Frugal Friday: What can you scavenge from your job?

I work at a large suburban secondary school in Melbourne, Australia. Schools are funny beasts – they’re a glorious mix of theory and practice, with all sorts of materials and resources on offer to satisfy the requirements of teaching over 2,000 hormonally-challenged humans the skills to survive and thrive in the real world.

We have subjects ranging from English and Maths to Dance, Food Technology, (ie: cooking), Outdoor Ed and Studio Arts. We have kids scampering around making films in Media Studies, putting on productions in Theatre Studies and poring over computers creating games and other programs in I.T.

Our campus is home to 2,300 kids, with around 200 teachers. Can you imagine the resources that pour into this place every week? And, more to the point, can you imagine the resources that flow out, usually as rubbish? The trash that this place produces is prodigious. I began to wonder how I could use some of it in a way that reduces the waste but also saves me money.

Obviously, not every workplace will have the little bonuses that mine does, but it doesn’t hurt to step outside the box and think about how you, as a legit worker in your place of work, can engineer a win.

When I say this, I don’t mean things like stealing office supplies!! Here where I work, the school already gives teachers all that we need, so there’s no point smuggling out pens and paper clips – when we run out we just order some more. It’s not an issue. Photocopying is all free – you just punch in the code of your department and you’re good to go. Handy when you need a new passport, etc.

But how about things like food waste? I’ve just begun my veggie garden again and the soil isn’t good. I need lots of compost to improve it. I could drive to Bunnings and load up the car with bags of compost at $15 each or…

… I could have a brilliant idea instead.

I chose the latter.

I’m an absolute genius. Look at the staffroom compost bin at the end of my desk.

My brilliant idea began with this. Most teachers are idealistic hippies at heart. You have to be if you expect to last more than a few years at this job! I printed up a list of what couldn’t go into the compost, walked across to the library and had Anna laminate the page, then I set it up. Every day I line it with pages from the staff newspapers that I collect at the end of the day from the common room, once everyone has finished reading them.

People love it. They laugh at how excited I get when another apple core or banana peel is dropped in and they like feeling that their food waste is actually going to be put back into the food chain, not just being left to rot and create methane gas in landfill. There’s even one teacher who loves the idea so much, she brings in her food scraps from home. She lives in a flat so she can’t have a garden.

This set-up was going for about a week when I thought of the Food Tech kitchen just down the hall. They have cooking classes in there all the time. Maybe I could get them to put a compost bin in there for me?

The kitchen staff were SO enthusiastic. They told me to bring in a little bin that could sit on the countertop and the kids could drop the scraps in. Then came the game-changer:

“Why don’t you go down to the canteen and ask them if they’d put a bin in there for you?”

OMG. That canteen serves hundreds of kids and teachers a day. Imagine the scraps?!? Imagine the compost?!? Imagine the food I could grow?!? I ran down there as fast as my portly frame could carry me.

The woman who runs the canteen is Just Like Me. She’s making a food forest at her house, she has bees, she even has a few horses who live out in the country somewhere. She was rapt at the thought of turning the food scraps into Something Useful. We bonded over talk of harvests, home-made honey, horse poo and the like. I now have a 20-litre bin in the canteen kitchen and I take the contents home twice a week.

The Food Tech teacher has my year 7 English class. When she told them that the compost bin was for Ms Frogdancer Jones, she said that they were so excited to be putting their eggshells and scraps in. Teachers love getting gifts of love from their students. Usually, I prefer wine, but this is great too.

I’ve had to buy another compost bin to accommodate all the scraps!

I know a guy who works in an office in the middle of the CBD. He collects coffee grounds from his office kitchen, plus from a café that he stops into on his way to work every morning. He takes them home and uses them in his garden and worm farms. Over time, he’s fertilised his entire garden for free.

I also have access to a library, where the staff love to buy books. Naturally, they buy lots of Young Adult books for the kids, but they also buy books for adults and they’re happy to take requests from teachers. I still buy some kindle books, but only a couple of times a year. I just wander through the library shelves or borrow from their Kindle books, which is even better. Having access to this place has saved me hundreds of dollars each year.

It’s not just the library. People here love to read and they’re silly enough to buy their own books. Especially the English teachers. Every now and then people cull their bookshelves and bring them in. Once I finish these, I’ll pop them out for someone else to read. The (reading) circle of life…

When our principal took over, she introduced free tea and coffee. We had a speaker come and talk to the staff about well-being a few years ago and she mentioned that green tea is really good for serotonin levels, so ever since then, we’ve had green teabags as an alternative as well. I like the green tea with mint. It takes the edge off the whole lawn clipping taste. We have plunger coffee ready and waiting for us every recess – the aroma when we walk into the common room after class is amazing.

Yet some people on staff still go out for coffee instead of using what’s already provided. I just don’t get it…

Over the years I’ve been to so many theatrical productions through the school, due to my Drama classes. It’s awesome. The kids have to see a play as part of the course, so I look at what’s on, then book the one that I want to see. It’s a sacrifice, but I steel myself every semester.

But I’ve also been on so many other excursions, due to the fact that there’s student: teacher ratios that have to be met for safety reasons. So I’ve been lots of different trips to the zoo with the year 7 Science classes, to the Werribee sewage farm, (for some reason I only went once- once was enough), various beach and city walks for Geography, Art exhibitions at the NGV for year 7 Eng/Art… the list goes on.

The photo above was taken when the NGV art staff let me into the Van Gogh exhibition in the back door not once, but twice, when I was taking kids to the Art Gallery on 2 separate days. How amazing was that? I queued for an hour to get into the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and I loved it, but somehow these snatched viewings were sweeter. Love a freebie!

The more active teachers get to tag along on surf camps, ski trips and hiking with the Outdoor Ed kids, while there’s always a sporting team needing a coach. When they’re playing another school, those teachers get to escape the campus and get out into the fresh air and help kids sport their little brains out. Sounds like hell to me, but still – other teachers love it.

Camps, both in Australia and overseas. Anyone like to travel?

Every year level goes on at least one camp a year, with subjects such as French, German and Music going on extra trips. There’s a French and German exchange every year, with teachers ferrying the kids across to Europe and staying with them for the month. The year 10 French kids also go to New Caledonia, which is a little closer to home. The music kids have been to Iceland, the US (two of my boys went on this one), China and Cuba, as well as tours of regional Australia, all with teachers going along with them.

I was toying with the idea of volunteering for the year 10 Central Australia trip next year, which is (I think) a 10-day bus trip with around 60 kids, where they see Coober Pedy (an opal mining town where people live and work underground), Uluru, Alice Springs etc. It’d be a cheap way to see a part of the country that’s normally very expensive to get to, but then again – this year’s year 9s aren’t really my favourite year level. I have 2 classes of them and … meh. Maybe I should wait for a more congenial year level and go with them? Ten days is a long time to be stuck on a bus with a group of kids who are a P.I.A…

The Antipodean trip is a huge one. Year 11 kids have to fundraise the money for their own tickets, then they go to a place like Africa, Vietnam, Nepal etc and do things like help build schoolrooms or buildings for orphanages and things like that. They get to travel as tourists and see the country too – and guess who gets to go with them? Of course, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with taking kids overseas, but these teachers get to see parts of the world that usually cost an arm and a leg to get to. You should see the photos that they post on Facebook while they’re away!

When I stay back at school while other teachers are off risking life and limb on football fields, trekking in Nepal or teaching kids how to surf, there’s still things happening on campus. I learned how to do Bollywood dancing when the year 7s had an incursion – I would never have tried that if I wasn’t with them! We have music concerts and theatre companies that come to the school – ‘Romeo and Juliet’, anyone?

We also have speakers who come to talk to the students – I’ve heard authors share how they ended up writing for a living, a survivor of the Holocaust sharing his story of survival, a famous AFL coach giving motivational speeches every year to the year 12s – even a man whose grandmother was born a slave in the US who came to talk to the year 10s about ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’

A few years ago we had James Randi from the American Skeptical Society come and demonstrate things like psychic surgery to our kids, in order to get them to think critically about things and not just blindly follow whatever tripe charlatans dish out to them. Political lecturers from Monash University come and explain things to the kids when interesting things happen, such as when our previous Prime Minister was unceremoniously dumped a few weeks ago.

Teachers can pop along to these lectures and classes, providing they don’t have to be in front of their own class at the time. But most of them are at lunchtimes, so it’s all good.

This is a rundown of the opportunities I’ve noticed at my workplace where people can use resources by simply noticing what’s lying around, ready for the taking. Some are good for the planet and save money; others are opening up to experiences that people might not otherwise get to do.

Obviously, not every business has these exact opportunities lying there, ready for the taking. But you have to ask yourself: “What might I be able to do at my workplace?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: In praise of just sittin’.

When reading blogs in the personal finance sphere, it sometimes seems that everyone is so darned busy.

“It’s the end/beginning of the month!! Update your net worth spreadsheet!! QUICK!”

“Get that side-hustle happening! HURRY!! Every day that goes by is another day wasted!”

“Sell some stuff on Gumtree/Craigslist whatever that is… /eBay… TODAY!!! Invest it! NOW!!!! Every day wasted is another day that compound interest won’t work in your favour!”

Yikes! It seems that if you’re interested in FI/RE you have to be in perpetual motion. But I’m just finishing off a two-week holiday where, although you could say I got a fair bit done, there were also quite a few days where there was a lot of sitting on the couch, reading, knitting, taking naps and watching Netflix. And you know? It was pretty darned good.

There’s a lot to be said for staying put and entertaining yourself with what you already have hanging around at home. No racing around, no putting on the glad rags and stepping out dressed to impress. I had more than a couple of days where I basically spent most of my time either reading or napping. They were good days. I’ve got so many books either on my bedside table or lined up in my kindle that I could probably entertain myself for weeks if all I did was read.

I’ve just put a new garden in. Do you know how many hours these holidays I’ve spent planting seeds, watering, plotting and planning what to put into it? Admittedly, there’s also been a couple of trips to plant nurseries to buy pea straw, compost tumblers and a few plants, but the leisurely hours spent at home wandering around the garden beds have been precious, time slipping through my fingers like pearls. There’s a quiet happiness that comes from leaning over the garden beds you’ve planted, gloating at your babies sprouting – similar to a FI/Re person looking at a net worth spreadsheet I suppose. But this comes with sunlight, the sound of birds and the prospect of growing your own fresh food.

The photo is a row of Ballerina apple trees and lavender. The lavender will bring the bees, which will, in turn, pollinate the apples. If you’ve ever picked an apple straight off the tree and bitten into it, you’ll know why I have 5 trees.

Can you see the bee? I can’t tell you how quietly satisfying it is to plan out an experiment such as the apples and lavender, then as you’re watering hear the gentle hum of bees visiting the blossoms. The apples are appreciating it too. Already we have blossoms.

Not everything on this journey is whizz-bang! Exciting! OMG!!

Some of it is simply deeply satisfying – simple rewards from little things. A blossom. The smile from a son in love as he comes home after a date.  A contented snore from one of the dogs on the couch beside me.

Oops. I think I woke them up. Jeff looks particularly snakey about it.

Anyone here tried making something with your hands? When I paid off my first house, I celebrated by buying 2 things. The first was a pair of expensive sandals from a Real Shoe Shop, (ie not Target). Poppy, pictured in the first photo, was 5 months old at the time. Those sandals lasted a week before she chewed them. The second thing I bought was knitting yarn. I bought All The Yarn. In Every Colour. I have 2 suitcases full of the stuff up in my walk-in-robe.

Now I’m slowly chipping away at it. Did you know that when you knit, your brain goes into the same waves as when you meditate? So you get the benefits of meditation, with the added bonus of also getting a woolly handicraft to wear as well. Sitting on the couch, hearing the quiet clack of the needles clicking together, with music or a podcast or just sweet sweet silence is one of the nicest ways to spend a couple of hours. Just chillin’ and knittin’.

I guess the take away here is that it’s ok to sometimes let some moments gently slip by. Or hours. Or days. It’s not a race to the finish line to reach FI. Or RE. Don’t let your enthusiasm to reach the big goal blind you to the quiet satisfactions of contentment along the way. They make the journey all the sweeter.

 

 

 

Geoarbitrage – All the cool kids are doing it. #2

Back in January 2018, when this blog was just beginning, I wrote a post about Geoarbitrage, where I talked about what it is and how Australians are starting to take advantage of it. We hear a lot about Mexico and South America in the FI community, but people down in our part of the globe have different options available to us.

You might notice that at the end, I said I’d talk about how the Frogdancer family took this concept and tweaked it to our advantage. It’s been 8 months since I made that promise. Instead of saying that I’ve never really been in the ‘zone’ to write about it until now, let’s just go with the tale that I was practising delayed gratification with you.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about how I paid off my mortgage on a single wage and became debt-free. When that happened, I thought that the story had finished. I was going to stay in that house until I was carried out of there in a pine box at the age of 120. I’d established an urban Food Forest with chickens, a huge worm farm made out of a freezer, over 30 fruit trees and 12 veggie beds, half of them wicking beds. I’d spent lots of money and countless hours putting all of this together, building up the soil, learning how to garden and look after chickens. All this was on a suburban block 16kms from the Melbourne CBD and life was good.

Late in 2015, I’d just come back from a mammoth 9 week trip to Europe and I’d hired someone to paint the outside of my house. Then I went to an auction of a house 2 streets away.

It was a similar house on a similarly-sized block. Nothing special – a 3 bedroom house with one living area and one bathroom. Nice, neat garden, a kitchen that had been updated maybe a decade ago – nothing out of the ordinary. It went for 1.3 million dollars, which stunned all of the neighbours. Most of us had been there for years – I’d moved in 19 years before and paid $136,500 for my place. We all marvelled at the price and patted ourselves on the back for being intelligent enough to buy just before the housing bubble hit.

As I walked home, I was marvelling at how much equity I had in my paid-off little house and how all of the scrimping and scraping to keep it in the early years had paid off. I remembered when we were looking for a house to buy, (I was still married then), how we’d stopped outside the house to look at it, then driven away without going inside because the cladding was so ugly. When, a couple of weeks later, I viewed the house after it was passed in at auction and the real estate agent mentioned the owners’ reserve price and I realised that with our 40K deposit we could afford it – that’s when we decided to buy. The ugliest house in the best neighbourhood – what a cliché! But I guess clichés are clichés for a reason: they tend to come true.

Nothing had changed in the plan for my life. I was still going to live a long and fruitful life and die in that house… until just before I got home I walked past the ‘For Sale’ sign on my next-door neighbour’s house. I stopped dead in my tracks. I clearly remember thinking, “Is this opportunity knocking?”

You see, when we bought the house one of the main drivers for me was that it was in the school zone of one of the best public secondary schools in Melbourne. My oldest son was just starting primary school that year and the youngest was only 6 weeks old, but I’ve always taken the long-term view. Over the years, the school’s reputation has only grown better and better. As the Melbourne/Sydney property bubble grew, property prices in this school zone began to grow even faster, with a 15% “School Zone” bonus being placed on the already inflated value of each property.

Up until then, this had all been totally irrelevant to me. I was living my life, being vaguely grateful that at least my house wasn’t a total money pit – but really, who cared about rising property values? The boys and I needed to live somewhere and this place was it.

But now… I looked at the two properties side-by-side. Developers LOVE deals like this, as it means they can squeeze another unit onto the block. Units and townhouses were beginning to pop up all over the zone, as individual houses were being priced out of the average family’s reach. I knew it was a viable prospect. My youngest child had finished year 12 the year before, so there was no real reason why we had to live within walking distance of the school anymore. Maybe I could sell my house in partnership with the neighbours for a bit more money than if we both sold them alone, buy a house in a cheaper neighbourhood and bump up my superannuation. I’d spent 10 years out of the workforce bringing up my boys when they were little and my super was woeful.

But could I bear to leave my little house? I loved that house. It took the weekend for me to weigh it all up, walk around and say goodbye. It hurt, but again, I had to keep my eyes on the long term.

It turned out that the neighbours had already bought another house, so come what may at the auction, they had to sell. I had my place unofficially on the market, ie no sign out the front, but letting the Real Estate agents know that I was interested to sell. The house next door had a disappointing result – only 1.24 million. They had to accept it. I was offered the same amount for mine by the person who bought it, but I laughed and turned it down. I loved my house. I wasn’t going to just GIVE it away!

Then a friend of mine contacted me. Her husband was a property developer. We sat down and agreed that we’d go into partnership together. We’d build a couple of massive luxury townhouses on the block and sell them. Assuming the bottom didn’t suddenly fall out of the property market in the meantime, he’d make a tidy sum and I’d make more than I would have if I sold the house as it was. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I took a leap of faith and we agreed to do it.

The obvious downside to this is that we’d need somewhere to live while the townhouses were being built. Most people would just rent something, but we had 2 dogs and 2 cats. No rental would touch us. I had to buy something straight away and use expensive bridging finance to pay off the new house while waiting for the build to be completed on the old. Yikes! But I started looking.

It’s funny, but at the start, I had a definite range of suburbs in mind. “I’m going no further than Oakleigh!” But the prices there were crazy. I fell in love with a house, but it was looking to go at the million dollar mark, which would defeat the purpose of doing the deal in the first place. I needed a few hundred thousand to throw into my retirement account.

I needed to be near a railway line because my younger two boys didn’t drive, so I was pretty well locked into Bayside suburbs, which were pricier. I gritted my teeth and kept looking further down the bay.

“I’m going no further than Parkdale!” Prices there had risen too far.

“Mordialloc!” I actually bid on an Edwardian house that was in need of work and was on half a block of land, but I pulled out when the bidding got beyond 700K. It was only on half a block of land, for Pete’s sake! It went for just under a million.

As I was driving home with my best friend, Blogless Sandy,  who’d come to the auction with me, she said, “You know, it’s the week before Christmas. Take a break, there’ll be nothing new coming up until late January. Get Christmas out of the way, enjoy your holidays, then get back into it when you get back to work. ”

I nodded sagely. Wise advice. As soon as I set foot in the door I fired up my laptop and went straight to the real estate sites.

And then I saw it. The Best House In Melbourne. It was FAR further out than I’d been looking. Mordialloc was over the bridge, and this one was over the NEXT bridge – ‘ a bridge too far’, as one of my friends calls it. But…

…the price range looked do-able. The house plan was absolutely perfect for our needs. The block of land was smaller, which would mean that it’d be easier to keep under control. I couldn’t wait till Monday to ring the Real Estate agent and go and see it.

In my search for the new house, I had a list of 24 things that were either “must-haves’ or “would be nice to have”. Turned out that this place had 22 out of the 24. What were the two that didn’t make it? A short commute to work and enough space for the chooks. So the chickens had to go and I had to listen to more podcasts. Oh well.

The next day (Tuesday), I put in an offer and agreed to take Blogless Sandy down that evening to have a look. While we were there the Real Estate agent got the call that the offer was accepted. I was ecstatic. And I little scared. 750K is a lot of money – but coming from the suburb that I did, it still seemed ultra-cheap for a house way bigger than the one we were living in, 30 years younger and literally 5 minutes walk from the beach.

I paid the deposit the next day, thanks to Blogless Sandy who lent me the money until I got the bridging finance organised. I’d just spent all my ready cash on my trip of a lifetime, not expecting to be buying a house 5 minutes after I got back. Incidentally, this is another reason to get your financial act together – you’re in a position to be able to help people when they need it. I wouldn’t have been able to swing this deal without her and I’ll be forever grateful to her.

The next day was Christmas Day, and I was able to loudly announce to my family after dinner, “I just bought a HOUSE!” We organised a 90-day settlement and we moved in at the next school holidays, in April.

What didn’t go to plan?

  • The process to get planning permits/an arborist reports/water board permission/architect plans etc took way more time than we estimated. Instead of taking 6 months, it took 15 months for final plans to be stamped by the council. That’s a lot of extra months paying bridging finance at 3K per month on a teacher’s wage.
  • The distance away from where I used to live took too much strain on my side-hustle as a Thermomix Team Leader, so I had to drop it. The upside of this was that I was able to go back to full-time work as a teacher, instead of having to take a day off a week to accommodate Thermomix.
  • The bridging finance took 72% of my takehome pay for the first 9 months. Then I went back to full-time work and it dropped to approximately 55% or something. It was very stressful having to see so much of my wage going out the door while at any moment the boom times in the Melbourne property market could end. If that happened, the gamble would’ve all been for nothing. I wouldn’t go broke, but the sacrifices would have been wasted.
  • It was more stressful than I bargained for. Security is very important to me and the thought that I might have tried to be a bit too clever and ended up sabotaging all the work I’d done over the last 20 years was horrible. I didn’t sleep very well for 18 months, and I’d look at my house and think how much I loved it, then think, “If only I owned it!”

What ended up happening?

When the planning permits were all in place, the property developer friend and I went to see a local Real Estate agent to see if we were on track with what we were planning. During the course of the meeting, he casually mentioned that a property in the Zone with fully-approved plans could sell for as much as 1.7 Million dollars because developers are always looking for plans that are ready to go. I thought that he was talking through his hat. That’s a ridiculous sum of money.

Turns out that he knew his market precisely. After paying out the real estate agent and the property developer for his costs and 100K for his trouble, I was able to walk away with exactly the amount of money that I probably would have received had we gone through all the trouble of the build. OMG. As it happens, over a year later the builders are still working on the development. That would have been over a year more of the bridging finance that I would have been paying. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t have been biting by now.

An added bonus, that I could never have planned for, was that over the last 2 years my new suburb has become more popular. My house is now worth 1.1 million, which more than covers the cost of the bridging finance. This was pure luck, but I’ll take it!

Here’s the deal about my geoarbitrage strategy:

By moving 20km further out from the CBD, I was able to capitalise on the equity in my home and put it to work. I was able to max out my superannuation account, which I was happy to do, given my age. You can’t access super until you’re 59, which is about when I’ll be looking to retire, so I’m happy to lock the money away until then. If I was younger, I might have deployed it differently. But a healthy super fund? That gives security. Old Lady Frogdancer will be fine. She won’t have to worry about sponging off her kids in her old age.

I also, as an added bonus, walked away with roughly 350K extra. Before I thought of doing this deal, this is around the amount of money that I thought I’d end up with in my retirement account when I retire at the age of 69.  Now I have it as ‘extra’ padding!

Given this, I estimate that I can retire at least 10 years earlier than I otherwise would have been able to do. This deal has bought back 10 years of my life. That’s huge. Imagine the travel I can do while I’m still nimble enough to enjoy it…

I decided to reserve 50K of the ‘padding’ money to set up the backyard to bring back the food forest idea on a more limited scale than we used to have. I’m in the process of getting this done now. I’m spending money on what I value, which is a rare and precious thing to be able to do.

The house we now live in suits my family going into the future. As you can see, it has 2 zones – which means that at present, the two sons I have living with me have their own part of the house at the back, while I live in the front with my ensuite and walk-in-robe – such LUXURY!. But, with an eye to the future – when they want to come back with wives/partners to live cheaply while saving for a house deposit, we won’t be getting into each others’ way. I’m a big believer in privacy and this house definitely offers that. Ever since I left my husband back in 1997,  providing a secure base for my boys has always been huge for me. This place enables me to keep that option open for them in the future.

It also suits the way of life I want to lead going forward. I’m within walking distance of the Aldi, the train station and (joy of joys!) the dog beach. The design of the house is by far more practical than the old house and it looks beautiful as well. I’m still within easy reach of my family and friends, and although my commute to and from work is now 2 hours out of my day instead of 6 minutes, my years at work are limited so it won’t last forever. I’m just down the road from the Freeway systems, so it’s a straight drive to the airport.

Ok, so Frogdancer is happy with the outcome. Good for me! But what’s the take away for you?

The beautiful thing is that unless I’d started educating myself about personal finance, Financial Independence and the FI/RE movement, with all that it entails, I don’t know that I would have recognised the opportunity when it knocked, or been brave enough to take the leap if I had. I’d read about geoarbitrage on other blogs, but they all talked about moving to a cheaper state or country. That didn’t suit me at all – but moving to a cheaper SUBURB was the way I tweaked the concept to suit us.

That’s the point of the whole thing. By reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, going to conferences and opening up to others’ ideas and points of view, you’re adding options to the smorgasbord of possibilities. You hear this saying a lot – “The point about personal finance is that it’s PERSONAL.” There’s no one way to work the system to get where you want to go.

It’s exciting. There’s so much information out there that people are generously sharing. Much of it won’t be applicable to you, but gee whiz! Every now and then someone will write or say a nugget that could change your life. Knowledge is power. Opening your mind to other people’s strategies and ideas enables new connections to be made in your mind when you look at your own situation. You have the chance to optimise your current situation and tweak things to make your life even better. Yes, it’s very exciting.

For example, I gained security by doing this real estate deal. However, going forward, I’m not revisiting this strategy. Australia’s urban property market is, I believe, vastly over-heated, so I’m turning to the share market instead. I’m looking at all the information available to me and I’m tweaking it to suit my situation. I’m not following just one way to financial freedom. I’m learning about the options and selecting the ones that suit me best going forward.

I strongly believe that anyone else can, and should, do the same. There are opportunities stretching to the horizon for those who listen, learn and strategically act. Why shouldn’t one of those people be you?

 

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: How I spent 2 hours today getting the most bang for my grocery bucks.

There’s a chicken warehouse about a km away from my place, where I go to buy the chook necks for the dogs’ breakfasts. They have fantastic bulk deals in meat, so every holidays I go there and buy a bag or two of either breast, thighs or drumsticks and spend some time parcelling them up to use in the upcoming term. This time I couldn’t go past chicken breasts at $6/kilo. So cheap!

If I’d bought the “skin off” version I’d be paying $2/kilo more. But why on earth would I go that when I have dogs? Tonight, instead of their meat patty and dry food dinner with some yoghurt, I’ll replace the patty with the chicken skins. They’ll be in ecstasy and it’ll cost me nothing.

As I was cooking and chopping and measuring, I thought I’d do a ‘Frugal Friday’ post about everything I was doing today in the kitchen between 10AM and 12PM to save money and make everything stretch a little bit further.

Most of the bag of chicken went into these packaged-up portions. I use Skinnymixers recipes a lot and she tends to have the protein in 700g lots, so that’s what I’ve packaged them in.

I label all my freezer things with masking tape and a pen. Works like a charm. I decided to do this after the day I was running late for work and didn’t have time to make a salad for lunch, so I grabbed what I thought was one of my Emergency Lunches from the freezer. Imagine my dismay at lunchtime when I opened it to find a couple of uncooked drumsticks in some marinade instead of the Butter Chicken I was expecting…

So far I had 6 meals’ worth of chicken to feed 3 adults and have at least one or two lunches left over with each meal. Not a bad start…

While I was doing this, I had 2 Costco chickens on the stove, making stock. I’d been to Costco a couple of days before and I picked up two chooks. At $6 a pop, how can you walk past them? We’d had a couple of dinners and lunches from them, so today I put the carcasses and the leftover meat into a saucepan of water, brought them to the boil and then simmered them for a couple of hours. I read somewhere that if you add a dash of vinegar to the water it helps draw out the calcium from the bones. I have no idea if this is scientifically valid or not, but I do it just in case.

This is real ‘set and forget’ stuff. I can get 3 or 4 soup bases out of each chicken. It just burbles away on the stove while I’m busy doing other stuff.

Once it’s done, you drain the bones and meat from the stock.

DON’T do what I did once – I cleverly put the colander in the sink and poured the stock and carcass into it – only to watch all my precious stock go merrily down the drain.

Once the stock cooled a bit on the bench, I popped it in the fridge to get cold. Later, I’ll skim any fat from the surface and pour it into plastic containers to freeze. Nearly every Saturday we have soup for lunch, using up any sad veggies, leftover pasta or rice and things like that. I flavour it with chicken stock paste, or tomato paste, and throw in beans I’ve cooked from scratch and frozen – anything that will be tasty and that I need to use up.

Here’s the meat I saved from one of the carcasses. I’ll probably get 2 soups’ worth of meat from this. I like to freeze them in shallow containers lined with baking paper, so when I take it out to use them I can lift it out of the container and snap off how much I think I’ll need. It’s crazy how much food is left on a leftover chicken that would normally have been thrown in the bin.

 

I mentioned the chicken stock paste that I make. I had some vegetable stock paste still in the fridge, but I’d run out of the chicken stock paste. Making it yourself is so much tastier and healthier than using stock cubes. You can definitely taste the difference. So I used one of the breasts in the bag of chicken to make some stock paste, while another 700g of meat was used to cook dinner for tonight – a Chicken Tikka Masala. I had both thermomixes cooking this up while I was busy chopping the rest of the bag of chicken into the portions you’ve already seen.

I’d call this stock paste ‘Liquid Gold’ if it was a liquid! It has a heap of salt in it, which is the preservative, and it lasts in the fridge for weeks. I’ll put one jar in the fridge and the other in the freezer and I’ll be right for Chicken Stock paste for the next 6 months or so.

There’s enough chicken skin here to keep three little dogs very happy tonight.

The recipe for the Chicken Tikka Masala calls for 70g cream, but I always use the yoghurt I make myself. I use an old Easiyo container to store it in, but I make it in the thermomix for around $1/litre.

This capsicum was soon chopped up and thrown into the bowl, but have a look at what I’ve got planned to save money here in the future:

Here’s a sneak peek at the mini greenhouse I’ve got. Once the garden gets going, hopefully I’ll have lots of produce chopped up and frozen to use throughout the year. AND all of these plants are heirloom vegetables, meaning that I can save their seed for next year and I’ll never have to buy seeds or plants again.

The bag of chicken breasts wasn’t finished yet! Now that Spring is here, I like to take salads, rather than cooked lunches, to work. I decided to steam the last couple of breasts so that I could shred them and use them as protein in my salads or on pizzas.

Here’s a shot of the Chicken Tikka Masala cooking on the left, while the steamed chicken pieces are cooking on the right. Meanwhile, the second Costco chook is bubbling away on the stove behind me and I’m stacking the dishwasher. I have a podcast on my iPad and it’s all happening!

Once the chicken was steamed and then shredded, I portioned it up into small handfuls.

9 single-serve meals’ worth of protein here, either for salads or pizzas. This is making me feel all warm and fuzzy – I love having meals prepared for Future Frogdancer and the boys.

Speaking of preparing meals – here’s dinner. I’ll just have to cook some rice and then the boys and I can help ourselves. There’ll be enough leftovers to freeze for an Emergency Lunch or two as well.

While all of this was going on, I was bagging up the chicken necks that I’d put into piles of 5 and flash-frozen. Each pile is enough for breakfast for the dogs. All I have to do is remember to grab one at night when I feed them, so by morning, they’ll be defrosted. (The chicken necks, not the dogs.)

And finally, all of the veggie scraps and the dog hair that Ryan23 cut from the Cavaliers yesterday was put into the compost, so that one day it’ll all be recycled into feeding the plants that will then feed us. Apparently, hair adds nitrogen to the soil. Who knew?

For around 2 hours in the kitchen, pottering around and listening to podcasts, I’ve organised around 20+ meals for us. The main cost was for the chicken, with the bag of chicken costing $36 and the 2 Costco chickens costing $12. (But we’d already had 3 or 4 meals from those Costco chickens…) 

Anyway, it’s impossible to calculate how many actual servings this will all produce. My boys are adults and they are sometimes here for dinner, sometimes not. They eat a lot – they’re men. So some dinners are totally eaten on the night, while others have leftovers that get packaged into smaller lunches for people the next day.

But I like to calculate how much it costs me per meal, obviously with the shredded chicken portions only serving one person, while the diced chicken and soup stock could be serving as few as 3 people or as many as 5. So let’s just count each meal portion as 1, with each soup stock counting as 3 meals.

9 X shredded chicken + 6 X diced chicken + 6 X soup stock + 1 X Chicken Tikka Masala = 22 meals’ worth of protein.  Plus the 4 meals we had from the Costco chooks before I made stock from them = 26 meals overall. (I won’t count the dogs’ dinner of chicken skins tonight! Let’s call that a bonus.)

$36 bag of chicken breasts + $12 Costco chickens = $48.

$48/26 = $1.85 per meal of protein. If I was able to estimate how much it would be per person then the costs would go down even further, because the dinners and Costco chicken meals are covering multiple servings that I haven’t accounted for. I’m pretty happy with that.

I think that the 2 hours or so that I spent in the kitchen today was certainly time well spent. By the time term starts in another week I’ll have my freezers and pantry prepped and ready, so that Future Frogdancer won’t be driven to get takeaway meals when she feels tired at the end of a long week.

This makes me feel all Laura Ingalls Wilder – my family is being looked after and I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse, should it occur.

I like feeling prepared.

 

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!