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:

 

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.

 

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!

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.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: