Finance = money & money = sexy. If only my 13-year-old self had known that

money is the most important thing - financial literacy and financial education

In which I reflect on my financial education to date, inspired by Blonde on a Budget’s post about financial literacy in schools.

My first memory of year 9 maths in high school is being teamed up with two others, going to the local supermarket  and calculating what food and supplies would cost for a family for a week. Let me tell you, it’s really awkward talking about toilet paper and tampons with people you barely know…

But that wasn’t my first foray into this kind of thing.  I’ve long known the value of a dollar.

Growing up, I literally do not recall seeing my mother ever buy anything that wasn’t on sale. When I was about 10, my best friend and I went to the supermarket to buy snacks and drinks. We were super proud about finding a 1-litre Coke for $1 and gushed about our frugality to her dad.

“That’s a good buy,” he said, and smiled. But when I told my mum about it later on? Her reaction: I can get 1.5 litres or 2 litres for the same price. Way to shoot down the kids, but she’s always been the bargain queen, and a blunt one at that.

Shortly after that I got my first paying gig, a paper run, and later on I would work TWO jobs in high school so I could buy an electric guitar and amp. I’ve always, always saved. I couldn’t really say why, as for years there was nothing I was saving for; I just knew it was the thing to do. Somehow my parents instilled that in me (thanks guys).

Business as a subject, though? I thought it was deadly dull and wanted nothing to do with it. Business studies was compulsory for a little while (maybe over the duration of one term) early in high school. You could then go on to do accounting or economics, and as you can probably guess, I chose not to do either. My mother is an accountant, something I thought was the most unimaginative and boring thing one could possibly be, and economics held no draw for me, either.

Of course, the older I get the more important I realise all of that is. Getting a grip on how the economy works is kind of a basic requirement of adulthood, I reckon. 

Knowing how the official cash rate impacts interest rates, for example – that affects savers and borrowers alike.

Understanding general business principles too, which will serve most of us well because most of us do wind up in business, one way or another, to some degree. Yes, even those of us who pursue creative fields – who in many ways would benefit MOST from learning what being a professional in a capitalist society really involves. I‘m in an industry trying to figure out how to make money to sustain itself, and understanding the market and customers is vital to that. And amazingly, I’m finding this is actually quite interesting – and challenging.

I also believe understanding finance from a broader point of view is invaluable. While I’ve never been hugely interested in passive income – I like my work and don’t have any ambitions to retire early – recently I’ve been thinking about income security and growth. It really hit home for me that apart from trading your time for money, there are only a few paths to earning income. Here’s how I see them:

  • Investing in the stockmarket
  • Investing in real estate
  • Producing products (presumably digital) that you create once and then continue to sell indefinitely, no extra effort required on your part

It would  have been good to learn some of this stuff in school, because, um, who DOESN’T want to make money? Everyone, even high school kids (maybe ESPECIALLY high school kids) is interested in making more money.

I’m not saying there aren’t opportunities to learn and get involved in this kind of thing. For example, there are student stockmarket challenges you can participate in –  one of my classmates did really well on those, making a ton of (theoretical) cash. But that kind of thing didn’t interest me back then, and in fact kind of intimidated me, so I didn’t seek them out. Also, it was all kinda nerdy and I was desperately trying to escape the pigeonhole of nerd-dom back then.

How things change. Money is sexy. I know that now. I REPENT. 

Four of the best travel apps for your RTW trip

best travel apps rtw trip nzmuse

How on earth did people cope before the digital age? (Rhetorical question.)

Everyone has their own preferences, but here are the apps I lived by on our RTW trip last year.

Trail Wallet

I wish I could be an affiliate for Trail Wallet. I sing their praises all the time and can’t believe not more people know about Trail Wallet.

Basically, it is a slick expense tracker, super easy to use while you’re out and about. It’s ideal for RTW travellers as you can switch between the 218 currencies as you move around. Enter your purchase in the local currency and it will also show you how much that equates to in your home currency. (Current exchange rates are automatically updated as long as you’re online; otherwise you’ll have to wait till you next get an internet connection.)

Categorise your purchases according to your own preferences. Set a daily budget and if you’re under, you’ll get a peppy congratulatory message, otherwise, a sombre but sometimes encouraging one. A running monthly total will keep you in the loop as to how you’re doing with your spending overall, and colourful pie charts are the icing on the app. IT IS ALL YOU EVER NEED.

TripIt

No need to be paranoid about missing your flight or forgetting the date you’re catching that train out of the country. Tripit compiles all those confirmation emails into one handy itinerary that you can access on your phone via the app.

Booking.com

Booking.com is my accommodation search engine of choice. It’s always upfront about taxes and fees, has the lowest prices, is user-friendly and rewards loyal customers. The mobile app is pretty nice, too. You might prefer another provider, though!

You might also want to download the Hostelworld/Hostelbookers apps (hostels for couples in many places are not all that cost effective, so I never did).

Triposo

If like me, you’re not a fan of guidebooks but don’t want to go into new countries totally blind, Triposo is the app for you. It’s based on crowdsourced info from the likes of Wikitravel, so don’t take anything here as absolute gospel, but for a free app it’s hard to beat.

As well as basic guides to countries and cities along with background on their history and culture, Triposo provides maps that can be accessed offline, displays the time zone and current exchange rates, and also includes a phrasebook of key words and phrases so you can learn to greet and thank people – and maybe decipher basic signs too.

Link love (Powered by seafood and nightmares)

Just the other day on LinkedIn I saw that an old friend had a new freelance role at an agency in New York.

It’s been years and years now since we pored over Harvard scholarship application forms in her room, convinced she was going to become a criminal lawyer down the track. Me, I thought I wanted to go to Columbia like my favourite fictional character, Jessica Darling.

How things change. 

Another friend is moving to New York next month and while I’m super excited for her – and envious of all the amazing food she’s going to get to eat all the time  - I couldn’t help but feel a bit parochial when we turned to discussing my career and what I want out of the next few years. For the perfect opportunity, I’d be happy to go overseas for a stint (though the headache of having to find a place to live and set up all the elements of a new life is a daunting prospect). But the odds of something like that actually coming to ME  is, shall we say, unlikely.

I live a small life, I know. In a small country at the bottom of the world. Expat friends are doing cool things in exciting cities abroad, but of course that comes with a tradeoff – a degree of financial security (because I hang with creatives, not lawyers and bankers).

I also have a good career here – I’ve had the privilege of working for great companies in great roles that I really care about – and it would be tougher to continue that overseas. Big fish, small pond…

This week’s links:

I had to laugh at these 10 tips for Japanese tourists visiting the US

20 Years Hence interviewed me about two of my favourite things in the world: food and travel

Even if you aren’t an engineer in Silicon Valley, this post is full of job hunt nuggets and interesting anecdotes (and the FizzBuzz part had me shuddering in recollection of the time i tried to learn Javascript through Codecademy)

A thought provoking post on interracial friendships

Manda reflects on what it was like to lose her father at a young age

Some unorthodox ways to scope out a new neighbourhood

Think twice about these things before starting your own business 

Whenever I get annoyed about the rain or lack of Mexican food here and ask myself why we don’t live in California already, I manage to stumble across something like this … or Scandal reminds me that politics is influenced by the gun lobby  … or I see a LinkedIn blog post that reminds me US employers don’t have to give staff any paid time off. (Also: jobs, family, friends.)  America, I know you can do better!

Goddamn, the human spirit is an amazing thing. This powerful story just got nominated for an award, which is how I found out about it. Masterful use of the second person – I hope it wins. (And the PF nerd in me rejoiced in the paragraph that talks about his retirement account, good credit and platinum card.)

Lastly, I just finished a freelance feature on the basics of personal finance, and changed a line in my author bio from ‘believes that money buys happiness’ to the noncontroversial ‘money buys peace of mind’. But I truly believe money DOES buy happiness, for all the reasons Revanche points out. Too many people say they’d rather be poor and in love than rich and alone without actually having experienced it. I’ve been broke and coupled up and it nearly sank the relationship. I haven’t experienced being rich and alone but I suspect I would prefer it (of course, YMMV, depending on your personality and need for security).

My favourite Asian restaurants in Auckland right now

satya meal nzmuse best indian restaurant auckland

Favourite Auckland Chinese noodle restaurant

We have SO many good Chinese restaurants in Auckland, it’s hard to pick. So I figured I’d zero right in specifically on noodle houses. Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle House and its handpulled noodles are where it’s at right now. Bonus points for being open through January, when most of the other Asian eateries along that stretch of Dominion Rd are still closed.

I’m also going to put in a quiet plug for my new local dumpling house, Mr Zhou in New Lynn. Quietly, because it’s already getting popular and I don’t want it to become overrun :)

Favourite Auckland Malaysian restaurant

We are blessed with an abundance of good Malaysian restaurants in Auckland – Mamak, Sri Pinang, Bunga Raya, and the list goes on.

But the best of all, IMO, is KK Malaysian in Epsom. There’s a reason it’s always packed, and usually with a pretty good mix of nationalities. Book ahead.

Oh, and if anyone can recommend a place to get GREAT assam laksa in Auckland? I’ll be forever in your debt. That dish is getting harder and harder to find.

Favourite Auckland Indian restaurant

Again, so many choices, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring with Satya. They have a few different branches but I’ve only ever been to the Sandringham one. Satya gets an extra gold star because they put on a free Christmas meal every year and offer to send out vouchers to anyone in need. 

For vegetarians, Jai Jalaram Khaman across the road is hard to beat. And for a meal on the go, the Pakistani takeaway down at the Mt Albert Rd/Sandringham Rd intersection is fiery and intense.

Favourite Auckland Thai restaurant

A local food writer once bemoaned the fact that there’s nowhere to get really good Thai food in Auckland. Now that I’ve been to Thailand, I am inclined to agree. There are still people who’ll happily eat at Mai Thai and rave about it because they don’t know any better. Heck, I used to be one of them.

But if you want better than bland and overpriced, try a food court – or head to Narm Thong in Roskill South. Delightful.

What are your favourite Asian cuisines?

Five things you may not know about New Zealand

things to know before visiting nz

Thinking about visiting me soon? (If not, you should be…)

It’s okay to not know these things. The only unforgivable sin is confusing anything Kiwi with anything Australian. You have been warned.

You may burn to a crisp within minutes

Our ozone layer leaves something to be desired. I’ve not been anywhere else in the world where the sun is so intense.  Slather yourself up before stepping outdoors. The worst for burn time is usually between about 10 and 3 during the day, so if you burn easily, try to stay indoors or well covered up during those hours.

UV aside, our weather is really mild

Parts of New Zealand are subtropical and most don’t see snow. Here in Auckland, expect a variance of maybe 15 degrees between the height of summer and the depths of winter – 10 is cold, 25 hot. A lot of visitors land in Auckland during summer and find it chilly – it never gets too hot, really (you may not actually feel the intensity of the sun’s rays until you realise at the end of the day that you’ve picked up a ruddy burn). And our winter isn’t too bad as long as you’re inside an insulated building (a harder ask than you might think). We’re spoiled – if it wasn’t for the rain, we’d have the perfect climate. Everywhere else we’ve been would be too cold for me in winter and too hot for us both (especially T) in summer.

Our water is insanely pure

Clean, delicious and free. Enjoy. (In fact, I think we do pretty well on the beverage front. Our milk is unbeatable. And while I don’t do caffeine or booze, I hear our coffee, wine and even some of our beers are excellent – this ain’t Germany, but our well-travelled friends from Vermont reckon they never had a bad beer in New Zealand.)

The roads take some getting used to

Outside of the most built-up areas they tend to be narrow and windy, and the speed limits are fairly low – think Pacific Coast Highway style. Take it easy and always err on the side of caution. (And yes, we drive on the left hand side.)

Like our roads, the sea is rugged

We have good surf beaches, but watch out for rip tides. The human body is no match for the pull of the ocean. Luckily for you, our surf life guards are pretty world-class.


How long do you wait for the perfect dream job to come along?

 

I’ve found a new hobby.  And nerdy as it sounds, that hobby is writing cover letters. 

Job hunting is so much easier when you have a passion for an industry. Helping T do cover letters is super enjoyable because it’s a breeze to communicate that – and those letters are getting responses, because that passion shines through and stands out.

Still, time has flown; it’s been about a month already with no solid leads. Obviously it’d be great if he could score a dream job doing what he was doing, now that he’s had a taste of it … but with limited experience, that’s a long shot.

How long, then, do you hold out for the ideal job? Money is money and at some point bringing in an income becomes top priority. (You can always keep looking, and they do say a lot of employers prefer to hire people who already have jobs…) And I think we’re shifting into that mode now.

One option would be to keep going down the sales path – there’s never any shortage of sales jobs out there, many of which are happy to train people up. If you can sell, you’ve got a pretty versatile skill that’ll never go out of demand, and your earning potential is massive. But he rocked car sales because he loves cars, and it’s doubtful that he’ll find the same level of a) enjoyment and therefore b) success selling insurance or water coolers or whatever.

The other obvious path is to look for something else in the auto industry. Now that T’s found an area he really likes, it’s a no-brainer. Even if it doesn’t pay a ton, as long as it pays enough, is steady, not too physically taxing, and doesn’t trigger Sunday night blues – that’s pretty good in my books. We’ve been doing this to some extent but it’s probably time to really ramp that up and expand the search.

This is where I think I need to play cheerleader a little. Sometimes he’s a bit narrow-minded about his skillset and will write off postings because he doesn’t fit all the criteria; I find myself having to persuade him that his experience applies just fine to roles that don’t bear the exact same title or description, and that there’s nothing to lose by applying for jobs that are a little bit of a stretch if you don’t tick every single box. (This is no time to fall prey to impostor syndrome…)

There’s something really exciting about all the potential, all the opportunity that comes with the job hunt – imagining yourself doing various jobs that sound particularly awesome and what your future might look like. But conversely, it’s also a bit depressing seeing how mundane and poorly paid many jobs out there are – it makes me feel really privileged to be able to do work I enjoy that I am decently compensated for.

How long would you keep hunting for the dream job? On a scale of 1-10, how perfect is your job?

Link love (Powered by late nights and new friends)

nzmuse blog link love

 

Okay, it’s not quite five years on from when I wrote this post, but when I randomly stumbled across it while previewing a post I was working on, I decided now was the time to revisit it. Odds are I might not remember to check back in 8 months’ time…

So, here’s my 2009 vision for my life five years later, compared with reality:

1. What time do you wake up, and how are you feeling as you greet the day? I’m up at 7, feeling energised (More like 8am these days. YESSS.)

2. Where are you? If you’re at home, what does it look like? In my own house (maybe a Lockwood) with big kitchen, walkin pantry, garage, ensuite bathroom and decent sized closet (Nowhere near. We do have a lot of storage space here, though)

3. Who is with you? T. Maybe a pet (preferably a cat, but more likely a puppy if T has his way) (Still renting, no pets. T’s still around; we did get married after all)

4. What kind of work are you doing? (if you have no idea what kind of work you’ll be doing or want to be doing, list the qualities you want to find in the work you do and the kind of work environment you want.) I’m in the prime of my career, as a subeditor or a web editor, in an airy, sunny open plan office. I work in a friendly, supportive team and regularly have lunch with coworkers (Pretty much bang on)

5. As you head out to face the day, how do you look? What are you wearing? I look polished and effortless (ha!) I am wearing nice jeans with a shirt and flats, because the office environment is fairly casual. (Okay, the first part was always a bit of wishful thinking, but again, bang on!)

6. How do you get to work? Walk (Oooh, this was true up until we went overseas, then came back and moved! Weird that I said this back then – to be honest, I don’t imagine I’ll ever be able to walk to work again in the future.)

7. When you’re done with work, how will you spend you spare time and with whom? What activities do you enjoy? With T. I’ll bake, catch up on blogs, watch some TV or a movie. I enjoy photography, playing guitar, travel. (Still into the books and movies and blogging. Other stuff, less so)

8. What is your evening like? I might catch up with friends at one of our houses for a few hours – lots of laughs, maybe a silly retro boardgame, good food. (I’ll be honest – I remember writing that and thinking that in all truth, I’d rather just chill at home, but was a bit reluctant to admit it. And that’s usually how it does go.)

9. When you go to bed that night, how are you feeling after spending the day doing exactly what you love? Contented and fulfilled. Glad that it’s nearly the weekend. (Yep, life’s pretty good.)

10. What are you most grateful for and what are you looking forward to as you go to sleep? T, a warm house, great job and good food. (Ditto.)

How does your life match up with your ambitions from five years ago?

This week’s links

WORK/CAREER

A sobering tale of freelancing and the strange state of media today (I felt rather guilty upon reading the quote describing the freelancer/editor relationship, but it is on the money)

Over at Get Rich Slowly: Overwork and the illusion of high paying jobs

A most excellent and comprehensive guide to career planning and progression, over at Fast Company 

Mashable lists 10 questions to ask if you’re interviewing for a startup job

This Toast essay on making art and failing is equal parts beautiful and painful

MONEY

The Simple Dollar realises that poverty is not a simple problem to solve

Well Heeled Blog reflects on the things she used to think she needed 

Tiny Apartment Design on being surrounded by rich people

LIFE, etc

Michelle from Fit is the New Poor used Taskrabbit help to pull off a birthday surprise for her husband (the first I’ve ever heard of anyone using the site that  way!)

Some things you probably didn’t know about Japanese food, from Ever in Transit

Untemplater shares her best hard-learned travel tips

A few clever ways to preserve your travel memories, via Yes and Yes

Oh good, I’m not the only one out there who only washes my bras every few weeks - thanks Corporette. How about you? (DON’T JUDGE ME!) 

 

I love my job because…

why i love my job

It’s hard to believe sometimes when you’re entrenched in the digital world, but not everyone hates their job and wants to quit.

So, inspired by KK, here’s what I love about my job:

I actually get to do what I love all day – write and edit. If I were freelance I would have to spend the majority of my time marketing. Ugh. 

(I can’t lie – when full-time freelancers I know post links to their projects, I click out of interest, and some of the work they do makes me wince. I get to write about  inspiring people and companies all day; the thought of doing marketing copy about curtains and joinery makes me die a little inside, even if that stuff commands a higher hourly rate. Of course, when you’re at the top of your game you get a lot more choice – I’m sure superstar designer Jessica Hische has her pick of projects – but that’s not the reality for most.)

I get to work autonomously. My days are mostly self-directed, which is freaking sweet. I always forget how rare this is when I talk to people who work at other organisations…

I work with cool people and in a reasonably nice environment. It ain’t Google or Facebook, but it’s not an underground bunker (as a colleague essentially described her former TV workplace).

I have flexibility. I occasionally work from home and I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck; we’re trusted to get the job done and things like the odd weekday appointment would not be a drama at all. I’m also not totally chained to my computer – I have occasion to get out of the office and mix things up.

I get a lot of random freebies. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a nice perk. Event invites, free lunches, vouchers, and all kinds of products.

I don’t suffer a terrible commute, nightmare coworkers or feeling stuck. (A lack of room to move up seems to be a common complaint out there, but in my field you don’t really move up, you just move around.) Really, my only complaint might be a lack of resourcing – but it’s hard to find someone who isn’t stretched these days. Oh, and you know, a little more money would never go amiss :)

I’ve been really fortunate so far despite graduating right into the GFC. Steadily employed, and in jobs that I like, to boot.

It’s easy to forget this – you do get complacent with anything good in life – but overall, I am stupidly lucky. With T on the job hunt, I’m extra aware of that right now.

Three things that stoke my travel itch

los angeles venice beach skate park nzmuse

There are so many things that trigger the travel bug for me.

All those email deals that pop up in my inbox.

Friends’ travel photos, especially of places I haven’t been to yet.

Fond travel memories – triggered by something as simple as hearing a German accent on the bus, which throws me back to the time I had to ask for help figuring out the Berlin bus lines … or the time we all piled onto the last train back to Athens from the ferry port, and tried to help a bunch of European girls figure out where their backpacker’s hotel was.


And of course, smaller, random occurrences like these…

Seeing backpackers trying to navigate my local supermarket

I work in the burbs, so I don’t see  backpackers on Queen St on a daily basis. It’s always a surprise to see them wandering around my local supermarket – we’re a bit of a way out from the CBD after all, but it is a lot cheaper here (the first thing I usually asked any couchsurfers we hosted was whether they needed to make a grocery trip), and a lot of the best parts of Auckland are not in the centre. So props to those travellers!

Using ATMs

It’s very, very easy to live a cashless life in New Zealand. I sure do! But I had to get used to using ATMs throughout Asia and Europe (and once or twice in the States), which was mildly annoying. So the rare occasions when I need to visit an ATM here to get cash can trigger travel flashbacks. (Thankfully, our ATMs are generally big, clean and shiny, unlike some of those tiny, filthy grey ATMS scattered around New York, the kind that look like they were created specifically to spread disease.)

Foods

Pizza (takes me back to Naples and New York). Seafood (takes me back to Naples and the Amalfi Coast). Or the lack of! Example: dreaming of a good sandwich, ala New York deli subs. Or my North American buds talking about certain foods – BBQ, poutine, anything Mexican…

What kinds of things give you itchy feet?

Carnival of Personal Finance #455: Books, tax refunds, growing up and more

Curating great reads is one of my hobbies, as regular readers know (when was the last time I missed a weekly Link Love?) and doing it for a blog carnival is extra fun.

You might’ve noticed the new look, trimmed down carnival over the past few weeks. IMO, it’s definitely a good thing, as focusing on quality is always a savvy move … and speaking of which, being savvy about money is definitely a common theme this week:

Blogs are where I’ve picked up most of my (limited) financial knowledge, but sometimes it’s hard to beat a good book. Miranda at Prairie Eco Thrifter shares five books that changed her outlook on money and Harry at Your PF Pro reviews The Big Short, packing in some of his own reflections about Wall St, investing and greed vs stupidity.

I’m grateful to have a job I genuinely adore (I might have to pen a post on that…) although Mr. 4HWD argues that work is a lot more fun when you don’t have to work (I’m sure!) while Krant Cents asks if you work to live or live to work.

Are you getting a tax refund? If so, both Monica on Money and The Broke Professional suggested some smarter ways to spend your windfall.

Growing up can involve some painful lessons. For starters, you need to get these 5 documents in order, courtesy of Stay at Home Economics, and like Natalie you might have a student loan to contend with, or you might find yourself in the middle of an unsettling encounter with a stranger demanding money ala Emily from Evolving Personal Finance.

Let’s wrap it up on a positive note! In the quest for financial success, Adam from Stop Worrying About Money reminds us to focus on small steps. Start by pledging to Do 1% Better. It doesn’t get more manageable than that.

Get in on the action at carnivalofpersonalfinance.com next week.