semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living



Living well

Pop the champagne corks, peeps!

I am officially semi-retired.

To prove it, I got my final pay today from full time employment.

So where to from here? I may be semi-retired but I am also completely and utterly jobless. This is not a state I want to be in for too long, and, hopefully, I won’t. I just have to find that perfect position – interesting, great hours, well paid … you know the caper!

My semi-retirement goal  has always been to work 24 hours or so per week in paid employment, with the balance of my week being spent doing other (more important) things with my time.

The driver here is I don’t want to enter (or, Heaven forbid, exit) my dotage with a long ‘I wished I had done’ list.

No, I want my list to be an ‘I have done’ and the extra time I have available to me should allow me to do the other things in life I want to.

Needless to say, the act of reducing my hours has resulted in a drop in income.  l have done the Sorted budget and  I think we can achieve what we want with careful spending.

Ok, there is an outside chance the venture might morph into “Scrooge lives again”, but I hope not. If this happens, the man and I will simply make the necessary changes to make it work. Stew again?

Interesting times! Exciting times! I’ll let you know how we go.



Toppling over

There is something cathartic about blogging.

I am aware, however, that wearing my heart on my sleeve could be viewed by some as me being totally self absorbed.

If this is the case, then I make absolutely no apology for it. Why? Because this was never my intention.

The purpose of blogging was to clarify things as the man and I explored how to work less and live more. This was both for us and also for those of you who are interested in our journey.

I have also found blogging cheap therapy. You see, life doesn’t always pan out the way one thinks it should or would.  And writing about what happens makes sense of it. Go figure?

This week has been one of those weeks when nothing has panned out.

Firstly I got a thanks, but no thanks to the hospice job I was interviewed for. It was nicely couched, of course, but it still hurt as I really, really wanted it. I admit to being a bit sad for a day or so after getting this news, but then my pragmatic side kicked in and I re-framed it.  This was not failure, this was an opportunity.*

So for the last few days I have been thinking about ways to make a living without working for someone else. Now here are a few of my ideas (sharing is good):

I could start my own library. This sounded sensible as I know the business inside out, right? Sadly no.  This was never going to fly as public libraries are free, so even if I had enough stock, who in their right mind would pay to join my library? Except, of course, naughty people who can’t use the public library because they owe too many fines. Strangely, these people don’t seem  the ideal customer base for my proposed start up. The idea was shelved, no pun intended.

The next idea was to run an  0900  line (psychic or sex, I wasn’t fussed). I must admit that this wasn’t my own idea, I stole it from a book I read years ago. Anyway, it had immense appeal for two reasons. There would be no bad debts because of the 0900 number and no need to even leave the house in the morning. This idea was quickly discounted when I realised I would have no idea what to say to my customers, and if I did think of something I knew that the minute it was out of my mouth, I would giggle like a silly school girl. The ambiance of the occasion would be lost for ever and I would have a disappointed customer. There would be, I was sure, no repeat business. I canned the idea.

So, I got to the last idea.

I could make a living out of telling people how the man and I survived on diddly squat in semi-retirement, but still managed to live an amazingly happy and fulfilled life.  I was not sure how I was going to make a living from it, but it’s been done successfully before, albeit in different guises – the Destitute Gourmet cook books and the ‘Living on the smell of an oily rag’ book being two successful iterations of this theme. To date, it is the best option. More thought is needed.

Or maybe, I just look for that three day a week job after I have moved to Whangarei?** Watch this space.

Now the second thing not to pan out this week is that the buyer for our house has yet to materialise. The idea that he/she would magically appear as a result of the first open home was always just a dream, and I knew this from the get-go. Selling a home is stressful and it would be lovely if we could pre-empt weeks of open homes and bring the auction forward. Having said this, it is only day 4 and the first open homes did attract some interested parties, and the agents are bringing buyers through on a regular basis.

Which brings me to the beautiful house we saw on the internet in Whangarei. The man and I went to see it. It  was absolutely gorgeous and we loved it. We also probably aren’t going to buy it. You see, it is too isolated. And it’s on a main road. No matter, something else more suitable will turn up.

Now the last thing to happen this week was I was challenged (nicely) by a friend. Were the man and I doing the right thing leaving Auckland? Did we know that if we sell up and leave, it would be highly unlikely we would ever be able to afford to come back, she wisely pointed out. I looked at my dear friend and nodded as she was absolutely right. The answer is neither the man nor I know if we are doing the right thing. What we do know is we want to live a quieter life in a quieter place and we think it will work out. In fact, we will give it our best shot. If it doesn’t work out, then we will live with consequences. And although we may not be able to afford Auckland again, we can afford every other place in this beautiful land.

Change is never easy. Some days things fall into place; other days they don’t. I think this is normal.


*Thank God for those twee management courses!!

** I have decided that I need to be settled and then look for a job.

Making progress

Finally the man and I are doing something concrete towards making those changes I have gone on about over the last year. Yes, we are unburdening ourselves. We need to do this to move forward, you see.

And here’s how: we’ve put the rental we own with the daughter and her man on the market. It’s easy to say goodbye to this; being a landlord is not our cup of tea.

We’ve also listed the boat for sale. The monthly berthing fee went up an eye-watering amount and suddenly it no longer made any sense whatsoever to keep the boat.  Adios boat. Adios outgoings.

We are tarting our house up ready to sell. It’s coming together well.

Time to move on.  We’ve other cool things to do.

And what are they? A shift from Auckland is on the cards. Now this is a biggie. I have lived here all my life; the man most of his life. It is familiar. We know it like the back of our hands. The majority of our family and friends live here. They are important.

But still it feels right to move. However, we’ve set a limit: two hours max. from Auckland. So Whangarei, it is. This means our nearest and dearest can visit easily and us them.

We’ve started looking at real estate in the area, working out what we want. The man and I have a list. In no particular order, here we go: shed – not negotiable; house – low maintenance, 3 bedrooms minimum with a fire and two bathrooms, one for us and one for our visitors, thanks;  land – we’re flexible here, anything from half an acre (think hens, garden and small orchard) to three or so acres (add in an alpaca or two), sea – an easy commute; and lastly, proximity to city – close, please.

Luckily we have an excellent friend  who is a real estate agent in the area and he is on the case. Now, there’s a surprise!

And employment.* We need employment. The man has his own business. He can move it easily. Me? Well, I’ve started applying for jobs. Watch this space.

Yes, things are changing fast. Please fasten your seatbelt and hold on tight!


*Update: I am busy rewriting the book and after a few false starts, I think I have got the voice right. Phew!





Count down

For the last year the man and I have spent an awful lot of time plotting and scheming for our semi-retirement. Sometimes deciding the details has been easy-peasy, but at other times it has been a case of going round and round in circles, and getting nowhere fast.  Change is hard at the best of times and we have found that it is even harder when there are two or more attractive choices to choose from. Heads or tails, anyone?

Having said this, we are making progress and things are falling nicely into place. We have brought the date forward to saying adios to the 40 hour working week: February 2017 is D (departure) day for leaving full time employment. At the latest.

The rental is on the market next week. As we have decided to move out of Auckland, the house we are in at the moment is getting tarted up with the intention of selling it. We did consider renting it, but it is not a house that lends itself to easy renting and the fact is that being a landlord does not suit the man or my dispositions. It is important for happiness to recognise this.

Selling these two properties and buying out of Auckland allows us to get a property that has the land, the shed and a nice house, all within cooee of a smaller, quieter city with all the amenities. And at a price which leaves us  some capital to play with.

So will this capital be spent on matching Maseratis for the man or me, a Harley Davidson or two, overseas trips every two months or what? Well, sadly this does not sit well with the ever-practical Virgo in me, and the dreamy Pisces I am married to agrees.

We worked hard for this. And as some of it is inheritances from our parents who worked hard for it too, we feel even more obligated to be sensible. Retail therapy has no place here. We will therefore invest it wisely, and hopefully grow it.

And this is the problem: what do we do with it to keep it safe, and keep pace with inflation? Whatever we choose needs to provide us with a small income when we are fully retired, not to mention two damn awesome funerals (just joking!) and, ideally, something for the kids.

At this stage we admit to being pretty naive, maybe even totally clueless, so we are reading books, talking to people who seem to be financially astute, and thinking hard. We know we have to diversify investments to hedge bets. But what…? No doubt the man and I will work it out.

Meanwhile, some guy from Nigeria has just contacted me about a long lost Uncle John (never heard of him), but apparently he has left me squillions and  I just need to transfer some money to get it…. must go!



I’ve handed my baby over to a friend.

I have chosen my friend for the job because she has worked in this area for years and knows what’s what. She is also honest and I rate her. That is worth its weight in gold.

She, for her part, has promised to treat my ‘change of life baby’, as she cutely refers to it, with kindness and respect. Like the excellent friend she is, she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

She thought my baby was my cunning plan to ditch the forty hour working week and slip into semi-retirement. I have assured  her that this is not the case. My escape route is much more boring than this. It’s a matter of reducing debt and living more simply to have more time to do other stuff.

And that other stuff includes creating another baby*, because  regardless of whether my first effort has potential or not, I derive great pleasure from doing it.

I also want to go back to uni and do my MA in History. There, I’ve said it! I’ve even got my thesis topic sorted.

Now this isn’t the first time I have enrolled in a Masters. The first time the degree was related to my profession. I did this because I thought it would be good for my career. And it possibly would have been, but after one paper I decided that it was not what I really wanted to do. It failed to inspire me. I mothballed it.

Studying for an MA in History is another story altogether. It excites me. And it will feed my soul. I can think of no better reason to do it.

Semi-retirement can’t come soon enough. I have so much I want to do.

*Please note: the baby is a metaphorical term only. Although now possible to have babies well into old age with the help of science, it is certainly not on my ‘to do’ list!






Letting Go

The son in the bosun's chair

Last night the man and I went on a wee adventure – we stayed on our boat moored in the marina. Odd, I can hear you saying, that is hardly sailing.  And you would be right. However, there was a valid reason behind it; we needed to charge the yacht’s batteries and this was going to take oodles of time, as they were spectacularly flat. Staying overnight was, therefore, the sensible thing to do.

It was nice to be aboard again – it has been a number of months since I have visited, and in the interim, the man has made a bit more progress getting her ready for the market. The middle cabin which was converted to the double berth last year is well on the way to being finished and, if I do say so myself, is looking very, very classy.

The double berth

Now this is all well and good, except it raises a few issues. You see the more the boat is upgraded, the more we consider keeping it!  Part of us thinks: why shouldn’t we enjoy the benefit of the more luxurious beast rather than someone else?

This is not a new feeling; we do seem to be people who do the things we always had intended to do, when we decide to sell whatever it is. And yes, this always makes it a struggle to let go.

In the particular case of selling the boat, the man and I have also had an orchestrated delegation to contend with: the children love going away on the yacht, and the grandchild too and they have made it crystal clear that they are not happy for us to sell it.

Now we are the first to admit that taking the family out for the day or longer is a great thing to do. The man and I derive so much pleasure from having the kids on the boat and watching them thrive in this environment. It is the stuff of rich memories for all of us and simply cannot be measured by mere dollar value.  In a perfect world, we would therefore like to continue our yachting with them.  Monopoly, anyone?

The son, daughter in law and grandson off exploring in Te Kaitoa’s inflatable

However, there are questions that need answering here. The first one is: would keeping the boat mean saying goodbye to semi -retiring in the foreseeable future? We aren’t sure: perhaps if we employ some  lateral thinking, we would be able to sort out a way to keep the boat and semi-retire?  Indeed, there are options: we could move onto the boat, give up work entirely, rent the house and sail off. *  Maybe? Maybe not?

The second question is: does the boat actually meet the family’s needs? It is a big, serious boat that is capable of going offshore. Yes, it fits everyone on, but maybe something smaller would be a better match for us, and more doable?

Lastly, if we do keep it, we need to make the best use of it. No point in it sitting in the marina getting a weedy bottom!

Yes, some serious thinking is in order. In the fullness of time, our wants and needs will align  of course,  and  we will choose the best way forward for us.

*This option always becomes very attractive after a slightly off day at work!

Cash positive

Mr_Dollar: a trip of nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember the introduction of Decimal currency in NZ

Blogging, I have found, can often drift into areas which in normal circumstances wouldn’t be aired publicly. Writing honestly brings with it some risks; there is often very little context and misconceptions could easily result.

I have a fear that I may have come across as being a worrywart, or horror of horrors, preoccupied with money.  By way of explanation, to achieve our dreams of reducing our working week, while ensuring the man and I enjoy a decent lifestyle, requires judicious planning, hence the need to get the monetary side in order.

Now this shouldn’t be too onerous for us – we’ve had years of practice in this field. This is due, in part, to the fact that neither boat builders or librarians would ever make the Rich List on their earnings!  Call it a personality failing if you will, but we do, therefore, prefer to live within our means. This means keeping debt to a minimum and ideally borrowing only for assets that appreciate in value. I would be lying if I said we have always done this – no, we have definitely made our fair share of fiscal errors in the past.

For example, we did have a credit card which we swiped when we ‘needed’ to. And yes, I know that using the facility to the best advantage means paying the balance off in full each month. This is great in principle, but despite the best of intentions, we often found it didn’t pan out that way and for various reasons, we’d not pay the outstanding amount off completely. With double figure interest charges, the bank was definitely the winner and we were the losers! Therefore, it was a no brainer to get rid of the facility and use a debit card instead. As an aside, the credit card companies take the cancelling of a visa card quite personally. Go figure!

I think one of the most important ways we have controlled our finances is to understand what sort of consumers we are and buy accordingly.  We are pretty conservative spenders and  purchase only what we need.  We do our best to ensure that our hard earned cash is spent on products that are well made – nothing galls us more than something lasting 5 minutes and falling to bits. A waste of money, not to mention resources!  My modus operandi is that even if I had a wardrobe full of shoes,  I’d only wear two or three of my favourites. It has taken me a while to recognise this foible and to adjust my purchasing to suit. And what about the man? Well, he has similar consumer habits as moi.

With plans afoot to semi-retire from paid employment within two years, we have used the website  to establish a budget for now and for then. This is nothing new – throughout our married life we have always managed our finances this way. The man and I do acknowledge, however, that the forecasting of expenses is more akin to crystal ball reading than science (I defy anyone to work out how much the dentist is going to cost each year!).  It does however raise awareness of how much is being spent and where, as well as identifying areas where we can rein in costs.

There was never any intention on our part to work less if it is going to be to the detriment of the retirement fund. Living in penury in our dotage has no appeal whatsoever. Our aspirations have always been for a comfortable lifestyle. Actually, I think I should elaborate here: working less has always being about working less for someone else. It is not about avoiding working per se, rather it is about allowing the man and I more time to explore other ideas and passions; some of which could potentially generate some money. In an Utopian world, we will make enough from our passions for them to become our income – in reality this may or may not come to pass!

The man is some way along this path already. He has his shed and is busy following his dreams. Having said this, life can throw curved balls and this is what has happened to him. He has been presented with a proposition. I hasten to add that this is of the business kind!  Some context is needed here: the man is the designer of a well regarded sea kayak, the Albatross. This boat was made in fibreglass and kevlar by our company, Deep Creek Kayaks. After an inquiry from an overseas retailer, a local kayak manufacturer has approached us regarding making the Albatross in plastic. There is also the idea that the man will continue to design for them.

Big decisions! If it works out like we think it might, it will definitely provide some of the income required for the reduced working week to kick in.  More thought is needed, but as I write, we think this is an opportunity we cannot walk away from.

Regardless of the upshot of this venture, the man and I will continue to cut our cloth to suit our means. This sits well with us and will help us achieve our aim of the shorter working week within our stated time frame. Twenty months to go!

Sensibly restrained

‘Bungalow: From heritage to contemporary.’ The tour we went on was led by Nicole Stock, editor of this book.

Last weekend the daughter and I went poking around four houses belonging to people we didn’t know. No, we weren’t visiting open homes looking for tragically overpriced Auckland real estate; it was, dare I say it, a more ‘cultured’ affair than that. Our slightly voyeuristic snooping was, in fact, a legitimate part of the Auckland Heritage Festival.

A delightful way to spend an afternoon, the houses we toured were 1920s or 30s bungalows which sported recent additions. These renovations managed to achieve the fine balance of incorporating the best of present day design, while preserving the integrity of the original dwelling.

Now I know this architectural style intimately: my maternal grandparents’ home was a bungalow built about 1923 for them at 40 Greenlane Road*. As a child, I have fond memories of visiting their residence most weekends and staying over during the school holidays. This was the 60s and the house still boasted the features unique to its pedigree: asymmetrical composition, shallow pitched gable roof with wide eaves, leadlights, central hallway with wooden panelling, bay windows complete with shingles, and deep porches.

It also had the original 40 year old or so kitchen complete with terrazzo bench, wooden cabinetry, and safe. The only things in this room which weren’t original were the gas stove which sat in an alcove where the coal range would have been when the dwelling was first built, and a 1948 MacDonald refrigerator**, complete with a small ice box. Everything was in superb condition.

In this kitchen, which today would be considered basic, my grandmother whipped up a storm producing meals for the multitudes, laying down preserves, and baking. All was of the highest quality. To this day, she remains one of the best cooks I have come across.

The houses the daughter and I visited last weekend all had replaced the original kitchen with a modern one positioned in the new addition. Interestingly, without exception, the new iteration was neither big or conspicuously flash; rather they were practical, almost understated affairs. This was the situation even in the home of the chef, albeit his knives were definitely of the serious, professional kind.

I am sure the food produced in these homes has not suffered for this restraint. After all, as my grandmother proved, a skilled cook can turn out wonderful fare in the most basic of kitchens.

This premise holds true, I think, for so much in life.

Note to self: Replace knackered stove with one that meets my needs. Do not be seduced by the four oven range that comes in an amazing array of colours that the consumer in me covets. It is simply not necessary!

* The house is still there. It looks the same from the front, but has been added to at the rear.
** The fridge became the beer fridge at the Auckland Harbour Board where my Dad worked. It was still going strong when he retired in 1989.

Off road

Clifftop walk to work - looking down to Browns Bay and along the coast
Clifftop walk to work – looking down to Browns Bay and along the coast

In the middle of next week, I finish my secondment and return to work at East Coast Bays Library. One of the reasons I am looking forward to being back is its proximity to home, the commute being a mere hop, skip and a jump. OK, so I exaggerate!  It is, to be entirely truthful, 5 minutes by car or 20 minutes by foot.

In the past I have mixed this journey up by driving some days and walking others. When using foot power, I would stick to the roads as it was slightly quicker than the alternative tracks. It was however noisier with cars scooting past, and included a blind corner which the pedestrian crossed at their peril.

When I walk, exercise is always the secondary consideration; this precious time is used for thinking. Indeed, many a domestic quandary or world dilemma has been sorted while I am strolling at a leisurely pace.  Following the road with its accompanying distractions, therefore, is not ideal. The tracks along the clifftop with the breathtaking views and quietness is the way to go, and this is exactly what I plan to do next week. This will be much more more conducive to thinking, not to mention a good salve to stress.

The intention is that Shank’s pony will be my preferred way of travelling to work. This choice means my car will get little, if any use, during the working week.  And the chances are high that if the existing weekend pattern continues, my car will remain parked in the garage Saturday and Sunday too.

The question that I have to resolve if this happens is: do I keep my bat mobile or do I sell it? Now I know there will be some days when the weather is not kind and walking will be off the agenda, but the man’s schedule is such that he can drop and pick me up from work in the family’s car  (note the name change) without major disruption.

The big ‘but’ is there will be times when we both need access to the car at the same time.  On most occasions, we can probably sort out a solution, but there will be times when there simply isn’t a workable one. One vehicle will then be limiting, even inconvenient. So is selling my car the right thing to do?

I should state here that my machine is not worth a lot: it is a fourteen year old Honda Civic in very tidy condition with 117,000 ks on the clock. A reliable machine, it  has cost me little to run over the two or so years I have had it.  If I sold it, I would get under $5,000 for it – so the sale price, if invested, would fall well short of giving me an income large enough to retire tomorrow.

The major plus in not keeping my car is a reduction in our outgoings with registration, maintenance and insurance costs for a single vehicle only.  There would be a slight increase in running expenses for the one vehicle, as it would be used more, but my guess is that this would still be considerably cheaper than using the two cars.

Every living cost that we save makes reducing our working week to three days more achievable, of course. This is an attractive scenario. It also fits well with our commitment to downsizing too.

So is the second car history? Well, no. The fact is I don’t want to forgo the independence and convenience of having my own set of wheels to be able to achieve our goal of working less to live more. And I don’t have to. I can, in this case, afford to keep the car without saying adios to the desired work life balance.

For the man and me, slow living and downsizing has never been about making life difficult, it has always been about making it better. The hair shirt has no place here.

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