Category Archives: Wedding on a Budget

Ideas to Save Money on Your Wedding

Today’s author is QL from Smart Money and Travel Blog. She and her husband write about personal finance and maximizing your miles and points. 

I would have never thought of this to save money on a wedding dress! Tons of other ideas in here, too.

Our first wedding anniversary is coming up in April and we have recently taken time to reflect on the experience. Back in 2017, we weren’t exactly focused on FIRE (financial independence/early retirement,) but as first-generation immigrants, we have always been frugal and into saving for retirement. Toward the end of the last year, we decided to be more purposeful about our retirement goals. Thus, as we look in the rearview mirror on our wedding day, we wanted to share some thoughts on wedding planning. As we went through it, we didn’t always choose the cheapest alternative, but there were many areas where we either saved money, wished we hadn’t spent the money we did or were happy with our investment.

 

pink bridesmaids dress

Do the math on BYOB if it is an option

Alcohol is a staple at weddings, and it can sometimes cost more than the food itself. Over half of our guests were our parents’ friends. On top of that, our venue was in a secluded location accessed by a poorly lit, windy highway. Thus, we didn’t expect many of our guests to get very aggressive at the bar. Luckily, our venue had a BYOB + corkage fee option. We made some estimates and ran the math, comparing it with the all-you-can-drink option, which was $22.50/person. In the end, we went with the BYOB option and spent a little more than $6,000 on beverages.

Ask yourself if you really care about a wedding cake

At other weddings that we attended, we noticed that the cake was rarely eaten by guests. We also do not value taking a portion of our cake and freezing it to enjoy at some point in the future – that concept never really took hold with either of us. Therefore, we asked ourselves what we and our guests would more enjoy than an overpriced wedding cake.

We ultimately decided to go with che, a Vietnamese dessert, from our favorite chain Bambu. We worked out some details with the local franchise, and the morning of the wedding we picked up 200 servings and stored them in the venue’s walk-in cooler. After dinner, we had it brought out and set up. Our vendor provided all the cups and utensils so our venue did not charge us any additional fees. Our guests loved the unique dessert idea and our only regret was not purchasing more as it quickly ran out. The che station was more popular than the bar! We spent $400 on the che.

Make your own wedding favors

Another thing we noticed at previous weddings we attended was that many guests did not take home the wedding favors and some even threw the favors away. Thinking this through, we wanted to give something that was inexpensive, practical, and tied to our East Meets West wedding theme. We decided to go with a decorative and usable pair of chopsticks from eBay for each guest, pairing it with a printed card. Together with our wedding party and families, we spent a few hours tying everything together with a ribbon. In the end, we spent less than $100. Many of our guests collected the extras so we didn’t even have any for ourselves.

Shop around for your photographer and videographer

When we started evaluating photographers and videographers for our wedding, we noticed that the more established ones charged a significant premium for their services. These costs easily broke $10,000 and in some cases could exceed $20,000. This was significantly more than we were expecting to pay (we were hoping to spend ~$5,000).

We searched harder, looking for lesser known local photographers in Northern California on Facebook. A few stood out, and I scheduled appointments with them and flew back one weekend to meet everyone in person. I picked the one I liked the most and it ended up costing about $5,000 for an engagement session, a photo canvas, an entire day of photography (16 hours total), a photobooth, and a 5 minute wedding video.

Don’t get too hung up over a fancy dinner

For our wedding, we hosted two dinners. One welcome dinner for out-of-town guests and the second was the formal wedding dinner.

The welcome dinner for out-of-town guests was held at our brother’s restaurant about 50 miles south of the wedding venue. Our guests flew from all over the country so no one complained at all about driving the extra 50 miles. By hosting it at our brother’s restaurant, not only did he offer us a generous discount on the food, but we were also able to bring our own beer. This meal for ~30 guests cost about $100 and we gave another $100 for gratuity.

For our wedding, we could choose between a plated or buffet dinner. The plated dinner cost about 50% more. Obviously, we chose the buffet option as we did not think it would negatively affect the experience for our guests. In the end, there were no complaints about the food or the environment. If we could do it again we would not change a thing. Dinner cost over $12,000 with tax and gratuity.

Sometimes it makes sense to pay for things like flowers instead of doing everything yourself

Keeping your wedding small and doing everything yourself can save you a ton of money, however, we did neither. We wanted a wedding to include a lot of friends and family, and we did not have a lot of time to cobble things together ourselves before the wedding.

We flew back to California from Chicago two days before the wedding and not only didn’t have the time but also didn’t want to place a large burden on our friends by asking them to help make centerpieces and other floral arrangements. Therefore, we decided to have the florist handle everything. This ended up costing us over $5,500, but we and our friends were able to enjoy the day.

Utilize miles and points for wedding dress shopping

Many brides spend thousands of dollars on wedding dresses. I didn’t want to spend that much on a dress that is worn for a few hours. Therefore, I used my airline miles to book my mom and myself tickets to fly to Vietnam. There, I was able to buy 3 wedding dresses for $150, total, as well as get all clothing and accessories for the wedding party, which ended up costing about $170. I also got our invitations made for $115 and picked them up while I was there.

If you want to see a detailed summary of our wedding costs, check out the numbers here.

 

Insure Your Future Self with Separate Finances

Must-read for every bride who is getting married. It's awesome that you're in love right now, but the numbers don't lie: you might end up divorced someday. Take action now to protect your future finances.

Very few people walk down the aisle with the expectation of pending divorce. Yet only 52% of women will see their first marriage reach its 20th anniversary.

The odds of experiencing this life catastrophe are high. But unless you’ve got money coming into a marriage and drafted a pre-nup, we do almost nothing about it. Most of us do nothing to financially protect ourselves.

To give you some perspective on the numbers, here are some things we do tend to financially insurance against–along with the odds that they will actually happen.

  • The odds that your household will experience a fire bad enough to report is 25%. Yet we insure against this risk with homeowner’s or renters insurance.
  • The average State Farm auto policy holder gets into an accident once every nineteen years, making the odds admittedly higher than divorce in a first marriage. You’re about half as likely to get divorced in the first 20 years of that marriage than you are to get in a car accident in 19. Still, we insure against auto crashes.
  • If you’re an American woman, your current odds of dying between ages 15 and 60 are 7.4%. Yet how many of us carry life insurance?

We insure against all of these instances of tragedy or inconvenience, yet only one of them is more likely to happen than divorce.

Insure Your Money Against Divorce with Separate Finances

Sure, you can get a prenup to guard against future financial disadvantage, but for most people that’s not reasonable or necessary.

Instead, you can just keep all of or a portion of your finances separate throughout your marriage. This allows you to maintain your own savings, and prevents the other person from absconding with money out of a joint account should the worst happen someday.

There’s many different ways this can work. Here are just two of them.

Completely Separate

Keep everything in your name only. Bank accounts. Car loans. Etc. And have your partner do the same.

If you’re going to have a marriage with separate finances, it doesn’t have to be contentious or self-guarding. You can still work together towards financial goals, budget together, and talk about money transparently and openly while keeping everything legally separate.

In community property states some of your accounts may be up for litigation anyways. But the barrier of litigation is still better than someone legally just up and leaving with all the cash.

Separate Savings

Some couples opt to have their own accounts for things like personal savings, personal spending and birthday/anniversary surprises. Their paychecks are deposited here.

But then they send some of that money to a joint account every paycheck. This joint account covers things like the mortgage/rent, groceries, kids’ activities, etc.

You can split these costs 50/50 or work out  a different ratio that makes more sense for each spouse’s respective income.

Separate Finances Do Not Demonstrate a Lack of Trust

Some argue that if you can’t trust each other with money, you shouldn’t be married. I agree with this. You should be able to talk about money matters and work together towards financial goals.

But some take the argument even further to say that having separate finances is a protectionist move that demonstrates an inherent lack of trust. To this point I argue.

First of all, taking a rational look at the statistics, it’s not about not trusting your partner; it’s about a rational mistrust of long-term relationships in our culture. You have to trust the data rather than your current feelings in the moment.

Second of all, just because you have separate finances doesn’t mean you don’t trust each other. In fact, I view it to be just the opposite.

When you trust each other enough to believe the other partner will follow through on the money moves you have discussed and budgeted for together–even though you don’t have access to their bank account and can’t touch the money yourself–you’re demonstrating the exact definition of trust.

I’m of the opinion that partners that decide on separate finances can have an incredible amount of respect for each other on top of trust. It takes a lot of respect to say to someone, “I know there’s an almost 50% chance I may hurt you someday. I don’t plan on ever joining that group, but I love you and respect you enough to encourage you to protect yourself. I’m not going to take offense.”

But we’re never going to not be in love.

I really hope you’re right.

But so, so many people before you have thought the exact same thing and ended up divorced. Women in particular tend to end up on the short end of the financial stick. They’re more likely to have cut back their careers to support the marriage, have gaps in their resume, and are often thought of as adversarial (even when they’re not) by a judicial system that is dominated by male officials.

If you’re reticent to believe me, I’d highly encourage you to research Terry Hekker’s story.

It’s about numbers–not love.

At the end of the day, we can’t let our feelings cloud our judgement. The numbers show a statistical likelihood of relationship breakdown that can’t be ignored.

We wouldn’t ignore those numbers if we were talking about car accidents.

We wouldn’t ignore those numbers if we were talking about house fires.

We wouldn’t ignore those numbers if we were talking about death.

It’s financial folly to ignore these numbers simply because we’re in love.

 

 

 

 

This is a part of the Personal Finance Pro/Con Series organized by PeerFinance101. You can read the opposing view here.

How to Find Conflict-Free Diamonds

I'm impresed. They literally monitor the movement of these conflict-free diamonds at every point. Then you can verify it before you propose. Plus Black Friday sales!

When I was expecting, my then-boyfriend/would-be husband and I talked about getting married. We talked about all the different ways it would impact us from taxes to the fact that I was already overwhelmed enough and didn’t want to walk down the aisle pregnant.

We also talked about engagement rings. He wanted to get me something really nice, so he wanted to save up for it.

Which he did.

He also told me he didn’t want to get me a diamond.

“Why not?”

He pointed to a Leonardo DiCaprio movie sitting on the bookshelf.

“Blood diamonds,” he said. “Do you really want to wear something on your finger for the rest of your life knowing that’s where it came from?”

I pointed out that there were ethical ones, and he pointed out that you can’t be sure that the sourcing of the stone wasn’t lied about somewhere along the way. They very easily could have come from slave labor or horrific working conditions or child miners. Or a mix of all three.

“That’s fine,” I said. And it really was. “I’m totally cool with a stone sourced locally–it doesn’t even have to be a gemstone. I’ll show you some of the ones I like. You won’t have to save up for as long, either.”

Eventually, he ended up deciding that he’d try to buy ethical, but he did want to buy a diamond. He thought that everyone would judge him for the rest of our lives because his wife didn’t have a diamond on her finger.

I told him that was stupid, but this was his thing. So I let it be.

The Gold Standard of Conflict-Free Diamonds

He was told the ring was ethically sourced–that conflict-free was the only way the jewelry chain rolled.

But we still don’t really know. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to think about. More than uncomfortable.

What we didn’t know then was that there actually is a way to be sure you’re getting a conflict-free diamond. You can do it by making sure your stone is a CanadaMark.

Where do CanadaMark diamonds come from?

There are two CanadaMark diamond mines in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The stones are mined by workers who make a fair wage. CanadaMark works with the local communities–many of whom are Aboriginal and have a knowledge of the land like none other–to make sure they’re mining in sustainable ways, and taking care to bolster the environment rather than destroy it.

They also give back some of their profits to these communities through literacy, education, and health/wellness programs.

Yeah, but how do I know that’s where my diamond actually came from?

Fair question. This is an industry where tracking is always in question.

That’s why CanadaMark diamonds are literally stamped with a serial number. Each stone is tracked and verified by independent auditors–from mine all the way to polishing.

Okay…where do I get my ethical diamond?

CanadaMark only works with select retailers. I’m a big fan of shopping online as it can save you over fifty percent compared to shopping brick-and-mortar, but they only work with one online retailer.

If you’re going to shop online,  you can find CanadaMark diamonds exclusively at James Allen. Otherwise, you have to go brick and mortar and risk paying a marked up price.

You Can Still Save Money on Conflict-Free Diamond Purchases

Just because you’re going ethical doesn’t mean you can’t save money on your engagement ring purchase. By being smart about carat size, color and clarity, you can get her a gorgeous, ethical ring at a lower price.

Here’s the deets on how to make that happen.

Holiday Deals

Currently, James Allen is running a sale of 25% off your purchase for Black Friday.

If you can’t get your money together before the end of the sale, come back. I’ve been watching them for a few years now, and they have great deals throughout the holidays. Twenty-five percent is a pretty huge one, but I’m willing to bet you’ll run into another sale if you’re still trying to get your stuff together.

But how do I really know?

These rings are the gold-standard for conflict-free diamonds.

The serial number is great, but only if you can verify it. Get the diamond’s history. Certify every single time it changed hands.

Luckily, you can do just that. Before you purchase the ring, you can look at the certificate on James Allen’s site. You’ll find it under the image of the diamond. You can take the serial number and carat weight and verify it with CanadaMark before you even purchase.

After you purchase the ring, you’ll be able to enter the serial number you see on the stone using the online verification code. It will be the same, but it’s always good to check.

To top it all off, James Allen has a 30-day, 100% money-back return policy—no reasons or justifications required. They even pay for return shipping. In the unlikely event you aren’t satisfied with your purchase, you can simply return it hassle-free.

 

Did you purchase a conflict-free diamond for your engagement? What was your experience like? Do you still have concerns like I do, having not purchased a CanadaMark? Let me know in the comments!

Get the Biggest Bang for Your Engagement Ring Buck

Super great savings tips from this industry expert. Showing these to my partner before they buy my engagement ring!

Engagement ring shopping isn’t something you do everyday. If you’re lucky, you do it once in your lifetime. If you’re brave enough to move on after a failed first attempt (been there,) you might do it once or twice more.

But it’s not a shopping muscle we flex on a regular basis like groceries or cell phone providers. It’s something we really have to research if we want to do it right.

Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, which allows us to access insider information like the following money-saving tips from Oded Edelman, co-founder and CEO of James Allen. James Allen is an online jeweler with a ten-year history of bringing customers beautiful, conflict-free diamonds at a fraction of the price of brick-and-mortar retailers.

Here are Edelman’s top three savings tips.

Save Money by Shopping for Your Engagement Ring Online

ways to save on engagment rings

“Typically brick and mortar retailers have entirely different cost structures thanks to holding inventory, overhead costs, etc,” says Edelman.

He notes that these cost structures may result in higher costs for the end consumer, and that by shopping at online retailers like James Allen, you can save up to 50%.

Look for Underweight Diamonds

Save money on engagement rings

Most diamonds are going to come in standard carat sizes. For example, you might find a 1.0 carat diamond or a 1.5 carat diamond.

“Look for an under-size diamond—one that’s slightly below one of the standard weights,” Edelman advises. “These diamonds cost significantly less than their standard-weight counterparts and are nearly identical to the naked eye.”

Get the Most Bang for Your Buck by Shopping Color and Clarity

Insider savings tips from jewelry expertsYou want to get a nice ring, and you can do it without breaking the bank. In fact, Edelman notes that the best way to achieve optimal value is by shooting for slightly lower than optimum color and clarity. These differences are minuscule–most of the time they’re not visible to the naked eye. But they make a huge difference to your wallet.

Which means you’ll be looking at rings in these ranges:

  • Color. Shop for rings with slightly lower colors–in the G to J range.
  • Clarity. Shop for rings with slightly lower clarity–in the SI1 to SI2 range.

“They can cost half as much of high color/high clarity options, without any visible sacrifice in beauty,” says Edelman.

Now is a great time to shop.

At least for customer-centric online retailers like James Allen, you’re going to find the most sales at this time of year—October through February. Here’s why.

 

Find any of these tips helpful? Use different methods to save on your engagement ring purchase? Leave your story in the comments!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year to Buy Wedding Jewelry

Great insider tips for the best time of year to buy wedding jewelry!

It happened right before Thanksgiving.  I got a card in the mail from a jeweler that had somehow found out I was getting married.  Come in to the store and we’ll give you some free earrings, no purchase necessary.  All I had to do was come in between Black Friday and Christmas.

So I did.  Of course.  While I was there, I figured I might as well look at wedding bands as I hadn’t yet gotten one for the fiance.  He hadn’t gotten his ring size yet, but the jeweler showed me the selection and told me I should definitely buy before Christmas.

She told me during the holidays jewelers freeze their prices, regardless of how gold or silver performs in the stock market, and then they put on all these fabulous sales.  After the holidays the sales stop, and they resume pricing their products based on the current value of gold/silver, etc.

I walked out with a coupon, but ended up not going back because the prices were far outside of my budget.  This is my second go around with the whole marriage thing.  The last time I got married was before the housing bubble burst and the price of precious metals comparatively skyrocketed.  So what I had been expecting to spend versus the reality I had just been confronted with had really hit home.

About halfway through the crazy holiday shopping season, we were out as a family at the mall buying the gifts that we still needed to fill in.  We stopped at a different jeweler to get him sized.  He saw some rings he liked, and the prices here were a lot more affordable.

I asked the woman waiting on us if what the other jeweler had told me was true:  would prices go up after Christmas?  Was this really the best time of year to buy?

She told me yes, and confessed that they would continue to have 40% off sales, but that it wouldn’t be on as wide of an array of products and that they would resume following the stock market when pricing their products.

We looked around the mall a bit, and found that the jeweler we had started with had the best prices for their selection.  So we headed back.  I handed the girl at the counter the business card of the woman I had been talking to before; I wanted to talk to her again so she could get the sale she had earned.

She took the card from me, put it under the desk, and started to show me Tungsten rings.  She was talking the fiance into it, too, despite my vocal protests that I didn’t want to spend that much money on a ring that (in my opinion, which may be completely wrong,) is a fad.  On top of that you can’t resize it.  I wanted gold or silver, and I wanted it in my price range.

She refused to show us the rings I asked to see, and lost a sale.

Time went on.  It was the night before Christmas Eve and I was freaking out because I was going to miss the best time of year to get these sales.  So I went on-line, fully intending to price compare and find a store that had a good selection for when I went in person on the morrow.

Of all places, I found it on Sears website.  A ring almost exactly like one he had seen and liked in a “real” metal, and in my price range.  And it was a comfort-fit, which is a bonus the fiance won’t even understand, but he’ll unknowingly appreciate it.

It said it wasn’t available in store because it was shipped by the original jeweler directly.  I checked out the original jeweler, and they had the ring for less on their website. Plus I found a coupon code for 5% off (which can be huge when you’re spending hundreds,) and free shipping.

I held my breath as I pressed the “Complete Purchase” button. I had gone mad. I was purchasing jewelry on-line based off an internet picture, and then having it shipped to my house hoping the mailman wouldn’t just leave it out on the street.

But I did it anyways. I was not going to have to go out on Christmas Eve.

So a few days ago it came.  All my fears were laid to rest.  It was exactly like the pictures.  (Though I can’t take a good one.)  The post office actually left me a note requesting that I pick it up rather than leaving it in the mailbox or on the street.

I couldn’t be more surprised that I didn’t hit a snag or problem. It’s at least as beautiful as the pieces we saw at all those other stores, and so much more affordable.

If you’re comparing pictures online, it’s a good idea to look at sites like James Allen. They provide a 360 degree view of their products, so its easier to see what you’re getting than with simple 2D pictures.

Since I had already seen pretty much the same exact men’s ring before, it made it easier for me to create a mental composite from 2D. Had I not, or if I had been shopping for an engagement ring with a diamond, the 360 degree view would have been something I mandated from my online jeweler.

I did some price comparison after the holidays.  I didn’t save any money by freaking out on Christmas Eve.  I didn’t spend more, either, though.  Prices on the products I was looking at were pretty  much the same.

I did some research independent of jewelry store salespeople and found that the best time of year for jewelry spans pretty wide:  October to February.  (Valentine’s Day anyone?)  So I did well.  I just didn’t need to stress quite so much about my timeline.

Brick & Mortar vs Online Retailers

Since this article went live in January of 2014, there have been several articles floating about the web citing summer as the best time of year to buy wedding jewelry. I’d like to present some context to that argument in a 2017 update.

The first thing to note is that at brick and mortar retailers, this may be true. Shopping online, though, can save you anywhere up to 50% over these in-person retailers–no matter the time of year.

When I asked Oded Edelman, Co-Founder and CEO of James Allen, about the difference, he explained it in this way:

“We take a consumer-focused approach to our promotions in order to make the experience as positive as we can during key times throughout the year. Our research has shown that the majority of engagements happen in the four months between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.”

“Typically brick and mortar retailers have entirely different cost structures thanks to holding inventory, overhead costs, etc,” he continues. “Their operations structures as well as their marketing tactics are very different, which may lead to higher costs for the end consumer.”

This means the biggest sales at online retailers, at least at consumer-oriented businesses like Edelman’s, do indeed happen between October and February.