Budgeting 101

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One major “adulting” thing we need to deal with is how to manage our finances.  I guess we all want the same things — spend for our needs, have some extra for our wants and save for the future.  However, resources are almost always limited and so we need to learn how to allocate them properly.  And that’s where the struggle becomes all too real.

I have been budgeting (or at least trying) for as long as I can remember.  When I was a student, I would budget my allowance for food, transportation and make sure I’d have some left for weekend hangouts with friends.  When I started working, I included shopping money, share in the household expenses and some savings in my monthly spending equation.  Budgeting got a way more complicated when I became a wife and a mom because I was already planning, not just for myself, but our entire household.

I read up a lot on budgeting tools and techniques and tried out those which I thought fit my needs and circumstance.  From those I read up on, I would recommend the 50-20-30 Rule by Elizabeth Warren.  It is simple and easy to understand that it makes the task less daunting.

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Simply put, it states that you have to allocate your budget into three broad categories:

  • 50% is for essentials like mortgage payments, groceries and utilities.  These are the non-negotiables that you need to take care of month in and month out.
  • 20% should be alloted for savings and investment.
  • 30% remainder is for everything else that you want which includes shopping, movies, eating out and travels

As a first step, you need to know how much your regular monthly take-home pay is.  This is the money which goes into your payroll account, net of all taxes and deductions.  Knowing this will give you a clearer picture of how much you are working with.

Once you’ve determined your net pay, the next crucial step is to differentiate your needs versus your wants.  Here, you really have to be stringent and meticulous with what you consider “needs” so as to keep with the 50% guideline.  For example, utilities like water and electricity are needs.  However, cable television, while it may fall under utilities, is not technically a “need”.  This is something that should be included in the remaining 30% of the budget.

It is important to stick with the 20% rule on savings and investment.  First things first, though.  If you have a debt that accummulates monthly like credit cards or personal loans, it makes more sense to pay those off first before saving.  Once you are done with loan repayments, start building an emergency fund.  This fund can be between 3 to 6 months of your monthly expenses, whichever amount you feel comfortable with.  If this is set in place, then you can study options for investments which would vary depending on your risk profile, goals and time horizon.

I personally like the 50-20-30 Rule because of its flexibility.  It gives me the structure that I need to ensure that my needs and savings are secured but at the same time, it gives me a little bit of an elbow room to determine where I spend my money.  This budget guide is pretty straightforward, making it easy to use and less complicated than most.  Since it’s quite simple, I am able to follow through with my plans and budget with more success.

I hope this post will help you get started with your own budget if you still don’t have one.  If you do have one, feel free to share your tips and budgeting tricks as well so we can all learn from each other.

Cheers! 🎉

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Screen-free Rainy Day Activities for Toddlers

It’s the rainy season here in Manila.  A couple of weeks ago, there were at least three tropical depressions that entered the Philippines, giving us more than our fair share of rain.  Just this weekend, all our plans got cancelled or postponed because of the incessant rains. 😯 This means staying indoors for most of the days — enough to give our little toddler some serious cabin fever.

J’s daily routine always would always include some outdoor play time.  It’s as simple as a stroll along our neighborhood or a walk to the store and pick wildflowers or twigs along the way.  He also loves playing ball!  Football is a natural choice especially with his elder brother.  They would take turns in being the kicker and the goalie and would only stop when one of them is tired already.

Sharing with you now some of the screen-free activities that J enjoys indoors.  I know it can be challenging to keep the little ones preoccupied without turning to the Ipad or the television so I hope this helps mommies out there:

1.  Hide and seek — My little one loves playing this game and everyone in the household would happily indulge him.  He would go looking for a suitable hiding spot as the designated “it” patiently (oftentimes very slowly) counts 1- 10 until he finds one.  It’s fun to watch him wait in anticipation until one of his siblings find him.  It’s a test of patience and how long he can quietly sit still in one place.  On most cases though, he gives away his location because of uncontrollable giggles.  This game proves how little it takes to have fun together!

2.  Building blocks and magnet tiles  — I love how both toys are very versatile.  Sometimes, J would play with his blocks by sorting them by color.  He does the same with the tiles and sorts them by shape and then practice counting.  On other times, he would try to build something like a rocket, a tower, a house or a sword.  His play switches from the blocks to the tiles, depending on his mood.  I love that these toys encourage him to be creative and imaginative.

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3.  Coloring and doodling — I first introduced J to colors by making him paint.  Unfortunately though, it was not quite the hit that I hoped it would be.  I soon found out that he disliked getting messy so painting and getting his hands “dirty” did not interest him.  He, however, has a totally different reaction when I gave him a set of basic crayons.  He immediately started doodling and drawing and has since then, been part of our go-to quiet time activities with him.

4.  Reading — We started reading to J when he was still a baby and it has been an all-time favorite ever since.  He likes to identify things in his picture books and loves to listen to story books as well.  Now that he’s a toddler, our story telling time has evolved.  Sometimes, I would ask him what he thinks would happen next in the story or ask questions to see what he thought of the characters.   There are even times when he chooses a book which we’ve read for many times and then starts “reading” it to me.  I love how this activity has become more interactive over time.

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5.  Singing and dancing J is such a music lover!  Put on any upbeat song and you would soon have him dancing to it in no time.  His current favorites are the soundtrack of Disney’s Cars movie and Lion King.  Just like most kids his age, he loves singing nursery rhymes.  We can go on and on with various versions of ABC and never get tired.  His sister is the biggest influence in music.  Their bonding moments include S playing the ukelele while the little one sings and dances along.

BONUS:

Since J is left mostly alone at home ans plays with his namny, he has a lot of individual pretend play time.  I get to see this in action when I am working from home.  He would be in the same room as I am but he will go on with his business and not bother me.  Instead, I’d get treated to a “show” as I listen to him concoct his stories and play.  Usually, it’s a big race among his cars.  Sometimes, it’s a re-enactment of a scene from a movie or a show, complete with dialogues usong different voices! I love it! 😍

During the course of the day, he will most likely watch an episode of Disney Junior’s Mickey and the Roadster Racers or maybe PJ Masks.  But these activities definitely limit his screen time without him feeling wanting.

How about you? What are your screen-free indoor activities with your little ones? Share with us in the comments section.

Cheers! 🎉

 

5 Things We Can Do to Help Save Mother Earth

If there was one thing that I wish people would care more about, it would be doing something for our environment.  Every day, I see sad news about how damaged our earth is and I am worried that my grandchildren would not be able to enjoy nature’s beauty if we do not do something about it now.

I am not thinking of grandiose acts.  I only ask that we do our little share to preserve and care of the things around us.

And so, I picked out 5 of the most doable things that we can do every day to protect Mother Earth.

1.  Bring reusable shopping bags. — Most groceries and shops have banned plastic bags already.  The thing is, they are using paper bags as alternative.  This actually does not help the environment because the increased demand for paper will mean more trees being cut!

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As an even better alternative, just bring a reusable bag when you go shopping.   In fact, there are those foldable kinds which you can keep in your purse so that whenever you get into shopping mode, you can use it and refuse the store’s paper bag.

2.  Avoid single-use items.  — I want to be realistic here.  We sometimes turn to disposables for the convenience it offers and I hear that.  But being mindful of its use and trying to avoid it is already a stap forward.  For instance, I got really excited when the hubby got us a Keurig coffee machine for the house….that was until I realized how many K cups we were accumulating!  I tried researching for ways to recycle the K cups and found out that there are also reusable coffee pods that works perfectly with the Keurig.  This meant doing away with the single use plastic K cups and saving a little bit too.

Another way is avoiding plastic sandwich bags.  Instead, we try to use reusable food containers for my bread, sandwiches and cookies.  It may look like a small thing but that’s still one plastic saved a day!

3.  Say “no” to plastic straws.  — Admit it, there are only very few instances when straws are real necessities  like maybe when you go for need to drink your beverage while driving or when you order that ice-blended drink you love.  For most other times, we can all make the decision to ditch the straw and drink straight from the glass.  And it it really can’t be helped, consider investing in a reusable straw that you can keep with you.  There are different alternatives available in the market already, there is really no reason to use the plastic ones anymore.

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Bamboo straw is one of the more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws

4.  Bring your own drink container.  — I always ask my kids to bring their water jugs when we leave the house so that we don’t need to buy bottled water.  It’s a win-win situation, if you think about it.  I save a few pesos while saving Mother Earth from more plastic bottles.

It’s the same for my morning brew.  I usually bring coffee from home in my tumbler instead of taking out coffee from the nearby coffee shop. Two birds with one stone!

5.  Practice mindfulness in the use of water and electricity. — Turn off the lights.  Unplug appliances that are not in use. Take shorter showers and use a cup when brushing your teeth.  These are basic things that we should be doing but sometimes take for granted.  Doing these consistenly will do wonders for both your utility bills and our environment.

These may seem small deeds but when we do this collectively and habitually, it could make a huge difference.  The little things matter when we all work together so let’s all do our share to save our home… to save our earth.

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*all photos taken from the web

Moving Homes

After almost 15 years, we are moving houses!  It is a bittersweet experience for me and my family.

Fifteen years seems like a long time but it doesn’t feel like that at all.  We are comfortable in our neighborhood.  My kids know the other kids whom they grew up with.  Even J has his own set of friends and park allies of his own.  This has been our first home and there are just sooooo many memories that we’ve built here over the years that makes it difficult to leave.

But in as much as we’d love to stay here, our family has outgrown our first house.  F and S are teenagers already and they need their own personal spaces.  J would also need a place for him to grow into and explore.  Our current house, though filled with loving meighbors, is just too cramped for him to do anything.

And so, while half of my heart is sad with our departure, the other half is full of excitement and anticipation as we move to our new abode.

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We bid a teary good-bye to our first home as a family

We have actually prayed long and hard if this is the best decision for our family.  Before this, we seriously considered to build our house from ground up in a lot that we previously purchased.  We even commissioned an architect to draw out the house plans for that.  But things took a different direction since then and finally decided to buy a newly-built house in the vicinity of our old, familiar neighborhood.

It has been barely a month since the move and we are slowly trying to get into our new routine.  We’ve already unboxed most of our stuff but there is still clutter here and there.  The house is still very bare as we slowly work on furnishing each area slowly.  We will be sharing this journey with you  — from packing tips to designing and everything else in between.

For now, join us in popping that purple confetti to celebrate this milestone with our family! 🎉🎉🎉

5 Reasons Why We Travel with the Kids

Travel is one of the things we like doing as a family.  We love planning for roadtrips and out of town trips during holidays.  Of course, vacations out of the country are special and takes more time (and resources) so planning is longer and more deliberate.

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Our kids in one of our trips to Tagaytay

Our last trip overseas was in October 2016.  It was our first trip as a family of five and our first time in Osaka, Japan as well.  A lot of people were a little surprised that we were bringing 12-month J to the trip.  Some even suggested to leave him with my mom so that we can enjoy more.

“It’s difficult to travel with a baby.”

“Leave him with his Laly (Grandma).  He’s too young to remember this, anyway.”

I do recognize that bringing a baby with us on a trip changes the pace and even our itinerary but we really didn’t have the heart to leave him this time.

Truth be told, that trip was my first time to fly with a baby. S was already 2 years old when we first travelled by plane and it was only a 2-hour local trip.  That was also F’s first time to ride a plane and he was almost 4 years old during that time.  Admittedly, I was also a little anxious so I sought help from a friend who is a seasoned traveller with babies. Thank God for her and the tips she shared, some I really would not have thought of myself.

Many well-meaning friends advised N & I to wait when the baby is older before we bring him along in our travels.  I guess every one has their own preferences and I believe that we each should follow our gut.  But for those of you considering travel with kids, here are my five reasons why I think you should go for it (as I did) no matter what age:

1.  TRAVEL = FAMILY BONDING TIME – When we travel as a family, we are stuck with each other’s company whether we like it or not.  Inevitably, there are times when we get into each other’s nerves! Like when N would get frustrated with me when I navigate wrongly… or when F would be irritated with S and her constant bugging 😛.  For most parts though, we find it to be a great opportunity to reconnect and bond.  We get the chance to talk, have fun and create memories.

2.  TRAVEL PROVIDES for NEW & BIGGER ROLES – I remember one time when we planned a trip to Boracay with friends.  N had a business trip scheduled so we decided that it was most practical to just meet in Boracay.  This meant travelling with F & S (then 8 and 6 years old) by myself.  It was a pleasant surprise that the kids rose to the occasion and picked up after themselves.

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Boracay with F & S (2011)

During this recent Japan trip, S was such a helpful assistany to me, especially when taking care of baby J.  On the other hand, F was a willing helper to his dad, carrying our luggage and even navigating around the city.  They also learned how to be more responsible with keeping their own tickets, buying their meals and keeping their own stuff.

3.  TRAVEL TEACHES ADAPTABILITY and FLEXIBILITY – We all know that the most well thought-out travel plans can still go wrong.  Delayed flights, missing baggaes, weather abberations.  These things will teach our kids how to adjust and make the most out of unforeseen situations.  In this trip, we initially wanted to go to Universal Studios mainly for the Harry Potter experience.  After checking though, the crowd estimate was outrageous!  I actually still wanted to give it a try (being a HP fan that I am).  It was F who put things in perspective — that it would be difficult for J and that we would not really enjoy if there is waaaaay too much people.  S said that since they’ve been to two other Universal Studios anyway, they’re willing to wait a few more years till J is ready for theme parks. How is that for flexible?

4. TRAVEL LETS US DISCOVER THE WORLD FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE –  Experiencing a diffent culture first hand helps us appreciate better those things that are different from what we’re used to.  Personally, I used to dislike Japanese people (think World War II and how the Japanese invaded the Philippines).  But having been in close contact with them in this trip showed me how they are nice people,

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Snippets from our Japan trip (2016)

courteous, polite and very helpful.  I believe that when we expose our children to more of the world and its varying cultures, they will become more inclusive and accepting of others.  They will accept and appreciate diversity much easier.

 

5.  TRAVEL PROVIDES A BETTER LEARNING EXPERIENCE – Learning about a city or country by reading about it is so much different from actually experiencing it.  Travelling gives the kids a better learning opportunity as they see, feel, touch and taste what a place has to offer.  That was the case when they went to Times Square in New York or ate fresh sushi at the Kuromon market or rode the elephants in Thailand.  The experience makes everything more tangible and memorable.

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Times Square at night (2014)

And so, while there may be real inconveniences travelling with kids, for me, the benefits outweigh them by leaps and bounds that we will travel with the kids as often as we can 😊

My Word of the Year

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I have decided that this will be my word for 2017 — my overarching goal over several aspects of my life.

This year, I want to be more purposeful especially in the following:

MARRIAGE : Before the kids, there was just N & I.  Along the way, it is easy to let the partnership take a backseat among everything else that needs attention.  This year, I want to make sure that N & I spend time together –just the two of us.  I am not talking about grand vacations or fancy dinner dates (although I wouldn’t mind having those too 😜).  I just want to make sure that we will consciously pencil in couple time in our schedules and create opportunities to connect with each other regularly.

PARENTING:  I have a teen, a tween and a toddler.  Each of them needs me but in differing ways.  I want to make sure that I am able to spend time with them individually and hopefully, get to know each of them in a deeper way.  I want to be able to nurture each of them in ways that they most respond to and this means that I should be attuned to their learning styles and peculiarities.  Intentional parenting also means being aware of my actions and language around them as this is something that I know affects my children directly and indirectly.

HEALTH: Now, more than ever, I realize how important it is to take care of one’s health.  While growing older might be inevitable, I want to be able to do it gracefully.  Part of my being intentional is eating healthier — more veggies in the diet, less junk, less sweets.  I am not quite the sporty type who will wake up early in the morning to do a 3km run so I will not even write that down as my action plan 😄😄.  Instead, I will be more conscious in doing more walking and stretching and doing quick exercises.

There are a few more items that I wish to start working on this 2017 including this blog, more creative work and building stronger personal relationships with loved ones and friends.  I hope that having this word as anchor will help me achieve these goals for the year.

How about you? What is your word for 2017? 😊

Celebrating Our Little Man’s First Birthday

We recently celebrated J‘s first birthday.  Can you believe it has been a year already? Where did the time go?  I sometimes feel emotional when I look at the kids and see how much they’ve grown!  The days roll into weeks…into months and before you know it, they are all grown up! 😢

The birthday parties of kuya and ate were quite similar.  We had magicians and entertainment, games, enormous balloon arrangements and a lot of prizes.  For J, we tried something a little different.  We veered away from the loud celebrations and opted for a more subdued get-together with family and friends.  It’s simpler but not, in any way, less special. 😊

Planning for my kids’ birthdays always excite me.  The first order of the day is booking the venue.  I had my sights set on a function room in one of the villages in Alabang.  It is indoor and air-conditioned, not too expensive (compared with the others in the vicinity) and near our residence.  To top it all, the size is also perfect – not too big but not too small either.  Sadly,  I was a tad late in reserving the place. It was already booked on our event date 😳.

I’ve always had my previous parties in function halls.  It’s my preferred party venue (over hotels or restaurants) because it gave me a free hand on styling and decor.  I also like that I have a wider option in terms of food since I can choose my own caterer and set up food booths.  However, the open space venue can also swing the other way as sprucing up the place will involve more expenses.

My next option was to book a restaurant.  N & I both agreed that we wanted a to celebrate this milestone in a nice venue so fastfood parties will be for succeeding years’ celebrations.  After scouting and considering several places, we decided on Milky Way Cafe in Makati.  We love the food there and they have a good sized function room which is perfect for the gathering that we I am envisioning.

Next was choosing a theme.  I got stuck in this part for a little bit because there were just sooooo many themes that I wanted to do for Baby J!  I considered to do an interpretation of my all-time favorite book, “The Little Prince”.  I also liked Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” and “The Cat in the Hat”.  There is also Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Choices…choices!!! In the end, I went minimalist and picked “little man” as his over-all theme.  I figured that since I intend to make it mostly DIY, I need something that is nice and fun but easy to execute as well.

As with all my other parties, I relied on my sister Faye’s creativity to life my party ideas and design pegs.  We went for blue, green and gray as color motiff to tie in with the moustache bash concept.

Sharing with you a copy of the invitation that we circulated to family and friends through Viber and Facebook.  I decided against printing it so as not to waste paper (and save the earth!)

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Speaking of saving the earth, I also decided to do away with large balloon centerpieces that are usual in kiddie parties.  Instead, I had moustache printables that guests used as props for their photo ops.  I also had pictures of J printed to show his progress from birth till 12 months, which also served as table numbers and centerpieces.  I added some succulents to the arrangement and it turned out pretty nice, if I say so myself 😊.  What do you think?

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The decor of the venue was sparse as I was really going for the simple, minimalist look.  But N insisted on some balloon decor to make it more festive so I gave in.  Apart from that, everything else in the venue was (proudly) DIY 😊.  A whole lot of thanks to my brothers and sisters (I call them J’s Party Crew…hehe) who assisted me in making the place looking swanky and taking care of every other detail of the party.

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As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to steer clear from noisy games and party hosting. Instead of parlor games, I went for interactive and creative play to entertain the littlr ones.  I had Lego play sets and play dough activities that were a hit with kids of all ages!

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Guests were also encouraged to write their wishes and advise for J on notecards which we distributed during the event.  We asked them to hang their cards on display and we will keep them until J is old enough to read them someday.  I think this will be a nice memento of his first birthday celebration.

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As expected, Milky Way’s food was delicious! The adults enjoyed the spread of their tried and tested Filipino merienda fare (sotanghon, dinuguan at puto, barbecue and lumpiang sariwa) while the kids had their own buffet station that served classic kiddie party hits of spaghetti, fried chicken, pizza and an ice cream buffet.

But what would be a party without sweets, right?  That in mind, we also prepared a sweets table for our guests.  I love how J’s two-tier birthday cake turned out.  I chose chocolate and carrot as cake flavors and served them as additional dessert to guests.

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We also had yummy red velvet cupcakes (courtesy of Sugar Lily, of course) and a candy buffet, which also served as giveaways to kids.

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The simple program, hosted by F & S was loved by all.  It was a simple yet fun birthday celebration which we will always cherish as it was done with a lot of love.

Happy birthday, J!  We love you to bits! 😊