Tag Archives: money

Things I WON’T do to save money on travel

Camp

I don’t consider myself high maintenance, but I do have a minimum comfort level and camping does not meet it. I’m fine with hostels and seedy motels (“How do you always find the most ghetto places?!” T complained to me when we went wandering around east Berlin in search of our hostel) but I’m just not a tenting person. On a scale of 1 to Major Pain In The Ass, setting up and packing down tents rates just above scrubbing the toilet for me.

Hitchhike

First, the realities. I mainly travel with T, and nobody is going to stop to pick up someone who looks like him. I wouldn’t! Even our host in Munich, who’d been urging us to think about hitchhiking around Germany, demurred once we actually turned up and he met us in the flesh.

Even so, I don’t like uncertainty, and relying on passing cars to pick you up is about as uncertain as it gets in travel. (I remember waiting for ages one day for our Couchsurfing guests to arrive and wondering if they were going to turn up at all. Turned out they were at the mercy of hitching, and didn’t have a way to contact us to inform us.) Also not super keen on standing outside for potentially hours on end in any weather conditions to save some money.

Taking flights at crazy times

Super late flights may be a little cheaper, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s nothing worse than arriving  in a new city trying to find your way around in the dark! Public transport may not be running by the time you arrive, so you might have to take an expensive taxi, potentially negating any flight savings. In small establishments the front desk might close at 8pm. And it just screws up your schedule and body clock in general.



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Where do you draw your lines?

Why I’ll never buy men’s clothing in NZ again

online shopping nz - buying clothes from the us
By: Images Money

Know what’s always been next to impossible to do here? Shop for clothes for my husband.

I swore the next time we needed to buy anything for him, we’d buy online from US sites, since we know they actually cater to his size.

Although a lot of retailers won’t ship to New Zealand, or charge an arm and a leg to do so, NZ Post has this service called YouShop that gets around this. Basically, you sign up for an account. You’ll then get a US address that you can tell retailers to ship your order to. That address is a giant NZ Post/YouShop warehouse. Once your package gets there, NZ Post/YouShop will notify you, and tell you exactly how much it will be to ship over to NZ (and repack the parcel if, say, it’s been lazily/wastefully packed).

Making use of this, I ordered a few things from Dickies and a few things from Target (with help from Sarah!). Here’s how it shook down, roughly:

  • 3 x Dickies pants, plus a bunch of packs of socks to get the order over the limit to qualify for free shipping within the US
  • 4 x T-shirts from Target – the corny kind T loves, eg Batman, Star Wars, Flash and Iron Man

Total: approx $NZ150 for the items, plus $70 for shipping = roughly $220 in total.

If we were to buy 3 pairs of Dickies in NZ, that alone would add up to about $210. They are about $70 a pop! On the US Dickies site, they are US$30 at full price (we got them on sale at a discount), or about $NZ35 – literally half the cost.

And that’s before accounting for shipping within NZ, either.

So for the price of 3 pairs of pants, we got a bunch of shirts and socks as well, delivered to our door.

You may not be perfect, America, but you sure do cater to people who need to buy stuff.

Our gas heater may be killing me slowly

I’m curious: how much do your power bills go up in winter?

In the summer months we’ve been using 4-5 units of power a day, spending around $40 a month.

In May and June we used an average of 7 units a day, costing $55/60 a month respectively.

In July, that went up to 7.5 units and $70 – a wee bit worrying since we also started using our old gas heater partway through July rather than our inefficient little fan heater, which I thought would save us money on power. Apparently not! Add on the $30 it cost us for a gas bottle (which only lasted us the month) and we spent $100 in this area in July. (More than double our summer expenditure!)

As a reminder, we live in a tiny little house – our flat is one bedroom, one bathroom, with a small, long open space that’s about half kitchen and half lounge.

Add on to this the fact that while reading random things online, I found out that our gas heater may be slowly releasing toxic fumes into the house. It heats up super quickly, which is great, but being an ‘unflued’ heater gives off unhealthy gases into the surrounding areas.

I can testify that sometimes I get prickly eyes when it’s on, and in the past couple of weeks  that old tightness in my chest has returned, much like at our last house.

So, I guess after this gas bottle runs out, that’s it. We’ll be looking for a better form of electric heater for next winter.

It’s galling enough we have to shoulder the burden of heating this freezing place (the coldest yet of several extremely cold places we’ve rented) to a bearable indoor standard. But having our heating source slowly poisoning us? Gotta draw the line somewhere.

God, I can’t wait to buy a house.

Why I’m spending more on food, with no regrets

By: c_thylacine

My twenties have seen me become a lot more picky about food. I’m more concerned with taste and quality than price these days, even moreso after returning from our travels. Sorry to everyone who eats out with me – I know I’m a high maintenance nightmare these days…

Anyway, as a result my regular  grocery shopping habits  have definitely changed.

Healthier breakfasts

I’m a cereal fiend. But while I used to subsist off Cocoa Puffs, Chex and the occasional box of Nutri Grain, nowdays I buy more muesli-style cereal (the flakey type, not the oaty type). It’s a bit hard to swallow when these are often more than $5 a box, but it’s filling and healthy and I can usually find at least one variety on special in any given week.

Better bread

The so-called supermarket ‘bread wars’ have seen home brand bread loaves return to $1 a loaf, but I’m trying to stick to buying quality loaves for the most part. Better bread is way more expensive, but goes a longer way and is better for us. I’m talking brown, grainy and or seedy, rather than the cheap, super refined white stuff.

Fancier staples

I have a new pantry staple. It’s not as crucial as, say, flour or chicken stock or whatever, but it’s definitely a regular in the rotation. What am I talking about? Roasted peppers. A jar, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really work out much expensive than buying individual capsicums and then going through the trouble of roasting them. Having them on demand is amazing. (We once tried this with pre-minced garlic but weren’t really fans – fresh garlic definitely beats the convenience of the jar for us.)

Have you started eating better with age?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and brokeGIRLrich*

My top 3 money memories

nzmuse-money-memories

What purchases stand out most in your memory to you? A car? Wedding? A particular gift?

Running back through my memory banks, these are the three instances that jump out at me:

$6 fried rice Mondays

Back when I was in my first year at uni, Mondays were the day from hell. It was literally a 12-hour day, nonstop. I went to my first job in the morning, where I typed up documents and made photocopies. Then I’d rush down to Queen St and the underground International Food Court, where I’d buy a massive fried rice to get me through the rest of the day. After wolfing down lunch, it was off to classes, and then my second job from 4-8pm, loading newspaper content online.

That stall sold fried rice for $6 in 2007; now in 2014 it costs $8.50.

$700 guitar package

I worked my ass off during that year of high school, pulling evening shifts at a call centre and weekend day shifts at a cafe. What I could save now in a few weeks took me months back then, but I was so proud of myself. My reward: a red Ibanez RG170 and a 20-watt amp.

$30,000 RTW trip

Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here… In the months leading up to our departure, I hustled into the nights and on the weekends bashing out freelance assignments to beef up the travel fund. The highlight was earning almost $1000 in a single day – a batch of five pieces I churned out in one sitting on a Sunday. But ultimately it all came down to one day last summer when I finally sat down and calculated the total we spent on the trip, and seeing that figure staring back at me. It’s an alarming number, for sure, but one with zero regrets attached to it. I know I’d much rather a $30k honeymoon than a $30k wedding.

Your favourite money memories … go!

Five material things that (would) make me happy

material girl in a material world

As a general rule, I am all about experiences over stuff. Stuff wears out, breaks, gets stolen.

But as reported in the Atlantic this week, some material goods actually CAN make you happy. And I’m definitely not going to argue with that. Here are the material things that make my life better …

My guitar

After nearly two years being guitar-less, I picked one up for $100 secondhand last month. I can’t tell you how much joy it’s bringing me. I’m never going to be much more than a dabbler, but I didn’t realise how much I missed playing.

Unlike my old guitar, it’s not a name brand, though, and for the first time I am finding out first hand what difference that actually makes. (Occasional fret buzz, less than smooth-looking neck/body joint, and prone to paint surface cracks.) But since I’m never going to be a serious muso, it’ll do just fine for now – and possibly for a long time.

Good quality kitchen knife

I can never go back to the days of sawing away at vegetables/meat with the kind of knife that now feels so flimsy I could practically bend it with my bare hands. No siree.

Expensive frypan

Likewise, I love my Circulon pan. Now I can actually make decent looking hotcakes, among other things!

A reliable car

Not something we’ve had the privilege of experiencing much, alas. Working on changing that.

A decent house

I dream of living in a house that’s properly insulated, warm and dry.  And hey, since dreams are free, let’s throw in a bonus heat pump. Still a way off…

Adulting, step 1: Looking at income protection and life insurance

Life insurance is one of those things I figured we didn’t need to worry about until mortgage/kids entered the picture.

But I’m starting to think that maybe sooner could be better (especially if we’re going to be taking on a car loan).

I’m mainly interested in the income protection aspect. Most standalone income protection don’t seem to cover redundancy, but some life insurance policies do offer redundancy cover as an add-on. That would alleviate my worry of major setbacks/hardship if T were to lose his job.

To be honest, I’m not sure it would have helped us this year, since the company let go T and a couple of others all within their 90-day trial period – which may not count as redundancy. But it would have helped back in 2008/2009…

And of course, life insurance is quite affordable as we are still young.

(Not that I’m worried about job security myself, but I already have life insurance through work now! Maybe it’s time to make it two.)

At the moment the two main options I’m looking at are life cover through his bank, and income protection cover through an insurer. Under the bank option we can get basic life plus redundancy, which is dirt cheap, and we could also add on temporary disability cover. The insurer option is pure income protection, including disability; it’s more expensive, but without getting into all the details, you do get more for your premiums. The disability cover could be useful in the event of illness, and to a degree, accidents. For injury, there is public ACC here to the tune of 80 percent of your earnings, although we had them refuse to cover T once a couple of years ago and that was a massive and costly pain in the ass.

This comment (on Reddit, no less) really hit me hard the other week:

A lot of people don’t realize how correlated events are. You are probably not going to lose your job, unless the economy goes really bad. If the economy goes really bad, that is the precise time when you cannot find any jobs because there are so many other people looking for jobs and few companies are hiring. That is also the time when you need to tap into your savings, but your stock portfolio will be decimated. You may want to borrow some money for the short term, but the equity in your home is gone too because real estate prices are all dropping and all your credit lines are cancelled because banks stop loaning money. Instead of “these things can’t all happen at the same time” it might be closer to “these things only happen at the same time”.

Now that we are above what I think of as the WINZ threshold – ie we earn/own too much, so that we’d have to both lose our jobs and use up most of what we have before being able to get assistance in the worst case scenario – it really is up to us to make provisions for ourselves.

Any advice on navigating the headache-inducing world of insurance?

How long will your car last? A fun rule of thumb

We’ve always paid cash for our cars, with the exception of our second car (a strategy I think we’re going to buck for our next car, which will hopefully last us a minimum of 10 years). Based on our automotive history, I have drawn the conclusion that every $1000 spent = 1 year of life.

Car 1: Red Mazda 626 sedan, $1500

I remember the bank teller looking at me all sideways when I said the cash I was withdrawing was for a car. “Half a car,” I hastily lied, to get him off my back. It served us for probably a little over a year before the gearbox totally gave up.

In between car: We also had a freebie white Corolla hatch worth next to nothing for a few months that helped bridge the gap between the first and second car. I don’t actually remember how it came into our lives/who gave it to us or what specifically happened to it. 

Car 2: White Toyota Levin coupe, $3000

This was all T’s car – his chance to fulfill his desire to have a ‘cool’ car, and learn an expensive lesson in the process. Thanks to this car, we also learned how dang useless the police can be sometimes when it comes to car accidents. I’m really proud of T for going to court and coming out with the result we wanted (in a nutshell: the cops at the scene screwed up, basically tried to lay blame on him rather than the other party, and we refused to lie down and let them walk over us). This one didn’t quite make it to 3 years – maybe 2, actually.

Car 3: White Mazda Familia hatch, $1800

Left in the lurch and scrambling for a vehicle, we wound up with this little thing – again, all we could afford at the time. It is, I think the only car to break down on the road and actually strand us to date. This also remains the only car we’ve ever had that was in an accident where we actually wound up getting damages fixed at the other party’s expense. Unfortunately the engine and rust issues only got worse and eventually proved too much; we farewelled the car not too long after that incident (shiny new back bumper and all). I’d say this lasted us close to a couple of years.

Car 4: Silver Mazda Familia wagon, $4500

Our most expensive car – and the newest we’d ever bought, only being about 12 years old with barely 100,000km when we got it. Also the only car that ever managed to get through a warrant of fitness with no issues at all – you get what you pay for. It was still a pretty old car though, so that lovely streak didn’t last and after one or two warrants, we were back to the stressful cycle of expensive fixes every  6 months in an effort to get it to pass. It also has a weird ghost problem (to do with the tyres/steering/alignment)  that nobody has ever been able to fix.  Nothing that’s terribly off, just an annoying niggle – the pea to T’s princess, if you like.

It’s in a sorry state right now – rubber chunk missing from the steering wheel, no handbrake, no power steering, the ongoing tyre issue, and most recent and worrying, dodgy brakes. It’s coming up on four years, and needs to retire.

Hitting the financial reset button

Comparing myself to others is always going to be something I struggle with. I’m old enough to realise that this is not a part of myself that’s going to change. And the best way to slay that demon is not to try and squash it, but kill it with reason.

Mostly, whenever I fall into the pit of comparison, I wind up feeling pretty depressed. Yes, we are mid 20s with no debt, but also no assets to speak of and little hope of escaping the hamster wheel of grim, mouldy rentals anytime soon. I can’t help but feel like we’re never really going to pick up pace.

When I think about the people our age I know who’ve managed to buy houses, they’ve all had advantages in one form or another. Most have had parental help – parents who paid some or all of their deposit, either using cash or equity in their own houses. Some have lived at home for years rent free. A couple have had cars bought for or given to them. Some have one partner in the relationship who earns significantly more.

For our situation to change, I think we need two things. One, steady and reasonably-paid employment on T’s part – considering his stints of unemployment add up to a couple years, plus a few more months’ worth of reduced and lost income from injuries on top of that, maybe it’s a wonder we aren’t even further behind. As this Billfold piece wisely observed last month, we really need to start accounting for unemployment in the current environment, and adjust financial advice accordingly.

Two, a steady and reliable car. Going the cheap secondhand route has not served us well. After so many years and a handful of different cars, we’re still exactly where we were on the car front as when we first started out – treading water with maintenance and repairs, with nothing really saved for a better and newer vehicle. Debt-averse as I am, I’m increasingly open to the idea of borrowing for a decent vehicle that we can drive into the ground (10 years at least?) so depreciation doesn’t matter. Vehicle financing options here are still kind of unappealing, but the other day I saw what might be the best offer I’d ever seen – something like 2 percent on new cars? – so things may be changing on that front. I’d much rather pay 2 percent on a new car than 10 percent on a used car that could have had any kind of history, and T’s experience from his stint in car sales should help us in the negotiation stage.

But for my own peace of mind, I think I need to scale back on my expectations. In some ways, this year has worked out better than I expected, but in many ways it also worked out much worse. The long term goal remains buying a house and escaping the terrible Auckland rental market for all the reasons I’ve covered on this blog before, like health, stability, pets, kids – but I’m going to refrain from setting a timeline or any hard measures, because I honestly don’t know what the next few years hold for us.

Haggling in Asia: Tales from the street vault

nzmuse bangkok haggling

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were waving goodbye to Bangkok, hopping the Airtrain and winging our way to London. Suvarnabhumi was one heck of an airport, I’ll say. I’ll always remember it for the crazy fast travelators, our last fix of Mr Donut and oh, yeah, the fact I managed to lose my boarding pass somewhere between checkin and boarding.

One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about travelling in Asia was bargaining. I’m not used to negotiating, and even if it was expected of me, I just didn’t know how I’d cope.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much to worry about. We weren’t there for the shopping; we were there to eat and sightsee. We did buy a couple of things, though.

Our first haggle came courtesy of T, who took it upon himself to acquire a flip-knife he spotted amongst the treasures at a street stall. (Result: 50 baht off for a total of 300 baht. If I recall correctly. I don’t think that was hugely successful.)

There was also his tattoo, a totally out-of-the-blue purchase. While he’d been bugging me about getting inked in Thailand, I simply kept giving him The Look. Then, one night, we headed out to Khao San Rd for a drink run at about 10.30pm. (I think the hardest part about Cambodia and Vietnam, for him, was the absence of 7-11s and his beloved Big Gulp drinks.) We stopped so he could flip through yet another tattoo parlour’s lookbook. The owner ushered us inside and started doing his sales spiel. To say it was a tough sell would be an understatement – I totally stonewalled him. He threw out an initial quote of maybe 6000 and eventually came down to 5000 in an attempt to convince me… and since T was able to pull up his second family crest online to show the artist, and the price was way less than we’d pay here, I conceded.

And that’s how we ended up going out for a Coke and coming back many hours later with a tattoo.

The other occasion where we found ourselves forced to haggle was with drivers. You might find drivers unwilling to use the meter, for whatever dodgy reason, who quote you absolutely outrageous fares for a 5-minute ride when you KNOW it should cost, at the most, half of that number.

And yet … the sums involved are usually fairly small in the grand scheme of things. There’s the principle; you know what’s a fair price to pay, and you don’t want to get ripped off. At the same time, we may have been budget travellers , but a dollar or two would have meant a lot more to locals than it did to us.

Got any haggling stories to share?