Archive | February, 2013

#922 Travel Savings: Be Your Own Travel Agent and Tour Operator

28 Feb

Leave time for aimless alleyway wanderings. You may stumble upon a non-tour, non-guidebook gem.

Leave time for aimless alleyway wanderings. You may stumble upon a non-tour, non-guidebook gem.

I didn’t go see the Eiffel Tower until my third visit to Paris. I spent a semester studying there and the closest I got was rooftop views and side street glances. When in Paris, it’s hard not to see the Eiffel Tower. But actually visiting it had little importance or meaning to me. So I didn’t go. I did go to the Picasso museum, the Parc Monceau, the Porte de Clignancourt flea market and the Jardin du Luxembourg in that time though. And countless other activities. There’s so much to do when you travel, you can’t get it all in at once. And you can’t let someone else dictate how, where or what you want to do when you travel. You know yourself, you know what you like, you know how to relax. So don’t go see the Eiffel Tower your first time in Paris if you don’t want…

My philosophy is that every trip I take is not the last time I travel. I make a promise that I’ll be back if I fall in love with a city, country or place. The best and cheapest way to be able to do this is to DIY. Travel agents are pretty much out of business with the ease of internet booking, but don’t limit yourself just to the internet. Once you’re on the ground in a country, you can find your own way to cheap accommodation, non-tourist destination secrets or inexpensive eats by accident or via friendly locals. Travel is about having new experiences, which are proven to stimulate your mind, which in turn makes you happier and helps you stave off things like dementia and boredom. So yes, everybody should travel, and here’s some thoughts on what works for me to get the most out of travel for less:

  • I can’t afford to travel. People seem to be able to buy a house, beer, a car, coffee…very few times have I ever heard anyone say they can’t afford those things. It’s about priorities and what you want. If you make travel a priority of what you want, then you’ll find a way to be able to afford it. I’m not talking about taking on debt, I’m talking about putting other things lower on the priority list in order to save for travel.
  • Budget. I’ll just keep repeating this one. No really, if you say, “I can afford no  more than 40 Euro a night accommodation in Greece for 10 nights,” then don’t book or stay anywhere that costs more. Have a daily budget for food and transportation as well. Make a total budget including flights or gas to reach your destination to get a number for your savings goal.
  • Local food is better and cheaper than "package" food. Even if you just eat dessert.

    Local food is better and cheaper than “package” food. Even if you just eat dessert.

    Booking a package is never cheaper. If you book a tour package, you’ll always end up paying more and most likely not get the same experience as you would staying out of a resort, eating street food and finding your own way to a local attraction. Some people like to sit on the beach of their name-brand hotel, eating and drinking everything there, but it’s not the kind of cultural immersion or brain stimulation that makes an exciting travel memory. If you want some inside knowledge, check out this fun site I found a few weeks ago. If you live in a tourist country or destination, you can also make extra money by becoming a guide. Many times locals will offer this type of tour and service on the spot when you visit, don’t be afraid to take them up on an offer after negotiating a fair price.

  • You don’t have to go far or for long. I’m always amazed by people who haven’t experienced their own backyard. There’s always something there and a long weekend or Sunday can suffice to travel somewhere. Get in your car, take the bus or train, walk, it’ll be fun.
  • Be flexible. I’ve traveled by just showing up somewhere and planning a trip. I find just showing up with no bookings and little plan wastes my time looking for accommodation rather than being able to spend the time exploring. So I like to plan, but have flexibility. I like to leave if I don’t like a location, stay longer if I love it. I’ll have more structure toward the beginning of the trip and more room for whims and just showing up toward the end once I’m more comfortable with the setting, people and language if applicable. It’s up to you what works, but leave room to go with what feels right once you’re there.
  • Guidebooks are only a starting point. I love reading guidebooks because they inspire me and give me ideas. But they’re only a starting point. There are great budget guidebooks to point you in the right direction, but it’s O.K. to eat somewhere that’s not in the book, stay somewhere that’s not in the book and have an experience that’s not in the book. I find guidebooks are great for ideas and orientation and then take it from there.
  • Stop to smell the roses - you're on vacation!

    Stop to smell the roses – you’re on vacation!

    Don’t overbook yourself. If you did take one of those bus or organized tours, they’d cram everything in from morning to night. You wouldn’t be able to stop and smell the local roses or wander the alleyways into a mom and pop restaurant or shop. You’d come back with little more of a checklist of places you saw. You would know you were there because you have a picture. You can do the same thing to yourself when you DIY, but don’t. You’ll be exhausted, cranky and stressed trying to see everything. Relax, remember, you’ll be back. And if you don’t go back because there are so many more places to see, at least you won’t stare blankly when someone talks about their quintessential travel experience because you have nothing to share or relate to. You were too busy stuffing in everything you “should” see rather than just experiencing it. I’ve met a lot of blank stare “travelers.” I stop myself and realize they didn’t actually “see” anything even though they “saw everything.” I go by having one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon. If something takes all day, great. If I decide not to do something in the afternoon or sleep in, great.

  • Ditch the bucket list. It’s not just because I don’t like overused, pop culture references. It’ll help you avoid the problem mentioned in the point above and free your from obligatory Eiffel Tower visits. And there are so many things to do and places to see, I don’t need a list. I want to do and see everything, some more than others. But I know my life and time are limited, so I’m going to enjoy what I can, take what comes along and let go of the checklist. Living life is not a box to check, an item to cross out or a “mine’s bigger than yours” competition.

Up Next…Travel Savings

27 Feb

Italy is a popular honeymoon and vacation destination.

Italy is a popular honeymoon and vacation destination.

So you saved so much money on the wedding…you can blow it all on the honeymoon. Remember, the honeymoon is just one chance in a lifetime of chances to have a great adventure in life. So you don’t have to spend all your money getting to Fiji. Next, I’ll share travel money saving tips that everyone can use for a honeymoon or any vacation.

#923 Wedding Savers: Ditch The Diamond

26 Feb

I loved it as soon as I saw it when he proposed. Rubies are second-hardest after diamonds.

I loved it as soon as I saw it when he proposed. Rubies are second-hardest after diamonds.

Diamonds are forever boring. O.K. so this is more an engagement thing. I couldn’t make my point better than this guy, so read what he says.

I never wanted a diamond, didn’t dream of a diamond. My now-husband knew I didn’t want a diamond. And that spending a month or more salary was a silly financial choice when we were in our twenties (and even now).

So check out my Pinterest board for alternatives.


  • Aquamarines are actually the ancient stones of love/youth/happiness/good fortune dating back to B.C. times, not a 1950s marketing scheme. I love me a vintage aquamarine ring.
  • An heirloom from a family member is always more meaningful. It doesn’t have to be a diamond. Estate jewelers like where my husband found my ring offer unique choices.
  • Diamonds are from bloody and violent sources unless you get them from Canada (like my brother-in-law, yay, Canadians!)
  • Even the British royals and uber-wealthy people like Mark Zuckerberg don’t need diamonds for engagement rings.
  • You don’t need an engagement ring at all.

For this to work (at least in the US), you will need a like-minded partner, which is always best with financial decisions. Men, if the woman you are with attaches undue meaning to a diamond, explore what she really values and how that matches up with your views. I’ve heard things like “he’s just trying to be cheap,” “she picked it out because she knew exactly what she wanted,” and the like. A ring is a gift, so forget all the materialistic stuff and as they say “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

#924 Wedding Savers: Look Designer Hot For Less Than $100

25 Feb

My first rental had me hooked. You'll get tons of compliments on your dress.

My first rental had me hooked. You’ll get tons of compliments on your dress.

I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a teenager. I sewed. I read Vogue. I made my prom dress from a Vera Wang pattern. I couldn’t ever afford a Neiman Marcus closet, but imagine my excitement when I realized I could have access to my rich friend’s closet. My friend who can afford the designer dresses AND will lend me a dress for every fancy dress occasion. That’s how I view my go-to source of wedding finery, Rent the Runway.

The problem with dressing for weddings is that it usually requires black tie or cocktail attire – which is a whole lot dressier than a backyard barbeque. So do I buy a new dress to wear to every wedding, and try not to look too stale by the end of the year? Do I spend $25 for a couple of cheap dresses that are passable? Do I dig into my closet and hope I fit into something? Or that it’s not too outdated? Do I drive my partner nuts by buying a pricey new outfit for every occasion? Do I hope that the thrift store has something besides ’80s prom dresses?

If you’re like me, I hate to spend even $25 on a dress that I’ll probably never wear again. And it costs at least $50-$75 for a dress that doesn’t strike me as too cheap looking, but I still probably won’t wear  it again because I don’t dress up much even though I think I’d like to. I like to change up what I wear to weddings and formal events. It’s fun.

So when I first read about Rent the Runaway when they launched, I knew immediately that it was my solution to my dressy-occasion angst. (If you are a U.K. reader, see links below for U.K. versions). I didn’t have to spend much money. I would look smashingly hot. And I could indulge my designer fantasies without paying the price.

First off, designer wear is expensive because YOU LOOK HOT!!! The designers make these dresses to make women look and feel great. The way the dresses fit, the material and the look is unparallelled. So basically you’ll be the best dressed, best looking person at the event. And no one else will be wearing what you’re wearing.

Here’s a few thoughts on making the best of a designer dress rental:

  • Rent for $50: I only look at $50 rentals. There are tons of them and you can filter by many different options including designers. I personally love Badgley Mischka. Dress rental can run up to $200+ but in order to take advantage of saving money, stick to the cheaper rentals. If you need a second dress, say for a rehearsal dinner, it’s only $25. So I got the rehearsal dinner and wedding taken care of for less than $100 for my brother’s wedding last spring.
  • Don’t just rent for weddings: Rent a designer dress for prom, formals, socials, balls, whatever. You’ll be saving a lot of money by renting and returning rather than paying $150 for a dress that you’ll laugh at 10 years later. If you rent for prom, you’ll be the most sophisticated high school student on the dance floor.
  • Be the chillest bride ever: So if you’re totally a chill bride then you can tell your bridesmaids to wear “red” or “grey,” and they can rent a smashing dress. It eliminates the bridesmaid dread of “what am I going to do with this dress” after the wedding. Or you can get together with your bridesmaids and order the same dress that works for everyone. If you are even more relaxed, you can rent your own wedding gown – although I’d be totally fine with raising the price ceiling as you’ll be saving hundreds of dollars.
  • Take a look at the reviews and size recommendations: You can order a dress in your size and a backup size for free. So you get two sizes for the price of one rental. As long as you’ve taken a good look at the size specs and what other women say about the fit, you should be fine. The site has a great feature where you can input your dimensions and find photos of women who’ve rented dresses and how they look.
  • Don’t worry: There is automatic insurance ($5 per dress), so you don’t have to worry about getting wine spilled on you. The return is a pre-paid envelope that you just stick in any mailbox, so it’s super easy. You also are saved the expense of a dry cleaning bill because you return the dress as-is.
  • Book early: You can rent for four days or eight days (more expensive), and they’ll next-day ship your dress. You do pay for shipping to you but return shipping is free. To make sure you get the dress in the size you want, when you know the date, book early, especially in the height of wedding season.
  • Skip the accessories: Don’t worry about renting accessories, these dresses don’t need them or use your own.

I really love this service as an inexpensive way to indulge my love of high fashion. And I feel incredible in all the dresses I rent. The only thing I wish was different? They need to rent Armani suits so the men can look just as hot.

If you’re not stateside, here are some dress rental versions of Rent the Runway for the U.K.:

Girl Meets Dress

#925 Wedding Savers: Truffles and Pavlovas and Cupcakes, Oh My!

22 Feb

My dad kept calling them muffins, but they were cupcakes. And memorable years later. Photo by Nadra Photography.

My dad kept calling them muffins, but they were cupcakes. And memorable years later. Photo by Nadra Photography.

I’ve never had memorable wedding cake. The highest praise I’ve heard for wedding cake is “it’s not bad.” Which means it’s not good either. Or mind-blowing. Or drool worthy. Or orgasm inducing. The most that can be said for wedding cake is that it’s beautiful. Why pay for a work of art that most guests leave on the plate? Why not pay for works of art that are mind-blowingly good and memorable and cost less? Forget wedding cake, what about fondue, hand-held pies or cupcakes? Or petits fours, caramel apples or sorbet?

I am craving going to a wedding that has any of these on the dessert menu instead of cake. I’ll address some of the issues: what about feeding each other cake? You can feed each other pretty much any of these desserts. No one shoves cake in anyone’s face since grade school so don’t do it at your wedding. What about a one year anniversary cake top? You want to eat cake that wasn’t that good to begin with after it’s been frozen for a year and defrosted? How about planning a long weekend to a romantic destination or a hotel night instead. It’s much better than eating stale cake at home. What about the guests? Give them something pretty to look at that they then get to devour, and they’re happy.

Wedding cake runs from about $175 for a small affair to over $1,000 for large ones, so many of these solutions will come in well below that. It’s always good to do price comparison though. If the cake alternative can double as a wedding give away with cute bags or boxes then that’s two expenses in one taken care of. Many of the desserts can be negotiated as part of the catering or venue company deal, which will not cost you extra, which is even better. And although it would be rare to have a wedding cake maker in the family, it is likely a family member or friend is a talented baker or cook and would be happy to gift their handiwork to the wedding feast as another option.

  • Cupcakes. The rage on these is dying out a bit, but they’re still awesome. You don’t need a wedding cake specialist to make these. Any bakery or the catering company will whip them out at little cost. I asked the restaurant to make cupcakes as part of the brunch menu that already included pastries. I cut the pastries and requested mini cinnamon bun cupcakes for the brunch theme. They ended up making cinnamon cupcakes, which I overlooked when I tasted them. Amazing! When my sister was listing memorable wedding moments over the years this spring, she said, “your cupcakes.” I had no idea that other people thought they were that memorable as well. I was inordinately pleased.
  • Fondue.
    Photo via flickr by Wendi Kelly.

    Photo via flickr by Wendi Kelly.

    You can feed your partner fresh fruit swirled in melted chocolate, how romantic. It’s a fun at-the-table activity for guests to end their meal with.

  • Mini-milkshakes. I dream of strawberry milkshakes. Probably everyone else does too. Make them dessert, and you and your partner can sip the milkshake with double-straws like you’re in a 1950s ice cream parlor.
  • Pavlova. The gluten-free, and potentially dairy-free, dessert for those who have problems with either. They’re unique and beautiful as well.
  • Carnival food.
    Photo via flickr by nerissa's ring.

    Photo via flickr by nerissa’s ring.

    A fall wedding screams for caramel apples, cotton candy or snow cones for non-wedding cake fun.

  • Pies. I’ve known several couples where the groom did not like cake so they had pies. Fruit tarts are lovely as well.
  • Truffles. Melt-in-your-mouth chocolate and best giveaway ever. Need I say more.
  • Coffee bar or affogato. Why not fuel your guests with caffeine and have a cappuccino bar instead of the demurely offered after-dinner or lunch coffee. The guests probably would rather want coffee to keep them going for the party anyways. I’ve recently become obsessed with affogato – an Italian dessert of ice cream drowned in espresso. You have your dessert and coffee all in one.
  • Sorbet. A light summer or after-meal refresher like sorbet is sure to be a hit. My sister had sorbet as part of an excellent meal at her wedding. She had cake, but I don’t remember it. The sorbet on the other hand was to-die-for. I would of been happy just with that.

Check out my Pinterest board for more ideas. Did you nix wedding cake in favor of something delicious (and cheaper) at your wedding?

#926 Wedding Savers: Choose Your Booze

21 Feb

A brunch wedding meant mimosas were the theme drink. Photo via flickr by gcfairch.

A brunch wedding meant mimosas were the theme drink. Photo via flickr by gcfairch.

The bar tab is gonna top the list of one of the most expensive items at your wedding. Booze is expensive. Picking up the bar tab for anywhere from 3o to 300 guests is astronomical. How do you limit how much people drink to save yourself money without looking like you’re pulling the plug on alcohol? Pick a signature drink to match the theme or personality of your wedding and serve the drink along with red and white wine. If you go with a champagne cocktail drink, it’s going to make everything look upscale and no one will be able to resist downing them without complaint that there’s no beer. Hard liquor is mega-expensive, so it’s budget relief to cut a full bar out of the wedding plans.

In fact, when last minute for my brother’s wedding, a keg was ordered to please the “beer crowd” and to supplement the wine my dad had selected, it went untapped. The “beer” crowd drank the copious amounts of excellent red and white wine, and we danced the night away. Never assume that people are going to complain about an excellent choice set in front of them. They usually quietly accept it and procure “their” drink if they are diehards. I’ve seen people pre-partying with Natty Ice in the parking lot, but drinking wine inside at a wedding.

So depending on the season, time of day and mood, pick a drink you love, and everyone else will love it too.

Here are some thoughts on wedding drinks and a Pinterest board to inspire you:

  • Kir royale:
    I downed one kir royale after another at a small wedding. They were so good, it's all I needed. Photo via flickr by toolmantim.

    I downed one kir royale after another at a small wedding. They were so good, it’s all I needed. Photo via flickr by toolmantim.

    A champagne cocktail with creme de cassis – an addictive classic. As with all “champagne” cocktails, you can use a pre-approved sparkling white and not trademarked and more expensive champagne.

  • Mimosa: As we were doing brunch as our wedding reception, it made sense to us to serve mimosas. Mimosas from morning through the afternoon – who can complain about that?
  • Bellini: If we’d thought about it more, bellinis would have really blown people away with our brunch theme, but oh, well.
  • Mulled wine: A perfect drink for a winter wedding.
  • Sangria: A fun way for everyone to get their drink on at a summer wedding without breaking the bank.
  • Mojitos: I have loved these since a Cuban girl who lived in Havana made one for me. Years later they became wildly popular. I still haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like them. If you pick a drink with hard liquor, which is more expensive than wine or sparkling, you may want to set a limit on the bottle count and pick the brand so it can fit your taste and budget. Chances are you may never reach the limit.
  • Microbrews:
    Photo via flickr by walknboston.

    Photo via flickr by walknboston.

    So if you’re doing a country barn or chicken wing affair, why not have local microbrews on tap as your bar. I was at a typical country club wedding and a friend said, “this is too uptight, when I get married it’s going to be beers and buckets of chicken wings.” Somehow she ended up having a similar country club wedding, but there’s no reason why you can’t make chicken wings and beer fun upscale at your wedding and skip the country club.

Keep getting inspired by checking out more ideas and photos on my Pinterest board.

#927 Wedding Savers: Get Married When People Don’t Get Married

20 Feb

Here are three good reasons to get married on an off-day, off-season: lower rates, your invitees won’t have to skip your wedding for another and you’re sure to book your pick for the venue, photographer, ect. Typically wedding season is from early t0 mid May to Columbus Day weekend in October (second Monday of October). With variations based on geography.

You can also consider having a Thursday or Friday night function for a better rate and less competition from other eager couples. Or having a lunch, brunch or afternoon reception that eliminates the pricey full, sit-down dinner. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, the menu options for brunch were mouth-watering and the price tag was laughably small compared to dinner. When the priest could only do the wedding ceremony on Saturday morning, it was set. A morning wedding with a brunch following. Why wait around all day for dinner? And who doesn’t love brunch?

Waffles and roast turkey - brunch is awesome...and cheaper. Photo by Nadra Photography.

Waffles and roast turkey – brunch is awesome…and cheaper. Photo by Nadra Photography.

Vendors will have lower prices for less busy times. Lunch, a stand-up reception or brunch will always be less than dinner as well. You can still have dancing, drinking and fun. Guests can move onto an after party, and the couple won’t be too exhausted to spend some time doing what married couples do.

While the date of our wedding was determined by our work schedule, it happened to be the weekend after Columbus Day. In the end, I realized it was a lucky break for me. I was booking the photographer and organ player up to the week before the wedding. I never had anyone tell me they couldn’t do it. They were booked solid before that, but eager to cut me a deal for the first weekend after the madness died down. And there were several guests who’d attended weddings the weekend before, which made me grateful that they didn’t have to chose between weddings.

What about the weather? All the brides I knew who got married in June had rain in one of the rainiest Junes on record. In October, we had peak leaf color on a sunny day after a week of rain. You never can tell. Another girl I knew had a gorgeous, snowy January wedding. Some things you can’t predict.

Even with a lunch reception or December wedding, you can save even more money with these suggestions:

  • Does the word “wedding” cost more?
    I bought non-"wedding" shoes on sale that I knew I would wear again (I have). Photo by Nadra Photography.

    I bought non- “wedding” shoes on sale that I knew I would wear again (I have). Photo by Nadra Photography.

    With the insanity of the wedding industry, it seems the word “wedding” triggers a higher price. While you don’t have to pretend like you’re not an absurdly happy couple celebrating in a tux and white dress, you can call around for quotes from various services that you are considering. One phone call can refer to the event as a family reunion, prom or garden party and the other call can refer to the event as a wedding. If there is a difference in price, ask what the differences in service or items provided are for a wedding and negotiate away the wedding “extras.” Or bargain a lower price or the same price as another event if the differences are not justified.

  • DIY: You don’t need a wedding planner. Various tasks can be spread between the wedding party, parents and willing guests to make things run smoothly and so the maid of honor and best man aren’t overburdened. You may also consider that you don’t need a florist, cake maker or caterer if you or your friends and family members are talented (and willing!) in any of these areas.
  • Hire an amateur photographer. While you could dispense with the photographer all together and ask friends and family to take pictures or designate one person to take pictures, this could end in disaster. You don’t want to be madly disappointed that no one caught moments that you couldn’t remember or didn’t want to forget. Asking someone to be in charge of something like photos as a volunteer activity could lead to – no photos at all, blurry and badly lit photos or unsatisfactory photos. Unless you implicitly trust someone with this task, you are better off going to a local college to recruit an eager photojournalism student, making a connection with someone who wants to get into the photography business but needs to get his/her first clients or hiring an acquaintance whose photography you admire but who would not be a guest. I’m sure they would all be excited and flattered to be hired. That way you can vet their portfolio and discuss the shots you want beforehand, yet pay a fraction of the price of a professional. I’ve worked with many amateur and student photographers over the years on projects, and their photos always blow my mind.
  • Check what your paying for. For any vendor, make sure you understand completely what you are paying for. If there are things in the “package” that you don’t want, bargain them away. If you go with a professional photographer, they often bundle a wedding album at $1,500 or more into the package in addition to their services. You can eliminate the album and DIY later.
  • Get a free venue. Most religious venues are free – just make a donation as thanks. Hold the reception at someone’s gorgeous house or property. Many restaurants will book your party as a private party where you only pay for the food and service instead of a fee for the actual space. You start to run up massive costs when you have to pay for the venue space as well as all the food and drink.
  • The Rehearsal Dinner is not the wedding the day before. More and more, rehearsal dinners don’t look any different than the wedding. Strictly limit the rehearsal dinner invitees to the wedding party, immediate family members and wedding officials. Even with the largest families and wedding parties, this shouldn’t be more than 30 people. Hosting the rehearsal dinner at someone’s house saves money and should be casual fun.


#928 Wedding Savers: Your Dream Wedding Is One You Can Afford

19 Feb

I’ll tell you what people remember about a wedding. People remember whether they had fun or not, whether they were happy for the couple or not, whether the food was good or not (maybe that’s just me) and whether there was something unique about the wedding. Things that people don’t remember are…flowers, place settings and centerpieces, invites, any other obscure details and whether the bride was wearing anything other than a white dress. So before you get lost in the myriad of wedding details that seem to all scream for equal attention and dollars, what people remember about the wedding is if they had fun, which is based on how happy they are to be celebrating. Part of why they’re happy to be celebrating is if they are happy for the couple.

Everyone’s been to those weddings where everyone is trying to have fun and possibly are having their own fun, but there’s that overarching, awkward feeling that it’s a bad match. Finally someone admits, “it’s weird” or “it’s awkward” and everyone breathes a sigh of relief that someone else feels the same way. So first, before undertaking all this wedding stuff, make sure you’re marrying the right person. If you have doubts, which is normal, explore whether those doubts are superficial or nervous energy or merit real consideration.

Photo via flickr by smasha_moro.

Photo via flickr by smasha_moro.

Reasons like “we’ve been together long enough,” “I don’t want to be lonely” or “we’re pregnant” are not good reasons if you feel the connection is not there. Reasons like “he/she makes me look good,” “she/he has a lot of money/status” and “all my friends are married” are also not good reasons. Any situation where you are sure you can “fix” or change someone or those that involve physical or verbal abuse are clearly bad ideas, but not any easier to leave than any of the other bad reasons.

So why start out on a lovely, happy love-fest with this kind of talk? Because…if you’re marrying the right person then your wedding will be awesome no matter what…everyone will have a good time whether you spent less than $1,000 or $10,000. And you will have no problem being realistic with your partner about what you can afford and working out disagreements. You’ll both know that it is not the day that matters but the marriage afterward. And what better way to start a marriage than by having worked together on a budget and finances, one of the major sources of marital arguments and disagreements, and making the day not “all about you” but all about who you are. You’ll also start out your marriage having dealt with each others families and being able to say “no” to in-law requests politely.

So if you’re confident that you’re marrying the right person, sit down with your significant other and work out a budget that you can save for or afford and make sure you track it like you would any other budget. And here are some ideas to think about on how to make it work with whatever your final number is:

  • The venue:
    wedding maine coast

    Overlooking the Maine coast on a fall day didn’t need much augmentation and was perfect for us.

    If the venue is beautiful, flowers and other decorations can mostly be dispensed with – nothing replaces a gorgeous view or unique site. If the religious ceremony and reception site are different, both can be beautiful. If you have the ceremony and reception in the same place, even easier. Keep in mind, having a ceremony outside in a field where someone has to provide and haul everything from forks to a dance floor out there, won’t necessarily save you money over a place that has it all at hand.

  • Invites: Anyone with a printer and some nice card stock can make a nice invite over a weekend. No need to pay for special printing. This is where you can start to get creative. Like how to get the printer to print on an A1 size card. Hand addressed envelopes with a nice pen or calligraphy is a nice touch. RSVPs via email or electronic invite reminders eliminate the need for postage-paid response envelopes. Come on, I don’t know a single grandpa who doesn’t have an email now…and you know he’s coming anyways.
  • The dress: Like I said, no one remembers much besides, “she was wearing white.” Styles like strapless and lace are influenced by current trends. Getting your dress online, on eBay or on consignment is a great way to get a bargain. You can try dresses on in a store to get an idea of what you want or what works best for your body type. If you’re confident about your body type and what you’re looking for, than online offers zillions of options at better prices. All you really need is a good tailor to make the dress fit like a glove once you receive it. Both my sister and I ordered dresses online with good knowledge of what we wanted and loved our dresses. If you order new from a bridal site, it still takes upwards of eight weeks for a dress order, although you can immediately order certain styles and save even more money. There are sites like Tradesy Weddings that are online consignment shops for wedding dresses – you can be assured the dresses have only been worn once!
  • What about city hall? To take the pressure off all that wedding madness, why not get married at city hall and then have whatever party you want afterward. You have to go get a marriage license anyways, so it makes the city hall workers’ day if they marry you as well. This can also work if you need or want to be married and it then gives you a long time to plan a religious or other ceremony at another time. The civil wedding with an approved officiator is what matters to the government. Any religious ceremonies are up to the couple. In the US, they can be one in the same, in Europe, they are strictly separate.
  • Have an Ipod or Karaoke instead of a band/DJ. Be your own DJ and load an iPod with music for the reception. ipod nano ipod shuffleIt’ll be your unique stamp on the day. You can also invite others to bring their music to play. I compiled a three and a half hour playlist with music to fit the mood. Hour one, cocktails. Hour two, meal. Hour three, fun time! I love playing DJ so this was so much fun for me to do. I knew a girl who wanted karaoke but was worried about what was acceptable. Don’t worry about what everyone else does. Do what you want to do. And who doesn’t love karaoke? Karaoke machines and equipment are easy to rent for the evening and are a fun alternative to a DJ or band.
  • The registry: Make sure it fits what you do. If you don’t ever use or have a need for something now – why would that change after you’re married? Don’t register for single-use items, like a quesadilla maker when a good skillet can be used for that and many other things, or nice flatware or silverware if you don’t entertain. If you already have an established home, you can register for upgrades or replacements for what you have. This is some of the best advice I’ve seen for what someone who does want a nicely equipped kitchen would need.
  • Don’t be afraid to be different. You don’t need to do every rote thing on the wedding list. It is much more fresh and fun if you change it up with your own touches. Don’t be afraid to do what you want and be creative. My husband and I didn’t really feel the need for dancing at our small, brunch reception, so we didn’t have dancing. But we did have a lot of fun. And we look back on it as a great day because we did what we liked and didn’t do what we didn’t care about. We wanted to have a good time with the people important to us, and we did. Success! When I was struggling with being fine with this and drowning in all the wedding websites that push every stereotype and cookie-cutter detail, I found this site that helped me feel confident doing our own thing.
  • Consider other people’s budgets. Clearly, you don’t want to be this person’s bridesmaid for multiple reasons (and clearly she has not read my blog), but you should be considerate of other people’s expenses if you’re asking them to be part of the wedding. They can say no, but come on…that’s kinda hard to do to a friend or sister. But picking a bridesmaid dress and groomsmen suits that are reasonable are much appreciated by all. And not having other demands like travel, parties and gifts galore that really leave people feeling like they’re human ATMs for your wedding.

So, a dream wedding is the one you can afford…but more importantly the one where you’re marrying the person you love and respect for all the right reasons. Everything else will fall into place.

What did you do at your wedding to save money or give it a unique touch that people still remember?

Who doesn’t love a wedding? Your finances might not…Unless you do it right

18 Feb

Photo by Nadra Photography.

Photo by Nadra Photography.


With the holidays and Valentine’s Day behind us, there are legions of newly engaged couples about to set the date and plan a wedding. Or legions more couples who decided that the man or woman they’re with held up beautifully to family and corny holiday challenges and are sure they want to get engaged soon. The next series of posts will be how to save money on wedding fun – while impressing guests with your creativity and never, ever looking cheap!

If you’re not engaged or about to get engaged, I’m sure you’ll know a friend, sister, brother, son or daughter who will be getting hitched and might need some friendly help or serious talk about ideas, money and budgets.

The ideas discussed will always revolve around thrifty themes of:

  • DIY
  • Refocusing your prioritizes on what’s important (hint, not stuff or what money can buy)
  • Being creative
  • Having a relaxed attitude
  • Being yourself
  • Having fun
  • Saving money and being happy about it (whether you tell people how much you saved is up to you)
  • Budgeting!

I’m also attempting to incorporate Pinterest for ideas so I’ll share those boards with you as well.

#929 Nature Walks

15 Feb

Autumn is a great time to be outside.

Autumn is a great time to be outside.

What do you do with seven kids on a Sunday? In my family growing up it would cost a small fortune to take us all to the movies so instead my mom marched us up the nearest mountain or hill she could find. We’d hike in state parks, national parks, on municipal trails or city greenways…pretty much if there was a trail, we’d be on it, walking like ducks in a row. Being Swiss, if it was up an incline, all the better. Being thrifty, the fact that it was free was ideal.

My mom is proud to tell us that “you were always good walkers.” What it did for us is give us a great appreciation for one of the best free activities in the world – nature walks. On Sunday afternoons, even if you don’t have kids, it’s nice to relax surrounded by nature. Not to mention the fact that if you do have kids, it tires them out completely and they’re entertained the whole time by the wonderment of the natural world. Luckily, the endless supply of beauty is free and good for you.

When it comes down to it, every healthy person is born a “good walker,” it’s just whether you have a parent who kicks you outside to play or marshals you down the nearest trail every Sunday that determines whether or not you grow up into the habit of walking. If you didn’t, don’t worry, you can start anytime. And kids naturally want to be outside and playing from the time they’re barely a year old. It’s not that Swiss-German kids have natural inclination for throwing on a backpack and tackling an Alp, it’s that their parents take them out for that activity from day one – first in a backpack and then on their own.

Nature walks by definition should not be too difficult – the goal is to have a pleasant outing – so where and what you hike should be geared toward having a good time. Here are some tips for taking advantage of a great free activity:

  • Change up where you walk. Don’t go to the same place every time. It gets boring. If you get a map of local attractions, walks and hikes, there are sure to be plenty of options with in easy driving distance. On vacation, it’s a great way to discover “undiscovered” areas of where you are visiting.
  • Incorporate a hobby. If you’re into photography, bird-watching or foraging, nature walks are a great time to have fun doing those things. If you don’t have a hobby compatible with being outdoors, pick one up to make it more enjoyable.
  • Always have water. It’s no fun to go any where without proper hydration. You’ll need it and you don’t want to cut things short because you forgot water. My mom is crazy about her water bottles. She wasn’t keen on snacks, but if you want, you can bring those too.
  • Bring the dogs.
    Dogs and kids love all weather.

    Dogs and kids love all weather.

    Your pets love this kind of stuff almost more than kids. Check whether they need to be on leashes.

  • Disconnect. As you can get a network signal almost anywhere, don’t count on not being able to get a signal to keep you disconnected from the world. Nature walks are for you to relax for a moment. If you want a phone for safety reasons, shut off the phone and put it in your backpack to use only if someone breaks a leg or falls off a cliff, which is pretty much never.
  • Have a destination. While not always possible, arriving at a waterfall or getting to the top of the mountain for the view is always the best way to go because it’s a reward for the work put in. If there is no destination, enjoy the time outside.
  • Walking through spring flowers smells like heaven.

    Walking through spring flowers smells like heaven.

    There are things to do in all four seasons. Don’t let the weather or time of year stop you. I love walking in the rain or snow. Proper gear will get you through. And nothing is more awesome than making hot chocolate after getting in from a walk totally cold and soaked through. In the spring you see the flowers blooming, in the summer you feel the shade of the trees, in the fall you see the colors change, in the winter you see deer tracks…you get the idea. I like off-seasons because lots of times, you’re the only person or party out there.

I’d write more but my almost-two-year-old is insisting on a walk-walk. She must have one every day, if not twice a day. My mom is proud that her granddaughter is a “good walker” too.