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Does your super match your values?

The wave of climate protests (the Climate Strike a few weeks ago, and to a lesser extent the Extinction Rebellion last week) are a good reminder that although our current political masters (especially at the Federal level in Australia) are keen to do nothing, pretty soon a large mass of people who want action will be joining the electoral roll and voting.

Oh, the politicians may claim they’re acting. But the numbers speak for themselves: Australia’s emissions are rising, not falling, and some politicians’ love for coal (including building new coal power stations, even when it makes no economic sense) and the constant criticism of clean power and electric cars makes it obvious which way they lean.

Anyway, if you’re working, there’s something you can do.

Pretty much every working Australian adult has superannuation, your mandated retirement fund, and for most people it’s probably their largest, or second largest asset (perhaps second only to their house, if they own one).

For many people it’s Set And Forget. But you can choose to direct your super fund to put your money into ethical investments.

These can avoid your money going into things that you may be philosophically opposed to: for instance arms manufacturing, gambling companies, and fossil fuels. The precise definition of ethical varies by fund, but I suspect they’re all a step in the right direction.

What’s the financial cost of this? Probably nothing. In fact shifting to ethical might well be financially beneficial, as many of these investment options actually have very healthy returns.

For instance, for some years my own super has been half in an Australian Shares portfolio and half in an Ethical fund. The compound return on the Shares in the past 10 years is 8.8%; Ethical is 10.6%.

(Note: this blog does not constitute financial advice, past performance is not an indicator of future performance, etc, etc.)

The easy option

In many cases your current super fund will already have an ethical option, which makes it easy.

Just log onto your super fund’s portal, and find the setting for investment preferences. In mine it’s called “Future investments”, eg where any future deposits go to.

If you’re lucky, this will take all of a couple of minutes to do.

Australian Ethical Super: investments

Go harder

Different funds decide for themselves what is “ethical”. The above explainer is from Australian Ethical Super, but the bigger funds may not be as fastidious.

If you’re super keen, you can look around at the ethical super fund that best meets your values.

This Choice article is a good starting point.

If you decide to roll your super over into a new fund, this involves a little more work, but isn’t overly onerous these days.

I must emphasise that I’m not a financial adviser, and there is inherent risk in any investment.

But your super is (hopefully) a huge amount of money that is working for you. So why not have it match your values?


  • Note: I’ve got no link with Australian Ethical Super, but I am a customer of their Managed Funds. Managed Funds, if you’re wondering, are similar to Super, except the money is not tied up until you retire.

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Consumerism driving Toxic Custard newsletter

Retail therapy

Just a quick few points while I work on a more complicated post that’s (inevitably) transport related

Shopping bags

Many major retailers are phasing out single-use plastic bags. Or to be precise, they’re phasing-out free bags.

This is not the first time Target has tried this. They stopped issuing free plastic bags in 2009, but brought them back in 2013. Part of the problem seemed to be that the bags they sold were the same as the previously free ones they’d given away. Other retailers sell higher quality bags.

An outright ban has been in place for all retailers in NT, Tas, SA and ACT, plus Qld and WA joined them on 1st July, which no doubt is why the retailers have pushed ahead. Victoria is set to follow at some stage. Unclear what NSW will do.

I’m happy to see this change. Yet there’s been some unbelievably ridiculous hand-wringing from some quarters:

C’mon. If you still want a bag, it’s typically just 15 cents to buy one. FIFTEEN CENTS! That’s just one percent of a $15 shop.

For me, the only behaviour change is I now stuff a green bag into my work bag, so I have it for my detours to the supermarket on the way home.

We’ll all adapt. In fact, at this IGA at Nagambie (snapped on 30th June, before Coles switched) the locals seemed to be coping without any fuss whatsoever.

Nagambie IGA: Bring your own bags

Update 2/8/2018: Coles backflipped on 1st of August and made the reusable bags free for an indefinite period.

Then the next day they backflipped again, and said the free bags will end on 29th August.

Dish washer

The Fisher and Paykel dishwasher, which had been in my house since I moved here in 2005, broke down again.

I’d previously thought that, given it was a pretty old model (circa 2000), I’d replace it the next time it failed, so that’s what I did, and found a good price on a Bosch.

Why Bosch? The Bosch washing machine I bought nine years ago hasn’t skipped a beat, and they also rate very well on the Choice web site (which is well worth joining if you’re grumpy that The Checkout hasn’t been renewed).

I paid the installation fee. While it didn’t take long, it was satisfyingly complex enough that I’m glad I did.

Dishwashers aren’t for everybody, but I hate washing dishes, so for me, this is money well spent.

The new car: 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer

The new car arrived

I picked up the new car last night. That’s it above.

I suspect the web has changed the shopping experience. I no longer go and look around car dealerships unless I already know what I want.

The car dealers I’ve dealt with during this saga seem less slimy than the ones I encountered the first time I bought a car.

When scouring Carsales, I had pondered that if I saw the perfect deal somewhere out in the country, I’d be willing to go to grab it. In the end I bought from a local dealership, which will make servicing it with them to maintain the warranty much easier.

In fact as part of the handover, they showed me where the service area is, and how the after hours drop-off/pick-up works. Clever. The chief service guy there recognised me from when he used to work on my old Magna years ago. Heh.

The dealer bloke showed me the basics of the car, then sent me on my way.

Amusingly/horrifyingly I scraped the bottom of the steep driveway just exiting the dealership. Can’t see any visible marks. Also amusingly, I thought the engine was revving loudly on the drive home, until I realised it was in Sports mode, not Drive. Oops.

Today I’ve sat in the car for a while with the manual and figured out all the controls. Or at least, the important ones.

The psychology of buying a new car and wanting to drive places is powerful.

Anyway, I like it so far, though I could do without the spoiler, which I don’t think helps visibility out of the back window. Perhaps I should have asked if the car was available without it.

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Consumerism

ATMs are free – but not all of them

Believe it or not, sometimes I blog about things other than transport. If you want to look purely at transport posts, try this link.

Commonwealth Bank (CBA) announced on 24th September that all their ATMs were free for use by customers of any Australian bank.

The same day, the rest of the Big 4 scrambled, and matched that pledge… but CBA had the jump on them, and some of the others couldn’t implement it straight away.

Over the past few weeks, they’ve got it done, so ATMs are fee-free for all Australian cardholders since:

(By the way, ANZ loses points here. Not only does their press release not specify the date the fees are waived (it just says “early October 2017”) it’s also on a horrible web site that forces you to download a PDF, rather than simply viewing the content on a web page. It’s also amusing that both ANZ and NAB still have the media parts of their web site not using HTTPS. You’d think banks would be more security-conscious.)

ATMs in Emporium

It’s not hard to see why the banks are making their ATMs free. Effectively it lets them consolidate their ATM networks, when the use of cash is dropping. In my suburb, CBA, ANZ, Westpac, NAB and Bank Of Melbourne all have a presence; I haven’t counted, but probably about 8 ATMs between them, within a few hundred metres.

So does this change mean all ATMs are free for all Australian cardholders? No! Some to watch out for:

  • Bankwest ATMs, prominent in 7-11s, are not free except for customers of Bankwest and CBA — despite being a CBA subsidiary. (It appears non-7-11 Bankwest machines will be made free, but I can’t find official info on Bankwest’s web site)
  • Other minor smaller financial institutions such as Bendigo Bank and Suncorp
  • Minor ATM brands such as Banktech and CardTronics — hardly surprising they’ll continue to charge. Presumably that’s how they make money.
  • RediATMs that are not at NAB branches — see below

NAB ATM in Bentleigh

I was initially confused by RediATM (owned by Financial company Cuscal). NAB ATMs seem to include RediATM branding, but RediATM appears to have a wider network. RediATM’s web site says institutions in their partner network have free access, but their FAQs say:

Yes, anyone can use a rediATM as long as your card is accepted, although you will be charged a direct charge fee. To avoid a direct charge fee at a rediATM, your financial institution must be partner of the rediATM network.

NAB has confirmed that RediATM-branded machines at NAB branches are really NAB machines, and are free for all Australian cards:

Update: from 1/1/2019 RediATMs will incur fees for NAB users as well as everybody else.

ATMs have been around for a long time. Check this video from 1969 when they were first devised:

Initially the waiving of fees looks like a win for cardholders, at least Australian ones.

Rule of thumb: just stick to the Big Four’s ATMs, and you won’t pay fees.

I’m certainly using a lot less cash than I used to, thanks largely to Paypass, so I’m not at all surprised the banks are making moves to reduce the number of ATMs.

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Consumerism Toxic Custard newsletter

I bought an investment property

As you grow older, you find yourself doing things you genuinely had no idea you’d be doing. At least I do. Perhaps other people have all their plans worked out way further in advance.

When I was growing up, we had little money, and I couldn’t dream of owning my own home.

At age 30 I found myself living alone for the first time, it still wasn’t on the radar. It took me until 35 to get to the point where I could buy.

Through my 30s and into my 40s, things have really come together moneywise. Good steady job + low interest rates + house appreciated markedly (I couldn’t afford to buy in Bentleigh now).

Last year I wrote about money, and that I was pondering buying an investment property. This came about via refinancing my home loan at the suggestion of my sister, and chatting to a mortgage broker about it.

My house was revalued by the bank. It’s worth just on double what I paid for it. Based on that, the mortgage broker said I’d have no trouble borrowing enough for an investment. Rent could be expected to be roughly in the zone of the interest payments.

Virtually any other type of investment would have to be self-funded. I’ve dabbled in shares (disastrously), and the bank wouldn’t lend to me to buy a race horse or gold!

10+ year objective: boost my retirement fund, and help my kids buy when the time comes.

So I decided to try an investment property. But where to buy?

Daniel’s theory of property investment

Let’s assume I want something in the same city where I live, rather than some far-flung location.

First of all, I’m aiming at something within walking distance to a railway station, shops, parks, other amenity. Similar factors to where I would want to live — it seems to be a good formula.

If one assumes the jump in prices has started in the inner-suburbs and is steadily working its way outwards (with gentrification etc), then the strategy is to buy just ahead of that wave. To go with a stereotype, as the CBD gets busier and the commuter population gets larger, then you aim to catch the next lot of CBD white-collar workers moving in.

In the Frankston line corridor, this wave of house price rises has obviously already gone through Bentleigh (where I live), Moorabbin, Highett, Cheltenham, but then you get to the beachside suburbs like Mentone which have been expensive for some time. I’ve missed that wave.

One could look in other directions, such as west, but what about along the Dandenong line? Oakleigh, Clayton, Springvale have already gone up or are doing so now.

For bonus points, look for government infrastructure upgrades in the area to provide a boost, a rejuvenation of some kind. For instance, level crossing removals.

So I ended up targeting Noble Park, which has the following going for it:

  • Still affordable for townhouses/units (which I’d prefer over apartments… a house would be ideal of course, but out of my budget)
  • local shops including a Coles supermarket (unlike nearby Westall, Sandown Park and Yarraman)
  • quite a walkable suburb
  • 37 mins from city on the train – making it much closer to the CBD than the booming outer suburban fringe
  • By 2018, will have local crossing removed and a shiny new station, which is likely to spark urban renewal
  • Also new trains coming on line about then
  • From 2026 the Metro tunnel will mean direct access to Domain and the University/Hospital precinct
  • Possible future airport rail link in the next couple of decades
  • Fairly close to Monash Uni

Down sides? Well despite being close to Monash Uni, the public transport links to there aren’t very good. In fact all the local buses are fairly appalling.

The area has a reputation for crime, though perhaps undeserved. Parts of the suburb seem a little run down, though not really worse than anywhere else.

Remember, it’s about investment potential. I’m betting that the whole area will get nicer over the next (say) ten years.

Investment property. No "Sold" sticker. And tags on the sign. Hmmm.

Unknown: Will the impact of skyrail be positive, or negative? I’m betting positive. If the open space isn’t totally dominated by car parks, and if they keep it clean, it’ll add to the neighbourhood rather than detract from it.

In contrast to areas like Carnegie, where it’s seen as controversial, it seems pretty accepted in Noble Park, in fact I even saw one real estate ad crowing about it.

I started hunting for a property late last year. Scoured the web sites, and drove down regularly on Saturdays with M, whose patience never seemed to wear thin.

I went to a few auctions, even placed some bids. Gradually it became apparent that some types of property were probably beyond my financial means, if I wanted something in the area most desirable.

Finally in May I found something up for private sale, put in an offer, haggled a bit, and it was accepted.

A unit, with two bedrooms, at the back of a block of four. Brick, with a bit of a back garden, and very close to the station. So that skyrail had better work out!

A great deal of paperwork has followed, including applying again for the loan, even though it was “pre-approved”. But it’s done. I’m buying it.

It’ll be rented out to tenants. (I’m hoping to be a good landlord, not a git landlord as some were back in the days when my family rented.)

This is going to be interesting. Will the rental return be as healthy as forecast? Will it keep abreast of any interest rate rises? Will the area appreciate like I hope?

We’ll see what happens next!

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Consumerism Geek

New phone: Motorola G5 Plus

A reminder that despite how it may sometimes seem, not all my blog posts are about transport. If you want to view only the transport posts, try here. For convenience, this link is also on the menu at the top, under Transport.

Over the years I’ve had many mobile phones.

Here’s an update to that old list:

November 2013: Google Nexus 5 — I did that Apple-like thing of preordering this before I’d actually seen it in the flesh. This was a terrific phone. Fast, good camera, great features, no bloatware, and being a Google device, got updates really quickly.

I loved some of the features I only discovered well after I got it, like the pedometer which is now tracking my steps, and NFC, which has all sorts of uses such as checking public transport smartcards (in smart cities like Sydney and Singapore where this is enabled) — see below.

Then the phone died in late-2016. The power button got stuck, and it continually switched itself on and off.

I replaced it and then stuck it in a drawer until a couple of weeks ago when my son Jeremy needed a phone to use while his was being repaired. He found a way to repair the power button, and it’s still going strong!

Opal NFC phone app

October 2016: Google Nexus 5X (which cost me $489 at the time) — the spiritual successor to the 5. I really wanted to like this as much as the 5, but I didn’t. It was a good phone, but not a great phone. It feels a little laggy at times.

Perhaps that’s one of the perils of buying a phone that was released 12 months earlier.

There’s also probably a point at which (for all phones, tablets, and other devices) you should stop installing major upgrades to the operating system, which often bring major new features requiring perhaps more horsepower than the device can provide. Instead, it might be better to just install the security patches… at least until they run out.

Daniel buys a new phone

Having a good, fast reliable phone is more important these days than it has been in the past. I’m not sure that back in the day, any of us Gen Xers really appreciated that by the 2010s we’d literally have such a useful computer that we could carry around in our pockets all day.

I decided last week to get a new phone, and after some research settled on the Motorola G5 Plus (currently retailing for about $380), for three main reasons:

Get something faster. The 5X was released in 2015. Interestingly, you can still buy it new through some dealers (though Google themselves no longer sell it, having moved to the Pixel — at about double the price). I think there are now better value phones in the $400-500ish range.

Fear of the boot loop. I don’t know if it’s common or not, but a known hardware problem with the 5X phone is that occasionally they will get into a state where they continually boot, and (barring hacks to fix it) have to be sent back for repair or replacement. This is something I could deal with at home, but there’s no way I’d want it to happen while on our overseas holiday later this year.

Dual SIMs. I’d like to have mobile data for maps and so on while travelling, but I’d also like to be reachable on my usual phone number. Telstra international roaming isn’t cheap: $85 for 300 Mb or $160 for 600 Mb.

In contrast, a Three UK prepaid SIM, including 1 Gb data and texts and calls for a month, costs 10 pounds (A$17), or 12 Gb for double that cost, and it includes roaming in Europe. (I’m still looking at the options, but this appears to be one of the best.)

The solution to cheap local rates + keep your usual number? A dual-SIM phone. Use data and outbound calls on the cheap local SIM, and still be able to receive calls/texts on my Australian number. And the money savings will help subsidise the new phone.

(I wonder if the phone companies dislike this?)

In fact I suppose I could even choose to use a second SIM at home to get cheap data and/or try and get around the Telstra capacity problems on peak hour trains between Malvern to South Yarra — though from what I’m told, the other carriers are no better.

Motorola G5 Plus phone

So I bought a new Moto G5 Plus, and sold the Nexus 5X on Gumtree over the weekend. (eBay won’t let me sell a mobile phone, due to Paypal having a grudge against me, for reasons they’ve never been able to explain.)

I listed it for $220, and got all sorts of cheeky offers from as low as $130. I refrained from telling them they were dreaming. Eventually accepted an offer of $180 from a bloke who had a Sony phone he quite liked, but dropped it and smashed the glass. Whoops.

And the new phone? So far so good, apart from the wallpaper, which I’ve changed to my own design, and the “Hello Moto!” audible greeting, which was the first thing I switched off!

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Consumerism music Toxic Custard newsletter

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.

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Consumerism Home life Toxic Custard newsletter

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…

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Consumerism

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.

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Consumerism Toxic Custard newsletter

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?

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Consumerism Toxic Custard newsletter

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.