I kicked off 2022 on Instagram sharing about our new home, which was one of our biggest highlights of 2021. We had purchased a commercial property and did a pretty interesting renovation to make it residential.
It was a very different experience from our first time buying experience in April 2017 where we purchased a new build off the block.
That experience though, as they say gave us a foot on the ladder.
So almost five years later, I’ve reflected on some of the journey and sharing some of the things we did right, some lessons learned and one or two things we could have done better!
You probably already know a fair bit of our story from masters students to choosing to stay back in the UK (if you don’t, here’s a very detailed post).
So how did we pick a location to live?
Tola worked in Coventry at the time we got married, and I was going to take up a job in London. So we needed a middle point for the commute. (Funny how things might have been different with today’s remote work). We looked at a map and considered other practicalities of the commute. Then we settled on Milton Keynes. Tola could drive to work in under an hour. And I could be at Euston, Central London in 30 mins as well.
I don’t think we thought in-depth about things like good schools, but since we knew we’d likely start a family in the near future, we briefly considered on a general scale whether or not it was a decent location was to raise kids.
I gotta say though that promixity to London was key for me (I was still a yummy 26 year old) but Tola definitely wanted a suburban life (30+ vibes eh?). So MK was a good balance.
I didn’t actually get a chance to check out our rented home. Tola did most of the work as I was in Nigeria when we paid a deposit to secure the house . But the one thing I insisted on as he viewed houses, was a decent kitchen! Also I was more inclined to a two bedroom flat in the city centre but Tola wanted a house. There’s something about a garden and own space that he fancies!
So we settled on a two bed semi detached house with a garden. It was okay – a bit dated with a washed out green carpet — but I guess it did the job. We had one master bed and the other (literally a match box room) had a table and an extra wardrobe, which was kind of like “my space”. The kitchen was a decent size with a washing machine and microwave but no dishwasher.
The living room could take a three seater sofa and we had a small dining table for two behind the sofa.
A back garden, and one bathroom and toilet upstairs completed the entire house. I remember one time a six year old kid visited and was surprised we only had just one toilet! Oh and yeah the house was unfurnished so we had to purchase a sofa and beds in ourselves.
I can’t clearly recall when we started thinking of buying a house to be honest. I mean we had funded our wedding in July 2014 and also moved into the rented house in same July. So we were definitely easing back into things. Also I really was still a student at the time!
March 2015 after I started my job as a Trainee Solicitor was probably when we started thinking of buying a house.
I have to say something that influenced our mindset a bit. We visited a friend we had got to know through another new friend and when we got fo the front of the house it was an electric gate. Now it’s not like It we hadn’t seen an electric gate in Nigeria but something about seeing it in England owned by people like us, made it attainable perhaps? The house also just seemed big and spacious.
Now that I know a little bit more about houses, I can tell it was a 4 bed detached property with a rear extension.
I also remember this friend of ours had a cleaning lady who sorted out the cleaning as she entertained guests. I knew then that I was going to get a cleaning lady too for my rather matchbox 2 bed home. It was about £12 an hour then.
Side note: that was the best cleaning lady ever! She’d clean so quickly and so throughly. I reckon she was used to cleaning newer house so she’d say “oh this house too old. I clean clean it not shine”. Honestly, I looked forward to easing her work when we moved to a better house, but she moved back to Europe before we bought our house.
Anyway Tola and I talk about that night as a game changer. Milton Keynes as a whole showed us larger spaces than London where accommodation was so tight.
So buying in Milton Keynes become even a more attractive option!
Now that you have some back story l can share some nuggets on what I think we did right and learnt along the way.
We probably started saving around May/June 2015. But we also immediately started searching on house websites.
Essentially you need to know what’s in the market and what your money can get you. But it wasn’t enough to just view the details online, we would actually go up to the property for a viewing. It helps to see the area and the house itself, if available + surroundings. Based on this we could strike off some areas.
We weren’t set on a “new builds” so a number of the houses we considered were older houses. Eventually and based on other factors, a new build seemed easier and worked with our plans.
Up till today Tola browses and watched house websites for fun.
Some school of thought considers home ownership unnecessary. And for them, they might have a valid point.
But based on rental prices and potential mortgage costs, the difference between our then current rent for the washed out 2 bed and a 3/4 bed new build property was about £50 more. In some cases the mortgage was actually cheaper.
For a house with newer amenities, more space and just in line with how we’d rather live, it seemed like a no brainier to try to raise the deposit. Our monthly outgoing was to remain the same. Or at least pretty much.
Yeah I know, it sounds basic but it’s true. There was no lump sum windfall or trust fund.
We decided to put a portion of savings aside and we did that every month, in a joint account and with a target date in mind. Of course some months we may have had extra expenses and couldn’t save or some months we “splurged” for a travel experience.
At the end of the day we were young and newly married so hard to balance it out. One thing though, was that we hoped to have purchased our home before we had kids!
For first time buyers, there were a few available government schemes.
In particular, we explored Help to Buy which allows you borrow up to 20% (or 40% in London) of the mortgage from the government. You needed at least 5% of your deposit but could also have more.
Using the loan to boost up your deposit allowed for better mortgage rates. As an example, if you had a 12% deposit, you could borrow an additional 20% from the government brining your deposit to 32%. A 32% deposit was likely to get a better mortgage rate than a 12% deposit. Likewise an 8% deposit with the government loan would give you 28% deposit. The government loan was also interest free if repaid within 5 years. After 5 years interest would be payable on the loan.
It could be repaid in cash or repaid upon the sale of the property.
So this 5 year target so this was our game plan!
Many people erroneously believe that the deposit is the primary cost required and get surprised by the “hidden costs” of purchasing a home. Being a solicitor myself, these weren’t so hidden to me. I was aware of the conveyancing process and the extra costs that’ll be involved such as stamp duty, solicitors fees, and searches.
So we gave ourselves extra time to save up for these as well. Good thing was our developers eventually paid the stamps duty as an incentive!
Many new build developers would often offer some incentives to first time buyers. In our case they offered to pay the stamp duty. However we also negotiated an extra cash allowance for some upgrades in our fittings & fixtures like better taps, door handles, and carpets.
New builds would often be completed to finish and ready to move in.
But as an example, they typically come with basic lighting and bulbs which many people then change themselves.
One thing we did right was purchase our light fittings ahead of time and got the builders to install them. Likewise, our blinds, curtains and bathroom shelves we had ready few days after we got the keys and could get the builders to simply hang them up.
Essentially if you need to make minor improvements like these, it may be helpful to plan in advance and take advantage of the builders being in or around the property at the time you move.
So yeah, that was pretty much it. We moved in April 2017, and interestingly moved out in Summer 2021 paying off the Help to Buy government loan before any interest accrued!
There’s lots of opinions about new builds but we honestly had a pretty great experience, and it helped ease the process as first time buyers.
We didn’t have that much snagging and the fittings were generally top quality.
I see some new builds now and thanks to our reno, I realise how much great fittings we had – oak doors, fully titled bathrooms, gas on glass cooker, integrated appliances etc. Our neighbours were wonderful, the walls didn’t feel light etc. It’d have been nice to have bigger rooms but hey, one can’t have it all I guess.
We were very happy in our home and had lots and lots of memories. It’ll always be precious to us as that was the first home for our boys as well.
It was just so right for that stage of our lives and I’m so thankful to God for it.
While we were saving in a regular account we could have done better by saving in an Investment Savings Account. At the time, the government was topping all savings by 25% provided the money was to buy a first time home and met the requirements. There was a cap of £3,000 that could be paid in and while it’s not a super high amount in the grand scheme of buying a home, every little helps! That could very well have covered the solicitors fees.
As people new to a country and system, it’s always helpful to find out what’s available in the system and how you can maximise it. And of course that’s what I share my experience. So definitely check out government schemes and see what may be beneficial to you!
This is really a theoretical point as it’s not something wanted or could have done better but it’s a good-to-know!
One would think new builds are essentially cast in stone and structural amends can’t be made — but we’ve learned that sometimes it’s about negotiating power or simply asking! So a neighbour buying the same property asked that two rooms be merged into one big room with a walk in closet and en-suite. It was a different layout from the rest of the property on the block.
So those changes can definitely be made!
Sometimes what appears as the same offer may present two different results.
Eg an offer for £10k by your developer to either (i) pay your stamp duty or (ii) be added to your deposit may have two different consequences.
The government receives the stamp duty and once paid it has no benefit to you in the long run.
However, if that same cash is added to your deposit it continues to build equity. I mention this because a friend took the latter option and their equity contribution was topped up so they paid for their own stamp duty. Tola and I thought that was a smart move!
Technically it can be the same result if you accept the stamp duty offer and use the money you were going to use for the stamp duty into your equity. But we know that sometimes once that stamp duty offer comes through, we divert the funds for enjoyment!
Of course this generally assumes you could fund the stamp duty payment yourself. If you dont, that developer offer is a huge win to get you to completion!
Every other person might say the conveyancing and mortgage process is long and stressful. I might say “it’s not too bad”.
Don’t believe me.
First being a lawyer I was fairly familiar with what to look out for in the agreements and the searches (eg what’s a chancel search!). Also on the mortgage side Tola did a lot of the leg work. I mean he’s the person with the finance background right? Shout out to team work.
Honestly though, the back and forth can be a lot. I remember them checking line items in back accounts, sending a million documents over, waiting for decisions etc.
So please definitely look out for a good conveyancing solicitor (check reviews, ask people), and get your documents in order.
Also ask others. We tend to keep such info private until it’s all done, but find a couple of people with similar paths and ask! (If you don’t have any such circles, check out The UpWomen).
And well that’s about it on our experience. Hope this was helpful!
Oh yeah one more thing we should have done in hindsight was when we bought the house was take a nice photo in front of the door. You don’t have to share to anyone or make a social media announcement, but it’s a nice to have! Don’t forget that.
How about you? Are you looking to buy? Exploring? Saving up? Completed? Share your experience and any tips or lessons you’ve learnt along the way.
I’ve put together this Etsy folder full Black Santa and other Christmas ornaments and accessories with Black people.
The truth is, I’d never really considered a brown skinned Santa Claus or more popularly called a Black Santa. Even as a child living in Lagos Nigeria where pretty much everyone was brown skinned, most of the Santa images on TV were white. Nonetheless, that was fine because the colour of our skin was never an issue.
Currently, as a mum living in the U.K. with young toddlers and very conscious of racial / ethnic diversity I still didn’t think I was deliberately going to hunt down brown skinned Santa or elves . This was until I saw a comment on a friend’s Instagram page saying “what! Santa is Black now?”.
That infuriated me.
The back story is simple: Debs who runs Colour Celebrations a luxury children’s shop promoting diversity created some amazing Black Santa dolls our kids can relate to – which was for the most part wonderfully received. But then, a white lady left a comment saying “Santa is Black now??”
That didn’t make sense to me. It seemed like gatekeeping a fictional creation so much that you think Black children shouldn’t see this representation.
Anyway, I decided at that moment on to intentionally search, promote and shop Brown skinned Santa’s and related Christmas decor especially within the UK. Because you know what, our kids deserve a Christmas that looks like them. These range from and include:
Here’s where to find them:
I found quite most go the items on Etsy, and so I’ve created a folder just for that. Shout out to these independent sellers making a difference.
If I come across more, I’ll keep updating the folder. If you know any more that should be added to this list, please send them my way! Please note that some of these sellers on Etsy have more than one product, and I may have only picked one. So it’s best to check out the individual sellers and see what else they’ve got in their shop! Eg a number of shops have different designs for the Christmas cards and wrapping paper.
Other than independent sellers on Etsy, I found a couple of other shops that stock a few Black Santa and related items.
I love the mission and ethos of Colour Celebrations! I’ve been a huge fan of their baby milestone cards which I highlighted in this new baby post, and now they’ve introduced a few Christmas items to promote diversity. The Black Santa plush doll looks amazing and the wrapping paper as well which comes in two colours.
Check out the Colour Celebrations Christmas Shop.
March Muses have created Christmas decorations of colour in the UK, ranging from Black angels, Black choir boys, Black Nativity sets and much more. It’s definitely an exciting shop with a lot to pick from. Both founders who are also mums to little girls founded the shop when they struggled to find Black fairies and ornaments for their Christmas tree.
Kitsch Noir is a Black greeting card and stationery brand founded in 2017 to fill the gap in the lack of diversity in the greetings card industry. Their Christmas line has some really exciting cards and also includes figurines and ornaments.
I hope you find this helpful and consider purchasing one or two items! Which of the items are you likely to purchase?
A construction themed party pack that is personalised, cheap and looks good? Count me in!
I had a limited budget and aimed to put together 30 personalised party packs for our son’s 4th birthday and for his pre-schooler friends.
TL-DR, here are the items we got for each pack and their individual prices:
Total – £2.99
Hope that helps. For more gist and the details keep reading!
First, how is it that Jidenna is 4 already! It seems pretty much like yesterday he was born.
His first birthday party was the last one we celebrated with a themed get together which was the Lego Batman Party.
This year, the priority was celebrating with his nursery friends especially since it’s his last birthday in nursery before he moves to big school.
So I wanted it a bit memorable.
A construction themed party wasn’t the first one I’d thought about. I wanted to go with a Mighty Express Theme. It’s this new series on Netflix which Jidenna loves. It’s also a production of SpinMaster same folks who produce Paw Patrol. The lead character Max who leads a bunch of trains is brown skinned with lovely curly hair (representation is so important!). So side bar if you’re looking for a new show for your toddler check out Mighty Express.
Anyway I didn’t go with a Mighty Express theme because it’s a new show so it was pretty tough to find merch and personalised items. And when I thought about it a bit further we kinda had an unofficial paw patrol theme for his 2nd and third! I mean we don’t exactly have a stake in Spin Master so I wanted something much different.
Since he loves diggers and everything construction it was an easy one to do. Plus there’s SO much inspiration on the internet you could very much get overwhelmed!
Ahan back to construction themed party packs for his little friends.
One question was actually how many did I need to make. The options were (i) 15 being the number of toddlers in the nursery on the exact day of his birthday or (ii) 30 being all the toddlers in his class. Those not in on the day would have to get theirs the next day.
I initially thought 15, but an Instagram poll convinced me to go with 30!
Now the average party packs are not a big deal to put together. You simply pick a bunch of toys and sweets and call it a day. You could even get some ready to pre packed ones like this one for about 85p!
In this case, I wanted to personalise the boxes. I love anything personalised but also anything that showcases our names, culture and heritage is a plus for me especially where it’s a non diverse environment. Since Jidenna often chats to me about his very many friends, I imagined a case where his friends may be doing same to their parents but their parents may not be able to fully understand his name (since it not a Tom, Charles or Harry kinda name). It might be a minor point but it I hoped it’ll bring some diversity into focus.
So I got these personalised party packs from this small business on Etsy and it was fantastic! The packs arrived flat and very well packaged and it was super easy to put together. No equipment needed. You could also fully customise what you wanted on it. Eg the one in their sample shop had “Caution Josh is 4”. But I didn’t want the caution language so we went with “Beep Beep. Jidenna is 4”. The size of the pack was approximately 11cm by 10cm so more than enough for mini items.
Each party pack cost £1.25 so this was the priciest item! Kinda sad to think it was paper as would be trashed immediately but I hope it was worth it. The seller called The Party Box Shop also had a wide range of themes and could even design one for you. I was very pleased with the service and totally recommend!
With the pack sorted, what were we going to put inside? I initially started off with a £5 budget for each pack but when we doubled the needed packs from 15 to 30 I had to significantly bring down the budget to £3 per pack.
Since it was a construction party I wanted at least one digger related item in it. I loved this pack of 5 mini diggers in it for £5.99. But that would have come to more than £1 per one which means budget in the mud LOL! I still bought it though but just one pack which we used as props on the birthday cake.
After much searching without any luck I stumbled on the perfect pack! This store Baker Ross is such a gem – the perfect store for party planning. No jokes, you’ll be spoilt for choice. For example this link takes you straight to party bag fillers and there’s a ton of options for you to pick from.
This pack of colourful pull back mini diggers was just the ish for me! And it was cheap and cheerful. It came in packs of 30 for £18.90 which is £63p each! *insert happy dance woohoo*. I also found the 4 pack version on Amazon.
This was the next “big ticket item” sorted.
This meant we’ve spent £1.88 and so left us with about £1.12 to spend per pack.
Next on the list, Crayons! Toddlers love crayons. Also mini packs of 4 crayons are a good sized item that could add bulk to the gift. I found some awesome ones. They really are because I realised I’d seen the exact ones in other party packs we had received!
This pack of 20 (4 in each pack) on Amazon cost £4.99 so that’s 25p per pack! I also saw this pack of 50 for £12.99 which is about 25p per pack.
Side note: I also really loved this pre-packed crayons and construction colouring sheets. But they were £1.47 so outside the budget! They could however be standalone gift bags. I considered printing my own colouring sheets at home but gave up at the last minute.
25p out of the budget left about 87p! And we only had two items inside the pack.
Well then, what else is a great party pack filler for pre schoolers – bubbles!!
Back to my bargain hunting I found these pack of 24 bubbles for £4! I almost could believe it. They’re from HobbyCraft. That’s about 17p for one. They’re so perfect for little hands, colourful well made and honestly just awesome. I bought two packs which meant we had some left over for the boys at home.
Our budget is now 70p left. So far we have crayon, bubbles and a digger in the pack. Not bad!
I’m not sure what I was searching for but I randomly stumbled of these mini play-doh pots and loved them instantly! The perfect party bag size. £5.99 for 15. That’s about 40p. It’s pricey given some of the other items above but I thought it was kinda worth it.
With a huge chunk of the budget gone we only have 30p left!
This pack of Yellow Smiley Stretchy men was a cheap and cheerful and the final addition of toys. Kids are able to have quite some fun with it as it stretches quite thin and sticks to surfaces too. A pack of 20 cost £3.15. That’s 16p for one!
All 5 toys total £1.61 and with the party pack of £1.25, that’s £2.86 of the £3 budget. That leaves us with 14p left!
I could definitely have stopped here, but what’s a party bag without candy?!
I bought four different types of candy (Haribos, Moam, Chupa Chops and Swizzles) from Tesco Grocery about £8 and let’s just say that used up 13p leaving us with 1p change.
So yeah that’s how I put together the construction themed party pack for the kiddos. We had a pretty full pack of toys and candy in a personalised party box for £2.99! Not bad if I say so myself.
Separate from the construction themed party packs for his pre-school friends we had a mini get together at home with the same theme.
I sadly didn’t get many photos (wish I had a pro photographer!) but I loved our tshirts – all 4 for about £50 which was probably the highlight of the day.
Jidenna’s was personalised with his name and age – get it here. Really great service from the shop too!
Other than the piñata which I got from Partyrama, I got most of the other items from my fave store Etsy supporting independent businesses. You can check out my folder here where I saved some of the construction themed party items I loved.
I had such a good time putting this together and I’m super thankful we could celebrate (within budget too!)
Do you enjoy children’s theme parties?
Is it possible to take photos while pregnant without showing you bump? It just might be!
As a blogger or content creator, a lot of what you do revolves around sharing your life updates or photos. But at the same time, pregnancy can be such a delicate journey that sometimes people just want to experience it privately and with close family and bits.
For both of my pregnancies, I didn’t share on social media or the blog until our boys arrived. That first time for me was a lot easier. Although I’d started blogging and growing my Instagram page, I hadn’t fully gotten into sharing photos of myself. So I don’t think anything was overly suspect.
The second time though in 2019/2020 was much trickier. I’d begun to share photos of myself and so as my bump grew I had to get creative. I didn’t want to take a complete break but I also didn’t want to show my baby bump.
So I worked with a few clever ways to take photos and show my face on Instagram without showing the bump.
This is kind of like a portrait. But rather than making it passport like, it’s a good idea to make it an action photo which then becomes the focus of the picture. Putting on lipstick, fixing your hair, looking into a mirror are some ideas that good work.
Creators use lots of prop anyway so this should raise no eyebrows! The photo below was during an event I’d hosted in January 2020 when I was a few days shy of 30 weeks pregnant. Ofcourse everyone at the event knew I was pregnant. But the gift boxes for guests made a nice prop. Other props can include your duvet, pillows, food tray etc.
Back shots are great. We often take photos from the front but these could be a good way to be present on socials without showing the bump. You could be opening up the curtains, reaching for your kitchen cabinets, working on your desk or like the photo below sitting on your dressing table.
Pregnancy might be a good time to take a break from full or half length shots and take more facial photos.
Sitting down can sometimes work great! And if you pair it up with another of the above such as a prop, or back view you would often have a winner!
Well well this is a no brainer and works so well especially in winter when it’s the norm to wear a million layers! Oversize sweaters, jackets, scarves will come in handy… and well no one would wiser about what’s so wonderfully underneath.
The trick is to find one that works. I have to say sometimes you get lucky and sometimes no matter how hard you try, the growing bump would want to be seen. I remember trying to self shoot family Christmas photos in December 2019 and it just wouldn’t work. But then I did get some creative photos in March – one month to my due date. So you win some, you lose some.
Finally, you really don’t have to do any of this if you don’t want to. Pregnancy can be delicate. If your preference is to disappear from social until baby arrives by all means do so. Your audience would wait for you!
And if you don’t need any of these and would prefer to share and the news and photos of your pregnancy early on, by all means do so and give us those bump photos which we love to see!