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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I blinked. OMG.

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

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

Imagine the freedom…


“If the plan is to have no money, you’re doing f***ing awesome at it!”

The title is a quote from this clip. This is so true. Our actions speak louder than our words. I particularly like what he says about following the plan, towards the end of the clip. Plus there’s the wonderful Scottish accent – what is it about UK accents?!? I’m an absolute sucker for them. This made me think of a conversation I had a week or so ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I have a very dear friend who, along with her husband, lurches from one financial disaster after another as time goes on. I’ve known them for 20 years and in that time they’ve lost jobs with no Emergency Fund behind them; had cars written off with no insurance; a mortgage that after 25 years of payments is still owed exactly as much as they originally borrowed due to frequent equity withdrawals; bills/rates/mortgage repayments being ignored until they get chased by the company concerned and a huge bill being owed to the tax department. They own a small business and have not paid themselves superannuation and so they look to be relying on the age pension to support them when they reach retirement age. Financially, they’re a trainwreck. Personally, they’re fun, lovely people and I love them both dearly.

A week or so ago, after the last financial disaster struck, we had a phone conversation. Her husband was pulled up by the police for a random breath test, (no, he wasn’t drink driving!!), and the police discovered that his car registration was 3 months overdue. Instant confiscation of his car = no way to get to work.

She was livid. Even a week after it happened, she was practically incandescent with rage on the phone to me. Which, on the face of it, I can well understand. Who doesn’t pay their rego? It’s obvious that bad things are going to happen if you ignore your bills. I was really sympathetic… until it suddenly occurred to me… this has been happening to them for over 20 years. Why is he still entrusted with taking care of the bills?

My mind flashed back. Every so often we have this conversation and it’s always the same. Everything appears to be going along ok and then an unpaid bill/mortgage payment/a.t.o payment surfaces and reveals that things are NOT ok. All hell breaks loose, they scramble to find the money to get back on an even keel, then life goes on ok until… etc etc.

When I gently suggested that maybe she should take control of the family finances, she groaned. You could almost hear the eye rolling.

“Yeah, I suppose I should,” she said. “But it’s so boring. I hate that stuff.”

I didn’t say anything else. What would be the point? It really hurts to see them in this loop of financial drama upon financial drama, but it’s not my place to wag the finger at them. They’re adults and they’re not stupid. They know what they should be doing; it’s not rocket science. They’re simply choosing another plan, for whatever reasons. And so far, I guess the plan is working for them, despite what she says.

I hope that when the plan ceases to work, they’ll come and have a chat. I certainly won’t have all the answers, but I’ve picked up a bit about how to get a stranglehold on my finances and wrestle them under my control. Until then, all I can do is lend an ear, love them both and keep my mouth shut.


My why of FI.

cropped-img_90451.jpgI suppose it’s fitting that I’m starting this blog on the last day of the school year, with five glorious weeks of freedom beckoning – a mini-retirement! Every year we teachers get this slab of time to recharge the batteries… after working with the hormonally-challenged in our society, (otherwise known as teenagers) all year, we deserve it… and it gives a tiny peek into what life might be like once we reach our ‘magic number’ and are able to retire.

But what is a ‘magic number’? How do you find out what it is? What do you do with that information once you do? Is it even possible for a teacher on a single income to be able to retire early… or ever?

This is the sort of thing I was asking around 4 years ago when I’d finally managed to pay my house off and I was looking towards the Next Great Financial Challenge: retirement. Years of enforced frugality had enabled me to get the banker off my back, but I knew nothing about investing, how superannuation and the stock market worked. I was going to have extra money coming in now that the mortgage was gone, but what was I supposed to do with it?

At the time I was mulling over these questions I was nearing 50. I had less than 100K in super because I’d intelligently withdrawn every penny I’d put in before kids to pay a deposit on a block of land with my then-husband. (We later lost the lot when we sold the block at a loss. I’ve had my share of stupid money mistakes.) I had taken 10  years out of the workforce in my late 20’s and early 30’s to raise my boys.

I started full-time work again in 2004 when I was 41, when my oldest son was beginning year 7 and the other boys were all in primary school. I’d worked for a couple of years doing CRT (emergency teaching) before that, but it didn’t pay super. I had a mortgage, an old car and 4 boys, 2 cats and 2 dogs to support with intermittent child support. I had scraped together a 1K Emergency fund, but that was all I had behind me. But the advantage of being in a position like that is that they only way is UP.

I guess this holds true in any workplace, but over the years I started seeing the older teachers either giving their retirement speeches and leaving, or grimly hanging on “for another year” and “another year”. Occasionally someone younger than 67 would get up at the end of year lunch and say their goodbyes and everyone would murmur, “How did he do that? We have to pick his brain before he goes“, but to the best of my knowledge no-one ever did. It was like a law of life that we all work until we’re at pension age and it’s only then we get to go and have fun.

Two people made me start to question this. One was a Maths teacher who stepped out of his kitchen door one night after work to have a cigarette and then collapsed and died on the spot. Where were his ‘golden years’ of fun and travel? The school put a bench in the Korean garden as a memorial, but I’d hazard a guess that he’d rather have had a few more years of life doing what he wanted to do. The other was an English teacher called Evie. She worked for far longer than she should have. She was in her 60’s and wasn’t in the best of health. She’d come to work and by the end of each term, while we’d all be tired, she was exhausted. She grew less and less in love with the job, but she felt she had to keep working because she didn’t have the financial means to retire. It was awful to watch her and I began to vow to myself that I didn’t want to be in her position.

So here’s my position now. It’s a bit different to most of the FIRE bloggers who all seem to be retiring by the age of 5 1/2 and travelling the world on nothing more than credit card reward points and the returns from their share portfolios and rental houses.

I started this journey late. I’m doing it on my own, while still supporting 3 out of my 4 children who are still at uni and living at home. Our financial situation began with my separation from my husband while carrying a 100K mortgage and $60 cash back when the boys were 5 years old and younger. I want to show that it’s still possible for someone to discover FIRE in their 40’s/50’s and to still be able to put strategies and actions in place to retire early(er) than most people and be able to live with abundance and pleasure. My target is to reach my Magic Number and retire when I’m 59. That’s when I can access my super if I need to, while still being young enough to scamper around the world without needing an afternoon nap and a zimmer frame.

So that gives me 5 years. With that time frame, I’ll be graduating with this year’s year 7 kids. Feel free to join me as I talk about all things FIRE. I’d love for you to walk with me as we discover how to put things in place to enable us to live our lives with the freedom we desire.