The Cost of Wedding Bliss… 1 year later!

Happy 1 year Anniversary to my Mister! Thank you for bringing me a year of laughter, balance, hope, and joy! When this post goes live, we’ll probably be sipping mai tais at a luau celebrating our big day!

Everyone knows that weddings are one of the most expensive life events one may go through. The average cost of a wedding in 2016 was over $35,000! Weddings in major cities obviously would be exorbitantly more pricey compared to a small town in the heartland of America. Now given that the median income for 2015 was around $56,000 a year (2016 numbers won’t be available until September), that’s a huge slice of the annual pie.  Side note: “average” and “median” numbers are not necessarily the same, but it doesn’t change the fact that weddings are PRICEY!

The Mister and I wanted a relatively low key wedding, knowing that we absolutely did not want to spend anywhere close to the national average. (He’s very financially savvy, I’m so lucky!) So we had a small destination wedding in Florida, with a larger reception back at home a month later. Now that we’re not caught up in the excitement and novelty of wedding planning, one year later, how do I feel about how we spent our dough? Hopefully this list will help you make your decisions when you plan!

Totally worth it:

  • Keeping it SMALL: Limiting the number of guests is the fastest way to cut costs. 30 of our immediate families and very closest friends celebrated with us in Florida. That meant only 30 people to plan for invitations, welcome bags, venue planning, etc. Even if you have a traditional wedding, keeping that guest list tight is the easiest way keep things on budget.

    Side note: while I initially felt bad for “cutting” people, we also threw a summer party reception at a park pavilion at home with around 100 people. It was catered and friends helped to decorate, but no other rentals or large venue costs. The total combined events were NO WHERE near that $35k average cost, and we essentially got to celebrate for a full month! If we had stayed in the DC area with 100 people for a one day event, it easily would have been $30-40k for a relatively simple wedding.

  • The Venue:  Our venue was hands down the most expensive part of the wedding, but it also provided everything at the resort: ceremony location/decor and reception location/food/decor. Because of that, we didn’t have to get with multiple companies for food and tables/chairs at multiple locations. The scenery was so pretty that we didn’t have to add much, so we were able to skip flowers. And there were zero transportation costs for the wedding day itself. They also provided a day of coordinator to keep everyone on track!
  • The Photographer: Definitely take the time to research your photographer, because you can’t go back and capture the day if you don’t like what you get. They should give you access to full albums so you can see their product. If you can, ask for weddings done at your venue, so you get ideas of how they see the space. Also, definitely negotiate when you can. I told a potential photographer explicitly that she was out of my price range but I loved her style, and what options or other photographers she’d suggest. She ended up giving me a discounted rate because she found my email touching! I still love the pictures we got and am so happy with the choice.
  • No bridal party. Well, sort of – we had a Best Man and Man of Honor (yup, my MOH was a dude!) who wore barongs, which are traditional Filipino formal wear. And we also had sponsors for the coin, cord and veil (also part of the Filipino tradition), but they didn’t have to buy bridesmaids dresses and we didn’t have to get our make up done. I think everyone was relieved there weren’t those extra expenses to be part of our big day!

Where I should have spent more:

  • A DJ: Since it was such a small wedding, we figured it was personalized to do the whole playlist thing. I kind of thought it was just about music, but the DJ would have been the MC, announcing people and events and generally keeping the flow going. My MOH stepped up to the task for us, but a DJ would have been the easier option.
  • Guest activities: You know how photo booths are so in right now? It’s because it gives guests something to do other than drink, dance, and stare at you. We did get a scheduled break at sunset for photos where the guests joined us on the beach (and took pretty sunset pics of themselves), but it would have been nice to give other options. Photo booths are very trendy, but so are make-your-own-something bars (sundaes, candy, popcorn, etc). Also, ALL our guests traveled for our wedding, so even though we had pimp welcome bags, I wish we’d spent a bit more to make sure they were well entertained.

Where we could have spent less:

  • The Bar: I firmly believe that all weddings should have an open bar. We had the option of choosing to pay a flat rate or by consumption, either way would have had no impact to our guests’ experience. Think about how many people actually DO drink booze to make that decision. We went with the flat rate out of convenience, but since only 50% of our guests actually partook in libations, we could have saved a bit there.
  • Photographer: Wait what? Didn’t I just say this cost was worth it? Yes I did. BUT, really think about how LONG you need a photographer! We booked her for 6 hours, which easily covered the getting ready pics, formals, ceremony, sunset, and part of the reception. She offers up to 10 hours (and other photographers do even longer than that), and we did have her the majority of the night. But we easily could have trimmed off an hour and not noticed, since she did get plenty of reception shots. Photographers are usually the other multiple thousand dollar expense, so only book for what you really need!

Our Florida wedding was a ton of fun – vacation for everyone who came! We also made that our mini honeymoon, spending 4 days after the wedding at Key West and St. Augustine. (Our real honeymoon came 6 months later, giving us time to save up and plan!) Weddings are expensive pretty much any way they happen, but they don’t have to break the bank. Consider the type of experience and memories you want to have, not just what you think is expected of a wedding. Spend where you want those memories to be, and enjoy the ride!

10 Things I Learned After Owning a Home for 10 Years

Ten years ago yesterday, I had the keys to my new townhouse and never looked back! Til now 🙂 The sheer pride I felt in being able to afford my own home without the help of anyone still sticks with me today. Of course that was also the peak of the housing boom where they were handing out loans left and right… Details details!

Even today I take great pride in grabbing my piece of the American Dream. While I don’t live there anymore, I do keep it as a rental property and I continue to LOVE that home. It taught me SOOOO much about independence, money management and life skills. Check out these top 10 things I picked up over the past decade:

  1. You will definitely, without a doubt, need way more dough than the down payment! The biggest expense you’ll probably face in one chunk is the down payment. But then there are movers, furnishing the place, association dues just to get you in the place. AND, when you own a place long enough, you will inevitably have other emergencies. In the past decade, my unexpected large expenses included: $9k to repair to a flooded basement, $7k to repair water damage to the front of my house which included cutting out and replacing a bay window, $1k to replace the hot water heater that leaked into my neighbors basement, $2k for ice damage to my roof that leaked into my guest room. Which leads me to…
  2. Water is the devil! Okay not really, that whole needing it to live thing. But water damage is BRUTAL, so think hard about wood exteriors and flood insurance (read the fine print). Also, bad things will happen if you don’t…
  3. Maintain your property properly! Seal/paint your exteriors regularly – early on, I honestly thought houses were built once and would last forever. Besides the exterior, take care of inside. Clean your dryer vents. Change your air filters – yeah I also didn’t know what an air filter was until 3 years into ownership when my a/c died and the repair guy showed me. Clean the gutters so when it snows an ice dam doesn’t form so quickly and seep into your roof. You get the picture.
  4. Make sure you have the right insurance coverage, and cheapest isn’t necessarily the best. I did not know enough about insurance when I bought the place. I blindly checked the cheapest box, and went on with it. Also, make sure you read what’s covered very carefully. Most of those expenses listed in #2 came out of pocket because either I had a $5000 deductible or it wasn’t covered at all. What the hell. That’s a lot of dough to give up at once, so I eventually changed it.
  5. Know the parameters of your home! Property lines aren’t just for where to mow the lawn. Let’s say you have a giant tree branch overhanging your roof that looks like it’s one storm away from smashing into your bedroom. Now obviously check your home owners guidelines, but in my case, that tree sat in the Common Ground area and is the responsibility of the HOA to fix. Or, in the case of the flooded basement, my townhouse jutted out about 2 feet from my neighbors, and there’s a fence dividing us. I had no idea there was rotting wood on their side of the fence, and that was where the water got in! And what’s worse, it affected both my and their townhouses.
  6. Get to know your neighbors! Getting to know your neighbors because you’re exchanging insurance information because the hole in your house also seeped water into theirs isn’t the most fun. However, having a decent relationship to begin with makes that exchange less fraught. Also, good neighbors make a good neighborhood. We watched each others’ dogs over the weekends here and there, they let me know if I left the car lights on, and most deliciously, we exchanged cookies during the holidays.
  7. Don’t try to keep up with your neighbors! This is not news, but living within your means is key to living comfortably! Sure I got house envy sometimes when visiting friends or seeing the major renovations of neighbors. Did I want to take out loans to upgrade everything, sure. But I couldn’t afford to completely blow out my kitchen and redo it, so I certainly made sure it was warm and inviting so people liked visiting ME!
  8. Paint is the cheapest, quickest way to change the way your home feels. Want to freshen up your place or give it a different personality without spending a ton of dough? Grab some rollers, drop cloths, and paint and get to work! Over the years, the bathroom went from calming spa-like sage to a feminine lavender to bright white to be renter-ready. My bedroom was a womb-like mocha where I never felt like getting out of bed, but energized me when it went to clean slate cream. There are even tutorials to paint over your laminate kitchen counters to make them look like granite. This is assuming you do the painting yourself of course. Take the time to carefully tape edges, though, because those details matter!
  9. Beware how much STUFF you accumulate! You have no idea how much you didn’t need until you have to move. I attended and hosted plenty of Party Lights and Pampered Chef parties, and donated almost all of it when I moved in with the Mister. We had duplicates of kitchenware and blankets and I think my throw pillows mated and multiplied, so had to get rid of a lot of them too. I also found a lot of unopened gadgets and decor hiding in closets when I was moving out, what a waste of $$. Edit your home’s contents regularly, keeping only what you love and fits your style.
  10. You probably won’t regret spending less than you can afford!  Just because you can get a loan for x amount doesn’t mean you need to spend that much. I bought at the height of the market and got as much loan as I could. Imagine my dismay when the bubble popped, the value of my home dropped $100k, but my bill was still the same. Throw in all those emergencies over the years, when I could have used more fluid funds. To be fair, and I’ll throw in this little caveat Consider how long you plan to live in a home, I knew my home was a long term investment. If I had planned to sell after 3-4 years (like all the flippers), I would have been SOL and taking a loss just to sell. But it’s been a decade, and the value FINALLY caught back up to what I bought it at, and I am still happy!

Which leads me to my last bit of advice, which isn’t really a tip but a motto for life, but Love what you’re doing. Find a place you’re excited about, decorate according to what brings you joy, maintain it regularly to respect your home. Owning a home is an enormous financial commitment for the entirety of the time you have it, so plan accordingly!

Financial Super Tool: Automated Savings Plans

If there’s one tool every single person with an income should use, it’s an automated savings plan. Every. Single. Person. It’s the simplest way to pay yourself first.

What exactly is an automatic savings plan (ASP)? Basically, you set a dollar amount to deposit into a set account on a set interval. Set it and forget it! One and done! While I haven’t looked at every banking institution available,  the big boys like Capital One, Chase, BofA, Wells Fargo etc definitely offer this. If you have a hard time keeping money in your checking account, or have a goal that you want to save for but don’t want to think too much about it, the ASP is the way to go. If you have no idea where to start, just automate $10 a week and in a year you’ll have $520. $100/week saves you $5,200 a year. Obviously plan within your budget, but it is possible to save SOMETHING over time.

A more fun example:
Let’s say you have a goal to save $1200 for a vacation next year. First, set up a designated Vacation Fund savings account. If you get paid on the 1st and 15th of each month, all you have to do is set up an ASP to move $50 into your vacation fund semimonthly, too. Forget all about it, and 12 months later you’ll have $1200 sitting waiting for your vacay! You can then stop the ASP, or keep it going to save another $1,200 for next year! What can that get you? If you and your honey live in FL, a quick internet search found a 5 night cruise to the Western Caribbean for April 2018 for under $400/person which gives you room to eat and shop!

If you’re really into it, open multiple ASP accounts!

Personally, I have 6 ASPs: Savings, Vacation Fund, Pet Fund, Annual Association Dues, Car Tax, and a Gift Fund. Why do I need these? Because I’m really bad at looking at one pot of money and knowing where it goes. If I don’t split them out, I can’t guarantee I’ll have funds for a specific event when I need them! ASPs – control for those who lack self control, haha. That way when an unexpected expense comes up for my dog (love her, but she has a lot of health issues – her recent dental issues cost almost $700!), I can just pull from that fund and not take a hit to savings.

Another reason I have so many accounts is because it gives a cushion to my cushion when bad times hit. Remember my last post about being unemployed for 11 months? Yeah, ouch. I wasn’t planning to be unemployed that long, so I didn’t really want to touch my Emergency Fund aka Savings. First, I stopped the ASPs entirely since I had no income, and that freed up the amounts I had set aside for bills. Then as the months went on, I depleted, in order, the Gift Fund, Vacation Fund, Pet Fund, then Savings. (Notice I didn’t touch the Car Tax or Association Dues? It’s because I HAVE to pay those every single year, so in my head, that money is off limits.) I didn’t touch my Savings until about 4 months in. It may all be my money, but was in a comfortable mental space for those first few months, and knew when I really had to start panicking.

Notice that I stopped my ASPs for the duration of my unemployment. That’s the reason I prefer ASPs versus direct depositing into separate accounts. It was very easy to log into my account online and make changes asap. And when I did get a job again – I started the ASPs back up. And I’m about to stop my ASPs for the next 4 months so I can have liquid cash for home repairs without taking money out of savings. Love the flexibility I have.

Having savings = flexibility = not freaking out = happier life.

Do you use Automated Savings Plans? Do you have multiple ASPs? What are your savings categories?

The Day I Was Laid Off, I Didn’t Freak Out

I was sitting in a conference room with 12 other people while the rest of our department was called into another room. There had already been 3 layoffs, so rumors via text and instant message had been flying around all morning. We were talking in that conference room, too: Surely they wouldn’t lay off a dozen people at once, would they?

But I had already packed my desk as soon as I heard about the first cut. Ever since my one-on-one with the VP a few weeks earlier when she asked me, “Do you ever feel like you’ve been here too long?”… I knew it was only a matter of time. When she came into our conference room accompanied by General Counsel…  One guy who’d been with the company for years looked like he saw a ghost, and a newly hired girl started crying. Me? I probably shouldn’t have laughed incredulously when the VP said she’d be happy to put in a good word for me while I was signing my termination paperwork. Oh well!

I was pissed, sure, but not panicked! They gave me 2 months severance, cool, but the 2 important habits that kept me from freaking out were: 1) setting up an automatic savings plan as soon as I got the job that had been saving for me for 8+ years at that point, and 2) I always kept at least 100 hours in my PTO bank.

That cushion was built on the most important lesson my parents taught me ever since I was old enough to understand money: rainy days would come, so save up as much as you can. My dad had taught me to set up auto-savings. My mom taught me to live frugally.

Those lessons saved my ass. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have taken 2 months “severance vacation” post lay off before starting to look for a job in earnest. Then I had spent the next 5 months looking for a job outside of my field… with no luck. Then I started looking back in my field. Landed a few interviews but no actual job.

I didn’t freak out the day I was laid off, but 11 months into unemployment, I had consumed nearly every dollar of my savings and felt panic on a daily basis. I had no idea it would take that long to find a new job! But thankfully I had 11 months of savings!

On the day I started my new job 3 years ago, I had $206 in my savings account… and a whole lot more than that in credit card debt.

The day I was laid off started a new phase in my life, where now I am completely and entirely obsessed with getting back to a comfortable financial place.

And that’s why I’m writing now, to chronicle that journey and pass along lessons I’ve learned. Thanks for reading my first post!