How To Change Your Finances Without Changing Your Life- Ditch the Plastic!

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photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

This is the first in a series of seven Friday posts on changing your finances without changing your life too much. Obviously any changes to your financial situation will require some lifestyle changes, but this series is designed to make people more mindful of their habits WITHOUT requiring overwhelming change.

This week’s step is probably the most important, but also one of the most difficult- ditching the plastic in favor of cash. Yes, that even means your debit card! I have been plastic-free for a month now, and it is AMAZING how different my spending habits are.

Now, this does NOT mean that you need to go and cut up your credit cards, cancel all of your accounts, and go off the grid. I still have a debit card and carry it with me everywhere. My husband still has his debit and credit cards. The only difference is that we use only use the plastic to acquire cash at the ATM or to make purchases online.

I’ve found that I have become much more conscious of how I spend my money. It’s so easy to go overboard when using plastic, even a debit card. When I can’t see my wallet physically get smaller, I overspend. By making this one small change I have decreased my excess spending by a significant amount and things between me and my husband have been a lot less tense!

It’s a small change, but it’s one that can change your story and how you view money. Over the course of this series, we’ll be building on this idea of small changes and how they can make saving money easier!

Have you tried going cash-only? What have been your successes and challenges?

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8 ways to save on your wedding

This is a filler post while I wait to get my car fixed and my budget back on track. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post regular content here, but for now, here’s a blast from my past- a wedding-planning post!

The Weatherman and I got married right before our senior year of college. Now I don’t know about you, but I have NEVER been more broke than I was before my senior year of college. It wasn’t the best time financially for us to get married, but we kind of had to because otherwise we would have had to wait and possibly rush the planning process because of jobs and adulty things. We were really lucky that our parents were able to help us out quite a bit financially, but that isn’t the case for many people. We were able to save A LOT of money by managing our wedding smartly. No one went into debt over it, so I consider that to be a huge success! Here are my top 8 tips for how to save money on your wedding day.

8. SAVE
In many/most cases, you will know about it before you get engaged, right? (My gosh, I hope so. That’s a whole other kettle of fish if you don’t!) Discuss with your SO what kind of wedding you’re looking to have when the topic comes up and determine what you would need to do to have that wedding. Start saving before you have the ring! The Weatherman saved so that he could pay cash for my ring instead of going into debt before the wedding planning even started. It helped out to not have that debt hanging over our heads as we started looking for venues and dress shopping!

7. Bridal shows

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After picking out the perfect dress (for a steep discount!) at a bridal show

I cannot stress this enough! For those of you who don’t know, bridal shows or bridal expos are huge events that showcase goods/services specifically for wedding-related activities. They promote businesses in a particular geographic area, so make sure you’re going to one near where you are getting hitched! I was able to get a discount on my cake by paying the deposit at the event (I’d already checked out the bakery online beforehand and knew I wanted to go with them). I also bought my dress there! It was a designer gown at a deep discount because it was the shop’s floor model. I literally got the dress I had been salivating over since getting engaged- in my size, to boot!- for HALF PRICE. Seriously. This dress went from being so far out of my budget that I never had a dream of getting it, to being solidly inside the parameters. Definitely my favorite moment of the planning process!

Bridal shows also usually have contests and raffles that you are automatically entered in, sometimes with extra tickets if you complete a task or something. I was able to win a gift card to a local boutique and we ended up getting my mom’s dress there. When my parents got married many moons ago, they won their DJ at a bridal show. The grand prize is usually something like your venue or honeymoon for free. The downside is that these expos aren’t always free. At the one that I went to, brides got in free but everyone else had to pay $15 or so. Sometimes brides have to pay a small fee, although this tends to be less than general admission for your entourage. Honestly though, we came away with so many connections, discounts, freebies, coupons, and samples that the cost was well worth it! Do your research before you attend and bridal shows will be able to work for you!

6. Use your network

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Instead of a traditional bouquet, I used one of my Great Gram’s fans and added a corsage

This was the other HUGE money-saver for our day! I know this sounds a bit like job-hunting advice, but hear me out: we literally saved THOUSANDS of dollars by networking with our friends! I can’t remember off the top of my head everything that we saved on because of connections, but they included our ceremony venue (we worked at the college and knew who to talk to about getting the event hall), flowers (friend of my mom’s), DJ (colleague of a friend at the same agency- our DJ was a local radio personality to boot!), photography (friends of my in-laws), hair (one of my bridesmaid’s sisters was a beauty school student) and our JP (a friend/boss of ours did it for free as a gift to us). I may have an unfair advantage on this because my mom worked in a craft store for 15 years, but odds are you know someone who knows someone! Seriously- you never know until you ask someone, so use your social network for help! That girl you sat next to in 11th grade English might be a florist now and be able to give you a discount!

5. Do it yourself!

Another giant money-saver? Doing most of the extra stuff ourselves. Invitations, centerpieces, place card favors, wedding day set-up, and our bridal shower were all DIY affairs done by various family members. Resume paper looks just as good as the fancy stuff you’ll get from a professional calligrapher or printer, and it can look just as good if you take the time to do it right.

The downside, of course, is the amount of time that needs to be spent completing these tasks. As the person getting married, you DEFINITELY should be helping out! My mom and I spent a lot of time shopping and crafting together in the weeks leading up to the big day. The only exception to this rule would be the shower (and even then, offer if you know about it in advance!). Don’t just come up with an arbitrary list of tasks and foist them off on unsuspecting family and friends; that’s a good way to end up on Bridezillas in a jiffy!

4. Cut down on the bridal party

Do you really need 14 attendants on each side? Unless you are the Queen of England (or have an abnormally large number of siblings)- probably not. We had six attendants total– my brother was the best man, my SIL was my maid of honor, and we carefully selected two close friends each. I was the one who compromised on this one. My husband and I agreed on his groomsmen really easily, as they were the two guys who are like brothers to both of us. The girls were, admittedly, much harder to narrow down. Definitely choose people who have had an impact on your life and who you will be happy to see in pictures for years to come. They will also help set the tone for your wedding day/weekend! Personally, I would not have included anybody who was a downer or who would have made the whole thing a chore.

I couldn’t afford to buy all my girls’ dresses, even with only three of them. Instead, I gave them a color swatch and said that they could wear whatever they wanted, as long as it was similar to that color. All three girls came back with vastly different dress choices that matched their body types/modestly levels/budgets, and they all looked amazing. Remember, your attendants’ comfort is important too!

Lastly, PLEASE don’t kill your attendants’ budgets! You might be trying to save money, but so are they! One of the groomsmen from my wedding is going to be in another wedding this summer. It’s in a much more expensive city and he will be spending at least 5x more on that wedding than he did on mine. He’s stretching his budget to the limit for a wedding that isn’t even his! Please remember that your attendants are people too, and you should not pass every single cost on to them.

3. Location, location, location!

Not a wedding picture, but proof that I lived in God's Country.

Not a wedding picture, but proof that I lived in God’s Country.

It is MUCH more expensive to get married in a city like Boston than in a small town in northern NH like we did. If you can wrangle it, try having the wedding in a more suburban/rural area. The venues are just as pretty (even prettier, IMHO) for about half the price. Just ensure that there is ample accommodation for any out-of-town guests and book a block of rooms somewhere if possible! Also make sure you use those connections! If you went to school on a simply gorgeous campus, contact the alumni association and see if they do events. We used our connections at our college to get the event hall booked and we had a little bit more negotiating room when it came to things like cost for event set-up and take down (the Weatherman worked on the crew that would have had to set-up/take down the chairs anyway- why would we pay for him to do that?!) and using signage.

2. Consider a different time

It’s widely acknowledged that the most popular times to get married are weekend evenings and weird holidays. Those days, therefore, are more expensive- at least double the cost of an off-time event. So do you REALLY need to dance the night away? What about an afternoon affair instead? Or a Wednesday, especially in the summer? Find out when the off-times are for your venue and book one of those. The other benefit is that you may have a better chance of getting the particular venue/hall you want if you are willing to be flexible. I would first book the location that is most likely to be difficult. For us, that was our reception hall. It’s a popular venue in our area (mainly because it’s one of the only venues in the area) and we wanted to make sure we had that taken care of before putting money anywhere else. Our Saturday morning/afternoon event gave out-of-town family plenty of time to get north before it started AND to drive home afterwards. Plus we were able to go home and change before leaving for our honeymoon, which was SO necessary after a hot summer day in monkey suits!

1. Alter your expectations

You’ve probably been planning your wedding since you were a kid. That’s okay, I was too! Now that Pinterest is a huge wedding planning wet dream and celebrity weddings are plastered everywhere we look, it can be that much harder to plan a wedding with a realistic budget. It can really hurt when there is something that would be SO PERFECT for your day, but then you realize that what it costs. Trust me, I’ve been there! When I was a kid I really wanted to get married at The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA. It’s near all of my family, it’s beautiful, and there are freaking butterflies everywhere! Nothing more romantic, right? Well, turns out that Westford in general was way out of my price range. I had to change my expectations to fit my reality. Ultimately, our day ended up being beautiful for all of the reasons that you CAN’T buy. My whole crazy family did the YMCA together, we had a great reunion of people who hadn’t seen each other in a few years, my brother gave the sweetest best man speech in the history of the world, and best of all, I got to marry my best friend. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

So stop stressing, intrepid wedding planner! In a week, no one (not even you, probably) will remember the brand of your dress or the name of your chef. What they will remember are those little things that money can’t buy. And really, your wedding day won’t be a failure if you don’t come riding in on a white horse surrounded by fuchsia rose petals falling from a gilded ceiling. As the ever-wise Captain Awkward said back in 2012, “weddings can’t really be ruined unless at the end of the day the couple fails to be married.” So as long as you are planning on being married at the end of the day, take a deep breath and focus on what matters!

How did you save money when planning your wedding? Got any awesome tips that aren’t mentioned here (I’m sure there are a lot!)?

Budget Busters

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My little budget buster- Idris heads to the doctor

Today has not been fun. I was planning a post on meal planning or my basic budgeting, but then my car decided that she wanted to lose a shock. Awesome. So now our budget is off track (because of course this happened before our emergency fund was fully funded), I’m going to miss at least one day at work, and I’m pretty much stuck at home until she’s fixed. Such a bummer.

It’s not all bad news though; there are some blessings coming from this situation. I’ve come down with some sort of cold, so I’m glad I’ll get an extra day or two to recover before I have to go back to work. Neither of the kids that I nanny got hurt by the car breaking (and neither did I, but that’s not quite as important). My in-laws got us a AAA membership about a month ago, which saved us a TON of money on the towing. The dealership that I got the car from is going to be able to fix it for relatively cheap, if not free. And the fact that I was so freaked out meant that the Weatherman stayed up with me in order to help deal with everything, so we spent some much-needed time together.

I think a big part of successful budgeting/living is looking on the bright side when things don’t go according to plan and figuring out how to salvage certain situations. This has definitely been a challenge for me over the last 36 hours! But recognizing where/how you can save money on emergency expenses means that a budget-busting incident won’t put you out more money than it needs to. A few months ago, we would have panicked and just put it on the credit card. Now that we know where our money is, where it’s going, and when we have bills due, we were able to breathe a little bit more and just do a little shuffling of our budget. Unless my mechanic really surprises me, I’m not grocery shopping this week, BUT we have enough food in the house to last through a minor nuclear disaster, so it’s not a huge deal.

Hopefully next week I’ll actually be able to start getting into the real meat of how I plan for my life! In the meantime, appreciate your cars and make sure you’re avoiding potholes!

How does your family deal with an emergency financial situation?

This is the part where I tell you what we’re doing here

Hello, intrepid explorer! My name is Dorothy and this is the part where I give you an idea of what this blog will be about. There will be laughs, there hopefully won’t be many tears, and there will DEFINITELY be food.

My husband (The Weatherman) and I have made a lot of changes within the last year. We graduated from college, moved five hours away from home, got jobs, quit a job, got a shiny new job, and started actually caring about where our money went. Needless to say, these changes have provoked an enormous amount of personal growth as individuals and as a family. We’ve completely changed how we look at food, money, being married, and our faith.

Some things to know before we really get into this journey together- I’m not claiming to be perfect or that my way is the only way. In fact, I’m really new to budgeting, money management, meal planning, cleaning, and being an adult in general. We’re following Dave Ramsay‘s Financial Peace University to help get us on the same page and working on how to communicate effectively about money. That is what I’ll be referencing from whenever I talk about budgets and money things. I promise I’m not a corporate blog! I’m just a private citizen who believes in this process and is trying to follow it as best I can.

And now, because that was quite a lot of reading, here is a picture of my parents’ puppy. She’s the best, most adorable puppy ever.Image

I’m looking forward to really starting this blog, sharing my strategies and successes with you (and, I suppose, my failures), and hopefully learning about what works for other people!