Monday, September 22, 2014

The money archives: money and Other People

It's a girl knitting with her dolls, on her bed.
Miss Smith and Dolls. Emily Smith (1901-1980), daughter of New York. Gov Al Smith, circa 1919-21. George Grantham Bain Collection.

While you’re sorting your financial shit out, it’s invaluable to talk to other people about how they manage their budgets and savings. When I first started revising my money situation, learning about other people’s money management helped me to keep focussed on my own debt recovery and savings. And I’m still not bored of it - to this day, personal money management and savings techniques are things that I really enjoy reading, and talking, and telling about.

During the early days of the Debt Unicorn (2010!), I did an investigative blogging series which included talking to people who always seemed to be good at managing their money. “Good at managing” meaning that they could afford to buy a coffee the day before payday, or travel overseas on the smell of an oily rag - things that at that time seemed to me to be beautiful, impossible dreams.

While all three of the people I spoke to are now in different financial situations, I'm reposting those interviews in order to inspire and ponder.

  • Lizzie (in her post-grad student days)
  • Lake (in his Urban Tramper days)
  • Natalie (in her mature-student days)

 And, you can also read an interview with me from last year, about my money habits, now that your appetite is whetted.

Brief life note

Notice how I didn’t talk about the election? That’s because I’m so fucking gutted.

In happier, if more frivolous news: this weekend I cooked beef cheeks for the first time and they were great! Strongly recommended. I’m quite looking forward to have another go, maybe I will cook this Cuisine recipe for chilli & tomato beef cheeks.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday List: alternative future professions

Mustard in a pot - the beginnings of my life as an artisanal mustard maker.

Here is a list.

A list of future professions.

Future professions I could possibly undertake in my next career-life.

In no particular order:

  • Archaeologist. Slight difficulty in pursuing this in New Zealand given that I'm not really that enthusiastic about either MIDDENS or VICTORIAN RUBBISH PILES. In my hypothetical future career as an archaeologist I am also basically one the cast members from Time Team, so have more access to things like Medieval Castles and Tudor Gardens.*
  • Related: Food historian. Because food and history are two of my favourite things, and food history is another of my favourite things. And you can tell the history of nearly everything and everyone through food. *nods sagely*
  • Rare breed pig farmer. My love of pigs is well documented, and have only increased since I saw this documentary on YouTube about pork and rare breed pigs. It's presented by Clarissa Dickson Wright; I watched it after I went on a Two Fat Ladies journey of discovery after her recent death.
  • Cider maker. I like my cider DRY and tasting a bit like FEET. Sadly in New Zealand the "cider revival" has concentrated on very sweet, RTD-style ciders and I am out with those poor excuses for a beverage. If you need something done properly you'd best do it yourself.
  • Own my own online/local fabric shop. I really like fabric, especially some of the super-gorgeous Japanese fabric that I keep seeing online. And Petone clearly needs a fabric shop to complement the yarn shop, two sewing machine repair places and haberdashery.
  • Make artisan mustard. Yum. Mustard.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Spend less, save more: you still need to buy stuff

The previous post in this more-than-infrequent series covered working out how much you spend each pay period and what you were spending it on, and making a spending plan. In this post I’ll look at how to stay within your allocated week's spend, some things I found helpful in breaking the impulse buying habit, and ways to better plan your spending.

Buying stuff is fun to do

It can be hard to stick to your budget, especially if you’re used to the thrill of the impulse buy. The plan is to ultimately get the same thrill from saving or paying back debt. Or failing that, that you get a kind of puritanical thrill from your self-control. (YOU HAVE SO MUCH SELF CONTROL, look at you, walking around wielding it like a sword of light.)

The best way to slow or stop over spending if you’re an impulse buyer is to stop putting yourself in situations where you’ll spend. Tell yourself: you have no reason to be in a place where the main purpose is to buy things if you have no money with which to buy anything. For the time being, act as though you can’t be trusted in these temples to consumerism and just avoid the hell out of them. If you have someone who enables overspending (*cough* Mum, Lizzie) avoid going into shops with those people especially.  

This precept goes for op-shopping too. Whatever you’re going to buy may be cheap, but you still if you are spending outside of your budget, you can't afford it.

Basket chair. I want one like this

If, like me, you spend far too much time on the internet, you'll see many pretty shiny things in the world. It is natural to want such things. Instead of actively buying them, why not play a slightly masochistic game of ‘online window shopping’, by filling your basket and then shutting down the browser altogether. This will demonstrate your immense self control and give you the thrill of budget control. Try laughing defiantly while you do this ("ha HA!”).

Perhaps you like looking at nice pottery, or furniture, or beautiful vintage fashions? Can I recommend museums and art galleries as an alternative to shopping? Looking at collections of vintage clothes and crockery in museums and galleries gives me much the same feeling as looking in a shop full of nice second-hand clothes and furniture, but completely removes the risk that I might buy anything - provided I avoid the gift shop.

To the left is a particularly fabulous basket chair I saw at the V&A when I was in London last year. It’s beautiful and amaze and a museum piece. No budgets were harmed in the viewing of this covetable item.

Write it down and walk away

For better or for worse, you’ll never be able to avoid buying things entirely. A few years after my initial decision to buy less stuff I had to deal with the hard reality of this - things wear out, things break, and some of these things are expensive to replace - I’m looking at you, shoes.

The plan is to work out what is a necessity and what is a nice to have - I have a list on Evernote that I update on a regular basis along with the estimated costs of what I 'need' and what I 'want'. Things often appear on my 'need' list and then waft over to 'want' during the course of a week or month. ‘Needs' are bought first, ‘wants' often never - because wanting things can be so fleeting.

I found the best way to break my impulse buying habit was, if I saw something covetable, to write it down and walk away for an hour or so. If it was still vitally important that I buy those shoes, or that bag, or whatever, then I came back. I often find that after the initial flush of discovery has died away, the item in question isn't worth the walk back to the shop.

Op shopping is a different matter. Of course, walking away is always an option - leaving the ownership of a particularly delicious item of tat up to chance. But truth be told, I find that if I'm walking around a shop and holding an item in my hand for any length of time, I suddenly decide that my desire for aforementioned item was nought but a whimsy, and back on the shelf it goes.

Buy once, buy well

If you’re going to the trouble of making mature, responsible spending decisions, you might as well buy something that’s of good quality. Stop buying things because they’re the closest approximation of what you really want, and take the time to research, price compare and weigh-up quality.

The platonic ideal is to buy only top quality goods, with the assumption that they'll last forever. Like me, this might not be an ideal that you can afford most of the time. That’s totally fine. But decide in advance (your need/want list will help) what features you want the item to have, and if you can’t find something that fits the most basic of those requirements, don’t be afraid to go without.

Can I also say that saving up for something and then buying it outright is kind of an amazing feeling. Recently, Shannon and I saved up and bought ourselves a brand-new bed and futon mattress. We knew how much we needed to save for the bed on top of what we are already saving for houses and we saved it! It felt as though it took an age - but lying on that bed is like lying on a beautiful firm cloud of smugness and financial responsibility. TRY IT.

You could also consider whether the thing you want is something you could easily pick up second hand. For example, about five years ago I decided I needed black Doc Marten boots, found a pair on Trade Me for I think $50 max, and they have lasted me forever. They saw me around England, Berlin and Paris and I have never regretted buying them.

Share tips with me on my favourite subject! I have a million more - you can try also reading some posts from 2010 where I talk about wallet feng shui and clawing my way back on to the wagon.

In my next post: food is delicious, I am spending all my money on food. Help.

Brief life update

Have I already mentioned that I’ve been feeling quite fragile lately? Because, guys, honestly I have. I am working on it though. It’s tiring.

I also want to take a moment to briefly discuss two recent baking disasters.

The first featured an apricot cake that I attempted to take as a dessert to a friends’ house - the oven switched itself off (as it’s wont to do during periods of extreme haste) and so I was already running late/in a panic. When I tested the cake with my trusty skewer it defo seemed cooked. However, apparently not, which I discovered to my utter chagrin at the moment of truth (i.e. when I attempted to cut a piece and the centre oozed. Cake centres should not ooze). 

The second baking disaster involved a carrot cake I made on Saturday as a late birthday cake for Shannon, and again, I tested the cake with a skewer and everything seemed hunky dory. This time I had iced the cake and we’d sat down with a cup of tea before the oozy centre of the cake was revealed. I wanted to (╯'□')╯︵ ┻━┻

Today I successfully made some muffins tho, so maybe I am winning now. LOOKING GOOD.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What I'm reading right now

The Mirror by Richard Skinner #t

A winter's worth of sweater dresses

Knits have a reputation for being truly terrifying to sew. A sewist who is mostly self-taught, I lurched into knits before I had much of an idea of what I was doing, had a series of not terribly successful experiences and effectively gave up trying to sew stretchy things for about ten years.

However since late last year, I've been upping my game by taking a few classes and learning some of the skills that had passed me by.  Mostly I've been concentrating on classes that will give me the skills and confidence to sew my own knit tops and dresses (and eventually, pants) because:
  1. comfort is awesome; and
  2. stretchy waistbands rock my world.
The first class I took was specifically about sewing knits on your sewing machine (rather than an overlocker). I learnt some handy techniques and useful guidelines - like what kind of needle to use and what stitch will stretch with the fabric (see how much I was flailing around in the past?) I also learnt, after 31 years of being alive and never noticing before, that I had a sway back! What a surprise that was.

I took the second class at the beginning of this year. After running my overlocker for almost the entire time I have been sewing, I finally admitted that I had very little idea what I was doing and signed up for a beginner’s overlocker class. I was allowed to bring my machine with me, but the teacher asked that I get it serviced - and it turned out that it needed a new knife and A LOT of love before it was up and running in the way that it should .

Side note: Get your machines serviced regularly. I am just AMAZED at how much easier my overlocker is to use now that it’s been serviced.

Thus equipped with a functioning overlocker and new found twin needle/lightning-stitching abilities, I have been a virtually unstoppable sewist of knits - to the extend that I made my own sensible merino tops for winter.

I also branched out into making sweater dresses, which I LOVE and yet have rarely had the chance to wear. I think because there never seems to be any around that are really that flattering on me? I don’t know.

The first sweater dress I made is in a black flecked merino sweat-shirting. I used the Colette Laurel pattern which is actually designed for wovens. This meant (of course) that the frock came out quite a bit bigger than it needed to be - so after wearing it a couple of times, and being annoyed by how huge it was I had to take it in.

My adjustment was pretty much a hack job - I just ran my overlocker along the back seam where the zip was, cutting it out entirely and taking in the dress a few centimetres. There's enough stretch in the fabric to allow me to pull it over my head, no additional fasteners required.
All the dresses, hanging in a row on the fence at the back at my house.

My second dress used Tilly’s Coco dress pattern which is designed for knits - the fabric is, again, a merino sweat-shirting (this time with a deliciously flocked back, so cosy).

I am VERY into this fabric; I was eyeing it up at The Fabric Store for ages before I took the plunge as it was quite expensive, but NO REGRETS guys, I am totally in love.

I think I look adorably Seventies in it, I wear it with a white wooden bead necklace and black stockings with white polka dots, and I think I look pretty snazzy when I’m wearing it.
The mustard dress.

The final dress is in a woollen knit fabric with a polyamide percentage and is quite a stretchy knit, unlike the other two dresses. I used a free pattern for a kimono sleeved fitted dress.
The blue dress

I’m not as in love with this as much as the other two as I don’t think it’s a super flattering style on me and I don’t think that I’d bother to use that pattern again. The sleeves underarms weren’t really cut high enough (although that’s an easy fix) and I should have stay-stitched the neckline because it stretched out while I was sewing (hence the button). If I was to throw caution to the wind and re-use the pattern, I would probably re-draft the neckline to a boat neck.

Hey also, while I was sewing this dress, I had one of those gloriously awesome moments where you accidentally sew part of the garment to the centre of the piece you’re working on - EXCEPT I WAS USING AN OVERLOCKER AND CUT A HUGE HOLE. Luckily I had enough to cut the piece for a second time but honestly - it just goes to show what a bad idea it is to sew when ridiculously tired.

So, yes, knit dresses are the best! I am proud of my sewing skills and I am loving going to work in a dress that wears like an oversized jumper.

Brief life note

Guys, I'm a little bit disturbed about my level of obsession with that new Taylor Swift song. It’s the first of hers that I've ever listened to in any capacity and I'm thrashing it in my headphones and having private dance parties in the kitchen at work.

I have also had a cold for all this week and I am exhausted tonight - I kept pretending that I wasn't sick and good to do whatever but it looks like that has pretty much worked against me in the long term. *coughs pitifully*
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