25 September 2012

Cheap Holidays in South Africa

Whether you’re from South Africa or interested in seeing this beautiful country, I’ll give you the inside scoop on travelling on a budget, experiencing the local culture and making the most of your time travelling.

South Africa has great weather, a vast amount of cultures and influences from all over the world and we’re always happy to go the extra mile to give tourists an experience they’ll never forget. Unfortunately, tourist hot spots are very expensive and don’t always represent the truly South African way of life. It’s either too lavish and clean-cut or creates a world where African culture is made a tourist attraction rather than an authentic representation of how some of us might be living.

It’s not easy to summarize South African culture or to see it in a single trip because there are so many cultures and diversity is the only thing every town has in common! Therefore it’s wise to settle on one area for a few days at a time. You will learn much more about that place’s way of life and you can really dig below the surface of tourist attractions. The best experiences are usually had when mixing with the locals and doing what they enjoy doing. After all, it’s their town so they know their way around it.

Small towns usually have the stranger characters and fun things to do in nature. Visiting small towns can also save a lot of money. Smaller towns have more affordable accommodation than big cities, the people are usually more eager to talk to the visitors and the cost of living for tourists is less once you’ve figured out where the locals go for food, entertainment and shopping.

If small town living isn’t your thing and you’re looking for more excitement, hook up with a local adventure booking agency that arranges packaged tours in South Africa at discount prices. Ask them to arrange adventures like shark cage diving, mountaineering and boating around your budget. You can see this list of some of the fun activities travelers can look forward to in Cape Town alone.

How have you saved while travelling to South Africa and what can you recommend for other tourists who want to save?

17 September 2012

What yoga can teach you about yourself

"In today’s rush we all think too much - seek too much - want too much - and forget about the joy of just being." - Eckhart Tolle

Debt Free Living looks at ways to live a life that is rewarding and financially efficient at the same time. For this strategy to work, we have to reward ourselves in ways that aren’t material. We have to be grateful for our lives and not just take pride in our things. We have to stay true to who we are and where we’re going and not what we want to buy.

Good morning yoga sequence - something everybody can try.
Be sure to find instructions that tell you how to do
 yoga safely or attend a few classes to start with
That’s a lot to take in, I know. But you’ll see what I mean soon enough!

One of the biggest rewards you can give yourself is time alone. Time spent with your mind in a calm place can help you come to terms with who you are and where you are. Reflecting on what you have and what you really want can make you a better person to be around. So it’s not selfish to take time alone when you have a family.

From personal experience, you cannot find this time in a busy home with your family going about their things. You don’t need a lot of time, a few minutes a few times a week are enough, but for that time your mind should truly be at ease and away from the daily hustle and bustle.

I've found that yoga helps me with this. The instructors that focus on the mind-body connection know that when your mind is free and calm you can be more in tune with your body and when your body is working hard it needs your mind to focus to be more efficient. Through concentrating on doing more difficult poses, you not only strengthen your  body, but also your mind. You even feel stronger as a person and proud of yourself when you find you can hold poses for longer or your form improves.

To start the process of tuning in to your body, we first sit still for a few minutes and imagine any thought that comes to mind to drift through on a cloud. This helps a lot. Our minds are so used to always being full of random thoughts that we’re surprized by how hard it is not to think. But when you can let the thoughts go it gets easier and easier to and feel at peace with yourself.

After the exercising part we relax again and let the tension that might still be left from the work out go. It’s really surprizing: I’ve felt my muscles’ pain evaporate by taking my mind to that spot and only focussing on relaxing it. It made me wonder how many times I’ve held tension in my body and felt uncomfortable when I could have released it by simple tuning in to my body.

Yoga class with women doing simple yoga poseIn our day-to-day lives we aren’t tuned in to our physical being or to our spiritual side. We are just thinking logically, imagining the future or the past and running around to get things done. Yoga is the opposite of all this and that’s why it’s so rewarding. For a few minutes you are really present and content with what your body is doing for you. When you start if might not feel like you’re doing much with your mind, but that’s the point. As you get more and more in tune with your body, your mind will find it easier to go into that meditative, peaceful state.

Practicing yoga can put a lot of things into perspective.

When you feel content and happy by doing something that doesn’t cost you anything, you begin to wonder why you were spending so much time and money on entertainment that only left you more nervous or tired than before you started. You might wonder why you have so many things you don’t really need when your life can be fulfilling if you just become grateful for what you have. 

Debt management like debt counselling helps you to gain control of your finances, but what will ultimately determine whether you get and stay out of debt is your mind-set and lifestyle. You have to change in order to change your ways. Even just deciding to learn new saving habits is deciding to change and putting them into action is also changing your mind-set because every time you want to go back to your old ways you have to remind yourself of your goal and so you learn a new way of thinking.

I hope the connection between our minds, our focus and our financial well-being is clearer now. Have you found a way to get in touch with yourself? I’d love to hear from you! We can all learn from each other.

13 September 2012

Deciding on the perfect craft for presents

Homemade presents that your friends or family members will love aren't a figment of your imagination!

The trick is finding something you are good at and then taking inspiration from the person who you want to give the gift to. It’s also useful for Christmas time to find one unisex craft that you can make quite a lot of with variations to suit the person’s style that you’re giving it to. Take inspiration from your friend’s home. Look at what colours or patterns they prefer or where they need something to make their life easier.

A little thought goes a long way to giving great gifts.

Typically crafts that make good gifts are something for someone’s home, car or braai area that they can use. Practicality is important.  When you have a good idea for a present that you believe you can execute you’re already halfway there. You can always practice until it looks right and then you’re set for the whole Christmas season, the next years’ birthdays or your friends’ kitchen teas coming up.

One present shouldn’t take you more than an hour or an hour and a half, or you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration in the future! If you’re going to be knitting something and don’t have loads of time on your hands you want to go for something small. Your only limit should be your creativity.

Last Christmas we made mosaic creations for my family. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it definitely looks a whole deal better than buying a present of the same price. With mosaic you have so many options. We made pot stands, mirrors in heart shaped frames and just the odd pretty thing to hang against a wall. I tried to be practical, but then I started making these hearts moulds and they aren’t exactly a friendly surface for a pot.

The picture was taken while the grouting was still wet.
When it dried I applied a sealant which made it much more shiny
Luckily crafts are very fashionable. Pinterest is a world of inspiration but like the first image warns, you shouldn't take these instructions as they are. They’re usually too vague and you have to do more research to make a success of your project. Get the inspiration on Pinterest and look to blogs and websites dedicated to the craft you've chosen for the how-to.

Young South Africans are struggling financially and the Millennial Generation are often referred to as Generation Debt, which is all the more reason to get in touch with your crafty side from a young age. You can save money by not reaching for that credit card or using a store account while still making your friends and family feel special. There’s this trend among young people not to give gifts, not even to their closest friends. It’s understandable, as time and money is limited, but if you really want to you can make presents or at least cards for your friends and loved ones for special occasions. Showing some love shouldn’t be limited to the off chance that you have a love interest on Valentine’s Day!

11 September 2012

How to cope when you lose friends and alienate people

How to lose friends and alienate people? Find a new direction in life and stick to it. It’s often as simple as that.  Speak about new-found interests with friends who don’t care and enjoy activities they don’t understand. You can further alienate them by being passionate about things they don’t find very cool or relevant at all.

Surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams

Friendship has this way of not always accommodating both parties if one starts to dance to a different tune. Where you were a pair of feet, suddenly you are both right feet. As our ideas about life changes, we can’t always agree on what is right! Or relevant, or necessary, or enjoyable - but you get the idea. We invest so much in friendships and when we grow apart it can be really painful. Sometimes it’s slow and gradual and sometimes friction causes you to avoid hurting each other’s feelings by avoiding your friend’s company.

How do we deal with this? There’s no easy answer, but I’ve lost my fair share of close friends, so I can share my own ways of coming to terms with this kind of loss. Sometimes I wasn’t the one who needed new things in my life and I was on the end feeling alienated, but most of the time I’ve been doing the alienating. Both of these can be really painful. By alienating your friends with your new ideas or past times you often feel like you think you are better than them for making different decisions. When you feel your friend pulling away you might feel like you did something wrong.

Billy wasn't always interested in Gina's branch of philosophy

Or maybe it’s just me; I try to look for the problem with myself first! And then with the other person. But in time I’ve learned that this is not the right way to go about it. When you start looking for causes you start to shift the blame one way or another. Who needs that? It’s better to accept that the friendship dynamic has changed because people change all the time. Our relationships with other people shouldn’t hold us back from pursuing what we want in life. Unless you want to pursue a full-time singing career when you are the poster child of generation debt, you didn’t make it through the first round of Idols auditions and your choir teacher asks you to sing a bit softer. Then you might want to listen to your friends.

You have to give yourself permission to choose

We learn so much about life and ourselves through our relationships with other people and even more in coping with the loss of a friend that you deemed a very important part of your life. As an introvert, I don’t make friends easily and the friendships that I invest time and love in are really dear to me. So losing a friend can leave me as hurt as some might feel after breaking up a romantic relationship. Therefore it’s important to remind myself that I am doing the best I can.

I also look at where I went wrong to be more compassionate and understanding in the future. Often I alienate people because they don’t understand me, but this isn’t necessary when you can respect each other’s differences. Of course, people’s idea of what it means to respect differences also varies, so nothing is ever simple!

Focus on the things in your life that are making your new decisions worthwhile, be grateful for people who are willing to accept you even though you have changed in some way and focus on learning more about yourself.

By putting yourself out there and doing things you love, you often get the chance to meet people who share the same interest as you, so you might end up gaining more than you thought you were losing! It’s not that friends are replaceable, but I feel that a friendship comes into our lives when we need it and leaves when we should stand on our own two feet. Maybe you don’t need to dance to the same tune after all.

7 September 2012

Three easy ways to save today

We haven’t shared saving tips in a while and I think it’s time for an update. I found some great ways to cut back on everyday expenses and they’re too simple not to share. 

If you’re not sure what you should be saving for, you’re one of the lucky few. The rest of us are trying to manage debt repayments or building on our meagre retirement fund.

Take a look at our saving tips
We’re three months away from the holiday season, so now is the time to start saving if you want to do something exciting this year. Travelling is always an amazing experience and it will make all the saving and scratching together of pennies very rewarding.

Let’s jump right in: here are some tips to save money in the months leading up to the holiday season.

Shop during sales

Shop at sales this time of year as shops are clearing out their summer stock and it’s the best time to get bargains. It’s not just clothing stores that revolve their stock between winter and summer. You’re not going to get this opportunity once everyone is singing ‘tis the season to be jolly. But there’s also a big don’t when it comes to shopping at sales: only buy what you need around the house, for presents, for your children and not what you would like.

Sales trick us into buying things we wouldn’t ordinarily give a second thought to. But suddenly, when it’s affordable, you think you are saving by buying it. This is not the case. Stick to a shopping list when you go to the shops. If you are doing Christmas shopping, write everyone’s name down on a list so you can keep up with what you need to buy.

In the previous tips for saving money we go into another money-saving way to go around Christmas shopping, so you can combine this strategy of picking who buys presents for who with buying presents when they are affordable!

Re-evaluate your cell phone contract

Thanks to Nice Girl Notes for this one! Most people buy cell phones on contract these days. Well, if you’re not using all you SMS’s, data and airtime you are paying for, it might be time to look for a different payment plan. The same goes for your internet service provider: stop paying for data you’re not using by downgrading or see if topping up is necessary when uncapped could be cheaper.

How much saving does it take to change a light bulb?

Save money with CFL light bulbs

If the promise of shaving hundreds of Rands off your electricity bill sounds promising, change your incandescent light bulbs to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. They’re usually weird looking bulbs. The ones we have are longer and thinner than normal light bulbs and look like two pipes bent into a rectangle shape instead of the traditional round bulbs. They use a lot less power than normal light bulbs.

While we’re on the topic of saving electricity, make a point of switching off appliances, TV’s and lights when you aren’t using them. Unplugging electronics that go to standby mode can save you too. All the little bits add up at the end of the day!

Do you have any more simple tips for saving? We’d love to hear them below!

4 September 2012

Do what makes you happy?

I’ve seen motivational images declaring “Do what makes you happy” everywhere the last few days. Which left me wondering: Will doing what makes you happy now really make you happy in the long run?

I’m not being cynical; I think there’s a difference between happiness and contentment. Happiness is short-lived and it’s a passing emotion. Therefore, to be happy all the time you need to constantly work for it by doing what makes you happy in the now.

I think what most of us really want is to be content. This is a peaceful state of mind. It might slip from time to time, but for the most part you are happy with your life because you are grateful and you know you are on the right path. It’s not the kind of happiness that you have to focus on achieving every day. The real achievement here is staying in the present and staying on course. If you do these two things, you will become grateful for the life you have and find that everything you need finds you.

Focussing on doing what makes you happy sounds like an awful lot of effort. It implies a lot of “doing” and not “being” - of searching and not being content with what you have in this moment. If buying lots of shoes makes you happy, that’s fine, but it’s a short-lived happiness and you cannot expect to be content if you base the value of your life on material things. Most of us can’t afford this either and over-spending can lead to feelings of guilt, having failed yourself financially and being too ashamed to apply for debt management.

Where I do agree with the sentiment of doing what makes you happy is when it comes to sticking to your guns in the face of adversity. Sometimes doing what is right in the eyes of others or what you think is socially acceptable is very far removed from what you need to be content.

Maybe we should change it to “stick to what makes you happy”. I also fell like making one that says “be grateful, be present, be content”. What do you think?

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