The small things. Plus a plea for your help! :)

I’m still knee-deep in corrections before the end of term. It seems that as soon as I mark a class’s essays or tests and hand them back to the kids, then another lot of essays gets written and handed in. It’s a never-ending task. I don’t mind the creative/personal reflective pieces so much, but I have 28 kids in each of my year 9 classes. That’s a lot of formal text response essays about ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ that I have to wade through before I leave for my holidays.

It’s these sorts of things that make FIRE seem very attractive.

But then I have a day like yesterday. It was a sparkling autumn day in Melbourne and I jumped on the train with my year 12 Theatre Studies class and we went to the city to see the best of last year’s cohort perform their monologues.

The performance was at the Arts Centre, which is just on the other side of the Yarra River. We arrived at the station, I gave them 45 minutes to grab some lunch and to meet me down by the river, and they set off. When we all met back up, food in hand, we sat by the river and talked, sang songs, (well, they ARE Theatre kids!) and we got to know each other a little better. I’ve taught most of them for English or Drama when they were younger, but the relationship you have with year 12s is a lot different to when they are in the junior forms.

When we had half an hour to go, we wandered across the road to the Arts Centre and settled in. This year’s monologues were fantastic and we all had a great time watching them. Some of my kids saw kids from other schools that they knew, which was nice, including one fairly good-looking boy that apparently one of my girls has had a mad crush on for ages. She turned tomato-red when she realised I’d overheard what she was saying. The other kids cackled like loons.

We all caught the same train carriage back and I sat amongst them and we “did chatting”, as Christopher from ‘Curious Incident’ would say. As the train pulled in to our station nearly all of them got off, calling out, “See you tomorrow, Ms Frogdancer!” and “Seeya, Miss!” One girl still had another 2 stations before her stop so we talked about the performances, then she got off and I was able to pull out my headphones and settle back into my podcast. I’m listening to a true-crime podcast called ‘Casefile’ and I was half-way through the episode about a woman called Katherine Knight from New South Wales. What a nut job. By the time the train reached my station the podcast was finished and I was traumatised by all I’d heard.

Ryan22 cooked dinner, I sat on the couch with the dogs and some shiraz and watched the latest episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ before collapsing into bed.

All in all it was a good day.

Days like yesterday are a timely reminder that you have to enjoy the journey, instead of gritting your teeth and running pell-mell towards the finish line to the exclusion of all else. I learned a long time ago that life is much happier if you stop and notice the little things that make you smile. Yes, I know reaching the big goals is a wonderful thing – but they don’t come along very often. Whereas the little things are around us every day.

For me, teaching is a great job because kids make me laugh every single day. Teenagers are hilarious and they don’t seem to get enough credit for that. My dogs are wonderful. My kids are ok. (LOL) Every day is a good day when you notice the small stuff.

***

Long term readers of my very short-term (so far) blog would remember the post I did on educating my boys and nieces about compound interest at Christmas time. Soon after I wrote it I entered it into a blog tournament run by Rockstar Finance. So far it’s done very well… we’re now in round 5.

However, voting is really tight this time and I’m getting nervous. In the first round of the competition I was up against one of the biggest bloggers in the FIRE world. There’s no way I thought I would get past her… but I did. (OMG) Since then, as round after round has happened and my post about kids, compound interest and superannuation kept winning, I started to wonder. Could my post actually do it?? To be honest, I’d love it if a female Aussie blogger in her 50’s managed to take it out. Plus my slightly competitive streak has kicked in…

Please go and have a look at the contest. I’m in Game 2, voting keyword ‘Mistake’.

Grab a shiraz or a cuppa, depending on which time of the day you’re in, and have a read through the entries. Hopefully, you’ll prefer mine and will toss a vote my way.

Here’s the link.

Thanks.   (EDITED TO ADD: My blog post lives to fight another day! Only 2 rounds to go. Does that mean I just won a quarter final?)

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Frugal Friday: The media agrees with me about leftovers!

I took a break from marking end-of-term essays and saw this article posted on a Facebook group: Financially Secure People Eat Leftovers.

I had to laugh. We already know this!

Things will be quiet around here until I get my 5 classes worth of essays and grammar tests marked before the holidays come in two weeks. *sigh*

I really enjoy teaching but the marking side of it? Not quite so much…

Frugal Friday: Leftovers are the way to go.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the staff room, chatting with the people sitting in  ‘The Danger Zone.’ That’s the nickname we have for our little section of 8 desks – in a staff of over 150 it’s handy to have your section easily identifiable if you need someone to get something from your desk in a hurry. Three of us are in our 40’s and 50’s, while the rest are girls in their 20’s. They’re all in relationships and are in the stage of life of buying a house/getting engaged/getting married to their significant others.

It was after school and a few more teachers in the cool, hip and happening group from other staffrooms had pulled up chairs and were chatting. The subject of lunches came up. In the last couple of years, the canteen at school has really lifted its game, offering all sorts of things along with the usual items of chips, potato cakes, sandwiches and wraps. They even offer breakfasts as well. I copied this week’s notice for your reading pleasure from our newsfeed:

“My boyfriend refuses to eat leftovers,” said one. “I have to be really careful not to cook too much because it all just gets thrown out. He won’t touch it, so we cook something different and then, of course, I end up eating that with him and so nothing gets used up.”
“We won’t eat leftovers,” said a newlywed girl who was also, 5 minutes before, whinging about the high cost of property in Melbourne and how nobody can get ahead these days. “We have a certain lifestyle (YES! This is an exact quote! I couldn’t believe it either!!) and I can’t bring myself to eat warmed-up food from yesterday. It’s gross!” and she laughed. Some laughed and nodded with her, others looked slightly uncomfortable at the thought of their meals being thought of as ‘gross’.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Are you crazy? I absolutely LOVE leftovers,” I said. They turned and looked at me, the older woman who clearly knows nothing. Undeterred, I ploughed on. ” I always make sure we have leftovers; they usually taste better the next day because the flavours have a chance to meld together better after they’ve had time to sit. Plus I love not having to pay for lunches. It’s like getting free food! I’m saving $35 a week if I don’t go to the canteen. Imagine how much money that is over the year?”
Another girl agreed with me, a couple of others pulled faces and disagreed, then the conversation moved on to something else. When they got up 5 minutes later and went to the gym to do a workout,  Hazel, a woman of my (clearly elderly and insane) generation, came out from behind the row of desks she was working behind.
“I can’t believe they turn up their noses at leftovers,” she said. “I deliberately make enough for dinners so that there’s be leftovers for Rodney and I the next day.”
I laughed and agreed. “I’ll bet once interest rates rise they’ll suddenly discover a new-found love for the Tupperware lunch!”
And this is the thing. With people paying well over a million dollars for houses in Melbourne, and units and townhouses going for $500K+, these teachers are borrowing a LOT of money when interest rates are at historic lows. I know that brown-bagging a lunch isn’t initially going to save a lot of money – say $7 if you get the special of the day from the school canteen. But taken over time?
Another woman in my staff room has worked at the school since 1985. That’s 33 years of lunches. She joined in the conversation that Hazel and I were having, saying that she has never bought her lunch.
“I can’t see the point in buying it,” she said. “The stuff you make yourself is always tastier and better for you anyway.”
33 years X 40 weeks X 5 days = 6,600 lunches. Assuming someone bought a $7 lunch at the canteen each day, that is $46, 200.
That’s an insane amount of money to spend, just to avoid eating tasty, tasty leftovers. It’s scary how these little sums of money add up over time.

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…

Lessons from Literature 4: Washington Square.

I studied this in year 12 Lit, back in the day. How I loved this novel! It’s a short read, beautifully restrained and the quiet anguish of it all is never overblown or melodramatic. In 1949 it was turned into a movie called, “The Heiress’ and they did a terrific job. It’s worth hunting down the movie for a quiet afternoon in.

But what can we learn from the story of a thwarted romance between a fortune-hunter and a plain, dull girl from a wealthy family?

Dr Austen Sloper is a wealthy doctor in New York in the mid 1800’s. He is an intelligent man but has become emotionally crippled after the death in childbirth of his beautiful young wife and the death, a year before, of their bright young son. Unfortunately, his view of his daughter Catherine, now in her twenties, was that she was :

  • “… not ugly… was decidedly not clever; she was not quick with her book, nor, indeed, with anything else. She was not abnormally deficient… Doctor Sloper would have liked to be proud of his daughter, but there was nothing to be proud of in poor Catherine… Her greatest desire was to please him… What she could not know, of course, was that she disappointed him, though on three or four occasions the Doctor had been almost frank about it.

When Catherine meets the dashing and handsome Morris Townsend, who immediately pursues a romantic relationship with her, the doctor views the whole situation with a jaundiced eye:

  •  I am told he lives upon [his sister]… lives with her and does nothing for himself… The position of husband of a weak-minded young woman with a large fortune would suit him to perfection!

The bitter irony of this novel, and one of the reasons that it’s so good, is that the doctor isn’t unreasonable as such. He doesn’t necessarily want his daughter to marry a rich man. He knows she will have money enough for two. What he doesn’t want is for his fortune that he so carefully earned to be given away to a man who only values Catherine for the money she brings. He sees Morris Townsend as the adventurer he is, unlike his naive daughter, and he is unwilling to simply hand over his fortune.

Totally fair enough.

So far I think we can all agree that Dr Sloper is in the right. Not one of us would want a lazy, unemployed, money-hungry son-in-law to walk in and start living in our spare bedroom with a hungry young family at his heels. Dr Sloper has every right to protect his share portfolio, property and superannuation from a guy like Morris.

However, it’s his cold, almost surgical analysis of the situation and the total lack of empathy for his daughter’s distress that takes the ‘personal’ out of personal finance.

  • And as she pronounced her lover’s name Catherine looked at him. What she saw was her father’s still grey eye and his clear-cut, definite smile. She contemplated those objects for a moment, and then she looked back at the fire; it was far warmer.

Catherine was unfortunate not have the internet at her disposal. A quick google of his name or a scroll though his Facebook profile would probably have revealed much that Mr Townsend would rather have remained hidden. As we all know, careful selection of a mate is imperative for a solid financial underpinning of a relationship. Being on the same page is a must.

Unfortunately for her, however, the men proceed to play an almost cat and mouse game with absolutely no regard for her feelings and affections. As time goes on, Catherine develops a much clearer vision of what the two men are like and what she herself values in life.

  • From her point of view the great facts of her career were that Morris Townsend had trifled with her affection, and that her father had broken its spring. Nothing could ever alter these facts; they were always there, like her name, her age, her plain face. Nothing could ever undo the wrong or cure the pain that Morris had inflicted on her, and nothing could ever make her feel towards her father as she felt in her younger years.

In her later years, her father threatens to drastically reduce the money that he will leave her in his will unless she promises him that she will not ever marry Morris Townsend. However, Catherine has gained the wisdom to know that she will have ‘enough,’ (an extremely valuable part of becoming FI), and so she refuses to submit to his bullying and emotional blackmail. When, after he dies, she is advised to contest the will after she is left only 1/5th of her father’s estate, the rest being left to charities, she tranquilly replies that she:

  • “…like[s] it very well.

She, like all of us who are working to attain financial stability, has learned not to be swayed by others’ expectations and has attained a dignity and purpose in life that suits her. She could have been far wealthier, but she chose to remain true to her values instead of selling her soul to ‘The Man’.. in this case her father. She calmly told him that she wouldn’t tell him this, turned her back on his expectations and quietly went her own way, determined to live her life on her terms, just like someone who has amassed their “F U money’ and doesn’t have to put up with an untenable situation.

The novel and the movie end on two different images. The novel sees her settling into the parlour and picking up her embroidery after telling Morris he’s dreamin. (That’s a little ‘The Castle’ reference for the Aussies reading this.) The movie has her lighting a lamp and going up the staircase, away from Morris who is banging on the door. Her face gets steadily more resolute and serene as she rises.

Catherine has reached the stage of being a perfectly independent woman, sure of what she wants to do and how she wants to live, knowing that she has the means to live that way. She has attained self-knowledge and a quiet dignity because of this, which means that she will no longer be a plaything to be pushed around. The Man has no hold on her and she is free to do whatever she wishes. Her home is paid for, she has enough investments to live a comfortable life and her needs are few and easily paid for with the resources she has at her disposal.

Sounds like FI, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

“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.

 

Frugal Friday: Scissors can solve a lot of problems.

Eighteen months ago I bought the dogs a new dog bed. I ordered it online and as you can clearly see, I went a bit overboard with the size. Poppy and Jeff are the only dogs I’ve ever owned who sleep inside, as Poppy barks at the possums and would wake the whole neighborhood up at midnight every night if she had her way. She has a very Machiavellian mindset sometimes; these dogs get away with far more than any other dogs I’ve ever owned.

I wanted a dog bed that I could wash regularly and that would keep them warm and look good. Well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, right? The answer to that is that it makes a good Meatloaf song but a terrible situation for a dog bed.

The stupid thing is far too big to fit into a normal washing machine which means it has to be washed in a laundrette. My local laundrette around the corner doesn’t have a machine big enough, so I have to take it to the next suburb and pay $14 in coins to cram it into the biggest washing machine they’ve got and get it cleaned that way. A couple of times I tried to wash it in the bath at home but it was too heavy to lift out of the water without having on of the boys there to help me and it takes 3 days to dry.

Who has $14 in coins hanging around? I put everything I buy on my credit card so the cash I carry around is minimal. It was a PIA to scrounge together coins – the best place I found was to swap coins for notes in the staff room where they sell the chocolate bars, but I’d always end up buying chocolate as well and my waistline was getting pudgier.

I persevered for 18 months but it was starting to smell awfully ‘doggy’. Something had to change. I had paid around $250 for this dog bed. It was meant to last them for YEARS. Given this, I was reluctant to just throw it out and buy something else.

So I lost my patience with it and chopped it in half. It’s a shame because it was beautifully made, it took me about half an hour to cut through all the layers, but finally it was done. Probably would have been quicker if the dogs didn’t try to help by sitting on it all the time, gazing up at me. It reminded me of this meme:

Then came the ultimate reward for my endeavours –

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. I’ve kept the minky part of the bed for them to sleep on and I’m sure they’ll be fine. I was really pleased that I used what I had instead of simply going to K-Mart or somewhere and buying a new bed for them. It makes a $250 mistake slightly less annoying.

Anyway, if Scout gets cold she can always use the tiny version I bought for the cat before she died. Waste not, want not!