How I retired early as a single mother with four kids


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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.

how i retired early as a single mother of four

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

A version of this first appeared on Frogdancer Jones' blog Burning Desire for Fire

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Alexandra Lambrianou
April 17, 2021 11.18am

Why has she remained anonymous? I s this a real life story??

T Martin
April 17, 2021 1.55pm

Hi Alexandra,

Some people prefer their anonymity. Whilst i haven't actually met Frogdancer Jones, a few years ago we were part of the same investment community. I have read her story elsewhere. Yes she is real and her achievements in life remarkable.

Leonie Y
April 17, 2021 11.19am

I have a very similar story - left my husband in 1990 with four children 8 and under, bought a house in '96 while on a pension and working part time and put myself through Uni (started at the ripe old age of 41) to become a teacher. With careful investing (mainly in property) and being forever frugal, I too retired early at 58. I did go back to work part time though for a short while and am now just doing occasional relief teaching as I enjoy it.

I love seeing inspirational stories like this and hope it encourages others in the OP's and my start to FIRE.

Sally Gopal
April 17, 2021 3.03pm

Thank you for this inspiring post. I love hearing other people's stories. Keeps me inspired to keep on track in this materialistic world.

Ted Lasso
April 17, 2021 4.56pm

Can you provide some advice on available properties within 10km of a CBD that we could cover the mortgage repayments with $18k p/a income by the age of 47? I'm sure if we all had access to these, then 30 years later we could also sell to a developer, move further out of town and retire by 57!

Maree Bowker
April 18, 2021 7.35am

Personally I think it's a mind set you can retire when you want to just do the numbers

How much do we need to support our life style ?

If you're invested in quality assets that appreciate and give reasonable returns you should be able to retire

A personal favourite of mine is a take away coffee a day times 5 days =$20 a week times over a year is almost $1000 investment this it's all relevant

It's up to your choice

Kris Smith
April 18, 2021 9.25am

The key is to get into your own home early in life. Renting is a never ending spiral to poverty; most divorced women end up homeless and hated by their children in spite of all the struggles they have gone through. It is unfair! But her "You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification" was the linchpin. Self sacrifice is now seen as another evil Christian 'rule'; $2,000 mobile phones or a $200 one from the supermarket? Such is the key to success.

Anon Mous
April 19, 2021 9.30am

Genuine question. Can she disclose whether she was getting child support from her husband till the kids were 18 years old

Budget Life List
April 20, 2021 9.54am

She has mentioned that her ex-husband would take cash jobs so he didn't have to pay child support.

Anon Mouse
April 20, 2021 12.27pm

Sorry I couldn't find anything about child support. Which part are you referring to?

Stella S
April 20, 2021 12.49pm

Frogdancer has written in about it on her blog.

"We existed on what was called back then the 'Sole Parents' Pension' of around 18K/year, plus intermittent child support when the Child Support agency would catch up with my ex."


"Child support was erratic in those days. Money was tight."


Anon Mouse
April 20, 2021 5.03pm

Well , you cannot trust everything that you read on the internet. There are so many stories where the ex wife takes most of the husband's savings, super and the the husband pays child support as well and then the wife claims to have made it on her own.

I am not distrusting her. She could be one of those genuine ones who hustled and made it

Stella S
April 20, 2021 6.20pm

"You cannot trust everything that you read on the internet."

Well said from the man who throws around baseless claims about women.

I only hope everyone who reads your bitter comments keeps this in mind.

Sam H
April 20, 2021 10.21am

Why is it that most people think the F in 'FIRE' stands for Frugality? I'm starting to think this whole article is BS. You go to the trouble of being anonymous, but don't provide specifics, not only in terms of dollars, but also how to live cheaply. You're anonymous so why not provide more info? Like mentioned above, did they receive Child Support... most likely! If she was saving so much why wasn't the house paid off earlier? As you can't tell me she saved enough in 8 years to fund retirement. I suspect there is more to the story, such as the big cash injection of selling property that has provided the main source of retirement funds, and has nothing to do with FIRE at all, especially on the salary of a teacher

John Nicholson
April 20, 2021 4.51pm

You ought to check your facts before throwing comments around about this article being bullshit. As others have said, this is a genuine story by someone who has been blogging for some time and has explained how she did it. Her website is available along with blogs going back for the last few years.

Sam H
April 21, 2021 8.28am

Based on the article above, I'm still calling it BS. There is so much more to this story that should be in the article, I should not have to refer to her blogs. It's not FIRE, it's Frugality and the luck of a great property deal

Anon Mouse
April 20, 2021 5.06pm

Centrelink + Child support + most of ex husbands savings + his super = financially independent

Stella S
April 20, 2021 6.21pm

She said in the article that she walked away with $60.

She posted on her blog that child support was erratic at best.

Get out of here with your misogynistic victim mentality.

Grump Ee
August 15, 2021 3.11pm

I think it is misleading. It was hard to find but apparently she bought a house in a fancy suburb in 1996, and sold it 2013(?). Then bought 16km out. So she had a lot of equity. The whole story is buy property before a boom and sell it years after. Buy cheap and invest the diff then live very cheaply on the dividends. Not much of a story and pretty much useless advice if you don't already own a joint in a fancy suburb or have a big hunk of cash to invest.

Mike J
August 16, 2021 8.15am

It's not misleading just because you may not be able to use this particular strategy. Or do you critique all financial advice based solely on whether or not it applies to yourl ife?

She did exactly what society tells younger people to do - she bought property further out of the CBD, where she could afford it.