Monday, 26 June 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week 25

Well, my 'new' (restarted) diet regime got off to a fairly good start last week, mostly due to not being able to eat very solid foods after getting a tooth extracted on Thursday afternoon!. Although I haven't yet restarted doing 5BX daily exercise sessions or weekly squash with the kids, I did reach my daily step-count target of 12,000 steps on four of the days last week. I didn't do much walking on the day I got my tooth extracted, or over the weekend. As I couldn't eat too much anyhow, I took the opportunity to do two days of my mock-'fasting mimicking diet' (FMD) plan on the weekend. While the overall carb, fat and protein ratio is fairly close to that published by Dr Longo, I don't try to mimic the micro-nutrient or other compositional aspects of his commercialized diet regime. As I take a daily multivitamin, calcium and Vitamin D supplement, I'm not too worried about working out the finer details of my diet's nutritional makeup. I also intend to just utilize my version of FMD on two days every weekend, rather than Dr Longo's FMD schedule of five sequential days every month or two.

This week I plan on walking at least 12K steps every day, and to start doing daily 5BX exercise routine again in the evenings. Next weekend I'll be driving up to the lake house with DS2, so he can stay there with my parents during the two week school vacation. DS1 is staying home this vacation to study for his HSC exams (his trial HSC exams start in the third week on next term). As it is a three hour drive up to the lake house, I'll need to make sure I do enough walking on those days.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 20       38.8       63.6     21.4    118.9      3,371    104.6      6,563
Week 21       33.3       62.9     21.0    105.7      3,056    104.4      6,957
Week 22       20.4       61.6     22.4    123.8      3,390    104.9      8,962
Week 23       32.2       69.6     13.3    106.7      2,840    104.5      6,471
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,808    105.2      7,258
Week 25       20.6       61.3     24.5     63.7      1,894    103.0      8,406

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Friday, 23 June 2017

Ouch, That hurt my wallet (and my mouth

Had a 'fun' day off work yesterday - got some fasting blood tests done in the morning (covered by Medicare), in preparation for my visit to the eczema/immunology specialist in two weeks time. And then had an after lunch session with the dentist to get a premolar tooth extracted (it had two previously rounds of expensive root canal therapy by two different dentists, which didn't fix the problem).

I was told the extraction would take about an hour, but I ended up being in the 'chair' for almost two hours. Aside from some small pricks getting the initial local anesthetic injections, the whole proceed was quite painless, although uncomfortably. It involved the tooth extraction, 'grafting', a few stiches, and then an x-ray to check the final result. I'll be going back for a short visit in a couple of weeks to get the few stitches removed. This two hour marathon session cost just under A$1000, but at least there was a lot of time, effort and materials involved. A large proportion of the bill was covered by my employer-funded health plan, so my 'out of pocket' was under A$200.

There was somewhat greater pain involved when the local wore off. I'm on soft/liquid foods only for a couple of days, and taking some pain-killers today. Hopefully it will have 'settled down' by tomorrow morning.

Later in the year I'll need to have some more expensive work done to insert a 'prosthetic' tooth in the gap. Makes me wish I'd done a bit more cleaning and flossing of my teeth during the past forty years!

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Monday, 19 June 2017

Diet & Exercise update - 2017 Weeks 7-24

Well, 2017 has so far been a diet disaster ;(

We had a very hot and humid summer, and my eczema got quite bad due to a heat rash, so I've been feeling unwell, lethargic and irritable. I'm not sure if being unwell was the main cause, but I found it impossible to stick to my diet, and I had been buying confectionery whenever I went grocery shopping, and then eating lollies in the evenings as 'comfort food'. The heat rash and eczema also reduced the amount of walking I was doing (at least until the weather cooled down in May), and I haven't been doing my weekly game of squash due to my skin.

Overall, my weight increased from 97kg at the start of the year, up to 105kg last week! Considering I had got my weight down to 89kg this time last year, it is a really bad result.

A recent course of antibiotics and prednisone seems to have finally gotten my skin back under control, and I've been walking a bit more since the weather cooled down in May. I managed to stick to my diet plan last weekend, so I intend to stick fully to my diet starting from.... NOW! Hopefully doing a weekly blog post might also help motivate/embarrass me into sticking to my plan.

I won't bother listing all the weekly stats for 2017, but the overall figures from weeks 1-24 and the past week are below:

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Weeks 1-24    37.5       64.1     18.3    118.9      3,019    102.1      6,025
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,803    105.2      7,258

Goes to show what a few hundred extra calories every day, and a lack of exercise will achieve ;(

I'll start reporting weekly figures again from now on. Wish me luck.

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Making money Bitcoin 'mining' is harder than it looks

Well, for one thing I'm not really 'mining' Bitcoin -- I haven't bought the hardware normally used to 'mine' new Bitcoin (apparently you have to have access to really cheap electricity to make it worthwhile - hence the big mining 'farms' are located close to cheap sources of hydro or geothermal power) and are only running a mining app on my home laptop that works as part of a cloud-based 'pool'. At least it is generating a few thousand Satoshi each day (unfortunatey a Satoshi is only 1/100,000,000th of a Bitcoin!) and every time the modest threshold is reached some Satoshi actually get transferred into my CoPay 'wallet'. So far I've had 22 transfers of around 5000 Satoshi, with my total Bitcoin balance reaching 0.00113797 BTC (worth around A$3.57 at today's rate). And I'm pretty sure the cost of the electricity used leaving my laptop turned on overnight is more than that amount ;(

And my other attempt to 'earn' Bitcoin via an app on my phone was a total rip-off. Having wasted time clicking on ads (which I'm sure earned the app developer some money), the 'payment' of the first 400,000 Satoshi I'd earned never arrived in my Bitcoin wallet. And all attempts to get 'help' were ignored by the developer.

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Electricity costs going through the roof

Electricity has been in the news quite a lot this year in Australia. South Australia had power blackouts during the Summer when an unusual weather pattern produced lots of cloud cover and no wind -- making their high reliance on wind/solar 'renewal' power supplies problematic. Normally they'd have managed using 'surplus' power from neighboring states (Victoria and NSW), but some issues with the instate load-sharing system apparently meant this wasn't possible, so some 'planned outages' were required. A lot of unhappy South Australians, and a lot of media discussion regarding whether the problem was due to over-reliance on 'renewal' power supplies, without adequate base-load supply or a means to store power (Elon Musk got in the act by offering to sell some 'cheap' battery storage to Australia), or whether it was just due to a problem with the interstate transmission system...

Anyhow, aside from supply issues, the cost of electricity to consumers has already been increasing faster than inflation for many years, and some even larger increases will soon bite. A just received an email from my electricity supplier showing my 'old' rates and the 'new' rates that will apply from next month. The head-line 'peak' rate is rising from ~54c per kWh to ~59.2c per kWh (an increase of 9.6%!). However, the reality is even worse, as the 'shoulder' and 'off-peak' rates will be increasing much more - 'shoulder' period electricity is increasing by 24.4% (!!) from ~21.6c per kWh to ~24.4c per kWh, and the 'off-peak' rate (used to heat up our hot water tank at 1-2am) is increasing by an eye-watering 36.5% (!!!!) from ~12c per kWh to ~16.4c per kWh.

Overall, based on last quarter's electricity bill, our mix of off-peak/shoulder/peak electricity use, and the total amount used, our overall bill will be increasing by around 18.8% from next month unless we take some drastic energy-saving measures. We've already time-shifted our normal electricity use as much as possible from peak period to shoulder (by not using the washing machine during the evening 'peak' hours), so now we'll have to look at reducing the amount of power used. Looking at our hour-by-hour energy use (fortunately the data is readily available online these days), it appears that when we were running the pool filter it uses around 0.5 kWh, so I definitely have to only run it for a couple of hours daily rather than non-stop. It was also noticeable that when the family was away during the school holidays, the household 'baseline' electricity use was around 0.25 kWh each hour (probably due to leaving the refrigerator running, a few 'security' lights on, and the various TVs and computers left in 'standby' mode. And the water-bed heater) When the family is at home the 'baseline' power use is around 0.25-0.5 kWh per hour higher, probably due to leaving some lights on during the day, and having more laptops/tablets etc. left plugged in to charge up etc.

I'll have to start actively checking that computers, TVs etc. are turned off rather than left in stand-bye mode during the day, and checking that no lights are left on during the day or when everyone goes to bed. We'll see how much of the hike in electricity prices can be off-set by being more frugal with our electricity usage...

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Lost and Found

When I went shopping on Saturday I found that I'd misplaced my daily-use credit card. Aside from having to use another credit card (that I normally use only for online purchases) that I didn't know the PIN number for (so I had to show my driver's license as ID) I was left scratching my head wondering what had happened to my credit card.

My last clear recollection of using it was taking it out of my wallet and putting it into my shirt pocket to walk downstairs and get a snack from a vending machine at work on Friday afternoon, so I had to look around the house to see if I'd taken it out of my pocket on Friday evening and left it lying around the house (no), then look in the washing hamper to try to find the shirt I'd worn on Friday and check if it was still in the shirt pocket (no), then look in the car to check if I'd put it in with the parking lot pass on Friday evening (no). By this time I suspected I might have put it on my desk at work and not put it back into my wallet, so I checked my work desk this morning - no luck. I thought it might 'turn up' in the next couple of days, so I went online and put a 'hold' on the card, rather than marking it as 'lost' (which would have meant waiting a week or two for a new card, with a new CC number).

Luckily DW phoned me a few hours later to say that she'd found my card in a shirt pocket - somehow I'd dropped my shirt in the towel hamper by mistake! I've now taken the CC off 'hold' and learned my lesson - from now on I'll take my wallet with me and put the CC straight back after using it, not put in 'loose' in my shirt pocket.

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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Net Worth: May 2017

My net worth decreased during May, mostly due to weakness in the stock market and my share portfolio holding of bank and oil/energy stocks doing particularly badly. The estimated valuation for our house only increased slightly, as the Sydney real estate market has definitely come off the boil. As usual I have used the 'book value' for my rural property, with only a slight increase due to some capital expenditure (materials for a retaining wall so we can add a car port to the side of the existing shed). My retirement account increased slightly, due to contributions rather than any gain in the investments.

DW is still looking for a new job, and the hours of her casual employment as a 'nanny' have been substantially reduced.

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Thursday, 4 May 2017

Free courses on Financial Literacy and Financial Planning

For a bit of fun and revision I'm doing a couple of free courses currently available from that may be of interest to my readers.

One course teaches the basics of financial planning #O2SFinPlan , and another free course covers the basics of financial literacy #O2SFinLitrc .

Both courses started last week, but you can enrol at any time before the course ends and should be able to easily catch up. Each week covers a module via a series of ten short video presentations, and a short multiple-choice assessment quiz at the each of each week. If you complete the course and achieve at least 60%, you will get a statement of completion to print out.

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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Net Worth: April 2017

A buoyant stock market and Sydney real estate market boosted my net worth again last month - my geared stock portfolio was up 5.79% ($13K), my retirement savings up 2.54% ($21K), and the estimated valuation for our home rose another 4.23% ($34K) despite Sydney real estate prices levelling off during April. Local factors (the announcement of 'NorthConnex', and the pending completion of the Northern Beaches Hospital) meant our suburb showed continued appreciation in real estate prices last month. Overall, my NW increased 3.15% ($67K) during March, which is comparable to my annual after-tax salary! Last time things were going so well was just before the GFC, and my NW chart is starting to look a bit like a 'bubble'.

Last month I toyed with the idea of purchasing a commercial (office) property in Forster (near our lakeside 'hobby' farm) as an investment, with potential to use to office for my own financial planning business when I 'retire' to the countryside. However, although the rental yield was quite good (~5.5%) on the two offices I was considering, the 'outgoings' (strata levy, rates, sinking fund) were considerable (of a similar magnitude to the rent). So, while the rental income would have been sufficient to pay the mortgage interest, and the tenant would be paying 75% or 100% of the 'outgoings', during any periods of vacancy it would have been a money pit. And an office in a country town can be very hard to let if there is a recession... So, in the end I decided to forget about investing in an office, and instead I'll use any spare cashflow to slowly paydown my existing investment loans.

Last month I added some Tesla share CFDs to my CFD account, as it seems to have considerable potential as a speculative investment. My total CFD account only has ~$1000 invested, so it is basically just a 'plaything' I can dabble with when I get bored. I want to leave my share portfolio and superannuation investments generally unchanged, as trading costs can be a huge drag on overall investment portfolio performance.

DW is still looking for a full-time position, and in the meantime is earning a few hundred dollars each week working a few hours each day as a 'nanny' for a local professional couple.

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Monday, 3 April 2017

Net Worth: March 2017

A buoyant stock market and Sydney real estate market boosted my net worth again last month - my geared stock portfolio was up 7.67% ($15K), my retirement savings up 2.43% ($19K), and the estimated valuation for our home rose another 2.33% ($18K). DW used part of her redundancy payment to pre-pay the next 15 months of her monthly interest-only home loan payments, so our mortgage balance showed a one-off reduction that will be slowly 'redrawn' over the next 15 months. Overall, my NW increased 2.72% ($56K) during March. DW is still looking for a new job, with no luck so far.

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

1,000 Velocity Frequent Flyer bonus points

In case any readers are interested in joining the Velocity Frequent Flyer program, using this link will get you 1,000 bonus points when you open your new account. I joined up when I saw a promotional flyer while skiing last July, and got some bonus points for buying fuel at BP service stations when they were running promotions. As there's no annual or joining fee it's an easy way to get some additional 'frequent flyer' points. When I buy fuel at BP I 'double dip' by swiping the Velocity card to earn points for the fuel purchase (and sometimes quality for 'bonus points' offers) and then pay using my NAB credit card (which earns FlyBuys. points). As I only buy fuel at BP when I see that the price is as good or better than the price I'll get at Shell (with my Coles shopping docket discount) or Caltex (with my Woolworths rewards shopping discount), it is a rare example of really getting 'something for nothing'.

ps. Disclosure: If you join Velocity FF using the link both you and I will get 1,000 bonus points. ;)

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Friday, 3 March 2017

Good service from my 'bank'

Earlier this week I received a phone call from my bank letting me know that an old ~$800 cheque I'd written last month (and forgotten about) to pay DS1's school fees had 'bounced' due to there being insufficient funds in my savings account (there was over $60K sitting in my high-interest online account at the same bank, but I usually keep as little as possible sitting in my savings account as the interest rate is only 0.01% pa). I was told that I should transfer in enough funds to cover the cheque by 11am (the cut-off for same-day interbank payments) or else the cheque would automatically be dishonoured. I transferred some money between my accounts online, and noticed that at the time there was a $15 'insufficient funds' charge appearing on my savings account.

The next day when I checked online, the cheque had been 'cleared' and the $15 fee had been removed, so it looks like the bank's phone call saved me $15 and having to make alternative arrangements to pay the school fee. Hat tip to Qudos bank.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Bitcoin newbie

Bitcoin (and many other cryptocurrencies) has been around now for many years, and after initially (still) being mostly used for nefarious activities and 'dark web' purchases (or maybe just geeks), it now seems to be getting more main stream. So I decided it was about time I had a play around with the ins and out of using Bitcoin. (I'll use the singular, as with 1 BTC currently being 'worth' about A$1547.59 I'm unlikely to have more than a fraction of one BTC any time soon).

To get started I first created a free Bitcoin 'wallet' on my smart phone (I chose to use Copay, but there myriad wallet apps out there - with a range of features, security, ease-of-use, platform availability, cost, etc.). So far so good, but having a wallet with 0 BTC in it isn't much use so I next had to look into how to get some Bitcoin to fill my 'wallet'...

Being a tight-arse I'm not about to spend any real money to 'buy' a Bitcoin, and I'm not sure that using my credit card on a site 'selling' bitcoins would be prudent. So, how to get some Bitcoins into my 'wallet'?

Well, the first (easiest) option seemed to be to install a free 'bitcoin maker' app onto my phone, and use it to 'earn' some BTC. Real 'mining' of Bitcoins isn't viable on a smart phone or even on a high spec PC (unless you join a pool and are content to earn a fraction of a fraction of a Bitcoin, probably worth less than the electricity spent on the computations). So the 'mining' app I've downloaded seems to do no actual 'mining', but instead requires tapping a button every 10 or 30 minutes to 'earn' 500 Satoshi (a 'Satoshi' is one 100 millionth of a Bitcoin, so 500 Satoshi is worth about 0,77c). When they are 'available' tapping the button also displays a 30s ad (presumably that is where the app developer is getting the funds to actually purchase some BTC). I seen numerous trailers for the movie 'Rings(3)', some road safety ads, and a large number of variants of candy crush/tetris... On second thoughts, while the app was easy to install, it certainly was easy to 'earn' the minimum 500,000 Satoshi required to make a withdrawal request. As it took about two weeks to 'earn' that half-million Satoshi (worth around A$10), I certainly won't get rich that way. I've also yet to see that transfer of funds arrive in my Bitcoin 'wallet' (according to the app it should take 'up to 10 days' for the transaction to be processed/added to the blockchain).

One thing I noticed in the first week of using this App was that the ads were using up a significant amount of my phone's monthly data plan (I ran out of data before the end of the month), so I now only turn on my mobile phone Data Connection via 3G when I don't have the Bitcoin mining app running. I initially thought that the 500kS minimum required to make a withdrawal was simply there to ensure the developer got maximum 'breakage' from users that loose interest before reaching the redemption threshold, but since then I've learned that each 'transfer' of Bitcoins incurs a small transaction fee (the amount depends on what priority/speed the transaction processing is assigned), which means that extremely small transactions would cost more to process than they are worth. Tapping the App every ten minutes soon gets very tedious, but its the sort of thing you don't mind doing while watching TV or going for a walk.

A second way of getting some BTC into my 'wallet' is to get people to 'donate' some -- so, in case any reader happens to use Bitcoins, here is a QR code for my 'wallet': some small test transaction would be nice ;)
( 11324np9vhfsWKaqrYHutakZxjqSgSQQrv )
Apparently this Bitcoin address is 'single use'. So after receiving a 'payment' via this address, a new one was generated for my Copay 'wallet', While that apparently is a good security/privacy feature, and would suit a merchant seeking a single payment (for example, for an invoice to be paid in BTC), it doesn't seem suited for use as a permanent 'donate' button on a blog etc.

I've yet to see if subsequent transactions made using this ID get processed OK...

A third way of getting some Bitcoins is to 'mine' them (a complex calculation to solve a 'block' which results in a set amount of Bitcoins to be created - currently 12.5 BTC/block). But to do that at a reasonable rate would require purchasing specialized hardware, which tends to become outdated/non-competitive very rapidly, so the pay-back period calculation is rather uncertain. The economics of 'mining' for Bitcoin is dependent on the cost of electricity (hence many Bitcoin mining 'farms' are places with sources of cheap power, such as Greenland).

I did install one 'Bitcoin Mining' App on my Windows Laptop, which 'mines' as part of a 'pool'. It does seem to actually be working (at a snail's pace), accumulating around 4,000 Satoshi worth of Bitcoin every second day (the minimum amount that gets automatically swept out of the account daily is 2,370 Satoshi, as apparently that is the smallest transaction value that can be processed). At least that transaction did appear in my Copay 'wallet' the next day - so I currently have a balance of 0.000032 BTC in my 'wallet' ;) The Mining app can be setup on up to ten different devices (using the same account details), so in theory I could have my various PCs 'mining' around 20,000 Satoshi/day (worth around 40c!). But the extra power usage would probably cost more than the Bitcoin production is worth.

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Net Worth: February 2017

Despite weakening during the last week on February, overall the Australian and International stock markets made gains during the past month, which gave a positive boost to the valuations of my geared stock portfolio and also to my retirement savings. House prices in Sydney continued to rise, although at a less frenetic pace, which resulted in another small increase in the valuation of my interest in our home equity. So, overall, my NW was up during the past month - reaching a new 'all-time high'.

Since being retrenched in January, DW has been enjoying spending more time at home and being able to meet DS2 after school every afternoon (the timing of her redundancy fit in nicely with DS2 starting at his new OC school and not attending after-school care). She is only just now starting to look for new employment opportunities. She was provided with access to a recruitment/career coaching service as part of her redundancy package, and has been taking the opportunity to update and polish her CV and get some tips on finding and applying for a new job. The Australian economy is still rather weak, and while the overall unemployment rate isn't too bad there has been a noticeable shift away from full-time permanent positions to part-time, casual and contract positions.

As usual the 'total debts' figure above doesn't include the half-million or so of margin loans, as the 'stocks' figure is the net value of my geared share and mutual fund portolio. The 'other real estate' figure is the valuation of the holiday home/hobby farm at the time I 'inherited' from my parents in 2013.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Diet & Exercise update - 2017 Weeks 4-6

So far this year it's been more a case of 'No diet and not enough exercise' ;( For some reason I've simply been unable to cut out the junk food again, so despite my 'core' diet being according to plan, I've still been 'breaking' my diet plan most evenings after getting home from work by having snacks and some 'dessert' in addition to my planned dinner. The record-breaking run of hot and humid weather (many days in the 40s (Celcius) and with high humidity) have meant I've only done a fraction of my required daily walking - it's often been too hot to even walk 'laps' in front of my office building in the shade at lunchtime, and too still to hot and humid to go for an evening stroll. So I've had to make do with trying to do a couple of 'laps' inside our office building in the air con every 30 mins of so throughout the day. I spent a few hours in our pool on the weekend, but I haven't been swimming laps after work either, so I'm probably just using the temperature and humidity as an excuse for my inactivity. As usual, I'll try to stick to my planned menu today, and try to hit my 10,000 steps target. I should also swim some laps when I get home (although at the moment the heat and humidity has been replaced with heavy rainfall...)

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 01       41.4       58.8     21.0    136.7      3,134     97.2      5,368
Week 02       43.4       63.7     17.0    126.1      3,022     97.7      5,259
Week 03       38.4       63.3     18.7    128.8      2,972     98.1      5,931
Week 04       44.4       62.4     16.9    123.5      2,892     98.7      4,328
Week 05       41.7       64.4     19.3    116.3      3,029     98.6      5,292
Week 06       43.7       72.1     11.1    120.9      3,153     99.2      4,805

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Net Worth: January 2017

Very little overall change in NW during the past month, as the increase in estimated valuation for our home was offset by a slightly larger decrease in the value of my geared stock portfolio and superannuation fund balances.

DW's recent lay-off has emphasized the ephemeral nature of employment in the 'modern economy', and has prompted me to look again at my expenditures. I intend to try to stick to my 'shopping list' when grocery shopping (that would also help with my attempt to lose some weight!) from now on, and to avoid making any unplanned 'discretionary' spending. My goal will be to minimize my monthly CC bill and free up some surplus cash flow each month to slowly whittle away at the balance of my margin loan with the highest interest rate. While it won't  be a significant amount compared to my automated savings, every little bit helps, and can build up over time.

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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Redundancy strikes again

Until yesterday DW and I were working for the same company, having both started there about 18 years ago. Then yesterday DW was 'offered' a redundancy package. Not much choice in the matter as it was presented as a fait accompli, with her current role being no longer required, and there apparently no other 'fit' found for her. At least the redundancy package was 'generous', adding up to almost 2 years worth of salary and DW was happy enough to sign and clear out her desk the same day. Personally I'm not overly impressed by the 'generosity' of the package, as the 3 weeks x 10 years of service (the maximum counted for redundancy payouts in this state) is pretty much a requirement under state laws, and the payout for unused accumulated annual and long service leave is also mandatory. And the four weeks pay in lieu of 'notice' is also fairly standard, as very few companies these days want workers to stay at work during the required 'notice' period, as they are afraid of disgruntled, laid-off employees getting up to mischief or their presence (dead man walking) being 'bad for morale'. All-in-all the only generous aspect was a couple of extra weeks payment 'ex gratia'.

As DS2 is starting school at his new 'OC' school today, DW is quite happy to be out of work and able to meet him after school. She isn't sure if she will do a TAFE course, have a go at starting up a home business, or just spend more time gardening. Whether or not she 'needs' to get another job will largely depend on whether or not the rental income from her 'off-the-plan' investment unit turns out to be sufficient to cover the interest payments on the 'portfolio loan' (against our home equity) that will be used to pay for the unit upon settlement this coming May-June. As I pay all the household bills her lack of income won't have any immediate impact. In the longer term, if she doesn't get another job she will end up not having as much as expected in her superannuation account to fund her retirement, and she also won't be able to pay down much (any) of the loan balance. If Sydney real estate prices continue to rise over the next decade or so that won't be much of an issue, but if there is a slump in prices she might end up owning a home unit that is worth less than her mortgage...

Of course DW getting laid off immediately made me wonder how secure my own position at the company is - but there isn't really much point worrying about it unless/until it happens. At the moment my role seems fairly secure, but that can easily change, often as a result of decisions made 'behind closed doors' that one is blissfully unaware of until the axe falls. It did prompt me to do a quick spreadsheet model of how I might be tracking with regards to funding my retirement if I was laid off tomorrow, and comparing it with the likely situation if I was laid of next year, or the year after, and so one...

It turns out that, making some reasonable assumptions regarding ongoing contributions rates while I'm still working, and the likely future rates of taxation and earnings on our superannuation investments (I've taken the average rate of return for the past ten years as a 'guesstimate' of possible future returns, given that this is lower than average rate of return for the past three years, or over the entire period of available data), I could 'retire' tomorrow and get a sustainable retirement income of around 80% of my current 'take-home pay' if I sold up my stock portfolio, paid off the margin loans, and added the net amount to my current superannuation balance. This 'sustainable' model assumed that I had to re-contribute around 2% of the fund value every year to allow for inflation, and that the balance of my superannuation account would be run down until there was no residual balance at age 100. (While that may be an optimistic lifespan, my paternal grandparents both lived until 94, and my parents are both alive and well and in their 80s). It also assumed a low rate of tax on superannuation 'pension' payments, which of course is subject to legislative risk.

If I do manage to keep my job for at least another couple of years my sustainable retirement income rises to around 100% of my current 'take-home' pay rate, and working any longer would mean that either a) I can fund a higher rate of 'pension' payments out of my superannuation during retirement, or b) I will be likely to end up with some residual balance, or c) my desired rate of pension will be sustainable even if investment returns are worse than expected, or if there are a couple of years of poor investment performance immediately after I 'retire'.

Of course even if I get laid off tomorrow I could probably find some gainful employment until my intended retirement age - either at some other job (probably involving more work for less pay), or possibly by getting qualified as a financial planner and having a go at starting my own financial planning business...

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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Bonus and taxes

My first salary 'bonus' is due to be paid early next month, and the HR department sent out a reminder to make any nominations to 'salary sacrifice' the bonus into superannuation be COB today, as any 'salary sacrifice' arrangements must be done prospectively, not retrospectively (after the income has been 'earned'). At face value it obviously makes a lot of sense to receive the bonus payment into superannuation (paying 15% contribution tax) rather than receiving it as a salary payment and paying income tax on it at a marginal rate of, say, 37%. On a 5% bonus for a $100K salary, the tax saving achieved via 'salary sacrifice' could be $1100. Looking at it another way, that means the 'after tax' bonus amount would be nearly 35% greater when paid into superannuation compared to taking it as a cash payment.

However, the individual decision regarding whether to 'salary sacrifice' the bonus isn't so simple. For example, DW is on a lower annual salary package, and only works 3 days a week, so her marginal tax rate would be 32.5%, and not 37%, which makes the tax incentive to lock away this money until retirement a lot less enticing. She also has a large settlement payment on an investment home unit due in the middle of this year, so any additional amount she puts into superannuation via salary sacrifice would add to her mortgage balance.

Even in my case I can't simply nominate to 'sacrifice' the entire bonus amount into superannuation, as I already have a sizable 'salary sacrifice' arrangement in place, and the 'cap' on concessionally taxed superannuation contributions might come into play. For my age group, the 'cap' this financial year is $35K (it will reduce to only $25K from 20017-18 onwards unless there are further changes announced in the May budget), and I already have around $9.5K of SGL contributions and $19.2K of existing 'salary sacrifice' arrangements. This would mean that around $6.3K more could be 'sacrificed' into superannuation this financial year without exceeding the 'cap'. However, I have to allow for the possibility of a  small increase in SGL contributions during the remainder of this financial year if I happen to get a pay rise (annual salary reviews are also being announced next month - just after bonuses get paid out), and there was a monthly employer contribution deposited on 1/7/2016, so I have to allow for the possibility that the contribution for June 2017 might get deposited at the end of June, meaning 13 monthly contributions falling into this FY.

Finally, my employer is also reimbursing small amounts for the monthly admin fee and insurance premium that gets initially debited from my superannuation account (~$85 per month), but the reimbursement payments get processed several months after the original debit transactions. There was a delay in the initial reimbursement payments (eg. a debit processed last FY (on 3/3) was eventually reimbursed via an additional employer superannuation contribution this FY (on 17/10), and there are currently two reimbursement payments being deposited each month in order to 'catch up'. So there *might* be as many as 18 lots of ~$85 deposited this FY, Which means allowing for another $3.8K or so that *might* be deposited this FY and count towards the 'cap'. So, the maximum amount of bonus I can 'salary sacrifice' and be reasonably certain that I won't exceed the 'cap' on concessionally taxed contributions is only $2.5K. In the end I decided to request that $2K of any bonus amount be paid as 'salary sacrifice'.

Next FY I'll have to reduce the amount of monthly 'salary sacrifice' due to the decrease in 'cap'. I probably won't bother to allow for any bonus to be processed via salary sacrifice next year.

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Took up part of my Santos Share Purchase Plan entitlement

I decided to purchase $5000 worth of Santos shares under the SPP that closes next week (31 Jan). The issue price will be around $4.00. As I also have some long crude oil CFDs, I'm obviously punting on the oil price going back up a bit in future. My current holding of Santos shares is around $15,000 market value, so this will increase my investment in Santos by around 1/3. While the oil price has fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years (from below $20 to over $140!), there seems to be some support around the $40 mark, which corresponds roughly to a Santos share price around $4.00. So, overall, it seems that the downside risk is for the share price drop to as low as $2 (or the company to go broke in a period of prolonged low oil prices), whereas a continuation in the current rise in oil prices (if there is stronger global growth in future) could see oil hit $60-$80 again, and the Santos stock price rise to $6-$8 again. While this share purchase is a bit of a gamble, as the amount only represents about 1% of my geared stock portfolio, and 1/4% of my net worth, so either outcome won't have a big impact on my net worth.

The top chart below shows the crude oil price ( over the past 30 years, and the bottom chart is the Santos stock price since 1988.

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Buy, Sell or Hold? Who knows...

With the recent run-up in the US stock market, my boss has recently been moving his (and his parent's) investments out of equities and into 'cash'. He claims he moved out of equities and into cash in early 2007, so perhaps he knows what he's doing? However, while the US market certainly looks similar to the pre-crash phases seen in the dot-com bubble from 1996-2000, and the 'frothiness' seen in 2006-2007 just before the GFC, the Australian market looks quite unremarkable at the moment.

So, I'm not about to liquidate my stock portfolio (in fact I recently bought $10K worth of the Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF (VAS)). However, if the US stock market does suffer a large 'correction' in the next year or so the Australian share market may well drop a bit also - but I'll probably view that as a buying opportunity. Looking at the graph comparing the All Ords and the S&P it is clear that the long-term trend (at least in Australia) has been for a fairly steady rise over the decades, but that there have been many substantial deviations both above and below the trend line. If you are heavily into stocks, deviations well above the trend line are probably a good opportunity to reduce exposure to equities (or at least reduce gearing), and deviations substantially below the trend line are good times to move any available cash into equities. Bearing in mind, of course, your personal risk tolerance and chosen long-term asset allocation.

However, human nature dictates that many people will be tempted to start investing in the market during bull runs, and then move into cash after a stock market crash - exactly contrary to what logic dictates.

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Monday, 23 January 2017

Diet & Exercise update - 2017 Weeks 2-3

I hadn't managed to get back into the swing of sticking to my diet plan, so my weight continued to creep up for the past couple of weeks. Aside from eating some junk food, I think a lack of exercise due to the recent run of hot (38C+) and humid weather hasn't helped - I haven't been going for long walks at lunchtime or in the evenings, or doing my weekend session of squash with the kids while they were staying with my parents up at the lake house.

Now the kids are back in Sydney and school term is about to start, things should settle back into the normal routine. I managed to get the pool filter working again last week, and finished cleaning the pool on the weekend, so I'll do some laps after work if it is too hot to go for a walk.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 01       41.4       58.8     21.0    136.7      3,134     97.2      5,368
Week 02       43.4       63.7     17.0    126.1      3,022     97.7      5,259
Week 03       38.4       63.3     18.7    128.8      2,972     98.1      5,931

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Friday, 20 January 2017

Benchmarking my NW performance

My usual benchmark for NW performance is to compare it to the 'cut-off' NW reported in the annual BRW 'rich list'. However, that benchmark has a couple of deficiencies:
- the cut-off is for a fixed number of 'richest' Australians, which due to population growth becomes a more and more selective group, hence pushing up the 'cut-off'
- the NW estimates in the 'rich list' are estimates of debatable accuracy

I therefore view it as more of an aspirational target than a realistic benchmark of my NW performance.

The annual HILDA report that came out last year offers a more robust metric for comparison - Table 5.1 in the report provides Australian household net worth estimates (based on a statistically significant sample), for the years 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. The values of mean, median, top10% and top1% are provided in '2014' dollars (ie. adjusted for inflation).

For comparison purposes I used my monthly NW estimate from to calculate my average annual NW figures, and then used the online inflation calculator from the ABS to calculate the equivalent values in constant 2014 dollars.

Plotting these NW values against the mean, median, top decile, and top "1%" figures from the HILDA report show that my NW suffered more from the GFC (due to my use of gearing in my stock portfolio I presume), but bounced back by 2014. However, while my relative NW increased substantially vs. the mean (up 51%), median (up 50%) and top deciles (up 44%) between 2002 and 2014, it barely 'kept pace' with the household NW reported for the top "1%".

But looking at the 2010 figures, my relative performance was down slightly vs. the mean (down 9%), median (down 14%), and top decile (down 8%) groups, but substantially worse that for the top "1%" (down 43%). So I'm hopeful that going forward my NW should also gain ground vs. the 'top 1%' metric. I'll have to wait until the 2020 HILDA report to find out!

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Thursday, 19 January 2017

Adapting William J. Bernstein's book "If You Can" for Young Australians

After dabbling with stock picking and then fund/fund manager picking (and not doing very well at either), I eventually arrived at the same sort of conclusions as William J. Bernstein - pick a suitable asset allocation and invest via low-cost 'index' funds. He recently published a nice small volume of investment advice for 'Millennials', but it is a bit too 'US-centric' (eg. 401K plans and so on) to be immediately applied by young Australian investors. With that in mind, I decided to have a look at how the principles expressed in Bernstein's book could be employed by my sons when they start a career and begin to think about saving and investing.

In a nut-shell, Bernstein's advice for (US) Millennials is simply to:
* save 15% of your (pre-tax) salary annually, and invest it.
* invest it in equal proportions in: domestic stock market index fund, international stock market index fund, and domestic bond market index fund.
* rebalance each year to maintain equal proportions in these three asset classes.

For Australians, the tax system provides substantial benefits for investing inside superannuation. And 9.5% of salary is directed automatically intro superannuation via the 'SGL' (superannuation guarantee levy) for most employees. This can be 'topped up' to the 15% target by arranging to have another 5.5% (or more) of salary directed into superannuation via 'salary sacrifice' (bearing in mind the $30K pa 'cap' on concessionaly taxed contributions (SGL+SS))

However, for Australians, the plan's assumption that half of retirement income needs will eventually come from 'social security' isn't correct, as our 'aged pension' system is both means and assets tested (and while the US social security system in underfunded, our aged pension system is completely unfunded - relying on current tax payers to pay for the aged pensions of retirees -- not a great situation given the aging population and shrinking proportion of taypers:retirees). So perhaps the required rate of savings for Australian Millennials needs to be a bit closer to 30% of salary than 15%. (But this isn't quite as bad as it seems, given that US workers also have around 7.65% deducted for social security and medicare).

Now, in terms of how to invest those savings in the proportions suggested by Bernstein, one could invest in the Vanguard 'growth' index fund, which has the following 'target' (strategic) asset allocation:

35% domestic stocks/property:
Vanguard Australian Shares Index Fund (Wholesale) 31.0%
Vanguard Australian Property Securities Index Fund (Wholesale) 4.0%
35% international stocks/property:
Vanguard International Shares Index Fund (Wholesale) 24.0%
Vanguard International Property Securities Index Fund (Hedged) (Wholesale) 4.0%
Vanguard International Small Companies Index Fund (Wholesale) 3.5%
Vanguard Emerging Markets Shares Index Fund (Wholesale) 3.5%
30% fixed interest:
Vanguard Australian Fixed Interest Index Fund (Wholesale) 12.0%
Vanguard International Fixed Interest Index Fund (Hedged) (Wholesale) 12.0%
Vanguard International Credit Securities Index Fund (Hedged) (Wholesale) 6.0%

nb. Fees: 0.90% on first $50K, 0.60% on next $50K, then 0.35% on balance over $100K.

This is fairly close to the recommended three-way equal split, and would not require any rebalancing as the fund automatically maintains the asset allocation within a fairly tight band. Some of the growth asset allocation is into 'property' rather than shares, but over the long term that should not have much impact on overall return, and may add some additional diversification benefit.

Alternatively, Australian investors could invest in the relevant Vanguard listed ETFs to get the desired asset allocation. Some examples:
VGS: MSCI World ex-Australia
VTS: CRSP US Total Market Index
VUE: FTSE All-World ex US Index
VAF: Bloomberg AusBond Bank Bill Index
VSO: MSCI Australian Shares Small Cap Index
VLC: MSCI AUstralian Shares Large Cap Index
VAS: S&P/ASX 300 Index

However, while the management costs are low (0.05% - 0.30% pa), there may also be a cost to purchase the ETFs via a broker (eg. CommSec), which would rule out making multiple, small purchases on a regular basis. One disincentive to moving out of the 'growth' index fund and into a mixture of ETFs is that some capital gains might be realized (although the rate of capital gains tax is fairly low within a SMSF).

Once DS1 is old enough to become a member/trustee of our SMSF, I'll add him to our SMSF and arrange for his current 'retail' superannuation fund balance to be 'rolled over' into our SMSF. Our SMSF doesn't quite have the asset allocation recommended by Bernstein - it has around 4% invested in cash (in an ANZ V2Plus account paying a silly 0.75%) to provide a 'float' for any SMSF tax bills, and the rest is invested in the Vanguard Lifestrategy 'High Growth' fund. The fund is around 90% invested in 'growth' assets, and only 10% invested in fixed interest. By the time DS1 finishes uni (he is only doing his HSC this year, and plans on doing a 5-year 'double degree' and possible then a 1.5 year masters) and has substantial superannuation contributions flowing into our SMSF, both DW and I will be close to retirement, so we may review the SMSF asset allocation at that time. Once the bulk of the SMSF is in 'pension mode' any capital gains tax implications arising from moving out of one Vanguard Fund into another will be insignificant.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

My current Portfolio of ASX listed investments

I'm a fairly passive investor in the stock market, so aside from some small changes in holding quantities due to dividend reinvestment plans, the only substantial changes since I last posted my stock portfolio details in 2015 are a large decrease in the value of my IPE holding (due to some substantial returns of capital as the fund is slowly wound up), and the liqudation of my holding in the Berkshire ETS last year. I also added small holdings of AFI and ARG in mid 2016, which are both listed investment companies, in order to reinvest some of the cash into the market.

LEML account: (17.JAN.17)
CODE QTY Company Name Mkt Price Mkt Value
AGL 1035 AGL Energy Ltd A$22.03 A$ 22,801.05
ANN 480 Ansell Ltd A$24.25 A$ 11,640.00
ANZ 2149 ANZ Banking Ltd A$30.04 A$ 65,329.60
BHP 748 BHP Billiton Ltd A$26.92 A$ 20,136.16
CYB 236 CYBG PLC A$ 4.67 A$  1,102.12
NAB 1013 National Aust Bank A$30.73 A$ 31,129.49
QBE 1572 QBE Insurance Ltd A$12.295 A$ 19,327.74
S32 748 South32 Limited A$ 2.81 A$  2,101.88
TWE 1250 Treasury Wine Estate A$10.43 A$ 13,037.50
Market Value sub-total A$186,605.54

CSML account:
AFI 5000 Australian Foundation A$ 5.93 A$ 29,650.00
ARG 4000 Argo Investment A$ 7.61 A$ 30,440.00
IFL 2000 IOOF Holdings A$ 9.26 A$ 18,520.00
IHD 1000 IShares ASX Div Opport A$13.86 A$ 13,860.00
IPE 244000 IPE Limited A$ 0.17 A$ 41,480.00
RDV 500 Russel High Div Au Shrs A$29.99 A$ 14,995.00
STO 3750 Santos Limited A$ 4.06 A$ 15,225.00
WBC 490 Westpac Banking Corp A$32.75 A$ 16,047.50
WPL 239 Woodside Petroleum A$32.02 A$  7,652.78
Market Value sub-total A$187,870.28 

Market Value total A$374,475.82

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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Diet & Exercise update - 2017 Week 1

Well, although I managed to follow my diet plan for the first five days of 2017, averaging 2,448 kcals/day, I then ate way too much on the three days I was visiting my parents at our lake house. I also didn't walk very much while at the farm (although I did a couple of hours tractor driving slashing overgrown paddocks). So overall 'week 1' of 2017 was rather mediocre, with too many kcals/day energy intake and not enough walking. And didn't play squash on the weekends we were out of town. The weather has been too hot and humid to go for long walks at lunchtime (or even in the evenings), and unfortunately to pool pump and salt chlorinator have been playing up again, so our pool is a bit too 'green' to swim laps after work. I spend some time acid washing the salt chlorinator sensor on Sunday, and hopefully that gets the pump working again and I can give the pool thorough clean up.

I have three air pistol competitions coming up in February/March, so I need to make sure I start doing SCATT training and 5BX every day.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 41       42.2       65.9     16.8    120.9      3,107     96.2      9,767
Week 42       43.3       62.6     22.3    129.5      3,488     97.3      5,317
Week 43       40.8       53.5     24.7    108.3      2,755     97.0      6,007
Week 44       36.9       52.4     24.1     97.1      2,856     97.1      4,481   
Week 01       41.4       58.8     21.0    136.7      3,134     97.2      5,368

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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Why Aussie share investors hate US share investors

Well, not actually hate them, just envious.

As can be seen in the chart below, Investors in the Aussie share market have basically gone nowhere since the start of 2007. That's right, practically 0%  gain over the past decade. In comparison, despite the impact of the GFC (which the US caused, just to rub salt in the wound) the US S&P-500 index has made a respectable 60% or so gain since the start of 2007. Go figure.

Sure the Australian 'mining boom' came to end during the past decade. And the economy suffered a lot from the GFC. But even so, we haven't had a recession for more than a quarter of a century, and our GDP is actually up considerably since the GFC. In fact, the Australia stock market since the GFC has performed eerily like it did during the Great Depression.

To make matters worse, I invested shares with gearing, so I've been paying interest for the privilege of making no money for the past decade! And DW is more interested in property investing than the stock market, so I can't even whinge about the poor stock market performance without getting an "I told you so" ;)

source:  - 19th Annual Colin Clark Memorial Lecture

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I bought a raffle ticket

While I usually don't gamble, I couldn't resist the temptation to buy a $10 raffle ticket being sold be Cessnock Pistol Club (to be drawn at the Nationals in April). I saw their ad for the raffle while processing my entry in the ISSF Vintage competition (not sure why it is called 'vintage') being held next month. As they are only selling 400 raffle tickets, and the prize is a voucher for a $3600 Pardini pistol, each ticket is notionally 'worth' 1/400 x $3600 = $9. So the cost of $10 seems reasonable. Most lotteries payout around 50%-70% of their ticket sales revenue in prizes, so a $1.30 'Oz Lotto' ticket, for example, is only 'worth' around 80c on average. Of course the reality is that there is a 99.75% probability (399/400) that I've simply thrown that $10 away ;)

If my air pistol results at competitions this year warrant it, I am thinking about upgrading my ~30 year old Feinwerkbau model 100 air pistol - possibly getting the new Steyr Evo 10 air pistol (which replaces the Steyr LP10 that seems to have been the most popular choice at World Cup, Olympic and Commonwealth Games air pistol competitions in recent years). I checked with the company that will be redeeming the raffle prize voucher, and it can be redeemed for any pistol of similar price. So, if I do happen to win the raffle, it would save me having to spend ~$3000 for a new air pistol.

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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Net Worth: December 2016

Happy New Year! The Trump/Santa Claus Effect saw global share markets continue to appreciate during December, resulting in my geared stock portfolio and my retirement savings each increase by more than $30K during December. There was no price data available for our suburb (apparently due to few people willing to sell their properties while the hospital precinct rezoning is being finalized, rather than a lack of buyers), so our 'estimated' price for our home was unchanged last month. As I didn't make any capital improvements to my rural property, than too saw its 'book' price remain unchanged.

Overall, my net worth just passed the A$2m mark. So I'm officially a 'multimillionaire' (for the moment). Just goes to show how little 'millions' are worth these days. I still have a (small) mortgage, I still take a packed lunch to work, and I'm still a 'wage slave' hoping that I don't get retrenched before I reach my planned retirement age (~67-70). As I'll be 'too rich' to qualify for a part-pension or benefits card when I reach retirement age, having a reasonably comfortable retirement will rely on having my mortgage paid off and having retirement savings that (at current interest rates) will generate around $25,000 pa income. Hardly the jet-setting lifestyle the term 'multimillionaire' normally brings to mind? If I do keep my job for another 10-15 years I should be able to build up my retirement savings sufficiently to have an after-tax income in retirement close to my take home pay. One side-benefit of making large salary sacrifice contributions into superannuation is that one is acclimatised to a more modest 'pay packet'.

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week0 2017

I managed to avoid overeating too much during the xmas break, so I'm starting 2017 about 10 kg lighter than at the start of 2016 (but about 10 kg more than where I got to mid-way through the year). My best weight was achieved around the time we went skiing and I did the City2Surf last August, but since then I've been very slack about sticking to my diet plan, and the weight has slowly been creeping up again. So far in 2017 I haven't eaten any junk food - so the trick will be to continue that throughout 2017 (and the rest of my life)!

We drove up to the lake house on Christmas Day, and spent a few days relaxing with my parents. The boys there with my parents for a couple more weeks, while DW and I go back to work on Tuesday. We'll drive up again next weekend, and then we'll collect the boys the following weekend and bring them back to Sydney.

I didn't do any target shooting practice or much walking while at the farm - it was too hot to go for long walks in the day, and there were a few too many mosquitos about for a pleasant evening stroll. But I did chop down some lantana and I spent a couple of hours on the tractor slashing one of the paddocks. We also did some gold fossicking in a local state forest (didn't find any gold in the samples of dirt we collected), so at least I got a bit of exercise while at the farm.

As today is the first of Jan I'll make sure I reach my daily step-count goal of 10,000+ steps/day, and also make sure I do my daily 5BX and do some SCATT air pistol training before midnight.

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