Link love (the salted caramel edition)

Ever since I left home young, I would describe my relationship with my parents as ‘complicated’.

We’re not touchy feely. We’re not even very talky. Getting past the past has been a slow and more or less silent process. Over time, the cracks have patched themselves.

Shortly after moving into my house, while putting away the various bits of the Christmas gift package they got me, I came across a handwritten card that I’d originally missed when I opened it.

I read it, and cried. It was a little strange, reading something that had been written a few months ago, with all that had happened since. There was no judgement or disappointment in it, only unconditional support – just as the following months came to prove.

It’s funny that I found myself back in my childhood home 10 years later. But as much as I needed to leave when I left, I really needed to return when I did.

This week’s links

Sometimes Mother’s Day is complicated

The things we did not do

Examining choices around name changing and marriage

How do you find a cause you care about?

The upside of being highly sensitive

When misery clouds your financial judgement

Working for The Man sure has its upsides

And finally, it’s time we examine the messages we’re sending about creative fulfillment

How’d she manage to pull off buying a house? (blood sacrifice and dark magic, duh)

How I bought a house in Auckland on a single income

It’s too easy, for those of us who have somehow managed to scrape into the hallowed ranks of Auckland homeowners, to fall into the trap of blaming everyone else for their own poor financial choices and unrealistic expectations.

I’m determined not to do that.

I know that simply cutting back takeaways is not going to get you into a house.

I know that rents keep rising; when I was at university $350 a week got you a three bedroom rental in the humble suburb where I grew up, and today it gets you a one bedroom.

I know that prices and incomes are all out of whack, and yet, the way things are here, it generally makes sense to buy if you can.

Basic housing – dry, warm, healthy, affordable even – is a luxury in Auckland and it shouldn’t be. Renters are treated as second class citizens in every way. The quality of rental housing is abhorrent. There’s no stability. I note without pleasure (okay, maybe a LITTLE grim pleasure) that relatively well-off media commentator types who once often spoke out about what a waste of money it was to buy a house have now started families and oh, promptly gone and purchased property to live in.

I’ve put off writing more about the nitty gritty of buying my house – the financials, that is.

In a way, I feel like I haven’t truly earned it. And maybe more importantly, I’m nervous about the inevitable judgement that’s going to come my way.

Do I owe anybody any details? No. But might transparency benefit someone else out there? Maybe. And if the struggling house hunters who opened up about their finances for the Herald’s Home Truths series can do it, I probably should too.

Here it is.

Based on my pre-approval, I set out to buy a property $500k or less, using the Welcome Home Loan scheme (allows first home buyers to get in with 10% deposit, subject to other conditions). The majority of my deposit came from my KiwiSaver. (It’s never been affording mortgage payments that poses an issue, but rather the down payment.)

At this point I was temporarily staying with my parents, and they were helping me house hunt. There wasn’t a lot in my price range at all, let alone properties that were actually fit for residence. The two places in my budget that I wanted to make an offer on (though I was pipped to the post on those) … let’s say my dear mum wasn’t very impressed with the properties.

But as I told them: beggars can’t be choosers, and I’m a beggar in this market. My criteria is whatever I can afford, and within that, whatever I think I can live with. I was prepared to compromise on various things as required – basically anything, although not everything. Slim pickings weren’t necessarily a negative. I’m chronically indecisive so a narrow range of options was actually a good thing for me.

They also offered to help out, moneywise. I was very appreciative of the offer – and also very reluctant to accept it. My preference was to buy within my original budget, on my own steam, but together we started looking at some more expensive properties as well.

The more we looked, the more it made sense. The phrase ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ comes to mind.

The prospect of them topping up my buying power went against my core principle of Doing Things On My Own. And yet they genuinely wanted to. Rather you pay us than the bank! It would mean a better house – still absolutely in entry level territory, but more liveable and better located. And importantly, potentially a forever home. I’ve moved so, so much while renting and it has been exponentially more soul destroying each time. I always wanted to buy a house and then never move again if at all possible. I just can’t imagine dealing with the stress of moving PLUS throwing the logistical headache of both selling and buying into the mix. Obviously people do it all the time, but I can tell you right now that climbing the property ladder is not for me.

The final price for my house was $595k, so with them making up the difference, means I owe them close to $100k. A little less than that now, after a few months of repayments.

So in the end, I didn’t take a Welcome Home loan, just a regular one – but it worked out for the best. As a result, the rest of the loan process was a lot simpler and shorter (less paperwork). And I didn’t get the $5k government HomeStart grant, but that would basically have been cancelled out by the Housing NZ premium applied to the WHL anyway. Turns out that’s a bit of a wash as a single income home buyer…

Withdrawing KiwiSaver money for my first (and hopefully last) home puts a major dent in my retirement savings, it’s true. But I’m comfortable with that choice, having pondered it for a couple of years, and still being young with time on my side. Saving for the future is important – but so is having a stable and healthy living environment in the present. (One word: mushrooms.) And while I don’t see my home as an investment, having a paid-off house will be a huge benefit come retirement. There’s a lot of talk right now about how Generation Rent will be at a disadvantage in this regard, and for good reason. Having discussed this with people at work who know much more about finance, mortgages and the economy in NZ than I do, I feel confident in this decision being the right one for me.

Probably more painful – emotionally anyway – is the fact that I accepted family help. Now I’m just like basically every other Auckland homeowner my age. Even as a loan rather than a gift … this makes me one of those awful privileged millennials tapping into the Bank of Mum and Dad. Let me tell you, that stings.

But pride ain’t everything, and I’ve said before that I wouldn’t look a gift horse like this in the mouth should it cross my path. I’m happy (understatement: DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY) and apparently so are they. A win-win, I suppose. Heck, for health reasons alone, I can tell you it has been so, so worth it already! I rub rosehip oil into my stress scars each night (from the chronic eczema that literally evaporated once I moved into my house) and I know I made the right choice. I pinch myself most days, wondering if this is actually my life, and feel so grateful to be here.

It’s bloody expensive to live well

Living well is expensive - it takes a lot of money just to get by

Who says money can’t buy happiness? Life is expensive. A basic life – at least in NZ – is expensive, and a good life even more so.

Money buys a place to call home

It’s an incredible feeling to know I never have to move again unless I want to – as long as I keep paying.

It’s an equally incredible feeling to wake up and NOT start sneezing immediately, every single day. I no longer dread middle-of-the-night awakenings (for whatever reason) because I’m not automatically going to be a huge snotty mess. To have the whole house be the same temperature. To not have condensation on the windows.

I bow to you, mighty HRV system. You cost practically nothing to run overnight and yet make such a huge difference.

My physical health (not to mention my mental health) has been boosted legions by owning my own home. Money has literally bought me better health.

Money buys a way to get around

Having a reliable vehicle is so important, particularly in a one car household. Buying cheapo cars has never worked in our favour; taking out a car loan turned out to be a wise choice. Spending more for a car that will last is not indulgent; it’s rational.

Money buys decent clothing

Having bras that fit is crazy awesome but it’s definitely not the cheapest. Quality ethical clothing, ditto – and I must confess I don’t actually make this a huge priority. I hope I’m doing a little to help by thrift shopping as much as possible. And I might add to this, other items that touch the skin – namely, bed linen, good sheets are a must!

Money buys real food

I love my carbs. Yet I know I really need to eat more fruits and veg. But they’re so much more expensive (as are nuts, seriously)! A loaf of bread or a bag of pasta gets you so much further than the equivalent spend on apples or tomatoes. And don’t even get me started on the cost of good cheese and meat. Yeah, I’m a glutton.

I was watching the mini series Chef’s Table recently. It was a joy to see the artisan growers the top chefs source from, and just how much thought and love goes into developing those amazingly flavourful, organic crops – but it ain’t cheap, for obvious reasons. The plan is to grow more of my own, but I’m never going to be completely self sufficient.

And you know what, quality dog food isn’t the cheap stuff, either. I don’t think the preservative and grain laden kibble is the best for my girl, and I’m pretty certain she gets more hyperactive after eating it.

Money buys getaways

I love travel, but NZ is just so darn isolated. My hostel days are past me, and I’ve never been into camping. But that’s okay, because I love my home and I’m nesting hard; I’m totally happy to be a hermit for the foreseeable future.

Leaving saved my marriage

How an ultimatum saved my marriage

I have never really believed in ultimatums.

But there were no other options left.

If the price of stability and a home was being alone, I realised I would take that deal in a heartbeat. See also: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

You need to set your own boundaries; decide:

what you want and need

what you can and cannot accept

what you expect and deserve

It isn’t selfish to put your own oxygen mask on first. To stay true to your own goals. To refuse to  allow someone else to derail your dreams and hold you back.

The end of 2015 was a low, low point for us. I think we both found ourselves disappointed in one another, to varying degrees.

It was an opportunity to reevaluate our priorities (or, for me at least, to reinforce mine and validate my decision), and have the space to take a step back and reflect.

Sometimes, you gotta burn things down if there’s going to be any hope of rebuilding them again.

The one in which I talk about bras

stella mccartney stella lace plunge bra
Currently mooning over…

They say most women are wearing the wrong bra size. You’ve probably heard it a million times; I know I have. Like ‘tailor your cover letter’, it’s something I know, and understand, but it took a long time to truly CLICK.

Thanks to Reddit’s A Bra That Fits, I’ve been re-educating myself. I’ve never been properly fitted in my life. For one, budget meant I never went to the kinds of places where they had professionally trained staff – and those kinds of stores intimidated me to hell anyway. Add to that the fact that I barely needed a bra at all and there was just no point. I muddled through and congratulated myself on being able to get away with not having to spend tons on pricey bras, unlike my chestier friends.

But recently all my bras more or less reached the end of their usable lives at once. I figured, let’s do this right!

Reddit was right. I needed a smaller band and bigger cup. And as it turns out, shape is really important! Lots of styles just won’t work for me. There’s really nothing to it but trying a bunch of brands and sizes, as they’re all so different. (I think that Stella McCartney just might be my holy grail brand … but wow, they are NOT cheap. For now, I’m making do with other brands until I can jump on a sale or bring myself to shell out.)

To be honest, I’m still on the hunt for the honest-to-goodness perfect bra, if it exists. Realistically, it’s a crapshoot. The odds are terrible. Consider all the variables: width, height, spacing, projection, firmness, fullness (and that’s across both vertical and horizontal planes)…

But having a pro fitter actually in there with me, sizing me up and bringing me specific bras that she thought would fit well, was life-changing.

Fun fact: I’ve been putting them on wrong forever. See, I assumed bras should just FIT and if not, well then they’re the wrong size – you shouldn’t have to manipulate yourself to fit into a bra. But no, the scoop-and-swoop technique is for real. In Japan, they even had a step-by-step diagram in the changing room of the bra shop I went into explaining exactly how to scoop and swoop.

Even more galling? T knew ALL THIS TIME and never said a word. Duh, he said, you’ve basically just been using them as nipple covers (um, yeah! That’s all I needed!)

In short: my husband knows more about bras than I do, and wearing bras that fit is rocking my world.

Link love (the gratitude edition)

NZMuse - Link love roundup with awesome reads from the week

I had originally hoped to buy a house one or two suburbs over, ever so slightly closer to the city (it was a bit of a long shot, to be honest).

I’m glad I didn’t. It worked out for the best.

I love that there are so many great places to run and walk with the pup (and a dog park around the corner). Two major cycleways/walking paths, one that passes horses and vineyards. A short bush/forest trail, even.

I love that we are close to crazy cheap supermarkets and grocers, and down the road from an amazing bakery.

And I love the fact that I can actually get a seat on the train (because it fills up FAST along this line).

I live nearly equidistant from two train stations – they’re about 20 minutes walk from home, though one is slightly closer and can be easily done in 15 at a brisk pace. The train station is just a couple of minutes from my office at the city end. And the train is just so darn civilised – it’s smooth, great for people watching and occasionally there’s wifi.

There is a bus stop practically on my doorstep but it’s slightly more expensive and less frequent. Plus, traffic.  Ugh. There lots of roadworks on nearby so it takes forever to get to the motorway (but at least once on the motorway it’s fine, plus the sea views and the horses near the onramp are easy on the eye). It is a longer walk at the city end to my office (10-15 minutes) but slightly less walking overall still, and it’s more sheltered if it’s raining.

This week’s links

Luck matters – more than you might think

The biggest wastes of time we regret

Every dream starts with this

Simple pleasures

Why we read

Succumbing to lifestyle inflation

A better approach to networking

Convincing a partner to get a better job

And a succinct but bang-on summary of the Auckland housing market

Should you leave your unemployed partner?

Should you leave a chronically unemployed partner?

You are not a terrible person if you’re thinking of leaving a chronically underemployed/unemployed partner. We only get one life, and you’re allowed to put your own interests first. Love is lovely … but so is peace of mind and financial security. In some circumstances it might be blindingly obvious whether to stay or go. But in others it’s not – this one’s for you. (For the record: While things seem to be back on track, I’m keeping things separate so that they’re easy to untangle again if needed.)

How did I know I couldn’t keep going?

When I asked myself, is this relationship adding net value to my life? I could no longer say yes.

For all the good, the bad outweighed it, and had been for a long time.

Nobody knows all the gory details. They don’t need to. Honestly, I could have coped with it all – as long as he had a full time job. But all those things, combined with zero income … different story. Especially given the fact that going separate ways would render him eligible for unemployment benefits.

It is damn hard to tell where supporting becomes enabling, and being taken advantage of.

I am far from blameless. I made mistakes. There are many things I could have done better. And I’m much wiser for it.

I held on too long. Then I came to a crossroads.

I could keep being passive. And I would almost certainly wind up bitter and drained. Probably having a breakdown and having to take time off work – ironically, the only thing keeping us afloat financially, not to mention the only good thing in my life.

Or I could cut my losses. Put myself first for once. Heal from the toll of two years of uncertainty and stress.

Life was exhausting. Going from carrying the weight of two people to just me – it was infinitely lighter. I can’t quantify the relief I felt; I slept like a baby those first few nights after leaving.

There was second-guessing, of course. There always is. But after months of internal back-and-forth, I knew it was the right call. I’d done so much soul searching and so much reading, in pursuit of the answer.

What it boils down to, is that the discussions in these three threads hit me like a ton of bricks. Realising that we might never be financially stable  together. And I simply could not live that way.

It’s so important to have a financially responsible partner.

It takes two. You cannot do it all yourself. And nor should you.

Love and trying isn’t enough.

Love is not willingness to live in a cardboard box together.

Love is doing whatever it takes to not get to that point.

Screw your false dichotomies – we don’t need ’em

Drizzle - The myth of false dichotomies

 

It’s not always an either/or.

  • Devoted, loving, domestic partner who makes no money, vs a workaholic, emotionally unavailable baller.
  • A cute apartment in the central city vs a McMansion in the suburbs.
  • A job you love paying poverty wages vs a job you hate paying six figures.
  • A $1k beater vs a brand new car you’ll be paying off forever.
  • Disposable fast fashion vs investment clothing that lasts a lifetime.

You don’t have to settle for one or the other.

Link love (powered by stew and strolls)

NZ Muse link loveI think I need to accept that life just never gets easier. Yes, you become stronger and smarter but as your resilience grows, so do the hurdles. Gone are the days of high-school-sized issues and injustices. It doesn’t seem fair, but them’s the breaks.

Women are awesome. My closest IRL friends may be male, and have been incredible supports when I needed it, but there are some things they will simply never understand. From crushes in long term relationships to emotional labour and pulling your financial weight, female friends get the gender dynamics that my dudes don’t.

I’m very passionate about the state of the housing market and the huge effects it has on people’s lives – mostly from a quite personal angle, but also at a more macro, societal level.  A spirited conversation about this at our weekly all staff meeting about this very topic and what it all means for New Zealanders – especially in retirement – got me quite fired up and reaffirms that I’m in the right place (both at work and at home). It’s incredible how much difference it makes being free of the “emotional and financial challenges of renting”, as it was put.

This week’s links

A great post on household division of labour and finances when the woman earns more (because things do not always fall neatly along the lines of High Earning Busy Spouse and Low Earning But With Lots of Flexibility Spouse)

Sherry sums up some thoughts on the circular logic of early retirement/financial independence more eloquently than I ever could have

Sometimes, YOU’RE the rich friend

A couple of  things about poverty

How important is job satisfaction, really?

Graduating beyond frugal habits 

You’re making life harder for yourself

What does money mean to you?

Sometimes less is just less – minimalism within reason, guys

Money matters – whether we admit it or not

Money matters - even if we don't like to admit it

You know what? I love money and I don’t care who knows it.

For so long, the underlying driver in my life has been fear.

What it comes down to is money. Money means security and options and ultimately freedom.

Money:

keeps a roof over my head

puts (good) food in my belly

pays for my health care

lets me enjoy my free time

You know what else?

I want to be spoiled. Not all the time. But on the odd special occasion.

I want to treat my friends. Turns out when I have enough, I’m a giver.

Having money in my bank account lets me sleep at night.

No money = stress.

Stress and happiness are mutually exclusive.

Money = peace of mind.

And peace of mind is happiness.