Retire? But what will you DO all day?

A few days ago Millionaires Unveiled released a podcast I recorded with them. When I was talking with the hosts, part of the conversation was to do about my goal of retiring earlier than the norm. One of my friends IRL asked me the question in the title – which gave me the idea for this post. I can understand where she was coming from; work takes up huge chunks of everyone’s days.  So I grabbed my phone and walked around, snapping pics of things that I think will make the time in retirement slip by very peacefully.

I’m a big believer in little projects.

See the maple tree in the middle of this photo? One of the things I want to do is to make a garden on my front verandah. I’m in no hurry – I visualise terracotta and deep blue pots with a mix of ornamental, edible and flowers that I’ll gradually accumulate. Last week my sister asked me to go to a market with her. I saw a red maple for the backyard and bought it, then went back the next week to pick up this green one. When I look at it through the lounge room windows as I’m sitting here on the couch, it looks lush and green and relaxing. This will be a project that will take me years to complete, probably, and every season I’ll be swapping out flowers for different colours and looks. It’ll make me happy every time I arrive home.

Also, do you see the 3 tiny succulents in the pot on the right-hand side? Remember them – they’ll be coming back later. That right-hand pot holds my bay tree. I bought it 15 years ago when it was a tiny sprig, planted it in the pot and it’s been giving me fresh bay leaves for cooking ever since. That was a little project that’s worked pretty darned well.

Not all projects are lush, green, tree-hugging ones. I was at home on Melbourne Cup Day, when I discovered that I have a water feature in my front yard. Look at the size of the hole in the guttering! I’m so unobservant – I had no idea. Part of the joys of being a homeowner is that you have to run around and do the boring jobs that need doing around the place, as well as the fun ones.

At the moment I feel like I’m never home. My commute is nearly an hour each way and I work full-time. But when I retire, I’ll have time to tick off all the things I want to get down around the house. I’m really looking forward to having The Best House In Melbourne be totally tailored to how I want to live. There are advantages to being single…

So many things in this photo!! Anyone who creates something will never be bored. I finished this scarf for Izzy, David25’s girlfriend. They’ve been going out for 18 months and they still seem very fond of each other, so I thought it must be time to invest in a hand-made item for her birthday. It took about a month to knit.

See the china cabinet in the background? It’s full of family curios and, more importantly, things I’ve brought back from my travels. There’s the Babushka dolls from Lincoln, the twig from the actual apple tree that Isaac Newton was sitting under when he worked out what gravity was, the wooden acorn that was carved from an oak tree that Jane Asten herself planted, the Delft owl sheltering her babies under her wings that I bought over the canal from the Anne Frank house and so many more.

Above the china cabinet are the Staffordshire dogs from England that my dear friend Scott organised for me, a hand-drawn copy of an ancient North Korean painting that I bought in the art gallery in the centre of Pyongyang, a chest from Singapore and, just out of frame, a print of ‘The Cavalier’s Friends’ – which every breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels has somewhere in their home.

I fully intend to keep travelling all over the place. I’ll always have dogs. The things in the china cabinet and elsewhere around the house will be added to as time goes on. Old Lady Frogdancer will be surrounded by beautiful and quirky things from all over the world. She’s going to have the BEST decor!

I just finished reading this book. It’s a good one. There’s a pink speaker that I picked up in Beijing that I take around with me that I listen to podcasts with. My laptop is here. There’s a wealth of entertainment and information right there – most of it free. As long as there are libraries, bookshops and the internet in the world – I’ll never have time dragging on my hands.

Another set of projects. The pebbles on the ground will soon be replaced by brick paving, which means no more weeds. The bougainvilia is waiting to be planted outside my kitchen window. Every time I put the kettle on or walk to the sink to start cooking I’ll see a mass of flowers. Every year it’ll get bigger and bigger. I know that it’ll make me smile.

There’s also a more practical project, with the worm farm just behind it. I’m collecting ‘worm wee’ to put on my plants. Free fertiliser!

Here’s another project that Future Frogdancer will be so glad I’ve started. An asparagus patch. This is the first year they’ve come up, so I can’t touch them. Next year, I might take a spear or two, but basically, you’re meant to leave them alone to grow and develop. The third year – open slather!!! For the next 20 years or so.

I’m a big believer in having things to look forward to.

Remember those tiny succulents? They’ll end up here, next to my project to see if the lavender bushes will bring bees to fertilise my apple trees. I decided I wanted the steps up to the veggie patch to be lined with terracotta pots. I’m in no hurry to fill them. Some will be permanent plantings, others will be seasonal flowers. Every few months there’ll be a different look I’ll be POTtering around with.

There’s always conundrums to solve, as well, and that’ll never change. When I redesigned the backyard, I had soil brought in for the veggie beds. Turns out that it’s pretty ordinary and my seedlings are all turning yellow. Here is a row of tromboncino zucchinis that I planted in a bed that I’d previously dug in coffee grounds and crushed up eggshells. See how they get worse as they go along?

I hadn’t quite reached the end of the bed with the coffee grounds. Now I know that adding them is clearly something that the plants love, which probably means that I’ll have to swap from Shiraz to coffee to keep the supply up! Sleep is for the weak, anyway…

Improving the soil will take time. Hopefully, by the time I pull the pin from work, I’ll have made the veggie garden a fertile oasis that Old Lady Frogdancer can make the most of.

Another project that will keep me busy. One day this will also have brick paving, a new fence and (maybe) a collection of fuschias. They don’t like the sun, so being on the south side of the house they’ll enjoy the shade. Or maybe it’ll be something else. So many options! (When I retire), so much time!

Another experiment! There’s always something to do to keep your mind busy.

As part of the “Improve The Soil” push, I bought 6 tiny worm farms to sit on the surface of the garden beds. They have holes in the bottom, the theory being that the worms move into the farm to eat, then move out to move their way around the soil and gradually improve it. Trouble is, these farms are meant to be put in the shade. What I’ve decided to do is to plant bean seeds around the outside of them, so that when the summer temperatures reach 40C or more, the plants should shade the worm farms and protect any worms stupid enough to still be inside the farms from being boiled alive.

So far, so good. The Lazy Housewife beans are growing and the worms appear to be going ok. After Christmas is when we’ll see the hot weather and by then the bean plants should be covering the outside. We’ll see if it’s a brilliant idea or a bit of a fizzer.

Tomatoes on the Rapunzel cherry tomato plant. David25 gave it to me as part of my birthday present. Gifts like this will continue for as long as Old Lady Frogdancer can continue to totter up to the garden beds.

Sometimes projects and experiments don’t work. But sometimes they do. Apples! The lavender bushes bring all the bees to my yard.

Sometimes, like my friend, I wonder if retiring early will mean days filled with tedium. But with all these little things at my fingertips, along with the theatre, art galleries, travel, friends and family… I think my days will slip by very contentedly.

Roll on retirement!

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How I choose to spend my grocery money to get more bang for my buck..

6 years ago in 2012, I wrote this post on my personal blog and I also posted it on the Simple Savings forum, where it has remained one of the forum favourites. Last night someone bumped it up again and I reread it. I thought that it was worth posting here on Frugal Friday, as there’s lots of actions I did then (and still do to this day) to keep my grocery bills down as low as possible. I can almost guarantee there’ll be something here that every one of you could adopt and use, even those of you without 4 teenagers, pets or chooks.

Keep in mind that any $$ values are 2012 costings. Also, the photo isn’t the most flattering, but it has something in the background that I’ve written about in the post. 🙂

***

I had a couple of people ask me how I kept my food spending down so low, considering I’m a single mother feeding 4 humungous boys (all taller than me so I must be doing something right!), 2 dogs, 2 cats and 6 chooks while spending $130/week. This figure includes cleaning products; things like toilet paper/baking paper/alfoil etc; the evil takeaways; things like fertilisers or snail bait if I happen to pick them up at the supermarket… in fact anything bought at the supermarket and animal produce store is included on the spreadsheet. It’s easier that way.

The bottom line about all of this is that I scrimp and scrape on the things that aren’t that important to me, so that I can spend/invest the money in things that ARE important to me. An integral way of doing that is to keep the grocery spending as low as possible. This is the one area of the household spending where there is room to move because so much of it is down to choices. Any money that I don’t have to put towards going down our necks can be put towards getting us closer to our goals. I find that an exciting challenge.

I will disclose at the outset that we get free bread from a bread shop. We get whatever they haven’t sold on Tuesdays, so we turn up with 2 or 3 laundry baskets and collect the bread, buns and pies that were unsold and we share them with a couple of families in the area (and I take donuts to work for staffroom 1.) I sometimes get a box or two of fruit and veggies from my ex-husband’s fruit shop when the boys come back from a weekend at his place. (This varies wildly as to how useful it is, depending on who packs it. Tom19 brings back 3 watermelon (whole), 5 bags of carrots and a couple of cantaloupes. The ex-husband packs things that aren’t selling and these things tend to go off quite quickly, while Evan15 packs things we really need such as potatoes and pumpkin… plus baking ingredients for gingerbread. Last time he included 3 packets of vanilla sugar, because he saw it mentioned in a thermomix recipe.) Long-term readers may remember the drama we had a couple of years ago with child support issues. That angst has simmered down, but I make it a point of honour not to waste a single THING we get from his shop! If all else fails then the worms or chooks eat from it, but nothing gets thrown away.

With the bread and the fruit shop things, we save a fair bit right there. I maximise the savings by feeding the chickens from the bread shop buns and pies first thing every morning, so the edge is taken from their appetites by the time I put the feed pellets out for them before I go to work. On Saturdays, if there’s still a fair amount of stale bread and buns left, I give the chooks a “pellet-free” day, where they get fed exclusively from the bread shop leavings. I wouldn’t do this every day, because they need their nutrients, but I figure once a week is acceptable. After all, in the olden days chooks were fed on leftovers and whatever they could scrounge and they seemed to do ok. Tuesday night is “Pie Night”, where we take our pick from the pies, pasties and sausage rolls from the bread shop. It seemed silly to be bringing all this food home and not to use it for the humans as much as possible. (We’re getting a bit sick of pies, but we still make ourselves eat them!)

With regards to the rest of the shopping:

I like to stay out of the supermarket as much as possible. I actually really like food shopping, but every time I pop into the supermarket for something I always end up buying more than I went in there for in the first place. So I learned that the more I stay out of the supermarket, the less money I spend overall.

So I tend to do a fortnightly – 3 weekly shop. This is pricey when it happens… I usually spend between $300 – $400 dollars at a time…. but it’s amazing how much I save by NOT buying all of those impulse buys.

My first shop of choice is Aldi. I adore Aldi with a passion. SO much cheaper than the supermarkets, Aldi has been an absolute godsend to this family. They opened up near here just when the boys were hitting their teenage growth spurts, eating like horses and my grocery bills were soaring. Now I go to Aldi first, stock up with multiples of what we use and then I go to IGA or Coles to buy what Aldi doesn’t sell.

* I look at the supermarket brochures, particularly the “loss leader” specials on the front and back covers. If there’s a particularly good special on something we use, like coffee or peanut butter, for example, I’ll make a special trip to Coles or Safeway and stock up big. A year ago, Coles had a special on 500g tins of Nescafe for $10. I bought about 8 or 9 tins. I’m still working my way through them. Not a bad buy when the tins are usually $18 or so, which means that I’ve been drinking coffee at a rock-bottom price for the last year. I love going into the ‘rip off’ supermarkets with my junk mail brochure in hand, wheeling the trolley around the shop and then walking out with ONLY their specials. It makes me feel great that I’m minimising their profits.

So at any time, our pantry could have 10 jars of peanut butter, 20 tins of tomatoes, 15 tins of marked-down beans as well as all of the other things that are in there. It doesn’t matter, because they’re not going to go off and we work our way through them, bit by bit. When an item is a good price, I buy lots of it, usually in multiples of 10. My supermarket trolley looks very different from most other people’s, but it means that we’re eating a lot of our food at discounted prices. Over time, it all adds up.

Look at the unit prices on EVERYTHING. I was rapt when they changed the law and had to provide the unit price on everything on the supermarket shelves. It saves so much money, especially when I assume that the larger size is cheaper, but it actually turns out otherwise. For those of us who are mathematically challenged, this has made life so much easier. I also look at the top and bottom shelves of supermarket shelves, because they quite often put the cheaper products away from eye-level. This puts the sport into supermarket shopping and makes it fun when I bag a bargain.

You need to know your prices! There’s no point buying something on special at Coles if it’s cheaper at Aldi. I sometimes put together a price book, with the unit price of our staples written down, but in the last part of every year, I let this slide. It’s one of my holiday jobs to get this started again because it’s a very useful tool. I just have a small notebook that lives in my bag, and when I do a large shop I sit down after I’ve put everything away and take the prices from the docket and put them in the book. It’s handy to have this record because sometimes you’ll be out and about and see a special on something. Instead of just grabbing armfuls of it and racing to the checkout, it’s good to know whether it’s REALLY a special or not. The warm glow you get when you stop yourself from being inadvertently ripped off (or when you realise that it’s a rip-snorter of a bargain) makes it worth all the nit-pickiness of starting the book in the first place. I want to go with my friend Liz to Costco to see what it’s like. Having a price book will DEFINITELY stop me being carried away and spending up big on things that I think are good value. I need to be sure they are.

Brand loyalty is stupid. The bottom line is by far more important. Having said that though; I will NOT buy any brand other than Vegemite. Don’t mess with my breakfast! I only buy Nescafe instant coffee and Aldi powdered milk. Their powdered milk is the only brand we like the taste of. Oh! And Masterfoods Devilled Ham spread for a treat. (My grandfather used to use this all the time, so I buy it for my boys. Call me a sentimental fool…) Apart from those things, nothing else we buy is brand related.

My rule is to buy the generic/Aldi brand product first. If we don’t like it, then we try other, more expensive brands. For example, the kids declared that they didn’t like the Aldi peanut butter. Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference, but it’s the boys who eat the most peanut butter, so I complied. We buy the Black and Gold brand from IGA because it’s the next-cheapest and the boys like the taste of it. Recently Coles had a special on Kraft peanut butter (om nom nom… the taste of my childhood…) that made it cheaper than the IGA one, so I bought 20 jars. The kids LOVE it, but when the jars run out we’ll go back to the IGA version, at least until Coles runs the fabulous Kraft Peanut Butter Special again. Though on second thoughts, now I’ve bought the thermomix I can grind down peanuts to make our own peanut butter, so that might be one item that stays off the shopping list. Things change…

Think ahead. Last December I read a comment on the Simple Savings forum where a woman called Joan said that every January she goes on a marked own ham hunt, where she freezes the portioned-up ham and uses it throughout the year. What a bloody brilliant idea! Me being me, I got a bit carried away and bought 3 hams. I chopped them up into pizza/macaroni and cheese-sized pieces and froze them in little meal-sized bags. Those bags of ham lasted us till the middle of September. I can’t tell you how fantastic it was to be able to reach into the freezer and pull out a bag of good quality ham pieces to chuck into a dish when I was cooking in a hurry. I was quite upset when we used the last one. So a couple of days ago I bought 4 hams. Cost me around $150 up front, along with the 4 hours solid I stood at the kitchen bench slicing and dicing away. TEDIOUS. I’m guessing that a lot of people wouldn’t want to put the time in.

But I now have 54 meals’ worth of ham (including the 4 ham bones for pea and ham soups throughout the year) in the freezer. That works out to $2.77 a meal, or 0.55c per person for each meal, (assuming the boys and I are all eating each meal together). Now that’s what I call affordable meat, and makes the job of cutting it up so worthwhile.

Another way I thought ahead was when I was renovating the kitchen. I allowed enough space to buy a full-sized fridge and FREEZER to stand side by side. I have enough freezer space to be able to take advantage of bargains when I come across them (such as the Christmas hams, for example.) I can freeze our excess produce that I grow in summer and use them in winter casseroles and spaghetti sauces. I love my huge freezer. This item is an integral tool in the next point which is:

Waste not, want not. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s really very true. Anything you spend money on, you should use… otherwise, it’s a waste of money. With food, “waste not, want not” is truly a motto to live by. We all have to fill our stomachs at regular intervals. If you have teenage boys, they are adamant that they need to fill themselves up every 15 minutes or so. If you manage to fill the stomachs with food you’ve already bought/been given/grown yourself, rather than going out and buying some more, then you’re ahead of the game.

When I was a SAHM over a decade ago when the boys were running around being toddlers, I remember seeing an Oprah show where they were clearing out someone’s messy house and they were throwing rotten food out of the fridge. The organisation guru who was doing the cleaning totted up the prices of the food that he was throwing away and declared the total. It was around $200 or so. He then said, “This is exactly the same as taking four $50 bills and putting them straight into the trash. In fact, it’d be easier and quicker just to do that, rather than go to the trouble of going to the store, buying the food, carting it home and then throwing it in the trash a few weeks later.” That hit me right between the eyes and I’ve been mindful of waste food ever since.

Nowadays we have a food chain going on here which guarantees no wastage. Humans first, then dogs.

If the dogs don’t want it (or they’re getting too fat) it goes to the chickens. Added bonus… eggs for us and manure for the garden.

If the chickens won’t eat it then it goes to the worms. Added bonus, castings and worm wee for the garden.

Anything unsuitable for the worms goes into the compost. This, of course, gets put onto the veggie garden to produce more food for us.

We grow food. There’s no denying that I’ve put in a lot of money up-front to establish things like the water tank and the raised wicking beds, along with fences for the chicken run and veggie gardens. Ryan17 looked at me recently, raised an eyebrow and asked if this whole veggie growing thing was cost-effective. I said that now that we have the groundwork done, then yes, every year it’ll get more and more economically worthwhile.

Saving and swapping our seed; using home-made fertiliser such as weed tea, worm wee tea and castings; composting all of our waste scraps and chook bedding to use on the gardens; freezing and making jams etc from the things we grow; substituting ingredients to use the things we grow rather than buy the “correct” ingredient from the supermarket; all these things add up to big savings. The main way it saves money for us is that if I’ve gone to all the trouble of growing it, then I’m by far more likely to respect the time from my life that I devoted to it and so actually USE it to cook with, rather than go and buy more food. Again, keeping out of the supermarket is helpful in keeping the grocery bill down.

Without a doubt, the main reason I grow our food isn’t for the dollar savings. I got fired up about growing food when my son’s battle with debilitating depression surfaced. I decided to cut out as many chemicals and preservatives as possible from the food we eat so that I could help him to get well. My philosophy was, “it can’t hurt and it might help” and anything I could do to help him – I was going to do. However, the dollar savings aren’t to be sneezed at either.

*Powdered Milk. Substituting this one product has saved me hundreds of dollars over the last 3 or 4 years. I don’t drink milk (ugh!) but two of my kids drink it like there’s no tomorrow. The up-front saving is, of course, that litre for litre, the cost is less by using powdered milk. The savings with this alone are worth it. But the other saving is that if you keep a few bags of powdered milk in the pantry…. YOU NEVER RUN OUT OF MILK.

This means that I don’t have to drop into the supermarket on the way home. This means I don’t spend money on impulse buys when I’m in there looking for milk. Obviously, there’s no way of calculating the savings I’ve made by not going through those supermarket doors, but I have a shrewd idea that the amount would be substantial.

Put shampoo and conditioner in pump packs. This makes shampoo and conditioner last SO much longer. Instead of the kids picking up the bottles and squeezing a huge dollop of shampoo in their hands, the pump-top containers dole out a measured amount. The kids have to work to get a comparable amount in their hands, which takes too long. They’ve adjusted to using a smaller amount, which of course mean I don’t have to buy shampoo as often. It all helps and if I can get savings by doing something so simple, I’m going to do it!

Making things from scratch is usually far cheaper than buying ready-made things. I work full-time and I definitely class myself as ‘time poor”, particularly during term times. Sometimes I don’t get around to making biscuits or cakes for the kids’ recess snacks, or I’m racing around on the weekends doing gardening work or housework and so the kids rustle up their own snacks. I’ve noticed that particularly in the last parts of the school terms, I buy shop-bought biscuits/cookies and convenience foods to save myself the effort of baking. Seems cheap enough… a couple of dollars for a pack of bikkies/cookies, right? But the biscuits I make myself are cheaper, have far more filling ingredients and have no nasty chemicals in them. Buying “cheap” packets of bikkies adds up to $10 a week, which over time adds up to a huge amount. All this for a snack that doesn’t even fill my boys up, so they’re peckish heading into period 3 and by lunchtime they’re ravenous. How can they concentrate on their work?

Doing my own baking saves us heaps every year. Adding some bags of flour, extra milk, cocoa and sugar, along with some fun things like chocolate bits or hundreds and thousands to the shopping list may seem like I’m adding extra items to the shopping trolley, but in reality the raw ingredients end up so much more cost effective than the ready-made items, because (for example) I can make 5 day’s worth of biscuits from a bag of flour costing far less than $2. The same is true for the other ingredients. Over time, it makes a huge difference. One of my holiday jobs, before I go back to work in February, is to have a few logs of biscuit/cookie dough in the freezer for those mornings when I can’t find the time to make a cookie dough from scratch, but I CAN switch the oven on and slice up a log of cookie dough while I go out and water the veggie garden, and have the cookies cooked and cooled, ready for the boys to grab on the way out the door to eat for recess. It’s an investment in their health and wellbeing, plus a money-saving thing as well. It just takes some thinking ahead and some organisation.

I also make our own soap. This doesn’t save us money because I used to buy the cheapest soap on the shelves. What it DOES do is give us the purest, best quality soap in the world for a very reasonable price. The pay-off with our healthier skin is absolutely worth the extra money I spend on the ingredients.

Watch the attitude. I look on this as a challenge. I love finding a bargain and shaving yet another thing off the shopping list (Why do you think I’m so excited about the thermomix? I can make SO many more things for us with ingredients made from scratch, which means I my shopping list and shopping bill will keep going down!) If things become a chore, I know I won’t do them. I choose to look on the cost-cutting as a fun thing, rather than a burden.

Get priorities right. I don’t “do” coffee in cafes. My sister and some of my work colleagues can’t understand that, because much of their social lives revolve around meeting friends for coffee and cake. I look at that and think that if you did this every weekday, at a conservative estimate of $6 for a coffee and something to nibble on, that’s $30 a week, or $1,560 a year. Even allowing for a couple of weeks off here and there for holidays, etc, that’s still a huge pile of money for coffee beans and water. You may be able to shrug your shoulders and say that’s ok, but for me… that’s a sh**load of money that I could use for far more useful things, like braces for Evan15, braces for David18 *sigh* or a water tank. Or school books… 2 days ago I just spent over 1K on textbooks and stationery for the 3 high school students. Gotta love it. Thank goodness Tom19 pays for his Uni textbooks himself!

My priorities will be different from yours. My main financial priority is to be totally and utterly debt free, which means that I want to pay my mortgage off. I bought my ex-husband out 14 years ago and I still owe money on this place. I hate that, so I’m throwing money at it. However, I could have paid it off by now, but I have other priorities as well.

Overseas travel for the boys, so they can see how other people live and how good we have it here. I don’t want them to grow up to be ignorant bogans. So I took all the boys to Bali in 2006, then we went to Phuket in 2007. (Shouldn’t waste all those empty pages in the passports! Waste not, want not…!) The first Christmas (2009) that David18 chose not to spend with his father, I took him to Singapore to get him out of the empty house and away where he’d be distracted by all the bright, shiny Singapore things. Then, of course, we had the school’s Stage Band tour in Los Angeles, where David18 and Ryan 17 went for 2 weeks. There’s also expensive school camps, but they get to see places like Central Australia and Tasmania that otherwise they’d never see. So I don’t begrudge spending money on travel. It broadens the mind, so they say.

When I started full-time work, I decided to renovate my 1950 weatherboard house to put a decent kitchen and bathroom in it, as well as a ducted heating and cooling system in. I was going to pay off the house first and then do it, but then I thought about how silly it would be to be getting all of these things done to make the house more liveable… just when the boys were moving out. So I decided to get the work done while we were all still living here and able to enjoy it all. So I doubled my 100K mortgage, got the work done and now I’m almost back to where I started, mortgage-wise.

This past year I bought a lot of Project Things, such as a water tank, solar panels, the thermomix, solar oven and such like. They’re one-off purchases to minimise our bills in the future and/or make like easier. Now I have them, the job is done and I don’t have to buy them again, barring unforeseen accidents, of course. Now that I have these things in place, I can turn my attention back to the main priority, which is the mortgage.

I have also spent a lot of money on music lessons, over the years. Again, I don’t begrudge this, as playing music and singing well is a skill. Investing in developing skills is money well spent.

As I said in the beginning, I’m very conscious that I’m a single wage earner who is supporting a lot of people. I don’t want to end up eating tinned cat food in an indigent old age, so I’m paying down debt and stewarding my money in the most prudent, mindful ways possible. Cutting down on our food bill while still providing my family with the best food I can is probably the most important way I save money to safeguard our financial future.

Plus, I like the challenge!

Is money the only investment for FI/RE?

A huge amount of posts in this section of the blogosphere are all about the MONEY – investing, saving, spending, laying the groundwork for the future when we’re all retired and living off our investments. It’s fair enough that so many words are written about this – it’s important stuff.

But as I get closer to the day I pull the pin, I’m getting more conscious of just how many hours are taken up by my job. Since I moved to the Best House In Melbourne, I tend to get up at 5:30AM, go to work and then be back home at 4:30PM at the earliest. Usually, it’s around 5PM or later, depending on whether we have a meeting after the kids leave school for the day or not.

Every now and then I wonder – how will I fill in the days when it isn’t just school holidays, but decades of time stretching out in front of me? That’s around 12 hours a day that will be suddenly made free. No alarm, no school, no bells, no ‘have to be in front of a class at 10:53 AM…”

Many of the people I work with take reams of correction home on weekdays and weekends to mark. One man in my staffroom said to me, “You know, Frogdancer, I looked up at 3:30 yesterday (Sunday) and I realised that I’ve done nothing besides work all weekend.”

If this is a regular occurrence for most people, then they’re going to have a difficult time transitioning to retirement. It’s a bit pointless to fill an entire life with work-related activities and then expect other interests to magically appear once retirement hits. I truly believe that the secret to enjoying the time in retirement relies on setting up interests and projects well before. Investing some time and money into activities that will bring you dividends in the future – not monetarily, but with dividends of satisfaction and pleasure.

People, including my good self, say that they want to travel when they retire. But realistically, unless you’re planning on packing up the caravan and doing the ‘grey nomad’ route around Australia for the first 2 years of your freedom, travel isn’t going to take up a huge amount of time. How else to fill it?

The solution for Frogdancer Jones is to have lots of different hobbies that gently take up time, without necessarily costing a huge amount of money. Activities that feed the mind as well as feed creativity, which, funnily enough, in my case, all seem to have a very practical underpinning. I don’t describe myself as particularly practical, but the things I choose to spend my free time doing would say otherwise.

The picture above is of the oatmeal soap I made a couple of weeks ago. Making soap is an interesting way to spend some time. It’s like doing a science experiment every time. There are so many different recipes and additives that you can play with. Perfumes, colourings, things to add texture or decoration – different moulds to make soap look like cupcakes/dog bones/cars/stars whatever. After the actual mixture is made, you have to wrap it up for 24 hours to cure, before unwrapping it to see what it looks like. This keeps the mystery alive in my life. Did it work? Did it not? This is when the slab of soap gets cut into bars.

Then the soap bars cure for 6 weeks at least, before being hard enough to use. I’ve made 3 batches of soap, some for us but most for Christmas presents. People love them, especially because they’re luxurious to use and it doesn’t add to clutter. A half hour of actually making the soap stretches into weeks before the actual job is complete. Not bad.

Anyone who has learned the skill of reading will never be bored. Give me a good book and I’ll be happy for the whole day. Give me a good series and a week could flow past very easily. That’s why I can never read anything new if I’m going to be busy at work. Once I’m lost in a new story, the world has to get along without me.

Making things with your hands. I think that creating an object out of bare materials satisfies something deep within the human psyche. Personally, I knit and quilt. The things I make keep people warm. See what I mean about being practical?

This also can cost as much or as little as you please. After I paid off my first house I ran amok on the internet and spent up big on knitting yarn. It was all skeins of hand-dyed Peruvian alpaca wool, made by virgins living on mountaintops eating all-organic food. You know the type of thing I mean. Top dollar for the most beautiful yarn you can imagine. Now I’m on a mission to work through it all. I’m not buying another strand until I’m done with what I’ve got. It’ll keep me busy for years…

The other end of the scale is to buy hand-knitted jumpers and cardigans in op shops and unpick them to recycle the wool. You’ll still have the fun of creating, but for 1/100th of the price.

Not everything has to be frugal. I just spent 40K completely ripping out everything in the backyard and totally paving it with reclaimed bricks, putting in a large veggie garden at the back. Honestly, I think that if I live till 110 I’d never get my money back in free veggies – but I will have hundreds of hours of entertainment out here. Providing food for my family from my yard without having to go and buy it is a simple pleasure that can’t be overstated.

Food gardening itself isn’t easy. It’s not just a matter of digging a hole, throwing in a seed or a plant, then harvesting food a few weeks later. There are always problems to solve, new things to grow, experiments to devise and the weather to curse.

Keeps the brain nimble.

Of course, life in retirement isn’t limited to your own backyard. Cultivate an interest in the theatre, art galleries, museums and there’ll be no excuse to be bored. Grab a couple of friends and buy a subscription to the theatre, or set up a monthly ‘excursion day’, where you all meet and go into the city to see an exhibition, an exhibit or a performance.

See? It’s fun!

Little luxuries are also key. I went to lunch at a friend’s place over the holidays and at the end of the meal she served this tea. Before I tasted it I steeled myself. After all, everyone knows that green tea tastes like grass clippings.

Well! Tickle me with a feather and make me giggle! This tea was GLORIOUS! It has a few other things added, such as apricot flowers. We all had about 3 cups and Liz, the girl I sit next to in the staffroom, looked at me and said, “We have to order this when we get back to work.”

It’s not a cheap blend, let’s just say. If you bought a kilo of the stuff you’d be up for a gazillion dollars.  But tea is already dried and preserved. It doesn’t weigh much, so you don’t need to buy a tonne to have enough to last a long while. And then, every so often, you get to sit down, pour a cup and … enjoy.

Marry things like this with trips overseas, weekends away, a good old Netflix binge and the retirement life is off to a good start. Add in some family and friends, some dogs and a beach, and the prospect of retirement starts to look very enticing indeed…

I’m fairly sure I won’t be bored.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Some traditions you just can’t fight.

Yep. The tradition of getting lots of little things done on the last day of the holidays. Happens every time. This time I wanted to make another batch of soap, in case I don’t have enough for Christmas gifts for the people at work. So far these holidays I’ve made oatmeal soap, and turmeric and poppyseed soap.

This time I threw saffron into the mix. Maybe it’ll make the soap turn yellow – maybe not? But it’ll be interesting to see.

So while I run around today ironing and planting and cooking, and then while I go back to school tomorrow, taking the exams I had to mark over my break, (don’t get me started…), please pop across and have a look at the guest post I did a couple of weeks ago for Mr 1500’s ’10 Questions’ feature.

Have a quick read. Then feel sorry for me as I walk into Year 9 English on Monday to do a grammar lesson. Because of course every 15-year-old aches to do grammar.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertising North Korea style (4): The Bigger; the Better.

We arrived in North Korea about a week after this went live. This is the LED display on the Ryugyong Hotel, a building which has been unfinished for the last 30-odd years. When we were driving to our hotel we made a special trip to stop the bus and see it. Our two North Korean guides were practically bursting with pride, while Matt, our Aussie guide and a fellow tourist Pierre, who was on his 9th trip to the DPRK, were absolutely agog to see it. Pierre took this picture (@pierredepont on Instagram). The excitement was palpable.

The huge LED display at the top of the hotel shows a huge North Korean flag unfurling and rippling triumphantly in the wind. In this little series, I’ve talked before about how the Kim family uses specific images and symbols to sear their brand onto the hearts and minds of their people. How powerful is the almost magical sight of their flag rising up 105 floors over their showcase city and shining its light over everything?

Remember, this is a population who has absolutely no internet. They’ve never seen photos and film of the bright lights of Times Square or Tokyo or Melbourne. They’ve never seen billboards or logos or commercials. “Just Do It” means nothing to them, while as for the notion of Coke adding life or Red Bull giving you wings? Incomprehensible!

But here is their Dear Leader providing a magical display of dazzling technology that will be the envy of the world. Along with their nuclear program, which is an equally huge source of pride.

The nuclear missiles even made it into the local Cake decorating show, while a guide at the birthplace of Kim Il Sung, the first Leader of North Korea who is worshipped like a god, casually mentioned their successful nuclear program right at the end of her speech extolling the virtues of the Kim family and their leadership. Talk about electrifying! It wasn’t at all what you expect to hear when viewing historical monuments. Yet it’s par for the course here.

Here’s my view of the Pyongyang marathon, viewed from the rear. (I’m not very fit.) This arch is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Our Korean guide took great pride in telling us that it is 16 feet taller than the original. This particular Arch has the date that Kim Il Sung left Korea, vowing never to return until his country was free from Japanese rule, and the date of his return in 1945, when the Soviets installed him as the head of the government.

That last little piece of information isn’t known here. The legend states that he was a guerrilla fighter who, along with his soldiers, fought bravely to succeeded in defeating the Japanese, practically single-handedly. The arch was built for him by a grateful nation, with the Kim legend sculpted all over it.

It’s solid, huge and not to be argued with. How could it be based on falsehood, when it’s so darned substantial?  

Pyongyang, and indeed the whole of the country as far as we could see, is dotted with ultra-large monuments to the regime and the country. This is the Hammer (industry), sickle (farmers), and the pen (students) that make up the fabric of society. The interior is lined with sculptures showing the heroic people and the fatherly figure of Kim Il Sung looking after them all.

Right from when the grandfather, (Kim Il Sung), took the reins of government, then the father, (Kim Jong Il), and now the son, (Kim Jong Un) – they’ve always been incredibly focussed on linking intense patriotism with the mystique of their family branding. This monument is on the Reunification Road, which our guide described as a Roman Road leading from Pyongyang directly to Seoul in South Korea, built so that when the American Aggressors finally leave the south, the two split nations can finally be whole again. ASAP.

This idea of the two nations being wrongly and shamefully split because of American greed is a pervasive one. The North Koreans have been sold this idea since birth and they are totally convinced that every Korean person longs whole-heartedly for reunification, which the Great Leader is, of course, working night and day to achieve. They get emotional when talking of how their country has been ripped in two and they long to be reunited with family members who are currently out-of-reach on the other side of the border. They pay lip-service to the idea that the government would have to be a committee, because “the people in South Korea are used to their way of running things and we have no wish to change ours”, as our North Korean guide said.

By holding the dream so clearly in front of the people and continually telling them that he is working tirelessly to bring it to fruition, the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Un and his government is forever seen as a boon and a blessing by the people. The branding of the Kim family and its leadership is continual and constant.

It’s not just the people in the Kim family who are lauded and féted at every opportunity – it’s their philosophies and ideas that are sold to the people as well. This is a country convinced that the world banded together to crush them in the Korean War and it was only by the wisdom and bravery of their leader that they managed to survive. Here is the Juche Tower, built in the centre of Pyongyang, with the red flame always lit up at night so the light of Juche is always shining for the people.

Juche is basically a philosophy built around self-reliance, where you don’t ask for help and you solve all problems yourself. On the face of it, it sounds quite admirable, with images of independence, a strong backbone and a willingness to search for ways to solve things instead of weakly relying on someone else. However, for a leader of a hermit kingdom who definitely doesn’t want his people to be looking outside the borders for fresh ideas and help for any problems, this philosophy is ideal. 

Juche ideals are threaded throughout the culture, with pop songs being sung about it, with books and newspaper articles extolling its virtues and references to it being made in every speech and concert broadcast in the country. A huge proportion of the university courses that are offered to workers are about Juche and the Leaders’ lives and the classes are (I’m told) learned by rote and the students memorise them.

Consumer goods and having the latest gadget is definitely not a ‘thing’ here. Immense pride in their country, their leader and their way of life most certainly is. They are convinced that their standard of living and their way of life is equal to, if not better than, the rest of the world. That’s some pretty efficient advertising right there…

And here is where the narrow focus of the regime on selling themselves comes to the ultimate fruition – here is Kumsusan Palace of the Sun – the most sacred place in all of North Korea, according to our guides. I wrote about it in more detail here, but in brief, this sprawling complex houses the embalmed bodies of the two deceased leaders.

It’s a Very Big Thing for a North Korean to be given permission to come here, with our guide telling us that before she got this job, she’d only been here once, when she turned 16. And this is from one of the privileged people who are able to live in Pyongyang, where her family has presumably succeeded in pleasing the regime for the last 3 or 4 generations. It’s truly a rite of passage for the people to be able to come here.

No cameras. No unseemly behaviour. Tall, serious soldiers everywhere. Passages and halls over a mile long, which are serviced by travellators. The dress code is strict and inflexible. Oliver from our group had to borrow a pair of trousers from another guy, otherwise he wouldn’t have been allowed in. I forgot to pack my black dress shoes and, thankfully, realised in time and raced out to buy a replacement pair in Beijing.

Reports vary about the amount of money spent to turn this place from a residence for Kim Il Sung into his mausoleum, with reports ranging from 100 million dollars to 900 million, if you can believe a sum so astronomical. There are chandeliers, marble walls and floors and ceilings that are at least 15 feet high. Priceless artefacts are everywhere, along with immense statues that we were expected to bow to.

This place is a shrine. If you, as a citizen, are permitted to come here, you are deeply honoured. It’s a triumph of form over substance. It’s where I, as an outsider, could clearly see the successful use of the Kim family’s branding and selling of itself as the saviour of the people.

The people who were queuing up to view the embalmed bodies of the Kims were not fearful or forced to be there, as you’d expect if they were scared to be sent to a re-education camp or something. They were deeply and genuinely reverential, convinced that they are the most fortunate people in the world to have such leaders.

Here in the West, we’re bombarded by advertising from all directions. We have the internet, spouting what are supposed to be new ideas but is, in reality, becoming more of an echo chamber each day. We have commercials on tv, radio, Youtube, Facebook, in the movies, on top of buildings and along our roads and railway lines. We’re awash with it all, to the point where we’re blasé about the whole thing.

However, in North Korea, the advertising is narrow, focussed with a laser-like intensity on one thing. Keeping Kim Jong Un in power. It was truly fascinating to watch the power of advertising techniques being used in such a different way than we’re used to. The item they’re being sold is very different to what we’re used to seeing, but the psychological tricks and methods they use are pretty much just the same as ours. People are people.

One day the regime will fall and the borders will open and the way of life in the DPRK will change forever. Until that happens, the 25 million people who live in the bubble of isolation that is life in North Korea will continue to believe the message that is sold to them. Why wouldn’t they? Apparently, they’re the most fortunate people in the world…

I hope you enjoyed this little window into North Korea. Previous posts in this series:

Advertising  – North Korean style (1): Where the Leaders are Larger than Life.

Advertising – North Korean Style (2): Where a Picture Says a Thousand Words.

Advertising – North Korean Style (3): Teach the Children Well.

I blogged extensively about my trip on my personal blog, Dancing With Frogs. I took over 3,000 photos while I was there, so it took me around 5 months to slowly work my way through them all and blog about each day.

Here is the first day of the North Korean leg of the trip. This post has all the rules and regulations that we needed to be aware of before we set foot in the country. If you’re really interested, you can simply sit down with a cuppa and scroll your way through the posts and experience the trip as I did. It was a fascinating trip and SO MUCH FUN!

Well, being alone and lost in the forest near an army camp and (what I later found out once I was back in Australia) about 20kms from a Detention Camp mightn’t have been fun, but it was certainly interesting. So was our 6-star hotel in the middle of nowhere.

Running a marathon was never on my Bucket List, but I’ve done it now. Well.. sort of…

Going to the DMZ was absolutely not what any of us expected, thanks to the Gift Shop.

Mingling with the locals? Don’t mind if I do. Dancing with them to celebrate a birthday? Why not?  Who wants to eat a meal cooked with petrol? Mmmm… how could you not? It was delicious, and only a little smelly…

Anyway, those links are just a sample, if you’re at all interested. It was a trip to remember!

 

 

 

Why would ANYONE want to retire early(er) from teaching?!?

Don’t get me wrong – I love the actual teaching part of teaching. The kids are lively and funny and I laugh like a loon every single day at something someone does or says. Anyone who says teenagers are hard to handle hasn’t taken into account their wonderful senses of humour.

The people I work with are great, too. A few days ago I came into work early and had a long conversation with Alice about last night’s episode of Australian Survivor. She’s a twenty-something Maths teacher who sits near me in The Danger Zone (our little section of a very large staff room). Brock, who sits diagonally opposite to me, has opened up a Milk Bar on his desk, which, when he opens it, has lollies that he gives away to give everyone a boost.  I’m a fan of the Sherbies and the green snakes. Liz, who sits next to me, is another podcast person and we share hot tips about the ones we’re listening to. She gives me the heads up on really interesting books that she finds, too.

BUT – it’s not a total pleasure-palace here.

Yard duty on the oval in either the depth of winter or the heat of summer is no fun. No shade, no shelter from the elements and having to keep an eye out for footballs, soccer balls and balls in general. We don’t even have the fun of nabbing smokers since they cut the Smokers’ Tree down. Getting the after-school-on-Friday yard duty at the front of the school is also terrible. The kids hang around in clumps and talk, instead of zipping off home to start the weekend. WHY?!?

Though, on the other hand – It was my birthday last week. Every year, when it’s my birthday I give lollies out to my classes. On the last period of the day, I climbed the stairs to my year 7 English class. They threw me a surprise party. They filled the room with balloons, brought some lollies of their own and put this GORGEOUS fluorescent tutu skirt on my head as a hat. I wore it for the entire lesson. In the last 5 minutes, we played Silent Balloon Tennis. (It wasn’t silent…) Then, when the bell went we popped all the balloons. It was wonderful.

Granted, that day was pretty good – but there are some things that drive me crazy about this job.

The marking. Honestly, English teachers may have far more fun and have more interesting things to talk about in the classroom than Maths teachers, but we pay for it in the marking. I share space in The Danger Zone with a few Maths teachers. They come back with a pile of tests – a few ticks and crosses and they’re done. If only essays could be marked like that… I’m considered a fast marker and it still takes around 3 hours to mark a typical class of 28 essays. Multiply that by 5 classes, which is the full-time teaching load and that’s… (reaching for her calculator because it’s numbers)…  roughly 15 hours marking essays per term. Then there are grammar tests, wide reading assignments, Letters to the Editor etc.

Teaching English is great – assessing it is a little dull.

Though… every Friday we have ‘Handcream Friday” in our staff room. Brock goes around with a couple of tubes and we can choose the fragrance and we all go off to class with beautiful-smelling hands. It’s a little luxury we look forward to all week. I brought back this tube of Horse Oil hand cream from North Korea to add to the collection. Not many people wanted to try it, especially the vegetarians and vegans. To my surprise, it’s actually not too bad.

At the moment our staffroom is full of really great people, but there have been times in the past when people have been sitting near me who really annoyed me. Anyone in an office can identify, I’m sure. They’re either stupid, or selfish, or incredibly egotistical. And you have to put up with them in your general vicinity every day, sometimes for YEARS.

However, in this job you can make your own entertainment. When I had to stand on a street corner during the latest Cross Country to direct kids along the way they had to go, I wore my North Korean soldier’s hat and my number from the Pyongyang marathon. That was a lot of fun. I had kids saluting me as they ran past, with kids from China and South Korea doing double-takes when they saw me. I’m not a sporty person, but these days are ok.

But does anyone really find Meetings enjoyable? Especially when they’re held just because the time has been set aside for them and there’s really nothing of ground-breaking importance to discuss. If I’ve taken the train to work on a meeting day, it makes the difference between catching a direct train to my station, where I’m home in 45 minutes, to catching a train that stops at Mordialloc, where I have to get off and wait for another train to come through, which adds anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes to my trip. Meetings. Not a fan.

Though it’s not all gloom and doom. As a teacher, you get to escape the school sometimes. I’ve been on many trips to the Theatre, Art gallery, beaches on the peninsula, the Werribee Sewage farm, the Zoo, walks along the Yarra river etc. Also lots of incursions, where Authors, artists, motivational speakers and dance/drama/martial arts/ sports groups visit the school and our classes attend. We have a thing called ‘Medieval Day’, where the year 8 History classes come to school in fancy dress and they spend all day going to specialist classes where they learn about medieval weaponry, crafts, education, sports and they finish with a huge feast in the Hall. Every year I hope that my Year 8 class has English on that day, so I’m rostered on to supervise. It’s so interesting!

 The commute isn’t so hot, though in all fairness I have to say that I brought this one upon myself when I geoarbitraged 2 years ago. I used to live 2 minutes from work. Now it’s more like an hour’s commute each way. That’s a LOT of time taken out of your day. I did it for the money and it was totally worth it, but on those dark winter’s mornings at 5:20AM, I think wistfully back to the days when I’d get up at 7:30.

On balance, I’m one of the fortunate ones who, once I get to work, I enjoy it. It’s varied enough to be interesting and I’m surrounded by people I like and who seem to like me. I have a curriculum I have to teach, but once that classroom door closes behind me I can teach it without being micromanaged.

So what had me coming home last week and going through my financials, hoping against hope that another couple of hundred thousand dollars had miraculously landed into my accounts overnight?

Stuff like this, that’s what.

Things like a brilliant new idea for marking essays, which, when I tried it last week, moved my marking time to 70 minutes for just 7 essays. It’s more intricate, which will be good for the kids, but the technology on the spreadsheet isn’t working properly. It was rushed out, probably because it’s someone’s pet project higher up and they wanted the bragging rights. It’ll make them look good, but in the meantime, it’s added so much stress and extra (unnecessary) work for the rest of us. At the moment it’s only being used in year 8, but the admin has plans to roll it out over the whole school in the future. Yikes!

I had to ask myself: do I really want to spend extra hours upon hours of my life doing this?

As it happens, I still have to put my head down and barrel along for the next couple of years. I’ve reached lean FI, but I want my retirement to include lots of travel, which, when you’re coming from an isolated country such as Australia, is expensive. I need to work longer to include some extra padding in my portfolio to pay for those plane flights.

But if they keep on loading us up with unnecessary bureaucracy and ‘busy-work’, I may not be answerable for the consequences… (Fiji and Bali instead of Europe and the UK??)

As I said before, I’m lucky in that I like most parts of my job. However, I’ve realised that I don’t want to be doing it into my 60’s.

But I’m interested to hear from others. I’ve been a teacher my whole life so I know very little about other careers. What parts of your job are the spurs that drive YOU onwards to FIRE?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of how Frogdancer Jones won her freedom.

In 1996, my then- husband and I bought an ugly little 1950s weatherboard in a quiet suburb near the bay. We had 4 sons: a nearly 5-year-old about to start school the next year; a 3 and a 2-year-old and the baby of 3 weeks.

This house had one lounge, one bathroom, one toilet but 4 bedrooms. We figured that as time went on we could extend. We had a deposit of 40K. The mortgage was 96K.

A year later we divorced and I had to buy him out. The court set the figure at 18K so I went to the Commonwealth Bank to refinance. The bank knocked me back, saying that they’d refinance me LESS than my current mortgage, (which I was making the payments on every month like clockwork.) I couldn’t believe it. I’d lose the house. Where would the boys and I go? I went home and cried for three days.

Then I got angry.

I rang Dad and asked him to come over and look after the kids. Then I dressed in what little ‘office’ attire I had left after 7 years at home with the boys and I marched back into the offices of the bank. I was very clear about my future prospects, my unblemished banking record and the fact that although I was a single mother with 4 children, that didn’t automatically mean that I was a no-hoper loser.

The mortgage rose to 115K. I paid out my husband and the boys and I settled into our new life as a single-parent household. I decided to stay at home with them, primarily to give them the stability that a divorce had taken away from them, but also because the childcare fees for 4 children would eat up any wage I brought home. I cleaned houses to get a little extra cash when Mum could look after the boys, but basically, we lived on the smell of an oily rag.

The next few years were very hand to mouth. There were child-support dramas that saw some very tough times, but I knew that as long as I could make it through until Evan began school, then I could make the whole thing work.

When Evan started prep, I began teaching again, first as a CRT/Emergency teacher and then I got a 9-month full-time teaching contract at my local high school, the same year that my oldest, Tom, started there in year 7. This school was the reason I’d chosen the area way back when we bought, as it had an excellent reputation as one of the top 4 non-selective government schools in Melbourne. Nothing but the best for my boys!

I had security for 9 months with this contract. Our car was falling to bits so I bought a three-year-old Ford Station Wagon, which made the mortgage rise by another 15k. I vowed to have the mortgage down below pre-car levels by the time the contract ran out. I did.

I kept getting contract after contract at the school. Meanwhile, I cleverly fixed the mortgage rate for 5 years, only then to see interest rates plummet. D’OH! Not what the plan was supposed to be! Still, I consoled myself with the fact that at least I knew how much my payments were, and if it wasn’t for the Commonwealth, I wouldn’t even HAVE a mortgage. I kept on.

When the school offered me a permanent position, I knew that now we were safe. I took the boys on a holiday to Bali, ( then Thailand the next year because we had so much fun), and I started renovating. My plan at first was to pay off the house and then save for a new bathroom and kitchen- but then I thought it’d be better to get it done while they were all still living with me and we could all get the benefit.

Ironically, this time when I went back to the bank to talk refinancing, they offered to lend me 260K. I laughed, remembering how just a few short years before I was deemed to be a Bad Risk. I didn’t want to spend that much money, because I still had my over-arching dream to be debt-free.

So the mortgage rose to $199,995.
There was no way I was going over the 200K level!!
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I got rid of the ugly asbestos cladding that looked like bricks made of chocolate icing. We had ducted heating and evaporative cooling put in, along with a new kitchen, bathroom and a continuous gas hot water service so we could have our showers the exact temperatures that we liked – and we weren’t constantly heating up a tank of hot water and paying for it. And a fence:
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Since then, I chipped away at the mortgage, enjoying each time it fell another 10K’s worth. At first, it was slow, but then momentum started to build up. It became like a game, seeing what else I could shave off our expenses to get the total down more and more, month after month. I chose not to do a lot of things on my way towards freedom, but one choice that I decided to do made a huge difference.

In 2012 I went to a Thermomix demonstration held by a blogging friend from my personal blog and I bought one. I loved the machine and it started me thinking…

Three weeks later I became a consultant. Nowadays we’d call this a ‘side hustle’ but this was way before anyone was coining that phrase. I knew that I needed to make more money and my Etsy shop selling knitted hats just wasn’t cutting it.

From memory, my mortgage was hovering around the 100- 90K Mark.

In 2012 I worked full-time as a teacher and did thermomix on the side. I earned a free trip to Hong Kong for a week, which I was rapt about. Being able to travel was one of the sacrifices I’d chosen to make to get rid of the mortgage.

In 2013 I swapped my mortgage to UBank. At the time it was 77K. The lower interest rate made a HUGE difference. The principal started melting away before my eyes. I redoubled my efforts and started hurling every dollar I could at it.
My house had a leaky spot in the guttering. It needed painting. My curtains were so dated it was embarrassing. It needed awnings out the front. But I kept patting her, saying, “Don’t worry, hold it together. Let me pay you off, save for Europe in 2015 and then I’ll look after you.”

In 2013 I invested more time in Thermomix, going part-time with teaching by dropping a day and 17K in wages to take on a Group Leader position where I was managing a team of consultants. I was scared to drop my wage, but if I wanted the job in Thermomix I had to attend fortnightly meetings on Friday mornings. I gave it a go, thinking that if I was able to double what I was losing, then I’d be happy.

I did that. I also earned another free trip, this time to Sun City in South Africa. Who would have ever dreamed that an ordinary single mother of 4 would be able to see African wildlife IN AFRICA, let alone walk through the bush behind real adult lions and cuddle lion cubs? Life was beginning to brim over with possibilities…

December 19th 2013, I was lying in bed first thing in the morning. It was the last day of the school year. I pulled up my UBank statement on my iPad and couldn’t help but notice that my savings were $10 more than my mortgage.

The mortgage was $12, 330.

It was more than flesh and blood could stand. I paid it all across. I had no emergency fund, no holiday savings, no nothing.
But I had my freedom. It only took 17 years.
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