Friday, 28 August 2015

From Unemployed to Self-Employed

I've talked a little about my first days in Finland, in my "About Me". But I figured it was fair to explain that I'm not someone who has had a property portfolio all mapped out since she was 12. Hubby sold his studio apartment to buy a family home for us all when we arrived (the sale of the studio gave him a decent down payment, and 6 years later the entire loan is almost paid out). In my initial years here I had a lot of spare time, and faced with not even starting a career until my 40s, I wondered if we would reach retirement without much money. More specifically, I worried that my husband would work hard all his days and not have his money working as hard as it should :)

My first ponderings - in my incessant daydreaming - were along these lines: what can I do to earn money from home? What skills do I have, what assets do I have? Insert about twenty failed home businesses here. I don't do well at sticking to something which bores me, and the other ten were things requiring so much work that they were barely worth it (I've had market stalls, I've done paid surveys, I've made jewellery, you name it). As for assets we had a spare room that could have hosted someone for pocket money, but realistically, nobody in this house, me included, wanted to share the space with a stranger. I pondered that daydream anyway and landed at AirBnB, where I learned that the "anyone can be a host" idea was gathering traction, and that it paid more than standard rentals. So then the daydreaming changed to, "If only we could split this place, the way that people split houses" (which we can't - it's an apartment and they don't let you rip out walls and add extra bathrooms).

From there I wanted a second apartment to rent out. I wanted one like mad. I was obsessed. (Still am.) In our years of marriage my husband and I have never fought and rarely even disagreed, but here was a subject he was adamant about: absolutely not. He had that final home repayment in his sights and couldn't wait to be debt-free. Here was I talking about taking on more debt while I didn't have a job. He didn't share my vision for it to become my career, he wasn't confident in it being profitable, and to be absolutely fair, he had great concerns that we (he) might end up in financial trouble if it didn't work out. There was no way he was willing to stake our home on it. It didn't matter how much homework I did and how many hours I spent calculating costs and researching what my competitors were earning.

And research I did, non-stop. I was so desperate that I looked into renting a place to sublet. Turns out that in our city it's legal providing it's actually a person's home - so my daughter rented a place with only her moving in, and me paying half the costs. We chose the layout specifically so that it could be split and locked up, with only the bathroom and kitchen shared. She had her side, the guests had theirs. Thanks to her job disappearing, the entire project never made me money overall since I had spent my savings on the setup and was now also paying both halves of the rent. But the months we spent AirBnB'ing that second room made it very obvious that it could have been a profitable enterprise. I had figures to show my husband, who did begin to show a real interest.

And now we were on the same page: time to buy an apartment to rent out. :)

We bought the place in February 2015, and while I'll save the nitty-gritty for later on, suffice to say it's working very well for us so far. It's clearly nothing like a full-time wage just yet, but it's pocket money to add to our income, and it's more than paying its own way.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Dumpster Diving

I know that just the title makes most people cringe. Actually, I used to cringe as well. Then I read about the Freeganism movement where people can even feed themselves from bins (!!) so I figured: You know, I don't want to take food from the bin, but some of the non-food items they find look pretty amazing. This kind of money-saving isn't for everyone and isn't rocket surgery, but I figured I'd be candid about how I save money on this blog, and it's one of the ways I do it.

At the time that I first peeked into a bin, I had a flea market stall to sell off my junk, and I figured I might just find a few bits and pieces to sell. Well, I did, and I thought I'd list a few things I have found. We also check out a few freebie places now and then, like the local Recycle Centre and the flea markets and thrift shops that give away items they no longer want.

Books. (And books, and more books - I could almost dare to say that if you live in Helsinki and love to read you need never buy another book in your entire life, even if you never visit a library.)
Kitchenware. We outfitted my daughter's first apartment kitchen about 50% from dumpster & salvage finds. I even found an expensive heavy-bottomed stainless saucepan in my own apartment's bin with someone's burned dinner on the bottom... elbow grease and sandpaper, it was good as new.
Bikes. We own five bikes, two of which cost us nothing. Well I lie, I had to buy one new tyre and one new seat, and had to spend a few hours with a spanner to get them cleaned up and working properly.
Furniture. Two beds (I bought a new mattress for the larger one, and I washed the mattress pad which came with the fold-up bed - it looked spotless to begin with, but I washed it anyway under the shower). A bookshelf bedhead which I modified so it would fit the large (free) bed - this was funny as I had been eyeing the exact item in the Ikea catalog at the time. A huge metal folding futon sofa bed frame - we bought a mattress for this too as it had none.
Clothing. Oodles of clothes. We don't take rescued underwear, for obvious reasons! But jackets, shirts, jeans, you name it. Three long rain jackets. One brand new towelling dressing gown. Shoes, sometimes, although they're harder to find in good condition (we often put an inner sole into them, or wash them if possible). Rugs, blankets, quilt covers and sheets. Into the hottest wash cycle they go. If they survive it, free clothes! If they don't, no great loss.
Office Supplies. All sorts of stuff, from an office chair with wheels to a whole desk filing system.
Glassware. In the glass recycling we have found vases and lovely glass items.
Bottles and cans. I look in the general waste bin a couple of times a week and probably about half the times I find bottles and cans near the top. Here in Finland they have a refundable pawn attached of between 10c and 40c per bottle. I'm not too proud to pull "money" out of the rubbish.
Rolls of paper. Lots of brown paper, white paper, even rolls of wallpaper. We don't need to buy anything for quite a while. We tend to add coloured ribbon to them for Christmas gift wrapping.
A guitar. This one I had forgotten about until today, when my dad asked what the brand is. My daughter found it on the side of the road, in a spotless hard case. The guitar was missing a string and had a broken tuning peg. I bought a set of new tuning pegs for a few dollars on eBay, and re-strung it. She never really had much interest in playing, but today we Googled the actual brand and model, and apparently this model is made of rosewood and worth a fair bit of money. I think we're going to sell it now that we know! ;)
Other notable finds. A golf bag with wheels in great condition, a fold-up baby travel crib, a coffee table, tv table, shelves, several more folding beds and chairs. All of these we pulled out and left in view for someone else to take who could use them. We've also left items behind that we loved, but which were too difficult for us to take home. No doubt someone else was able to take them and enjoy them :)

Have you found anything good? Do tell...

Friday, 21 August 2015

Simple Coleslaw

Simple Coleslaw (serves 11, or however many people you want, really)
I'm calling it simple because actually, coleslaw is ridonkulously simple to begin with. A couple of years ago I overheard an American couple in my local supermarket speaking in English and despairing that they couldn't find something... I offered to help in case I knew the Finnish name for the mystery product, but alas, they wanted coleslaw, and it didn't exist in Finland at the time. They were gobsmacked when I suggested making it themselves out of just cabbage, carrots and mayo. Yes kids, that's all there is to it.

* Raw cabbage, chopped up. I use a quarter of a cabbage and it does about eight serves as an accompaniment. Look at the chunk you have in your hands and keep in mind it will make 2-3 times as much coleslaw once it's chopped up. That's how you decide how much cabbage to use.
* Medium Carrots, grated. I use about 3 of them for each quarter of cabbage.
* Cold water. Hopefully you have some of this at home.
* Mayonnaise. A bit. I don't really know how much because yesterday I just used what was left in the jar - a very scientific amount. Start with about 60g (two ounces) I suppose, put it in a jar with the same amount of water and shake the crap out of it until they're combined. This is your dressing - add it to the bowl, toss the salad, taste the salad (for research purposes), see if you need to add more.

Photo thanks to the people, who took a better snap than me.
End result == coleslaw! This version is super easy, and tastes a thousand times more fresh than the boring stuff that comes with a fast food meal. Plus it's crunchier. It will keep in the fridge for few days. Note: it will not keep in the fridge if your kids discover it and appropriate it as a snack. You may need to label it "Hands Off!" etc.

Optional extras for variety:
1-2 finely chopped shallots / spring onions, or half an onion
chopped apple
corn kernels
chopped walnuts, toasted almonds or pecans

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Making Your Home Pay Its Way

Go ahead, point and laugh! I'm about to talk about people who are paying off homes with extra space.

Far and away, most people's biggest expense is their accommodation. The rent or mortgage tends to take up anywhere from a quarter to a half of people's income.

This is the single biggest expense for most people, but when people try to save money, they start with the grocery bill. Facepalm. But I get it. I really do. They think there's nothing that they can do to affect the housing cost, and so they ignore it and move on to the grocery bill. But actually, many people can change how deeply their roof eats into their money.

The absolute best way to deal with it is to rent/buy a smaller place, or in a less-awesome location. This is a big undertaking, especially if you are already paying off a mortgage, but if money is a serious subject for you right now then it is worth sitting down and taking a fresh look at the pros & cons of moving. Remember to consider your transport, moving and utility costs. They hurt, but for some people it will still be well worthwhile.

If you're ordinary and a move is not in the cards, then think about the place that you already have. How can it work for you instead of just draining you? Here are a few ideas from people I've known.

1. Take in a lodger. This means hosting a working person in a spare bedroom, and they contribute to the rent. Some people are horrified by the idea of an outsider becoming a family member, but I've known three families in this situation and they were pleased with the arrangement. They were able to choose the kind of person that would fit in with their lives.
2. Split off part of your house. Do you have an insulated garage, do you have a finished basement? Could you turn the outdoor laundry into a shower room? One family I know only needed to lock their master bedroom door in order to rent it out with its own ensuite bathroom. They set up a small hotplate, microwave and fridge in one corner, and the renter could use the sliding garden door as their private entry. The tenant then kept to themselves. For the family it was only a small compromise to move the parents into the spare bedroom - their computer simply moved into another corner of the house. The extra income was well worth the reshuffle and once the loan has gotten smaller they'll be able to claim that space back for themselves.
3. Host exchange students. This actually pays rather well if you're with a good agency. I know a lady who hosted foreign high school students as her day job. She adores being a mum, too, and you know what they say, if you love your job you'll never work a day in your life.
4. Rent out the garage for storage, or if you're in a city area, rent out your driveway to a city worker. Parking your own car on the lawn might kill a patch of your grass, but money in your pocket might be nice. There are even people who rent out a chunk of their backyard to people wanting to grow tomatoes, or garden sheds to people who need storage space.
5. Grow produce. Even a sunny windowsill in an apartment can host lettuce (and what's more, they won't be overrun with weeds). Even if it only saves you a fiver, that's still a fiver in your pocket. If you've never grown anything, start with already-potted herbs like basil and mint. If you have outdoor space, easy plants include zucchinis, squashes, melons and pumpkins - all they need is plenty of space and water.
6. Let out your living room! This one isn't for everyone. It's best suited to people without precious & expensive things in their living space, who also enjoy meeting new people. But it's rather amazing to me that people will happily hand you money to sleep on your sofa and disappear the next morning. Some people host tents and campers in the backyard. (In fact, I went much further than this, but I'll detail that in another post.)

Got more suggestions for using your home as an income spinner? Tell us your ideas!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

My Background Pre-Finland

I grew up in a household where thrift shopping and penny-pinching was a necessity. Dad's plan for financial independence was via real estate. He felt that he could claw his way up the ladder by buying the worst house in the street, renovating, then moving on to the next, over and over again. The reality was that life tends to get in the way of the best-laid plans. What he did achieve was a rental that covered the repayments, and at retirement age, they sold it. End result: one family home paid off but in need of total renovation (aka, land value), and an apartment sold & invested into their retirement savings. Keep in mind, this is already beyond what the average family ever achieves! My dad is still working part-time, but it's not my dream to be still working at almost 70. I'm too precious for that. Read: lazy.

The first home I bought was when I was a young single mum, and it was a relocatable home in a caravan park. Although I never made money out of it, it worked out slightly cheaper than renting.

Once I had a full-time job I took out my own loan for a small holiday house in the country. There were no real investment plans behind the decision, just a leg into the property ladder for us. After a few years we moved into it ourselves.

I also lost all real enthusiasm for DIY once I was living in it. Apart from a bathroom and garden spruce up, it was pretty much sold as-is five years later. It didn't make me any money and only just cleared the total debts to my name. What did I learn? I'm completely capable of doing umpteen handyman necessary things around the house, but they're not my passion.

That sale was at the time I moved to Finland to marry my husband. And I buried my real estate plans to start a new career as a... well I wasn't sure yet, but it was going to be something conventional. Buahahaha! (Yeah, sure.)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Am I arrogant?

Oh, probably. See, I have this theory that I'm kinda smart in how I spend my money and that a lot of people just haven't figured certain things out.

But really, it comes down to this. I'm incredibly lazy. Like, I'm off-the-scale lazy. Other people make budgets and do financial planning and study for degrees and work hard at getting a promotion. I sit on my arse instead and try to figure out how to get rich with minimal effort.

An important caveat here: I often talk about getting rich, but that's just my terrible sense of humour poking fun at myself. I don't want or need to be rich. I want to have enough. And my "enough" seems to be far less than most people (that's a whole 'nother story though, and I'm sure I'll cover that a thousand times in future posts).

Anyway, back to it. This blog is my small attempt to share a little bit of my money and spending philosophies. I don't expect many people to share my views, and that's ok. But re-read my first paragraph... I fully believe that there are quite a few people out there who battle with money, who simply haven't come to a few simple realisations. And those are the things I want to share. Goodness knows why, if other people figure these things out then life will be harder for me :D