Household tips

Combating mosquitoes in your property

by Chris Lang on February 15, 2011
Combating mosquitoes in your property

After recent rains mosquitoes quickly became a problem even in places that never had them before. While mosquito bites annoy most people, not everyone sees them as a threat – and perhaps we should take another look at these tiny insects and diseases they transmit. The main health concerns are related to Australian encephalitis, Dengue […]

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Tax time: 8 house-related expenses you can claim.

by Chris Lang on July 12, 2009
Tax time: 8 house-related expenses you can claim.

Tax file

As you know, in Australia the financial year ends on June 30 – which means that from July 1st on it’s time to submit your tax return.

If you have been working at home a part of the time or all the time, there are
8 house-related expenses you can claim:

1. Heating, cooling, lighting.
2. Repairs to home office, its furniture or equipment used for work purposes.
3. Depreciation of home-office furniture (you’ll need receipts for the desk, cabinets, chairs, phone, printer, fax and computers used for work).

4. Occupancy expenses – rent or interest on mortgage.
5. House insurance premiums.
6. Council rates.
7. Water rates.
8. Home office cleaning expenses.

And now a little bit about how to claim. There are basically 2 ways to do it and one is potentially more dangerous than the other.

Claim via fixed amount

The less “dangerous” and easier way is to calculate the amount of hours you spent working at your home office for the 2008-2009 financial year and to multiply that figure by 26 cents. To back up your calculation ATO advises people to keep a diary of the working hours.

So for example, if you’ve been working 5 days a week for a couple of hours from home, you’ll be able to claim 520 hours a year (2 hours per day * 5 days a week = 10 hours a week * 52 weeks a year = 520 hours).

In terms of money that will be 520 hours * 0.26 cents = $135.2

Claim via percentage of house area

The other, more “dangerous”, way is to claim your real expenses (provided you have all the bills and the receipts) based on a percentage.

Calculate what percentage of your house space your office takes by doing the following:

1. Measure the area of your entire house including your office.
2. Measure your office alone.
3. Divide your office area by your house area and you will get a percentage.

For example, your house area is 100 square meters. Your office is 9 square meters. The percentage is 9 / 100 = 9% of the house.

If you’ve worked the whole year in your home office, that means that you can claim 9% of your heating / cooling / lighting / water etc bills. And here is the catch – when you will sell your home, those 9% will affect the capital gains tax you will pay. Normally capital gains tax doesn’t apply when people sell their primary residence, but in this case, if you declared a portion of it as your office, it will.

So if you’ve claimed 9% of your home as your office, capital gains tax will apply to 9% of your capital gains – and this is valid for a period of 6 years. This is certainly something to consider before claiming as much as you can now, because it can make you pay later.

And over to you now – any tax tips you’d like to share?

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Australia is resisting progress – any idea why?

by Chris Lang on July 3, 2009
Australia is resisting progress - any idea why?

Washer womanDon’t get me wrong – I love this country. But there are things about it that are just beyond me. Which is why I thought maybe some of you can help me make sense of it all.

Enigma # 1 – double glazed windows.

I don’t get why they didn’t become a standard thing any house can’t be imagined without. Initially I thought that only the old houses still have the regular windows because people won’t be bothered replacing them, but I’ve checked and the majority of new projects don’t have double-glazed windows included, it’s an expensive extra – when it should be the standard.

Australian climate has such extreme temperatures and the houses have such big windows that it’s doesn’t make any sense to use regular windows as all the heat escapes through them quickly in winter and in the summer it’s the opposite, they don’t protect the house from sun.

Dare I say that a good way to start would be for our government to introduce rebates, same as they did for the solar systems and insulation. If we’re talking about conservation of energy – it would save tons because we’d use less gas and electricity to heat and cool our houses.

Enigma # 2 – automated window furnishings.

I didn’t come up with this one myself, a letter I received from a reader gave me a push, but nonetheless – why aren’t motorized shutters and blinds popular? Rum Charles, the principal consultant from Indigo Training says that according to his research only 0.5% (not even one percent!) of all the shutters in Australia are motorized.

Thinking about this, it would make so much sense, especially for the external shutters – why do we need to go outside, when it’s blazing hot, and use some kind of hook to pull the thing down, why not just press a button?

Is it about the money? Rum doesn’t think so and I agree – all the other things in the house evolved and the hi-tech version costs more. Still, we now have microwaves in addition to ovens, we have dishwashers in addition to sinks, we have air conditioning in addition to fans, and the list goes on.

I understand that it might not occur to people that motorized shutters can me so much more convenient and safe – but why doesn’t it occur to the professionals, the designers, the building companies, people who make living designing and building our houses?

And now I would love to hear what you think. If you have any insight, or simply want to speak up and be heard – leave a comment on this post or email me to [email protected] You opinion matters.

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Dealing with debt: an interview with Christopher Zinn from Choice

by Chris Lang on June 13, 2009
Dealing with debt: an interview with Christopher Zinn from Choice

Debt I don’t know about you, but that report from Choice got me thinking – how did we get up to our eyeballs in debt? What can we do to turn things around? What can we do if we’re already in trouble? So when I had a chance to get some answers, I jumped on it and here is the result – my interview with Christopher Zinn, the spokesperson for Choice.

QuestionIt is common to see credit cards as debt culprit, but are there other debts people should – and can – avoid?

AnswerStore finance deals have many traps that we’ve warned about for many years. These credit deals are lucrative for finance companies and can be profitable for retailers too, but for consumers they’re a real mixed bag. Some provide good value if used cleverly; others should probably come with a wealth warning.

For example, not all credit deals are interest-free — some charge interest straightaway. Rates are likely to be higher than competitive personal loans and credit cards. Some deals, give a no-interest period (such as one year) before charging interest for the rest of the term. But with a high interest rate charged for the remainder (for example, three years), it’s not an option we’d recommend — unless you repay in full within the interest-free period.

QuestionDo you think that the chart of “Household debt Vs income” in the report represents a change in mindset of Australians regarding debt and debt management? Or do we spend more because of the marketing strategy of credit card companies that gets better and better over the years, combined with loose lending regulations?

AnswerThe main reason for the increase in debt are housing costs and high mortgages. Australians have recently adapted to the tough times ahead and are reducing their reliance on debt by repaying credit cards and other debt. But credit card debt still stands at record levels.

QuestionAre certain demographics more likely to have trouble managing debts and if so, why? In other words, is there a certain age group that is in greater danger of getting into debt?

AnswerAccording to government statistics the majority of bankrupts is aged over 40, 19% are aged between 25 and 209 and 27% are aged between 30 and 39 years. 16% only owe less than $10,000 with about half of all bankrupts owing between $10000 and $49,000.

QuestionThe report says: “Many people spiral into debt through circumstances beyond their control, such as losing their job, family breakdown or illness”. How do you know when to ask for help? What are the signs? How do you catch it before it’s too late?

Answer Trouble of meeting your repayments or paying your bills would be a sure sign that you have a problem. The worst thing you can do is paying off one credit card with another one as it gets you in deeper. A good place to go are also financial counselors they can give you information about your options, help you with budgeting and making a hardship application.

QuestionThe report suggests that people should consider selling a second car to reduce the debt. At the same time, it says that if a person is unable to make repayments on a mortgage they should apply for early release of super. Why not suggest that they sell the house to cover the debts and rent a place to live until their financial situation improves?

AnswerWe are not suggesting that people should apply for early release of super – this option is a dangerous last resort. For most people, early super withdrawal is a trap, and one that’s been used by unscrupulous and predatory lenders. What we are suggesting is to go to a financial counselor and to find out your options.

If you are unable to make repayments the first thing is to contact your lender and let them know about your situation. The Uniform Consumer Credit Code allows you to make an application for a hardship variation of your loan in case of temporary financial difficulties. Apply for temporary relief such as reducing your minimum repayments or a waiver of fees or even interest.

QuestionIn the GFC (global financial crisis), do you think Debt relief companies need more regulation? For example, should they be required to refer people to a financial counselor or at least to mention that as an option?

AnswerDebt relief companies are regulated by the Insolvency and Trustee Services Australia and all debt agreements need to be lodged with the government regulator. We would consider it good practice for a debt relief company to mention a financial counselor as an option. One thing to be aware of is that financial counselors are still desperately under funded, while the government has recently made more funding available for financial counselors there are still long waiting lists for some services.

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Dealing with unwelcome guests in your house (part 2)

by Chris Lang on April 22, 2009
Dealing with unwelcome guests in your house (part 2)

Let’s get it over with – here is the rest of my spiders list with pictures, descriptions, symptoms, and treatment.

With this list you can stop living in fear, because it tells you exactly what you’re dealing with. Sorry, little spiders, you don’t have the advantage of surprise any more!

Still, some ugly pictures lay ahead so don’t say I didn’t warn you and proceed at your own risk :)

Brown house spiderBrown House Spider

Usually found in dark places: cupboards, inside or under furniture, in sheds. It has a small brown body (4 – 10mm) with tiny white spots and long legs.

Symptoms if bites

Headache, nausea, small blisters around the bite site. Not deadly.

Redback spider
Redback Spider
All the other spiders look scarier than this little creature and yet it is the one you should really watch out for. The females can easily recognized by the red “hourglass” on their rear ends, whereas males have the same shape of marking, only white. The females are twice as large as the males; their body size is 10mm vs. 4mm in males.

Unfortunately these spiders like living close to us, humans, which is why we should be very careful when moving rubbish bins or old containers, sitting on the steps of our verandas or using outdoor toilets – always look under the seat. Personally, I always wear gloves for gardening or if I have to touch anything that’s been sitting outside for a while.

Symptoms if bites

Bad news – this spider is deadly. Good news – there is antivenene in every hospital, you just need to get there quickly. The symptoms are sharp pain, sweating, loss of coordination, vomiting. The bite site becomes red and swollen and in five minutes the pain increases significantly and spreads all over, the person gets very thirsty.

Treatment

Get to the closest hospital as soon as possible or call an ambulance.

Daddy Long Leg
Daddy Long Legs Spider
This is the most common spider and I have 5 of them living in my house at this very moment. I don’t do anything about those little guys for one reason – they kill and eat Redbacks! Which is why I think of them as guardians rather than intruders. On contrary to what many people will tell you, they are not venomous and present no danger to humans.

Daddy Long Leg are harmless, live in dark corners of a house, under the ceiling, behind doors or in cupboards. They have extremely long slender legs and smallish body and don’t look scary at all. If I could pick a “favorite” spider, it’d be Daddy Long Leg :)

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Household Survival tips: How to cope with a horrible heat wave

by Chris Lang on January 29, 2009
Household Survival tips: How to cope with a horrible heat wave

We all have been sweating for a week now. Did you know that in Victoria we are now having the worst heat wave in the last century? No wonder that a lot of people don’t know anything about the dangers of this kind of weather.

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Household survival tips: preparing for water emergency

by Chris Lang on January 23, 2009
Household survival tips: preparing for water emergency

With all the recession talks not many people think about another possible emergency – apparently there is a growing world-wide water problem. I first heard about it from Ralph W. Ritchie, a survivalist and author of series of disaster preparedness books. I have also read

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Household survival tips – How to Prepare for Disasters and Emergencies

by Chris Lang on December 19, 2008
Household survival tips - How to Prepare for Disasters and Emergencies

A year ago I wouldn’t even think to write about something as depressing and disturbing as disasters and emergencies, but with all the recent events it looks like the right thing to do. Recession (or depression, as many call it already) can bring a lot of things with it – including power outages, interrupted supply of water and gas, shortage in the supply of food and God knows what else.

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Household survival tips – how to make (and save) more money

by Chris Lang on December 7, 2008
Household survival tips - how to make (and save) more money

Recession is an unpredictable period of time when anything can happen. Companies let people go, businesses close down and being financially ready for anything will help your stress go away and you won’t be as worried for your family.

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Household survival tips – 8 proven ideas to save on fuel

by Chris Lang on November 29, 2008
Household survival tips - 8 proven ideas to save on fuel

Looking at our family budget, the amounts we spend on petrol are kind of hard to miss. We drive a lot, and in many cases there is no way around it. Recession or no recession, people still have to get to work, drive the kids to schools and go shopping. But there is a way around paying a lot for the petrol.

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Household survival tips: 6 ways to entertain your family for less

by Chris Lang on November 25, 2008
Household survival tips: 6 ways to entertain your family for less

No need to explain that entertaining at home saves you money and the larger your family is – the more you save. Watching your budget is the number one task to safely get your family through recession, but these tips will help you to do much more than that. They will allow your family to become closer by creating traditions that will enhance your bond and make you a stronger family.

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