• Reflections on a year of home ownership

    WAS BUYING A HOUSE WORTH IT

    Renting was to me…

    Paying more for less every year while paying down someone else’s mortgage

    Fighting landlords trying to blame us for things going wrong around the house, from the roof leaking to the shower floor breaking; having no hot water at all for a month due to them being useless

    Dealing with frequent and annoying inspections

    Never knowing how long you’ll be there

    Cold, damp, mould, sick

    Owning is to me…

    Some idea of what I’ll be paying for 30 years with some of that going into an asset of my own

    Less cold, less damp, less mould, less sick

    Knowing when we’ve broken stuff vs bad luck/shoddy work and the flexibility to address that however and whenever we want

    No inspections and no one to answer to

    Knowing we can be here as long as we want and as long as we keep paying

    Doing whatever the hell we want to the house

    Buying stuff once and for all knowing it won’t disappear or break between the unpredictability of flatmates or moving house

     

    I now pay for housing essentially what I used to earn when I first entered the workforce. I am so thankful to be in a position to afford a home, to have this degree of security. It is a particularly terrible time to be a low-income renter, and there are no signals of that letting up anytime soon.

    In a typical week Auckland gains 825 new residents and requires 278 new dwellings. It’s pretty obvious that construction is not keeping up with demand.

    I may never own a holiday house (which realistically I’ve never aspired to anyway) but I’m working to create a home I love – not just to come home to in the evenings, but to enjoy through the weekends and holidays too. Sitting out in the sun on my deck is quite possibly the happiest place on earth.

    I had a good feeling about it as soon as I stepped into the house. It was a do up, but liveable. Now that I’m coming up on a year, I’m feeling more critical of it than ever, but I’m also very good at identifying what really matters.

    Overhauling the bathroom or updating doors and wardrobes – not a priority. New kitchen – yes. Who ever thought tile counters were a good idea? They break and chip like mad, plus the grouting…! I’d also quite like cabinets that shut properly, a non grotty pantry, and a dishwasher. But good things take time (read: cost money). I’m probably only 20% into my savings goal for kitchen renovations.

    It hasn’t been all sunshine and unicorns. A few cheaply done things started coming apart pretty early on – but it’s all right, simply more motivation to keep saving to redo this dang kitchen! And it’s getting time to upgrade one side of the fence (the wire chain/link side) to something more sturdy, for our dogs (and the rascally kids next door). Apparently neighbours are meant to split fencing costs – here’s hoping…!

    I love home ownership and I am grateful every single day for what I have.




    Disease Called Debt
  • You will never be perfect with money

    You'll never be perfect with money and thats ok

    And that’s okay. 100%!

    We are human. Flawed. Fallible. Emotional.

    We hoard cash even if it would make more financial sense to focus more on debt, because that helps us sleep at night.

    We support loved ones at our own expense.

    We buy things we don’t need and maybe don’t even really want.

    We chicken out of negotiating.

    We fail to do research.

    We make impulse decisions.

    What matters is that we do our best. Do what’s right for ourselves at that point in time.

    And then, we get back on the horse. Forgive ourselves for the past and focus on the future.

    *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, and Racing Towards Retirement*

  • When financial opposites attract

    financial opposites

    It’s coming up to the anniversary of my buying a house (huzzah!)

    Unfortunately, the circumstances around that were, shall we say, less than ideal.

    I bought it alone. It was not how I’d imagined it happening.

    (Longtime readers know some of the back story here. If you’re a bit of a voyeur, click here to sign up for my new monthly newsletter – the first edition goes out this weekend. It’ll be all exclusive content: opening up more details about my financial journey (beyond what’s here on the blog), the ups and downs, plus my picks of the very best curated reads on money from around the web.)

    So, the past year has been a journey.

    We’ve revisited goals and aspirations and worked towards creating a new system for the day to day.

    We have in the past totally pooled money, and dipped in and out of having some separation of money over time. Right now is possibly the most separate our finances have ever been, and it’s working out better.

    That means from my end: handing over some things, learning to trust. Starting small.

    That means from his end: taking ownership of those things, and pride in doing so.

    The problem with us combining money so young and so early on, and me (being the savvy and more control freak type, taking charge of handling it all) was he didn’t really understand – the way that I did – what it takes to run the finances. The time and energy that goes into managing money. How much life actually costs. As I grew my income and thus our overall household income over the years, it was even easier to disengage and coast, and in the end get a free ride for some of it. Result: I wound up making way too many financial sacrifices.

    This way he has skin in the game – responsibility for certain things (whether it’s saving for a new fence or cash flowing pet related stuff) getting hands-on with them and owning those numbers.

    Even letting go of little things has been terrifying for me. I’m glad it’s proven to have been the right move, though. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.

  • What my Asian parents taught me about money

    WHAT MY ASIAN PARENTS TAUGHT ME ABOUT MONEY

    Like all true Asian parents, mine drilled the work first, play later mentality into me.

    (Though in fairness they were nowhere near Amy Chua tiger mother levels.)

    And along with modelling delayed gratification, my Asian family also taught me a few things about money over the years that I’ve never forgotten.

    Shop the sales

    Apparently I once asked Mum, “why don’t you ever buy anything that’s not on special?”

    She is the most frugal person I know. Never overpays for anything, and knows how to get the best price on everything.

    Back when we were in primary school, I once went to the supermarket with my best friend in primary school to get snacks. We were so proud to find and buy bottles of Coke on special for 99c. Even my friend’s dad praised us for our bargain hunting ways!

    Not my mum. At their lowest price, she informed us, you could get those bottles on special for even less than that.

    She is the queen of thrift shopping and I didn’t really appreciate it until adulthood. Now I’m like, tell me all your secrets.

    Always negotiate

    We spent a lot of time at garage sales when I was a kid and I watched the master bargainers in action. Whether it was a $2 doll or a $600 TV, they would always ask for a better deal (as it turns out, basically everything is negotiable).

    Despite all that, I could barely bring myself to haggle at markets while travelling through Asia. And I think back on the times I didn’t negotiate salary and mentally kick myself.

    I get the theory, but actually doing it is a different kettle of fish.

    Needs vs wants

    Wants never masqueraded as needs in our household, not even for a second. People bleat on about how extravagant parents are with presents for their kids, but we literally didn’t get gifts. I feel like we could have done with more wants, growing up.

    (For years we didn’t have a TV – before broadband, before streaming, and so I never got to participate in conversations about last night’s TV shows at school. #firstworldproblems)

    OTOH, sometimes needs can be disguised as wants…

    Props to them for trying to pass off buying me a sleeping bag (you know, for school camp) as an early birthday present. (Spoiler: didn’t fall for it.) Even 10-year-old me knew better.

    I’ve always stood by the belief that gifts are for things you want, not things you need. That will never change.

    What did you learn from your family about money?

    Disease Called Debt
  • The 2 things I learned this year that changed my life

    2 things I learned this year that changed my lifeThe past 18 months have been a lesson in patience.

    Waiting for things to fall into place, to resolve themselves.

    Waiting on the outcomes of other people’s decisions or actions that affect me and my plans.

    Waiting and working towards building savings, investments and paying off debt.

    Waiting to see how our two adolescent rescue dogs settle in, respond to training and mature.

    Patience has never been my strong suit. As usual I find myself vacillating between extremes: am I expecting too much of the dogs, other people, the universe? Or should they really be further along by now and is this a reflection of my own suckiness? What is simply a work in progress, what will always be in flux, what is yet to come and what is just never meant to be?

    Perhaps the best question is in fact: can I ever just sit back, stop thinking and enjoy the ride? Time has shown this just isn’t in my nature, so while I can try to keep it in check, I’m always going to be a worrier.

    Especially when it comes to the living things in my care. Do those wilting herbs need more or less water? Why did that egg have a dent in it? What’s up with that paw?

    Focusing on my locus of control

    I can recite that old saying a million times:

    Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Actually letting go of the things I cannot control is not something I’ve really nailed. However, I’m getting closer and closer.

    On the one hand, letting go of things is frustrating; it feels like admitting defeat. On the other, it is just about the most freeing feeling on earth.

    Setting boundaries

    As I said above, letting go can feel like giving up. But it doesn’t double as an excuse for sitting back and simply throwing up your hands. Nor does it mean letting others take advantage of you along the way and dictate your path.

    That’s where boundaries come in. They are so crucial. For me, learning to let go goes hand in hand with knowing and setting limits for yourself. Otherwise it’s easy to drift, be swept away, get lost and wonder how you ended up nowhere. Sticking to healthy boundaries is vital to my self care.

    It’s been so long since I kept a journal. I switched to writing songs, and then this blog. Next year I want to return to paper. Record small wins, track bigger projects, scribble down ideas and goals and dreams and the things I’m grateful for on a regular basis.

  • In a perfect money world…

    In an ideal money world...You would never be unemployed.

    Or ill, injured, depressed, disabled.

    Have to support dependent family members.

    Deal with the gender wage gap.

    Struggle to understand a finance document.

    You would earn a living wage for the area that you live in.

    Be able to support a household on one average income.

    Receive pay rises every year that match inflation, plus merit raises.

    Have reliable transport and decent housing from day 1.

    Smash through glass ceilings and class barriers without flinching.

     

  • We all have financial blind spots. These are mine

    What are your financial blind spots?

    Every experience we go through – good and bad – shapes us, makes us who we are.

    The flip side of this is that we have somewhat of a blind spot when it comes to things we haven’t experienced. For me these include:

    Unemployment

    I graduated into a recession. Yet I haven’t struggled with unemployment so far and I don’t think I’ve interviewed for a job I didn’t get (career wise, not counting the part time jobs I held before starting my career!) I know it’s not easy and have seen others around me deal with unemployment but I have not personally been through it, and thus am probably not as understanding or empathetic as I could be.

    Lifestyle inflation/mindless spending

    I’ve never been much of a shopper. I worked in journalism for a few years, so pay rises weren’t exactly a thing. When I changed paths to make more, I had an unemployed partner, so we weren’t exactly rolling in it. These days we spend a little more on groceries (hummus, fruit and cheese ain’t cheap) but it’s really just having pets that I would put under the ‘lifestyle inflation’ bucket for me.

    Student loans

    Student debt isn’t as insane here as in some countries, but student loans are still a significant burden for many of my peers. Thanks to my scholarship, I simply don’t know what it’s like to graduate with a huge debt load knowing it would follow me through my twenties or beyond.

    Golden handcuffs

    The notion of being stuck in a lucrative job simply for the paycheck is not something I have experienced. I don’t imagine I will, either. It’s worked out so far that I have loved all of my jobs and I hope to maintain that to a healthy degree going forward. Earning more is a goal – but not purely at the expense of maintaining balance in other aspects of what makes a good job to me. Will I retire early? Don’t imagine so, but that doesn’t worry me.

    More money than time

    Time is absolutely a constraint at times. But money has always been the bigger factor. That’s my reality, and the reality for most people around me.

    Supporting parents

    My parents are ageing. Luckily they seem reasonably healthy so far and they are not financially struggling. Rather than me needing to worry about their retirement it’s more a case of them worrying about my financial future in today’s world.




    So, what DO I know about, then? (For any of the above, there are many blogs that cover each of these subjects – bloggers who are reformed shopaholics, bloggers who are financially responsible for extended family, bloggers who have jobs that pay very well but which they loathe, etc.) I guess the stuff I cover here includes:

    Being a female breadwinner

    Not a position I thought I’d be in, but it’s one I’ve found myself in. See: here and here. And another post is brewing…

    Financial opposites

    What happens when a saver meets a spender? It’s been a process, through various iterations of joint vs separate accounts, paired with sporadic employment, etc. Probably got another on this in the pipeline, too…

    The struggle to find balance

    I am terrible with balance. I tend to get obsessed with things for a little while and burn out. Right now it’s balancing my mortgage against other financial priorities. In the near future it may be next career moves: making more money vs work I enjoy that isn’t too stressful.

    In relation to the saving vs earning more spectrum, you’ll find me leaning toward the latter. As a naturally frugal person I’ve never really come across any groundbreaking saving advice. What’s dramatically altered my financial trajectory and pumped up my financial security is making more money. I still worry about the future, all the time! But I am less worried than I have ever before.

    What about you – what are your areas of financial expertise and weakness?

  • I like big bucks and I cannot lie

    Money stress? No thanks

    “Money is the biggest stressor in Kiwis’ lives, and it is the young that are feeling it most.” – Stuff

    Man, do I know that feeling. Money was the number one source of stress in my life for the majority of 2014 and 2015, and it was THE WORST.

    We spend most of our lives working for money, and you can’t get by in the world without it. My life has only improved as my income has risen. It is not the #1 factor in my career decisions, but it is a significant factor.

    I’m no longer ashamed to proclaim that I like, nay, LOVE, money. Like Bianca Bass, I’m taking a stand and putting it out there. She sums it up wonderfully in these three sentences.

    “Money is wonderful. It’s the difference between having choices and having none. It’s the difference between worrying about bills and having the mental space to think about more creative things.” – Bianca Bass

    Being broke is a time suck, and an energy suck. Things like navigating public transport in many cities, bargain shopping and researching every single purchase to save every possible cent takes up a huge amount of your time.

    They say wealth is the ability to fully experience life. Hell, even a modest existence requires money – and in New Zealand, quite a bit of money, actually.

    It’s not very PC to say that you like money and want more of it. People like to argue that money doesn’t solve all problems, that having too much money is just as big of a problem, etc… Which I just find so hilariously out of touch with most people’s realities. More of us than not are worrying about how to make ends meet, how to support a family, how to afford a comfortable retirement. Your average person is never going to have #richpeopleproblems – myself included.

    “I think about how much money I’m making and how I could find more of it, not out of greed but out of a pressing need to know that regardless of what happens, I will always be able to take care of myself. I love money for the security it represents. Worrying about money has been a defining characteristic of mine for as long as I can remember.” – Megan Reynolds

    Preach it… To me, money means options. It means peace of mind. I spent a solid chunk of time feeling panicked about money on a day-to-day basis. Downgrading that to mild worry has been awesome. I want to accumulate money, not for the sake of it, but for the security and freedom (ha yes, two slightly contradictory words) it brings.

  • Husbands, housework and harmony: Why do men who earn less also do less housekeeping?

    This just in from the Atlantic:

    “Things change when the wife earns more than the husband. In that case, he does less than he otherwise would. In female-breadwinner households, the greater the income disparity, the less housework the husband does.

    The Cassinos speculate that being out-earned by their wives threatens mens’ masculinity, so they react by doing less cleaning, a stereotypically feminine task.

    The only exception to this double-injustice? Cooking. In Cassino’s study, between 2002 and 2010, men upped the amount of time they spent cooking each day. And cooking didn’t follow the same gender-threatened trend cooking did: The more their wives earned, the more time the men spent in the kitchen.

    Cooking, they speculate, has become manly—more of a leisure activity than a chore, and one that can involve flaming-hot meats, no less.”

    Sobering reading. Full disclosure: division of housework has never been totally smooth sailing for us. And oddly enough, it was at its roughest while he was unemployed. Funny, too, that cooking was the task most seized upon, or at least, the least avoided, though in our case that’s how it has always been.

    Rather than “the best househusband ever” as a friend suggested (and as you might EXPECT) I found myself not only bringing home the bacon but having to pick up far, far too much slack around the home. A symptom, I suspect, of general all-round unmotivation during that time. I won’t try to speculate on the issue of lost masculinity, though I will say that the fact our normal/prior division of labour – which does inevitably have some degree of gender influence – was not perfect to start with and this wouldn’t have helped.

    Cooking is great, but it doesn’t cancel out cleaning

    Yes, I know we should all settle for nothing less than a complete equal who pulls their weight and more around the house without being asked. (And no, it’s not always the dudes who are slacking, but a) it truly often is and b) I like alliteration.)

    But I’m gonna be honest. That was not my reality.

    In our case, he’s the much better cook. I probably produce one ‘wow’ meal in a decade, where he knocks them out on a regular basis with little effort. I’ve always been glad about this because we both get to eat better – and cooking is a significant part of keeping the house running.

    But when it comes to cleaning? I’m accepting of the fact that I am better at certain cleaning tasks and that my bar for ‘clean’ is actually higher. (When we came back from overseas and were temporarily homeless, we stayed with my parents. Thankfully. I don’t think I could have handled living at the in-laws’ – let’s just say we don’t seem to share the same standards.) It really isn’t just a gender thing in this case, it’s moreso that we come from families with very different habits. However, I’m not okay with doing all the cleaning, for obvious reasons.

    It was quite some time ago that I first read this Modern Love piece in which the author basically uses animal training techniques on her husband. (It worked – and apparently he eventually even began to use them back on her.)

    How patronising, I thought. And how frustrating. The basics are so obvious.

    And yet. I hate to say it, but maybe there’s some truth to it. I’ve found myself trying some of these tactics in the past, and I gotta say, the results were pleasing. Carrot over the stick, any day. (Gadgets also help, in this case. And I now know that steam mops can also be used to clean the shower. #lifeprotip.)

    That said, making the effort to thank each other for the little things on a day to day basis goes both ways. It’s something we both do regularly now and appreciate each other more for it. Particularly now there are two dogs in the picture (must update you guys on that!) who can be a handful, as well as the chickens and a yard to look after.

    For a relationship with less history, I doubt I would have bothered. If I was single today, I would be looking for a fully fledged adult, no exceptions.

    Mothering the manchild

    I can’t believe I’m about to type this and I’m sure I’ll get some grief in the comments. But more than one woman I’ve chatted to recently has voiced the idea that sometimes we almost have to treat them like children, which I’ve found myself nodding along to… Again, ridiculous, and I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but it isn’t an isolated one. I came at it from the Modern Love animal training perspective, but I suppose the same holds true for training kids.

    FWIW, in these cases the women were either the same age or a little older than the men. Maybe there’s real truth to the differing rates of maturity. How often we wind up in mothering roles just as much as partnership roles. Much as I hate the term ‘manchild’, it exists for a reason; I am honestly noticing too many real-life examples around me of late.

    I really do think everyone should live on their own before living with a partner. Going straight from the family home to cohabiting seems to be a common factor in this issue. We got together young and while I’d lived on my own for a bit, he never had. I have a natural tendency to step in and handle things that need doing when they don’t seem to get done.

    The trouble is, once you’ve set a default and fallen into a pattern, breaking it is difficult. When you’re good at something it’s easy to get stuck doing it all the time. I had a real moment recently when he mused out loud about how stressful it is managing money and how naive he was – how much I actually used to shoulder when I did everything financial for both of us.

    Communicating my needs clearly is something I’ve been working on. I live very much in my own head. Introverts often have a rich inner world and countless thoughts that don’t actually see the light of day. I’ve been trying to be more conscious lately about explicitly communicating the important stuff and making sure it gets through and isn’t just locked away inside my brain, or lost in translation.

     

    Finding a balance

    I would love to have perfect income equality and household division of labour equality. Realistically getting to 50/50 in the former is unlikely, but the latter? I’m firm in the belief that a workable and equitable system is possible and necessary so that neither party (generally, me) gets the short end of the stick.

    The general weekly routine feels reasonably painless these days, more so than it used to. The house will never stay clean for as long as I’d like (things fall apart by the middle of the week, and that’s only with adults and dogs, no kids!). And if, months on, he insists on leaving things of his out lying around that invariably get chewed by the dogs, well, that’s not my problem. But it’s a meeting in the middle.

    Sports season does mean time crunches, and next season I anticipate outsourcing grocery shopping/food delivery from time to time if needed. Also, at some point in the future I think it would pay for us to get a semi-regular cleaner in to outsource a bit of the load – that was always part of my homeowning vision.

    With things having settled onto more of an even keel, I’m keenly aware of the need for balance and fairness. Winding up in a situation where I am doing all/most of the earning AND most of the chores is not an option. That is one statistical category I ain’t falling back into.

    TLDR: I think back to certain periods in the past and how much tension the division of labour caused, and wince. It’s taken time to reach a better balance, but it’s so worth it. Seriously, it shouldn’t be this hard, and yet it’s still an issue in many households.