A Teacher's Story: From Single Mom to Financially Free

Listen to Frogdancer's episode here:

Your name, I love the name, Frogdancer Jones. When you have a memorable name and a good personality, it's just like double whammy. So, tell me about your name, I love it! I’ve been blogging since 2007, I've got a personal blog that's been going that long. When I began it, my son was jumping up and down beside me and I'm thinking, what am I going to call myself? I had students and I had an ex-husband that I didn't want to stumble across the blog. So, we all had to have different names and he was jumping up and down like a frog. I just thought Frogdancer, that's okay. From then o, that's who I was. And then Jones happened because Facebook wouldn't let me do Frogdancer. So I feel like keeping up with the Joneses, let's try this and it work. So, Frogdancer Jones. I love it! It's very simple and you didn't have to overthink it. You just kind of stumbled upon it. It's super cute and memorable, that's for sure. So, do you mind telling me how you got into education and the evolution of that? That was pure luck, it really was. The only way mum and dad would pay for a course is if it was something practical. So, I thought, oh look, I'll go to teacher's college because I can study acting there. I'll get the teaching degree, that'll be fine and keep them happy, keep me happy. When I did my acting classes with really talented people, I was like, oh crap, I'm never going to make it if I'm competing against these people. Then when I started going out student teaching, I discovered that I'm actually really good at this. It's like being an actor and you've got your little audience trapped in the room with you for 48 minutes at a time. I think I'm going to do this. I call myself Fortunate Frogdancer and it's so true because I never ever would have chosen to go into teaching for teaching itself. But just those thin threads and it all just aligned. It was, yeah, lucky.

So the concept of acting and then realizing, okay I'll apply that to a classroom. That's genius. I love that. I mean I teach English and theater studies so you can always just keep it moving along and do fun things and I love it. Absolutely. Love it. So what has the evolution of your career been like? How long have you been teaching?

I graduated from teachers’ college in the night or the morning, I taught for six years. During that time, I got married, then took 10 years off to have kids and get them to primary school level. During that time, my marriage failed and then I went back to work first as a, I don't know what you call them in America but we call them supply teachers. So, I did that for a year just to get my toes in the water again and then got a job at my local high school, which happened to be the one that everyone moves into the area to get into. My kids went through there and I've been there for about 15 years. So I heard about you as I've already mentioned on another podcast and the title of that podcast caught me immediately. You were on a podcast about millionaires, you're an educator and you have a normal income and you've been able to raise over $1,000,000. How did that happen? How did that come to be? You are in another country. I'd love to have you share with everyone where you're located, first of all, and then if you don't mind telling your story about how you went from, a divorce to where you are now?

Yeah, my oldest son was five, then I had a three-year-old, a two-year-old and an eleven-month-old when I left my husband. We had $100,000 mortgage on our house, so we were a hundred grand in the hole and we had $120 in the bank. I went to the bank; I withdrew the money. I gave my husband $60 basically the boys and I started with $60 in our hands. I bought out my husband's, so I was able to take the house. That was really, really tough to do. The first thing that I did was to get $1,000. I called it a buffer zone and I didn't call it an emergency fund back then. I was eating nothing and just feeding the boys sausages and mints and stuff like that. I scraped together the thousand dollars in two or three months.

Then I thought, oh, I'll just look at the bank and checked on the mortgage because my ex-husband was paying the mortgage in lieu of child support. I found out that he'd stopped paying it. We owed the bank $963. Had I not have got that emergency fund together; it would have been really dire. As it was, I'm dried up and had to do the whole thing again. Then we got on the sole parent's pension, It was called back then, which was I think that adding a thousand a year and I've stayed on that until my youngest went to primary school because I wanted to give them a really secure device with a marriage breakup and everything. I wanted everything to just stay nice and calm and simple. Then I started the emergency teaching and then got my permanent position at the local high school.

What I did then was first off, I had a goal to get a new car because I had like a people mover, a Terago. Every time it rained and I turned right, a trickle of water would come in through the sunroof and go right down the back of my neck. It was as aerodynamic as a loaf of bread. It was just the most horrible car. I got myself a new a car and paid that off and then I looked at the mortgage and I thought, I'm going to pay that off. First I’m going to renovate the house, so I added another hundred grand to the mortgage to put in heating and cooling and all that sort of stuff. The bank said that I could borrow $260,000 and I laughed and laughed and thought I'm never going to pay that back. So, I ended up borrowing $199,000 and I wasn't going to go over that.

I just had a goal of chipping away, paying it off, paying it off, paying it off, paying it off. I'm not a math person, I'm scared to death of spreadsheets and numbers. I see page full of numbers and honestly my brain just freezes. I had a vague inkling that it probably wasn't mathematically correct to pay off the mortgage before I did anything else. I wanted the secure dwelling with the boys and I could never be kicked out. It took me 17 years to pay off the house, but I just kept chipping away at it. It's amazing what you can do when you just do little bits, little bits, little bits, little bits.

During that time, I took the boys overseas. We went to Bali and Thailand. We went to the US on a tour with the school, so we didn't live, just live on beans and rice really. I've become such a value spender. If it's important to me, I will find the money for it. But if it's not important to me, I'm not going to do it. Things like a daily coffee, I make mine at home, I don't buy it. I’ve not been known for my fashion sense. I'd buy clothes that I love and then I'll wear them out so that I can get to my bigger goals. So that was sort of what I did.

My son was in his last year of high school. I saved up as much money as I could and went for a nine week tour of Europe because over in Australia normal jobs have four weeks and with teaching we have nine weeks. We also have something called long service leave, which he is when you worked for the same employer for seven years, you get extra holidays on full pay. I had all this long service leave accrued so I took a whole term off during our winter and went over to Europe and the UK and that was just a dream come true. I've never had a nine week stretch where every single day was an oh my God day. So that was great.

I went to an auction around the corner from a little house. It was exactly the same as mine. You know, I had to have a little peak, see what it would go for. So, all the neighbors were there and it sold for $1.3 million and were all shocked. Absolutely shocked because what was happening in the background while I was busy paying off my house, Melbourne and Sydney, we're going through a property boom. The were known as some of the most expensive to live in the world. I bought my house in 1996 and then all of a sudden in 2015 it was worth $1.3. The people next to me had their house up for sale and I thought developers love to have adjoining blocks because then they can fit more, I think you call them condos, we call them townhouses.

I thought this is opportunity knocking. I mean I loved my house, I thought I would live there until I was carried out in a pine box. I had chickens and I had a food forest. I just had the outside painted like that is going to be where I was going to live. So, I thought about it over the weekend. I'd listen to podcasts and read blogs and books and I knew about geo-arbitrage, which is moving to a cheaper cost of living place. You're able to get ahead because you keep more of your take home. I felt really fine with further away from work. I don't need to be a two-minute drive from work anymore. My kids are finished with school. If I moved further out, I might be able to actually put more money in my super, or 401k, or whatever it is called in the states, and maybe buy back some time.

As it turned out, I ended up deciding to develop it myself with a partner, but we ended up selling the block with totally complete approved plans for two really big townhouses for $1.7 million. I’m not a numbers person, but I knew that was a lot of money, like it was a ridiculous amount of money, but I thought I'm doing it. I believe I gave my partner $200,000 of that. The real estate agent took a piece and I moved 15 kilometers away to live by the beach. It cost me $750,000 which to Americans, unless they're in San Francisco or wherever, it sounds like a lot. Honestly it's a four bedroom, two bathroom house. It's nothing. It's not mansion, but that's what the prices are like here.

I would save as much into my superannuation as I could because I'm 55 I can access that in four years if I want. And then I've got another investment portfolio that I just had index funds with. It'll kick in a little bit of money and I kept $50,000 back to do some renovations here. So with all of that, that came to make a net-worth of roughly $1.4 million American. That's not counting the house, the house is now worth $1.1 million. I don’t count the house because I have to live somewhere.

So I have a lot of questions and I know a lot of people reading might think, how in the world? Or that won’t work for me because my house did not appreciate that much, we don’t have real estate appreciation like that.

You don't want it because I mean, it was great for me but my kids can't get into a house.

Right! We're seeing that in places like San Francisco, Seattle, anywhere where there's a big tech boom. I don't know how teachers are doing it to where they have to work at schools within Palo Alto, for example, and in all these cities. Where are you going to live on that kind of salary in that area, because now all the prices have really jumped. Teachers listening may not have experienced the increase in their housing values. We get the aged pension at 69. I was absolutely on track to have $1 million net worth by the time I hit 69 with what I was doing, even if I had stayed in that house. That was the decision I had, that was what I had to wrestle with because I like my job and I've worked at a very nice school. The kids grew up there and loved the neighborhood. If I stayed there and just kept investing and putting my money away, I could make it to 69 and have a very nice retirement income or do I make the leap? So that was what I was really wrestling with for a weekend.

What a big move to decide on in one weekend of time. I mean I guess you slept on it, right? Anyway, so a couple of things. So I did say, people might not listen because of the house thing, but as you mentioned, you would have been able do this even if you hadn't done the house. That's something I really wanted to talk to you about because the house pushed that over the edge, made it easier, but you were disciplined along the way. From what I'm hearing, it sounds like you were out of extreme necessity of survival, right? You had $60 to your name, you had to figure it out. So, there's a sense of protectionism, maybe having to survive and get by. You had the kids, you didn’t want to give up on life completely, and not travel. It sounds like you stuck yourself on a number or a goal and just picked away at it over time and had the discipline to do that. That's how you really got to that net worth?

Once I borrowed that extra money, on the house, I had $200,000 that I had to aim for if I wanted to pay it off. I was very lucky in that my parents are very debt averse and I'm very dead set on this. I picked that up from then. I owed nothing else in the world except that mortgage. I pay my credit card off religiously every month. I think I've only in the whole life only had two months and had to pay interest and I was furious. The first thing was $200,000 which back then it was an enormous amount of money. It was huge to me, our cost of living is far more expensive than in the states. It just seemed like, I'm never going to pay it off. Then I thought, well that's ridiculous you will pay at all it's just going to take time. So, when I got paid, I'd put a certain amount of money straight onto my credit card and that covered the outgoings. I don't do a budget as such. I don't remember how much it was back then, but I know now I put $1,000 of my pay directly onto my credit card and all of our outgoings went through that card. Then anything extra I put into savings. And what I worked out very early on is put my savings into a different bank, an online bank and found one with really good bonus interest. So, I did that and I have a spreadsheet even though I hate them

I was just about to ask you about this. I know you're going to say it's so simple. I think you even called it silly or something, but I think it is the coolest that you keep this spreadsheet. I would love for you to tell us about this spreadsheet

The spreadsheet I was talking about with the savings, it's just got different buckets. So, I just put all my excess money in there and I separated out into, I've got emergency fund, pet, holiday, property taxes, car, Christmas, and investing.

The spreadsheet you're talking about is a lot more fun but it does work. So, I decided to see how many days I could have a no spend a day just to see if I can stop the little dribbles of money going out of my wallet every day. So, I just put up my to chart and every day that I don't spend any money, I color in the chart with a green square, it's very pretty. Then on the day that I do spend money I note it down around it up to the nearest dollar. So I've got a totally clear view at the end of the year. I do it every six months where I add up all the different amounts as to where I'm spending my money. So, I know how much I'm spending on food, on bills, on clothing, on the pets, all that sort of stuff.

And then just to reward myself a little bit each week if I have three or less days where I spend money, I get an extra square that I can color in and that's a silver square. But if it gets to like Thursday and I'm wanting to pop into Aldi to buy a liter of milk or something, I'll think, oh no, it's not going to be a silver week. What ended up happening, which I didn't intend, it made spending really intentional. So instead of just going and popping into the supermarket every night after work, it made me group my spending days together. For example, after we finish here, I'm going to go to an auction of one of the townhouses at the block and see what it goes for. Then I'm going to go to the chicken place then to Costco and then to Aldi because today is a spend day and then tomorrow won't be. So, I'm like winning. I mean it's so silly, but I've been doing that for a couple of years.

Earlier this year I thought, well it works so well I think it will fix habits that I want to instill. If I do something for each one of these habits every day at the end of the week I get to color in that square. I want to write every day because I'm really working hard on my blog. I want to walk the dogs every day, I want to clean the house, garden, read a book, not just social media and blog posts and things like that. I've now got another chart going and it's incredible. I come home from work, I might be really exhausted but before I sit down, I take the dogs around the block and pick a Zucchini and that is gardening. Okay. Done. Sometimes cleaning might only be wiping off the top of the skirting board other days it might be the whole room or whatever. But just to say every day chipping away at it, it's silly that a grown woman in her fifties is motivated by pulling up a chart and coloring in a square. It's stupid.

Oh, I totally disagree with you. I love this and I have a goal chart for things like pro-bono work that I want to do or for continuing education that I have to get done. I am also very motivated by just coloring in the little square with the colors. When you said that you have a chart I thought, oh my gosh, a woman after my own heart. Not only that, but again, I really think that my daughter's classroom has the green card and you better believe she's going to do everything she can to keep that green card every day.

Here's the thing, we tell people when you're trying to diet you should journal out your meals. I think we've gotten away from really looking at what we're spending. By just swiping a card or shopping online we're not seeing it, it's not in our face. Your way is not necessarily taking this massive time consuming project of listing out every transaction, but you're putting a dollar amount for the day, which is fine and then rewarding yourself with the green square. Even though you think it's silly, if that's what gets you going and keeps that momentum going, then by all means it's amazing and it's so simple.

Do you have anything that you would share with everyone listening, some tidbit of advice? It can be about teaching career, about money, any takeaway that the readers can take with them.

Oh, well I'm really big on financial independence. That's what my blog is about. It’s a financial independence, retire early blog. Even though I'm 50 in that and in that group that may be considered really old. I really feel for a couple of reasons it's so important for teachers to become financially independent as soon as possible because we are such a giving profession. You cannot walk into a classroom full of teenagers or younger kids and be switched off. It's a really high energy job. It's not as well paid as it should be and society doesn't really look after teachers financially as it should, but we should look after ourselves.

As educators, it's really important to have a really wide view of the world and to experience different things because then you can bring them back into the classroom. A friend of mine went to North Korea, she found a tour guide there and I thought she was mad. I thought she was absolutely crazy. Why would you go there? Anyway, she came back alive, which was good. She said it was like stepping back in time to the 1960s and that if I ever want to go, she’d go with me. I went home over the weekend and thought about it, a bit of a recurring pattern, and I thought I'm going to go, I'm going to go. I didn't have a mortgage trickling out, I didn't have all that sort of stuff happening and I could go. I went back on Monday, and told her I'm in, and so she said, I want to go on this particular tour. That April we were in North Korea for 10 days. Wow. That I could do that.

The lessons when I came back with, showing propaganda postcards. We have some Korean kids at our school and they were translating them for the class. Everyone was horrified and talking to them about what it's like in a country with that sort of regime. The good and the bad of it, it was absolutely wonderful.

The important part I think of why teachers should be financially independent if that you really don't want to be that teacher, the one that is in the classroom in front of those kids that does’t want to be there. They burnt out and they are just waiting until they can access their retirement, they can do such damage. The kids know who loves the subject and loves teaching and who doesn't, we hear about it all the time.

When my kids were going to the school, I knew who the good teachers were and who the bad teachers were. I think that if you have a secure financial base, you can choose whether you want to be there or not. It's a choice, I mean, I'm choosing to stay in the classroom because I really do love it and plus I haven't quite hit the number that I want to hit before I retire. You want teaching to be a choice. It has to be fun.

I love that! Like you said, the financial independence, hitting the marks, hitting the dollar amounts and having that discipline in doing that, whether it's filling in a box or just making a goal. Then you can go and have experiences and bring richness back into your career. I think it’s a circle where it keeps you there because you enjoy sharing those experiences. So you have a blog, what is the name of it and what is it about? A lot of teachers might not know what F.I.R.E., that's something you've brought up. If you don't mind telling us about your blog and what F.I.R.E is so people know.

The blog is burningdesireforfire.com and F.I.R.E is an acronym for financial independence retire early. That's exactly what I want to do when I'm ready and why I decided to actually start writing this blog up. I had a personal blog for years and years before that. There's a lot of young 30 something, 40 something, 20 something people writing in the F.I.R.E niche. They were writing a lot of articles telling people what to do to get financially independent, but they haven’t done it yet. There's a lot of women writing in the space, but mostly American. I think I read one too many posts from somebody who hadn't done it yet and it pushed me over the edge. So, I started writing the blog. I wanted to write from the perspective of somebody who is not a numbers person but still is able to make it work and also for teachers.

Every now and again there's something about the job that I write about and also people who had started off like I did, single parents, whether they're male or female, people who are not pulling in the six figure incomes and stuff like that. Just to say that it is possible you can have a fulfilling life and you can make money work for you, even if numbers scare the living daylights out of you. I thought I had something useful to share, so that's why I did it. My posts tell a story, they're not just 10 different money things to do to be wealthy. Ugh, there's 1,000,001 posts like that out. I tell a story, I talk about my life, I talk about my kids, my students, and hopefully people find it interesting.

I do like the concept of your blog because you are right. We do see a lot of the how to lists, the steps, and so on. It's really cool to get a female perspective and from another country. So, I love that you're sharing your life story with it and retiring early doesn't necessarily mean that you do it at 30 it could just mean shaving a couple of years off. It can also mean having the option to, if you lose the desire to be in the classroom. It could mean a year, a few months, or just having the ability to.

If you need to speak with a fee-only, fiduciary, financial planner please head over to www.wealthofoconfidence.com.

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