Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review of the Past Year: Work

Economics 101: Advantages of keeping goats in semi-rural southern Taiwan ten minutes of biking from home: (1) Keeps the grass down without the need to hire a grass cutter. (2) A steady supply of milk. (3) Possibly some tax benefits if it can be argued that the land is being used rather than sitting vacant.

Whenever I write about training, I often write about work, too. It is as if they are two sides of the same coin. Certainly in my mind, they cannot exist without each other, and it is hard to feel a sense of accomplishment in one without feeling it in the other.

Without going too much into specifics (and I have made mention of this elsewhere), I basically work alone, according to my own schedule, at home or wherever is convenient, and to a large extent I enjoy what I do. Like training, there are always the not so interesting parts, but that is where discipline is particularly important.

The work I do is not considered very exciting to a lot of people (maybe that's why I seem to have plenty to do), and there are no quick tricks for getting rich overnight, i.e., no promises of a big windfall if I sell some things or speculate or whatever. My work consists of just plodding along, dealing with one case after another. It is knowledge-intensive which, in my opinion, is the way to go in this day and age. I am not just the run-of-the-mill same as everybody else person. I have unique skills built up over a lifetime that fortunately have been discovered by people who need them. I originally did not train for a career in this area. I basically learned to adapt to my circumstances, to be not just a survivor, but a success in a specific part of the work world. I am not a member of a professional association and do not have anything like a union to back me up. I compete in a very rapidly changing and competitive world. However, besides making every effort to remain up-to-date and relevant in my chosen profession, I have also built up quite a lot of goodwill, and that, I have discovered, is a tremendous asset.

Because of my economics/accounting background plus many of the things I deal with in my daily work, I am well aware of the economic issues that face modern societies, not only at the national level, but also for each of us individuals. I constantly ask myself whether I could be doing other things to earn money, or whether I should be handling my own money in a better way. This has become all the more important to me as I have now reached an age where I have to plan for the future with a lot of "what if?" scenarios in mind.

I certainly have not been "money conscious" all my life. Although I studied a lot about money at university and in subsequent work, as with most twenty-somethings, I was mostly concerned with being fulfilled in what I was doing, and I did not see any need to make more than was necessary to pay for a relatively frugal lifestyle. Rather than ending up getting "stuck" in some unfulfilling career in the UK based on what I knew then, I went to Taiwan as a Chinese language student, fell in love with the place, and eventually with someone there, and settled down to a new life in a country that was very different from the one in which I grew up. Finding a good job was not easy. I was obviously not a local person, and neither could I find a job where I could represent some kind of British interests in Taiwan (which would have paid pretty well had I been able to do so). So I tried different things, and was quite successful at some, although I never really liked just being an employee of some organization. If the job did not offer much in terms of career development, then I felt I was unable to make full use of my talents. If the job did offer growth opportunities, then I tended to try to change the job to fit me, rather than adapt myself to the needs of the job. Obviously, the demands of the job were sometimes quite overwhelming, and so I had little choice but to focus on what had to be done. A move to Hawai'i to volunteer in a Christian organization in 1999 put an end to regular employment for me as I knew it, and since the turn of the millennium I have gradually evolved to where I am today.

That said, this is a good time of year to review the past year, since we returned from Hawai'i in early July last year and there were some major changes in our lifestyles. While I continued to do much the same work (and also for the same people) as I had done before when in Hawai'i, we stopped living in rented accommodation and went back to living in an apartment that we had owned since very early in our married life. To determine whether "progress" has been made in terms of my financial situation, which has been shaped by my work over these last twelve months or more, let me consider this period of time in terms of two balance sheets with an income statement in between.

Balance Sheet Summer 2007: As our time in Hawai'i drew to a close, I was determined to return to Taiwan "in the black", despite the relatively high cost of living there and the additional expenses of air tickets, etc. Thus when we were back in Taiwan and all the bills had been paid, I had something like $5,000 in the bank and rent-free accommodation, and of course a full-time job that I could do from home, or the roof, or the hills behind our community. The first six months were spent having quite extensive repairs done to our old apartment, initially so we could live in it longer term, but then with a view to selling it. I was able to meet all these additional costs out of current income. My time until March was spent a bit like this: work (including varying amounts of "labor" related to the house) 95%, training (walking in relatively fresh air) 5%.

Then, around January our new house in southern Taiwan was ready to move into. That had also included quite a lot of expenditure on fixtures and built-in furniture/decorations. We basically borrowed 100% of the cost of the house itself through two mortgages (one on each home) and paid for the additions with cash, as and when each different thing was completed.

From the beginning of April, when I got back into swimming, my time was spent like this: work (for money) 70%, swimming & extra rest 20%, "blogs" and other interests 10%. I am still busy, but at least I am not working like crazy.

Income Statement 2007-2008: Having explained how my time was spent, I basically did as much work as I could within reason, but saved little, due to the expenses related to both houses. Fortunately, the old apartment was put on the market around May, and sold relatively quickly, in large part, I think, due to all the repair work we had done. The last year we have lived quite frugally, despite the nice home that we have. We don't eat out much, have not bought a car, and have been mostly concerned with paying all of the bills for the many expenses related to the houses.

Balance Sheet Summer 2008: While some would argue that the house one lives in cannot be regarded as an asset because it does not bring income (i.e., rent from tenants), at least it would be useful to have should a spouse need to dispose of it in difficult circumstances. Now that the previous apartment is disposed of, we currently owe little more than half of the cost of the new house. While we still have 19 years in which to pay the balance, due to age and other considerations, I am thinking more in terms of 5 unless of course there are other "equivalent investments". Currently no credit card debt, not that there ever was. No Hummer in the garage, either, to drain our resources. Plans for the next few months are to finally get a "real" bicycle(truly a luxury good and an exception to my normal lifestyle), and also to build up a few "liquid reserves" for better cash flow management and to "be there" for the children as they contemplate their next steps, or should my wife continue to work in a voluntary capacity, serving needy people in society, in much the same way that she did when in Hawai'i.

Well, that sums up my thoughts on work over the past year and what I have been trying to achieve in that regard. I don't know if it will be relevant to readers but I thought I would put it out there, anyway.

Turning to swimming, I continue to soldier on: Tuesday 4,100 meters, Wednesday 4,050 meters. More about that in another post.

1 comment:

Eileen Swanson said...

Wow, no credit card debt? That is awesome. Owning a home(s) is great, but with the serious decline in the housing market here in America, it is tough for all of us! How is the housing market there? Glad you guys are doing so well and living the life you want, SWEET!