Monday, 13 December 2010

A small introduction to the CGT.

After leaving in Germany for close to 18 months, we have put our house in Australia on the market and just sold our house in Australia. A couple of things stood out for me. One is how fast our house actually got sold, and secondly, CGT is a minefield!

From when we made the decision to put on the market to when we have signed contract, it took about 2 weeks. It is the quickest sale of a house that I have been involved it. The previous house sale that I was apart of took an average of about 4 weeks to sell. Now we have to wait for the banks and the lawyers to sort out the details and finalise the sale. We have opted for a 30 day settlement.

Now, CGT or Capital Gains Tax is a crazy thing, but I guess that it is the same with any tax law. For our situation where we have lived in the house for sometime before renting it out, we will be liable to have part of the profit subjected to taxation. Essentially, we can proportion the profit to the rental  period over the time which we have the house in our possession. In our case, the house was being rented for about 40% of the time we owned it, so only 40% of the profit is subject to CGT. The CGT portion is further discounted by 50% before it becomes part of your taxable income assessment. That is the simple version. There are other rulings that you can use to help minimise the liability. I may need to talk to a tax accountant.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


After reading a great post over a Cheeseburgers and Sauerkraut about being, among other things, feeling stereotyped, I felt it struck a core with me. 

After living in Germany for about 14 months, I must be quite lucky to have any stereotypes thrown at me. For one thing, the Australian culture does not a profile as high as that of an American or an Britain. Furthermore, I don't physically look like a stereotypical Australian.

In some ways, I stereotype the Germans more than the Germans stereotype me.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Liege, Belgium

My family wanted to get away for the weekend. As it was only for the weekend, we don't want to drive too long to reach it. After doing a quick search, we settled on visiting Liege, Belgium. It is about one and half hours drive from home, and the drive is almost all on the autobahn, so it is perfect.

The one thing that strikes me about Liege is the industrial nature of it. The general colour of the city is grey and black. Not too many green or blue. I also were quite taken back by ambience of the town, the people of the town are a bit on the depress side. Maybe I am more accustomed to the higher levels of living in Germany.

I have heard that food, more specifically food from the restaurant or cafe, are a bit more expensive than Germany. We had lunch at a local cafe in town, and it costed about 33€. Lunch consists of a three servings of open sandwiches for everyone, coffees for my wife and I, and a slice of cake. I would have expected to pay about 25€ back in Germany. Having said that, I must say that the sandwiches were absolutely delicious. The children also eat all of their sandwiches as well. The Belgians really do know how to do pastry food.

The October fun fair started the weekend we arrived, actually our weekend apartment is across the road from the fun fair. It is one of the largest in the region, with about 150 stalls. Our kids were a little bit too young for the majority of the attractions, they were mainly targeted towards to young adults. However, the lights and the sounds captured their imagination.

The usual suspects were at the fair, the carnival food of hamburgers and pommes frittes, the many bright lights and loud music, and the abundant spruikers tempting you to part with your money.

There were a new fair ride that I have not seen before. It is basic and looks quite terrifying. You sit in a open capsule, and the capsule is located at the end of a swing arm. There is also another open capsule at the other of the swing arm which can also hold passengers. When the ride goes, the swing spins in a vertical axis, very, very fast. It claims that it is pulling 4G as it swings around. For the spectators, they can safely stand under the downward swing of the arm. I tell you that it can get quite scary for spectators as well.

On the Sunday, it was a trip to La Batte for the Sunday Market. It was one of the largest market that I have ever been too. It is located on the La Batte on the Meuse River. We heard that parking is hell, so the we walked to it. It was only about 15mins from where we are staying.

There is quite a large variety of things to be bought, for eating, for wearing, for admiring, for listening and for drinking. I love the noise that a market generates. We also saw a monkey in a pram!

The main language spoke in Liege is French, and this is true for the market. We were not confident enough in our French to negotiate prices on some of the items.

The market is big! The market walk stretches for at least 3km!

We bought some lovely ham, local cheese and some local sour dough bread, and had lunch at the after the market visit. It was delicious.

In the afternoon, the drive home was easy and relaxed. We are definitely looking on our next visit to Liege.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Freecycle and the Germans

When we were living in Australia, Freecycle was extremely popular. We would actively participate by offering our stuff that we don't use anymore, and receiving stuff from others. There were plenty of other participants in Freecycle.

Now that we are living in Germany, we also want to participate in the local version of it. However, it doesn't seem to be as popular as the Australian versions.  The stats from the Cologne version of freecycle shows that only a small number of traffic.

The equivalent group in Frankston, Australia shows almost an order of magnitude more as the following screen capture shows.
I don't have any ideas why there is such a disparity between the two Freecycle groups. I do have a feeling that most of it may have to do with cultural differences.

In most part of Australia, there isn't a stigma of receiving or using second hand items. That stigma does appear to be present in Germany, especially among the locals. However, among the expat community, the sharing of used items are more prevelant. Having said that, Freecycle is not popular among expats as the language is German rather than English. The expat tends to use forums such as Toytown Germany or English Speaking clubs / community such as AIWCC or English Speaking Cologne.

All around town, I see many hard rubbish items sitting on the kerbside waiting to be picked up. Most of these items are is reasonable condition and would definitely be usable in someone's house. For a country that exercise plenty of recycling, and being environmentally friendly, I am really surprise that it does participate more in Freecycle.

Perhaps, it could just a case that I don't know where to look. Any suggestions?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

There's a Better Way: Saving on Food as a University Student

The following is a guest post from Jena Ellis.


While this may not be particularly true of university students in Europe, the stereotype of the American collegiate scholar is one who drinks cheap beer--more like water--and eats Ramen noodles, perhaps the cheapest microwaveable meal available. There is also the legend of the "Freshman Fifteen", which constitutes the alleged fifteen pounds a first-year student is supposed to gain as she navigates the world for the first time without mummy and daddy.

As someone who graduated from university not too long ago, I can attest to the fact that these stereotypes are by and large true. I myself ballooned a little over fifteen pounds, and my friends did the same if not more. Of course, a lot of these weight gain travails can be associated with drinking heavily for the first time, or even the stress induced by having to set your own study schedule without the structure imposed at home.

But there's one culprit to university student weight gain on which I'm going to focus--and that's cheap food. We all, of course want to save money. And saving money is a prime mode of activity for college students. Whatever is cheapest, whether its food, alcohol, textbooks, or clothing, we'll go for that first. And this is a great thing. Unfortunately, in the case of food especially, cheap food tends to be of low quality and low flavor.

Take Ramen Noodles for example. Can't get any cheaper than that. But the problem with Ramen is that its taste is very one-dimensional. What's more, it's really quite terrible for you. While Cheap as Chips has suggested to get off your lazy butt and learn to cook (wise advice, I may add), sometimes, for whatever reason, working on those culinary skills is inconvenient as a student. So what then?

My advice--what really turned things around for me during those college years of no money and junk food--is being a little bit smarter and more selective at the grocery store. For one, go to the smallest grocery store you can find, because the more options you have at a Mega Store type of environment, the more likely it is that you'll buy things you don't need.

Another thing to avoid is big brand name college staples. I'd often resort to Ramen Noodles, frozen pizza, Mac 'n Cheese, and other commonly known frozen or nonperishable food items simply because that's what I heard university students eat. If you do a little more searching, you can find things that are just as cheap but are a whole lot healthier for you. Most importantly of all, they have flavor.

Flavor is a huge component of consuming food that satisfies you. If you eat flavorless food, you'll want to eat more of it. And the more you eat the more weight you'll gain. One place I looked is in the ethnic food aisles. Japanese, Indian, you name it, tends to have more flavor than your standard, quick prep fare.

In the end, it can't be emphasized enough--check the labels for nutrition content, and check the prices. You'll be surprised by what flavorful bargains you can find if you just do some searching. 

This guest post is contributed by Jena Ellis, who writes on the topics of Online Certificate Courses.  She welcomes your questions and comments at her email:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

When will I be fluent in German?

I have had the two opportunities to change to language context that my brain is living in. The first time was when my parents shifted the family from Singapore to Australia. From a language perspective, I went from a multi language location to a singular language location, a place where the primary language is Mandarin to a place where the primary language is English.

In recent time, I relocated with my wife and our two kids from Australia to Germany. Both locations are dominated by a single language, however as you can appreciate, the language are quite different. I guess that I am little bit lucky as the German and English have the same heritage.

Both experiences are quite similar, except I was only about 10 years old when I shifted to Australia. Now that I have just pass 40, I am find that the relocation to Germany to be a bit more difficult. As a child, I was able to absorb the new language a lot faster and be able to use the new found langauge faster. I also believe that as a child, I did not have the pressure to acquire the new language and to use it. The pressures of getting it right is significant greater now that I am an adult.

I tried to listen to news on German Radio and found that I am constantly translating the small snippets of words that I recognised into England so that I can get a gist of what the news story was about. This is increasing frustrating and I was never fast enough. Only when I can listen and not understand it without initially performing a translation will I be truly fluent.

I would love to hear your stories or experiences on living in a new country where the primary language is not native to you.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Getting access to cash while travelling

It is the middle of the summer holiday travelling season in Europe. The freeways are close to capacity as everyone gets on to road to their holiday destination.

I have just returned from England on a summer holiday. It was a great trip, and the family really loved it. It all went smoothly except for one thing, I miscalculated our access to cash. There were a couple of causes for these, I forgot to bring or remember the PIN for our international ATM cards (very seldom used at home) and did not withdraw enough cash before departing. When we discovered this, the family was not very happy.

We tried to get cash from a Bureau de Change in London via my credit card, but I didn't have enough identification. I usually would provide my German driver's license as my identification as I don't possess an ID card. The Bureau de Change did not accept this as it does not have expiry date on it. My only other alternative form of identification is my passport, which I did not bring along (who would be stupid enough to take their passport with them on a visiting trip into London! It could easily be stolen or lost.) 

Furthermore, the Bureau de Change informed that they would a whopping 12% surcharge for using my credit card! At the time, I was getting a bit frustrated and would have taken the hit on the high surcharge. Not being able to do much, we only visited places in London or purchased items that would accept credit card. Luckily, shops and tourist attractions are more likely to accept credit card than in Germany.

The next day when we visited Southend, I visited a travel agent with a Bureau de Change. I also made sure that I had my passport with me. When I ask them if I could purchase some British pounds, they said no. They said that there was a law against directly purchasing cash with credit card in England. I wasn't an expert so I accepted their decision. However, we came across the idea that I purchase some traveller's cheques in British pounds and then immediately cash them in at the same spot. It was a sensational idea as it allowed access to cash. After the lovely lady at the Bureau de Change check my identification and the necessary transaction, I walked out of the travel agent with some British pounds in my hands. The family was happy and we went to the beach for some lovely fish and chips.

Furthermore, the overheads for the traveller's cheques were quite low. It was a lot lower than the 12% surcharge. The travellers cheque cost 3% per 100 pounds to issue and the same amount to cash them.

I have learned some lessons from this trip. Always make sure that I have enough cash in the domination of the country I am visiting, before I depart. At least, make sure that I understand the methods for access to cash.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Celebrating Sommerfest

Summer has arrived in Germany with a mighty force. Yesterday, the temperature reached a top of 37degC, and it was the same the past 3 or 4 days. The afternoon thunderstorm that arrived yesterday was an extremely welcomed relieve to the high heat and high humidity.

One of the things that my family have noticed since we have been in Germany is how active the Kindergarten are in doing extracurricular activities with the children. It was not something that we experienced or heard about when we were living in Australia.

Yesterday, the Sommerfest at our eldest's Kindergarten was held. As Germany is doing quite well in the Football World Cup 2010, his group decide to paint a German flag on a white T-Shirt for everyone of his classmates and use them for a uniform. It was fantastic! All the parents that attended contributed either a dish for lunch, or something for desert. Some parents also provided drinks as well. The food was excellent.

During the course of the day, there were plenty of activities to keep the children entertained and stimulated. The whole day started at 11am and due to be completed by 2pm, but it could have easily continued until about 5pm. The children were enjoying the day so much, especially that they were enjoying the day with their parents.

The only time when I saw some tears were from the children when they didn't want to go home. They were have too much fun and excitement.

My family and I also enjoyed it very much.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Tupperware English

Just want let everyone know that my wife has started her Tupperware career. She has a website/blog to help her along.
Check it out at

She will be doing Tupperware parties in English, so it will great for the English speakers of the NRW region.

If you wish to book a party, or just curious on what it is all about, send her an email on or call her on 0173 7378709.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Converting an Australian driver's license to a German driver's license.

When I shifted to Germany with my family, one of the many things that needs to be converted are the driver's licenses for my wife and I. Initially, I suspect that it would have been a simple swap over. However, given that there are many, many different differences between the Australian driving laws and German driving laws, the reality is that I had to go through many tests before obtaining the German license.

To initiate the conversion process, I had to register at my local town hall that I want to convert my license. This is where I struck my first problem. My local town hall does not have a representative of the department that handles driver's license, and the department is located at the district town hall, which is about 35mins away. This caused some delays as all the documents had to be send to the district town hall to be processed.

I was under the impression that the original documents that I have shown to the local town hall is good enough for the district town hall as I assumed that both town halls has the same authorities . This is my second mistake. The I kept receiving letters back from the district town hall requesting for my originals to be shown. This caused several trips to the district town hall.

The type of documentation that was requested does not appear to make sense. One of the documents that they requested was some documentary evidence that I lived in Australia for 185 days or longer. At the time, they were after a certificate from an Australian authority that I lived in Australia for 185 days, and guess what, there is not such thing in Australia. Unlike some parts of the world, there is no need to register your place of residence at the town hall. The closest documentation that I could provide are my utility bills over a 185 day period with my Australian address on it. They seem to be happy with that.

As part of the conversion process, I need to complete a first aid emergency course (conducted only in German, of which I can hardly understand), and to pass an eye test. I also need to select a driving school for some driving lessons and assistance with the driving test. The driving tests are part theoretical and practical. The theoretical tests can be done in English or German but the practical test must be done in German. I am actually glad that I went through the process of studying for the theoretical tests as it introduced me to the many different road rules here in Germany, especially the 'priority' rules.

I almost completed the whole conversion process when I received news that Germany and Australia have agree to do a simple swap of the driving licenses. This website has more information.

The Australian driver's license is rather strange as the authority of issuing the driver's license is at the state level, not at the federal level. However, German's license is issued at a federal level. A simple swap would have to be on an Australian state vs German basis. As I was holding a full driver's license from Victoria, I am eligible to convert my license to a full German license. Yippee!!!

As a lesson learned from one of my earlier mistakes, I went to the district town hall instead of my local town hall, armed with a print out of the website, to change my license over. After paying them some more money, I got a provisional license. It is provisional as the actual license is being prepared. As I was saying thanks to the officer that served me, I saw a driver's license with my photo on it. I asked if I could have that license instead. The officer told me that if I completed through the whole process of passing the tests, I would have got this license. However, as I am now doing a simple swap, I will be getting a different license. I don't know what the differences are, or if there will be any restrictions.

Anyway, I am now a happy driver on the German roads!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Asperger's syndrome resources

This a list of resources that I have found as resources for my family and I during our investigation about Asperger's syndrome. I will continue to add to it as I find more resources.

Wikipedia - Asperger's syndrome - Wikipedia has a definition of what Asperger's syndrome is. It
Wikipedia - Hans Asperger - An wikipedia entry for Hans Asperger who started the work into the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome.

The complete guide to Asperger's syndrome - This was the book that started us off on the investigation of Asperger's syndrome. The language that Tony Attword uses is pretty easy to read, and he appears to avoid using many medical terms and phrases so the reader can spend the time understanding the texts.

Sue Larkey - Part 1 - first part in the lecture that Sue gave at a seminar for education children. It is highly informative and education for someone to start understanding Asperger's syndrome, especially in a school situation. This is a youtube link, and it should suggest the other parts of the Sue Larkey's lecture.

Internet Forum - A internet forum where parents of Asperger's syndrome children and adult Asperger's discusses anything to do with Asperger's. Free registration is required. It has a helpful section for talking about children with Asperger's syndrome and practical tips on how to react to them.
Toytown German thread - An discussion thread on a expats internet forum discussion how to deal to a child that shows signs of Asperger's syndrome or autism in Germany.

Tony Attwod - The author of the book "The complete guide to Asperger's Syndrome".
Sue Larkey - Great website with plenty of resources links to books and information. - A great online resouce for aspergers and autism, but requires a fee to participate in some of the website's activities.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Guest Post: 5 Ideas for a Frugal back to School Season

Thank you for Fred who has kindly provided a guest post. I hope that you enjoy it.

5 Ideas for a Frugal back to School Season

Raising children can be an expensive business and there are plenty of business out there ready to charge you your entire savings fund just to kit out your kids in books and uniforms. However, if you plan your back to school shopping a little more carefully this school season, you can frugally find everything you need with plenty of change to spare.

1 Seek out second hand uniforms

Since you have children you know just how fast they can grow, especially during their school years. Therefore, you can find some very good quality uniforms with very little wear at second hand uniform shops. Your school may have their own second hand uniform shop or you may look through the school newsletter or local noticeboards for parents wishing to sell on their now undersized uniforms. Plus, because your children are likely to grow out of their new-second-hand uniforms before they add much wear you can get back a lot of your uniform costs by selling them on again to new parents.

Also, if you have more than one child try and send them to the same school so that you can save even more by recycling the school uniforms within your own family. A hand-me-down school uniform is going to be in the same good quality as a second hand uniform and you don’t have to search through the second hand stores, or pay for the second hand uniform at all.

2 Shop at home

Before you head out to the stationery stores check what you have at home, and what can be salvaged from the previous year. For example, you probably don’t need to buy a new backpack or pencil case at the start of every new school year and there are likely to be pencil sharpeners and staplers which have a bit more school life left in them – these are some of the most expensive back to school items you’re going to need so look for these first.

Once you’ve checked what your child has left from last year, have a look around the house for anything else they need. It could be a spare calculator your child can use at school, or a nice binder or notepad they were given for Christmas which can be used for one of their classes.

3 Compare prices

Your letterbox will be clogged with back to school specials and stationery catalogues at this time of the year, so take the time to see which store has the specials on the items you need. Also don’t worry that the paper is on special at one store and the pens at another because you don’t have to get everything from one store – that is how the stores build their business, by getting you in with a special and getting you to buy up big on the items which aren’t on special. To save you even more time and money, do your back to school shopping at a store which will price match so you can get everything in one place, for the best prices in town.

4 Make a list and stick to it

If you’re taking your children shopping to help with back to school supplies then you can easily blow your frugal back to school budget with ‘I want, I want, I want’. Instead, make a detailed list of the things you need for each child and the amount, often you can buy ten pens cheaper than you can buy five and if you’re organised you only need to make one trip and can save on fuel and time costs too.

If your child does want a school item which is not on the list (of course they will!) budget for one extra item and have them pay for anything else they want themselves. Alternatively have them pay for the upgrade from the affordable white binder to the one with the flowers printed on it to teach them the difference between needs and wants, and what their wants really cost them.

5 DIY school supplies

You’ll probably notice the difference between the white binder and the prettier coloured one too and if you don’t want to upgrade all of your child’s school supplies at the store – no matter how much pocket money they are willing to contribute – personalise their school supplies when you get home. old wrapping paper or a cheap packet of stickers can decorate books, binders, pencils and pencil cases and be covered in a clear layer of plastic or contact for protection. Leftover stickers can be used for future art projects and your child now has a personalised back to school set, and has learnt the value of their savings, and the satisfaction of making something from scratch instead of just buying it already made.

Fred Schebesta writes for an Australian
Credit Card Comparison website Credit Card Finder helping to find credit cards.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Ciak diary

The new year has arrived and many new things will have to be started. One of them is a new diary. Oh, I could hop onto the Moleskine bandwagon, but I don't really understand what is so good about them.

I ask my wife to get me a diary as she was going to be in town, and she came back with a red diary, and I must say I am starting to really like it.

The diary is made in Italy,and it is handmade. Yes, Handmade in Italy as it says on the back of the diary. The cover is made of leather and is bounded around the outside in one sheet. It gives a nice soft feeling when I carry it about. There is a book tassel that you can use to mark the current page. One problem with have a leather bound like Ciak is that the diary cannot be opened flat. Some pressure will need to be pressed onto the diary if all the area on the page is to be used.

It a simple diary that has an elastic band that is locked into position via couple of notches on the cover. This simple mechanism is patent protected. As he elastic band is quite tight, it snugly holds a pen within the diary. The soft cover also allows the diary to mold itself onto the

There is a nice review of a Ciak notebook over at Black Cover, and it claims that it has a much higher quality that the Moleskines. Although I haven't used Moleskines before, the Ciak does give it a nice luxurious feel.

Firstly, the Ciak that I got is a planner rather than a notebook, as my purpose for it is planning, and taking notes. As I open the cover, the first page has four lines, allowing for your immediate particulars to be noted down. The rest of the diary are broken down into the usual bits of information such as a world map with time zone information, a calendar for 2009 and 2011, holidays for the major western countries etc. The majority of the planner arranged into a day of the year.

On each of the day page is simply laid out. On the top outside corner is the date number, and the day of the week. The body of the page are lined and are comfortably spaced a part. These lines are prefixed on the right hand side with some times of the day. On the bottom of page the week number is displayed. The way it is organised, each page provides plenty of space for numerous notes to be take, and events to be planned. It does not cramp the page with information that I don't really need. It is left up to me on how I want to use the page, but still has all the essential information on it.

Towards the end of the diary is about twenty pages with an alphabet index on the edge of the paper. This section can be use to store phone numbers or addresses.

I have used the Ciak diary since the start of the year, and I am starting to really like it. I augment the diary with postnotes to mark pages that contain frequently used information.

Ciak diary home page is