A totally scientific experiment. Or metaphor. Or something.

Earlier this week I wrote a post about The Single Advantage, where I wrote about the path to FI as a single person.

Yesterday, on my daily walk with Poppy, Jeff and Scout, it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to do a totally scientific experiment to see if my post was accurate.

You see, Poppy and Jeff have been partners since they were in the womb together and they always go for walks on a brace lead. This is simply a leash for 2 dogs which is in a ‘Y’ shape, so I only have to hang on to one loop.

Scout, being the baby sister of the pack, came along later so she has her own lead.

Which lead is the most efficient? The ‘couple’ lead, or the ‘single’ lead? WHAT a metaphor for life! How could anyone possibly say that this is unrealistic?

Ok. My hypothesis is that the two different leads accurately depict two different pathways to FI – one as a couple and one as a single. For the purposes of this experiment, we’ll assume that both the couple and the single are starting from the same position, (a wild enthusiasm to get to FI as quickly as possible), and they have the same goal in mind, (to have a fully-paid-off kennel and to never need to fetch tennis balls again, unless they choose to.)

I had the materials needed. The dogs were raring to go, my phone was in my hand and I was filled with the thirst for scientific endeavour. Off we set around the block to make financial research history!

It was clear right from the start that when Poppy and Jeff were in synch, they were unstoppable. Shoulder to shoulder, facing the same way, they forged ahead of Scout. They make a great team. The fully-paid-off kennel of their dreams is well within reach.

“It’s not fair! There’s 2 of them and I have very little legs. They’re getting ahead of me and it’s not fair! They’re sharing the work, they have 2 food bowls and THEIR LEGS ARE LONGER.”

But hang on…

What starts to happen around every tempting aroma?

Scout takes the opportunity to nip past them as Jeff lifts his leg on investigates every conceivable thing on our path, thus slowing Poppy down and delaying their path to FI. In the interests of decorum, I won’t show you exactly what he was doing. This is a family-friendly blog, after all.

Oh no! While Poppy was waiting for Jeff to get back on task, she sees a bird! She goes out of shot to try and get closer, yanking him off-balance.

They’re completely off task now…

Meanwhile, Scout, her heart filled with joy at not having her dreams of FI and a fully-paid-for kennel delayed by a distracted partner, skips ahead with glee, her eyes on the prize. As for not needing to fetch tennis balls? She’s a modern independent woman and she LOVES her side-hustle of bringing back anything that’s thrown.

This is an action shot; joy requires movement and flopping ears. Please excuse any fuzzy edges in this shot. Science requires sacrifices from all of us to get to the truth.

 However, once Poppy and Jeff have some counselling and get their goals back into realignment, we all set off together.

The Cavaliers have been partners since birth – they’re not going to let anyone stop them! Whereas Scout is as stubborn as dachshunds normally are and she’ll get to her goals with or without a partner. “A man is not a financial plan” is her mantra.

Well, considering I call my place a glorified kennel, the result was never in doubt, was it? Here they all are, enjoying the fruits of their labour. No matter how tempting the scents, the birds and the possum poo along the way, they all got there in the end.

Scout’s route was by far the most focussed and direct, but Poppy and Jeff, when they decided to stop getting distracted on their individual interests and they started working together, were a force.

I know you want to know the results.

Amazingly, both leads ended up at our destination of FI and a fully-paid-off kennel at the same time. I know – I’m as surprised as you!!

What does this totally scientific and non-rigged experiment show?

We can all get to our goals, regardless of our relationship status.

Scout’s little legs meant that she had to take more steps than the others to get there, but she made it in the end. Poppy and Jeff were sometimes pulled off-course by their partner, but they got back on track and also got to their destination.

And now everyone’s sleeping on the couch, safe and happy.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad result for any of us!

 

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The Single Advantage.

I think that the road to financial independence as a single has a big and clear advantage. There’s a reason why a ship only has one captain and why too many cooks spoil the broth.

I’m a member of a few “Single FI” threads on FB and I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in the last couple of weeks with people having a whinge about how much harder it is for singles to reach Financial Independence in a world apparently geared for couples. According to these people, housing is more expensive, food is more expensive, entertainment is definitely more expensive. It’s not fair! Those selfish couples with their unfair societal advantages are rubbing their privileged FIRE journeys into our disadvantages singes’ faces!!!

At first, I was just “meh” about it. I don’t know these people and I have no way to walk in their shoes. However, as more and more people started chiming in, it got me thinking.

Why is my thinking about financial independence as a single so different?

I’ve been single for the last 21 years, ever since I left my husband. I walked away with my 4 boys aged 5, 3, 2 and 11 months. For the first 4 years, I was supporting us and paying a mortgage on the Sole Parents’ Pension, which (from memory) was around 18K a year. After my youngest son started school, I began working full-time as a teacher.  People ‘pooh-pooh’ teacher’s wages, even in Australia, but compared to the pension I felt we were on Easy Street.

So, long story short, for the last 21 years my family has been supported by one wage, controlled by one person. Why do I see this as not necessarily the disadvantage that others do?

Yes, on paper it would have been far easier if I’d been fortunate enough to meet someone compatible who could bring another wage into the household. Imagine all the investments we could have made once the mortgage was paid off?? We’d be rolling in money!

But I don’t know that it would have automatically happened quite like that.

Lifestyle creep appears to happen with almost every couple I’ve ever seen. Sure, the prudent ones max out their super funds and put aside money for investments and for a rainy day. The really smart ones have a healthy ‘FU Fund’ like the one I have. But even so, as life goes on and couples start to earn more, the little luxuries start to become part of the everyday. Clothes get nicer. Cars get newer. Houses get bigger. Holidays get more glamorous and are often spent further away from home. No more caravan park holidays at the Rye back beach! Now it’s taking the family to Thailand or Fiji or, (if you really want to make it memorable), to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.

The food budget goes up too. Not just on the average shop, but also when eating out. Dinner parties at home become far less common, even for lunches. Everyone wants to go out to eat. Theatre tickets replace movie tickets and lunches at wineries replace picnics in the park.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. You’ve both worked hard to get where you are and you deserve to taste some of the finer things in life. Your wife/husband/partner or yourself earned that big promotion and the expectation of the people around you at that new job is that you look the part. So, gradually, you do. It’s human nature to blend in with the tribe, after all.

I’m sure that with even the best will in the world, even the most perfect partner will come with some expenses in tow. There is no way that a man or woman would say, “Here’s my entire pay packet. Take it and invest it for our future. I have no wants, needs or desires. None whatsoever!”

Of course, some single people also fall prey to lifestyle creep. But when you’re on your own, it’s just YOU making the choices. I remember some of the (what I thought was) stupid things my ex-husband used to spend money on. So annoying. But I’ll bet that he could say the exact same thing about me. Everyone has things that individually drive them and if you’re snugly coupled-up, you have to accommodate the other person’s things, or you won’t be very snug for very long!

 

Rather than focusing on what we as singles don’t have –

2 X the pay packet;

someone to lift heavy things and open jars;

unbridled romance every time s/he walks through the door…

– we singles should be happy for the clear advantage of what we do have:

The opportunity to set a financial game plan in place and execute it without another person’s distractions or agenda getting in the way.

That’s huge.

It’s also an advantage that each person who’s single has, regardless of how much income they bring in.  Of course,  couples may very well be on the same financial page, working together for the benefit of their relationships, but we all know that it’s not the truth for each and every couple.

But we singles can choose the destiny of every dollar we bring in. On the path to FI, that’s not to be sneezed at.

There’s a lot to be said for personal, as well as financial independence.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

All … or nothing at all.

I’m pretty much an ‘all or nothing’ sort of person.

When I was two years old I was scared of dogs after I was bitten by one. Mum and Dad adopted a puppy when I was about seven to get me over the fear. It worked. When I was in my twenties, before I had kids, I bred and showed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for years. I had MANY dogs. Poppy and Jeff are descendants of the dogs I bred.

I wasn’t all that fussed about having kids. Then I made four of them within five years.

I thought I might like to try and make a quilt. How hard could it be? It’s only lots and lots of straight seams, right? Literally twenty-seven quilts later… (and I even made one that had circles on it.) 

Someone suggested I grow veggies to save money. Then my son grew very ill with depression and I thought that organic fruit and vegetables couldn’t hurt and might help. By the time I sold the house, I had well over thirty fruit trees and over 35 square metres of vegetable gardens. I had plans drawn up to grow a food forest in the front yard.

So you can imagine that when I dig my heels in and purchased Scout, my family was worried. But so far, I’ve been good. There’s still only one miniature wire-haired dachshund living in The Best House in Melbourne!

I have a new rule for clothes shopping. I don’t buy it if I don’t love it. We all have things that we bought because we thought they were ok, but they were so cheap!!! Then they live in the dark recesses of your wardrobe, barely if ever seeing the light of day, until they get donated five years later. Not so cheap if you don’t actually like them enough to wear them, right?

I’m VERY all-or-nothing when it comes to clothes shopping. In 2013 I was a thermomix consultant and I earned a free trip to Hong Kong. One day some of us took the train to the border and we went shopping in Shenzhen, China. I came back with fifteen dresses, jewellery, ugg boots that I still wear as slippers to this day, woollen jumpers and who knows what else? I could barely close my suitcase and I learned the lesson that you should ALWAYS buy a suitcase with wheels. However, I’ve barely bought any clothes since. I’ve been happily wearing my Shenzhen wardrobe.

In fact, I did my figures for 2018 on New Year’s Day. Last year I spent a grand total of $35 on clothes, mostly on a jumper and some t-shirts for the North Korea trip. The year before it was $0, unless you count $30 to get a pair of Aldi boots resoled. To be fair, this was when we were living through the bridging finance, when 54% – 74% of my take-home wage was going to the 750K loan on The Best House in Melbourne. Money was slightly tight.

However… this frugal heaven can’t last forever.

I may have run slightly mad over the last couple of days. Clothes will definitely last if you look after them, but they don’t last indefinitely. They get faded, stained or damaged. Shoes are durable, but eventually, they get scuffed and tired -looking. For the last couple of years, no one at work knew if Frogdancer Jones was going to turn up looking presentable or if she’d turn up looking as if she’d pitchforked clothes from the rag bag onto herself.

It was time to turn my attention to my attire.

I’m now the proud owner of five pairs of new shoes. Two pairs of flats have yet to arrive in the mail from Scarlettos, while I bought these beauties today. I used to walk past the shop for years and glance at the displays, but never even go inside, because I knew I couldn’t afford them so why go in and look?

The black boots are obviously for winter, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I wear the $60 Aldi boots for the fourth year. After all, they’ve been re-soled, right? Waste not, want not!

But today, I was primarily looking for clothes, particularly tops to go over the Bali pants Mum and Dad brought back with them after their last holiday. I thought I’d buy about 5 new casual tops that I can wear for work. Nothing too drastic…

But no one told me that stripes and linen were back in.

And – wait for it….. stripey linen.

OMG!

I wandered into David Jones all unaware of this fact, and staggered out of there under the weight of many shopping bags, $800 poorer but with a new wardrobe that will make me look GORGEOUS! I was lucky that the Christmas sales are still on, but just between you and me… I’d have bought most of these things without the sale. Remember? I don’t buy clothes I don’t love.

Speaking of that, there’s been a site I’ve been stalking for two years that has clothes that I adore. Unfortunately, they’re mainly made for stick-thin people, but they have wraps and coats that cater for portly frames like mine. I haven’t bought a thing from them for two long years. I kept looking at their emails, then deleting, saying, “No. I’m not ready yet.”

However, it’s possible I may have spent the first day of 2019 buying  $400 worth of swishy and drapey outer-wear for autumn and winter from them. I guess I’m now set for clothing for the next few years. Woohoo!

I’m already aware that this time next year, when Future Frogdancer Jones is going through the figures for 2019, she’ll probably be wincing a bit. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of money on clothing and shoes this week.

But you know what?

I’m really looking forward to hearing what the beautifully dressed women in The Danger Zone* will say when I keep turning up in wonderful clothing, day after day after day. After day. (Yes, I did run a little crazy…)

I’m looking forward to walking into my wardrobe after my shower in the morning looking forward to creating my outfit for that day, instead of thinking, “Ok, what’s not in the wash? What can I get away with wearing?”

I’m looking forward to finally wearing clothes that look like ME, instead of clothes that are old and were always bought with an eye for price rather than anything much else. Those clothes are a real downer to wear when that’s pretty much all you have to choose from.

There are around two and half of you who have been reading this blog for a while. You’ll remember that I class myself as a value-ist. I only like to buy things that I hold as adding great value to my life, while I’ll be dragged kicking and screaming before I’ll waste money on things that I perceive as NOT doing this.

After I hit publish on this post, I’m going to pour myself a shiraz, then I’ll go into my wardrobe and start culling all of those faded, stained ‘ok, but so cheap!’ clothes. When that’s done and my new clothes are all washed, ironed and hanging up in there, my wardrobe will be a thing of beauty.

And so will I.

* The Danger Zone is the nickname that our little section of staff room 2 is called. I share it with Blogless Adrian, Blogless Liz and a group of young twenty-and-thirty something girls who all look fabulous. Fortunately, they’re all fabulously nice as well. It’s a happy place.

 

 

 

 

In defence of Santa – from a Value-ist.

I read a tweet from Angela an hour ago about how her family doesn’t “do” Santa at Christmas and as a Santa enthusiast, it got me thinking and remembering. Angela and her family have thought about this and haven’t made their decision lightly, but I have a differing point of view. Christmases here are very different now, but when the boys were kids and money was tight, it was a challenge to make Christmas morning magical. And, as I’ll tell you in a second, yesterday I discovered that it paid off big time.

As a single parent, when the boys were small, money was tight. I went back to full-time work when the boys were Tom10, David8, Ryan6 and Evan5. When I was on the sole parents’ pension as it was called then, I was paying a mortgage and the bills and we were living pretty much hand-to-mouth. We were on roughly 18K/year, of which nearly half was going to the mortgage, so there was little room for fripperies in the budget.

But… I’m a Value-ist. I was a Value-ist before the term was coined. I’ll scrimp and scrape to save money for my family to survive, but if there is something that I see adds huge value to our lives, I’ll spend the money to achieve it.

Santa was definitely one of those things.

When Tom26 was Tom9, he came home from school in the middle of the year and said to me, “Joe Lunchbucket said to me that Santa wasn’t real.” Now, Tom is a communicative boy, so I hastily got him away from his brothers by suggesting we go into the backyard for a chat.

We walked down to the fig tree, where I asked him whether he really wanted to know. He said yes. I looked him right in the eye, smiled and said, “That’s right. I’m Santa.”

Tom9 gasped and said, “NO WAY!” To be frank, I wasn’t expecting this reaction.

I laughed and said, “What do you mean?”

“YOU can’t be Santa! You couldn’t afford it!!!”

After convincing him that yes, I was indeed Santa, he became struck with guilt.

“Oh no. I’ve been telling all the boys to ask for the expensive things for Christmas so you wouldn’t have to get them.”

Oh, my baby. That’s real love right there. And fiscal responsibility. No wonder he became an accountant! That remark went straight to my heart. I laughed, hugged him and we had The Talk. The Talk about how knowing about Santa means that you’re now with the grown-ups and we NEVER spoil Santa for little kids by blabbing it out just to make ourselves feel important. We keep the secret so they get to enjoy it just as we did.

Having all of your children caught up in the magic of Santa is special. But it’s also special when your older ones start joining in with keeping the magic alive for the little ones.  When they help the little ones with the spelling on their Santa lists, when they distract them when we’re shopping so I can smuggle a present past them, and when they all yell out, “Thank you Santa Claus!!” and the older one/s turn and smile with you, or give you a secret hug and whisper, “Thanks Mum.”

To be honest, I had an advantage on my side, in that the boys were little when money was ultra-tight. This meant that I was able to get away with quantity over quality. I knew that little kids have no idea what things cost. They just get excited by piles of things. So every year each boy would get one “big” present. Something that they wanted that was ultra-fun or ultra-pricey that they needed AND wanted. Then there’d be a present or two that was medium exciting, like computer games (often bought second-hand) or smaller toys. The rest required ingenuity.

I created traditions.

  1. Every year Santa brought bubble mix. Part of Christmas morning was that we’d all go out into the backyard and blow bubbles and see who could blow the biggest ones. We’d laugh as the dogs tried to catch them. It was fun and cost about $1/child.
  2. Every year Santa brought those mini packets of Kellogs cereals. The kids LOVED these, as normally it was just home-brand wheat bix and cornflakes in the pantry.
  3. You know those packets of chocolate gold coins that you can get from $2 shops? My kids were in the money every Christmas.
  4. Santa was also a bit of a fashionista. If the kids needed new bathers, t-shirts or the like, they’d go into the pile. Usually, each child had their Christmas Day outfit given to them, so they’d be all dressed up in their best for the day. I was going to buy them anyway, so why not add it to the mix? It all looks impressive.

But the biggest savings hack was shopping at garage sales. The little presents, and to be honest, some of the really big ones too, were bought here. The boys were away with their father every second weekend, so from about September onwards I’d drive around and visit garage sales when the kids weren’t with me. People just want to get rid of things their kids have outgrown, so I’d pick up toys and other things for absolute pennies on the dollar that they would have been when new.  My kids never had any idea that a huge percentage of their Santa gifts were pre-loved.

All that mattered to them was the magic.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast that Tom26 was on. He and a friend were talking about all things Christmas – the carols, the commercialism, the memories and, of course, Santa. Tom26 brought up the Santa reveal story I’ve already shared with you, but he also said this:

“As a young kid, Christmas is everything. And the one thing I’ll say about my mother who, I think, will end up hearing this episode…”

“Tread carefully!!!” said his friend. (Made me laugh.)

“… My family did not grow up with any sort of money. We were really, like, dirt poor. But Christmas – Mum went above and beyond. At the time, you’re young, you don’t know, but you look back and you realise what she did. And that’s something that I cherish, looking back on.”

He went on:

“Then as you get older, as you get busier, it’s about taking a break, saying, “I’m going to put all my problems away for a second, put them in a box, and go and see friends and family. The people that matter most. And they don’t have to believe, either, (they’d touched on religion in the conversation earlier). We can just say thanks for one another on one day. The gifts really are a symbol of thanks, really, for just putting up with me (laughs), well, maybe not entirely! But also thanks for being YOU, through the thick and thin.”

The good thing about podcasts is that you can go through and get it down, word for word. I really wanted to be accurate in putting down what he said because I was so blown away with how perfectly he’s internalised the true meaning of Christmas. Family and friends – the people closest to you. The gifts you buy are only there as a symbol of how much you value those people in your life. Taking time out to be with them and acknowledging them and their importance to you.

I believe Santa lays the groundwork for this.

First, kids learn to receive.

Then they learn how to give.

Merry Christmas everyone! May your holiday season be happy and mirthful and your dinner plate always be full.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

What has my second-gen FIRE child learned about money?

 

In the personal finance world, there’s a lot of blog posts written about teaching children about money. I’ve done it myself – the post I wrote that ended up winning the first Rockstar Rumble was about teaching my kids about compound interest. However, a huge proportion of these posts are written by parents with very young children. I’m at the other end of the journey, with adult kids moving out into the world.

I discovered the FIRE path about 5 years ago, so a lot of my boys’ money training has been observing the day-to-day decisions that I’ve made in the previous years, as well as observing the decisions of other family and friends around them.  I didn’t have the information about investing and compounding that I do now, so for most of their lives I wasn’t actively talking to them about this. Their father has been a small business owner for most of their lives, so they’d work in his shop on their access weekends with him and see life from that angle.

A year ago, on the other blog, I wrote about Evan22 moving out of home into Res at Uni in a post entitled: Reduce Your Bills By Evicting One of your Kids!

As anyone who has ever lived on campus knows, choosing to live there is hellishly expensive. Back when my boy was Evan21, he decided to live on campus for a year to get to know everyone and then work out who he wanted to share a house with for the next 2 years of his course. He paid for this himself. His decision to live in Res worked out really well. As he said on the way up to Ballarat, “All the people who moved into houses at the start of the year are now all moving away from the people they started with and moving into different places with their friends!”

Here’s The Playboy Mansion. Evan22 will be living here with 3 girls. They have the bedrooms in the house, while he has the sleepout out the back. He pays the most for his space, at $150/week.

He’s a full-time student over the age of 22, plus he’s living away from home. This means that he can pull in a Centrelink payment of around $580/fortnight. He’s taking out a HELP loan to pay for his course, which is around $6,800/year. I know that many people, particularly in the US, consider it almost mandatory to pay for some or all of their kids’ college/university fees, but I don’t.

I told them all that I was responsible for seeing them through high school. If they choose to go to tertiary education, (the word ‘choose’ should have been in quotation marks because they were left in no doubt that the only choice about that was which course they should do!)… anyway, they could live with me without paying board. They pay for their own books and fees, but their living expenses are nil.

My reasoning is this – I think a better financial gift to my children is the gift of their mother being financially independent throughout her whole life. I don’t want to be in my 80’s and having to go to the boys for a handout every time the electricity bill comes in. They’ll have their own families to support and their own lives to live. I can’t finance their educations and adequately provide for my own retirement – I am but one woman. So they have to take responsibility for their own decisions from here on out.

So how has Evan22, being the youngest of my children, handled his finances after a lifetime of living with Frogdancer Jones? I haven’t directly asked him about this – maybe an interview post in the future might be interesting to get his perspective? – but here’s what I’ve observed.

But first, a little background to put things in context:

 

He was only 11 months old when I left my ex-husband, so he, as one of the younger 3 boys, grew up without any memory of when there were 2 parents in the house. For the next 4 years of his life, I was a stay-at-home Mum, waiting for him to grow up and get to school so that I could go out and work. We existed on what was called back then the ‘Sole Parents’ Pension’ of around 18K/year, plus intermittent child support when the Child Support agency would catch up with my ex.

With 4 children, going back to work wasn’t a financial option. The daycare fees would have wiped out my wage. So the boys lived in an ultra-frugal house for years. My priority was security for the boys, so the mortgage, food and bills were always paid. Then any extras would come out of what was left.

So what has Evan22 done with all of this?

He’s actually done pretty darned well so far. When he finished secondary school he was adamant that he didn’t want to go on to further education. He took a gap year, where he worked part-time in a fruit shop around the corner and dabbled on various writing and film projects. He couldn’t get any Centrelink allowances because at his age, they take his parents’ income into consideration and I earn too much.

Then the gap year turned into 2… then 3. About 18 months after he finished school, I moved out of the house we were living in and went to live in The Best House in Melbourne, while Evan20 stayed behind in the old place. He got some roommates in and they all paid rent.

He was never late in the rent. He worked and paid his own way. Sure, the garden looked like the place was haunted and they weren’t the cleanest tenants a landlord ever had, but he was supporting himself and hey- the house was going to be knocked down anyway!

In his third gap year, he left the fruit shop and took an office job with a couple of his high school friends. Unbeknownst to me, he’d already decided that he wanted to do an acting course. Unfortunately, that realisation hit him AFTER auditions for the following year were over. So he decided to get a job that actually paid fairly decent money and start to save.

Most acting courses worth their salt are either interstate or in the country. There was one – at the Vic College of the Arts – that if he got in, he could live at home and take the train in each morning. But he knew he’d better not bank on that one. He saved up around 15K over that year he worked in the office job, quietly salting it away for what may come in the next year.

Meanwhile, the house was sold and he moved back in with us. He still kept going to work, saving and still having fun. Towards the end of that year, (2017), he casually said, “Hey Mum, can you help me with some audition pieces? I’m going to try for Acting for next year.”

When he was accepted into a really terrific course in rural Victoria, I was worried about the expense of housing him. But, as you already know, he already had that covered. He was determined not to ask me for money for it, so he paid for his first year of accommodation. Towards the end of that year, he had a birthday and he knew the mature-aged student allowance from Centrelink would kick in, enabling him to pay rent for the next 2 years. He’d quietly worked it all out and then took the steps to make sure it would all come together.

All of my children have grown up to be very debt-averse. None of them have credit cards and the only person they borrow money from is The Bank of Mum if their car blows up or something. (They appreciate the interest-free component. And they always pay me back.) But Evan22 wasn’t comfortable borrowing 5 figures from me, so he worked out a way to cover it himself. I’m incredibly proud of him for that. I think it shows maturity beyond his years.

But what about the rest of his expences? Is he incredibly frugal, spending money only on essentials?

Well, if you consider buying 5 copies of the same vinyl album of his favourite band because it came in 5 different colours frugal… then yes! He seems to go out to breakfast a lot, so I’d say there’s plenty of smashed avocado in his life. When he drinks it’s not beer or wine, but vodka and whiskey. He’s a vegetarian, so his groceries are probably less than if he was a meat eater, though having said that, have you seen the cost of chia seeds lately???

He spends very little on clothes. They’re just not that important to him. I think he’s learned by living with me that it’s smarter to spend on the things that HE values, not what society/his peers/his mother tell him to spend his money on. He follows his own heart.

When we finished moving in I took him out to lunch. He’s an independent guy – I asked if he wanted to swing by the supermarket on the way back to The Playboy Mansion to stock up his new kitchen. I was paying, of course.

“No thanks, Mum, ” he said. “I’ve got plenty of food left over from Res.”

In the whole year he’s been living up there, he hasn’t put a hand out for money once. Not once. I haven’t offered, because I was curious to see how it would pan out. I’m very proud of how he’s learned to organise his money and pay his way.

On the way up to Ballarat, we went via IKEA, where I bought him a Queen-sized bed with all the trimmings, plus a few other odds and ends that he needed. He thinks that the extra things are coming out of his Christmas money. (I give every boy up to the age of 25 a $300 voucher for Christmas. They use it for clothes, usually.) He’ll be expecting a voucher for about $50.

But he’ll be getting the full $300. I think he’s earned it.

I’ve said it before, but I’m very proud and impressed by how well Evan22 has stepped out into the world and has started to navigate himself with his finances. He’s clearly observed and internalised the “stay out of debt’ and ‘make sure there’s more money than month’ rules that I’ve lived my life by.

The next step is to teach him about compounding and investing. Considering that he’s moving into a notoriously unstable field of work, he’ll need his money to be working hard for him. However, judging by how he’s travelled so far, I think he’ll be able to listen and learn.

So far anyway, he’s behaving with money pretty much as you’d want a second-generation FIRE kid to be. Ok, so he’s not doing an engineering degree or living at home and biking to the local university to save money, but all in all, his attitude towards his finances seems to have a solid bedrock upon which to build.

Anyway, this is how a second-gen FIRE kid is behaving in his early 20’s. He learned frugality and delayed gratification at my feet, but I didn’t start learning about investing, compounding and FIRE until he was in his late teens. Imagine what the children of younger FIRE parents will be absorbing as they grow?

The sky’s the limit…

 

Living on a Prayer.

Last Saturday night my friend Blogless Megan and I went to the MCG to see Bon Jovi.

Not my usual genre of music, but when I heard that they were coming I knew I had to get a ticket. Not for present Frogdancer, but for Past Frogdancer. I haven’t blogged much about life when the kids were little, but when we were living on the bare bones of our backsides, there was a song that was one of my absolute anthems of hope. I’d sing it with the boys, changing one very important line, and we’d belt it out and I’d put my heart and soul into every word.

The relevant lyrics?

“We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not,
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love…
We’ll give it a shot.
Woah, we’re halfway there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer!
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear!
Woah, livin’ on a prayer!
Livin’ on a prayer…
Oh, we’ve got to hold on, ready or not
You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got –
Woah, we’re halfway there!
Woah, livin’ on a prayer!
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear,
Woah, livin’ on a prayer.”
I’m reading through these words and I’m starting to tear up. At work, at my desk. I’d better get a grip. But it brings back those days so clearly, when I was so scared I was going to somehow muck up the boys and we’d disappear in a puddle of failure.
When I left my husband, my boys were 6, 4 and  3 years old, while the baby was 11 months old. Our assets were a house that had a 100K mortgage, 2 ancient vans and a joint bank account with $120 in it. I closed that account and gave him half. The boys and I began our new life together with $60 cash, a mortgage repayment, (my ex was supposed to pay it as child support but he soon stopped when he realised I was serious about the whole ‘separation’ thing) and not much else.
I was definitely living on a prayer. The boys were so very young and they depended on me to keep everything together, safe, secure and free from drama. I was determined to give them the normal middle-class life that they were entitled to have, whether or not they had both parents around. No one forced me to marry the man I did, but I was utterly adamant that my poor choice was not going to hold them back in any way. I just didn’t quite know how I was going to pull it off.
This song had so much in it for us. The complete love we had for each other. The fact that we were all in it together, holding on to what we’ve got and moving forward together.
Of course, anyone who has an ounce of grit in them will see the lyric I still change every time I sing it. How can it NOT make a difference if you make it or not? It makes all the damned difference in the world, especially when you’re looking down into the four little faces of your tiny sons who depend on you for everything in their lives.
So I sing, “It DOES make a difference if we make it or not.”
No room for error here, thanks. The Frogdancer family wasn’t going to go down the gurgler if I had anything to say about it!
So I had to go and see this song being sung. I owed it to that scared but determined mother who left her husband because it was the best thing for her little boys. The one who lived for 4 years on the sole parents’ pension of 18K a year, paying the mortgage and keeping food on the table and grimly treading water financially, waiting for the time when her baby was off to school and she could go to work again and try to get ahead.
 So here’s what happened.

 

Every bogan in Melbourne was there. This gif illustrates the typical bogan couple in a recreational mood. Some people were wearing mullet wigs, but an impressive number of men and women were sporting home-grown mullets and Bon Jovi t-shirts stretched out over middle-aged paunches.

I’ve always been a pretty lucky person, even when times were tough and it didn’t seem like there was much light at the end of the tunnel. When you look back, there’s always been luck working on my side. Fortunate Frogdancer struck again at this concert.

Exhibit A: I defy any woman reading this to NOT be impressed by this.

This is a ladies bathroom at a major event in a stadium seating 100K. There was NO QUEUE. This is unheard of. And yet – you see the evidence.

After visiting the Women’s, Blogless Megan and I felt the need to rehydrate with an alcoholic beverage or two. Look! We had open space at the bar! It took around 20 minutes for the hordes of thirsty Bon Jovians to find this bar and fill up the place. By then, we’d tucked away 2 wines and were chatting away like ladies.

 

I also discovered that I’m still nimble enough to leap like a gazelle up onto this VERY tall stool. See where my feet end and the bottle of water begins? That stool was HIGH!!

After our drinkies, we found our seats. When we were looking at our obligatory selfie, Blogless Megan noticed the woman behind my head. I have no idea what she has in her mouth…

Our seats were right beside where the sound people are. That meant that we were in the perfect place to get the best sound. Fortunate, hey?

Then look what happened!! These freakishly tall people came and sat in front of us. The guy on the left was literally 6’6 at least and he sat directly in front of me. I silently sighed, resigned to my fate. I’m 5’2″.

But then he and his wife had a quick exchange and then swapped places!!! I leaned forward, tapped her on the arm and said, “OMG, I love you!!” They laughed.

Blogless Megan tapped me on the arm and said, “We’re in the same row as Molly Meldrum.” She took a sneaky pic. See him in the cowboy hat???

Molly Meldrum used to host Australia’s version of MTV back in the 70’s. He was hugely influential in the music scene.

So what was the actual concert like?

Gently boring, to be honest. Here’s the setlist.

For the first HOUR, there was only one good song. ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’, which the crowd belted out as one. It was great. The rest were from their latest album, which 95% of the crowd didn’t know.

I just stood there, listening to the music and watching the crowd. I wanted to hear, “It’s my Life’ and of course, ‘Living on a Prayer.” I knew my time would come.

After the first hour, the concert got more interesting. There were a couple of songs that I vaguely knew, so that was good.

Lots of mobile phone action during a song where he talked about lying down in a bed of roses. Sounded dangerously prickly to me, but it seemed to be a crowd favourite.

So how was ‘Living on a Prayer’?

Fantastic. I sang that song with everything in me. So did the rest of the crowd. It was amazing.

Would I go to see them again? Nope. I’ve scratched that itch for Past Frogdancer. She never dreamed that one day she’d be sitting in a $260 seat, just to hear her song being sung. Her kids have grown up and they’re doing fine; she’s well on the way to FIRE and she lives debt-free in The Best House in Melbourne.

The line of, “You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got” was how she lived her life for years, with extreme frugality being her main weapon. Imagine if I could send a message back to her – to tell her to chill, that everything was going to work out fine.

I can’t do that. So I stood there at the MCG and sang her song.

With gusto.

You can have everything you want… just not all at the same time.

Sometimes when we’re on the road to FI/RE it seems like nothing’s happening. We set up our finances, we learn about asset allocation and we teach ourselves what how and why to invest. Then, once all that’s done, it seems like it takes forever before we get what we want. We keep commuting into work, putting in the hours, daydreaming about how different our routines would be if we were financially free…

But yesterday, something happened that got my mind on a different track. See the gorgeous Maple tree I’m carrying like an umbrella? I’ve wanted a Japanese maple tree since forever. And now I have one.

Over the years I’ve noticed that I always get what I want. Always. The only ticklish thing is that it’s rarely at the moment that I first desire it.

Delayed gratification’s definitely a recurring theme in my life. I can’t remember which famous person said, “You can have everything you want – just not all at the same time.” It was probably Oprah, Gandhi or Mussolini. Whoever it was, they were absolutely right.

And now I want FI/RE.

Years ago, back when I was a mere child, I thought that one day I’d like to own a grey cat. I don’t know why – maybe grey goes with any decor? I’d already fulfilled my ambition to own a tabby cat after reading Paul Gallico’s beautiful novel ‘Jennie’, and a grey cat was the next desire.

I’d completely forgotten this until I was looking for a kitten to give to David12 for Christmas. I went into the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, because back then you could get a desexed and vaccinated kitten for $50 and save it from being put down, which fulfilled both my strict budget requirements and the ‘feel good’ factor. I walked in and there in the kitten room was a skinny grey kitten with huge green eyes. My childhood dream came rushing back to me.

I ended up walking out with two kittens – Daphne and Maris. You should have seen Jordan12’s face when he opened the box under the Christmas tree! Maris lived to a ripe old age and this was a photo of her favourite sunning spot. I could never plant anything in this wicking box because it was ‘her’ box.

The Cavaliers are another example. When I was a kid we lived on a busy road. It was murder (literally) for pets. Our third dog, Bonnie, survived for about 4 years and we thought she was safe. Past the silly puppy years… you know what I mean. She wasn’t. We didn’t know which breed she was until 5 years later, when I picked up a book of dog breeds at my boyfriend’s house and there on one of the pages was Bonnie.

Two years later I bought Sarah and I ended up breeding and showing many beautiful cavaliers for about 6 years before I started breeding baby boys. I’ve owned cavaliers for the past 30 years. Poppy (on the bottom) and Jeff (on the top) are direct descendants of Sarah and are the latest in a very long line of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels that I’ve owned.

Sometimes when wishes are granted, you get far more than you bargained for!

I waited a long time for this one. This is Evan18 on his Valedictory night. He was the last one to get through secondary school. After putting everything on hold for so long for the four boys – this night was a huge milestone for me. I had a long-term goal of getting to Europe and I said I’d do it when all of the boys had finished high school. Look at my face. I’d already booked the tickets!

This is an example of a milestone that I knew was coming. When going for FI there’s always dollar figures that we know we’ll eventually reach if we keep on plugging away. You feel like the cat who stole the cream when you reach them.

I’ve always wanted someone to throw me a surprise party. It never happened, until my first year 12 Theatre Studies class threw me a surprise dinner when I took a term off to go to the UK and Europe. Look at their naughty little faces! They got Evan19 to pretend that he was going to take me out to dinner – and then up they popped. Such a lovely group of kids. And without knowing it – they brought another wish to fruition, but not in a way that I would ever have forseen.

How often does this happen? An opportunity pops up and because we’ve been looking at life optimisation, we recognise it and grab it? An unexpected windfall, a job offer or something? It’s not always a hard slog to the finish line – unexpected surprises can pop up and brighten the way.

When I was planning my big trip to Europe when I was 15, I would have been aghast if I’d known that I wouldn’t make it over there until I was 51. This is Westminster Cathedral. The history that’s buried within these walls is incredible. I felt like this was my spiritual home In London.

In a funny way, being forced to delay my trip for a few decades meant that when I finally got there, my knowledge was so much richer. I’d had the time to read, to think and to broaden my view. Instead of racing through the cathedral to tick it off a list, I was able to wander around, getting goosebumps at sometimes what seemed like obscure little markers and gravestones – unless you know your history and realise who these people were.

Sometimes the roadblocks and delays end up being a good thing. The trouble is, it’s very difficult to see that at the time! It’s only later that we look back and recognise the benefits.

I’m a Tudor history girl, so a trip to Hampton Court Palace was an absolute must. It was where Henry VIII lived, after all! Look at the red velvet cloak that I was swishing around in. It was in the middle of summer, but for an Aussie, it was still a bit nippy.

This was the realisation of a long-held ambition. I was so happy. I consciously revelled in every moment.

This photo has 2 things that have come to me late – one that I intentionally organised and the other was pure serendipity.

The emerald ring is one I bought when the boys and I went to Thailand in 2007 – a full 20 years after I saw a friend’s brilliant emerald ring and loved it. Many emeralds are a bit wishy-washy in colour, so when I saw this one for sale at the resort’s gift shop I had to have it. It was practically the only souvenir I brought home with me. I’d never forgotten that ring and I was ready to pounce when I saw the chance.

The other one was pure luck. See the table? This is the VERY TABLE THAT JANE AUSTEN WROTE HER NOVELS ON. I went to her home in Chawton with a friend, but I had no idea that so many genuine artefacts were there. I’ve touched her writing desk with my own hand. (Well, I could hardly have touched it with someone else’s, but that’s beside the point.)

Sometimes the things you encounter along the way are the most beautiful surprises.

Here’s another goal that I kept in front of me for years. Haworth parsonage, where the Brontë sisters lived. I booked my mini-tour through England because this was one of the stops. This was a milestone in my life. It was a goal I’d set since reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ all those years ago and it was so darned satisfying to walk through and be where they had been.

Here’s Milly in Wales. I was missing Poppy and Jeff so much while I was away and when I saw this puppy I had to stop and have a pat and a chat. When I found out that this ‘puppy’ was actually 4 years old – I knew I had to have one.

Like all of us on our FI/RE journey, I put a strategic plan in place, researching through my contacts in the Aussie dog world to find out who was the best breeder in England for miniature wire-haired dachshunds, (turned out it was Milly’s breeder, which was nice), then emailing her and asking if she’d exported any stock to Australia. It helped that I’d once owned a Cavalier that one of her best friends had bred, back in the day. She put me in touch with a breeder in Queensland and, 18 months later:

Success! Scout flew down to join us.

Things like this give me hope that my plotting and planning to reach FI/RE will move equally well. That 18-month wait for the breeder to have a litter with a girl that suited us seemed like a long wait at the time, but looking back? It went like a flash.

I suppose the secret is to set big, lofty goals and then enjoy the smaller milestones and surprises along the way. I’ll close with my win from last night – I’ve been waiting for what seems like weeks for both of the boys to be away from home for dinner, so I could make myself a ‘fakeaway’ dinner of frozen chicken schnitzel and chips.

I know, I know, it looks disgusting as it goes into the oven. It didn’t look that much healthier coming out, either. But I was chuckling. I’d hidden those packets away in the freezer in the veggie section and neither of the boys had found it. Success!

Enjoy the journey and celebrate the small wins – even ones as small and as selfish as this one. The journeys we’re all taking to our lofty goals of freedom may seem as if they will never end, but I have faith that when we turn around and realise we’ve succeeded, it’ll seem like it took no time at all.

🙂