Welcome to The Australian Blogger Interview Series.
We noticed the Australian personal finance community growing, mostly through our interactions on Twitter and we wanted to continue to foster this great camaraderie. We’ve reached out to as many Australian personal finance bloggers as we could and asked them to participate in our interview series. If you have any favourite Australian personal finance bloggers, tell us about them in the comments below and we’ll invite them to participate.
Next Up: Frogdancer Jones from Burning Desire for FIRE.
** A short note from AWP: Frogdancer Jones submitted this interview to me in 2020 but, due to my unannounced hiatus, I am only publishing it now. She has since (alluded to in her answers below) retired and I strongly encourage you to head over to her blog to see how it has gone so far!
- Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in The Best House in Melbourne with 2 of my 4 grown-up sons. I’ve been a single parent for over 20 years, all while teaching English and Drama classes to the hormonally challenged in our society, otherwise known as secondary students. I have 3 dogs that I love more than my breakfast and so living 5 minutes walk from a dog beach is one of life’s little pleasures.
- How did you get into blogging about personal finance? Was there someone (another blogger perhaps) or something that inspired you to start blogging?
I discovered the world of FIRE when I was around 50, just after paying off my mortgage and consequently having a cash net worth of around $10. Around 5 years after that, due in a large part to what I’d read and learned, I was financially independent.
I have a personal blog that I’ve been writing since 2007 – and I know exactly what made me start the FIRE blog. It was reading one too many posts from a 20-something guy who was trying to tell me in a 10 point blog post EXACTLY how to reach financial independence – when he hadn’t done it himself. I had.
That pushed me over the edge.
- What are your financial goals? Are you aiming for FIRE or something else?
This year  has been very exciting because it’s turned out to be my last year of working. Yep, on December 18 2020, Frogdancer Jones will hand in her whiteboard markers and ride off into the sunset [see AWP note at the beginning of this interview].
The last few months have been a whirl of coming to that decision (COVID brought it forward by a year) and then stringently looking at the finances to make sure Old Lady Frogdancer won’t be fighting the dogs for a share of their food in twenty years’ time.
Retiring at the age of 57 is still an early(ish) retirement and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to pull it off. Much as I love the classroom – the kids make me laugh every single day – the other parts of the job have been slowly sucking the fun dry. Time to leave before I become THAT teacher – the one who’s a bundle of misery to be around.
- What has been your financial journey? Did you start with a pile of debt? How have your finances progressed throughout the years?
Whenever I think about my financial journey I count it as starting from when I left my husband. I had 4 boys under 5, $60 in cash and we had a mortgage just under 100K on the house. It was a shockingly bad start to the boys’ and my lives together.
I had 3 things in my favour:
1. I already had my teaching degree, so I had a viable career path to support my family when the kids were old enough to go to school.
2. I was 33 years old when I left, so I had years ahead of me to recover financially.
3. I had a steely determination to make sure that the boys would always be secure and would not be disadvantaged in any way. It wasn’t their fault that the marriage failed.
I wrote about it all in “The story of how Frogdancer Jones won her freedom.”
No point writing it all again here!
- Do you advocate shares or property to build financial independence? Or both? Why?
Property was the way I fast-tracked my retirement by a decade, but things are different now. I was lucky to buy the old place just ahead of the property bubble and I sold it at the peak to release the equity I’d built up over 19 years of living there. I call myself “Fortunate Frogdancer’ and I certainly was! It couldn’t have happened any better if I’d planned it! I’d love to take the credit, but the timing was all good luck. The DECISION to act – now, I’ll definitely take credit for that.Property is so expensive here in Australia. Now, I’m looking towards shares to fund my retirement. It’s so much easier and quicker to get started and it’s far more flexible than buying an investment property. I have a mix of individual shares and index funds, but I’m moving more towards the index funds as time moves along.I’m still a HUGE advocate for owning your own home before retiring. It makes so much sense to cut down on your living expenses as much as possible before getting rid of the wage. It also gives you the chance to craft your living space to be exactly how you want it to be. That’s what I’ve been doing in The Best House in Melbourne and if lockdown has taught me one thing – it’s that I LOVE being here.
- What is your personal investing strategy? Have you ever changed or reconsidered your strategy? Why?
Great question! I’m right at the scary stage of moving from saving and investing in the accumulation phase to very soon drawing down upon all those investments and *gasp!* withdrawing money from those investments and spending it. Yikes!
It’s a very big shift in mindset.
We’re all used to putting money aside, buying little parcels of shares and salary sacrificing into Super etc. But in a few months, I’ll be doing the opposite of all of this for the first time in my life. As a natural saver and frugal person, it’s a little unnerving. I’m not eligible to tap my Superannuation for another couple of years, but the plan is to wait until 60 so any drawdowns will be tax-free. So my savings and investments will have to cover my living expenses for the next 3 years or more.
In order to pad up my cash cushion slightly, I’ve just stopped salary sacrifice into Super. There have been many conversations and many spreadsheets drawn up to track my investments and project where I expect them to be in the future. Instead of throwing money into the various pots as I have been for the last couple of decades, my task is now to balance from where and how much I take from those pots going forward.
- What do you think the biggest challenge is for Australians seeking financial independence?
Short-term thinking. In order to become financially independent, you have to take a long-term view of your life. It takes more than 5 minutes to reach FI, so anyone who is easily distracted by the baubles and distractions along the way will take far longer to get there than someone who steadily works towards it.
I guess I’m saying that an understanding of delayed gratification – not only what it is but also when to deploy it – is a valuable tool to have.
- Who has inspired you the most in your journey toward financial independence?
My kids. It’s amazing the things you’ll do for them that you probably wouldn’t do if you were just considering yourself! I was determined that they’d have as normal a childhood as I could provide, as well as having a totally secure base from which to eventually fly the nest. This meant that I had to keep a lid on debt, pay off the house while still sending them on school camps, paying for music lessons, taking them overseas etc.
What’s been an unexpected by-product of all of this is that they’re all pretty good with money themselves. I hid nothing from them as they grew older about our finances and they’ve taken a lot in along the way. Some are better savers than others, but they all understand the power of paying yourself first and steering clear of stupid debt.
- Which do you think is more powerful: frugality or higher earnings? Why?
Frugality. Hands down.
When I moved from living off the sole parents’ pension + child support of $20/month to a full-time teacher’s wage – I was suddenly rich!!! I had increased our incomings by over 4 times. Because I was frugal, I was able to use this new-found wealth to gain traction on our financial path. If I’d spent all of this extra money on fripperies, we’d never be in the position we are today. Frugality helps people effectively manage any increases in earnings.
- Has there been anything about becoming a blogger that you didn’t expect (good or bad)?
Nope. Been doing it since 2007. Oh! Being asked to be a guest on podcasts. That’s been something new.
- What do you plan to do in retirement (whether early or on time)?
Whatever I bloody well want! I’m looking forward to a life free of bells, being scheduled down to the minute (eg classes start at 10:58 after recess and you HAVE to be there), being able to pee whenever I want instead of at recess or lunchtime, no more talk about pedagogy/parents/school uniforms and no more confiscating mobile phones.
When it’s safe to do so, I plan to travel overseas every year. I’m a huge fan of English history and I’ll be making regular trips over there. In the meantime, local travel will be a regular thing in my life. I’ve made sure to have many interests that keep my time occupied – reading, writing, food gardening, quilting, knitting and Netflix. The dogs are hugely important too. I’m also quite fond of the boys and they keep popping in and out, which is nice.
- What’s your biggest splurge?
Five years ago I went on a trip to the UK and Europe. I planned it when I was 15 and I finally got there when I was 51. I’ve never calculated the exact figure that I ended up spending on that trip – too scared!- but it was in the region of 30K. I’ve never regretted spending a penny of that money.
- How do you think the Australian financial blogger community can grow? Do you think something like Fincon is viable over here?
I don’t know.
- Do people in your real life know about your blog? If so, what do they think? If not, why not?
Yes, people know about it. A few people from work read it and we sometimes talk about financial things in our staff room. I was really pleased when we got 2 people who are a little “spendy” to start salary sacrificing last year. My kids know about it but there’s no way they’d read it!!
- What’s your number one piece of advice for those interested in financial independence?
Really look hard at your life and what you value and have a clear vision that you feel is worth working towards, even when times get tough.
For me, it was providing a safe and secure base for my boys. Their world had been rocked once by the divorce and I didn’t want that to ever happen again. So my goal was always incredibly clear – financial security and being able to provide a secure base for them. Sometimes I think I’ve succeeded a little too well – I still have a 27 and a 25-year-old at home – but that clear, over-arching goal made me keep going even when times were at their bleakest.
Once you have that clear idea of what you want to work towards, then just get started!
Thanks so much for being our next interviewee Frogdancer Jones! We look forward to sharing more interviews with you soon!
Do you like the idea of an interview series? Who are your favourite Australian personal finance bloggers?