Thursday, 29 October 2015

Tuna Cakes

This a simple budget-buster meal you can make when there's nothing cookable in your fridge. The basic recipe is versatile and easy for you to add sauces or spices according to taste.

Tuna Cakes (makes 8 cakes)
2 tins tuna, drained (180g ish tins)
5 pieces of bread torn/cut into tiny pieces
2 eggs
optional mustard, salt/pepper, curry, or chili sauce etc
optional sliced cheese & tomato

Mix the drained tuna, bread and any sauces or spices really well. Squash it down a bit so that the bread soaks up any remaining liquids from the tuna.

Add the eggs and mix them in thoroughly.

Squeeze handfuls into patties and cook them in some oil or butter on a medium frypan (not too hot!). When the bottom is browned, turn it over.

If they're eaten plain and without sauce or spices, they're a bit like eating plain tuna toast, that is, not very interesting. These work best as a base. I definitely recommend spices or toppings to make them more exciting. You can lay a slice of cheese then tomato on top after the first flip. Or break out your sriracha sauce, or mayonnaise.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Acknowledgement of Privilege

I see posts all the time in tumblr-esque hyperbole: CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE! Some kind of ranting from someone who feels ripped off by the world, directed at someone they think has everything handed to them on a plate. But it's actually a very negative statement, and it gets people offside immediately, because it's not interpreted in a way that's at all useful.

Here is my interpretation of how we should examine privilege, in terms of living our lives as successes (in whatever capacity we think success is: education, happiness, financial independence, whatever). Hint: you're not supposed to feel guilty, so you don't need to get angry and refuse to feel guilt. But it's nice to be grateful, so read on.

Most of the things we want out of life aren't handed to us for free. We see what we want, and we evaluate it (a new car... scoring top of the class in the exam...). We decide if it's worth it. If we want it, then we make it our goal. We figure out what we need to do in order to achieve that.

Perhaps we have to save money, get a promotion. Perhaps we have to study hard. Life can still spring things up in our way to foil our attempts, but by and large, getting it requires personal effort.

So when we get that something (the house we saved ten years for, the scholarship we worked towards) then we are justifiably proud that we did it. If you put some hard work into the widget machine, out pop the widgets.

Except that we often forget that it wasn't always hard work alone. Particularly in things that require competition against others (we got the job, we bought the house, we landed a scholarship). We tend to think about these things in a vacuum, as if nobody else had to LOSE so that we could WIN.

Someone had to lose. We had to tread on heads to overtake people on that ladder.

Big deal! - you say. They should have worked as hard as I did.

Well sunshine, perhaps they did.

Perhaps they studied longer, but couldn't get proper sleep because they were cold. Maybe their parents couldn't send them to college. Maybe they didn't get a scholarship because it's hard to study with five small siblings in the house with you. Maybe they were too hungry to concentrate in class. Maybe they skipped middle school any time their mother's babysitter cancelled. Maybe the girl missed out, because the scholarship went to a boy who was more confident on the debating team. Maybe she was late to exams because of her crutches. Maybe his accent ruined his marks in English class.

Maybe it's far simpler than all this: "people who start with a disadvantage still have options to succeed, they'll just have to try harder." It is amazing how often this comes up. "Sure, you can't afford college, but you can still get a scholarship!" These sorts of things. Stop and think about it for a moment. The underprivileged kid has to try so much harder. The privileged kid can just sail in on average marks because there is a way for them to pay their own way through if the scholarship doesn't happen (their parents' savings, etc). Stop and think about it. Life is very unfair for the kid who has no other choice but to go after that scholarship. It's their only shot. And they're up against middle-class kids who just don't WANT to pay for school. Even more unfairly, the middle-class kids will still get to go, even if they fail to get the scholarship...

Now this does not mean that your success wasn't earned. You worked for it. Your hard work got you over the line. But for most people, hard work was not the only thing that got them there.

If you are still not convinced (hey life's not fair, suck it up) then let's go to working life. You got to be successful in your job because you worked hard. You have put hard work into the widget machine, and a good job came out. You earned it.

Or maybe the other guy didn't get that promotion because they're black and your boss gave the job to you. Maybe she quit because the baby's coming. Maybe he couldn't work while on dialysis. Maybe the power was disconnected, maybe they didn't have a phone, maybe they didn't look as good as you at interview because their clothes had a hole. Maybe the car broke down and they didn't have savings to repair it, because they had student debts.

So now you're thinking about their poor planning? Well maybe you had student debts too! But when their fridge broke, their dad didn't loan them the money. Nobody in your house stole your wallet to pay for a drug habit. You're probably not disabled. You're probably not transgender. You're probably healthy - or if not, you can probably go to a doctor.

The thing with having disadvantages is that they often breed more disadvantages. Things that the happy graduate or worker usually hasn't even considered. Car breaks down, it's inconvenient! But imagine there was no money to fix it, so you spent the rent to get it repaired. Then the rent will have late fees so you won't have grocery money. So you take a payday loan.

Then you can't pay it back. So they take the car, so you lose your job. And you can't pay rent. So you're evicted.

Perhaps at this point you're "lucky" enough that a friend takes you in.

How long will it take to try and save the deposit for a new flat while living on a friend's living room floor with no job? Oh and furniture too - you didn't have any money for a U-haul, so the landlord threw it all out.

Homeless and jobless - all because of a $100 repair on the car. Things that would never have happened to someone who had just $100 in the bank.

So the next time someone says to you, "Check your privilege" - they're not saying that you haven't earned your success. They're reminding you that perhaps you forgot about the people who lose. You forgot that some people work just as hard as you - maybe harder - and are not lazy just because they haven't achieved what you did.

They just haven't had all your privileges.

Say a word of thanks.

And if you are a hair's breadth away from being that someone who could be ruined by a $100 unexpected bill, don't sit idle for even a second. Every spare second should be used to figure out how to save one spare dollar, earn one spare dollar, from somewhere, anywhere. If that means eating nothing but rice for a week, doing surveys for 20c on the internet, then so be it - you never, ever want to learn the "hundred-dollar terror" the hard way, and it might mean all the difference to things in a years' time - it may even be an opportunity to hone the frugality which frees you from it.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Nine-To-Five Never-Ending Treadmill

The title is a misnomer; many of the people I know are working All. The. Time. And not particularly enjoying it. I feel sad every time they tell me (again) that the hours are killing them. Because I know they will fall exhausted into bed tonight, but get up tomorrow and do it all again. And the next day.

They all have the same reason (if you ask them). They have no choice. They have to keep doing this because there are bills to pay. These are intelligent people; they can balance the chequebook; they have carefully tallied their expenses and know exactly what is needed to offset them. And what is needed is that they continue to drive themselves into an early grave by slaving away at a job that doesn't appreciate their hard work and doesn't reward them in an emotional sense. Worse yet, it deprives them of much of their free time as well, and stresses them to tears, and demands that they schedule time to eat.

The part that drives me crazy is that they are missing half of the equation. How can such intelligent people not see what is staring them in the face?

Answer: when you look at the same scenery for years, you don't notice the detail.

They work their thankless, stressful job in return for that pay, and then throw that pay at a fancy coffee. Bam. That's another day you'll have to work. Or a movie ticket. Or a takeaway meal. I am no saint, that takeaway meal is sometimes seen as a saviour after a tough day. But make no mistake, that Starbucks or McDonalds run just enslaved you to another day, another week of working at shitty nine-to-five drudgery because you have forever lost the chance to invest that money and have it work for you.

And once the movie is over, the $5 popcorn eaten, do we still enjoy what it did for us? No. The reward is fleeting and gone. We go back to feeling empty, tired and overworked. Compare that with purposefully saving the money and thinking about what the money will do for us. We can watch that balance go up and enjoy THAT reward many times. We can look forward to handing in the resignation letter. We can congratulate ourselves on moving forwards. Many times.

Pay tv. Fashion. Fast food. Hair Salon. New clothes. Second cars. College debts. Credit Cards. All totally normal. Everyone else does it, right? So it can't be so awful. Surely if there was a way to not work until 65, then everyone would be doing it. (Wrong. It's just that most of them think in the same way, and figure there is no alternative.)

Is your nine-to-five slavery so tiring, so all-encompassing, that you don't even have time to try and figure out how to get out? Maybe. Or maybe - realistically - you have just accepted what you think is the truth, and you have never questioned it.

Start questioning things. There is a way out.

Spend Less. Every cent counts.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Watching Property Shows On TV

Now hubby hates to make decisions of any sort, but when it came to borrowing for an investment apartment he was adamant. No. Not even a tiny shop. Just in case it needed massive repairs in future.

For once in my life my financial boundaries were very strict and it made me kinda desperate. I just obsessed over property, even a car space or a storage space, anything to get on the ladder.

Every now and then I indulge my habit of watching videos about houses. I have tons of them saved on my hard drive. I have fond memories of watching Property Ladder with my mum and sister when I sold my first place and moved back home. We would camp out in the living room that had the pay-tv, and anyone else who entered the room would be told to shut up because Sarah Beeny was about to tell some idiot property developer that they were being stupid. Then my sister and I would both pull serious faces and say, "and I think that's a mistake" and crack up laughing. Then we'd make fun of my mum's favourite show, Antiques Roadshow, by telling each other that it's a beautiful example of a period georgian vase with lovely filigree pattern of gold lace, I don't know whether you can see at home but the handles are made of the carved bones of slaves! Isn't it just extraordinary the lovely detail that's gone into the handiwork on this vase, this would have belonged to the landed gentry or possibly even to a royal family and passed down though the generations. These kind of vases sometimes go at AWK-tion for up to seventy thousand pounds (oh, really? me grandmuvva just kept it in a mop bucket or sumfink an' I 'ad no idea!) but that if you look carefully under the mahogany and glass section you can see a crack where it has been repaired, which is a shame because now it's only worth fifty pounds, but never mind, it is just delightful, and thank you ever so much for bringing it in and sharing it with us today.

So every now and then I indulge my habit of watching videos about houses.

I just wrote that first paragraph snickering at myself. I get distracted easily.

So every now and then I indulge my habit of watching videos about houses. I watched one where there was this guy who had nothing, borrowed a few thousand pounds, used it as deposit to start buying flats to let out and became a millionaire in five years. But apart from some sales spin and a really sterile bio, there wasn't much I could find online to learn about how he did it. Which inspired me to write a blog saying how I did it. (I don't have the million yet but one can dream.)

Incidentally, the way that I got onto that ladder was to use a bedroom in my daughter's flat, to host guests on AirBnB, which was a pain in terms of the shared bathroom and kitchen, but did actually provide the profit figures to back up the investment potential, and from there, we bought a place.

I figure that it's unlikely I will get to millionaire status (and I really don't need that much money, being quite happily frugal) but it might be interesting to see how long it takes me to own a Property Portfolio (capital Ps) which can actually support us.

We shall see.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Latest hauls

Dumpster diving at home:

 - two laptops (circa ten years old; one works ok, one works but the battery is dead)

- a working PlayStation 2

- a table lamp

- a Harry Potter movie DVD

- a dead Xbox (we're going to see if the hard drive is salvageable)

- a light jacket (mine! thank you)

- several sets of thermals to fit a tween boy - which my 20yo daughter is going to nab once I sew up the peekaboo fly :)

- four shirts, two skirts, two t-shirts

- two tablecloths

- sandbag leg weights, which we dragged out and left in view for someone

- an ironing board, which I think we'll do the same with

Apparently someone moved out. Can I just add that while I'm thrilled with the freebies, I'm frustrated that they didn't walk a few minutes to the corner of the street and donate the clothing to charity?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Real Estate Baby Steps

I've mentioned before the beginnings of my love of real estate, but you're probably assuming I just wanted a property or five to rent out for the income. Or even that I wanted MORE income by renting for short-term lets, which pay better. I do. But I'm still not content with that. Add another adjective to the description of me: not just smart and lazy, but also greedy.

Where we are right now is in our first year of owning an apartment which we rent out to tourists. It took me about a year of research, sweat and tears and sub-letting on AirBnB, to gather the evidence and experience to get my husband on board. Which is understandable, because my approach is unorthodox, and as I've noted before, 99% of people go through life in the conventional way: get an education, get a job, work hard, take out a normal mortgage, buy a normal car on finance, commute for 40 years, retire with the house paid off but not much more, do all of this while spending every spare cent and being a slave to the grind of the working week.

I did a lot of reading in the lead-up to buying, and came to love real estate as a subject in general. Specifically, if it's done in the right way, it's one of the best (almost) passive income sources around. (What's passive income? It's money you earn while not doing anything at all.) Sitting around getting rich with little effort sounds like heaven to me.

I've mentioned before that I don't actually need to be rich (I just joke about it a lot) but it is absolutely no joke that if anyone can earn money without effort, then it will be ME who figures out how or dies trying. There is no end to how many hours I could spend daydreaming on these things. Ahem. Anyway, passive income. Seems to me that many ordinary families invest in ordinary real estate for the ordinary rental income. That's a drop in the ocean and a daydreamer like me dreams far bigger than "ordinary". Rental's not enough, AirBnB's not enough. The serious money in real estate is in the capital gain. In simple terms this is the value of the property going up over time.

Every country has different laws in terms of taxes and income for property, but (amazingly) in many places you can earn more money by buying a modest property and sitting on it and doing nothing, than by working and saving and saving some more. The difficulty is that most of us don't have spare money lying around to buy a place and can't afford to pay the bills for 20 years while the value increases. The tourist lets were how I got around that part, by proving it could pay its own way and make the borrowing worthwhile while we wait.

My second big joke is that it's only the beginning of my tycoon career. I say that, and people laugh, because one tiny apartment does not a "tycoon" make. But it's part of my bigger picture, and in my mind's eye there will be more of them later on, you see. :)

(Husband is not keen on the idea of buying another one. But I've dealt with the "I'm not keen" thing before. Leave it with me, I'll get back to you one day.)

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Leftovers

I am the first to admit that I am a continual "work in progress" when it comes to saving money in the food department. I am quite embarrassed to admit that we discovered a big piece of untouched watermelon recently, in the back of the fridge, inedible :( It's frustrating to know that we paid four euro for it and it's now going into the bin.

But I digress, I thought I'd post what we ate for dinner. It was ugly, so no photos - use your imagination.

I mashed up leftover vegies and potatoes, skins and all. I then cooked it with a stock cube, a little bit of french onion soup mix, and enough water to make it look & taste like soup. We each got a mug of this and it was acceptable tasting even!

Then there was the second course (hahaha, sounds classy but it's not). I cooked one egg each in the microwave in the bottom of mini ramekin dishes. We each then had a half a tin of baked beans on top and a piece of toast.

Dinner was perfectly adequate, it was even vaguely healthy, and of course I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy in serving that up, as if it's not "proper" enough. I need to get over that. Shopping and making a new dinner from scratch while we have stuff in the fridge... it's wasteful.

Here's a slogan for us all:

"Embrace the leftovers!"

Friday, 2 October 2015

Comfy Cushions

We all like comfy cushions.

Ok, that was a broad and sweeping assumption but really, I'm talking about not having to worry about unexpected bills. Here is a terrifying statistic for you: 62% of people in a recent survey are one paycheque away from homelessness. What this means is that if some disaster strikes (car breaks down, refrigerator bites the dust) they would need to spend their rent or mortgage money to deal with it because they have nothing in their savings.

These people are truly the definition of living hand-to-mouth. Is that also you - all the bills are paid each month, but there is nothing left over to save?

My daughter is moving house at the end of this year - barely three months away - and as she has so far saved very little because she earns very little, she confessed to me last night that she is tired of never having any money and never knowing what will pop up to randomly demand all the cash she has left. Last month she had a wisdom tooth pulled out, which fortunately in Finland is a very cheap thing to deal with, but it still took a bite out of the money she does have. It was merely one small example of things not-planned-for, but causing financial anguish.

Totally out of the blue I found myself explaining my own financial setup. My husband is the main wage earner, but we are way under the national average household income (actually we earn about a third of average for four adults). And in fact we would be considered to be living below poverty level if only the euros and cents are taken into account.

Yet we never have to worry about an unexpected bill. Even a big one. There is money in the savings if something comes up. We won't be happy of course, but we can just pay it and move on. We can do this because we simply don't buy much. We spend less than the amount coming in, so it just naturally grows, slowly but surely.

Here is where the knee-jerk reaction comes in that people "simply cannot save" anything. Yes I know; but that is the wrong focus in my opinion. We have not set out to grow our savings and neither should you. The better aim is to stop spending. There is also an assumption out there that small amounts are insignificant. They're not! Every cent matters.

If you can't do more than pay the bills each month, there are two approaches - either earn more or spend less. The first one is tough, but in my daughter's case it's what she needs to do. Freelance work is too unpredictable and scant, so she needs a boring daytime income so that her immediate needs no longer cause stress.

For all the regular people who already work and for whom second jobs and promotions aren't on the cards, it comes down to spending less. This isn't a newsflash to most but it's staggering how many people try convoluted measures to do it when it could be far more simple. One dollar a day? Can you look at everything you spend and just identify one dollar a day? Can you delay one clothing purchase until next month? One small thing? One weekday cheeseburger? Fridays have a packed lunch instead? One Tuesday vegetarian dinner? One fewer fizzy drink and slurping a glass of water instead?

Try something small for just one month... keep the extra money in the bank. If you make it a habit you will find it no longer seems like an enormous sacrifice. Perhaps next month you won't get an overdraft fee or late bill payment fee: that's like doubling your money! Pat yourself on the back for having your bills covered and taking back a little bit of control. And then look again to find one more dollar a day - the next step of the challenge.