Mary Holm on investing

Mary Holm is a personal finance writer

Mary Holm Extra: Help with finding work

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

In late November, my Q&A Money column led with a letter from a couple in their early 60s who had been made redundant in 2008. Despite great efforts, they have been unable to find any work other than low-paid part-time jobs. They own a $650,000 mortgage-free home and have about $210,000 in savings.

I asked readers for suggestions for the couple, and received 26 responses. Some have been included in columns since then, but below are edited excerpts from some of the other letters - which might be helpful to other readers looking for work.

Please note that I'm not endorsing readers' recommendations - just passing them on.

THIS IS THE RAINY DAY

We are in a very similar situation. We had a good look at our finances - $600,000 mortgage-free home, two older, but reasonably good cars, KiwiSaver and $200,000 in term investments for a rainy day, or to sweeten our retirement.

We asked ourselves, if this is not the rainy day we had been saving for, how much worse would it need to get? We worked out that with $30,000 a year we could live just fine. (That is actually a bit more even than we made with both working our butts off.)

Our savings will last us for almost seven years and that is enough until we both qualify for superannuation.

We realise that this is not ideal and certainly not what we had planned.

I need some security, or at least to know we can make it. So, thinking about all the ifs and buts, we accepted that in the worst case scenario we could even sell our home and trade down to something a bit cheaper.

We discussed it with our children too, who were all very supportive and would rather have us live happy and make it to a ripe old age, than focus on us saving their potential inheritance.

And, with a few dear friends passing away recently and well before retirement age, well, if we do not live all that long either, surely this is still the better option!

That saying "when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade" comes to mind. We do some regular volunteer work, do the odd job, have a huge vege garden and really enjoy life.

EXPERIENCE VALUED IN INSURANCE

I have some empathy as I was in a similar position at a similar age a couple of years ago. A friend suggested that I join him in the insurance industry, servicing clients who are business owners/self employed.

It has worked remarkably well for me as it is an area where I feel clients value advice from advisers who are experienced both in life and business. The qualifications that your correspondent has would be ideal for this type of work. Some of the aspects that have appealed to me are:

• I'm independent, but under a very professional support umbrella organisation.

• The rewards are excellent (but it does take some time to get rolling).

• I choose the clients that I want to work with.

• I work the hours that suit me - I am currently full time, but can scale back when I choose to and still have a good income.

TRY BUSINESS COACHING

The person in your letter applied for jobs through a formal process, such as sending in a CV for over two years. This is not how getting a job works.

According to the book "What Colour is Your Parachute", only 20 per cent of jobs are found this way, and it is only going to get worse in the future for people that are not the "wanted" job seekers, such as migrants, disabled people and older people.

Here is my advice for him: Try to be a business coach, not necessarily joining some of the franchises, but rather by working at a slightly reduced rate or with success guarantees. This is a self employment option that is fairly riskless due to its basically hourly charge, and requires barely any outlay (computer, internet and mobile phone).

As marketing avenues I would recommend: Join the Citizens Advice Bureau; join Business Mentors New Zealand; attend any suitable "meetup" on meetup.com; go tramping in groups and clubs (people can't walk away!)

All of these also have no financial risk and barely any cost, just time.

SIX TIPS FROM A SURVIVOR

Something similar happened to myself and the following are points I learned:

• Get used to where you are now and be happy you are freehold and secure, if not within yourselves, then financially.

• The loss of worth you are feeling will take at least three years to come to terms with unless you accept where you are.

• Look around. Accept that this challenge is an opportunity to take you in a new direction. I took to Linux and computers as a challenge. What would you like to do? If you like working so much start your own business. The skills are there; create something in your "man-shed", you are after all an engineer!

• Join KiwiSaver as Mary suggests. It will cost you each $40 per fortnight for five years but the return will be a bonus when the time comes. I think ours comes available next year.

• Finally, this is a time in your life which can be the freest as you are no longer caught in the 9 to 5 rat-race except by your own choice. You are in control. Take advantage of this time and rather than making someone else rich make yourself rich - not necessarily with money. I've been doing it for 10 years now.

I went through all this and being freehold was the key to a better life. Now I'm in the best part of my life. I'm still alive! Not dead from stress worrying about not having a job.


START BY VOLUNTEERING

I returned to New Zealand after a time in Aussie, following a serious heart attack and bypass, at too young an age, not yet 50. No one in Aussie would employ me - in case I dropped dead at work? So home to good old New Zealand. Still no luck. Managed to eventually get a commission sales job, which I really did not like.

Then I had an idea that meant becoming a volunteer, which got me out and about, meeting people and making contacts. About a year later I heard of a job that sounded like me, applied for it and got it, and I love it! Been there for over 13 years, and have no thoughts of giving it up, just yet. Our body, soul and mind need to be active, and working.

With the qualifications the gentleman has, he could easily set up at home (and it is great doing it) as a consultant in management, business, or engineering. Local bodies are always paying out good money for a good consultant, even the New Zealand Government does it.

But definitely volunteer for something that you are really into, and do it. Coaching sport, music, whatever, just get out and do it.

A LONG TWO CENTS' WORTH

I read your NZ Herald column regularly online even though I'm in India. I've never written to a newspaper before in my life but when I read the story of the 60-plus couple who've lost their jobs and the impact it had on their lives I had to write back, if only to say: there is life after "normal" jobs.

My two cents:

• Make sure you have sufficient computer skills. Revenue can be generated from the net, and it brings you in touch with a much larger potential clientele. One hears of ad revenue from popular blogs or networking on sites like LinkedIn. I haven't done any of that (but know people who have - successfully) but I do know from experience there is a lot of freelance or project-based work available on the net if you plug into the right professional groups. New Zealand is such a small economy/market, accessing an international arena could help.

I work 100 per cent via the net and earn more than my 9-to-5 office job friends, while retaining the flexibility to travel when I want etc. I don't waste time or get stressed commuting, I eat healthy meals at home and don't need an "office wardrobe". I'm a translator - clients send me files as email attachments, I translate them and send them back via email.

• A home office is not expensive or difficult to set up. You literally just need: space (or not, I worked off a laptop and dining table for years, but a nice space helps), a phone and internet line and a computer. I find a laptop best, because of the mobility factor.

• Don't limit yourself just to whatever line of work you once worked in. If you have a hobby you like, try and transform that into a profession. The owner of a translation agency I work for is a photography buff and does freelance photography assignments on the side.

• Go back to school, join courses in your locality and learn new skills, especially if you can access them free or at low cost. Again, it brings you in touch with a new world, new people and possible opportunities for paid work. My entire translating career can be traced back to language classes I used to do in the evening. I have a degree in History, not much use professionally. All my history colleagues are languishing in low paid jobs or struggling to find work. (Note: I wouldn't recommend languages unless you already speak a second language since you need to start younger in this field. This is just my experience; I'm 37.)

• Do not give up. The initial period of working on your own can be a real slog (especially in today's economic climate) and can be utterly depressing. But when things finally click, it is definitely worth it. Perseverance pays and working from home is a low-cost enterprise. Your investments are basically your time and skills.

My only expenses apart from that are the computer and the internet. Work can initially be sporadic and there is no job security. Networking is good but delivering results is equally important. Word of mouth can do wonders.

Once clients find you are reliable, deliver good results and will go the extra mile, they stay with you and will even recommend you to others. Just yesterday out of the blue I got an email saying "xyz (a common friend in Boston, USA) suggested you as a reliable translator...can you translate this (tight delivery deadline of course)?". And I've picked up a new client, who is based in Santiago, Chile.

When you work with multiple clients, if one client is going through a slowdown, only a part of your income takes a hit.

Our generation is so lucky to have the internet, which didn't exist in my parents' generation. It literally opens up new worlds. It allows me to run a house in Auckland while sitting in Delhi.

There should definitely be project-based work in marketing, engineering, HR and whatever area his wife works in that can be done virtually or otherwise. Freelancers save companies money, they don't have to pay them professional benefits etc.

Outsourcing is a growing trend. I have a friend who does freelance engineering assignments on weekends in addition to his normal job. His wife often says: the two of you never say no to freelance assignments. The ability to say "No" is one of the biggest perks of being a freelancer, but one I rarely exercise, except with truly problematic clients.

Work done remotely simply depends on your ability to deliver, it doesn't matter how old you are or where you are located. New Zealand has a reliable communications system. In Delhi our state-run phone and internet hasn't been working for 10 days. I'm currently working off a back up mobile USB stick.

• Tell everyone you know that you are looking for work. There is nothing embarrassing about it, especially in today's new reality, and work can come from the most unexpected sources. Jobs are often never advertised.

• Print business cards and always keep a couple with you. I've found new clients at dinner parties chatting with strangers and once on a plane. You don't even need a job title, just your contact details are fine. You can even make it at home in Word and print it on nice paper and cut them up.

• To take a bit of the financial stress off currently: if it is possible in your current house (and it also depends on where you are located) why not rent a spare bedroom to a lodger or visiting tourists?

• There are all sorts of "oddball" professions out there. Freelance writing. If you're a good cook, bake from home (supply eye-catching handcrafted cupcakes to cafes or home cooked meals for time crunched corporate types), coordinate events, restore cars, teach English to foreigners, be a virtual assistant, if you are in the country grow and prepare premium organic vegetable and herb hampers, homestays.

Almost everyone I know (all in regular jobs) cannot conceive of working freelance, but it has loads of potential. As the saying goes: If you do what you like you'll never work a day in your life. Kiwis are some of the most innovative, go-getting, can-do people I know. It's one of the things I love about New Zealand.

• Lastly, both of you, if you can: take a break for a couple of days, get in a car, drive somewhere in that breathtaking country in which you live. Tramp, camp. Get your sanity and marriage back. Enjoy the fact that you have the time to do that rather than being stuck in an office. Then come home and write a travel article and earn some money from the trip.

I think it is ridiculous that people think you should be put out to pasture just because you are over 60. With all that experience it's a great time to start doing something new and follow your interests. Better than when you're 90!


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