Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Start from where you are.

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

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

Because 6 years ago, I was that person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, it wasn’t all beer and skittles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Comments

  1. This was how I felt too – paid off my house and started with zero $ in investments outside of superannuation – at 47 years old. And woke up one day in a cold sweat, anxious about retirement. Thanks to the Barefoot Investor, the FIRE community & reading blogs like yours, I am a lot less anxious with strategies in place to grow my savings. You are right – we just need to start from where we are

  2. what a happy read on a saturday morning – happy for you Frogdancer Jones. Although I’m still not sure what Frogdancer means 🙂

  3. I love this post since it sums up the effect your blog has had on me.

    I have been reading FI blogs for years and done fairly little about future finances since I was married to a high earner – high spender and my self-appointed role was to facilitate his life’s checklist.

    Maybe at some level I knew what was going to happen and not too long ago the marriage ended and I became the sole earner and parent. … A man is not a plan … who knew!?!

    Anyways, despite knowing quite a lot about the mechanics of FIRE, I just didn’t act at all until I found your site FDJ. Somehow, despite eating up all the FI stories for so many years I lacked faith that it was possible to achieve anything worthwhile. I am carrying a big load and everything is so delicately balanced I need to be careful I don’t drop the lot.

    To cut a long story short, you have given me enough faith to bother doing anything. Tanja Hester’s Work Optional was also very encouraging in this regard. Also, from your site I became clear that I needed to focus on where I will be positioned at 60. I am now salary sacrificing almost up the $25k threshold into super. This will not be enough for a total plan but will certainly get me much closer than where I would have been.

    You have been simply amazing in all you have accomplished, balancing your family’s need with your future self. Thanks for keeping it so real and for getting me off my backside.

    • You absolutely can do it!
      I think that the trick is to make the challenges fun. Every little choice that you make that’ll help keep money in your hands or which will get you further in your big life goals should make you happy. Just a little inward nod of approval to yourself as you go about your day will be enough to make you keep making the good choices.
      And if you slip up occasionally? Doesn’t matter. There’s always another little choice to make, so you can get back on the horse.
      You’ll look back on Present Girt one day and you’ll thank her for making all of the little choices. Future Girt will love you!

  4. FJ, this post articulates exactly how I’ve been feeling. A friend and I were only talking last night about how retirement has all of a sudden become a focus for us (we’re both in our early fifties). Like you, I’ve been reading ALL OF THE BLOGS – who knew there were so many? – but they do help, whether it’s getting some solid numbers info or whether it’s coming across people in similar situations and learning how they approached FIRE. That sense of paralysis is very real, but although I’ve barely started thinking about it, I’m happy that I’m at least working on my research and trying to work out what will be the best approach for me.

    • I was in your position and I was really stressed about it at first.
      I found the 4% Rule was helpful in getting me to set a definite goal, instead of just trying to shoot for a nebulous “enough”. Now that I’m closer to actual retirement I’m refining my goals, but initially, the 4% Rule was golden.

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