1 week down, 50-something to go?

This past week, I shattered my cozy little 9-5 schedule.

Instead of sinking lazily into my lavish leather lounge to watch TV in the evenings, I punched a timecard  at job number two from 6-11PM. I literally didn’t see my wife from Wednesday morning until Friday evening. However, I do finally feel as if I’m the guy Roosevelt mentioned:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…  his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

I was very, very ready to sleep in on Saturday morning, and was a little miffed that we had an early start to run some family errands. So when my head hit the pillow on Saturday night, I expected not to wake up until about 9am. Nope, 7:30AM rolled around and guess what? I couldn’t sleep any longer! Don’t you hate that? Your mind wants to sleep in but your body doesn’t.

It begins again tomorrow morning! Bring it on.


I’ve put this off for far too long

Remember that part in the first Lord of the Rings movie where Bilbo Baggins gets ready to leave the Shire? If so, you’re a geek. That’s okay, so am I…read on, it’ll get geekier.

Bilbo had been settled into his cozy little hillside villa for ages, but began to get restless because he knew adventure awaited him on the road leading away from home. He said things like “I feel thin, like butter scraped over too much bread”, and told his nephew “I’ve put this off for far too long”. He was made for adventure and challenge, and knew he wasn’t having any at home by the fireplace. [I recall these quotes without having to look them up… am I a geek?]

I sort of feel the same way. As I wrote last week, I’m throwing it into high gear and have got a 2nd job, starting tomorrow. I definitely have put this off for far too long. I wonder, if I’d manned up to my student loan debt in 2008, how much farther along we’d be? Well, at least I’ve learned a thing or two from all this.

  1. Avoid debt like the plague.
  2. Man up and just do what’s needed, now.

Anyway, I report for orientation for job number two at 8AM tomorrow morning, and the adventure begins. This quote I did look up:  It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.

Let’s get ready to rumble…

I can’t believe I finally did it. The gloves are off, and it’s going to be a bare-knuckled fight until one of us is down for the count. I bit the bullet and took a second job in order to knock out my last remaining debt, my student loan.

It’s something I’ve sort of subconsciously been avoiding for a couple of years. What shook me into action was a sit-down chat with my lovely wife, and a revelation about the emotional toll of that debt. I didn’t realize that a) I haven’t been man enough to step up and do whatever it takes, and b) it would come down to good old-fashioned hard work. I thought I could come up with some creative income stream, aim it at my loan, and watch it vanish. That’s not outside the realm of possibility, but there comes a time when you just have to throw down and fight for things. It’s just dumb that it’s taken me this long.

In about a week, I’ll be shifting it into high gear, taking my awesome full-time role with a financial planning organization, and adding a part-time job at a local hospital transporting patients and equipment. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I suppose extraordinary results require some extraordinary effort. The fact that it isn’t a permanent arrangement gives some consolation. When I’ve thrown the knockout punch and the student loan is gone, then I can reassess.

When I think about what I’ve just signed myself up for, and the challenge of it all, I first feel a bit worried. Then, I feel it’s a test of my strength which I’ve resolved to win, and I’m proud to be facing it up. It feels like a manly thing to do, and I’m willing to fight for our financial health, freedom, and future. After all, I’m the idiot that signed up for the student loans, now I’m the one that has to take it outside and battle until it’s finished.

Is there anyone else out there who has been putting this off, like me? I would love to hear from you.

How to shop like a pro in Bali

I just returned from my first excursion beyond the realm of white-people land. My wife and I spent a week in Bali. Crowds of Aussies head there mostly for the surfing and cheap shopping. We came home with some good stories and I just couldn’t resist blogging about the shopping experience there.

There are a few things you learn quickly.

  • First of all, for one Australian dollar, you get about 9,100 Indonesian Rupiah. Prices will be in the hundreds of thousands, but mostly convert to between $2-$50.
  • Never, ever pay the asking price if you’re shopping on the street. I guarantee, if the shopkeeper asks for 445,000 rupiah, the guy across the street will sell the same handbag to you for 130,000.
  • You just have to be rude sometimes– just say no and walk away.
  • Every single price negotiation starts out with the seller going really high (ie, 875,000), you going low (150,000) then the seller rolling his eyes and exclaiming how impossible your price is. Ignore the drama and just keep your offer low.
  • If the seller won’t accept your offer, walk away. Once you get about 10 feet from his shop, he’ll chase after you shouting “ok, your price, your price!” Count on it 70% of the time.
  • Don’t buy at the first shop you visit; see a few first, because you’ll usually find the same item everywhere.

Mostly, because the exchange rate is so incredible for Aussies visiting Bali, you walk around feeling like a millionaire. A “taksi” ride across town will only cost you about $2.50. A really nice dinner may run you $30. It definitely gives you a weird sense that your wallet is bottomless. It’s the money equivalent of some kind of anti-gravity environment where a tiny jump sends you flying.

I suppose what I should bring home from that experience is the sense of spotting a good deal. Here in whitey-land I find it easy to just pay a price just because it’s on the pricetag. But is the item really worth that much? I wish we could do some bargaining here, but then I wonder if that would be helpful or hurtful to business owners. Probably the time spent negotiating small deals like for a fridge magnet, just wouldn’t be worth the time.

Anyway, I’d love to hear your third-world bargain hunting stories if you have any!

How to feel like an ass and pay for it too

Last Sunday was not one of my proudest moments with money decisions.

Scoopon.com recently offered a deal on a studio portrait session with a local photographer. The deal was for $29 and included a 10-inch framed photo and a keychain photo. Oh, goodie! We signed up and went along for the session, which went quite well. We scheduled to return the next week to see the results and select product options (wall art, photo book, etc).

9am the following week, we sat down in the studio to look at the pictures. They were professionally edited and looked slick. Equally slick was the sales process that followed. Numbers were finally mentioned, and “sticker shock” set in as we realized the package would be about 5-6 times more than we expected. Which was nearly $3000! But for some reason, it didn’t occur to me to take control of the situation before I signed us up for anything. And that’s exactly where I went wrong.

I explained to the photographer that “we don’t borrow money” but could probably do the payment plan he suggested (hello?). In the end, I signed us up for the $2,799 package and gave a $450 downpayment out of our savings. Nice one, Jake. You’ve just displayed all the fortitude and intelligence of a carrot.

We spent the rest of the day with this shiny new financial burden looming in the back of our minds, and it was exhausting. The more I thought and reflected upon that decision, the sicker I felt. By the end of the day, I had emailed the photographer requesting to please change the package inclusions and reduce the price. Thank God, he obliged. Still, it didn’t reduce too dramatically, so we’ll hopefully enjoy the photos enough to make up for the “stupid tax” I paid (and will pay in 10 weekly installments).

Lessons I learned the hard way?

  1. Be a friggin’ man: stand up and say NO to making big dollar decisions on the spot.
  2. Decisions involving amounts of $XXX or more, I need to discuss privately with my wife before committing to.
  3. If I can’t pay for it up front, I don’t buy it!!

I still feel like a royal idiot for being an anti-debt guy and then signing up for payments of any kind. Again, not my finest moment.  At least it didn’t involve larger numbers and won’t cripple us. The payments will be gone in a couple of months, but the emotional impact of this lesson should last a lot longer, and keep me much more on guard for next time.

Ever done a deal like this that you really regretted afterwards?

Jake vs the calculator

Last night, I had a bitter showdown with a calculator.

After getting home, my wife and I talked about the frustrating fact that at the moment, we don’t have the lifestyle we want. It’s mostly that we’d both love for her to cut back work from full-time to part-time. We have this talk periodically, and it always boils down to a hesitation to give up the comfort of her full-time income. I don’t know why, but this time I decided I wouldn’t just let the talk end in despair… I grabbed the budget book, my laptop, pencil and trusty calculator, and settled in for a bitter battle. I was determined to see if the numbers do actually dictate our lives, or if we can wrestle back control of things.

Several hours into the night, the missus had gone to bed and the house was quiet except for the furious scribbling of the pencil and frenzied tapping on the calculator. Even Lexi, our little cavoodle puppy, was trying to sleep and wondering what her crazed dad was still doing downstairs. However, as I scraped down to the bottom of the budget, I found what we didn’t expect.

If the last six months of income and expenses are a good indicator (which I think they are), I may be onto something. The promised land of part-time work for Mrs. Jake might actually be achieveable! Based on my income plus my estimate of her part-time wage, it’s looking like we could still cover costs and still save some cash every fortnight. This seems crazy because we’ve always assumed that it would be too tight if she cut back on hours. However, it just took some effort to smash through the assumption that it would never work.

Because it was a busy morning, I didn’t get a chance to present my wife with the snazzy spreadsheets, graphs and calculations I churned out. I’m going to keep that little ace up my sleeve until tonight! This one almost deserves a Powerpoint presentation and a laser pointer. Can’t wait to see how she reacts to the news that [if we budget well] then she can work less and we’ll still save money.

Spending like a fat kid?

Just keep reading…you’ll get the connection.

“Your continued listening and reading is a sin”? As soon as the podcast’s headline hit my brain, my synapses revolted.

On Wednesday afternoon, I popped in my earbuds for another instalment of one of my regular podcasts (I listen to 3 or 4 different podcasts), from Free Agent Academy. If I’m commuting or vaccuuming, I’m usually plugged into my iPod.

Host Kevin Miller positioned the spicy question that while our culture consumes like crazy (movies, food, books, etc), have we lost the part where we actually apply what we’ve heard and learned? Yep, this was an ‘ouch’ message for me to hear, and I nearly pulled over the scooter to unplug my iPod right there on George Street.

Even if it’s great content– or especially if it’s great content– what’s the point of purchasing yet another product if you’re not actually going to apply its message or make use of it? I’ve definitely got an iPod and bookshelf bristling with great titles, and shutter to think how much great information I’ve paid for but not applied to my life.

Kevin suggested that even to read 1 book per year and go really deep with it is better than scarfing a book a week. I can’t disagree. Not that I consume books that quickly anyway, but the same point is echoed in an old proverb:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

The whole concept really has me rethinking how I want to spend my money, food, books, scripture and time, among other things. Because on the other side of it is that once I receive some new knowledge, I’m responsible for it. I don’t want to have consumed volumes of profound content and have only acted on 10% of it. Think about it– once you’ve eaten a burger, you’re responsible to put those calories to work, or you simply get fat. Why do I read books? Why do I listen to podcasts?

Well, I could ramble on for pages here. But I’d rather listen to what you have to say. Does anybody else wrestle with this issue?