Category Archives: Wedding on a Budget

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!

Rules for Gifting Money at a Wedding

Geez, I never would have thought of the rules for writing checks to newlyweds! Important read for all wedding guests: rules of etiquette for gifting money.

Today’s couple is less likely to want consumer goods as wedding gifts. Millennials are getting married at an older age, and have often established households prior to the wedding–whether that be on their own as individuals, or as a couple.

That means as you attend weddings, you’re more likely to catch a hint that the couple is looking for something else in lieu of that department store registry. That “something else” is cash.

Gifting money for a wedding can be a touchy subject, though.

How much do you give?

Do you make the check out to her maiden or married name?

Wait, is she even taking her fiance(e)’s last name?

How much money should I give as a wedding gift?

Many couples today have cash registries. You may get a URL in your wedding invitation. Once your on the site, there will likely be cutsie things you can “pay” for like the honeymoon suite, airline miles or dinner at a nice restaurant.

These are things the couple has likely already paid for, but it’s a polite way of asking you for cash.

These registries give you an idea of what is appropriate to spend in the couple’s eyes.

What’s the etiquette if there is no registry?

The old rule of thumb was to pay for your plate. Consider the venue, price point, and how much the couple paid to entertain you at the reception.

Generally, though, $100 is a good gift if you’re a family member or close friend. If you are bringing a large immediate family to the reception and have the means, giving up to $200 would not be inappropriate.

Co-workers can probably get away with less, but don’t dip below $50 if at all possible.

If your finances are tight, don’t overspend just to impress. If this is a good friend or family member, they’ll be grateful for the gift and understand your situation. If not, they might not be as good of a friend as you imagined.

When your money’s tight, check out their department store or other registry if they have one. Often there are smaller ticket items on there that look better wrapped up than a small-ish check. Fifty dollars is still a good threshold, but again, do what you can afford.

How to Write a Check as a Wedding Gift

Writing checks to and from couples is an aspect of personal finance that can be pretty confusing. Nine times out of ten a bank clerk, in person or remote, will let errors slide. But if you catch that one ultra-scrupulous teller, your check is worthless.

Unless the bride and groom are incredibly close with you, it can be tremendously uncomfortable for them to ask you to rewrite the check, making your gift null and void. Here’s a list of to-dos and to-don’ts to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Writing Checks to Newlyweds

Don’t:

  • Write “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”  You need to use first names. You don’t need to write any titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.
  • Write “and.”  For example, you shouldn’t write: “Mary and John Smith.”  This is only appropriate if they have a joint bank account, and that’s most likely information you’re not privy to.
  • If it’s a check for a wedding, don’t write it out to the bride’s new name; she can’t change the name on her accounts until after the wedding, so this may delay or even prevent her from depositing the check. She may not even take her partners’ name at all.

Do:

  • Instead of writing “Mary and John Smith,” write “Mary or John Smith.” By writing “or,” either Mary or John can deposit it, regardless of whether they have joint or separate accounts.
  • Write checks out to the bride’s maiden name. You can include a note on the memo line to clarify the gift is for both of them if you feel it necessary.

Writing Checks from Couples

Don’t:
  • Print your name on the signature line.
  • Sign both your names on the signature line.  It’s unnecessary, and is likely to get the check turned down at the bank when they try to cash it.
Do:
  • Sign your name. In cursive. Even if it looks like a six-year-old did it.
  • Sign ONLY ONE of your names. It doesn’t matter if you share a bank account or not.  If you are trying to make it clear that the gift is from both of you, include a card with both your names on it.  If you really want to emphasize the point, put something like “From Brooke and Nina” on the memo line.

5 Engagement Rings Under $1,500

Need to show this to my man! 5 engagement rings under $1,500!

It’s here, everyone! We are now in the midst of the most wonderful time of the year to buy wedding jewelry. Deals abound. Hunnies are getting ready to propose over the holidays.

It’s the perfect storm of practicality meets savings.

If you’re shopping for an engagement ring on a budget, here are five beautiful picks under $1,500 from my favorite online retailer: James Allen. I like buying rings online because it saves you money and helps you get more bang for your buck. I like James Allen because they go above and beyond to help you view rings and diamonds at 360 degrees and they throw in all kinds of freebies like engraving, shipping and 30-day, no-questions-asked returns.

Vintage Infinity Engagement Ring

vintage-1450-1

Displayed here in 14K white gold, you can also get this band and setting in rose gold or yellow gold. The infinity symbol that encircles the band serves as a reminder that your love and promises are eternal. Paired here with a .70 carat, princess-cut diamond, the final price comes to $1,450.

View this band.
View this diamond.

Presentation Solitaire Engagement Ring

solitaire

Don’t underestimate the elegance of simplicity. This 14k gold band, also available in all three shades of gold, comes in under budget so that you can splurge on the .71 carat oval diamond with super high clarity. Total price is $1,460.

View this band.
View this diamond.

Engraved Vintage Solitaire Engagement Ring

proverbs-1430-1

This one is my favorite. As a woman, I would gladly take the smaller .53 carat size in exchange for the excellent cut, color and clarity, but the real deal breaker is the gorgeous band. It’s beautiful in all colors, but personally, I’m crushing on the 14k rose gold displayed above. Total price is $1,430.

View this band.
View this diamond.

Rope Solitaire Engagement Ring

rope-1500-2

If engraving isn’t her thing, but she does want a unique aspect to her band, check out the Rope Solitaire Engagement Ring. It’s subtly different, but still simple. This one is also displayed with a high quality .53 carat diamond. Total price is $1,500 on the nose.

View this band.
View this diamond.

2mm Comfort Fit Solitaire Engagement Ring

marquis-1440-2

Comfort Fit rings are beveled around the edges so they won’t cut into your fingers at all. This one is 2mm thick, and perfect for displaying the unique marquis cut diamond which is .70 carat. Total price is $1,440.

View this band.
View this diamond.

Which engagement ring would you pick?

I’m interested to see which way you guys lean. My favorite is the third option, but they’re all pretty dang beautiful—especially for those prices! If you’re already married, how low did you manage to keep your budget?

How to Get a Non-Clergy Wedding in California

Over two years ago, I wrote an article about self-uniting marriage. Saving on clergy fees? What kind of frugal bride wouldn’t be interested?

The response to it has been huge, and has inspired many readers to successfully petition against their county clerks to get married without an officiant based on our Constitutional right to freedom of religion.

A couple of months ago, I started talking to a reader in California who wanted to get a “non-clergy” marriage in their state. (“Non-clergy” is the same thing as self-uniting—just different choice of words.) We bounced ideas off of each other, and the couple did the hard work that led to successfully obtaining the type of marriage license they wanted so they could dedicate themselves to each other in the way that best celebrated their understanding of God (or lack thereof) and Love.

As far we know, this is the first instance of a successful secular, non-clergy marriage in the state of California. The reader has been kind enough to share their experiences with us today. All involved hope that this story paves the way for other couples.

Photo via Thunderchild7 under CC by 2.0

Photo via Thunderchild7 under CC by 2.0

By way of background, the Pilgrims had scarcely arrived and established their fundamentalist, theocratic colony when they started persecuting anyone who didn’t worship the same God in the same way. The first people hanged for heresy in Massachusetts were Quakers. There’s a statue of one of them, Mary Dyer, in in front of the State House facing Boston Common.

But over the years, Quakers and their quirks — including not having clergy — have come to be accepted as “respectably” religious.

“Most states make some kind of special allowance for legalizing a Quaker wedding when there is no pastor to ‘officiate,'” according to the Friends General Conference, the main network of clergy-less Quakers in the USA.

Since the Constitution prohibits disparate treatment for different religions, or for religious and non-religious beliefs, that should mean that it is possible for any couple in any of these states to marry without clergy, as Quakers do.

Easier said than done, as I found out in California.

Befriend the Quakers

In the District of Columbia and Colorado, any couple can elect to “officiate” their own marriage, without being asked about their religion.

To see a full list of states that allows this practice, check out our list of states that allow self-uniting marriage.

In other states, the procedures for “Quaker marriage” vary. You will either need to read the law, or ask Quakers in your state. Don’t expect local officials to have a clue, especially in areas with few Quakers.

Even if you aren’t a Quaker, you could start by contacting a local meeting of the “Society of Friends” (Quakers).  Ask nicely, and they will probably be happy to help. Explain that you aren’t a Quaker, but want to marry without an officiant, as Quakers do, and ask them how Quakers register their marriages in your state. Is there a special form or procedure?

Get to Know the Law and Get Some Help

Once you find out the procedure Quakers use in your state, your next task is to get local officials to allow you to follow that procedure, even though you aren’t a Quaker. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, there have already been lawsuits over this. In other states, you may be the first person to ask. Start by asking nicely.

You might have to get a lawyer involved. But don’t assume that local officials will be hostile. They may just not understand: many people can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to pay some stranger to “officiate” over your own wedding.

Being the first in your state, county or city will take more work, may take more time and might require you to face publicity and/or postpone your wedding. But it will set a precedent that will help the next couple.

If local officials refuse to let you follow the same procedure as is followed by Quakers, you could ask civil rights groups that have been involved in this and similar issues, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the ACLU chapter in your state.

Femme’s note: It took about a month to hear back from them, but a reader in Pennsylvania who ran into problems with her county clerk managed to get a self-uniting marriage license in Berks County with the help of the ACLU.

We asked all three. For each, we filled out a form on their website, and an intake lawyer called us back 1-2 weeks later to get more information. All these groups get more worthy people asking for help than they can handle, so don’t be surprised if they decide not to take your case. Specialized groups such as FFRF and AU may be more likely to take on a case like this than a group with a wider focus like the ACLU.

In our case, AU offered to have one of their staff lawyers write a letter to the county clerk explaining why we should be allowed to have a “non-clergy wedding” (the term used in California law, Family Code section 307) if we state that our “religious denomination” is “atheist”.

Want to see the language included in this letter? Download it here.

That letter persuaded the San Francisco City and County Clerk to allow us to have a “non-clergy marriage” with 2 witnesses and no officiant, which is what Quakers do in California.  If you are in another county in California, and the clerk balks at allowing an atheist “non-clergy wedding,” see if AU will send a similar letter to your County Clerk.

Confidential Marriages in California

We had a second round of even more arcane argument, however, because we wanted our marriage to be “confidential” rather than “public”.  California is unusual (maybe unique among the states) in having two different ways that marriages can be recorded: public or confidential.

A public marriage is just that: Anyone can buy a CD for $10 with all the public marriages in
California for a given year, including parents’ birth names, dates and places of birth, etc. Who would want their mother’s maiden name and other information invaluable to identity thieves in such a public database?

A confidential California marriage is like a sealed court record: it is kept in the county clerk’s office and available only to the married couple. You can get a certified copy you can show to anyone who needs to see it, e.g. to show eligibility for health insurance as a spouse. Anyone else needs a court order to get a copy of a confidential marriage record.

So in California there are two ways to “solemnize” a marriage (by an officiant or “non-clergy”) and two ways to record a marriage (public or confidential.) That makes four possible combinations.

But the state of California, in its infinite wisdom, has prepared only three marriage license forms. Apparently they developed the forms for confidential marriage and non-clergy marriage separately, and never thought about the possibility of someone who wanted non-clergy solemnization and confidential recording. We were being foiled by poor forms design!

This is pretty cool---have a non-clergy marriage in California and you don't have to pay for an officiant!

San Francisco Recognizes the Inconsistencies in Marriage Law

Everyone we talked to agreed that the law allows this, but they kept saying “no” because they couldn’t figure out which forms to use. We were treated politely and pleasantly throughout. I’m not sure how it would have gone in other California counties.

For what it’s worth, the San Francisco County Clerk, San Francisco City and County Attorney, County Clerks elsewhere in the state they consulted, and the state vital records office all said they had never heard of anyone asking for an atheist non-clergy marriage or a confidential non-clergy marriage. But they all agreed that the law is unconstitutional as written, so that some accommodation needs to be made. They also agreed that the state and local websites need to explain these options better – many counties don’t mention the non-clergy option, or don’t explain it properly– and that the forms and maybe the law itself needs to be clarified.

Success! And how you can get a non-clergy marriage in California, too.

After a month of negotiation, and less than two hours before our appointment at City Hall with an officiant we didn’t want and didn’t want to pay for, state and county officials finally worked out a way to use the existing forms for non-clergy, confidential, atheist marriage.

If you have trouble with this in another California county, tell them there is a procedure that has been used for this in San Francisco. They could check with either the San Francisco County Clerk’s office or, perhaps better, the office in Sacramento that was involved.

California Department of Public Health – Vital Records
Birth and Marriage Registration Section
(916) 445-2236

Interested in a personal contact? Shoot Femme an email if you’re facing this problem as a Californian and she’ll get you connected to the appropriate people.

In the end, everything went smoothly. We filled out the application form at the County Clerk’s office at City Hall, and were given a non-clergy marriage license. We filled that out with our two witnesses — at a time and place of our convenience — and brought it back to the clerk’s office. (We could have filed it on the spot if we had brought our two witnesses with us to City Hall.)

We entered “atheist” in the box for religious denomination. Nobody could dispute that atheists don’t have clergy!

It took a day for our marriage to be recorded. The day after we turned in the signed form, we came back and paid for a couple of certified copies of the marriage certificate: one to keep at home and use for all the paperwork for changing our status with insurers, etc., and one to put in our safe deposit box. These copies were provided on the spot.

The First Atheist Marriage in California

We were told, and it seems plausible, that ours was the first officially atheist marriage in California, the first non-clergy atheist marriage, and the first confidential non-clergy marriage.

We went through a lot of hassle, but hopefully it will now be easier for others in San Francisco and maybe elsewhere in California.

Congratulations to our couple on their marriage! So much thanks for sharing their story, and for fighting the good fight to pave the way for others who want to get married in accordance with their theistic OR nontheistic beliefs.