’em on their toes!

Another welcome change from the regular routine is a quick spelling bee in teams to get them up and moving around a bit. My kids actually ask for them, which is something that you wouldn’t expect. For some reason, thinking on their feet is something most kids really enjoy.

Card with 'Ms Jones is jumping for joy. Today you did brilliantly in English!
Strange… Where did my name go on this card??? (heh heh)

I shamelessly stole the idea for these cards from my dear friend Scott, whose plane is probably touching down in Melbourne even as I’m typing this. They’re just business cards from Vistaprint, so they’re as cheap as chips, but they’re worth their weight in gold.

I give out these cards whenever someone earns an ‘Outstanding’ on their work, which is the equivalent of an A+. I hand it to the child, we shake hands and the rest of the class applauds. The kids love them. They take them home to show their parents and sometimes a kid will excitedly come to school the next day and tell us that they received a monetary reward. That doesn’t happen all the time, though.

Once, I was in a year 12 class observing the teacher and a kid I taught back in year 8 or 9 said that he’d earned one of these cards.

“No way!” I said. “You’re not bright enough!”

The joke was on me when he fished a battered “Ms Jones is pleased with you‘ card out of his wallet and proudly flashed it at me. He’d carried it around with him for years…

How does this equate to FIRE?

Remember how excited you got when you first discovered the concept of FIRE? I know when I first read about the 4% Rule it changed my world!

I'm more bored than this slumped over cat.

Surely it’s not just me who’s found that it’s sometimes hard to keep the fun in the FIRE journey after we’ve been on the trail of it for a few years. We’ve got the frugality down pat, we’ve negotiated our bills and we’ve automated everything we can to gain the most bounce per ounce with all of our income.

Then we settle back and over time all of this new exciting finance FIRE stuff becomes our new routine. It’s hard to keep the excitement up.

One thing that worked for me for at least 3 years was when I worked out how much I was taking home per teaching period every day. I’d teach a period and think, “There’s another $50!!” It made teaching seem that little bit more rewarding, especially when you had a PIA class.

As a side benefit it also helped when I was looking at buying something. Was it worth half a day’s teaching? Was it worth a period and a half? Sometimes it stopped me buying things I didn’t really want.

Update on my goals chart.

Some of you may have been around when I posted how I was going to track 7 behaviours that I wanted to turn into habits. Here’s how it’s been going so far. Funny how as the term dragged along, the more yellow and white squares began to appear! Hopefully, once I get a few nanna naps under my belt then the green will surge back.

For me, the reward is in colouring in the squares on Saturday morning. Interestingly, the only habit I’ve kept up without a break is the only one that doesn’t require action every single day – the column second from the left which is the ‘Post 3 times a week’ habit for this blog. (The other figure in this column refers to how many times I post on my personal blog.)

Why not take this idea and tweak it to your FIRE habits? Colour in a square every time you add to your Emergency Fund, or make an investment, or bring your lunch to work to save money.

It’s strangely satisfying to actually see your achievements laid out on a chart. All of a sudden, you’re adding fun instead of plodding morosely on into oblivion, all by yourself, with no one to notice your actions.

Add some fun – whatever works for you. You’re already attempting something extraordinary by reaching for FIRE – encourage yourself by rewarding yourself and smiling along the way.

Lessons from Literature: The Good Earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Earth - O-Lan grinding grain

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

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

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

The Good Earth - O-Lan finds the jewels

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

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

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

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

The Good Earth - Wang Lung and O-Lan

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

However, lifestyle creep starts to cause problems.

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

The Good Earth - Lotus.

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

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

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

The Good Earth - Wang Lung

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

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

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

Now I’m thinking about Opportunity Cost.

Hey girl, you look good when you pay your blls

Of course, as soon as I wrote a post about possibly going part-time at work, I immediately started to think about the Opportunity Cost of the 20K/year I’d be missing out on if I dropped a day. There’s also the extra year or two I’d probably be adding to my work life.

So what’s Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost of not studying

Opportunity cost is usually talked about in economics, but it basically applies in every area of life. It refers to all the choices and directions that you choose to give up when you make a decision to do/spend something.

For example, I chose to keep 50K from the money I received when I sold my original house to use for landscaping. That money could have been spent on more investments to bring me more income in the future. (At 7% interest, I’m missing out on an extra $3,500/year.) It could have bought me 3 or 4 trips to Europe. It could have paid for a new ensuite, shiny new kitchen appliances and a new car.

But instead, by using that money to pay for wicking vegetable garden beds, brick paving and an automatic watering system attached to my water tank, I’ve turned away from those other alternatives. This is the opportunity cost of my decision.

The opportunity cost of talking to me
(“Fallacy of composition’ means the error of assuming that what is true of a member of a group is true for the group as a whole.

What could I do with the 20K that I’d be giving up if I only taught 4 days a week? There’s no doubt that my work/life balance would be far better if I worked fewer hours. But there are items on my ‘to do’ list that I could quickly knock off if I gritted my teeth and worked full-time for another year.

Below is a list of things that I want to put into place before I leave work. I’ve already achieved the major one, which was the landscaping job. However, there are a few more things I want to get done.

Opportunity cost of being good at your job.
  • I have an ensuite – the first one I’ve ever had. I never realised how much I love having one, but it’s not really suitable for old people. It has a shower over a bath. I’m definitely not a bath person, but even if I was, the main bathroom has one. I can visualise Old Lady Frogdancer trying to get herself in or out of the bath a couple of decades from now, slipping and breaking a hip. An ensuite renovation would probably be around the 20K mark, wouldn’t it?
  • I want to get the inside and outside of my house freshly painted. This isn’t a huge priority, because I’m pretty sure the house was painted just before I bought it 3 years ago. But they painted everything the same colour and used the same paint for everything. This means that the window ledges, skirting boards and doors are all in matt paint, not gloss. This makes them much harder to keep clean.
No opportunity cost to saving money right now!
  • I still need to get the verandah roof put on at the back part of the house. When that’s done I’ll have an outdoor room, looking out towards the veggie garden. I’ll get an old couch and a table, and I’ll loll on the couch and read a book out there in the shade, drinking a glass or two of shiraz while watching my organic food grow. 20K would more than pay for that, wouldn’t it?.
  • Does anyone know if a Tesla battery can be connected to existing solar panels? This house came with an impressive array of solar panels, but ever since I found out from a friend that not only does she have zero bills for electricity since installing panels and a battery, she’s getting money paid to her by the electricity company for the power they’ve passed back to the grid! In around 6 months they’ve received nearly 1K in payments! That sounds very enticing for someone who intends to be a crazy dog lady in retirement. Those dogs need to be fed.
I need a part-time job that pays 20K a week.
  • Speaking of dogs, my dogs bark every time another dog walks past. I know that they’re only doing their jobs, but it gets a bit annoying. I’m thinking I might replace the open-view fence with a more solid one, to stop the dogs from having so much fun. I’d have lots of change from 20K if I started with this one!
  • Another thing that will need to be replaced is the ultra-cheap oven and cooktop that the previous owners put into the kitchen when they were selling. They’re stainless steel, so they look ok, but the oven is terrible. I’d like to get an induction cooktop, so I could put the thermomixes on it, under the fan, and there’d be no chance of them melting. I’d also like to get a better quality oven.
  • I’d also like to put some money aside for things like a car upgrade down the track… expenses that I know will be coming one day, but don’t have to be catered for just yet. There may even be weddings for the boys in the future, though they’re fairly unattractive so maybe this won’t happen…

There’s no denying that my work-life balance would be improved if I went part-time. There’s also no denying that, if I want to get these things knocked off my ‘To Do’ list, I’ll be increasing my work life by another one or two years. Still, as an extroverted introvert, that mightn’t be a bad thing.

When I’m at home, I’m very solitary and I love it. But when I’m at work, I’m surrounded by people and all that goes with it. This morning, I walked into The Danger Zone, (our section of the staff room) and it was filled with people wearing party hats, balloons on the ground and a couple of toddlers blowing bubbles. Someone’s mum was coming to pick up the grandkids and it was her 70th birthday.

Five minutes ago I was holding a baby who had come in with her Dad, who is taking paternity leave for a year. Last year he and his husband went to the US, organised a surrogate and now this little girl is a much-loved and doted upon Aussie.

Last year my year 7 English class threw me a surprise birthday party, while back in 2015 my Theatre Studies class threw a surprise dinner party to farewell me when I took a term off to go to Europe. These things are very special.

The Opportunity Cost of working full-time and leaving work earlier may be the loss of the human interaction I’m so used to. This is without taking into account the day-to-day laughs and general interaction with the students.

If I go part-time then the Opportunity Cost is the money and the continued lack of freedom to have total control over how I spend my time.

I guess I just have to work out which is the most valuable to me going forward…

Live in the moment.

Live in the moment - Dog. Worrying - Man. Dog is happier.

I just finished a pile of year 7 persuasive essays about whether or not to ban plastic. I read 28 of these, with varying degrees of neatness, correct spelling and originality. A couple of them made me want to throw myself out a window, but others made me smile. But truly, none made me smile more than Toby’s one – because it was the last one.

I have a choice for the rest of the day – I can live in the moment and be happy that I’ve finished that marking, or I can look forward with dread to the end of the day. This is when my year 9s are due to finish their ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘ essays and hand them in.

Why do I use the word ‘dread’?

28 essays all on the same topic, using the same novel and written to pretty much the same formula. Most of these kids have very bad handwriting since they spend most of their time using computers. This is why God invented the chocolates for sale in the staff common room. When I get a couple of bad ones, it takes a sugar hit to get me through.

So what should I do?

Ryan Gosling - Hey girl, live in the moment

Call me crazy, but Ryan here seems to know what he’s talking about.

I have three hours before the next pile of essays lands on my desk to be marked. I also have period 4 off – what will I do with those 48 precious minutes of freedom now that I’ve chosen to live in the moment?

The possibilities are endless…

Well… as endless as the possibilities are when you’re stuck at work. I could:

  • Begin the book that the school library bought and reserved for me. It’s been sitting on my desk for the last couple of days, untouched, unopened, unread.
  • Write a blog post or two.
  • Have a chat with someone else who’s also free.
  • Do some lesson prep for next week. (Though who am I trying to fool? This probably won’t happen…)

I can guarantee that Mr Gosling’s right – each of these will be far better if I immerse myself in the moment and just enjoy them. Those year 9 essays are going to come at me whether I focus on them or not.

So why on earth would I poison the last 3 hours of freedom I’ll have before they get here?

I admire people who live in the moment.

Should I go part-time next year?

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

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

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

And yet…

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

Turns out I’m as healthy as a horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But a thought occurred to me today…

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

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

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

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

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

Things I won’t miss from work.

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

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

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

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

It’s the little things…

All 3 trouble-makers are absent on the same day.

Sometimes it’s the little things that turn an ordinary day into a good one.

Normally, I practically have to carry a whip and a chair into my year 8 class to keep them quiet and able to learn. But today? Three boys were away.

I was able to read ‘The Outsiders’ to the class without a single interruption.

I love my job today!

Anyone have any other ‘little things’ that make an ordinary working day seem special?

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