Why I no longer have a gift shelf

We’ve all seen the tip to keep some spare gifts on a shelf in case of emergencies.

This is a great idea if you often need a generic gift, and perhaps don’t know the recipient very well at all.

I kept a gift shelf for many years and I was very glad when my kids were in pre-school and attending 10 parties a year for various little classmates.

We used to do a gift on a theme every year so it made good sense to buy 10 colouring books, 10 packs of my favourite colouring pencils and 10 pencil bags, for example.

But very quickly, once the kids started school, I realised that they’re not getting invited to as many parties anymore as the parties become smaller (in most cases) and “close friends only” invites.

In fact, Kendra (9-year-old twin girl) reminded me the other day that she has only been invited to three parties this year and it’s already November.

So there is no longer a need for a gift shelf.

When I realised this fact, I decided to clear my gift shelf by gifting what I’d been keeping to all my Santa Shoebox kids that year. It’s actually really fun for me to stuff those shoeboxes as much as I can. And I love having the extra space at home!

These days I do have a few things I might buy in advance for our own kids’ birthday or Christmas presents (usually books found at a sale, activity books for holidays, or a cute T-shirt).

The great thing is I decided on my limiting container – a clear plastic box the size of a photocopy paper box – and my self-imposed rule (I’m an upholder) is that I’m not allowed to exceed the container.

And for actual friend gifts? I ask the child what their friend would like, we discuss where to get it and then we go buy it. Easy.

This year (my kids turned 9 in July) one of the gifts for a boy was two Horrid Henry books, and some gifts for girls were 1) a beautiful hardcover prompted crafting/ doodling/ sketch book in a nice carry bag and 2) unicorn pyjamas with a set of unicorn notebooks.

If you keep a gift shelf, perhaps ask yourself if the gifts have passed their sell-by date (your kids are older and the gifts are for a younger audience) and you need to move on, or if the convenience of having the gifts on a shelf are not an issue anymore. There may be things on your shelf you’ve had for years.

One thing I’ve done this year for my own friends is if I’m out and about and I see something that is perfect for a specific friend, I buy it whether it’s their birthday or not, and gift it next time I see them. No waiting for birthdays or forgetting where I’ve hidden it! And the best is that people are usually surprised which is super fun!

Do you keep a gift shelf? Why or why not?

No-fail menu planning

Last year I wrote two posts on menu planning that were two of the most popular posts on my blog the entire year.

If you didn’t see them, here’s post 1 and here’s post 2.

The reason I go on and on about this is because it is such a game-changer when you make it part of your weekly routine.

Today I want to give you two methods of menu planning that are truly very easy.

Base your meals on the protein. E.g.

Monday – legumes like lentils or kidney beans (chilli con carne using just kidney beans served over rice or baked potatoes)

Tuesday – chicken (chicken breasts, chicken a la King, chicken curry)

Wednesday – fish (grilled fist in the oven with chips or mashed potato)

Thursday – chicken again (add a second night of the protein your family likes the most, and if it’s chicken, choose from the list above)

Friday – cheese (pizza)

Saturday – eggs (breakfast for dinner, or quiche)

Sunday – beef (stir fry, steak, etc.)

(of course, I only plan for 5 nights and there’s usually enough in the fridge for the other two nights)

OR

you could do the same as above around the carbohydrate

Monday – rice

Tuesday – potatoes or chips

Wednesday – pasta

Thursday – wraps

Friday – pizza or bread-based

(this is mostly how I menu plan because I get bored eating the same carbs two nights in a row)

OR

you could plan meals around the type of dish

  • Oven bake
  • Casserole
  • Slow-cooker
  • Stir-fry

I hope I’ve given you some new ideas.

But even if you have a good system going, try planning using one of these 3 plans occasionally to jazz things up in the kitchen.

Will you let me know in the comments if you give it a bash? I’d love to hear.

But also, as we’re in summer in South Africa, please let me know your favourite meals to make in summer.

How to have the best Christmas ever


I started reading all my old posts about Christmas and realised that I have actually said everything I want to say, so let me link to those posts.

Easy Christmas decorating

Lower your Christmas expectations especially with social media

The Christmas Card controversy

Keep Christmas simple but meaningful

Clever gift ideas for Christmas and throughout the year

and last but definitely not least, my favourite Christmas post ever!

Create the perfect Christmas… for you

What does the “best Christmas” look like for you?

Tell me all your questions and I’ll answer in the comments.

Word of the year and 18 in 2018 update, 3/4 in

Here’s where I talked about my word of the year, fun.

Here’s my quarterly recap at the end of March.

At the end of June, I didn’t recap here on the blog but I did a little recap as part of my half-year review in my bullet journal.

This may speak to some of you but a key mindshift change for me was that I really don’t have to do what I don’t want to do. I’m in charge of my own life.

So I’ve declined invites, changed how I do things here on the blog (have you noticed?), changed other things about how I do my full-time work, and so on.

Here’s a quick list of fun things I’ve done this year:

  1. Enneagram coaching course
  2. Four Tendencies deep dive course
  3. read good, discussable books in book club
  4. started a kids’ book club
  5. tending my friendships
  6. giving lots of gifts, many for no reason at all
  7. I gave a talk to a moms and daughters group
  8. reading only fun books during my birthday month
  9. listening to books on audio that I’ve already read, but knew I would enjoy again (The Happiness Project, Truly Madly Guilty, The Four Hour Workweek)
  10. changing the way I did Santa Shoebox this year (click to Instagram and then click on the red circle under my bio where I talked about this)
  11. danced in Zumbathons
  12. did seasonal photodrives
  13. used fun notebooks and stationery at work
  14. went to watch Crazy Rick Asians with some friends (I never go out at night and definitely not to the movies, so this was enormous fun)
  15. I did a Handyman Course – this was the MOST fun thing ever, possibly because I’ve always wanted to go on a course like this

And now for a brief 18 in 2018 update…

I’ve done 16 of my 18 in 2018 items, and I’ve just scheduled number 17. For some reason I’m getting stuck on number 18…. but there are still 3 months left πŸ™‚

Over to you!

How are you doing with your word of the year?

You can always change your word if it’s not working for you. To be honest, I briefly entertained the idea of changing my word because I feel like my world’s getting smaller….. but then I realised that is precisely the right reason to have FUN as a word. Hopefully there’ll be a few more fun things to say YES to in the next 3 months.

And if you’re doing 18 in 2018 (there’s a free form you can get here), let me know how it’s going. I do hope Gretchen Rubin does this challenge again next year – it’s been such a fun way of doing goals.

 

My monthly recap for July

I’m smack-bang in the middle of birthday season at the moment, so I’m not going to wait for the actual end-of-the-month before doing my monthly recap.

As an aside, can you see how this Upholder is breaking loose?! The Four Tendencies deep dive course really helped me to clarify why I do things and question whether I want to continue doing them. When I figure out Instagram TV, I’m going to do a little video on my learnings from the course.

Moving along.

Let’s talk about my highlights for July

1. Our family beach holiday. We were in Ballito for a week and I read 5 books, got to nap on the couch one afternoon, watched Wimbledon, and took many many walks on the boardwalk. Also, something weird happens to my body at the coast – I wake at 6.20 every day (I would wake at 9.00 if left to my own devices in Johannesburg)Β  – so I got to watch so many sunrises.

2. I’ve read 10 books thus far. I should finish on 12 for the month.

3. I crossed off something from the house to-do list which was to put in a shower in the kids’ bathroom. It came about in a really standard way for me which is I became irritated with having a messy bathroom every day when I got home from work as the kids used to use my shower. Dion and I are both very neat in our bedroom/ bathroom so I asked for a quote, changed the hardware out once and then paid the deposit and the shower was done.

4. I’ve done all the birthday planning. Two parties down, Dion’s birthday on Friday and mine on the 6th with a lunch on Sat 4th. Last year we had both the twins’ parties on the same weekend – mayhem – so this year we had 1 per weekend. Of course it feels like I’m entertaining for 4 straight weeks (which I am) but it’s been a whole lot more manageable. I’m only two parties in, but so far so good.

5. And for work, I survived the year-end madness πŸ™‚ I was also up to date two days after returning from leave which is a feat that I’m particularly excited about.

Noteworthy mentions of the organising kind

  • I made updated travel lists and have put them in an A5 flipfile right down to which little travel pouch to use for my bedside table stuff. I’m super thrilled about this tiny little task that took about 10 minutes because now I don’t need to THINK every time I travel. I will just whip out my little flipfile and follow my lists.
  • We used Uber for our holiday again and it was great.
  • I ran a little giveaway on Instagram for Mandela Day and while I thought there’d be a lot more people putting up their hands for a free coaching session, I only had 4 takers, which means those 4 get 17 minutes each πŸ™‚

Tell me about your highlights and organising mentions this month.

This is how we feel about beach holidays πŸ˜‰

 

What painting my walls navy taught me



I’ve shared before about my house to-do list. This is a list that has all the things I want to get done in the house – not weekly jobs, but more cosmetic changes.

Some of the items on my list involved painting various areas upstairs, so I finally felt able to deal with the mess and I got some painters in.

They painted my study, Connor’s bedroom and the ceiling in our pyjama lounge.

At one point, Connor mentioned to me that he wanted his room blue. I’m not a fan of any “boring blues” as I call it so I told Connor that we’d have to have the perfect shade if his room were to go blue.

We settled on this very dark navy blue. I was a bit nervous because it was very dark but I felt like the room could take it because all our bedrooms are very light-filled the entire day.

To summarise, we painted Connor’s entire room navy blue (ceiling was white) and one wall in my study.

This is what I learned from painting the walls navy:

1. Trust my instincts

I wasn’t sure about the bold colour but I relied on past experience where I’d used bold colours and they all turned out fine. Most even turned out great πŸ™‚

2. Nothing is irreversible

At least not with paint colour. I tell myself if I hate it, I can just paint it again. I had a situation perhaps 12 years ago where the paint colour did not look as good on my walls as it did on the paint swatch. I tried to love it for two weeks and then called the painter to come redo it. The good news is that I loved that new colour (Parsley) for 10 years πŸ™‚

3. Take risks and be brave

I learnt a lot from The Nester about taking risks. She basically says things like “if you hate something anyway, try something new”. I’m all over this advice. Not that I hate white walls, but the point is to take chances. Our houses should be places where we feel safe…. safe to try new things and experiment.

4. You may actually love change

I am not a huge lover of change. But when I decide to change, I usually love it. I realise I have control issues but go with me here. I didn’t think I’d love Connor’s navy room that much but I SUPER-DUPER love it! I also love my navy kitchen so much. It makes me smile daily, especially when it’s clean. If I didn’t take a chance on it (and it should have been green!), I would have had a boring beige kitchen (I can’t even imagine!).

What I want to do with this post is encourage you to take a risk in your home – paint something, move some furniture around, upcycle/ recycle something or buy something.

What will you do? And more importantly, what are you hoping it will show you?

Feedback on my groceries experiment

Pictures taken before Easter, hence hot cross buns πŸ™‚

I wrote last month about how I wanted to analyse our grocery spend as we hadn’t done this for at least four years.

Interestingly, my husband was far less concerned about the spend than I was and it turned out that his instincts were correct.

  1. We are well within what we budget for food which, I’m learning from these posts on the blog and on Instagram, is far below what many similar-sized families spend.
  2. We shop at Pick and Pay every week and about once every 2 – 3 weeks we do a Checkers run to top up on small fruits (for the kids’ lunchboxes) and buy chicken (I know, but there’s a certain chicken my local P&P doesn’t stock so we just go get that at Checkers).
  3. I still feel like we buy too many snacks (chips, nuts, chocolates, biltong) but as my husband reminded me, it’s really our only vice as we don’t drink alcohol or smoke or eat out a lot, and… we still keep well within the budget. Fair enough.
  4. Some things I found shocking from actually looking at the receipts is the price of cottage cheese (R30 a tub; 4 years ago R18,99), tissue refills (80 sheets for R15; 200 sheets for R22) and cereals (R40 a box!). A reminder to me that just because one option was better at one time doesn’t mean it’s still the better option – we will now be buying the full box of tissues.
  5. I used to shop the pantry and eat from the freezer in a fairly disciplined way but it slipped a bit over the years. Now I inventory the freezer before making my menu plan for the week and most meals are designed around using up bits of food so it won’t go to waste.Β  If you’re not intentional, you can keep buying without actually using the food already in your house.

I don’t purport to know your situation but if you’re looking for 3 quick takeaways, here you go:

Make a realistic menu plan. Don’t plan to cook 7 days if you’ve only cooked 3 meals a week for the last year. Maybe set a goal to cook those same 3 meals, but a double batch. And obviously don’t buy more food than you actually are going to cook. Maybe you’re being a fantasy cook?

Watch your food wastage. Be realistic about what you will, and not just intend, to use. I caught myself doing exactly this the other week when I thought about all the lovely winter veggies I wanted to buy. When I looked at the actual menu plan, we only needed two veggies and not four like I wanted to buy. I literally count the potatoes and buy exactly what we need (6 medium potatoes or 4 large potatoes). This goes without saying but shop with a list, on a full stomach.

Plan for easy nights. My goal is that we eat a cooked meal only 4 of the 7 nights. Fridays are eggs/ soup/ toasted sandwiches. One night is leftovers from everything before…. and the last night is usually beef burgers or fish fingers on a roll with lettuce/ tomato, and oven chips. Mondays are my longest days so that is always a freezer meal defrosted. When you only plan to buy what you realistically will cook and eat, you’ll automatically save money.

How has your grocery spending been in April? Is there a specific category (cleaning materials is usually a hot topic, or school lunches…) you’d like me to go into more detail on?

If you’d like individual help on managing your finances better, please contact me. Due to the personal nature of each person’s finances, I can’t hold a workshop where these things are discussed but I do individual or couples’ financial coaching.

Why you should have an essentials-only budget

Β  Now and again, I like to do a little financial experiment, which I call an essentials-only budget.

Usually I have a zero-based budget which means that every R is accounted for, whether to an actual expense like groceries or to a savings account.

Because of this zero-based budget, there is never any money left over at the end of the month and, in fact, I also have a little quirk where if there is some spending money left, I transfer it out of my account to my savings account so that there’s no “old money” left before payday.

Now let’s talk about an essentials-only budget.

If, for some reason, you or your spouse/ partner lost your job, your budget would look very different. Some expenses would fall away and you’d get back to basics, or essentials.

This is the essentials-only budget.

When I took a sabbatical from work four years ago, I worked off my EO budget. I stopped adding to my savings account because I was drawing down from my savings instead. I wasn’t tithing because I had no income except for a tiny bit from my online courses and interest on my savings accounts.

Our petrol usage reduced, groceries stayed about the same but because I had a closer eye on things, we weren’t buying a lot of junk, and I also reduced my personal care & clothes spending. The house and both cars were paid off, but we still had expenses like gym, insurance, school fees, and so on.

In short, my essentials budget ended up being about 35% of my actual budget.

So why would you want to do a budget like this while you’re employed?

  • It gives you a clear and accurate idea of what you actually need to bring in to live on
  • It also shows you how much you could do without
  • It gives you peace of mind – I’ve done this exercise every couple of years for about 10 years, and each time the amount is far less than I anticipate
  • If you’re planning an emergency fund (I highly recommend it, and it’s the reason I took the sabbatical in the first place because I had money saved), you have an actual amount of savings to work towards. The financial experts recommend 3 – 6 months; I recommend about 2 months longer than a recruitment agent thinks it would take for you to be placed πŸ™‚

I recently did my essentials-only budget and this time, it’s 51% of my actual budget. That’s mostly due to the new house!

It’s still a very useful exercise to do, if nothing else but to set your mind at ease.

Over to you.

Do you budget? Do you do zero-based budgeting? Have you ever done an essentials-only budget?

Where are your yellow flags showing up?

One Sunday morning a few years ago I was enjoying a mug of tea while reading blogs.

I happened upon a friend’s blog where she mentioned her hard drive crashed and she lost everything. Fortunately for her, her husband backs up weekly.

Right there and then (I didn’t even finish reading her post!), I got up, fetched my external hard drive and backed up my computer.

You see, my computer had been running a bit slow and that, for me, is a yellow flag.

The next thing that would happen is that programmes would stop responding and one day I’d find a blue screen or something similarly scary.

I’d be kicking myself then because when my computer completely stops working, that’s my red flag.

We all have yellow flags in our lives.

They’re usually about much bigger things than just a computer (although that’s big in my life – the thought of losing all my lovely photos makes me feel physically sick).

Things like our health, our relationships, our work, our finances.

Let’s talk about health.

Yellow flags are constant feelings of being stressed, headaches, pain, anxiety, etc.

They are indicators that we need to deal with something in our lives.

I was recently in a job that was very stressful for me. I knew I was feeling stress but a yellow flag for me was when my doctor picked up something in my bloodwork indicating the stress.

I tried to manage the stress as best as I could but when nothing had changed for me physiologically 6 months later, I knew I had to make a drastic change, so I left.

As a friend said to me, β€œyou can always get another job – you’re smart and talented – but you can’t always get your health back”. Too true.

If you ignore these yellow flags, they could lead to a red flag where you’re forced to stop and take note of things, like a serious disease, an operation, and so on.

So have a think.

If you’re honest with yourself, are there any yellow flags in your life you need to deal with?

1. Constant feelings of stress and overwhelm?
2. An odd noise in your car
3. A relationship that needs tending
4. Finances that need to be looked at
5. Boundaries that need to be discussed

Can you identify any yellow flags in your life? How can you take a step or two to deal with it?

Let’s talk about groceries and spending

One of the 18 in 2018 items on my list is to analyse our grocery spend because it feels like it’s out of hand.

Notice I said “feels” because I don’t know for sure.

I’m hearing lots around these days about grocery spend, money stuff, and so on, and so I decided to use the impetus on the internet to get this exercise done for us, and cross off that item.

A few bits of background:

  • We are a household of 4 – Dion, me, and our nearly 9-year-old twins. Most days, Connor now eats more than I do!
  • Our nanny is here every weekday and eats what we do for lunches (sandwiches and a piece of fruit) and the gardener is here one day but he doesn’t eat sandwiches so brings his own lunch.
  • The children grab a muffin or have a quick breakfast before school, take their school lunch with them, return home, have a small lunch/ snack and then supper.
  • I pack breakfast and lunch to take to work, and have supper at home.
  • D has breakfast at home, packs lunch for work and has supper at home too.
  • So we eat almost everything at home. All of that is considered grocery spend.
  • Cleaning products is also all “grocery” money as is toiletries for the kids. Specialised toiletries for the parents are for our own account, e.g. my shampoo, moisturizer, vitamins, etc.
  • We eat a lunch out on the weekends every second Sunday, and Dion and I have date afternoon once a month, but eating out comes out of its own budget. I don’t believe in takeaways so we never get food to eat at home unless for a very special occasion (Valentine’s Day).
  • I never waste food; I pack leftovers away and once a week we eat whatever’s there. No one is fussy in my house because the rule is “you cook for yourself if you get fussy”. I guess they hate cooking more πŸ™‚
  • We shop weekly at Pick and Pay. I love the quality and I can get 98% of what I need. I have a tiny pantry. It’s smaller than at the previous house and I now consider it a game to use up all that food before buying more.

These are questions I’m asking of our household…

  1. what is our snacks vs real food ratio?
  2. are we shopping at too many stores? many people swear by this but that is precisely why the spend is astronomical, unless you are exceptionally self-disciplined and walk out with exactly what you wanted, and no more in quantity than you need. We have got into a habit of doing an “after church” stop at Checkers which is, on average, R300 a week. Thankfully we don’t go every week.
  3. have we used up all our food before buying more? Or are we lazy to get creative so we just keep buying?
  4. do I need to bring back a focused eat out of the freezer and pantry week every month?

What do you want me to talk about next in this series?Β 

Questions for you:

do you know what you spend on groceries? do you question whether it’s excessive or not? do you want to save money in this area or doesn’t it bother you?

PS The Frugal Girl writes a post every week on what we ate, what I spent. I love her blog – it’s mindful of money without being crazy over the top.

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