Category Archives: Family

Preparing for new year ambitions

December marks the joyous excitement leading up to Christmas, which is swiftly followed by New Year’s celebrations. If you are like 58% of the American population, then you have probably already started planning your resolutions for the new year. goalsAlmost 6 out of 10 people start off with the best of intentions to make significant differences in their lives over the following 12 months, but 80% of these have already failed by February.

The majority of resolutions involve health (healthier eating, losing weight, exercising more), money (saving money, spending less money, paying off debt), and spending more time with your friends and family.  Being more productive, and kicking other habits that you no longer want are also common goals that people set for themselves. With this in mind we wanted to take a look at some of the best apps out there that can help you to achieve your goals:

  1. Mint – A really great tool which is an aggregator that allows you to create and mintmaintain a comprehensive family budget. You have visibility of all of your household’s income and expenses, and can easily collaborate with other members of your family.
  2. Personal Capital – Similar to Mint, Personal Capital is a platform where you can track all of your finances. There are many standard capabilities such as calculating your net worth, monitoring debt, and tracking financial goals. Personal Capital has some great capabilities when it comes to planning for retirement through its Retirement Planner. This platform analyzes your investment portfolio (IRA’s, 401k, investment accounts, 529 funds) and provides feedback about your progress, stock allocations, and management fees.
  3. FitBit – Samsung Health, Google Fit, all of these are great fitness trackers which will allow you to set and monitor health trends such as heart rate, distance, steps, weight, and quality of sleep. Many health insurance companies have discounts and rewards available for customers who meet specified fitness goals within these platforms.fitbit.png
  4. Castbox/ Stitcher – One way to kill two birds with one stone is to listen to podcasts while you are exercising. This is a great way to take on new information while your mind is clear, and is also a great way to take your mind off of the stresses of your life.
  5. Blinklist – Many people set out with the goal of reading more books over the coming 12 months. There are some great tools out there that can make this habit much reading tableteasier than it has been in the past. E-readers such as Kindle and Nook provide you with the material you need, wherever you may be. You can buy new books, rent them from your local library, or even share them with friends. For those who are keen to broaden their knowledge, but are put off by the length of time required, there is a solution. Blinklist is a simple tool which provides you with book summaries that allow you to “read” books in just a fraction of the time it typically takes.
  6. Map My Run – This is one of the most popular fitness apps on the market, and it’s easy to see why. This program has a very simple user interface and is super simple to use. They have a goals section where you can set things such as the targeted number of runs per week, monthly miles, days run per week, or total miles over the course of the year. One of the most common goals is to complete 1000 miles within a calendar year.
  7. Ramsey Solutions – This is a platform of knowledge that is likely to be able to ramseyprovide you with valuable information to help you in areas where you need support. Dave Ramsey of The Total Money Makeover fame, started this company with purely financial advice. Since then, the program has developed opportunities for people to learn more about retirement, spending time with family, starting a new business, or making a career change.
  8. Local support groups – As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. If you are struggling with something that is really holding you back and you are looking for support, please connect with a local support group. This can be done through a simple Google search, can be recommended by your Doctor, and are often supported by community centers such as churches, fire stations, and fitness centers.

What are your resolutions for 2018, and what are some creative ways in which you are planning on keeping on track? We would love to hear your ideas, as well as be made aware of some excellent apps that can make such a huge difference in the pursuit of success. Until next time, stay focused, and Expect The Exceptional in everything that you do.



Homemade for the holidays

As a child, I used to really, REALLY look forward to opening gifts on Christmas morning.  I love surprises, so I was never one to search for gifts ahead of time.  I truly enjoyed guessing what was in those beautiful boxes!  Walking down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought and then spending an embarrassingly long time opening gifts from family – who could ask for anything better?  However, as a grown-up and parent, things have begun to change.  I now look forward to others opening the gifts I picked out for them more than anything else.  This year I have spent an added amount of time and love on a number of gifts, as I am making quite a few of them on my own!  I won’t get into details in case one of my family members is reading, but I have truly had such a wonderful time putting together these gifts that are straight from the heart.  Another added bonus to the homemade variety is the money it saves!  Now, admittedly, I am not making macaroni frames so I have had to spend a little.  But when I divide through the number of gifts I will be able to create, it is a very small amount of money per person, yet the gifts are going to mean so much more.  I hope.

Image result for homemade gifts funny

In case this is something that interests you, I have compiled a list of ideas for homemade gifts that will not make people put on a fake smile and look around for a non-existent receipt.  I hope it can be of some use to you this year!

  1. Drink kits – whether it is a hot cocoa kit for the kids, or a hot toddy kit for mom and dad, providing someone with all of the ingredients for a yummy winter drink is a great idea and something they will certainly use on those snowy nights ahead!  Yes, people probably have hot cocoa powder on hand, but do they also have marshmallows, crumbled peppermint and chocolate stirrer sticks in their pantry?  Probably not.  Other kits that are fun are ice cream sundae kits, cookie making kits, and even beer bread kits!  (My mom and I did this one year, just put the bread ingredients in a plastic bag, wrap it in burlap and attach a tag that says “just add beer!”)
  2. Ornaments – granted, these are a once a year gift and one they probably won’t get much use out of this year, but if they are made well enough, they will last for years to come.  This year, I spray painted small wooden shapes purchased at Michael’s, drilled holes in the top, mod podged pictures on the front and tied a ribbon!  So easy, and so durable!
  3. Coasters – I did these a couple of years ago and they were a big hit.  I purchased tiles from Lowe’s, but just found them online from my new favorite store Menard’s for only $.14!, and again mod podged pictures onto the front.  I also added felt pieces to the back to prevent scratching and now my family has adorable pictures of my children to place their drink glasses on!
  4. Spa gifts – depending on how natural and how homemade you want these to be, this could take a little more planning to purchase the required items.  But everyone uses lotion and shaving cream and lip balm, so wouldn’t it be great if you could provide them with a homemade version that actually works, and does not include all of those unnatural ingredients?  Amazon has everything you need to make a yummy smelling spa treat for the special people in your life.
  5. *Hats and scarves – this time of year, we are reminded that we can never have too many scarves, hats and mittens.  And if we can happen to find a pair of mittens that match, bonus!  What if we had the whole hat, mitten and scarf set still intact?  Oh right, that’s impossible.  So a matching set will always be a much appreciated gift, and they will think of you and feel thankful every time they put them on.
    *disclaimer: only choose this option if you are actually skilled at knitting or crocheting, and also only if you promise to use solid, neutral colors.  We don’t want to make people feel like the dog in the picture up above!

These are just a few ideas, but they all include a spoonful of love and that’s all anyone really wants this time of year!  Good luck, and please let me know how it goes in the comments!

Image result for spoonful of love

How to Shape Your Company Culture

Company culture has quickly become one of the most important predictors of a company’s future success. With this in mind we are always looking for ways in which we can take even better care of our team. We most definitely live by Richard Branson’s idea of:

“Train people well enough so they can leave,
treat them well enough so they don’t”

I truly believe in this statement, and look forward to seeing it come to fruition over the coming years at Royal Services! 

Source: How to Shape Your Company Culture


Prioritizing tasks around the house

As a happily married father of 3 with a full time job, a small business, a home, 2 cars, and numerous bills to take care of, things are typically quite chaotic. I have a list of things that need to be done around the house, and as most people will understand, there is just no way of handling every single item on the to-do list.

The first thing that is done is deciding which of these truly need to be completed. There might be something that I would like to do, but it is not urgent and can be put on the backburner. There are other tasks that simply cannot be ignored. For example, winterizing the sprinklers in preparation for the harsh midwest temperatures. If this isn’t handled, then we will find ourselves with huge bills to repair our irrigation system in the spring, or we could just not repair it and let our grass and plants die when the summer heat hits. Either way, we will be paying for something.

The sprinklers are an item that I have no clue about, and to be honest, I have no interest sprinkler-1209900_960_720in figuring out what needs to be done. There is expensive equipment involved and there is a lot of risk that has to be mitigated. I do not have this mindset, or the time to mess around, so I trust a local landscaping company to take care of it for me.

Then there are other jobs that are easy to do, that need to be done, but just take up a lot of time that could be spent in other directions. If I have the option of paying a neighborhood middle-schooler $20 to collect all of my leaves, which allows me to spend an extra couple of hours with my family, it’s a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. Instead of washing my car by hand I would rather use that time to take a walk to the park with my family, and pay $8 at the local Green Lantern carwash for a great clean!

There are other tasks such as repairing the washing machine and tuning up my lawn-mower that can be achieved, and I have achieved, with the help of a YouTube video. calculator-385506_960_720Then there are those tasks that I just have to do such as paying bills, managing the family budget, and monitoring investment accounts that only I can do. I try to save these tasks for later in the day so that I don’t miss time with the boys, and it also bores me, so it helps me get to sleep quicker!

At the end of the day you have to decide what is important to you, and what your time is worth. I pay $8 for a car wash because I would rather spend that time playing with my two sons, or sitting on the patio drinking a glass of wine with my wife. I would rather pay someone to do the more complex jobs where I do not possess the required skillset nor am I prepared to take the risk associated with completing the task myself. However, I always mow our grass as I find it relaxing, it’s good exercise, and my two boys have toy lawnmowers and will be out in the yard with me throughout! Incorporating family into chores around the home is a great way to get things done, save money, and still spend time with loved ones!

What matters to you? What are some things that you will never complete yourself because you value your time too much, and what are some responsibilities that you have no interest in doing due to a lack of technical knowledge? What tasks do you actually enjoy and are you able to get your family involved in any of your regular chores?


Activities for children during the winter months

There are many things that we are required to do as the clocks go back, the nights draw in, and cooler temperatures move in. This varies across the country depending on the microclimate you reside within, but here in Kansas City we have to winterize irrigation systems, take plants inside to protect them for the winter months, and complete the painful task of leaf removal. Those of you with large, old oak trees will know exactly autumn-212733_960_720what I am talking about here…

Despite making all of these adjustments for “things” leading into the winter months, there is something much more important that we need to prioritize: what to do with our kids! This applies to children of all ages, as here in KC it’s typically too cold to go outside during the day with toddlers, and it’s already dark by the time older students get done with school activities. As I am a mother of 2 young boys, with a third child due next month, here are 10 activities that you can do to keep your young children active during the not so nice part of the year. Enjoy!

  1. Create space in your garage for them to kick a ball, and ride a bike around.
  2. Set up an obstacle course in your basement
  3. Visit a museum – there are so many small children’s museums, many that you may
    Wonderscope, Kansas City

    not even know about!  Search your area and check reviews for good ones that are close by.

  4. If you still have indoor malls close by, these are typically quiet during the day and provide your little ones with plenty of space to run around and get some energy out of their systems.
  5. Indoor games with modified equipment to prevent damage to valuable antiques and decorations – play with small wiffle balls, foam soccer balls, and this Hover ball is a great indoor toy as well!
  6. Take an inflatable pool and fill it with balls to turn it into your very own ball pit
  7. Trips to your local community center, swimming pool, YMCA etc.
  8. Buy a simple trampoline that will keep them entertained for hours at a time – just be prepared for some serious fistfights when multiple children want to bounce at the same time.
  9. Have them help you with cleaning and laundry where they will be on their feet for son-helping-dad-with-laundryan extended period of time. You can time them cleaning up from multiple rooms, turning a chore into a game!
  10. In Kansas City, we have a place called Rainbow Play Systems, which is a place that sells playground equipment but has their product line set up inside to “test out.”  For just a few dollars, your kids can have a playground/park experience in a temperature-controlled environment!  Look around your area to see if there are any places similar to this, I would highly recommend it!

These are all great for your children but be sure to plan some physical activity for yourself. Here are just a handful of ideas to get you started:

  1. Join a gym – this way you have no excuse for not working out when it is 3 degrees outside.
  2. Stationary bike/elliptical, or another piece of equipment that you can store in your garage or basement where it isn’t going to get in the way.
  3. Join a team where you will play weekly games – Indoor soccer and basketball are just two options that you could get involved with.
  4. Exercise during your lunch break if you are fortunate enough to have on-site fitness equipment, or a nearby gym.
  5. Use the fitness programs of your fitness tracker, activities from an app on your smartphone, or a fitness DVD from someone like Jillian Michaels to give you simple and easy to follow workouts during the short days of winter.

What are some ways that you keep your children and yourself entertained and physically active during the short days of winter? What works and what doesn’t work? Please share your thoughts so that we can all be prepared for this crazy time of year! Thanks for reading, and until next time, Expect The Exceptional in everything that you do.


Christmas shopping tips

We might still be approximately three months away, but it’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas gifts! My husband and I actually started this conversation this past weekend as we try to get on top of things before the mad rush from black Friday onwards. Here are some things that you can do to save time and money this holiday period:

(1) Set a budget – Many people suggest spending 1.5% of your gross annual income on dollar-660223_960_720.pngChristmas gifts, travel, and food. In 2014, the average gross family income was $65,751 according to Motley Fool, 1.5% of which is $986.27.  This seems like a lot of money to spend on the holiday, but when you think about the costs outside of gifts, such as food, entertainment, and travel, it makes sense.

(2) Start early enough so that you have a list of gifts for each person. You might be able to track prices on apps like Cartwheel so that you can purchase these items when they are at their lowest price, or at the very least do your research before Black Friday so you can check for big sales on the items you are looking for.

(3) Remember that it’s the thought that counts. Some of the best gifts that I have ever received have been those that were homemade or were tied to an experience that I shared with my loved ones.

(4) Enjoy your time with your family!  Don’t spend so much time focused on gifts and shopping that you lose sight of what is really important, which is time with those whom you love.  christmas-family-time

(5) Are there things that you could make for your family that would save you money and would also mean more to them? Last year I made a range of cosmetic products for my family including an aftershave balm, foot cream, moisturizing cream, and lip balm made from natural ingredients and essential oils.  These were a big hit, and fun to make as well!

(7) Take advantage of layaway so that you pay ahead of time, rather than opening up crippling lines of credit that will continue to grow with interest charges.

(8) Make intelligent decisions about using Christmas bonuses. Don’t plan on spending a huge Christmas bonus which fails to materialize.

(9) Don’t buy gifts just for the sake of buying gifts.  This tends to happen when you wait until the last minute and are walking aimlessly around the store looking for something, anything that you could get for the last person on your list.  You end up buying them something that they don’t want or need, and holds no meaning.  This is disappointing for both of you!

(10) Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones – it might seem like you can handle the 2fb766eb1dc54a762648ee369217e318--fathers-day-ideas-fathers-day-craftshigh spending habits of your friends, but no one gets an award for spending the most money during the holiday season. Is it really worth it to blow through your budget only to spend the next several months trying to get your head above water and out of debt?  Remember what the holiday is truly about, and don’t get carried away by the hype.

Hopefully these tips are helpful, and as I stated above, it’s never too early to get started!  The sooner you are finished with your shopping, the sooner you get to spend quality time with family during the holiday season.



Tips for maintaining a clean home

Our third child is due in mid-November, and I have officially entered “nesting mode.” Image result for pregnant nesting With the other two, I was going strong up until right before they were born; I shampooed the carpets in the week before my second was born, and even attended a concert on the day of!  However, this one feels a little different and I am losing steam much more quickly.  Therefore, I felt it was important to start the cleaning early so I don’t have to worry about being unable to do it later on.  The problem with this is the chance of the house being destroyed between now and my due date, so I have to focus on maintenance, which is not my strong suit so I have come up with a few rules to follow to help me out.  If it isn’t yours either, maybe you will be able to use these tips as you are working to maintain a tidy home!

  1. Laundry – start a load every morning.  If you go to work and don’t want to leave wet clothes sitting in the wash all day, look for a delay start function on your washer and set it for about an hour before you get home.  Also, try to have a basket for each person, as well as towels so you can separate straight out of the dryer instead of creating an additional task for yourself.
  2. Batch toilets – I hate toilet brushes, and have gotten rid of all of ours.  Clorox wands have disposable brush heads with cleaner built inside.  This is a convenient and sanitary way to keep your toilets clean; however, it’s not as cost-effective as a reusable brush.  So to cut down on use, I try to clean all toilets at the same time and reuse the brush head a few times to get more out of each one.  Even if you use brushes, cleaning all toilets at the same time is a great way to stay on track and ensure that toilets are all clean.
  3. Have a drawer for all paperwork and bills so that things don’t get lost – having one specific drawer for these items keeps things organized and minimizes the chance that something will get lost or misplaced.
  4. Straighten up before bed – when I come down in the morning to a tidy house, I am much more likely to keep it that way throughout the day.  On the other hand, if I come down to a mess, it is likely to get worse before better.  This is certainly a mental thing on my part, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences it!
  5. Break up tasks – instead of lying in bed thinking “tomorrow, I’m cleaning the whole house!” and then feeling like a failure the next night when you haven’t done much Broom, Ragpicker, Mop, Picker, Toilet, Cleaningat all, try breaking up your tasks each day.  For my “baby cleaning,” I set a seven day schedule for myself that covered all parts of my house, but was broken up enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed.  I found a few templates online, but in the end decided to come up with my own schedule, specific to my home and my preferences.  This was for a deep clean, but for maintenance purposes you can use the same list; you will just have less to do after the first time!
  6. Go digital with as many things as you possibly can – this is less about cleaning and more about being prepared, but setting things up online is a great way to stay on top of things and make sure you don’t get behind.  This includes utilizing auto-payments whenever you can, as well as automatic shipping on household items, such as toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, etc. to make sure you don’t run out.
  7. Remotes for lights – this saves both time and money and is something that we have found extremely useful.  I prefer lamps to overhead lighting, so I have a lot aroundLight, Lamp, Bedside Lamp, Illumination, Lampshade the house in various places.  We had some remotes for our Christmas lights and this year instead of packing them away, we have continued using them for the lights in our house.  When the sun goes down, I simply have to press a few buttons to turn the lights on, and at the end of the night do the same to turn them off.  Rather than walking around flipping a ton of switches multiple times a day, this simple tool saves so much time and also prevents leaving lamps on, leading to a spike in the electric bill.

Hopefully these tips help you as much as they have helped me!  Do you have anything else you like to do that I have forgotten?  Please put it in the comments below, and as usual, Expect the Exceptional in everything you do!