Savings and managing credit – a hard lesson to learn #febusave


We do not often share stories about our personal finances (except perhaps to boast of some great success?) but here are some hard won lessons I have learned.

My parents were not great savers, subsisting from pay to pay in the way that many workers do. Thus I did not learn much about saving as a child.

By the time I was 21 both parents and all grandparents had passed away and I had lost contact with the few remaining older aunts and uncles. Both of my parents died intestate leaving me to sort out the disposition of their few assets for the benefit of my younger siblings. I was left to look after the family finances, leaving university and geting a job to help support the family.

Settling my parents few debts, arranging for the sale of their house and investing the proceeds for the maintenance of my youngest siblings was done by the Public Trustee.

All went well as I repeated my parent’s habit of living from pay to pay. Then a bank offered me a credit card which I accepted. It was like all my Christmases had come at once and I shopped happily, buying all the clothing and accessories I’d always loved.

I dutifully paid off the minimum balance every month and all remained well. But then I lost my job, laid off due to a downturn, and was only able to find lower paid work. No longer able to afford to pay both my rent and the credit card bill I was in trouble.

How did I get out of this problem?

  1. Borrowed money from friends to pay the rent.
  2. Made a payment agreement with the credit card provider (it took me years to pay that debt off).
  3. Setup a budget and followed it religiously.
  4. Ran my life on cash only for the next five years.
  5. Built up a savings buffer so I did not have to borrow money from friends again.

What did I learn from all of this?

Everybody needs a will – those you leave behind have a hard enough time of it without dealing with intestacy. In Australia the Public Trustee in each State can help you with this (for NSW click here).

Having a household budget is important – knowing your expenses and income & keeping them in balance  reduces stress.

A savings buffer brings peace of mind – a few dollars in the bank for an emergency makes all the difference during stressful times. I found an an automatic savings plan that takes the money right from my pay directly to the bank works best for me.

Parents need to share good financial habits with their children – you will not always be around to help them and it is better for them to learn good financial habits from childhood.

Some more useful information is at Febusave.


Theme for 2010: reinvention and reinvigoration


Each year, instead of making new year resolutions, I pick a theme for the year. That way when I get sidetracked (as often happens)

I can simply return to the theme. Also with a theme there are often many different things I can do to support it.

For 2009 my theme was simplicity and frugal living. The results here were pretty good on the whole. A big reduction in my carbon

footprint; using public transport wherever possible; and living local as much as possible.

The idea for my 2010 theme came to me while traveling home via train from a lovely dinner with @mpesce – the words reinvention and reinvigoration popped into my head.

It seems to me that this is something that needs to happen on both a personal and societal level. We need to re-imagine the way we work, we need to reclaim healthful approaches to living, we need to find sustainable ways to exist.

The next step is to consider which areas of my life will be the starting point for reinvention and reinvigoration.


Blog action day 2009: What can one person do? #BAD09


Today is Blog Action Day 2009 & the topic is climate change.

“Climate change affects us all and it threatens more than the environment. It threatens to cause famine, flooding, war, and millions of refugees.

Given the urgency of the issue of climate change and the upcoming international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December, we think the blogosphere has the unique opportunity to mobilize millions of people around expressing support for finding a sustainable solution to the climate crisis.”

As a somewhat sceptical individual I’m not bought into the idea of global warming nor of a coming ice age.  But as a rational thinker it seems prudent to be a good steward of the place where we live & which sustains us.

While I do not want us all to return to hunter-gatherer times and eschew modern conveniences, it does seem like a good time to direct our substantial collective intelligence towards find better ways of doing things.

In Australia we are already seeing the effects of climate change.  The recent devastating bushfires in Victoria appear to be a mere harbinger of what is to come.  We can expect to inhabit a much dryer and more fire-prone environment in some parts of the country.  While in other parts of the country we are seeing increasingly bad storms and cyclones.

To me this seems like a very big problem.  But all very big problems seem daunting unless they are chunked up.  This is a great case to apply the old maxim

Think global! Act local!

Here are some simple things some friends & I have done:


Blog action day 2009 is coming soon


Goodness me, how quickly time passes. It is Blog Action Day on 15 October 2009.

This year it is about Climate Change.

Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. Blog Action Day 2009 will be the largest-ever social change event on the web. One day. One issue. Thousands of voices.


Is social computing just increasing our anxiety?



Since the early days of the internet revolution and web 2.0 I’ve been watching & participating in various ways.

And over the past few years I’ve seen its powerful properties of network amplification working in practice. My friend and colleague Mark Pesce has recently discussed these properties in his Big Ideas talk.

But with all of this I’ve also observed how the internet has amplified our anxiety as well as amplifying goodness.

For example, on Twitter over the past 12 months, it has morphed from a casual communication and community platform into a sales and spruiking platform, with increasingly desperate multi level marketing or affiliate schemes.

It seems to me that much of what we do as humans merely seeks to assuage anxiety, and the internet is the latest place to manifest that anxiety.

So much of the activity that I see online now reeks of desperation and striving to sell, be successful and rich. But it seems that we have the opportunity to create a different kind of world with this technology and its ability to connect people beyond borders and barriers.

Never before have we had technology that supports openness, collaboration and sharing on such a broad scale.  We have the opportunity to use this technology to do good & creative things – like Action Aid’s Project TOTO that I’ve mentioned before, or the recent Live Local Challenge.

Perhaps one way to assuage this anxiety is to use up our personal energy (and use the technology) to change the world for the better in little, local ways every day?  We could choose openness over constriction, expansiveness over constraint, collaboration over competition, sustainability over wanton waste.


More tasty #livelocal fun


It has been a few weeks since we did the Live Local Challenge and Rebecca and I decided to catch up for breakfast. We decided that our reunion had to incorporate local and sustainable foods.

Luckily the night before I’d stayed in Camperdown after Stilgherrian’s Project TOTO farewell gathering, so the Danks Street Depot was an ideal spot for breakfast.

It was lovely to have a chance to catch up with Rebecca again, and to enjoy our food while talking about life, the universe and everything. We’re both still trying to keep sustainability and living local in mind for our daily lives. It’s great to have someone to share ideas with too.

Rebecca had the polenta with rhubarb and Meredith sheep’s milk yoghurt – I had a taste of this & it was scrumptious.

I had the poached eggs with bacon hash, roasted tomato & sourdough toast. This was made with Cornucopia Farms Bio-dynamic Eggs from Lonstock in the upper Hunter Valley. Since I can never poach eggs properly at home, it was a delight to have such perfectly cooked ones.

All in all this was a very pleasant was to start a Sunday 🙂

By the way, my new vegetable patch is going fine – although with all this rain I’ve been worried it might drown.


Live local love continues



Even though I’ve finished my Live Local 7 day challenge the amazing support from people both online and offline continues.

An example of this is the very kind @jrobens who dropped off a new plant for my garden at lunch yesterday.

Now I’ve got a curry plant to add to my burgeoning garden, and below is a picture of the latest addition.  Will plant it over the weekend.

The community aspect to this whole thing has been great. And a really big part of that has been the Twitter community.

The more I get involved in things like this the more it clarifies that Twitter provides access to a remarkable breadth of people, who collectively know more than we can count.


The really amazing thing is how willing people are to share information, share goods, and offer support both online and offline.

Thus the support offered was not merely 140 character messages, rather it encompassed real life activity that people went out of their way to undertake.

One person posted a hard copy book to provide information about seasonal food, others sent links to useful websites, others sent emails with detailed helpful information, others shared food and plants, and many shared their own stories and offered moral support.

There is some research I came across recently that backs this up, check out “If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help.” by Flynn, Francis J.; Lake, Vanessa K. B. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 95(1), Jul 2008, 128-143.  The authors estimated:

“people underestimated how likely others were to help them by as much as 100%”

More info about the Live Local Challenge or via the Twitter stream, & don’t forget to check out Rebecca’s challenge blog too.


Live local challenge – what I learned #livelocal


My approach was that of an ordinary outer suburban Sydney dweller. I wanted to see how easy it would be to live locally using the local shopping sources – malls, supermarkets, farmer’s markets – without travelling long distances to specialist sources. I also broadened my thinking to include other things I consume, such as power, cleaning supplies and cosmetics.

The other thing I wanted to test was how possible it was to use public transport in preference to a car for as many things as possible.

I wanted to find out how sustainable a live local life style would be in the long term and what challenges would arise.

The biggest challenge was food labeling – it was often really hard to find out where foods actually came from. So many products simply say “made in Australia from local and imported ingredients”. Other foods say a location but you can’t see where the ingredients come from.  An example of this was the sourdough rye bread, which was baked in Fairfield, but for which the provenance of the ingredients could not be ascertained.

Another was how little I actually know about things I use everyday – electricity for example, where does it come from? And where other consumables, like cleaning products (mostly made in Australia from local & imported ingredients) and cosmetics (mostly not local) come from?

My addictions to products that are not produced locally were a big challenge: coffee (which I did not give up for the sake of housemates), chocolate (which I only had once but craved the entire time), olive oil, butter, and rice.

What I learned
Being conscious of small decisions I make everyday was my biggest lesson. The most important question to ask while out shopping is:

Do I really need to buy something from very far away if there is a locally produced option available?

I also had the opportunity to speak with neighbours and local shopkeepers to discuss where their produce came from. Some nice surprises, like that my local Chinese restaurant actually hand-make their spring rolls and use locally purchased cabbage.  There is a huge amount of interesting activity around sustainability and the environment going on in my own neighbourhood.  Many people are composting or keeping worm farms.  Several people keep chickens and many are growing vegetables.  We have lots of water tanks around the area as well.

There is actually a farmer’s market nearby, but is held on Thursdays during business hours, which is not much help to those of us who don’t work nearby.

My biggest lessons were:

Being conscious of decisions that I make, rather than just doing things blindly & without thinking.  Getting off autopilot and getting back  in touch with nature, the seasons and living consciously.

Issues to consider
Living local is an important thing to keep in mind.  But we really are part of a global community and we need to acknowledge this fact.  Some of us work on global projects and collaborate internationally.  Australia is a great distance away from many other places.  To participate in many activities, and for work, overseas travel is required.  Even with the best technology,  personal meetings are still often the best way to work with other people.  For example, I collaborate with people in Europe and north America – we do a lot online, but from time to time we need to meet in person.   One of the ways I manage this is to try to coordinate all the meetings/conferences into one trip per year.


My blog posts for each of the 7 days:
#livelocal day 1
#livelocal day 2
#livelocal day 3
#livelocal day 4
Where does soap come from? #livelocal
Neighbourhood vegetable garden #livelocal
#livelocal day 5
#livelocal day 6
#livelocal day 7
#livelocal wrap-up

More info about the Live Local Challenge or via the Twitter stream, & dont forget to check out Rebecca’s challenge blog too.

Here is a series of pictures that I took during the challenge:


Live local challenge day 7 #livelocal


Vivian from the Plant Bug Garden Centre

Had long distances to travel today – starting with a meeting with some of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) folks at the Garvan Institute in Darlinghurst. We were discussing Smart Technology for Healthy Longevity.  It was nice to catch up with Craig Mudge & Gordon Bell there too.

But it’s a long way from my place – about an 80 km round trip. Again the public transport options are a challenge with three train changes and a couple of long walks.  And I wanted to combine the trip so as to accomplish more that just attending a meeting.  Thus, on the way home I stopped in at the Plant Bug Garden Centre and met the very helpful Vivian (picture to the right).

I told her about the Live Local project and before I knew it there was a nice selection of plants for the garden getting loaded into the car boot.

my new plants

Immediately upon arrival at home I started moving them into their pots.  I’m using pots because, for some unknown reason, the dogs only dig up plants that are in the ground.  I have no idea of what to do next & suspect I’ll be asking Vivian for some gardening tips soon.

All of this fits in with my other Live Local projects – saying g’day and helping native bees . It also fits in with the 7 day challenge since I made the car journey serve more than one purpose.

Dinner tonight is just leftovers from last night.  It is very exhausting to have to plan ahead so much.  At the meeting earlier today I realised my local snacks were still on the bench at home, so I succumbed to a cup of coffee, biscuit & a sandwich.  Have continued to resist desire for chocolate but do think it is time for a restorative glass of local wine. I have been very grateful that the Hunter wineries are located so close to home.

More info about the Live Local Challenge or follow the Twitter stream & don’t forget to check out Rebecca’s challenge blog