• I don’t want to live with less

    CUTTING BACK IS NOT ALWAYS THE ANSWER

    (This is not the post for you if you are used to regular raises, bonuses, shopping and living large. Obviously.)

    Sometimes I feel like the only person online who doesn’t religiously read and follow minimalism blogs. (And many of the mainstream PF blogs, for that matter.)

    Why?

    They don’t resonate with me.

    Decluttering and downsizing are not things I struggle with or aspire to.

    I am the person who rotates through the same 3 pairs of shoes every week.

    Who put up with only having 3 forks for nearly a year.

    Who has lived in painfully small places due to money not choice, and bought a small and dated house because it’s what I could afford.

    Who has always lived in a one-car, two-person household.

    When you tell me to get ahead by saving my pay raises, living in a small cheap place, ditching the car, cutting back on coffee and clothes … I bounce, cause that ain’t my life. Many of us don’t get raises, live in large places we can downsize from, have a car, buy lattes or shop for leisure. These are not practical options for everyone.

    I get it. Trimming the fat is an easy win for lots of people. They are the low hanging fruit. And they’re everywhere on the internet.

    There are also people who are doing all the right things, but can’t get ahead. Quite simply, if they want to change that, they need to bring in more. Cutting back is not realistic (any odd small splurge they can manage is what keeps them going, and is not going to materially impact their overall situation). Popular advice assumes a baseline that is way above where they operate from. I don’t know what percentage of the population they represent, but they exist. Particularly in a low-wage, high cost-of-living country like this. They are on the internet too, but you don’t see or hear about them as often. I’ve seen their comments and stories pop up more and more over the past year, and it breaks my heart.




    I often find myself short of things that are more need than want. I’ve lost so much over the years through various cycles of flatmates, and moving house. I got by for so long without a shower caddy, baking trays, and tons more little domestic touches that make a home. It made no sense to invest in anything of that nature while renting, and even after buying my house I struggled to spend money on those little things despite their huge ROI in terms of quality of life.

    I’m not saying I am perfectly ascetic. I have plenty of crap I don’t need lying around the house and it’s a battle as I have hoarding tendencies rooted in a scarcity mindset (what if we need it someday?!) Mainly free stuff. When freebies come into my home, be they books or drinking flasks or candles or whatever, it’s really hard for me to get rid of something ‘perfectly good’.

    I know just how little it’s possible to live on. I backpacked around the world for six months. Full time travel forces you to get pretty bloody minimalist.

    I’ve lived with less and I know that I want more. A life of abundance. (And yes, for me that means some stuff.)

    Could I cut down my possessions by 30, 50, 70 percent?

    Sure. But I’d really rather not.

    Could I live on a lower income?

    I have done. And I definitely would rather not.

    Every new job/salary bump has enabled me to save more and build the life I want. My best life costs money – a house costs money, dogs cost money, babies cost money.

    For lots of us, cutting back is not the answer.

    (But I still haven’t cut my hair in over a year. I’m still not sure when I actually will get around to it.)

  • A millennial’s perspective on the Auckland real estate market

    auckland real estate rant

    Everyone and their hamster has an opinion about first home buyers in the Auckland property market.

    Even those who have no freaking idea what they’re talking about. I don’t know why this surprises me. It really shouldn’t.

    I may own a house myself but I get SO riled up when this topic comes up. We had a spirited conversation about it at work the other day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward. Here are my definitive personal thoughts on the matter based on the most frequently asked questions.

    Why don’t you just buy an apartment/townhouse?

    Banks are tougher on lending when it comes to apartments (especially smaller ones) and then you have to account for body corporate fees.

    Apartments and townhouses may have a good reputation for being modern and sought after overseas. Here, they are more synonymous with cheap and nasty. How many apartments/townhouses built in the 2000s here were part of the leaky house epidemic? Not only have those owners had to deal with the costs of fixing their properties, they haven’t seen much (if any) capital gain.

    I lived in a neighbourhood where quite a few apartment/townhouse developments sprung up around the same time. I have lived in 3 separate properties in those developments (1 apartment, 2 townhouses). They were cramped, poorly built, with paper thin walls, and ALL OF THEM WERE LEAKY. I didn’t really care as a renter, but I would never buy one to own. In terms of the residents, let’s just say they almost exclusively fell into 2 main buckets and I didn’t love either of those crowds. They have almost become a kind of ghetto in a way, and I believe the same is true in other similar developments around Auckland.

    Some of those actual apartments/townhouses can be bought for fairly cheap right now. And I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.

    What about buying a new apartment or townhouse? Well, I can’t afford them, quite simply. If I did have $700k to spend, I personally would rather buy an older house on more land. As you might have guessed, I’m pretty wary of recent construction in Auckland from my personal experiences. And so many current development projects have been cancelled in the past few months – so if you’re buying off the plans your apartment/townhouse may not actually get built after all.

    But a house in my suburb just sold for [dollar figure significantly under the average price] …

    Bully for you. Do you understand what average means? Some sell for higher, and some sell for lower. But the average is the average for a reason. (As per previous point – just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you should buy it.)

    Everyone expects too much – new houses today are huge!

    Yes, new builds today are monstrous McMansions. … but us first home buyers are not really buying them (because we can’t bloody afford them). We are buying 70, 80, 90 square metre houses from the 1960s/70s/80s because those humble do ups are what’s (juuuust) in our price range.

    Count yourself lucky – I was paying 20% interest on my mortgage!

    And were house prices 8-10 times your household income back then? House prices have ballooned, but incomes have not grown at the same pace. Payments on a $100k mortgage at 20% are still a lot less than a $500k mortgage at 5%.

    Why don’t you just resign yourself to renting?

    (Oh, I love this one! Let me count the ways…)

    Have you ever felt the sheer terror of having to move house because you’ve been given notice to leave? Used up all your goodwill with the boss because you have to keep ducking out of work to go to viewings (because rentals are only ever shown during working hours, unlike open homes)? Applied to countless places only to never hear back because there’s so much fierce competition? Wondered WTF you’re going to do as your last day approaches and you have nowhere to live lined up?

    Have you ever opened your wardrobe to find mould growing on your clothes like a rash? Or found a mushroom growing through your carpet?

    (Then, my friend, you haven’t truly lived. Let’s swap lives, k?)

    Do you dream of owning a pet?

    Do you want to have kids, settle down, make a home?

    Do you want to decorate, hang things on the walls, paint? Do anything at all to put your stamp on your place?

    Do you want to breathe at night?

    There is your answer.

    (PS – Fortuitously, The Spinoff is running Rent Week right now … a series highlighting just how much renting in NZ sucks. Check it out.)




  • Link love (the ranty edition)

    NZMuse - Link love roundup with awesome reads from the week

    Indulge me, if you will, in getting a few things off my chest:

    WTF: Steamrolling your fiancee into changing her name (if you care that much, you better damn well be just as open to changing your own surname).

    WTF: Caring more about whether a baby is born, than the quality of life it is going to have as a human for all the years beyond that

    WTF: Believing that you, as a non-indigenous person, have more claim to the country that you live in than any other immigrant

    I think that helped.

    Need to let off some steam? Blow all your steam off in the comments. Go for it.

    This week’s links (the first link love of 2017, if you can believe it!)

    For 90% of us, LESS money is NOT the solution (Couldn’t agree more! People who espouse this sound so hilariously oblivious to me, and I wrote about this exact topic late last year)

    How to stop expecting certain things of people

    Bullshit reasons not to buy a house, refuted

    How to let go of financial regrets

    10 daily money affirmations 

    8 money moments for your bucket list

    The underlying privilege in minimalism

    How to deal with food boredom

    5 ways to spend on your marriage

  • Financial vampires: Is there one in your life?

    Financial vampires - cut them out of your life

    Have you ever had a financial vampire in your life?

    Some people are just financially toxic. They are in the shit moneywise, and by merely being present in your life, will drag you down too.

    You may feel obligated to help, or they may explicitly pressure you to do so.

    Whatever their situation, do not risk your own financial wellbeing on their behalf.

    When you step into the role of the money martyr, odds are you’re not just damaging your own financial health but also doing a number on your emotional and physical health as well in the process.

    Those who truly love us and have our best interests at heart will not expect this of us.

    I mean, it feels good to be selfless, if you can afford it. Not to get all The Secret-y on you, but I swear little windfalls have correlated with times that I’ve given more.

    And yet.

    Beware of giving up too much to the people closest to you.

    There’s a difference between supporting someone through a temporary rough patch, vs enabling consistently poor choices and habits. The trick is making that distinction and it’s not always easy to see where that line falls, particularly in a newer relationship.

    I’ve spoken to so many people recently who’ve been in relationships where a significant other has taken advantage of their financial goodwill. In some cases it’s been about subsidising their slacker partners; in others it’s been about taking responsibility for a partner’s debt, or even incurring new debt on their behalf.

    We all agreed on one thing: we’d be much better off today if we’d wised up earlier. Sexually transmitted debt – it’s a thing, and in the worst cases can take years to bounce back from.

    We only get one shot at life, and it’s okay to put your own financial wellbeing first. Start by helping yourself and securing your own needs, then you can turn your attention to helping others.

    When it comes to financially toxic relationships, it’s best to cut those losses earlier rather than later. As a wise friend said, we aren’t just hurting our current selves by staying – we’re also hurting our future selves.

    Give generously. But never, ever sacrifice your own financial stability for anyone else’s sake.

    When it comes to money, ALWAYS put yourself first.

  • Why millennials need to save for retirement

    Why millennials need to save for retirementIt’s safe to say I never really gave retirement very much thought at all until this year.

    But now that I’m not deathly worried about bouncing from cold damp rental to cold damp rental for the rest of my life, I can focus on other things.

    Also, some of the things work has sucked me into lately are all about retirement savings and planning for the future. Heavy shit, in other words.

    All around the world countries are struggling with the affordability of supporting retirees.

    In the future we probably won’t be able to rely on superannuation, and will probably have to pay more of our own living costs and health costs.

    Currently NZ has low levels of elder poverty – our  high levels of home ownership, and NZ Super being universal, non-means-tested, and pegged to 66% of the average wage play a role in that. But soaring house prices mean home ownership levels are falling, and I can’t imagine NZ Super will be immune to the kinds of pension reforms that are underway around the world.

    Seeing and hearing some of the things people say on this subject makes me shake my head.

    I can understand indifference and inertia. I know it feels hopeless. You need to save so much for retirement and it seems like your money isn’t going very far. Hell, I know *I* should really be saving more. But something is better than nothing.

    What I don’t understand is all the ignorance and paranoia out there around KiwiSaver. Seriously. 1) Take the free money, the rest of us are! 2) Your KiwiSaver funds belong to you, not the government. Let go of those tinfoil hats, people.

    Save for the futures, dudes. It’s one thing to pay for the less fortunate – the non-able, whose who don’t earn a living wage – those who aren’t able to take care of themselves. It’s another (and kinda immoral IMO) thing to be a drain on the system because you simply didn’t plan ahead.

    As soon as you can, get started. Even if you start small, you can always ramp it up. Every little bit helps. Time, at least, is on our side. Just do it.

  • Can you really afford NOT to buy a house?

    Can you afford NOT to buy a house?

    As you may expect, the following is a New Zealand and particularly Auckland-centric perspective…and yes, it is a rhetorical question.

    Look, for many of us home ownership is beyond reach. That ship has well and truly sailed. Things may change in the future, but then again, they may not.

    I’ve managed to scrape into my own place, but I worry about those who haven’t, who won’t.

    Buying a house (as in the actual transaction) boils down to nothing more than money – albeit at levels that are wayyyy beyond reach for the average person, seeing as an Auckland house makes more than anyone working an actual job. But owning a home is not just about the money.

    New Zealand: where you can’t afford to buy a house … and yet you can’t afford NOT to, either.

    What’s your health worth?

    Our housing stock is shite and our rentals are the worst. Cold and damp, they are literally making us sick. Renters in NZ have worse health outcomes than homeowners. What’s good health worth? $50 a week? $100? $250?

    My house isn’t perfect. In the worst of winter it still gets too cold and the windows mist over. Yet it is many times better than the rentals I’ve endured. I can actually breathe. And that is priceless. More importantly, now I can install insulation, a heat pump, whatever I want.

    Fixing renting needs to start here. Longer tenure is pointless if the property still sucks. But that does bring us to…

    Can you afford the instability?

    Renters have to move. (Often at the most inconvenient times.) Pay nonrefundable agent fees. Pay for the cost of moving (trucks, cleaning, double rent etc) over and over again. Sneak away from work to view houses because viewings are only ever during business hours. And you’ll have to do it many, many times because there’s so much competition for rentals.

    That’s before we even try to quantify the stress involved with this lack of tenure. If you want a family, add kids into the picture and imagine how much harder it gets.

    And after that…

    What will you do when you stop working?

    Retirees still need a place to live. Housing is a critical part of the retirement puzzle.

    Rents keep going up. In my childhood suburb, my parents’ house has tripled in value, and the price of a 3 bedroom rental then is now the price of a 1 bedroom. Who knows how much market rents will be when it’s time for us to retire, and how much they may rise between then and when we die?

    A project that I have been peripherally involved in around retirement policy is generating some discussion here in NZ. One particular submission sums the current situation up quite well, and I paraphrase it here: The political approach to housing is totally dysfunctional, favouring the old and wealthy over the young – and will cause huge problems for the currently young when they come to retire. A key theme among financially secure retirees, or those who are on track to be, is that they own their own homes. They are – or will be – free of a housing payment.

    That’s going to change. Even now, there is real concern among renters about what their lives are going to look like in retirement. Moving is expensive, tiring and emotionally draining. Landlords are only going to continue to cash in on their capital gains – I know I would – and who wants to be forced to move at age 70 or 80?

    Personally, I didn’t think I could afford to save enough for retirement to make up for not owning a house. I didn’t think the difference between (ever rising) rent and a mortgage payment would actually put me ahead (particularly if I was to try and rent somewhere decent). And there’s definitely something to the ‘forced savings’ discipline of having a mortgage.

    But again, this is a choice that is available to fewer and fewer people as time goes on.

    Us homeowners have lucked into a huge advantage. And it’s horrendously unfair. Once more with feeling: New Zealand: where you can’t afford to buy a house … and yet you can’t afford NOT to, either.

  • Here’s the SINGLE best thing about owning a house

    The best thing about owning a house

    I can breathe easier. Not just metaphorically knowing that we have security of tenure here, but literally.  It might seem like small stuff, breathing freely, but it’s priceless.

    You might remember I first mentioned that I was having occasional trouble breathing back in 2010. So, I never actually got it checked out. I pretty much knew it was down to living in cold, damp places, and there wasn’t much to be done about that until I could buy a house of my own.

    I’m pleased to report that owning a house has made a huge difference on that front. Breathing has not come this naturally to me in years. Even on brisk walks outside in the thick of winter. Even overnight.

    Sometimes (not always, I grant you, especially through the colder months – but still much more regularly than never) I wake up in the morning and find myself breathing comfortably through my nose, rather than sucking cold air desperately through my mouth.

    It used to be that the only time I didn’t struggle to breathe overnight was in nice hotels, or overseas in warmer climates. But otherwise, I was never able to breathe solely through my nose at night; I just couldn’t get enough air that way.

    I haven’t had the flu this year – and I always get the flu each winter, which usually knocks me out for a few days.

    It’s hard if not impossible to quantify good health. How much damage has 10 years of renting already done? Renting for life might not have actually killed me, but it would’ve taken its toll.

  • When sanity > principles

    Money or sanity?

    I have a strong sense of fairness and justice (which sometimes makes it hard to exist in this world). But I’m also quite pragmatic and getting more ruthlessly so over time.

    Which is why I’ve made the conscious choice to write off certain sums of money over the past few years. To move on and look forward. Let go of the expended stress and energy, and devote that time and headspace into productively making that money back even quicker. And of course, to not get into the same situation again.

    Let it goooo

    Heinous flatmate (approx $1000)

    Blood from a stone. He was a terrible person to live with and is terrible with money/being employed/adulting in general. I’ve written off the money he owes for bills and damage and moved on.

    Tax refund

    Can’t really remember the amount – maybe $500? Anyway, T was due a tax refund a few years back that went into limbo somewhere between the IRD and his bank account. Endless back and forth never resolved it and we’ve moved on. (Subsequent refunds have made it through fine.)

    Work expenses

    Again, the exact amount has faded from memory and I’m certainly not going to check and dredge it up, but a couple hundy? Suffice to say toxic boss #2 in this post was a nightmare from start to finish. T chatted to someone from the labour department but ultimately, not enough proof of the context and it being a work expense. Live and learn.

    Unpaid freelance invoices (approx $1000)

    Loved the work. Hated the chasing of payment. I did a series of features and was paid for about half. Struggling magazine, new editors, tardy accounts … just one big clusterfuck.

    Unrefunded bond (approx $700)

    Our last tenancy was a nightmare. Anything to put that memory behind me.

    I know lots of you mentioned in the comments on this post that you’d written off small amounts in the past – what about bigger ones?

    Disease Called Debt
  • Call me mercenary, but…

    More money, more options

    There’s no nobility in poverty.

    No romance in being broke.

    No joy in struggle.

    I really really really like being able to afford to:

    • Heat my home
    • Visit the dentist
    • Eat dinner out
    • Wear real leather
    • Buy 3-ply TP
    • Donate to charity

    Call me mercenary, but in my life, money has directly correlated to quality of life and happiness without exception.

    Literally every area of my life has improved thanks to money. Not saying I’m on a never-ending chase for more above everything else (especially since I hit the so-called ideal salary for happiness) but earning more is certainly a goal. As long as I can grow my income while maintaining enjoyment in what I do, why wouldn’t I?

    Fewer dollars = fewer options. Life has only gotten easier as my income increased.

    I eat better. I am healthier (because I live in a house that isn’t damp and cold). I have a reliable vehicle. Pets. I’m a hell of a lot less stressed and feel less vulnerable to the bottom falling out of my life.

    When you’re going through a period of life that’s defined by scarcity, it’s incredibly stressful. You’re panicked and constantly worried, living on the edge. You make poorer decisions because you’re just not in the best frame of mind and/or have fewer choices available to you. You simply don’t think about the long term future because you have to focus on getting through today, tomorrow and maybe next week. How can you possibly think about retirement when you lack decent housing today?

    Whatever the reasons for money being tight (and they can be oh-so-complex – acute, chronic, unfortunate, deliberate) the outcome is the same. And in the moment, that’s all that matters.

    Money stress has a way of keeping you up at night, not to mention tainting your waking hours with its sneaky way of spilling into every moment. 

    The first day in 2016 that I felt truly free from financial stress – for the first time in, oh, just about a full year – was amazing. There are no words for the lightness that brings.

    I’ve spent far too much time in misery for lack of money. On the other hand, I’ve never been miserable with money.

    I cannot relate to the ‘broke but happy’ brigade. YMMV.

    I’ve lived through times where I’ve had enough, and times without enough – and I’d take the money every single time.

  • So you want to buy a house in Auckland?

    So you want to buy a house in Auckland?

    It’s funny that buying a house is one of the most stressful times in life, and a time when you’re also forced to deal with all sorts of horrible people – realtors, bankers, lawyers. (I don’t say that in a mean-hearted way; I was once a journalist, one of the most reviled jobs on the most-hated professions list every year.)

    The good ones make things easy and I think I got off fairly lightly on that front! I would definitely use my lawyer and broker again. (Alas, we do not have buyer’s agents in NZ.) You’d think it would be quite rewarding, too, helping people achieve a big dream and being involved in part of that happy (if stressful) process. They’re only in our lives for a brief stretch of time, but it’s such a significant period.

    That said, I encountered NO END of awful agents and nightmarish properties.

    Allow me to rant a little about…

    The houses themselves

    There are so many damn things to watch out for, the most obvious being leaky homes. But then there’s also all sorts of other materials to be wary of. Asbestos in older houses. Weatherside (I’d never heard of it before), a cladding that looks just like hardiplank but not as sturdy, and falls apart.

    Then there’s unconsented work to look out for, or things that don’t match the plans.

    I wasn’t opposed to buying a do-up, but do-ups need to be affordable enough in the first place to make financial sense (because you still need to pay for all the renovations!) and in no case did the prices stack up. Plus there were basically no “light” do-ups. They were universally in dire need of a total overhaul… and when you’re spending half a million dollars, you want it to be somewhat liveable off the bat.

    And other stuff

    I lost count of how many times I turned up to an open home (or emailed about a listed property to organise a viewing) only to be told that it was already under contract. Look, I get why they continue to do showings when an offer is still conditional, but I think it’s lame not to be upfront about it, when it’s rare for contracts to fall through. I can only think of about one instance where I saw the actual house listing had been edited to say “under contract” online, in every other instance it was a case of ‘surprise’!

    Speaking of agents, not to tar ‘em all with one brush, but the majority I had the misfortune of crossing paths with were useless. Can’t tell you anything, or won’t tell you anything – well, I’m not going to get a lawyer to check the plans or a builder to inspect the place for every single house I have a modicum of interest in!

    I suspect it’s damn near impossible to actually use KiwiSaver funds toward the deposit that goes to the seller’s lawyer. They say you need at least 10 days to process the withdrawal, and that’s a long time. I only had five days to go unconditional – my KiwiSaver money went toward the remaining balance for settlement.

    And can I add the weird mind games that come about when bidding on a house? There were eight on this one. You’re in to win and then at the end of it all, second guessing yourself – am I paying too much?

    Also, I (perhaps naively) imagined my broker would be 100% in the know and up to date with all things KiwiSaver and home-buying related. Not quite the case.

    Hey, vendor’s lawyers: how about being prompt with sending through the dang statement with the final sum to settle? Do you want a deal or not? Because I want to pay you. Seriously.

    Finally, dear bank: so my passport expired a week after my mortgage draw down / settlement day, and months after my initial approval, and you need an updated form of ID now? And are you seriously going to ask me for updated ID every few years?