• Be smart about borrowing

    This month would have been the month I paid my car off. (If I hadn’t dug into my savings and cleared the loan last year, that is.)

    If there’s one thing I learned from my experience, it’s the importance of shopping around. Consider a few things: interest rate, fees, and repayment flexibility (in other words, can you make extra payments, or pay off your loan early, and are there penalties?).

    Hopefully I won’t need to borrow for a vehicle again, but if I do I’d look into:

    Car loans

    Secured loans always have lower interest rates, but there are a few more hoops to jump through. For example, I would have had to go back and forth with my bank to ensure they approved of the vehicle and were happy to lend on that specific one. You will probably also need full car insurance, and to let the insurer know the car is financed. Banks and credit unions all offer secured car loans, as do other finance companies.

    Personal loans

    Higher interest rates, but less hassle. It would eliminate the step of clearing the car with the lender, as the loan wouldn’t be secured against it. As with car loans, banks, credit unions and other finance companies offer unsecured personal loans – you might find with some lenders that rates vary depending on the amount of the loan.

    P2P lending

    There’s a growing number of P2P lending platforms on the market – there are already a handful here! P2P loans can be for a huge number of things, but cars are a common one. Rates vary though and generally you need to start an application to find out what you would get.

  • 3 ways FreshBooks makes freelancing a breeze

    Freelancer Freshbooks review

    Confession: I’m terrible at tracking my time.

    Most of my freelance work over the past few years has been fee-based or project-based, and when you’re charging based on outputs it’s not as crucial to track every second (plus it’s an incentive to work more efficiently).

    But recently I’ve been doing some work on an hourly basis, so I’ve had to up my game on the accountability front.

    Now, if you’re a FreshBooks user you’ll already know that its platform incorporates a handy time tracking tool. Or, like me, you might have just started using it and realised how many features it offers to freelancers and business owners!

    Time tracking for freelancers

    FreshBooks allows you to log your hours in its system, and then generate an invoice based on what you’ve entered. Magic!

    Invoicing in an instant

    Even if you’re not charging by the hour, creating invoices in FreshBooks is a breeze. Save details to reuse in the future, from client information to project tasks. Add discounts or request a deposit at the click of a button.

    Work predominantly online? With FreshBooks you can accept Paypal and Stripe as forms of payment.

    And because getting paid on time has got to be one of the biggest hassles of self-employment, your clients are automatically emailed payment reminders if they’re not keeping up. The reporting features in FreshBooks show you which clients are prompt to pay and which are not. If you’re using FreshBooks to manage your expenses too, then you can keep tabs on your profit and loss summary in here.

    Creating quotes when pitching for a project

    If you ever need to quote on a project, it’s quick and easy to whip up an estimate in FreshBooks and fire it through for approval.

    The FreshBooks interface is super simple – and if you get stuck, there are hints and step by step guides all the way. So far, I can vouch that FreshBooks is dummy proof.

    You can try FreshBooks free for 30 days – grab your free trial of FreshBooks here!

    (This post contains affiliate links – if you use my link, I get a referral bonus.)

  • How to explore the US on a budget

    How to travel the USA on a budget

    My passport recently expired, and I’ve got no travel plans on the horizon any time soon. Just a long list of DIY house and decor projects to tackle (the closest thing to it will be getting travel photos printed and travel footage organised over the winter)!

    I suspect my next trip though – whenever that might be – will be back to the US. There’s more competition on routes now and airfares are dropping, which is exciting. And once we’re actually over there it’s not terribly hard to travel on a budget.

    Getting around the US

    I’d love to do another road trip. We travelled around almost entirely by car (minus a cheap bus trip from NYC to DC) and it was super comfortable, convenient, and frugal. Petrol is practically free compared to the prices we pay here, and we managed to rent a car for just over $40 a day, including insurance. I recommend starting your search with CarHirePlanet. If I was travelling solo, I’d look at joining a tour group with the likes of Grand American Adventures.

    Figuring out where to stay

    In some big cities there’s just no getting around it – you will be paying out the nose for a place to lay your head. But between Airbnb and Booking.com (plus many generous blog friends who opened their doors to us) we managed to find accommodation for around $50 a night on average.

    We moved around on a loose schedule, usually booking at the last minute (the only place this backfired was Boston, where even cheap motels were over $100). If you’re up for it, consider caravan parks, campgrounds and homestays too.

    Seeing the sights

    Planning ahead is the key here.

    If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in national parks (and there are so many! Some of my favourite spots were definitely National Park material) it might be worthwhile to invest in an unlimited annual pass.

    If you’re more of a big city person like me, major centres often have a lot of free attractions; and of the ones that aren’t, many have specific hours or days where you can get in for free. And if you’ve got a lot to pack into a short time span, then the CityPass may be for you – definitely one for travellers with more money than time.

  • Daydreams and wanderlust

    Wanderlust (or bust)

    I’ve been finding myself daydreaming a lot about escaping to the other side of the world – the Americas in particular.

    There’s the Galapagos Islands, with their incredible wildlife.

    There’s Bolivia, with its otherworldly, eerie salt flats.

    There’s Cuba, with intensely colourful architecture and history in Havana and beyond.

    But I think it might be North America I especially want to return to. There have been so many great deals on flights of late and they’re bound to get better – Air NZ now flies to the south as well (Houston) and American Airlines is due to enter the fray this year. I’d love to do another road trip across the US. Returning to New York, of course, to explore more boroughs and gorge on deli sandwiches. Heading down through the southeast, and then zigging up to the Pacific Northwest to see Portland, Seattle, maybe even up to Vancouver. (Yeah, it’d be a loooong leisurely trip.)

    At least dreams are free.

    What travel destinations are you dreaming of lately?

  • Travel on the cheap

    Self-employment has never really held any allure for me. But when great last minute travel deals pop up on my Twitter feed or email inbox, I gotta admit, I feel a bit of envy…

    My office happens to be in an amazing heritage building, all wooden floors, exposed beams on the ceilings, raw stripped walls. There’s massive windows with a view straight across the road to the sparkling harbour – and the spot where cruise ships pull in every few days.

    Going on a cruise isn’t at the top of my bucket list but it’s definitely something I want to experience once in my life. Where, exactly, I’m not sure. There are definitely lots of deals out there, like from Planet Cruise, and I often see pretty sharp prices on short cruises over to east coast Australia from Auckland. (Maybe a cruise calls for somewhere more exotic, though?)

    I may not have the flexibility to take advantage of most last-minute travel deals, but here’s a few ways I do save on travel that I’ve picked up over the past few years.

    Free entry days are your friend

    Admittedly I’m not much of a culture vulture, so saving money on museum entry makes me very happy. Lots of museums have free or discounted visiting hours. Being under 26 and in Paris on a Friday evening meant we got into the Louvre for nothing!

    Mid-week flights are your friend

    Flying on, say, a Tuesday, usually makes a significant difference in price. And don’t forget to clear your cache when searching for flights, or use an incognito window.

    Slow travel is your friend

    Some trips do lend themselves to cramming a lot in, but rushing around too much is both stressful and expensive. Seriously.

  • Lost superannuation = found money

    You all know you need to be saving for retirement – I don’t need to remind you, right?

    That’s definitely one area Australia has us bested in – they’ve had compulsory superannuation since 1992, with contribution requirements set to rise from 9 to an impressive 12 percent.

    The Australian Tax Office estimates there is more than $15 billion in “lost accounts” in the  superannuation system – some of which probably belongs to expat Kiwis who have returned home. (You can now transfer those retirement savings over to your Kiwisaver scheme under new rules as of last year, though the funds may not be used toward a first home or accessed until age 60. Conversely, funds brought over to Australia from NZ must be transferred into complying super funds and can’t be accessed until age 65.)  

    What the heck is a lost account? In a nutshell, a super fund will report you as a lost member if it cannot contact you/hasn’t received money for you in at least a year. Job hoppers/jugglers may wind up with multiple super accounts as they jump around – let’s face it, your retirement fund isn’t usually top of mind when you start a new role. If you’ve moved house or changed your name, that can throw a spanner in the works too.


    Separate from but similar to lost super is ATO-held super – money from employers or the government designated for your fund will be held by the ATO if your fund can’t contact you. The longer that cash sits there, the longer you’re missing out on investment returns.

    Does it really matter? The thing about inefficiency is that it can be expensive. If you have multiple superannuation accounts, that means you’re paying multiple sets of fees on your retirement savings. Plus, it’s just nice to know about all the money that you actually have a claim to.  And it doesn’t have to be a headache to track it all down; there are providers who’ll do it for you (there’s no more lost superannuation with Suncorp).

  • Guest post: Room with a view – how to find the best hotel rooms in Rome

    Hotel rooms in Rome can be more affordable than you might think – especially off-peak! The difference I saw between early August and late August rates alone was nothing to sniff at. Today’s guest post offers a few more tips for finding accommodation in Rome.

    With a population of 2.8 million and covering an area of almost 500 square miles, arriving in Rome can be a little overwhelming.

    However, if you’ve already booked a great hotel room in a great location, you’ll quickly find your feet, settle into Italian life and start enjoying your Roman adventure.

    But how do you find this great hotel room, we hear you ask?  Well, all it needs is a little bit of research, a touch of organisation and a dash of Italian magic.

    Decide on your itinerary

    The first thing to do before booking your accommodation is to decide on a rough itinerary.

    This should give you a good idea of the areas you’ll be visiting and help to narrow down potential places to base yourself for your trip.

    There’s loads of information on the internet about things to do in Rome, so deciding on a sightseeing plan of action shouldn’t be too hard.

    Choose an area

    Once you’ve decided which of Rome’s many attractions you’re going to prioritise, you should be able to work out where you need your hotel room to be.

    A lot of Rome is pretty compact so you should be able to walk between many of the main sights. However, you’ll probably need to use public transport as well, so finding a hotel that has good transport links is essential.

    Decide on a budget

    The budget that you set aside for your accommodation will have a big impact on the location that you end up in.

    The best way to work out a hotel budget is to assess how much you’ve got for your entire trip, take away the cost of museum tickets, meals out and transport and then see what’s left over.

    If you’re looking for luxury hotels Rome has a lot to offer, but there are also plenty of cheaper rooms available, so you should be able to find something for every budget.

    Go to comparison websites

    Once you’ve decided on a location and a budget, the best way to find great deals is to go to a comparison website.

    These sites compare the room rates of lots of hotels across the web, so will give you a great idea of what’s available.

    Many comparison sites will have reviews of each hotel that they list, so remember to read these as they’ll give you an honest view of what you can expect from each hotel.

    All of the time and effort that you put into finding a great hotel room for your Roman break will be more than rewarded when you finally touch down in The Eternal City.

  • Discovering the USA: The great American road trip

    To date, we’ve eaten our way halfway across North America – from the deli sandwiches and food trucks of New York City to poutine, pancakes and maple syrup in Canada, to pizza in Chicago. We’ve shopped at Target and Trader Joe’s, navigated subways above and below ground, and discovered the joys of Chipotle and apple cider. (Taco Bell and White Castle, however, we could take or leave.)

    The thing that’s great about the US is the sheer variety on offer. Whether you want adventure, shopping, lakes, beaches, snow … you’ll be able to find it somewhere in America. We’ve had the privilege of experiencing big cities, small towns, rides through the countryside and mountains… As Brand USA reminds us, there’s so much to discover.

    Ahead of us still lie the alluring New Orleans, the deserts of the southwest, the Grand Canyon (that is, of course, assuming the government situation resolves itself before then), the bright lights of Las Vegas, and the sunny West Coast. Moving away from the East Coast, we’re expecting to see big changes in the landscapes, the accents, and the culture. And that’s all part of the fun. The road trip continues!

    This is a sponsored post, but opinions are my own.

  • Guest post: The Devil’s in the details – What to look for when taking out a NZ home insurance policy

    As someone who’s been burgled multiple times, I know just how important having good insurance is – and if you’re a homeowner, it’s even more vital to get it right. Today’s guest post offers an overview of what’s available from NZ banks.

    Just like home loans, when it comes to comparing bank home insurance policies it’s often said that the devil is in the details, and for good reason – whilst many bank policies are similar, differences (both big and small) do lurk in the densely written sea of fine print which many unwitting policy buyers fail to read, or in some cases even understand. The results can be both costly and frustrating – such as needing to have sewer pipes unblocked but discovering to your dismay that your policy does not cover it, as is the case with Kiwibank and Westpac home insurance.

    The simple fact of the matter is that not all bank home policies are drafted equal, some offer benefits others do not and the payouts differ from bank to bank and policy to policy. This makes it imperative that home buyers know what to look for when taking out a home loan as well as a home insurance policy. Although all home insurance policies offered by the leading NZ banks cover the home, they differ in terms of their classification of just what ‘the home’ is.

    This is of special importance to those who run an office from home. Some homeowners operating a business from their house are surprised to learn that their policies, such as the one offered by ANZ, fail to cover any part of the house which is used for income generation purposes. Should the policy holder seek coverage for this area of the house they will have to classify it as a special area – resulting in a bump up of their premium, of course. Those looking for coverage of their home office would be well advised to make sure their policy, like the one offered by BNZ, automatically covers any sudden and accidental loss or damage caused to the home office.

    It’s also worth noting that all the major NZ banks limit their payouts to the insured amount; however they differ in the maximum they offer within that amount for retaining walls and recreational features. For example, both ASB and BNZ offer $20,000 on retaining walls and $40,000 on recreational features whereas ANZ provides up to $50,000 on retaining walls but makes no mention of recreational features. Basically, which policy a home owner or buyer decides to take out should depend on their foreseeable needs in the event of sudden and unexpected damage to any or all areas of their property. Thus, if buying a house with a spacious garden and a swimming pool, it’s best to opt for a policy that covers these recreational features without having to classify them as special and add thereby to the cost of your premium.

    In most cases, buyers looking to take out a NZ home loan have to acquire insurance on their home as well. The problem is that most buyers are too preoccupied with the terms and conditions of their home loan that they forget to read through the fine print of their home insurance policy. By simply taking the precautionary steps to read through and evaluate the fine print of a home insurance policy, homeowners and buyers alike can better be assured of matching the right policy for their household insuring needs.

  • From rolling in the dollars to pinching the dough…

    One frustrating thing about travelling in Asia is the low, low ATM withdrawal limits. You can only take out the equivalent of maybe $100-200 at a time, and you’ll be charged as much as $8 or so for the privilege of doing so.

    One thing I never got tired of, though, was exchanging New Zealand money for local currency. Handing over a couple of bills and getting back many, many more was always a thrill.

    Alas, those days are over. We’re now in Europe, where our dollar is pretty darn weak, and everything is a lot more expensive. It’s quite depressing, actually.

    That means pinching pennies, lots of supermarket stops, and looking for deals wherever possible, be it discounts on tickets for the London Eye or tickets to Disneyland Paris.

    The MasterCard I’m using (a post on how I’m managing our money while travelling is in the works) lets me store money in different currency ‘wallets’ and lock in exchange rates in the process. This didn’t matter in Asia, because none of the currencies in the countries we visited were supported, but the pound, euro, and US dollar are supported. So I’ve started keeping an eye on currency fluctuations, getting daily updates from XE.com, in order to take advantage of rates when they’re good. Annoyingly, they’ve been quite volatile of late, and the trends don’t look promising overall.

    In the meantime, I’ll have to try not to develop too much of an inferiority complex about the New Zealand dollar.

    I’ve still got a few posts to come about Asia, so keep an eye out for ’em. Happy weekends, all!