Sitting at my teacher desk in my classroom, I survey my kingdom. It's not much, some desks, chairs, a few tired displays, but it's mine. I have had a few classrooms over the years and despite the sauna-like qualities of my new abode, this is my favourite.
It's the final half of the summer term and while there are only four weeks to the summer break, it is fairly jam packed with exams, activities, and meetings. I have been met this morning with emails asking me to create fun and exciting activities for our now unoccupied Year 11s, requests to cover my colleagues who somehow have managed to score an end of year trip, and reminders for documents I have yet to complete.
After my workday is finished, I'll then go home to tutor until 8pm.
I am often caught singing 'when will my life begin' as I make my way to my classroom in the morning. Not because I am trapped in a fairly small tower by my fake and slightly derailed manipulating mother Gothel, but because I have the same routine every morning, that while comfortably familiar, is dull and uninspiring. Like Rapunzel, I have a dream. If I no longer needed the (relatively stable) income that comes with my 8-5:30 (6 days a week) job, you would find me in the kitchen. I am a fairly competent baker, and I love to make show-stopping cakes for family birthdays. My dream and my FIRE goals are aligned. When I retire, I want to travel 6 months of the year, collecting recipes for new and exciting bakes, and then come back for the rest of the year to recreate and reimagine those baked goods to sell at farmer's markets and fairs.
I know I could start now.
But life gets in the way, between my family, my all encompassing job as a teacher/supervisor/manager/organiser/care-giver, and my tutoring gigs, I don't have a large amount of time to spare. One day, I hope to update you with the when and where you can get hold of my exciting new tray-bake, but until then, you will find me sat at my desk, dreaming my way through each day.
I have always been fairly frugal with food shopping. Always happy with the supermarket own brand when given the choice. However, in September 2020 I realised that I'd been ordering weekly shops throughout the pandemic to 'ensure we had enough in'. When I compared this to the same April through August period in 2019 I got a shock. I'd spent twice as much on groceries as we usually do. That's £1000 we would never get back.
I spent the next few months cutting back our spending and at our family yearly budget review in December, I decided to go a little more radical. January was to be a no spend month for food.
We used up the freezer and food cupboards, but our biggest resource was an app I'd been using for a while, Olio. The treasures I could find on there, food people did not want, many of them pantry staples, oats, pasta, rice...
We made it, 31 days and no groceries bought.
Fast-forward 4 months and although we do spend money on food, our monthly food bill is only £40 for a family of three.
Here is a small snapshot into a week of (just my) food. I've separated out money spent and money saved:
Monday Spent Saved
As soon as I get to work on Monday, I use the bean to cup coffee machine in the teachers lounge for a flat white. This pairs beautifully with my Olio chocolate éclairs that my spouse picked up as a Tesco Food Waste Hero (FWH) on Saturday - we get to keep 10% of the haul and these éclairs were in date, but the box was slightly bashed. Result! Most of the free items came from Olio, but there were a few paid items, these tend to be snacks that I get in bulk at Aldi on a monthly basis.
Tuesday Spent Saved
Another day, another flat white. I make my porridge in my classroom, the school invested in a microwave for my department 4 years ago, and we use it daily. Again, Olio is doing the heavy lifting, but the brownies lovingly made by my spouse and son yesterday are still going strong.
Wednesday Spent Saved
Tuesday night is my Olio FWH collection. Over 100 items picked up and 94 of them distributed by 10am Wednesday. Leaving a couple of sandwiches each for breakfast/dinner (and a couple of plain ham sandwiches frozen for later on in the week). Wednesday is my lunch duty at work, so I get my lunch for free. I get a prepared salad, and feeling virtuous from the greenery, a sticky toffee pudding with cream. I take a thumbprint biscuit and 7 bananas from the food hall to have later. After last break, I return to my desk to find a piece of rocky road in tinfoil from a pupil. While a little melted from the heat of my tropical classroom, it eats just the same.
Thursday Spent Saved
Thursday is weigh day at Weight Watchers. Yes, free food is diet friendly. Returning to school after weighing in 1lb lighter, I treat myself to the now defrosted home-made pancakes, with maple syrup and one of yesterday's bananas. I batch cook these pancakes whenever I find yoghurt on Olio, usually making enough for five or six portions. This portion is too big, so I save some for Friday morning. I find stir-fry and bean sprouts on Olio, so dinner is sorted.
Friday Spent Saved
Friday's are long for me, so I pre-order a pizza and garlic bread from our favourite pizza place. It's an oven in the back of a Land Rover and looks like it belongs at a festival, but my goodness the pizza is good. Because I tutor every evening, dinner has to be a fairly quick affair and some weeks we get into the habit of having lots of little take-outs, rather than one big one like this.
Saturday Spent Saved
Yes, Saturday is a teaching day so flat white and defrosted Tesco sandwich al desko. I get home at midday and add some of my (Olio) Pizza Express salad dressing to my (Olio) prepared salad. On a Saturday we head across to the in laws bakery and collect cookies, cake, and bread for next week. After an evening of tutoring, the sausage and mash ready meal does not really hit the spot, so I help myself to a cookie, and an apple to even it out. The apples were an amazing Olio find weeks ago, and in the fridge they last for weeks/months.
Sunday Spent Saved
No school on Sunday so I eat my almond croissant (spouses Tesco FWH collection from Saturday) in bed while mini T2FI watches Hey Duggee. Sunday isn't the healthiest day but all tasty choices that I enjoy, and are completely free!
So in a week, my personal food spend totalled £8.83. As most of this was the take-out pizza on Friday night, I'm not too upset with it. MxT2FI's total was slightly less as he was happy to have porridge rather than pancakes on Thursday/Friday. Mini T2FI had very little food at home and ate off my plate all week, so his total was built into mine (and the childcare cost).
The £8.83 total for all meals this week is equivalent to less than one meal when we go to Disney World this August (fingers crossed) but as life is about balance, that's something I am not going to stress over.
If you have any frugal food tips or ideas, please let me know in the comments below.
I, like many other people, have a fear of losing my job. For us anxious employees, whether this is a rational fear or not depends on lots of factors, including our employment history. Redundancy plagues the independent school sector more than state school, and is used to downsize departments depending on pupil intake to the subject. As a non-core subject teacher, I have felt the impact of redundancies in my department and across the schools I have worked in. The thought of being made redundant or losing my job strikes fear into my heart. I have a mortgage, a family, and a 15-year plan to FIRE.
I have been job hunting recently, looking for the next step in my career. After applying for several roles (school tours, informal chats with headteachers, and long tedious application forms) I have now passed the deadline for leaving this academic year. So that’s it, too late, try again for January. The feedback each time was the same, ‘you have a strong application, but we found x number of candidates who were better qualified.’ Will a new role (more responsibility, higher salary) reduce my fear of losing my job? No, probably not. But I don’t know if I want to do 15 more September INSET days in the position I am in now.
So, if like me, you are anxious about job loss, how do we fix our fear? Well after a solid few hours of Googling this is what I have to offer you.
1. Acknowledge and accept your fear.
2020 was a mess. Jobs were lost, jobs were at risk, and it is absolutely okay to feel scared. Don’t bury your feelings, acknowledge them. Find a trusted friend, colleague or partner, and talk to them. It is reassuring to realise that we are not alone in this fear. In talking about this anxiety at work, I found that many of my colleagues feel exactly the same way. Finances are uncertain for many businesses right now, but it won’t always be this way.
2. Can you offer more to your role (without increasing your workload?)
Do you have a particular set of responsibilities in your role? Can you swap out some of your easier duties for those that might be in your specialism? What are you particularly good at? Are you being utilised in your role? Teaching is about a third of my workload. The remainder of my day is spent on administrative tasks, most of which I do every year and can do in my sleep. Ever summer term we receive an email detailing what will be added to our role from September. I’ve always just accepted these but this year I asked to meet the senior management to discuss what I could offer, in exchange for some of the new tasks that can be delegated to those in my department.
3. Tick something off your to-do list every day.
Whether it is a physical or mental list, there is always a couple of tasks we put off. It takes too long, it’s boring, we all have excuses for these jobs. Try to tick one off each day. Not only will you feel more productive, but you will be actively ensuring your jobs is as complete as it can be. For me, this is appraisal target reviews. I dread this term as I have 15 meetings with already overworked colleagues (especially this year) who want nothing more than to go home early and instead have to sit through a 30-minute review of targets they didn’t get to pick themselves. However, if I try and make this a positive experience for them and me, and talk through the things they are proud of this year (like actually just getting through this year) then maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
4. Take time for yourself.
We’re all guilty of not taking time for ourselves, family, friends, and work all have their own priorities, and we tend to take a back seat. Carve out at least 15 minutes for yourself each day. Read a book, watch Netflix, journal, whatever, just focus on you. For me, I need to take my lunch break. Almost every day I work through my break. So, I’m going to go for a walk and take some time for me.
For now, I’ll keep working on my fear. If you know any other ways to reduce this fear, let me know in the comments below.
This post was written for the May Sovereign Quest challenge, more posts like this can be found here.
My spouse (Mx T2FI) and I stumbled upon FIRE articles in 2017, we were recently married and very comfortable in our Head of Department roles in our respective schools. Holidaying in Florida and Hawaii, a new (6 months old) car, and a mortgage of £191k, I think we were an average couple living within our means, but without very much left over at the end of the month. The first time we saw the FIRE articles I think we mocked them - living on 20-30% of your wage? Sounds like a diet of rice and beans, coupled with no holidays. No thanks.
In March 2020, when the markets dived, we considered investing and read through some FI articles our friends had passed our way. This time I was more interested. We'd had our son in 2019 and realised that childcare costs are no joke. Suddenly, our very roomy budget had to stretch an extra £500-700 a month. Ouch. So, we saw a wealth manager. Spoiler alert, we did not, and do not, need a wealth manager. The very nice man laid out that we would need circa £1M to retire on based on our, net worth, pensions and house. He offered us wealth management for £800 per year, until we hit £100k when he would take 1%. This would include one yearly meeting where he would look at our progress and advise accordingly. Mx T2FI and I poured over the numbers and realised if we're saving £900 per month, then he would be taking the equivalent of 7% each year for very little work. Again, no thanks.
So, we dug around Reddit and Google and found some very active and helpful FIRE communities. I'm sure I asked a large amount of inane, previously answered questions about ISA vs SIPP, and Vanguard vs Nutmeg, but everyone was very understanding and after a few weeks we had started and were on our path to FI. We still had this number, £1M, hanging around, and we weren't sure exactly why. How had this been calculated? Did we really need this much money? Could we ever have this much money to our name? More research led me to the Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR), which I understand is not for everyone, but it felt a good place to start. So, we took our yearly expenses (swapping out mortgage and childcare for travel) and timesed it by 25, which wouldn't you know it, was £1M.
This doesn't really answer my initial question. Why FI? Why are we not happy going to work every weekday (and 1 day at weekend for me) for the rest of our working life, until we retire on our circa (pre-tax) £30k each pension at age 68? Because I always felt there had to be something more. This can't be it. I want to travel, I want to spend time with my son, I don't want to be taking registers in my 60s.
So, this is the start of my (documented) path to FI. I've picked up additional tutoring gigs and Mx T2FI has started a reasonably lucrative side hustle and rather than adding £900 a month to our investments, we're adding upwards of £1400 each month. There's currently £13,000 in our Vanguard portfolio. It's a good start, and I intend on building it every month.
For now, I'm just a girl, standing in front of a computer screen, asking you to follow my journey.