FI = choice in how you spend your time.

We’re really extremely fortunate to live in the time and places that we do.

Izzy’s leukaemia is very treatable. Twenty years ago it would have been a death sentence, said her specialist. She would have had to undergo bone-marrow transplants and chemo. But now? Assuming that her bone-marrow biopsy doesn’t have any nasty surprises, all she’ll have to do is to take a pill every day for a few short years and then she should be fine.

Amazing news. We’re all very relieved.

This shot is from this morning’s beach walk with the dogs. It was around 9AM, about an hour before it started to rain. We’re allowed on the beach with our leash-free dogs until 10 AM in the summer, so there were plenty of people with the means or the opportunity to sneak a walk in with their dogs.

Lots of pure-bred dogs, ranging from Labradors, GSDs,  and Greyhounds right down to a pair of Scottie dogs, a couple of Pugs and an irascible Pomeranian, with a sprinkling of mixed-breeds running around. Everyone was in a good mood, and how could we not be? The smell of the sea was in the air, it was warm and the dogs were all having such a good time. Every time we passed people, we’d nod and exchange a few words while the dogs investigated each other, tails wagging.

Lots of retired people, with a few people on holidays such as my good self, with some kids enjoying the freedom of the summer holidays.

Soon, alas, I’ll be in a classroom at 9AM every Friday. By then, I will have called the roll, let them check their emails and then we’d be just starting the 10-minute silent reading or writing that I start the classes off with each period. Probably by 9:10 AM, just as Poppy, Jeff, Scout and I were setting foot on the sand, I’d be getting the kids to put their books away and we’d be starting the lesson.

It’s little things like this that keep nudging me on the road to FI/RE. There’s no real pleasure in reflecting that this will be me in a fortnight:

Working towards FI? You’re really working towards being able to choose how you spend your time.

Me?

At 9 AM every Friday, I’d rather be looking at this:

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

The FU Fund gets brought to the table.

I had the weirdest experience two days ago.

It was the second-last day of school. In Australia, our school year runs from January – December, so we were looking at 5 glorious weeks of summer holidays galloping towards us. First thing in the morning I walked into our staffroom and the principal was there trying to allocate extra jobs for people. The expectation is that if you’re on the highest pay grade, (like I am), you’re expected to take on another task above your teaching ones to add more value to the school.

Our principal looked at me and her eyes lit up.

“YOU can do debating!” she said.

My reaction was immediate and completely visceral. And may have been a little bit shouty.

“NOOOOO!”

She looked shocked. Understandable, because my reaction probably looked a bit over-the-top.

“But why?” she asked.

My heart was beating fast. I was suddenly in a cold sweat. All I could come up with was, “I hate debating with a passion. I’d be really shit at it. You need to find someone else.”

I reminded her of what I’d already put myself down for – Junior English help – and the conversation moved on.  Then we went into the staff end-of-year luncheon.

This function is bigger than Ben Hur. We have around 200 staff at the school and every year we have a full sit-down lunch, with speeches from staff who are leaving, the ‘Pineapple Awards’ for staff who have done stupid things over the year and a Christmas giveaway, where names are drawn out of a hat and you get some chocolates. This year Kevin Sheedy, a famous Aussie Rules footballer/coach, came and gave a short speech. He looked a little familiar but I don’t do sport. I had to be told who he was. Plus Essendon is my ex-husband’s team… yuck.

I was one of the lucky ones who had my name pulled out of the hat for the chocolates. Not being one to avoid the spotlight, I leapt out of my seat, punching the air and shouting, “YES! YES!”

Our principal laughed and said, “You’re paying for those chocolates by doing debating next year.”

“I quit!” I said and went back to my seat and the function moved on.

I was really upset. I felt like the rug had just been pulled out from under me. I sat back down and the people next to me laughed and said, “Did you put your hand up for debating next year?”

“No.”

“When did you find out about it?”

“Just now,” I replied, and my eyes started filling up with tears.

I was the teacher in charge of debating in my first year of teaching. Admittedly, the school was in the country and I was just out of teachers college, but the experience was horrendous. The first challenge is getting enough kids to fill the teams. Then you have to organise practice runs either at lunchtime or after school. When the actual debate dates are announced, there’s always kids that can’t or won’t make it, so you have to scramble around trying to fill up the spots in the team so that the good kids who are keen to do it won’t be forced to forfeit. You are always trying to pull in favours, people start to avoid eye contact when they see you coming and there’s always someone having a tantrum or making things difficult at the last minute. I vowed and dclared I would NEVER do it again.

The debates nowadays are always at night – in the opposite direction to the school than where I live. I already live a 50-minute drive from school. So I’d have really late nights and be expected to leap joyfully up and go and teach the next day.

The debates finish at around 9 or 10. But you can’t leave right away – oh no. There are always children whose parents either can’t or won’t go to the actual debate, so you have to hang around until someone comes to pick them up. (I already have this when we do our Theatre Studies rehearsals and performances, but at least that’s at school.) It’d be quicker to drop them off home, but of course you can’t drive a child anywhere without permission and honestly, perception is everything and no one wants to be letting a teenage child in their car late at night…

So after every debate, you’re hanging around for at least 30 extra minutes waiting for parents. You can’t leave kids alone to wait. Imagine if something went wrong?

This would all be ok if, as a person, you enjoy the cut and thrust of debating and you enjoy teaching these skills to students. That’s not me. A debating mentor needs to have the thrill of the debate in their blood and pass on their enthusiasm to the kids. That’s effective teaching. I know that I’d be faking it. Kids can always tell.So I was floored that I was assigned to do it.

I understood our principal’s position. The guy who’d been running it for 3 years wanted to step down from the job and it had to be filled. Fair enough. I’m the Theatre Studies teacher. It would seem to her like a perfect fit.

I sat at the table and the tears welled up. People were laughing, then when they saw I was upset they became concerned.

“What do you mean, you only heard just now? That’s terrible.”

“Go and see her after the lunch is over and sit down with her.”

“Are you ok? Surely you can do something else…?”

I got my sh*t together and sat there as the function rolled on. For the first few minutes I wallowed in self-pity, but then, for the first time, I seriously thought about FU money.

For those who’ve never heard this term before, the ‘FU’ stands for exactly what you think it does. It’s a sum of money that you save, enough so that if a boss or a job is making your life hell, you can simply say “FU” (hopefully just to yourself!) and walk away, without having to suck it up and stay in a horrible situation because you’re dependent on the pay packet to survive week-to-week.  It’s a financial cushion which isn’t big enough to actually retire on, but it’s enough to give you some breathing space while you look around for other opportunities. I first saw it coined in James Clavell’s ‘Tai Pan’ and then later I saw it on JL Collins’ blog and although I thought I’d never need it, I liked the concept.

You see, I have my FU money in a bank account. I have 3 years of expenses put away. I kept it back after I did the whole geoarbitrage thing a year ago, but I earmarked it for a buffer fund in case the sharemarket tanked after I retired. I figured I’d have that money to live off so I wouldn’t have to sell my shares while they were under valued.

But now…? I sat there, my brain whirling. I knew I hated the thought of running debating, but did I hate it so much that I’d be prepared to threaten to leave my job? You can’t threaten anything unless you’re prepared to follow through…

My gut was telling me to leave. I knew it would make my life hell. But then other thoughts intruded.

My Theatre Studies class are doing my favourite play next year – ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ We just did the casting this week and I’m excited to be doing it. The people I work with – I love them. I’ll miss the banter every day. The rest of my allotment is English classes down in the junior school, which is fun and entertaining. I want to keep renovating the house, so I need cash flow to keep doing that. I really don’t want to dip into my savings for that, even though I could.

BUT… with my FU money and my teaching experience, I’m not tied to this job. The school I’m at was just ranked 2nd in the state for non-selective government schools. I’ve been there for nearly 2 decades. I could pick up a job anywhere with (insert name of school) on my resume. Heck, there’s a school at the end of my street! I could walk to work!

AND, with my FU money as a buffer, I could go part-time, or pick up short-term contracts or simply do CRT. (Casual/Relief teaching for when teachers are away. ) Doing CRT is a cool $330/day and you don’t have to attend meetings or do correction etc. Hmmm…

As I sat there, listening to the speeches and then a bit later on having lunch, behind all the conversation and joking, my mind was ticking over.

  1. Was I ready to fully retire? On paper, possibly YES. But being the security-valuing person that I am, probably NO.
  2. Am I tied to the job at (insert name of school here)? NO. I am ongoing/fully tenured, but I can get that anywhere else.
  3. Could I work somewhere else? YES.
  4. Could I support myself and the boys by working part-time or CRT if necessary? YES. (It’d probably add to my quality of life, to be honest!)
  5. If for some reason I couldn’t find any work, could I support myself until I could access my superannuation? YES.
  6. Am I prepared to go into a meeting with the principal over this debating issue and ultimately be prepared to follow through on a threat to resign?… I guess the answer is… YES. (Yikes!)

By the end of lunch, I had an empty feeling in my stomach which had nothing to do with the food. I’d realised that the only thing standing between me and being free of the spectre of debating was being fearless enough to walk away from my (up-till-now) lovely job if I had to.

The money wasn’t the issue. Security wasn’t an issue. I had those pretty well covered.

It was the fear of the unknown. The fear that, even if she turned down my offer of resignation, I’d have damaged that working relationship. Which, on the other hand, was already damaged by the debating debacle in the first place…

But as lunch came to a close and we were getting up from the table to clear our plates and go over to the gelato bar for dessert, I knew that I was going to stick to my guns and have a meeting with her. My FU money was there for a reason, after all, and I knew without a doubt that the debating assignment was a deal-breaker for me.

As I was walking back to the table, my principal walked over to me and said, “I can always rely on you to give a good reaction when you win something!”

I smiled and said, “Hey, tell me you were joking when you said that thing about me getting debating.” I crossed my fingers.

“She laughed. “Of course I was! I only said it because of what you said before!!”

I said, “Oh God I love you!!” and hugged her.

FU Fund emergency averted! I have no idea which job I’ll be allocated next year but I know it’s not the one from which clearly I carry scars from my first year of teaching.

But how interesting that whole episode was. I’m really happy where I work and I assumed that I’d be working there until I chose to leave the workforce. I hadn’t given that chunk of money in the bank a second thought once I put it in there. It was for Old Lady Frogdancer to be safe from bear markets, not for me.

But when the situation changed, having that chunk of money/FU Fund seriously changed the whole dynamic of how I thought about my quality of life. I was free to make a stand, if I needed to, about my job.

If that money wasn’t there and my principal wasn’t joking, I would have had to suck it up and be the debating organiser. I wouldn’t have much of a choice. It’s the end of the year and schools have filled their positions for next year. Either way, I couldn’t move seamlessly from one job to another. I’d have to stay and be miserable. I’d need that pay packet every fortnight.

Having an FU Fund gives the courage to be able to sidestep and walk away into a world with new pathways.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to have that ‘courageous conversation’ with my boss. I’m relieved that the status quo will continue. I love my school and my students and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’

But how liberating is it to know that, should the situation at work ever change to a point where I find it untenable, I’m financially free enough to walk away?

It was a half-hour misunderstanding. Absolutely nothing in the big scheme of things. But in that half an hour I was free to evaluate my life and to weigh up what was important to me. I realised that I am finally free to draw a line in the sand and say, “This far and no more.”

That’s a very precious position for a person to be in. It makes me think about my job in a whole new light. It makes me think about my LIFE in a whole new light.

The possibilities are bigger than I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

I love my job – so why do I want to retire early?

Today is the last day of classes for years 7 and 8. We’ll have a week and two days of activities and curriculum days, then I’ll have 5 weeks of sweet, sweet holidays. Five glorious weeks where I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and I won’t hear a single school bell. Hmm… sounds a bit like retirement, doesn’t it?

I still really enjoy teaching. My days are varied, the kids make me laugh all the time and I’m good at what I do. Next year my year 12 Theatre Studies class is doing ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, which is one of my favourite plays, so I have that to look forward to. I already know that I’m teaching years 7, 8 and 9 English. I enjoy the wriggly puppy classes and it’s what I was doing this year, so there’ll be no surprises. 2019 should be a pretty good year of teaching.

So why am I so eager to reach the ‘Retire Early’ part of FIRE?

Have a look at the screenshot above. I get to work at around 8AM every day. I could arrive later but since the day my car’s side mirror was torn off by a car when I parked in a side street, I prefer to get to work early enough to get a park in the staff car park. This means that I get up at 5:50AM to spend some quality time with the dogs on the couch, reading and snuggling, while I drink my coffee.  I do the reading, they do the snuggling.

My commute is never under 40 minutes each way and is sometimes a bit longer. I don’t really mind this, because I listen to podcasts, but it takes another big chunk out of every day.

After work, we have to stay late most nights. There’s always a meeting or marking to do. I’ve learned that if I optimistically take correction home, it tends to stay in my bag so all I do is bring it back to work the next day. So I do all my marking at school.

From the moment the locker bell goes at 8:35, our days are scheduled to the minute. The classes are at weird increments of time and we have to be at the classroom door precisely on time to start the classes. Those darned kids aren’t going to teach themselves! The bells rule our days and the 2,300 students and the 300 teachers all behave like Pavlov’s dogs whenever one rings.  I’m not saying we drool, but as soon as that bell goes, bums are off seats and we’re all halfway out the door, ready for the next bite-sized chunk of the day.

If you’re a teacher who couldn’t get to the bathroom during recess and you’re now halfway through period 4 and you’re bursting to go – that’s too bad. There’s no way that you’re allowed to leave the class by themselves, not even when nature calls. If something happens, like a kid having a seizure, (which happened last term to the teacher who sits next to me), or a fire alarm going off, or a kid decides to throw a paper plane that hits another kid in the eye, and you’re not there to take charge – heaven help you legally…

Feeling a bit seedy and wanting to take things a bit easy that day?? Don’t do it – the kids will smell weakness and they’ll eat you alive. You have to have your game-face on all the time and be high-octane full-tilt boogie-woogie. This is why most teachers make it to the end of term/the year and then spend the first week of the holidays being ill.

Personally, much as I love the actual teaching part of teaching, I’m beginning to want to live my life in a less structured way. After all, it’s not often that I’m lying awake, breathlessly waiting for the alarm to ring at 5:50 so I can get up to go to work.

Imagine waking up naturally on a Monday morning?

I’d like to choose for myself which days are jam-packed and productive, instead of getting my timetable for next year and finding out that the timetabler has decided that Wednesdays and Thursdays in 2019 are going to be the busy days, while Mondays and Tuesdays are the days where I’ll have some breathing room.

Much as I love my students, sometimes I think that it’d be nice not to live my days surrounded by the hormonally challenged. The latter part of year 8 until the middle part of year 10, when the kids are 14 – 16 years old, is when they go slightly irrational. They’re growing like weeds, which takes a huge amount of energy, they’re being flooded with hormones and they bounce from childishness to maturity and back again with bewildering speed.

This is all very tiring for the kids, but they’re not the only ones suffering. I call myself an extroverted introvert, which basically means that I can enjoy the company of other people, but I hugely need time on my own with just the dogs to recharge the batteries.  Those students can suck the vitality right out of you if you’re not careful.

Imagine having a week where I didn’t even have to leave the house, if I didn’t want to? Where, if that happened, I didn’t have to devise a week’s worth of lesson plans and have work ready for all of my classes to do while I was away?

Where I could choose to have a nanna nap after lunch for 30 minutes or so, without it being considered unprofessional to do it in front of a class?

Where I could quietly plan a holiday overseas AND BE ABLE TO GO OUT OF SCHOOL HOLIDAY TIMES???  The unfettered freedom of having the whole calendar open to me… I can barely fathom what it must be like! All of those cut-price airfares – we teachers never get to enjoy them.

I’m rapidly reaching the stage where I want the freedom to be able to choose what my days will be like. I don’t think I’ll be bored – as long as there are books, the internet, my hobbies, my friends and my dogs in the world, I’ll be fine. Oh! And the boys, of course!! Nearly forgot about those people I made…

The reason I like teaching as a career so much is that I hate being micromanaged. Hand me the curriculum, I’ll walk into the classroom and close the door and I’ll teach it the way I want to teach it. I’ll do a great job, the kids will learn and be inspired, we’ll all have a laugh and I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder, nitpicking how I do things.

This has been a good gig from that perspective for years now. But I’ve reached the stage where that’s nudging into being not enough autonomy for me.

For me, FIRE means freedom. Freedom to be ferociously busy or terrifically lazy – whatever I feel like being that day. Freedom to dress how I like on a weekday. To never have to do a performance review again or fill in PDP documentation. To go for a walk on the beach in the middle of the day or jump on the train and go to an art gallery on a Thursday morning – just because I feel like it.

I’ve already reached FI. But I want to be sure that I can travel every year of my life, so I’m continuing to work for now. I’m doing projects around the house so that when I DO pull the pin on work, I won’t have to spend money on renovations. I’ll be free to spend it all on anything I want.

I’ve spent the last 21 years being a single parent to my 4 boys. I’ve worked full-time for 16 years in a job that, like parenting, requires a huge outflow of caring and focus. I’m now 55.

FIRE means time for ME.

Is it any wonder I can hardly wait?

 

 

 

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.

Putting infrastructure in place now for retirement #1.

The quest to make The Best House in Melbourne as schmicko as possible for when Old Lady Frogdancer pulls the pin on full-time work has reached another stage. Previously, I had the backyard paved with beautiful reclaimed bricks, all fully grouted in so that Old Lady Frogdancer won’t break a hip bending down to pull out a weed. I’ve installed wicking garden beds to save on her water bills and to make sure her organic veggies stand the best chance of surviving in a drought, and the permanent plants such as asparagus and apple trees have been planted, so that the old girl won’t go hungry.

One of the neighbours stopped and asked me about how much the bricks cost. He’s a builder and he got all of his from work. He said he paved a similar area for around $150. Mine cost astronomically higher than that. I should have been a builder instead of going into teaching!

The question is – do I finish the backyard by putting a roof over the lower part and creating a huge outdoor room, or do I finish the paving by getting the sides of the house done?

The roof would be more fun…

… but when I was talking to my new neighbours the decision was pretty much made for me.

Early on in the life of this blog, I wrote about the nightmare of a house that was being built beside us. You can quickly skim through the post here. Three years after the build began, the owners have finally moved in. They’re a young family, with 4 kids under 4, (they went for baby number 3 and got twins instead), and two dogs.

The dogs sound like bad news for my pack. They’re staffies and, according to my neighbour, they hate little dogs. He suggested replacing the fence with one that’s as high as we’re allowed to go to stop his dog from jumping over it to get mine. I suggested digging down to put wire so that my stupid dogs wouldn’t dig their way under.  I’m not rapt with the sound of these dogs, as my 3 wouldn’t stand a chance if it came to a fight. The Cavaliers only have half their teeth left and Scout is only 3 inches tall.

Thankfully, the neighbour is just as keen as I am to make a secure fence. As he said, “I don’t want my dogs being put down.” So we’re both on the same page with keeping our animals safe and definitely apart.

So along with the fence, I’m putting paving all down the sideway right up to the fence. There’s no way anyone can dig their way through a brick path, no matter how determined they might be. Old Lady Frogdancer will have a weed-free life and Poppy, Jeff and Scout will live to a ripe old age. As will Old Lady Frogdancer, of course!

The landscaper began work a few days ago and has already had to book a plumber to unblock a pipe we need for drainage. I’m consoling myself with the thought that I can deal with the problem much better now than if I was old and retired. Suddenly, the fact I have a job and a regular wage is a comforting thought!

When I lived in the old house, I gradually put in a food forest with an eye to feeding us all in the years to come. When my plans changed and I sold that house, I knew that someday, I’d like to do that again. I enjoyed the fresh produce, as well as the ‘science experiments’ of gardening, where you try this idea and that idea and see how it works.

Currently, with just under 2 hours a day being snatched by my commute, I don’t have a lot of time to spend on a garden. But that’s ok. I’m slowly setting it up by building the solid infrastructure and then over the next few years I’ll play around with it, slowly building up the soil so when Old Lady Frogdancer retires, it’ll all be there, ready to go.

The new fence will cost $1,200. The next stage of the landscaping work has been initially costed at 10K, but the plumber and the installation of a watering system for the non-wicking beds will probably send that amount skywards. I’m thinking I’ll probably get him to use any unused bricks to put a border at ground level around the lawn near the fence lines, so that a lawn mower can run over the bricks and the grass will be kept under control. More dollars, but it should make Ryan23’s life easier, and when she’s all alone in the house after the boys leave, Old Lady Frogdancer will be able to mow her lawn without a care in the world.

On the face of it, it’s all a huge amount of money to spend. But, as usual, I’m looking at the long view. The current fence is falling apart. The new one will last at least 20 years. The paving will last forever. I really like to do a job properly once and then not have to do it again. (That’s why I hate housework.)

My goals in retirement are to travel and to potter around at home doing anything I feel like doing. I have absolutely no desire to have a ‘side hustle’ in retirement, though I may work part-time in teaching as I get closer to it. Once I finally reach my FI number – I’m parking my fat behind on the couch and doing whatever I want to do.

So in the short term, this project is extravagant. But in the long term, it fits in with setting up my house to be exactly what I want for retirement. I also quite like the idea that I got the boring stuff done first – now I can save up and get the fun stuff, like the roof, outdoor furniture, outdoor lighting etc.

Here’s the first part of the new fence. I’m loving it. It’s very tall and very new. It’s nice to have a checklist of things that I want to have done by the time I retire, and it’s a good feeling to be able to tick one item off is a good feeling.

By the end of this week, the paving on both sides of the house will be done and that’ll be another tick off the list. Sadly though, the money I put aside from the sale of the old house to attend to the backyard will be gone, so I’ll be cash-flowing the rest of the projects. By retirement, my goal is to have my house totally ready to house me and mine for the next few years without a thing to be done to it – all the little niggling jobs will have been taken care of while I still have a wage flowing in.

My plan is to cashflow while leaving my investments to burble along contentedly without me. Though if the stockmarket takes a sharp dive, that plan may change.

Ahhhh, life! You never know what’s going to happen. You wouldn’t be dead for quids, hey?

 

Guest post about my past…

I’m such a doofus sometimes! I forgot to let you know about a guest post I did for XRAYVSN.

He’s got a thing going on his blog about how divorce affects FI and he asked me to write something about my experiences. My divorce was over 20 years ago when Evan22 was 11 months old and Tom26 was 6 years old. The other two boys were somewhere in between. Hey, you have 4 children in 5 years and their details tend to get a little fuzzy…

There’s a list of questions participants can choose from so I told my story while weaving my way through. I have to say, it all seems like ancient history now but it was interesting to go back and revisit Frogdancer Jones when she was so scared to leave the marriage and strike out on her own with the 4 small boys. I wish I could go back in time and tell her that it was all going to work out fine.

Here’s the link to go and read it.