Thursday, 28 February 2013

Finance: Would More Expensive Petrol Change Your Driving Habits?

This news article caused me to stop and think this week:
It is a hard sell, but economists from the Australian National University say Australians would be better off with a higher tax on petrol.
They have compared petrol prices around the world and say if consumers had to pay more at the pump here we would use less fuel and buy more efficient cars.
I've often thought, while reading personal finance blogs or news articles from America, you think your petrol is expensive? We pay way more! But apparently, we're not paying enough for people to switch to fuel efficient cars and drive less.

Australia (and particularly Perth) is extremely car dependent. Thing is, the excessive drivers of the world already have significant disincentives to drive. Getting stuck in traffic for hours, paying for petrol, paying for parking - which is $20 a day and up in the Perth central business district - and yet they still drive. I believe that petrol could cost $5 a litre and some people would still drive.

And the people who don't drive excessively? I'm not sure we're in it for the savings. Personally, I don't enjoy driving as much as I enjoy walking or taking public transport. There are times when I am happy that I can drive and own a car - it was particularly hard to get home from parties at night before I drove. But I didn't get my license until I was almost 23, and I coped just fine. I worked and studied, I lived out of home (alone!) and I didn't need a car.

These days, I live within a few kilometres of the city so I catch free central area transit buses, pay a very small amount to catch buses and trains further out into the 'burbs, and I walk a lot. I even walk home from work on a regular basis.

My point? I bought the smallest, most fuel efficient car I could find. But I bought a tiny car because it's a reliable brand, it's easy to park smaller cars, and I didn't see the point of a bigger car. Not because it was cheaper to run. And my household uses so little petrol that I sometimes forget that cars even need petrol. That's not a joke, though I am blonde so you can blame it on that if you like. To me, walking and taking public transport is just a part of who I am. I do it because it's convenient, it's less stressful than driving, I get more exercise by walking, it's good for the environment... But never once have I based my transportation decisions on saving money.

And that's why I think the people paying $20 a day to park next to the train station in the city centre won't change their ways.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Craft: Crochet Cats

In my post last week I mentioned that I wanted to make my Mum a crocheted cat for her birthday. I only started it a week beforehand, but I'm happy to say that I finished it in time! It wasn't easy however. Last week was a busy one for me as I've been preparing for a housemate to move in. This didn't leave a lot of time for crocheting cats! In addition to that I decided that the first pattern I made wasn't really right for Mum....

I made the Amineko cat pattern first. There's nothing wrong with the pattern. In fact it's a great pattern - I smile every time I see the kitty snoozing amongst the pillows on my sofa.

Or on top of the sofa.

Or on the bookshelf.

Even up a tree!

I thought he might be a bit too cartoonish for Mum. He's more cheeky than cute. Perhaps I just didn't want to let him go :-P

I decided to quickly crochet an alternative cat for Mum. I made this kitty.

The pattern is my own modification of the Spring Bunnies pattern from All About Ami. I'll post the modifications to the pattern soon. I'm glad I decided to make the second crochet kitty for Mum because not only do I get to keep the Amineko kitty for myself, the white kitty looks likes like my Mum's ragdoll William who has recently been shaved for the summer!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Craft: Ami Ami Dogs 2

This week I have been busy making another Ami Ami Dog.

This one is a Jack Russell. He has such cute spindly legs - he's almost insect like :-P

I don't have anything new to add about the construction of this puppy, so I thought I'd show you pictures of what I'm planning to make in the near future. 

Firstly I have started this adorable sleeping cat pattern (Ravelry link). I'm making this for my Mum's birthday next week - eeep so I had better get a move on! (It's a good thing none of my relatives read this blog :-P)

Once that's done I'd like to make something for my almost sister-in-law. I'm not sure what to make yet, but I was thinking of a cute puppy pattern as she loves her dog Winnie. Perhaps something like this one from Rebecca Danger.

Finally I'd like to make a case for my ipad. I was inspired by this post I found through Craftgawker. I like the cute pastel colours on the pictured example from Rebecca Caridad of Manzanita.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

What's for dinner? Broccoli!

It's funny that when you're told you can't eat something as often as you would like, you realise how much you like it. This happened to me with broccoli. It used to be an easy side to have with fish or meat until my boyfriend came along and, like some school boy stereotype, declared that it was "gross" and he wasn't going to eat it.  I'm thankful that broccoli is pretty much the only vegetable that he won't eat, but I do miss it. (In the interest for fairness I should point out that my boyfriend will eat broccoli in Thai curries, in fact he introduced me to the concept of broccoli in curry and it's amazing!)

I cook for myself during the week and lately I've been making up for the lack of broccoli in my life. I never used to appreciate broccoli before it became a forbidden ingredient - it can be so much more than an over cooked side dish! I thought I'd share some of my favourite recipes with you.

Garlic, Chilli and Broccoli Pasta

I eavesdropped this recipes from a work colleague. It looks very plain and simple in the picture but it actually has a lot of flavour from the chilli, garlic and white wine that the broccoli is cooked in. To make it you fry two cloves of garlic in a little oil, add chilli flakes to taste (I use about a teaspoon). Cook the broccoli in the oil and slosh in about half a cup of white wine. Add cherry tomatoes or whatever else you fancy. When the broccoli is cooked, but still has some bite to it, toss through the cooked pasta until everything is nicely coated in the winey-garlicky juices. Serve with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.  

Creamy Broccoli, Pea and Ham Pasta
This recipe comes from the Heath Foundation website. It's actually supposed to be a gnocchi dish, but I make it with pasta because I find it freezes a lot better than gnocchi. This is a nice recipe for days when you feel like eating something creamy minus the actual cream. It uses evapourated milk for the sauce. Make sure you add lots of pesto and pepper! 

Brown Sugar and Lime-Glazed Salmon - with Broccoli!
I saw this recipe on recently and thought I'd give it a try as broccoli is my favourite side for steamed fish. I will definitely make this again because I love salmon, especially when coated in limey-sugary goodness. The broccoli and carrots cooked in garlicky-ginger soy sauce was also very good. A word of warming for those who don't like the idea of sugar and meat - this is a very sweet dish. I find it works with the soy sauce and the salts in the fish, but I can see that this wouldn't be for everyone! I have used regular broccoli in this recipe because I tend to buy a few bunches, cut it all up and then add it to my dishes throughout the week for a quick boost of green. One of my favourite uses for extra broccoli is baked eggs with broccoli and mushrooms from Poor Girl Eats Well. This recipe really should be on my list as I make it so often, but I have neglected to take a photo of it (probably because I'm always in a hurry to eat it :-P). 

Friday, 8 February 2013

My 2013 Budget Part Two – My allocation of funds

In terms of big scale categories, I use two for my budget: spending, and wealth building. One of these means your money has gone away and you’ll never see it again (I sure hope you kissed it goodbye as it flew out your fingers!) and the other means it’s busy making new friends in the form of more dollars, who’ll be your close companions for many years to come.

Why don’t I use the needs, wants, savings categories? Well to me it doesn’t matter all that much whether you’re spending on groceries (a need) or a new dress (a want) – that money is gone, baby, gone. Likewise, the difference between planting money in a dedicated savings account, investing it in an index fund or using it to pay down the mortgage faster isn’t a big deal to me – those are all wealth building activities.

I use these two categories as a way to get an accurate snapshot of how my money is travelling. So in a nutshell, my budget for 2013 is simply:
Spending – 34%
Wealth building – 66%.

But surely I develop my budget in more detail than that, right?

Yep. My categories are as follows:

Wealth Building
Mortgage – technically this is the “rent” I pay Perfect Boyfriend for living in our apartment, the Bakelair, which he bought long before he met me. Why do I pay him rent? We’ll combine finances one day, but for now we’ve got separate finances with shared financial plans and very similar attitudes to money. For as long as our finances remain separate, the apartment continues to be his asset/liability, and if we were to break up, we both understand that I would have no claim to it.
However, he uses my “rent” payment as additional payment towards the principal of the mortgage. So it’s growing his equity, and some day that equity will represent part of the deposit for the family home we buy. As such, paying my “rent” is definitely a wealth building activity for me.
Savings – I’m still building up my savings for the future, though I know the day will come that I have to invest instead of holding my money in a savings account. For now, I’m getting 5% interest and I know the money will be there when I need it.

Groceries – food, toiletries, laundry detergent, etc. Pretty self-explanatory, right?
Bills – some of these bills are for needs (electricity) and some are for wants (my mobile phone). But they’re all bills.
Discretionary – the category that allows me to have a social life and look so darn pretty! This covers clothes (technically a need, but I spend a lot more than I could so to me that’s discretionary), entertainment, eating out, dates, presents…
Buffer – I’m in two minds about this category. My plan is to build up this money in my regular bank account, then use it for odd things. Like the holiday I take every year with Perfect Boyfriend – I don’t see the point of having a separate account / tracking my savings for one small holiday. Last year I used the money that built up in my account as extra savings, transferring it whenever the amount got over a certain point. That’s part of my plan for this year, too (and I won’t reach my goal of saving 45% of my income without a little bit of help from the buffer!). The buffer money is also there to take advantage of opportunities without having to transfer money out of my savings account.

Another one of my 'begonia babies' - plants are one of the many things I spend my discretionary budget on.
The breakdown of where my money will go:
Mortgage 22%
Savings 44%
Groceries 9%
Bills 9%
Discretionary 13%
Buffer 3%
I had to check this twice to make sure it adds up to 100%!

There are improvements to be made in some categories (I’m determined to get the “groceries” budget at or below 7%) but overall I’m happy with this budget.
Can you see any areas for improvement? Do you think the "buffer" category is a bad idea?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Craft: Ami Ami Dogs

Have you heard of Ami Ami Dogs? It's some of the cutest crochet I've ever seen! I have both of Mitsuki Hoshi's Ami Ami Dogs books and it makes me happy every time I flip through the pages and admire her adorable creations.

Unfortunately Ami Ami Dogs are not so easy to replicate. The first obstacle is the way the patterns are written; in charts. If like me you've never tried crocheting from a chart it might take some getting used to. I find it easy to miss an increase on decrease in the charts and would much prefer a written pattern. I will endure the charts for the cute Ami Ami dogs however.

The second obstacle is in the making up. It's easy enough to make the component pieces of an Ami Ami dog - it's very basic crochet. Putting the pieces together is another story however... I wanted to make the Shih Tzu pattern from Ami Ami Dogs 2 for a friend. Here's how it looks in the book:

See, completely adorable!

And here's my attempt....

A lot less adorable :-P He's still cute, but there's something not quite right about the way he's put together. I think Mitsuki Hoshi must put a lot of care and attention into putting her puppies together. I have made mine in a much larger size than what's recommended in the book and maybe that has something to do with it.

He does have a certain charm! And he was well liked by his new owner. 

The yellow dog is my first attempt at an Ami Ami Dog. I will be trying at least one more pattern from the book (the jack russell next time). It's worth having a look at the Ami Ami Dogs books - even if you don't crochet! - they are so full of cuteness and charm it's almost ridiculous!

Monday, 4 February 2013

What's for Dinner? Homemade hamburger patties, no egg!

I think my ideal world would be one in which burgers and chips miraculously provided all the nutrition a person needs, so I could eat them every night.

But as it is, burgers are not particularly healthy. How can you make them healthier? Make your own patties and make sure that burger contains plenty of salad! For extra credit, bake your own bread rolls and leave out the chips. I tend to give in to temptation and make chips with paprika seasoning, which are extremely tasty and (I hope) less damaging than takeaway chips. The only recipes for burger patties I could find online contained egg to bind the mince - but a little experimentation taught me that you really don't need it.

Mixing the mince with the seasoning.
Hamburger patties
500g beef mince
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried basil (or a small handful of fresh basil, chopped)
2 tablespoons dried parsley (or a small handful of fresh parsley, chopped)
Salt and pepper

This is a seriously simple recipe, and an easy one to master if you're just starting to learn basic cooking skills:
Combine all ingredients.
Shape into four patties.

Why can't my patties ever turn out perfectly round?
These are best if cooked immediately - either in a frying pan with a little olive oil, or baked in the oven at 150 celsius for about twenty minutes.

However, they also freeze well. I layer mine between baking paper, slip them into ziploc or freezer bags and pop them in the freezer for a night when I'm late home from work, I'm hungry and an easy meal sounds like a good idea.

Ready for the freezer.
Mastering basic recipes like this was one of the best things I ever did for my budget. Knowing how to cook yourself tasty, simple food at home removes the temptation to get takeaway and helps to cut your food costs considerably.

Friday, 1 February 2013

My 2013 Budget Part One – Why it won’t be 50-30-20

One of the first posts I wrote was about the 50-30-20 budget, which I now know comes from All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. I think that this model is fantastic as a starting point for first time budgeters, and it’s what I will probably be teaching my future children when they start earning a paycheck. When I was first learning how to manage my money (i.e. not just spend it all and then wonder why I was broke), this was the easiest budget to get my head around and follow.
The 50-30-20 budget is simple:
50% of your post-tax income is spent on needs.
30% is spent on wants.
20% is saved/invested.
So if I love it that much, why don’t I use it anymore?
I earn a high income (by my standards – realistically it’s about average in Australia), and while there are plenty of things I want, I try to resist lifestyle inflation. To spend 30% of my income on wants would be completely ridiculous for me. What am I going to do, hit up the shops every single weekend for new dresses and books? I’m much happier spending strategically on my wants – carefully assessing which wants will actually make me happy and which only seem as though they will.

One thing that always makes me happy: tending to my begonias.
So if I’m not going to spend 30% on wants, surely it should go into savings instead?

That’s the other category for which I won’t follow the 50-30-20 budget. I love saving. It makes me happy. I like knowing that when it’s finally time to replace Perfect Boyfriend’s car, we can pay for it in cash. I like knowing that I can get married without going into debt. I like knowing that if something terrible happens and I lose my job, I’ll have an emergency fund.

What’s more, while I enjoy my job and can’t imagine quitting anytime soon, I know I don’t want to work until 70. I look forward to the first day of official retirement, when I can wake up at a natural time for my body, take as long as I want to eat breakfast and go for a three hour walk before lunch.

There are plenty of blogs out there about early retirement, and from what I can gather, a savings rate of 50-75% is essential. So if I settled for a savings rate of 20%, what would happen to me if I got to 40 and wanted to retire? I’d have to keep working! That’s no fun. I like knowing that I have enough money saved to give me options for what I do with my life. This is why I believe your savings rate should be much, much higher than 20%. I’ve set myself a goal of saving 45% of my income in 2013, and I can’t wait to tell you on December 31st that I’ve achieved it.
Coming next Friday: My 2013 Budget Part Two