Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The frugal millionaire

To me, part of being chic is being good with money. In my opinion it is not chic to be irresponsible or unreliable with finances. Carrie on Sex and the City joked that she would be the old woman literally living in her shoe, because she had spent all her money on Manolos rather than investing in a pension plan. I don’t find that cute at all, in fact it makes me cringe.

I’ve always enjoyed motivating myself by reading personal finance books. If you make something fun to do, you’re more likely to do it. Forcing yourself to save money in a bank account rather than go shopping sounds dire, but turning it around and thinking ‘I’d rather save for something special than waste my money on that magazine/top like 20 others I own/book to cram onto my overflowing bookshelf’ makes me happy not to shop.

I read The Millionaire Next Door book years ago and loved the fact that most actual millionaires don’t get around in Dolce and Gabbana clothing with Rolexes on their wrist. They are normal looking people who are financially secure. They are basically frugal sorts who are married to frugal spouses (it’s very important that you are on the same page. If one is a spender and one is a saver, it won’t be easy).

They say ‘sure, enjoy a big home and expensive car, but after you’ve earned the money and not before’. And many millionaires they have interviewed don’t even do that (the after part). By and large it tends to be the wannabees who wear True Religion jeans (très expensive in NZ) and drive a Land Rover or Audi 4wd, and actual wealthy people who are more unobtrusive.

I love nice clothing and looking stylish, and so does my husband. We enjoy daydreaming about luxury items and travelling around the world staying at five-star hotels. But we are just as happy with our everyday lives, and build our stylish style on a budget, shopping when places have sales and wearing our clothing more often than others might.

I still think I have too many clothes. But whereas in another, previous life, where I had regular cleanouts of good clothing that was sent to the op shop, only for me to replace it again (that’s why I lived off my credit card), now I simply don’t shop for a long while, using and enjoying the clothing I have. It only is decluttered if I decide I have bought wrong, or downgraded to home-wear if it’s no longer good enough for going out.

I wear a Cartier watch that I paid a small fortune for brand-new ten years ago. Clearly I lost my mind then and thought that one needed a good watch to look the part. I do enjoy wearing it, and I like that fact that it is understated and not flashy, but if I was offered a cheque for the same amount I paid for it tomorrow, I would sell it in a flash. I just don’t need stuff like that to make me ‘feel’ wealthy. I would rather ‘be’ wealthy.

I have discussed with my husband whether I should look into selling my Cartier, as supposedly some brands hold their value. Usually it isn’t worth selling designer goods second-hand as you get a pittance back for them. He said even if I got the amount I paid for it, that much probably wouldn’t make that big a deal to our long-term plans, and I may as well wear it and enjoy it.

So I do. And it’s not to say we’re so rich that that amount of money doesn’t matter to us, but if I had my time over, I may not have bought the watch. Not only do you have to fork over the money, you also have to look after it, maintain it (there is only one Cartier repair person in the whole of New Zealand and it needs to be sent to him to even have the battery changed, you can imagine he’s not cheap), insure it (the watch is itemised on our insurance) and worry about it.

One of the authors of the Millionaire Next Door has written a new title, and I have been listening to the audio book in the car. It is called ‘Stop Acting Rich’ which is an updated version and pretty much advises us to stop ‘acting rich’ to ‘be rich’. Don’t spend your hard-earned cash on status items to look rich - save and invest that money for your future. Only when you are rich should you buy these items.

He tells us that many people in our neighbourhood that look wealthy are likely barely scraping by. ‘Neighbourhood’ is actually his main piece of advice – don’t live in a fancy one if you can’t afford it. Stretching yourself financially to afford a big house in an upmarket neighbourhood could mean compromising your financial future. It’s one of the fastest ways to go broke.

Not only will we get the biggest mortgage we can to afford the house, but then we consciously or subconsciously want to keep up with the Joneses, or the next-door neighbours with new cars, toys, trips overseas, private schools etc. A movie I saw recently - ‘The Joneses’ with David Duchovny and Demi Moore - was a really illuminating look into this.  It's actually one of my favourite movies, I've watched it a number of times now.  Even though you know their life is fake, it's really, really appealing.  I'm being sucked in and I know it's fake!

To ‘Stop Acting Rich’ (and start being rich), the author advises to buy in a moderate neighbourhood where you might be wealthier than the neighbours, but live at their level. Live below your means. You will be less likely to conspicuously consume if your neighbours aren’t. This is especially interesting for us as we have just starting looking to buy a house. I initially thought I wanted to buy a small townhouse or an apartment in an upmarket and expensive area, just because it would be nice to live in a nice area.

I am now changing my mind and thinking we want a normal house in a normal but still nice area, and we have been visiting properties within our price budget. And our house budget is one that we have decided we want to spend on a house/mortgage, not the maximum that our bank will let us have.

As tempting as it is to buy a bigger home fully renovated, or a bigger home requiring lots of work, we are committed to a low-stress European style (whatever that means nowadays, but I take it to mean the ideal Euro person who values experiences over things), we are looking at lower priced homes.

The millionaire next door authors reckon you shouldn’t have a mortgage more than twice your annual household income. When I work it out for us it is slightly less than the small house we are budgeting for. Scary, but that’s what it takes to be financially responsible.

It is quite exciting visiting houses for sale and imagining that we could own it, pay it off, decorate it in faded vintage French style amidst tones of off-white, cream, soft-beige, black and rose-brown. I can even see a bistro table and two chairs on the patio out the front.

Happy living within your means everyone!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stylish Organisation

After reading this article on stylish organising person Kristina Karlsson a few weeks ago, I knew I had to do something about our office at work. Because it’s just grown with us as we've run our shop over the past almost-seven years, I haven’t really set up many systems. There were a few labelled folders here and there and a lot of piles of paper. I also made the most of being surrounded by shoeboxes by saving the nicest and sturdiest ones to house items that are better filed that way.

I know that you cannot be serene and chic and in control of your life when you can’t find a vital document, or regularly unearth something where you have missed the deadline. In spite of knowing that it took a different tack to get me motivated in organising myself. That motivation, my friends, was style.

Seeing this Swedish expat’s Australian website made me covet her kraft paper range (the top picture in this post, alas it is not my office). Sadly I knew it would add up to a lot buying all her rather highly priced stationery items. Coming from thrifty Scottish stock I made me own version. Shall we call it Fifi K?

(Above) is a picture of our shop-office. It is part-way through my organising frenzy. I had already begun re-doing our filing systems but had been in too much of a hurry to take 'before' photos. Story of my life.

What did I do I hear you ask?

I used the same lever arch ring binders I already had, and made covers for the old labels with chopped up thick brown kraft paper shopping bags that were stashed away, some labels my Dad had given me when he was cleaning out his office and double-sided tape that yes, I already had. I don’t know where the tape came from and didn’t know how I was ever going to use such a big roll, but you never know when something’s going to come in handy (I am part hoarder/part minimalist).

My husband watched with interest this new hobby of mine. Afterwards he said when I had done one box it looked like a shoebox with lame bits stuck on it, but when I had done everything it looked very pulled together and professional. This is high praise indeed to me for I feared I was wasting my time (when I had so many other important things to do).

(Above), the finished product.

I used a simple ‘typewriter’ font and stole Janet’s idea of using no capitals, just because it looks cool, and that is what I’m all about in the office. Nothing else was ever going to get me to do my filing. But look, look behind my laptop (mine's the one on the right), can you see neat and empty-ish baskets? Me too!

I know my getup isn’t nearly as designer as Kikki K’s, but it’s a million times better than what it was and all it cost me was a few (several) hours of my time and a bit of ingenuity. That to me is far more satisfying that just buying a job lot (not that I wouldn’t accept a total Kikki K package if an office makeover tv show came knocking).

When I was thinking how I could pretty up the binders and boxes and make them look uniform, other than brown kraft paper I thought of nice wrapping paper (which some of us fold up and think we’ll use again. Sometimes we do, sometimes it stays in a drawer forever) and also the sheet music I wrapped a gift with here. Both would be thick enough and patterned enough to cover up logos and writing. They would be attractive for a home office and I am already thinking what I can do with my sewing room.

I did spend some money on our new shop office fit out. I bought two items – an inexpensive whiteboard, XL size, and a cork board of the same size. We’ve been meaning to get them for about four years, but clearly now is the time for us to make our move. And they weren’t even on special. I had to strike while the organising iron was hot, forgive me frugal gods.

In the course of reorganising the desks and shelves I also cleaned like there was no tomorrow. I took everything off the desk apart from the printer and cleaned it (and even though the printer stayed put, it was moved around and dusted under, and over). I removed all the storage boxes from under the desk, dusted and vacuumed and then sorted all the cords so they didn’t show on the desk as much. When I put storage boxes back under the desk I decluttered and sorted so there weren’t as many. The top of the desk was spray-and-wiped and everything was put back nice and tidily.

I used a sturdy cardboard box lid to contain all the little things that make a desk look messy, like stapler, address stamp, memo cube, lethal receipt spike, calculator and hole punch etc. They are still easy to get at though. Storage solutions may look pretty, but they have to be practical for everyday use too, or else you won’t use them and things will go back to how they were. I know that from experience.

I am so happy in our newly reorganised office now, and I promise one day when we’re a lot richer, I will shower myself with Kikki K’s goodies for providing the inspiration. If you haven’t already, go read the article. She’s very infectious.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chic Habits: Looking After Le Feet

Looking after le feet. Our poor feet. They are tromped around on all day, squeezed into shoes that aren't their shape, and generally forgotten about.

I've been doing two of my favourite things lately - using stuff up, and pampering myself. In my possession I have all manner of foot creams, heel balms and minty massage oil designed for the feet. These I have both purchased myself and been given as gifts. I didn't really use them though, and much as I like decluttering, I feel wasteful throwing out products I could use if I wasn't so darn lazy.

So I've rehomed all my foot goodies in the top drawer by my bed, where I also keep lip balms and creams, and body butter and rich moisturisers for the decolletage, hands and elbows. I apply all these things every night.

If I'm tired and it's late I at least do my decolletage and hands, but if I have gone to bed nice and early it's lovely to sit there using different lotions and really beautifying myself. It's a relaxing way to spend five minutes too, perfect for bedtime.

I have added feet to the list now. Some nights I might give my feet a small massage with the oil, others I might rub in the heel balm. Because it's winter here I put on bedsocks afterwards, this way I can use the thickest and most unctuous creams. In summer when it's too hot for bedsocks the lighter moisturisers will do and then I won't have sticky feet in bed.

When I wash my feet in the shower the next day they are very soft, and it inspires me to use my foot file more often than I used to. When I moisturise my legs after a shower I always include the feet too. We ask so much of them and then bemoan their ugliness (I hear it all the time in the shop, always from women). It's about time we gave them a little TLC!

Friday, August 5, 2011

How to stay young

I wish there was a tape recorder going for the conversation I just had with a customer, because I don’t think anyone will believe me when I relay it to them.

A nice, well-dressed lady was buying a pair of shoes, and said she needed them to get around in the weekend and watch the grandchildren play rugby on a Saturday morning.

‘Grandkids!’ I spluttered. ‘You look too youthful to have grandkids, what’s your secret?’ I asked her. After I said it I realised it may be misconstrued as an impolite question (starting very young etc). Luckily she didn't take offence.

‘What cream do you use?’ I quizzed. ‘None really’, she said ‘I don’t use much at all.’ ‘Good genes?’ I asked again. ‘No, that’s not it. My mother has a lot of age spots’.

After a bit she said ‘Sex! Lots of sex. I’m not joking. Have sex. And have it a lot.’

Cue my startled face and then an interesting conversation. I’m no prude but she was very upfront and happy to tell me her secret to defying her age. And ten minutes before I'd never met her.

I told her about an Oprah show I saw a while back about a couple who were overweight, tired out and unhappy. They decided to rev up their life by making a pact to have sex every day for a year. You can imagine how vibrant, trim and healthy this couple looked after the year was up, not to mention happy and smiling, with an enviable energy.

‘It would be hard if you were single though’ I put to her. ‘Oh, my friends think I’m terrible’ she said, ‘but I have a 'friend' who’s ten years younger than me and we've been getting together for a couple of years. I’ve had marriage and I’ve had long term relationships, I just can’t be bothered with those now. I’m happy being single and just getting together with my friend every so often.’

I admit I was a little speechless (and impressed with her candour) at this stage. She recommended sex as the best exercise you can have, and of course it is fun and free.

Just in case you are wondering otherwise, she wasn’t tacky or tarty looking. She just looked like a pleasant, normal woman who might be standing in front of you at the supermarket checkout. Except that you might think she was 45 when she was really 55. I didn’t have the cheek to ask her age, but I was dying to know.

She asked if I always worked Fridays and I said I did, as she wanted to come in again for another pair of shoes and would come when I was there. Maybe I’ll find out then.

But in the meantime...

PS. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post!
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