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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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Financial planning

Rhythms

Life on our land follows a relaxed rhythm year in, year out.

In July, the lambs were born. Always cute and fun to watch, our relationship with them has been short and sweet this time round – indeed, six weeks after their birth, we wished them au revoir when they were moved with the flock to a neighbour’s piece of land with more grass.

A few weeks ago the man began to source wood from the block for next year’s supply. As I will be retired next winter, the fire place will be used more throughout the day so the woodpile will need to be a considerably bigger than in the past. Luckily, the man enjoys the process of collecting, cutting and stacking wood. It does help that he has great tools for the job with his trusty, newly-serviced chainsaw, and his bow saw, plus all the PPE.

Marmalade making has also begun. This year, I am freezing the fruit so I can make small batches throughout the year.* I have been making marmalade so long that I can make it by eye, rather than by following a recipe – I have come a long way since my first batch many years ago where I boiled it to the point that it had both the look and consistency of toffee. The young me proudly gave the man’s mum a jar or two which she politely thanked me for and never mentioned again!

The spring weather is inspiring us to make long-overdue changes to the orchard and garden. Two apple trees which are past their best are going to be removed, as is a persimmon which has inedible fruit (a mouthful of cotton wool, anyone?). Two other sad excuses for fruit trees will be taken out in the next few weeks. These non-performers are going to be replaced with new trees including the Wilson’s Early plum which we planted yesterday.

The gardens are also having work done on them. The vegetable garden which was all, but abandoned, is relocating to just beside the house. A sunny spot, this should be a more workable location. We will start off smaller than the original one, but will expand it if needed, The worm farm which has been a success from the get-go, will also move closer to the house – again it will be considerably more convenient in this new spot.

This only leaves the compost bin. To date, we have never sorted out how to compost properly. The intention is to move this closer to the house too, and use it as it should be used. Yes, getting a handle on composting is one of the many things on the retirement list.

Lastly: With eight pays to go until I retire, everything is falling into place. Savings are going to plan, and the things I wanted completed are being ticked off one at a time. This month we saved more than we had projected we would, and ticked the three-yearly septic tank clean off the list. I also started an audit on what we are paying for bills – but that is for another blog.

Early retirement: I can’t wait.

*Wash whole fruit, cut into quarters and freeze in batch lots

Ride-on Hassles

For the last few months, the man and our ride-on mower haven’t been getting on. We blame this entirely on the machine which mostly refused to start and when it did start, refused to run for long.

The man would then spend the next few hours coaxing it to go long enough to do our lawn. Our frustration levels, meanwhile, went through the roof and our tolerance plummeted. Wrangling with a recalcitrant ride-on was not how we envisaged life in the country, we both secretly thought.

Which is why we needed to do a rethink about this lawn mowing thing. So we did. And we came up with two options.

Option A was to purchase a brand new mower and continue to do the lawns. The price of a new machine was between $8,000 -$12000. In addition to this, there were the ongoing running costs of petrol, oil, and everyday maintenance to factor in. At some stage in the distant future, this new mower would no longer be new and we would be up for a replacement one too or be back to where we were now – fighting with the mower to get it going. We tucked this (awful) thought into the back of our minds.

Option B was to out-source the task to a lawn-mowing contractor with his own machine. The quote was $100 per cut. We did the math. We could get 80 – 120 cuts for the price of a new ride on. Factoring in the additional running costs of petrol, oil and the maintenance costs and hassles, it made even more sense. At a cut averaging once every 4 weeks, that would be a fair few years taken care of.

Needless to say the winner was Option B. It was way more cost effective, removed the hassle of maintaining a machine and gave us some time back which we can use more productively on the property. It is money well spent.

Meanwhile, we have gifted our old ride-on to a local mower mechanic. It is been used for parts in reconditioned ride-ons.

Lockdown

New Zealand went into lockdown on Tuesday last week. The last time I was in lockdown was for five or so weeks last March/April 2020.

It is weird living in lockdown – almost other worldly. Where we live the traffic is always light; it is now even lighter. Working from home, mask wearing, social distancing, bubbles and sanitizing are the words of the day.

In spite of its challenges, this lockdown has completely removed any doubts I have been harbouring about retiring early. Indeed, it has categorically demonstrated that it is the right thing for us.

The fact is my enthusiasm and self-motivation levels have increased significantly this last week while at home, even though I am working remotely. I guess rolling out of bed at 7.30 instead of 5.45, and the no travel means I am not exhausted by the end of each working day.

Certainly this weekend, besides the never-ending cleaning and washing, I had the energy to finally start stripping the wallpaper in the kitchen, a job that I have put on the back burner for months. I also made bread, baked a slice, went for a walk, and spent quality time with the grandchildren in our bubble. I also managed to finish my book, and start on a new one. Bliss!

Bread – didn’t know if was going to be successful as yeast was old!
Wallpaper stripping – an OK job when you get into swing of it

The garden beckoned too – truthfully, I have ignored it since I started back full time 21 months ago , but this weekend, I rediscovered the itch to get my hands dirty working in it. Pity I ran out of time, but I now know that when I am no longer time poor, I will be out there getting it back into shape. Hallelujah!

Early retirement will mean we have to watch our dollars a bit more, but the man and I have no doubt whatsoever that the pluses of a more satisfying and balanced lifestyle makes this sacrifice absolutely worth it.

Roll on retirement.

Time to hang around the fire pit and toast marshmallows. The teenage grandson camped in the tent.

Putting the house in order

Having publicly committed to retiring in the New Year, I am getting my house in order.

This means making decisions about what we need to do to make our retirement work well for us. I have therefore got a list and a budget – a true Virgo, right?

My list started off with many grand things including recarpeting the house, recurtaining the bedrooms, a new fridge and a tent for copious camping trips. I have subsequently rethought this and the list is no longer an absolute, rather it can now be described as ‘a work in progress’ with items being added, taken away or parked.

The changes I have made are sensible ones, I think. I have decided against recarpeting – the carpet is fine and I am just bored with it. I also want to replace it with wool (it is wool now) and that is not cheap. I will therefore do it in a few years when most of our retirement savings can be accessed. The curtains – well, I have washed them initially in a bit of bleach, followed by a rinse and two out of the three sets are perfect again. The other one? A sad story really that would bring a tear to any house proud person’s eyes – suffice to say, I will buy new ones!

The new fridge? Well, I have purchased one after much research (how big, what make, energy rating etc etc) and it is looking mighty fine in the kitchen. The power bill has also reduced which is an added bonus.

The tent for our NZ trips has been relegated to the ‘decision pending’list. I will keep the $$ aside for it in the budget.

New additions to the list include a cat door with a microchip so our kind neighbour can feed our moggies, rather than every cat in the neighbourhood when we are away adventuring. I have also factored in some maintenance including the three yearly septic tank clean and new glasses for me.

Meanwhile, I am saving hard for this early retirement lark, albeit I am fast coming to the conclusion that we will dip into our savings pot early if required so we can do the things we want to when we want to. Yes, life is short, and we don’t want to live with regrets.

Carpe diem, folks!

PS I have been told I can join the temp pool at the hospital where I work any time which is kind of nice, though at this stage this is not what I see in my future.

Shuffling into retirement

The man is now a Gold Card holder and is mighty pleased to be one. For those who don’t know, this means he receives a pension, or as a friend wittily puts it, he is now paid by the Government to breathe.

In relatively recent days – up to November 2020 to be precise – I would have been able to piggyback on his pension eligibility and receive one too if I retired. He, however, turned 65 in March 2021, so this door to early retirement funded by the state firmly closed to me.

When this change in eligibility was flagged, I wasn’t overly worried. The fact was I had only recently become aware of its existence, so I had never factored it into retirement planning.

Which brings me to my plans for retirement. I have plans to retire early. I have a date in mind where I will shut the door on a 8-4.30, 5 day per week job, and it is not too far away. To this end, I have worked out a retirement budget – thank you, sorted.org.nz. This budget is sensible – well I think it is! It reflects the changes in spending that happens in retirement e.g my day to day fuel bill will decrease substantially with no daily work commute, our electricity bill will rise, there will be no need to fund office clothes, even TradeMe purchased ones, spending for local outings, the occasional trip within NZ* and activities will increase. Yes, the budget has been worked out to allow the man and me a good lifestyle, with a bit of latitude factored in for those unforeseen expenses. Of course, the reality is we are not big spenders at the best of times, so that works in our favour, as does being mortgage and debt free.

Ideally, we don’t want to rely on the man’s Kiwisaver (private superannuation) balance* to fund our day to day living costs, but it will be our backstop if required – after all, we intend to enjoy this stage of life! Meanwhile, the man and I are saving as much as we can from our income to help fund the early retirement. We are also working to grow the small hire business we have – if Covid stays away, this should provide a welcome addition to our retirement fund.

Our plans for me to retire early aren’t just about getting the income sorted, we are busy getting our house in order too. This means replacing and renewing a few things: a new fridge freezer (our old one is on its last legs), a touch of decorating, and new flooring in kitchen and hall, plus a new gate to keep the sheep safe are all on the list. We have also upgraded my 21 year old car to a new Kia Stonic – the perfect jalopy for retired us to do our road trips.

After 45 years of working, retirement is just around the corner – and I must say, it looks grand!

*Overseas trips are off the agenda while Covid rages. When we feel travel is safe, we will fund it from retirement savings, rather than our sorted budget!

*I have Kiwisaver too, but won’t have access to it until I am 65. I will continue contributing enough to it to get the Government subsidy each year until I turn 65.

Water play

The vegetable garden has been neglected since last summer when an eight or so month drought played havoc with our capacity to water the plants.

This lack of rain had been exacerbated by a connection on one of our tanks failing in mid-winter 2019 while we were overseas. This resulted in the loss of every drop of water in that one tank. Our available water was halved.

Luckily our tame herd manager came to the rescue in our absence, reconnected the hose and kindly ordered a load of water for us. The price of this 10,000 litres was eye-watering high, but hey, we thought spring is around the corner and it always rains in spring and our water problems will be solved.

Spring 2019 was rain-free.

As spring turned into summer, the drought bit and economic or miserly us, depending on your world view, made a pact to conserve water, rather than buy it in. Our tight approach was fashionably in line with the council request to go easy on usage – sad losers, we are not!

Over the summer of 2019/20 we honed our conservation skills. Recycling became our buzz word. We limited flushing the toilet to only when absolutely necessary. We abandoned the dishwasher in favour of washing the dishes in a bucket in the sink. We then popped the used water onto the plants. We caught the first water from the shower while it was heating up and used this too in the garden. We tried collecting the water from the washing machine, but due to reading the litres the machine used incorrectly, I flooded the hall carpet. At that point I gave up that idea.

Our efforts to keep the plants alive over this period weren’t successful. We got a few tomatoes, some potatoes, half-formed corn and some bitter tasting lettuce. With the drought still continuing, I let the garden go to seed.

After lockdown ended we finally had rain. These two events were enough to inspire me to make an half-ass attempt to plant a few winter crops. I planted spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and beetroot. In the depths of winter, I lost the will to tend them.

Subsequently, many of the cabbages and cauliflowers fell victim to vermin and didn’t survive or didn’t survive to look pretty. The spinach flourished and is presently threatening to go to seed. I am not sure why I planted it; the truth is we aren’t overly keen on spinach except when it is used in the occasional spanakopita.

The beetroot.. well, the beetroot is my success story. Today I picked two good specimens. I will boil them, slice them up and pop in vinegar following the Edmonds Cookbook recipe, just like my mother and grandmother did before me.

Beetroot is the perfect accompaniment for a salad, and let’s not forget, hamburgers – beetroot is the absolute making of a homemade hamburger.

Today I planted more beetroot. And tomatoes. And capsicum. And lettuce. And chillis. And courgettes. And cucumber.

I gave the spinach a miss.

Goodbye 1980s.

Our kitchen sports an avocado benchtop. Dating back to the construction of the house in the early 80s, it is in pristine condition.

Perfect condition it may be, but it doesn’t work. It is design of the benchtop, rather than its colour which is the main issue. It intrudes on the room. Takes up way too much space. It has to go.

I am studiously ignoring my lack of green ethics in replacing a benchtop that is in tip top condition. Same with the existing overhead cupboards – although they may yet be recycled in the old pantry space, thanks to the clever man.

The kitchen photographs better than it looks and works!

The underbench cupboards are a mixed bag – some will go due to either the change in design of the kitchen and/or condition. Others will stay. There will be new ones installed too. Even some drawers. Thank you, Marie Kondo.

Redesigning the benchtop means I need to make a decision about the hob. It goes well, but as it, too, is 35 years or more old, for how much longer? It is sensible to upgrade it when I replace the benches. And feel free to judge me, I think I am going to splash out on an induction one!

Which brings me to the double oven – the oven is not as old, but it must have had a hard life, so there is no question a new one is the way to go. Luckily the cabinetry it sits in works well and is in excellent condition. It can stay.

The same can’t be said for the pantry. It is huge – not 2020 scullery huge, but large, nonetheless. It is also shabby and not in a cute, chic way.

The need for bench space usurps the ‘not cute, shabby chic pantry’. The pantry will be replaced by (possibly) recycled cupboards above and new cabinety below a bench top.

Tiling. Flooring.

Lastly, the fridge – there’s probably a few more years left in our fridge. It will stay.

Adieu, 1980.

Blogging, R Day and mice

Two years ago I mothballed my blog. The man and I had made the changes we needed to have the life we wanted. On achieving this lofty goal, it was time to put my musings to bed, and let my readers get on with their own lives.

I did miss you though. And I did miss writing.

Two years on our life is (slightly) different from where it was then. I will explain later in this blog. There is also a major reset on the horizon, so it is time to blog again.

So what has happened since we left you? The man and I are still living on our plot of land. Three and half years into this life, we are still in love with our lifestyle; indeed, in truth, even more so. It has turned out to be the perfect fit for who we are and how we want to live our life. Even if we had an uninvited guest living with us over the last week!

Flatmate

Income wise, things have changed for both of us.

I had a back to the future moment. In October last year I landed a job at the local district health board library. To do this, I swapped my dream working part time scenario to being a 40 hour per week employee. It was a big decision, but the job is a fixed term contract of 18 months and it felt right. And it is right.

In summer we opened our bottom paddock to self-contained camper vans. We can have two on our property at a time and at $20 per night per vehicle, we view it as a chance to meet people as opposed to a cash making venture.

The man has also pivoted his woodworking business. Three Fish Woodworks now has an event hire division. This summer season it took off. Well, until that crazy killer virus hit! Over the period of a week, New Zealand went in fast forward through the Alert Levels into Lockdown, and we went from a healthy number of advanced event bookings to zip! Zero. Nil. It is what it is.

So what is the reset I am talking about? As I previously mentioned, my job is a fixed term. It finishes in May 2021.* Two months before this, the man becomes eligible for superannuation.

At the end of this contract I will join him in retirement (R day!). It is our time to do as we want. The man will get superannuation. I won’t. We don’t want to go into our retirement savings.

We will have to be clever to achieve this goal. Our cunning plan is to do this two ways : streamline our spending from now on to save as much as possible before R day, and put things in place to be more self-sufficient when we retire.

Our intention is that this journey to R day and beyond will be fun. We will explore options and experiment. And we won’t compromise the quality of our lifestyle. Please join us as we play with ideas and put everything in place for a great retirement.

  • My planning hinges on the fixed term contract coming to an end. If an extension was offered and in a post-Covid world, I don’t think this is likely, I would only want to work 16 hours per week. Work/life balance is all.

Week 8 – New Life – 2 months in

Last night I realised the man and I have almost achieved what we set out to do when I started my blog. Yes, we are now living the lifestyle we were aiming for: the one with a better work life balance.

To do this we have spent the last 18 months actively reducing and/or eliminating debt so we could afford to work less. Of course, the aim was to ensure an excellent standard of living now and in retirement* –  this was never an exercise in subsistence living!

So how did we achieve it?

We paid off the credit card and cut it up, never to be used again! Now I know people use the 55 days free credit to their advantage, however it sat better with us to just get rid of it altogether.

We sold the rental which had a mortgage on it.

We sold the family home which did not have a mortgage on it too, as we wanted to live in a quieter place. We did give thought to renting it out, but we have had two nightmare tenants  -different reasons, but equally as unpleasant to deal with –  and decided it was not worth the grief!**

After deciding what we wanted, we searched for 6 months for the ‘perfect property’.*** We moved here in January. Moving here meant our outgoings went down substantially with a 50% reduction in land rates (not on mains for sewerage), no water rates (we are on tank and spring-fed dam water), no rental for a shed and no transport costs for the man to get to work.

In winter there will be further savings as our heating will be provided by a log burner. This makes sense as our land will provide the firewood.  At the moment there is not a wetback facility functioning, but the hot water cylinder is all set up for it and our intention is to get it up and running again in the near future.

In addition to this, we took the opportunity to review insurance cover, electricity, and internet and mobile companies charges. We changed some of our insurance policies, although we stayed with the same company. The house replacement cost went up (bigger house), but everything else went down a couple of dollars reflecting the area we live in apparently.

With regards to electricity, we also stayed with the same company, figuring out the $12 a year saving that the ‘What’s my number’ website predicted was not worth the hassle of swapping. We did change our internet and mobile phone providers though and went with a bundled offer from Slingshot. This saved us $40 per month or 2.75 weeks groceries which the parsimonious part of me applauds!

There are other savings living outside the big smoke too: doctors, dentists, tradesmen are all considerably cheaper. Petrol is cheaper.

Having said this, wages are often less too, but for us that is not an issue. I still think we will be on the winning side financially. And as for living the lifestyle the man and I were after – we are absolute winners!

What didn’t work out? There was only one thing we intended to do which has not panned out: go down to one car.

Yes, we still have two cars. Why? Simply because I will be heading back into part-time work and we live rurally and do not have public transport option. Two cars, therefore, makes sense. We will review this once I retire.

There are also two things that still need to be sorted. The first is my income and the second is selling the boat.

For those who remember, after 39 years in the same profession,  I said adios to my job in September.  Phew! My intention is to work part time and in a different field if at all possible. I also have an idea for a small business. This will all happen after June.

Why? Because a long-planned six week trip to Canada and UK has made me unemployable! I mean who in their right mind is going to employ someone who is going on a long overseas jaunt a month after I start?

Now the boat. We have used it once this summer. Meanwhile it is growing all sorts of life forms on its hull. Sadly, we can’t see this pattern altering. Our lives have changed. We are busy doing other things.

It now makes absolute sense to sell it to someone else who will use it as it should be used. We have priced it accordingly. We hope it sells fast.

So has anything changed since moving here?

Yep. My attitude to eating the livestock in our fields. I am a meat eater. It is time for me to be honest about where it comes from. I bought a freezer last week. Karl, our farm manager will organise everything. I do think I may be out when the homekill truck rocks up for the first time though – forgive me for this bit of denial!

So where to from now in relationship to the blog?

I think for the remainder of the year, a monthly update is in order. After that I think the man and I should be completely settled in our new work/life balance. Mission accomplished and all that!

I also think I might have sorted out the use of commas by then correctly… miracle, right?

* Financially we are well set up for  retirement. We were in Auckland too, but our outgoings are cheaper here which is always a win.

**a small lifestyle block with a shed and a nice house with 3 bedrooms, and a fireplace preferably, which was located near the water in Whangarei

*** Most tenants we have had have been exemplary people.

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