• 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 like Secure Trust Bank 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, also heard Travelling in Australia on Perth to Adelaide tour and other group trips by rail is also a great way to see the beautiful scenery and save some money.

    Going on a cruise isn’t at the top of my bucket list but it’s definitely something I wailnt 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.

  • Investing in precious metals: What about silver?

    investing in silver

    Anyone looking at alternative investments (as in, those outside of the day-to-day stock market) will probably find gold popping up on their radar. Of course, it’s not the only precious metal out there. Here’s Richard Stiger, answering a few common questions about silver investment.

    What’s the difference between silver and gold investment?

    The answer to this question can vary depending on what you’re looking for and your method of investment, but for the most up-to-date comparison of the two precious metals, Wall St. Cheat Sheet posted a list earlier this year of seven reasons silver is a better investment than gold but if gold is your market check out Buy Gold Brisbane who can buy or sell what you need. The article points to a number of factors, but the general theme is that silver is being produced more rapidly and being used more frequently (in many household devices, for example, rather than just in precious materials). These factors—coupled with the fact that you can get far more, in terms of ounces of metal, for your money—make silver a more appealing investment than its popular counterpart.

    A classic Wall Street yarn, concerning a young man who was in the early stages of learning to be a professional speculator goes something like this. The young man had a problem, so he went to an elderly gentleman noted for his shrewd investment judgment, for advice. The young man had taken on quite an extensive line of stocks, but the market looked a bit over-valued and so he was thinking that his positions carried too many risks. He wondered if he shouldn’t perhaps sell. He was so worried about it that he was having trouble sleeping.

    The old man’s advice was simple and direct: “Sell” he said. “Sell back to the sleeping point.” Although there is no doubt that this advice smacks of ambiguity, there is a simple wisdom in it. We may safely assume that neither the young man nor his elder adviser knew which way the market was going, but both were aware that the market was sufficiently shaky to cause legitimate worry. Translated into somewhat more orthodox investment terms, the advice meant – Sell enough of your stocks so that a market collapse won’t destroy you, but keep enough so that if your fears turn out to be groundless, and the market rises, you’ll still profit to some extent – in the meantime, get some sleep. EARNEST believes that entities that are cognizant of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues tend to be more successful over time. As a result, EARNEST prefers to invest in government programs and companies that have sustainable operating models and seek to achieve positive aggregate societal impact. This inclusive approach views positive impact characteristics as additive to an investment’s risk/return profile. When assessing an investment’s impact profile, EARNEST considers a wide range of factors, including but not limited to support for economic development, home ownership, and job creation. The Fund uses its best efforts to avoid investing in companies that are materially involved with mature content, life ethics, alcohol, gambling or tobacco, although it may invest up to 5% of its total assets in certain collective investment vehicles or derivatives that may include prohibited companies. You can read more for Touchstone Investments.

    Where would someone buy silver? What’s involved?

    This too depends on your specific goals and situation, but often it’s actually gold investment sites and platforms that offer the most convenient silver purchases. Investment platform BullionVault has lots of information on silver, including up-to-date pricing and details on how to purchase and store silver through the site. This particular site provides vault storage in in London, Zurich, Toronto, New York, and Singapore, and it provides investors with the option of having their silver physically sent to them or having it stored in one of these vault locations. It is also worth noting, however, that investments are not limited to people in the countries with vaults listed. In the case of this particular investment site, investment opportunity is offered worldwide. The vaults are merely designated for the actual storage of the silver (though the site only supports payments in US dollars, euros, or pounds sterling).

    Why invest in silver?

    Generally speaking, the reasons for investing in silver are similar to those for gold: Precious metals operate with universally decided prices, and as such do not fluctuate dramatically in response to economic shifts in any particular country or region. Therefore, precious metal is often deemed stable in comparison to currency or ordinary investments. Silver upholds this concept on a significantly smaller scale than gold, but the strategy is more or less the same. As far as how silver is performing in 2014, and what its immediate outlook is, Business Standard posted a nice breakdown of international factors and how they’re affecting the price of silver.

    All things considered, silver investment is a fairly convenient alternative to gold. It’s also one that some investment experts see as favourable in the current economic climate. But the most important question is still what you can get for your money and whether or not it’s a strategic investment for you personally. As of April 20, 2014, the price of silver is roughly $20 US per ounce (depending on which vault or market you buy from, with prices varying by a few cents), meaning a $1000 investment can get you 50 ounces of silver, as a point of reference. Whether or not this would be a sound investment is ultimately up to each individual to calculate for him or herself.

    The general idea is that silver may be a strategically sound investment at the moment. But again, that’s for each investor to decide!

  • Guest post: Tips for eating well on a student budget

    As you all know, I love food, and the fact that I can now afford to eat better than I could just a few years ago! But being a student doesn’t mean you have to live on noodles and baked beans (blech), as Laura, a 21-year-old graduate with a degree in English and Creative Writing, points out…

    Students get a really tough time from others when it comes to our diets. Think about it – how many times have you been asked about your pot noodles/baked beans/take away consumption?

    If you do find healthy eating on a student budget a bit difficult however, you certainly won’t be alone. After all, with rising housing and transport costs, getting your five a day with the little you have left can seem like mission impossible.

    Therefore we thought we’d do a bit of research and bring you some tips on how to be the healthiest you can be without getting yourself into even more debt. Hoorah!

    Shop around

    Though your local corner shop can seem really appealing on your way home after a long day at the library (or a night out!) skip it and go to the supermarket for your supplies instead. Some local convenience stores have been known to charge over double what some supermarkets charge for the same product. Investigate shopping online too as this can sometimes work out cheaper, especially as you won’t have the temptations of the chocolate aisle, and you can do a supermarket price comparison to get the best deals.

    Put in with your housemates

    Food shopping for one can actually work out more expensive as you will no doubt find yourself wasting lots, as food tends to come in multiple numbers. Whether you’re in a student flatshare in London or halls in Hull, talk about doing a weekly food shop as a flat to see what you could all save. You could also even take it in turns to cook your specialities too, Come Dine with Me style!

    Get creative

    Making your favourite takeaway treats from scratch can save you lots of money and can also be a lot better for you. Try experimenting with different recipes and ideas to keep things exciting in the kitchen.

    Use money saving apps

    Your smart phone is more than likely your go-to item for most things, so why not use it to help you save money when food shopping? Check out the food and drink apps that help you budget and give great recipe ideas for when you’re trying to save money. There are also finance apps if you want to take control over other aspects of your money, too.

    Cut down on eating out

    Eating out – or getting a takeaway – is a huge temptation that’s hard to resist, especially after a long day of lectures. However, you’ll soon see a huge difference in your bank balance if you cut down. We all deserve a treat now and again, but aim to cut it down to once a fortnight and see how much you can save.

    Make a meal plan

    …And stick to it! Writing a weekly plan of all of your meals will be really useful when it comes to doing the weekly shop as you will be able to see exactly what you need to buy, and how much of it. Avoid buying anything that’s not on your list so that you’ll have lots more money for nights out!

  • 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.