Money, Money, Money

First off, hugs and high-gives to all you for the kind words and comments I’ve received over the past week regarding my proposal — I definitely should have said something in yesterday’s post but I got too excited to show you my new hair and start talking about wedding stuff so I forgot… and then I got even MORE nice comments on that post so, I definitely had to say something now! Seriously, you guys are the best.

Secondly, I got some super interesting (and helpful!) comments in yesterday’s post about money, finances, and wedding budgets, so I thought that I’d devote a little bit of time dissecting my thoughts on the matter. After all, if nothing else, this blog has always served as an amazing way for me to gain clarity on pretty much any situation, so I figure it should be no different when it comes to organizing my thoughts on all things wedding-related!

Now, this is what we know to be true: traditional weddings are really effing expensive.

This is what we also know: I do want a “wedding” in the traditional sense of the word. I want the whole shebang — a ceremony and portraits and cocktail hour and sit-down dinner and dancing and cake cutting and all of it with a whole crapton (that’s the technical term, right?) of our family and friends there.

I mean, I absolutely want it to be unique and personal, and I want to infuse both the ceremony and reception with both Sean’s and my personality, and of course I want there to be little touches and special significance to, well, um, everything. But I’m not (totally) delusional. When you take a step back and look at it from afar, it’ll probably still look like, y’know, a wedding.

And weddings, well, I hear they take money.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have very generous parents who have given me a much bigger budget to work with than Sean and I could ever afford on our own, but even (especially!) knowing that, it’s not like I’m working with unlimited funds by any means. I want to be respectful of my parents’ hard-earned money, of my own money (I also work hard for that ish!), and find creative ways to cut costs without cutting corners.

I most definitely do not plan on going into any kind of debt for what essentially boils down to one baller party (much though it hurts me to call it that), so if costs end up above the budget my parents have set, I’m prepared to pay the difference as long as I can afford it, but would obviously still like to save money where I can.

The most common wedding budgeting advice I seem to see is to pick a few things that are REALLY important to you, and make those your priority. So if, say, having your dream photographer and decorating with gorgeous flowers everywhere matter, make those your big budget items and you can scrimp a little in other areas.

But my dilemma is… what if everything feels important right now? What if I want my dream photographer AND my dream dress AND five-star food AND an epic band AND a dessert table?

How do you pick and choose and prioritize when it’s all part of your vision? Is it the kind of thing that just makes itself more clear as time goes on and the wedding takes more shape? Or is it something you definitely need to establish from the get-go so you have a course-of-action going into the planning process?

Sidebar: I know that I’m diving headfirst into what is basically the ultimate level of  being #basic and having #firstworldproblems, buttttt… I’m newly engaged, surely I get a few weeks of slack to indulge my ridiculous fantasies, right? 😉

I know that there will be things that I have to compromise on, and I absolutely accept that, but when it comes to really getting into the nitty gritty of budgeting and figuring out where to spend the $$$$ versus the $$$, I guess I’m just having a little trouble breaking it all down. Apologies in advance if the following ends up being a whole lot of words without a lot of sense, but I really think just talking (writing) about it will help me straighten things out.

Photography is probably one of my top priorities, given that photos are the one thing that will last loooong after the memories of the big day start to fade. Videography is also something that I want to be able to remember our wedding by, and captures the day in a way that sometimes not even photos can.

Unfortunately, my role as the sister of a wedding photographer is actually not as beneficial as one would think, since I want Taylor and Ben to be present and have active roles in my wedding, not forced to see it from behind a lens. And ALSO, due to me living and working in such close proximity to them, I have pretty high standards for photography since they’re so good!

Food is, obviously, also really important to me, as I am a lover of food, a supporter of local restaurants and local farming, and I know that food makes people really happy! However, my sister continues to remind me that in a few years, nobody is going to remember the food at my wedding unless it was either A) jaw-droppingly incredible or B) food-poisoning inducing. So, if I fall anywhere in between on the spectrum, nobody will probably even notice.

I also really want a special and unique wedding venue, and venues in the DC Metro area are NOT cheap. Hopefully this is one area that we’ll be able to save a little on because I’m pretty sure we’ll be getting married during off-peak season (I’ll go into my reasons for that in a later post), but that still doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be cheap.

In a perfect world, I would also be able to afford a live band, because that kind of energy and crowd-pleasingness is hard to replicate elsewhere! This is, however, something that I’ve conceded will probably not happen, as DJ pricing is infinitely more in line with my budget.

As for the dress, all I have to say is DAMN YOU, Say Yes to the Dress! You have totally RUINED me. I’m pretty sure before this show existed, it would never even occur to me to look at three- or four-thousand dollar wedding dresses. I mean, that’s a used car! A semester of college tuition! But, that damn show and those damn beautiful designer gowns… I want it. I want the dream gown with the designer name and I hate myself just a little bit for it.

To make myself feel better, I keep telling myself that I’m barely skimming the surface of the kinds of dresses I see people buy on that show. I mean, I’ve seen $8,000, $10,000, even a $34,000 dress be snatched up by brides, leaving me staring at the TV with my mouth agape, eyes agog, and probably just a liiiiiiittle bit of drool in the corner of my mouth.

The one thing I am finding pretty easy to push down on the list is flowers. I find wedding flower prices to be absolutely outrageous, and while I recognize how stunning a great floral centerpiece or beautiful bouquet can be, I think that fantastic aesthetics can be attained without a ton of expensive blooms. I do plan on DIY-ing a lot of centerpiece stuff (if I have the wherewithal to complete it), and it’s been my dream for a long time to carry a brooch bouquet instead of a traditional floral one.

But these are just some of the considerations that go into a wedding. It doesn’t even take into consideration things like renting a car or limo, event production (uplighting, draping, additional decor), a dessert table, or even pre-wedding stuff like invitations and… oh lorrrrrdy.

ANYWAY. The TL;DR version of all that word vomit (which hopefully none of you actually read through in its entirety) is that there are a lot of things that I consider to be important parts of our overall wedding, and thus worthy of large parts of our budget… but obviously I can’t devote tons of money to them all.

So I guess my question is a pretty simple one, really: What were the most important things for you to budget for when it came to your wedding? And how did you decide where to cut costs?

I know I may very well be overthinking and overanalyzing and over-whatevering at this early point, but I really don’t want to end up in a position where I don’t understand how much specific things are going to, and get overwhelmed with the finance portion later. Anyway, if you made it through the entirety of this post, you will receive a sticker in the mail for your fortitude, and I’ll see you guys on the flip. 😉

The Worst Four Letter Word

I have what one might call an indulgent personality.

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Er, to say the least.

While we already know where that particular personality trait (flaw?) has landed me when it comes to the food side of things (does 246 lbs ring a bell?), what I don’t often touch on is how being self-indulgent has affected other areas of my life. I don’t like to talk about finances because I come from a very fiscally responsible family, and it’s embarrassing to admit how far I let myself slide. But hey, I figure if I can post pictures of myself at my highest weight in a bikini on here, I should be able to openly discuss what is probably the most taboo term in the Powell household: credit card debt.

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(source)

I’ve talked about my issues with disordered eating many times over. What many people may not initially realize, however, is that beyond the physical, emotional, and mental toll that binge eating takes on a person, it takes a huge financial toll as well. After all, it’s not like “binge food” was an item on my grocery list. No, instead I would drop $15 a pop at drive-thru windows (give yourself a second to calculate just how much fast food $15 can buy), charging pizzas and chinese delivery to my credit cards, and the costs, just like my weight, simply continued to rise.

Mo' money, mo' problems

Of course, while I spent a lot of money on food, that wasn’t the only culprit for my unabashed spending. Unfortunately, gluttony begets gluttony, and it isn’t just reserved for things of a culinary nature. Once I was out of college and making my own money, food therapy ceased to be enough to fill the emotional void on its own. Between going a little crazy with my holiday gift-giving and my obsessions with Sephora, pedicures, and designer shoes I never actually wear… Well, suffice it to say, retail therapy became the name of the game.

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Yes, you’re reading that insole correctly. These have gotten one wear. ONE.

Seeing several of my fellow bloggers be so honest about their sordid financial histories convinced me to do the same. After all, I’ve always said that honesty is what you get here whether you like it or not, haha. So I’m going to stop beating around the bush: I accumulated over $6,000 in personal credit card debt before I could even begin to admit that it had become a problem. It’s okay, family. You can judge.

Now, I realize that compared to the kinds of debt that many others are dealing with, $6K may be a mere drop in the bucket. That being said, I hope that everyone realizes that carrying ANY credit card debt from month-to-month is too much. After all, we’re not talking school loans or mortgages here. This is not good debt. This is you’re-throwing-your-money-away-kind of debt. This is the kind of debt that comes back to get you. And I can tell you now from personal experience that being stressed over credit card debt is not exactly what I would call a boon to weight loss.

I'mma getchu!

Fortunately, not too long after I made the decision to salvage my physical health, I resolved to do something about my rapidly declining financial health as well. Unfortunately, life did not take a break while I was getting to that point. In order to leave my horrible, soul-crushing post-college job, I actually had to pay the company in order to quit before my 2-year contract was up (can I get a “WTF?”). Daxter had a life-threatening accident when he was 14-weeks-old, putting him in the doggy ICU for three exorbitantly expensive days (and of course, I hadn’t gotten pet insurance yet. Fail.) My father generously loaned me some money to help me out in the interim, so that’s an entirely different debt that I’m working towards paying off.

While these things may have slowed down my progress slightly, I am still moving forward. Er, downward. My credit score is still high, since I have never defaulted or had a late payment, and I’m continuing to whittle down at the balance I owe. It’s taken a while, but over the past eight months I’ve managed to reduce my credit card debt by two-thirds. By the end of 2011, barring any surprises, I should be free & clear of all non-mortgage debt (holy crap, just typing that out feels amazing!) And that’s all in spite of my lingering penchant for purchasing unnecessarily expensive things, haha.

Froofy
Because we all know they aren’t buying their own sweaters and designer dog beds.

Okay, okay. I jest, but believe it or not I really am trying harder than ever to stick to an actual budget and watch my spending. I use Mint.com to track my purchases and accounts, and have the app on my phone as well. I’m also tracking my debts and payments in an Excel spreadsheet to make sure I am not overspending the funds that I need to keep in my checking account for things like, oh, my third of the mortgage. But it’s difficult. Not only is it hard to restrain myself from spending mindlessly, but it is challenging to maintain my healthy lifestyle while on a budget. Eating locally, organically, and/or healthily is relatively expensive. Race registrations are expensive. And let’s not even get started on my sushi requirement. I know that I don’t really NEED to buy organic apples or new running shoes or my own juicer, but it doesn’t mean I don’t WANT those things. And that whole indulgent personality thing? It just makes it hard to tell myself “no”.

need

I’m working on it.

Do you feel that a tendency to overindulge when it comes to food sets you up to overindulge when it comes to spending? Please don’t feel pressured to share, but if you feel comfortable doing so, I’d be so, so interested to hear from others who are going through or have gone through anything similar when it comes to debt.

Weight Loss 101: Eat Real Food, Not Your Savings

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So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about eating healthy and finances. As in, how do you eat REAL food without going REALLY broke? And then yesterday Ali tweeted at me that she had similar concerns: How do you eat healthy without going bankrupt at the grocery store? Which obviously got me thinking about it even more. I’ll be the first to admit (and I’m sure that my sister will be the second, haha!) that I am not exactly the most frugally minded person. Sure, I can appreciate a good deal as much as the next person, but for the most part I adhere to the mindset that I would rather pay more for better quality, faster service, or convenience, than have to deal with the opposites of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a rockin’ deal as much as the next person, but some things aren’t worth the hassle to me. Hence why it’s more likely you’d find me leisurely perusing the displays at Nordstrom than getting sweaty and harried pawing through the racks at Marshall’s, haha.

That being said, I’m not exactly rolling in it over here. And real food is expensive! Ramen is cheap, produce is not. So while I often ignore my own advice, I do feel like this is an area where saving money really matters. And I feel there are some surefire ways to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to healthy eating.

Number 1: Eat at home.

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Uh, duh. This should probably go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway: If you want to save money, don’t go out to eat. Shop for your own groceries, and prepare your own food. I spent just over $20 at the store yesterday and will be covered for meals for three days. When you break that amount down, you’re talking about something like $2 – $3 a meal!

Number 2: Meal plan.

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I’ve admitted in the past that I’m not very good at creating and following meal plans. I try to pretend it’s because I’m all spontaneous and like to be creative with my meals, but really I’m just lazy and unorganized hahaha. This week I tried to make an exception, however, because I’m taking off for the Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference in Boulder, CO on Friday morning! So going grocery shopping mid-week, while a complete necessity given the state of food options in my house, wasn’t the most ideal situation. I didn’t want to buy things that were just going to spoil when I left! I feel that the biggest money-suck when it comes to eating real food is having it spoil because you weren’t able to utilize it in time. Meal planning is the absolute best way to avoid this.

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Number 3: Make (and stick to!) a grocery list.

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My list yesterday was super short because I was literally only shopping for a few days’ worth of food. But if I hadn’t done up a list, I would have walked out with so much unnecessary, unusable food.

Number 4: Buy generic.

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Stacy’s pita chips are priced at $2.99 a bag. Giant’s Nature’s Promise brand pita chips at priced at $2.49 a bag. Which product should you purchase? Seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, sure 50 cents might not seem like that much, but it adds up. Fast. And this rule applies across the spectrum: groceries, pharmacy items, etc. People will pay a lot more just for a particular brand slapped on the packaging, when the generic version is just as good (and oftentimes, the same manufacturer makes both products anyway. So you are LITERALLY just choosing between a branded and a generic version of the exact same thing.)

Number 5: Stretch your meat.

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There are lots of creative ways to make the expensive items you buy, like meat, last longer. Cara gave me the tip of adding ~2 cups of mashed chickpeas (which you can snag for about $0.89 a can!) to turkey burgers to bulk ’em up and stretch ’em out. I took that tip as inspiration for my own dinner last night, which involved bulking up my T-burgers with tons of veggies that I already had!

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I chopped up green onion, red onion, button mushrooms, and grated baby carrots and added it all to the mix. Not only did it make for big, thick patties, the mushrooms kept the meat SUPER moist (often a complaint when it comes to turkey burgers — thanks for that tip, Aunt Lynda!), but the meal was healthified with the addition of extra veggies, AND it helped alleviate that whole food-spoilage thing mentioned previously by letting me use up more items that were just waiting to spoil in the fridge! Win-win-win.

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With the addition of asparagus that I subbed the grocery-listed bibb lettuce for because it was a much better deal, and potatoes that I already had lying around, we have a complete meal, with enough leftovers to last me for lunch today AND tomorrow (and would have lasted another dinner, too, if I hadn’t been a piggy and had two patties last night. Whoops! Hahaha.)

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I really need to get on this meal-planning train much more regularly. That way I’ll have more money leftover for the massages I apparently desperately need! 😉

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What are your tips for saving money but still eating healthy? Another thing I should probably look into doing more is deal-shopping (going to different stores for specific items) and couponing, two things I’m terrible at! Any advice on those fronts?