Tag Archives: money

When life gives you lemons, buy lipstick

When life gives you lemons, buy lipstick
By: Filter Forge

Have we decided if the ‘lipstick index’ is for real, or not? (That’s the idea that people keep splurging on lipstick in times of recession – little luxuries, yo.)

Well, on a micro level at least, it’s certainly rung true for me of late. I literally never buy makeup except to replace the one lippy I wear. My annual beauty budget is probably under $200, including skincare and haircuts. But some months ago I got a weird fixation with finding this particular shade that I was absolutely convinced I needed in my life. Sort of a dark vampy red, with maybe a bit of a plum/berry twist. Along the lines of Mac Diva, for those who care.

I spent hours online in the name of research, and far too long in stores lurking around counters and fiddling with the testers. Once, a strange man even peered over my shoulder just after I stepped out of a shop – I had probably close to a dozen swatches smeared on the back of my hand and was eyeing them up in the natural light – and hissed ‘they all look the same!’

I wound up buying probably around four (that’s a massive spree for me) and now I actually wear different colours on different days, sometimes. Crazy.

And at the same time, I dug out some stuff that had been sitting around forever (throwbacks to my days of magazine freebies) like amazing pore-blurring primer powder and electric blue eyeliner (turns out to be a nice pop when you have hooded lids, or in my case, one normal and one hooded). For the first time in probably 15 years I started spending downtime at home playing with makeup for no reason other than I wanted to, even watching YouTube tutorials and stalking beauty reddits.

Related, and possibly also a  reaction to the whole forced austerity thing, I’ve almost grown a little bit of a shopping addiction – at least by my normal standards. I haven’t bought much – a dress here, a pair of pants there – but I can definitely now understand how people might get out of hand.

I think this probably stems from a deep-seated need for control. Not having it in other areas of my life, having my sphere of influence drastically reduced, has manifested itself in a new obsession with my appearance.

I’ll never ever be the kind of person who puts on a full face every day. (Or any day. My wedding being the one exception, and that wasn’t by my own hand…). Yet there’s something weirdly calming about being alone in front of a mirror, going through the ritual of making yourself feel a little more beautiful.

The intersection of capability and circumstance (in personal finance)

financial capability nz

A few months ago I accepted a new position that perfectly suits my nerdy, money-loving heart – one with the overarching aim of helping people get ahead financially.

Very early on, I got to attend a particularly enlightening conference (the video below comes from that) and also a community workshop in a lower socio-economic area of Auckland. Let’s just say the challenge is huge. More than ever, I’m coming to understand the complexity of the issue: it’s not just about individual efforts and bootstrapping, it’s about human nature and psychology – and of course, the wider system.

In a country like New Zealand, where the cost of living is pretty astronomical, budgeting can only take you so far. Where housing costs are out of control, home ownership is spiralling out of reach, the rental market is squeezed and the condition of rentals is a public health issue. Where public transport is pretty abysmal, and low-income households often lack access to a vehicle, and therefore, supermarkets and healthy food options. Where certain cultural norms mean that family can either be a boost or a drag, holding individuals back from getting ahead. Where high burglary rates mean frequent setbacks, unless you can afford excellent insurance. Where people being locked out of the property market today is going to have huge ramifications when this generation reaches retirement.

True, some people don’t have huge lofty goals and aren’t particularly interested in ‘getting ahead’. But we can’t get away from the fact that we live in a capitalist society, and you need money to exist in it. Inflation is a fact of life; things are only ever going to get more expensive. We’re already a low-wage economy, and if your income remains stagnant, you’re going to wind up at the wrong end of the inequality gap – a yawning gap that’s only growing. I for one don’t want to wind up being a burden on society. So I was really happy to see a session on upskilling and increasing your earnings as part of that community programme, because spending is only half of the equation. It doesn’t matter how good you are at budgeting, if you don’t have enough money coming in, you’ll never get ahead.


Sure, let’s build financial capability so people are better equipped to deal with whatever circumstances life may throw at them. (Pretty much everyone can and should be doing better, to varying degrees.) But it’s about more than that. Health, family, educational, church systems – all contribute to financial wellbeing. IMO so much hinges on those early years; if you start out behind it’s a lot harder to catch up and overcome setbacks. And the worse that things are for you now, the harder it is to think about the future.

(For one of the best posts I’ve read on this topic, head over to Frugalwoods.)

I’ve been fortunate on the health, employment, family fronts. Not everyone has the luxury of that kind of head start. You need to be able to get ahead of yourself in the first place, to get ahead of your paycheck, build up a buffer, get a reliable vehicle, secure your housing situation.

And yet, I came on board at a personally tumultuous time, financially speaking. By the CFSI’s reckoning, I was probably a bit closer to Financially Tenuous rather than my usual Financially Striving. It was so, so hard to come into work every day, think about personal finance, listen to coworkers’ tales of buying houses, all while shit was falling apart in my own life. Despite that, I’m so happy to be doing what I’m doing. I feel like it’s the perfect time to join the fray – financial capability is on the political agenda, recent legislative changes have improved consumer protection around credit and disclosure, and we’ve only just begun.

When borrowing for a car is the smart thing to do

A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

Taking out a car loan when your partner is basically unemployed and you’re living on one income. Sounds like the worst idea ever and the start of a judgey Reddit thread, right?

Yet that is just what we did.

I kept trying to hold out until T got a steady job, but eventually both the safety and reliability of our car deteriorated to alarming levels. We’re a one-car household and public transport will never be a viable option for BOTH of our commutes so it’s vital that we are able to rely on our vehicle. T needed to be able to get to job interviews and to start work at the drop of a hat.

It was a bad catch 22 – needing a car to earn money but needing money to pay for a car. I’ve said before that our strategy of buying cars we can afford in cash has not worked out well in the past – thus, the loan, despite the terrible, terrible timing.

Our car-buying process

The last (and only time) I discussed our car issues with my mother, her advice was succinct: go for something in the $10k plus range, as cheap cars have always turned out to be money pits for us. Both her and my dad did and I don’t recall them ever having issues with their cars growing up. The difference of course is they had the cash to do that, and we don’t.

Much as I’d like the peace of mind of a brand new car, there just weren’t any good finance deals around (Subaru had 0% and 3 lump sum payments, Mitsubishi had some good driveaway prices, but not for models we had any interest in). So we took a punt on the used market again, just higher up the price ladder. The one small comfort was that we know more about cars than ever before and T knows car sales from the inside out now.

Looking in the $15k range (give or take) we were looking at cars falling roughly along two lines: 4 to 6-year-old cars with 80,000 to 100,000 plus km through to 10-year-old cars with 50,000 plus km, and everything in between. Basically, the best case choices split between newer model, higher ks and older model, lower ks. The older cars are usually Japanese imports, while the newer ones are occasionally New Zealand new (and thus with a full history).

T zeroed in on a few different specific models; narrowing down our choices made things easier in some ways and harder in others. He loves driving, does 99.9 percent of the driving, and needs to be happy with whatever car we have (and let’s face it, it’s really the only decision he gets majority say in – I’m the boss on everything else). It’s got to be big enough and hardy enough to handle him – a little 1300cc is not going to work for space or engine power.  Being a gearhead he’s very specific about particular models and year ranges and knows all the little differences – features and problems alike.

In the end we set our sights on a Mazda – possibly an Atenza but ideally a 6 (the Mazda 6 is the NZ version).

The Subaru Legacy was another contender, but it’s difficult to find a lightly used Subaru without ridiculously high mileage, and being the most stolen cars in NZ, insurance is higher on them.

(Toyotas are famously awesome for reliability but expensive as they don’t tend to depreciate as fast. Also, he doesn’t like any of their current models – last time we were car hunting he would have killed for a Caldina wagon but apparently the later years are definitely off the list.)

Random thought aside: I feel like I don’t seem to see many Hondas or Nissans around Auckland anymore. Growing up there were tons of Civics, Integras,  Accords, Pulsars, and Primeras on the roads – these days the models have changed of course, but anecdotally the makes just don’t seem as common.

Closing the deal

So, what did we have to compromise on? In the end, we went for newer with higher mileage – a 2011 wagon with a little over 100,000 km. It’s an ex-lease car with a full service history that’s had regular maintenance, all documented.

(I gotta say, it took a while to get used to the quiet engine. None of the rougher rattling, shaking or ticking kind of sounds we’re used to.)

I’d read a little bit about negotiating with sales people at dealerships online, but it was truly bizarre sitting through the process. It actually happens – writing down the price you want to pay on a sheet of paper, then sitting and waiting for the rep to take the offer to the manager. I was super tense the whole time, convinced they were out to get us, but it really wasn’t that bad. I’d even go as far as to say that the rep didn’t really seem into it – maybe their commissions are small. He was definitely not overly pushy.

If I recall right, we got a little over 10 percent knocked off, paying $16,000. Compared to what similar cars, even private sales, were going for, it was a very good price.

Getting finance

It’s funny how things work out. I was determined to shut down any attempts to sell me on dealership finance, and yet…

1. The AA completely disappointed me. In their pre-approval email they gave me absolutely no details beyond the fact that I was pre-approved for a loan. I had to hit reply asking what my interest rate would be, and it wasn’t the best one they advertise.

2. My bank was the complete opposite – what a great experience! I was actually almost excited about the whole thing. A banker called me up, went through every little detail with me, took the time to make sure I understood everything, and was incredibly patient.

3. But the dealer in fact bettered the offer through their finance company. (There was slightly less flexibility around making extra repayments – however, given our situation, it was highly unlikely we’d be in the position to make extra repayments any time soon.) Also, going through them meant the whole process would be quicker, which was a bonus.

Incidentally, I had to laugh at this:

For every instance of a car loan “horror story”, how many people have no trouble or regrets about financing their car? You aren’t going to have a bunch of threads titled “Two years ago I bought a nice car, negotiated a good deal on it, put down a sizeable down payment, had excellent credit and secured a low interest loan and I couldn’t be happier!”.

(Yes, I have become a Reddit addict. Reddict?)

Plenty of my PF blog friends have borrowed for cars in order to get something reliable and on the newer side, and done so responsibly. Ideally nobody would ever take out a loan for a car, but we don’t live in an ideal world.

I won’t say it’s the best financial decision I’ve ever made, but it’s definitely far from the worst one.

I set the car loan up as an 18-month loan, so payments were rather high with the aim of killing the debt all the quicker. But halfway through, thanks to my new job, I decided to pay it off. That monkey is now off my back.

BONUS: having a car this new reduces our annual registration costs by heaps.

How blogging made me a better negotiator

Blogging taught me how to negotiate

Let me tell you a little story about how blogging gave me the confidence to negotiate my worth.

I remember the first time I ever made any money off my blog. I was astonished that somebody would pay to place content on it. Blogging – still the easiest yet hardest thing I’ve ever done to earn money.

From then on, it was a slippery slope, I admit. There was a time when I accepted way too many sponsored posts.

But despite that, I still didn’t say yes to everything. I was reasonably picky. There were some compromises I just didn’t want to make.

I started negotiating, somewhat regularly, with potential advertisers. It was easier than I thought. Faceless people behind an email address. A business transaction. If they didn’t want to pay my rates, that was fine. No deal. There are plenty of other advertisers out there who can, and do. I don’t need your money.

I’ve lost count of just how many email threads with stingy lowballers I closed off with ‘if your budget increases in the future, feel free to get in touch’.

And if my blog is worth more than that, then I’M certainly worth more than that.

Turns out that was really good practice for real life.

And that is how blogging helped boost my confidence, leading to my first actual pay negotiation.

3 pet peeves of a freelancer

3 pet peeves of a freelancer - NZ Muse

I know a few people who’ve struck out on their own in recent times, one of whom has gotten through the honeymoon phase and has now lost those pretty rose-tinted glasses about being self-employed.

It got me thinking about all the things I detest about doing freelance work (aside from chasing payment, obviously)! Bad clients are rife, especially when you first start out. And as a rookie you often don’t know the traps to avoid.

If you’ve ever freelanced, odds are you’ve come across your fair share of bad clients. Here’s three pet peeves I have that I imagine are pretty much universal:

The client who doesn’t actually have a clue what s/he wants

You know the type. Wishy-washy, lots of back and forth over email. Potential clients who won’t tell you what they have in mind, are super vague on the details of a project, and ask you for a quote without giving enough information to go on, probably don’t know what they want. And clients who don’t know what they need are prone to scope creep, blowing out projects way past budget and timeframe.

The cheapskate

There’s always a client who wants you to cut them a discount because they’re a small startup, or threatens to go elsewhere because they can get the work done for half the price. Whatever the reason for their stinginess, it doesn’t bode well for your working relationship.

The needy one

Like a clinging partner, an overly demanding client expects you to be at beck and call, all the time. Last-minute changes and deadline shifts are all to be expected.

The single worst client I ever had ticked all of these boxes. I found myself groaning every time her name popped up in my inbox, and putting off responding to her emails as long as possible. Reluctance to even open emails from someone is a pretty good sign that all is not well. Unfortunately, since this client was a referral from another client – a GOOD one – I was reluctant to cut her loose.

But here’s the thing. If you don’t value your own time, how can you expect your clients to?

Talking about money – sometimes other people will surprise you

What is 'real' savings anyway?

I love talking about money. I mean, you already know that, but in real life it’s even more awesome.

Asians don’t shy away from money talk, but I was always raised to remember that it’s a taboo topic in wider society here.

And so, I’ve been ridiculously stoked to be part of honest conversations with various colleagues about money over the past year or two.

Day to day we talk about the cost of housing, cars, travel. But pay is always a sensitive area, and one I’ve never felt safe broaching unless it’s around the time that I’m leaving that job – just before, or just after.

Every time it’s started with general discussions, tiptoeing around the subject and talking in percentages or just very vaguely. And then, the other person has come out with a number first. (Cue reciprocity.)

I’ve been surprised at how happy others are to disclose numbers, but in a good way – more transparency FTW.

Also, two thumbs up for the rad female bosses I’ve had who have encouraged me to negotiate pay.

Shameless plug: Next week is NZ Money Week, a campaign that I’ve been involved with through work. There’s a number of events – workshops, seminars – happening around the country (see moneyweek.org.nz) and if you take this quick quiz you can enter to win a Les Mills gym membership plus some time with an authorised financial adviser. 

Financial stress: my least favourite kind of monster

Arm wrestling - money woesArm wrestling - money woes

“Money comes and money goes,” a friend observed the other day, in conversation about our marital woes.

Indeed. It’s frightening to think about how much money actually flows in and out of our bank accounts. The monthly graphs my online banking generates for me throws this into stark relief.

It’s particularly frustrating when it’s coming and going (particularly going) beyond your control. This may not jive with the bootstrapping and responsibility the PF world loves to tout, but there are times in life when you simply have to deal with what you’ve got.

I was at a digital marketing seminar the other day and one thing that really stuck with me was the idea that we have to give up on expecting to control everything. That these days it’s more likely at any one point in time we are more likely to wind up going backwards rather than forwards. Obviously that was in a marketing context, but it’s just as true in our financial lives – heck in our lives, full stop. The changing nature of employment and the economy has seen to that.

It’s really hard to stay motivated when that happens. Why work so hard? What’s the point?

Sometimes being a grown up sucks.

Both Lauren and Jordann just blogged about dealing with financial stress. They’ve got some good advice.

I’m trying to:

Eat decently. I used to be a hardcore emotional eater (HAVE FEELINGS, EAT ALL THE THINGS) but it’s been a few years. Now I tend to lose my appetite when stressed.

Talk to people. It blows to talk about depressing things, but it’s worse to bottle them up.

Have little indulgences. Much-needed new work shoes, underwear and headphones are perking up daily life SO much. Small expenditures, well worth it.

Anyone else in a bit of a financial funk right now?

Finally, a movie that’s realistic!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the last movie you saw that surprised you?