Finally, a movie that’s realistic!

Sometimes in life you have to make tough choices
By: Rocky Raybell

‘Passion trumps all’ is a pretty typical movie trope.

So while watching Teacher of the Year, a 2014 indie film, I was pretty confident I knew how it would end. T agreed, and he is a MASTER of film and TV (he called the twist in The Prestige about 10 minutes in, which really bummed me out.)


Mitch Carter is the titular character, a well loved English teacher at a wacky charter school (his fellow faculty are disturbingly hilarious and provide pretty much all the humour). Then he gets a stupidly lucrative job offer to become a lobbyist for an educational organisation. Tough choice, right? He loves teaching and loves his students … but  on the other hand, $$$! As in, more than double!

Why can’t I keep doing this and make that kind of money? he wonders to a another teacher in the staffroom. You can’t. Take the job is her response. Otherwise, he’ll be in the exact same position in 10 years, not making much more, and with all the same frustrations.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at a previous job shortly before I left. Knowing we probably made fairly similar salaries, she asked, “How do you manage?” I told her I didn’t have a student loan to repay, and was pretty frugal, and she seemed to accept that. And you know what, it WAS fine at the time. It’s one thing to be a journalist in your early 20s. But the older you get, well, the older the whole shebang gets. If you want a family, a home, to sleep on nice sheets, splurge on good food sometimes, take occasional holidays, or have even hobbies (especially sporting ones) … journalism is probably not going to support that.

Everything in the film, IMO, seems to be pointing towards Mitch staking his ground on the passion/mission side and remaining an educator. Everyone at the school, teachers and students alike, love him. His wife fears that the required travel will take a toll on their family, especially their young daughter. But they have another baby on the way, her job sucks, and he doesn’t want to see her ‘killing herself’. Maybe this way, she won’t even have to work at all. This all really resonated with me – how much more squeezed-middle-class can you get?

“This could change my life,” he says. “I’m just trying to decide whether or not my life needs changing.”

It does. In the end, he decides to try for it all. The high paying job AND the perfect family. Maybe he won’t get to see the difference he makes to those high school kids every single day … but eventually you need to put your own family and their needs first.

God, I sympathise. Is a perfect balance possible? No, I don’t think so. But I want to try anyway. Earn more. Love my work. Cultivate my marriage. Have a family.

What was the last movie you saw that surprised you?

The differences between white collar job hunting and blue collar job hunting

White collar job hunting vs blue collar job huntingHere’s a post that’s been percolating for a while, based on observations I’ve made. I’ll broadly differentiate as white vs blue collar, though I’m counting, say, non-office-based sales work here under the blue collar umbrella.

Getting the job

The interview-to-offer ratio

In my experience in the white collar world, employers work hard to shortlist very few candidates and only interview a couple in person. On the other hand, blue collar employers seem to bring people in willy nilly. I am deadly serious when I say T has been to more job interviews in a single week of job hunting than I have in my entire career. So many interviews, so few offers. So much time wasted bringing someone in just for a chat. Ever heard of phone screening?

The sheer difficulty of interviewing

Interviewing when you’re unemployed isn’t too hard, logistically. But if you’re still employed?

Well, for me it’s never been a biggie. I can take my lunch whenever I want and have the flexibility to duck out to appointments during the day if needed, and make time up. For him? Breaks are strictly timed, usually at set times. That makes it pretty hard to get away for an interview during the day, unless it happens to be on the same street. And again, refer to the first point above about the sheer number of interviews required to get anywhere.

On the job

Transport costs

Speaking of that inflexibility, that often necessitates having a reliable vehicle so you can be sure of getting to work on time every day. And if you work anything outside of 9-5, you can definitely write off public transport as an option. Yet it’s probably a struggle – at the very least, when you’re starting out – to afford a decent car. So much irony: low-level job, strict hours, struggling to afford transport in order to keep said job.

Blue collar jobs are much more spread out over the whole city, whereas white collar employment is more concentrated in town. This further complicates the whole transport issue (‘just move closer to work’ isn’t that simple).

Tools of the trade

Even with discounts, we have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on gear and tools and training for him at various jobs. All that on not particularly high wages, really. True, you can take some of these with you to new jobs … but that’s if the stuff doesn’t wear out or break or expire first.

I’ve never been expected to pay for things that I need to carry out my duties at work. There was one time I paid for a design/photo-editing app out of my own Apple account and didn’t submit for reimbursement. DON’T do that by the way! It was certainly not expected, and I kick myself now for that. What was I thinking? (I was thinking that I felt grateful for the salary at my new job and I could easily absorb the cost. NOT the point.)

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I’m feeling too lazy to compile a montly eats post. One highlight: Wildfire! The Churrasco is a meaty all-you-can-eat option, with food brought to your tables on the regular. The roast lamb nearly made me cry, it was so tender and tasty. The spiced pork absolutely burst with flavour, and again, the roast veggies zinged all the way through with every bite.

Also: anyone have a favourite Italian restaurant in Auckland?

This week’s links

The older I get the more I realise this is true: there is plenty of money out there – it’s just about figuring out how to get people to give it to you.

When doing what you love doesn’t pay – what next?

Holiday vs real life economics

How to unintentionally ruin your life

On racial and gender identity

Life advice from the president of Y Combinator. Here are my five faves:

  • Whether or not money can buy happiness, it can buy freedom, and that’s a big deal. Also, lack of money is very stressful.
  • If you think you’re going to regret not doing something, you should probably do it. Regret is the worst, and most people regret far more things they didn’t do than things they did do.
  • Remember how intensely you loved your boyfriend/girlfriend when you were a teenager? Love him/her that intensely now. Remember how excited and happy you got about stuff as a kid? Get that excited and happy now.
  • Existential angst is part of life. It is particularly noticeable around major life events or just after major career milestones. It seems to particularly affect smart, ambitious people.
  • The days are long but the decades are short.

But HOW do they afford it?

Paris Cafe
By: Pat Guiney

Once upon a time, I found myself out to brunch with a group of people I didn’t know very well. One thing we did have in common, though, was a love of food. Personally, I rarely go to the movies, live shows, concerts, etc – my favourite form of entertainment is eating. And yes, that often means eating out. For someone who loves food, I’m a lot better at consuming it than creating it. Sigh.

But where I might eat out once or twice a week, it sounded like some of my brunch companions were eating out most nights, sometimes even twice a day. It’s not like they were eating cheap takeaways all the time, either; these were people with a more sophisticated palate than that.

I couldn’t help but wonder how they could afford to do that. I’d love to eat out that often, too, but it would not be a frugal move at all. Quickly doing a rough calculation in my head, I figured I might actually be able to swing a similar dining out budget – but it would totally eliminate my ability to save anything at all.

Normally, my friends and I talk pretty openly about money but these were definitely acquaintances, not friends. All I could do was speculate silently. How much were they earning?! What did their incomes vs outgoing costs look like? Did they save money regularly?

It seemed like such a contrast to how I personally approach money. I literally sleep on almost every purchase I make – even a small one, like buying a new cardigan. I will agonise over whether the cost of petrol for a fun weekend day trip is worth it. In short, I beat myself up over the smallest things.

Now that I think back, it’s likely they were making a lot more money than me (advertising/marketing vs journalism). Fair play. Heck, I ate out a lot last month – a few highlights here – making the most of our Entertainment Book membership before it expired. (Best of all, the membership itself cost nothing: yay for freebies.)


One of the best things about making more money

One of the best things about making more money
By: Tax Credits

I’ve been so grateful to be earning more, not just because of T’s situation, but also because our medical costs have gone up a lot. Health spending has included dental, skin, and cold/flu to degrees we’ve never dealt with before.

I was a hot mess during my last visit to the doctor, and I looked it. As he wrote out my prescriptions, he recommended I get Cetaphil cleanser, “if you can afford it”.

Maybe I was doing my best impression of a hobo that particular day, or maybe he’s just sensitive to the diverse community he serves (lots of well off people around here, but also a lot of new migrants).

Honestly, he was so compassionate, it blew my mind. It was a far cry from the nurse who told me to just ‘go spend some money’ at the pharmacy, back when I was a broke student who’d just graduated. This was at the university medical centre, no less.

Nowadays I wouldn’t think twice about dropping money on anything health-related. And heck, Cetaphil only costs about $12. I’m so very, very glad that I’m in a position to afford the stuff I need today without worrying about the price tag.

Top free things to do around New Zealand

It’s true: New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit. But there are definitely some free natural attractions to add to your itinerary. Here’s 9 free things to do/sights to see that I can vouch for.

Tane Mahuta, lord of the Waipoua Forest in Northland, NZ - NZ Muse


See Tāne Mahuta, our largest living kauri tree

It’s just a short walk through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta, aka, Lord of the Forest. Stick to the walking tracks; the environment is delicate.

It’s free to visit; that said, the Footprints Waipoua tour is quite amazing, with Māori guides sharing songs, stories and insights.
Mt Eden summit crater - Climb a volcano!


Climb a volcanic cone

You can absolutely take your pick, but Mt Eden is a popular one close to the CBD, complete with panoramic views and a neat crater at the summit.

Cathedral Cove - a must-visit in the Coromandel


Cathedral Cove

Magical is the only word to describe this beach. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Cathedral Cove, but more than worth it.

And a little further down the Coromandel coastline lies Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot water spa pool in the sand. But get there early and stake out your patch. Maybe bring a gang.

Huka Falls
By: Rick Rowland


Huka Falls

The Huka Falls are our most-visited natural attraction. The roar and spectacle of the thundering waterfalls are just spectacular.

Te Papa Tongarewa - National Museum of NZ in Wellington
By: Jodie Wilson


Te Papa

Our national museum is an absolute must-see, and entry is free. DO IT.

Milford Road State Highway 94
By: macronix


Milford Rd/Milford Sound

The Milford Rd leading into Milford Sound is just bursting with amazing sights around every corner. Waterfalls, the Homer Tunnel, the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm … the journey itself really is half the pleasure.

That said, you really need to take a cruise to see the best of Milford Sound (or a scenic flight, perhaps?), otherwise you’re just chilling at the end of a really long dead end, picturesque as it is. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki - NZ Muse

West Coast


At high tide, the ocean sprays up through blowholes at the ‘Pancake Rocks’. There’s a lovely cafe across the road, too. Then drive north along the Great Coast Road; the stretch between Westport and Greymouth has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

The "Nuggets" at Nugget Point
By: Will Ellis


Nugget Point

Around Nugget Point you can spot yellow eyed penguins if you time it right. Plus, the coastline is magnificent. More on that part of our South Island trip.


Baldwin St Dunedin
By: Stine Homann


Baldwin St

Said to be the world’s steepest street, the sheer angle of Baldwin St is a bit mind-boggling.

What constitutes ‘real’ savings?

What is 'real' savings anyway?

I recognise this will vary. When we were broke uni students, a grand or two in the bank qualified as a little nest egg. These days, it’s probably something in the five-figure range.

The other day, though, I was carrying out a mystery shopping assignment at a bank. Part of my fake scenario was having ‘no real savings’, which was specified as no more than $30k max.

Call me crazy, but is that not sufficient to qualify as ‘real’ savings? That is a significant chunk of money. Particularly as I was also supposed to have a ridiculously small amount left on my fictional mortgage ($200k) so it’s not like I’d be saving hard for a down payment in this scenario. And, if you had much more than $30k, you’d most likely be investing it rather than have it sitting in a savings account anyway.

I tell you, I felt ridiculous sitting across from that bank staffer. I wound up specifying that I had $10k in the bank (the best lies are those that stick closely to the truth!) which she sort of chuckled/snorted at and said ‘that’s a lot!’ And I felt like apologetically adding ‘yep, had some help from the parents’ or ‘married a rich dude’ since there’s no way I would have that small of a mortgage balance at this age. It didn’t help that I think she thought I was even younger than I actually am.

If I’d been in her shoes, I would’ve hated me so much. She scored awesomely on the assignment, so at least there’s that. And who knows, she might have found out that I was the surveyor, and not a real customer.

How much would you say counts as ‘real’ savings, in your world?


Sometimes the best parts of life are also the hardest

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Sometimes the most awesome chapters in life are also the hardest

A friend and I were recently bemoaning the fact that life never feels settled. We would quite like things to be stable and boring for awhile, thanks. But it seems adulthood involves accepting that things are never quite that easy.

In fact, some of the best times in my life have also been the toughest in other ways.

A couple of examples:

Last year felt good for me professionally, but was decidedly terrible for him workwise. I didn’t get to enjoy my hefty raise, as it went towards supporting us both.

Italy was my favourite European country to visit – yes, for the sights, but mainly for the food. Oh, the food – it changed both of our lives forever. And yet, it was also incredibly hard at times. We hit two real low points there: an awful train ride where I honestly thought I would need to continue on the rest of the trip alone, and getting lost looking for our first hotel in Naples, ending with a thrown backpack and a subsequent water leak. Oh, and  a couple of days later (still in Naples) I found myself crying on the street … the last straw was something like being unable to find anywhere that would sell me the train ticket I wanted.

Fate – it gives with one hand and takes with the other.

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I’m feeling a bit ranty today, guys. Bear with me.

  • Methinks we could build a hell of a lot of houses on a single golf course. (There are 3 within 5 minutes’ drive of my house, though I think we’re in a bit of a hotspot.) Why do we need multiple golf courses in the city? Move them further out!


  • WTF is up with the cost of building houses here? Yes, land is blood-curdlingly expensive, and the main component of house prices … BUT you can buy freehold houses for dirt cheap in, say, parts of America, and they cost a fraction of what a house alone here costs (at least a couple hundred grand). In short: house + land in some parts of the world < a house without land here.


  •  So, there’s going to be a study done on housing that includes a trial of minimum rental standards to gauge the effect on children’s health. FFS people, do we really need to test something like this?! I despair.

This week’s links

Our darkest financial fears

The plight of the blue collar male (in rich countries)

No big surprise: working at the Huffington Post is hell

Leaving radio, embracing podcasting

A few reasons to ignore Google

May eats: Mi Vietnamese, De Post, Ashoka, Salash Deli

There’s a definite theme to this month’s eats: value for money! Ain’t nothing I hate more than stingy portions. All of the below fall in the sufficient to generous range, getting our greedy guts seal of approval.

I rate this. Slightly soggy cucumber though. #lunch #nom #banhmi #latergram

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Mi Vietnamese, CBD

Lately there’s been a wave of Vietnamese eateries popping up in town! This one is the closest to my office and it’s not half bad. Huge banh mi (the mini size will probably do you fine) sandwiches bursting with freshness. My nitpicks: while I like the crisp baguettes, the bread to filling ratio is slightly off, and the cucumber is definitely on the soggy side. That said – I’ve yet to get over to Viet Sandwich, but for now these are probably my favourite in town.

Can’t forget the squid. #latergram A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Mmm, mussels. #latergram

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

De Post, Mt Eden

Although it’s known as the Belgian beer café, De Post also does casual seafood really well. Our simple salt and pepper squid was on the peppery side (which I like) and silky like rice noodles – we couldn’t eat them fast enough. The portion was just right for 2 as an entrée: generous but not enough to overdo it. But mussels are the star of the show here, and we ordered the Thai coconut curry version (our usual, it’s the best). This time it seemed like the mussel pot had been sitting a bit too long – it was a busy night – but still passed muster. Fun surprise: tiny little crabs hidden away inside a few of the mussels!

An Indian feast. #nom #nofilter #latergram A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Ashoka, Hillsborough

At our local Indian restaurant – which is on the fancy side – we went for the banquet option: entrees, mains (four curries) and dessert. Quantity edged out quality – the meats were on the dry side – but everything was still reasonably good and hit the spot. And although I basically always have a sore stomach the morning after Indian food, that was not the case here. Win!


Messiest most delicious burger ever. #nom #nofilter #lunch #auckland

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Salash Delicatessen, Victoria Park

Two words: Messy yet incredible. My burger with chorizo patty and slaw was perfection oozing from every bite, beautifully tender and with hints of sweet and spice. I practically inhaled it all. Take more napkins than you think you’ll need.