Friday, March 20, 2009

Two for One Recipe

I made cauliflower curry tonight, complete with real Thai chilis. Cauliflower is abundant in Turkey this time of year, and is relatively cheap elsewhere I've been, so I wanted to share two recipes that are cheap, delicious, and cut down on wasted vegetable scraps: Cauliflower Curry and Cauliflower Kinpira.

Cauliflower Curry
2 onions
3 tablespoons oil
5 cloves garlic
2-6 hot peppers, depending on desired kick
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 tablespoons coriander
1 Cauliflower head
1/2 lemon
several cups water
yogurt and/or cooked rice, if desired

Heat oil on medium heat in saucepan large enough to hold all ingredients. Chop onions and dice garlic and add to oil. Dice peppers and add to onion mixture along with spices. Heat until onions begin to brown. While cooking, cut up cauliflower into large chunks that are about 1.5 to 2 inches long and wide. Set aside and save all leaves and any stem. Add the cut cauliflower florets to onions along with 2 cups of water. Mix and cover. Cook 20-30 minutes, stirring several times, until cauliflower is tender, adding more water as necessary. Add lemon juice from 1/2 lemon, mix, and serve, salting as desired and garnishing with cilantro. Can be served with yogurt, rice, or bread.

Cauliflower Kinpira
I got this idea from Just Bento as a way to use all parts of the cauliflower.

Cauliflower stem and leaves
Sesame oil (the original recipe recommends dark, but I use light since I already have it)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, white or black

Heat sesame oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Remove the very base of the cauliflower stem if it is hard, discolored, or very tough. Slice the remainder of the base along with the leaves into very thin matchsticks. While cooking, add red pepper. Cook until soft - I've found it generally takes about 10 minutes, but depending on how thinly you cut the cauliflower it may take less time. Add soy sauce and sesame seeds, mix, and remove from heat.

I will say that the first time I had kinpira, I wasn't sure how I felt about it, but by the second and third times I tried it I loved the taste. It has a unique flavor, so don't give up right away if you aren't sure about it!

Curry picture by sassyradish, Kimpira by MwaO

Friday News Roundup

This is the first installment of my weekly news roundup. Let me know if there are any articles you think are important for expats or personal finance!

    Suze Orman's Save Yourself Promotion with TD Ameritrade - from Barganeering - an offer which has apparently been going on for a while. The offer is that if you set up direct withdrawals from your account and put in at least $100 every month, at the end of 12 months you can get an extra $100 from them. It says you must be a U.S. resident, but I'm willing to bet it will work for citizens living abroad and banking back home.

    * Wisebread's reviews of paid survey websites. As you already know, I think survey websites are an okay way to earn some extra money, especially while abroad - I'll be sure to check out some of the ones I haven't already registered for.

    * The US Dollar is getting weaker. Bad for the US, good for us abroad! I know I almost had a heart attack a few weeks ago when I saw the exchange rates, where the US dollar was hitting record highs.

    * Slate's commentaries on ways to network, including one man's desperate attempts to get a job. More reasons why jobs abroad could not only solve a present unemployment problem but also help you stand out at jobs later in life (I've added emphasis):

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an unemployed person in this recession will remain jobless for about five months. Competition for the few available jobs is rough; every position is met with hundreds or thousands of applications. Stearns is just an extreme example of what's become a mantra for employment consultants these days: When you're looking for a job, do whatever you can to make yourself stand out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Working Abroad

There was an interesting post on Get Rich Slowly recently about finding a good job in a bad economy.

The question that prompted the post is one that a lot of people around my age are facing: a recent graduate accepted full time employment at a job that makes her unhappy and isn't in the field she wants to be in. She's sticking it out for the time being because it's a full time job.

I understand where she is coming from: I've certainly had my share of jobs that were less than ideal. I do think, though, that sticking with a job merely because you have it won't get you much in the long term and is also hard on your mind and body in the short term.

Even in an uncertain economy, there is no point in staying at a job that really does make you unhappy.
Yes, everyone who has a job is lucky to have it; but people staying in unhappy situations won't have good experiences to show for their next job. I have to be pretty happy at a job to give it my all, to work above and beyond expectations. If I dislike a job, I'll do the minimum required, which is fine for maintaining but not for advancing.

Other people recommended going to graduate school to ride out the economic downturn. The idea of going to school to get additional qualifications to ride out the downturn is not a bad one - but there are so many caveats to this plan it's hard to list them all. For starters: school is expensive; an additional degree may not result in salary increases; scholarship funding for schools are going down; tuition prices are rising; it's difficult to commit to work and school at the same time; and degrees might not advance your professional skills as much as a few year's experience can.

As someone who left their country for an opportunity for steady employment, I am obviously less tied down to my location than some other people. However, one option that I think too many people miss is this: An easy, lucrative way to ride out an economic downturn is to get a job abroad.

● It's easy to get a job teaching English in most of the world - and with most countries having pretty low costs of living, even if you have debts to pay off it's a viable option. Student loans can be deferred if necessary.

● If you don't want to be an English teacher, it's not difficult to find a comparably, or higher, paying job in another field. Most large businesses need someone who is an expert at English to work with documents, reports, public interactions, and so on. These jobs can be found in the country you want to work in or even as a transfer if your company has international offices.

● Leaving open the option of moving to another country opens up literally millions of jobs that you would not otherwise have access to.

● Living abroad can give you an incredibly valuable skill: the ability to communicate, and with effort, work, in another language. No matter what your field, there will be more options for a primary job and for freelancing if you can work in two languages.

● Working abroad gives you an easy resume talking point. An unrelated, but analogous example is that I have a cousin who applied to medical school, didn't get in, and became a mechanic in the year he had off. When he applied to medical schools the next year, with no other changes in his resume, he always had something to talk about: not many mechanics apply to med school! Now, there are probably more people living abroad than there are mechanic doctors, but the point is the same - having a truly unique experience on your resume will never hurt you in interviews.

In short, if you can't find a job or find yourself in a situation you hate, it's worth it to look beyond the confines of your town, region, state, and even country for a better fitting job that will open up more doors for your future career choices.

Photo by Balakov

Friday, March 13, 2009

Student Loans: an Argument for Repayment

I paid my first student loan bill today!

Although my student loans now make up a significant chunk of my monthly income, there are a lot of reasons I'm paying at least the minimum - and hopefully will be able to start paying down more than that after April.

I was having a bit of difficulty getting my money into my account back in the US in time to begin payments, and was starting to get pretty anxious. I talked with a friend about it, and he asked why I wasn't deferring payments, as so many I know have done. In terms of straight up income, I would probably qualify for a deferment - especially with the weakening Turkish lira.

For me, financially, it just doesn't make sense.
Right now, over 20% of my income is going towards paying student loans, which seems like an incredibly high number given that I don't really have significant debt. Even with that fairly insignificant number, the interest that I accrued while in school kills me. Every month that I deferred, or every month that I had to pay less, would end up costing me thousands of dollars over the course of my student loans.

I know there are times when it would make sense to defer, but I think it's best to look at student loans as only a tiny step up from consumer debt. It's good debt, sure, and I had an amazing experience at law school, but it's still debt. That being said, paying off student loans isn't my primary focus right now - instead, I'm trying to save as much for my 2008 IRA as possible. After that, I can think about what else I can be doing. For now, though, I'm glad that I can pay the minimum balance, and grateful that I'm able to do it.

Photo by Strevo

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Earn More While Abroad

I haven't posted in a while, for a variety of reasons - most of them fun, but a few annoying. A little over a week ago, my apartment got broken into and my old, worn, trusty dell laptop got stolen, along with quite a bit of my jewelry, my camera, and iPod, and with them a friend's possessions including her computer. Most of my things I don't care too much about, but my computer is how I talk to my family. Luckily, I was able to get a computer within a few days of the original theft.

Since then, I've been spending a lot of my free time earning extra money to help cover the cost so I don't feel like I've wasted my savings buying a new computer. With the economy how it is, it's getting more difficult to get extra work. At the same time, the dollar keeps rising, making that extra work abroad worth less. On that note, I thought I would share some websites, some of which I have used and some of which I have heard good things about, to earn extra money back in the US.

1. Demand Studios - A content writing website. To join, you have to submit an application with a writing sample. After approval, you can pick articles to write that generally pay between $5-15. You can also submit your own articles to write. I've been doing this for a few weeks and have found that it's becoming easier to knock out one or two articles in an hour. I've been making about $100 per week on this, though I'll probably settle into just writing a few articles a week. Payment is by Paypal.

2. GlobalTestMarket is a survey website I have had a lot of good experience with. It's a simple application and I get surveys an average of a few times a week. Each survey is worth between 30-150 points. Points are redeemable for cash at $.05 a point, with a minimum cash-out of 1000 points. It sounds confusing, but I've made $250 on this from taking surveys about once a week. I've also gotten to see some cool movie previews (such as 300) way before they came out. Payment is by check to your address.

3. ChaCha is a website serving a texting service. You will need to complete a test before you can work there. The test is not easy, but is doable if you can use Google searches effectively. Once in, you get between $.10 to $.20 per search. Searches range from topics requiring no research ("does Johnny like me") to ones that could test your quick-physics-solving-ability. You get to pick which questions to take. It costs $2 to get paid instantly or you can get a free online payment when you've made $100 - I haven't gotten to either point yet.

4. Caio is a website that won't get you rich, but will earn you a bit of passive money. It's a review site where people earn money based on the ratings and pageviews of their reviews. I wrote about 20 reviews for products that I loved, liked, or hated over a period of about a week and haven't touched it since. I've been earning about a dollar a week from it. Payment is by Paypal.

5. Shutterstock is a website that I have not had much success with given my inability to a good photograph. However, I have heard good things from people who use this as another passive income. If photography's your thing, it will be worth the effort. To apply you need to submit 10 photos, of which 7 have to be approved. I don't know much about payment through here, as I haven't earned anything but have heard good things about it.

To find a job that's in your field, try googling freelance [and your job interest here]. For instance, by searching "freelance writing", I found this site, where I've managed to get three small jobs - better than no small jobs - and have made $100 in three weeks. As a caveat, Paypal may charge some fees to get paid, but it's better than not getting paid at all!

Photo by Luismi1985