I 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 I had less than 100K in super because I’d intelligently withdrawn every penny I’d put in before kids to pay a deposit on a block of land with my then-husband.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.