Archive Page 2

I don’t want your money, honey

Valentines day. Sjo. What a racket.

If you’re shacked up with the human of your dreams… well… you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I don’t care how many times you tell your significant other “that stuff doesn’t matter to me, baby”, you’re still eyeing that chick in accounting’s epic flower delivery with just a smidge of the green-eyed monster.

And if you do agree to exchange love tokens, the minefield awaits. Pity the fool who buys lingerie that’s too small… or worse, too big. And how do you buy the perfect gift that that’s big enough to get you lucky, but not so big that it signals matrimony?

Even if you’re single, you’re hell bent on showing the world you’re just fine, dammit. Dinner with the girls. A vat of wine. Fancy chocolate for one. Oh, yes please.

I’m being glib. And just a little curmudgeonly. But seriously. Why? Why, why, why do we have to buy stuff to signal that we care about someone? And why, even when we GENUINELY don’t want to get on the hamster-wheel of over-commercialised holidays, do we STILL feel a little left out when there is no heart shaped box of chocolates waiting on a rose-petal covered four-poster bed? Ok, I’m saying we. But I mean me. I’m a sap.

The truth is complicated, I suspect. Made up holidays like Valentines and Mother’s Day are rooted in emotional giving. And in our hyper-commercial world, emotional giving translates to emotional spending. Retailers love this stuff – it’s why they pounced on these kinds of days in the first place – and do everything they can to coax you in to spending lots. “Show her how much you care”, “He only deserves the best” yada yada. They even have whole departments dedicated to special occasions. Little annual calendars of ways to get you to spend your pennies. Just look at how nicely Braai Day is doing for boerie and tjop sales, all the while tugging on those patriotic heart strings. Nice.

The other part is that emotional spending is a whole heap easier than emotional making or doing.

What do I mean? Well, if you buy someone something and they don’t like it, it’s not great, but it’s ok. If you spend time and effort making or doing something for someone, and they don’t like, well that sucks. But really, that’s where vulnerability and connection lie. That’s where the meat of days like these sits. In the thought, the time and effort.
So before you spend cash on your love this Valentines, ask yourself 3 questions:

  • What do they really want from me?
  • How can I really show I care?
  • What will this really cost me?

If the answer to any of the above is time, affection, focus – well then consider a gift that’s woven from those things.

If the answer is money (a.k.a stuff), then I can think of a few more questions you could be asking.
So what are the options, if the usual flowers and chocolate aren’t on the (credit) cards? I could tell you to write poetry or cook dinner in the nude, but we want a happy outcome here. So these are my top 3 ordinary romantic moments you could whip up at home with just a bit of time and effort.

  • Plan a picnic in the living room – a couple of candles and some pillows on the floor will romance the hell out of everyday spaghetti bolognaise
  • Set up the DVD player in the garden – watch Game of Thrones under the stars. Even George RR Martin seems like a soft touch when there is starlight involved.
  • Set up the tablet on the dashboard in the car – like a drive-in, only in your driveway. Don’t laugh.

Valentine’s Day and the back seats of cars have a long history together. Just saying.

Not that you have to do any of that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t spoil the object of your affection. I’m just questioning if you really need to prove your devotion in hard SA ronts.

Originally written for 22seven. 

Springbok genes

I am the black sheep of the maternal side of my family.  This bastion of South Africanness is tanned and lithe and sporty.  They braai with élan.  They know the difference between a ruck and a maul.  And they gather, like migratory birds, with reverence, at any sign of a sports game.

At the epicentre of my clan’s mythology sits my grandfather.  Sports savant. Double springbok.  Cricket and rugby. Turned down Wimbledon when it was still an invitational.  Liked a bit of soccer on the side.  You know.  And a gentleman’s player.  The last of the good sportsmen who played purely for the love of the game.

The family, understandably, now looks for the “springbok gene” in each successive generation.  The cousin who’s promising career was curtailed by an injury.  The gymnastics colours still praised by aunts around the dinner table.  The gleeful report that it looks like little Ricky might be bloody good at cricket (fingers crossed guys!).

And then there is me.  Bookish.  Using words like élan.  Horrible confused by googlies and half nelsons.  Completely unable to throw anything, let alone catch it.  Slightly alarmed at all those men putting their heads under each other’s bums. Who ARE these people?

I think my mum fervently hoped I’d find something I liked.  Hockey, maybe.  Netball?  Tennis set?  Some nice team sport where I could learn all kinds of valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork and making sure you weren’t caught when you smashed Betty from Form B’s shins with your stokkie.

But no.  I was partial to swimming, if it wasn’t too cold.  Or I didn’t have to compete.  Or I could pretend to be a dolphin.  And horse riding.  But my German instructor was waaaaaaay too shouty.  And the fancy dressage lessons too complicated.  Actually, I just preferred to read.  And read, and read, and read.

I had made an uneasy peace with being this odd creature just left of my family’s centre.  I am sought out as a key member of any Trivial Pursuit game.  There is a common refrain of “ask Kate” if anyone needs some arcane quote referenced or a limerick written for a birthday speech. I’m now mostly off the hook for not being able to name the starting line-up of any upcoming fixture.  And I genuinely thought that was it. I’d escaped muddy fields and dawn warm ups for a nice passing knowledge that the chaps in white play cricket, while the odd shaped ball belongs to those rugby ones.

But, again, no.  The universe, with its infinite sense of humour, has seen fit to send me what appears to be a dextrous child.  Offspring with actual, proper hand eye coordination.  And the aunties are already circling, eyeing him up.  Speculating on his chubby, toddler thighs and whether they signal hooker or prop. And I wail…nooooo, away harpies.  I will none of it.  But the visions of early morning practice and endless mounds of smelly sports kit rise up and mock me with a chorus of “springbok genes, springbok genes”. And I wonder if anyone will notice if I bring my book to the pitch.

“I can’t help you if you don’t know what you spend.”

There I was, in my 30s. All full of vim and vigour. All ready to take my financial life in hand. You know, as an independent woman and all. I thought I should start to, um, invest and stuff.

I’d done the research. I’d found a respected independent financial advisor. I’d made the appointment. I was ready to be responsible. I was ready to have a “savings plan doodad” and a “retirement annuity thingiemebob” and an “investment portfolio whatsit”. I was ready to be impressively organised.

We sat down. I happily warbled on about how I had no debt. How I didn’t have any store cards. See, clever old me. Already half way there to being a financial genius.

He seemed unimpressed.

“Let me see your budget,” he said.

Um. Ja. About that. Who’s got time for budgets, man. I just want to know what I should be doing.

He raised a stern eyebrow at me and uttered some pretty heavy shit.

“I can’t help you if you don’t know what you spend.”

And then he sent me home!

I was smacked of gob. Surely this man was supposed to be selling me policies and planning my retirement fund?

Nope. He was giving me homework. I had to track my spending for 3 months before I was allowed to come back. Every cent, cash, credit card or otherwise, had to be entered into a little spreadsheet.

So I did. And it was the single most powerful financial exercise I’ve ever undertaken.

It was revealing and horrifying in equal measure. Not in a Kardashian kinda way. But more in that oh, god, do I REALLY spend that much on takeaways every month kinda way. All my unconscious spending right there in excel black and white. Every quick lunch, every ad hoc moment of retail therapy, every ridiculous kitchen gadget bought without thought. All adding up to some serious loola.

It gave me a hard, honest, unrelenting look at financial me. It was not a pretty sight. But it did open the door for a far more frank conversation about what I wanted to be spending my hard won dosh on. And what it was all going to mean for my ability to afford a bond, or buy a car or have a baby.

The added bonus? When the car finance or bond people give you an “income and expenditure form” – you can fill it in quick sticks. Or when your mate asks you if you know what you spend on average on groceries – hell yes, to the cent. Or when the school you have your eye on wants to do a budget check – no problemo. Makes me feel like SUCH a grown up!

I still do it, every single month (and it’s a bagillion times easier now that 22seven has been invented – go guys!). I’m still regularly horrified (I really should buy shares in Woolies. Or that little sushi place on Trill Street in Obs). But a decade on, I feel like that goal to be a little more financially responsible is on track. And at this rate, I’ll even be able to afford my little dude’s school fees. Winning!

Originally written for 22seven

How I dug myself out – and stay out – of debt (mostly)

Mirror, mirror on the wall… let’s talk about debt.

Debt can be an interesting little mirror. To your peccadillos. Your addictions. Your obsessions. In the early 90s, I was obsessed with 18 hole Doc Martens and CK One. Because I wanted to be Winona Ryder. (Don’t laugh.) But I was earning minimum wage, wearing a kilt and serving Guinness to foreigners.

Cue a store card.

That innocuous piece of plastic set the tone for my 20s: jol now, pay later. Only I was too young and naïve to get that the cost of “pay later” was more than just a few more rands and cents.

“Pay later” meant ending my 20s in a debt hole that mirrored obsessions involving beer, travel and first generation mp3 players. I don’t regret the travel, but I regret finding myself trapped in another country by the money I owed on booze and boogying. And having to spend a whole year paying off credit cards and choosing jobs for the cash rather than the career. And all in a country that’s perpetually grey.

And it meant I entered my 30s with no savings, no investments and no assets.

It was a rough lesson.

On the upside, I’m now allergic to store cards.

Am I debt free? Hell no. I’ve got a mortgage bond and car finance. But I’m comfortable with what that mirror shows me. And I work hard to make sure my penchant for ale and apps doesn’t dig me another hole. Here’s how.

  • I watch my spend. (Note: 22seven is a whizz for this). If the latest obsessions – sushi, shoes – start cranking up, I limit myself. I’m also pretty brutal now about differentiating between whether I want or need something. I’m no ascetic – in fact, I’m a borderline hedonist. But I’ve stopped buying (some of the) crap I really don’t need.
  • I only have one credit card. And it has a low limit. One I can actually pay off each month. I honestly don’t understand why people have more than one card, unless they are inviting debt. One card, that limits me to short term debt I’m comfortable with managing, works for me.
  • I save a little each month towards “big, unexpected shit”. Because I watch my spend, I know that the “big, unexpected shit” is usually house or car related. Roof repairs, new tires, a security upgrade. And it happens every year. And it used to screw me. So now I plan for it.
  • I have a “one in, one out” policy. If I buy anything, I have to throw something away. I started doing this primarily to deal with the clutter in my house. But unexpectedly it also made me think hard about what I was buying. Which meant I bought less. Winning.
  • I’m not afraid of good debt (vs bad debt). There’s a great explanation here of good vs bad debt. I’ve racked up debt to buy my house, start my own business and study further. All of which has paid off. But it’s not just about increasing economic net worth. For me, some debt is worth it if it increases my “experiences” net worth. Like travel.

I know that all of the above might make you want to gnaw out your own eyes with the very dullness of it all, but consider this: what is your debt saying about you? Is it reflecting scatter cushions and seasonal sales? Or Bali and building a business? I honestly don’t care what you spend your money on, but kidding yourself that the stuff is worth the real cost is just silly. It just makes the hole a little more comfortable.

Originally written for 22seven. 

Sisonke…an update

A couple of weeks ago I shared a story about Christophe who lost his wife in childbirth, left as a single dad to his newborn, Sisonke.  My mum and I were hoping to get a couple of things together for the little one to help her dad out…and I asked the interwebs for help.

The response was nothing short of astounding. 

We received a huge pile of stuff from people, some of it second hand, some of brand new.   Stuff from all over the country – and even on parcel sent all the way from London.  Nappies, bottles, formula, clothes (such cute clothes), shoes, toys, books, blankets, towels.  Everything a small little girl needs. 


just *some* of the stuff

I just want to send a massive heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped so generously.  You know who you are, you awesome humans.

We got this pic of Sisonke and a note from her dad….

Hallow guys, I just want to say thank you for all the things you gave for my daughter.  I’m so lucky to get some people like you guys.  God bless you guys.  THANK YOU.  …Mr Christophe Manyatela.


Beautiful Sisonke

Thank you!


Social business: win or fail?

It would seem the adoption of social as an internal business communications channel has been slow, despite pundits lauding it as a groundbreaking tool for innovation, collaboration and internal crowdsourcing.

A colleague recently shared this Sloan Review article which says that “[a]ccording to a survey of large companies in the U.S. and Europe already involved in social initiatives, only 10-20% of their employees are actively involved in social collaboration.”

So why aren’t employees applying their ninja social skillz in-house, when we all know they’re linktwitting their facebooks off?

Generally speaking, I think social communications tools in the workplace can be intimidating to employees:

1.    Everyone’s watching
The pressure to be smarter is higher.  And the faux pas that feels small on twitter feels bigger when it’s in front of colleagues (even though rationally, those colleagues could be following you on both)

2.    It’s too informal
Too many people are still stuck in the habit of using email as a ‘back up’ to document exchanges – social sometimes feels too intangible for discussions that then need action steps (and a ‘cover yourself’ mechanism).

3.    Too much noise
It’s hard to work out what to pay attention to and what to prioritise

I think internal corporate based social will only really work if:

  • Employees feel empowered (and safe enough) to talk and engage freely
  • There is a mechanism to convert social sharing and discussion into actual work streams and responsibilities
  • There is some function (similar to reddit or dig) to vote up really interesting or valuable content
  • There is a clever way to search and save interesting stuff, so that it doesn’t just get lost in the stream
  • That it’s used in conjunction with other internal channels for important comms – recognising that some people will NEVER use social channels

This is a bit off the cuff, but something I’ve been mulling over.  The power of social could be massive for businesses (especially ones that are large and global), but the trick will be replacing the trusty inbox with tools that are more useful at fostering good connections, not just overwhelming people with more data.

Is your business using social?  What do you think works?

Sisonke means “we stay together”

I’m not normally the type to ask for help, but every now and then, something sneaks in.  And this story just broke my heart.  Read this from my mom:

Darling – Christopher, one of my dustbin men, had a baby girl on 3 August this year and his wife tragically died in child birth.  The baby’s name is Sisonke and means ‘we stay together’!  He has no parents so is bringing up the baby on his own.  I bought a few things but am also trying to collect some old baby clothes, blankets etc to help him – I imagine from 6 months upwards.  Anything would be so welcome – perhaps some of your friends have the odd old baby-grow or whatever.  He is such a nice young man!!

If you have ANY old baby stuff to share, or have any friends who might be willing to part with old blankets or gear, or better yet, know any brands who might be willing to part with some old stock or something, please let me know.

Either email me at katiewolters [at] gmail [dot] com or catch me on twitter via @katewolters.

Sending this out there, with gratitude and hope.  Thank you.

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