Wednesday, 30 January 2008

What questions would you ask in a job interview?

OK, we all have been in job interviews gunning for that dream job, and one of the certain questions that your interviewer will ask you is "Do you have any questions you would like to ask us?". So what do you ask?

If I was looking for a job, not that I am looking for a job, the following would be in my top 5 questions to ask...well, maybe only from a financial perspective anyway.

If there is zero income coming into the business today, how much longer are you able to keep trading before declaring bankruptcy?

By hiring me, how will I help the company's bottom line?

What is the salary ratio between the companies highest paying job and my job?

How will you ensure that my job is secure for the next 2 years?

How high is my welfare on the companies priorities?

These questions are framed from a perspective of job security. One of the worst things that you can do is to join a company that is on a downward slope and you are not in a position to influence it to be come an upward slope. It is like jumping into a sinking ship with a smile...

Most people that I know of go to an job interview to secure an income, so what not ask the questions that would directly affect your personal bottom line.

What are some of your questions?

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GTDing the GTD

I have been trying to embrace the notion of getting things done (GTD). Although, I don't strictly follow the methods that David Allen's books, there are a number of things that you must do to ensure that it works. This is true no matter what GTD system you are using.

  • Write down all everything - In your list, make sure that you write everything that you want to do. Be as specific as you can. Writing something like, build a toy for my son, is probably not useful as it is too generic. Something like, build a small swing in the back corner of the yard for my son, is probably something that you can aim at.
  • Prioritise the task - Attach priority to each task that you have. With the priority, you are associating importance to the task. A task like picking your son up from child care this afternoon is more important than remember to buy the milk on the way home from work.
  • Read your list everyday - At the start of each day, don't just look at your list. Make sure that you read it, and check if you are able to complete any of it.
  • Simplify the tasks - If some of the tasks on the list has been there for a more than two weeks, it is a good chance that the task is too complex, consider breaking it down to simpler tasks.
  • Carry your list with you all the time - Having your todo list with you at all times allow quickly jot down that task whenever it pops into you head. For me, I found that if I don't jot it down immediately, I tend to forget about it and it never gets done.
My current system is the todo application my Palm T3 organiser and Outlook at my work desktop PC. Every morning, I synchronised the todo list with Outlook's tasks. I would spend some minutes in the morning and going through the list, perhaps re-prioritise some tasks or add more tasks. I have found that I am ticking off about 10%-15% of the tasks by the end of the week. This well short on meeting my number 1 goal for 2008, but I am making headway.

By the way, David Allen has published a series of free articles which you can conveniently download and read offline.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Planning our meals

I have been doing some research on meal planning and its affects on money saving. Several PF bloggers such as Nicole Humphrey over at Families.com and Kris over at Simply Us have been some insightful reasons why meal planning is the way to go if we want to save money.

Back in June 2007, one of the articles that I wrote also advocate the planning of meals. Practicing it is a different story. This is our strategy in an attempt to plan our meals better.

We have a lot of food magazine like Super Food Ideas, Delicious and Good Taste, and frequently try the recipes in them. So our idea is to us a display folders with a few empty inserts. We take a recipe from one of these magazines and placed them into one of the empty inserts. We usually just tear the page out from the magazine.

Each of these recipes are for each weekday. Currently, we are only focusing the evening meals, but we are planning to cook that little bit extra so that the left overs can be use for lunch the next day.

Do you plan your meals, and what strategy do you us to keep it interesting and on track?

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Thursday, 24 January 2008

ALDI newsletter

A few post ago, I wrote about how we are going to give ALDI another go. Recently, we have found that the weekly specials that ALDI have are literally running out the door. On the day of the sales, the weekly specials are sold out within two hours! Apart from receiving the ALDI catalogue in your mailbox, it is difficult to know what the specials are.

Searching through the website, I discovered they can email you their weekly specials in a form of a e-letter. I have signed up, and have began to receive regular emails with the weekly specials. Sign up for the newsletter here if you are interested. You can unsubscribe at the same location as well.

cheap on-line photo printing


One of the family's favourite past time is to snap away at photos. When the digital camera revolution arrived about 4-5 years ago, the number of photos that we took seem to have tripled. Most of them ending up on the PC, and only a small selection of them ever made on to printed media as we have found that it is quite expensive to print out the photos.

We have tried the two popular options, either printing the photo out ourselves, or using one of a photo kiosks.

Printing the photo has its benefits. It gives me some satisfaction that I have hand crafted a photo worth putting in a album, but it also ends to be about $0.45 per print. We did all the frugal things like cutting up an A4 photo paper in a four A6 paper, and also using non-genuine inks. We have never managed to get below $0.30 per print. We even switched to an Epson printer where each colour has its own cartridge so only the empty cartridge is replaced, not the whole cartridge.

The photo kiosks are quite cheap, but they are rather inconvenient. Our closes photo kiosk is a five minute drive away, and using it frustrates my wife endlessly as it is badly designed. She usually get a couple of of the details wrong and the whole batch is ruin. It is something we try to avoid. The cheapest photo kiosk that we have found cost $0.19 per print.

Recently, one of our friends from our ante-natal classes pointed us to www.getdigital.com.au. For standard 10cm x 15cm, it cost $0.10 per print, and there isn't any minimum quantity! You can order 1 print if you wish. They will usually turn your photos around 1 one working day, definitely in two working days. You also have a choice of picking it up at a shop for a service fee of $2.00 or have it delivered to you for $8.50.

We tried it and send across 67 photos to be printed and be picked up at our local pharmacy. The results were pretty good, definitely good enough for putting into a photo album. It cost a total of $8.70 for 67 prints , sweet!

One word of warning, the website does not appear to be compatible with the Firefox browser. However it works pretty well with Internet Explorer. We discovered this after spending 1 hour uploading the photos!

Using www.getdigital.com.au has certainly help us the printing cost of photos and have saved us many dollars since we have discovered them.

photo credit: V Fouche

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Don't Panic!

The current financial crisis that we are experiencing is quite nerve racking. Today, the All Ords feel by about 7% and all the gains, if not more, made over the last 12 months. Today, it closed at 5222 points, down by 408 points. As reported by The Age, this is the one day biggest drop in the share market in the 18 years, and the longest losing streak since January 1982.

Luckily, it does not really impact me significantly as we only own a small parcel of Telstra shares, which was purchased during the T2 offering. However, the real impact to us would be how our superannuation will be performing. Like many other Australians, some part of our superannuation are invested in the local Australian share market. With the investment mix of my superannuation, about 10%-15% is expose to movements of the sharemarkets. The way I view it, superannuation is a long term investment and is not due to mature for another 30 years for me. So I have decided not to panic and leave the investment mix alone to ride the down slide out.

My friend calls this the sleep factor. If the situation is affecting you to an extend that it is disturbing your sleep at night, it is probably time to be less aggressive with the investment mix.

The market did slide down quite significantly when the dot com bubble busted just after the turn of the century and my superannuation net worth actually went down, but it recovered in spectacular fashion.

For some people whom superannuation are about to be accessible in the next few years, these are certainly nervous times. I would say to them to get some profession advice.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

measuring dollar economy on the car.

We have been driving the new car for about a two months, and I was thinking "how do I measure the affect it was having on the household financials?" Since the car is a novated leased car, I need to keep detail record whenever I visited the petrol station and fill it up with petrol. The information that I keep are

  • Cost of the petrol
  • The amount of petrol I pumped into the car
  • The odometer reading when I pumped petrol into the car
  • Date and time
Fortunately, these information are all on the collected, printed out on the receipt and handed to you by the station attendant. The standard measure is fuel economy which measures how much fuel is used over a set distance. So far, the car's fuel economy is 13.55 ltr per 100km. I felt that this is more a measure of how the car is performing and does not really give you a sense on how it is affecting the wallet.

From a dollars and cents perspective, I converted this figure to become dollar economy by multiplying the amount of fuel by the average cost of the fuel. This was calculated to be about $18.5 per 100km. Obviously, this figure will fluctuate with the price of fuel, and that is a good thing as it clearly shows the true value of your fuel usage.

To put that dollar figure into perspective, if we drove to Ballarat to visit the in-laws, the trip would cost about $20 on fuel alone. Plus the $20 for the trip home.

I am gathering a spreadsheet to help perform this calculation quickly. If you are interested in getting a copy of the spreadsheet, send me an email tehn.yit.chin @ gmail . com or leave a message in the comments. The spreadsheet should be available in the next few days.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The economics of using Bunnings


It is summer here in Melbourne, and we just had a couple of days in a row that reached 40 degC. The nights did not get below 25 degC. It was pretty uncomfortable all around for everybody.

Unfortunately with the orientation of the house, our son's bedroom window gets a lot of the afternoon sun, which is great for the winter days, but not so good for the summer days.

We decide to install a pull down awning outside his window to give it some shielding from the sun in the afternoon. I went off the Bunnings to get the necessary tools and materials. One of the tools I need to buy is a hammer drill. Historically, I would spent quite a bit of money to get the best tool, usually targeting the Makita or Bosch or even Hitachi power tools. However, in the last few years, Bunnings have been selling extremely cheap power tools from China, typically the GMC or Ozito. For a comparison, the hammer drill from Ozito cost me $30. If I had purchased a Makita hammer drill, it would have cost a few hundred dollars. Another time, I purchased a jigsaw for an incredible $5 whereas a Makita jigsaw would also cost a few hundred dollars.

I must say that the Makita or the Bosch tools are extremely robust and reliable, and if I had to make my livelyhood from these tools, I would stick with the Makita or the Bosch tools. However, since I am using in a DIY situation, I may as well save a few dollars and use the cheaper varieties. I am not too sure if the GMC or the Ozito are of the same robustness or reliability.

The good thing about these cheap tools is that they come with a extremely long warranty period. The Ozito hammer drill that I just purchased for $30 comes with a 3 year warranty. So if the drill breaks down within that 3 years, I just go back to Bunnings, along with the receipt and swap it over for another drill or its equivalent.

From my perspective, it is a win situation.

photo credit: Dennis Bos

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Public Transport vs Private Transport


On the weekend, my family and I decided to take a trip into the Melbourne city for the day. We lived about 45 mins to 50 mins drive out of the city, and typically we would take the car. We usually take car as it is more convenient because we can take our two year old home whenever we want rather than to depend on the public transport.

The public transport system in Melbourne is divided into two zones, zone 1 ( which covers the inner city suburbs) and zone 2 ( which covers the outer suburbs). It only just recently that it became two zones, it used to be have a third zone covering the middle suburbs.

On the day of our travel, it cost the family $20.20 for the public transport cost, plus about $2.00 for driving the car to the train station. If we had driven the car into the city, it would have cost $10 for parking, plus about $10.00 for fuel cost of the car. I have neglected the cost of maintenances, insurance etc.

So the cost are $22.20 for public transport vs $20.00 for private transport.

In some ways, it is not extremely compelling for the un-frequent traveling public to use the public transport system given that costing is very similar. In the future, when the cost of fuel increases to something crazy like $3.00 per litre, public transport may be a bit more attractive. However, for the frequent travelers, they have made the switch to public transport already.

Personally, I like traveling on public transport as I know that I am helping with traffic congestion problems and the environment, and it is also much safer than being on driving on the road.

Everyone's situation will be different. Which mode of transport would you prefer, and for what reasons?

photo credit: Benjamin Diehl

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Giving Aldi another go


With all the praises Aldi are getting from many of the Australian PF bloggers, we decide to give them another go. We tried their products about 1.5 years ago but we did not really like their products. I guess that we mainly tried their food, veg tables and fruit. This time, we are going to start with the groceries such as their cleaning products and other household items.

One of the methods we are using to measure how long it takes to finish the product. For example, we bought a bottle of Aldi's equivalent version of Spray'n'Wipe. The previous brand that we purchased was from Pine'o'Clean, and it usually cost around the $4.50 mark and comes in a 500ml bottle. Aldi's version cost $1.89 and comes in a larger 750ml bottle.

My wife got a permanent marker and wrote today's date on it. When it is finish, we can look at the date and calculate how long it took to finish the bottle, under normal usage conditions. The original bottle took about 6 weeks to finish.

We also wrote the date on the other consumables like dish washing liquid, washing machine powder etc.

After my wife finished the shopping this morning at Aldi, she was very surprise how much cheaper it is. We estimated that to purchase the equivalent products at either Coles or Safeway/Woolworths, it would cost at least $35. At Aldi, it cost just a touch less than $15. That's a $20 saving in just one shopping trip. Over a period of a year, the savings are very significant.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

renting your stuff out


While I was browsing GDay World today, I came across an article about an internet startup call rentoid.com. The idea behind it is that it provides a forum it connects the people who have stuff to rents and people who are looking to rent stuff.

For example, I have a lawn mower sitting in the shed that is gathering dust because the drought in Australia is so bad that all my grass has died and I don't have any grass to cut. Now, what if I could rent the lawn mower out to someone that actually has grass to cut. I would advertise this fact on rentoid.com. Some wanting to rent a lawn mower would go to rentoid.com, sees that I have a lawn mower for rent. The connection is made and his grass is nice and tidy!

rentoid.com puts a new spin on an alternative income stream. For someone who may have a lot of things laying around gathering dust, this website may provide an alternative income stream from those items.

Please sure that some of the supporting infrastructure such as insurance for your items, public liability insurance and maintenance are in place before launching yourself into this.

rentoid.com makes it money by taking a percentage of the rental fee, so it is a win-win-win situation for all parties involve.

I am uncertain how successful this venture will be for rentoid.com and for the people with things to rent out, but it is one of the more original ideas that I have come across on the internet.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

which GTD system to use?

In my quest for getting a GTD system up and going, I came across many different types of GTD system, it ranges from a simple todo list using a manilla folder and post-it notes to an elaborate system using a Moleskine notebook.

I started out using an online system backpackit but it doesn't help much if I am not at my computer. with internet access. It is excellent for the lists of items that can be done form a computer, ie sending an email to Jim for this weekend's BBQ or wirte that article on the blog.

I then moved onto to my Palm T3 PDA. I have had a PDA of one sort or another for almost 8 years now but have only really used it for calendaring and address list. I am starting to using the todo list application on it, and coupled it with something like Outlook, it forms a productive tool. However, I have found that the battery life on those things really suck. I take it away over the holidays period and the battery power was down to almost zero after 10 days. I guess the backup todo list is still the pen and paper until I can recharge the battery when I get back to my desk at work.

I am starting to favour some of the Moleskine hacks around for a GTD systems. They look that they should work OK provided I form a habit of consulting it frequently and make note in it frequently. I think that I like about the Moleskine GTD hacks is the it is accessible all the time and it only relies on having a pen/pencil with it to make a note.

Peter at Getting (Some) Things Done has an interesting spin on the why the Moleskine notebooks. Peter noted that he chose them as then cost a bit more and, psychologically, we will take care of it a bit more because it DOES cost a bit more.

The PigPogPDA is also another popular Moleskine GTD Hack, and it also looks promising.


Monday, 7 January 2008

Converting an Annual Leave Day to Sick Day

I just returned from work today, and was exchanging my holiday stories with my colleagues. I told them that I got a bout of gastro over the Christmas holidays and was not able to do much over a couple days. He suggested that I get a doctor's certificate for the days that I was sick and submit them to the HR department, essentially converting my Annual Leave Days to Sick Days.

I came home today and though about his suggestion. It does have some merit.

  1. Sick days are stricter to obtained, and needs to be backed up with some documentation like a doctor's certificate.
  2. You have the freedom to do whatever you want on your Annual Leave Days, but on your Sick Days, you are only allow to recover from your illness.
  3. When you depart from your job, your Annual Leave Days are worth more and than your Sick Days, so it is worth more in your pocket.
However, during the days that I was sick, I didn't visit the doctor, so I can't claim or get a doctor's certificate. Maybe next time.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Goals for 2008

Well, this is the third day into year 2008. After feasting on the ever increasing meals that occur over the festive season, we are at home and just enjoying the last few days of the holidays before returning to normal house life.

In betweens the fits of laughter with my incredibly active son and lovely wife, I had some time to reflect on some of the goals to aim for in 2008. We all have the same goals year in year out, the ones such as trying to attain a happy life or achieve financial independence. These are all well and good, but I think if I focus on some smaller achievable goals, it may help me make some headway. The goals that I am aiming for small goals but has a large impact on my life (hopefully!).

  1. Get a GTD system going and tweak it so that it works. If the system allows me to achieve 85% of the weekly tasks, than I would consider that a working system. Currently, I am using the todo list on my Palm Pilot organiser. It is working so far. Getting a GTD system working will also stop me from making mistakes, delaying things, missing bills etc and it should save me some money along the way. My goal is to complete 85% of all the tasks for the week.
  2. Ensure that the emergency fund is at correctly level. The emergency fund is one area that I have be neglecting in 2007. This year, with all the credit card biils paid off, I want to maintain a good level of emergency fund. My goal is to determine what our emergency fund level needs to be and maintain it at this level.
  3. Seriously starting making a dent into the mortgage. Louise at My Journey to eliminate debt is doing a marvelous job reducing her debt, especially her mortgage. She gives me inspiration, and hopefully I can be as passionate about mortgage reduction as her. My goal is to reduce our mortgage to 10% of what it is today.
  4. Crank out some articles for this blog. I started this blog as a way of exploring some of the financial decisions that I have the make. I know that the number of articles has reduced to a trickle over the last few weeks. My goal is to have 2 articles per week.
As with any new year goals or resolutions, it is largely dependent upon the personal situation and may change as the personal situation changes.

If you have made some goals for 2008, I wish you every positive luck in meeting them.