Tag Archives: reflections

The day I first realised I was expensive

NZMUSE THE DAY I FIRST REALISED I WAS EXPENSIVE

They say kids cost about $250,000 each to raise. I have no idea how accurate that figure has been for my parents, but I can tell you that now I’m grown, I no longer resent my parents for not taking us travelling (airfares are bloody expensive and they did a lot of their travel pre-kids), buying secondhand clothes and only ever shopping supermarket specials.

Through braces, swimming and tennis lessons, music classes, library fines and more, they spent thousands on non-essentials for me. I have to say, though, they got lucky: I was never a kid who nagged for stuff. I simply don’t like asking for things, and for some reason I was always a little bit scared of my parents somehow. I can only think of one instance in which I sort of pushed to buy a pair of orange boardshorts (they were like $10 at The Warehouse) when I was younger, and I got my way. Thing is, they were on the small side to start with, I was a growing kid, and they only lasted a summer. Fail.

But the day I truly, honest-to-God realised I was expensive for my parents was the day I told them not to send me to One Day School. It was a programme for ‘gifted’ kids who weren’t necessarily being challenged at normal school. We went to see the place – I vaguely remember it looking somewhat uninspiring, to be honest – and then came the big question: did I actually want to go?

I can’t remember if I asked, or if they randomly disclosed to me how much it cost, but either way, the financial aspect came up. The details are a bit hazy to me today, but I’m pretty sure I worked out that one day there would be the equivalent of one or two hours’ pay for my dad. (Ah, ye olde hours-worked formula! Keeping us in check since the beginning of capitalism!) Of course, today that seems quite reasonable to the adult me, but to the 8-year-old me that seemed an outrageous expenditure. What a heinous waste of money, I reasoned – there was no good justification for it. I hadn’t been all that taken by my first impressions of ODS anyway, so I said we should forget the whole thing. And we did.

Don’t for a moment think I missed out on anything. I was perfectly happy in mainstream school, reading years ahead of my age level in my spare time and agonising over my social awkwardness. Really, English was the only thing I was advanced in – I was most definitely average in all other subjects. (And being less than totally exceptional is something I’m more than okay with. Genius is a burden, and often the greats among us are deeply tortured souls. RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman.)

For a kid who really just wanted to fit in – who still had a slight accent, wore weird clothes and wasn’t sporty – going to a special school one day a week would probably have been the worst way to prove I was just like everyone else. I’m sure a much more deserving and needy kid would have filled my spot.

(This post was inspired by Young Adult Money!)

Did you ever have a similar epiphany as a kid?

Romance is overrated: Why we suck at romantic gestures

romance is overrated why we suck at romantic gestures

One of the (many) things I hate about pop culture is how it sets up expectations for grand, sweeping romantic gestures from our significant others.

That’s why I really liked the fact that in the Big Bang Theory, they don’t stop at Howard serenading Bernadette with a song he wrote himself, but show Penny’s blundering attempts at romancing Leonard only to realise that the fact she has a shoebox in which she’d saved all sorts of mementoes from their time together speaks loudest of all.

Sure, there are people out there who go BIG. My boss bought his wife a car for her 40th birthday. My friend’s husband proposed after a skydive.

But that’s not us at all. I think you might stump us if you were to ask either of us about the most romantic thing we’d ever done for each other.

For me, it’s all about the small, everyday things.

I will save half my burrito to take home for him to share.  Sew up holes in his pants and handwash his good shirts. Buy Mallow Puffs on solo trips to the supermarket even though I think they’re disgusting and won’t touch them myself (I feed the people I love).

And in turn, the ultimate token of appreciation from my perspective would be simply doing things around the house. Proactively taking care of chores. Oh, and not drinking the last of the milk.

Alas, while my love language is ‘acts of service’, his are ‘physical touch’ and ‘receiving gifts’. And thus, real romantic gestures – the kind the other person truly appreciates – take a lot of work in this household.

Class, race, and money: My response to Rookie mag

class race and money - nzmuse

Every once in while you stumble across something online that just sparks SO MANY FEELINGS that you have to respond in some way. For me, this discussion piece on Rookie covering class, race and money ticked all the boxes.

‘Class rage’

“I had/have an ingrained prejudice against people who grow up wealthy that I am trying to work past. Like all prejudices, this one is based more on my own insecurity about money, class, and my worthiness/abilities than on anything real, and I often catch myself trying to invalidate the achievements of people who grew up with privilege (“Yeah, of course you’re an editor at the Paris Review, YOUR PARENTS STILL PAY FOR YOUR APARTMENT PROBABLY” or “I grew up with what you did, I’d have SO MUCH MORE to show for it”). It would be a lot easier to get over my unfair attitude if it didn’t contain at least a little bit of truth: I mean, growing up privileged does make it easier to get into a good college and get jobs and stuff.” 

 

Oh, man. I can’t tell you how hard this resonates. I have had a lot of luck in my life so far professionally, but also a whole lot of shit happen, and because I was fully independent from a very young age, I admit I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

 

 “One thing I’ve noticed is that people who are quite poor tend to think of themselves as richer than they really are and people who are quite rich think of themselves as less well off than they are.”

 

Also very true in my experience. I’ve also noticed that those who are less well off are often looser with the money they DO have (and whether that’s because of a lack of money management skills, desire for pleasures in an otherwise grim existence, etc is another subject altogether).

Class shame 

“My mom’s personal class shame was also tied up with the racism she experienced when she was young. She often acted like she was ashamed to be Mexican. She was never racist against other races or other Mexicans, but she definitely hid her culture and did not speak Spanish at home with me.”

As I’ve blogged before, I used to be painfully aware that I was different and hideously ashamed of the fact. Right after we moved to New Zealand I wanted nothing more than to lose my accent and distance myself from my ‘weird’ parents (they were highly educated professional immigrants, but still immigrants, and I just wanted to be white like most of the other kids at my upper middle-class school). It’s not a part of my past I’m proud of.

 

 Class and food

 

“Food was one of the big eye-openers for me in terms of privilege. When I was in grade school, most of my friends got free school lunches (and I was actually jealous because I had to bring a bagged lunch). At my new, wealthier school, everyone went out to lunch at this hot dog stand around the corner at least twice a week; I could only afford to join them about once a month. Then when I was a teenage punk and beginning to go vegan, one of my friends who had grown up in a poor family went on this rant about how being vegan was a sign of privilege. At first I was like, “But if you don’t shop at Whole Foods and get the fancy fake-meat products, vegetables are cheaper than steak, and you can make a giant stir-fry for like nothing.” And she said, “Stephanie, vegetables are not cheaper than like the cheapest brand of lunch meat, and they go bad.”

 

From my observations of one family close to us: when you don’t have a car, don’t live near transport and the supermarket/butcher/fruit shop are too far away to walk to easily, fast food from the takeaway around the corner is the way to go. Cheap and filling. It’s hard to beat that kind of bulk value with produce that is 90% water and goes bad easily. 

I once took them supermarket shopping and it broke my heart a little to see them buying a huge roll of what I think was luncheon meat for the week – which isn’t really food, let’s face it. I bought the kids some chocolate for a treat. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do.

Speaking of food – shortly after we moved here, I was invited to a sleepover with a group of other girls. They were a lot posher than us and had a huge spread at breakfast, including boiled eggs. I seriously had no idea what they were or what to do with them. The mother saw I was the only one who hadn’t taken one and insisted Katherine, her daughter, give me one of hers. Luckily, she had already peeled one – and that’s the one I got given.

 

 Class and career

 

“They never question my credentials because I went to good schools, and they “like” me because I know how to talk to such people, because I am comfortable with them, because of my privilege.”

 

I’m from a very middle-of-the-road suburb and went to a high school that doesn’t have a particularly great reputation. That doesn’t really matter these days and it doesn’t often come up, but I often feel a pang of shame if it does. I felt this most acutely when I first hit university; my course was overflowing with wealthy white girls from the central, eastern and northern suburbs. In response, I kind of retreated into myself a little bit and focused on working two jobs to support myself.

I still feel wayyyy out of place when I go to events or fancy lunches or black tie dinners, but at least I have done it enough to be able to fake my way through now. My upbringing did not prepare me for any of this kind of stuff.  

T has always worked very blue collar jobs, but recently has ventured further into the white collar world, which is not necessarily an easy transition to make. He doesn’t really have any role models in this regard; I’m the only person really placed to be any sort of guide at all.

 

Class markers

 

“Obvious ones: education and membership in any of the networks of rich white people who enjoy perpetuating themselves. (There is some overlap between these two things.)”

“CREDIT.”

“BRACES.”

“The way people speak is a huge indicator. Also cultural references. Also personal style.”

 

Oooh, this is a goodie.

I definitely think the way people talk is a dead giveaway. I also have seen firsthand how poverty can start to breed racism. I recently heard someone (who is now technically related to me, alas) say something along the lines of: we may be poor and breed like rabbits but we’re still better than (insert derogatory term that rhymes with ‘triggers’). It was rather worrying; it felt like I had suddenly stepped onto the set of American History X or something.

For me growing up, one big marker was whether kids and their families went away on holiday. It’s common around here to have a bach (holiday house)  in a beach town, but I also knew a lot of kids who would go on overseas holidays every year. (We never went anywhere. We stayed home every summer.)

 

One last anecdote: when I was maybe 5 or so we did an assignment at kindy/school where we wrote about our families. One of the questions was ‘do you live in a small or big house’? I honestly didn’t know, as I didn’t really have anything to compare our house with, and went back and forth in my mind about how to answer that. We had a pretty nice house but I settled on ‘small’ – apparently I’ve erred on the side of modesty ever since I was born. When I came home and showed my mum, she was definitely surprised and corrected me on that.

 

 

What qualifies a hobby, anyway?

WHAT COUNTS AS A HOBBY NZMUSE

I’ve been thinking about how identify ourselves – both internally, and to others. Even in those past few years when I picked my guitar up maybe once or twice a month at most, I still liked to think of myself as a musician.

Are you a reader if you don’t have time to read more than a book a month?

Are you a muso if you only dust off your instrument every other week?

Are you a skiier if you only hit the slopes once in a season?

Are you a (hobby) photographer if you still don’t feel at home in manual mode?

Are you a baker if your cakes are hideous (but taste amazing)?

Are you a runner if you only ever run a couple of kilometres at a time?

For example, hiking seems to be the new thing now that we’re in our mid 20s. I go along to be social, and because sometimes we see cool stuff – waterfalls, sweeping views, etc. The workout is a bonus (mixing it up is fun, especially since I don’t really push myself when I go running). Going tramping with friends forces me to push my limits; if I keep this up I might actually have rock hard legs one day.

But I don’t know that I would call it a hobby. I mean, 90% of the time when we’re out in the bush, it’s not particularly fun. It’s an exercise in light pain – lungs and thighs on fire, sweat pooling in every crevice. Some of them are now doing overnight and multi-day trips, which I stay well clear of.

On the other hand, those among us who were really into music growing up have slowly drifted away from our instruments. I assume that’s because maintaining a certain level of skill takes a LOT of time and effort, and as we get older we have a lot more on our plate.

I’d always planned to replace our stolen gear, but the cost is putting me off – will it really be worth the outlay? Will we play enough to justify the cost? Wouldn’t that $2k or so be better put toward a house fund?

What counts as a hobby? Is it about investing in equipment? Is it about the level of enjoyment you get out of it? Is it about reaching a certain basic level of competence?

Finance = money & money = sexy. If only my 13-year-old self had known that

money is the most important thing - financial literacy and financial education

In which I reflect on my financial education to date, inspired by Blonde on a Budget’s post about financial literacy in schools.

My first memory of year 9 maths in high school is being teamed up with two others, going to the local supermarket  and calculating what food and supplies would cost for a family for a week. Let me tell you, it’s really awkward talking about toilet paper and tampons with people you barely know…

But that wasn’t my first foray into this kind of thing.  I’ve long known the value of a dollar.

Growing up, I literally do not recall seeing my mother ever buy anything that wasn’t on sale. When I was about 10, my best friend and I went to the supermarket to buy snacks and drinks. We were super proud about finding a 1-litre Coke for $1 and gushed about our frugality to her dad.

“That’s a good buy,” he said, and smiled. But when I told my mum about it later on? Her reaction: I can get 1.5 litres or 2 litres for the same price. Way to shoot down the kids, but she’s always been the bargain queen, and a blunt one at that.

Shortly after that I got my first paying gig, a paper run, and later on I would work TWO jobs in high school so I could buy an electric guitar and amp. I’ve always, always saved. I couldn’t really say why, as for years there was nothing I was saving for; I just knew it was the thing to do. Somehow my parents instilled that in me (thanks guys).

Business as a subject, though? I thought it was deadly dull and wanted nothing to do with it. Business studies was compulsory for a little while (maybe over the duration of one term) early in high school. You could then go on to do accounting or economics, and as you can probably guess, I chose not to do either. My mother is an accountant, something I thought was the most unimaginative and boring thing one could possibly be, and economics held no draw for me, either.

Of course, the older I get the more important I realise all of that is. Getting a grip on how the economy works is kind of a basic requirement of adulthood, I reckon. 

Knowing how the official cash rate impacts interest rates, for example – that affects savers and borrowers alike.

Understanding general business principles too, which will serve most of us well because most of us do wind up in business, one way or another, to some degree. Yes, even those of us who pursue creative fields – who in many ways would benefit MOST from learning what being a professional in a capitalist society really involves. I‘m in an industry trying to figure out how to make money to sustain itself, and understanding the market and customers is vital to that. And amazingly, I’m finding this is actually quite interesting – and challenging.

I also believe understanding finance from a broader point of view is invaluable. While I’ve never been hugely interested in passive income – I like my work and don’t have any ambitions to retire early – recently I’ve been thinking about income security and growth. It really hit home for me that apart from trading your time for money, there are only a few paths to earning income. Here’s how I see them:

  • Investing in the stockmarket
  • Investing in real estate
  • Producing products (presumably digital) that you create once and then continue to sell indefinitely, no extra effort required on your part

It would  have been good to learn some of this stuff in school, because, um, who DOESN’T want to make money? Everyone, even high school kids (maybe ESPECIALLY high school kids) is interested in making more money.

I’m not saying there aren’t opportunities to learn and get involved in this kind of thing. For example, there are student stockmarket challenges you can participate in –  one of my classmates did really well on those, making a ton of (theoretical) cash. But that kind of thing didn’t interest me back then, and in fact kind of intimidated me, so I didn’t seek them out. Also, it was all kinda nerdy and I was desperately trying to escape the pigeonhole of nerd-dom back then.

How things change. Money is sexy. I know that now. I REPENT. 

The single most defining food experience of my life…

was not an expensive meal out at a fancy restaurant or some outlandish delicacy in an exotic country.

No, it was a span of three weeks at a country farmhouse just north of Rome.

I loved almost all the meals we had in Italy. Dining out in Italy is a delight. One to be savoured.

But  more impactful than all those amazing restaurant meals was the Italian home cooking we enjoyed while volunteering through HelpX. In that way, volunteering was priceless – truly an experience not to be bought. There, we had some of the best food we had in all of Italy – homemade, simple and free (well, in exchange for our labour, I suppose. If you want to get all technical about it).

fresh pasta lunch in italy

My tastebuds were introduced to the joy of tomatoes and string beans plucked straight from the vine only hours before. The simple indulgence afforded by a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squirt of balsamic vinegar – a sunshower of cheese, on occasion. Baked eggplant. Grilled courgettes. Salmon swirled through spaghetti. Slippery cushions of ravioli, slick with flavourful goodness. Fresh bread to mop up the remaining oils and sauces. The wonder of burrata.

fresh pasta lunch in italy nzmuse

Italian food alone would have been worth the entire price tag of our trip. I’m only partly kidding.

 

Women’s Money Week: Overcoming impostor syndrome – how a virtual stranger opened my eyes to my real worth

overcoming impostor syndrome One of my fears about taking half of 2013 off to travel was that my fill-in at work would totally outshine me.

Fortunately it did the opposite – highlighting how much I juggle every day and how well I do it. It wasn’t just the people I work with every day who noticed but people externally who noticed the difference. That really struck home for me when I was chatting to someone – a person I don’t have much personal, frequent contact with but really respect – who went as far as to say our team had been obviously “screwed” in my absence.

His validation, as an outsider, was the key to altering how I see myself. That marked a real turning point for me.

I’ve always had a strange thing about self-confidence.  I love what I write, at least until I hand it over, at which point I immediately start to hate it. Until very recently, I couldn’t ever stand to read my own work once published. I’ve always gotten good feedback about my work, but my own self-belief has always been patchy. There has never been a solid foundation underpinning it. Hello impostor syndrome!

This is only my second full-time job (although I have learned so very, very much over the past couple years) and I’ve basically always been the most junior on the team. I’m  naturally reserved, I’m quiet in meetings not just because of shyness but because I don’t feel I have anything to contribute.

But I’m firmly mid-20s now. I’m not necessarily always the junior person, or even if I am, I now do increasingly have things to contribute. It’s expected of me – and I shouldn’t hold myself back because of how I feel inside. It’s time to adjust this mental perception I hold about who I am. I’m not 18 and clueless anymore.

I look older than I am, which I think has helped people take me seriously up till now. And I need to take myself seriously too, and not sell myself short.

At what point did you realise you had outgrown the ‘junior’ card and couldn’t play it anymore? Have you ever had a random incident change how you perceived yourself and your professional worth?

Women’s Money Week: Career progression and climbing the ladder

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

There are companies that reward talent, and there are some where it’s more or less impossible to move up.

Companies where feedback is given and an active interest taken in career progression, and companies where people wake up one day and realise they’ve been doing the same thing for 5 or 10 years.

It can also depend on structure. In some places, the number and type of roles is more or less fixed. Creating new positions is unheard of within the hierarchy and the kinds of titles and duties available are strictly limited, unless somebody vacates their spot and a specific post opens up.

A few years ago, T found himself in one of these. It started off well; he had a good relationship with the boss, who promised opportunities for advancement. (Sponsors, not mentors, are your champions within an organisation – I now realise my boss at my first job was essentially a sponsor for me and was key to my moving up.) Initially, he was being groomed to fill a position that the incumbent was retiring from. However, when it came up eventually, it was made clear they’d rather he remain where he was.

It was probably a mix of factors: he was too good at what he did, and too valuable to lose there; the fact that he’s a bit rough around the edges, so not necessarily preferred management material; and that the company just wasn’t big on promoting – most workers stayed where they were and other top performers went elsewhere in order to advance.

In the end, we decided to go travelling for awhile and that was the impetus for him to hang on until we left. If we hadn’t, I imagine he would have started job hunting a lot earlier.

What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a company that encourages growth and promotes talent? How do you spot them?

Women’s Money Week: Kids. Who’d have ‘em?

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

They say you tend to most regret the things you don’t do, rather the things you did. (That’s one of the things that convinced me I had to take time off to travel in 2013.)

Does that apply to having children?

(Potential TMI ahead in next paragraph)

I freaked myself out a while ago when I noticed I had unusually sore, full boobs (by my standards. I have NO idea how women with actual chests exercise comfortably. Going running that week was frickin’ agonising). It was coming up to that time of month, but not quite. Naturally, I was half-convinced I must be knocked up and went into minor panic mode.

That made me realise – with a jolt – that if I was, we would most probably have it. I guess you’d say I’m at the stage in life now where having a kid would only be slightly disastrous (say, 8/10) as opposed to deliriously disastrous (10/10). Two of my friends are apparently already in debate about who is going to be the better uncle to my future offspring. Bless their wacky little hearts.

But the one thing I really, truly want to accomplish before having kids is buying a house. I want the stability, I want the quality (if it’s a damp house, at least we can insulate it), and I know if we have a kid first it’s going to be virtually impossible to save what we need for a deposit.

And then there’s all the finances around actually having one – I’m not fussed about THINGS for a baby as such, like clothes and car seats and cots … but rather leave from work, childcare, etc. I’d really like for T to have a more established career. We can live off my income for now while he job hunts, but it’s certainly not the ideal, and neither of us earns enough that it would be easy for one of us to stay home with a kid.

Unlike a lot of people who grew up in a family where money was tight, who as adults are determined to be financially secure before they have a family, T thinks I’m overly conservative on this front. (It may also have something to do with the fact that he has worked with/socialised with so many less well off people who’ve had kids in their teens/early 20s – who certainly don’t have it easy, but get by nonetheless. His younger brother, for one, is about to join that club.)

Financial stress SUCKS. Been there, done that, with T right there alongside. And adding a tiny human being into that kind of toxic mix is one hot mess I never want any part of. Money buys peace of mind, and a LOT of things that bring happiness.

No, he’s generally more concerned with being too old to ‘enjoy’ our kids rather than being able to comfortably provide. I sympathise with this sentiment on the surface but try as I may, I just can’t empathise with it. My parents had me in their 30s, and their age never had any impact on my upbringing, which no doubt plays a large part in that.

As with a lot of things, there’s never a perfect time. There sure are some better and some worse times, though, and we haven’t gotten into the territory of the former yet.

How do you think your childhood/family environment shaped your thoughts and feelings about having kids of your own? Would you be ready to have one right now (if you found yourself in that situation?)

What Cards Against Humanity teaches us about our careers

Last week I played Cards Against Humanity for the first time with friends (oh, the dark hilarity). Surprisingly, the game also reminded me of a few important career lessons…

Excellence always speaks for itself

There are some cards that everyone immediately recognises as being head and shoulders above the rest awesome. I won’t list any here, because they’ll probably vary a little depending on the crowd of people, but trust me, you’ll know them when they’re played.

Just like in real life, truly great work speaks for itself.

But self-promotion is important

I’m not sure if this is how we’re actually meant to play, but our first game (and only game so far, though I hope that won’t be true for long!) was marked by a healthy dose of campaigning. I’m talking back-and-forth arguments over certain cards and their merit in the context of that particular round. Now, I’m not saying that players always argued in favour of their own answers, because  - as per point number one – excellence always stands out in the crowd.  But it definitely happened a lot.

In the workplace, being a rockstar will get you noticed, but it helps to have some PR behind that. Help yourself out and learn to self-promote – subtly, that is.

And finally, you can’t control absolutely everything

As amazing as the ‘being a fucking sorcerer’ card is, you can never count your chickens before they hatch. Every round is decided by a different card ‘czar’ and their own biases and preferences might not mesh with your sense of humour. Ultimately, your fate is out of your hands.

No matter how well you know your boss, client, etc, people can surprise you at any time. Even master manipulator Frank Underwood (a different type of Cards reference there…) sometimes gets blindsided.

Have you played Cards Against Humanity? How much do you love it?!