Obstacles to the dream – Options and opportunities

I was called early last week to advise that I have been deployed to a work location for an indefinite period of time. This was not an offer but a statement. This secondment is considered a reward of sorts as it recognises my work ethic by placing me in semi-permanent location for stability.

However, my initial reaction was disappointment. I had worked the particular location for numerous shifts. I found the location did not offer me the opportunity to interact with many customers, provided little to do for a large part of the shift (which may suit some but not me) and possibly worst of all, did not have weekend or morning penalty shifts. There would be a significant financial impact that would compromise my early retirement goal.

Unfortunately, I can’t always think logically immediately after a disappointment, so for a day or two I felt sorry for myself and saw my early retirement goal drift away. I woke up a few days later though to pull my thoughts together to look at what options and opportunities the secondment would offer.

Plan A – My first option is to dispute the secondment. This proposal is proving to be somewhat difficult, as I am obliged to agree within the terms of my employment agreement. Nonetheless, I am pursuing the matter with a reasoned approach. Rather than just approaching this matter by bemoaning my personal concerns, I have primarily focussed on the benefits to the business by redeploying me to a more dynamic location. Of course, the locations I am recommending far better remunerate me but in all honestly, I do believe I am being underutilised in a quiet work location.

Progress – I have secured an appointment with Human Resources to discuss further. I’ll be approaching this meeting carefully as I don’t want to complicate my future in the company but I do want me point of view to be considered favourably.

Plan B – If Plan A fails, I considered how the secondment can benefit me. As the work location is quiet, there is 2-3 hours each shift of downtime that I can utilise to my benefit. This time can be used to learn more about the managers role to obtain an internal qualification. Once I have the obtained the qualification (which, generally takes only a few months), I can be redeployed to temporary manager roles throughout the network. This is not an ideal preference for me as I don’t necessarily want to pursue a manager’s role, however, it would assist in reducing the financial loss.

Progress – I have several rotating managers. I have approached them to ask for training, which has been welcomed.

Plan C – Start applying for higher level jobs. Strange as it seems, I can make considerably more money by continuing to work night and weekend shifts at a base level role than I can for a lot of higher-level jobs that are in Monday to Friday work locations. Again though, the purpose is to reduce my financial loss and keep my goal on track.

Progress – I have applied for a higher level role. Realistically, my chances are poor but by expressing my interest I am making myself noticed. I will consider an interview as a success in this instance and take any feedback as a learning opportunity.

Plan A is the ideal. I continue to work hard and make good money in the job that I enjoy in locations that are busy. While I do like the ‘all the eggs in one basket’ type of thinking as it promotes the desperation to succeed, Plan A may be restricted by formal legislation. Therefore, to ensure that I do not become desponded should Plan A fail, I have other Plans to pursue to maintain my motivation.

Every problem has a solution. Not every solution may be perfect but as long as I’m moving forward I’m not going backwards.

 

 

 

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Tips for buying second-hand furniture online

Over the years, I have purchased a large amount of furniture online. Some have been wins, while others have ended up on the curbside.

Through hit and miss, I have found some tips for being more consistently successful with my online furniture purchases.

  • Read description thoroughly

I look for comments that may indicate issues with condition that aren’t apparent in the photos. Additionally, I look for information that I consider should be included in the description. I don’t assume that what I think it means is what it means.

Example 1

2 chairs in all photos. Description used the plural chairs. I assumed I was bidding for both chairs. I won the auction and was pleased with the price. On arranging collection, I was advised the auction was for each chair. In this instance, I advised I would not proceed with the sale as the advertisement was unclear and ambiguous. I always confirm now what it is for sale if any doubt before committing to buy.

Example 2

The description stated that the item was a mahogany cabinet. The photos were not perfect but they did seem to support the description of mahogany. On collection, found the item was mahogany wood veneer that needed repair. As I buy now to restore and sell, the restoration cost outweighed the possible sale so it ended up a failure.

  • Don’t use your iPhone to check photos

The quality of photos on mobile phones is very clear but the size is far too small to see detail. Use your laptop or tablet. Open the photo to full screen and enlarge areas for detail.

Example

Purchased a chair for restoration. Looked at photos on my iPhone and while the chair looked shabby, it was sure it could be restored. On arriving for pick up, it was apparent that there were several irreparable (at my skill level anyway) splits in the wood. I reviewed photos on my iPad when I arrived home and, on closer examination, the splits were apparent. There was little to reclaim from the chair, so it ended up on the curbside. My mistake and lesson learnt.

  • Be aware of poor quality photos or very few photos

Many times, I see very poor quality photos accompanying online listings. With the quality of photos capable even with a mobile phone now days, this is almost inexcusable. The same is the case with taking one photo only. It takes seconds to take and upload the photo. I am cautious of buying anything with poor quality or minimal photos. It may simply mean the person is incompetent with cameras or they might be hiding something.

Example 1

The bad. One photo with listing. Fixed price and price seemed fair. Didn’t negotiate price and arranged collection. Found that the rear legs on the item had considerable dry rot. The legs were beyond recovery and required replacement. The value wasn’t there to restore, so lost money with that buy.

Example 2

The good. Two photos of a dresser. Looked like the photo had been taken with a potato while jumping on a trampoline. I could still make out the overall shape of the dresser and took a punt. The dresser was fantastic. In perfect shape and only needed a dust. I could have flipped for quadruple the price but ended up keeping that one for myself.

  • Have a tape measure handy

For some items, it is necessary to check the measurements. This applies to items such as cabinets, side tables, coffee tables and dressers. This is of particular importance to items you to intend to keep. Check the measurements and then use tape measure to ensure that the size of the item suits your needs. Measurements are important also when considering what you can fit in the back of your SUV or hatchback. Hiring a trailer or van really starts to add up.

If there are no measurements in the description, send a message to ask for them. If they don’t respond, it is probably in your best interests that you do not commit to buy.

Example

Found a very nice mid century sideboard for auction. Lots of clear photos and it was in great condition. Ended up winning for a reasonable price. On collection, realised that photos had been taken at a distance and sideboard was huge and weighed a ton. Somehow managed to get home but it totally overpowered the room. The dimensions were listed in the description, however, I bought purely on appearance in photos.

Point 2. The item turned out to be veneer covered MDF. I ‘assumed’ it was wood but turned out to be an average quality piece.

I subsequently dropped the sideboard when moving it down some stairs and the MDF crushed. Ruined piece and not something that could be salvaged for resale.

  • Set your limit with auctions

It’s so easy to get caught up in an auction of any type when you really want something. An extra dollar ends up being an extra $10-$20 and you have gone outside your limit. Some items are ‘must haves’ and you pay what you have to but you end up chasing your tail.

I won’t include examples on this as I have done it too many times to mention. Just set a limit and are comfortable and stick to it. If it sells for more, than obviously it wasn’t meant to be yours.

Well, that’s some of my tips and examples of some of my mistakes. I am comfortable in saying that the failures outweigh the wins but less so now with experience.

Use your mistakes as opportunities to learn.

 

 

 

 

 

The frugal benefit of balding – The $0.06 haircut

Oh, how I used to love my monthly $50.00 haircut.

It wasn’t cut at a barber’s but at a salon. Everyone that worked there seemed to be slim, flirty and quirky beautiful. Electronic dance played but at a soothing background volume. I was offered a coffee or champagne while I waited in the comfy lounge chairs, while I flipped through the latest magazines that covered numerous topics and interests. When I was fortunate enough for my time to come, I was escorted by the beautiful receptionist to the equally gorgeous hair stylist, who was introduced by name. This person would become ‘my’ hair stylist and would always remember my name and everything about me the next time I turned up.

The hair stylist would proceed to faff around with my hair for the next 20 minutes before passing me off to get my hair washed. Again, I was escorted to yet another beautiful person, who lovingly massaged my hair with just the right temperature water for the next 10 minutes. Just before drifting off to sleep I was returned to my hair stylist to make minor adjustments to my hair cut, trim any rogue hairs from my ears. etc etc. My haircut was complete and it looked wonderful. I considered the $50.00 investment a bargain for such excellent service, the exceptional experience and perfect haircut.

For the next few days I felt like a superstar. My hair was perfect and I was certain that I was attracting glances and double-takes by random admirers as I walked past. As the week passed, however, I found it more difficult to shape my hair into the desired style and more and more product was required to maintain the required coiffe. A half inch growth on long hair may not make much difference but with my relatively shortish hair, it was scruffy and needed a trim by the end of the second week.

I couldn’t afford a $50.00 haircut every fortnight at the time, so I battled through for the next two weeks until I could go through the whole salon experience again.

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I was always quite proud of my hair. It was thick, wavy and someone even remarked that it resembled Patrick ‘McDreamy’ Dempsey’s hair on Grey’s Anatomy. My reality was shaken though when a hair stylist remarked that my hair was thinning on top but I still ‘had a couple of years left’. What?!! I went home and found a hand-held mirror to get a good angle to see the top of my head. It looked fine to me. Almost daily, I would come home to make the same investigations to ensure there were no signs of thinning and I hadn’t lost a few follicles.

This process of examination went on for almost 6 months. I even lost sleep as I dreaded the day when someone would notice my hair loss….that I had yet to notice myself.

Just as you see the same car as yours on the road once you buy a new car, I started to see follicly-challenged men everywhere. I noticed how they styled their hair. Some were subtle with the styling, while others went all out with the always admired and attractive, comb-over. Whatever these guys did though, the balding was obvious.

I decided then that rather than continue to stress about my hair loss and go the path of trying to hide my hair loss disgracefully, I would embrace it. I went to a pharmacy and bought a pair of cheap hair clippers for $22.00. I initially used a #2 blade and trimmed my whole head at the same length. This gave me about a half-inch stubble on my head. It was neat, tidy and after a few days I got used to the very short hair. Again, as my hair was short it started to look scrappy after a week. I didn’t have to wait a month for my $50.00 haircut though, I just got the clippers out and went over it in 5 minutes.

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I was liberated. I no longer stressed about my thinning hair that still, incidentally, looked solid in growth to me. My hair styling regime in the morning consisted of running water on my head in the shower. I would indulge myself every few days with shampoo just to make sure my stubble was free of sweat residue. I often rode my motorcycle but no ‘helmet hair’ for me. It looked the same before and after the helmet went on and off.

The hair stylist was right though. A few years later my hair did start to thin on top. By this time though, I was so used to my short growth, I was not concerned. I just threw away and the hair length guides and started to use the minimum clipper length, which is little longer than a spiky stubble.

Every week, I clipper my hair. I spend nothing on product and manage to cut my hair by myself. With the exception of that one time when I left a landing strip on the back of my head, it has always looked perfect. I am grateful also that stubbled heads are no longer associated with neo-Nazi’s and it is quite a common and accepted way to maintain one’s hair very short or even shaved.

My $22.00 clipper lasted me 7 years. 7 years of haircuts at one cut a week. That’s 364 hair cuts for $22.00. If my poor math skills serve me right, that works out to $0.06 a hair cut. If I had continued with my monthly $50.00 haircut for the same period, I would have spent $4200. I do miss the theatre of the hair salon but I don’t miss it as much as I would miss the $4178 in my pocket. That hair stylists one comment ended up saving me a great deal of money.

It seems that my frugality started before I even knew I was doing it.

 

Saving dollars & cents – Bulk buying at the supermarket

I quick review of my weekly outgoings revealed that a significant proportion of my money was being utilised by my grocery bill. The amount was actually quite surprising, considering that I am buying only for myself and a cat.

My review further indicated that I was shopping on almost a daily basis. This practice in itself is not productive. I would buy small volumes of items I needed and invariably, there was one impulse item or another that I bought. If I was strong and avoided everything else, the pull of the confectionary aisle was always too strong. I’m still waiting for the day that since finds that excessive intake of chocolate is healthy. Until then, I try to avoid consuming too much for my waist line and my wallet.

Back to the main point, the daily visit to the supermarket was a waste of time, petrol money and I was paying a premium by purchasing items in small quantities. On the whole, the larger the quantity, the lower price you pay per kilo/pound. It therefore is more cost effective to buy in bulk.

The definition of bulk will vary for each person and their situation. For instance, buying 40 rolls of toilet paper might be practical for a large family. For me, 40 rolls of TP would last me an eon, in addition to being a lot to store. Conversely, I could probably get away with buying am individual toilet roll but it would not be very efficient financially. You have to strike the balance that works for you.

For the most part, I find that buying bulk has the largest impact with meat products, which tend to be one of the higher ticket items in my basket. I won’t buy a whole cow or 10 chickens, only an amount that will last me 4-5 days. The larger packs are usually less per kilo and it is easy to save several dollars per shop by purchasing bulk quantities.

As indicated, I only shop for 4-5 days of meat product. Ideally, larger quantities that would last me much longer would be financially better practice. I have a quirk though that I think that freezing meat effects the product. For a ‘normal’ person, buy much more!

I have started to apply a bulk buying philosophy to my grocery shop. I am confident that I should be able to reduce my grocery bill by 20%, in addition to the abovementioned reduced petrol costs and savings in time. For someone with a higher quantity demand and has the ability to shop less frequently, I’m certain that 30% or more is definitely achieveable.

One last rule is to use the savings for the purpose of savings or reducing debt. Saving money to include additional items in your shopping basket is not the aim, it’s about reducing the overall grocery bill. Leave the extra money in your own pocket, don’t use it to increase the profits of the supermarket.

 

 

Mid-Century Dining Chairs Restoration

I woke early Saturday to drive out to the ‘Tip Shop’. The Tip Shop only opens on Saturdays and sells items that have been discarded at the dump. Money from sales goes to charity.

I had never been to the Tip Shop, even though it is only a 10 minute drive from my home. In my mind, I expected that items would be broken and beyond repair. However, as I keen to pursue my interest in recycling/upcycling furniture for sale, I drove out for a look. I had heard that the best items were picked up early in the morning, so I arrived shortly after open time.

What I found was a warehouse crammed with everything conceivable and streets full of cars. People were milling around everywhere to find a treasure. The items inside (and spilling outside) were in remarkable serviceable condition. A lot only needing a bit of spit and polish to be used.

As I’m only new to the game, I decided on investing initially in a couple of chairs only. The chairs were a bit tired in appearance with faded lacquer on the wooden frame. What attracted me to them was that the vinyl seat and backrest were in good condition and that the chairs had a mid-century style. Also attractive was the $6.00 purchase price for both. You can’t buy $5.00 with 6 bucks, so I was happy with the buy.

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I have decided that my goal is to find items within 10kms of my home. I don’t want to lose potential profit in petrol costs and time. I also have a low budget of $20 or under, so any loses are minimised. If I start making money, I may review the price limit if I deem the item is good value for money.

On arrival home with my new chairs, I had a quick look on Gumtree and located a desk for sale that was free. Free is my favourite price, so I called only to find that someone else had already expressed interest and would be around to collect. No big deal I thought, I will work on the chairs.

The remainder of the day I spent dismantling the chairs and sanding them. Under the faded and chipped lacquer I found wood with a pleasing grain. I oiled the chairs and ran some soap and water over the vinyl and they came up a treat. I listed them on eBay starting at $20.00. With sandpaper and oil, I probably have $10.00 invested in total, so doubling my money should be the worst result in my opinion. I will disregard labour costs as I would definitely run a deficit, even a base labour rates. That said, I enjoyed the restoration process, so it wasn’t a wasted day for me.

While watching TV that night, I received a text from the person giving away the desk that the interested ‘buyer’ had disappeared. I arranged to pick up early on Sunday morning.

The desk was a minor disappointment in that it was mostly MDF with a wood like coating. Other than being dusty though, it was solid and had almost no damage. I drove away with it in my ute trying to think how I could make the desk a bit more desirable.

For some reason, I don’t like to buy and sell straight away to make a profit. Somehow, I consider it unethical and that I should input time and effort into making the item better than when I purchased it. As the legs on the desk were wood, I sanded them back and covered them with a coat of poly.

In hindsight, taking the flat-pack legs apart without taking detailed photos first wasn’t the best idea, as reassembling the trestle leg setup took almost as long as the sanding did. In the end though, I was pleased with the outcome. I posted the desk on eBay with a starting price at $20.00 also. All up I probably have no more into the desk than $5.00.

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Anyway, the chairs and the desk have been listed and I await the outcome in 5 days. Here’s hoping for a profitable financial outcome. Ideally, I would like to generate enough money with my furniture sales to cover my weekly grocery bill. I eat a lot, so this is no small order, so we will see how we go.

Saving dollars & cents – Baked Beans

I have been told that when you have money you eat steak. When you’re broke you eat beans. Well, I like baked beans and eat them when I’m flush with money or when the purse strings start to tighten up.

I live by myself, so the unfortunate flatulence normally associated with eating baked beans is of no issue to anyone but me and the cat. I will note that through frequent eating of baked beans, my digestive system has adapted and I don’t have a gas reaction to bean consumption.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a fart joke but will move on to more mature discussion. I genuinely enjoy baked beans. I like the flavour, texture and they fill me up. I prefer to eat them cold straight from the can. I rarely go a day without eating a 420gm can of baked beans. I just like baked beans! The cans of baked beans can be sometimes loaded with too much sodium but other than that they are healthy and provide a good source of fibre.

ok…maybe one long fart joke before I move on….sorry!

Anyway, in line with my transition to the frugal way, I started to take more time in the supermarket to determine what brands of baked beans are the most economical, while still retaining decent taste. The following is my review of the most common baked beans brands:

Heinz – For me, Heinz produces the best baked beans. The beans have good texture and the sauce is flavourful and has a pleasant consistency. However, at a normal retail cost of $2.15 a can, they are the most expensive. I do find them at half-price quite frequently, so stock up when I can. 9/10

Homebrand – These are the cheapest at $0.65 per can. In this situation, you get what you pay for. The sauce is watery in consistency and flavour. Only edible for me if drained. 3/10

SPC – I usually find these beans for $1.15-$1.30 a can. Beans are good and sauce is decent. A fair way from the quality of Heinz but they are not bad at all for the price. 6/10

Corale – A really good, cheap baked beans. $0.85 a can, so definitely on the lower end of the pricing. The sauce is fair but it is the beans that are a stand out for me. For lack of a better description, I would call them ‘al dente’. There is a slight firmness to the bean that is not present in other brands that I really enjoy. They are my second choice behind Heinz in preference and first as far as cost. 8/10

I haven’t included the organic baked beans available. On the whole, they are more expensive then most, so I don’t eat them. Obviously, you could save additional money by making the baked beans by scratch but time is a valuable resource for me, so I take the quick and easy way to obtain my baked beans fix.

I’m sure that someone submitting a blog on the prices and virtues of various baked beans is uncommon, however, I am committed to providing information of where I am finding options to save on my grocery bills.

Pennies saved today adds up to dollars over time. Not every step towards early retirement has to be a big one. Any step forward is a positive one.

 

 

 

Saving dollars & cents – The frugal beauty of the succulent

I was at work some 20 odd years ago, when I made a passing comment to a colleague that I liked the plant on his desk. To my surprise, he arrived the next day with a cutting of the plant. If there was a level less than zero, that was my knowledge of plants. They were just green things my mum had in the garden.

My colleague advised me that the plant was a Jade plant and it was considered to be good luck. I flooded him with questions about how to care for it, what soil to use, what sized pot, how many times should I water it, etc etc. His response, with a bemused smile, was to put it in soil, give it a water and leave it be.

How right he was. I often neglected my Jade plant for weeks on end and still it thrived. With the knowledge that I obviously had a green thumb, I frequented the garden nursery for new plants every weekend. I applied the same principle of minimal plant care that I had to my Jade plant to find that they often went to plant heaven within a month. However, in the meanwhile, my Jade plant was still healthy and growing.

I decided I should so some of research about my Jade plant. Bear in mind that this was the early days of the internet and information was gained by those ancient devices called books. No Google search or YouTube information back then, so for me it was very much trial and error. I found out that the Jade plant was a succulent, a term that meant nothing to me at the time. I was familiar with the word ‘cactus’ though, which I understood was a succulent…but not all succulents are cacti. Slightly confused, I was still intrigued by these plants and purchased a different type at the garden nursery. Again, this plant thrived under my neglect until I decided that twice weekly watering would make it grow even more. Hmmmm….I guess not. Another dead plant but lesson learned. Still…the Jade plant lived on.

To cut a long story short, over the decades since, I have developed a real passion for the succulent. The variety of these plants seems endless and I find them beautiful. I still have no idea about plants and don’t even know their common names, let alone the Latin one, but succulents are my plant of choice. Look at the variegation on this one. Just wonderful.

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What I hadn’t realised until recently was how economical the succulent is. I don’t need to buy several of the one plant, I just buy one and use cuttings to produce more. I’m not into the time-consuming process of propagating, I just stick a cutting in the ground and it normally grows. They even look after the process themselves in some cases. The plant in picture I bought for $2.00. Over 12 months it grew steadily and then started to sprout new plants at the tips of the leaves. The weight of the new plant drew the edge of the leaf to the ground and starts up another plant. Even better for my lazy garden skills.

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My whole succulent garden is made up of plants that cost no more than $10.00. The majority, in fact, cost less than $5.00. Several more are from snapping off a freebie cutting while wandering the neighbourhood streets. When I want more, I just break off a cutting and make a new plant. Couldn’t be easier, or cheaper.

Money is saved again with the reduced need to water the succulents. We had a particularly hot, dry and humid summer this year. I was often drinking 3-4 litres of water a day to keep myself hydrated. My succulents received no such level of sustenance. I watered them fortnightly at best. They suffered through without issue, though they admittedly didn’t exactly grow much during that period. When the rain did come, they exploded with growth.

By chance, that initial comment to my colleague sparked a passion for the succulent that continues on. And that Jade plant? It lives on today.

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