• My 2014 goals: Two small resolutions for a happier life

    nzmuse goals for 20142013 was a biggie. I got married (though I still can’t bring myself to use the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. They leave a gross aftertaste in my mouth). Took six months off work. Backpacked around the world. In short, it was a year of YOLO.

    They say nobody ever wishes on their deathbed they’d spent more time at the office. Sure, but I would definitely feel bummed if I didn’t achieve some sort of professional satisfaction, some measure of happiness in work and my achievements, over a lifetime. I’ve written some things I’m proud of, for myself and for wider public consumption, and came very close last year to being able to plonk “award-winning” in front of my name (alas, an almost-award doesn’t really afford me that luxury. Highly commended is all well and good, but nobody ever remembers the runner up). A small change at work should make my job even more awesome starting from day one back (though raises the stakes for sure), so I’m amped to see what 2014 brings.

    As much as my work matters to me, people and experiences absolutely come first. It blows my mind how much we did in 2013. The places we saw, the people we met, the meals we ate… I whimper a little to think what it cost (full tally coming up VERY SHORTLY) but it was truly a priceless adventure. How could I ever forget biking through the fiery forests of Vermont (nearly falling asleep and falling off the back post-lunch)? Feasting on lamb and wine at sunset in Santorini? Gliding through Venice’s waterways, blotting sweat from my face, mesmerised by every new alleyway? Marvelling at the raw thunderstorms pounding down on the plains of Cambodia? Being enthralled by the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Gulfoss?

    For all that, I’m glad to be home. I’m reminded of the beauty that’s all around me everytime I go hiking out west with them (Mokoroa Falls is heartstoppingly fabulous, and I can’t believe I’d never seen it before). We may not be going abroad again anytime soon, but there’s plenty to explore in our own backyard.

    This year, I resolve to get out more – on weekends, after work – even if petrol costs are insane and our crappy car chews gas. 

    I’ve also realised how amazing my friends and family are. I was terrible about keeping in touch with them while we were away, but after all, I knew we were coming back in November. But we’re all getting older, time is passing quicker, some are moving away, and some of us are moving into the next logical phase of our adult lives. And for all my past grievances with my parents, none are egregious enough to hold a grudge about forever – Buzzfeed is right, I’ve come full circle to realise how awesome they are in many ways and embrace all the traits they’ve passed down to me.

    I’ve been aware for a long time that I’m basically never the instigator when it comes to these things – I’ll always respond, but I never initiate contact. I often find a text an annoying interruption to the workday, which is kinda messed up. My last day at work, I noticed a text and went to unlock my phone – yet somehow between that and actually opening up my inbox, I got totally distracted with something and wound up entirely forgetting to go back to my phone. T wound up calling me an hour later instead.

    This year, I resolve to make more of an effort – to reach out to at least one person a week – by text, email, or (shudder) Facebook chat/message. I emailed a dear friend overseas just before Christmas for a long overdue catchup on our lives, and I can’t tell you how freaking GOOD that felt.

    going to die doing the things i love nzmuse

    I’m not going to set any financial goals since that side of things is still uncertain. I’m naturally a saver anyway, so I’m going to be trying to bank as much as possible. The long-term play is still to save up for a house. Overall, 2014 is about the small things – balancing work and play, finding a happy medium in life. What more could one ask for?

  • Halfway through the year and what have I achieved?

    So, I completely missed my February progress checkin. And March. And April, and May, for that matter. The months just kept whizzing by, somehow.

    So what’s going down?

    For one, I’ve called it quits on Codeyear, the Javascript edition. It got to the point where I couldn’t see the value in it for me (which I figured would happen – it was fun to be able to make things happen, but front-end stuff is more relevant to me). But I have picked up their CSS lessons which are, so far, pretty awesome.

    I seem to go through phases of posting photos regularly to my Tumblr. I also finally joined Instagram – how easy is it to make anything look good on that? – and dipped in and out of February/March Photo a Day. But really I want learn to take good photos without effects; I’m actually using my dSLR on full manual settings from time to time. That does make it a bit more arduous when uploading to Tumblr, though.

    Remember how I emailed a few places about volunteering opportunities back in the summer? I FINALLY heard back months later – apparently they were swamped with interest. So, seeing as winter must then by logic be their quiet period, I should get back on the horse. I haven’t, though. Since that email arrived things have been super busy for me and T, and with days as short as these it kind of feels like I don’t have all that much time. KWIM?

    Things I’m working on planning:

    • our road trip later this year (all I really need to do now is sort out insurance, which I STILL haven’t done, and check out ski packages);
    • our wedding (have made the first step: feeling out venues. I’ve made a list, which isn’t very long. We’ve looked at one possible ceremony venue, which I had stupidly high hopes for that were subsequently dashed. I’d quite like to get married outside of Auckland if we don’t find a place that suits our budget and needs, though I’m not really sure where or how to start looking. Any recommendations?);
    • and honeymoon (sorta. had a quick chat to a travel agent and got a few questions answered about Europe. I’m still not ruling out running away for an extended period of round the world travel)

    As for financials … I put my first couple of hundred dollars into index funds separately from Kiwisaver as Rabobank was doing a special deal where entry fees were slashed. Baby steps!

    And as for those savings goals…

    • Travel fund is fully funded. $10k
    • Road trip fund is fully funded. $3k
    • Wedding fund is… in progress. On track for completion by the end of the year. $5k

    The one problem with an extended RTW honeymoon would be money. We definitely will not have enough saved to undertake something like that in 2013. A quick jaunt through budgetyourtrip.com suggests that would require $40k for two in NZ dollars. The site averages out travellers’ costs, so we could likely manage for less, but it’s always good to round up, and we’d have to incorporate things like departure taxes, internal transport (between countries/cities), etc. I also don’t know how many more days we’d realistically need to add on to factor in extra travel time. (Don’t get too snarky about my spreadsheet, please – it was all very much made up on the spot, so may not be uber realistic. I’ve probably wildly overstated the cost of hiring a car in the US, especially as your petrol prices are crazy low.)

    How are your 2012 goals coming along?

  • The long road to reaching your goals

    Today marks the end of Women’s Money Week. I’m so chuffed to have made their Ultimate Blogger list – the highlight of my blogging journey to date for sure (except maybe the time I was nominated for Best International Personal Finance Blog).

    Confession: I’m currently teetering on the brink of another of my mini 20-something crises. For those of you with concrete and definite goals, though … push past the initial doubts and surge of fear. Nothing worth having comes easy, and if you really, truly want to make something happen, I promise you can.

    If you’re not happy with the life you’re leading, take a step back. Take time to reflect and articulate where you want to be, and work out how you’re going to get there. And maybe you’ll decide you’re not ready to take the next step yet – maybe the unhappiness isn’t outweighing the good right now – but if the balance tips, then you know what to do.

    Okay, I’ll bite. I’m thinking about leaving the country – either for a bit of a travel break, or to Australia for a while. I’ve talked about why I don’t think extended travel is for me before, but the itch is growing stronger. I’ve also talked about my lack of interest in a typical Kiwi OE, but if either T or I could land a decent job across the ditch (no visa requirements for NZ citizens) I think a change of scenery could do us good. Just little ideas brewing, for now…

    There’s been a bit of a backlash in the blogosphere recently against the concept of goals. I understand, and agree with, the argument against this new age where there’s a constant push for self-improvement – exacerbated by a spate of happy shiny blogs (lifestyle design bloggers, mummy bloggers, etc) that lead us all to believe that everyone lives these magazine-spread perfect existences, when that’s simply not true. Life is hard, life is ugly – we all have relationship problems, health problems, money problems, even if we don’t broadcast them to the world on our blogs. This can be unhealthy. But blogs, like magazines, only tell part of the story. We know models get Photoshopped. And it should be obvious too, that our blogs only reflect certain aspects of our lives.

    But goals keep you moving, keep you hustling. Without a plan, it’s that much harder to get where you’re going – if you even know where that is.

    In my mind, the key is narrowing it down to the ones that really matter – zeroing in on the few priorities that really burn you up. Take it from someone who has a bunch of disparate interests: spreading yourself too thin results in burnout. If you really want to succeed, this is not the time to be a jack of all trades; this is the time to focus.

    And remember, the first step is always the toughest – but it gets easier from there on.

    This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts see the Goals and Taking Action Roundup

  • One month in: Getting balance / Getting ahead

    yellow brick road

    Image by airdiogo via Flickr

    Life is hurtling by.

    It’s terrifying.

    Here’s what’s going on, one month on into 2012.

    Getting balance

    I’ve crossed off a few things off my life list – making pasta, ice cream and mac and cheese from scratch, for starters. Between the cookbooks I’ve been given and the blogs I read, I have no shortage of recipes to keep me on my culinary toes. Bonus: it’s a good way to practise photography.

    I started learning Daughter by Pearl Jam, which includes a pretty funky tuning.

    I’ve also looked into volunteering opportunities and reached out to a few, so we’ll see if any pan out.

    Elsewhere, I have a weekend trip coming up in a few days (hurrah!) and fitting in runs, reading, guitar and relationship time. Surely this can’t last?!

    Getting ahead

    I headed back to work on the 5th. This gave me a couple of days to get settled in and get ahead before the full daily routine resumed. And it gave me the chance to get organised with my files and folders on my work computer – something I BADLY needed to do. Now to keep it up…

    I’ve signed up to receive Ramit Sethi’s (of I Will Teach You To Be Rich) Dream Job course material via email. Most useful IMO so far have been his email scripts and videos with mock salary negotiation skits – I picked up some great phrases for future use. For all the things they teach you at uni, email etiquette in business communication is not one, and for all the negotiation advice to be found, actual wording is tough to come by.

    I’m getting more active on my IRL Twitter account, making an effort to reach out and engage; getting more active in LinkedIn, now that I’ve found some groups that aren’t so spammy and full of self-promotion; and commenting on the odd industry blog under my real name. This does make it a pain switching between accounts. A work in progress, I suppose.

    And I’ve hopped on the Codecademy bandwagon, in particular, the Code Year programme. Basically, they email you every week with a list of exercises to complete. By the end, the idea is you’ll be competent in Javascript.

    • A few thoughts thus far: It’s a good idea. The gamification and points earned element is fun.
    • BUT. I feel there’s too much content covered in each silo. Slow it down, really drill home each new lesson, and do fewer of them in a week.
    • Some of the exercises are poorly worded and some of the hints are confusing or unhelpful. Thankfully, there’s a user forum for Q&As.
    • For me, the jargon is overwhelming. And the syntax! I’m used to very basic HTML, which makes sense to me. Here, I feel I’m passing each step but not really learning, or gaining a real understanding of what I’m doing.
    • If you were any good at algebra, some of this may be less painful for you.
    • Personally, I’m not sure how useful Javascript will be. I’m planning to stick with it as long as possible. But probably more valuable is really knuckling down into the front end CSS, which I do plan to tackle on my own.

    And just for fun, I’ve started up mock forex and stock portfolios on Investopedia. It’s unlikely I’ll be doing either of these in real life, but improving my financial literacy can only be a good thing, and a simulated environment is the best way to start. In picking my companies, I did some research on the likes of CNN Money, where you can find information on companie –  financials, forecasts, etc. Of course, when it’s play money, you don’t necessarily take as much care as you would with real dollars, and it wasn’t till I’d bought about 10 stocks that I realised I was being charged $20 a pop on each transaction. (To date the extent of my individual stock investment experience has been in the Neopets stockmarket. Remember that site?) And I’ve done the same on the NZX, but the size of the stockmarket would seem to limit potential returns.

    So, how has the year started off for you? What are you doing to make the most of it?

  • Goals 2012

    Who doesn’t love a new year and the opportunity for a fresh start?

    It comes as no surprise that tons of people are posting their big manifestos.

    I don’t really know what mine would be. I suppose the three things I believe in are:

    Work hard.

    Put yourself first, because nobody else will.

    Do good (by others and the world around you).

    Two years ago I made a vision board. And it’s time for a new one.

    However, my goals this year are pretty small.

    I’m happy with the life I’m starting to shape.

    I think I’m heading in the right direction, and I don’t feel the need to set goals like read a certain number of books (81 last year – though Atlas Shrugged should count for about five) or spend a certain number of hours every week with my guitar. I’m a dabbler in many things, and that’s okay – I will never be amazing at any one, nor do I wish to be, because they’re all fun. The key is making some time to fit each one in, which I have been.

    Rather, I’ve got a bunch of small things to cross off (plus other miscellany on my Day Zero Project list):

    • go on a bush walk
    • go tandem biking
    • go to the theatre
    • go to a travel agent and start hashing out potential 2013 Europe trip/honeymoon
    • get started on wedding planning, if we’re committing to a 2013 wedding
    • visit my friend in Whangarei and hit the Kai Iwi lakes
    • snorkel across the Goat Island channel
    • visit the Puhoi tea rooms
    • volunteer
    • make two manual Kiwisaver payments
    • plan and execute our South Island road trip (or overseas for a white Christmas?!)
    • donate blood

    I’m also embarking on Project 365, aka taking a photo every day. (See my Tumblr.) But I’m not going to force it – I know there are days I won’t take any, and days I don’t take any that are worth posting. The point is that it’s a prompt to really embed photography into my routine.

    Blogging over here, I’d love to get more cohesive. Expect to see more photos and posts on food as I work through my Delicious recipe backlog and get into some of my newly gifted cookbooks. We’ve also still got a way to go to get through my list of restaurants to try – some with Entertainment Book vouchers, a few without – so I’ll write about those too. While I won’t be chronicling every single book I complete, feel free to join me on Goodreads – and I anticipate reviewing the odd standout on here.

    Financially, I really need to focus on saving. I want to ramp this up and finish off the road trip and wedding funds, and keep lifestyle creep at bay.

    Last year I made just over $2000 extra (mainly from my regular side gig, which eventually became my new main gig) but I now need to focus on my FT job. Apart from the odd editing gig or mystery shop, I won’t be bringing in additional income.

    So killing expenses it is. Rent has gone up with our move to a bigger place (though it’s still relatively cheap). To compensate, we will:

    • play some Sky TV roulette (downgrading and upgrading extras)
    • smarten up on power use
    • really adhere to the grocery/eating out budget (we’ve got a groove going, keeping things in check – my MO is to list essentials that need replenishing every week, then shop according to what’s on special and freshest. And if we space out our restauranting sensibly + watch the small purchases, $160/month eating out is realistic)
    • attempt a no-spend year on clothes/beauty. I don’t foresee needing any makeup, and the only things I think I might need to replace are moisturiser and possibly my basic ballet flats at some point. I will make exceptions should anything else key suddenly give out on me, on a case-by-case basis.

    I won’t include petrol in there, because I do want to get out and about more this summer and do more domestic trips, but I definitely am going to crack the whip with T on wasteful cruising – he has a motorbike for that (although who knows when he’ll be able to ride again).

    So, that’s me! Here’s to accomplishment.

  • The year in review

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    And somehow, December rolled around.

    There were times, I admit, that time seemed to be dragging its heels. But mostly, I feel like 2011 shot by like a cheetah on P.

    This year I got engaged. I moved house. I left my first grownup job. I took my first overseas trip in close to 10 years – my first without my parents and my first with T – and for the first time took a dip in the ocean on my birthday.

    Looking back, I’m fairly happy with the way things turned out. Last year was about hunkering down, getting recognised at work, saving, getting a solid start. Having laid some of that foundation, this year I said yes to concerts, events, trips. I’ve said yes to things that scare me, read books that challenge me, and done a fair amount of introspection. I covered major events including Steve Jobs’ death and a rare fatal explosion in Onehunga, but watched from home as news of bin Laden’s death, the second Christchurch earthquake, and the general election unfolded online in front of me.

    In 2012, I want my word to be consistency. Commitment to my work, my savings, my fitness, my hobbies and life balance.

    But first, looking back on the year that was.

    I wanted to:

    • Save 40 per cent of income. I hit this maybe half of the time. We definitely had some biggish expenses this year in car fixes, travel and moving house.
    • Keep eating out to $160 a month. We hit this probably less than half the time. I’m okay with spending with intention here – it’s the little transactions here and there that add up that bug me.
    • Donate to charity every month. Achieved most months, but not all – maybe 70%.
    • Text one friend a week. I suppose I always knew this would be difficult to track, but I reckon I scraped a pass (by definition 50 percent is a pass mark), although many of these weren’t actually initiated by me. I freaking hate texting these days; I spend the vast majority of my time at a computer, so I’d much rather email, tweet or Facebook if possible). Or, heaven forbid, make a phone call.
    • Learn to confidently use full manual settings on my dSLR. Bahaha. Well, I’m a little more confident than I was at the beginning of the year, but like guitar, this kind of fell by the wayside – particularly after June when I changed jobs – there are way fewer demands on your days off when you have Monday and Tuesday off – and went gangbusters on my reading after a lull. Finding visual inspiration is a big struggle, but events like this were brimming with it.
    • Read 100 books. Finished 81, which isn’t too bad an effort. 100 is definitely doable, but combined with reading more literary stuff these days + having a life is difficult at times. I could easily spend all my time reading, but alas, I have a living to earn.
    • Continue running at least once a week, and run a 10k. Hit that 10k, although kind of slacked off on running after that, if we’re being honest. Am contemplating a half – or even a full marathon – next year. I would love to say I did one…but do I want to do it badly enough? Not sure. I’m not a distance runner.

    ONE OFFS

    • Score a travel writing assignment. No longer applicable at my new job, sadly! That ship has sailed. No junkets for me
    • Take a trip somewhere warm on my birthday (thinking Vanuatu, Niue or similar). Raro was blissful, no other word for it.
    • Take a big trip later in the year. By this I really meant overseas, or at least a South Island road trip. New job and starting from scratch with leave put paid to that, but we are doing  a short sojourn to the Coromandel, which is sweet by me.

    I also wanted to fall in love with music again – both as a maker and listener. I was, I suppose, making slow progress on guitar – until taking a new job. Having real weekends again were spent with T, travelling, reading like a fiend when I fell behind, and then dealing with the move and a string of social events. I did go to my first gig a year ago, and since then I’ve been to two more, plus two music festivals and am going to another for New Year’s. Incubus is also another possibility – but I’m not sure I’m enough of a fan to shell out $90. I had a lot of fun compiling my wedding playlist, but haven’t really put any effort into discovering new music. So that’s probably a fail.

    I’m a huge lover of food, but I’m much better at consuming it than cooking it. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But I am getting better at pairing dishes and coming up with random meals combining whatever ingredients we have on hand. Possibly most exciting of all, I’ve discovered the joy of couscous. My life has never been the same. My laissez-faire methodology does not translate so well to baking, and thus my favourite go-tos are buckeyes and oreo truffles (even though they still never look that pretty). Again, slow progress, but all in all, a definite win.

    And while I’m not a social creature by any stretch of the imagination, I think I can definitely give myself a gold star for effort this year. I said yes more often than no (and only when I had a real excuse), including yes to one of the biggest events of the year come NYE, with a bunch of people I don’t know that well – apart from T. Plus I’m forced to get out and about more just due to the nature of my new job.

    Ah, my job. I truly am blessed. I get to write awesome stories, meet awesome people, and generally absorb passion and inspiration. Free swag doesn’t hurt, nor do invites to events (depending on what they are. I felt pretty out of my depth lunching with high-flying national and international business peeps last month, and was rendered mute at another when asked if I was considered a thought leader at my company). I had my first photo published in print (thank goodness for good lighting) – which in no way compares to the online equivalent. Basically, as a staffer there are heaps of opportunities, as I work for free compared to paying a freelancer. I’ve managed a handful of interns and been asked to write my first reference for someone.

    Bonus: an improved relationship with T, in almost all aspects (we don’t spend all our weekends together, but it’s lovely to be able to…). However, blogging fell a bit by the wayside, particularly the Yakezie challenge – I’ve plummeted back down toward the million-mark on Alexa. As I suspected, spending my days writing detracts a bit from my desire to write for the sake of it away from the office.

    I’m curious to know. How did you perceive your 2011?

  • August goal checkin

    And another month bites the dust.

    • Save 40 per cent of income. Okay, I suck. Reviewing the numbers, it looks like I only saved about half of what I wanted to, because I bought our Foo Fighters tickets late in July (getting paid halfway through the month is annoying for looking back at this). I’m not sure how September will turn out; I anticipate FINALLY going to the dentist, and taking care of some long overdue drycleaning. But August as a calendar month, aside from vehicle expenses, was pleasantly frugal.
    • Keep eating out to $160 a month. DONE! (Er, well, dining out on our Wellington trip was counted as travel expenses. I’m cool with that if you are)
    • Donate to charity every month. Done! I sponsored someone who did something I could not hack – the poverty line challenge for a week.
    • Text one friend a week. I think I actually achieved this with very little effort!
    • Learn to confidently use full manual settings on my dSLR. Not a heck of a lot of progress on that, to be honest.
    • Read 100 books (I’ve set up a challenge on Goodreads; I know at the pace I read I can easily make this if I keep up momentum. But if I don’t I won’t be too sad.) I’m falling behind, slowly but surely. I’ll probably be doing well to make 80 by year end. Check out my latest bite-sized reviews here and here.
    • Continue running at least once a week. Win! And I’ve walked to and from work numerous times this month. Hurrah.

    How did your goals go last month?

     

  • July goal checkin

    ONGOING

    • Save 40 per cent of income. Definite fail this month – closer to 20 percent.
    • Keep eating out to $160 a month. Failed again by about $50…
    • Donate to charity every month. Check!
    • Text one friend a week. Check!
    • Learn to confidently use full manual settings on my dSLR. I actually did bring it out for a little while – to my first and only ever wrestling show. (Oh, all the things I could do in those four hours instead!) Must go through the images.
    • Read 100 books I’m a tad overdue for some reading recaps. It’s been slow going with the Grapes of Wrath, but I’ve been mixing up the light and heavy reading pretty regularly.
    • Continue running at least once a week. Missed my holiday week, but I’m pretty sure I went on all the others. This last week was a good un – lots of uphills which had me aching for days afterward. Seriously, my thighs were screaming with every movement.

    As to my one-off goals, I did indeed go somewhere warm on my birthday! A travel writing assignment is not going to happen with my new job, however, so I should scratch that off the list.

  • June goal checkin

    • Save 40 per cent of income. I guess so, seeing as I got all my leave paid out after my last day. Big boost for the travel fund!
    • Keep eating out to $160 a month. Haha, nope. Let a little bit loose with socialising after last month!
    • Donate to charity every month. Done!
    • Text one friend a week. I haven’t been keeping track, but think I did okay on this one.
    • Learn to confidently use full manual settings on my dSLR. Absolutely no progress this month.
    • Read 100 books. Got through six in June – see recaps here and here.
    • Continue running at least once a week. I believe I missed one week. One thing about my old schedule – shifts definitely made it easier to fit in runs on days off and before work

    How did your goals go last month?

  • April goal checkin

    • Save 40 per cent of income. 31 per cent for April.
    • Keep eating out to $160 a month. Yes! Scraped in at $149.
    • Donate to charity every month. Done – a  friend shaved her head for charity, and I also donated a few items of clothing I don’t need anymore.
    • Text one friend a week. I suppose if you count texts to organise meetups, yes?
    • Learn to confidently use full manual settings on my dSLR. No time for photography this month, apart from a 5-minute walk which yielded one interesting shot.
    • Continue running at least once a week. Total fail. We’ve had so much rain lately that I think I’ve only been out twice.

    How did your goals go last month?