Tuning inward to conquer stress and enjoy life

“My thoughts got the better of me.”

“I can’t switch off.”

“I’m so snowed under.”

How often have YOU said these words, or even noticed this happening?

Our lives are more stressful than ever before.  Our mind is constantly busy telling us what to do next, remembering the past and planning the future.  Many of us work late on the job, spending our down time checking texts and social media.  When do we focus on ourselves?

There is a practical way to relax your mind and let go of stress.  This practice is meditation.

It wasn’t so long ago that meditation was a new age ‘buzz word’, an airy-fairy practice upheld by yogis and mystics.  But the great thing is, you don’t need to be a Buddist monk or buy into any form of ‘dogma’ to access it or realise it’s benefits.  Modern-day stress continues to be a huge contributor to depression and illness, and meditation is now widely cited as an effective self-help tool.

Meditation helps us to take a step back from our thoughts, to observe them rather than be caught up in them.  I call it ‘deliberate relaxation’. At the ethos of meditation is slowing down.  Slowing the breath down and tuning inward helps put a stop to all the frantic hurriedness.  Through meditation, we can take control of our thoughts and can scrutinise and update them at will, ditching those that no longer support us.

Benefits of meditation

For me, they can be whittled down to 3 ‘C’s:

  • Calmness
  • Concentration
  • Compassion

Meditation can help us feel more calm and peaceful through having a positive impact on two areas of our brain – the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

The pre-frontal cortex area helps us regulate emotions, while the amygdala’s job is one of survival and the fight or flight response.  Regular meditation enables these two pathways to have wider access to each other, resulting in improved problem solving and putting things into perspective.    What a great anecdote for stress!

Neuroscientists have said that meditation helps us to focus on tasks for longer.  Many of the thoughts we carry around with us actually divert us away from what we’re doing at the present time.  Reigning in the constant chatter of the mind can help us to concentrate or simply be in the present moment.

For example, when I’m with my young son, his and my idea of fun can be poles apart.  He wants me to play with his trucks and pretend to be a sea monster on the trampoline! Rather than wish I could be doing other things, check my watch or bury myself in endless housework, meditation helps me to enjoy this fleeting time.  Having given myself some concentrated attention, I can focus on my son and enjoy it.  By filling my tank, I can fill his.

Finally, compassion for yourself and others is a quality that can be enhanced with meditation.  Creating space in our minds and lives to be present, to ourselves and others and realising that in some way, we are all interconnected.

How do we meditate?

Sitting down, turning off our mind and relaxing should be easy, but the reality is, it isn’t!  The mind is generally a very undisciplined character: tell it not to think about something and it won’t listen! The important thing is just to start.  Here are a few quick tips.

  • Commit to a daily time. Be committed to keeping this date with yourself
  • Set a goal, for example, five minutes
  • Find and dedicate a place to meditate. Perhaps it’s a special chair or cushions on the floor.  You may like to include a token of relaxation – a candle, flowers or even a photograph.

Now that the practical side is taken care of, the technique is also simple.  There is no ‘right’ way to meditate.  Your goal is to still the mind, using the breath as the anchor point.   Take a moment to get comfortable, eyes can be open with a soft focus, or closed.  Draw the breath in through the nose, pause, then exhale out of your mouth, releasing tension, negativity and stressful thoughts.

Accept that your mind will wander.  Frequently.  Each time it does, acknowledge the thoughts that come up and re-direct your attention back to your breathing.  Stick with it!

Watch yourself change…gradually!

At first, nothing much will happen and you’ll wonder if the time you’re spending is productive.  Meditation is a little like having a garden.    Tend to it regularly, ideally a little bit every day.  Watching it grow is simply too long to wait, but one day very soon, you’ll look up and notice how much it has flourished.

Maybe you’ll notice that you didn’t snap during the usual rush hour commotion, or that when someone asks you something, you stop and look at them, giving them your full attention.  Perhaps you’ll feel more productive without so many worries circling overhead, or simply more confident that things will turn out for the best.

Meditation can help you to feel calm, increase your focus and exhibit greater compassion.  Time for you is important, but is so often elusive.  Start by prioritising yourself for just five minutes each day, give meditation a try and notice the difference.  Living more in the present moment, you can lead a richer, fuller life and with stress kept at bay, an ever longer one.

Want to know more about meditation? Please refer to comments below for useful links.




How to get a good deal on a house

We live in Auckland, home of the million-dollar average house price.  Recently, the market has gone off the boil, in fact, one could say it’s a waning market.  Sellers are bullish, but buyers are refusing to pay ridiculous prices.  Enough is enough is the sentiment!

While I can’t promise you a golden goose in any market, I’m going to share a few hot tips on getting the best price on a house.

I draw from my own experience in trawling the streets for nine months before buying a functional three bedroom, brick and tile unit with an internal access garage that Dad said ticked all the boxes.  With 0 character and all the practicality a pensioner would need, pink carpet with matching doorknobs was one of my many concessions.

My first advice to you is, take off those rose-tinted glasses. If you want a good deal, you’re not going to buy your dream home.  Keep your emotions in the closet.

Getting the best home deal can be whittled down to four essential strategies:

  1. Research, research and research that area

While ‘analysis paralysis’ is counter-productive, researching property is a different story…the more the better.  Choose an area where you want to live and a couple of suburbs outside of this.  Trawl those Trade Me and Real Estate listings.

Keep a spreadsheet and list every house you visit, recording basic information such as bedrooms, section size, location and CV.  When the place has sold, call the agent and ask for the sale price.  Do this religiously for three to six months.

Too many people say “It’s so tiring looking at houses, we just want to find one.” These aren’t the words that come out of a property poacher’s mouth.  Go hard or go home.  You want to be able to tell the agents what’s sold in the area for what price, not the other way around.

  1. Put in cheeky offers

Once you’re abreast of what’s been happening in the market, you’ll be a walking encyclopedia of house prices.  You want to know more than the average agent.  But information is power, so don’t go spouting off the price to everyone.  Pull it out at the right time, that is, when you put an offer in.  Set a figure, of say 10-15% less than what you think it’s worth.  Recite examples of properties, preferably ones that support your lighter price!.

Don’t show all your cards at once!  In an uncertain market, most aren’t sure  what they want to pay, so the sales process becomes a copy-cat game.  He/she thinks it’s worth that it must be.  So if I pay $20K more, I’ll get it.  No!  Go in with a low-ball offer.  Get in before the auction date, within the first week of open homes, while agents are ‘gathering feedback’.  Find out if there’s a motivation to sell.

  1. Give ‘em a deadline

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to make the auction, so your offer has to be presented early.  This will hopefully knock out a couple of the competition who are arranging finance or dithering over what it’s worth.

I repeat, never get emotionally involved.  You can like a property, love it in fact, but don’t let the feelings of owning it infiltrate your dreams. If you miss out on this one, there’ll be something even better.  Trust me!

  1. Work those agents, but keep your cards close to your chest

Agents are there to sell houses.  Sadly, as much as you think so and so is your new best friend, they really aren’t.  If you gad about, swaggering with cash and unconditional dollar signs, you may be flavour of the month.  But rather than them using you for their next commission cheque, a smart buyer will use them to their advantage.

Milking them for information about their latest listings, getting the first viewing opportunity, reminding them of their obligation to ‘present all offers’, these are hardly perfect conditions for people pleasing behaviour.

A word of advice.   If you want an agent to help you bag their new listing, make it friendly, be in their face, but keep your cards close to your chest. Knowledge is power and if no one knows your limit, there’s more room for negotiation.

Getting a home in the Auckland market can be achievable.  Around every street corner, there’s a motivated seller and there’s you, the educated, discerning buyer.  Armed with your own research, you are better equipped to know what represents good value and present your offer with confidence, remembering that firm deadline.  Not disclosing your final price to the agent is key to retaining power in the negotiation, as is remembering that you’re not in it to make friends.

Get out there and secure that pink carpet investment.  Armed with market knowledge and a wee bit of grit, that house that you’ve worked so hard for, the one the agents told you doesn’t exist for that price, will be yours!

High maintenance on a shoestring budget

The first thing we tend to notice about people when we meet them, is their physical appearance. And unfortunately, it works both ways! While true beauty shines from the inside, looking well groomed helps us to feel good about ourselves and therefore, make a great first impression.

But let’s face it – there can be times in life when discretionary spending is limited. Here are my five tips to help you look your best, for less. From when you shop for clothes, to what products and services you choose and where you buy them, you can keep up appearances, without the price-tag.

Tip one: Shop off-season

Don’t pay full price for clothes. Why? Because they are a high volume, depreciating commodity. Buy clothes at the end of the season, not at the beginning. With a little patience, there’s a good chance that dress or suit will reduce in price.

You may unearth that classic gem in places like Dress mart Onehunga or other ‘seconds’ outlets. Better still, stock up in January when retailers are shedding surplus stock and ask family for gift vouchers for Christmas.
By shopping off-season, you are working in the opposite direction of retailers, who push their new season stock early, making you think you need to ‘stock up’ before the need arises. Through buying your summer clothes at the end of summer, your winter clothes at the end of winter, you are planning your next year’s wardrobe in advance. At 30-50% off the original price, shopping off-season makes a-lot of sense.

Tip two: Bring back the basics

Clever marketing drives us to purchase a product to provide an immediate ‘fix’. But it seems people aren’t paid as much to promote the benefits of natural products. You only need to look at the internet, Facebook and other social media to see how Advertising tries to change our perception of what we need. How did she look 10 years’ younger in just 14 days and fool her husband into thinking he had a younger woman? The secret ingredient is retinol or the latest, vitamin c mixed with hyaluronic acid. You look across and see the ‘promoted’ flag on the article. But still you click, hooked into the result. And there it is, paragraph after paragraph of evidence about this miracle cream, eyes glossing over the small print: ‘Individual results may vary’. Right at the end there’s a free trial! But hold it, there’s a catch. Before you enter your delivery address, there’s a prompt for credit card details. YES, they will bill you after the 30-day trial! And if you cancel, they may still have your phone number stored, so can stalk you.

I wonder if massaging in an organic oil and slapping on a light sunscreen to the face every-day, combined with fresh water and exercise, would hydrate, protect and re-generate skin cells as much as the high-end varieties? Get the basics right – don’t buy into the hype!

Tip three: Choose budget beauty services

Ladies, we can easily spend $200 a month at an upmarket salon, but what we’re really paying more for are higher rents, fluffy towels and luxurious surroundings. Drop-in places such as in malls and places referred to as ‘beauty parlour’, can offer a trimmed down service. Guys, you are generally better at this: just head to your local barber.
No, you are unlikely to enjoy soft music and lighting, in fact the room may smell of disinfectant (if you’re lucky), the table may squeak with cheap plastic and be covered in a purple, fraying towel. The staff are unlikely to treat you like Victoria or David Beckham, but they get the job done. No one will be the wiser. So, choose budget beauty services – don’t hang around for extra love.

Tip four: Pick pre-loved

As we all know, a great perfume or aftershave gives the final finesse to any outfit and becomes part of our personal ‘uniform’ or identity. If you go to Smith and Caugheys looking for an eau de parfume or eau de colonge, chances are you’ll be set back at least $120. Trawl Trade Me and I wouldn’t mind betting that sooner or later, someone will be selling the same item, perhaps with a few sprays less but in otherwise perfect condition. It’s the product you’re buying, not the packaging!

Tip five: Supermarket savvy!

After discovering that the savings are around $20 per week compared with shopping at other supermarkets, I’ve become a Pak n Save regular, at least for the staples. If this doesn’t spin your wheels, the receipt includes a fuel voucher for 4c off per litre and discount coupons on the back. I’m not suggesting that braving Pak n Save can help your appearance, but slashing money off one of your biggest weekly expenses is worth smiling about. Relating this back to appearances, accessories are harder to skimp on. To redeem yourself for any social embarrassment from clamouring about with 10,000 others and lugging your washing basket out of the boot to pack your toiletries, you could siphon those savings into an account for a touch of Prada or Hugo Boss.

So, there you have it. By shopping off-season, sticking to basic beauty products, choosing budget beauty services, picking pre-loved items and being Supermarket savvy, you could afford to create that great first impression, for less.

Beauty is only skin deep, and once you’ve got that first impression out of the way, you – and the other person – can focus on the one thing that truly matters – the person you are on the inside!

Getting home and hosed on your ACC

The following article provides general ACC advice in relation to self-employment, tailored to Real Estate Agents.  It was written in July 2017 for REINZ magazine, on behalf of Matt Thomson, ACC and Insurance Savings specialist at Plus4 Insurance Solutions.

Reproduced here as a sample of my insurance writing, I recommend that you seek ACC and insurance advice specific to your personal situation.

As a Real Estate Agent, you typically encounter peaks and troughs in income.  If you had an accident, you don’t want ‘bad timing’ to whittle away your ACC entitlement.

If you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “What am I paying my ACC bill for?”, as a professional insurance agent with real estate clients, I aim to give you some straight-shooting answers.

This article focuses primarily on the income replacement aspect of ACC as it applies to ACC Cover Plus (the standard, default option for self-employed people).

Why pay ACC?

ACC provides you with medical treatment if you’re injured through an accident.  Where the injury causes you to be unable to work, ACC provides an income until you’re able (or deemed to be able) to work more than 10 hours per week.

How are your ACC levies calculated?

Your annual ACC levy is charged based on your previous year’s earnings.  When your income is submitted to IRD for the new financial year, your bill is re-assessed.  Similar to income tax, you’re billed provisionally based on your previous year’s earnings.

What should you prove to get paid?

If you lodge a claim, a Case Manager will check that you’re still working as a Real Estate agent. You’ll then need to do some running around to:

  • Prove your financials and financial loss
  • Gain agreement that your injury is due to accident and not degeneration (aging/an old injury).

Having met these requirements, you’re entitled to 80% of last year’s gross earnings, paid weekly, net of tax.

What are the ‘red flags’?

  •  First year on the job? Without financials to prove earnings, it’s difficult for ACC to pay
  • Dialled down your declared earnings? If your declared earnings are less than what you actually earn (e.g. due to financial expenses), your ACC payment will follow suit, paying 80% gross of declared rather than actual income
  • Not working before your injury? During the claim assessment process, your Case Manager may conclude that you haven’t actively worked as a Real Estate Agent in the four weeks prior to your injury. If this is the case, you may not get paid at all
  • Having a boomer sales period? If you’re doing substantially better in the year of your injury than in the previous year, your ACC compensation will be limited to last year’s income
  • It’s not a clear-cut accident? If ACC deems the severity of your injury to be based on degeneration, they don’t have to compensate you
  • Able to return to work in a limited capacity?  After an injury is signed off as able to withstand more than 10 hours’ work per week, this starts an abatement process where ACC will reduce compensation by the hours they assess as being fit for work.

How can you ‘get closure’ on your ACC?

In Real Estate, having a mutually agreeable contract is key and ACC can operate on this same basis.

To give you certainty, both on what you pay in levies and what you’re entitled to receive, the first thing to do is to get an agreed value ACC contract, i.e. ACC Cover Plus Extra.  For a similar or lower price to what you currently pay, an ACC Cover Plus Extra contract can:

  • Give you certainty on the amount you’d be paid on claim
  • Get your claim paid sooner. Because the sum is agreed, there’s no need to prove your financial loss or earnings at claim time
  • Let you focus on recovery. Agreed value contracts pay the agreed sum until 100% of the pre-accident hours are reached.

How can you get maximum income replacement?

Your biggest asset is you; your ability to earn.  Because the amount of accident cover is agreed, ACC Cover Plus Extra typically costs less than a standard ACC Cover Plus contract.

This can free up funds previously committed to accident-only cover, to covering you for illness as-well, giving you clarity on degenerative injuries.  This cover is available through Income Protection Insurance.

If you already have Income Protection Insurance and you’re paying under the default ACC (Cover Plus) option, you may be doubling up on your cover and paying much more than you need to.

Get a professional assessment

Most of us would never sell a house without consulting an agent that we deem to be an expert in the local market.

Similarly, many experienced insurance brokers charge nothing for their advice and may save you thousands. By receiving specialised advice to ensure that your ACC and personal insurance work together, you put yourself and your loved ones in a prime position to get back on your feet sooner.


Health or Trauma insurance…your best chance of recovery

A sick child is no fun, but a sick Mum is even worse!  Our health is a top priority, but many of us have felt at the mercy of feeling ill, either through a simple flu or something more serious.

While many of us just badger on through the usual winter ailments, if we’re really sick, we quickly realise that we’ve got no choice but to surrender.

Our health and well-being is the cornerstone of life.  When it comes to insuring it, there are two pathways: Health insurance and/or Trauma insurance.

Health insurance is broadly a surgical/private hospital policy that pays on a reimbursement basis, up to policy limits.  Trauma insurance pays a lump sum upon diagnosis of some 48 medical conditions, requiring a survival period of at least 14 days.

Which insurance is superior and can you get by with just one?

First up, as nothing substitutes insurance advice that is both professional and personalised, I recommend that you discuss your age, budget, medical concerns/history and current financial health with a good broker (I’m happy to give recommendations) before a decision is made on what insurance cover is put in place for you.

Below are a few guiding principles to jump-start your decision-making process.

  1. Do you have existing savings?

Health insurance generally covers elective services that could be delayed in the public health system.  The public system waitlist guideline is generally 120 days for non-urgent treatment, however there are exceptions to this.  Early diagnosis and choice of specialist can be significant advantages to being proactive about your health, catching symptoms early and avoiding delays in treatment.

Health insurance reimburses the insured person (or policy owner) or in some cases, reimburses a recognised provider directly.  One of the great benefits of health insurance is the ability to receive surgical cover up to the actual cost of surgery (without a limit applied.  However, specific limits and Usual, Customary and Reasonable (UCR) charges may apply to other benefits such as specialists and tests, meaning that the the total cost of the treatment (including ancillary costs such as travel, accommodation, follow-up treatment and medical incidentals) may be above the amount covered by the policy.

If you don’t currently have a financial buffer in place in the way of savings and sick leave, strauma (and income) insurances are a wise safeguard.

  1. Do you have existing health concerns?

Both health and trauma insurance require health evidence and may exclude certain conditions.

Certain health insurance policies may cover pre-existing conditions after a specified time period, e.g. three years.  If you do have existing health concerns or history, the benefit of using an insurance adviser (over going direct yourself), is that a broker can deliver the best cover terms for you, ‘shopping’ the deal among a few insurers to determine the best acceptance terms for you.

  1. What are your existing financial commitments?

With a lump sum pay-out (and a portion paid for early stage cancers), the blessing of having Trauma insurance is that the money can be used for whatever you choose.  It can buy time (to recover), choice of treatment and cover ongoing rehabilitation and lifestyle changes of your choice.

In essence, you can spend trauma insurance however you like to alleviate financial pressure and help you recover.

On the downside, the policy is generally limited to set definitions for medical conditions.  You must reach the level of severity specified in the policy before a claim is paid, meanwhile, you may be unable to work.  This is where a tailored insurance recommendation consisting of income cover, trauma and/or health insurance and life insurance really comes into its own.

Welcome note


You’ll find her at the nucleus of the family, navigator of the ship.  A force-field around which things happen.

Giving so much to others, her energy is often scattered.  But at her core, she remains her whole, complete and beautiful self, if only she can prioritise the time to nurture it.

Motherhood is an incredible journey.  Both a privilege and a grind.   So often, how children turn out as adults is identified back to Mum.   How she loved, taught, listened, role-modeled, coped.

This blog is about you.  A Mum who, just like me, devotes her energy to raising her kids, running a home and perhaps also a job.  It’s a community of like-minded people to share experience and ideas about parenting, finances and personal wellness.

Perhaps you can identify with ‘just a minute’, either in the time you have available or as a frequent response to children!  Whether you have one minute or five, I hope that you find something of value for yourself.

Thanks for joining me.  Let’s get started!



Play now, work later


Disclaimer: This article shares my personal experiences whilst a Playcentre parent at my local Playcentre. It may not necessarily reflect the views of all Playcentre parents or the procedures/guidelines of each centre.

Life just feels like it’s all work and no play! Sound familiar? Sometimes, it can take that special something or someone to help us snap out apathy and back into action!
As our children grow up, they can’t help but get caught up in our world…but do we get caught up in theirs? There is a place in New Zealand where pre-school children can be children, where play is valued. That place is Playcentre.

A brief history

Here’s a little about how Playcentre became part of our heritage. Playcentre was first established in NZ in the 1940’s, after the second world war. Funded by the Ministry of Education, Playcentre puts parents as first educators of their children. As with other early childhood centres, it’s underpinned by a framework known as ‘Te Whariki’, which reflects four key principles of Empowerment, Family and Community, Relationships and Holistic Development. The responsibilities of running each Playcentre are shared among the parents.

A foundation for learning, not a fashion show!

Why would a parent volunteer to put on their gumboots, freakish clothes plastered with dye and bits of dried goo, and labour over pummelling playdough, dig trenches, dodge hoses and glue feathers, when they could simply drop their children off at Kindy or day-care and go about their day in peace?

It’s because Playcentre parents view play as the foundation from which children learn about the world – and they want to be involved in their child’s learning. There are benefits for parents too. For a stay-at-home parent with a young child, the local Playcentre is often the pinnacle of their community…providing a support network, two weeks of cooked dinners for Mums with new-borns, the opportunity to share information, gain parenting skills and for some, to re-learn how to play with their children.

Barriers such as ‘creating too much mess’ are removed. Playcentre is a place where all of a family’s pre-school children can go at once, with play set-ups that cater for different age groups, from baby to school age.

Why is play important?

Play is learning through doing. Self-expression in its purest form. Play is said to develop lateral thinking, initiative, creativity, resourcefulness.

Rather than be dictated to, children develop their own understanding of the world they live in, or ‘working theories’ as they’re called at Playcentre.

Let me paint you a picture

Three-year-old Carter sits at the table, sprinkling flour on a mountain of playdough. As a Playcentre kid, Carter feels a sense of belonging and is confident to ask for help or resources. “I want the lid off”, he tells me, pointing to the shaker. “I wonder what would happen if you shake it harder”, I reply. “If I take the lid is off, it will all come out at once.” “That’s Ok, he asserts back, it’s a volcano.”

Two-year-old Selina just loves to run amuck, exploring the colours and textures. She squeezes the bottle with her might, shrieking with delight as the dye blasts over the concrete. Down, down it goes, travelling faster and faster down the path, seeping into cracks, collecting in small puddles, falling between the slats of the deck. Now for some yellow, now green, now blue. She stomps all over it, colours flying everywhere, streaming, blending together.

Selina sinks her hand into a bowl of mixture that she says feels dry and powdery on her fingertips. She picks it up and watches as the mixture turns into super soft goo, watching it fall in clumps from her fingers, stringy globules falling onto the table.

Today, we built a fire in the sandpit, giving each of the children a stick with a marshmallow to toast. From painting and dye, bathing in glitter, smashing blocks of ice with a hammer, dressing up, running barefoot and throwing paint at paper, Playcentre offers a rich sensory environment, the ability to ‘get stuck in’, with the added bonus of Mum or Dad being close by. It’s the mixed age play, creativity, high level of parent involvement and community spirit that sets Playcentre apart, providing the opportunity to build solid and lasting friendships throughout the family.

Children at the centre

Playcentre play is child-led play, so parents may need to gauge when to dive in and when to bow out, especially as children get older. One of the tips I learnt early on is not to interpret a child’s painting for them. So rather than say, “Wow, what a lovely big sun you’ve painted, it is more apt to say “I can see two colours, yellow and orange. Tell me about your painting!”

The role of parents as educators

Of course, it’s not all play for parents! Parents plan, set up and support the play, then evaluate it at the end of the session. Supporting the play can involve adding more resources, such as paints, dyes or other materials, encouraging turn-taking or simply asking questions that help the child to express and build on what they’re learning. Parents write learning stories about their own and other children, sharing the learning that is observed for the child and identifying ways to extend it.

Major decisions are made through group consensus: everyone must feel that they can live with a decision before it is passed. There can be biased parents, different values and conflicts. And let’s not forget the public perception! While some people applauded us for playing with our kids, a few have been known to view Playcentre Mums as slightly crazy, a bunch of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, forever breeding Mums!

There are non-negotiable Playcentre ‘rules’, such as respecting people and property, respecting each other’s play and no hurting people. Although literacy is incorporated, it’s not impressed upon, as the general view is that there’s plenty of time to learn by rote, to memorise, recite and study.

It’s said that children learn best when they’re engaged. By engaging in the play instinct, we can develop strong, independent, creative thinkers.

To quote the words of George Bernard Shaw: We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. Perhaps you could try it again yourself sometime?