plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

April 30, 2008

starting things as an adult

Filed under: education and career — Tags: , , , , — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

I mentioned recently that I’ve taken up the oboe. It’s quite good fun, but of course, I sound terrible at the moment. That’s a bit of a problem because my lessons take place at the local music college, where the students range from 16 to 25 are planning on making music their career. And I’m in a practice room learning to play Three Blind Mice (actually, that’s too advanced for me at the minute). Quite embarrassing.

It got me thinking about how much harder it is to learn things as an adult. Not because it’s intrinsically difficult, but because there’s a sort of “I should really already know how to do this” kind of feeling. It’s certainly true of adult learner musicians – most people learn to play when they are kids, or at the very least, teenagers. If you see an adult with an instrument, there’s an assumption that they can play quite well already.

I bet it’s also difficult to go back to college as an adult. If there are lots of non-traditional students, it’s not too bad but otherwise I bet the same kind of feeling exists, at least at the start.

Of course, we can’t all have done everything at the same age as everyone else. And there isn’t room, time, or money to do all the things you’d ever want to do as a kid. It wouldn’t leave much room for growing as an adult. There are benefits to picking things up late. You have a better appreciation for the work that you need to put in. You’re more likely to take things seriously, work hard at them and succeed. Doing things the long way round can lead to making a better job of it in the end.

This relates to finance as well. Maybe it would have been better to realise the importance of personal finance earlier. Maybe it would be helpful to have started investing for retirement 5, 10 or 20 years ago. Maybe it would be better if you weren’t in debt. Still, you’re here now, and that’s the most important thing.

Just as it’s never to late to learn Russian, take up the trombone, or get your bachelors degree, you can sort out your finances, and end up in more secure and stable position. Leaving you time for all the other things that you didn’t get to do as a kid. One of these days, I reckon I’m going to get round to learning how to unicycle.

Image by MikeBaird

April 29, 2008

so you’d like to play music

Filed under: shopping — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

So, I’ve decided to take up the oboe. As you do.

I already play the viola pretty well (or at least I would do if I practised) and I’ve always thought that if I learnt another instrument, it would be the oboe – we don’t mention the awful piano lessons I spent about 3 years taking when I was much, much younger.

One of the reasons that I didn’t take up the oboe as well as the viola is that it’s quite expensive to learn musical instruments. I was very fortunate in that I had the opportunity to learn an instrument at very low cost through my areas music service. I received 30 individual half hour lessons a year, plus played in a variety of orchestras, sang in choirs, took theory and musicianship lessons – kids can still do the same thing today, where I grew up, the cost is about £132 ($264) per term, group lessons are a lot cheaper. I’ve written elsewhere about how important music is to me, and it’s one of the most enjoyable things that I did at school.

So, now that I’m an adult, I can afford to pay for my own lessons. I’ve had my first oboe lesson, it was a lot of fun, and I’m paying £10 for half an hour, which is the low end of the going rate round here.

buying an instrument

If you or someone you know is interested in learning a musical instrument, you might want to know some typical costs. Don’t forget that these are UK prices, I’m not sure what the rates are likely to be elsewhere, but the relative expense of one instrument compared to another is likely to be the same.

Instruments – student / beginner models

  • violin £80-£100
  • viola £80-£100
  • cello £200-£250
  • double bass £500-£650
  • flute £150-£300
  • clarinet £150-£300
  • oboe £800-£1000
  • bassoon £1000-£1500
  • saxophone £300-£600 (this depends on size)
  • guitar £80-£100
  • trumpet £150-£250
  • french horn £400-£800
  • trombone £200-£300
  • piano £1000-£2000
  • drum kit £200-£300
  • recorder £10-£20

taking lessons

To really, progress, on most instruments, lessons are helpful especially at the beginning. You would be able to get away without if you want to strum the guitar, have a go at the recorder, or provide the drums for your local band. If you want to play in a brass band, or play traditional music (folk and the like) it’s possible to go along and pick things up. But, teaching yourself in this way is hard to do unless you are already quite musical. But, if you aren’t musical you would still get good results on any instrument from having lessons, especially if you worked on the instrument for a couple of years.

A beginner will only be wanting half hour long lessons. In fact you can get to a pretty good standard only having half hour lessons (certainly well enough to impress most people you know). These seem to range from £10-£15 a time. My oboe teacher offers discounts if you pay for more up front, and if you get them through school, or team up with a friend, you wouldn’t need to pay this much.

buying music

If you can learn by ear, then you can do without this. Likewise, if you’re playing in a brass band then the music will probably be supplied. Otherwise, the costs start at £5-£10 for a beginners book, and then ranges from £5-£20+ depending on how much music is in the book, and how rare it is.

If you get into it and you have the cash, it’s easy to spend a lot of money on music. The trick is to actually learn the stuff that you have, before you buy out the whole music shop. That said, it’s nice to have a few things that people will want to hear at different times, like Christmas Carols. Maybe one day you can gather the family round the piano for a singing session (we really did this when I was little :) ).

ongoing costs and repair

Woodwind instruments need to be repaired or overhauled every couple of years or so. This costs about £50-£100. On top of that, clarinettists, saxophonists, oboists, and bassoonists require reeds (cane that vibrates to make the sound), which cost from £5-£20, or you can learn to make your own. Then cork grease (so you can get the bloomin’ thing together) is about £2.

String players need rosin (sticky stuff that makes the bow sound on the string) which costs about £3, and you will eventually break a string and they cost from £5+ to replace. String technology hasn’t changed much in the last couple of hundred years so they are relatively low maintenance. You might one day need a bow rehair, but

Acoustic pianos need to be tuned, preferably a couple of times a year. Digital ones don’t really require that much maintenance.

Overhauling a brass instrument costs from £200 upwards. Fortunately, these aren’t in the repair shop quite as much as woodwind. Otherwise, there’s valve oil, at about £3-£4.


The biggest and most important thing that you need if you want to play a musical instrument, is to practice. Little and often, repetitively, and with purpose (i.e. don’t just play the bits you can already do). To make progress, it’s reckoned that you need to practice about 20-30 minutes at least 4 times a week (a bit like exercise recommendations, really). To become a virtuoso it has been suggest that you need to put in about 10,000 hours of practice. Fortunately, practice is free.

best value for money

Once you get into playing an instrument, there’s a tendency to want a better instrument. My viola cost about £1500 more than 10 years ago, and a really good violin starts at about £10k. The cost of pretty good flutes, clarinets, trumpets, oboes, etc is between 2 and 3 times the beginner instrument cost (and, of course upwards). For value for money, I’d say that the recorder is probably the cheapest instrument – even excellent wooden recorders only cost a couple of hundred pounds. Otherwise, once you’ve bought the thing, the piano is pretty reasonable, and the guitar, is an excellent self-contained instrument where most people are happy with a relatively inexpensive one.

If your dream is playing a concerto in front of an audience of hundreds, then choose the instrument that you love the most – that’s the only thing that will get you through the hours of practice required.

Edited to add: I remembered these frugal musical instrument tips that mrs. micah wrote about a while ago.

April 25, 2008

boomerangs – try to get rid of them and they keep coming back

Filed under: philosophical — plonkee @ 8:30 pm

Have you heard the term, boomerang kid? It’s what you call people that move out of their parents home (typically to attend college) and then later move back in. Presumably the will move out permanently at some point.

To be honest, I don’t really get it – but I know people that do.

There are two ways of looking at it. There’s the people that move back in after having been to university. I have to admit that this makes a lot of sense. If you didn’t acquire a job before leaving university, and your parents live in a place where there is a reasonably likelihood of getting a job, then it would be financially beneficial to move back in with your parents temporarily. If I hadn’t had a job when I left uni, I might well have been in this position. One of my siblings did this and spent five and a half years living temporarily with one parent, then the other.

On the other hand, there are the people that make a successful move (planned to be permanent) out of the parental home, and then come back again. I have another sibling that has done this. They moved away to uni, stayed in their university city after graduation for a year or so, decided they wanted to move back to London so moved home. About a year (or so) ago, they left home to move into a shared house (as is common with young professionals in London) and then just recently moved back in again.

I seem to be inherently suspicious of either situation if it extends beyond a couple of months. I guess that I place store on being independent and I’m possibly over aware of the affect that boomerang kids can have on the parents. My dad (the only one who would put up with this sort of thing) seems to enjoy having us kids around but I’m not sure what he thinks about having one of us back indefinitely. If it was a problem he wouldn’t say anything to me.

The drawbacks for the kid are that they remain cosseted. One of the things that Looby mentioned as being something good to come out of her college experience was that she learnt to live in a student hovel (not quite in those words). The later you experience life on the proceeds of a smaller income, the harder it is to adapt, and to realise that yes, this really is all that you can afford. It’s easier to avoid taking responsibility for your own life.

Then again, I can see it being ok if everyone acts and is treated like an adult. It can save money for the kid. Some parents enjoy having their adult children around all the time – and if they’re out quite a bit and the house is big enough, people need not get in each other’s way. If the parents are older, they may benefit from having some help around the house – especially with maintenance tasks and so on.

On balance, I’m negative about boomerang kids. That’s probably because it’s not the path that I chose, and I’m jealous of the money that people can save by moving back home. It would be reasonable to suggest that I could be more objective on this, so whether you agree with me or not, let me know what you think in the comments.

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