Frugal Friday: Fertilise your garden for (almost) free.

Before I geoarbitrarged my family and moved to the beach, I had a pretty sweet urban food forest going in Bentleigh. We had chooks, over 30 fruit trees, 15m of veggie gardens and it was all run on organic, permaculture principles. A huge proportion of our food came from the garden and life was sweet.

Then I looked at property values in the area, (thanks, local secondary school!) and decided to develop the block. The thing that most people do when this is their course of action is to rent somewhere until the units are sold… however at the time we had 2 cats and 2 dogs. Good luck finding a rental! So I decided to bite the bullet and get bridging finance and look for a house early. I admit, not the smartest financial move on the face of it but when you love your dogs more than your children then what can you do?

It worked out ok. For 10 months I was paying 73% of my take-home pay in bridging finance (you want frugality? I’m your woman!), which went down to only 57% when I went back to working full-time… but when I eventually sold the property, my house by the beach had gone up in value 100K, which was 34K more than I’d paid in the finance. Anyway, this isn’t the point of the post.

The house we live in now has no garden to speak of. It has a patch of lawn in the front with a few scrabbly fruit trees edged in at the sides, while the backyard is paved. I was able to bring my old herb garden with me, as I’d planted them in wicking boxes, so they live on the deck just outside the back door. We have an Aldi supermarket literally around the corner, so I’ve resigned myself to buying our fresh produce again, at least until I landscape the place and retire.

BUT… you can take the girl out of permaculture, but you can’t take permaculture out of the girl.

It started to KILL me that we were throwing away perfectly good veggie scraps and peelings. For years, we never wasted a scrap of food. The food line went as follows:  humans- dogs-chooks- worms- compost. Even if the humans let some lettuce go slimy in the fridge, at least the money spent on it wasn’t just thrown in the bin. It was going back to nourish something on the property, which would, in turn, give back and nourish us in the future, whether by affection (dogs and chooks), eggs (chooks), pest control (chooks) or fertiliser (worms, compost and chooks).

So I did what any sensible person would do. I bought a worm farm.

My previous worm farm was an old freezer that my dad adapted. It was far too big and heavy to move, so I left it at the old place. This time, I have a suburban, civilised one. It lives in a shady part of the deck, though I’ll have to keep an eye on it when temperatures get above 35C/95F. Under the spout I have my old Ikea watering can, to catch the worm wee. It’s excellent for natural fertiliser.

For much of the year last year I only had one son living with me, so we were able to use every veggie scrap we generated to feed the worms. Since then, I’ve had 2 Boomerang kids come back and the leftovers are too much for the farm to cope with, especially as one son left a carnivore but returned as a vegetarian. So we now start each Wednesday. We save our scraps in a bowl with a lid. (Ours is just a dinner plate perched on top.) We save all egg shells, veggie and fruit scraps except for onion and citrus. The worms don’t like these. Then, on Saturday, I tip the scraps into the thermomix, add water and blend on speed 10. I spoil my little slimy friends with nice easy food for them to digest.

The worm farm has been going for nearly a year now. I get at least one watering can full of fertiliser a week, sometimes two, and I spread it out between the herbs on the side deck and the pretty plants on the front deck. The plants absolutely love it. And I love that we’re wasting far less and we’re utilising the resources we have far more wisely.

This is something that pretty much everyone can do. It takes very little to set up, with the only expense being the cost of the worm farm. If you’re lucky, you may be able to score free worms from a friend’s worm farm if they’re happy to share. Then you can just feed them sparingly until the numbers catch up with the amounts of scraps you want to feed them. Me? I just bought a box of worms when I bought my farm. The smallest box, but I knew the worms would get frisky and they’d increase their numbers for free, so why spend the extra?

Speaking of which, it’s time to wander out and give the pots a watering. Summer holidays are the best! I’d normally be in front of my year 8 English class right now.





My second-biggest financial mistake – and what I did to try and educate my kids about it.

(This is one of my Christmas presents. My youngest son Evan21 took the photo and then blew it up – we now have a picture of the whole family. )

When I was married, waaay back in the day, I was working as a teacher in a suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne in the west. It wasn’t where I grew up, (I’m a Bayside girl from the other side of town), but it was where my husband had his business and love makes you do crazy things like move across the other side of the city to live. We delayed starting a family, so in the meantime I discovered dog breeding and showing. Poppy and Jeff, in the photo above, are descendants of the dogs I bred at that time.

For 6 years dog breeding was my passion. I wanted to have a place where I could build proper kennels and give them space to run. My husband was a country boy and he wanted space around him, so we started looking for a block of land. We found one on the outskirts of Bacchus Marsh. 6 acres, already fenced. I can’t remember what the asking price was, but I know that we didn’t have the money up front for a deposit. My husband used to spend everything he made…. but that’s a topic for another blog post. The only way we could come up with the money was if I cashed in my superannuation.

At that time I was about 27, I think. I had 30K in super that was ticking along quite nicely. In those days if you wanted to withdraw your super it was really easy, so that’s what we did.

Argh!!! I can’t believe I was that stupid! I had no idea of how compound interest worked, or of the importance of letting funds deposited while you’re young in an account like super being left to slowly compound and grow while time is on your side. Nup! We wanted that block so we took the money out. A classic case of short-term thinking.

While I was sitting here I just plugged the figures into a compound interest calculator. $30,000 for 30 years at 7% interest, with no further contributions being made. That $30,000 would have been worth $243,495 to me in another 4 years. Do you think that would make a difference to the when and how of my retirement plans if that tidy sum was added to my super? Do you think I’d still be working full-time, or would I have eased back to working 3 or 4 days a week if my super had an extra quarter of a million dollars?

That block in Bacchus Marsh cost me around a quarter of a million dollars.

Do you want to know the kicker? When I got pregnant with Tom25, we decided to sell the block and an investment property we had. My husband was suddenly nervous about servicing those debts on just one wage. Property values had fallen… we ended up selling the block at Bacchus Marsh for 30K LESS than we paid for it.


At the time I was blissfully unaware of how costly those two decisions were. But now I know that if I’d understood the power of compounding, I would never have released the funds from my super. So I look now to my boys – those giants in the photo at the top of the page. I left the marriage when Tom25 was 5, Evan 21 was 11 months old and the other two were somewhere in between. I’ve raised them on my own and it’s up to me to teach them what I can about life, including their financial lives. If they can get their heads around compounding, they may be intelligent enough to not only avoid making the same mistake I did, but to actually turn it on its head and start actively harnessing that power.

Earlier this year I sold our property and made a profit. I’ll discuss this at some stage later on on the blog. With Christmas coming up, and with the knowledge that I’d have not only my boys but also my nieces here, I decided to be a little theatrical and give them a gift with a string attached.

I handed out these ‘certificates’ at the end of when we were handing out the presents, when I had everyone’s attention. The accompanying documents were two tables I’d printed out from a compound interest calculator site. I wanted to make it crystal-clear what I was actually giving them.

The first table shows what they’d end up with if they deposited the 1K and then never added another penny to it. I chose 40 years @7% interest (which is a conservative estimate for the interest rate. The Australian stock market averages just under 10% per annum.) 

Now of course this table is totally unrealistic unless they choose to live off Centrelink benefits and never work a day in their lives. They’ll be adding to this amount every time they work and get paid. So I added another table – this time what would happen if they only seeded this account with another $1,000 each year.

Apart from Tom25, who’s an accountant and already has his head around this stuff, their minds were BLOWN. My nieces come from a family where money isn’t a topic of conversation and so they’re not exposed to these ideas at home. I was especially pleased that Jay18, my youngest niece, quietly came up to talk with me afterward, saying that she’d be interested in finding out more.

I also gave them all a copy of ‘The Richest Man in Babylon“. It’s a slim volume and I remember reading it when I was around their age and the lessons stuck. It’s up to them if they read it or not; I won’t be following up and nagging. I figure I’ll just present the information to them and they’ll access it when it becomes relevant to them.

The funny thing is, Tom25 said to me the next morning, “One of the books Dad’s been hassling me to read is ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’!” I laughed and said, “I’m not surprised. It’s a good book.”

I guess what this story proves is that even in the holidays, you can’t stop a teacher from teaching. I’ve put the information in front of all 6 of them and now it’s up to them how it percolates in their brains. It’ll be interesting to see how many of them, in a couple of decades or so, have taken the information and run with it. It’ll be my own little social experiment.  🙂



A Magnificent Giveaway!


One of the blogs that has helped me enormously in my quest for financial education is His ‘stock series’ is enormously helpful for people such as my good self who are deathly afraid of numerals, yet know that somehow we have to overcome our fears and start to understand them.

Although he’s based in the US, most of the articles in the series are applicable to our system here in Australia, so it’s a terrific starting point for those of us who are trying to get our heads around what shares/stocks, bonds, REITS and suchlike are all about.

Around a year ago Jim Collins released a book based on his stock series, bringing together all of the information on the blog in a streamlined, better-organised format. It’s called ‘The Simple Path to Wealth‘ and it’s my go-to book when I want to look something up. I don’t know how many times I’ve recommended it to people and I did a review of it on my other blog when Jim was kind enough to send me an advance copy to review.

Well…. guess what? This could be your lucky day! Jim has offered to give two lucky readers of this blog an Audiobook version of his book. All you have to do to be in the draw is to leave a comment on this post explaining why you’d like to be included, and at the end of the school holidays I’ll put the names in a hat and draw a couple of winners.

I’m very excited about this giveaway. May the best wo/men win!

My why of FI.

cropped-img_90451.jpgI suppose it’s fitting that I’m starting this blog on the last day of the school year, with five glorious weeks of freedom beckoning – a mini-retirement! Every year we teachers get this slab of time to recharge the batteries… after working with the hormonally-challenged in our society, (otherwise known as teenagers) all year, we deserve it… and it gives a tiny peek into what life might be like once we reach our ‘magic number’ and are able to retire.

But what is a ‘magic number’? How do you find out what it is? What do you do with that information once you do? Is it even possible for a teacher on a single income to be able to retire early… or ever?

This is the sort of thing I was asking around 4 years ago when I’d finally managed to pay my house off and I was looking towards the Next Great Financial Challenge: retirement. Years of enforced frugality had enabled me to get the banker off my back, but I knew nothing about investing, how superannuation and the stock market worked. I was going to have extra money coming in now that the mortgage was gone, but what was I supposed to do with it?

At the time I was mulling over these questions I was nearing 50. I had less than 100K in super because I’d intelligently withdrawn every penny I’d put in before kids to pay a deposit on a block of land with my then-husband. (We later lost the lot when we sold the block at a loss. I’ve had my share of stupid money mistakes.) I had taken 10  years out of the workforce in my late 20’s and early 30’s to raise my boys.

I started full-time work again in 2004 when I was 41, when my oldest son was beginning year 7 and the other boys were all in primary school. I’d worked for a couple of years doing CRT (emergency teaching) before that, but it didn’t pay super. I had a mortgage, an old car and 4 boys, 2 cats and 2 dogs to support with intermittent child support. I had scraped together a 1K Emergency fund, but that was all I had behind me. But the advantage of being in a position like that is that they only way is UP.

I guess this holds true in any workplace, but over the years I started seeing the older teachers either giving their retirement speeches and leaving, or grimly hanging on “for another year” and “another year”. Occasionally someone younger than 67 would get up at the end of year lunch and say their goodbyes and everyone would murmur, “How did he do that? We have to pick his brain before he goes“, but to the best of my knowledge no-one ever did. It was like a law of life that we all work until we’re at pension age and it’s only then we get to go and have fun.

Two people made me start to question this. One was a Maths teacher who stepped out of his kitchen door one night after work to have a cigarette and then collapsed and died on the spot. Where were his ‘golden years’ of fun and travel? The school put a bench in the Korean garden as a memorial, but I’d hazard a guess that he’d rather have had a few more years of life doing what he wanted to do. The other was an English teacher called Evie. She worked for far longer than she should have. She was in her 60’s and wasn’t in the best of health. She’d come to work and by the end of each term, while we’d all be tired, she was exhausted. She grew less and less in love with the job, but she felt she had to keep working because she didn’t have the financial means to retire. It was awful to watch her and I began to vow to myself that I didn’t want to be in her position.

So here’s my position now. It’s a bit different to most of the FIRE bloggers who all seem to be retiring by the age of 5 1/2 and travelling the world on nothing more than credit card reward points and the returns from their share portfolios and rental houses.

I started this journey late. I’m doing it on my own, while still supporting 3 out of my 4 children who are still at uni and living at home. Our financial situation began with my separation from my husband while carrying a 100K mortgage and $60 cash back when the boys were 5 years old and younger. I want to show that it’s still possible for someone to discover FIRE in their 40’s/50’s and to still be able to put strategies and actions in place to retire early(er) than most people and be able to live with abundance and pleasure. My target is to reach my Magic Number and retire when I’m 59. That’s when I can access my super if I need to, while still being young enough to scamper around the world without needing an afternoon nap and a zimmer frame.

So that gives me 5 years. With that time frame, I’ll be graduating with this year’s year 7 kids. Feel free to join me as I talk about all things FIRE. I’d love for you to walk with me as we discover how to put things in place to enable us to live our lives with the freedom we desire.