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

Monday, December 12, 2016

DIY Cards

I was all set to reduce my holiday stress by getting ahead of the game and then I realized that the Etsy seller who designed our cards last year has shut down her shop. Nooooo! 

Matt and I already had all 16 photos picked out, as well as all the captions written. There was no turning back. I didn't want to commission a graphic designer to design them from scratch, so I turned to trusty ol' Microsoft Word. 

Doing graphic design in Microsoft Word is not my definition of fun. Definitely don't look to closely at the alignment (or lack thereof). I was literally eye-balling it. 

But, hey, it's the thought that counts, right? 

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Q & A: Engagements & Courthouse Weddings

Image courtesy of thespottedsparrow
Kindred Spirit Question: My boyfriend and I have been together now for over eight years, we've owned a house together for three and have a lovely family of cats and dogs. I recently lost my job, so my health insurance benefits run out at the end of this month. Even though we never got around to getting engaged, we're planning on getting married at our local courthouse next month, surrounded only by our closest of friends. A real ceremony will follow when we are financially stable again.
Would it be silly for him to propose now? Unnecessary? We have a family heirloom engagement ring, so it's not like he needs to spend anything extra. He and I aren't quite seeing eye to eye on having a proposal. I feel like I'd be lying if I send out engagement notices to my family and we never had a proper engagement. What are your thoughts on this? Am I being unreasonable? 
Also, what is appropriate attire for a courthouse marriage?
Ooh, I love both of your questions because they highlight an essential aspect of wedding planning (and--let's face it--our lives): Despite what everyone and everything around you make you feel, there are no rules. It's up to us to figure out what our values and principles are, what resonates with us, what will make us feel proud of ourselves at the end of the day, and then to make it happen.
So let me tackle the easier question first: Wear whatever you want! Honestly, there is no such thing as "appropriate attire for a courthouse marriage" (well, aside from following the legal requirements posted on the door, such as "Shoes and Shirt Required.")
Please, please, please think long and hard about what will make you comfortable (both physically and emotionally, both as an individual and a couple) and then go for it! It might be a sundress or a skirt or shorts or even a traditional wedding dress. I'm sure the court has seen it all.
The engagement question is trickier because you and your partner disagree. Honestly, disagreement is a healthy and normal part of the wedding planning process, too (it better prepares us for a lifetime of compromise!). I recommend using the strategies you've cultivated over the past eight years together to reach agreement. Sometimes, Matt and I resort to a really formal style of discussion when we need to hash something out (e.g. "I hear you saying..."). Sometimes I just cry and storm out of the room (and then pull it together and engage in a real conversation).
So it's time to really listen to each other. Figure out why a formal engagement is important to you and try to unearth why it isn't something your partner wants. Maybe you could each propose to each other in creative ways? Maybe you could figure out how to word an engagement announcement in a way that authentically represents the situation instead of feeling fraudulent (e.g., "After years of writing a shared history together, it's time to write the next chapter.")?
The best we can do in these situations is hear each other out, engage in introspection to figure out why we're responding to the situation in the way that we are, and figure out how to reach a compromise that contributes to (rather than detracts from) our partnership and shared life together.
Wishing you and yours the very best!

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Giveaway!

 Hooray! I love the word "free" when it comes to wedding planning. 

You're welcome to enter two separate contests to win a free copy of A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration (and definitely feel free to send your partner/friends/family/neighbors/colleagues over to increase your odds of winning)!

The first contest is over at Goodreads, and the second one is via Craftside.

Good luck to you and yours!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Priceless Wedding by Sara Cotner

A Priceless Wedding

by Sara Cotner

Giveaway ends February 07, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Young House Love Wedding

Last week I braved the rain to attend a book talk presented by the one-and-only John and Sherry of Young House Love. I wanted to hear them speak in person, and I also wanted to hand-deliver a copy of my book, since one of Sherry's stories is included as a sidebar in it. 

While I was standing in the labyrinth of a line (seriously, John and Sherry are so popular the book signing had to be divided into groups and I was all the way in E!), I overhead Sherry giving the most awesome wedding advice to someone while she signed their book. She said, "Remember that your wedding is just a party. And also remember not to worry about what your grandmother wants. It's your wedding." 

I loved reading the story of John and Sherry's $4,000 wedding many years ago. It's full of sincerity, budget-mindedness, and handmade elements. The thing I love about it most is that it doesn't set impossibly high standards for the rest of us. It's not one of those glossy weddings or intimidating DIY weddings where every element looks like it could be featured in Martha Stewart Weddings. It looks like a fun, crafty, creative, and memorable backyard wedding. 

Thanks--as always--for the inspiration, John and Sherry!

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Making Things Special with Sincerity Rather than Money

Even though Matt and I only had $2,000 to spend on our wedding, we still wanted the event to be meaningful and memorable. We wanted our guests to enjoy themselves, and we wanted to honor them for their long journeys out to Colorado and thank them for their support. 

There were many times throughout the planning process when we had to make things special with sincerity rather than money. For example, we couldn't find a place for photo stamps in the budget, but we did manage to hand-write a personal message to each and every recipient, letting them know how much they mean to us and how much we hoped they could join us. 

I find myself in a similar situation as I prepare to attend my cousin's wedding in the Outer Banks of North Carolina this May. Honestly, we almost couldn't afford to go. We are busting our behinds to live within Matt's income so we can completely bank my part-time salary. We need to save a ton of money for the downpayment and closing costs on the permanent loan for the house we're building (we're converting our construction loan from 85% to 80% at that time, so it's a pretty hefty chunk of money that we'll need). We also need to save up money for my maternity leave. I'll stop working when the baby is born in June/July and won't resume part-time work again until late in the fall (then full-time work in the spring). We'll also need money to send Henry to daycare over the summer and then pay for his Montessori school when it starts up again in the fall. Our other major expense will be our midwife/homebirth costs. We'll also need to be able to pay babysitters here or there when I have work obligations that I simply can't avoid during my maternity leave. 


I don't say all of that to make it sound like I feel sorry for us. We are fortunate that all of these costs relate to creating the life we want to live. They aren't related to unforeseen medical emergencies, job losses, etc. They relate to the urgency I feel to move into the house we want to spend the next 10 years in and the urgency I feel to complete our family while my age hovers around the mid-thirties. 

But these choices mean that we have to live within a very tight budget. We don't have room for any extras right now. When my cousin announced that she is getting married in a remote place in May, it added a conundrum to our situation. Of course we want to prioritize family and attend important events, but the cost of flying and housing our family of three was going to cost $1,500--almost the cost of our entire wedding. 

In the end, we decided that I would go alone to reduce the cost to about $500. It's sad that Henry won't be able to spend more time with our extended family, but it's the only way we could make it work.

As far as a wedding present goes, I decided that I could contribute something with sincerity rather than a lot of money. She was talking about how she's trying to balance her full-time job with her master's program with her wedding planning. I decided to offer to undertake one of her DIY wedding projects for her. I hope she takes me up on her offer!

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Dealing with Family

The holidays are upon us. For some folks, that means increased interaction with family, which may or may not mean increased levels of stress. A good friend of mine intentionally limits the amount of time she spends with her family throughout the year because of the stress they bring into her life.

Families can be really complicated because there's so much that's wound up tightly together--overwhelming love, expectations, miscommunication--the list goes on. Additionally, many of us bring our own wounds to the table that we never healed properly. Our own wounds affect the way we interact with others.

But there's also such depth and richness in family. There's a shared history, a shared future. Figuring out how to separate the good from the bad can help us realize the full benefit of our "family of origin" while sidestepping the drawbacks. 

One strategy that comes to mind is a pillar in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is to distinguish our "Circle of Concern" from our "Circle of Influence." Our circles of concern are huge; they are full of all the things we wish we could change (including the things we wish we could change about the people around us or the families we came from). Our circles of influence are smaller; they contain the things we can actually change. 

If we focus all of our energy on the things we wish we could change, we end up wallowing in frustration and disappointment. However, if we focus on the things we can change and then actually work on changing them instead of just complaining about them, our lives become much more empowered and content. 

When it comes to family, there's a lot that is not within our circle of influence. What is absolutely within our control--however--is how we respond to our families. While we can't necessarily control the way our families act, we can completely control our responses to their actions. We are in charge of ourselves. Instead of responding in ways that escalate the situation, we can simply attempt to let go of our emotional responses. Internal dialogue can be really helpful in this situation, such as saying to ourselves, "So-and-so is doing the best they can. They are probably coming from a place of pain or fear. Just let it go."

Here's wishing you a holiday season full of light and love! 


Give the gift of wedding planning sanity this holiday season (to others or yourself!). A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration is now available.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

17 Copies Left!

The book is now shipping via Amazon! The official publication date is December 28, but it is now in warehouses and available for real, live delivery to your doorstep. I still can't believe it. 

Oh, and there are only 17 copies left. Perhaps they only started with an order of 20 copies, but still!

UPDATE: It's down to 15!

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Planning Your Authentic Wedding

I'm reading an awesome book right now called Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. It's all about the difference between our authentic, essential selves which represent our deepest values/preferences/interests/passions and our social selves which internalize pressure from society, our families, our friends, etc. about what we're supposed to do and who we're supposed to be. If we align our choices too much with our social selves, we end up unhappy and disconnected from true contentment. The book is all about paying attention to signs from our minds and bodies in order to identify our most essential selves, so that we can align our lives with our most authentic path and find pure joy. 

I have so many examples from my own life that illustrate the tension between my essential and social selves. For example, after graduating from college with a B.A. in American Studies, I didn't have any job prospects (although I was thankful that my major aligned with my authentic self--I picked it by going through the course catalog and circling all the classes I wanted to take; I counted them up and majored in the area that had the most interesting classes). 

My social self told me that I had to have a plan. I had to make something of myself. So I sold my car and moved to Boston. I found a roommate on the internet and figured I could more easily find a job if I lived there. My social self was convinced that Boston was the intellectual and cultural Mecca of the United States. 

Boy, did my essential self fight that one! Within three days of moving to Boston I was in the emergency room at the hospital after fainting (I had a urinary tract infection). I'm convinced that my body was telling me that I wasn't in the right place. I sucked up my pride and moved back home for a year. I found work as an AmeriCorps volunteer and had one of the best years of my life. 

I have other examples of times when I listened to my essential self (like when I took a year off and traveled) and times when I'm not sure that I did (like when I joined Teach For America). I'm still processing where I am versus where my essential self thinks I should be. I definitely have more work to do in this area. 

But I am wholeheartedly convinced that our weddings are a time to analyze our "essential" versus "social" selves very carefully. How we plan our weddings matter. They set precedents for the kind of family we create. And there's nothing like planning a wedding to highlight the difference between what you want versus what your family/friends/society say you should want. 

Following your authentic path is not easy. You may face real opposition from family and friends ("You can't do that! How tacky!"). But you may also face internal opposition from your social self (which has been soaking up expectations from everything around you for your entire life). Plus, I have to throw in the possibility that your idea of the most authentic wedding for you might differ from your partner's version.

But there is no better time to sift out the differences between your essential and social self and follow your authentic path. Finding and following our authentic paths makes us want to wake up in the morning. It brings smiles to our faces. It inspires joy throughout every corner of our lives. Honestly, do we have any other choice but to honor ourselves by being authentic?

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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Location as the Linchpin

A friend of mine recently got engaged, and he and his partner are in the process of picking the venue. They live in Florida but have family all over, so they are considering myriad locations. Hearing about their journey brought me back to the stress of trying to select a location for our wedding. 

I won't delve too deeply into the stress here (it's explained in eight full pages of details from pg. 56-64 in The Book if you want the gory details); I'll just stick to the highlights. When we were planning our wedding, Matt and I were living in Denver. My family was in Florida; Matt's was in Indiana. Our friends were scattered all over the country. At the time, it felt like we could have had the wedding anywhere. In retrospect, I'm so glad we picked a location that was within an easy driving distance of our house (1.5 hours into the mountains). For us, planning a wedding from afar would have made it much more difficult to DIY, and it would have been more difficult to cultivate relationships with the owners of the venue. 

My point isn't that my friends should also get married near where they live. Each of us needs to figure out what makes the most sense for us, what aligns with our values, what matches up with our preferences, etc. We can all select different but equally valid paths. However, regardless of what path we choose, we should definitely consider it carefully. As I explain in A Priceless Wedding, selecting a venue was the "linchpin" in our entire wedding planning process. I go on to explain:

"Part of the stress related to finding a location is the realization that the venue is like the first domino. Once it's knocked down, it sets off a chain reaction. For example, the venue determines:
  • Your catering options...
  • What kind of decoration is needed...
  • What needs to be rented...
  • The formality of the event...
Selecting the right venue is challenging for a lot of couples. Maureen and Dave, transplants to the San Francisco area, were in love with the Wine Country but realized that a wedding at a winery was beyond their budget. Most of the wineries they looked at 'had ridiculous packages' that locked them into 'a certain caterer, a certain deejay, renting tables, having a sit-down ceremony, etc.' Maureen said, 'When it came right down to it, we just wanted far more control over our wedding than any of these places were willing to give us.'

They looked at lodges, inns, beaches, state parks, and even private homes. They decided that 'the most important part' was to get their 'family and friends together in a place where everyone would be comfortable and have fun.' They finally stumbled upon a 'restaurant with a large outdoor patio at a really reasonable price.' The patio was adjacent to a creek and 'shaded by beautiful old trees and landscaped with loads of flowers,' so they didn't have to do anything to decorate. The space rental for five hours was $800 and included all the tables, chairs, and linens. Maureen said, 'It worked out perfectly because we got the ease of having someone else do the food, setup, and cleanup, but we were able to customize everything else.'

One challenge you may encounter is that the location is usually one of the first decisions to be made, early in the process, before you've had a chance to think through your entire wedding. This is one reason creating your wedding vision before you start planning can be helpful."

How did you decide on your wedding venue? Or are you in the middle of trying to figure it out? Please share your story in the comments section!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

One Wild and Precious Life: Lessons Learned from Wedding Planning

A lot of different--yet related--thoughts have been swirling around in my head lately. First, I've been re-reading my book from start to finish, A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration

It's been four years since Matt and I tied the knot--about five since we started planning our wedding. The process of writing the book stretched out over many years, so it's a strange experience to sit down and re-read about our experience from cover to cover. 

I was reminded of all the insecurity I felt while planning our eco-friendly, budget-minded, handmade wedding. Matt and I tried to muster all the courage we had to forge our own path on our own terms, but we had no idea if the whole thing would fall flat on its face. We faced naysayers at various points in the process (neither my step-father nor my best friend wanted to help us cater our own reception; my grandfather didn't want to speak in our non-traditional ceremony, etc.). But when it was all said and done, it was the perfect wedding--for us. It was completely focused on community, connection, commitment, and fun (and my best friend ended up helping us cook and thoroughly enjoyed himself).

We learned such valuable lessons during that process. We learned that starting with the big picture vision helps you make more strategic decisions along the way. If you know where you're trying to get to, then it's easier to figure out which choices along the way will get you there. We learned that dreaming big and dwelling in possibility are exhilarating (albeit quite scary). 

We learned that forging our own unconventional, authentic path can incite adversity and judgement and doubts (which can easily make us feel insecure), but we're ultimately responsible for our own lives and our own happiness. We can't waste our "one wild and precious life" by trying to live someone else's dream. 

Since then, we've continued to dwell in possibility. We often talk about what are joint dreams are together and how we're going to make them happen. We realized that it made the most sense for us professionally and personally to move from Houston to Austin, so we figured out how to make it work. 

Now we're thinking a lot about what kind of family we are and what kind of family we want to be. We've spent the year figuring out which neighborhood we want to settle into (verdict = a diverse neighborhood in East Austin) and where we want to send our children to school (verdict = Austin's first public Montessori school). We've had to think a lot what kind of house we wan to live in (verdict = 3 bedroom/2 bath house on a 1/2 acre with close enough proximity to town and natural views out our windows and room for a garden and fruit trees). I've also been thinking a lot about how to pursue my professional goals (which are admittedly ambitious and time-consuming), while prioritizing my personal goals (e.g., plenty of quality time with my family). 

Then I stumbled upon this article about how the COO of Facebook leaves the office at 5:30pm each day. It was shocking to me that the idea of leaving the office in time to eat dinner with your family was so novel and worthy of attention. I absolutely want to be an effective leader who accomplishes big goals and prioritizes family. There's no use trying to make the world better if I only make my own life (and the life of my children) worse. 

Then Kristina led me to this article about how our quality of life impacts our life span. It made me think even more about my future and the kind of life I want to lead beyond my current plan for the next couple decades. It inspired visions of moving to an island or starting a retreat center or moving near my children to help out with my [future] grandchildren. 

And all that planning brought me back to a conversation with my best friend about the power of living in the now. That's when I decided to give Hoss a really good belly rub and introduce Henry to the glory of hot chocolate for the very first time. 

Our lives are full of choices and the choices that we made continually reshape our lives. Of course there is so much that is not in our control, but I am inspired by how much is in our control. I can choose to celebrate what is right in front of me. I can choose to figure out how to balance the professional with the personal. I can re-evaluate at any time and make adjustments as necessary. I can constantly ask and attempt to answer Mary Oliver's question: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"

Photo taken back at our ceremony spot, three years after our wedding

P.S.: Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy started today. There's still time to join us. Register today! We'd love to get to know you better!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Planning a Priceless Wedding

It's real! It's finally real!

My editor at Voyageur Press sent me an actual copy of my book A Priceless Wedding: Crafting a Meaningful, Memorable, and Affordable Celebration. It has taken years to get to this point (from looking for an agent, to revising my 20,000-word proposal, to interviewing with publishing houses, to revising the structure of the book, to drafting it, to revising it, to holding it in my hands). I was worried that I would be disappointed with the end result (it's easy to be disappointed when there are four years of build up!), but I am overjoyed with the result. I can't believe my words (and the words of kindred spirits) fill up 208 pages in a real book. 

I started reading it as soon as I got it. I'm on page 68 and I'm honestly enjoying it. The book has come a long, long way, thanks to the support--in particular--of M.J. Bodeau, Anna Zeide, Beth Dehnart, and the team over at Voyageur Press. They worked really hard to sand and polish it into something presentable (and hopefully helpful). I am also indebted to countless other kindred spirits over the years who shared their experiences and revised sections of the text.

It's a full-color book with all kinds of inserts: DIY projects, worksheets for helping you clarify your vision, and thoughts from wedding veterans. I love Anna-Marie's letter of apology to her wife for becoming "wedding-possessed" and Kristen Walker's personal reflection about her experience with couples' counseling. And there are so many quotes that provide alternate perspectives and illustrate that each of us have to make decisions that make sense to us.

Phew! I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief over here...

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Monday, October 15, 2012

On Staying Grounded

There are times in our lives when we need extra strategies to help ourselves stay grounded (and some of us--like me--need those strategies every day!). I've written before about how mantras helped me stay sane during the wedding planning process (and there's a whole section about it in my book about crafting a meaningful, memorable, and affordable celebration). 

For me, it's difficult to turn off my brain. I can't stop myself from generating thoughts about things that I don't want to think about. I've stopped fighting that downhill battle and instead focus on what's in my circle of influence. When thoughts creep into my mind that I want to shut down, I simply override them with a mantra. 

For example, when I start to say something negative to myself about how I shouldn't dream so big or about how I'm not capable of accomplishing something, I say to myself, "Let it go." I say it as many times as I need to. The simple act of saying it literally causes a physical release. 

It worked for me during wedding planning, it works for me when I'm feeling insecure, and now it's helping me with "The Waiting Game." I'm in those slow couple weeks between ovulation and being able to take a pregnancy test. It's our first time trying since the miscarriage. Because my cycles are so long, I have to wait even longer than the 28-day cycle girl. 

So when I start to get antsy about taking a pregnancy test (which would just be a waste of money at this point), I say to myself: "Be patient. Enjoy what you have." It's so simple and yet so important.

Today on Feeding the Soil: Reflections on building community.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

No Freedom 'Til We're Equal

In case you're not one of the 2,000,000+ people who have already seen this video, here it is.


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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Guest Post: A Weekend-Long Wedding for $7,500

Photos by Jason Miller, Pixelate Photography & Design
By Clare M. Alexander

In the almost seven years we’ve been together, Dave and I have had a lot—a lot—of conversations about money. He’s a natural-born saver, while I tend to be more of a spender, but over the years, we’ve managed to merge our two approaches into one that works for us as a couple—we focus on eliminating debt and saving as much as we can while occasionally spending on things that are really important to us (such as travel).

When we got engaged earlier this year and began the six-month process of planning our wedding, we knew we wanted to stick to a pretty strict budget while also making the wedding thoughtful and fun. While we were big fans of this blog and had both read it in its entirety before we even got engaged, we thought $2,000 would probably be impossible given our choice of venue—a summer camp, where we planned to host a weekend-long extravaganza filled with campfires, s’mores, friendship bracelets, and capture the flag. We decided to shoot for somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000, with the goal being to land closer to $5,000. When all the dust had settled, we estimated that we spent around $7,500, including the contributions from our families. Not too bad for feeding and housing 80-something guests for an entire weekend!

Sticking to a budget meant letting go of a lot of the things that the Wedding Industrial Complex tries to tell you that you need. I decided pretty early on not to have bouquets for the ceremony. Because of the composition of our wedding party (our sisters and their kids on my side; two couples on Dave’s side), everyone was walking down the aisle with someone, so bouquets seemed especially unnecessary. Shortly after we got engaged, I became enchanted with the idea of ordering a custom-made wedding dress from Etsy. At around $800, it seemed reasonably priced compared to the cost of an average wedding dress. And it would be made just for me! But then I thought, “For $800, I could buy a plane ticket to Paris.” It just didn’t seem worth it for a piece of clothing I’d probably never wear again (and that might not even fit properly, considering I’d be ordering it long distance). Instead, I spent $200 on a ModCloth dress that was fancy enough to feel special, but also comfortable and totally my style. Plus, it’s simple enough that I’m hoping I can dye it and wear it again.

We did splurge on a few things that were important to us. To encourage people to stay at the camp, we decided to pay for lodging for everyone who stayed there, and we also rented a van to shuttle people from the airport. Instead of buying gifts for our wedding party, we purchased their wedding attire: ModCloth dresses for the ladies, striped bow ties for the guys, and pillowcase dresses—which I made myself—for the four flower girls. We really love craft beer and wanted to have a variety of different beers for both our Friday-night cookout and reception dinner, so we opted to buy cases instead of a keg. Even though it was more expensive, we were able to offer a wider selection of beer and serve it on both nights—plus, we didn’t have to worry about any of it going to waste. (We sent a few lucky guests home with the extra bottles!)

Our biggest indulgence, and perhaps the most difficult decision we made during the whole process, was hiring a live bluegrass band to play during the reception. My parents found a reasonably priced band through a local college that has a stellar music program, but we were still torn about the decision. On the one hand, we love bluegrass music and thought the live band would create a great atmosphere. But the cost of the band ($500) seemed exorbitant compared to the cost of making our own iTunes playlist and plugging my laptop into the camp’s sound system (free). And what if no one danced to the bluegrass music? Finally, after a week of going over the pros and cons, we bit the bullet and hired the band. I’m so glad we did—it really did create a wonderful atmosphere. People kept saying that they felt like they were in a movie. The dance floor wasn’t packed while the band was playing, but that was OK. It gave people a chance to mingle, chat, and make s’mores. Then, after two hours of bluegrass music, we switched over to our iTunes playlist and the real dance party began!

Working our connections went along way toward helping us meet our budget. We chose to have the wedding at the church camp where I went every summer as a kid—not only did this make it more personal, but because my dad (a minister) has been so involved with the camp over the years, we were able to pay the discounted lodging rate typically reserved for members of his congregation. We’re also lucky to have some talented friends and family members who helped us out. One of my best friends from college and her husband are the amazing duo behind Pixelate Photography and Design. Kristen designed our invitations and programs for us at cost—we just had to pay for the printing and shipping, which worked out to be about $70 each. We knew that Jason was an awesome photographer (a few months before our wedding, he photographed President Obama at a rally in Cleveland!), so we’d pretty much decided we wanted him to shoot our wedding even before he sweetened the deal by offering us his friends-and-family rate. I also have a couple of friends who make gourmet marshmallows; they gave us a great deal on flavored homemade marshmallows for our s’mores bar. When I mentioned to my dad that I wanted wood nametags for everyone to decorate and wear during our welcome dinner on Friday night, he fired up his power saw and sliced a couple of felled branches into 100 thin wood discs. Between our friends and my parents’ friends, we were able to borrow 75 mason jars to use for decorations, which we filled with Ikea candles and wildflowers that my grandmother picked at an abandoned golf course down the road.

We also relied heavily on our friends and family to provide free labor during the weekend—setting up tables and chairs, washing breakfast and lunch dishes, starting campfires, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. We tried to divide up the tasks so that no one had to spend the entire weekend working (though our parents definitely took on more than their fair share). I tend to be bad at asking others for help, but it turned out I didn’t really have to. So many people came up to us throughout the weekend and asked, “What can I do to help?” We didn’t hesitate to give them a job like Beer Captain or Friendship Bracelet Guru. On our way home, Dave and I discussed what we would have done differently if we’d had an unlimited budget, and I said that I would have hired people to do the grunt work so our friends and family could have relaxed and enjoyed the weekend. But he rather wisely pointed out that the DIY, all-hands-on-deck approach to the wedding was part of what made it so special—sharing the workload helped people forge connections, and seeing all of our friends and family pitch in to get things done made us feel especially loved. I immediately revised my answer—I wouldn’t have changed a thing!


Clare M. Alexander is a magazine editor and former rollergirl who spends her free time enthusiastically starting and then halfheartedly sustaining wacky projects like The Saved by the Bell Blog.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Moving Beyond the Buying Impulse

I went to a lovely parent education workshop about creating a book-rich environment for children at home, and my first impulse was to go to Amazon.com and start buying some higher quality books for Henry (in addition to these crayons and this paper to help as indirect preparation for writing later on). 

And then I had to remind myself: "You're on a really strict budget and don't have any extra money to spend." It's so easy to click a few buttons and have new, shiny things arrive at your doorstep in two days. 

So I slowed myself down a bit. I did go ahead and put some new crayons and paper in my cart, but then I let them sit there while I e-mailed Henry's teacher to make sure that she thinks coloring is a good activity for him right now (with those particular kind of crayons). I also decided not to buy any books but instead get them through the library. 

Our local library has terrible board books for young children. Most of them are overtly commercialized, trying to sell some kind of toy, etc. Instead, I scrolled through the online catalog and tried to place holds on board books that seemed good. I also put a hold on a nursery rhyme book that I was so tempted to buy on Amazon. It's much wiser to see if I like it first.

So far, I haven't spent a penny on new things for Henry (and I already have six books on the way). I might end up buying the crayons and paper, but it feels good to think about it first.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Financial Planning: What Are Our Goals?

 In response to last week's post about our self-imposed struggles to live within a strict budget, I received recommendations to check out a few financial blogs. My absolute favorite one so far is called Mr. Money Moustache. It's about a guy and his wife who "retired" in their early thirties so that they could spend more time with their son, doing things they enjoy. I've started reading it from the very first post forward. He talks a lot about the environmental impact of consumption and frugality as a means to more financial freedom and a lessened impact on the earth.

Reading his blog has started me thinking about what our financial goals are as a family. It's highly unlikely that we'll be able to achieve our goals unless we clarify them at the outset. And while we'll likely revise our goals along the way as our priorities and interests shift, it's still helpful to start with the end in mind and make sure we're moving in a strategic direction. 

I suppose we do have a clear sense of what our short-term goals are:
  • Pay for Henry to attend a private Montessori school for the first two years of his life
  • Pay for the homebirth of a second child (fingers crossed!)
  • Build our dream house in the next ten months
  • Continue to eat primarily organic food
  • Take a couple months of maternity leave with the second child and then figure out some kind of flexible, part-time childcare solution so I can work while being near the baby
Eek! Listing out those goals in a centralized place makes them feel more daunting! 

However, I'm convinced we'll be able to achieve our goals if: 1) We continue to cut our spending, so that we live on Matt's income alone (so we can bank my part-time salary entirely. 2) I generate a little additional income via my online course and revenue from the sale of my book.

But what are our goals beyond the next year? What kind of life do we want to lead? I know I definitely don't want to retire early. I feel like I'm just getting started on the career trajectory of my dreams (starting a network of high-performing, authentic, dual-language public Montessori charter schools in diverse communities nationwide).

I started by asking Matt if he wanted to be able to work part-time. I thought it would be awesome to have one parent who was able to be home a little more with school-aged children who get out around 3pm. He explained that he wants to continue to advance in his career and doesn't think he would be able to do it as a part-time employee. 

What that means for our family is that we'll probably have to stagger our work schedules. I'll probably have to work from 6am-3pm, and Matt will be the one to get the kids ready in the morning and take them to school. Then when I'm done working in the early afternoon, I can bring the kids home with me and we can do homework and start getting dinner ready. It sucks getting up so early, but it's worth it to be home with the children in the afternoon. 

And what about exercise? Maybe I could put a treadmill in my office and exercise during my lunch break...

So it looks like we'll be a two-income family for a while (barring any injuries, layoffs, etc.). That makes our financial goals even more achievable. What are some of our long-term financial goals? Let me take a stab at drafting some out:
  1. Retirement: We want to have enough money saved for a comfortable retirement. It's still unclear to me what that looks like. I have no idea how much we would need to live on every year (once our mortgage was paid off). Has anyone read good guidance around how much to save a year? Is maxing our our 401k's and our Roth IRA every year enough? Too much? (We haven't even been saving much for retirement at all since Henry was born and we dropped down to one income, but it will definitely be a priority after next year.)
  2. Home: We want to live in an eco-friendly, comfortable, and fun home. What does that look like? Well, I want to install solar panels--on second thought, I better save this brainstorm for another post. I could go on and on. I will say that this category is very important to me. I'm a homebody and want to host lots of parties and family get-togethers over the years. I want our home to be a sanctuary.
  3. Home Repairs & Maintenance: We want to be able to take care of the upkeep of our home as required.
  4. Cars: We'll need to save a little each month so we can try to buy our future cars with cash (to avoid paying unnecessary interest). We should save this money in a mutual fund (or some other kind of investment that makes us money while we're not using it). 
  5. Personal Allowances: We'll continue our system of having limited, personal allowances so we always feel like we have autonomy over some of our money. We'll also start allowances for the kids, too, so that we keep tabs on how much we spend on them.
  6. College: Although we're all about teaching autonomy (we will encourage our children to start working as soon as they are able), and they will be expected to pay for things themselves (like their first car and some college-related expenses), I really don't think any young adult should have to start off their life in debt. I believe everyone deserves a college education. So college savings it is! That is going to be huge. I know we need to start earlier rather than later for the benefit of compounding interest, but we need to get going on this. I need to figure out more clearly how much we should aim to save. 
  7. Travel: This one is going to be huge for us. We live away from family, so we need to spend money for flights. We also like to travel. We'll one to do 1-2 big vacations a year + trips to see family + weekend trips to explore new cities (in which Matt can run races). 
  8. Paying off Our Mortgage: I've heard mixed ideas about this one. On the one hand, I've heard that paying off your mortgage earlier means that you can save a ton of extra money that you aren't paying in interest. But I've also heard that mortgage debt is good debt if you have a low interest rate because of the tax breaks.
  9. Investing in Real Estate: This one is a long-shot right now (Matt's not interested in it), but I would like to purchase an inexpensive home in our neighborhood, oversee a renovation project, and then sell it or rent it out (and then use the profits to do the same thing over again--assuming the first one went well). I'd have to do a lot more research before committing to this kind of thing, but I read about it in a personal financial management book, and the idea intrigued me. 
Clarifying those categories definitely helps. It will be much easier to set up automatic savings plan now that I know what we need to be saving for! 

Piggy bank available on Amazon

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts September 16. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Crafting Our Own Life Stories

Matt came home from mowing our 1/2-acre of land (the one we're going to build a house on if we can save up enough money) with a cowboy hat full of old golf balls. He wants us to save all the golf balls we find on our land throughout the building process and display them in a vintage golf basket. 

I'm a sucker for history and the idea of story. What a powerful realization that we get to craft the stories of our own lives. 

Matt and I are sacrificing some quality of life right now (read today's post over at Feeding the Soil), but we're doing it so we can craft an even better story for ourselves. We're trying to build the home in which we want to raise our children--with garden beds, an orchard, a pool, chickens, a firepit, rain barrels, and herbs--in a neighborhood where I'm trying to create a school in a town that beckons us to play outside almost year-round.

Now that's a story I can't wait to tell.

Purchased from Etsy

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The UPrinting Brochures Arrived!

Last week I mentioned that I used UPrinting brochure printing to order a set of informational brochures to recruit families and community support for the school I'm working to create, thanks to a generous donation from UPrinting. The brochures arrived in the middle of the week, and they are gorgeous! I was very happy with the entire process from ordering to delivery. I've already started handing these beauties out. I definitely hope to be able to work with UPrinting in the future. They offer all kinds of printing services, such as table tents, vinyl banners, wall graphics, stickers, magnets, door hangers, event tickets, etc.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

DIY Pop-Up Cards

I had a great time making pop-up invitations for the pop-up dinner party in September. That's the thing about DIY; we should only take on projects that bring us pleasure, not projects that we feel obligated to do to keep up with all the blogs and pinterest images. 

I only had to make four (there will be five couples for a total of 10 people), so it was fine making intricate and elaborate cards (well, intricate and elaborate compared to what I would normally do--hello, Evite). I decided to make trees, since the Farewell to Summer Fiesta Pop-Up Dinner will take place in an enclave of trees.

At first I was thinking about using green and brown paper, but then I committed to using 100% materials I already had. So instead of buying brown and green paper for the tree tops and trunks, I made green and brown paper by ripping it out of magazines and gluing it onto cardstock. I then made a little template for the trees--a very basic circle shape for the top and a classic trunk shape for the bottom. In the end, my free magazine paper looked even cooler than paper I would have bought because it was made from images of trees.

I typed up the outside and inside of the invitation. I found a papel picado clipart image to insert onto the front of the card, but the image was so light that I had to end up coloring in each flag individually. Again, since it was only four cards, it was therapeutic rather than maddening. Since we're trying to live on one income right now (so we can bank my part-time salary), I had to get resourceful

I love the process of planning parties. The build-up and anticipation leading up to the event is so fun for me. I had the best time working on these invitations while hosting friends of ours from Houston. I cut and glued while we talked and laughed. And I cannot wait until we are settled in our new house (in about ten months). It's going to be an awesome set-up for hosting friends.

Today on Feeding the Soil: Enter to win a Dream Do Planning Consultation!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Budget Living: Homemade Wholewheat Pizza Dough

Matt and I are currently living on a strict budget, so that we can save up to purchase our next house. We have a certain amount set aside in our budget every month for our general expenses: groceries, stamps, stuff for Henry, etc. I use an app called Spend Free. I put our total number in the app at the beginning of the month and subtract from it every time we make a purchase. 

Every day I have to ask Matt, "What did you spend today?" It helps keep us accountable for what we spend (such as wasting money on eating lunch out!). Last week, he came home with random grocery items and said he had spent $92. Ouch! We try to only spent about $125-$150 on groceries each week (we allocate that much because we try to buy as much organic as possible). Even at our top range, we only had $58 left for an entire week of food. 

After my mini-flip out (which was not necessary or helpful), Matt and I decided to go through our pantry and build our weekly meal plan based on what we already had in the pantry and refrigerator. For example, a half-used jar of pasta sauce became the inspiration for homemade pizza. We usually buy ready-made crust (it's cheap and delicious), but since we were trying to stay within $58 we decided to make it from ingredients we already had on hand. This recipe doesn't even require yeast. How amazing is that? It's a think and delicious crust that uses wheat flour. Yum! Here's a link to the recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 
  2. In a bowl, mix together the flour (1.5 cups whole wheat), baking powder (1 tsp.), pepper (1/2 tsp.), water (1/2 cup), and olive oil (1/3 cup) with your hands until a dough forms. 
  3. Then place the dough on a floured work surface. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. 
  4. Place the dough on a baking mat or on parchment paper on a baking sheet. 
  5. Bake for about 5-7 minutes just until the dough just slightly starts to crisp up. 
  6. Remove from the oven. 
  7. Brush the top of the flatbread with extra olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. 
  8. Add toppings of your choice. 
  9. Bake for another couple minutes until the cheese melts.

Even though trying to live within a budget is constricting and can feel frustrating, I love when it leads to inspiration and glimpses of something even better.

I also enjoyed reading another family's reflection about money and the choices we face.

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