Friday, April 29, 2011

Farewell Jervis Bay: Easter holiday

Jervis Bay

Three hours drive south from Sydney. A haven for holiday makers seeking peace, relaxation and nature. It's similar to how the Upper East Siders on Gossip Girl unwinds at the Hamptons. Love that show and love the fashion on that show.
Collingwood Beach at Jervis Bay. White sands and the sparkling southern ocean.
Down here, if you're truly super duper rich and famous, you would be unwinding at your holiday house at Palm Beach(where the beach houses are a few million a pop) or else if you're less rich and less famous but not a pauper(ahem) then you would unwind up or down the coast and anywhere but the city. 

Maybe Jervis Bay is for the rich but not famous? Considering that we saw a little, yellow Lamborghini parked at the beach. They only cost $350,000 to $450,000 ... I wouldn't mind having a Lamborghini beach buggy...
Yellow Lamborghini spotted, parked at Collingwood Beach, Jervis Bay
My friend booked a holiday house for us at 6 Bayswater Road, Vincentia NSW. It was only $760 for four nights and that was vastly less than what I had expected for Easter holiday bookings. Weather forecasts were disappointingly rain on and off however, I was so surprised and pleased with how the weather obeyed with our 'please be sunny, please be sunny' holidaying mantra.

Anyhow, back to normality, back on the laptop and back on this blog! Hope y'all had a happy and safe Easter holiday too! Unfortunately, I must confess, I was back to driving to work again in my non-fuel economising car :p One of my favourite songs by Youth Group was playing and it brought back happy, mellow and reminiscent memories of many happy times. An extract of the lyrics:
 "Youth is like diamonds in the sun, and diamonds are forever..."
Youth is transient. It's like the dew on the grass that evaporates with the dawn. The droplet of water that drips from the tap. The hint of rainbows on a cloudy day. 
Collingwood Beach, Jervis Bay at the rocky end of the beach during sunset
 It passes by so quickly that we have to always remember to enjoy ourselves whilst young and to be serious but not so serious. To think about tomorrow but also live for today. I brought two cameras with me on the trip. My friends all brought along several lens and tripods for their dslr and since everyone was shooting with their Canon, we shared the lens. 

Without further ado, I've uploaded some photos that I took. Although I'm a newbie in terms of photography and using the dslr and all its functions, I still enjoy it and am learning plenty every time I take the camera out for a spin. The weather was grey, lighting was grey, so it's been an effort to not have too many under and overexposed photos.

Sea anemones at Collingwood Beach, Jervis Bay

Collingwood Beach, Jervis Bay, gloriously dusky sunset
Collingwood Beach, Jervis Bay, spectacular sunset as the evening turned dark

Lookout from Cape St George, where a lot of ships ran into the rocks below causing the road leading up to this cliff to be labelled as 'Wreck Bay Road'
Cape St George Lighthouse lookout from the other side, treacherously rocky and a tragic story of how the lighthouse was built at that point due to convenience and ease of building rather than practicality, resulting in death and hinderance rather than guilding ships to safety
After hiking several kilometres, we reach the privately secluded Steamers Beach. The hundreds of narrow, winding and steep steps carved into the mountain explains why it's secluded as we huffed and puffed our way down to paradise

After hiking about 12 kilometres of hilly and bushy terrain all Saturday without eating lunch (what a crazy idea to think we could hike that much in two hours!!) we just sunbaked and read on the beach on Sunday

Collingwood Beach, a cloudy and cool weather translated into a dark and moody photo, taken on tripod with a slow shutter speed... the sun has set and the clouds have rolled in...

Booderee National Park Botanic Gardens, never seen this flower before

The Rainforest Walk in the Botanic Gardens

This photo should be rotated the other way but I don't know why blogger image upload has rotated it. Anyhow, I love how the leaves were silhouetted against the sky

The mushroom log where we spent over half an hour taking mushroom photos. O.M.G ;p Everything was micro and miniature, moss and mushrooms included on this decaying tree stump

Decaying leaves on the forest floor in the Botanic Gardens

Mushrooms growing on the tree, if only they weren't poisonous then we could have been enjoying stir fried mushrooms for dinner..

More mushrooms. I just love the variegated brown of the decaying leaves and the beautiful but most likely poisonous mushrooms
Uncommon looking blooms. Haven't seen these ones before but they're dainty looking

Evening at Cave Beach Lookout. The clouds were amazing. I can't remember if I was shooting through polarised filters or not but the sky was truly memorable
Cave Beach, walking down
Almost sunset at Cave Beach, shame that the sun was setting on the other side of the mountain instead of this side of the beach, still the sand looked amazing in the afternoon light everytime the waves receded back into the ocean

A carefree para surfer at Cave Beach, despite the chill setting in, he continued to surf his way back and forth much to my friends' dismay as their cameras, mounted on tripods were taking photos with 30 second exposures...
Sunset further up from Cave Beach, on our way back to the car. The natural light was freakin' amazing as it colesced into a swirl of silver, grey, orange and mauve colours.
Last day of our long weekend. Last photo at the beach, an orange beach daisy covered in sand, half unfurled and yet to bloom
Autumn. Love it. Love the colours. Maple trees with burnished and fiery red leaves. We stopped at Kangaroo Valley for lunch and a break from driving back to Sydney.
Autumn I love thee...
The locals at Kangaroo Valley planted all sorts of flowers and I didn't have enough time to take all the photos that I wanted but I love how the morning rain had left raindrops on the petals of this bloom and how the flower that had bloomed and now wilted, stood sadly on its right
Don't know what this flower is but it's an Australian Native flower, I love how the raindrops glisten on its bloom
Kangaroo Valley, on the steep and winding road, photo taken whilst we driving in the car. Moutainous with pretty views.

Good night now and hope you've enjoyed these photos and happy snaps. I certainly had a wonderful, fun and memorable trip with my friends and can't wait for more fun times to come. Between all of us though, we are guilty of taking probably a few hundred mushroom photos hahaha :) That's life...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stockpiling food is such a waste

 I've been struggling against the urge to buy groceries. It really is a weakness of mine, this tendency to keep buying too much food, too many ingredients, too much groceries. What ends up happening is that we don't consume things in time and I have to dump the food stock. Such a waste...

I cook a lot. It's something that I enjoy doing. However, this means that I end up buying a lot of ingredients and can't finish them before expiry. A quick perusal into our pantry will find a mind boggling array of ingredients:
  • Soy sauces- light soy, regular soy, dark soy, dark mushroom soy, kecap manis soy, ponzu soy sauce (a Japanese citrus soy), thai soy etc
  • Spices- at least 30 spices in small packets and jars and they have short shelf life
  • Sugar- white caster sugar, regular(granular) white sugar, icing sugar, brown sugar, palm sugar, demerara sugar
  • Oil- peanut oil, sesame oil, dark sesame oil, canola oil, olive oil for pouring, olive oil spray
  • Flour- corn flour, plain flour, self raising flour, rice flour, tapioca starch flour, glutinous rice flour
  • Vinegars- white vinegar, brown vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar etc

    The quantity of food stock in our pantry is insane. While others battle with cigarette or an alcoholic addiction, for years, I've battled with a food stockpiling habit. When I find myself throwing out unopened food, I often berate myself about wastefulness and the usual saga of how many hungry people in third world nations could have been fed...

Anyway, these past two weeks have seen a remarkable drop in my grocery purchasing habits. I've been restraining myself from stockpiling.

There's only one other pantry that I've seen which dwarfs our pantry. This infamous pantry that I've seen is really amazing; 4 jars of vegemite, 6 bottles of salad dressing, 3 jars of mustard, 3 bottles of tomato sauce, 3 bottles of BBQ sauce, 3 tubs of mayonnaise and that's just the first shelf... 

What's so amazing about that? Vegemite is eaten so sparsely on toast that 4 jars of vegemite is literally 10 years worth of vegemite. The same could be said about mustard. And that's just a sample of the stock range from the infamous pantry. No doubt a lot of that food will go to waste due to expiration.

So I've been good these past two weeks. I've restrained myself from grocery shopping. I've pulled out ingredients close to expiry and cooked with them. I've used up condiment jars that have been sitting in the fridge for indeterminate periods. I haven't bought a lot of groceries for these past two weeks and have been rampaging through our pantry to use what we've got. I've been good.

Further reading:

1. Test of the blueberries: How much would you pay for fruit?
2. Wedding, weeding, gardening and zucchini plants
3. Best orange cake recipe

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Australian's per capita wealth is $266,600

What is per capita wealth and per capita income?

An economic measure that is bandied around commonly by economists and statisticians.
  • Per Capita Wealth - Total wealth of the country divided by the country's population number
  • Per Capita Income - Total personal income of the country divided by the country's population number
The behaviour of the 'typical' Aussie consumer is starting to surprise and baffle our reporters and statisticians. For years and years, overall, we've been a nation of negative savers.

But right now, our rate of savings are supposedly at record highs and we are taking out less new loans (credit card, car loans, mortgages, personal loans etc), making extra repayments on existing mortgages and paying down debt.

Craig James, CommSec's chief economist has crunched the numbers and have concluded that

* Our per capita wealth is $266,600
* Our per capita debt is $23,056 
* Overall wealth per household is almost $700,000

Median wealth(ie: the centre of the bell curve or the wealth of househould in the middle) would have been a more useful figure but economists prefer to use per capita wealth (which is total wealth divided by population number).

The problem with averages and per capita numbers are many though. If there's a larger number of poorer households or very wealthy households, then this can skewer the average resulting in the per capita or average figure being a useless number on which to base any comparison for the majority of the population.

But why are households so gloomy and pessimistic?

Living costs are seriously inflating. Fuel prices are up, cost of fruit, vegetables and meat are up. Utility prices of gas, water, electricity are up. Interest rates are up crippling debt holders. Median rental prices are up which means struggling renters and low availability of rental properties. If Gillard can manage to execute her Carbon Tax scheme then it's game over for inflation control.

Electricity prices will be increasing as well starting 1st July this year:
* EnergyAustralia 17.9%
* Integral Energy 16.4%
* Country Energy 18.1%

Rental stress

Anglicare's Rental Affordability statistics alleges that 600,000 families live in serious rental stress. Rental stress is defined as when households spend more than 30 per cent of the family income on rent.

Per capita wealth of $266,600 is a misleading figure

It only takes a few billionaires and several millionaires to skew the per capita number resulting in a meaningless result that doesn't reflect the majority of the population. The number that skews the results is referred to as the 'outlier'.

I'll illustrate using two examples, assuming the population is a country with only 5 people in its population. Noting that there are limitations in having a population size of 5.

Example 1 where the outlier is a high wealth household:
If wealth of the five people are $10,000, $30,000, $35,000, $40,000, $500,000

Median wealth would be $40,000
Per capital wealth would be $123,000

The maths to calculate per capita wealth:
(10k+30k+35k+40k+500k)/5 (population number) = $123,000

The median wealth of $40,000 is a more accurate representation of the population than the per capita wealth (which is similar to average wealth).

Example 2 where the outlier is a low wealth household:
If wealth of the five people are $10,000, $300,000, $360,000, $400,000, $500,000

Median wealth would be $360,000
Per capita wealth would be $314,000

As mentioned, there are limitations to these calculations of mine too because of the small population size. Australia's population of 22 million means that the median wealth of the househould ranked at 11 million would have been more reflective of where the bulk of the household wealth value lies.

Using the median household wealth would have meant that the poorer households aren't dragging down the per capita wealth  and the wealthier households aren't inflating the per capita wealth.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Test of the blueberries: How much would you pay for fruit?

Sadly, blueberries are going out of season. During their season's peak a few weeks ago, we could buy a punnet for $3 to $3.50 and now they're $6/punnet.

I've been grocery shopping with a friend before and have seen her pay $7-$9 for a 200 gram punnet without any hesitation. Not that she's a super millionaire or anything. Just simply a less conscious consumer.

How much would you pay for a 200 gram punnet of blueberries?

Strawberries are also at $5/punnet for 250 grams and I knew the strawberry season was over for me because the idea of paying $5 for a punnet when you can buy 5 punnets for $5 from Flemington markets in the middle of summer. Goodbye summer....

How much would you pay for fruit?

We try to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables. Not only do they taste far superior in their proper season, they are also vastly cheaper. Whilst shopping for fruit, it was the choice of:

* Pears at $2/kg
* Apples at $1/kg
* Oranges at $2/kg
* Blueberries at $6/200 grams and $30/kg
* Strawberries at $5/250 grams and $25/kg
* Bananas at $10/kg

Of course, we have a lot more choices but they are some simple comparison. I'll usually go for the seasonal produce being cheaper and probably at their peak taste. Not sure what everyone else goes for but there must be someone out there buying them at that price?

I know shops and particularly restaurants, have no choice - if it's on the menu, it's on the menu and diners won't be impressed if they swapped the berries for something such as apples.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The glory of public transport in Sydney

I've been catching the train to work recently. Although rainy days like today really brings out that evil voice inside my head that says challengingly, 'It's cold, wet and miserable, you should really hop into the car and drive...muhahaha...'

That same voice inside my head has also been telling me that I really want to buy one of those very fatty, "double down" KFC burgers that has made headline news and causing me to salivate @_~ be still my fatty heart!

By using public transport, I've managed to passively achieve a few of my 2011 goals. The public transport system in Metro Sydney is really shocking. Trains are almost always late, delayed, changed platform last minute, dirty, 10-30 minutes wait for connecting trains .... that's how CityRail got its moniker "ShittyRail".

What are the benefits of using public transport?

* Saving money > this is a personal finance blog so I have to include this one. Driving the car causes wear, tear, depreciation, increased servicing costs and the petrol bill is starting to look horrendous these days. The joys of owning a car...

* Getting exercise > Walking to the station and walking to work. 40 minutes daily and it involves conquering hills, stairs and running for the train.

* Getting more reading done > All those articles, books and text piling up for me to read. Instead of being stuck in traffic with crazy drivers, I can read at least a hundred pages on a single day.

* Time to reflect on matters > Instead of rushing through life, time passes excruciatingly(painfully) slowly whilst waiting for the trains.

More environmentally friendly > Tree hugger, closet greenie, whatever...

Do you use public transport? In what ways have you changed your life in order to be more environmentally friendly?

Do poor families have the same opportunies as affluent families?

Inequality in our education system

There is a lot of inequality in Australia. Despite being classified as an advanced and wealthy nation, we still have a lot of poor and financially struggling familes as opposed to super wealthy families.

During a dinner catchup with a friend, one of the conversation topic was, "everyone has equal opportunity to change their life", regardless of whether you're from a poor or an affluent background. 

Although the concept of equal opportunity sounds reasonable, in reality the application is significantly unequal. Poorer families live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where there are thugs, druggies, a higher ratio of unemployed adults, people bumming around on the street, a lot of theft, car burglars and generally unsavoury characters milling around the area.

Affluent families send their kids to after school and/or weekend tutoring, music lessons, a lot of extracurricular sports such as rowing and snow sports. 

Teens drop out of school a lot earlier, a lot of them don't continue onto higher tertiary education. 

In NSW we have four types of schools:
  1. Public Schools - government run
  2. Private Schools - privately operated
  3. Selective Schools - government run for academically gifted students
  4. Catholic, Christian, Muslim etc Schools - religious denominational schools
All schools receive government funding, however Private Schools charge exhorbitant enrolment fees on top. We all have equal opportunities, however some have more advantages than others. 

Can you afford to send your kids to Private School? 

Have a look at the school fees that Private Schools charge per student, although there may be family discount that applies if there are at least two or more siblings enrolled.

If you had the typical two kids, you would have to pay around $324,000 more or less, before they finished high school. A lot of these Private Schools provide iPads for their students. A lot of them also list laptops as compulsory.

Money still can't buy intellect or academic superiority, it does buy contacts though and networking. At the end of the day, it is still the selective schools that dominate the rankings in terms of academic performance and ranking. Selective schools are free if parents elect not to pay the voluntary $150(or thereabouts) school fees.

School NameSchool Fees for 2011
Scotts College$28,296
SCEGGS Darlinghurst$27,405
King's School$26,091
Sydney Grammar$25,776
Trinity Grammar$25,330
SCECGS Redlands$25,300
PLC Sydney$24,110
Pymble Ladies College$23,700
Knox Grammar$23,430
Barker College$23,370
St Andrews$23,133
MLC Burwood$22,420
Kincoppal Rose Bay$22,290
Roseville College$21,105
Loreto Normanhurst$18,256

Monday, April 4, 2011

The burgers are better from Hungry Jacks?

If this is the best that Hungry Jacks can do, they're going to have to give up their slogan or change their picture so that it reflects reality. This is what happens when reality falls short of expectations:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Update on progress bars and income

Interest income

My interest income is growing quite nicely. In March, there was a bit of a stumble in the trend. There have been so many bills to pay that no doubt, there won't be a growth in savings for some time and thus, no growth in interest income. Boo.

Dividend income

All the stocks in my share portfolio pay dividends. Interim and final dividend, which means twice a year. The stocks that I'm holding (WOW, NAB, BPT, IPL) haven't increased their dividends but then again, the trading environment (domestically and globally) has been challenging. 

There are a few industries that I would NEVER contemplate buying into: Airlines, clothing or white goods retailers, agricultural stocks(wheat, wool, grains, rice, sugar etc), aquacultural stocks, viticultural stocks, construction/building stocks. Stocks that are subjected to the vagaries of the discretionary consumer spending, weather and or government regulations.

Rental income

This source is semi-passive income. I'm on the committee as treasurer and there's always something to follow up on, quotes to flick through, questions to be answered and meetings to attend. This income source is relatively stable.

Update on progress bars

Progress back in January compared to 01/04/11:

1) (good) Fundraising was @ 48%, now 62% of goal raised
2) (stable) HECS/HELP student loans @ 57% paid off, unchanged
3) (stable) Savings for the Euro trip @ 0% saved, unchanged
4) (good) IP deposit @ 29%, now 35% saved
Summary for March:

1) (good) Savings account were up since my January recap
2) (good) Interest and dividend incomes(not so much dividends) are growing
3) (bad)   Market value of stock portfolio took a slight hit due to the crisis in    
4) (good) Superannuation retirement fund is up, from contributions rather 
              than from fund performance. Don't plan to make a lot of extra   
              contributions until I can operate my own SMSF (Self Managed Super 
5) (bad)  Expenses up due to both lifestyle and bills
6) (good) Investment loan liability balance is down since the last reckoning
7) (stable)HECS student debt. I'm planning to make a lump sum
               payment in May before the balance is indexed to inflation on 
8) (good) Net wealth overall is up.

Further reading: