Let me introduce you to my favourite romantic films of all time

best romance movies before midnight 2013
I have a problem with commitment. 

I also have a problem with choosing favourites. I’ve never been able to choose a favourite dish, book, band … name it and I will probably freeze up in trying to come up with an answer.

Take books. Look at my Goodreads bookshelf and you’ll find a somewhat jumbled collection of five star rated titles. The Book Thief (had me in rivers of tears, is the film any good?!), We Need To Talk About Kevin, Mystic River, the Jessica Darling books, almost anything by Isaac Asimov and basically anything ever written by Caitlin Moran.

(Speaking of books, I am kind of emotionally drained after recently finishing A Pale View of Hills … an incredibly affecting and creepy but ultimately ambiguous book that really needed a stronger editor. Anyone else up to discussing it?)

But over the Christmas break, I found what is undoubtedly my favourite movie of all time: Before Sunset. In fact, I gorged on the entire Before series - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight -  not just the most romantic movies ever, but the best movie trilogy ever made.

Before Sunrise is romantic in a smart way – intelligent and articulate, the sort of love story that someone who adores Gilmore Girls (me!) would be enthralled by. But it’s decidedly un-Hollywood. There’s pauses, slightly awkward glances, silences, as we wind our way through the streets of Vienna alongside Celine and Jesse, almost in real time.

I loved Before Sunset even more, tinged as it is with the passage of time, ageing, regrets … there is not a single superfluous moment in the sequel. Utter perfection.

I wasn’t sure Before Midnight could top that, but I was wrong. WRONG. While I prefer Before Sunset as a film, purely on artistic merit, I love Midnight even more for its unflinching willingness to dive into the heart of a relationship. When you give that much of yourself to another person, you also open yourself up to a world of hurt – and even people who love each other claw and scratch and take blows at one another from time to time.

I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.

I am giving you my whole life, okay? I got nothing larger to give, I’m not giving it to anybody else. If you’re looking for permission to disqualify me, I’m not gonna give it to you. Okay? I love you. And I’m not in conflict about it. Okay? But if what you want is like a laundry list of all the things that piss me off, I can give it to you.

You are the fucking mayor of Crazytown, do you know that?

Somehow, Before Midnight also manages to be the funniest of the three films.

Who wants to be Joan of Arc? Forget France, she was burnt at the stake and a virgin, okay. Nothing I aspired to. What a great achievement.

One of the perks of being over 35 is that you don’t get raped as much.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke swear they have no spark in real life, though it’s a pleasure to watch them bounce off each other in interviews. Yet onscreen they have such incredible chemistry (I even found him somewhat sexy and I normally can’t stand the sight of him) and the dialogue is just so fucking real. I am in love with how they swear, talk about sex, fight and make up. It scared me how much of my own relationship I saw in there. Before Midnight seriously screwed me up, but not in a bad way. Not at all.


Ultimately, I find Before Midnight even more romantic because they’ve chosen each other, and I mean REALLY chosen each other, flaws and all, knowing each other as much as any two people can – at least this time around.


Director Richard Linklater says they break all the rules of screenwriting, and how magnificently so. I could watch all these films over and over and over again.

What is your favourite fictional romance?

RTW and back: An interview with Maddie and Paul of Two for the Road

Contemplating picking up your life and heading abroad for a bit? I’ve yammered on plenty about our RTW travels here, but for a different perspective, here’s how Maddie and Paul planned and tackled their own trip and what it’s been like to come home.

Maddie and Paul are a 30-something couple who hail from Yorkshire in the UK. They have just returned home after spending 18 months exploring the globe, taking in 18 countries and spending more time on night buses than they ever thought was possible. They blog at Two for the Road. Like us, they saved hard ahead of time for their trip and have been back for about three months.

I definitely identify with most of the things they mention below –  like how travel strengthens a relationship, how fast it can quickly fade to feel like a dream, and how you’ll need to get over a fear of the unknown. Read on to see how they overcame all that…

What made you guys decide to embark on your trip? How long did it take to plan/prepare?

We’d always enjoyed travelling and Maddie had dreamt of long term travel from being a teenager. The well trodden path of being a grown-up got in the way during our 20s before we realised that you don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else. We did a couple of longer holidays and then finally made the decision about two years before we started the trip.

It was all a bit hypothetical for nearly a year and we didn’t really get serious until around 11 months before the departure date. The planning stage wasn’t a piece of cake but it was nowhere near as difficult as we expected, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

How did you fund the trip?

We wanted to take a complete break from work and made the decision to save all of our funds before we left so we wouldn’t have to take part-time jobs while on the road. We already had some savings but we saved the majority of what we needed in just 1 year. It’s amazing what you can do when you have a real goal, once we’d paid the bills every month we put the rest into savings and stopped eating out and buying unnecessary stuff. All we hear from people is that they don’t have enough money to do something like this and yet they still have enough for the latest flat screen TV or brand new car, it’s all about priorities.

What do you wish you knew before leaving?

Not to fear the unknown. We had so many worries while planning the trip and then when we started it took us at least 2 months to feel comfortable travelling. People are generally good, things normally work out and you will just get on with it. Stop worrying about what might happen and just go and experience it.

Any advice for would-be RTW travellers?

Just go! Regardless of the fears you have it generally works out okay, listen to what you want from your life rather than what people say you should want. Try to travel slow or take breaks where you do absolutely nothing for a week or so, if you move too quickly you will exhaust yourself and get travel fatigue. The last thing you want is to stop appreciating what you’re doing.

What is something surprising you learned on the road?

Our relationship has grown enormously when travelling, we’d already been together for 8 years when we left but we’ve learned so much about each other. Spending 24 hours a day together for 18 months makes you realise you can tackle anything that is thrown at you. We’ve also realised that people are pretty much the same anywhere you go. Regardless of country or culture we all want the same basic things.

What was your favourite place – or one place you would return to in a heartbeat?

We would quite happily live in the United States. We spent 3 months travelling through most of the states and it cemented a love of this wonderful country, we’re outdoor nuts and the landscapes and national parks are sublime. It has a vastness that we’re not used to in the UK and we love the fact that you can just get in your car and drive from snow to sand, mountains to desert.

What’s still on your travel wishlist?

The list just kept growing the more we’ve travelled! Top of the list at the moment are Alaska, Antarctica and Nepal.

What’s it been like settling in back home so far?

We’ve been back for 3 months and are still looking for new jobs, we have been offered positions but are looking for something quite specific. The job market is a lot more buoyant than we thought it would be so if you’re thinking about going on a trip do not let the fear of finding a job put you off.

We kept our house and rented it out while we travelled, it was a pain to manage but I’m glad we had the security of property and somewhere to move straight back into.

Settling back in has been an absolute roller coaster, some days you are incredibly happy and then other days you are pining for the road so much you wonder what the hell you’re doing. The strangest thing about being back is how quickly travel can almost feel like a dream rather than a real experience, lives have gone on and very few people will be interested in what you’ve done. We’re incredibly grateful to have each other so we can tell stories whenever we feel like it!

Do you plan to stay put – is this your ‘forever’ city?

We have no firm plans for the future at the moment, we’re focused on finding jobs and replenishing the pot of money for the time being. We live in a beautiful part of the UK but we’re not sure we want to be here forever. If we’ve learned anything it’s that your dreams can change in a heartbeat so be as flexible as possible.

Guest post: Tips for eating well on a student budget

As you all know, I love food, and the fact that I can now afford to eat better than I could just a few years ago! But being a student doesn’t mean you have to live on noodles and baked beans (blech), as Laura, a 21-year-old graduate with a degree in English and Creative Writing, points out…

Students get a really tough time from others when it comes to our diets. Think about it – how many times have you been asked about your pot noodles/baked beans/take away consumption?

If you do find healthy eating on a student budget a bit difficult however, you certainly won’t be alone. After all, with rising housing and transport costs, getting your five a day with the little you have left can seem like mission impossible.

Therefore we thought we’d do a bit of research and bring you some tips on how to be the healthiest you can be without getting yourself into even more debt. Hoorah!

Shop around

Though your local corner shop can seem really appealing on your way home after a long day at the library (or a night out!) skip it and go to the supermarket for your supplies instead. Some local convenience stores have been known to charge over double what some supermarkets charge for the same product. Investigate shopping online too as this can sometimes work out cheaper, especially as you won’t have the temptations of the chocolate aisle, and you can do a supermarket price comparison to get the best deals.

Put in with your housemates

Food shopping for one can actually work out more expensive as you will no doubt find yourself wasting lots, as food tends to come in multiple numbers. Whether you’re in a student flatshare in London or halls in Hull, talk about doing a weekly food shop as a flat to see what you could all save. You could also even take it in turns to cook your specialities too, Come Dine with Me style!

Get creative

Making your favourite takeaway treats from scratch can save you lots of money and can also be a lot better for you. Try experimenting with different recipes and ideas to keep things exciting in the kitchen.

Use money saving apps

Your smart phone is more than likely your go-to item for most things, so why not use it to help you save money when food shopping? Check out the food and drink apps that help you budget and give great recipe ideas for when you’re trying to save money. There are also finance apps if you want to take control over other aspects of your money, too.

Cut down on eating out

Eating out – or getting a takeaway – is a huge temptation that’s hard to resist, especially after a long day of lectures. However, you’ll soon see a huge difference in your bank balance if you cut down. We all deserve a treat now and again, but aim to cut it down to once a fortnight and see how much you can save.

Make a meal plan

…And stick to it! Writing a weekly plan of all of your meals will be really useful when it comes to doing the weekly shop as you will be able to see exactly what you need to buy, and how much of it. Avoid buying anything that’s not on your list so that you’ll have lots more money for nights out!

Link love (Powered by crutches and Mexican blankets)

nzmuse link love roundup Ah yes. I’d forgotten how prone T is to inconvenient accidents (be it horsing around with friends/extreme playfighting/sports/mosh pits). It was only a matter of time.

It’s just a shame he had to go sprain his leg on a Friday (weekends are the big sales days) and before he had any sick leave.

(For anyone who cares: last year we visited a trampoline park in California, where we a) got tired after about 10 minutes and b) were bored by all the rules and regulations – thanks, litigation-happy Americans! – and the over-watchful staff. Then last week his friends went along to a local trampoline park on a Friday night, one that was a lot more chilled out, as you might expect. Only he apparently had a bad landing after a flip and wound up in A&E.)

So while we’ve seen each other a lot more than usual this week, we were basically holed up at home rather than being able to get out and about. Ah well, the weather has been temperamental this week anyway.

Also, can I say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who gave me advice the other day. The best thing about blogging is the people, and I clearly have freakishly smart readers. <3 For anyone who’s also socially awkward and wondering how to be a good role model to young relatives who need one, head over and read the comments on this post.

To the links!

I took part in a Q&A about exploring NZ by campervan over on Null N Full

Forget about finding motivation (it’s not Where’s Waldo) and build systems instead, says Ramit Sethi

Sarah shares a few ideas to liven up your old blog posts (the first suggestion is bang on – had to laugh at how perfectly she described my own early days of blogging) and to be a happy traveller

Save Spend Splurge explains how fashion bloggers make money

Kate struggles with asking for help from friends

Finally, here’s The Awl on a macabre yet fascinating topic – cadavers. Now I definitely want to give my body to science. It’s funny how your stance on issues like this can change over time. I can’t tell you when exactly I started to find the idea of being embalmed and buried incredibly creepy, but at some point my inclination moved to cremation and eventually to the greater good. And it’s the same with other things; my thoughts on cheating, feminism and other things have evolved with age too.

On making travel a part of our normal lives…

vegas lights at night How do you continue to make travel a part of your life after coming home from an extended trip?

I’ve been pondering this, since going from 24/7 travel back to a 9-5 with four weeks’ leave is a big change.

One way we won’t be doing it is by hosting Couchsurfers. We just don’t have the space  anymore. We no longer have a spare room. Our lounge is tiny and our current furniture set consists of four separate pieces, not a standard couch (we do have them arranged together but they wouldn’t be any good to sleep on). Our floor is tiled not carpeted, so sleeping on the floor here is not an option.

I’ll be honest: I also feel like I might be done with Couchsurfing for awhile. It was fun hosting, it was intense, and I struggled to say no to people. We also had a few memorable experiences as surfers. But I feel like we’ve done our dash, got out what we put in (to be honest I feel we put in more than we got out, because there are way too many surfers and not enough hosts, and it’s worsening every day). Maybe I’ll revisit this later on but for now we’re enjoying our privacy. And of course, we’d happily find a way to accommodate anyone who’s hosted us.

I will keep reading travel blogs to get my fix, however, and am thinking about starting an occasional Q&A series in which I interview other RTW bloggers. And of course, I’ll be keeping an eye out for good travel deals.

We’re thinking Australia should be our next destination (I’ve only been to Sydney, while T has only really passed through Sydney enroute to areas like Bundaberg to visit family). The Great Barrier Reef isn’t getting any younger, you know. And a good friend of mine has just decamped to Sydney – the first of us to marry a foreigner and move overseas permanently.

I’ve also always wanted to go to Niue, another reasonably close to home destination. And while it’s unlikely, should any deals to Spain, Japan or Hong Kong crop up that we could make work with our budget and schedules, I’ll be all over those.

We’ve both seen most of New Zealand, and I feel about travel much as I do about restaurants – for most places, once is enough. There are just too many other / new options to bother going back to the same place twice. That said, I really love the areas just north of Auckland, and am happy to revisit them often as they are close by. 

It going to be hard for us to get away at all, though, since we we’re back to working almost opposing schedules. I’m Monday-Friday, he usually has mid-week days off. I’m sure we can wrangle the occasional weekend off – it’ll just mean less income because those are prime sales days for him. One thing I wouldn’t mind doing this year is the Tongariro Crossing – eight hours seems a bloody long time to walk but I bet we can do it faster, and the scenery needs no further description.


I need your advice

One thing I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of years is just what the heck is going to happen to T’s nieces.

They’re charming and reasonably bright, but they’ve got a tough cycle to break out of. This decade will be the one that determines whether they bypass young pregnancy and getting sucked into the welfare lifestyle. Having a kid at 16 isn’t the end of the world of course, but it’s a very difficult thing to work around, especially with a background like theirs. (And I get the overwhelming feeling that abortion is frowned upon in their family.)

Now the older one is in high school, T agrees it’s time to really keep an eye on her and try to set her up on a good path. I told him I’m totally happy to do whatever I can – I’m just not sure what that is.

The main concern is making sure she doesn’t fall through the cracks; that’s not to say she has a bad home life, because she is loved and cared for, but she is certainly lacking in a certain type of role model, surrounded by adults who don’t work and haven’t worked for years.

What do I do?

What do I talk to her about?

How do I talk to her about those things?

I guess the end goal is in getting her to think beyond school and about actual career paths – university even – and how to get there, and the importance of taking her studies seriously. This is so alien to me, because I grew up in the kind of environment where thinking about what you might want to be when you grew up was like thinking about what kind of guy you might marry. And I worked hard at school for the sake of achieving, if nothing else.

She and I are about 10 years apart, but things are so different. I grew up pre-Facebook and Snapchat, before even the most basic of cellphones had colour screens and cameras, when MSN and open internet chatrooms (do they still exist?) were the cutting edge. I was nerdy and academic, and while she’s not dumb, she’s certainly not a nerd. I was gawky and mousy and she’s cute, if not model material, and knows it. And our family environments are POLES apart – you can’t even imagine.

I’ve been considering joining a mentoring scheme for teenage girls (though I haven’t signed on yet – am unsure about the logistics involved and how difficult it would be to meet my commitment). And now I’m definitely in two minds about it. Maybe I should just be focusing my time/effort on her. Take care of business on your home patch first, and all that. But maybe mentoring someone else will also help me with her?

When they were younger they always came to me, were all over me everytime I visited, yammering away about anything and everything going on in their lives. Now they’re older and more self absorbed, I have to make the effort myself to connect with them.

But I’m totally out of my depth here. Help?

Guest post: The Urgency of the Emergency (fund)

Today’s post is courtesy of Jacob, Ph.D. student in finance, frugal master, and one half of the Cash Cow Couple. Along with his wife, he enjoys living, laughing, and teaching others how to save and intelligently invest their money so that they can achieve financial freedom.

 In the blogosphere, it’s common to see recommendations for emergency funds. I’ve seen some who claim an emergency fund is unnecessary, and others who’d prefer if you kept one the size of Texas. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with either choice, but you should probably understand time constraints and liquidity before you decide on an emergency fund or any other short term investment need.

Let’s first define an emergency fund. It’s typically a highly accessible chunk of money stored in a checking, savings, or money market fund. It’s there for what? That’s right, emergencies.

But what does highly accessible mean, and why does it matter? Well, we’re speaking of liquidity here.

Liquidity is often defined as the ease with which a portfolio can satisfy an investor’s needs. Easy enough. But what comes next is frequently confused by investors, popular media, and everyone in between. Liquidity is comprised of two parts – marketability and price volatility.

  1. Marketability is an attribute that measures an investor’s ability to readily convert an investment to cash at prevailing market prices. This would be a function of fees, trading volume, and bid-ask spreads. In other words, the greater the cost of finding a willing buyer, the less marketable, and therefore less liquid an asset is.

  2. Price Volatility is very different. Even if you can sell an asset quickly at market price, you must still be concerned with the current market price. Stocks are a great example because they are volatile and therefore not liquid. Sure, you can easily sell a stock after it falls 50%, but you’ll be locking in huge losses.

A great example is a story I heard about a lady who was advised to put her million dollar portfolio in an easily accessible S&P 500 index fund. She was under the assumption that it was liquid. Sadly, one of her goals was to purchase a $500,000 boat in just over one year.  Of course, 100% equities is a terrible decision if you need half the principal in a year. The market fell nearly 40% and she was then in a terrible position deciding between the boat and almost no remaining savings.

The point of that story is simple. Don’t put your emergency fund or short term goal funds into the stock market. Doing so defeats the entire purpose of planning ahead. Keep the funds in a liquid account like the American Express high yield savings account that we use.

A matter of size

The next thing to consider is the size of your emergency funds. You’ve probably heard the rule of thumb that says 3-6 months of living expenses in your emergency fund. Maybe you heard 3-6 months of income. Whatever you heard may or may not be applicable to your financial situation. (Ed: No matter how much I have saved, it never feels like enough…)

There are several considerations here. First let’s consider employment and income fluctuations. If you are steadily employed, you probably need a smaller emergency fund than a traveling freelance writer with a variable income. Any variability requires an increased cushion.  The reason is simple; you must cover baseline expenses, and if your income doesn’t show up for 2 months, you’ll probably appreciate the protection that accompanies an emergency fund.

Likewise, if you spend far less than you earn each month, you’ll need less than someone who is living paycheck to paycheck. It’s just basic math. You have much more freedom and flexibility when you have excess funds coming in once or twice a month. You can quickly adapt to the situation at hand.

If you’re a young or old retiree, things are much different. Because you are living on your investment portfolio, you have much more concern with price volatility in the stock market (if you own equities).

Consider someone who must sell $20,000 in shares of stock each year to cover basic expenses. If the market falls 50%, they’ll be forced to sell twice as many shares to get the same dollar amount. This can destroy a portfolio.

Instead, consider holding several years of living expenses in a liquid account that can be accessed during bear markets. Additionally, keep the funds required for short term goals set aside in liquid funds to avoid a situation similar to the one I mentioned above. Ordinary bonds in a portfolio can provide an extended cushion if the market is still low when these funds are depleted.

What are your thoughts on emergency funds?


The clothes maketh the man

One of the most surprising things I learned last year was that T actually cares – at least a little – about his wardrobe.

We were holed up in our tiny third-floor hotel room in Rome. It was maybe 2am; we’d been watching Scandal and reluctantly decided it was time to attempt to get some sleep. Easier said than done; the A/C still wasn’t working properly (a common problem in the summer, I hear) and while it was difficult but manageable for me, T can’t cope once it gets past about 20 degrees – and this was probably 30-plus. It looked like a night of sleeplessness was all he had to look forward to, so I stayed awake for awhile to keep him company.

There’s something oddly intimate about conversations held in the pitch black. I don’t know how we got onto the topic, but he voiced some dissatisfaction with the way he dressed and a wish that I’d take things into my own hands (as popular culture dictates a good girlfriend should).

That’s not entirely fair, given that it’s quite impossible to shop for clothing for him in New Zealand. No normal shops sell items that fit him, which is why plain Warehouse shirts and singlets make up the majority of his wardrobe. All his pants are Dickies (which thankfully cater for a huge range of sizes) and while footwear is sometimes a struggle, we usually manage to keep him in decent shoes successfully. Also, I hate shopping, and I really hate spending a lot of money on clothing anyway.

Still, it broke my heart a little. So when we ventured into American department stores for the first time, and found plenty of shirts in not just 2XL but 3, 4, 5, it was like being let loose in Legoland. You can bet we stocked up – and will be ordering online from American shops in the future.

I don’t really understand why it’s so hard to find clothing in larger sizes here. Where the hell do big guys shop? It’s not like he can just shed some excess weight with a little effort; while he could stand to trim a little in the middle, the rest of his bulk isn’t fat. He’s just built genuinely huge. The one thing we CAN easily get for him is ties, where size doesn’t matter – between thrift shops and sites like ASOS, it’s easy to pick up all manner of styles for next to nothing.

So when he landed his new job, we both freaked out a bit. Up till now he’d either worn everyday clothes to work or had a company uniform. He owned two button-up shirts and one suit, which was definitely not going to be enough. He needed to build a work wardrobe, and that wasn’t going to be easy – especially as we only had two days between landing the contract and starting the job.

We managed to pick up some shirts and pants from Famous Brands Inc, the somewhat random discount shop in New Lynn that’s holding perpetual clearance sales, and more shirts and ties on clearance at Tarocash (which goes up to about 5XL), along with two good pairs of Italian leather shoes from Overland. All up, 5-6 shirts, two pairs of pants,  two pairs of shoes, and other small items (tie clip, shoe care products) cost just under $800. We actually managed to get amazing deals, despite being unable to wait for Boxing Day to shop. I think it’s highly adorable that he now has to iron his shirts and polish his shoes just to go to work, and that he actually takes pride in it.

 I guess for him not caring about clothes doesn’t mean not caring at all. It’s more like my philosophy: not caring about trends, despising the act of shopping, and just wanting a decent selection of items that look good and fit well in the closet to pick and choose from every day without too much thought involved.

Link love (Powered by sand and Sal’s Pizza)

Guys, it’s February. I don’t even know how that happened.

But 2014 hasn’t been too shabby so far. Things could always be better, but I’m not complaining. How’s it been for you?

It’s been a busy blogging week around here. I guest posted over at Null N Full about life in New Zealand (and hosted a guest post by her on her top 5 impressions of Aotearoa) as well as at Enemy of Debt about frugal travel hacks that have backfired on me.

Also, thanks to Figuring Money Out, who included my RTW budget recap in this week’s carnival of personal finance

To the rest of the links!

I always enjoy Her Every Cent Counts’ insights into startup life, and this week’s glimpse into SaaS biz specifically was a gem

Lindsay just wants to meet a normal, well-adjusted guy – but apparently that’s a tall ask

Jessica dropped $7k on travel and hasn’t even got a lousy shirt to show for it :P

Carol Tice sheds the light on a lucrative freelance niche most writers overlook

On Brazen Careerist: You’re mediocre, and here’s what to do about it

This is a poignant tale about the misery of job hunting, in which an interviewer took pity on the narrator and gave her money to go and buy a suit. I must admit I do enjoy that thrilling world of possibility that you get a glimpse into when you browse job listings, but actually having to job search? NOT FUN. Also, I’ve never owned a suit and hope that never changes 

The Atlantic explains the lives of 27-year-olds, in charts

Hilarious and mostly true (YMMV)! The unwittingly attractive things men do

This couple has travelled for 13 years with their kids – definitely not my jam, I wouldn’t be comfortable with such an unstable existence (they rely a LOT on the kindness of strangers) but kudos to them

Probably more relevant for the rest of us: Buzzfeed’s 9 unconventional ways to travel (many of which I’ve done)

Scandinavia has never held much appeal for me as a place to live (mainly due to the climate, how depressing would a winter there be?!) so this look at the downsides of this region in Europe had me hooked

As for the downsides of living in NZ, if you’re a regular here, you’ll know I’ve covered them over and over again. That said, this Twitter thread from my stream this week was too good not to share…





There were many more – the full conversation is here.