Minimal Wage Comparison (Between USA, the UK and Latvia)

national-minimum-wage

I read an article about staff wages in USA for a Walmart employee, inappropriately called ‘associate’, which made me want to do a quick comparison as I was wondering how much different exactly are the wages between the three economies I follow.

So in my example I have chosen minimal hourly rates assuming it’s 40 hours per week. And I’ve shown the difference in hourly rates as well as gross and net income comparison.

  • All figures are re-stated in British Pounds (GBP) and values are up to date from respective official websites.
  • Rates: US: $7.25; UK: £6.31 (aged 21+); Latvia: Ls 1.203.
  • Deductions (all mandatory): US: Federal Tax, Social Security; UK: Income Tax, National Insurance; :Latvia: Income Tax, Social/Health contributions.

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  1. The most obvious conclusions I can draw is the level of taxes levied on even the most basic salary (and that’s as stated before 0 when one’s employed full-time, 40 hours a week).
  2. Another interesting figure is the contrasting difference in net wages between two developed countries and yet a person in UK would get £525 per month / £6,305 per year more than similar employee in US and that’s given the similar standard and cost of living.
  3. Likewise, in Latvia net wages is only £270.61 a month / £3,247 a year less than in United States but considering the much lower cost of living it seems that the purchasing power in this example is in favour of minimal wage worker living in Latvia, not the one in US.

Another important aspect worth noting is that in the EU (so in Latvia and the UK as well) employees are guaranteed to get 4 weeks paid holidays every year where in US the state or federal law does not dictate such requirement (although it’s common to give paid or unpaid days off the more senior you get in your career).

The reason for this article was to give a ‘snapshot’ comparison and I hope someone will find this useful and insightful.

Renars

p.s. Happy Thanksgiving to all those on the other side of Atlantic from the UK!

£5pm Phone Contract (SIM Only) – Offer Expires Sunday, 10th November

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I finished paying my £35/month 24-month iPhone contract in January and had since switched to £12.90 per month SIM only, 1 month rolling contract which gives me 200 min, 5,000 texts and unlimited data. This works great for me since I don’t need a new, shiny, cutting edge smartphone – my iPhone 4 with some jailbreak does almost everything the new iPhone 5S does.

But today I’ve found even better deal for SIM only contract. It’s a 12 month contract on T-Mobile for £11/month byt ou also get free £70 Amazon voucher which makes it equivalent to £5 per month plan. This plan will give me 500min, 1GB data and unimited texts plus unlimited London Underground / Tube Wi-Fi access. Click on this moneysavingexpert’s link T-Mobile and enter voucher code MSESIMO (valid only until Sunday, 10th November). This is available only to new customers, sorry T-Mobile’s existing customers.

How To Use Windows 7 For Free

This one’s kind of old but I think some night not be aware of it, so here it goes.

If you “happen to be using” free version of Microsoft Windows 7 and after six months you start getting messages stating that your Windows is not genuine, what do you do to get rid of these notifications?

Some people would go the lengths of getting specific software to do the job, but I have found much easier, quicker way.

Just run your Command Prompt (as administrator, option available when right-clicking the icon) from your Start menu. And then type “slmgr -rearm” and hit enter. Next time you restart the computer it will work like new. What this command does it resets the Windows 7 timer by 120 days. So this means you might need to do this twice a year but I’m sure it’s worth the “effort”.

Finding cheaper flights and accommodation

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One week from now I’m going to New York to see my wife. I know it sounds weird and awful and yes, it’s challenging, but that would be a conversation for another time. Today I wanted to mention something that most of my travel loving friends would find obvious thing to do – shopping around minimise the cost of your trip.

Despite seeing plenty of special offers and discounts to book trip abroad with all inclusive hotels I still find that doing your own research will more often than not give you better value for money and you will make more rational and informed decision. Comparison lets me find best compromise between the level of comfort/service and the price I am expected to pay. I also get better prices for exact same flight using 3rd party agents (must be ATOL certified/protected) than buying directly from the airline performing the flight. This has also led me to better understanding of pricing structure and sensitivity to the season.

Recent examples where I have paid shamefully low price would be (all from London, UK, return) trip to Riga, Latvia for £18 (inc. all taxes, hand luggage only), going to Tenerife, Spain for £80 and to New York, USA for under £400. I always use skyscanner.net and choose full month as I usually am flexible on +/- few days. It is also worth noting that once you have found yourself the best price you should clear cache and cookies (browsing data) as price comparison sites tend to inflate their prices if they know you are showing interest on particular routes. Those sites themselves deny such practice but I seem to differ and speak from my own experience.

Secondly, you will need to find a place to stay once you get to your destination in which case you have more than one option – you can opt for all inclusive hotels or the ones with only bed & breakfast, or maybe opt for a stay at locals. Personally I would use sites such as Booking.com or Hotels.com but I have heard great stories from friends who have stayed at locals by prearranging their stay on Couch Surfing site and my friends have also hosted many visitors when they come to my their country. It is a great way to make new international friends however it is not for everyone.

Over the years I have made friends that are now scattered across the globe so when I consider my next country to visit I am very likely to reach out to my friends and see if they can offer a place. And it’s a favour that I will most certainly return.

Happy travelling!

Smart Way to Buy a Kindle

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Ever since the first e-ink readers came out I was fascinated by their simplicity – they made a new market for people who like to read, who like the convenience and often otherwise would not be able to afford this hobby.

And then came Kindle and it instantly became the most loved reader and I started to understand why. I will not go too much into details and all I can say is it ticked off all the right boxes:

  • Long battery life – lasts for weeks with single charge of couple of hours. For the last few months I have only charged it three times.
  • Durability – I tend to act clumsy sometimes and I have dropped my Kindle on the floor but surprisingly it leaves neither scratches nor dents on the surface or the screen. I don’t even need a case to cover the device (if I opted for case it would cost almost as much as my Kindle itself).
  • Display – since the screen has neither glare nor reflection I can spend hours reading without making my eyes tired. I could never do such thing on an iPad.
  • Price point – since I am only looking for a dedicated reader I don’t care about touchscreen or a screen with colours. Lack of touchscreen also ensures that I will not accidentally flip the page.
  • Weight and size – it is small enough to slip into my jeans back pocket or in my blazer, not to mention my book bag/rucksack. So whenever I am out or got some time to kill – I can read instead of being idle. Size is perfect for holding the device in one hand.
  • Simple design and clean user interface – even my six-year-old niece has no problem using a Kindle. The build in Wi-Fi works great as I can get my content just by emailing my @kindle.com account and the device will recognise the common formats (txt, doc, pdf, mobi etc.)
  • Further costs – I have an option to read Classical books for free or buy cheap Kindle version books (often cheaper than paperback). However often I will get a free PDF book and use converter to Kindle format (*.MOBI) so the layout is good on my screen. Lately I just find the online articles I want to read and send email them as attachment to my kindle so I can read it on my way home.

Now back to the reason I started this blog post – how to get a good deal when choosing a Kindle. At first I looked at the amazon.co.uk site where the basic version is sold for £69 (with tax) and they do not provide the option to buy used/refurbished. Then I checked the amazon.com (US site) to compare the price and, as it is common with many items, they sell exactly the same item for $69 with special offers (non intrusive ads on screensaver and a tiny ribbon at the bottom of the home screen) but then they also offer used/refurbished Kindles – so I saw one for $49 with a free delivery which works out around £33. So I got myself a Kindle in a perfect conditional for less than half the price. So I placed my order around the time I went to New York to collect it. If I ever want to upgrade or sell it – I can sell it for around £40-£50 without problem as they retain their value. Might even make a small profit!

Conclusion: Do your homework and you can get yourself a great deal. In this case, I bought Kindle which changed the whole reading experience and I tend to read way more than I use to which enriches my life and knowledge. Needless to say, I feel like an ambassador for Kindle and I highly recommend it to anyone who is into reading.

A Must Have For Any Credit Controller

In my line of work I have often come across the situation where we (the company I work for) have received a payment with no payment details and it is unable to match the payment to any open invoices.  When the customer has paid oldest-first or the list of open invoices is single-digit it is very easy to do the matching. However when you have to find five out of 50 invoices, things get trickier.

I identified the problem and search for the web and, as usual, Google has answer for (almost) anything.

I came across a VBA/ Macro-enable Excel solution where you enter number of possible  outcomes (1), target value / receipt (2), and list all invoices that should be matched (3) and with a click of a button you get your results.

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Example of how to match payment with a list of open invoices – this is extremely helpful for any Credit Controller / Sales Ledger

All you need is a basic knowledge of VBA code or how macros work in Excel:

  1. Open Excel and save as macro-enabled workbook.
  2. format the page to your liking (or similar to layout in my example above)
  3. go to developer tab and create a macro and paste the code (see below)
  4. create a button and assign the macro
  5. save the workbook and all done.

Code is below. I cannot remember where I found it but I am grateful to the wonderful person who made it.

Sub startSearch()
 'The selection should be a single contiguous range in a single column. _
 The first cell indicates the number of solutions wanted. Specify zero for all. _
 The 2nd cell is the target value. _
 The rest of the cells are the values available for matching. _
 The output is in the column adjacent to the one containing the input data.

 If Not TypeOf Selection Is Range Then GoTo ErrXIT
 If Selection.Areas.Count > 1 Or Selection.Columns.Count > 1 Then GoTo ErrXIT
 If Selection.Rows.Count < 3 Then GoTo ErrXIT

 Dim TargetVal, Rslt(), InArr(), StartTime As Date, MaxSoln As Integer, _
 HaveRandomNegatives As Boolean
 StartTime = Now()
 MaxSoln = Selection.Cells(1).Value
 TargetVal = Selection.Cells(2).Value
 InArr = Application.WorksheetFunction.Transpose( _
 Selection.Offset(2, 0).Resize(Selection.Rows.Count - 2).Value)
 HaveRandomNegatives = checkRandomNegatives(InArr)
 If Not HaveRandomNegatives Then
 ElseIf MsgBox("At least 1 negative number is present between positive numbers" _
 & vbNewLine _
 & "It may take a lot longer to search for matches." & vbNewLine _
 & "OK to continue else Cancel", vbOKCancel) = vbCancel Then
 Exit Sub
 End If
 ReDim Rslt(0)
 recursiveMatch MaxSoln, TargetVal, InArr, HaveRandomNegatives, _
 LBound(InArr), 0, 0.00000001, _
 Rslt, "", ", "
 Rslt(UBound(Rslt)) = Format(Now, "hh:mm:ss")
 ReDim Preserve Rslt(UBound(Rslt) + 1)
 Rslt(UBound(Rslt)) = Format(StartTime, "hh:mm:ss")
 Selection.Offset(0, 1).Resize(ArrLen(Rslt), 1).Value = _
 Application.WorksheetFunction.Transpose(Rslt)
 Exit Sub
ErrXIT:
 MsgBox "Please select cells in a single column before using this macro" & vbNewLine _
 & "The selection should be a single contiguous range in a single column." & vbNewLine _
 & "The first cell indicates the number of solutions wanted. Specify zero for all." & vbNewLine _
 & "The 2nd cell is the target value." & vbNewLine _
 & "The rest of the cells are the values available for matching." & vbNewLine _
 & "The output is in the column adjacent to the one containing the input data."
 End Sub
 

Saving Money on Transport

Cycling London

I used to work and live in North London within five minutes’ distance and it worked out quite well as I spend little no time and my monthly work-related travel expenses were only about £20 which is close to nothing when many people spend around £100-£160 per month (depending on how far from work you live). So when I got an offer to work in central London for couple of grand I had to consider that if I buy travel card it will equate to over £1K of my gross salary so the net increase in my pay would not be that big. So I was looking for a ways to make my travel arrangement more cost effective without sacrificing much of the convenient (and as it turned out I actually gained extra benefits and save time).

Ride2work

Few months after I started my new job I was introduced to ride2work government scheme where participating employers give their employees benefit of interest free 12-month bike finance where payments are deducted from your gross instead of net salary – which essentially means that you are saving extra 20% of bike’s (and accessories’) value as you have then reduced your taxable income. In my case I could get any bike from Evans Cycles. The certificate itself allows you to buy a new bike and any relevant equipment and accessories. So in my case I opted for medium price range bike @ £650 which was marked down to £550 and added extra accessories worth £100 or so (I also got £25 free accessories voucher when I buy a bicycle). Therefore instead of paying £700 in one go, I paid only £550 in equal payments of £46 (taking into account tax savings).

Cycling + Transport for London (TfL)

It takes just over 10 miles one-way to get to work which is 45 min by Tube, 1hr 20min by bus and about 45-50min by bike. I tried to cycle couple of times and got used to the route to work and made decision to aim for 2-3 times per week (which is enough effort yet gives me enough time in between to recover from the exercise), eight months a year (March – October) when it’s light and warm. I have seen some hard core brothers and sisters out there who cycle year round but I have not prepared myself to this yet.  In the off days from cycling I get to work early in the morning taking advantage of off-peak pricing (Zone 1-4, £2.70 per ride) and go back home by bus (£1.40). The other four months I use public transport daily. Fair enough, I don’t always follow the same routine of off-peak Tube + bus, as sometimes I need to save time the traffic jams make the bus journey horrendous and so I don’t mind spending little bit extra (difference of £2.40 for peak-time Tube versus bus ride). But I also spend one month away from London on holiday so my workings kind of balance out.

Bottom line

I have estimated that my annual spend for work related commute is therefore around £800 per year which is saving of around £950 (yearly travel card Zone 1-4 – £1,744) or rather £1,216 (monthly travel card £167.50 x 12 months). First year savings are diminished by upfront cost – investment in bike and accessories – so it comes to only £400 – £666. Second year onwards, however, there is little to no expense as you can maintain your bike yourself for free. So I am looking at about 50% savings and more if I decide to cycle more frequent. This excludes any additional health benefits (free cardio workout) and saves me from getting costly gym membership which many people don’t really use and then feel guilty about their own foolishness when they signed up for year’s contract to begin with.

So those of you who are looking for cost optimization, this is win-win situation for your health and your wallet.  I have been doing this for only a year but I foresee myself cycling more often in the future.