Monday, May 28, 2012

Six hours a day, with twelve weeks holidays!

You may have heard people say that teacher’s don’t deserve any pay rises, because they only work six hours a day and get twelve weeks holiday.  If they want decent pay they should get a real job.  (Forget the fact that none of those people working in real jobs would have said job without the aid of 10-12 years with their teachers.) But I’m not talking today about pay.   It’s the ‘six hours a day’ issue I want to address. 

I feel qualified to talk about this, because I used to be a teacher (and may yet find myself back in the classroom), and have been married to a teacher for almost eight years.  I do not come from a position of ‘teachers are so hard done by and have the hardest job in the world’.  No, every job has its good and its bad.  And every job has slightly different arrangements.

In Australia, everyone is entitled to four weeks annual leave.  There are also around ten gazetted public holidays, which differ from state to state.  Depending on the year, about half of these fall during the school holidays.    There are twelve weeks of school holidays for students in Queensland public schools, and I will assume most states have roughly the same amount.  The school holidays include about six student free days, where teaching staff are required to be at school either in professional development courses or planning.  

If you have done the maths in the above paragraph you should have concluded:  average Australian = six weeks off work.  (People who are require to work on public holidays are compensated with higher pay rates for those days, and may get an alternative day as their ‘day off’.)  Of the twelve weeks of school holidays, a teacher is entitled to four weeks annual leave, one week’s worth is public holidays, and one week’s worth they aren’t actually on holidays at all.  So they have an extra six weeks of holidays.   Which does seem a bit unfair at face value. 

  Teachers are usually required to be at school from 8:30 to 3:30, which means a teacher’s official work hours are seven hours a day. The school day runs from approximately 9am to 3pm, with about an hour for lunch breaks. In Queensland, the Unions require that primary school teachers have a minimum of two non-contact hours a week, time where their class is with a specialist teacher (e.g physical education, library, music.)  This makes up for the lunch breaks lost to things like detentions, helping students and playground duties. 

For a teacher to work the same amount of time as someone in a ‘nine-to-five’ job they need to work an extra hour a day on top of their ‘official’ hours, as well as six hours a week for the forty weeks of term to make up for the forty hours a week of their extra six weeks holidays (not included lunch breaks!).   So by working from 8-4:30 every day plus a few days at the end of each set of school holidays (I usually count our summer holidays finished 1 ½ weeks before school starts) and maybe a weekend here and there, teachers have already completely made up for their extra six weeks off.  Once you factor in time spent to plan and prepare lessons, mark homework and other assessment, write report cards, conduct both official and unofficial parent teacher interviews, assist in extra-curricular activities (e.g. choir, musicals, debating and other inter-school competitions), attend school camps, attend staff meetings and curriculum planning meetings, participate in outside-school hours events such as fetes and awards nights, and attend professional development seminars, then it isn’t hard to make up that time. No, not all teachers put in this effort.  There are some who will do barely more than seven hours a day for forty weeks.  But these teachers are doing a disservice to their students and should not be teaching.   

  Different jobs have different arrangements.  Yes, teachers have "twelve weeks holidays", but have to take them at the same time as the students.  Some jobs require much longer work hours, but also command a much higher salary.  Some jobs attract overtime rates for hours worked above 40.  Some employees are given time-in-lieu that they are able to cash in or take as extra holidays.  Some employees have rostered days off every fortnight, and work nine hours a day for nine days to have the tenth day off.   The hours beyond 40 hours that salaried employees work - including teachers - to meet expectations is becoming more and more common, and is another issue altogether. 

Do teachers work more than anyone else?  No.  Do teachers have a harder job than everyone else?  No.  Do teachers work for six hours a day and get 12 weeks holidays? No.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part Four

Part four: I used to have a shopping problem, but I stopped shopping.  That sounds simple.  It sounds so obvious.   But it is a little more complex.  If someone wants to lose weight, you can’t just say ‘well, eat less’.  Why are they eating more than they need to?  Are they actually eating the right amount, but choosing the wrong foods and need to learn what the right foods are?   

Remember parts two and three of how I cured my shopping habit?  I simplified my budget and got honest about how much I was spending and how much I could spend, and made practical changes.  Then I learnt to recognise how much I used and needed, and consequently what I didn’t need.    Without those two changes, I probably couldn’t have stopped shopping.  

Now, understand, when I say I stopped shopping, I don’t mean I made a pact to buy nothing for a year, or to buy nothing new for a year.  This is a permanent change.  I don’t just wander through Target or Spotlight anymore, and generally avoid shopping centres there is something particular there that I need.  I don’t look at clearance racks for ‘just in case there’s something good on there’.   I don’t browse a lot of online stores either.  And ever so occasionally, I leave the kids with my husband and go shopping on my own: wander, browse, try things on.   

When I do need to go shopping I consider my purchase.  Do I have one already? When will I use this?  What will I use it for?  Does it actually fit? Do I have anything to wear it with? Do I really need it?  If I can only answer ‘I don’t know’ to the question, then I don’t buy it.  I have put plenty of things back after wandering around with them for five or ten minutes.  Often if I want it but I’m not sure, I’ll leave the shop and come back later when I’ve made up my mind.  If it’s gone by then, it doesn’t matter because another one will come along.   Usually, I know before I even go shopping whether I need it or not. 

Sometimes I still buy things that I don’t need.  The worst is when I do the grocery shopping.   I’m not perfect.  And I’m not writing this to tell you how awesome I am and that you should all be like me.  This was hard work to completely change the way I think.    

Buy less and be better for it. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part Three

Once upon a time I bought far too much.  I’d spot great bargains and buy them because I knew they were things that we would use, or that we needed - even if they weren’t really.   I guess I overestimated what we needed and how much we used - maybe because I grew up in a large family and we always needed lots, or maybe I was duped by the two-for-one sales and the economy of scale. 

It started with cling wrap.  I scoffed at a comment I’d read online somewhere, someone saying they took a year to use a roll of it.  So I wrote the date on the end of the next cling wrap I opened, and finished it almost 18 months later.  I started to keep track of other things as well.   500mL of olive oil lasts me about two months.  I realised we use less pasta and rice because we tend to bulk up on vegetables.  We have used 9 rolls of toilet paper in the last month.  I haven’t worked out how long deodorant and toothpaste last me, but I know I only need to buy them a few times a year.   At the moment, the largest box of Weet-bix lasts us less than two weeks.  This has revolutionised my grocery shopping.  I stockpile less, I spend less, and I waste less. 

Considering how much and how little we used food and personal hygiene items made me also look at how much I owned of non-perishable items.  Clothes.  Shoes.  Books.  DVDs.   Recipe books.  There are only 24 hours in a day, only seven days in a week, only 352 days in a year.  I had enough recipes in books that I could cook something different every day for two-and-a-half years.  A whole month of not having to wash clothes.  Two weeks worth of shoes.   Books that I was never going to read again.   Did I really need all this stuff?

I started buying less clothes for the kids once I realised that I was packing away barely worn clothes when my eldest son grew out of them.  I wash every few days, and he would always just take the clothes on top, so why not only have the clothes on top?  

And I stopped buying craft and sewing materials at a faster rate than which I could actually use them, but that’s whole post of it’s own! 

What about you?  Do you tend to by more than you need, or only just enough?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part Two

Yesterday I shared with you how I had a shopping problem, and was spending all our savings on things that I didn’t need. 

We only have one income.  I am not in paid employment, so that I can be home with our preschool aged children as necessary.  My husband is a teacher, so he earns a reasonable salary (well above the average in Australia), but we still have to watch what we spend.   But herein is part of the problem: I don’t work so we only have one income, but because I don’t work I have extra time to go shopping.  

I had a budget.  I knew how much money we had to spend, and kept very detailed track of what I was spending.  But I kept overspending.  In every category, other than bills.  And the further each category went into the red, the more I felt I was fighting a losing battle and stopped fighting.  Bad move. 

We also had a free redraw facility on our home loan.  So each fortnight we’d pay a high amount onto the loan, and I’d pay everything by credit card.  When the credit card came due I paid it in full by redrawing off the loan.  Obviously, such a plan wasn’t working for me.

So I started paying cash.  I know that it helps some people keep track of their spending by having all of their transactions on a credit card statement, but swiping every time I bought something wasn’t helping me.  I put away my credit card and paid cash instead, and kept track of how much cash I was getting out of the bank each week.   Maybe I’m a more visual person, but seeing how much cash I started with and how much cash I ended with each week prompted me to be more conscious of where that cash was going.  It may help that a week is much shorter than a month, and so the pain of having spent all the money comes sooner when it’s paid with cash. 

I also stopped using our home loan’s redraw facility.   I opened two separate accounts: one for money for predictable bills and one for money to save for larger purchases and irregular bills (mechanic, doctor etc).  Long term savings, such as that needed to buy our next car outright and not on finance, still went into the loan.  Suddenly, instead of seeing our loan balance going up more than going down, I kept watching it go down and down and down.  This gave me great impetus to keep saving.

My budget used to have around twenty categories - loan, groceries, insurances, rates, clothes, entertainment, eating out, fuel, gifts: it went on and on.  My budget now has six categories: bills, home loan, kids’ and school savings, general maintenance (health, house, holidays, car), giving, general spending.   General spending includes everything that doesn’t fit into another category (fuel is included in bills, because we are fairly consistent in our fuel usage).  I still spend a little too much in the general spending category, but the amount I am over each year has been decreasing, despite cost of food increasing considerably in the same time. 

A simpler budget helps me keep my money organised, and using cash keeps my spending under (better) control.  What about you: do you keep a simple or complex budget?  Do you pay cash or credit?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Curing my bad shopping habits: Part One

I used to have a shopping problem.   My shopping problem didn’t come in the form of new designer clothes every week and thousands of dollars in mounting credit card debt.  It looked more like this:

Deodorant is on special, two for one. I use deodorant, I’ll stock up at that price.  
Shirts in the next size up for my son, marked down to three dollars each.  I’ll buy three. 
That is the most beautiful fabric I have ever seen!  It would make such a lovely skirt. I’ll get that.
Clearance rack of tops. That’s pretty.  I’ll get that.
That’s cheap. It would make a great gift for someone.  I’ll buy it and put it away for when I need it.
That book looks like a good read.  And it’s only $5. I may as well get it. 
I am a hoarder by nature, tend to buy things and keep things because I might need them or they might come in handy, even if it is somewhat illogical to do so.  And I’m an overbuyer, which I guess goes hand in hand with being a hoarder.   
I wasn’t putting us into debt by my shopping habit, but I was eating into our savings considerably.  One day I looked at the amount still owing on our loan, the time in which we should have been able to pay it off, and the time it was actually going to take, and I realised I had to do something differently.   So I got serious about making changes. 

And I made some changes.  I said that I used to have a shopping problem.  I’ve almost solved it.  I still need to work hard at it: not stockpiling, not buying things because I can’t pass it up at that price.  I still buy more than I need to. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to not work hard at it.  

My husband tells me that I wasn’t that bad.  I didn’t spend as much as I think.  Yes, the amount of money that I spend in a week is not a lot more than a lot of families of our size spend at the supermarket each week.  But I was still buying a lot of things that I just didn’t need. 

But in curing my shopping habit, I’ve done more than just save money.  My house is becoming a lot less messy and cluttered.  Stockpiled items are getting used up and no longer falling out of my cupboards.  Less new things are arriving for me to try and find homes for.  I have more time, because I spend less time at the shops, as well as less time trying to solve the clutter problem.  I feel more confident that we can afford to be on one income for a few more years yet, so I can stay home full time with our pre-school aged children.   I’ve even lost weight, because I realised I need to eat less, and I buy less food that I don’t need. 

What were the changes I made? Stay tuned…In part two, I’ll share with you how my changing the way I budget helped me slow down on my shopping.  In part three, how I learnt to recognise what I did and didn’t need to buy.  And in part four, how I stopped shopping.