Thursday, December 29, 2011


At the beginning of December, I spent a long weekend skiing in the Alps with some friends. This was my second alpine skiing adventure with the first being in 2009. I love the Alps. Howwever, when it comes to the actual skiing, I am way out of my league. I do have some really great friends though and they really helped me with tips and support through each run and I knew when it was time for me to train myself on the baby slope.

I love that I rented tiny skiis and bought myself some hot pink pants for the occasion. One of my favorite things about skiing, aside from being in the mountains is the style. I'm not sure it's exactly ski fashon but the style is very fun for me. Much like I have always liked bathing suits and the associated ocean style which is sort of similar despote the weather differences. 

Then there is Apres Ski which is really so much fun even if the bar is filled to the brim with sweaty, drunk Germans and the music is rediculous with a capital R. This bar was screaming for VMJ BTW, too bad we were never old enough for Apres Ski back in our college ski trip days.

Going with a large group of friends is also part of what makes a ski trip for me. I still don't consider myself a skiier but I promised my friends I would go at least one weekend a year to work on it. 

And really when I think skiing is not my sport, I remember the mountains and I am totally committed to one weekend a year. 

Sadly, I think my non-skiing husband would have a terrible time if he were to come skiing with me because I am still a beginner and struggle to keep myself motivated after day 2. I think we will try it together at least once though as long as he promises to wear a helmet. On this trip, I had a wipe out  that taught me the reason for ski helmets.

I also LOVE slying over the Alps. In my old job, I got so excited to fly with Swiss Air because of the georgeous views on the way into Zurich. I really should plan a summer weekend in these mountains to fully appriciate them.

Fun Fact: Ischgl spreads across Switzerland and Austria and at least one ski trail is over 20 km long!

Spending vs. Saving - where to draw the line and should I pay attention to the inflation rate?

This post is kind of all over the place in that train of thought thing I do. If you are looking for a more straight forward post, move along, this is not it. Sometimes, I just don't have structure. I'm currently outlining 3 versions of a research paper so my capacity for structure has been exhausted today. Appologies.

I have a pretty simple system of money management that I learned at a young age from my parents. It works like this. Get money (gifts as a child than income), put most of it into a bank account and leave it there. You are able to keep some cash on hand for spending based on income and needs but mostly save just in case. In hind sight, I don't see my parents operating this way and it really only makes sense when you are a child and don't have expenses like rent or an income which is direct deposited into your account. So, I've honestly adapted a bit to a much more simple version. Get paid each month, direct deposit all income into bank account, direct deposit a smaller portion into savings account which is untouchable. Visit ATM weekly for spending money, pay for things with debit card, keep a mental note of account balance. Check bank account every 6-8 weeks to be sure you are not running out of money. This is a TERRIBLE system but it sort of works. The point being is that I tend to focus on saving money as much as possible while still living my life. I aim to live below my means for as long as possible and hopefully build up a bank account to support owning a beach house one day in the near future.

In 2009, I challenged myself to not shop for a whole year and it really changed my outlook on needs vs. wants. It also took the excitement out of "retail therapy". At the time, I had recently took a new job which resulted in a decrease in income and wanted to be able to continue taking weekend trips so I cut out shopping in order to afford flying. Now I see the exercise, had long term positive effects on my spending outlook.

To the point, I have been holding out on owning a smartphone for some time since I was on a pay as you go type contract that I started in 2007 and my monthly phone bill was under 10 EUR most months. I saw that a smartphone would require the initial investment of a new phone to the tune of 500 EUR and then an increased monthy usage fee which I estimated would be around 50 EUR based on what friends pay for theirs. I was never against the technology, I was against cost. As more and more of my friends got on the smartphone bandwagon and I became more involved in social media, I couldn's escape the teasing. My Samsung slider from 2007 was not cutting it socially although it worked for phone calls just fine. I figured I would get a work phone with my next job and I could wait until then. For Christmas, P gifted me a very pretty white Samsung Galxey S2. I was completely surprised. Then I whined a bit about how much it would increase my monthly costs. He told me I could afford it and to get over it. For him it was not a price issue, it was more of a quality of life issue. I should add that he is now fully involved in the manageing of my finances since we combined so he knows what our bank accounts look like. I pointed out that 50 EUR per month amounts to an intercontinental flight (I'm still thinking about my airplane tickets) at the end of a year. This is when he asked when I have been in a situation where I wanted a flight but didn't buy it because of money. I haven't. This is also the point where I remembered we have totally differnt values on saving vs. spending. I think we both agree savings should be invested but again he is a bit more agressive than I in the investment sense.

The point of all this is that it made me reconsider my ideals. As a business student, I have taken my fair share of finance courses and I know money in a bank account with no interest is stupid. Especially in our current situation where inflation is coming on strong and governments are cash poor. I also can see that there are very few safe investments and most things are not inflation proof. Gold is the exception but it is also pretty high priced these days and storing gold is not exactly realistic when I plan to move across country boarders in the next year. So, what whould I do in an effort to be fiscally responsible? Spend my money and buy things while I can still afford them? This is stupid for many reasons but the moving plan is high on the list. I want to buy a beach house but that costs significantly more than what I have saved until now and is also not really practical at this point.

So, I will continue on my plan of putting money in the bank, taking money out of the bank, limiting unecessary purchases and giving my husband investment privelages. I do have my smartphone now but to my surprise, I was able to get a data plan for half of what I expected the monthly fee to be which made me happy. I still want to simplify my life and own fewer things. In the mean time, I guess I'm looking for advice on how to avoid losing savings to inflation. Anyone come across a good plan yet? Please share.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas & Frohe Weihnachten

It has always been said that the best way to understand a culture fully is to live within the culture. I think I can safely say I have lived in Germany long enough to understand and feel a part of the culture. The Germans have a word for things (most often words) that have been Germanized and I often refer to myself as "eingedeutsched." However, no matter how long or how Germanized I become, I odn't think I will ever forget my own holiday traditions. I was so excited to spend Thanksgiving with my family in 2011 for the first time since 2005 and that long weekend surpassed all of my expectations.

Since Germans don't celebrate Halloween or American Thanksgiving, Christmas is a season. Christmas candy starts popping up in grocery stores at the end of August and slowly takes over by October. In mid October, most shops have already put up Christmas decorations and you would be hard pressed to not find Christmas sweets in every grocery store. The large public celebrations of the season begin just about the same time as American Thanksgiving in the form of outdoor Christmas markets. All large cities and many small towns have Christmas markets where people drink warm alcoholic drinks to stay warm while socializing, eating and shopping in the stalls for the month before Christmas. Christmas markets set the scene for the season and serve as a general meeting place for colleagues, friends and tourists alike. This year a visiting Prof. asked me what Germas buy at Christmas markets and quite frankly, I think food and drink is the local favorite while the goods are consumed by maily tourists but my answer comes with the disclaimer that I am not actually German. The closest American comparison I can think of are church Bazars (sp?) but they are often only open for a weekend, most always indoors and usually contain at least 1 raffel or other game of chance, something you won't find in a German Christmas market. They are also sponsored by a religious organization and generally used as a form of fundraising for said organization (mostly Churches of Christian denominations). German Christmas Markets also have a religious element to them although they are not run by any religious organization. Here there is no seperation of church and state. Furthermore, Germans don't say happy holidays or seasons' greetings, it's Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas) and guten rutsch (literally translates to good slide but is more like the English "happy new year").
Back to the actual holiday, Germans celebrate Christmas in a way that I do not think I will ever fully be able to support. However, I do love the Christmas cookie tradition that takes place mid December where everyone bakes about 8-12 varities of cookies and shares them in homes and offices. I also like the tradition of the advent calendar which I have experienced as a recipient first hand this year and will have to let you know how I do with coming up with 24 gift ideas next year. The main Christmas celebration is universally on the 24th of December. The tree is often only put up on the 23rd or 24th. Traditionally there is a family meal. I'm still not sure if this is the meal that consists  of Goose, rot kraut and some form of potato or noodle or if that is served on the 25th. There is also a tradition I've heard of which involves eating a minimilistic dinner on the 24th in tribute to Mary and Joseph's struggles and then feasting on the 25th in celebration of Jesus' birth. My in-laws serve a completely different meal on the 24th which I much prefer so I have not experienced a Christmas goose. Christmas presents are also exchanged in the evening of the 24th. This is where everything is different. I may have ranted about this in year's past but for me, Christmas is the 25th. On the 24th I like to go to church with family (and take in the lights at LaSalette) and when I was a kid, spent Christmas eve with one side of the samily and Christmas day went to church in the morning and then spent the say with the other side of the family. As I grew up, I often spent Christmas eve with a friend's family prior to the tradition of going to mass at night with my family. In either scenario, Christmas was celebrated on the 25th with a gift exchange and a full family gathering at my Grandma's followed by a dessert party at my aunt's. These day's both dinner and dessert are enjoyed at my aunt's. However, it is always a buffet of dishes prepared and brought by everyone. My family is not very large but holidays generally involve 12-17 people in one place, eating, talking, watching TV, playing board games or cards and generally being loud and hanging out. There's always a sense of chaos and warmth that come with my family, and too many posed photos. I miss this when I spend holidays in Germany. A mature dinner on the 24th with 1 table, 6 adults and wine is enjoyable, just not my type of Christmas. Maybe I'm weird but I miss the chaos. This year, I hear my in-laws have a pre-Christmas plan to gather with the entire family on the 23rd. I am not so secretly hoping this gives me my fill of family and chaos and very vocally pled my case to add a dessert course which I volunteered to bake. Looksl ike I won't be participating in Germany cookie traditions this year as I have not had the time but I will hopefully make a nice simple chocolate chip M&M cookie tomorrow.

What is a key component of holidays in your family? Is this a cultural thing or something your family does?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!