It’s easy to get disheartened about your finances when you’re an avid reader of personal finance blogs. Like some people might read fashion magazines and quietly compare themselves to the models they see on the pages, I read money blogs and compare myself to people who are either way behind me – the debt bloggers – or, in most cases, way ahead.
But you know what always cheers me up? A chat with my bank.
I remember paying a visit to my local branch years ago toward the end of high school. I probably only had about $4k in my accounts (I never cracked $10k until after graduating university), yet the teller was apparently amazed that I’d saved that much, and asked me what I was saving for.
“Ummm, uni?” I offered, stumped.
You work at a bank, for goodness sake. Is saving for the sake of saving really such a foreign concept?
This month I applied for a second credit card, thinking it would be good to have a backup while we travel that can be carried separately just in case I get mugged or my wallet gets lost. The online process took just a couple of minutes, and was followed up by a call the next day with a few more questions - so you don’t have a student loan? car loan? hire purchase? store cards anywhere? – along with acknowledgement of my strong savings history. Way to boost the ego. (I’ve been with my bank for over a decade, so they’re all up in the intimate details of my financial history – which is pretty vanilla.)
The bank rep also tried to upsell me to a Gold or Platinum Visa. Now that’s something I never thought I’d hear in my life. Say what?
If I booked my flights with one of these premium cards, I’d get free travel insurance. Righty-o. Pity I’ve already booked both – and don’t really want to pay hefty annual fees for the privilege of a shinier credit card.
This got me thinking, though. Putting aside the fact that I just don’t see myself as the kind of person to own a gold or platinum credit card, would it ever make sense from a financial standpoint?
Well, at $80 to $130 a year in annual fees, I think not. In comparison, my humble standard Visa only costs $24 (bank credit cards without annual fees don’t really exist here). According to interest.co.nz, I have one of the best credit cards in regard to annual fees. Given my lifestyle and spending habits, the credit card perks of free travel insurance and the ability to earn reward points marginally faster don’t really appeal.
My needs in a credit card are simple, really: enable me to buy stuff online (whether it’s quality baseball equipment or contact lenses), rent vehicles, provide an imprint at the odd hotel, and be widely accepted, so I can use it to pay for as many things as possible in order to rack up points. As well as the $24 a year I pay for the privilege of my bank credit card, I also pay $20 to partake in the rewards programme, which earns me more than enough to cover all the fees, as well as pay for a few trips to the movies or a few meals out.
What, if any, perks do you get through your credit cards? And what do they cost you?
When we say you get four seasons in a day, we mean it. Sometimes we’ll rotate through all four seasons two or three times, even. I could leave the house in the morning practically perspiring in the cloudless blazing heat, and get to worth 20 minutes later cursing the sudden downpour that caught me halfway. Speaking of downpours, it rains far too much here, and summers are horribly humid. But at least it’s fairly warm! Temperatures range from about 10-25 degrees, depending on the season.
The cost of living
Housing, petrol, food, and anything else you can think of is expensive. The “great Kiwi ripoff” resurfaces in magazine and newspaper features every couple of years or so. We all shake our heads – and fists – for a bit, then settle right back in resignedly. I also bemoan the lack of free and cheap entertainment here, though Silo Park is doing great things on that front.
I walk to work, so I haven’t had to regularly catch the bus in over a year, and it’s wonderful. I have a rule against reading the comments on news articles, but this one basically sums up the state of Auckland public transport: “More evidence that those who plan our public transport don’t actually believe in it.” It’s unreliable, expensive and on some routes, infrequent. And apparently the trains are ditching the option to pay your fare onboard, and introducing a $20 penalty for those who don’t pre-pay. (I imagine a lot of tourists and new immigrants are going to get some nasty surprises.)
And now, to the pros…
Don’t get me wrong, we have some absolutely hideous eyesores of buildings around the place (a “nicer Rio” was how our last Couchsurfing guests described the CBD). But otherwise, we’re pretty darn good looking, with beaches, parks, volcanoes, creeks and more aplenty. Crossing the Harbour Bridge always offers a spectacular sight, and rounding the cliffside corner right where the vista of Piha’s coast opens up is enough to make the heart swell.
I’m sure we have nothing on bigger cities around the world (actually, I KNOW we don’t, having met so many well-travelled visitors through Couchsurfing), but on a national scale, we’re definitely ahead. Cheap and cheerful ethnic restaurants and supermarkets are all over the place, and every year Diwali and Chinese New Year celebrations take place in the CBD, shutting down parts of the streets.
It’s close to everything
Realistically, in New Zealand everything is just a few hours’ drive away. Skifields? Lakes? Forests? Bush? Beaches? Fill up the tank and go.
And of course, I’m thankful for the other things I enjoy as a New Zealand citizen. Free ER visits (though until I met T, I’d never been to the ER in my life), cheap medical care ($5 prescriptions, thank you very much), affordable education (student loans for all), four weeks of paid annual leave (plus a bunch of public holidays) and so on.
ETA: I’m also very proud that we’ve become the first Asia-Pacific nation and the 13th worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage. Ka pai!
Developing a debt management program and solving liability issues are important stages in reaching financial freedom, a key hallmark for most people who are economically stable. If you are currently grappling with debt, taking specific steps can help you get back on track financially and ease the stress that determined collection agencies can often exert on defaulting borrowers.
If your current debt load has become unbearable, you should try to reduce personal expenses. That way, you give yourself some leeway to also reduce the substantial interest charges that lenders often apply to the accounts of borrowers who are behind in payments. Personal expenses include everything from gas to rent to groceries to travel and entertainment to mortgage interest payments. Note that the principal portion of a mortgage payment is not an expense, but a direct reduction to the mortgage’s principal amount.
Finding ways to increase your personal income can also go a long way toward solving your debt issues and helping you select a debt consolidation program that works. You earn income through various means, including the periodic remuneration your employer sends you, the interest remittances your bank credit to your account, and the money you receive from other sources – say, investments or rental revenue.
Establish a Savings Plan
Establish a savings plan to automatically set aside a few dollars every month, which can also help you with your debt consolidation program. Through any debt consolidation program like Consolidated Credit you’ll find tools that can offer help for all sorts of situations. Subtracting your expenses from your periodic income gives you a surplus, which is cash you can invest in a savings account or another short-term vehicle – such as a certificate of deposit (CD). Contact your local bank for more information about available options in terms of interest rate and how long you would be required to leave the funds in the CD account.
Create a Personal Financial Summary
Draw up a personal financial summary to have a better insight into your economic condition – an important harbinger for future financial stability. When accountants talk about financial data summaries, they refer to reports like income statements, balance sheets, cash-flow statements and statements of owners’ equity. Two financial reports are key in a typical debt management program: income statement and balance sheet. An income statement – also known as a statement of profit and loss, an income summary or a P&L – shows how much money an individual or a company made during a specific period, as well as expenses that were incurred during the same period. A balance sheet shows assets, debts and net worth.
Select a Debt Management Program
A debt management program gives a cash-strapped borrower a sigh of relief because it enables the borrower to reduce payments and stop the unnerving collection calls from myriad creditors. To formulate an effective debt management outline, seek the expertise of a financial adviser or a debt-restructuring specialist.
You also can reach out to non-profit organizations that specialize in liability management. Show them your financial summary, savings plan and current debt load. They would delve into your numbers, contact lenders and come up with a payment plan you can afford.
This post was composed by Elaine McPartland, who is associated with “Consolidated Credit” as their community writer, outlining dangerous signs that shows your debts are out of control. You can add her at her Google+ profile.
Until recently, I only ever ate carrot when grated up into a coleslaw (or perhaps a couple of carrot sticks at a time, coated liberally in hummus or dip).
But my absolute favourite way to enjoy them now? Roasted, of course. You can’t go past a tray of succulent veggies crackling away in the oven. The Perfect Pantry suggests sea salt, EVOO and balsamic vinegar to accompany along the journey.
Beans and chickpeas
It took me until my 20s to discover the likes of couscous, chickpeas and beans. Really.
It’s funny how things happen sometimes. I’ve had Chicago mentioned to me multiple times in recent weeks in conjunction with our upcoming trip. Is this a sign?
I didn’t think we’d have time to visit the midwest, but I’ve been thinking…
Maybe we could take a couple of days out from our week in NYC to do an overnighter in DC. That would free us up to skip DC on the way back down – we could head to Chicago after Canada, then straight down to New Orleans, which would be the next major stop.
This would probably mean skipping Philadelphia, but is cheese steak really all that great? (The answer to your question: yes, i would visit somewhere purely for its food.)
Every so often I get comments asking why T doesn’t become a chef (see: Boyfriend in the kitchen). He also gets the same query in real life from friends once in a while, particularly as one of his distant buddies is in the business himself.
It’s simple, really: cooking is one of those things that often makes for a better hobby than a career. Obviously, this isn’t a blanket rule, but in this case, it’s true.
The hours and the pay aren’t great. And progressing to the stage where you actually have real creative control? I suppose you might reach that point quicker if you had, say, your own catering business instead, but again, I don’t think this would be a good choice to fit in with the kind of lives we want to live.
Occasionally he likes to pontificate about how we should start our own cafe/restaurant after a disappointing experience dining out or a particularly ridiculous episode of Kitchen Nightmares - HOW do some of those incompetents ever get started? But I can’t think of anything worse – long and late hours, huge investment in a brick-and-mortar venture, low margins, stress and a high chance of failure. We are both interested in working to live, not living to work, and that’s especially true on his part.
Being able to put together amazing meals on the fly is a wonderful talent, but I don’t think it necessarily translates well to the daily bulk grind of a commercial kitchen. I’m almost certain it might even leach out the enjoyment altogether – in many cases turning a hobby into a career ends up killing the magic. Plus, every essay I’ve ever read by a chef or the spouse of a chef reiterates that they never cook at home. Call me selfish, but I want to keep his skillz for myself.
If cooking was a calling, a burning and all-consuming passion, it might be worth the sacrifices – but it’s not. It’s just one of the many things he’s picked up over the years (including welding, installing car audio, skating, and others) and happens to be outlandishly good at. Now if only he could figure out a direction…
There are lots of other pursuits of which you could say the same. Writing, while a wonderful hobby, is ostensibly one of them. Sports. Acting. Art. Music (for about five minutes back in high school, I was contemplating doing a degree in contemporary rock music).
Got any to add to the list? Ever been told “you’re so good at [X], you should do it for a living”? Or flagged a career path for lifestyle reasons?
Fiona Harries is a keen finance blogger who writes on many blogs such Frugal Plex and also UK Money Man. If you need advice on personal finance head on over.
There are plenty of loan offers available to the average individual. It is up to that person to determine which ones are right for his or her personal financial situation. This is more difficult when there are some many myths and rumours floating around about the lending industry. A few of the most popular myths about cheap loans are as follows.
There Is No Such Thing As A Cheap Loan
This one probably originates from the idea that there are some loans that are very expensive out there. Those who have possibly taken out these types of loans before may feel that there is no such thing as a cheap loan. This advice is simply not true though. There are cheap loans available, particularly to those who have good credit.
Cheap Loans Are Simply Scams
Others may say that cheap loans do exist, but they are simply a marketing ploy that is really a scam. They will tell you that trickery has been built into the loan to make the interest rate surge up once you have already accepted the money. There are some tricks that are played like this, but any such scheme would have to be detailed in the loan agreement you sign for it to be legal.
Cheap Loans Are Only For The Super Wealthy
This is not true either. Banks such as Clydedale Bank prove this by offering loans at good rates even to those who do not have a huge net worth. The actual net worth of the individual matters much less than the credit worthiness that they have demonstrated in the past. That is a far more important factor that banks and other lenders consider.
Taking Out A Loan Of Any Kind Will Hurt Your Credit
Much to the contrary, taking out a loan and paying it back on time to the agreed upon terms is a way in which you can actually improve your credit. Far from hurting your credit, borrowing money in a responsible manner is critical to beefing up that credit score. Cheap loans are a great way to do this since they have less interest attached to them.
Online Loans Are A Scam
There are plenty of online lenders that are completely legitimate services and are regulated just like any other lender. They lend plenty of money to qualified applicants, and they can sometimes even offer better rates than what it is possible to find from any other lender. They are worth a look.
Friends are awesome. We could leave it at that, and you’d know exactly what I mean.
But it’s also super handy to have certain kinds of friends. For example:
Our 1998 car has always driven slightly funny, and while we could pin it on something to do with the left back wheel, in 2-plus years no mechanic we’ve been to figured out what the culprit was. But after one conversation over drinks with an acquaintance who works on cars, T came home with a fresh take and a <$200 fix. Frickin’ wheel bearings (um, I think). Cars. So many parts. So many things that can go wrong.
The first time I got a UTI, I self-diagnosed through Google. But the hypochondriac in me still sought out comfort from my med school friend and reassurance that I didn’t have some rare illness that would end in my death.
When you live with a bunch of unruly boys who like to wrestle in the lounge and are prone to breaking windows (easy DIY fix) or smashing up light switches/wiring (not so easy to DIY) it’s much cheaper to bribe a mate who’s a sparky with a box of beer. Could also add other general tradespeople to the list.
Because TAXES. Holy hell, taxes. That said, accountants are everywhere. My mother, several friends’ mothers, several friends, even, and in the future, quite possibly, my own brother. I bet you have multiple accountants in your circles too.
A friend in a good band is invaluable. Their gigs give you a reason to go out on a weekend night, and they’ll hopefully play at your birthday party.
The friend with a bach
Holiday houses are not cheap to rent and they’re always booked up for the times you want to go away. Also add: the friend with the boat/jetskis/kayaks/other leisure toys.
A highly travelled friend is the one you go to for recommendations, insights and encouragement.
(While it might sound a bit mercenary, this really is just a bit of fun.) Got any to add to the list?
It’s well and truly autumn in New Zealand. This weekend we turned back the clocks (and I can’t tell you how wonderful that extra hour was) but at the very same time, temperatures plummeted like crazy. Farewell, long hot summer – it was nice knowing you.
On the plus side, at least T shouldn’t be sweating buckets on our wedding day, though I might be slightly blue from cold…
I swear it gets colder every winter, and that much harder to endure. The days are still pretty warm – and as I look outside right now, there’s not a cloud to be seen anywhere – yet now, towards the start and end of the day, I can now see my breath in front of me in any given room at home. I’m so glad we won’t be spending another winter in this house.
Make that: I’m glad I won’t be suffering through a whole winter this year. Instead, we’ll be hauling our backpacks around Europe, and probably experiencing temperatures neither of us have ever experienced before. Italy and Greece will likely be sweltering; our first stop in that region should be Venice (hopefully we can find a hotel with a strong fan or good AC). I’m very much looking forward to being immersed in all things Italian, from the historic cities to the countryside (where we’ll be volunteering for a few weeks).
Speaking of anticipation, I’m also (somewhat impatiently) awaiting a response from the proprietors of a lodge on Santorini, who replied to my booking and deposit payment with an email informing me that the (insanely low) listed prices were wrong, but they’d split the difference with me. I asked them to confirm the total balance payable at that rate, but haven’t heard back yet. They do say things shut down around Easter (this all happened just before Good Friday) so maybe they’re simply on a long break. Here’s hoping.
I’ll be honest: duck doesn’t really do it for me. It was the veggies – mushrooms, onions and basil – that I really wolfed down. And the sauce! Oh, the sauce. After a couple of wildly unsuccessful guesses, T shared with me exactly what went into it: