Category Archives: Holidays

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!

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Ways that you can give back to your local community

This time of year, giving back is on the forefront of our minds.  As we look around at our own situations, we often feel blessed for all of the good in our lives.  This feeling is sometimes followed by guilt, remembering that not everyone has so much to be thankful for.  Consequently, we begin to wonder: what can I do to give back?  In case you have asked that question lately, here is a list of ideas to get you started!

  1. Local church – whether you belong to a church or not, they are always looks for volunteers to help with various things, as well as donations of clothing or food.
  2. Participate in a charity fundraiser – find an organization that is close to your heartrunner-888016_960_720 and run in the 5K, or volunteer at one of their fundraising events.
  3. Volunteer as a coach in the local parks and recreation sports program – this is a great way to get involved in the community, as well as give a child a role model that they may be needing in their life!  In Johnson County, KS you can simply lg on to the parks and rec website for opportunities.
  4. Salvation Army bell ringer at Christmas
  5. Lead a charity event at your place of work – This is great for team building. Check out Royal’s website to learn about the different community outreach programs in which they have become involved, it’s a great place to get ideas!
  6. Clean up – Volunteer your time in helping to clean up the local school playground in preparation for the start of the school year. Collect litter from the highway or help clean the local stream in your neighborhood.
  7. Make a financial donation – if you feel you are too swamped to attend an event, dollar-660223_960_720financial donations are always appreciated.  Just make sure you know where your money is going to be used!
  8. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen – soup kitchens are full of volunteers around the holidays, so try volunteering at another time of year when they truly need the extra help.
  9. Get involved with an inmate program designed to help people prepare for life after jail.
  10. Create an event yourself to support a charity – if you can’t find something you are passionate about, make up your own event!
  11. Find someone in need and personally help them – make a grocery run for your Basket, Groceries, Vegetables, Fruits, Food, Asparaguselderly neighbor, or buy a few toys for the kids down the street whose dad just lost his job.
  12. Carry a survival pack in your car that includes socks, gloves, toothpaste, a toothbrush, some snacks etc. that you can give to homeless people when you see them.

These are just a few ideas, and most of them are things you can do all year long!  Do you have any other things you like to do to give back?  Leave your ideas in the comments below!


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.



Tricks when traveling with children

After our recent overseas trip to visit family in England, I once again realized how incredibly difficult it is to travel with children.  What is already an exhausting journey is multiplied 10-fold when you are joined by young travel-mates.  I thought I was prepared for this adventure, but there were some things I didn’t think of that I wanted to pass along in the hopes that it will help someone else!  Here are a few tips that I have either tried, or wish I would have tried!

(1) Take snacks with you – this is obvious, but I would recommend finding some snacks that you are allowed to take on board that actually provide some sustenance to your kids.  I packed a ton of suckers, but thankfully my mom packed a travel bag for the boys with yogurt raisins and a surprising favorite, beef jerky.  Snacks were at times the only thing that would calm them down and I felt terrible constantly feeding them pointless sugars.

(2) Give them their own suitcase or bag to be responsible for – we tried to limit our carry-Resized_20170305_084239on luggage this time around, but we did have my son’s small suitcase on wheels that held our extra clothes.  He was in charge of pulling this through the airport, and not only was it adorable but it gave him something to do that distracted him from wanting to be held.

(3) Pack a car seat – If you need a car seat at your destination, take yours with you!  The first year we traveled with our oldest, we requested that the taxis taking us to and from the airport have a car seat.  The ones they provided were very outdated and the cab drivers had no idea how to install them.  Needless to say, I was very nervous while in the car and we decided never to do that again!

(4) Pack extra clothes – there has been more than one occasion where our luggage was delayed or “misplaced” and we were left scrambling for a few days, washing the same clothes over and over, as well as purchasing new clothes to hold us over.  I now make sure one of our carry-on bags includes extra outfits for everyone, just in case.  Also, when you have children, there is always the chance the clothes they are wearing will be destroyed and it’s nice to have extras if you need them!

(5) Remember sanitizing wipes – I recently read that your tray is the dirtiest part of the airplane.  Which is gross, as this is where your food goes!  I brought along wipes and made sure to clean off the trays as soon as we sat down.

(6) Pack refillable cups – after our apple juice was sent flying, I decided it was time to pull out the water bottles I had packed and use those for the remainder of the flight.  I asked the flight attendants to fill those during drink service and no longer had to stress about spilling.

(7) Try to stay calm – the first time I flew with a young child, I was so worried about what everyone else was thinking.  If he made the slightest noise, I would try to quiet him downbaby-215303_960_720 and it just made me so much more stressed than I needed to be.  This time, I just focused on my boys and their well-being and it made for a much happier flight.  When my 21-month old was crying, I focused on comforting him and remembered that he was exhausted, instead of worrying about what the people around me were thinking.  That being said, you shouldn’t let your child run wild and do things that are purposely disturbing others, like kicking seats or throwing food.

(8) Look for free seats – when flying with a lap child, an extra seat is like gold.  The first time we flew with our oldest, the man checking us into the flight let us know that he switched our row so we could have an extra seat for the baby.  Laying him down in the seat next to me while he slept almost brought tears to my eyes, as it was so difficult for him to sleep in my lap.  This time, we kept our eyes peeled and before the flight had even taken off, my husband had checked with the flight attendant and found a free row of seats for half of the family to sit in.  The flight was so much more enjoyable for everyone with a little extra breathing room.

Hopefully these tips will help make your life more convenient as you travel to your next destination.  If you have any more ideas, please include them in the comments below!


Examples of incredible customer service

While traveling in England recently we experienced some great customer service that I wanted to share with you here.  Hopefully these, along with the examples from last week, will give you some inspiration for your own business!

Carillon – In Loughborough, where my husband is from, there is a famous Carillon bell tower, which serves as a memorial to fallen soldiers in the two World Wars.  The Carillon Image result for loughborough carillonalso serves as a museum with artifacts from the war.  When we visited this historic location, the gentlemen who volunteer at the museum went out of their way to share as much as possible about the monument with us. They were very passionate and one suggested that we visit the local Charnwood Museum where he also worked. He was extremely passionate about his job and clearly had a love for the history of the building that he was working in.

Plane ride – The flight attendant assigned to our area immediately made a connection with our son who shares a name with her. She took a shine to our two boys and sporadically entertained them throughout our eight-hour Trans-Atlantic flight. Not only did this make our two sons happy, it made the flight much more enjoyable for the two of us, and also put a smile on all of the passengers around us who could clearly see that this young lady was in the right business as she was clearly a people person and was focused on making people happy.

Train to Exeter – we took a train into Exeter during one leg of our trip and the conductor went out of his way to find the best value ticket available for the trip that we were making. This gentleman could easily have just given us the tickets that we had asked for Image result for train to exeter from londonbut instead he chose to find the best value solution for us given the routes that we wanted to take.

Plane on way back –  Ross, our flight attendant on the way back was just as wonderful as the one on the way there.  The lady in front of us had a dietary requirement that had been missed when she booked her ticket through her travel agent. Ross could easily have said tough luck and that he couldn’t do anything. However, instead of taking the easy option, he managed to create a meal for her from leftover meals. He then took things one step further and collected the passenger’s information so that he could pass it onto his colleagues and make sure that she receives the correct meal on her return flight.  He also ensured that we were able to get an open row for my husband and one of the boys, which made the flight much more enjoyable than if the four of us were crammed in one row!

The theme of all of these experiences is clear: it’s important to go above and beyond when you are in a customer service position.  It does not go unnoticed and it creates customers for life!



Father’s Day Gift Ideas

With all the gifts that my husband receives I try to make them as personal as possible, with an emotional piece attached to each gift. I believe that the thought that went into making or purchasing the gift is the most important thing and the place where you can show your appreciation and love.  In case you are having last-minute struggles finding the perfect gift, here are some ideas that might help!

  • Favorite sports team apparel – you really can’t go wrong with this one. The majority of men have a favorite team whether it be a professional team, a national team, a college team, or it could even be the team that your child plays on.
  • Favorite breakfast or meal – if your man is one who appreciates breakfast in bed, this is a great day to put this plan in motion!  Otherwise, making their favorite meal, no matter how complicated, is a great way to show appreciation for all that they do.
  • Personalized cup or mug – the first Father’s day gift that my husband received was 20170616_113257a handprint mug.  Seeing as our son was only about 5 months, this didn’t turn out perfectly, but he loved it all the same!
  • Let the kids pick out a gift. This started when my husband let my then 2 year old son pick out a birthday card and gift for me. He was obsessed with dogs at the time, so unsurprisingly my card featured a canine friend! I also ended up receiving a gift card to Panda Express as my son was drawn in by the Panda and it was also at a height that he could easily see and reach.  Last year, I took him to the local 5 Below and let him choose anything in the store to give to his dad for a gift.  It was as much fun for me as it was for dad when he got his new soccer ball!
  • Paint something – you can purchase canvas boards at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby.  Set it up on an easel with basic paint colors and let the magic happen!
  • Take a special photo – My husband is from England and is a soccer fanatic. This is DSC_0660 4actually how he ended up in Kansas City. Unsurprisingly, as soon as my boys could walk, my husband rolled a soccer ball out at their feet! The three things that my husband loves the most in the world are his family, his country, and football. I dressed my two boys in their England soccer kits, sat them down with a ball in front of a soccer goal, and took a photo which I then had put onto a canvas.
  • A personalized fishing tackle box or cooler- we did this for my dad a couple of years ago.  My dad already had a perfectly good tackle box, but needed a small cooler for his lunch (and possibly worms)!  We decorated the side of the cooler with handprint fish for a personal touch.
  • A gift that the dad in your life can complete with those around him – Last year I got 20170616_113405my husband a toolbox set that he had to paint and assemble with the assistance of my two sons. This was a great activity that allowed the three of them to spend time together, and it also produced a very personal gift that has meaning for all of them.

What is the best thing that you have done for the dads in your life? Which gift has tugged on their heart strings? Share your ideas below, and if you haven’t done so already be sure to make Sunday an extra special day for all the fathers in your life. Until next time, take care, and Expect The Exceptional in everything that you do!