In the town where I was born

I don’t have “get rich quick” schemes.

I kind of have “get moderately well-off, gradually” schemes.

The worst one has been buying shares. I got a tip that shares in Xero (the online accounting software company) would skyrocket. And they did, from about $6 to something like $40. But that was before I got around to buying them. By the time I bought them, they’d dropped to about $25. They subsequently fell to $15. Currently they’re sitting at $18. I didn’t buy a huge number of shares, but I’ll hold onto them for now rather than sell at a loss.

Here’s one of my crazier schemes:

Before Christmas I spotted this at one of the local toy shops: Lego set 21306: the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Ooh. Alas, I didn’t get it for Christmas, but I thought maybe I’d go buy it for myself.

My mate Josh used to talk about Lego as an investment. Some Lego sets are very limited runs, and over time become quite valuable, especially if in the original box, unopened.

It got me thinking… maybe I should buy two? Keep one for myself; keep the other for, say, five years, and sell it on. I might make my money back, meaning the set I keep is free.

It had vanished from the toy shops. All the toy shops. Chains like Big W and Target had it listed on their web sites, but out of stock. I checked a bunch of them, including checking with a friend who runs a shop that sells Lego. No luck. All gone. No more coming.

Yellow Submarine Lego

My last hope was the official Lego online shop. The catch is you pay an eye-watering $25-35 for shipping.

But wait! Go above $200 and they waive the shipping fee! The set is $80, so including shipping I could order one for $110, two for $195, or three for $240. So I ordered three.

(Checking again now, the web site offers conflicting information — one page says $200, another says $100.)

The sets arrived today.

This may be my silliest investment scheme yet, though even now the set is listed on eBay at a “Buy it now” price of around $120. Who knows if they’re actually selling at that price.

I’ll let you know how it went in about five years.

How do I pay the electrician?

A couple of years ago I got a ceiling fan fitted in the kitchen.

The electrician was pleasant, competent, and did a good job.

He said he’d send me an invoice. He never did. A couple of months later I emailed him and asked him to send it. He acknowledged the email and said he’d send it. He never did.

A couple of weeks ago I got a ceiling fan fitting in one of the bedrooms.

The electrician was pleasant, competent, and did a good job.

He said his boss would send me an invoice. He hasn’t so far. A week ago I emailed him and asked him to send it. No response.

I don’t seem to have this problem with other tradies. Plumbers and painters seem only too keen to bill me.

I want to pay for the work they did.

Some questions spring to mind:

How do electricians stay in business if they’re so disorganised?

Is it just me?

When do my obligations cease? How many times do I have to remind them to take my money?

Update: I realised the second electrician sent me a quote before the work commenced, which included bank deposit details. It’s not an invoice, but if I don’t get an invoice, I can just pay that amount.

Update 2: He rang me and said he’d been on holiday, but would be sending an invoice. Either that or he reads my blog…

Banking paperwork

I used to bank with Commonwealth Bank of Australia, who had a habit of sending me lots of letters on the same day, though gradually everything moved online.

When I bought my house in 2005, I switched to St George (which morphed into Bank Of Melbourne), and it was mostly online.

Letters from Bankwest, which all arrived on one day

Now I’ve refinanced my home loan, and switched to BankWest, a CBA subsidiary. They’re keeping up with their parent company’s tradition: the other day I got no less than five letters from them in the mail.

I’ve now switched everything to online statements, so hopefully that won’t happen again.

The plain envelope had my new credit card. Inside was a letter, a brochure, the card, and a CD-ROM.

Bankwest credit card terms and conditions come on CD-ROM

Yes, the terms and conditions come on CD-ROM.

Thankfully I still have computers in the house with optical drives. Firing it up you get a big menu where you can choose which specific BankWest card you have.

BankWest terms and conditions

I found my card, and it showed me links to the following six documents:

  • Terms and conditions: 44 pages
  • Account access: 56 pages
  • Rewards terms and conditions: 24 pages
  • Complimentary Credit Card Insurance (on and after 1/7/2016): 64 pages
  • Complimentary Credit Card Insurance (on and after 1/7/2015): 64 pages – not relevant to me I guess
  • Concierge services: 8 pages – I’m not sure I’ll ever want to use this?

Plus another was “useful forms”.

Do they really expect me to read all this? Perhaps I’ll take a day out of my weekend to take a look through it all.

And note the fine print at the bottom of the menu, which points out that there are other terms and conditions not on the CD!

The value of refinancing

I can’t emphasise this enough: if you have a mortgage and it’s been more than a couple of years since you looked at it, take a quick look now.

Interest rates are very low at the moment, but the laziness tax applies — for established customers, the rates have crept up. If you’re willing to switch, you’ll save a bundle.

I went through a mortgage broker, who explained some options and took care of all the paperwork. Really easy.

So, have a look at your rate. If it’s more than about 4.4% it’s probably worth switching.

At the very least, contact your bank and ask them what they can do to convince you not to switch. My friend Tony did this and they gave him a 0.8% rate cut on the spot.

Personally, by switching banks I’ve gone from 5.2% to 3.8% (ish), saving me about a third of my interest bill. Even with the fees involved, after about one payment, I’ll be saving hundreds of dollars every month.

Do it.

Charity and money

Years ago I decided I wanted to donate at least 0.7% of my income towards charity.

Over the weekend I was doing my tax, and calculated it: for 2015-16 it’s 1.32%. Cool.

About half the annual total is Oxfam. Other regulars include Greenpeace, The Salvos (though I mean to check their latest position on homosexuality, as for a while there it was looking pretty medieval), Amnesty. The regulars, of course, have been set up as direct debits – though note I refuse to deal with chuggers.

The rest is ad hoc stuff like sponsoring friends for charity events, Royal Children’s Hospital (Good Friday), Public Transport Not Traffic etc.

Meanwhile in the high finance stakes, I’m being urged by some family members to refinance my home loan and get an investment property.

Refinancing is easy thanks to a friendly local mortgage broker. But investment property? It all seems very adult… and time consuming, though probably worthwhile. Do I really want to contribute to the stupidly high appreciation of home prices?

New umbrella (again)

Excuse the radio silence. I’ve had a really bad cold this week.

In our last exciting installment of my quest for a durable, reliable, compact umbrella, I was on my third Senz Mini.

The first had been replaced under warranty, the second lost, and the third… sadly, it has started to fail me. As did M’s one last year.

Leaving aside the lost one, that’s two in four years. That’s really no better than standard $30 umbrellas. It’s not as if I use it every day.

I love the Senz shape, and I know they keep refining the design, but I just can’t keep buying them at $70-80 a pop based on this track record. The larger Senz umbrellas might be fine, but I think the compact/folding ones are just a little too delicate.

So I’ve bought myself a Blunt XS Metro (A$89), the same brolly I bought for M to replace her Senz.

The Blunt coverage isn’t as good due to the shape (the Senz wins out on that). And it’s not compact enough to fit into a pocket when folded. But it looks lovely, and hopefully it’s more durable.

If not I guess I’m just going to give up and buy lots of the cheapies.

Do I need an umbrella at all?

Something in my DNA tells me that, as a dedicated walker and public transport user, I need a good umbrella in my work bag. Perhaps it’s my half-English blood. And growing up in the city of four seasons in one day.

But I do see a significant number of people wandering around Melbourne on grey days without umbrellas. I’ve made sure we have a couple of spares by the front door at home, but my kids almost never use them.

I think for now I’d prefer to keep one handy for rainy days.