These last few days have no doubt felt like a nightmare for millions around the world - the devastation of Japan's earthquake and tsunami are heartbreaking.
It was only 3 weeks ago that I was holidaying in Japan, my third wonderful trip there. And now I've spent the weekend glued to news reports of this beautiful country's tragedy.
My fiance and I will be married in a little over 40 days - our best man is on his own 1st wedding anniversary in Hiroshima (fortunately well out of harm's way). And if I wasn't worried enough, my father is on a cruise - currently stopping in Japan!
OK, that's enough from me and my insignificant issues. The agony of Japan's millions is so much greater and more important.
This week's finance tip is - be generous. Be generous with your time, be generous with your love, be generous with your ideas and be generous with your money - especially for those in need.
Click on the links below to donate and find out more about the wonderful organisations doing all they can for Japan:
Last year, feeling disillusioned with my career, I sought advice from a number of girlfriends. The overwhelming answer received was - get an MBA. An MBA will make employers take me more seriously, get me promoted and, of course, entitle me to demand big bucks.
So I applied and was accepted.
As I didn't want to exit the workforce for a few years, which I see as a career-limiting move, I signed up for the Executive MBA - study evenings/weekends while continuing to work.
Having just finished the first subject (Statistics...eeekk) I'm left asking myself WHY. Why am I doing this? Not because the subject was difficult (yes) or boring (no) but why is this necessary? Do I actually want to advance my career by managing more and more staff? (not really). Do I want to keep climbing the ladder at bigger and bigger firms - who demand more and more of my life? (not really). Will the financial outlay (approximately HKD220k) lead to financial rewards?
Regarding the financial - Management have already said our company no longer reimburses managers who undertake MBAs. Yet 80% of the participants in my Statistics subject were being sponsored by their companies. Another girlfriend suggested I stop the course until my company decides I need those skills and will pay, or until a new employer pays. But if I wait for someone else to pay am I demonstrating lack of initiative?
Do I really need to formalise this learning in the classroom or is the 'school of life' more valuable?
I don't know.
Mint.com has a good blog post this week on The Myth of Grad School, and it's made me stop and ask a lot of questions.
I've put my studies on hold for a few months as I'm getting married in 6 weeks and really could do without the stress! But will I go back again after the honeymoon?...I don't know!
If anyone has any thoughts to share on this I'd love to hear them.
So No-spend January is almost over and I'm proud to say - so far so good! Not a cent has been spent (ha, it rhymes) on personal items. But more about that once the month's over.
I came across a great article in today's The Age online about an Aussie mum, Sandra, who on becoming unemployed set herself a challenge to spend only AUD120 per fortnight on groceries. Now that's 14 days worth of 3 meals per day for 1 adult and 2 teenagers! No mean feat.
Her blog is gorgeous and full of fantastic meal ideas/recipes nom nom nom :) Perfect inspiration if you're on a No-spend January and want to take it a step further to reducing your overall spending habits.
If you actually read The Age article you'll notice a lot of nasty comments, mainly referring to the fact she quit her job and was receiving Unemployement (Centrelink) benefits. While I really wanted to let you know about her fantastic blog, 120dollarsfoodchallenge, so you can get her great tasting & budget friendly tips (please check it out - very yummy), I have to say I'm absolutely disgusted at the comments made in response to her situation.
It's revolting that people use the annonymity of the web to spew forth venom onto an individual trying to make the best of a bad situation. Yes, she chose to quit her job and ended up on welfare. But few people have taken into consideration the circumstances surrounding why she quit her job (she was bitterly unhappy) and what she's done since (working temporary positions).
From a financial perspective, we can learn from Sandra's example that perhaps if your job is your sole source of income and you hate it, it's time to start a stockpile of cash to give you breathing space to find something new. And if you DO end up in a position where money is tight, her blog is a great example of how to stretch your food pennies further.
At the end of the day - while money is important, life is too short to do something you hate.
In January 2010 I placed myself under a self-imposed shopping ban - no purchasing clothes, shoes, makeup, magazines, toiletries or accessories. And rather than being the hell I thought it would be, I secretly got a massive kick out of the mental 'I've saved this much!' calc I did everytime I DIDN'T buy something.
So to prove it wasn't a fluke, guess what I'm doing again this January. And surprise surprise, almost half the month is over already and the world hasn't stopped turning because I can't shop. In fact, my soapbox chest-beating has influenced a few spend-weary gf's to get on the bandwagon too. So proud! It's heaps more fun when your buddies join it; you can all be tight-Sallys together. We're looking at organising a DVD-swap party and maybe even a clothes-swap party too - that way everyone gets something new without spending any $.
Another trick is simply to avoid hitting the shops altogether - don't wave temptation under your nose, it's cruel. Instead of window-shopping I'm heading to the gym, cooking dinner and spending more time with the h2b. And you know what? There's at least 30 half-read magazines stacked up in my spare room ready to be dug out and properly read - no need to buy new ones at all. Fashion's pretty cyclical - keep magazines for long enough and they're bang on trend again away ;)
Shop your wardrobe, this trick's an oldie but a goodie. Go through all your clothes to rediscover forgotten items and create new outfits. Perhaps get a gf to help - she might come up with an awesome combination you've never even thought of.
And finally - get your jewels out on display. If you can see all your accessories easily, you'll remember what's in your collection and be able to resist adding to it unneccesarily (plus it saves heaps of time co-ordinating in the morning and keeps everything in better condition if it's not all tangled).
That's my tip for January - leave the credit card at home and put yourself on a money diet. Come at it from a positive fun attitude though, wow I'm saving $$$, don't see it as a chore - otherwise you'll be binging like mad come February.
So my landlord wants to increase the rent. Argh. We've been here two years; moving in during the GFC when prices were kept low. Plus we're a little out of Central so the rent's not too high, however as the new MTR will reach us soon rents are starting to creep up.
To see what else I could get for my money (rent is $17,500 now, landlady wants to increase to $19,000) first I had a bash at the online real estate websites (fail) and then spoke with two different agents. With their help I'm now aware that nicer (i.e. renovated) apartments identical to mine in the same apartment building are going for $18,500+. Ok, so she's not being totally unreasonable however our flat is not renovated; our bathrooms are pretty hideous, as is the kitchen.
Now initially we thought we should move - why pay $19k for an unrenovated flat when we can pay the same for a renovated one? My apartment complex is pretty old and no-frills (you step out of the lift onto my floor and it looks like you're in some dirty industrial complex - manky white tiles and ugly lighting...weird cooking smells). So I thought for my $$ I should splash out on swanky 'gweilo' digs with the whole gym/pool shenanegans. Boy was I disappointed. The complexes close enough to Central, in my price range, were 'all looks no substance'. Beautiful fittings but such a terrible layout with zero storage. I have a LOT of clutter...storage is pretty high on my list.
As if my frustration wasn't bad enough but its summer here and sweltering. So I'm losing patience fast, treking around in the stinking heat only to be disappointed again and again. And I do what any self respecting person would do...I quit. That's it, white flag, I'm going to stay put. The cost of moving is too expensive (removals + one months rent as fee to the agent + 2 months rent as bond) plus the 2nd agent told me now is just not a good time in the market for tenants to be negotiating.
Fine. We're staying. But, we were able to negotiate a little. We took a quick video of a nicer flat in our building, same layout only renovated, renting for $18,500. After showing the landlady, she agree to reduce our rent to $18,500. That's a saving of $6,000 a year so not to shabby.
And for the fun part. Because our place is still not renovated, My solution - I will spend one month's rent jazzing the place up so it feels like a new home!
Which brings me to announce my new challenge - Jazzing up a HK apartment for $19k. A big challenge on a small budget but let's see how we go.
First item in the 'Jazzercise' - $26 spent at Japan Home to buy a lid organiser for the kitchen. Yes, this is petty but my kitchen is so small its a joke and the lids falling on my head has been driving me nuts forever.