Are low interest rates a good thing?

Are low interest rates a good thing?

As a saver without a mortgage, I’m all for rising interest rates.

But overall, I can’t help but think that overall, maybe low interest rates are actually a good thing.

After all, how much are you ever really going to have sitting in a savings account? Long term money is going to be put into stocks, etc.

On the flipside, the biggest purchases you’ll ever make are likely to be materially affected by interest rates. Property. Cars. (yes, in a perfect world we’d all only ever pay for cars in cash, but we don’t live in a perfect world). If you borrow money to start a business. If you have a student loan (and leave New Zealand, incurring interest – or live in a country when student loans are never interest-free).

Just a stray thought.

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And… it’s the weekend again!

This week’s low…  An update on the worst boss ever, from T’s friend who still works here. SO hopping mad, can’t even go there – it’s borderline slander on that douchebag’s part – and I wish his friend wouldn’t ever talk to us about work, but that’s impossible to expect seeing as work is where they met.

This week’s high… Some effusive praise from an offshore colleague that went all around my team – a nice ego boost.

This time last year… We ripped through New England and up to Canada, pausing in Montreal and Toronto.

This week’s links

While I don’t love airports anywhere near as much as I used to, there are still a few things I like, and Tonya sums them up nicely

Berrak explains why she stopped looking for her ‘tribe’, which I totally relate to

At the Wireless, everyone’s talking about leaving, coming back to or staying in New Zealand. I missed the Twitter chat, but I’m still here because I’ve been around the world and didn’t find anywhere that ticked more boxes for me than Auckland. (For the record, I’d love to live in NYC for a couple of years, but it’s too big of a risk for me to stomach for too little reward. I love my career and don’t want to derail it or go backwards financially)

And a hilarious acceptance speech:

10 books that left a big impression on me

top 10 books that left an impression on me

When Ms Pear first tagged me in this, I seized up. How could I possibly come up with just 10 books that have affected me? Or, if I took the tack of choosing books that were truly life changing, how could I come up with that many?

Anyway, I decided to go for a mix – some books that truly changed my life, and some books that affected me in one way or another.

Sloppy Firsts / Second Helpings (and the rest of the Jessica Darling books) by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling is my smarter, wittier alter ego and I wish I could be her, or have her as a best friend, at least. Our lives have had a few weird parallels, and I kind of think of her as my fictional guide in regard to adolescence/adulthood.

If you’re cool with YA fiction featuring an overly precocious narrator, firmly dated pop culture references and the most hilarious, original acronyms ever, give the series a go.

Related: Some of my all-time favourite books

How to be a Woman - or anything by Caitlin Moran, really

I wish I had a quarter of Caitlin Moran’s badassery and way with words. I find it basically impossible to disagree with her on any of the big issues. She has a way of boiling down things to the most basic level – I have never read a more relatable explanation of feminism.

Related: Just call me a Caitlin Moran groupie

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

Is this book a load of bollocks? More or less. But regardless, this book changed my life. It convinced me to start trying to adopt a more positive everyday outlook on life, and that has done wonders for my general happiness.

Related: The best decision I ever made

Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher

A good friend’s mother lent this to us and we’ve just never gotten around to returning it. If you’ve ever thought that there’s no way you could imagine being in the same line of work for your whole life – if you get bored easily and struggle with traditional work/career structures – you need to read this. There are many flavours of ‘scanners’, as she dubs them, from the dabblers to the serial experts. It turned me on to the idea of good-enough jobs that subsidise the overall life you want to lead, and parlaying diverse, transferable skillsets into many types of work. Not so much for me, but certainly for T.

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

I genuinely really like (even love) my work and early retirement isn’t a goal of mine. That said, financial stability (financial independence would be grand, but not realistic unless I wanted to go into something lucrative and could actually succeed at it) is certainly a top priority of mine. So while not all of this book really appealed or applied to me, it got me thinking about values, ultimately, and how personal finance fits into your broader life – the one you’re living, the one you aspire to live.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

My parents were a weird mix – part tiger in regard to the strictness and high expectations, but minus some of the filial piety baggage. They were still too far down the tiger spectrum for me, and based on my own experience growing up plus what is outlined in this book, I know I will be extremely sensitive about knowing how far to push with my own kids. Everyone is different, and parenting needs to take that into account. I think this book demonstrates that sharply – balance, as with everything else in life, is usually the key.

Related: Chewing over Tiger Mother

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book had me enthralled from the very start, and bawling at its conclusion. Although it is far from original – the tale of a young girl whose life is derailed by war – and gets off to a slower start, I found it utterly flawless.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Something about the wrenching descriptions of wartorn Russia and this improbable love story grabbed me by the heart. I think my desire to visit St Petersburg stems solely from this novel.

Related: Reviewing The Bronze Horseman trilogy

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is a story, as you might know, built on manipulation and lies. I thought the structure was bold and gripping, but beyond that, it also really drove home for me how subjective the truth can be. How the two parties in a relationship can perceive things very differently. And I think that’s a good thing for anybody to understand.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Now, I wouldn’t say this was a straight five-star book for me. I wasn’t in love with the prose, let alone the characters. But it’s the themes of the content that lingered with me long after. What is it to be ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’, and what is that actually worth? How do you know if you’ve chosen the right person, and what if you wind up with the wrong one? Why do some creatives succeed and other don’t? How does money affect relationships? What makes a good friend vs a good lover? How do you cope with feeling jealous of your closest friends?

What books have made the biggest impact on you?

Why I’m way more worried about buying a house than retiring

Why I'm more worried about buying a house than retiring

New Zealanders have not traditionally been great at saving for retirement. (I doubt we are the only country in this boat.) KiwiSaver was only introduced in the last 10 years and still has a lot of skeptics.

Honestly, if I’d never come across personal finance forums and blogs, I wouldn’t be particularly worried about retirement savings. I might have left my contributions at 4 percent and never increased them.

But here’s the thing. Governments have proven they are unwilling to tinker with NZ Super. And the only parties willing to do anything about the state of rental housing have wound up on the wrong side of power.

To me, then, the logical and pragmatic thing to do is to continue to pursue home ownership. I’m not counting on the government to do anything about quality, affordable housing, either rented or owned. Current policy encourages buying – the latest change would double grants for first-time buyers who are building a new house, not unlike the Homestart first home buyers grant in Perth – and nearly 10 years of renting has well and truly turned me off renting in New Zealand. I see buying as the more likely route to securing a healthy and stable future for me and my own. Our chief human rights commissioner summed up things pretty succinctly in a recent speech: “…If you can do so you will do what it takes to ensure your family live in an adequate home … many people are not fortunate enough to find a landlord that they would trust to do that.”

Since the government seems far more likely to cater for me in my twilight years than ensuring healthy housing in my best ones, I’m going to prioritise getting into a house over retirement for now. I used to be pretty set on not touching my Kiwisaver account for a down payment. (I don’t personally think it’s a great idea to enable people to withdraw even more money from their Kiwisaver accounts to buy a house, as new rules will soon allow.) But I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to rule out drawing on it – that’s drawing from, NOT draining it, to be clear – if that’s going to mean the difference between owning and renting.

I’m tired of the terrible quality of rentals. Mushrooms and mould do not belong indoors, ever. As property owners get richer selling houses to one another, people priced out of buying have to make do with substandard rentals and no legislation to protect them from shoddy, unhealthy properties. For a country that’s been at the forefront of things like gender and marriage equality, it’s well past time we got onto the basics of housing equality.

I’m tired of being on the wrong side of rising prices. Just a few years ago when I graduated, $360 a week could get you 3 bedrooms in my area. Now it only gets you 2 on average, and I guarantee in another year or two, it will only get you 1 bedroom (and a lot of the smaller 1-bedders forbid couples. AWESOME). This is an untrendy fringe area; prices are much higher in more central suburbs. Our city is growing and there’s not enough housing. Auckland is the Sydney, London, or New York of New Zealand. I do not see this trend reversing. I think high (and rising) prices are the new normal – here to stay.

I’m tired of the uneven playing field. I have the privilege of having the kind of job where I can duck out of work during the day to go to a viewing, but even I can’t do this all the time, and you need to do this at the drop of a hat when you’re actively hunting.

I’m tired of the instability. At any time a landlord can decide to cash in and sell out, displacing you, (and of course increase rent).

Like marriage or having kids, home ownership will be bloody hard … but I believe with all my heart it beats the alternative here.

Not every rental is crap and not every owned house is warm and dry – there are always exceptions. But in broad terms, there is a divide. When you’re an owner, you have the option of taking action to address the root causes of issues with your house. I can’t wait to have (or install) decent insulation and maybe even a heat pump. When you’re renting, you simply have to put up. I personally tried to do my bit for the cause by going beyond the numbers and highlighting the quality issues in a recent magazine article on renting vs buying, but what we need is sustained mainstream coverage.

There’s a reason multiple political parties put their support behind standards for rental housing this year. There’s a reason people are talking about this issue (though as has been proven, Twitter/the internet are far from representative).

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Thank god for the weekend!

The low of my week was a work-related thing, and finishing Firefly :( On the plus side, Scandal is back. (Fellow Nathan Fillion fans, should I give Castle a go? I adore Bones, if that helps)

The high of my week was receiving our first produce box (we’re trying out a local delivery service. Will write about it once we’ve got a few weeks under the belt).

My plans this weekend include going for a long overdue run. Oh yes. I gotta step it up on the health front (and made a good effort this week, eating lentils for lunch almost every day)

This time last year we were in New York and Washington DC. *wishful sigh*

This week’s links

Take the power back! A Terrible Husband on reclaiming control of your story

What to do when you unexpectedly lose your job, from Figuring Money Out

And a PSA for freelancers – how to deal when a client dumps you, via Cordelia Calls it quits

Over at Salon, what it’s like being a minority woman in journalism (at the NYT, no less)

And on a similar note at Corporette, growing up poor and clawing your way into the strange cocoon of corporate law

The absolute worst things about job hunting

The worst things about job hunting are...

Thanks to a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of good luck, I’ve never really personally struggled with unemployment. Being a firsthand witness to a long job hunt, though, has definitely got me sympathising. These are the worst things about job hunting, as observed by me.

Please call in order for us to reject you

I can’t believe there are people/companies that will leave a message asking you to call back – only for them to tell you that you were unsuccessful, once you return the call. Just leave a voicemail, or send an email. Seriously.

Radio silence after in-person interviews

There’s a special place in hell for those who don’t get back to you after interviews. I get that some industries don’t screen much and often interview a lot of people in person, but I do think it’s a courtesy once you’ve brought someone in. (Personally I don’t think rejections are needed if you don’t get to interview stage, and actually prefer it this way, but I know a lot of people disagree. As a job hunter, I don’t expect any acknowledgement of receipt, just like I wouldn’t if I was a PR rep pitching a journalist – editors are busy and we’ll ignore pitches we’re not interested in.)

Super scammy sales roles

There are always SO many entry-level sales/promotion type roles promising a fast track to success for hard workers. The thing is, these sales roles are usually pretty dodgy – shady insurance companies and the like – and often just door to door marketing. If it sounds too good to be true…

The weird thing about job hunting is that you’ve got to totally amp yourself up for interviews and really commit to imagining yourself in a particular job. Then you’ve got to completely disengage and do your best to forget about it, since odds are high you won’t make it any further.

What are your pet peeves about job hunting?

What do you get for $250k, $500k, $750k or $1m in Auckland?

(I know I promised no more real estate masochism, but I put this together weeks ago! Scroll to the bottom for the other blogs taking part in this real estate roundup)

A little context first, perhaps.

Our CBD is more a place for work/leisure rather than living. There are apartments in town, but in many cases they’re cheap and nasty shoeboxes, with some nice luxury ones at the other end of the spectrum and not much in between. While the Auckland real estate market has soared, apartments have not appreciated in the same way. (Banks have relaxed the rules in the past couple of years but generally you needed a 30-50% deposit when buying an apartment. )To get an idea of how our housing market has grown, there’s a great interactive chart over at The Economist - aside from the craziness that is Hong Kong, NZ is basically on par with Australia and Britain.

The most sought-after places to live are the areas immediately surrounding the CBD. Years ago these were worker bee neighbourhoods, with houses packed up close against each other in narrow streets. A generation on these villas are now the domain of the wealthy and go for seven figures – gentrification! Woot!

Outside of the CBD, standalone houses remain the norm here. You’ll find the odd apartment block or terraced house complex here and there, but in many cases they’re hideous and poorly built. ‘Leaky home’ syndrome also affects a lot of the new standalone homes built in the 1990s/2000s boom.

Finally, very few properties actually get listed with an asking price (as you’ll notice on a few of these links) and most are sold at auction. There’s a lot of guesswork involved if you’re buying a place in Auckland, and council valuations are more often than not just a starting indication – places sell for well over those prices.

Auckland is pretty sprawling, but I’ll be focusing here on the inner city suburbs surrounding the CBD, as well as the CBD itself – roughly within the Outer City Link bus route. This provides a better reflection of the areas where people most want to live. (We don’t really delineate between ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘suburb’ here, certainly not as clearly as some of you might be used to.) According to Google Maps, this area is within about 10km of the CBD.

auckland

$250,000

In the CBD, you’ll get a 1, maybe 2 bedroom apartment. The nicer ones might be 50 sq m with one bedroom; the more cramped ones 40 sq m with 2 bedrooms. (There is a listing – that I will not dignify with a link – for a 3 bedroom apartment crammed into less than 50 sq m … that’s half of what a 3 bedroom dwelling should cover.) A carpark is a maybe at this price. Here is a reasonably typical example.

You might find the odd apartment in the fringe suburbs – there aren’t many of those (less than 10 at this very moment, one with ‘weathertightness’ issues). At this price point they’d be 1 bedroom.

$500,000

This would get you a somewhat decent apartment, with carpark even, in the CBD or surrounds. Like this.

In the inner suburbs $500k will barely stretch to a small , 1-2 bedroom unit in a block. These most often come in rows of 4. Here’s a typical example, as pictured above.

$750,000

In the CBD, you get a pretty nice, roomy apartment. Maybe this one?

In the inner suburbs, this is still entry-level territory. You’ll get nothing special; houses in this bracket might even still be do-ups that need work.  Example here.

$1,000,000

There are about five CBD apartments listed in this price bracket (but yes, they are lovely).

In the inner suburbs, it’ll get you a classic 3 bedroom bungalow or villa (here’s a do-up, and here’s a renovated one), or a newer build house. Or a condemned hovel on some prime land.

Why not rent instead?

Alas, while renting might be cheaper, it might literally kill you. The standard of rental housing here is ridiculously low. See my most recent rants here, here and here.

REAL ESTATE COMPARISON IN OTHER CITIES

CANADA

U.S.A.

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Oh hi there. I feel a bit naked after that epic vent earlier this week (which was extremely cathartic, and thank you for lending your ears). I hate uncertainty and I hate the feeling of the future slipping further away with every day that the status quo continues.

Normally I consider myself pretty good at coping with pressure/stress. When I went on sabbatical to travel last year they went through not 1, not 2, but 3 replacements for me, so I swear I am not an incompetent petal. But apparently I don’t do so great when it’s to do with my personal life, and obviously I am just at my limit. Proof: I teared up at work when I saw this in my tweet stream this week. I don’t even know why.

Tomorrow is T’s birthday. Like mine, it’s inevitably going to be a massive step down after the past two years (New York and a South Island road trip), coupled with the current situation. But it is what it is.

Also, there was a death in his family this week. When it rains, it pours…. The funeral was a strange occasion – too many cigarettes and mullets, not enough shoes or parental control (kids running around grabbing flowers and toys off random graves?! Nuh uh) but at the end, there was hangi and the best damn raw fish salad I’ve ever had. And it provided a bit of perspective, too.

This week’s links

A couple of takes on whistling and catcalling (which annoy me no end) – A flowchart and some thoughts on how privilege plays into this

Nomad Wallet ponders whether taking sabbaticals to travel is worth it

At Thought Catalog, Nomadic Matt reminds us that the grass is never greener on the other side

Jezebel on dating up and dating down. Insightful comments going on, too

Tonya on drawing the line between things that are hard but worthy, and things you just don’t want to pursue anymore

What are you REALLY seeking at work? Via Seth Godin

Stephany on being a highly sensitive person

A budget travel guide to the Maldives, from Never Ending Footsteps

A tale to tell for years to come: The best time I thought I was going to die in the Italian woods (took me right back to those sweaty, stressful, halcyon days navigating trains in Italy)

The ultimate guide to baking cookies. No joke

At the Vulture: Debating the merits of Rory Gilmore’s boyfriends. Just because

A non-exhaustive list of things that scare me about parenting

A list of things that scare me about parenting

Jezebel is pretty hit and miss, but sometimes they really knock it out of the park. Like with this headline:

We Need To Talk About Women Who Regret Motherhood

I can take or leave kids, personally, but I have a partner who wants them, so kids are in the plan. On a scale of one to baby fever, though, I’m definitely wayyy down on the ‘terrified’ end of the spectrum.

In so many ways, I’m not cut out for it

I don’t know how to ‘play’
This comment on the Jezebel piece sums me up nicely:

Playing with my kids was always so hard for me. I remember trying to play barbies with my 3 year old once.

Me (holding barbie): “Hello, how are you?”
Her (holding her barbie): “Well I’m doing alright.”
Me: “…”
Her: “I don’t want to play with you anymore, where’s dad?”

I hate answering questions
And kids do nothing but ask questions all day long. Usually stupid ones.

I don’t have an ear for kid ‘frequency’
It’s like they operate on another wavelength. Whatever they say comes out sounding like a high pitched mumble to me

I need a LOT of sleep
I inherited that from my mother.

There are so many things I’m scared of (some shallow, some serious)

I’m scared my kids won’t love books
This comment on The Toast is almost literally true for me:

One of the many, many reasons I am averse to having kids is the possibility that they will not enjoy reading and I will have to kill them and try again.

I’m scared my kids will be picky eaters
Like my brother was, and is. All through our childhood, he never ate the same things the rest of us did.

I’m scared my kids will be stupid
Guess there’s a bit of a tiger parent in me buried deep down? Average, I can accept. Dim, that would be a hard swallow, especially if they had a smarter sibling. I’ve seen so many cases of bright siblings overshadowing a slower one. I don’t trust myself to navigate that kind of thing well.

I’m scared my kids will be really needy
I was a pretty self sufficient child. Entertained myself with books and writing. Never asked for things. Wouldn’t tell my parents when I was super lonely after we moved, certain they wouldn’t understand (school is for learning, not making friends). Clinginess is alien to me.

I’m scared my kids will just be bad eggs
I honestly believe sometimes nature > nurture.

These are my confessions. Maybe I sound like Cruella De Ville. But I’m not gonna lie – this is what’s going on inside my head.

In Notes From A Future Shitbag Mother, the Hairpin’s Alana Massey writes:

It is a tired cliché that insults the childfree to say that parenting is the most important job in the world, but it is the most permanent one. I am paralyzed by the fear that my inadequate handling of the job will spill across generations, poisoning lives that never even had to be. I must consider how willing I am to leave behind traces of myself in a world that I feel I have already disappointed quite sufficiently.

Like Massey, I’ve considered and acknowledged all my fears and come out still knowing that this is a path I’m willing to go down. For me, thinking and talking about these fears is a healthy thing. Personally, I think I’d be crazy to NOT have any doubts about something this big.

I’m sure I’ll be a decent parent one day. Or least, I’m confident I won’t be the worst parent ever. Daunting prospect, though.

Learning to let go

learning to let go of worries

I don’t like to throw around the word depression lightly. But the last couple of weeks have seen me at my lowest point in a long, long time.

There’s been fatigue, trouble sleeping, nightmares, an MIA period, tears and eventually, that’s bubbled up into conscious stress. I’m basically walking an emotional tightrope.

In search of peace and a good night’s sleep, I’ve been doing my best to let go and give up worrying about things that are outside my locus of control.

The job situation

I cannot control if/when T gets work. It’s as simple as that. I need to minimise fruitless dwelling on this, because it’s unproductive.

The house situation

I cannot control what the market does. How fast prices or rents rise. What rules the government/banks decide or don’t decide to impose on buyers. What the government does, or doesn’t do, about rental housing standards. How much competition there is for housing here – renting or buying.

I need to stop stalking real estate listings online. It does no good. It makes me depressed because we cannot afford to buy anything and we cannot afford to rent a good place – certainly not on one income as we are. And until I totally give up hope of ever buying, it’s imperative to keep rent cheap.

I stupidly got my hopes up last week. It was all sorts of rare: a private rental, so no agent fee; viewings at lunchtime but ALSO after work hours; a bit more than we really wanted to pay, but it looked so good we went along to the first evening viewing. It was nice but not enough to make the rent increase worth it, and there was already a FAT stack of completed rental applications on the counter anyway.

The car situation

I cannot control how long our car lasts or what else goes wrong with it.

Fun fact – it was totally brake-less for a while a few weeks ago. Thankfully that is now fixed, but there were already a million other issues and it just keeps deteriorating. Another fun fact: after maybe 4 years of owning it, we just found out that the engine was replaced at some point – a 2001-or-later engine sitting in a 1998 car. This explains why every time we’ve had to get parts for it or get anything done to the engine, it’s been a massive clusterfuck.

The conundrum, of course, is T needs a reliable car for work purposes but needs work to afford a car. We’re just going to have to wait until he’s back in work – no way am I draining cash savings for a vehicle. We were previously planning to get a loan for a decent car – I was waiting until he passed the trial period at work and had job security – but that situation turned toxic  and screwed up the timeline on that plan.

What else is bugging me? That T stupidly came off his motorbike last week and scraped himself up something terrible – basically nixing any hope of immediate temp work and saddling me with the housework on top of earning a crust to support the two of us. That we’re still waiting on about $250 in reimbursements from that toxic ex-job of his. That we have at least another three years of a government that doesn’t give a toss about renters. That I’m literally feeling a constant weight on my chest – my sternum – making it hard to breathe (whether this is a symptom of stress or just the cold – spring made a brief appearance then disappeared – I don’t know). That I didn’t fall in love with a millionaire. KIDDING. Still have a sense of humour.

I don’t like dwelling on this kind of stuff. I don’t want pity. I hate when people with a die-hard victim mentality go online just to bitch and moan and refuse to make any effort to help themselves.

I’m also conscious that I don’t want to paint NZ in broad brushstrokes – it’s a mild, clean, safe and beautiful place, and as one of the few NZ bloggers I know of, I want to represent my country fairly. But as you already know, it’s not cheap. And the state of housing is especially dreadful – I think it’s our biggest shame. Luckily for you, though, I think I’m almost all blogged out on that topic.

I’ll probably regret publishing this, but it’s been cathartic. I’d even venture to say it’s helped me let go of things.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

I’m trying to focus on the good things. I’m earning more than I ever have before, even if I’m not seeing the actual bottom line benefits of that at the moment. Since T missed out on a good job that would’ve taken up all his weekends, at least we’ll be able to get outdoors in the weekends this summer and do stuff. And food, as always, is a guaranteed pick-me-up; the best 50 cents I’ve spent recently was on upgrading to a croissant roll with chicken and avocado, rather than a plain bread roll. When in doubt, eat, and make hay while your metabolism is still on your side. Mixed metaphors FTW.

Any advice on letting go of worries?