Today, the Educator on FI/RE Interview series goes international!
I’m thrilled to host Frogdancer Jones of Burning Desire for Fire. Her site tagline is “Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.” She’s got a unique voice and an inspiring story.
To top it off – she’s a teacher! I’ve always enjoyed reading her writing, and I know you’ll enjoy this interview. Also, I assured her we Americans could understand her Australian spelling.
Take it away!
Tell us about you.
Hi everyone, Frogdancer Jones here! I’m a secondary teacher in Australia, teaching English and Theatre Studies. Nothing but the funnerest subjects for me, thanks! Our secondary schools here have 13 – 18 year olds and I teach at one of the most highly-regarded non-selective government schools in the state. Not only do I work here full-time, but my boys all went through here as students. I actually taught 2 of them year 9 Drama!
I’ve been divorced for 21 years and have brought up my 4 boys on my own. When my marriage dissolved my oldest was 5 and my youngest was 11 months old. They’re in now in their 20’s; 3 at University and 1 is an accountant. (I don’t know HOW on Earth that happened. I’m scared of all things mathematical.)
What do/did you like most about working in education?
Like everyone in teaching, I like working in the classroom the best. The kids make me laugh every single day and every day is a little bit different. Teenagers may have hormones going wild, but they also have the wickedest senses of humour!
I also like the autonomy of it. Hand me a curriculum, then let me go into my classroom and close the door and let me teach without being micromanaged. My teaching style is very personality-driven, because I figure that if I’m bored, the kids’ll be bored too. We have fun and if I’m teaching something guaranteed to be a yawn, like grammar for example, I’ll get it over with early – “Grammar Mondays” are a real thing with my classes – and then we spend the rest of the week doing the good stuff.
What do/did you like least?
The things I don’t like about teaching is the relentless creep of more and more bureaucracy that we have to contend with. Extra reporting, extra meetings, more pen-pushing reports that do little to advance our students’ results but which serve to keep a government lackey in a job. This, more than anything else, will push me into leaving this job one day. I’ve been teaching long enough to notice the difference in administrative workload!
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
When I left my husband I had $60 in cash and I was paying on a mortgage of around 100K. When you’re in that position, especially when you have little children depending on you, security becomes extremely important. I’ve been broke and I never want to go back there again. It’s a horrible feeling when you’re juggling finances all the time.
My main driver for financial independence is that I never want to be dependent on my children financially. When he was 91, my grandfather ran out of money and he had to ask my parents to buy his caravan off him. It was to save his pride – Mum and Dad didn’t want it but they gave him 5K for it. It would have been humiliating for him to ask and it was uncomfortable for Mum and Dad. I never want to put the boys and I in that position.
For that reason, the boys have borrowed for their university courses. I figure that it’d be a shallow gift indeed if I financed their studies, only to be holding out my hand for help a couple of decades later, right when they’d have families of their own to support. It’s probably best that I finance my old age and they can pay back their own university fees.
- FI Curious – Just learning and becoming interested in financial independence
- Future FI – On the path, but still learning. Destined for financial independence!
- FI Success – Financially independent!
On paper I’m very close to being financially independent. I could probably walk away from work now and be ok, but I want to do some big renovations on the house while I’ve still got an income, so then Old Lady Frogdancer doesn’t have to worry about paying for them. I have a very strong feeling she’ll prefer to spend any surplus money on travelling to Europe rather than on kitchen appliances or a boring but necessary ensuite. I just hope the wrinkled old crone will be grateful…
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing:
I’ve been teaching full-time in the government system for 15 years now so I’m on the highest pay scale. I earn 101K before taxes. In Australia the state government pays teachers’ wages, so we all get the same regardless of which school we teach at.
I have absolutely no debt. It took me 17 years to pay off my mortgage after I refinanced my original house when I divorced. That may sound like a long time, but I took out an additional 100K loan to do a kitchen, bathroom and heating/cooling renovations once I started work again.
I’m a bit leery about going into detail about how my net worth is divided up. Suffice to say that I’ve reached 7 figures without including my house, and my net worth goes up by 1M if I also include my house. (Yes, real estate is horrendously expensive in Melbourne and Sydney.) I don’t like including the house in my net worth though, because I have to live somewhere.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
Here is where I posted about how I paid off my house on one teaching
I posted about how I put geo-arbitrage into practice to turbo-charge my net worth in this post: Geoarbitrage: All the Cool Kids are Doing It.
What are your challenges?
My main challenge at this point is to stop being so impatient! I’m getting hungrier to have control over my own time, especially as I’m writing this in the middle of the summer holidays, when life is very similar to a mini-retirement. I have to take the focus off myself and look forward to things I want to achieve at work. For example, this year my yr 12 Theatre Studies class is putting on my favourite play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ It’s going to be so much fun to help the kids bring it to life!
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
My goal is to have 1.2M in savings and investments before I pull the pin on teaching. This might not seem like a lot of money to some people, but when the boys leave home I’ll be able to live on under 30K/year. My goal nest-egg is actually FAT-FIRE to me!
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
I’m planning on retiring when I’m around 59 or 60. Considering that in Australia people can’t access the Age Pension until they’re 67, I still consider that to be retiring early. I’ll still be nimble enough to careen all around the world like a crazy woman. There’s no way I want be confiscating mobile phones and correcting essays when I’m 70!
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
Last year I finally had the money to do some major landscaping work at my place. I spent 50K on it and it’s beautiful. I still haven’t finished – I need a roof over the paved area. The trouble is that I’ve run out of money left over from the sale of my original house, so now I need to cash-flow it. Hopefully, by the end of the year my back yard area will be complete.
Who/what inspires you?
Maybe ‘inspires’ is the wrong word for what I’m about to say, but I can pinpoint the very moment that my life became amazingly good. I was around 40 at the time. I’d been single for just on 6 years at that stage.
I was feeling pretty bad. There were child support fights and I was exhausted. I was working full-time and then coming home to the demands of the kids, the house and the pets, with no one else to share the load. My life just seemed so hard and I was feeling as though it really wasn’t fair.
I was outside on the front verandah, watering the garden, when this thought suddenly occurred to me: When, in the course of human history, has an ordinary woman in my position been able to have total control over her situation like I was? In most epochs, a woman was totally dependent on either her husband or father for financial support, let alone a single woman with 4 children…
First off – I could read. I had an education and a career that enabled me to support my family without having to resort to… well… let’s say more sordid pathways to put food on the table. I had my own house That I was paying off and would one day own and this secure roof over our heads enabled me to keep my family safe.
When I left my husband, I was able to take my children with me. They weren’t automatically considered to be his property. That’s huge.
I looked around at my little block of land and felt so very lucky. How many millions of women in the past would have looked at me in my situation and thought that I had it all? I was literally living the dream, for sure. And here I was whining like a crybaby because I didn’t have a boyfriend…
I felt like such an idiot! Honestly, an interest in history can give such wonderful perspective. I realized that I needed to shut up and start enjoying the freedom and privilege that living in Australia in the 2000’s has given me. I needed to enjoy it, not just for me but for all the women who came before me that yearned for something more.
I’ve been happy and contented ever since.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Financial independence enables us to pull the pin when we’re ready to go – not when we physically can’t do it anymore. No one wants to be THAT teacher – the one who’s burnt out and does more harm than good when they’re in front of a class because they don’t want to be there and so they’re filled with resentment. Kids can sense it, the rest of the staff can feel it and those teachers are simply no good to anyone. Being financially independent means that when you’re ready to walk away, you can.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
Where’s an interesting place to travel to in 2020/21?
I’ve been to Bali, Thailand, Singapore, the UK, Europe and North Korea.
I loved the UK and Europe and will definitely go back, but are there some other places people have been to that are worth investigating?
Where can readers reach you if they want to connect?
I’m blogging at Burning Desire For Fire.
I tweet @Frogdancer3
Thanks for the opportunity to have a chat with all of your friends, Educator FI. The work we do is so important and I think we all deserve to live our lives with financial dignity. I’m looking forward to reading this series as you put the posts out!
No, thank you! Your story is so inspiring and I’m honored you agreed to share it here. Readers, please check out her site, follow her on Twitter, and comment below.
Also, don’t forget to check-out the previous entries in the series:
Also, if you’re willing to share your story, please contact me here. It looks like we need some representation from elementary and middle school!
Leave comments for Frodancer below.
The Dragons says
We love to talk travel! So interesting that you’ve been to North Korea!!!!
For hiking, we loved Banff in Canada, and Machu Picchu in Peru was amazing, but the altitude was a challenge. Hong Kong is always fun for the eating (though expensive).
If you come stateside, the Pacific Northwest is always nice (in the summer). We also love Arizona and Utah for lots of beautiful national parks.
Happy travels! The Dragons
Your epiphany in the garden is so true, Frogdancer. A wonderful realisation!
Fretful Finance says
Enjoyed reading this. Your point about getting your house ship-shape before retiring made me chuckle as I feel the same (albeit I’m a country mile off of retirement). Got to make sure the boiler’s not about to break, the double-glazing is within a lifetime guarantee and the roof flashings are looking solid. Then by the time it starts crumbling around me again they’ll probably be carting me off to a nursing home anyway.
Congrats on paying off your mortgage, Frogdancer!
Frogdancer Jones says
That was a wonderful day. I made the last payment when I was at school in the staff room on the last day of the year.
I stood up and yelled “I’m debt-free! I paid off my house!!”
Lots of the younger staff members were saying things like, “I can’t believe that’s possible”, while the older ones were saying, “It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?”
I really like the part where you take a moment to look at your modern life with a historical perspective.That really is some powerful realization.
Frogdancer Jones says
What’s that saying?
“If you don’t study history you’re doomed to repeat it.”
Every now and then I think of the women in the past and yeah – life immediately feels a whole lot better.