Sometime between the morning of the 18th and the evening of the 19th of June a thief broke into my bathroom window. It was raining and he (or she) made a muddy footprint on the vanity. The tread revealed a preference for Converse sneakers. Later the policeman who came to take prints told me he also wore gloves.
Possibly he went to my youngest daughter’s room first where he helped himself to the small change in her purple piggy bank and then gathered up her lap top and iPod. With greater fortitude than the rest of us he lingered in my eldest daughter’s messy room long enough to collect another iPod. By this time there was a lot to carry so he must have been happy when he found the backpack in my wardrobe.
I did not realise how many drawers I have in my house until I came home and found them all emptied, the contents heaped in piles as our belongings were assessed. In one corner I retrieved the heart shaped shard of gravel my daughter found when she was tiny and offered me as a precious stone.
My grandmothers pocket dictionary landed on a pile of underwear. The nondescript brown book would not have seemed much to burglars I guess but inside the cover is my grandmother’s maiden name and the date 1923. Then comes my mother’s name and in the 70s I added my own. It has been in our family 90 years now.
The thieves did recognise my lap top as precious. We see the value differently though. To me the hardware wasn’t the value. It was the words and numbers contained inside. A lover of data, there was a file in there called ‘my life in debt’. It tracked my debt and repayment from the purchase of my first house in 1994 for seventy eight thousand dollars and the resulting mortgage of forty eight thousand dollars to the jagged height of a graphed debt mountain of just under one million dollars when we were juggling a few houses. My plan was to pay off my mortgage and have the graph framed. Perhaps I would have a grand daughter who would love that I’d tracked that. I love data as much as I love fiction and the lyrical quality of words.
Inside my lap top were poems and stories and data. Four novels. Three backed up. I let myself cry in the shower about the one that got away. No matter, there is no deadline. I can write it all again. It will be different and that is ok. It wasn’t perfect at all.
So what have I learnt? Well, backing up data is a good thing to do (I did have photos on a USB yay me!) and also that I still have the most precious things – my kids. The heart shaped piece of gravel really was the most special stone in my jewellery box and I’m really glad I still have it.
There is a fear of the robbers coming back. Maybe they will figure I have had time to get a new lap top but just as equally they might be off to pastures new. I had a dream I was chasing one of them and he kept gaining on me and laughing. I do possibly have one last laugh on him though: I had let some mince go off in the fridge but didn’t want to put it in the bin the day after rubbish day so I stuck it in the freezer and was aiming to put it out with the rubbish this week. They stole the meat in the freezer. I also had a crayfish in there we’d accidentally defrosted and I’d refrozen thinking I’d plant a tree on it some day. Also gone. I really hope they enjoy that meal…
selling the place myself
I successfully sold a house on Trade Me myself.
It took a while but it sold. Real Estate agents are not really required these days but people think they are. They don’t offer a lot if you think about it. And if you think they will get the best price for your house think again.The 4 percent they will take from the sale price will probably negate extra that they might have negotiated. There is also evidence that agents don’t hold out for the best price because they want turn over. In a freakonomics chapter the authors outlined a study which showed agents take much longer to sell properties they personally own so they can get a better price.
I had a lot of real estate agents contact me wanting to sell the place. I asked them what they offered that I couldn’t do myself. Many offered up that the negotiation process was ‘uncomfortable’ for people. That’s probably true. But you know what your bottom line is. You know what you have to get for a house to buy the next one. Are you really going to agree to a price you can’t afford? Unlikely.
Another thing agents told me was that they knew the market. This is pretty easy for you to know too. You can look on trade me for similar properties and see what they are lited for. You can follow the links to recent house sale information. You can read detailed information that a lot of agents won’t have – they skim the surface of the wider area but you can go deep.
They don’t take a lot of time getting to know a potential buyer but you can find out a lot more about them.
In my case the buyer was going to be my neighbor for a long time so it was in my interest to sell to nice a reasonable people. That isn’t probably someting most sellers would be interested in but some people might be selling an apartment they own in the same building or, like me, a house in the same street.
Agents don’t know the local ammenities well but you do. You can tell potential buyers where things are that they need and what you like about the area. While I was building up to selling I visited a lot of open homes and I frequently asked agents if the house was in a particular school zone. They didn’t know. Or else they did know and the answer was negative so they didn’t want to tell me. This is such basic information. But an agent is dealing with 5 – 20 houses so they don’t know much about it. Their relationship with the house is hopefully going to last a few weeks so they don’t want to understand it.
I got quite a few people trying to test my vulnerability. A common test was to ask me to show them the house at a very unreasonable time. I think the reasoning is that if I’m desperate I would show it. I had a few back up times organised with my tenants and I never budged from these. I also had lots of extra photos I offered to send to these people so they could work out if they were interested. These people want to see if they can get a cheap deal from soemone and they often asked why I was selling. They want to hear the d word. (Divorce). While I never hid the information that my partner and I had split up, I never let on I was desperate to sell. In fact I’d tell people one of our options was for one to buy the other out of the rental property. This was in fact true. My preference however was to sell and get my mortgage down on the house I live in.
There were a few people who were keen to buy the house. Two couples and two singles. The two I most preferred had properties they needed to sell before they could buy mine. I did something a real estate agent would never have done: I went to their open homes, I said positive things about their homes to other potential buyers. I took better photos of their homes and gave them to their agents. I added links to my advert as ‘similar houses’. I used the networks I’d built as a seller to redirect to their properties. Eventually the domino effect happened. The nice couple I wanted most to buy my house managed to sell theirs and then they bought mine. Yay!
I had tenants in the house while I sold it. They were new tenants and I told them the rent was low because it was on the market. They went into the tenancy knowing it would be sold and they would have 6 weeks notice. I also asked them if I could come in and clean before I showed it. So – they got a cleaning lady! I deliberately picked tenants I thought would be tidy. I left them fresh flowers and/or baking each time. I still run into them and they tell me I was the best landlady ever.
feed a family on $130 a week?
July 17, 2012, 9:54 pm
Filed under: economy
Flicking through the DomPost I see Sofie Grey (of The Destitute Gourmet) is criticising TV show Masterchef for creating unrealistic expectations of what we should be dishing up at home. Good call. I don’t watch it myself but just from the commercials I can tell those chefs shop in aisles that I rarely slow down in. Still, of all the rubbishy reality shows out there I would put Masterchef well on top of the pile and also way ahead of all the mockumentaries. Cooking is a skill and it seems a good idea kiwis are watching and, maybe, learning.
On the same page a woman in Hamilton – apparently a single parent like me – is revealed to be spending $130 a week feeding her family. They are meat and sugar low and dairy free, bake their own bread, use home made cleaning products and grow a lot of their veges. And they have chickens. The chickens sound like the only fun part quite frankly.It is also ironic that in a country that exports meat and dairy we have people cutting these things from their diet to save money.
I’m pretty sure I could manage on $130 a week too. I don’t make my own cleaning products – I just clean less. A big saving at my house is porridge for breakfast – tasty and cheap. I take leftovers for lunch and don’t buy coffee often. I buy fruit and veges in season. We have a lot of pasta and rice. We bake potatoes. When I make a casserole it lasts a few meals. A topside roast like my mum taught me (but recipe is in Edmonds). But often I splurge. We like watching Glee and eating a block of chocolate on a Friday night. I will buy 2 for one biscuits. I don’t bake much – I work full time and do volunteer work, there isn’t a lot of time for that. I do make pizzas though – often frm scratch because dough smells great and it is much cheaper.
I’ve just been reading the undercover economist’s blog. He was explaining about poverty lines. How they are inately subjective and change over time according to our current understanding of what is required to participate in society. Now wifi is on the British list of essentials. I don’t disagree. Sitting at home surfing the net is a lot more informative than surfing TV channels. The net to me is a very egalitarian place in terms of content. It is interesting though that wifi is on the list but saving for retirement isn’t. This seems extremely important to me and I worry we are heading for a wide rich vs poor gap in our increasingly large aged population.
One of my favourite books on the subject of low wage survival is Nickel and Dimed in America. In it a journalist travels America and works low wage jobs. It’s very readable and made me so grateful for my education, home and family support. I sometimes fantasize about low wage jobs where delivery might be less stressful (my job requires a lot of brain work and review and response to review…) but the book shows the stressful reality of counting the cents. This recession has hurt my pocket but if I’m truthful I have to say I can ride it out – I can spend a little more than $130 a week at the supermarket. I can buy the odd coffee and even a pair of new boots last month.
10 reasons why it’s better to sleep alone
1. You can make the room the exact temperature you want
2. Wake up when YOU want to
3. Complete control of the remote and switch it off when YOU want to
4. No snoring
5. The sheets stay fresher longer
6. All the bonus space on the other side of the bed
7. Nobody puts their cold feet on you
8. Nobody pulls the sheets off you
9. Nobody leaves stuff on the floor around the bed to hurt your feet
10. A great night’s sleep
I hear the earth more than feel it
You are already leaning in the doorway
Chatting smiling you welcome me there
Your first impulse as I arrive to shelter
Is to embrace and breath me in
You smell funny you say
Its an earthquake I explain
As if anxiety has a smell
Perhaps it does, it propelled me here
But now I feel the earth gifted me this
Your sure welcoming shelter
Little daughter stronger than the doorframe
And then its over for you, you continue singing weaving
the word shake into your song and dancing in the light
as I hold to this strange gift
Four and a half years in the making – sharing the kids expences!!!
It says in our separation agreement that we will split expences for the kids. It does not say how. This is one of the things-I-would-do-different.
But, drum roll, news just in, the suggestion I made a few years ago – that we get a joint account and put money into it – has been enacted. We agreed to get the account in January – and it is now April and we both have $80 per pay going into it.
This makes stuff so much easier!!!!
The account is in my oldest daughters name and we both have rights to use it. I rang the bank and described what we wanted and why. This was their suggestion. So far I have paid some extracurricular fees out of it and will be paying the school fees (donation my a*s) in a few installments.
I forsee some potential issues – we haven’t agreed exactly what is to be included as joint expences and what isn’t – but this is much better than me paying for every little item because twenty bucks here and forty bucks there just isn’t worth arguing over.
I will be getting an email of the bank statement and logging what each withdrawl or tranfer is about. So we/I have record keeping as we go.
I didn’t realise it but my kids have obviously been feeling very awkward about the financial situation. They never ask for anything. Now I’m all happy about the joint account they have both made tentative suggestions for things they’d like me to buy. I’m glad they are acting like normal blood sucking finance draining children ….. for now.
me me me me me me me
January 9, 2012, 1:21 pm
Filed under: me
I returned to work yesterday – that is really New Years day for me. The first day back at work is reality – whereas the first day of the new year is a holiday. I took all my emails from last year and put them in a folder called 2011. This caters to my anal retentive side that can’t bear to delete things without looking at them, my cautious side that wants to hang on to a few things and my lazy and disorganised quotient which hasn’t managed to get around to doing these things before. But most importantly it gave me a clean slate to start working from and think about what was important.
I had coffee with my long standing work friend and we talked about how much more organised we are in our work than in our personal lives. I said I think it is the accountability we have to others and the clear responsibilities. I wondered to myself if I could try and take a few more of my work habits and deploy them into the rest of my life.
At lunchtime I checked my home emails – two requests for seperation agreements and all the spam for healthy living and eating I have allowed to stalk me in the last year, and a notice about discounts for adult education classes next term. I am getting these because I did learn to zumba last year and beginners and advanced pilates. Both were really good for me. I looked for another exercise related course to take before I thought that I would just keep up with the zumba (it is so much fun) and get a lot of walking in. And I am hoping to get back into swimming which is my only sporting talent. I have my youngest daughter at swimming club now and its ridiculous all us parents sitting on the sidelines when we should be in the water too. Unfortunately the lanes are completely taken up by the kids. We really have to rethink our society so there is more scope for adult exercise. Why wouldn’t a swimming club be drilling adults as well as kids?
Anyway after I had decided that I didn’t need an exercise course I surfed the other courses and picked out an eight week short story writing course and a one day ebusiness seminar. This is because I had the thought about accountability earlier. I had a good year with my health and my house last year but my creative and business goals ended up (understandably) completely on hold. This should kick start me a bit.
Mystery and richness at Christmas
A few days before Christmas my daughter came in with a big bunch of flowers that had been dropped off by a courier. The card wasn’t for me but they did have my address. There was a name. My sleuthing skills kicked in straight after my disappointment – if someone had sent me flowers I’d be gutted if I didn’t get them. First I tried some neighbors but nobody knew her, next I tried the phone book Bingo! there she was – same road but the last two numbers of our address were transposed. So I spoke to her answer machine and said I would drop them off.
Later I drove my daughter to a party and we popped them on the verandah of the lucky lady. Yesterday she rang me.
It seemed to start off badly: I have just found a dessicated bunch of flowers on my doorstep – did you leave them for me?
Oh dear – in a flash I realised she must have gone away and I had been advertising her absence like a floral neon light to every burglar that ambled by her gate! Luckily she hadn’t been burgled and she wasn’t mad – just emotional.
I think the card said the flowers were from your brother? Yes, that’s right, she said, only my brother didn’t send them, he can’t do anything like that. He lives in a home, he is really disabled. The flowers – they look like they were really nice? Oh yes, I said, a lovely arrangement I’m so sorry you didn’t get to enjoy them. And then she told me that she was enjoying them, she said that having a brother in care she always worried about how he was being treated – and seeing the thoughtfulness of this gave her faith that if the people who cared for him could be so thoughtful on his behalf to her, they were treating him well.
My mother has a tradition that we always make a wish when we bite into the first Christmas mince pie. For nearly 20 years I have made the same wish. My hand goes out and Im thinking of material things like a phone I can see the key pad of, carpet, painting the house, taking my daughters overseas and then as that pie nears my mouth there is only ever one thing important to wish for on the slim chance there is some kind of mince meat fairy out there listening in and doing her best to bequeath those wishes to us. That thing is good health.
This Christmas was a little hard this year – I have been doing major work on my house and had just finished and then, as always, there were a few extra bills. I told my kids to have low expectations but there would certainly be things to unwrap under the tree. Then we put our heads together and looked around the house for anything we could put on trade me. Its amazing what you can find to sell. Our best sell was a shower unit that has been under my bed for years. It was bought with the idea of plumbing in a shower to have a second bathroom in our spacious second toilet which was probably once a laundry. I looked it up online and you could still buy the same unit.
The people who bought it were stoked and we were too – it paid for our trip up north, presents and food for us all. I know you can’t keep expecting to find treasure under the bed but it was good to know we could be a bit resourceful and a good lesson for the kids that things don’t just happen.
pre-nup alert alert alert alert
Lately I seem to have been running into people (women actually but I’m trying to be gender neutral) who have lost their houses and property because they didn’t have a pre-nup or they didn’t have a very good one.
I’m thinking it might be a good idea to try and hunt some examples out and make them available.
It’s pretty well known that single mothers are among the poorest in society. Women tend to spend time out of the workforce having kids and missing opportunities on the career ladder, women tend to be averse to positions where they might have to boss others around and women often want part time hours to fit in with school and day care. That might be OK when you have a partner and can pool your resources but when the pooling ends…. but that’s another blog.
If you have a pre-nup and /or you have pre-nup awareness don’t be shy – share with us share the love insurance
A small part of me likes to be sick. I don’t have to do anything. My to do list is about ten thousand miles long most days. When I’m sick it can pretty much just sit there. It is a great way to prioritise.
I did have a boyfriend at the beginning of feeling sick (I think that was Sunday) but half way through being sick I realised he shouldn’t be. So: I’m single and sick.
Being sick is, I suppose, a kind of germ attracting lottery. Kind of like dating. I try and do the right things – wash my hands and eat fruit and veges and get exercise. But I keep attracting cold viruses and before you know it Im flat on my back thanking the god I do not believe in that I had had the foresight to freeze a few meals so I only have to give my kids instructions on how to heat stuff up.
Then there is work. When people ring me at work and tell me they are sick I think ok. I do not think they are faking it. I do not think they are slack. But when I’m sick I find myself asking me: are you really? And on day two I say to myself: come on I think you are milking it now – get up and have a shower and pretend you are going to work. And then I usually trick me and say: well you’re up and dressed now – how about you just go in to work and you don’t have to try too hard. Just keep on top of things.
So because of the tricking and the not believing I am sick enough to stay home I have to pull a swifty on myself, put myself in a coworkers shoes and ask myself: would I like to have to sit within 5 feet of me today? And that is my benchmark. And that is why I am home sick today.