Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hypocritical Environmental Footprints

Hypocritical values, beliefs and environmental practices

[Note: This post is a bit of a soul searching type of post. I'm not criticising anyone or anybody or any corporations - it is merely a reflection post regarding hypocritical behaviour and my thoughts exploring the topic.]

Have you ever thought about your values and beliefs and compared them against the way you actually live your life? None of us are infallible and we are all flawed to some extent. After all, if you believe in the bible then Adam and Eve were perfect until Adam gave Eve a forbidden apple to eat. This led to their fall from grace into a world of sin and punishment. And here we are, in the modern world of sin and punishment according to the bible.

Some priests are a bunch of hypocrites. I won't elaborate much, only to say that priest molesters have been able to get away with their crimes for several centuries and have only recently been acknowledged by the church as being uncondoned behaviour.

My own hypocritical behaviour

Before I start commenting on hypocritical behaviour around me, I 'll be the first to confess that I'm also a hypocrite. In the past few years I've donated to many charities but predominantly animal welfare charities such as RSPCA, WSPA and Doggie Rescue. However I still eat animal products and I still eat meat. To combat the hypocritical feelings that I get, I try to minimise my meat intake and increase the amount of vegetables and fruit that I eat instead. Does it make sense to try and save a bear from bear baiting and homeless dogs only to eat plenty of pork or beef that are being slaughtered potentially inhumanely? Eating red meat leads to heart problems right? Health issues aside, I've been feeling sorry for the cows, sheeps, pigs and chicken that are being slaughtered for our consumption.

I profess to love nature and the environment however I still fly for holiday destinations, I still drive and I still buy useless, pretty junk to fill up the house every now and then. One day-all those objects will be in landfill and yet I still occasionally engage in consumeristic behaviour.

To counteract that, I try to use public transport where possible, I try to compost my food scraps, I try to buy locally grown produce to reduce the food footprint of my meals and support local businesses. I try to grow a lot of plants on the balcony and indoors, I try to pick up rubbish that are polluting the ground and waterways even though  it's not directly polluting my own living space, I try to use glass storage containers and metal cutlery to reduce my plastic containers and plastic wrap usage. I try to buy in bulk and avoid food packaged into smaller servings using more plastic packaging. I recycle all that I can. When I'm running the shower or kitchen sink for hot water, I save the cold water from the taps which I use to water my plants.

When I buy a house, I'm going to install a rain water tank so that the water isn't wasted into storm water drains which eventually pollutes our ocean.

1kg of beef and the journey to get there

Sure there are millions of publications linking red meat to cancer and cardio problems but why are we still eating so much meat? Did you know that to slaughter 1kg of beef it has the following environmental footprint:

1kg beef = 100kg hay + 4kg grain = 100,000 litres of water

Environmental hypocrites

A few corporations have been very hypocritical. One firm that I know, prints out hundreds of photocopied environmental propaganda to pimp out the image that they're environmentally friendly by participating in Earth Hour. So by having the lights turned off for 1 hour out of 8760 hours in a year which is 0.0001% of the year, they're evironmentally friendly?

Contrast that against the policy of providing no recycling bins, no greywater/rainwater collection, no composting, no solar panels and for the sake of 1 Earth Hour, hundreds of photocopied brochures are handed out to create landfill rubbish. That's just one example. How many more are out there?

Reducing our hypocritical evironmental footprints

If you have ever tried to reduce your carbon footprint on the environment, here are a few ideas to contemplate:

* Not eating 1kg of beef means you help save 100,000 litres of water. That is, a piece of steak on your place is around 25,000 litres of water. Imagine how many vegetarian meals 25,000 litres of water can grow
* Eat smaller fish because larger fish are predators that feed on smaller fish. Eating larger fishes have a wider environmental footprint
* Using public transport where possible
* Eat less meat
* Grow plants =)
* Avoid food with excessive packaging
* Decline the plastic bag
* Bring a portable environmental shopping bag with you
* Reuse all your bags for as long as possible
* Compost
* Buy glass containers (not only are they BPA free but your plastic usage will diminish)
* Use silicone baking mats instead of baking paper
* Recycle as much as you can, reuse other people's dumped furniture and bits and pieces

Anyway, they're just some ideas. If some corporations tried a bit harder to be authentically environmentally friendly rather than just media friendly, then we might actually see a remarkable reduction in their carbon footprint and greenhouse gases.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Being Charged Overdrawn Account Fee

Christmas is fast approaching and with all the dramas/changes at work and crazy pre-Christmas social life along with huge plans in the making for next year, I had a mega brain freeze. Totally forgot about my fortnightly mortgage payment was due to be direct debited out of my account earlier this week and I had already rotated all my savings from my transaction account into my high interest savings account.

For that, I got penalised $10. Because I am very rarely overdrawn, I know that a friendly call to my bank will mean they'll reverse the charge and that's exactly what happened a few years ago and it happened again today =) The friendly lady who fielded my call said, "Because you haven't got a history of overdrawing your account, we can reverse the fee straight away for you." Awesome! Finally good behaviour gets recognised and rewarded ...or should that be instead, bad behaviour gets rewarded from a history of good behaviour ;p

My transaction account pays a dismal 0.01% interest so I always rotate the funds into my two other high interest saving accounts where one account pays 5.5% interest and the other 6%. Why aren't all my funds in the 6% interest account? There are withdrawal restrictions and if I breach my withdrawal restrictions then I get penalised by losing 50% of the interest and the rate drops down to only 3%. Whereas the 5.5% savings account has no restrictions on withdrawals and is flexible enough for me to use as a semi-transactional account. Most of the time, I use my fantastic-plastic anyway and pay that off at the end of the billing month so I'm infrequently transacting from any of my saving accounts.

Do you read the fine prints before you sign documents? I'm one of those (anal) people who reads the terms and conditions booklets all the time. I also never sign anything until I've read every single little fine print on documents that I'm given to sign. I read that wise advice somewhere several years ago and it has always stuck with me. It was something along the lines of, 'don't feel pressured to sign anything, if you need a few weeks to read a document, tell them that and don't put yourself under duress to sign the document on the spot without having read all the terms and conditions.'

As per the proverb: measure twice, cut once.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The excitement of buying a property

If you've never bought a property then you'll never know how exciting the process is. The rush of exhilaration when the paperwork reaches settlement and the keys are handed over to you.

A friend of mine is going through the process of buying a property. I haven't mentioned to her that I'll be blogging about it and she'll be too busy to read everything that I write so this post will slide right under the radar. Here are a few of her concerns and the concerns that I first experienced:

* Am I paying too much for the property? Is it the right price? How much should the property be worth? Am I overpaying?
* Am I buying in the right location?
* Am I buying at the wrong time of the property cycle? Will property prices take a dive after I've bought?
* What if I lose my income/job/revenue/income stream/get made redundant/get fired etc then how can I pay the mortgage?
* What if the place gets burnt/damaged/destroyed/untenanted?

Those are a few of the biggest concerns for many of us. There's always going to be risks involved. Life isn't risk free and we have to make choices in order to progress in life. The only thing we can do when those worries and concerns are troubling us is to ensure that you do your due diligence and research before buying one.

Are you paying too much for the property? You can check RP Data or Residex or for the last sale price on the property, the recent sale prices at that address if it's an apartment block and the recent sale prices along the street and in the suburb. All of that costs around $50-$100 and it could save you making a mistake by overpaying by thousands of dollars! If you're really in doubt, you can pay a professional valuation firm to value the property for you before you make your offer - sure that'll cost you around $500 but do whatever you need to do to allay your fears and perform your research.

Are you buying in the right location? What are your needs and goals? If it's for you to live in then does the property location meet your needs in terms of work and family? If it's an investment property then which category and type of tenants do you wish to attract and do those class of tenants rent in the area you wish to buy in? Eg: If you wish to rent to young professionals then does the location offer cafes/eateries/amenities/lifestyles that the young professionals are attracted to? If you wish to rent out to families then is the property close to schools, transport, sport fields etc?

What if you buy at the wrong time during the property cycle? Who can predict the future? All of us can only predict the near future based on the current state of our economy. If you're buying during a boom then you'll notice that there's an enormous crowd going to open houses and you're being outbid everytime you make an offer. The market is hot and there's probably less chance of discounting the price. If you're buying during a repressed period then you might be the only one to turn up to the open house, the property may have been listed on the market for several months - demand is low so go hard and bargain hard. None of us know what the far future holds and you can only base your behaviour on the near future and historical price behaviours.

What if you lose your job/income/become redundant or the place gets burnt/destroyed/untenanted blah blah blah? You can pay for insurance to mitigate those risks and/or you can have emergency funds to cover those periods of zero income. Income protection insurance, trauma insurance, death or TPD insurance, property insurance, landlord insurance, home and contents insurance and the list goes on and on. Whatever it is that worries you - there's insurance that covers those worries.

If you need a place to live in or you're sick of being shuffled from rented property to another or you're simply looking for an investment property to invest in - there are always going to be worries involved with buying a property. There's a huge sum of money involved and if you've done your numbers, due diligence, research, pounded the pavement to look at piles of open houses - you've mitigated your risks.

At the end of the day, the proponents of the renting argument versus the buying argument will always tell you renters trumps the day. At the end of the property investors argument - they will always need renters to pay their mortgage for them while they hold onto an asset that is earning income and the value of the property is more likely to increase with inflation. And when inflation increases? Property investors also hike up their rent. Which side of the fence do you wish to be on?

Time moves on and the mortgage payments becomes habitual and if you make extra repayments frequently, before you know it, you've paid off your mortgage! All these worries and concerns would plague me too but after a few weeks into the mortgage - it dissipated.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hiding assets from defactos and butter cakes

This is what happens when I haven't blogged for a while - there's an influx of traffic from people googling passionfruit butter cake recipes, how to hide money from their spouse, a-hole ponzi dudes (roger munro/james lovell/bernie madoff), how to repot aloe vera plants, problems associated with having too many savings accounts, having to work multiple jobs 7 days a week and how can they handle their busy work life, Coca Cola breakeven points, sugar cane plants, what can they do with $60k deposits, grape dresses, best money management books, making lump sum payments on student loans and the topic of the month with a huge surge in traffic: how to hide assets when marriages and defacto relationship fails.

Usually traffic tapers off somewhat if I haven't written anything however lately, it's steady and even increases despite my lack of new blog posts. It's great that the almighty google search engine comes up with this blog in plenty of its first page search results.

Anyhoo - I'm back and I haven't got fantastic news to report. Life is super frenetic and I haven't had time to sit and mope or even daydream. Just can't wait until this year and next year is over. Whoa right?! All the huge events and decisions have happened this year and next year will be the next final wave of mega life changing decisions not to mention trips of a lifetime.

Money wise? It will be financially draining ;_; I'm going to have to become a semi tightwad/tight ass to some extent because of the huge lumpy spending to come. The H word, the M word, the H word and the two holidays yet to be planned. That's excluding a snow trip of course. If a ski trip is squeezed in then that'll be three huge holidays on the list of things to come. My portion of expenses are probably around $550k max? I hope that's the max or else I'll be blogging about eating cheap $2 chinese cabbages 7 nights a week and vegemite on toasts for lunches or even dumpster diving - the horror! ;) Only kidding - if I fell into a dumpster I'm too small to climb out unassisted and would perish in a rubbish truck when the dump gets collected.

Anyway - seasonal vegies and fruits are cheap, plentiful and nutricious. Dinners and lunches can be easily under $2-$3 per day. Especially since I've reduced my meat intake and steer away from huge lumps of steaks and huge fillets of fish. Afterall - wouldn't I be a huge hypocrite if I donate to animal welfare charities yet scoffed down meat like the world is ending tomorrow?! Seeing a huge rib eye steak on my plate is like visualising a dead cow on my plate lately anyway. Bok choys(a chinese vegie sold in oz) are 3 bunches for $2 and that's 6 servings. So a stir fry vegetarian dinner with rice is 50cents and if I'm feeling particularly hungry, then $1. Not that I eat like that everyday - see above - I have been meeting up with friends for dinners a lot recently.

Socialising is such a money pit - I've been spending several weeknights and weekends going out, socialising and hanging out with friends and it's really a case of spend, spend and spend because that's what happens when we hang out. Sunday night was my last wedding to attend for this year- another cash gift because that's what friends getting married desire these days - no one wants 20 useless toasters nor having to open up a gift registry. They prefer to spend the money gift on their honeymoon, use it to pay the restaurant for the reception venue or use it to build their marital house deposit.

The behaviour of a few groups of friends have changed somewhat because they've taken on huge monster sized mortgages and are only keen to entertain at home. Well - that's the summation of what's been happening on SMG's end down under and hopefully I can squeeze in plenty more blog posts before Christmas comes along =)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Container Gardening: Pests, Fruit, Herbs and Flowers

That Guilty Feeling Pleasure
On the weekend, I went nuts shopping at Bunnings Warehouse and Eden Gardens. I bought so much that I'm feeling slightly guilty. As usual, the dilemma was: flowers vs fruits vs herbs.

Why am I feeling guilty? I'm *supposed* to be saving up a deposit/down payment. Maybe it was the stress of rushing to eight open houses on Saturday that brought on the need to unwind by shopping for pots and plants. One thing leads to another...if you buy plants, you'll need to buy pots and if you buy pots first, then you want to buy plants to fill up the pot ^.^

I spent roughly $400 on gardening plants and items on the weekend and if I had saved up that $400 to use as a deposit/downpayment on my future mortgage, it would have saved me paying $5,400 in interest. Insane isn't it!! Although the pleasure of living in the here and now would have dissipated somewhat if I applied that theory to everything.

For what I spent on the snowboarding trip to NZ recently, used as a deposit/down payment, that would have saved my poor future-self from paying $54,000 in mortgage interest. But since it can't be guaranteed that I'll live to a ripe old age, I think I should enjoy myself along the way :)

Making That Humble Dollar Work

How did I arrive at that scenario? I'll illustrate using a simple example.

Scenario One: IF I borrowed $300k @ 9% for 30 years (Interest rates were at 9.8% in 2008 so it's not farfetched to think that rates may increase to those levels in the future):

a) If I deposited $1 against the mortgage in the first month, total interest paid is $568,975.67
b) If I didn't deposit $1 in the first month, total interest paid is $568,989.51
So that single dollar paid into the mortgage in the first month would have saved me from paying a total of $1 principle + $13.84 interest, a total saving of $14.84

Scenario Two: IF I borrowed $400k @ 9% for 30 years:

a) If I deposited $1 against the mortgage in the first month, total interest paid is $758,643.63
b) If I didn't deposit $1 in the first month, total interest paid is $758, 656.77
So that single dollar paid into the mortgage in the first month would have saved me from paying a total of $1 principle + $13.14 interest, a total saving of $14.14

Who cares huh? Look at what I bought :)

* $25 Yates Blood & Bone Fertiliser: Will be using this alternately with Dynamic Lifter. The horticulturalist advised me to apply Dynamic Lifter which is a slow release fertiliser. In two or three months, sprinkle with Blood & Bone. Two to three months later, Dynamic Lifter again and repeat cycle. We also have Thrive which is supposed to be good when plants are fruiting or flowering. Thrive is supposed to treat the plant while Dynamic Lifter + Blood and Bone are soil conditioners and treat the soil.

* $16 Nootka Raspberry Plants: Two small plants. It will be my first time planting Raspberries and I'll be potting them up. I read that Raspberry plants have canes (the branch/leafy bits) that grow vigorously with vigorous roots that spread. So the horticulturalist advised that for container gardens, you must use a ceramic glazed pot or else the roots will eventually be strong enough to break your pots or grow through the cracks in your terracotta pots. The roots also need to be kept cool so the pot needs to be deeper rather than wider. The plants don't fruit in the first year but will fruit in the second year. After the second year fruit, you're supposed to cut the canes down to the soil level while pruning the one year old canes. Advice on the internet is consistent and advises that one year old canes are a lighter green whereas the two year old ones are a darker colour. Alternate with the fertiliser method above when they start growing again. It's going to be exciting because I don't know anyone else who grows their own raspberries.

* $24 Dahlia bulbs: I bought three Dahlia bulbs/rhizomes. Suddenly I've been madly buying bulbs. Normally bulbs scare me because I'm not the type to dig them out when they die down and then I can't bear the thought of them rotting in the ground if I don't. Some will hibernate very well without being dug out. Anyway, I'm hoping my Dahlias will spread and I can eventually share some bulbs with family and friends. I've been growing the following that should eventually multiply: Tulips, Dahlias, Daffodils, Dutch Irises, Lillies

* $2.50 Sunflower Dwarf Sensation seeds: As long as I stay away from extreme hybrids, the flowers and herbs should go to seed and enable me to plant next year from seed harvested. To grow anything from seed, you really need the fruit or flower to ripen and shrivel on the plant until it looks dry or browned and then you collect the seeds and store them in a jar in a dry place. Soak overnight before planting or sowing them in the following year.

* $15.79 Yates Insecticide/Natrasoap: My poor plants have been suffering from a batch of Aphid attacks and trying more natural homemade/organic insecticide recipes didn't work so I bought a bottle of insecticide to try and banish the pesky aphids from destroying the plants. Clean, dry eggshells that I've crushed are helping to keep snails at bay. Crushed eggshells are an awesome, natural snail and slug repellant and they also provide calcium to the plants.

* $23 Wild Irises: These grow in clumps and the leaves don't die down leaving you with a bare looking pot. Wild Irises do require transplanting/splitting when the clumps are too large for pots or garden areas.

* $27 Americana Geraniums: Beautiful fuschia blooms in clumps on taller stems. I'm going to try and do some geranium cuttings when the plant matures somewhat.

* $13 Seasol Concentrate: 1 capful to 9 litres of water. Seasol is made from seaweed and is considered a 'tonic' to help stressed plants. Stressed plants? Yep you read it right - plants get stressed when they're transplanted, split, re-potted, suffer from heat waves or haven't been watered for several weeks because you've been away on holiday. The Eden Garden horticulturalist advised to mix, apply and wait two weeks prior to using any other fertiliser.

* $189 for two 47cmx53cm Primo Glazed Ceramic Pots: For the raspberries I bought - see above

* $64.95 for one 45cmx34cm Forest Green Primo Glazed Ceramic Pot: For the Wild Irises I bought - see above

Ceramic glazed pots just ain't cheap in Australia. Sigh.

Spring Time: Plant Fruit Trees, Herbs and Seedlings

It's five days into Spring if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Now is the best time to start planting all those herbs and flowers. To start applying fertiliser. The Eden Garden horticulturalist told me that my plants may have yellowed somewhat due to our cold winter but Spring should see them starting to absorb more nutrients now that the soil will warm up and certain plants break out of their dormancy.