How Serina is teaching Aussies that frugal is not a dirty word


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Three years ago we first profiled seven Aussies who are working towards early retirement.

Money caught up with them again to find out how their plans and investments have fared during COVID-19.

Read more about the early retirees who know there's more to life than work, and how to be inspired by the FIRE movement.

serina bird the joyful frugalista early retirement fire

NAME: Serina Bird, 48
INCOME NEEDED: $60,000 to $70,000 a year for a family of four
INVESTMENT STRATEGY: Four investment properties, shares and aggressively paying down the mortgage. Selling one property and increasing her investment in ETFs.

Serina took the plunge by leaving the security of her well-paid public sector job in 2019. She says she is probably working more in retirement than when she was employed but she has the flexibility she didn't have before. She describes what she is doing now as having a purpose with a passion.

Serina's approach is helping people who are struggling, not only with their finances but their relationships and jobs they don't like but are too scared to leave.

For a start, Serina wrote The Joyful Frugalista, a book about her money secrets to help women save and live their dreams. She launched a podcasting series,, and has recorded 52 interviews so far.

She speaks and writes on financial resilience, saving money and cooking low-cost meals and started a coaching business to help people with their money issues.

Reflecting on the pandemic, Serina says she is blessed to have a voice to help inform others about how to feed a family for less and share messages of resilience.

"We all go through hard times. Anything can happen. Dealing with the blips is really important," she says.

While lots of FIREs don't like the word frugal to describe their lives, Serina sees it as liberating and fun rather than deprivation, she told Money in 2018. Known as Mrs Frugal Ears, she likes to take on challenges. Her latest was giving away 1000 items.

"Interestingly, the more I gave, the more people gave back."

Often when she gave someone a book or jigsaw they would return with two.

"The sharing community has been huge for me. When I need things, the community is there."

Serina says she has the space to learn new skills, such as building websites, and has launched two online businesses: The Joyful Business Club, to help female-led businesses, and is in the early stages of developing The Joyful Fashionista to buy and sell vintage clothes, which she sees as a more sustainable option than buying new items all the time.

"Fast fashion is such an incredible issue for the world and something we have to take responsibility for."

Serina is bringing up two boys from her first marriage, having remarried in 2018. Retiring early has meant spending more time with the boys, who sometimes remind her about how stressed she was when she was working full-time, reinforcing her decision to retire early. "Women are over-working at work because they don't think they are good enough," she maintains.

On the financial side, she aggressively tackled her mortgage and has finally paid it off, which is "like an aircraft landing".

The 41/2 years of long service pay she received after two decades in the public service was a big help.

Serina and her husband, Neil, prefer property as a safe-haven investment. However, the bushfires and then the pandemic stopped her renting out the investment properties through Airbnb. "You need to be able to pivot with your plans," she says.

Instead, she has put one of her properties into the affordable housing scheme, helping an older woman who is struggling financially after being in an abusive relationship - this aligns with her own values. The rent is 75% of the commercial rent, plus there are incentives such as tax benefits and an exemption from land tax. Serina sold another investment property to reduce her mortgage and free up some money to put into her businesses.

Serina is also putting more funds into ETFs.

"We have a bit [invested in ETFs] but not as much as we would like. I'm a conservative investor."

Serina's tips

Serina says when you respect and understand money, it almost magically transforms itself into something that grows and grows - "it's called compound interest". She contributes the maximum to her superannuation and recommends super as a tax-effective way of saving.

Favourite reading and listening 

  • Australian FI Weekly - Frugality and Freedom
  • Money magazine
  • Netwealth's morning business roundup
  • Aussie Firebug podcast
  • Aussie FIRE ebook
  • New Money

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
Heather King
May 31, 2021 3.03am

Wonderful timing! Great articles that suited exactly what in planning now: early retirement. Serendipitous.

Serina's story resonates well with me as I am always looking for ways to create social housing options or community solutions for the homeless.

Thank you for giving the variety of profiles. Helps my decision-making:)