Thursday 14 August 2008

Busy preparing for our European holiday

I've been busy the past week trying to get everything ready for our trip to Europe. We will be hiring camper vans in Germany and then in the UK, and I'm planning to make this trip as leisurely as possible, rather than trying to cram in as many "sights" as possible. Travelling with my parents (who are in their 70s) and two young boys (8 and almost 2) for five weeks may be a lot of fun, or it could get quite stressful if we try to rush our journey. I'm taking my digital camera, digital compact video camera and my older miniDV video camera on the trip. If I manage to access WiFi hotspots with my new laptop during the trip I may post some photos over the next five weeks. I doubt I'll be posting much about personal finance during our vacation...

** Warning: rambling techno-babble follows **

Most of my trip preparation time so far have been used trying to get my electronic gadgets to behave. It took several attempts to get a set of digital photos formatted and loaded onto a digital photo frame we are taking as a gift for my 93 year old great-Aunt. I picked 60 photos to load onto the internal memory of the photo frame, and initially tried to reduce and crop photos to fit exactly the resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio of the photo frame. However, it was taking so long that I decided not to bother with cropping each photo, but simply reduce all 60 photos so that the entire set should fit into the internal memory. The photo frame documentation didn't mention the amount of free memory available, so I phoned the customer service number to find out. As it turned out the figure I was quoted (32MB) was incorrect - I could only load about 3MB of data before the memory was full. For the moment I'm leaving the photo frame with just 15 images loaded. I can either re size the images (again) on my laptop while we are travelling, and load all 60 images at lower resolution (they'll appear the same at full size, but won't look very good if the zoom function is used), or I can leave the 15 photos loaded into internal memory and buy a cheap USB memory stick to store the remaining 45 photos. An added benefit of using additional USB memory is that I could store additional photos that we take during our stay in Germany and London, before we visit my Great-Aunt.

Aside from the photo frame, I've also spent many hours attempting to get my new Dell Laptop setup for the trip. The initial configuration of the system when it was first powered up went without a hitch, and the Vista home premium OS looked very sexy with the enhanced graphics display I'd opted for. However, once I'd loaded in some freeware encryption software (Truecrypt) in order to create an encrypted volume (to store my financial website passwords to use during our trip), and some image editing software (Mindworks Alchemy) to be able to convert my Pentax RAW photos to jpeg format during our travels, things started to go haywire.

I connected the laptop to the Internet through my home network, but the system crashed due to low memory while autoloading some software updates. Apparently the 1GB RAM I'd hoped to scrape by with wasn't sufficient for Vista once some other apps had been installed.

I then decided that I'd better install some network security software before accessing the Internet too much, but I didn't want to register the 1-month free version of McAfee viruscan that came with the Dell laptop. Instead I bought a 3-PC licence of McAfee Security suite so I could replace the expired version on my desktop PC as well as install it on my two laptop PCs. Once I made the purchase I tried to update my existing McAfee Security Suite on my desktop, that had expired last week. Unfortunately it refused to update properly, still reporting that the installation needed to be "fixed" after the download finished. The expiry date displayed by McAfee also hadn't changed, even after I rebooted the system.

Since updating an existing installation hadn't worked, I decided to uninstall the 1-month trial version of McAfee from the new laptop before downloading the newly purchased version. Of course, when I then tried to login to 'My Account' with the laptop I couldn't get it to work (nothing happened when I pressed the "login" button, even though I used the same details that work OK on my desktop!). I though that the applications I already loaded may be causing the problems, so I used the Visa "restore" function to reset the system to the state prior to my starting to install any applications. Unfortunately "restore" only resets the OS system software, so the deleted McAfee 1-month trial application was still deleted. Trying again to login to my McAfee account still didn't work after the reset, so I'm currently stuck with a laptop that only has the firewall and anti-virus security that comes as part of the Vista OS - not the ideal setup for accessing the internet for financial transactions while travelling the globe!

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Saturday 9 August 2008

Most expensive addresses in the world

The latest listing of the 10 most expensive streets in the world (published by The Wall Street Journal's Wealth Bulletin) includes Wolseley Road, Point Piper in Sydney coming in 9th place, at $29,000 a square metre - based on the recent sale of the non-waterfront, hillside property Craig-y-mor for $32.4 million. The most expensive address on the list is Avenue Princess Grace in Monaco where apartment sales of more than $US40 million translate to an incredible $190,000 a square metre. If we sold our home we could just about afford to buy a walk-in wardrobe in one of those apartments! On the other hand, the are untold millions of people in the world living on the streets or in slum conditions, so our housing cost would be much closer to the "top 10" than the world average.

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Monday 4 August 2008

Net Worth Update: July 2008

I'll keep it short and sour - another depressing month, due to the stock market's continued slide affecting my share portfolio and also my retirement savings. The value of my geared stock portfolios was further reduced by some of the prepayments of annual loan interest made by 30 June appearing in the account balances in early July. And the retirement account balance dropped during July despite being boosted by three months of salary sacrifice contributions arriving in our SMSF bank account. The only bright spot was an increase in the estimated valuations of our home and investment property - but the latest sales figures show that the real estate valuations will drop considerably for August.

Property valuations +$12,516 (+1.47%) to +$866,346
Mortgage loans..... -$....91 (-0.02%) to -$365,488
Retirement accounts -$.1,910 (-0.67%) to +$284,075
Stocks & other..... -$36,579(-17.28%) to +$175,115
TOTAL NW........... -$25,882 (-2.63%) to +$960,048

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Sunday 3 August 2008

A look at our household electricity costs

While I was filing away our utility bills I decided to tabulate the last five years worth of electricity bills to see how things had changed. As expected, the cost of electricity has been increasing each year, and has gone up by around 25% over the past four years. I expect future increases to be even more substantial, given the rising cost of fossil fuels (most of NSW electricity generation is coal-fired power stations).

What was unexpected was the massive increase in our daily energy use in the past two years. It probably shouldn't have come as a shock, as we would have started using a lot more electricity running the clothes dryer and hot water system after DS2 was born two years ago. Hopefully we can reduce our electricity use a bit over the coming year!

Financial | Total | Annual | Daily | Cost
Year ____ | MWhr_ | Cost__ | kWhr_ | c/kWhr
2003-2004 | 12.33 | $1,134 | 34.25 | _9.20
2004-2005 | 10.62 | $__997 | 29.50 | _9.40
2005-2006 | 10.44 | $1,072 | 29.00 | 10.30
2006-2007 | 12.24 | $1,286 | 34.00 | 10.50
2007-2008 | 14.85 | $1,713 | 41.25 | 11.54

On the other hand, our electricity is costing less than $5 per day to run computers, electric piano, TV, CD player, hot water system, electric lights, reverse cycle air-conditioner/heater, cooking equipment etc. for a family of four, so it's pretty good value for money.

I wonder if it would be worthwhile hedging the cost our energy use (petrol and electricity) for the next 10-20 years by buying some oil CFDs?

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