We don’t celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday in Australia.
As I understand it, the tradition in the US started as a celebration of a good harvest in 1621 by British colonists in Plymouth. It has evolved into a national holiday of spending time with family, eating turkey, watching football and the crazy shopping on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
I like the idea though that there is a time specifically set aside for giving thanks. A time for reflecting on what we are thankful for in the past year. A time set aside to express our gratitude.
It is now December as I write this. The craziness and chaos that is the lead up to Christmas has already begun. Black Friday madness is also prevalent in Australia and businesses are exhorting us to buy, buy, buy. Every night on the news, there is some data to suggest we are heading into a recession and that we must do our bit to help the economy by buying more stuff.
On a personal level, my December will be very full – a time to prepare for celebrations, reconnect with friends and family and work ramping up a higher gear.
I want to take some time this weekend to reflect and give thanks for the many blessings in my life, nearly half a century of living.
A roof over my head
Growing up, we lived in houses owned by the oil company my parents worked for and it was always my mother’s dream to live in her own house. That dream was realised when we moved to Australia.
I inherited my mother’s longing for a place to call my own. And consequently bought my own humble abode a decade after starting work. Having paid off my mortgage, I am happy that I can truly call it my home. I am secure, in that no one can kick me out and I will always have a roof over my head.
I know not everyone is as fortunate as I am. In recent years, homelessness has been growing in Melbourne. According to Homelessness Australia which bases its statistics on data collected on Census night, Melbourne’s homeless increased by 11% in 2016 vs 2011.
I feel for the women and children the most. Some have escaped domestic violence or fallen on hard times with unemployment or mental illness. This year, a colleague reminded me of an initiative from Share The Dignity, a charity dedicated to helping women in crisis. Until Dec 7, they are taking handbags filled with basic essential items such as sanitary pads/tampons, shampoo, soap, deodorant in their #itsinthebag campaign. Local Bunnings stores are drop off points.
I am grateful that this year I have the mental space to participate. You are right in thinking it doesn’t take much to rummage through your wardrobe and donate a few handbags. But I was so stressed out and exhausted at this time last year that the mere thought of looking for handbags in my cluttered wardrobe was enough to send me over the edge.
I know donating a few handbags is not much but it’s a start.
I am thankful that I always have more than enough food to eat and to share with friends and family. In fact, my goal is to reduce food waste and eat my pantry. My health scare with elevated liver enzymes and cholesterol was a sharp reminder to eat healthier foods and cut down on non nutritional snacks.
Australia is a wealthy country. And yet, according to Foodbank Hunger Report 5 million Australians have experienced food insecurity in the past year. That is, 21% of Australians have run out of food and financially unable to buy more. 27% of women are affected vs 18% of men. 22% of food insecure Australians are children.
There are many ways to support Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation that provide food relief to 815 000 people per month. Support includes holding a food drive, donating money or food, volunteering and so on. This year I am donating money but will look at organising a food drive at my workplace in the future.
My Dad once said to me ‘You are lucky that I can afford to educate both my children. Otherwise, as a girl you would have missed out.”
Indeed, I am thankful that my parents placed a high importance on education. I am very grateful they could afford to send me overseas to another country to study and gain a tertiary education. But I am more thankful that it has generated a life long appreciation of learning – be that as new skills, or increased knowledge.
I love supporting Kiva, an organisation that crowd funds loans to lend to people all over the world who don’t have access to bank loans. I can directly choose who to lend money to and choose causes close to my heart. And I can start with as little as US$25.
It is quite overwhelming when you first start scrolling through the various applicants. It helps when you apply filters and choose from various categories such as women, education, agriculture, arts etc, I use Kiva mainly to support women and education in third world countries.
I am immensely thankful that I have had continuous employment for more than 25 years. Yes, some of that caused a lot of stress in my life – sometimes I worked too hard. But it is a source of continuous income and I am very grateful.
It means that I have had continuous employer contribution to my superannuation (retirement account) for more than 25 years. Together with my own extra contribution on and off through the years, my retirement nest egg is growing.
I am grateful that I was able to transition to a lower stress role earlier this year. And I am grateful for the FI way of life because it has helped me cope with the reduced income.
I grew up attending masses in the Catholic Church so St Vincent de Paul Society is no stranger. They support everyone in need and speak up about social injustice, in particular for the unemployed and under employed. Whenever I declutter, my unwanted things are donated to my local Vinnies shop.
Community - family, friends and online FI world
I grew up in a stable and loving family. Some of my friends that I am regularly in contact with have known me for most of my life. And now I am part of the online FIRE community, through Twitter and this blog.
I am thankful for all the human connections in my life. As I age, I value them more and more. I witness social isolation in my work – especially among the elderly, when spouses may have died and children are busy with their own lives. Sometimes, we are their only human interactions.
I remind myself to be patient and listen to their stories (and complaints). They may be lonely and just need someone to talk to. Our local council has a program – Seniors Coffee Connect – where they meet once a week at a cafe for a number of weeks. They have a chance to connect with each other and form new relationships.
Working hard and interacting with the public and my colleagues often sap my energy. As an introvert, it takes time for me to recharge my batteries. And as a consequence, I am not very good at inviting friends and family over on a casual basis on the weekends. Gatherings at my house is limited to bigger occasions or celebrations. I was better in 2019 but hope to improve further in 2020.
I am thankful for my online community who supports and encourages me on my FI journey. Through many examples, I am learning how to live an intentional life and to discover what it is that I value in life. Besides learning how to save and invest, how to be frugal, how to track my expenses, calculate my net worth etc – which is also important.
I want to support others on this journey, especially those of us who start later in life – in our 40s, 50s and 60s. If you would like to share your story in my new series, Late starter to FI, please leave a comment below and I will be in touch.
My journey to FI would look very different if my foundation were different. Your journey will likely look different to mine.
But thanks to having a roof over my head, enough food to eat, an education, a decent paying job and a supportive community around me, my path to FI is assured. With all these building blocks in place, I know I will get there eventually.