If you don’t have the right skills, have the right attitude

‘Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’

Winston Churchill

I’ve never started a job with the skill level to hit the ground running. My education level is moderate at best and I haven’t any specialised qualifications. Therefore, I generally start a new role with minimal real ability to perform the duties.

What I do have however, is the right attitude. I start every new role with enthusiasm and with a learning mindset. In some ways, my lack of knowledge is an advantage as I don’t go in with a ‘know it all’ attitude. I don’t know what I’m doing and any opportunity is a chance to learn.

My current role serves as an example. If someone asked me to deal with an aggravated customer, I get onto it immediately without complaint. If I’m asked to clean up vomit or a particularly nasty toilet incident, I go and do it immediately. If I’m stuck with a full shift or just standing at the top of a broken escalator to perform customer service, I’m there.

These examples are not especially complex but they are not everyone’s idea of a good time. The point is, I do them and take the opportunity to learn. I might learn some strategies to manage the aggravated customer to use the next time. I get to use my communication skills with the broken escalator. I might not learn a lot while cleaning up a messy toilet but it is a mindless task that allows me to reflect on ways to make money or for other productive thought.

I have applied the positive attitude to every role I have held for the last decade. This attitude has given me the reputation as someone that is reliable and can be counted on to assist when needed. This has resulted in many opportunities being offered to me that were definitely beyond my education level and skill. Many times, these offers have been made ahead of people with considerably more experience in the role then I had.

It surprises me that I see many long-term and new starters that are reluctant to undertake tasks and make excuses. I get it, no one wants to clean up a blocked toilet. It is smelly and unpleasant. I won’t lie, there have been times I have been dry retching while cleaning up.

You know what though, when it’s time to offer an extra shift, overtime or a spell at a higher role, they will be asking the guy with the right attitude, not the guy that complains every time they are asked to do something.

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Sometimes money finds you

You just have to be at the right place at the right time sometimes.

I had just turned up to start a shift yesterday when a vacancy for a Sunday shift became available. I put my hand up for it immediately, even though it would reduce the length of my weekend. It’s all about priorities at the moment though. The chance to work 8 hours double time on a relatively quiet evening Sunday shift is a good financial bonus I can’t pass up.

Later in the shift, the manager on duty asked if it would be ok to alter a shift for the following week to finish at a later time. Again, I agreed immediately. The changed shift would result in 12.5% penalties being applied, while the previous shift didn’t. This more or less gives me an additional hours pay for the same amount of work.

Finally, approaching the end of my shift, some problems occurred on the network and trains were suspended. This means there were a lot of upset customers to manage. At the same time, it became apparent shifts had been messed up and there was no replacement for me. I was offered overtime until the replacement arrived. Again, I found it difficult to say no to a few more dollars in my pocket, so I agreed again.

Interestingly, I was only pondering that morning how I could accumulate some extra money by the end of the year. Maybe putting the thoughts out to the universe attracted some money my way.

Buying property – Lazy agents

As I posted a few weeks ago with Buying property – Thank you messy tenants! I have been on the look-out for an investment property.

After some research, I decided on an area that provides a generous rental income and has plenty of room for capital growth. It was then down to finding a suitable property.

In this day and age, particularly at the lower cost end, the primary avenue for locating property is on the internet. After entering the parameters I required, I generated about half a dozen quite promising properties and set about making a time to see them.

What I found interesting was that some real estate agents today are so lazy in advertising the properties. Their written profile of the property can be down right pathetic. They make very little effort to sell the benefits of the property and location. The basics are not enough, the agent should be selling the dream of owning the property, whether it be for investment or to live in.

Property photos can also be appalling. Only 18 months ago, I was in a position of locating an agent to sell my home in Sydney. One agent had a high-profile in the area and she impressed me with her pitch but the photos she used were obviously taken from her mobile phone. I enlisted her services on the proviso that a professional photographer was used. I had to pay the $500 for the photos and it was very well spent. The traffic through the first open home was fantastic, which created urgency and resulted in a very impressive offer the same day.

From a purchasing point of view, I use agents poor ads as an opportunity for me to save money. An unattractive ad in terms of wording and photos can result in less buyers to opens and therefore more chance for me to negotiate down.

The day came to view some properties. Two identical properties were open and hour apart in the same complex. One agent had listed very nice pictures and had sold the property strongly in the word content. The other property had dark grainy pictures that made the place looked very tired and the wording in the ad was generic. You can imagine that I was more interested in seeing the property with the nice pictures and descriptive wording.

Well, I was disappointed. The first property was quite run down and needed some cosmetic work. In saying that, I still thought it represented pretty good value if I could negotiate it down around $10K. The point is though that I did attend the property and I may have had the property had a less appealing ad.

An hour later, I attended the second property with less enthusiasm. It was great! The existing tenant was obviously very house proud and the presentation was perfect. She even had subtle incense burning that provided a pleasant fragrance to the home.

Other than possibly adding some paint, there was basically nothing to do. Another interesting aspect was that the agent had not even used current photos. New blinds had been installed in several rooms to replace some very dated curtains. A small thing perhaps but an ad is a first impression and should feature the benefits of the property in its best light.

When it came to price, the agent suggested a price that was in the range of $20K less than equivalent (but less impressive) property that I had seen an hour early. I countered with a number expecting some effort to negotiate. I was called back less than an hour later to advise that the offer had been accepted. Not the slightest effort to press me for even a few thousand. The thing is, I was more than prepared to offer more!

From my perspective as a buyer, the agent was great. He posted poor ads with uninspired wording and out-of-date photos and he failed to negotiate. If I was the vendor though, I would feel that I lost out on money and was paying a commission for nothing. They should actually be paying the tenant as they had really presented the property to sell.

Once the property sale settles, the agent will obtain his commission from the vendor. I might even use him again if I am looking for somewhere to buy in the area. But would I use him to sell for me? No chance!

Unpleasant financial surprises

For over a year, I have been waiting on a procedure to remove significant trunk varicose veins from my right leg. I’m generally not that vain (excuse the pun) but I found the veins so disgusting to look at that I wouldn’t wear shorts.

Given that I now live in a location where it is warm almost year around, having to wear long pants continuously outside the house is not particularly practical and is often unpleasant. Anyway, a year ago I committed to a procedure to have the veins rectified.

I had to wait a year as I had joined a health fund and as the veins were a pre-existing issue, I had to wait 12 months before I could claim costs. I was aware that even though I had the health care fund, I was still be obligated to $500.00 for my hospital stay. I thought that, in addition to the health fund costs for the year was more than reasonable to have my veins repaired.

Imagine my surprise when I week prior to the operation, I receive a letter from my vascular surgeon informing me that I would have to pay an additional $1500.00 excess prior to the operation.

Mentally, I was fully committed to the operation and had already organised leave from work to recover from the operation. I thought lumping me with a $1500 bill only days before the operation was quite unreasonable but I went ahead and paid it rather than put off my operation further.

Surprise again though the very next day when I receive an email from an anesthesiologist advising I would have to pay an excess of $900 prior to the operation. Again, as I was all but packing my overnight bag, I paid the bill without complaint though the cost of the procedure was really starting to add up and started to wonder who else might put a hand out for money.

Later that day, I was riding my motorbike to work while contemplating how the unexpected operation costs would affect my savings strategy. Well, the 3rd surprise of the week occurred when the bike all of a sudden just stopped. By good fortune (the only good fortune of the week), I broke down within rolling distance of a motorcycle mechanic.

$300 later, the problem was found to be a relatively easy electrical fix but still took a long time to investigate and therefore was quite costly. Add that to über costs to get me to and from work and I was out another $100.00.

Ok, so I took a few steps back towards my early retirement plan last week. I could sit down and sulk or just keep moving forward, which I will.

On a positive note, the operation was a success. The hospital stay was pleasant and the nurses were lovely. Even the breakfast was yummy and I was discharged very quickly.

When fully healed, I will post some photos of varicose vein operation outcome.

‘When the learning curve expires’

I was listening to the latest podcast from How I Built This How I Built ThisWeWork: Miguel McKelvey

In this episode, Guy interviews Miguel McKelvey, one of the founders of WeWork, a company that provides shared workspaces for freelancers and startups.

Miguel was discussing a previous job he held with an architectural firm. When asked what prompted him to leave his response included ‘when the learning curve expires’. The phrase stayed with me. It perfectly describes my career for the last decade. When I achieve a point when I can no longer learn or make improvements to the role, I move on.

This was not always the case. From the age of 25, I spent the next 17 years within varying but very similar roles within government. The only real difference in the roles was the level of responsibility and staff managed. Occasional adjustments were required over the years with new managers and legislative changes but realistically, I consider my ‘learning curve’ expired in the first 5 years of employment.

At that time though, I lacked the drive and confidence in my ability to move on to new things. I walked through each day in a cruise and spent more time developing social networks than anything else. I was stale but it was only through hindsight that I realised this.

I’ve worked with countless people who have reached their own ‘learning curve’ expiration but have failed to progress further. In fact, I find that many people actually go backwards in their skill levels. I equate this to exercising at the same level day after day, year after year. The body adapts and rather than improve, it starts to decline. You have to keep progressing to make change.

The point I take from Miguel’s comment is that when you have reached your maximum capacity in a role and the role is no longer challenging, it is time to change. This may mean a career change, finding ways to improve the functionality of the role or seeking learning opportunities to increase your potential for advancement.

Whatever you do, don’t stagnate. This is where you become less capable to adapt to change and limit your options.

Always be investing

I’m often asked on financial documents whether I own any investment properties. I hesitate slightly as I always want to include my own home.

When purchasing a home, my first concern is buying something that I like but secondly the potential for growth or value improvement or both. I don’t go in with the intention of selling after a certain period of time but I do consider any equity I accrue as money that I can use for my retirement or for other investments.

I apply a different perspective when buying a car but still with the view of not wasting my money. Other than specialised vehicles, cars depreciate as soon as you buy them. Additionally, the running costs, registration and insurance really add up every year. They really are a poor investment. I would prefer to have a car that is affordable and reliable rather than a status seeking item. There have been periods where I have not had a car at all when I had public transport on my doorstep.

Investment is not limited to financially matters but also for personal development. As I blogged previously in Motivational and inspirational podcasts, I prefer to utilise my driving time to listen to financial and business podcasts that add value to my day. Sadly,,,pathetically maybe…the only music I enjoy is dancy pop music. For a guy in his early 50’s, pulling up at the lights blasting the latest Bieber is a little awkward.

I love TV but rarely get into serial shows or sitcoms. I enjoyed the first season of Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead but I quickly got bored. However, I could watch countless reality programs on real estate, home improvement, DIY and cooking. To me, while still being entertaining, they are educational and an investment in my knowledge. I might learn something that I can used to make money or a new hobby. Watching endless hours of sports and standard TV programming takes up time and is fun but not particularly beneficial.

Admittedly, my investment mindset is only a recent thing. Over the years, I have no doubt thrown away tens of thousands of dollars through poor purchases and excessive entertainment (i.e. partying). For sure, I have accumulated some great memories but there is no question that had I started to invest in value adding purchases and personal development from an early age, I would be in a very desirable position now. I could still have had some awesome nights out and travelled but I could reduce them easy by 50% and still be doing well.

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While reality TV programming and podcasts and relatively new, I could have spent a lot more time reading. Though I prefer non-fiction business and self-development books, even fiction has value as an investment in your education. My English language was (is still?) appalling when I left school. I didn’t enjoy formal education and I still have little understanding of nouns, pronouns, verbs and punctuation. However, through reading I have developed a fair appreciation of sentence structure and how to write. I will note that other than forced reading at school, I didn’t read a book until I was in my 30’s. Over a decade that I could have utilised to invest in learning.

Another aspect of investment is in your health. I was fortunate to find a love of working IMG_3754out and eating healthy at an early age. Unfortunately, I also found a love for drinking. I’m thankful I found the first as it balanced the drinking to a degree. In saying that, I have some health issues now that perhaps I could have avoided with a healthier lifestyle. Others have overindulged their whole life. Like financial investment, it’s a lot harder to start at a later age and get results. Start early with a healthy lifestyle for immediate and longer-term benefits.

My first property purchase wasn’t until the age of 40. Again, a very late starter. I have probably paid off a full mortgage in rental payments. If I had some foresight and put a little money into buying even a small unit or block of land and continued to invest money made, I would be on easy street now rather than fighting to find a way to an early retirement.

The point of my blog is not to illustrate my appalling earlier life choices but rather to show that there are opportunities to invest all around. I wish I could have realised it earlier in my life but there is no point looking back with regret. As my favourite saying goes ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now’. Whatever your age and whatever your situation, it’s always the right time to start investing.

Buying property – Thank you messy tenants!

I’ve been off-line for a few days as I have been spending the majority of my spare time looking at investment properties.

I’m currently looking at the lower-end of the market with positive returns on investment. Associated with the areas I’m looking, the demographic of renters are not high income earners. Though I’m stereotyping, this can often mean that the tenants can be untidy and have poor quality furnishings.

I’ve bought and sold a fair bit of property during my life. Both personally and during my time as a real estate agent. A common factor has been that the clean and nicely presented property will sell more quickly and for more money. The unkempt property will stay on the market for ages and generally will get weak offers. Vendors start to get desperate and a bad return.

To me, I love it when I walk in and see that the tenant is a grub. I look past the mess and work out the potential of the place and what money I need to put into it.

  • Dirty carpets. Do they need a clean or full replacement. Steam clean doesn’t cost much but replacement does. Adjust your offer accordingly but always double the value of your investment.
  • Messy kitchen. Look past the stale pizza and masses of plates. Are the cabinets in good order. Are the bench tops stained or chipped. The worse it looks without actual damage, the better. Even if damaged, have an idea of what the repairs will cost and calculate into your offer.
  • Bathroom. Dirty grout, filthy toilet. Awesome! My offer continues to drop $1000’s but in reality, it might only be a couple of hundred bucks to clean it up.
  • Horrible gardens. Depends on the property. A large block and it might be cost prohibitive to clean up. A townhouse, a mow and a weekend gardening will make a big difference.
  • Internal walls with dints, chips, murals or whatever. Unless there is structural damage, no big deal. Some areas might just need filling and paint. Other areas might need some plastering. A tradie might be required, which will be costly but a lot can be done with DIY. Double your estimate and deduct from your offer.
  • Cigarette smell. One of my favourites. The smell can be very off-putting to some buyers, which only makes it better for me to buy low. It may take a while to air out but it could save me thousands!


There are a heap of opportunities for discounting. In reality, getting rid of the tenants and investing $1000 in a professional clean and some garden clean up and the property will look massively better. Not everyone sees that though and are put off immediately by the appearance. I just see dollars I can save.

Once I clean up the property, I have it re-valued. I have always added value. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Use the extra equity to look into reinvesting to more property. I know zero about the stock market but have been fortunate with property. I prefer to stick with something I know then opportunities that I’m unsure about.

Anyway, I have a savagely low-ball offer in at the moment. If it doesn’t play out, I will move onto the next place that looks terrible and try again.