How to get married for less

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How to get married for less than $25,000

Every year, we hear about the average cost of weddings, and every year that goes by that I’ve been married, I am thankful that we spent about $5k for 50 guests to share our wedding day with us instead of something larger and more costly. So today, I will share our wedding budget and how we kept costs down. We also planned the whole thing in about 6 months (engaged in early February, married in early August). I’ll add some photos, but you can see more on my Pinterest board. Our wedding happened pre-Pinterest, so now there are many cost-saving ideas out there. Our goal was to have an elegant, low-key wedding with our closest family/friends. My parents liked this idea a lot, and were supportive of a small wedding, and so paid for nearly all of it. I think the ultimate breakdown was that we paid about $1,000 and my parents paid about $4,000.

Wedding Budget

Reception:
Food and Beverage        $1,600.00
Books for table numbers        $200.00
Wine      $0.00
Total:    $1,800.00

For our reception, we chose a local fancy restaurant, with no dance. We really just wanted to be able to talk to each of our guests, and we had no desire to dance the night away. Originally, we were going to use the restaurant meeting room space, which had no rental fee, but they generously offered to set aside part of the main restaurant (they have curtain things to make areas more private) so we could more comfortably seat 50 people, also with no fee. They also happened to have musicians that evening (a pianist and violinist) so we got to enjoy the lovely music without dancing. We used our favorite children’s books as table numbers (I think we had 7 tables) so the restaurant staff knew where to seat folks based on our rather complicated seating chart (we didn’t want chaos with seating since we were in a small space). We did pay a corking fee to bring in our own wine for toasting (most of our family aren’t big drinkers and DH’s aunts gifted us with the wine), and we limited meal options to two selections so we could anticipate the cost. At the end of the night, my dad just paid the check like you would at any restaurant, and the owners generously gave us a $50 gift card as a wedding present-we used it on our 1st anniversary to go back and celebrate.
2955940894_8016003670_oAttire and Beauty:
Gown/Alterations        $175.00
Headpiece        $50.00
Bride’s Shoes        $75.00
Groom’s Suit        $200.00 (gift)
Total:    $300.00

My gown was a J.Crew wedding dress on sale which I bought before we were even officially engaged (short story: I had loved the style for a long time and so when I saw it went on clearance, my now husband said to just get it, since he was in the process of ring shopping). I had a custom floral hair piece made by Myra on Etsy (no veil), and I got my ruby red silk Caparros shoes on Zappos, which went perfectly with my silk wedding gown. My husband’s godmother is a tailor/seamstress and helped with slight alterations to my gown and also generously purchased a nice black suit for him to wear, and we got a red tie that matched my shoes. My sister did my hair on the big day and I did my own makeup.

Ceremony:
Location Fee        $300.00
Officiant Fee/Donation        $100.00
Musicians        $250.00
Total:    $650.00

We got married at our church, which happens to be the local Cathedral, an already beautiful space. We didn’t add any decorations, since the space was newly remodeled. They charged parishioners $300 for the location, plus suggested a $100 donation for the priest. We hired one of the regular church cantors (songleaders) to sing, and one of my cousins played the piano and helped us choose wedding music, which was a very lovely personal addition to the ceremony/mass.

Flowers and Décor:
Roses        $135.00
Hypericum        $109.00
Ribbon/pins        $10.00
Bird nest for rings  $10.00
Total:    $264.00

We used Fifty Flowers and Grower’s Box for the bouquets that we put on the tables at the reception venue and which I held, plus boutonnières for our attendants and petals for the flower girl. My mom and a close friend helped me put together the flowers, and my mom had purchased clear vases at Goodwill and Savers to put them in–probably paying about $.50 per vase, so I didn’t include that in the price. We then let folks take home the vases/bouquets to enjoy, and we kept one. I made a little bird nest for the ring bearer to carry in our rings with supplies from a local craft store.

Photography:
Photographer        $500.00
Printing of photos        $200.00
Album from Target        $20.00
Videographer   $0.00
Total:    $720.00

This is the one area where I would recommend spending money, because the only thing you have at the end of the day are memories, and photos are a great reminder. We had a friend who was a skilled photographer, but who had never before shot a wedding, do our photos. He’s now a professional wedding photographer in the Twin Cities. One of my cousins did wedding videography for us as a gift, which was very generous. My uncle/godfather owns a photo printing shop and printed all our photos at a nice discount. I put 4×6 shots into an album from Target, and we also framed a number of photos which are still displayed in our apartment.

Stationery:
Invitations/Reply Cards        $300.00
Announcements:     $50.00
Envelopes        $25.00
Postage        $95.00
Total:    $470.00

We designed our own invitations in Photoshop, and had a local printer print them. We purchased fancy folding envelopes from some website I can’t remember (they were like folders), and got custom stamps with our engagement photos on them from Zazzle. Since we had a small wedding, we sent announcements out to those we didn’t invite to let them know our new names/address.

Wedding Rings:
His Ring        $325.00
Her Ring        $120.00
Total:    $445.00

We got both of our rings from e-weddingbands.com, which I highly recommend. They are great quality, and have free engraving. They were the cheapest we could find for 18k white gold bands. We tried on bands locally to get an idea of width and get our accurate ring sizes.

Transportation:
Car Rental        $0.00
Total:    $0.00

My close friend’s boyfriend (now fiance!) worked for a local car dealer, and got us an awesome vehicle as our “getaway” car, and also acted as our chauffeur. It was amazing to ride in a VW Phaeton, and we actually went through the Starbucks drive-through in it before going to our reception. This was an amazing gift.

Gifts:
Favors (Mr. B’s Chocolates)        $140.00
Favor boxes        $30.00
Total:    $170.00
Personal Additions:
Marriage license        $40.00
Premarital Weekend by Diocese        $140.00

We hated the idea of throwaway wedding favors, so we did something everybody loves: sweets. We got fancy Belgian-style chocolates in our favorite flavors and bought favor boxes online. This was the only truly “putzy” thing we did for the wedding, assembling those boxes and putting two chocolates into each box. We then set one box at each place setting at the restaurant, and we heard later that people loved this, trading each other for different flavors. Also, a Minnesota marriage license was $40.00 in 2008 (no idea if that’s gone up), and we were required to attend a marriage preparation course by our diocese, which cost $140. I would say this was worth it, as we also got to meet with a married couple for our premarital counseling and find out where we differed on our premarital assessment (required by the diocese).

Grand Total:    $4,999.00

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Long layered DIY haircut

Video

I actually cut my own hair last week using this video tutorial. I watched the video a couple times until I felt comfortable with how Silvia went through the steps. Then, I got my supplies together: a couple larger hair clips, a fairly narrow-toothed comb, and a hair cutting shears, plus a spray bottle with water.

Next, I combed through my wavy/curly hair and decided how much hair to trim–a quarter inch seemed about right, since my last haircut was in late August, and it wasn’t so grown out that I could still see where my stylist last cut my layers. I sectioned off my hair just like Silvia in the video, except I spritzed my hair with water very lightly so that it was slightly damp but not wet. This helped keep the frizz to a minimum (I never brush or comb my hair when dry, it makes the curl go crazy). I then trimmed up the layers, and shazam! Free haircut. I washed my hair afterward and double-checked the layers when wet, doing a bit of cleanup, but overall, I think I did a good job. Photo below.

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I mostly keep my hair in the same style and length, but I usually lop off a couple extra inches in the spring, so will try my hand at that once the weather warms up.

How to save (potentially) thousands more for retirement in one easy step

Keep your investment fees (otherwise known as the expense ratio) low–this means on everything you have invested: your IRA/401k/403b/457b/taxable investments. This interactive infographic from PBS’s Frontline explains what fees are and why you should keep them as low as you can. If that doesn’t light a fire under your butt and get you looking at what fees/expense ratio you are paying, I don’t know what will.

So, what’s a “low” fee? If you are looking at your employer’s list of 401k investment options, you should be able to compare their expense ratios as well their rates of return. But for a comparison, Mr. Money Mustache likes the Vanguard VTSMX index which has an expense ratio of 0.17%. I have a Fidelity IRA in FUSEX, which has an expense ratio of 0.10%. And my 457b with my employer is in VIIIX, which has an expense ratio of 0.025%.

You might also notice the examples I’ve given are all index funds. That’s because actively managed funds generally have higher fees than a straightforward index fund which simply tracks the S&P 500. You can find a million other articles about index funds, or you can read one book: John Bogle’s Little Book of Common Sense Investing (preferably free from your local library). I read most of it in a weekend, and then immediately switched a bunch of our mutual funds to index funds. Fun stuff.

Marketing and the things you already own

Objectified_coverThe documentary film ‘Objectified‘ is a favorite of mine. It discusses the design of objects and our relationships with those objects. I often think of a quote from that film when I am walking down the aisles at Target or through the mall. It’s a quote about the things we already own, and to me, it’s a very powerful thought.

Rob Walker, New York Times columnist, speaking in ‘Objectified’:

If I had a billion dollars to fund a marketing campaign, I would launch a campaign on behalf of things you already own. Why not enjoy them today? Because we all have so many things that are just around – they’re in the closet, they’re in the attic, whatever… that we don’t even think about anymore because there isn’t enough room left in our brains because we are so busy processing all the exciting new developments.

At the end of the day, when you’re looking around at the objects in your house and you’re deciding what here really has value to me… they’re going to be the things that have the most meaning in your life.

The hurricane is coming. You have 20 minutes to get your stuff and go. You’re not going to be saying, ‘Well, that got an amazing write-up in this design blog.’ You are going to pick the most meaningful objects to you. Because those are the true objects that truly reflect the true story of who you are and what your personal narrative is, and the story that you are telling yourself (and no one else) because that is the only audience that matters….”

This idea really re-framed buying for me on many levels. Rampant consumerism is one thing, but even just buying that one extra “fun thing” on a trip to Target adds up to a whole lot of extra unnecessary stuff over time. And almost none of it adds anything to my overall happiness, nor is most of it stuff I’d grab if my home were engulfed in flames. This thought also helps me to de-clutter. How much do I really care about this object? Instead of looking at things and thinking they will make me happier, I look at what makes me happy and try to feed those passions instead. I recognize when I’m being marketed to; it takes some self awareness and self control, but once mastered, it’s a very powerful tool in helping to amass savings instead of collecting stuff.

You are traffic

traffic

This is a long post, because it’s a topic I feel passionately about. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

One of the easiest and simplest choices that will affect your ability to save money is the choice of where to live. This will impact how much time you spend in your car, which will impact how much money you need to spend on your car, or if you even need a car in the first place. This doesn’t include costs like property taxes and school levies, but those are things to think about if you plan to own a home someday.

One thing I always wanted as a kid was to be able to walk to school. I had cousins who were able to do this, because they lived within a few blocks of their elementary school and only had a couple of 4-way stops to cross in order to get there. I lived too far from school, with too many busy intersections with stoplights, and thus, by the time I reached high school, had to spend over 45 minutes on the bus twice a day. That was 90 minutes of wasted time, in my mind. Sure, I spent the time reading or talking with friends or listening to music on my Walkman or playing handheld Paper Boy, but mostly, sitting on a bus for 45 minutes really sucks.

When my husband and I were dating, we took a vacation to San Francisco. Since we were still in school and generally trying to take a holiday on the cheap, we sought a destination where we wouldn’t need a car. We walked around a lot on that trip, and it was amazing. We also took the bus when needed, and this worked out really well. We later took another trip to Chicago, which was similar–a car would have been a hindrance, not a convenience.

So when it came time to look for an apartment with my then-fiancé about a couple months before our wedding, we talked about where we wanted to live. We decided it was important to live within walking distance of the university that he was attending (mine was a 1.5 hour drive) and be close to my job (I hated even the 20 minute commute from my parents, and paying for parking). We had two older vehicles (a 1987 Buick and a 1999 Saturn), and didn’t like having to rely on them, especially in cold weather. Since the university and my job were within a couple miles of each other, we looked for apartments in between, and found one that we were both happy with, a basic one bedroom with some nice closet space.

When we finished school and got jobs (I got promoted and husband got a job less than a mile away from our apartment), did we go out and get a nice mortgage? No, we decided to pay off our student loan debt, and so we stayed in the apartment. It’s been over five years, and we’re still there.

There’s no laundry in-unit, no dishwasher, and our garage is nearly a block away from our unit, but our building is near a busy intersection which makes getting anywhere quite convenient, and our unit faces a mostly-quiet and peaceful courtyard so we experience very little traffic noise. Our only utility cost is electricity, which is about $35 Sept.-May, and $55 June-August. We are within walking or biking distance of our jobs, a grocery store, a gas station, some good fast food options, and it’s about a 10 minute drive to our gym or either or our parents’ houses.

This wasn’t some fluke that we didn’t plan. We didn’t shop for the nicest apartment our budget could withstand. We looked for the cheapest place that was close to the places we needed to go every day, and we got a little lucky that my husband later got a job nearby.

This has allowed us to walk or bike to work, and save a huge amount on cars. We literally fill each car with gas once a month. One car gets filled twice if we go on an adventure to the Twin Cities or I have to use my car for work (and get reimbursed for the gas). Our car insurance on a 2005 Ford and a 2001 Acura is quite inexpensive. Both cars have been very reliable, with no major emergency repairs required, because we selected reliable cars based on a lot of research.

And then there’s the time factor. Even when we drive to work when the weather is dismal, it’s a five minute commute. I barely have time to listen to one full song on my way to work. This means our time is free to do what we want, instead of take time to get somewhere to do what we want.

I can’t stress this enough: where you choose to live hugely affects your ability to save money. You have a huge amount of control and choice in this situation. You may not decide where your job is, but you can decide where to live.

A possibly shocking post

One of my favorite posts on my newest favorite blog, Mr. Money Mustache (MMM), is about the Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement. MMM explains the relationship between what you spend and what you earn in incredibly simple terms, and demonstrates how quickly you can achieve freedom from your job. I like my career, but I really like the idea of not needing a job.

I had always planned on retiring before age 60, ideally by 55, but my math was much more convoluted and complicated before reading his blog post. I already track our income and expenses closely using Mint.com and my stack of spreadsheets, so it was easy to sit down and do my own simple math.

While we were aggressively paying off debt, we made rather large payments every month. Sometimes it was $500, sometimes (like in an extra paycheck month), it was over $3,000. Note that this was on less than two ‘teacher incomes‘–and I have a salary and my husband is an hourly earner. Now those huge payments are getting paid to… us. We have no car payments, and no mortgage. We pay off our credit cards every month and use up our rewards points on things we need (like Amazon.com points for textbooks and gifts or Old Navy points for clothing). This isn’t complicated financial planning, it isn’t anything ‘special,’ nor do we have a magically amazing income. We just spend significantly less than we earn, by making choices about where we live and how we live.

Between what we have been throwing at debt every month, what we put into 401ks, what automatically gets taken from my paycheck and put into a retirement account with PERA, and what we plan to put into our IRAs, we are easily at a 50% rate of savings. And that doesn’t even include what we are currently paying for my husband’s tuition, a temporary cost which will eventually lead to a higher income. All of this math was extremely exciting.

So now this blog takes a new focus: the goal of early retirement. How early? Hard to say right now, but I’ll be tracking our progress and offering more money musings on our way. Stay tuned.

DEBT FREE!!!

PAYOFF

As you can see from the image there, I set up the final ‘Payoff Payment’ for my student loan. I’ve blurred the total amount for privacy, but DH and I agreed that the savings account could be put to better use. The payment hasn’t gone through yet, because even in this digital age, payments still have go through the bank rigamarole, so it doesn’t quite feel real just yet, but I’m guessing by next Friday, it will be done and gone. The savings account is taking a hit, but will be replenished over the next few months. Best of all, DH starts grad school next week, and it’s already paid for… no student loans!

To recap, DH and I started with about $52,000 in student loans combined in 2009. Yikes. All of that was borrowed between 2006-2009 while we both worked on second degrees, a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) for me, and a teaching certificate for him. I successfully landed a very nice promotion at work and DH was re-hired at a previous employer in 2009, and, based on the advice of one of DH’s aunts, we learned about Dave Ramsey and the concept of the debt snowball. We regularly made rather enormous payments toward the debt beginning in early 2010. We started with the smallest total (one of DH’s loans, I think it was about $2,000), paying off all of DH’s debt in September of 2011, and now all of mine in August 2013.

I’ll do another update next week when it’s all officially gone through, maybe it will have sunk in by then.

Shriveling debt and reset priorities

This month marks a pretty big occasion on our path toward being debt free: we will have more in emergency savings than in debt. We started with about $52k in student loan debt between the two of us, and this month it is down to under $10k. If you haven’t been following along since the beginning, we began aggressively paying down the debt in early 2010. I am very hopeful that we can now pay it off completely by the end of October 2013, or only three months from now! Even if it is a couple months later, like in December, that’s only five months from now.

It’s kind of surreal, but it’s really only going to be about four years of rather large extra payments. In that time, we have also (all in cash) replaced two vehicles, took at least one vacation each year, gotten some nicer long-term furniture, a new laptop, and saved a good chunk toward retirement.

So, what’s next after becoming debt free?

We will be getting out of debt basically just in time to start paying my husband’s tuition for grad school without taking on more loans. This is great, because as I previously mentioned, we were going to allow ourselves to do some things without worrying about the debt hanging around a little longer (update: she had a perfectly healthy baby boy but she is still not 100% out of the woods). We took that wonderful trip to Seattle in May, husband did register for two classes this fall, I went to Chicago mainly for work in June with one day of fun tacked on, and we are working on plans to visit Europe next summer. We’ve even gotten a couple of invitations to stay with people if we visit Germany and Denmark, so those may be added to the list along with seeing Paris.

Gaming frugality – month two

A brief update on our goals:

    • give up beer until summer – Update: Have not purchased any beer. I think I’ve also lost 3 lbs. because of this. We did buy one bottle of Malibu rum because we could get the giant bottle for $10 after a $4 rebate. New goal: forego beer as long as possible.
    • one fancy coffee drink per month  – Update: I think we got a couple coffees each in the last month, using them as a reward for doing something else. Husband is trying to wake up early a couple days per week and get to a free class at our gym, so is using coffee as his reward. New goal: we can get fancy coffees if there is a BOGO, but only if we have met the previous month’s gym goal of 12 visits or made it to a class at the gym.
    • both will bike/walk to work once it is warmer than 30 degrees when we leave – Update: wow, this is tough, because for a couple weeks, it rained every afternoon when it was quittin’ time for me, so I elected to drive. Husband rode bike quite a bit in June, though. New goal: try to walk at least 2x per week, and if driving, must pair it with some other errand (immediately go to gym after work, for example).
    • only eat out together for dates, not as a convenience – do more meal planning – Update: this has been going fairly well. I think we only broke this rule once in the past month and a half. New goal: just keep on planning a couple meals per week and have cheap/easy things so we are not tempted to eat out.
    • husband will not get professional massages, and will visit the chiropractor only once per month, as needed – Update: still going well; I think husband visited the chiropractor once last month. New goal: not needed.
    • no new clothes unless essential for work – Update: I did buy a new swim suit because one was completely shot, and a pair of shoes when I was in Chicago. New goal: keep using Pinterest for ideas to use pieces I already own.
    • no new makeup, nail polish, other frivolous lady temptations for me – Update: I threw away some almost-empties in Chicago to have more room in luggage, and purchased a new BB cream and powder, for less than $10 total. New goal: continue to avoid these aisles.
    • I will eliminate lady temptations by only going to Target for groceries – Update: I bought the aforementioned makeup at Target. New goal: not needed.
    • Buy gifts primarily with credit card points for Amazon.com – no gift purchases yet, but still accumulating points. New goal: not needed.

    Also, I requested and started reading John Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing from the library and shifted some of our investments based on this.