Tag Archives: money

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?

But HOW do they afford it?

Paris Cafe
By: Pat Guiney

Once upon a time, I found myself out to brunch with a group of people I didn’t know very well. One thing we did have in common, though, was a love of food. Personally, I rarely go to the movies, live shows, concerts, etc – my favourite form of entertainment is eating. And yes, that often means eating out. For someone who loves food, I’m a lot better at consuming it than creating it. Sigh.

But where I might eat out once or twice a week, it sounded like some of my brunch companions were eating out most nights, sometimes even twice a day. It’s not like they were eating cheap takeaways all the time, either; these were people with a more sophisticated palate than that.

I couldn’t help but wonder how they could afford to do that. I’d love to eat out that often, too, but it would not be a frugal move at all. Quickly doing a rough calculation in my head, I figured I might actually be able to swing a similar dining out budget – but it would totally eliminate my ability to save anything at all.

Normally, my friends and I talk pretty openly about money but these were definitely acquaintances, not friends. All I could do was speculate silently. How much were they earning?! What did their incomes vs outgoing costs look like? Did they save money regularly?

It seemed like such a contrast to how I personally approach money. I literally sleep on almost every purchase I make – even a small one, like buying a new cardigan. I will agonise over whether the cost of petrol for a fun weekend day trip is worth it. In short, I beat myself up over the smallest things.

Now that I think back, it’s likely they were making a lot more money than me (advertising/marketing vs journalism). Fair play. Heck, I ate out a lot last month – a few highlights here – making the most of our Entertainment Book membership before it expired. (Best of all, the membership itself cost nothing: yay for freebies.)


One of the best things about making more money

One of the best things about making more money
By: Tax Credits

I’ve been so grateful to be earning more, not just because of T’s situation, but also because our medical costs have gone up a lot. Health spending has included dental, skin, and cold/flu to degrees we’ve never dealt with before.

I was a hot mess during my last visit to the doctor, and I looked it. As he wrote out my prescriptions, he recommended I get Cetaphil cleanser, “if you can afford it”.

Maybe I was doing my best impression of a hobo that particular day, or maybe he’s just sensitive to the diverse community he serves (lots of well off people around here, but also a lot of new migrants).

Honestly, he was so compassionate, it blew my mind. It was a far cry from the nurse who told me to just ‘go spend some money’ at the pharmacy, back when I was a broke student who’d just graduated. This was at the university medical centre, no less.

Nowadays I wouldn’t think twice about dropping money on anything health-related. And heck, Cetaphil only costs about $12. I’m so very, very glad that I’m in a position to afford the stuff I need today without worrying about the price tag.

What constitutes ‘real’ savings?

What is 'real' savings anyway?

I recognise this will vary. When we were broke uni students, a grand or two in the bank qualified as a little nest egg. These days, it’s probably something in the five-figure range.

The other day, though, I was carrying out a mystery shopping assignment at a bank. Part of my fake scenario was having ‘no real savings’, which was specified as no more than $30k max.

Call me crazy, but is that not sufficient to qualify as ‘real’ savings? That is a significant chunk of money. Particularly as I was also supposed to have a ridiculously small amount left on my fictional mortgage ($200k) so it’s not like I’d be saving hard for a down payment in this scenario. And, if you had much more than $30k, you’d most likely be investing it rather than have it sitting in a savings account anyway.

I tell you, I felt ridiculous sitting across from that bank staffer. I wound up specifying that I had $10k in the bank (the best lies are those that stick closely to the truth!) which she sort of chuckled/snorted at and said ‘that’s a lot!’ And I felt like apologetically adding ‘yep, had some help from the parents’ or ‘married a rich dude’ since there’s no way I would have that small of a mortgage balance at this age. It didn’t help that I think she thought I was even younger than I actually am.

If I’d been in her shoes, I would’ve hated me so much. She scored awesomely on the assignment, so at least there’s that. And who knows, she might have found out that I was the surveyor, and not a real customer.

How much would you say counts as ‘real’ savings, in your world?


Careers, compromise and capitalism

just a girl in a capitalist world

Time for the latest installment in the ‘loving your work’ series! (Previously: Can we all realistically expect to love our jobs? and The job-that-you-wake-up-excited-for propaganda.)

The TLDR version: It’s hard to not feel a bit hypocritical whenever I write about this, since I’ve always known basically what I wanted to do, followed it where it led and had it work out. BUT! I am married to a textbook Scanner who still doesn’t know what he wants to do for the rest of his life. At last, thankfully, I think we’ve weaned him off the ‘find your passion’ Kool-Aid (it’s so ridiculously pervasive). At some point I think you need to choose: spend a lifetime chasing that elusive and possibly nonexistent thing, or stick with something and be able to fund the other things in life you enjoy or aspire to, such as having a family, playing sports, travel.

We all know money matters

It may not always buy happiness, but a lack of it is a surefire path to unhappiness. Money, (or lack thereof) more than job dissatisfaction, sex, housework or any other issue you can name,  has always been the toughest issue for us. It’s no coincidence the two times that nearly broke us were during times of unemployment.

As this excellent Aeon piece on happiness/meaningfulness (worth a read in its entirety) observes, “Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need.”  Security of employment/resources falls in the second most important tier of Maslow’s hierarchy; ‘self-actualisation’ is just the cherry at the very top. 

The intersection of money + career has reared its head for me again recently, with my change of direction and T finding, then losing what seemed to be a 90% dream job, followed by a good job that turned toxic.

T has always worked to live, rather than lived to work.  Certain material things and being able to spend somewhat freely are important. Dog, kids, motorbike, project car – these things all cost money. And here, they boil down to needing to buy a house (not to mention all the other things that make renting here a genuine nightmare). Oh, and that in turn ties back into needing even more money. We cannot afford to wait around for years for my husband to figure out a dream job (which I doubt exists for him), and he knows it.

In short, we have dreams, and none of those dreams come for free.

Find a job that lights your fire? Fantastic, but if not, well, you’re not getting any younger and at some point you need to stick with something. The recession and layoffs aside, you can’t afford to bounce around from low level job to low level job forever, never increasing your income, or your earning potential.

What if you don’t have a passion?

When you know how you like to spend your money, but not what you want to do to earn that money, to me it only makes sense to search out a job that fits your lifestyle.

I rather like the plan laid out by Marty Nemko in Kiplinger:

My advice? Unless you’re a driven superstar, pick a non-glam career that you’d be good at… Pick the one offering as many of these characteristics as possible:

  • Moderately challenging
  • Meaningful work
  • A kind, competent boss
  • Pleasant co-workers
  • Learning opportunities
  • Reasonable pay
  • Reasonable work hours
  • A short commute

At one point in his job hunt last year, I came across an advice letter penned by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, which seemed like it could have been written just for him. Here’s Mike’s response to a guy seeking excitement and flexibility but with steady pay; a hands-on type of person who hates offices and gets bored easily but wants to have a family at some point. No big ask, huh?

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Harsh? Yes. But there’s truth in it. Job satisfaction is complex and happiness is not going to come from trying to figure out some inchoate passion. Every single job where he’s enjoyed the actual work has had major, potentially unsustainable inherent downsides. Lack of money/potential advancement. Physical exhaustion/danger. Less than ideal hours/schedule. And that’s before even getting to peripheral things like bad managers/colleagues.

As Penelope Trunk once wrote of his personality type, or very close to it: “The key to being a successful ENTP is followthrough. Because lack of followthrough is such a huge risk factor for an ENTP, it’s almost more important to followthrough on anything than to followthrough on the right thing.”

Finding happiness at work

Work is about so much more than your actual duties. There’s the environmental factors – commute, your physical surroundings, dress code, etc. The people factors – are you treated like an adult, does your boss micromanage, do you get along with colleagues? All these  intangible elements that can make or break working conditions, and that’s before we even get to whether the job offers variety, autonomy, challenge.

What we’ve come to realise is that in a way, this is a bit of a crapshoot. As my career hero Ask A Manager lays out:

I’d even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. Because as much as you think you might love doing that work for that company, it might turn out that the boss is a nightmare, or your coworkers are horrible, or the company makes you sign out for bathroom breaks and bring in a doctor’s note every time you have a cold, or you’re abused daily by clients, or your workload is so unreasonably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.

Dream jobs do exist — when it’s work you love, at a company that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind, or at least unobjectionable — but it’s dangerous to think something is your dream job before you’re really in a position to know.

It doesn’t have to be a choice between extremes – a $150k job you hate and a $40k job you love – there’s usually options in between. It’s hard to place any hard and fast rules on this kind of thing, but for example, I’d personally trade a ‘dreamy’ $50k job up to an ‘okay’ $80k job any day. (Adjust the numbers accordingly for your area’s cost of living…)

‘Do what you love’ is a nice philosophy and it works for some of us, but I absolutely detest it as blanket advice. At the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

lthough my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpufAt the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

Or how about letting your passion follow you? There is so much goodness to unpack in this Billfold piece on discovering job satisfaction, written by someone who was toying with taking up fulltime work in a field she volunteered in but came to realise that mission and purpose are not everything:

While I had always believed generally in the cause I was working for, it didn’t speak to a deep part of my identity. The day to day tasks, however, did excite me. I liked the variety, the creativity, the people I worked with, and the latitude I had in my role. I recognized that I had a lot more control and flexibility around my responsibilities than I had previously thought. I also loved my work environment, which included wonderful colleagues, a predictable schedule, and natural light. Ultimately, I realized that these elements were far more influential to my overall satisfaction and emotional health than working for a cause I’d believed in since I was a kid, but whose day-to-day responsibilities were a poor fit for my personality.

Life’s too short to starve for passion’s sake. It can be fun when you’re young but it gets old fast. Trading glamour/ego for more money/a normal workload is something I do not regret one iota. It’s also nice being on the side of a growing niche, rather than a struggling one – feeling positive and hopeful about lifetime career prospects rather than depressed.

At some point in my 20s, I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in soulmates. I believe there are a lot of people out there we could be happy with.  If we waited for total perfection, nobody would ever get married. And likewise I suspect there are a lot of jobs out there that many of us could be perfectly happy with. I was pretty excited about all the possibilities when I started job hunting a year ago, and I hope I get to explore all those paths over the coming years (unless of course I lose interest in some of them, which is always a possibility).

Because don’t get me wrong: I need a lot of variety.  Honestly, even if traditional publishing wasn’t in the state it is in now, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck around forever. I was ready for a change.

Having grown up in this era, I started out with rose-tinted visions of some unicorn of a dream job. Now I’m older and wiser and perhaps a tad more cynical and mercenary.

“The work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful — but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events.” –  Po Bronson

Did you always know what you wanted to be/do?

Although my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy. – See more at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2013/09/23/how-to-love-what-you-do/?priorityCode=3969702399&cid=aff_cj_6150161#sthash.Sfp4gCaa.dpuf

Financial stocktake: Assessing the damage

Financially derailing fun:

  • Going down to one income
  • Traffic tickets
  • Illnesses (all bets are off when I’m sick, I will drop money on comfort foods like nobody’s business)
  • Actual health/medical expenses
  • All our annual insurance bills
  • Moving house
  • Depression/head burying/general laxness

Looking back, we just never really had a chance to get set up properly after coming back to New Zealand and have been on the back foot ever since.

T’s bringing in money again but technically it could stop at any time. (Also been having unpleasant dreams about being forced to move out of this house, sigh. This underlying feeling of insecurity is no fun.)

We’re still bleeding money post-move, what with work tools, long overdue dentist visits and a new line category: sports. (Coming off the year we’ve had, the physical and mental health benefits of the latter were WAY more important than waiting a full year for the next season to come around just for financial reasons.)

And now, to tackle the credit card balance that’s been accumulating. It’s a weird feeling, this. (Yes, we could take from savings to pay it off, but I am not giving up a cash buffer. Not without a second reliable income, no way Jose.)

Would you pay for this? (Also: we’re going to Japan!)

We're going to Tokyo!
By: Luke Ma

I subscribe to a handful of travel deal newsletters, and among these is Jetstar’s weekly Friday flight alerts.

Normally I scan the subject line and delete right away. But one day in November last year, the phrase “2 for 1” caught my eye.

Even with all the add-ons that budget airlines slap you with, a 2 for 1 fare puts you well ahead! And thus, we’re going to Tokyo in September.

Assigned seats

Would you pay $5 to guarantee you and your travel partner could sit together on a flight?

Personally, I wasn’t sure at first. After all, on our flight from Reykjavik to New York, we didn’t get to choose our seats (either we checked in too late, or I missed that step somewhere along the line) and T and I wound up sitting several rows apart. And that was totally fine. It must be said, though, that this was toward the latter part of our trip , so we’d already spent a ton of time together.

But $10 (for both of us) per flight in the grand scheme of things is not a lot, so I stumped up.

Extra legroom

I am slightly toward the tall end of average for a woman and even I feel claustrophobic in economy class. So I have lots of sympathy for T.

I think it was on one of our short European flights that we got to change seats with another passenger in the exit row, and enjoy extra legroom for free. Let me tell you, that was a revelation!

Anyway, I balked at the $45 price tag for seats in the rows with extra leg room, but T‘s best sad face convinced me. And since it’s not possible to sit together and have only one person get extra leg room, that came to $90 per flight. (I would sit apart to save money, but apparently that wasn’t acceptable.)

It might even be worth it for me. I gotta say, the older you get, the more you’re willing to pay for comfort.

Hot food

The in flight meal menu looked absolutely dire. And this is where I drew the line. No way am I paying for what looks like a terrible attempt at a meat pie, or chicken and rice. Instead, we will fuel up and stock up at the airport before we leave.