How I retired early as a single mother with four kids
I stumbled across the FIRE movement around eight or nine years ago by reading a blog called Go Curry Cracker. I remember asking him in the comments what this FIRE acronym stood for.
I was 49, I had just paid off the house and was worried about how I could ever possibly afford to retire.
I've been a single mother for well over 20 years and have brought up my four boys on my own, all while working as a secondary teacher. I still have two of them at home with me in suburban Melbourne, while the oldest and the youngest have flown the nest.
Imagine my relief when I read the famous post by Mr Money Mustache, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement, and I realised that by doing what I was already doing - saving and investing more than 50% of my take-home pay - I was on track to being able to retire at 67 with over a million dollar nest-egg.
I could retire at pension age and not need to eke out my life on the pension.
That did it. I was hooked! I wanted to learn all I could about this FIRE stuff. I devoured blogs, books, and podcasts. I hate maths and numbers with a passion, but even someone as maths-phobic as I am can learn the basic concepts.
Last year, at the age of 57, I retired. Ten years ahead of schedule.
I'm not your stereotypical FIRE candidate, being older than a millennial, single with kids, coming from a career not known for being lucrative, being female and non-American.
So how did I do it?
I really believe that the secret to becoming financially independent is underpinned by three very important things.
You have to know what you value in life so you can concentrate your time, effort and money on those things.
You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification - to be a long-term thinker, in other words.
And you have to be willing to learn, so that when life offers up an opportunity, you can recognise it and - even more importantly, know what to do with it.
The last point had a huge impact on my financial life when, after years of struggling to bring up four boys and pay a mortgage on a teacher's wage, I grabbed hold of an offer to develop my East Bentleigh property in a much sought-after school zone. This enabled me to release the equity in the property and move to a cheaper, but better, house further away from the CBD.
Being able to pivot from my original plan to stay there until I was carried out in a pine box saved me having to work for an extra decade. I would never have had the courage to do it if I hadn't have spent all of that time reading and listening to people who have already trodden the path to financial independence.
So what do financial independence and early retirement mean to me?
For me, the security of financial independence is an absolute gift.
When I left my husband back in 1997, I took with me my four boys under five and $60 cash.
There were years of struggling to provide for my boys and pay the mortgage - it wasn't easy to live off $18,000 a year of Centrelink benefits until the boys were all in school and I could go back to work. The frugal habits I learned back then have really paid off!
If I have to, we can live off the smell of an oily rag. It took me a long time to lose the fear that I didn't have enough to retire on.
Also, being able to retire at 57 is an even greater gift. For the first time in my life, I can be totally selfish.
My kids are grown, I have no grandchildren and all I have to worry about looking after are the dogs and my garden.
I can spend my days entirely as I choose - the freedom is absolutely incredible. I can highly recommend retirement!
*Not her real name
Three years after we first profiled seven Aussies who are working towards early retirement, we caught up with them again to find out how their plans and investments have fared during COVID-19. Pick up the FIRE special issue of Money magazine, out now.