Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions Post

As 2014 came to a close, I’m likely one of many people that reflected on the promised improvements they made this time last year.

For me, New Year’s resolutions have always been kind of useless. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really achieved any of the goals I set for myself. I do like considering the New Year as a blank slate, though. I think dwelling on the mistakes of your past can be destructive, but setting broad goals without any sort of infrastructure to help achieve them defeats the purpose.

What good is “lose 60 pounds” if I don’t also include the steps I’ll need to actually lose that much weight? Case in point, losing 60 pounds has been my New Year’s resolution for a good two years, but not only did I not achieve that goal each year, I put on more weight.

Finally shedding 18 pounds wasn’t due to multiple resolutions; my weight loss was due to accomplishing small goals and changes throughout the year (and yes, weight loss medication my doctor prescribed).

It was setting a goal to work out four times a week and including two vegetables with dinner (something we still struggle with). It was trying desperately to avoid eating carbs for lunch and dinner. It was signing up for three 5Ks with a goal to do them without walking. It was striving to go to yoga once a week. Those little goals had more of an impact on my success than the bold statement of “lose 60 pounds.”

So, this year I’m taking a different approach to New Year’s resolutions.

In that vein, here are some small goals to get 2015 started:

Finances

Our paltry savings were wiped out when we moved to Raleigh more than four years ago. Consistent financial insecurity has caused us to put any potential savings toward chipping away at debt (medical, credit card and student loan).

someecards.com

someecards.com

While that hasn’t changed, I decided to build up our savings again by automatically drafting $20 from each paycheck. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to transfer those accrued savings, but in my savings account is where they should stay.

Fitness

The past year, I’ve focused mainly on cardio because I only have time to do one workout each day and the dog can’t lift weights. This year, I want to do at least two days of strength training per week.

I’m not giving up running (or “running”), though. As I’ve written about before, now that I’ve reached my distance goal, I’ll be working on speed to bring down my mile time. Like last year, I’ll sign up for a few races to keep me focused and motivated.

earthporm.com

earthporm.com

I want to continue going to yoga at least once a week, kicking it up to two when it works with my weekend schedule. At the very least, I plan on incorporating yoga into my strength training routine. Sun salutations are like yoga burpees, I assure you.

(They look easy, but do 10 rounds and tell me how your arms feel the next day)

Food

We’ve been half-assing an attempt to include more produce into our diet for a while now. Most of it goes in the compost pile unused and rotten. This year, on top of wasting less, I want to start thinking about our meals a little differently.

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

We generally focus on protein and build dinner around that.

Example: We have chicken. What can we make with chicken? Chicken cutlets. OK. What else are we having with it?

Instead, I’d like to focus on a particular vegetable and build the dinner around it, even if it’s still the side dish.

Example: We have spinach. What can we make with spinach? Sautéed spinach. OK. What else are we having with it?

I have no idea if this mental change will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Dog Training

My dog is freaking awesome, but she’s far from perfect. Her recall only works in my yard and she gets so excited when she sees people or dogs that are obviously her new best friend, she lunges and barks until her harness gets twisted and people stare at me with their judgey eyes. This is Bailey’s terrifying way of saying, “I love you and I’m so happy to see you.”

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I'll never see her again. / After the Knot

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I’ll never see her again. / After the Knot

We’ve already started learning a new cue, “touch,” to help bring her focus back on me. We’re also working on “focus” to keep her attention there. This year we’ll continue working on these cues, along with practicing recall in the front yard, outside the boundaries of our fence.

 

And that’s it. I’m leaving it at that.

I’d like to get more organized, learn how to sew, learn a new crochet stitch, read more books, go hiking more regularly, go kayaking, and paint the hallways in my house. And if I do all that, awesome. But if I don’t, it’ll be OK.

Here’s to 2015, a blank slate.

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Were We on Budget?

Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. That’s my new header. Ain’t it pretty? My brother made it for me. At some point I’ll get around to changing the rest of the site over to the new look/name. Now that I’m officially done with Long Island and wedding planning on Long Island, I figured it was a good time to drop the name. 

Anyways….

Truth be told, I have no friggen’ clue if we stayed on budget.

I did a pretty horrible job keeping track of our expenses even though I had a nifty little Excel sheet that told me how much I could spend on stuff. I’m generally pretty bad with managing money. My brain just wasn’t meant to be dealing with numbers. You would think that my husband, the one that can do high-level math and has a degree in physics, would be the one that deals with money, but for some reason I got stuck with the responsibility.

Because of our lack of income and savings (our savings was washed away with our move) we put most of the wedding on our credit card. Some of our vendors were paid in cash, but the rest was on the Visa.

The Visa that was already full of moving expenses.

When I put everything together, I’m fairly certain that we were pretty on target with our $15,000 budget. We had cash to pay our vendors and our credit card bill was under budget. The credit card bill was paid off with wedding gifts (yes, that’s what we did with the cash our guests gave us. It’s what most people do with the cash they get. I don’t know why people refuse to admit it publicly).  Some was put aside for savings and a little was spent on fun stuff for ourselves.

After the credit card bill was paid, we were debt free (for the time being anyway). I have no idea if we stuck to our budget, but I do know that we aren’t still paying it off. For us, that was the ultimate goal. We didn’t want to be stuck paying for our wedding years after it happened. Even if our friends and family were less generous, we still wouldn’t be paying for our wedding when our kids were getting married.

I would advise you to be much more careful than I was because spending can get out of control quite quickly, especially in those last few months of planning. Keep your receipts to help keep track of how you’re doing. Use any budget program you wish and keep up with it. Enter in the amounts regularly and for the love of Zeus try to do whatever you can in cash. Credit cards are dangerous things.

I wish I had some other wise words of wisdom, but I don’t. Really, just don’t do what I did. Be more careful than me. In fact, do the opposite of everything I did.

Happy budgeting!

Quitting and Cutting

After about nine months of being incredibly unhappy with my day job, I put in my two weeks notice.

It will probably turn out to be the best and worst decision I make this year. I’m not completely unemployed though. I have started working as a tutor at the same tutoring center that Chuck works at and I will have a fairly steady stream of writing assignments coming from the Raleigh Public Record and Long Beach Patch.

Despite my employment if we thought we were broke before, we’re dead broke now. While there isn’t much left to sacrifice in our everyday lives, we’ve been going through the wedding budget like a scalpel happy Republican (Sorry, I listen to way too much NPR.). Even with our wedding there isn’t much left we can cut, but things are going.

We’ve canceled our second photographer and I canceled my manicure and pedicure. Though, once I put the word out to my friends that I was looking for volunteers to paint my nails, my wonderful friend, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, offered to treat me to some pampering. This is a very public thank you to her : )

I’m returning the $80 shoes that I bought and will probably wear a pair of shoes that I already own. They are awesome and perfect so I’m not too upset about it. The only reason why I went looking for a new pair of shoes is because I’m getting married on the grass and these have a slight heel. I still plan on featuring the new shoes and the old shoes in a future Tuesday Shoesday post.

My plans to splurge on my bridesmaids have gone out the window, but I will continue with some low-cost ideas I’ve got floating around in my head. And unfortunately, our favor donation will have to be cut down as well.

We will no longer have North Carolina wine served as our signature drink and I wrote an awkward email to my cousin asking that the cake he’s making be his family’s wedding gift (Of course he said he wouldn’t have accepted my money, but I had to email anyway).

I’m OK with cutting back since none of these details really mattered to me. The only thing I wish I could still do is spoil my bridesmaids. They’ve been so, so wonderful and if I could, I would shower them with gifts. And while it’s not wedding related, the decrease in our funds also won’t allow me to spoil my new friece (Friend Niece. Daughter of one of your BFFs who isn’t your niece, but grows up calling you Aunt Whatever anyway), Alyssa Marie, who was born last weekend. YAY!!

With one of the biggest expenses of my life quickly heading toward me, it probably wasn’t a great idea to significantly cut my income, but from the moment that I gave notice, I’ve been so much happier. Chuck has been endlessly supportive and reminds me that I made the right decision any time I have doubts. Like many moments in our marriage, things will be hard, but with enough support we’ll get through it.

Maybe that’s the best way to start a marriage. Things can only get better from here.

BTW

If you haven’t swung by For Japan with Love yet, head on over and donate to the cause. Since it’s inception only a few weeks ago the organization has raised almost $70,000 for the Japanese relief effort. Every little bit counts so don’t feel pressured to make a large donation. $5 here and $10 there, makes a HUGE impact.

The Ring Search

I started thinking about my wedding band recently. We haven’t gone shopping or anything yet, but I found myself browsing online.

With my little hands, I don’t need anything that is bulky and overwhelming. Since I’m going to wear it every day, I also want something that is simple and low maintenance, but complements my vintage engagement ring.

To find something vintage I began with the websites of local jewelers here in Raleigh. I clicked on “estate jewelry”, which is a nice way of saying, “someone sold this because they needed cash” or “Yes, this has been worn before so it is therefore, used.”

One site gave me the years in which the ring was most likely created. I didn’t bother looking at anything created after 1950  and I found a lot of beautiful hand engraved rings.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the site I was referencing in the above paragraph. That’s what I get for not bookmarking things.

Loving the idea of “conscious” jewelry, I gave this Brilliant Earth website a look and found this amazing ring that while not actually vintage, has engraving that is similar to my engagement ring. So far, it’s my fave.

This ring from Brilliant Earth isn't vintage but would complement my engagement ring well.

I scanned the pages of Etsy, my new favorite website, and found a couple of handmade rings that were also beautiful. Some of my favorites were also as cheap as $15.

This ring from Etsy artisan, debblazer, has that old feel I am looking for.

While my wedding is budget conscious, I’m trying not to let my inner Scrooge influence my choice of wedding band. These two rings are by far the most important elements of our day as they represent the vows that we will be exchanging. Even though they come with a price, they are priceless.

“I Think This is the One”

“I’m really nervous,” I told my friends Veronica and Katie as I waited a few minutes for the rest of my entourage to show up at David’s Bridal.

Part of me was nervous because I was finally doing something I have been dreaming about for years. The other part of me was nervous because I was sure that this was going to be like every other shopping trip I’ve ever been on, which usually leaves me depressed and vowing to hit the gym more often.

But when I finally began to slip into the first few prospective wedding dresses, the self-consciousness melted away and I was having an amazing time. One by one I put on a dress and looked at the faces of my bridesmaids, my mother and my future mother-in-law for reactions.  Most were positive some were not. We laughed, made jokes and no one cried.

One of the 15 or so dresses that I tried on at David's Bridal. This is not the dress I chose, but was definitely one of my top choices.

As Michelle, my consultant, began narrowing down the dresses from a general idea to something more specific, the task became harder and harder. Each dress was better than the last, until we finally came to the last one.

I had put aside my four favorites, in which the last – a bright-white and airy gown with a corset back – was included. As much as I liked the dress, it was a size too small so I had trouble picturing it on my body. All I could see were my imperfections. I also decided that it was too formal for my waterfront wedding.

I put on the other two, one of which was a Greecian goddnes inspired dress that was mentally the front-runner of the bunch the moment I tried it on. It was so light and different that I fell  in love with it. Until I tried it on again. After trying on five dresses after it, it no longer held the same punch.

My favorite was the last dress (sorry, my wonderful fiance does read by blog so I have to leave out the details) and I instantly felt right in it. It was light, airy and perfect for my beach wedding. While some of the other dresses may have been more figure flattering (hello Jessica Rabbit tits and hips!), they weren’t right for me.

Lucky for me, I happen to catch David’s Bridal during their fall sale so every dress that I tried on was under budget. I had $700 allocated for my dress and any alterations, which if I found a dress in my size would have only been a hem. Of course, if I found THE dress, I would have fudged my budget a bit, but I didn’t have to worry.

With my mind made up, Michelle and I peaked at the price while in the dressing room. My dream dress was only $299.00. Can we say HELL YEAH? With my job complete, I ran off with my bridesmaids to find their dresses, while Michelle began to work on the order. I had planned to have the dress shipped to Raleigh so that I could do any fittings here.

She grabbed me as I ran past and informed me of a problem. “The dress is discontinued. We can’t order it. If you want the dress, you’ll have to take that one.” I looked at her and with all seriousness in my voice said, “I’ll take the dress with me today.” Aside from a hem and a built in bra, the dress was my size and fit perfectly.

Because the dress was discontinued, David’s Bridal took another $50 off, making my dream dress $249.00 and well under budget.

While I’m not so confident with how my flabby arms are looking in my dress, I am confident that I might pull this whole thing off under budget. As long as I can keep cutting costs and start doing some yoga again, I think I’ll be trim and less broke than expected when this whole thing is over.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was all about the birdcage veil, so I tried one on and to my amazement, I could actually pull it off. Though, it didn’t go with my dress, so I nixed the idea. But,  I’m off to do some Etsy.com browsing for an awesome vintage inspired headpiece.

 

To Save or Pay

When Chuck and I moved to North Carolina exactly three months ago today, we had a pretty decent savings. It was impressive considering we made the commitment to save only a couple of months prior to leaving. I also used a large chunk of that money to pay off one of my credit cards so that we would be entering our new life debt free.  I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to dip into that account too much and whatever was left would be put towards our wedding.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

Chuck and I cooked in our hotel room for three weeks while we waited four our apartment to become available.

Not only did our savings quickly diminish, but our credit debt skyrocketed after living in a hotel for three weeks (Despite how much I love our apartment, if I could do it over, I would have given more consideration to our second choice which was available right away whereas this one extended hotel living another two weeks). We’ve since been doing most of our business in cash only whipping out the credit card when I need to put gas in the car.

After paying our bills today, I’ve come to realize that between my job and Chuck’s job we might finally be able to leave our savings alone and survive just on our paychecks. That means the money I earn from freelancing for Patch.com becomes disposable income instead of survival income.

So, the question becomes do we use that money for the wedding or pay down our credit card debt?

Looking long term, paying down our debt would benefit us more. The more we pay towards the bill, the less we pay in interest, which is about $30 a month right now. That’s $270 between now and our wedding date.

But, our vendors need to get paid and we can’t pay them with “Oh sorry, I’m paying off my credit card debt.”

It’s not like I’m making buku dollars writing one story a week so splitting the proceeds seems pretty pointless. Then again, something is better than nothing.

Honestly, the real solution is just having more money. If it were only that easy.

Penny Pitching

On top of having all those wonderful bills to pay, Chuck and I are attempting to put money away for  this wedding that, according to my Knot.com counter, is happening in 276 days or roughly 9 months.

Do manage this, we’ve tightened our purse strings and it seems to be paying off already.

Saving Change

I started pouring my loose change into a Carlo Rossi wine jug about three years ago and when I left for North Carolina it was about three quarters full. It never made the trip (my mom had made an offer to roll it, which I took her up on), but we continue to put our loose change into a bank that I made for Chuck last Christmas. I don’t have hard numbers, but I’m estimating I’ve accumulated a few hundred dollars in cold hard cash.

Putting a dollar aside

I got this great idea from Self magazine. Every time I use cash and get a dollar back with my change, I take that dollar and put it aside. I started doing this about three years ago and saved about $200.

Going off the grid…sort of.

Aside from all my favorite wedding shows on WE, Chuck and I didn’t watch too much cable TV. Most of the television we watched was in the form of Netflix. When we moved, we signed up for an internet plan but went without cable. Between Netflix, Hulu and other internet-based TV watching, we get enough of the boob tube. Sure I’m WAY behind on a lot of the popular shows and need my Twitter feed to keep me in the loop of daily events, but we’re saving about $30 a month.

Hello? Can you hear me?

Who really has a home phone anymore? Most people just use their cell phones. Chuck and I would do that, but our apartment is a dead zone and I only get service when I sit outside. My mother invested in a Magic Jack for my brother while he was at college. She paid $70 for five years of service. Now that my brother is home and doesn’t have any use for it, she passed the gadget onto me. It’s not perfect and it can be annoying to keep the computer on all the time, but I can’t complain seeing as though we are phone bill free. I even bought another one to use for my freelance writing work. We save about $40 a month.

Is it cold in here?

I grew up without air conditioning. My summers were spent sitting next to multiple fans. I’ll admit, I went a little crazy with the central air when I first got here. After our last electric bill, which amounted to a whopping $103, Chuck and I have been a bit more conscious of how cold we keep the apartment. We generally keep it coolest at night and when I wake up I increase the temperature about five degrees. When Chuck goes to work he increases it even more, putting it up to 80. Since our apartment is shaded by a lot of tall trees, it never actually hits 80 degrees. I’ll have to tell you next month how much keeping the temperature up has helped our electric bill.

No frills

In a perfect world, I would buy my groceries from local farmers who grew their produce organically. I’d buy organic toilet paper and natural shampoo. Since the things that are good for you are inherently more expensive and Chuck and I struggle to pay our rent as it is, we head to Walmart to do most of our shopping. Personally, I think Walmart is one the most evil corporations in America, but it’s hard to be idealistic when you’re broke.

Anyway, last week Chuck and I bought Walmart brand everything, with the exception of bacon and my bottle of wine. We spent $66 and got almost enough groceries to last us two weeks. We had to supplement some of our food from Kroger because Walmart doesn’t carry everything. Chuck and I like the frozen mixed vegetables, which are actually Kroger brand. Between about five packages of those, some Kroger brand frozen shrimp and some frozen ravioli, another $56 completes our shopping until my next paycheck. Not bad for $60 a week.

Embracing the dollar store

When Chuck and I need aluminum foil, plastic food storage containers, paper towels or any other odd product, we head to the local dollar store. Dollar stores vary from store to store, but take a walk through one and see all the things you could buy for a fraction of the price. You’d be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the special tonight?

The few times we go out to eat, we take advantage of the specials. On Fridays I treat myself to pizza at my favorite pizza place. I get the lunch special, two slices and a drink for $5. I’m going to have to cut back on my pizza habit, but I considering all the other sacrifices I make, I try to do something that makes me happy.

Spoiled by our favorite half priced sushi place, Chuck and I are still adjusting to paying more for our favorite food. But, we always make sure we head to a place that has a buy-one-get-one offer to keep the cost down. We end up spending about $10 more than we did back on Long Island.

When we can, we also get our food to go. Getting our food to go cuts down on the tip and the drink. (I know there have been arguments about tipping if you get food to go, but sorry, you taking my order and handing me my food doesn’t make you any different than the girl at the pizza place or the guy at Wendys. Generally, I’m a great tipper, but to-go orders is where I draw the line.) Doing this saves us up to $10 on our dinner.

How did you save money for your wedding? Tell me in the comments or shoot me an email at LIBudgetBride@gmail.com.