Hi, I’m Kristen.

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Welcome! I’m the creator of The Shift UAE.

I’m a 30-something, Australian expat living in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

My husband is an airline pilot and together we have three kids – a 7 year old and 4 year old twins. (Excuse me while I go and search for my sanity…)

I have been an expat since 2001 and consider the UAE as my home (for now). As the UAE continues on its trajectory of rapid change, we’re presented with plenty of challenges and opportunities – mostly in the meeting and letting go of friends so quickly, but also in terms of managing our personal finances and keeping ourselves grounded in a very consumer-centric society.

We have established a wonderful life in Abu Dhabi and have a phenomenal community of friends-like-family who have made our life rich and full. We are also not-so-typical in that both my parents and my husband’s family live within driving distance from us. We are incredibly blessed.

I first moved to the UAE as a 19 year old university student to live with my parents and get an overseas experience. It seems the expat bug sunk its teeth in pretty deep. I met my husband in Dubai (a Papua New Guinean expat) and after we had completed our studies in Australia and done our time in the jungles of PNG, we headed back to the sandpit to establish our careers.

We didn’t have the typical lucrative expat experience as D.I.N.K.s (“Double Income No Kids”) from the outset as my husband was a hard working cadet on a very modest stipend for some time. But for a good 12 month period we had an exceptional joint income and no debt to speak of. We took advantage of the opportunities to travel, eat out, and be a little more frivolous with our spending than we had been able to afford at the beginning of our marriage.

After establishing a career in Communications and Strategy Development, I decided to stay at home with our then newborn son, sacrificing 50% of our joint income for the sake of a stable family life. Fast forward seven years, twins (!) and a move from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and we are finding news ways to be more responsible with our money while still being able to be generous in sharing what we have with others.

I am passionate about my Christian faith, hospitality (not the fancy, catalogue-worthy type but the real, honest, meet-people-where-they’re-at type),  leading my children to grow into awesome people, responsible and sustainable living – and I also love a great bargain!

At The Shift UAE, I’m looking forward to sharing and discussing how we can live out this privilege of being in the UAE in such a way that we are changed for the better for having been given this opportunity.

Sustainability is the New Black

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Sustainability – It’s the catchword we’ve seen bandied around for over two decades. The proverbial light bulb turned on for our our global leaders and influencers in the mid-80’s with the introduction of ideas such as renewable energy and the need to slow down and even reverse the environmental impact of centuries of industrial development.

It is undeniable that the UAE has made unprecedented rapid growth as a country, however with great progress comes great responsibility and we are now seeing the move towards sustainable planning and living.

The year 2018 was declared “The Year of Zayed” to commemorate 100 years since the birth of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the founder and first ruler of the UAE.

An inspiring visionary, Sheikh Zayed was committed to rapid progress – yet not at the expense of the values and long-term benefit of his people or his land.

For many who first visit the UAE, it is hard to imagine what this place looked like less than 50 years ago. Here’s a quick glimpse of Abu Dhabi before the 1970s oil boom:

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Fast forward 47 years since the unification of the Emirates, and the progress and development of this nation has to be seen to be believed.

When I first moved to the UAE in 2001, the UAE was going through a significant shift in public policy. Bur Juman Shopping Mall in Dubai was the first to introduce a No Smoking policy and national campaigns explaining the impact of littering and water wastage were just getting started.

Today in 2018, we are seeing a huge focus on national identity and cultural heritage and it has been encouraging to see the grass roots movement towards more responsible living motivated by national pride and social responsibility.

Here are a few of our favourite initiatives that are blazing the way for a sustainable UAE:

  1. Eating local: Local organic farms such as Ripe Organic Farm are leading this push to eat locally sourced, organic, fresh produce, reducing the dependence on overseas imports and the carbon footprint that leaves.
  2. Pre-loved shopping: Yessss! Thrifting is finally a thing in the UAE thanks to organizations such as Dubizzle, Shop Retold and the brand new Lahum at Masdar City, Abu Dhabi’s carbon neutral city development. We can’t wait to see this industry grow! (Did someone say “bargain”?!)
  3. Tackling food wastage: His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum ordered the establishment of The Dubai Food Bank to tackle the issue of food wastage on a global scale. This is also being taken up on a local scale by two Dubai-based entrepreneurs who founded BonApp, which sees users nabbing great deals on soon-to-expire food from major food and beverage outlets across the city.

Here at The Shift UAE, we’re looking forward to exploring more ideas of how we can make personal and social changes to ensure higher levels of sustainability in our homes and communities.

What are some things that you do to lead a more sustainable and responsible lifestyle in the UAE? 

 

 

 

UAE Staycation Ideas That Don’t Cost the Earth:

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Hot on the heels of our top staycation hacks for Spring Break (and any time of year, really), here is a list of 10 things to do in the UAE during your staycation that won’t cost the earth:

  1. Park Days: Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi. This park has it all – playgrounds, walking/running tracks, playing fields, water features, and a mini zoo. The grounds are beautiful and in the early morning (gates open at 8am) or early evening, the weather is lovely. There are also some great eating options, including Salt burger joint and a new coffee spot at the end of the carpark called Snooze (which, ironically, only opens at 10am). The rules are fairly strict about bringing in your own food, which we find quite odd for what should be the prettiest picnic spot in the Abu Dhabi. The way around this is to pack your cooler box in the car and eat your picnic on the grassy areas outside the park gate and then head back in for more park time.
  2. On ya bike: Bike Share: There’s nothing better than feeling the wind in your hair and the breath in your lungs as you explore new parts of the city. We love biking along Abu Dhabi Corniche in the early evening or at Louvre Abu Dhabi in the early morning. If you don’t have your own bike, Cyacle bike share kiosks are located all over Abu Dhabi, while Dubai residents and visitors can look out for BYKY Stations around town. Simply insert your bank card into the kiosk, punch in your details and a bike will be released to you for an hour at a time. The bikes will cost you AED20 a day. You simply need to redock the bike every hour at any of the docking stations around town to keep your costs down and your account active, otherwise additional fees will apply.
  3. To Market, To Market: Ripe Markets at Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi. Back at our favourite park, the Ripe crew have a great set up on a Saturday afternoon from 4pm during the cooler months of the year. Check out http://www.ripeme.com for details on their activities over the summer months.
  4. Indoor Play: Funworks, Yas Mall. Say what you will, summer days in the UAE will eventually call for a day (or 100) of indoor play at a mall. Last summer we took advantage of the 100 Days of Play at the huge Funworks soft play area at Yas Mall. Valid at all Funworks, Fun City and Fun Ville outlets, this was a life saver for us over the extended summer break. At a cost of AED100 per child for unlimited play for the whole summer, we popped over to Yas mall at least twice a week. We would arrive in our active wear at around 9am, have our own little warm up jogging up and down the mall until the play area opened at 10am, and then spend a good hour getting lost in the maze of Funworks. We’d bring our own snacks or stop for a coffee at Starbucks where the kids would enjoy a free babycino before we headed back home.
  5. Get Cultured: Louvre Abu Dhabi. If you haven’t already checked out this treasure of a museum, you’re missing out. Beautifully curated, the stunning collection highlights the common threads that bind humanity and show our commonality across history, geography, tradition, culture or belief. The architecture and design of the building is breathtaking and worth at least one visit over your staycation.  General admission is AED60 and children under 13 are free. There are also discounted tickets for students, teachers and UAE military. You might consider becoming a member if you intend to visit regularly.
  6. Hit the Beach while you can: Abu Dhabi and Dubai have some fabulous public beaches which are best to visit between October and April. If you’re in Abu Dhabi, try the Corniche Beach. If you’re in Dubai, Jumeirah beach is beautiful, as is Al Mamzar. Bring your own food and drinks in a cooler and make a day of it.
  7. Be iconic: The Dubai Fountain, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Aquarium. Not all trips to Dubai need to cost you an arm and a leg. If you want an iconic day out, visit the Dubai Mall and check out the mesmerising Dubai Fountain which dances under the shadow of the colossal Burj Khalifa. Pop inside to see the Dubai Aquarium which you can view for free from the main atrium. Otherwise, you can pay to go through the aquarium tunnel and head upstairs to visit the Underwater Zoo that resides at the top of the mall.
  8. Explore Heritage & Culture: The UAE has some remarkable heritage sites and destinations that are well worth the visit. In Abu Dhabi, check out Qasr Al Hosn to learn more about the ruling Al Nahyan family. The Al Ain Oasis is a beautiful, tranquil UNESCO World Heritage site which showcases the unique ecosystems of the UAE’s oases and waterways. In Dubai, you must check out the beautiful Al Bastakiya heritage district, complete with with museums, art galleries and cafes. During March, the whole site is transformed into the Sikka Art Fair.
  9. Kayaking: The Eastern Mangroves. Here you’ll have vantage point of some of the best views in Abu Dhabi while paddling through the serene outcrops of mangroves and clear salt water inlets. While the cost is up to AED160 per person, check out Noukhada for special offers including two for one tours using The Entertainer vouchers.
  10. Everyone’s a photographer: Each summer, we give our oldest child an old digital camera and have him take photos of whatever he sees while we are out and about. Periodically, we’ll go through and delete the 190 selfies and download the interesting and unique shots he has taken from his perspective. We then put together a small album for him to have as a keepsake from his vacation. As he gets older, he can get more involved in editing and captioning the images.

Do you have any more money-saving staycation ideas up your sleeve? Share them with us and tag us on social media #theshiftuae.

UAE Spring Break Staycation Hacks

IMG_1558.JPGSpring Break is nearly here! Can I get a “hallelujah!”?

We’re so ready for a break from school and work. However, this year will be the first time in a while that our family has not taken an international vacation over Spring Break.

(Disclaimer for the newbies: Most expats take an international vacation at least once a year to visit family and meet certain obligations in their home country. Many employers pay for an annual ticket home for each family member, although as things shift this is becoming less common.)

My husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary at the end of March, so we usually like to skip out of town and take our annual family vacation at this time of year. However as a pilot, he doesn’t usually get summers off, so we have played our fair share of “Summer Survivor” (You’re looking at the Abu Dhabi Champions, five years running!).

I don’t know about you, but spending money during staycations can be way too easy, sometimes completely defeating the money-saving purpose of the staycation itself. A couple of trips to the mall to avoid the heat and let the kids stretch their legs, and we’re down at least a hundred dirhams on snacks, lunch and incidentals. And that’s without doing anything in particular.

Keeping with the main theme of saving a dirham or two, I thought I’d share a few of my UAE staycation hacks for those of you planning a similarly low-key spring break.

  • Theme your days: Perhaps my most successful sanity-saving idea is to theme our days of the week so we don’t find ourselves spending every day at home with the kids in front of screens. For example, “Splashy Sunday”, “Make Something Monday”, “Take a Trip Tuesday”, “What’s Cooking Wednesday” etc. If anything, it helps create a framework within which we can plan the whole vacation and gives me (and the kids) an idea of what’s happening next.
  • Plan, plan, plan! I like to print out a calendar of the whole holiday, theme the days of the week (as above) and write out our “wish list” on sticky notes. Then I can visualise what can happen when, and we don’t end up cramming everything in on the last days after getting the guilts from not doing anything “fun”.
  • Go outside!! The weather during spring break in the UAE is amazing and it won’t be long before the summer heat and humidity hit us like a fan-forced oven. Take advantage of the many parks, beaches and fun outdoor attractions around the Emirates. For example, you can easily spend a whole day at Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi with its many play grounds, water features and mini-zoo. (Hint: Since you can’t take picnic food inside, leave your lunch in a cooler in the car and eat it on the grass or on the benches outside the front gate. That way you don’t have to eat at expensive cafes with a tribe of ravenous children.)
  • Think outside the box: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great time in the UAE. For example, one night last month I took my husband on a date night to Louvre Abu Dhabi. I baked brownies and made a flask of our favourite tea and we sat outside under the stars and enjoyed the quiet ambience and views of the magnificent structure. All it cost was the petrol in our car (and the ingredients in the brownies).
  • Avoid the malls: If you want to save money, don’t go shopping. I’ve recently started buying my groceries online through Kibsons and I’ve noticed how much money we have saved on incidentals and coffees since I haven’t physically gone to the shops to get what I need. And that’s not even during school holidays! The moment you take the kids to the mall, you’re guaranteed to buy snacks for everyone and walk out with items your children never knew they needed until that day. Avoid the whole drama and shop online.
  • Plan one big-ticket outing only: If you do want to splash out during your staycation and perhaps go to a theme park or resort, limit it to one or two days. When I ask my kids what they want to do for vacation, they list all of the expensive options on one piece of paper. Then my husband and I choose what is the most realistic, affordable and suitable option for the whole family and we schedule it in. The kids love being able to count down to the big day and have a better time having looked forward to it, rather than it being just one of many activities jam-packed into the staycation.
  • Build in some down-time: Sometimes the best days of our staycations have been the ones where the kids play with their toys or ride their bikes around the compound while we sip tea and get some housework done. Don’t despise the day of small things.

Coming up next, I’ll share a list of some specific locations and activities to include in your staycation.

Until then, why not share some of your staycation hacks? What do you like to do and see around the UAE during Spring Break?

Kids Birthday Parties: Don’t Blow The Budget

IMG_1549.JPGKids birthday parties. Love them or hate them, you’ve gotta have them.

I don’t think I have ever seen such extravagant parties for children than in the UAE. I’ve seen everything from hotel ball room extravaganzas to backyard bonanzas complete with face painting, clowns and five-star catering. Many of our friends have opted for organized parties at indoor play parks and some have even taken their kids and their friends to a major theme park for a day.

One friend once confided in me that her 10 year old’s birthday party cost them over 6,000 dirhams!

Nowadays, you just need to type in “kids’ birthday party” into Pinterest and you can brace yourself for images of most beautiful, elaborate, expensive and otherworldly events that are enough to put any world class event planner to shame. It’s a game of “keeping up with the Jones’es” on a whole new level!

But it doesn’t have to be this way! What ever happened to doing things ourselves?

When I was a kid, a birthday parties were simple celebrations. My parents would let me invite a few friends and their parents for a cake at my house or at the park.  My mum always made our cakes and the catering was simple – usually some fairy bread (bread with butter and rainbow sprinkles), some fruit and some chips. The kids played, there was an occasional game of pass-the-parcel and everyone went home on a sugar high and with a sweaty face from playing so hard.

My twins turned four this week. We had a simple party in our back yard and the whole event cost a little over 400 dirhams.

Here are some of the ways we saved money and still had an awesome day:

  1. Digital invitations: I designed the invitations on PicMonkey and sent them out via What’s App, saving money on printing.
  2. Don’t invite everyone: With twins, I wasn’t prepared to invite two whole classes of kids to the party, so I let them invite four friends each for their fourth birthday. We added a few close family friends (the Tribe) to the list to round out the numbers.
  3. Homemade decorations: I cut the decorations out of old paintings that my kids had made. We went for a mermaids and monkeys theme, so we had bunches of bananas and leaves and starfish and shells strung across the yard.
  4. Party at our place: We have a nice big back yard and with the weather still being so pleasant, we had a lovely relaxed afternoon chatting with the grownups while the kids played.
  5. Simple catering: I baked cookies and muffins, had bowls of goldfish crackers and plates of fairy bread (of course!), a simple fruit platter of grapes and watermelon, water, juice, tea and coffee for the grown-ups, and CAKE!
  6. Home made cake: I baked the cake and assembled it myself. All of the cake decorations were home made. It tasted delicious and all it cost was the ingredients. (Side note: I am aware that some people aren’t confident in the kitchen – but I bet you have a friend that is! A little help from your friends can go a long, long way!)
  7. Limit the games. Because our kids are still small, they don’t really understand how the typical party games work. We opted instead to let them play in the communal playground in our compound and let them write on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. Everyone’s a winner and no one needs a prize!
  8. Simple party favours: I am mindful that most parents (including myself) don’t really want a sugared-up kid coming home just before dinner and bedtime the night before school. I bought simple gifts from Daiso, including a pen, origami paper and a few stickers. No candy = a win for the parents!

At the end of the day, the kids left sweaty and happy from playing with their besties. Our clean up was minimal, our costs were low and most importantly, our twins thought it was the best day ever.

Have you been caught out with the expense of your child’s birthday party before? What would you do differently next time?

Find your tribe

FullSizeRender (2)We have the best friends in the world.

Some of them we have known for years. Others we met less than two weeks ago. Some we haven’t seen in over a decade. Yet we really do have the best friends the world has to offer.

As long-term UAE residents, my husband and I have had waves of friends come into our lives and then quickly depart, leaving us to gather ourselves, adjust our friendship circles and move on.

I was recently asked by a friend who is a newcomer to Abu Dhabi, “How do you get used to gaining and losing friends so often?”

She went on to say that she had met a lady at a function who indicated that she would only be staying for six more months. My friend’s initial reaction was to pull back from investing any further in the interaction and to start a conversation with someone else who would be sticking around a bit longer.

Is it really worth investing in such short-term friendships?

My short answer is an emphatic and resounding: “Yes!”

My husband moved to the UAE when he was six years old so his frame of reference for “normal friendships” is slightly different to most. Some of his closest and most significant friendships have been with people who have lived in the UAE for only 12 months, only to then move on to new opportunities. Sure, they don’t speak to or even see each other for years at a time, but they were friends for a season and they continue to leave their impression on him.

Similarly, I have been an expat since the impressionable age of 19. New to international living, I threw myself into new friendships with people from places I hadn’t previously heard of (have you ever met a Kenyan-Balochistani-American?). These new friendships completely shaped and influenced my view of the UAE and I am forever grateful for those months of intense friendship.

We often say that the UAE attracts only the most extraordinary people. It is not typical for folks to leave their comforts of home and family to move to a foreign place and start a new life –  it takes the most unique, talented, brave and passionate people in the world to do this extraordinary thing!

Why wouldn’t I want to be friends with people like that?

Today, our home has a revolving door to friends and friends of friends and sometimes complete strangers met through moments of kismet. We cherish the opportunity to know and be known by the extraordinary people that pass through the UAE.

And while we may not have struck it rich in dirhams, in the UAE we hit the jackpot in the friendship department. 

We have a tribe of amazing friends-like-family who have shared our life with us here –  some for a season and some who are stayers – all of whom one day (perhaps even soon) will move on to new adventures. But for the time being they are ours and we are theirs. What else could we ask for?

So go out and find your tribe and gather yourself some riches beyond compare. I dare you.

Have you found your tribe yet? In what ways have you struggled to or succeeded in making friends in the UAE?

 

Will you be my “Kabayan”?

IMG_1355.JPGLiving in the UAE opens to door to the world. Over the years, we have collected the most extraordinary group of friends and family from all corners of the earth.

Being part of such a multinational community means being exposed to the best of what the world has to offer. From food, to parenting, to new words and phrases, we love being able to integrate these gems into our own family and community culture.

Perhaps one of my favourite cultural quirks is the “kabayan” culture of our friends from the Philippines.

“Kabayan” simply means “fellow countryman”. Walk around a UAE mall long enough with your Filipina friend and you’ll want a dirham for every time another Filipina calls her “Kabayan”.

There is comfort in knowing you’ve got other people “on your team” when you’re in a foreign country, and folks from the Philippines have this thing nailed.

A couple of weeks ago our Filpina friend went to the mall in search of a new sim card for her phone. She went off to one of the main telecoms branches to make the purchase, however when the sales clerk saw her and heard her request, he directed her to another phone kiosk that sold the same item for 50% of the price – all because she was his kabayan!

As a girl who’s always up for saving a few dirhams and gets major buyer’s remorse when I’ve found out I’ve been jipped, this made me think – “Where is my kabayan when I’m at the mall?!”

 Let’s be honest – no one likes to be ripped off and we all love a bargain.

I think it’s time we all did a better job of sharing our insider knowledge of where to get the best deals in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

So here’s your platform, people!

If you have the inside scoop on a great bargain, send me the details or post it on Instagram and use the hashtag #theshiftuae

Off we go!

Can you feel The Shift?

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There’s change in the air. Can you feel it?

Listen to the coffee shop banter and school yard chatter and you’ll hear people saying the same thing: “It’s not like it used to be.”

This year, UAE residents have had a taste of this “real world” with the introduction of VAT, petrol price hikes and the announcement of new road tolls coming along soon. For the first time ever, the UAE is making the shift from a no-tax haven to a low-tax haven.

In addition to this, there has been an economic downturn with many companies downsizing and making budget cuts which are hitting UAE residents in the wallet. Salaries are not increasing and allowances and benefits are slowly being reduced, yet the cost of living continues to soar.

For my own family and for many of our friends, we have had tighten our belts and have started to make the mental shift to a more modest lifestyle to ensure  we don’t get carried away with the tide.

My husband and I recently had some significant conversations to make sure we were on the same page in understanding our monthly financial earnings and obligations. We decided that we have to adjust our spending habits and set new financial goals if we want to have any level of financial security for our future.

Realising our Abu Dhabi lifestyle has been characterised by a more laissez faire approach to spending, we sat down and assessed our needs versus our greeds.  For example, eating out has become a treat, not an every day occurrence. International holidays are now optional, not mandatory (REALITY CHECK: My seven and three year old children do not need multiple international vacations a year!). Bargain hunting has become a sport. And shopping sprees are a thing of the past.

It’s time to be responsible. We made some big decisions, set a clear budget and started using tools like YNAB (You Need A Budget) and Dave Ramsey‘s envelope system to help us stay on track.

And you know what? It feels really good! It’s actually freeing to know we can have more control over our spending, even if it means putting some realistic boundaries in place to protect us from our old habits.

For the first time in a long time we feel like we have a clear sense of direction with our finances and the open communication about our money has only had a positive impact on our relationship and general outlook on the future. Onward and upward, I say!

Have you noticed the shift? What kind of changes are you making to your lifestyle to ensure a greater sense of financial responsibility and to better secure your financial future? 

Leave a note in the comments or share your ideas on Instagram using #TheShiftUAE.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dawn of a New Era

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Hi! I’m Kristen. I’m a 30-something Australian, a pilot’s wife, a mother of three and an all round “get ‘er done-er”.

And I’ve been an expat for more than 15 years.

As a young professional making a great double income with my husband, we took advantage of the lifestyle the UAE offered – international travel, stays in luxury hotels, the occasional designer clothing splurge and lots of eating out.

Fast forward to 2018, one salary down and three children later, the living isn’t quite so frivolous. After a great career as a Strategy Manager, my weeks are now spent strategizing how to save a few extra dirhams on the grocery bill so that we can pay for piano lessons this month.

We simply can’t afford to go out for AED500/head lunches, pay top dirham for personal trainers or take our kids out to expensive play centres every week.

My husband is privileged to have his dream job and makes a great salary, however with the cost of living in the UAE increasing every year and unexpected surprises (like twins!), major car repairs and the introduction of VAT, it’s time to be honest and shine a spotlight on that elephant in the room – The golden era has passed.

The UAE and global economies have made shift and things just ‘aint what they used to be. And for many like myself, the proverbial penny has dropped and we need to decide whether to bury our heads in the sand or jump on board that camel train and go with it!

So I give to you – The Shift UAE: A realistic take on UAE life in the midst of change, and a one-stop-shop for helping people like you and me find our bearings as we navigate through the process of settling in and living life in the UAE. Together we’ll explore day-to-day options and ideas for living out the privilege of being in this wonderful country, both wisely and responsibly.

As seasoned expats and one of the rare families that has no foreseeable plans to return to our home country, we are used to seeing friends come and go on a frequent basis. And as a long-term “stayer”, I’ve inadvertently become the “Oracle for Setting Up Home in Abu Dhabi” among our community of friends. I love to give advice about what to do, where to go, and how to go about doing pretty much anything in the UAE.

When I look back and think of the many missed opportunities that I had to establish a better financial foundation for our family, I wish that someone had sat me down and guided us through some of the pitfalls of expat living and warned us of the financial and lifestyle traps that can blindside us along the way.

This is a journey for me too, as I continue to work out how to be a wiser manager our money, pursue a healthy balance of providing well for our children and discover a clear perspective of “needs versus greeds”.

Will you join me in this journey?