27 January, 2011

Cost of Living :: Water

Water here in the land of 10,000 lakes is fairly inexpensive.  In the merry old land of Oz though, it costs quite a bit more.

While calculating the cost of living in various cities (I'm going to use Melbourne as an example here), we looked up everything from electricity and garbage to water and sewer.  Here is how they compare.

Water in Melbourne is purchased through City West Water Limited (there might be other organizations, but this is the one we looked at).  The have a base charge of AU$38.53 per quarter (three months) to be hooked up to the water system.  After that water is billed in a steps.

StepLiters Per DayCost per 1,000 Liters
Step 10-440AU$1.5427
Step 2440-880AU$1.8102
Step 3880+AU$2.6745

Our water bill in Minnesota comes out to $13.53 per month and is measured in 1,000's of cubic feet.  Doing the conversion between that and liters was a simple matter of google-fu.  Divide that number by the average number of days per month, which is 30.44 (as our water is billed monthly here) and we got our daily water usage.

The water bill for our little city gets measured out like this:

Gallons Per Month
Cost per 1,000 Gallons
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Step 5
Step 6

In Melbourne, there is a base monthly fee of AU$38.53 per quarter (an average of  AU$12.86 per month).  In Andover, MN USA there is a base monthly fee of US$5.13.

With all that in mind, we sat down to calculate our Australian water bill, given our current usage.  This is with the understanding that we will not have 12,000 gallon months there as we will be significantly downsizing in the lawn department.

So.... drumroll....

US Water Bill: US$218.13 per year, with an average of US$18.18 per month
Australian Water Bill: AU$741.69 per year with an average of AU$61.81 per month.

We can expect our water bill to go up by about 340%

23 January, 2011

Breaking the News - The Long Goodbye

We told our parents today that we are leaving the hemisphere.  They took it surprisingly well.

We had begun telling friends first, knowing that they would be more supportive, and to see how people would react before we told those closest to us.  I suppose that sounds kind of backwards.  We wanted to hone our technique before we brought out act to the people most important to us.

Anyway, everyone took it fine.  My parents were quite quiet, but did not act out in any way, as my sister had led me to believe that they might.  Erika is on the phone with her mom right now and they're chatting away like nothing has changed.  I suppose that, for those two, it is not as large of a change because they already live 375 miles apart.  What's another 8.700 miles?

I, being the family nerd, have already set my parents up with Skype.  Erika is convincing her mom that it is easy to set up.  Both sets of parents have new computers, which makes communications much easier.  I'm glad that they bought their computers, because otherwise the plan would have to have been for us to buy them for our parents.

We're calling and telling siblings next (some already know).  Once the family all knows, we are opening up this blog for viewing by them.

So - Mom, Dad, Sisters, Brothers, etc. if you are reading this "Hi" and welcome to the blog.

Once the shock of finding that your relation is moving to the other side of the globe, the process of saying goodbye starts.  We hope to come back every few years, but who knows what might happen.  This may very well be the last time that we see some people in person.

More phone calls to make.

22 January, 2011

Preparing to Move

Our move needs to encompass three major phases:

(1) Get rid of our extra stuff
(2) Move the remaining stuff.
(3) Get rid of our house

Let''s talk about (3) : Get rid of our house.

We have a meeting with a real estate attorney on Tuesday to go over our plan to return our house to the bank "deed in lieu". Basically, this means we walk away from our house.

Our house is worth a few thousand dollars less that what we owe on it. We are hoping that the bank will agree to an arrangement where we simply give it back to them. We do have a second mortgage though and we don't know what would happen with that.

We could simply let the bank foreclose on the house and, in the intervening months, bank the money we save by not paying the mortgage.

We could also try a short-sell with the banks' agreement. This is where we sell the house for less than what we owe on it.

We aren't sure what the best course of action is in our situation and this is why we have sought the advise of legal counsel.

Our initial plan for this house was to live in it for the entire span of the 30 year mortgage. At the end of the 30 years, the house SHOULD be worth US$1,500,000 (at the rate things were increasing when we bought the thing). Now that plan is up in smoke. At the rate we're going, we will pay some $1,500,000 for a house that might be worth $800,000. Live and learn.

The economics of renting are starting to win out over the economics of owning right now. If we rent a house slightly smaller than the one that we are in now, we can come out almost $600,000 ahead than the track we are on now. The number vary widely based on investment rates and house resale values. We have run reasonable numbers showing anywhere from an upside of $1,200,000 to a downside of $23,000. Based on those numbers, renting seems like a solid bet with much more upside than downside.

I think that I will miss the security of owning my home. I don't know if the flexibility that comes with it will offset the insecurity of not being able to renew my lease if the owner decides to sell.

I am not afraid (Isaiah 43)

18 January, 2011

Your Papers, Please (or "The Second Time's a Charm")

The six YARCs (Youngest Available Riecken Children) drove with Erika down to my office today and picked me up.  We were off to play the fun game called "wait in line at the government service center".

It took us 90 minutes to process all six of the kids' passport applications, plus one for Erika.  Mine doesn't expire for six months, and we don't know what to do there.

The total for this little excursion?  US$801.48

The breakdown went something like this:
ItemPriceQtyExt Price
Passport Processing Fee$25.007175.00
New Passport Fee$80.006$480.00
Passport Replacement Fee (Erika)$110.001$110.00

I guess we're committed now.

I should note that Erika did stop at Walgreens to get pictures taken.  The pictures were taken while sitting in a chair with a black back.  The shortest two kids had the top bar of the chair back going behind their heads (in violation of the photo requirements).  Rather than have this field trip again, we simply paid to have the pictures taken there at the government center.  Ugh.

Practice makes perfect though, as we (read Erika) had all of the paperwork in order, with birth certificates and photos, as well as all the paperwork filled out.

The kids, for what it's worth, were remarkably well behaved.

We're committed now, financially.... we can also go and visit Canada now.

12 January, 2011

Passport application 1.0

It's My Pony and I'll Cry if I Want To
Up North today it was a beautiful, sunny 20 degrees. Perfect day to apply for a passport and hit the sledding hill "don't ya think?" So we all jumped in the van and headed to the license center. A forgotten checkbook and errors on a form quickly made this seemingly simple errand quite an ordeal. I applied for four of the kids' birth records only to discover that I had left my checkbook at home.

For children 16 and under, both parents are required to appear during the passport application. Since Michael is currently in Germany on business, before he left, he filled out a special form for each child and had it notarized. Unfortunately, he signed in the wrong section of the form (the directions are rather confusing.) Too bad we didn't discover this right away. I could have left my own application there, but I couldn't pay the fee with my pocket change. So we headed home to retrieve the checkbook and go sledding.

While backing down our terribly steep, north facing driveway (it gets very little sun and so the snow never melts off all the way) we slid into the bank at the bottom. For a brief moment we were stuck, but then my killer get-the-van-free-or-die instincts kicked in and soon we were on our way. Go Mom! We pull up in the parking lot and discover that I have left the snow gear in the laundry room. Another trip home to get the snow pants. Most of you are probably thinking, "The heck with this!" but I promised the kids some sledding time and they had so very patiently waited at the license center that I had to follow through. Those who choose to go sledding had a great time. Zoey's day was ruined however because I had packed the WRONG hat. She wanted the purple fleece one with the flower detail. All she could muster was to sit on the playground pony and cry. Part of me wanted to cry too. Instead, we drove back to the license center and collected the four birth certificates. There was no line. The lady knew me by name. Heck, by this time she probably knew all the kids' names too.

Today we practiced getting our passports. Hopefully the next time will go a little smoother.

07 January, 2011

Craig's List

Wow!  Craig's List has an Australia version.  Looking at used furniture down there gives us confidence that we don't have to take it all with us.

We can PAY to have our used furniture moved 10,000 miles, or we can sell our used furniture here and use the cash to buy used furniture there.  It is so much easier to carry cash as opposed to a shipping container.

We will still need to get a shipping container, just a much smaller one now.

See Craig's List Australia.

01 January, 2011

Happy New Year, Parlement, Television and Accents

Happy New Year

My goal for 2011 is to celebrate my birthday (Nov 11th) under the Southern Cross.  We'll see what happens.

I received an e-mail from my friend Gil, of Sydney, this morning.  He was giving me career, visa and accent advice.  It was a good thing to read and my first e-mail of the new year.

It got me to thinking about our accents and how my kids might sound and respond to the speech of the Australians.  To measure, I found some Australian TV stations that stream on-line.  Hannah, James and Isaac (my fishing buddies) and I watched a fishing show on C31 (?) and they are now ready to get on the plane.  The host was catching snapper and my children were hooked.

I looked for some more kiddie-fare and found the Rubber Dubbers (which we watch here on public TV).  The kids didn't even realize the Rubber Dubbers had accents.  This is, I suppose, a good thing.  Though the accent on TV might be significantly different from the kid-in-the-street.

After the kids left me, I browsed around to some other channels and came across Question Time.  Oh, how I love parlement!  See the video here.

I have never watched Australian Question time, but have watched it from the BBC.  Love, love, love!  I don't know about the carpeting in the Australian senate, but in the British House of Lords there are two lines on the floor which the Lords may not cross.  The lines are about two sword lengths apart so that two debating members cannot cross blades.

And then I watched Kangaroo Boxing.  Not much difference really, if you turn the sound off.

Oh, and lastly - I found a new transplant blog called Audra's Australian Adventures.  I stayed up past midnight last night reading it.  Didn't realize it was midnight until someone started setting off fireworks.  Yeah, we're party animals here.