Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

The best part of financial independence is having options.

Yesterday I walked into the staff common room after period 4, looking forward to the beef stew I’d brought from home for lunch when I saw a familiar face. “Russ”, (short for Ms Russsell), was standing there. She’d retired last year at 63, after a long and illustrious career at the school and we’d always had our desks in the same staff room.

It was lovely to see her. She was a very popular member of staff. We laughed over a clip I posted on FB a couple of days before, others joined us and then I left to go find lunch.

A few minutes later she joined me in the staff room. She was standing behind me, chatting away with everyone, then all of a sudden she felt dizzy. She had to sit down. After a few minutes she tried to make it to sickbay to lie down but even with help, she couldn’t make it to the door. Someone called the nurse, who arrived with a wheelchair while someone else called an ambulance.

Turns out that once she lay down she felt better, but earlier this year she’d suddenly collapsed and had a triple bypass, so no one wanted to take any chances.

After she left the staffroom, a few of us who are looking forward to retiring in the next few years got together.

“Do you think she left it a few years too late to retire?” said one.

“When she suddenly sat down, I started to wonder the same thing,” said another.

“Wow. So it wasn’t just me that was thinking this!” I said.

“It really makes you think,” said the first person. “A few years ago she was the healthiest person you could ever find. But when she came into the room I thought that she looked older.”

“She said last year that heart disease runs in her family,” said someone else.

I thought of Russ in the sickbay and hoped that she was feeling better. I thought of my Mum who’s going into hospital tomorrow to see if her broken arm has finally healed enough to take the brace off. So far, her arm has refused to heal after a certain point, which is a real worry. She’s now using a walker and a wheelchair to get around. I thought of Dad, bleeding internally for who knows how long, who was incredibly lucky for it to be picked up just in time.

I shivered. I was suddenly very glad that I’m cutting back on my hours next year to go part-time. YOLO!

To all intents and purposes, I’ve reached FI. It doesn’t feel like it, as the actual number I want to hit is still a little way off, but in all honesty, I could retire tomorrow and I’d more than likely be ok. It’s not as if I’m retiring in my 30’s and I have to make my portfolio last for 50 years or so. I’m in my 50’s so my ‘golden years’ will be far fewer. Usually, that’d be a downer, but in this instance, it’s actually good luck!

This money stuff is so important. I wish more people realised this when they were younger. Earlier on the same day, at recess, the young teachers were talking about how much mad money/discretionary spending they gave themselves each fortnight. It averaged out that each young woman was spending around $400/week on eating out, clothes, gifts etc.

I was literally gobsmacked. That’s a LOT of money each week. That’s an even bigger amount of money each year. Even someone with my rudimentary Maths skills knows this.

I just pulled up a calculator and worked it out. Just over 20K/year.

Imagine if, instead of spending all of this money, they instead chose to invest a half (or even a quarter) of it in a boring old index fund or as salary sacrifice into their superannuation? They’re all in their late 20’s. Even if they did that for the next 5 years, assuming they don’t have children first, then they let that money quietly compound for the next few decades, they’d be SO much better off than I was when I reached 50.

When I turned 50, I was locked in. I’d paid off the house, so I’d established absolute physical security for myself and the boys, but that was pretty much it. I had just over 100K in super and no other investments. I knew that unless a miracle occurred, I was going to turn up to full-time work at the school until I turned 70. I wouldn’t be able to afford to retire before then.

Like most teachers, I like my job. The kids make you laugh every day and I like the people I work with. But that being said, teaching is a job that takes a lot out of you. If you’re doing it right, it’s high-octane, high performance and whenever you’re in front of the kids you need to be switched on. Not all that many people are capable of that sort of sustained effort when they’re elderly. People get burned out.

That’s hard to visualise when you’re young. I know that when I was a young teacher working out in the furthest western suburb when I was a DINK, I’d look at the burned-out older teachers dragging themselves to work and think, “I’ll never be like them. I’d find another job if I felt like that.”

I didn’t stop to consider that these people were locked in. They had families to support, mortgages to pay, probably credit card bills and who knows what else? It’s easy to say blithely “I’d get another job” but when a particular job is all you’ve ever known and you need to provide a secure base for the people you love, it’s very hard to switch things up.

I wish these young teachers could look ahead and see that they’re selling themselves short. One of them said, “I know this’ll shock you Frogdancer, but when I see something I want, I buy it.” I laughed because I remember those fun years – I did it myself before kids – but I know that when they get older they won’t remember most of the clothes and shoes and dinners out. If they cut those things back, just a bit, they can still have their fun and at the same time put some money away to quietly work for them in the background, they’ll be very glad that they have an extra pile of money that can give them options.

I don’t know if Russ worked a few years too long or not. That’s her business and I’ll never know. But I wonder if she had her time over again, whether she would have pulled the pin a little earlier than she did…?


  1. Girt

    Great post but I think I’ve only (in my 40’s) started believing that money invested for old age actually has any utility. My younger self had a lot going on trying to check off my life grown-up checklist, trying to attract a partner, keep up with friends, paying in various ways due to a lack of skills/clarity/knowledge and general mistrust that superannuation wouldn’t be grabbed by taxes. Also I barely understood it all … when I think that I actually didn’t check the ‘defined pension’ option when I was an academic makes me want to kick younger me!!

    I think that you are right though that by your forties and fifties we wish our younger selves had done even more for our current selves.

    You of course are an inspiration in all you are doing and without your blog I doubt I would be investing as much as I am. So thank you thank you!!

    • FrogdancerJones

      There’s a lot to unpack in your comment.
      It’s so hard when you’re young to visualise things ht in your 40’s and 50’s (and I daresay… 60’s… not there yet!) seem so obvious.
      Investing is a long-term game. Hard for anyone to do, but especially for younger people who are bullet-proof. God knows that’s how I felt!

  2. Latestarterfire

    That was my greatest fear – that physically I won’t be able to enjoy my retirement by the time I get there. I suppose that’s why I want to travel long before I retire. But now my greatest fear is that I will have dementia like my Mum who used to enjoy travelling but now fear it above all else. Luckily she retired in her early 50s and had some good years in retirement.

    • FrogdancerJones

      Dementia is the worst.
      I’m glad your Mum had fun.

  3. gofi

    $400/week on eating out, clothes, gifts etc – Gobsmacked is right.

    Lovely post FdJ.

  4. Chris

    Another maths thingy here, but to churn out 20K in discretionary spending per year you need 500K socked away. Let’s say it’s possible to save $50 per hour on a teacher’s salary… that’s 10,000 hours that need to be worked to fritter away $400 per week. Five years of full time work. If it’s only possible to save $25 per hour it’s 10 years. Flip it round that way in the staff room tomorrow and see if you have any friends Wednesday.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I had to read that twice to get the gist of it. There’s a lot of numbers in there!
      But all of those hours of work needed just to live a certain lifestyle is pretty horrific, isn’t it?

      • Chris

        Your Money or Your Life changed my perspective on this… do I really want to spend 4 hours at work to pay for each haircut? Or 30 minutes at work for every beer I buy at the pub? Or pay a premium of 100 hours at work for new car over a slightly used one? Chuck that lens across all your purchases and your perspective most definitely changes!

        Some things are worth a second read… my comments probably aren’t, but thanks for indulging!

  5. Diana

    Nothing like a health scare to wake you up to the realities of life. I think witnessing the deaths/serious debilitating injuries of several people in my peer group is contributing to my seriousness in getting my financial crap together. Great post, as usual!

    • FrogdancerJones

      Yes, seeing what can happen in life is very motivating. What’s that saying? “There but for the grace of God go I.” Life can change so quickly, so having one’s “financial crap” in order is a pretty smart move.

  6. Savvy History

    This is a powerful post. I’m writing a similar one right now because a man I’ve known for years suddenly passed away at 67. He worked so hard and was just on the verge of retirement. It really makes you think.

    My mom said she retired this year after hearing she had a much higher chance of dying if she worked five more years.

    Congrats to you for being FI, feeling set for the rest of your days, and still going back part-time on your terms. That is so awesome! Take it easy on yourself as the year ramps up!

    • FrogdancerJones

      It sounds like someone said to your Mum, “This job will kill you. Soon.”
      If someone said that to me I’d be out the door quick-smart!

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