2014 In Review, and Looking Ahead to 2015

The “Annual Review” process is big on a few of the blogs I follow, and it’s something that the more successful blogs have in common. Chris Guillebeau does it, and so does James Clear. So I thought I’d give it a try, even though, well…

You’ll figure it out soon enough.

Let’s just sum this up in one simple sentence: 2014 was my seccond-worst year ever in my 54 years of life, and that’s saying something! I went backwards (in some cases, way, way back!) on almost every metric by which I judge myself.

I have five main areas of my life on which I’m actively working.

1) “Financial Freedom” In the short term, I’m simply aiming for a balanced budget. In the long term, I’m aiming for a debt-free life, with some savings in the bank and the freedom to live my life free of a corporate job.

2) “House Beautiful” In the short term, I’m working towards a clutter-free, clean, nicely decorated living space. In the long term, I’m aiming for a three-bedroom house with no mortgage.

3) “Fit and Fabulous” I’m working towards achieving my ideal weight and maximizing my fitness level so that I can do the things I love, like swim, canoe, camp, and hike long trails. I’m also working towards a physical look that does not scream “poor, lazy, middle-aged mother who doesn’t much care what she looks like.”

4) A Writing Career Nothing really big here–while I wouldn’t object to being the next “big thing” with my writing read by millions, I’d be over-the-moon happy if I could just get one of my myriad big projects finished and being read by people who are not related to me by blood or strong ties of friendship, and who are willing to  pay for the dubious privilege of reading my words.

5) Travel, especially within Canada. I’m not one of those folks who would ever be happy living the life of a vagabond, but I’m not a person who is happy never going anywhere, either. One or two big trips per year, with a number of day trips interspersed, would more than make me happy.

So, with that in mind, on to my review of 2014:

In early January, my father finally slid all the way into senility. Since it was his pension that was keeping the family afloat, it necessitated life changes for my mother, brother, and sister-in-law that were unwelcome and for which they were ill-prepared. The house had to go on the market, but how do you do that when you’re living in a dump that could have been featured on “Extreme Hoarders”?

As the eldest and most sane sibling, a large bulk of the work and the lifestyle visioning that needed to be done fell to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take full control of the situation until May or June, by which time the financial mess had become critical. I ended up taking weekly seven-hour round trips to my parents’ place to clean it out and get it ready to shown. It took me until mid-October to finally get enough junk cleared out so that the house at least could be cleaned and finished to a level acceptable to buyers. One of the biggest difficulties was getting my brother and sister-in-law moved out and into their own place, as they were a huge problem, and totally unable to even see the mess around them, let alone know how to get started cleaning it up.

When the house was first put up for sale, there was a lot of interest. It has over 100 acres of recreational land, it’s in cottage country, and on a major highway. It was attractively priced. But due to the hoarding and the fact that my mother, brother, and sister-in-law were invariably home during showings, only one offer made it to the table. After some dickering, it was accepted, conditional on a home inspection. A large crack in the foundation was found. My mother, instead of pricing it somewhat lower and selling as-is, decided to have the work done. In the middle of winter with the hoarders still living in the house. Then the septic bed was found to be faulty. Then she decided a new kitchen was in order. By the time I was able to put the brakes on, my mother was in serious financial trouble. I had to take out a ten thousand dollar loan in my own name in order to get the monkeys off her back long enough for her to get the work done, which by then had progressed too far to be stopped.

In the middle of this mess with my parents, my autistic son had a total melt-down, one that required both his father and I to be home doing full-time parenting for almost two weeks. The fact that his dad is a teacher and has a gold-standard benefit plan saved our a$$es, as he was able to take the time off to help out.

With all that going on, I had to let my paper route go, losing $300 per month income and my major mode of exercise. With less time to cook and with so many hours spend on the road, I ate out more. A LOT more. And guess what happened to a lot of the stuff at my parents’ place? After FIVE dumpster loads, about twenty trips to the thrift store, and dividing up some of the remainder amongst four households, I still have a large number of boxes and bins to go through, and with my mother now occupying the second bedroom in my house, I’ve got a lot less space to put it. My writing suffered (as followers of this blog may have surmised), and as for travel, I had my usual week-long vacation in Algonquin, but I spent so much time travelling back and forth between my house and my parents’ house that time, money and energy for anything else were not available.

Of course, not everything went badly. Not even most things went badly. My brother and sister-in-law did eventually move out into their own apartment (their first in more than seven years of marriage). My brother got a decent job, which he still has. They still drink, they still smoke, they still don’t have much money, but that’s now their problem, not my mother’s or mine.

My father is now in an appropriate care facility, and I didn’t have to see a lawyer or alienate my mother in order to get it done. (And believe me, I have been considering it for at least the past two years.)

The crisis with my son taught us that we can’t do this alone, and we applied for respite care, which will happen once per month starting this month.

My two elder kids are well on their way to becoming independent, functioning adults. They both have decent careers, the eldest is happily married, and they’re able to handle most of their crisis on their own. It’s so great when the kids are finally all grown up!

Looking forward to 2015:

Financially, I’m going to have to get a handle on my spending. I normally track one or two months every year. This year, I’m aiming to track four separate months, starting with January. I’m also going to have to get a job to help pay the bills, at least for the short term. Resumes start going out tomorrow!

The biggest project, of course, is getting the house sold. There’s still a lot of work to be done (after being occupied for years by hoarders who were also heavy smokers, there is a lot of cleaning and basic upkeep to do), but I’m hopeful that by the time summer rolls around, it will be gone and the associated debts paid off.

I’ve already started working on my house. Two nights ago, I realized that the space under my basement stairs was not being fully utilized, and in the last two days I’ve stacked boxes in there to get them out of the way. That’s not a long-term solution, of course, but it’s cheaper than the storage unit we’d been renting, and if my mother and I continue going through the boxes as we have been, we should be through them in a few months, and I’ll be able to work on painting and decorating.

As far as being fit and fabulous, curbing my restaurant habit and getting a job where I’m more active will go a long way to reversing the damage I’ve done in the past year. I will continue to find the money for semi-annual dental check-ups (something I re-started in 2014 after seven years without!). We’ll see where these minimal but critical changes lead…

Writing. What can I say? It’s been my dream for as long as I’ve been writing (to date, 48 years). Do I care enough about the dream to give it fifteen minutes a day? Like many mothers, I spend so much time and energy taking care of others that I often forget what it is I want most out of life. I’m going to choose ONE project this evening, and devote fifteen minutes per day to getting it done.

Travel is the one area that I can say with some certainty that will show improvement. Because my youngest brother (age 47) is getting married in Saint Lucia, and my deposit is already paid! I’ve got the scrip for my vaccinations, I know where my passport is. I just need to come up with the rest of the money, but this kind of money goal (a set amount for a set, much-desired goal) is one that I have a proven track record of acheiving. I’m going to Saint Lucia next November! Go me!

So that’s a wrap on 2014. 2015 is a brand new package, waiting to be opened. What comes this year will be part luck, and I hope it’s better luck than last year’s. But what is to come will also depend in large part on my own actions, and I my one and only real resolution is to be more conscious of how my everyday choices affect my ability to acheive my goals.


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Look Out!: How “Little” Things Can Cost You Big Bucks

I was out at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago with my mother, and as usual, she ordered a glass of wine with her meal.

Time for the bill came, and she’s a little shocked at how much we spent, considering we shared an appetizer. So I asked her if she knew how much that glass of wine had cost her.

She had no idea that the single glass of wine cost her almost as much as a full bottle would have cost at the LCBO!

Needless to say, she doesn’t order wine nearly as much as she used to when we’re eating out–she’d rather have a full bottle at home (not that she’s an alcoholic, but she likes a glass of wine in the evening) than a single glass in a restaurant. She orders water instead, and our meals out have become much cheaper.

We all have our “blind spots,” things we don’t take into account that are costing us money, some times A LOT of money. When I do my yearly month or two of expense tracking, I become aware of just how much I spend each month on those short grocery trips to pick up one or two items, or those quickie drive-thru runs for a bite to eat.

I’ve learned to cut down on those “little things” by planning my meals and making sure when I shop for groceries that I pick up quickie meals that don’t take much prep time, so that I cut down on those little expenses that add up.

The first step, as always, is to simply be aware of what your spending. If you’re in a restaurant, don’t just look at the price of the meal, look at the price of the appetizers and the drinks. Perhaps you’ll find, like my mother did, that drinking water is a perfectly acceptable substitute to unconsciously ordering a ten dollar glass of wine at a place where an entire dinner with salad and dessert only costs fifteen dollars!

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An Explanation & 2 Things I Made My Kids Do

First, the explanation for the irregular posting schedule.

When I first started this blog, I vowed to follow James Clear’s advice and follow a regular posting schedule. I chose twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays, and managed to follow it for a couple of months. Then something called “life” interfered. My father, who has been slipping further and further into dementia for a few years now, finally slipped all the way. First he attacked my mother. My younger brother (the one who doesn’t live with my parents) and I didn’t find out about this one until my father had attacked both my sister-in-law and brother. We did find out about the second attack, because my brother had called to tell my mom that my nephew had been badly hurt in a snowmobile accident, and made her call me. We closed ranks at this point, and urged her to get my father into long term care. They called the appropriate people, and home visits were set up, but before anything could be put in place, he attacked my other brother. As my younger brother and I had urged, they called 911 after this attack, and dad was taken to the hospital.

Since being admitted, he’s gone very steadily and rapidly downhill. Though he’s on the waiting list for long term care, it’s likely he won’t make it into a home.

Without his income, my mother has had to put her house and land up for sale, and there is all the work required to clear out twenty-five or more years of minor hoarding. There’s been a fair bit of interest already, so I’m hopeful it will sell soon.

On my end, I’m getting my house ready to have my mother move in. My brother and sister-in-law (who haven’t worked in the better part of a decade) are going to have to find a place for themselves and a way to earn a living. I can’t take them in, and neither can my other brother.

So I’m both stressed and very busy, and I’ve had to cut down non-essential activities to a bare minimum. I’ll update as I feel able, and I’ll be back to a regular posting schedule when things settle down. That’s the best I can do.

Now on to the next part: Two things I made my kids do that helped them in their quest to become independent adults.

One thing I insisted on was that each of my two non-autistic kids (I don’t dare call them normal!) work for a period of time in the fast food industry, and also in a factory. This despite the fact that they are artists, musicians, and thinkers of the first order.

Working in those two areas had several positive effects, though.

1) They found out WHY continuing with their education was important, and why it was important to form a plan of action after graduation. I’ve talked about “default scenarios” in other posts–these type of low skill jobs are the default scenario for those who are willing to work but have no education.

2) They might have LIKED working in customer service or a factory. If this had been the case, they would have realized that an expensive post-secondary education was something they could put off or forego entirely, and saved themselves the expense.

Yes, it happens. I know a few people with student loans for education they’ll never use, and who found out after the fact that they really wanted to do something with their lives that didn’t require a fancy piece of paper or years of cramming for exams–I happen to be one of them. It’s a very expensive mistake to make–better by far to examine the options that don’t require education first, than to rack up the loans and end up working for a dime above minimum wage.

3) Working in a low wage setting exposed them to a wide variety of people they wouldn’t otherwise have met. Factories and fast food joints are much more cosmopolitan than the professional environments they’ve chosen, so it’s really important to me (and them) that they had the experience of meeting and working with folks who are quite different from themselves.

4) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they learn to WORK. As much as I want my kids to do better than minimum wage slave jobs, I want then to know that it’s important to put their best into everything they do. You can find your Dilberts and Dagwood Bumsteads in just about any white collar or professional job you can name, but those types of slackers don’t last more than a week or two in a high pressure environment. The end result has been that no matter what my kids do or who they work with, they’re praised for their work ethic and their willingness to do what’s needed.

In short, they learned the one lesson in life that I’ve found to be true no matter what job title I hold: Cleaning is in everyone’s job description.

I’ve read a few books on management, and more than one writer has expressed the opinion that fast food experience on a resume is a “must have,” especially for a young person starting out. Far from being looked down upon, fast food jobs are seen as a place where young people pick up necessary attitudes that no longer seem to be taught at home or school.

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67 Things You’re Not Doing If You’re Watching Television

According to Dave Ramsey and Tom Corley, one of the ways rich people differ from poor people is that poor people watch a lot more television, and a lot more “reality” television. When I mention this to my poor friends and family members, I get flack.

“I LIKE Pawn Stars!” (Or whatever reality shows they watch.)
“I keep it on just for company.”

Ugh! I am not, and have never been, a fan of television. I’ll watch it if there’s nothing better to do, and I do like to watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! on occasion, but not enough to bother paying for cable or satelite TV.

There are a few reasons why television is bad for your financial bottom line.

First off, television shows are NOT primarily made in order to inform or entertain. Any information or entertainment value in the shows is meant as an adjunct to their real purpose, which is to enhance the effectiveness of the advertisements. Because after all, it’s the advertisers, not the viewers, who pay for the content. So while you may see programs like Extremem Hoarders, where they deal with consumerism gone mad, a program that speaks out against consumerism and tells you that you should only buy what you can afford, and what you need, will likely never get made.

Watching Wheel of Fortune the other day at my parents’ house brought this point home to me. Because I don’t watch television very often, I was very sensitive to what was being advertised and how. Not just any vacation, but luxury cruises. I had to have one! Pictures of Vegas and gourmet restaurants flashed across the 55″ screen in living colour. I so wanted to go!

Later the same day, watching Mike Holmes go to work, I became dissatisfied with my house. The renovation featured a bar, and because the renovation crew was not spending their own money, they really went to town. They produced a beautiful bar, but the total cost was something in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars!

So the true purpose of television is to encourage you to spend money you probably don’t have on things you really don’t need.

But that isn’t the only damage, or even the main damage, that is done by television. After all, though most of my poor friends lust after that luxury cruise, they don’t go on one because they can’t even line up the credit to pay for it. And they can’t line up the credit to pay for it because they aren’t earning the money to get the credit to pay for it.

Because television does more than make you want things you don’t have. It sucks up your time, and displaces activities that would otherwise be enriching your life. The list below is off the top of my head–I’m sure all of my readers can add items I’ve missed. I’ve done most of these things, and I want to do most of the items on the list that I haven’t yet done. (Especially the first one–that is totally cool!)

1)  using cardboard props to re-enact scenes from your favourite movies
2)  riding a horse
3)  competing in the Olympics
4)  earning money at a job
5)  walking a dog
6)  changing the kitty litter
7)  cleaning the goldfish tank
8)  having a garage sale
9)  washing the dishes
10) doing the laundry
11) sleeping soundly
12) watching a sunset or sunrise
13) gardening
14) playing hide and seek with a child
15) playing board games with your family
16) reading a book
17) writing a book or a blog post
18) running a marathon
19) cooking a gourmet meal
20) sewing a wedding dress for a friend
21) crafting a doll
22) learning to juggle
23) practicing an instrument
24) composing music
25) attending a concert
26) having a real conversation
27) hugging a child
28) making love
29) going on a road trip
30) making a beaded necklace
31) snowshoeing
32) cross country skiing
33) sledding down a hill
34) building a snowman
35) shovelling snow
36) swimming
37) canoeing
38) camping
39) taking a college course
40) drawing a face
41) painting a room
42) singing in a choir
43) building a house
44) making your bed
45) visiting your grandfather
46) jumping off a cliff
47) travelling to another country
48) learning a new language
49) looking through your photo albums
50) hosting a party (unless it’s a Superbowl Party)
51) reorganizing your pantry
52) comforting a distraught friend
53) working out
54) getting a massage
55) giving a massage
56) starting a business
57) building up your business
58) volunteering at the animal shelter or hospital
59) sitting on the board of directors for a charity
60) organizing a Nativity Pageant
61) running for public office
62) acting in a movie
63) teaching a person or a class
64) playing a sport
65) riding a bike
66) renovating your home
67) taking a luxury cruise

So if you’re an “average” North American, and sit for four or more hours per day in front of a screen, passively ingesting advertising cleverly disguised as content, you might want to displace at least some of that time with more active past times. Your wallet and your body will thank you!

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Choose Life! (And Prosperity…)

For those of you who are not religious and have no wish to be, please bear with me. Though I’m using the Bible to illustrated what I have to say about financial security, the lesson in this post is applicable to all.

One of the lectionary readings this Sunday was from Deuteronomy 30. Moses has just finished laying down the law to the Isrealites, and he says this:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and oridnances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendents may live.” (Deut. 30:15-19)

Here Moses is speaking to a group of people who, prior to their escape from slavery in Egypt, weren’t really a community. They maybe had a common heritage, but they had no laws other than those of their former overlords, no customs of their own, no sense of identity as a people. If they were to survive and prosper, they had to develop that sense of community, and agree to a common legal structure.

At it’s most basic, that’s what material and physical security is all about. A society of anarchists, where each person is out to get as much as he or she can get and to hell with everybody else is a society where no-one will live very long, where every person lives in fear, and where nobody will amass very much wealth.

Throughout the entire history of humankind, laws, customs and taboos were created not only to control our individual whackiness, but to create within a group the cohesiveness that will allow not only the individual members of the group but the group as a whole to create and amass wealth.

We ignore and disobey these laws and customs at our peril. For example, speeding on the highway is so commonplace nowadays that it seems that everybody does it. But those limits are there for good reason, and if you speed consistently, eventually your “sins” will catch up to you. At best, you’ll get a hefty fine. At worst? Well, if you drive on the highway, you’ve likely seen the carnage.

It seems that every week there’s a news article outlining how this or that celebrity has been arrested or charged, or maybe their spending habits have caught up to them and they have to sell that billion dollar mansion. Getting rich is comparatively easy, but the celebrities who KEEP both their riches and their fame, when looked at closely, tend to be those whose personal lives are the least flamboyant and most law abiding.

The same is true of we not-rich, not-famous, ordinary folks. I know a lot of people from many different walks of life, and I can tell you that those who have ammassed and kept enough wealth to be considered financially secure are those who obey the law even when no one’s watching, who nurture their relationships, and who do what’s expected of them and more when they’re on the job.

I’m not saying that the law is perfect. Human beings make the laws, and human beings aren’t perfect, so the law can never be. But the law is, at a particular place and a particular time, the consensus of the group, and any disobedience comes with a cost. Sometimes the cost is worth it, and we disobey knowing the cost may well be our wealth or our life. But all too often our desire to ignore the law comes from our own impatience, small-mindedness, or childishness.

Moses had it right, and every day, every minute of our lives, we make a choice. We can choose to live by the law and to be a contributing part of the group, or we can choose to worship the false idols of fast bucks gained by questionable means. The choice is (often literally) between life and death.

Choose life!

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10 Ways to Have a Fantastic, Budget-Conscious Wedding

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I’m betting that forty-eight hours from now, there are going to be a lot more engaged folks than there are today. And all of those newly engaged folks will be planning a wedding.

Now, I’m not one to tell you that if you’ve got the money hanging around your bank account, you shouldn’t be spending it on a kick-ass wedding. (Though you might want to be kind and send a little of your excess my way…)

However, if you’re going to do the whole thing on your credit card, take a good long look at what’s really important for this day of days. Money woes end more marriages than just about any other cause, and starting off your new life together in debt (or more in debt than you already are) is a foolish extravagance, especially when you remember that you won’t even look at the pictures all that much once the reality of everyday living settles in.

There are some good articles out there on how to have a lovely budget wedding–the best I’ve seen so far is over at Squawkfox.

My son got married last April, and I think we gave Squawkfox a good run for her money as far as cheapness is concerned. Here’s how we did it:

1) Plan your own wedding, or get a friend to help you.

Wedding planners are a nice extra, but if you’re going to do a budget thing, do it yourself.

2) Determine where the ceremony is to take place and who is going to officiate.

It was a no-brainer on our part–we’re all active church members, so a civic ceremony was out of the question. It’s also cheaper, as I’ll get to in a moment. Then you need to contact the venue in question, and work together to find a date that works for everyone.

You need to determine the venue and the officiant first because (and this is especially true for church weddings) you might not be able to get the date you want. My son was aware, for example, that his April wedding would have to avoid Lent and Easter, as these are exceptionally busy times for church folks.

3) You may not even need to purchase a marriage license!

If it is the first marriage for both you and your partner, and you are “in regular attendance” at a place of worship, ask the officiant if you can have the banns called at worship services leading up to the wedding date.

It’s free, and you DO NOT need a marriage license, at least in Ontario (and I would guess, in most of North America.) Check the laws in your area.

What we now call a marriage license used to be called a “Special License,” to be obtained when calling the banns wasn’t possible. It used to be rare and hard to get. However, as our culture sped up, and as people stopped going to church regularly, marriage licenses became the more common way to tie the knot. But they’re not the only legal way to do the job. (In Ontario, where same-sex marriages are legal, calling the banns for same-sex marriages is also legal. My son and son-in-law were not only the first same-sex couple to be married at our church, but the first same-sex couple to have the banns called there.)

In addition, you’ll be telling everyone at worship what’s happening in your life, and if you’re at all liked, you may get a lot of offers to help with the wedding, as well as more cards and presents.

Our church policies also allow for free use of the sanctuary for the wedding of a member. The minister is a friend, and was willing to do the ceremony as his gift.

In other words, if you’re friends or relatives with a minister, and you belong to a church, you could potentially get married for $0! (Not that we opted for this…)

3) Keep the guest list down.

My own wedding was more or less planned by my mother, and the guest list included friends of hers that neither I nor my husband-to-be even knew! You need to feed and entertain every one of those guests, so be selective.

Do not, however, leave out first-degree relatives (siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) unless you’re absolutely not speaking to them. My son was reluctant to invite his uncle and his cousin, who hadn’t been a big part of his life. I insisted that he did-and months later I’m glad about it. Though they couldn’t come, when the crisis started with my dad, we had enough of a relationship that we could build a working partnership. I guess what I’m saying is that keeping your relatives on your good side, even if you don’t have much in common with them, is insurance for the future of a sort.

4)Do what you can yourself, within reason.

We made all of the table decorations, and did all the cooking except for the cake. My SIL made the invitations by hand, and most of them were hand-delivered as well.

A few caveats: the bigger the guest list, the more a caterer earns her money. I’ve told my daughter that her wedding will be catered!

If you decide to go for the DIY option with the food, test the recipes first, and make sure they work in large quantities. And be prepared for left overs!

Finally, accept that you may not be able to do everything. We got a professional to make the cake (cupcakes, actually) because we needed a vegan gluten-free recipe, and my daughter (who is the only one in the family who could have pulled it off) was busy with other tasks.

5) Open bar,; cash bar, or no bar?

My son’s reception was in the church hall, and our church policy forbids the use of alcohol. Not only cheaper, but a heck of a lot more pleasant. The only objection came from my alcoholic brother and sister-in-law, but since my brother had to drive my parents home afterwards, I was not in the least bothered by it.

When “the boys” first considered having their reception at the church ($75 rental fee, btw), we talked about the lack of a bar, and I asked my SIL-to-be, “Is alcohol an important part of your family’s celebrations?” He admitted it wasn’t. Not only that, a few of the invitees did not drink due to religious or alcoholism issues, and not serving alcohol made the whole party a lot more fun for them. We served non-alcoholic “champagne” at the meal, and had lost of water and non-alcholic punch available, and everyone had a great time.

If alcohol is a necessity for you, go for a cash bar, where folks pay for their own drinks.

6) Ask for help from friends and family.

We had friends and family cooking and making table decorations in the week before the wedding. Ladies from church volunteered to serve so the guests wouldn’t have to work. My daughter is an accomplished cellist and provided some music during the ceremony. Another friend with a great camera took pictures. One of my son’s friends is a DJ. Two of my SIL’s aunts have taken belly dancing lessons.

We had a FANTASTIC party!

People love to use their gifts, especially on occasions like this. Let them!

8) Dress well, but not out of your price range.

Most of the clothes we (family and wedding party) wore were bought at thrift shops. The boys had new shirts, ties, and pocket squares. That was it. We must have outfitted the whole wedding party and family for under $500!

If thrift shops aren’t your thing (and I’ll admit that if we had more money, this is one place we would have spent it), at least reconsider the lacy white gown thing. White has only been a “traditional” bridal colour since the time of Queen Victoria. Lacy, designer wedding gowns are expensive, they are only suitable to be worn on one single occasion during a woman’s lifetime, and white looks good on very few people. Even buying a used gown is a waste of money, IMHO. Go for a dress that you can wear again (even if it’s a long formal gown) and in a colour that looks good on YOU!

Unless you’re a guy. Tux rentals are still okay, but the purchase of a really decent suit is an investment, as it can be worn on many occasions, not just your wedding.

(ETA: This evening, I Stumbled upon this post, describing the most unique wedding gown I’ve ever seen. Not that I’d ever want to wear something like this, mind you, but if you have the patience and the skill and the bread tags…)

9) The rings. Ah, yes, the rings.

That crap about spending three months salary on a wedding ring? Forget it! Save the money and use it to pay off student loans, or buy a car with cash, or put a downpayment on a house.

My next-door-neighbour is finally getting married, after ten years and one son. The hang-up? They never had enough money. Finally she convinced him that all she wanted was a gold band. They got two of them for $300 each, and they’ll be married in May.

My sons ordered theirs off the internet, which I don’t recommend. The rings came, and they didn’t fit. There wasn’t enough time to get new ones, so they used rings they already had.

Then again, rings are another “extra” that you may want to forego. Or you can wait until you’ve got the cash, and give them to each other in the future, maybe for a significant anniversary, or for Valentine’s Day.

10) Finally, the honeymoon.

First off, it should be obvious that a budget wedding is NOT a destination wedding. Not that I’m in favour of those anyhow–a wedding is a community affair (if it’s not for you, just do the City Hall thing with a witness), and having it where you don’t live seems to me to defeat the purpose. Plus, it’s expensive. A friend of my son is spending $60,000 on her destination wedding, which would be enough to pay off the student loans of everyone in our family, or provide a decent downpayment on a house!

If you’re really strapped for money, it might be wise to delay the honeymoon, perhaps until the first anniversary, so the bills don’t come all at the same time. Or you can plan your honeymoon to take advantage of sales and get a much better value than if you are stuck with going the day after your wedding.

Of course, if you’re adventurous, you could always do what my husband and I did after we married. We went on a two-week canoe trip in Algonquin Park that cost us little more than food, gas, and park fees, as we already had the requisite equipment. And we had a great time, at least until the blackflies emerged. (Which didn’t happen until the last day or two, as we’d started mid-May.)

At it’s heart, your wedding is about the promises you and your partner make to one another, and about the community gathering around you to support your vows. The clothes, the food, the party, the honeymoon–all of those should direct the focus to you and to those promises, not leave you with a lasting financial burden. Spend what you can afford, not what the wedding industry says you should spend. Customize your day so it’s unique. And enjoy the results for a lifetime.

(ETA: Mrs January has some tips that I missed, and some tips that might appeal to those with a slightly larger budget than ours…)

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8 Ways to Save Money That Won’t Always Work

I’m currently researching for an e-book that will tentatively be called “365 Ways to Decrease Expenses, Increase Income, and Enjoy Life to the Fullest Without Breaking the Bank,” and along the way I’ve come across some pretty goofy ways to save money that are questionable at best and illegal at worse, and a few that seem standard, but won’t work very well at all in many situations. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few of them.

Questionable Tip #1: Never buy ketchup (or mustard or relish) again–snag a whole pile of packets when you’re in a fast food restaurant.

I’d originally labelled these “Bad Tips,” but #1 and #2 are really the only two that I’d flat out say are wrong in all situations.The others are simply questionable: they’ll work for some folks in some situations, but should be evaluated closely to see if they will work for you.

Okay, folks. If you’re trying to save money and have a better life, what are you doing in that fast food restaurant in the first place? If you’re just stealing condiments and not ordering, you’re, well, stealing. Not the way to any kind of a better life, in my experience. And if you’re eating there regularly enough to satisfy your ketchup needs, just stop it. Make your hamburgers at home, and spend the money you save on a bottle of the red stuff in the store.

Besides being extremely wasteful in the packaging department, some of the recipes I use require an entier CUP of ketchup! Do you have any idea how many of those little packets I’d need?

Questionable Tip #2: Directly from a Reader’s Digest article on ways to save in June: “With the beginning of the Caribbean hurricane season, you’ll see steep discounts on vacation packages and cruises.”

Well, HELLO! There’s a reason for those discounts–no sane person wants to take a “vacation” in a hurricane zone during hurricane season.

Questionable Tip #3: Again from Reader’s Digest on ways to save in May: “Whether New Year’s resolutions are history, our outside exercise is possible, gyms offer discounts to bring in more bodies.”

Gyms make much of their money on recurring fees charged to people who never visit the inside of their gyms. I know this–I was one of those folks who for years had a “discounted” membership fee taken out of my account, and rarely if ever used the gym. Too inconvenient, to embarrassing, too confusing.

Instead, I started walking every day (I even get paid for it, but that’s another story). Even in snow and ice and blizzards. It does the trick, and because it’s outside, I also get the benefit of sunshine (when available, may not be in stock in all locations at all times…). Cost: Free, or even better than free if you walk dogs or deliver papers or find some other way to earn income as you exercise.

Questionable Tip #4: Look for BOGO sales.

Ask yourself if you would normally buy that much of an item anyhow. And the more current trend is BOGO half price. That’s a 25% discount on both items–not to shabby if you need both, but you end up spending more than you would have originally. If you go out to buy a pair of pants, and you end up with two on a BOGO half price “sale,” you’ve spent 50% MORE than you’d originally planned to spend.

Questionable Tip #5: Disconnect your land line.

One of the sites where I read this boasted, “We have survived without any problems for over 4 years now without a lnad line.”

Ha! I have survived for almost fifty years longer without a cell phone. It’s not that I’m technophobic–I can even install new RAM into my computer, and update my graphics card, etc. I just have no need at all for anything beyond my basic land line. I no longer even have long distance calling from my phone. I use email, and one of these days I’ll install Skype.

As for “what about emergencies”? Well, I admit, there have been one or two times in the last 54 years I would have found a cell phone handy, but fortunately enough there were these things called pay phones, and the single time I needed help away from a pay phone, someone with a cell phone came along. Once in 54 years? I think I can manage without, thanks muchly.

This isn’t to say you should never get a cell phone. Some folks need them for business. Some folks, especially in countries with lots of mountains and no land lines, have found that cell phones are a boon. But your seven year old does not need one for school “emergencies,” and you don’t need to text a mouthful-by-mouthful account of what you’re having for dinner to your own mother.

Best tip for cell phones? How to save the batteries on your iPhone: Put phone on table. Go outside for half an hour. My own take: Critically evaluate your need to be constantly connected. You may be better off both financially and socially without the cell phone. And my own belief is that children shouldn’t have cell phones until they have a job that pays the bill.

Questionable Tip #6: From the book A Million Bucks by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents, and a Useless Degree to Become a Millionaire Before (or After) Turning Thirty by Alan Corey: Never buy an umbrella again. Go into any restaurant or grocery store and tell them you lost your black umbrella, and could you look through their lost and found?

Um, yeah, this will probably work. But really, people lose umbrellas because for the most part, they’re pretty useless at keeping off the rain, at least the kind of rain we get here in Canada. A decent raincoat will look better, be harder to lose, and actually do the job.

Not questionable tip: Read the book, as well as his latest, The Subversive Job Search: How to Overcome a Lousy Job, Sluggish Economy, and Useless Degree to Create a Six-Figure Career. There are a lot of good tips in both books for those looking to improve their financial situations, and Corey writes with both insight and humour.

Questionable Tip #7: Join a Big Box Club store and buy in bulk.

Like the BOGO problem, you’re not saving money if you’re buying things you don’t need in quantities you won’t be able to use before the expiry dates. In addition, having large quantities of certain items on hand (in my case, diet cola) can increase consumption. (If I buy 355 mL cans of cola, I’ll tend to drink two or three cans a day. If I buy the 710 mL bottles, I’ll usually drink at least two of them, the equivalent of four cans.)

Questionable Tip #8: Use coupons.

If you’re in the States and you can get into extreme couponing, go for it! I’m well aware that for some people, couponing can create savings that equate to the income from a part-time job. But for much of the world, coupons are simply a way to get you to spend money on over-priced, over-processed, name-brand “food.” Compare prices closely–I very often find store brands are cheaper even after the coupons. Coupons in my area rarely are for free products, and we’re generally not allowed to “stack” them for bigger discounts. I find that I’m better off buying store brands when I buy prepared foods, and that I do even better financially when I cook from scratch. (That cup of ketchup recipe? It’s for BBQ sauce that’s a cinch to make and tastes as good as anything you can buy in the store.)

That’s what I’ve got for now–I’m sure there are many more ways to “save” money that don’t really work, and it would be great if you’d share your own take on ways to save that cost you more than you save!

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