Freedom beckons…

Oh thank goodness! Term 1 finishes today, (oh happy day!), and I marked the last essay from my year 9 class yesterday. I’ve cleared the decks of all the corrections and I can leave for my overseas holiday with nothing at work to mop up before I go. I’m taking an extra week so it’ll be 3 glorious weeks of freedom before I come back. Whoopee!

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the school’s lecture theatre watching two year 12 kids trying to learn to waltz. It’s part of a dream sequence in the play we’re putting on – ‘Jasper Jones’. It’s the first rehearsal of this scene and they’re stressing about stepping and counting and turning. The boy playing Charlie looks a little like an adolescent giraffe, all arms, legs and elbows, while our ‘Eliza’ has a look of fierce determination on her face as another student counts, “Step 2, 3… turn 2, 3…  step 2, 3…”

Learning a new skill is always hard at the start, but I know that by the time May 2nd, 3rd and 4th come along, they’ll be floating, seemingly effortlessly, around the stage.

As I was watching them I was thinking about writing something for this blog and it occurred to me that learning how to get control of your finances is a bit like learning how to dance. At first it all seems really hard. You step on your partner’s toes, you misstep, then start to move smoothly, then stumble again…

Once you have control of your budget and you become debt-free, it’s all smooth sailing. Then you realise you have to learn about investing. You discover the world of FI/RE and all of a sudden it’s like learning the tango. It’s a whole new dance. All those scary numerals!  The new terms and acronyms! Argh! What’s an ETF? A CAGR? ROI, IPO and a REIT? Why are they important and why should I care?

I’m sure some people take to this like a duck to water, but personally, I found it hard. I’ve spent a lifetime actively avoiding anything to do with Mathematics and there are far too many numerals involved with investing for me to be comfortable with it. As it is, it’s taken me around 5 years to become what I’d call a moderately educated investor. Anything too spreadsheet-y and I still mentally run screaming for the hills, but I’ve reached the stage where I’m now gritting my teeth and slowly chipping away at it.

By the end of the rehearsal ‘Charlie’ and ‘Eliza’ were waltzing around the stage in each other’s arms, still stumbling occasionally but for most of the time, they were in step with each other and in time to Doris Day’s singing. I smiled as I looked at them and at the other student who was still counting time, “Step, two three; Step, two three!”

It’s a work in progress but I know we’ll all get there in the end.


Lessons from Literature 5: The World According to Garp.

This was the novel that brought John Irving into the limelight. I first became aware of this story when I saw the movie – my first movie with John Lithgow. One of my favourite actors.

The World According to Garp, written in 1978,  is a quirky novel, with characters and situations that are still memorable today. Jenny Fields is a single mother who gets pregnant with her son, TS Garp, under very unusual circumstances. The novel follows Garp through his life, from his childhood with his incredibly independent mother, through to his marriage with Helen and his life with her and their kids.

  • Helen was at school every day; she had agreed to have a child only if Garp would agree to take care of it. Garp loved the idea of never having to go out. He wrote and took care of Duncan; he cooked and wrote and took care of Duncan some more. When Helen came home, she came home to a reasonably happy homemaker; as long as Garp’s novel progressed, no routine, no matter how mindless, could upset him. in fact, the more mindless, the better.

Garp chooses to be a writer, a SAHD while his wife is proud to go to work and be the major breadwinner. They chose their partners in life well… always a good thing to do to succeed both financially and in life. She was an English professor who had no ambition to be a writer – she liked to read – whereas all Garp wanted to do was to be a writer. Choosing a partner in life whose ambitions dovetail in with your own is one of the best ways to get ahead.

  • “You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I’m going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life. ” (Jenny Fields)

In other words, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. So many people appear to discover FIRE, get excited and then put all their energies into investing, retirement funds and getting out of debt while forgetting to take some time to smell the roses along the way. Both Garp and Jenny Fields lived life according to their own terms, particularly Jenny.

  • Death, it seems,” Garp wrote, “does not like to wait until we are prepared for it. Death is indulgent and enjoys, when it can, a flair for the dramatic.

What a great way to say that you should make sure to live while you’re alive.

Here’s the quote that matches up with the clip from the film. See opportunity when it presents itself to you and act upon it!

  • “We’ll take the house. Honey, the chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It’s been pre-disastered. We’re going to be safe here.” Garp.)

The small things. Plus a plea for your help! :)

I’m still knee-deep in corrections before the end of term. It seems that as soon as I mark a class’s essays or tests and hand them back to the kids, then another lot of essays gets written and handed in. It’s a never-ending task. I don’t mind the creative/personal reflective pieces so much, but I have 28 kids in each of my year 9 classes. That’s a lot of formal text response essays about ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ that I have to wade through before I leave for my holidays.

It’s these sorts of things that make FIRE seem very attractive.

But then I have a day like yesterday. It was a sparkling autumn day in Melbourne and I jumped on the train with my year 12 Theatre Studies class and we went to the city to see the best of last year’s cohort perform their monologues.

The performance was at the Arts Centre, which is just on the other side of the Yarra River. We arrived at the station, I gave them 45 minutes to grab some lunch and to meet me down by the river, and they set off. When we all met back up, food in hand, we sat by the river and talked, sang songs, (well, they ARE Theatre kids!) and we got to know each other a little better. I’ve taught most of them for English or Drama when they were younger, but the relationship you have with year 12s is a lot different to when they are in the junior forms.

When we had half an hour to go, we wandered across the road to the Arts Centre and settled in. This year’s monologues were fantastic and we all had a great time watching them. Some of my kids saw kids from other schools that they knew, which was nice, including one fairly good-looking boy that apparently one of my girls has had a mad crush on for ages. She turned tomato-red when she realised I’d overheard what she was saying. The other kids cackled like loons.

We all caught the same train carriage back and I sat amongst them and we “did chatting”, as Christopher from ‘Curious Incident’ would say. As the train pulled in to our station nearly all of them got off, calling out, “See you tomorrow, Ms Frogdancer!” and “Seeya, Miss!” One girl still had another 2 stations before her stop so we talked about the performances, then she got off and I was able to pull out my headphones and settle back into my podcast. I’m listening to a true-crime podcast called ‘Casefile’ and I was half-way through the episode about a woman called Katherine Knight from New South Wales. What a nut job. By the time the train reached my station the podcast was finished and I was traumatised by all I’d heard.

Ryan22 cooked dinner, I sat on the couch with the dogs and some shiraz and watched the latest episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ before collapsing into bed.

All in all it was a good day.

Days like yesterday are a timely reminder that you have to enjoy the journey, instead of gritting your teeth and running pell-mell towards the finish line to the exclusion of all else. I learned a long time ago that life is much happier if you stop and notice the little things that make you smile. Yes, I know reaching the big goals is a wonderful thing – but they don’t come along very often. Whereas the little things are around us every day.

For me, teaching is a great job because kids make me laugh every single day. Teenagers are hilarious and they don’t seem to get enough credit for that. My dogs are wonderful. My kids are ok. (LOL) Every day is a good day when you notice the small stuff.


Long term readers of my very short-term (so far) blog would remember the post I did on educating my boys and nieces about compound interest at Christmas time. Soon after I wrote it I entered it into a blog tournament run by Rockstar Finance. So far it’s done very well… we’re now in round 5.

However, voting is really tight this time and I’m getting nervous. In the first round of the competition I was up against one of the biggest bloggers in the FIRE world. There’s no way I thought I would get past her… but I did. (OMG) Since then, as round after round has happened and my post about kids, compound interest and superannuation kept winning, I started to wonder. Could my post actually do it?? To be honest, I’d love it if a female Aussie blogger in her 50’s managed to take it out. Plus my slightly competitive streak has kicked in…

Please go and have a look at the contest. I’m in Game 2, voting keyword ‘Mistake’.

Grab a shiraz or a cuppa, depending on which time of the day you’re in, and have a read through the entries. Hopefully, you’ll prefer mine and will toss a vote my way.

Here’s the link.

Thanks.   (EDITED TO ADD: My blog post lives to fight another day! Only 2 rounds to go. Does that mean I just won a quarter final?)

Frugal Friday: The media agrees with me about leftovers!

I took a break from marking end-of-term essays and saw this article posted on a Facebook group: Financially Secure People Eat Leftovers.

I had to laugh. We already know this!

Things will be quiet around here until I get my 5 classes worth of essays and grammar tests marked before the holidays come in two weeks. *sigh*

I really enjoy teaching but the marking side of it? Not quite so much…

Frugal Friday: Leftovers are the way to go.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the staff room, chatting with the people sitting in  ‘The Danger Zone.’ That’s the nickname we have for our little section of 8 desks – in a staff of over 150 it’s handy to have your section easily identifiable if you need someone to get something from your desk in a hurry. Three of us are in our 40’s and 50’s, while the rest are girls in their 20’s. They’re all in relationships and are in the stage of life of buying a house/getting engaged/getting married to their significant others.

It was after school and a few more teachers in the cool, hip and happening group from other staffrooms had pulled up chairs and were chatting. The subject of lunches came up. In the last couple of years, the canteen at school has really lifted its game, offering all sorts of things along with the usual items of chips, potato cakes, sandwiches and wraps. They even offer breakfasts as well. I copied this week’s notice for your reading pleasure from our newsfeed:

“My boyfriend refuses to eat leftovers,” said one. “I have to be really careful not to cook too much because it all just gets thrown out. He won’t touch it, so we cook something different and then, of course, I end up eating that with him and so nothing gets used up.”
“We won’t eat leftovers,” said a newlywed girl who was also, 5 minutes before, whinging about the high cost of property in Melbourne and how nobody can get ahead these days. “We have a certain lifestyle (YES! This is an exact quote! I couldn’t believe it either!!) and I can’t bring myself to eat warmed-up food from yesterday. It’s gross!” and she laughed. Some laughed and nodded with her, others looked slightly uncomfortable at the thought of their meals being thought of as ‘gross’.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Are you crazy? I absolutely LOVE leftovers,” I said. They turned and looked at me, the older woman who clearly knows nothing. Undeterred, I ploughed on. ” I always make sure we have leftovers; they usually taste better the next day because the flavours have a chance to meld together better after they’ve had time to sit. Plus I love not having to pay for lunches. It’s like getting free food! I’m saving $35 a week if I don’t go to the canteen. Imagine how much money that is over the year?”
Another girl agreed with me, a couple of others pulled faces and disagreed, then the conversation moved on to something else. When they got up 5 minutes later and went to the gym to do a workout,  Hazel, a woman of my (clearly elderly and insane) generation, came out from behind the row of desks she was working behind.
“I can’t believe they turn up their noses at leftovers,” she said. “I deliberately make enough for dinners so that there’s be leftovers for Rodney and I the next day.”
I laughed and agreed. “I’ll bet once interest rates rise they’ll suddenly discover a new-found love for the Tupperware lunch!”
And this is the thing. With people paying well over a million dollars for houses in Melbourne, and units and townhouses going for $500K+, these teachers are borrowing a LOT of money when interest rates are at historic lows. I know that brown-bagging a lunch isn’t initially going to save a lot of money – say $7 if you get the special of the day from the school canteen. But taken over time?
Another woman in my staff room has worked at the school since 1985. That’s 33 years of lunches. She joined in the conversation that Hazel and I were having, saying that she has never bought her lunch.
“I can’t see the point in buying it,” she said. “The stuff you make yourself is always tastier and better for you anyway.”
33 years X 40 weeks X 5 days = 6,600 lunches. Assuming someone bought a $7 lunch at the canteen each day, that is $46, 200.
That’s an insane amount of money to spend, just to avoid eating tasty, tasty leftovers. It’s scary how these little sums of money add up over time.

A small freedom in retirement that I hadn’t considered.

(This is NOT a photo of Ms Frogdancer in action.)

I’m a secondary teacher in the English and Theatre Studies departments, with classes in years 7, 8, 9 and 12.When people ask me what I do, I sometimes say that I work with the hormonally challenged in our society which, when you look at a class full of 15-year-olds, is a pretty accurate way of describing them.

Teaching is very much an immediate, be-on-your-game-at all-times job. If you wanted to skate through a day, barely putting in any effort and just doing the bare minimum, you’d do so at your peril.  Those kids can smell weakness at a hundred paces and they hunt as a pack. When the bell rings at the start of the day, you have to be at the classroom, unlocking the door, right on time. All throughout the day, if you’re timetabled on for a class, you can’t be late. If you forget an item that you need to teach, you can’t leave the room to go and get it. You have to send a kid to pick it up for you. You are there, in front of those kids, for the 48 minutes that the class lasts for.

Having said all that, I have to say that I love my job. Teenagers are often hilarious, sometimes thoughtful and are rarely boring. I laugh huge belly-laughs every day when I’m at work and I love how every day is different. However, it’s a tiring job. When you’re timetabled on, you’re ON. You have to be passionate about your subject and you have to hold the kids’ interest, otherwise you lose them. This means that most classes are high-octane, get-in-there-and-razzle-dazzle-’em and have fun sessions. Well, at least the way I teach. I figure that if I’m bored, they’ll be bored so I like to keep things moving and for classes to be varied. So for 48 minutes at a time, (or 96 if it’s a double), teachers are trapped in their classrooms in front of their classes, waving their whiteboard markers around like wands, using their interactive whiteboards to show documentaries and to annotate documents, all while monitoring what the kids have on their computers and turning off their games and shopping sites using a program on our own computers like absolute troupers.

A couple of days ago Deb, a retired teacher, came back to school to get some papers for her passport signed for a trip she and her husband were planning. She arrived just before recess. I had that period off so we had a bit of a chat, then the bell went and people started coming back into the staff room after class. 

Harriet, the woman Deb needed for the papers, came back, saw Deb and dumped her books on her desk.

“Hi Deb,” she said. “I’ll sign those papers in just a second, but I’ve been teaching all morning and I’m BUSTING to go to the loo.”

Deb laughed. “Oh, I remember those days!” she said.

I blinked. OMG.

Retirement means that your toilet breaks fall when you actually need to go, not when the clock says you can. When you’re a teacher you can only go to the bathroom before school, at recess, lunch or after school. If you neglect to go then, you just have to cross your legs and pray for the bell to arrive. No way can you leave a class to go for a tinkle.

I’ve imagined many things about retirement. The travel, the sleeping in past 5:30am, the ability to go out for lunch/walk the dogs/see my friends whenever I want. But being able to pee when I want?!?

Imagine the freedom…