Archive for August, 2009



August 28, 2009

Yesterday I picked up my shoes from the cobbler.

The shoes in question were Hush Puppies with lovely bouncy rubber soles, but the lovely bouncy soles had worn down over the years to the point where they let the water in. The uppers on the other hand have been lovingly polished so that in many ways they look better than when they were new.

I took them to the chap on Victoria St just down from the Post Office and Manners Mall. He charged me $85 and did what appears to be a pretty decent job. I now have new hard rubber soles which appear to be attached neatly and soundly. My feeling is that these shoes have way more life left in them than a new $85 pair, so: win.

I also learned that it would cost $45 to get protective rubber soles put on leather-soled shoes.

I’m happy, but shoe repair is not something I do that often, so I don’t know whether these rates are reasonable or not. Thoughts?

Bonus fun fact! Cobblers, as an expression meaning testicles or nonsense, is Cockney rhyming slang. “Cobblers’ awls” me old chinas.


Silverbeet and other vegetables

August 26, 2009

Picked some more silverbeet today. Cost for seedlings, $3. Labour input: minimal, and gratifying.

Silverbeet is hard to kill, easy to grow, free of most pests and diseases, and can be picked without killing the plant. I know vegetable gardening isn’t for everyone, and you need some basic kit which costs a bit, but certainly if you’re getting into it silverbeet must qualify as one of the best possible plants to grow.

As long as you like silverbeet. Which I do. Just don’t boil the crap out of it as we did in the 70s. Wash it and shred it, and sweat it in olive oil with a little garlic and salt and pepper until it’s well wilted but still green. Nom.

My Dad is a terrific fruit and vegetable gardener. He always reckons that he won’t grow things that he can buy really cheaply, unless the home-grown version is obviously superior. So Dad doesn’t do onions, but he does do tomatoes. That makes sense to me. There’s an economics of home vegetable gardening, and there’s no sense in investing a lot of effort and resources unless we know it’s worth it.

Soon I’m going to plant beans. Fresh beans are always expensive, the plants fix nitrogen in the soil for your next crop, and if you save a few pods the seeds are free. What a winner. I’d plan even more except that we’re probably moving soon…

Nominations for the frugal vege patch, anyone?


Quick link: the psychology of money and happiness

August 25, 2009

Read another interesting article today about the relationship between spending money and happiness.

“Just because money doesn’t buy happiness doesn’t mean money cannot buy happiness,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “People just might be using it wrong.”

Dunn and others are beginning to offer an intriguing explanation for the poor wealth-to-happiness exchange rate: The problem isn’t money, it’s us. For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.

Yet again, the bullet point summary is:

  • spending on other people is more rewarding than spending on yourself
  • spending on experiences is more rewarding than spending on things
  • more money does bring more happiness, but only up to a point.

All of which things ring true in my experience. And it accords with the article I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.


A winter resolution, update 4

August 20, 2009

Earlier: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Winter is almost over — I hope. On today’s bike ride into work I climbed up from Hataitai and then sailed down the northern slopes of Mt Vic and tried not to be distracted by the beautiful sunlight glistening on the harbour.

For those of you who just joined us, a couple of months ago I decided that I was spending too much on buses and taxis. I realised that fear of getting wet and the amount of gear I hump around were barriers to using my bike every day. So I costed out panniers and a carrier and a rain jacket, and worked out they would pay for themselves in a few weeks — as long as I rode every day.

I toughed it out through June and July, and now in mid-August I’m definitely in the black. It is pleasant to think as you trundle home: I saved six dollars today.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Even in a rainy Wellington winter, your chances of riding in a good storm are pretty low. In three months, I’ve only got really wet maybe twice. So I feel vindicated in not spending a whole heap on full-on wet weather kit. Of course this assumes you have a little flexibility about picking when you leave…
  • Once you are used to cycling every day, you lose the the “oh cripes I have to saddle up” feeling. It’s just a normal way of getting around now, and it isn’t onerous.
  • The bicycle beats the bus most of the time.
  • Even if you get other exercise, adding 45 minutes of cycling to your day makes a really noticeable difference to your fitness.

Because I am scrupulously honest (except when I’m not) I confess I haven’t quite lived up to my initial resolution. One thing I haven’t managed to do yet is use the bike to get to the Sunday markets. The reason is that I have regular early afternoon commitments on Sunday, so it’s just proved to be a little logistically tight. But I’ll give it a crack soon, promise.

A final observation: as we noted earlier, Bruce Sterling suggests that we should only own:

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.

For me my Ortlieb panniers are in all three categories. Of all the purchases I have made in the last year, I think I’ve got most jollies out of them by a considerable margin.


Contrasting views on cheapness

August 16, 2009

We’ve maintained from the start that there is more to frugality than merely being cheap. Frugality is about deploying your resources wisely, to maximise your long-term happiness.

One thing that makes me happy is being satisfied about the ethical or moral consequences of my spending, so it’s worrying to read accounts of what happens behind the scenes to bring us truly cheap goods:

… in her lively and terrifying book “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,” Ellen Ruppel Shell pulls back the shimmery, seductive curtain of low-priced goods to reveal their insidious hidden costs. Those all-you-can-eat Red Lobster shrimps may very well have come from massive shrimp-farming spreads in Thailand, where they’ve been plumped up with antibiotics and possibly tended by maltreated migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam. The made-in-China toy train you bought your kid a few Christmases ago may have been sprayed with lead paint — and the spraying itself may have been done by a child laborer, without the benefit of a protective mask.

from a review at Salon.

The book is also reviewed at Boingboing, with some really interesting debate in the comments.

Then there’s this view of so-called ethical consumption, in a review in spiked online of Neal Lawson’s All Consuming:

Ironically, even the most fashion-conscious teenager is less obsessed with consumption than today’s anti-consumerists. The learned professors, journalists and political lobbyists who study in detail the choices available to the public are a sorry sight.

Of course such self-appointed experts are not opposed to all forms of consumption. Although they despise the purchase of luxury items by the masses they are happy to indulge what they see as their own refined tastes. Indeed, the notion of ethical consumption is essentially a way of validating the shopping of the elite while deriding the masses at the same time.

From the elite’s perspective, consumption becomes what author James Heartfield calls ‘status affirmation’. The purchase of what are deemed to be ethically acceptable products is seen as marking individuals out from the rabble. So anyone who likes, say, ordinary chocolate biscuits is sneered at as a gullible consumer while those who eat overpriced organic Duchy Originals are viewed as cultured individuals.

from here. And there is something in that. It isn’t much of an advance to replace one sort of snobbery with another. But still, if one kind of snobbery is helpful to others while another isn’t, I’ll opt for the first over the second.

But what if we don’t buy new things at all? What if we only buy old things and reuse them, or recycle goods?

… salvage itself is a mechanism, both in practice and in thought, procedure and ideology, deeply ingrained in the circuits of late capitalism. And much further back than that.

From the total inanity of green “upcycled” goods (“ie. recycled/reclaimed into something special”, because “Ethical is Beautiful” and they insist on “only using laptops“) to wrenching fillings from your teeth to sell to Cash For Gold U.S.A. (for the oral hoarding days must come to an end in these lean times). From the total staggering obscenity of price mark-ups at trendy vintage clothing shops to desperate children rummaging through the stinking mountains of trash. These are apocalyptic times generally, but in particular, the figure and action of salvage looms perhaps largest.

from Putting the Punk back in Salvage, pointed out by Giovanni Tiso. Particular venom is reserved for vintage clothing, which hurts me.

Dear reader, you must decide what to do for yourself. If you have a coherent plan, please share.


Sneaky, sneaky b-tards

August 16, 2009

Here’s a word of warning if you’re shopping at New World.

Something that’s happened to use a few times in the past week (at both downtown New Worlds) is that items have big signs on them stating 2-for-$XX!! This is usually a good deal, so we buy them, only to get to the cashier and discover that it is some other brand entirely that is on sale.

When I wandered back to check it the label did indeed say “Molenburg”, but the bread under the sign was Freyas. So technically the supermarket isn’t actually doing anything wrong. The sign and the bread are different, therefore I am not paying enough attention, and it is my fault that I end up with more bread than I need, at a higher cost.

But another way to look at it is: these sneaky, sneaky b-tards are fooling me into buying more, in the expectation that I will not kick up a fuss, and socially embarass myself, at the cashier.

However, no amount of grumpy people in line, or sending cashiers off to sort this out, will deter this curmudgeon from getting his $3.50 saving…


Quick link — taxi fare comparison

August 13, 2009

NZ Taxi Blog shows fare comparisons between Wellington taxi firms. The top three rankings agree with my perceptions as reported last year: Capital, Green and Combined are the cheapest cabs still.

I haven’t been following NZ Taxi Blog, but there’s a lot of interesting if recherche stuff on there for the dedicated urbanist.

(hat tip to Stephen Clover of the Wellingtonista for this one)