What we spent: February 2014

Click here for more info on my monthly spending roundups – your question will probably be answered there.

what we spent feb 2014 nzmuse  

So, some big medical expenses last month!

Financially speaking, it was not the smartest to have my wisdom teeth out right now. But the pain was getting bad, and T being off work meant he could help look after me while I recovered.

Physically speaking, it really wasn’t anywhere near as awful as I’d imagined – details here. And financially, it wasn’t as bad as I’d worried, either – only $1050 for all four out, the rest of it being for the initial checkup, clean and x-rays, plus the meds I had to get afterwards. (White Cross Dental New Lynn, highly recommended!)

I’ve considered applying for health insurance a few times over the years; Southern Cross has a partnership of some sort with many workplaces, including my current and previous employers. But the numbers just don’t make sense. We are pretty healthy - our  issues are generally accidents/emergencies on T’s part (the ER is free; the time off work not so much) and optical for me. Basic health insurance plans in NZ don’t tend to cover optical and dental; those add-ons cost more and aren’t worth it, and none of them ever cover the cost of wisdom teeth extraction.

In other less wise moves, we also went out to a late Valentine’s dinner after the layoff – we’d been putting it off until the week after the day because of work, which turned out to be … interesting timing. But I’m pretty happy with our dining out spending, and totally stoked with our grocery spending (we’ve definitely been spending less since we returned to NZ, thanks to our new eating habits and smaller appetites).

Seeing as T was laid off halfway through the month, his spending is definitely on the high side (that’s more like a full working month allowance…) But there’s no point going on and on about it. It’s always going to be a point of contention, which is the whole reason for a don’t-ask-don’t-tell allowance.

Thinking about the future … I veer between extreme optimism and hopelessness. Right now, it’s definitely skewed towards the latter. I keep thinking we’ll never be able to save for a down payment (previously, there were moments where I was thinking that given the money some of T’s colleagues make in a year, it might actually be within reach in a couple years! So much for that).

I honestly see no way for house prices here to fall unless something is done to stop both investors and nonresidents/citizens buying property, which isn’t going to happen. So I guess we wait until the next recession – and hope we don’t lose our jobs in it.

Women’s Money Week: Kids. Who’d have ‘em?

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

They say you tend to most regret the things you don’t do, rather the things you did. (That’s one of the things that convinced me I had to take time off to travel in 2013.)

Does that apply to having children?

(Potential TMI ahead in next paragraph)

I freaked myself out a while ago when I noticed I had unusually sore, full boobs (by my standards. I have NO idea how women with actual chests exercise comfortably. Going running that week was frickin’ agonising). It was coming up to that time of month, but not quite. Naturally, I was half-convinced I must be knocked up and went into minor panic mode.

That made me realise – with a jolt – that if I was, we would most probably have it. I guess you’d say I’m at the stage in life now where having a kid would only be slightly disastrous (say, 8/10) as opposed to deliriously disastrous (10/10). Two of my friends are apparently already in debate about who is going to be the better uncle to my future offspring. Bless their wacky little hearts.

But the one thing I really, truly want to accomplish before having kids is buying a house. I want the stability, I want the quality (if it’s a damp house, at least we can insulate it), and I know if we have a kid first it’s going to be virtually impossible to save what we need for a deposit.

And then there’s all the finances around actually having one – I’m not fussed about THINGS for a baby as such, like clothes and car seats and cots … but rather leave from work, childcare, etc. I’d really like for T to have a more established career. We can live off my income for now while he job hunts, but it’s certainly not the ideal, and neither of us earns enough that it would be easy for one of us to stay home with a kid.

Unlike a lot of people who grew up in a family where money was tight, who as adults are determined to be financially secure before they have a family, T thinks I’m overly conservative on this front. (It may also have something to do with the fact that he has worked with/socialised with so many less well off people who’ve had kids in their teens/early 20s – who certainly don’t have it easy, but get by nonetheless. His younger brother, for one, is about to join that club.)

Financial stress SUCKS. Been there, done that, with T right there alongside. And adding a tiny human being into that kind of toxic mix is one hot mess I never want any part of. Money buys peace of mind, and a LOT of things that bring happiness.

No, he’s generally more concerned with being too old to ‘enjoy’ our kids rather than being able to comfortably provide. I sympathise with this sentiment on the surface but try as I may, I just can’t empathise with it. My parents had me in their 30s, and their age never had any impact on my upbringing, which no doubt plays a large part in that.

As with a lot of things, there’s never a perfect time. There sure are some better and some worse times, though, and we haven’t gotten into the territory of the former yet.

How do you think your childhood/family environment shaped your thoughts and feelings about having kids of your own? Would you be ready to have one right now (if you found yourself in that situation?)

Link love (Powered by painkillers and lemon yoghurt)

 

I’d made this far in life without ever needing to get stitches, so I was pretty bummed to hear that getting my wisdom teeth out would result in some.

Feeling my dentist sew up my gums was definitely one of the weirdest parts of the whole process. I could feel the cold needle inside my mouth, but nothing else. It probably wasn’t quite as disturbing as the numerous crunching sounds that emerged over the hour I spent in the chair as they drilled, cut, and yanked at my stubborn teeth.

As he promised, there was no pain during the extraction. Hallelujah! I closed my eyes and tried to play relaxing songs in my mind. They rubbed on a numbing gel, waited for it to kick in, then I felt the prick of the injection as they gave me my anaesthetic (which was slightly painful, but once that was done I was totally oblivious).

There WAS a lot of pressure and tugging, and strain in keeping my yob stretched open for all that time (I have a small mouth and I could tell it made his job difficult). It was also very hard to resist the urge to swallow, and I kept swallowing every few minutes – I just couldn’t help myself. I know the chemicals they use are safe, but I am totally grossed out to think about how much of my own blood I probably swallowed.

Because there was a TON of blood. I bled for hours after and went through all the gauze they gave me. Even weirder, I bled a bit out another (female) body part for a few days afterward – am wondering if it was the drugs I was taking afterwards. The antibiotics didn’t taste bad going down, but the codeine was foul. The afterpain wasn’t as bad as I’d worried … Maybe I was lucky, but I really can’t stress how much less worse it was than I’d feared it would be. The way it seemed to go was that I’d have a couple of really good days, then the pain would flare up a little, then leave me alone for another couple of days.

No, the hardest part was the eating restrictions. I was basically hungry all week because I could only eat soft foods and couldn’t really chew. I burn through food fast and have a large appetite, so this was TOTALLY UNCOOL.

It’s one week on, and I’ve heard that some people are in pain for a full month after – but I just had my stitches taken out, and today’s the first day I didn’t take any painkillers at all. So fingers crossed that won’t be me!

This week’s links

Perplexing, infuriating and unforgettable – Adventurous Kate recounts her time in Brunei

I love every single sentence in this post about work and fulfilment. Go and read it immediately

Meanwhile, the comments on this one about passion and long term relationships are fascinating (better than the post) 

Stefanie reminds us that making progress is always a slow slog

Leslie on why having goals can hurt you

Over at Budget and the Beach, the cost of living in paradise (aka Hawaii)

I couldn’t agree more with Figuring Money Out – put yourself first, because no one else will

Here is an interesting discussion about crafting your career narrative (the subject of an upcoming post here…)

Savings means nothing – it’s investing that matters, says Afford Anything

As Cash Cow Couple point out, you can determine how much value you place on something by how much time you allocate toward it

And I was in the latest carnival of personal finance discussing the business of car sales

Three Thing Thursday: Tips for a one-way US road trip

tips for a one way us road trip rental car NZMUSE ROAD TRIPPIN USA

It’s the ultimate dream. Driving across the USA, freedom to move at your own pace, answering to no one. Wide empty roads stretching out ahead of you. Wind in your hair. Chilis blasting Road Trippin’…

I highly recommend it. Best way to travel. Here are my suggestions:

1. Scout out the best car rental prices. If you’re going for a one-way car hire, there will be a premium, but it might not be as much as you think. For us, the best car rental booking website turned out to be CarHirePlanet. We paid about $42 per day for 37 days, insurance included, which came out to under $1600 for the five weeks. That was miles better than anywhere else, with the next best being VroomVroomVroom at closer to $2000, excluding insurance.

2. Always research gas prices before filling up. Petrol is insanely cheap in the US, which was one of the big arguments for driving – I’m talking at least half the price of petrol in NZ. (We were filling up our beast of an Impala/Corolla/Charger – yes, we went through three different rentals for various reasons, but all were uniformly enormous by NZ standards – for about $40). Nonetheless, you should still shop around for the best price. Even if you can’t get the GasBuddy app – I couldn’t, because of stupid App Store/Apple account country restrictions – you can still go to GasBuddy on your phone browser and use the web app to search for the cheapest gas prices near you.

3. Get a decent prepaid mobile plan (we went with T-Mobile, which included unlimited data for about $50 for a month) and use your smartphone to navigate around. We did actually opt to buy a GPS – T wanted it for the bigger screen and the dash mount – but it was cheap and crappy and annoyed the hell out of us. As a rule of thumb, I’d just go for the phone + mobile data + Google Maps.

Need ideas for the ultimate vacation? Flight Centre has you covered.

What Cards Against Humanity teaches us about our careers

Last week I played Cards Against Humanity for the first time with friends (oh, the dark hilarity). Surprisingly, the game also reminded me of a few important career lessons…

Excellence always speaks for itself

There are some cards that everyone immediately recognises as being head and shoulders above the rest awesome. I won’t list any here, because they’ll probably vary a little depending on the crowd of people, but trust me, you’ll know them when they’re played.

Just like in real life, truly great work speaks for itself.

But self-promotion is important

I’m not sure if this is how we’re actually meant to play, but our first game (and only game so far, though I hope that won’t be true for long!) was marked by a healthy dose of campaigning. I’m talking back-and-forth arguments over certain cards and their merit in the context of that particular round. Now, I’m not saying that players always argued in favour of their own answers, because  - as per point number one – excellence always stands out in the crowd.  But it definitely happened a lot.

In the workplace, being a rockstar will get you noticed, but it helps to have some PR behind that. Help yourself out and learn to self-promote – subtly, that is.

And finally, you can’t control absolutely everything

As amazing as the ‘being a fucking sorcerer’ card is, you can never count your chickens before they hatch. Every round is decided by a different card ‘czar’ and their own biases and preferences might not mesh with your sense of humour. Ultimately, your fate is out of your hands.

No matter how well you know your boss, client, etc, people can surprise you at any time. Even master manipulator Frank Underwood (a different type of Cards reference there…) sometimes gets blindsided.

Have you played Cards Against Humanity? How much do you love it?!

Tuesday Tunes: Never enough Matchbox Twenty

…because I’m in a 90s kinda mood.

Angst and intelligence. It’s a beautifully lethal combination.

You couldn’t stand to be near me
When my face don’t seem to want to shine

Keep breaking me in
And this is how we will end
With you and me bent

I got a hole in me now
I got a scar I can talk about

She’s got a little bit of something
God, it’s better than nothing

But I think you’re so mean, I think we should try
I think I could need this in my life
And I think I’m scared, I think too much

You left a stain
On every one of my good days

Surviving a layoff: 2009 vs 2014

 

Wow. It’s been five years since the dark days of that first layoff. I looked back in my archives to check the dates, and promptly got depressed reading the posts I wrote back then (and embarrassed at my typos etc – I should really fix them up).

But things are very, very different today than they were back then. Let’s see:

We have enough to live off

Today, I’m working full time and can support both of us for now. In 2009, I was a strung-out, neurotic, hot mess of a final-year student barely holding it together as it was, and definitely not earning enough to support two people. I don’t remember what my savings account looked like back then, but I know the balance was a lot lower than it is today.

We were blindsided

Well, not totally – the pessimist in me felt like this was all too easy, too good to be true (and kept holding off blogging about his new job, apparently for good reason). However, emotions aside, realistically, this was a shock.  Sales can be cyclical, though, and much like the ups and downs of life on commission, I was aware that stability might be not guaranteed. And logically, the newbies are usually first to go.

Back in 2009, T’s hours kept getting cut back and the company was clearly struggling;  in hindsight maybe he should have jumped first, but then again…

The economy is in a totally different place

Will 2014 be a rockstar year for NZ? I think that’s a little over-optimistic, but things are looking up overall.

Back in 2009, it was all turning to shit, so even if T had cut loose of his own accord, it would most likely not have done us any good.

T is in a different place, too

While he’s changed industries since 2009 and so doesn’t have, say, another 4-5 years of accumulated relevant experience, he DOES have more experience overall – and more confidence. By the time I got home on the day of reckoning (he waited until that evening to tell me rather than upset me halfway through the workday, bless his heart) he’d already applied to multiple jobs and reached out to various people.

Back in 2009, he had less work experience, fewer contacts, and was facing a tougher economy. It’s definitely a much better time to be job hunting right now.

How equipped would you be to deal with a layoff (your own/your partner’s) right now?

A Life in Balance

Link love (Powered by cereal and tamarind water)

nzmuse link love roundup

Inspired by Save Spend Splurge, let’s get to know each other a little better. Answer in the comments or on your blogs! Or if you just don’t care (wave your hands in the air), scroll down to get to this week’s links, of which there are plenty to get your teeth into.

1. If you could change something about yourself, what it be and why?

I would like to be less socially awkward and more verbally articulate. I’m okay with it and accept it, but it would make life and work SO much easier if I weren’t. .

2. What’s the farthest you’ve been from home?

I think Edinburgh is the furthest from Auckland we’ve been. Either that or maybe Iceland.

3. What is your motto?

Everything works out … eventually

4. What are your hobbies?

Food, travel, books, writing.

5. What is your favourite ice cream flavour?

IMPOSSIBLE to answer.

The answer would be different every day.

Right now I could go for a bit of salted caramel…

6. What two things could you not do when you were a child, but you can do now?

Stand up to my parents / stay up late at night to read.

7. If you could travel anywhere in the world – where would you go and why?

Still on my bucket list are parts of Australia’s east coast, the Pacific Northwest, Galapagos, St Petersburg, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico … Right now I’d probably pick Russia, since it’s the most difficult to get to.

8. Have you ever met a famous person?

Erm … the most famous is probably Alec Ross (who worked with Clinton and Obama).

9. What is your least favourite thing about yourself?

Hmm. Probably my general lack of energy (I’m not the kind of person who can handle taking on a whole lot, and I need a TON of sleep).

10. One word that describes you?

Sensitive.

11. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be & why?

Red – my favourite colour. Like this.

12. What is the weather like right now where you are?

Rather lovely. Early-mid 20s and sunny.

13. How tall are you?

I think I’m about 5’5. Maybe 5’6.

14. When you were little – what did you want to do “when you grew up?”

Psychologist. (Also, rock star.)

15. Toilet paper. Roll with paper coming off the top or bottom?

Over the top.

16. Favourite sport you like to watch or participate in? 

What are these sports you speak of?!

I hate watching sports. As for playing … I guess running doesn’t count? Either touch rugby or tennis.

17. What kind of food do you prefer eating when you are out?

Malaysian, Mexican, or Italian.

18. Last movie you watched?

Cloud Atlas.

19. Would you like to be famous?

I wouldn’t mind people knowing me by name, but by face? I wouldn’t want to be celebrity famous, that’s for sure.

20. What book are you reading?

I just finished How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and An Abundance of Katherines. Both recommended!

21. If you had $5 million to spend in 5 days, but with the clause you could not spend any of it on yourself or your family, what would you do with it?

I’d seek out causes that are important to me – around women, new migrants, hunger/poverty, disadvantaged youth. The older I get, the more I realise this is something I care about – I didn’t have a perfect childhood and I haven’t had all the advantages in the world, but I definitely had a lot more than some.

22. If you knew that you could try any kind of work/employment and that you would not fail, what would you attempt doing?

I’d still write, but I’d want to try writing in different formats. Being able to call myself a novelist would be rad (though of course I’d need an idea first…) And I think I’d like to write songs;  I consider good songwriting an art. I haven’t done it for years and while it no longer interests me, in this hypothetical scenario why not go back to it, especially if I knew I was going to be successful? (This inspired me to go dig out my old scribblings, actually. Am posting them to Tumblr for posterity; head over if you wish to have a giggle at my adolescent angst.)

This week’s links

TRAVEL

Sneaky travel fees you’ve probably paid at some point

The Asian Pear pays a visit to New York

Amanda details the language of food in China

Daisy explains how moving away from home changed her life and so does Jessica, taking a different tack and discussing both the positives and the downsides

WORK

Funny About Money is undergoing some creative angst

Via Life After College, how to earn the  respect of your new boss

Gen Y Girl lists five ways to fall in love with your job again

Leslie Beslie recounts her time as a factory worker

Anyone else (for no real reason) always get nervous when their boss wants to have a chat?

The three conundrums of doing what you love

On Buzzfeed - can the intern hamster wheel be stopped? (I am personally doubtful.  I’m currently working on a feature about the pervasive culture of working for free in the creative industries which isn’t giving me much hope…)

MONEY

Should you take big risks in your 20s or focus on saving?

Apparently the living wage in Auckland is now calculated at $18.80. At this rate it won’t be long before that completely catches up to me :X

LIFE

What it means to be a woman today (hint, it’s complicated)

Nicole lays out the truth about living healthy

The fallacy of unconditional love

And the key ingredient to deeper relationships

 

Friday Five: The business of car sales

the business of car sales

By: Ryan

There must be something in the air. First Krystal, now T. Still, we’ve dealt with layoffs before, and we’ll make it through this one. Whether or not he gets another role in car sales, the below (drafted a little while ago) still stands…

It’s not everyday your partner announces out of the blue that he wants to work in car sales. If I recall correctly, we were on the road somewhere between San Antonio and Roswell at that moment.

Unlike me, he’s not the introspective type. My gentle attempts to prod him into thinking critically about the kinds of things he might want out of a job over the past couple years had mostly fallen flat. (Alas, the Do What You Love philosophy has mesmerised, paralysed and flummoxed him – I’ve tried to deprogramme him of it, again with limited success.)

As it turns out, though, searching for jobs that come with company cars throws up a load of sales jobs, including car sales jobs. In this case, materialism overlapped with practicality. That’s what I call a win.

Sales is about the last thing in the world I’d ever do, and he’s very much a no-bullshit type – an extrovert, yes, but a people person? Not necessarily. So it never really occurred to me as a viable option.

Yet it seemed so right. He loves cars. He loves to talk. He was not cut out to sit in an office. He picks things up quickly, and what’s frustrated him about all his previous jobs is that performance was not rewarded – and of course sales is entirely achievement-driven.

Once he got the basics down, he reckoned a little bit of that old enemy, boredom, was popping up. But more importantly, he was still enjoying it and  called it the best job ever.

Some random reflections on his first job in car sales:

One bad thing: it’s normalising car finance in his eyes. “Everyone finances their cars!” he exclaimed to me one evening. Car debt is not something that’s ever fazed him; almost everyone he knows has taken out ridiculous loans for their cars, which I really hate, and it’s not something that needs reinforcing in his mind. On the plus side, he now sees what a terrible thing financing is numbers-wise.

They work surprisingly long hours. 50-60 hours a week, and commission only (though I’m not sure if this is the norm across dealers in general).

The profit on individual cars varies hugely.  The cars you see listed for rock-bottom prices in ads are basically loss-leaders, off which salespeople make nothing.

A lot of the salespeople actually get their shirts tailored. Yup. 

Sunburn is a real issue! They have sunblock provided and T has gotten to the stage where he reapplies it every couple of hours, but is still getting burnt. Between our enormous ozone hole and his precious Scirish skin that quivers in fear as soon as it comes into the presence of any UV rays, he’s screwed. And he refuses to wear the company’s uniform hat because it looks ridiculous and will put customers off. (Nobody wears it, ever.)

I’ve always been curious about how the auto industry does in NZ. We have so many tiny indie garages everywhere – is there really enough business for all those mechanics? (I guess so, since we all drive such old cars.) And do people REALLY buy enough cars to keep dealers afloat? Judging by the amount of foot traffic that T reckons they get, yes. And while not all prospects convert to sales, the ratio sounds higher than I would’ve expected – some guys will sell five cars in a single day. The top salespeople make well over the six figures. Hot damn.

Oh, to be a white man…

When you’re trying to break into a new industry, getting past the resume-screeners is vital. Without relevant education or experience, your best bet is to impress the pants off your interviewer – but you can’t charm an employer if you can’t even get to the meeting stage.

Someone I know I was recently job hunting in a new field, and true enough, the key to getting in was getting the in-person meeting. Phone calls led to a face-to-face; I don’t think a resume was ever involved. They clicked, the company culture turned out to be one where he felt right at home, and a contract was signed.

The culture, from what I hear, is pretty textbook ‘old boys’ club’. So when he relayed an anecdote recently about accidentally overhearing one manager being dismissive of an interviewee based on ethnicity, I wasn’t surprised. Even if that was meant jokingly (let it be noted that there are a lot of minorities employed there) I think it’s still quite telling.

Last summer I churned out a ton of content for a client, an HR blog that was about to launch. There were posts about recruiting, posts about job hunting, posts about interviewing, posts about negotiation, posts about career progression … SO many posts. And I would say at least a third referenced Zappos at some point – Zappos of the mythical corporate culture, held up as a shining example of the need for culture fit. Zappos, which offers new hires a cash payout to quit if they don’t feel it’s working out.

While I absolutely think cultural fit is vital to a harmonious workplace, diversity on staff is also crucial to any progressive and innovative company. There has got to be some kind of balance struck there.

Coming back to the situation at hand: I am glad my acquaintance got that job, though he’s now moved on.  I don’t doubt that he deserved it. (He’s not the only staffer who was hired with no experience; several others also got their start there the same way.)

I don’t blame him – at least in this instance – for the privilege he enjoys as a white male (particularly as he hails from the lower class and hasn’t had much else come easily to him in life).

But I’d hate to think that someone might be dismissed out of hand for no good reason – whether for this role, or other identical roles to be filled, in the past, in the future.

The system is what it is. As Don Cheadle’s character on House of Lies, Marty Kaan, advises a young black consultant: “We’re here to open wallets, not minds.”  But as to whether staying and playing along makes you complicit …

Have you been privy to prejudice of any sort in the workplace? Ever leveraged your own privilege, or benefited from it somehow?