Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Living Simply

According to this article, an engineer from Vermont has designed a more simple and sustainable life for himself. He minimizes his yearly impact on the environment and his pocketbook by consuming less and living for $5,000 a year.

He argues: “This belt-tightening is good for us,” he says. “We’re swimming in a society that’s super consumptive. Right now is such a beautiful opportunity for us to become sustainable.”

His book, Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth, seems worth checking out. I'm also intrigued by a book that influenced his own thinking: Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence.

I definitely don't see myself living on $5,000 a year, but I bet I can get ideas about how to continue to reduce. I'm going to see if I can find these in the Houston Public Library system...

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spending Money to Learn How to Spend Money

I'm scouring the internet desperately trying to come up with a Christmas list to satiate my family. (By the way, can you help a girl out by leaving an item or two from your list in the comments section? It's really hard to come up with stuff on the spot.)

I'm adding a few craft classes to my list, including stained glass and a pattern making class.

That's when I came across this wedding class:
Bring the date of your wedding and your selected colors. You will learn all of the flowers in season the month of your wedding. There will be a collection of bridal and bridesmaids bouquets designed in a variety of color combinations. You will leave this informative class with the knowledge of traditional and current bouquet trends to guide you in choosing wedding flowers to remember.
Wow. It's not even a class about how to DIY your own flowers. That could be cool. It's a class about how to pick your bouquet. Crazy! Who has that kind of time to invest in wedding planning?

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving: A Gift for You

If I think about it too much, Thanksgiving is depressing. It's a holiday to commemorate the coming together of the white folks and the American Indians. But that coming together led to so much subjugation and destruction. It's hard for me to stomach.

But on the other hand, I do like the idea of a national holiday centered on appreciation. It's so easy to get caught up in the go-go-go of daily life and forget to stop and appreciate what is right in front of us.

So in the spirit of the happy side of Thanksgiving, I want to share my appreciation with all of you.

It's so fun to make new connections with like-minded folks across the world who are committed to meaningful and memorable weddings in an eco-friendly, hand-crafted, budget-minded way. I love the insights that you share with me via e-mail and the comments section. Hooray!

My virtual gift to you is a set of directions for making felted soap. Our dear friend, Shelley, made some for Matt's birthday (see below), and the idea is very practical and inspiring. The felt acts as a built-in washcloth. It's relatively easy to make and definitely unique.

First photo via thefunkyfelter

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recap of Matt's Birthday Party

I've been super-busy with work and traveling and haven't had much time to do a recap of Matt's birthday.

In the final hours before he got home from work on Friday, I was frantically trying to finish his birthday shirt and prepare snacks to serve at his soccer game.

I somehow managed to find a used shirt (for a mere $8!) and sew on the applique with enough time to make a sign for the soccer game and the snacks.

Unfortunately, Matt arrived home an hour early. Aack! When I saw his car pull up, I quickly grabbed all the snacks, ran to the bedroom, and hid them under the bed. Luckily, a few minutes later, he went into our neighbor's backyard for a conversation, and I had a brief [stressful!] moment to transfer the snacks to the car.

After telling several lies, I somehow managed to keep the whole surprise party under wraps.

On Saturday, I surprised him with the shirt and card right when he woke up. Then we trekked to our favorite restaurant for breakfast and walked off all our food by hiking through the arboretum. We piddled around for a few hours and then went bowling. Our friends surprised Matt with their presence and presents. They were the best.

Next we cheered Matt on during his soccer game (and indulged in the yummy snacks--Terra chips, cream cheese covered with mango/peach salsa, brownies with melted chocolate and Snicker bits on top, chocolate covered pretzels, and Izze drinks).

Then it was off to Star Pizza for dinner and Amy's Ice-Cream for dessert. Different friends joined us for different pieces of the celebration, so it was kind of like a revolving surprise party.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home for the Holidays

Oi vey.

Holidays can be tricky when you're in a committed relationship.

Matt is a family boy. The thought of not being home for a major holiday (plus several weekends throughout the year) is unfathomable to him.

I pretty much only spend Christmas with my family. I talk to them regularly, but ever since college, I've spent the majority of my time traveling whenever I get any time off.

Plus, my best friend and I have two important traditions: We do something cool together on Thanksgiving, and we always spend New Year's together.

Oi vey.

We've got a plan for this year (although I'm not sure if it's a sustainable one).

Here it is:

Thanksgiving: Matt and I are driving from Houston to Bloomington, IN (so we can bring Hoss with us and have a car). Andy is flying from Florida to Indiana and he and I are renting a cabin so we can have our very own writer's retreat. Matt is going to stay with his family, but we will all eat together on Thanksgiving.

Christmas: Again, Matt and I are driving a long distance--this time to my family in Florida. We will spend Christmas Eve and half of Christmas day with my family. Then we will jump on a plane and fly to Indiana to spend some time with Matt's family. Then we will fly back to Florida to spend New Year's with Andy.

Oi vey.

I'm actually very excited about the trips. I'm just a little wary of getting completely worn out from all the bouncing around. It's tough stuff to figure out!

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Postnuptial Depression

There's a Time magazine article about postnuptial depression, which is a new concept to me.

Here's how the article explains the phenomenon:

"The blues typically hit early in married life, psychiatrists say, as newlyweds begin recognizing that expectations of how their partner or relationship will change post-wedding are unrealistic. Worse, once the Big Day has come and gone, couples are suddenly forced to step out of their much-cherished, and often long-lived, 'bride' or 'groom' spotlight and just get on with real life."

It explains the role of disagreements in postnuptial depression:

"When [couples] start arguing about sex, money or time — issues that all married couples battle over — it can seem catastrophic. Gannon finds herself correcting patients all the time: 'Where did you get the idea that you weren't supposed to fight?' she says. 'You are. It's normal.' It's also normal to remain independent and to be responsible for your own happiness. 'It's unreasonable to assume your partner is going to be everything to you,' says Eagan.

I predicted that couples who live together before marriage might be less likely to experience the effects of postnuptial depression, but apparently not:

"Even couples who cohabit before marriage, and who have presumably tempered their expectations and reconciled their petty differences, are not immune to the day-after blues. 'People who have been living together think they're going to feel something different once they're married,' says Gannon. But there's no magical transformation that comes with signing a marriage certificate."

The wedding planning process itself seems to contribute to the depression:

"The problem may be that after months consumed by wedding preparations and feeling like the center of attention, the sudden shift back to everyday life can be a shock. 'I put a lot of time and effort into the wedding planning process,' says Erin Hastings, 28, who got married in 2006 after an 18-month engagement. 'Where do you redirect your energy once it's over?'"

Their advice for combating postnuptial blues?

"Doctors say couples should get adequate rest and exercise; communicate constantly; focus on the benefits of marriage, such as having a built-in support system; and start thinking about the future in terms of family or finance. Women especially should also stop thinking of themselves as The Bride: throw out those wedding magazines, then plan some social events for after the honeymoon, so you have other parties to look forward to."

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Tip #10: Ideas for Building Successful Relationships

Admit when you're in a bad mood and deal with it somehow.

One of the hardest parts of my relationship with Matt is dealing with our bad moods. They have such a negative impact on our life together.

Here's how it usually plays out:

When I'm in a bad mood, I'm able to recognize the mood and say, "I'm sorry I'm acting like this," but I don't do a good job of actually stopping myself from acting _______ [cranky, curt, caustic, exasperated, frustrated, etc.]. And, unfortunately, I get in bad moods more often than Matt does. Argh!

When Matt's in a bad mood, it's usually because he's tired. He's more disagreeable and his tone is mean. We get in way more petty fights. When I try to say, "This is silly; you're just tired and we should stop fighting," it makes it worse. He doesn't recognize that he's in a bad mood and looking at the world through a negative lens. He just thinks everything is genuinely worth fighting about.
We're working on it. I try to mentally coach myself through my bad moods. Even if I'm feeling bad, I try not to let it affect my actions. When it does seep into my actions, then I promptly apologize for it. Matt does a good job of pointing out when my tone is _______ [cranky, curt, caustic, exasperated, frustrated, etc.] if I fail to notice it. Sometimes I simply say, "I need to be by myself for a while. It has nothing to do with you. I just need that space for myself to ride out this bad mood."

Matt is doing a better job of recognizing and admitting his bad moods.

The important thing is we talk about it. We don't let the issue fester and ferment. We reflect on it. Analyze it. And make a plan to make it better next time. That's the best we can do!

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Sharing the Planning

Honeymoon planning is in full swing.

Matt and I used $20 of our travel budget to purchase the Lonely Planet Guide to Kaua'i.

Since I'm in between fiction books right now, I brought it with me on the plane ride to New York. I went through the entire book and highlighted everything I'm interested in doing. Here are some of the highlights:
  1. Taking surfing lessons
  2. Tubing on a river
  3. Signing up for a tour that involves kayaking, hiking, riding a covered-wagon tractor and a motorized canoe, swimming, rope-swinging, jumping off a 20ft cliff, and ziplining (lunch is included)
  4. Indulging in an all-you-can-eat buffet at a Japanese diner
  5. Attending the Polynesian Festival
  6. Snorkeling
  7. Mountain biking
  8. Going to the cinema
  9. Taking an ashtonga yoga class
  10. Getting a steam, vigorous salt scrub and a special four-hands traditional Hawaiian healing massage
  11. Walking on remote beaches
  12. Getting fruit from a road-side stand
  13. Hiking and camping the 11-mile Kalalau Coast trail
  14. Traveling by raft
  15. Going on an art gallery crawl
  16. Hang-gliding
I was tempted to start planning the trip by plotting everything out on a calendar. But I stopped myself because I don't want to dominate our honeymoon. I want it to be our honeymoon, not my honeymoon.

It's hard because I'm so excited. I want to start planning RIGHT NOW.

But honestly, I think it's best to slow down and involve Matt in the process. I'm going to ask him if he wants to read through the book with a different color highlighter and circle the stuff he wants to do. Then we can figure out where our preferences overlap and where we might need to compromise.

The process will certainly take longer and be more difficult, but it will be better in the end because it will reflect both of us.

P.S. Those of you who have been to Kaua'i, please leave your specific recommendations (lodging, food, activities, etc.) in the comments section!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Card Inspiration

I'm always looking for nice, poignant things to write on cards for weddings, birthdays, holidays, etc. I am most definitely going to borrow this idea from kiss the paper. It's simply lovely.

Maybe I'll use this idea for my holiday cards this year. I feel like I'm behind. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of time to produce cards, write on them, and get them mailed out. Hmph...

Maybe looking at all the letterpressed and goccoed wedding invitations I come across on blogs is raising the bar too much.

I thought about using MiniCards from moo by picking three pictures that encapsulate our year and gluing them to a card. But those are $19.99 for 100, which means we would need to spend more than $40 to make the cards.

Maybe I need to go back to the beginning. What goal do I want our cards to accomplish?

I want people's lives to be a little brightened when they receive the card in the mail. I want them to feel connected to us and I want them to feel appreciated for all they contribute to our lives. I also want them to be a little inspired to live authentically and purposefully. Cheesy, but true.

Maybe the above message would be perfect: "We wish for you...a year full of stories waiting to be written." On the inside, we could write our personal messages to each person (to express our gratitude for their presence in our life) but we could also include a separate paper with our stories from the year (including pictures) to help them stay connected to us. We could make it better for the environment by putting two of them on a sheet. We could get the front printed at a color copier (for the pictures), but then we could print the rest of the letter on the back using our home printer.

We could draw the pen and write the message, scan it in, insert it into a Microsoft Word document, print it on cardstock, fold it into cards, and paint the pen with watercolor. Then we could make the envelopes out of old magazine pages to be better for the environment and the pocketbook.

Hmmm....I need to talk to Matt about this idea.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Date Night #2: Dinner and a Museum

Houston gets a pretty bad rap.

For a while, we were the most polluted city in America (above LA). This nugget may still be true; I haven't checked recently.

We were also America's fattest city (above Detroit).

Plus there's the traffic.

And all the concrete.

But, at least we have good museums. And they are free on Thursday nights!

At the very last minute before Matt got home from running, I decided to pull together a spontaneous date night.

I'm actually not a huge fan of museums (I prefer to do and make stuff myself rather than look at it), but Matt loves them. And I think they're good for me, so I tag along.

I used yelp.com to find a new restaurant: The Reggae Hut. And, of course, we had to end the night at Amy's Ice Cream (no wonder Houston is the fattest city in the U.S.!). And isn't the U.S. the fattest country in the world? So wouldn't that make H-town the fattest city in the world? Gosh, I hope not.

It was a very fun way to spend our evening. It reminded me that planning "Date Nights" doesn't have to require much effort at all.

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Different Last Names

My friend, Brent, is part of a movie club called Film Movement that delivers top-notch indie films to his doorstep each month.

He's quite a busy fellow, so he has a backlog of 40 or so films (egad!). When I'm in town for consulting, we usually watch one or two of them.

There's always a bonus short film on the disk, and the one above (Something Other than Other) is worth a looksie.

As a side note, the couple ends up giving their child a hyphenated last name (they each have their own last names). It made me give some more thought to how Matt and I are going to handle our different-last-name situation once we have kids.

I guess we have already faced this dilemma with our dog. His name is Hoss Cotner-Bradford. You can find him on Facebook. But hyphenated names are not ideal. I think they become cumbersome and the temptation becomes to drop one of them.

I just don't know.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Q & A: Wedding Proposals

Reader's Question: From what I've read on your blog, I've never seen anything about you and your partner getting engaged. Did you have a traditional proposal? Or was it something you both decided on as a couple?

You know, I honestly can't pinpoint the first time either of us mentioned marriage. I don't think it was dramatic. I imagine it started in the subtle moments. It probably happened while we were at a store watching a toddler throw a tantrum because her parents wouldn't buy her bubblegum. One of us probably asked, "What would we do in that situation?"

Those "we" references probably started to appear more frequently in our conversations.

At some point, more formal conversations about our future together started. It's almost as if talking about it allowed us to try on the idea for size.

Then one Saturday night in December (a little over two years after we started dating), we were looking for something to do. The Russian Nutcracker had been rescheduled, and the ice-skating rink wasn't open. I said, "What if we go out for Mexican food and plan our wedding?"

And that was it. It wasn't spectacular. It wasn't even really story-worthy. It was just the final logistical piece. It was comfortable and casual.

At one point we had even planned on proposing to each other in really creative and special ways. We just never got around to it. Instead, we got wrapped up in planning our wedding and our life together.

Sorry to be so anti-climactic!

What about you, dear readers? Traditional proposals, something you decided together, or some other variation?

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A Wedding with Swimming


I am in love with this wedding featured on Smitten (thanks for pointing it out, Joanna!). They hosted a reception on a friend's big boat and then went swimming.

It makes me want to have a second wedding.

In my humble opinion, the words wedding and swimming should go together more often.

It feels so relaxed and genuine and downright fun.

Photos courtesy ioulex

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trying to Write a Book

I've been contemplating the idea of writing a book about our wedding (a part-memoir, part-how-to-handbook kind of thing).

It's embarrassing to admit because it sounds so egotistical and narcissistic.

But I think it's a worthwhile goal (kind of like running a marathon). I think it would be a challenging and rewarding experience (without any of the chaffing!).

To test my own resolve and seriousness about this endeavor, I wrote a proposal and one of the sample chapters and e-mailed them to some agents. So far, the only response has been, "Thanks, but no thanks."

I think I'm stubborn enough to keep trying.

[As a side note, if any of you are interested in reading chapters and providing feedback as I work on the sucker, please e-mail me to let me know. I desperately need a couple people to provide some outside perspective!]

Picture = Trinity College Library in Dublin

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Finalizing the Party Details

Matt's birthday is rapidly approaching.

I haven't checked off much of the to-do list. Here's what lingering:
  1. Buy a shirt for the "I love my bloodhound" applique (luckily the applique is already cut out of vinyl--see photo below). Sew on the applique, wrap the shirt, and write a card/agenda for the day.
  2. Send out a reminder e-mail to the guests with all the logistics.
  3. Plan and make the appetizers (to be served at Matt's soccer game).
  4. Make signs for Matt's game.
  5. Make a reservation at the restaurant.
I'm also trying to keep a centralized "To Bring" list, so I don't forget anything at the last minute:
  • Drinks
  • Appetizers
  • Napkins
  • Signs
  • Board games
  • Blankets
Any ideas for appetizer/snacky food to be served picnic-style? Ideally, it will need to be served cold and require no utensils!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Edible Wedding Centerpieces

I'm always on the lookout for non-wasteful centerpiece ideas. We've talked about potted centerpieces that can go on living after the wedding, as well as food basket centerpieces that can be donated to food banks after the wedding. Today's topic: edible centerpieces!

(Above) These skewers from Slashfood are arranged like flowers and made from tortellini, tomatoes, and mozzarella balls.

(Above) This edible centerpiece featured on Elizabeth Anne Designs is made with a styrofoam base and strawberries. Note the dipping sauces on the table. Yum!

Or how about this simple, chocolate-covered strawberries centerpiece from this flickr photostream?

(Above) This professional fruit arrangement is expensive but could be easily replicated.

The amazing couple over at This Young House used lemons and limes for their centerpieces (above).

Another idea is to use candy for edible centerpieces. I've seen lots of candy buffets (like the one pictured in this flickr photostream) but I haven't seen it used as centerpieces. I think it would be best to use wrapped candy, so leftovers wouldn't go to waste.

Just for the record, I think centerpieces are among the last things we should worry about as we plan meaningful and memorable weddings that focus on community, commitment, connection, and fun. In fact, I've been to weddings (and restaurants) where the centerpieces are so big and distracting that they actually hinder community, connection, and fun because you can't see the people across the table!

But if they are on your list of action steps, hopefully these ideas are useful.

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When Blogs Make You Doubt Your Own Choices

I have a love-dislike relationship with blogs.

I love, love, love reading them because they expose me to new ideas, inspire my creativity, teach me new things, and connect me with new people.

I occasionally dislike them because they overwhelm me with so many different options, tempt me to spend more money than I should, and make me insecure about choices I've already made.

For instance, Matt and I are in the process of updating our interior design. My couch has traveled from rural Louisiana to Texas to my friend's apartment while I traveled for a year to a new apartment in Texas to Colorado and back to Texas in our new/old house.

I look at blogs for design inspiration on a daily basis, and, of course, my love-dislike relationship kicks in.

I love looking at other people's design choices--room after room after room. I get so many new ideas and I'm so inspired.

Some of my favorite sites are:
  1. Oh Happy Day
  2. design*sponge
  3. This Young House
  4. Creature Comforts
  5. cakies
  6. Apartment Therapy
On the other hand, I am occasionally paralyzed with indecision. I am daunted by how many different ways we could go. I also get jealous of people who have more natural light, more wooded backyards, and more design sense than I do. Aack!

I guess the trick is to recognize that there is a line between the benefits of looking into other people's lives via blogs and the drawbacks. When I feel myself start to cross the line, I need to close my browser, appreciate my own life and choices, and move onto other work. It's easier said than done, but it's important for my own sanity.

Image via This Young House (I'm jealous of their secluded and wooded backyard)

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Finding a Budget Wedding Guest Dress

Ever since I saw Kimi's dress on A $10,000 Wedding, I've been looking for an occasion to get a new dress and do some applique myself (I don't have any existing dresses that would look good with applique added).

That occasion arrived in the form of a Save the Date for an April wedding. Hooray!

I found my ideal dress on JCrew. I guess I should say my "aesthetically ideal" dress, since its price tag ($295) is not reasonable or even fathomable for me. Plus, I doubt it was made in fair factory conditions. Argh!

Needless to say, I am not going to splurge on the dress, despite my eagerness to fancify a pretty dress with applique.

Here are my next steps at this point:
  1. Go back to my closet to double-check that I don't already have something I could use.
  2. Go to consignment shops to search for a cute--but used--dress.
  3. Perhaps settle for making a new pin to go with one of my standard wedding-guest-dresses.
  4. Maybe think about making my own skirt (skirts are way easier to sew than dresses), doing the applique on the skirt, and pairing it with a fancier top.

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Q &A: Combining Finances

Reader Question: My fiance and I are in the process of attempting to combine finances to limit hassle while still maintaining independence. We are trying to figure out if you have separate savings accounts for all your "funds" or if you keep them in the same savings account but keep track some other way? Any other details you have would be great. We have been wrestling with this stuff for a couple weeks now.

In the system above (which is explained in more detail here), we literally have seven different accounts. The savings accounts are in blue, while the checking accounts are in orange. Our accounts are at three different banks: the dark purple = Bank of America, the green = Well's Fargo, and the light purple = ING Direct.

Matt and I have found that the savings accounts are the easiest ones to set up. Our online bank, ING Direct, lets us start as many as we want for free. The checking accounts are limited to one per person, so my name is on Account #1 up above, and Matt's name is on Account #2.

We also have one more category for savings--Retirement. This money, however, goes into our Roth IRA at Vanguard and Matt's 401k through work.

One of the things that works best for us about this system is the separate savings accounts. ING Direct lets us set up monthly transfers. Matt and I have a budget breakdown for the month. Here are our categories:

Savings: Car
Savings: Home Improvement
Cell Phones
Gas (Home)
Water and Trash
Home Insurance
Car Insurance
Personal Hygiene
Health Insurance
Security System
Car Wash
Eating Out
Sara's Allowance
Dog Costs
Matt's Car Gas
Matt's Allowance
Sara's Car Gas
Savings: Travel
Social Justice Donations

So, Matt's paychecks go in on November 5 (my paychecks are on a less-regular schedule because I'm an educational consultant). On November 6, we have a set amount go into vacation, car savings, and home savings (based on our pre-planned budget). We don't even have to think about savings.

Because we have very tight personal allowances ($70/month), we are able to put a significant amount of money into our vacation fund every month ($320). We started this system in August and have already saved more than $1000 to go toward our upcoming vacations (Thanksgiving in Indiana, Christmas in Florida and Indiana, our two-week May honeymoon in Kaua'i).

This kind of system looks complicated (and it is a little tricky to set up all the pieces), but once it's in place, it basically runs itself because everything is automatically transferred to the right place.

Right now we have separate check cards for Accounts #2, #3, and #4. That way, if I'm paying for something out of my personal account, I use card #3. If Matt is paying for something personal out of his allowance, he uses card #4. If we're buying something for both of us (movie tickets, groceries, etc.), then we use card #2.

That piece of it might get a little revised because I think it's better to use a Discover card for the bulk of our purchases rather than debit cards (as long as the card has no annual fee and we are super-diligent about paying off the card each month and never spending more than we have in our budget). With Discover cards, we are earning back some of our money (plus we are earning interest on the money that is withdrawn from our account only once a month to pay our credit card bill as opposed to it being taken out in increments throughout the month).

One piece that's missing from our model that you'll find in financial books is an emergency fund. For us, all of our other savings accounts (car, home, and vacation) count as our emergency fund. Our car fund, for example, is a savings account for the next car we need to buy. Since we have recently paid off my car after four long years, we now have no car payments. Instead, we pay ourselves each month. Our goal is to be able to buy our next car in cash if at all possible, so we can avoid wasting so much money on interest payments.

However, if we had an emergency and we weren't able to work for some reason, then we would tap into that fund (as well as our home savings fund and our vacation fund, since those categories are important but not-urgent).

I hope I've answered your question! If I've raised any new ones, please let me know...

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Disturbing Wedding Advice #5

Ugh. This little quip from the Wedding Industrial Complex makes me want to barf:

"After the wedding dress, the bride probably spends more time and thought on the wedding cake than anything else. This is the centerpiece of the reception, the item everyone gets to sample and it has to be perfect from the inside out. From the bottom to the top."

I can think of a lot of things that take precedence over the dress and the cake. How about things like:
  • How can I strengthen my relationship and plan for a successful marriage?
  • How do we plan a wedding that is meaningful?
  • Who am I? Who are we as a couple? How do we plan a wedding that reflects the answer to those questions?
  • What do we want to say about our wedding after it's over? How do we ensure we have that kind of wedding?
  • How do we distinguish between what our families want, what society tells us we have to do, and what really makes sense for us?
  • How do we keep costs down so we spend a reasonable amount for a one-day celebration?
  • How do we facilitate community and connection among families and friends who may be meeting for the very first time?
  • How do I keep myself sane in the crazy, wedding planning world?
Everyone has to have their own prioritized list of questions. My questions may not be the same as your questions.

I just hate the stereotype of the bride who only obsesses about the dress and the cake and the invitations....

See other disturbing wedding advice here

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

Now that I'm married, birth control has gotten a lot less stressful. Don't get me wrong, Matt and I are not trying to have a kid yet (and, in fact, we are still actively preventing one). We want to have time to enjoy each other and really strengthen our friendship and develop ourselves before we introduce a whole other being into our lives.

I say it's "less stressful" because if I did accidentally get pregnant, we'd be okay with it.

For a while, I used both birth control pills and condoms. I was serious about preventing pregnancy!

But I never really liked regulating my body with chemicals.

Now that I'm married and don't feel the same hyper-vigilance that I felt before, I'm more comfortable moving toward the Fertility Awareness Method, like the one covered in the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health.

The approach is different from the Rhythm Method. The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is based on the premise that menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman. Day 14 is an irrelevant concept for a woman who has a 36-day cycle.

The book teaches you how to track and chart your own cycle (primarily by taking your temperature every morning and paying attention to your discharge). This kind of tracking gives you accurate information about your body's menstrual cycle. You can then use the information to prevent pregnancy or achieve pregnancy.

I am just astounded by how much I didn't know about my own body. I minored in gender studies in college and have books like Our Bodies, Ourselves, but I'm now realizing that I have been pretty ignorant for 30 years. It's frustrating!

For example, I always thought that an influx of discharge meant that something was wrong. I thought I was about to get some sort of infection.

It turns out that the influx in discharge corresponds to my fertile period. I had no idea! It's truly embarrassing to admit...

Anyway, we're still using condoms as our contraceptive of choice, but we will probably move to the Fertility Awareness Method once I've successfully charted my cycle for two months in a row (like the book suggests).

I highly recommend the process of tracking your own cycle, regardless of what kind of contraception you use or whether or not you're sexually active. It's very empowering and it gives you important insight into your body. Others seem to agree; the book has been reviewed 1,073 times on Amazon and has an overall rating of 5 stars. Wow.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Join the Protest for Marriage Equality

Argh! I've been traveling and working all day and just now came across this information.

Hopefully you already know about this or you'll read this in time and make it to a protest in your city. (I'll be teaching all day tomorrow.) Darn it!

For those of you who can't make it but still want your voice to be heard, you can sign a pledge to help overturn Prop 8 in the 2010 election.

May we have liberty and justice for all...

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DIY Holiday Presents: Part I

As much as I hate walking into a store and being immersed in Christmas paraphernalia around Halloween time, I do agree that I need to get my DIY holiday projects underway if I expect to be finished in time.

So, for my best friend, I'm thinking about refrigerator magnets and cloth napkins.

For the cloth napkins, I'm going to get fancy by sewing mitered corners using this tutorial.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'll make cloth napkins for everyone this year. Last year I did applique on canvas grocery bags. My family isn't very environmentally-conscious, so my only chance at changing their habits comes through giving them gifts!

As for the refrigerator magnets, I'm going to use this amazing tutorial from not martha. I made Andy some dreadful magnets ten years ago that he is still using on his fridge. Ugh! They are truly awful. Really, really awful. It's always "the thought that counts," but I don't expect someone to sacrifice their kitchen aesthetics in order to showcase one of my gifts!

Now...I just need to make time to do crafts. I'll be out of town in New York for work from Friday to Wednesday. No weekend for me!

Photos courtesy of not martha

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Q & A: Making Your Own Napkins

Reader Question: So, my question for you is really silly because they are not important (I keep telling myself) but I had been thinking of making my own napkins. But now that it is time I should get started on the project, I am wondering if I really should do it.

I'm not planning on doing a lot of decorating in the reception area. It is already beautiful on its own, but a little dark, so some brightly colored napkins would be a nice way to add color without having to come up with a separate additional item on the tables, etc.--napkins need to be there anyway.

However, renting napkins would probably be less expensive and certainly less time consuming, and I won't have to transport them to and from the wedding location, clean them myself, etc. Unfortunately, I will probably only be able to find boring solid color napkins.
Also, if I do make them, what do I do with them after the wedding???
Clearly I am stressing too much over this unimportant detail, but I want to be sure it is worth it before I undertake such a large project. My sewing skills are not the best, so I'm sure there will be some frustration involved too.
Have any other ideas for adding color to the room without adding unnecessary stuff?

It's great that you're carefully thinking through all your decisions and options before undertaking any large projects!

I think the key to figuring out the best answer to your question is to analyze your motivations (which you already started to do).

If your primary reason for making your own napkins is to inject your reception space with color, then the time, energy, and potential frustration involved with undertaking this major DIY project may not be worth it.

The truth is, your wedding will not be any more meaningful or memorable because of the color that is or is not on the tables. Hopefully, your guests will be too engaged in interesting conversation with each other to notice. Or they'll be be busy watching the giddy newlyweds. Or they'll be looking in their own significant other's eyes, inspired by the ceremony to proclaim their own love.

I don't mean to dismiss the power of aesthetics and the effect they have on the emotions of an occasion. Beautiful spaces and places certainly make me feel more blissful. But, from what you said, it sounds like your location is already beautiful. And we can't underestimate the extent to which community, connection, and fun do more to make us happy than physical beauty does.

Plus, I'm sure you could find some brighter rental napkins (although I doubt they would be patterned).

There are definitely reasons to make your own napkins. I found that making our own napkins was way cheaper than renting them.

If you do decide to go the DIY route, this wonderful tutorial from Design*Sponge might help. But be forewarned that double-folding (to prevent fraying) and hemming four edges of fabric for every single napkin is a major undertaking. Although, this tip about sewing a line around the napkin first--from Chara Michele--will definitely make the process easier. (And, one of the readers suggested sewing long 14" strips first and then cutting out the squares.)

By the time Matt and I started working on our cloth napkins, I didn't have the stamina to make professional-looking napkins. Instead, we simply used pinking shears to cut the fabric and prevent fraying, rather than sewing anything.

After the wedding, we donated lots of them to the B&B where the reception was held. We've also been passing out stacks of clean ones at dinner parties we've had since the wedding.

If you do go the DIY route, I would definitely recommend delegating the day-of responsibilities associated with napkin duty. Napkins are the last thing you need to waste mental energy on as you immerse yourself in your wedding.

As for your question about how to add color to a room without adding unnecessary stuff, I'll leave that one to our lovely readers...

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Let Freedom Ring

I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the first same-sex couple to get legally married in Connecticut. According to The Boston Globe, "They said their vows holding hands, standing before a memorial to the 1839 Amistad slave revolt. Carved in its base were the words: 'Make Us Free.'"

Proposition 8 in California was so heart-wrenching. At least there's a glimmer of hope on the other side of the country.

Way to go, Connecticut!

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And the Winner Is...

And the randomly-selected winner of the lovely reused hair pins is...

#28: Darci!

Darci, I love that you are participating in the cycle of reusing by buying a used dress. And then you're completing the cycle by selling it again. Awesome! Please e-mail me your address so Susan can ship those hair pins your way.

To everyone else who didn't win: You are amazing!

Seriously. I'm not just saying that as some sort of dumb consolation.

The movie and book recommendations sound intriguing. And your ideas for making weddings better for the environment and the pocketbook are ingenious.

Please start e-mailing me your ideas (and your friends' ideas) so we can give these ideas the attention the deserve. We can feature them while they're in the planning stages and then we can feature them again after they've been implemented and we can hear about how they went.

Zeddy, I'd love to see pictures of your wedding dress after you've modified it for life-beyond the wedding. Anat, Amanda, Maggie, and sea*bee, I can't wait to see the potted centerpieces...Mel and Paulette, clay bouquets? I'm intrigued! M.C., Liz, Kate, and Joanne, Sharpiegirl, and Elizabeth, Rachel, Rynette, and everyone else, can we feature your weddings? Maggie, can we see your ring and dress?


And, a big thank-you to Susan of BravoBride who's injecting the Wedding Industrial Complex with a dose of reusing.

For those of you who did not enter, I'd be interested to know why. Were you just not digging the hair pins? Were the questions daunting? Your feedback (either in the comments or via e-mail) would help me plan future contests. Thanks!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just Say No to Phone Books

Finally. An end to phone book madness! If you find yourself using Google more than the phone book, you can "opt out" of receiving them by going to this site.

Photo courtesy of yellowpagesgoesgreen.org

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Last Chance to Win

Susan from BravoBride is offering to give away the hair pins she wore on her wedding day to one lucky reader. The pins are hand-wired with Genuine Swarovski Crystals. They measure approximately 2 inches long and the crystals measure approximately 1 1/2 inches tall. The set includes two pins in the original box.

These pins would be fun for any dress up occasion. Or they would be a great gift. It might be nice to split up the set and give one to each of the mothers of the brides/grooms (or other important family members or friends).

If you would like to enter the contest, please leave a comment with the answer to ONE of the following questions:
  1. What's one idea you have for saving money on a wedding?
  2. What's one idea you have for making a wedding more green?
  3. What's a movie you've seen or a book you've read recently that you'd recommend to others?
The winner will be randomly selected, so get your entries in by tonight at 11:59 EST. Good luck!

Disclaimer about contests

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

DIY: Wedding Lighting

Ah, yes!

Seeing these images on Etsy reminded me of this wonderful and beautifully unique way to light a space: origami balloons on Christmas lights. Love it!

I haven't seen this idea in years.

If you're interested in DIYing your own set of lights, I found a great tutorial here.

This project could be incredibly tedious or it could be a great opportunity to invite a bunch of friends over for an origami party. The more hands on deck, the faster this project would go. At your wedding, your friends would probably have fun pointing out the lights they made.

Plus, these lights would be fun to whip out and hang up for years of post-wedding parties. Another decoration for life!

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Eco-Friendly Wedding Centerpieces

I'm trying to put together my Christmas list (per the request of my family) and I came across this book: How to Grow Fresh Air. It's all about the 50 best houseplants to remove indoor pollution.

I know lots of you are choosing potted plants to use as sustainable centerpieces. This book might give you some good options for plants to choose. It could also be fun to attach a little tag explaining why you chose the plant you did. It might inspire some of your guests to think about the potential toxins within their own homes.

P.S. The plant featured above is a Boston Fern, which is apparently one of the most efficient plants for removing formaldehyde, the most common indoor pollutant.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Q & A: Wedding Reception Food Logistics

Reader Question: My fiance and I are getting married out of state (Brevard, NC) and are planning on feeding our family for three days. Two days before the wedding and the day of. How did you order your cakes? Did you order ahead of time, do taste testing, etc.? I'm just trying to figure out how we can do all of this the day before everyone arrives without stressing out cake decorators and ourselves.

Yeah, figuring out how to time all the food just right is a logistical puzzle (very akin to the LSAT!).

When Matt and I first started wedding planning, we worked from a long to-do list. However, we found that we were overwhelmed by the sheer length of it and its lack of prioritization. So, we decided to take the major things on the list--attire, food, cakes, rings, DIY projects, etc.--and spread them out over our remaining wedding planning time. This strategy left us with only one or two things to worry about each week (which was way more manageable).

At this time, we also decided what the week leading up to our wedding would look like.

Tuesday: Buy food and drinks for Friday's Welcome Picnic and Saturday's reception

Wednesday: Drive to the reception site to unload the food

Friday afternoon:
Start preparing some of the food for the Saturday reception (i.e., the marinade for the fajitas) and set out food for the Welcome Picnic

Work with our closest friends from 1-3 pm to prepare the remaining reception food (i.e., guacamole, salsa, and 7-layer dip).

This plan worked nearly perfectly for us. Matt and I both love to entertain and host parties, so it was fun to be involved in the food preparation for our wedding. Also, we love spending quality time with friends, and cooking with them was such a fun way to hang out before the wedding. Further, we paid the innkeepers at the reception site an hourly rate to heat up the food, set it out, refill it, and clean up. That way, we didn't have to worry about it during our reception.

[Editor's Note: I realize I haven't answered your question yet!]

There were a few items that didn't fit neatly into this plan:
  1. The Cakes: About a month before the wedding, we decided we were going to simply buy several different cakes from Whole Foods (since we couldn't find a good local bakery in Denver). We had tasted some samples about a month in advance and then placed our order. They promised to make them the day of our wedding to maximize freshness. The dilemma was that Whole Foods was an hour and a half away from our mountain wedding. Fortunately, we had a friend driving up on the day of the wedding. We found a Whole Foods that was between her house and the wedding, so she could just swing by and pick them up on her way (we paid for the cakes in advance).
  2. Fresh Bread: For the Welcome Picnic on Friday night, we originally wanted it to be catered by a local deli. However, our budget didn't allow for that, so we had to get more creative and make a basic make-your-own-sandwich bar instead. I was nervous about whether this would seem too "budget." I didn't want our guests to fly all the way across the country and then think, "This is it? This is all we get?" I had to calm down a bit and remind myself that we only invited our closest friends and family so they are coming to celebrate with us and not judge all the details (side note: I do have a couple relatives who "judge all the details" but I figured that was more of their problem than mine). I knew I would feel better about the whole thing if we at least had fresh, yummy bread from Whole Foods. I didn't want to buy the bread on Tuesday with the rest of the food because it wouldn't taste as good on Friday. To solve the dilemma, I simply asked another friend to help out. I found a Whole Foods on her way to the Welcome Picnic and gave my friend some cash and a shopping list. She was more than willing to help out.
  3. Alcohol: We served wine (which we bought in advance), beer from kegs, and frozen margaritas from a machine. We ordered the kegs and paid for them in advance and then asked a different friend to pick them up (again, we ordered from a store that was on his way to the wedding). As far as the margarita machine goes, we had it delivered to a friend's house and then she brought it with her when she came for the wedding.
Long story short: We put a lot of time and thought into planning the schedule and solving all the little dilemmas. But front-loading our energy was worth it. We were able to stay within our budget and none of it was stressful.

Well, there was one stressful part: Tuesday. Buying something like $1,000 worth of food from three different stores was exhausting. I would highly, highly recommend splitting the trip into two: one trip a couple weeks in advance for non-perishable stuff and one trip closer to the wedding for perishables.

I'm not sure that I have helped with your particular situation, but perhaps seeing how Matt and I worked through our situation will give you some ideas. Best of luck!

E-mail your questions to saracotner@yahoo.com

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Guest Blogger: Post-Wedding Wisdom from Tamara

An e-mail from Tamara:

"I'm a regular reader of your blog, and I find it to be very refreshing and inspiring in a world gone spending-crazy. I wish that when I got married two years ago that I'd had a better sense of myself so that I could have put a stop to the extravagant spending and crazy planning that took place.

It was a lovely day (I married my best friend), a happy day filled with friends, family, dancing, and good food, but it took a lot of money and way too much stress about the 'necessary' details (how, oh how, to fold the napkins?) to achieve that. Thankfully, I think that the spirit of the wedding ended up being a nice reflection of who my husband and I are as individuals and as a couple--happy, goofy, family-oriented, loving, fun--and people commented to us that it was truly the most relaxed they had ever felt at a wedding and that they had more fun than they'd ever had at a wedding (we made sure to play only the best oldies dance music--total crowd pleaser); for that, I am really happy and thankful.

On my wedding day I felt no stress and even though we had a couple of potential disasters (the venue people had set up for another, much smaller, wedding, so there weren't enough seats for everyone and my carefully planned seating chart wasn't used), I didn't care because I was just so excited and happy to be marrying my sweet man.

That being said, the 16 months we spent planning the wedding are the hardest months we have had in our 5 years together--a lot of that time was emotionally devastating for both of us. I was stressed and completely exhausted, he was stressed and sad, my mother was stressed and felt left out, we went into debt (despite the fact that our parents spent thousands of dollars on the day), and it was just not a joyful process because we spent too much time planning an 'event'--a party--and not nearly enough time talking about what marriage meant to us and how we wanted that to be reflected on our big day.

We got immediately sucked into what we thought we 'should' do (because that's how everyone else gets married) instead of what we really wanted to do and what we REALLY should do in terms of honoring our values about money, the environment, etc. Of course, I can't go back in time and when I look at the pictures of our wedding day, I feel very happy; in the pictures, we look just how we felt on that day--happy and relaxed and thrilled and honored to be surrounded by the love of so many good friends and family.

In the two years since our wedding a lot has happened that has changed how we spend our money, how we prioritize our time, how we treat each other, how we plan events, etc. I can't, and don't, regret my wedding because on that day I married my heart's delight, and I think that overall it was an essential learning experience for us as a couple.

About a month ago my husband and I were on vacation in Upstate NY, a place that is very very dear to our hearts--it's the place where we got engaged, and it's where we lived when we were planning our wedding for those 16 months. It's been a year and a half since we moved from there and we are so much more aware of our commitment to our life together now and we are thankful for our time there because, although it was difficult, we learned so much and we survived that time only to grow and come into the wonderful place we're in now as a couple: just filled to the brim with gratitude for one another and the journey we are on together.

Anyway, as we were hiking in one of our favorite spots (a truly beautiful gorge with a waterfall at the end), we started to talk about how wonderful it would be to have a wedding there. We talked about what we would wear (a suit and a simple dress--about a fourth of the prices of what we spent on our actual wedding day attire), and how we would meet up and spend the first half of our day together, alone (we didn't have one second of alone time on our wedding day).

We talked about how great it would be to meet our guests at the hiking spot and then walk with everyone to the waterfall and then get married right beside that gorgeous, natural wonder. We talked about how everyone would feel relaxed and happy and how we would give people ribbon wands to wave in celebration. We talked about how we would then go to the spot where the local farmer's market is held and we would have tables there and music and delicious, local, organic food. We talked about how we would dance and laugh and spend time with the people we had invited (which, this time, would be ONLY the people that meant the most to us in our lives--no strangers!).

We spent about 20 minutes planning that hypothetical wedding as we hiked back to our car from the waterfall, and as we walked we held hands and laughed and we both contributed ideas and I just couldn't believe that in 20 minutes we planned an entire event and that there was no stress, no anger, no fear, and that the event we planned would cost about a third of what we spent on our actual wedding! We didn't worry about fancy chairs, and expensive flowers, and a $700 cake.

When we talked about our ceremony, what we would say to each other, we got weepy with emotion and love. It was a truly beautiful and moving experience for me--and it was healing in a way. At the end of our walk I said, 'Oh well, we had our wedding.' And my husband said, 'Wouldn't it be amazing to celebrate our tenth anniversary here, in the way we just planned?'

So, who knows...maybe in 8 years we'll be there hiking through the gorge and waving ribbon wands with all the people we love."

Wedding photos courtesy of Josh at Treasure Photography
Wedding venue = Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, CA

Check out her sister's cool blog here

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