5 Steps to Combining Finances

It’s September so you might have thought that the summer of wedding blogging was over . . . think again! Vows have been said, cakes cut, and dance floors dominated by my awesome moves but I have not run out of financial advice to give. I’m back in wedding mode to talk about one step of wedding preparation that’s not as glamorous as dress shopping or cake tasting, but is equally important – combining your finances.

150406_FF_JoinFinances

Money is a very personal subject for most people, which is why beyond determining who pays for dinner, a lot of couples avoid the subject. But your financial history, accounts balances, and spending habits strongly influence decisions you’ll make as a couple. Everything from big questions like where to live or if you want to have kids all the way down to the small stuff like what’s for dinner is impacted by your money habits; the sooner you start talking to your partner about your financial life, the better. So here are 5 steps to take to start combining finances with your spouse-to-be:

  1. Start Talking –  Set up a time and place to have the first money conversation. Give yourself at least an hour of uninterrupted time so you can talk in depth. It’s like a date but with bank statements instead of flowers. If you think it might be helpful, invite a third party like a counselor or a financial planner to help mediate. Money can be emotional, so there’s no shame in asking for some outside help. If things get heated, take a break and come back to it another day. The important thing is that you open lines of communication with each other so you can start approaching your finances as a team. You might be surprised by what you didn’t know about your partner’s financial life.
  2. Ask These Questions – There’s a lot to cover when it comes to money. Maybe you’re a financial guru who comes to the table with a laundry list of things to talk to your partner about. Or maybe you’re sitting there with no idea what to ask or how to start sharing. Never fear, Kelsey’s here . . . with a list of questions you’ll want to you ask each other during that first conversation:
    1. How much do you make?
    2. What debts do you have?
    3. What investments do you have?
    4. What financial institution(s) do you use? How many accounts do you have?
    5. Where does your money go each month? What bills, payments, etc. do you have?
    6. What are your financial priorities?
    7. What financial goals do you have? Short term and long term? As individuals and as a couple?
    8. What is your money style? Are you a saver or a spender? Do you have any money hang ups?
  3. Pick Your Style – You had your own money-style as a single person, but now you’ll have to determine what your style is as a couple. There’s no single best way to combine finances with your partner. It’s about figuring out what will work best for the two of you. Just remember that whatever money-management system you agree upon, your decisions will now affect not just you but your partner, as well. Here are some different ways couples commonly combine finances:
    1. What’s Mine Is Yours – Where you have one joint account and share everything.
    2. Yours, Mine, and Ours – Where you have a joint account for joint expenses (like rent, insurance, Netflix, etc.) but each maintain your own personal accounts for individual expenses. The trick to making this work is determining how much each partner will contribute to the joint account each month.
    3. A la Carte – Where you keep your finances separate but each partner picks certain joint bills and expenses to pay for.
    4. In Love as Individuals – Where you keep your finances completely separate.
  4. Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes – Getting married changes more than just your last name, although if you are changing your name you’ll want to be sure you do so on all important documents, credit cards, and accounts. You also might want to change the beneficiary on things like your retirement accounts or insurance policies to your spouse. Most married couples also chose to file their taxes jointly, which means you might also want to make some changes to your payroll with holdings. Additionally, once you open a joint account you might need to change things like your direct deposit, automatic withdrawals, or payments that are set up on your debit card. Be on the lookout for things that might need updating as you go along.
  5. Keep the Conversation Going – Now that you’ve got the ball rolling, don’t let it stop. Continue talking openly and frequently with your partner about your finances. Set up a time to meet once a month to go over your accounts. Look at where your money went last month, if you met your goals, and what’s coming up this month for bills. Make these dates fun by ordering takeout or making drinks. As you start a new life together, new money questions are bound to pop up. If you have an established system for talking about those new challenges, they’ll be so much easier to tackle together.
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6 Tips for Spending Less as a Bridesmaid

$1,695.

“What’s that the price of?” you might be wondering. A fabulous vacation to an exotic island? A down-payment on a new car? The price of heating your home for the winter?

Think again! That’s the amount, according to a 2010 study done by WeddingChannel.com, that the average American woman spends on being a bridesmaid. And that’s per wedding. So if you’re a really good friend or have a lot of sisters, you’re in big trouble.

help me i'm poor

A couple of weeks ago I blogged some tips on how the bride and groom can save a few bucks on their big day. I realized after writing it, however, that those tips didn’t really help me out much because I personally have never been a bride. What I have been a lot recently is a bridesmaid. And while I am genuinely always flattered and excited to be one, I am starting to feel the strain it puts on my wallet a little bit. So here are 6 tips for how you can shine in your chiffon and nude heels without breaking the bank.

  1. It’s okay to say no. You might feel guilty declining, but $1,695 is a hefty price tag. As much as you want to be there for the bride on her big day, sometimes it’s not economically feasible. And no one wants to be that party-pooper bridesmaid who complains about how expensive everything is all the time. Before you say yes, be sure you can commit financially to your duties. If not, tell the the bride you’re flattered she wants to include you in her special day, but you’ll need to do it as a regular guest instead of as a member of the wedding party.
  2. Rent a dress. You’re not going to wear it again. Just accept that before you buy it. I’m not sure whether it’s the chiffon or the color or what, but bridesmaid dresses just have a distinct look that makes them unwearable at any event where you will not be standing next to a girl in white while holding a bouquet. Before you start shopping, recommend that the bride check out sites that let you rent dresses for cheaper than you purchase them. There are quite a few out there like Rent the Dress, Vow to be Chic, and Union Station that let you rent a dress for the day for a fraction of the cost of purchasing one. And they have the same designer, styles, and color options of a traditional bridal shop. Plus once you wear it you can return it, so it doesn’t take up space in your closet.
  3. Reign in the pre-wedding celebrations. We all want to be remembered as the bridesmaid that threw the bachelorette of the century, but it’s also important to keep money in mind when planning these pre-wedding events. You don’t have to travel somewhere far away for the bachelorette to be exciting. A girls night out in your hometown or an old-fashioned slumber party could be just as fun, but more budget-friendly. Likewise the bridal shower venue and decorations don’t have to be extravagant. Go on Pinterest, DIY some personalized decorations, and make an at-home shower look spectacular. If some bridesmaids or important guests are coming from far away, consider having both events on the same day or weekend to limit travel costs. And last but not least, keep the bridal “do-dads” to a minimum. You don’t need “Team Bride” t-shirts, buttons, hats, sashes, and shot glasses. Pick one item and wear it proudly.

    My mom and I threw a Downton Abbey themed tea for my sister's bridal shower in our front yard. Lots of DIY savings involved.

    My mom and I threw a Downton Abbey themed tea for my sister’s bridal shower in our front yard. Lots of DIY savings involved.

  4. Be gift savvy. Before you start shopping determine a realistic amount to spend on gifts that fits your budget. Remember that you’ll probably have to get more than one (shower, wedding, maybe even engagement part and bachelorette). Then, hit the registry early. If you wait too long, your options are more limited and there might not be anything left in your price range. Or if you’re crafty, consider DIYing something for the happy couple. Another way to combat cost is to give a group gift from all the bridesmaids. If everyone chips in, you might be able to purchase something nice and meaningful without breaking the bank. Or you can do something creative like a wedding day survival kit for the bride from all her girls.
  5. The more the merrier. Travel and accommodations are another wedding expense that can start to burst your budget. Keep the cost down by sharing it with friends. Driving to the wedding? Carpool and have everyone pitch in for gas. Staying in a hotel room? Cram as many people in there as you can! You can even ask if the hotel has a cot or bring sleeping bags. And remember, the earlier you book flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, etc., the lower the price is. So as soon as you know the details of the wedding, start the hunt for the best travel prices.
  6. DIY hair and make-up. If possible, do your own hair and make up on the day. Or have all the bridesmaids do hair and make-up for each other. You want to look good in the pictures, but professional hair and make-up can cost anywhere from $50 to $200. Not cheap! YouTube has no shortage of tutorials to help you out if, like me, your beauty regime normally consists of putting on mascara and (maybe) brushing your hair. If the bride is hesitant about DIY beauty, do a test-run at the bridal shower or bachelorette to make sure she likes your look.

Hope these tips help you walk down the aisle confident that you are on your A-game, both as a bridesmaid and a financial wizard. Happy Wedding Season!

8 Wedding Things You Don’t Need

Summer 2015 is the summer of weddings for me. And as a frequent wedding-goer, there are really only three things I care about as a guest. They are, in order from least to most important: a good dance floor, an open bar, and a few minutes with the happy couple. That’s it. And I think most wedding guests are on the same page. Unless you are one of the women on the TLC show “Four Weddings.” Those girls are leaving the reception all, “The center pieces were tacky and the cupcakes didn’t have the exact icing I prefer. I give it a 4 out of 10.” But everyone else is is just happy to be there with you, enjoying your special day.

Weddings are expensive. That’s just a fact. You need food, booze, a venue . . . the list goes on. But what can increase the price of your wedding even more is all of the extra details that go into it that your guests don’t even notice. Cutting out just a few things can really help keep your budget smaller. So in the name of saving money, I have compiled this list of wedding things you shouldn’t spend money on.

Here are 8 Things You Do NOT Need for Your Wedding:

  • An Engagement Party – I love a good party, but often there are so many that lead up to the wedding that it sort of makes the actual event seem less special. An engagement party, a bachelor/bachelorette party, a bridal shower, a rehearsal dinner, a brunch the day after . . . the list goes on and on. Be selective and only have a few pre/post-wedding events. Cutting down on all these extra celebrations will not only save you money but it will also make your ceremony and reception more memorable.

    Unless you are the girl from "Revenge" and it's the setting for one of your dramatic schemes, Engagement Parties are not necessary.

    Unless you are the girl from “Revenge” and it’s the setting for one of your dramatic schemes, Engagement Parties are not necessary.

  • Save-the-Dates – If you send out your invitations on time (6 to 8 weeks before the wedding), then you don’t really need Save-the-Dates. They’re just extra paper and postage that jack up your budget. If your wedding is during peak season or at a far-away destination for many of your guests, consider sending invitations on the earlier side (maybe 10 to 12 weeks in advance) to give people more time to plan. Or send Save-the-Dates via e-mail – it’s free and environmentally friendly.
  • Guests You Don’t Know – Creating a guest list is often the most difficult wedding prep task. It can quickly grow from 75 to 150 to 300 once you start adding in coworkers, plus-ones, and second cousins once removed. You don’t want to leave anyone out, but it’s also important to remember that the wedding is about the bride and groom, not their extended social circle. Try sticking to guests that are in your life now. My friend had a great rule-of-thumb for deciding which friends made her guest list – if she didn’t text you to tell you she got engaged, she didn’t invite you. It was an easy way to eliminate friends she still cared about but didn’t really talk to or see any more. You can also try putting your guests into categories such as: young children, coworkers, family friends. Then see if you can agree to eliminate an entire category. Exceptions might pop up to any of these rules, but they’ll help keep the numbers down.
  • Ceremony Programs and Menus – More paper! Most of your guests have been to a wedding before and they know the drill. All of those thoughtfully created programs tend to end up crumpled up on reception tables by the end of the night. Plus your guests don’t need to see a menu because already picked chicken or fish back when they sent their RSVP card and they’re stuck with whatever they chose back then. So save a few bucks by not printing these extra items. Instead, try writing the same info out on chalkboards. They’re inexpensive, fun to personalize, and an easy way to add decoration to your venue.
  • DIY Pinterest Crafts – Pinterest can be a great resource for ideas on DIY decorations, favors, centerpieces, etc. But it can also be very dangerous, because there are so many ideas out there that it can be hard to narrow them down to ones that are within your budget, time constraints, and abilities. You don’t need a cake, and cupcakes, and a candy bar. You don’t need a butterfly release, a balloon arch, and personalized napkins with your initials (all things I legit found on Pinterest). The point is, it’s easy to get caught up in the little details of the wedding and go overboard. It’s not good for your budget or your stress-level. Pick a few wedding details that are important to you, like centerpieces and the guestbook, and focus on those.

    Where would one even get that many old cowboy boots?

    Where would one even get that many old cowboy boots?

  • A Minister – If you’re not particularly religious, cut the cost of hiring an officiant and have a family member or friend marry you instead. Becoming an officiant online is easy and inexpensive. And having someone who knows you both well will make the ceremony more personal.
  • A DJ or Band – Entertainment can be one of the most costly expenses for a wedding reception. Cut it out completely by bringing your own music! Everyone has an iPod or phone that can be hooked up to the sound system. You can create a custom playlist beforehand so you get exactly the songs you want. You can even ask for song requests from guests on the RSVP cards. Or ask a friend to DJ for you.
  • Favors – Your guests came to your wedding to see you get married, not for the party favor. Similar to the programs, favors are an item that often gets left behind at a wedding. Favors are a gesture intended to thank your guests for coming to the event. Scrap them altogether and instead be sure to spend a few minutes talking to each guest during the reception. Or have an old-fashioned receiving line. Follow up by acknowledging your guest’s presence on your special day in their thank you card. Both of those steps are more personal than a party favor and much cheaper!

Do you have any tips for saving money on your wedding? Feel free to share!

DIY Wedding Gifts

Summer is wedding season which, if you’re 26 like me, means it’s mandatory for at least 87 of your friends to get married. That’s an exaggeration of course, but I am starting to feel like someone new gets engaged every time I log onto Facebook. This is somewhat disconcerting for me because I only go on Facebook to post Buzzfeeds about boy bands on my roommate’s wall and to force people to read this blog. All kidding aside, I love wedding season because you get to dress up, dance, drink, and see two people you love celebrate their love. But wedding season also mean gifts. Engagement Party gifts. Bridal Shower gifts. Wedding gifts. Lots and lots of gifts

The key to gift-giving is finding that perfect balance between cost and creativity. Buying of the registry is always a safe move because it’s convenient and you know you’re giving the couple a gift they want. But buying off the registry has always felt a little impersonal to me, because I don’t feel like I put any thought into the purchase. I just found it on a list. Plus, gifts on the registry can be expensive. For example, who wants to spend $60 on a pizza stone? I’m not really even sure what a pizza stone is. And I’m confused about why you would bother to figure out how to use one when you could just order delivery pizza . . .

Rather than get a gift from the registry, I like to put my craftiness to good use bu making a wedding gift. There are so many cool DIY wedding crafts out there on Pinterest. And a lot of them are easy, budget-friendly, and turn out to be great keepsakes for the happy couple. Here are two examples of gifts I made:

Love Story Map
B&M Sign

So romantic. So easy to make. Here’s what I did – I bought a large poster board, a map of Maine (yes they still sell those), and a frame. I cut out 3 places on the map that were important to them – the place they met, the place he proposed, and their wedding location. Then I used sharpie to add the wording along with their initials and wedding date. And viola, a fun, personalized wedding gift.

Established Sign

Hohwald

One of the many perks of having a carpenter for a dad is that I do have access to a lot of free wood. To make this fun sign for my sister and her husband, I picked out this nice piece of scrap wood from my dad’s garage and he kindly sanded it for me. If you don’t have a dad with a garage full of 2x4s, you can also buy a piece of ready-to-paint wood at the craft store (bonus – you won’t have to sand it). The next step was to use acrylic paint to paint the whole piece white. Then I used light pencil to trace to outline of the letters of their last name which I then painted over with the dark blue. Once that was dry the last step was to freehand their wedding date over the name. If you’re nervous about free-handing you can also buy stencils at the craft store. Note: be sure to check beforehand that the bride is taking the groom’s last name. Because if she;s not and you make this it’s awkward.

This might be the cheesiest thing I’ve ever said on this blog, but DIY wedding gifts are great because they’re made with thought and love. I’m way more excited to give a gift I made myself than I am if I bought towels off the registry. Plus if you have a lot of weddings to attend in a short period of time, crafting your own gifts can help you wedding gift budget stay affordable. Happy Wedding Season, Everyone!

Bridal Shower & Bachelorette Money Etiquette

Last week, I got an invitation to my older sister’s wedding in the mail. I had two immediate thoughts:

1. I am not old enough to have a married sister.

2. I might just skip that.

I find it hilariously funny to make jokes about responding “Will Not Attend” to my sister’s wedding. I have made that joke 50 times since I got the invite and it still isn’t old. I think it might be because I tend to jokes about things that make me nervous. And the fact that this wedding is happening SOON makes me nervous. My sister got engaged a year and a half ago so for a long time the wedding has been a far-off, distant event I knew would happen but didn’t have to think too much about, like Christmas or the Apocalypse. And now it is three months away. And I have some Maid of Honor duties to attend to.

Two Christmases ago when she first got engaged, my sister bought me a book called “The Knot Bridesmaid Handbook: Help the Bride Shine Without Losing Your Mind.” I think she bought it half ironically, half because she was worried that I wouldn’t know what I supposed to do as her Maid of Honor. But I actually did read it and it was super helpful. I would recommend to any other clueless bridesmaids out there. The main thing I learned from that book is that I am in charge of organizing a Bachelorette Party and a Bridal Shower.

You can buy this on Amazon for $8. It's a solid investment.

You can buy this on Amazon for $8. It’s a solid investment.

In keeping up with my amazing stroke of genius that we should go to Las Vegas and see Britney Spears in concert for the Bachelorette Party, I recently secured my title of “Best Maid of Honor EVER” by deciding on a “Downton Abbey Tea” theme for the bridal shower. I know, I know . . . I am a good idea machine. I wonder how you get a job in a Think Tank, because someone should be paying me for these ideas.

There are a lot of things to organize for both of these events – invitations, reservations, decorations, food, etc. Luckily, I have three other bridesmaids and a mom who are more than willing to help me out. Despite being spread out all over the country, they have all been great about contributing ideas, time, and work. As usual, the trickiest (and often most awkward) thing about planning these events is figuring out who will foot the bill and for what.

From what I have read online, in Real Simple magazine (Martha Stewart knows all), and in the Knot book, here are some guidelines you can use to navigate the costs of being a party-planning bridesmaid.

Bachelorette Party General Rule: Each attendee, including the bride, pays their own way.

Modern day Bachelorette Parties cover a wide array of events. Some are one night out on the town. Some are a casual get-together at a bridesmaid’s place. And some, like my sister’s, are weekend-long extravaganza of awesomeness. The point is, this event is what you make of it. It’s a time for just the gals to get together and celebrate the bride. Because there is no set formula for what a Bachelorette should entail, the general rule of thumb is that each attendee pays their own way. If you’re hitting up the bars, each girl should pay for her own drinks. If you’re spending a weekend at a destination, each girl should pay for her own travel, hotel room, etc. Though the bride is the guest of honor at this event, it’s not expected that the Bachelorette guests cover her share of the bill; buy her a drink or pay for her dinner, but don’t feel obligated to 100% pay her way.

Do I get the bride a gift for the Bachelorette? Buying a gift for the Bachelorette is not a necessity. Your gift or contribution to the event is that you paid to get yourself there and to participate in the activities – your presence is the present. Some Bachelorette games include a gift, like Lingerie Guessing game I saw online, but gifts are not a must-have. Discuss with the other bridesmaids/guests before the event whether or not you would like to give gifts and be respectful of the group decision.

Fights among bridesmaids about money? The Dowager Countess is not amused.

Fights among bridesmaids about money? The Dowager Countess is not amused.

Bridal Shower General Rule: The host(s) pay for the event.

The Bridal Shower is traditionally a more formal event than the Bachelorette; this is the one your grandma attends, after all. Since this is a more organized occasion, it is expected that whoever is throwing the shower will pay for the expenses. The guests will attend and bring a gift, while the host pays for food, decorations, invitations, etc. The key is to determine a host for the event. It could be all of the bridesmaids who get together and throw a shower, in which case they would split all costs evenly. Or it could be that the bride’s mom is throwing the shower, in which case the bridesmaids do not need to contribute funds. My sister’s bridal party is made up of four girls, all of whom live in a different state. We decided to throw a shower at my mom’s house, but only myself and one other bridesmaid can attend. Since only one other bridesmaid and myself will be hosting, we will pay for the shower. The other bridesmaids are not expected to contribute. Whatever the situation, it’s best to discuss how you will cover the cost of the shower early on in the planning. Nothing is tackier than asking other bridesmaids or your bride’s future mother in-law for a check after you’ve had the event. Have a plan in place so you know who will pay for what.

Also, keep in mind that all people who are paying for the shower should be included in the decision-making process. If you want to throw an extravagant, luxurious shower with a big budget, make sure your co-hosts are on board. It’s not fair to spend $500 on invitations without asking and then expecting them to pitch in. Set a budget, confirm all decisions together, and no one’s wallet will get hurt.

Do I get the bride a gift for the Bridal Shower? Yes, even if you are the host, you are expected to give the bride a gift at the shower. Though you may consider keeping your gift small because you have spent money on the shower, it is still proper etiquette for you to give the bride a shower gift.

Bonus Shower Gift Ideas:

  • Give something personal or homemade. The shower gift is just for the bride, so it doesn’t have to be something expensive from the registry. If you’re crafty, maybe make her a wedding memento. Or if you know she enjoys going out to eat, buy her a gift card to her favorite restaurant in town. The gift doesn’t have to break the bank to be special; it truly is the thought that counts.
  • Throw a “Honeymoon” Shower. One of my sister’s biggest complaints about registering for her wedding gifts is that she really doesn’t need a lot of the items on the list. She and her fiance have lived together for 3 or 4 years now, so they already have stuff a lot of the traditional wedding gift items like plates, blenders, and sheets. Although she appreciates any gifts she receives and understands that her guests would like to give her something, she feels especially greedy about asking for wedding gifts AND shower gifts. So we have decided that in lieu of shower gifts, we will ask for contributions towards the couple’s honeymoon from shower guests. If they’d like guests can bring a small gift to be used on the honeymoon like flip-flops or sunscreen, but their main present will be contributing to the couple’s honeymoon fund. It’s something the duo truly needs and it’s less wasteful than buying household supplies they already have.
  • Another alternative to traditional shower gifts is to throw a Charity Shower. Have the bride pick a favorite cause and then ask guests to donate to that charity in her honor. You could even pick a local food pantry or animal shelter and have guests bring physical donations to the party. It’s a great option for a bride that isn’t in need of as many gifts or who is particularly passionate about a certain cause.

If you, like me, will spend the spring arranging center pieces and making party favors, I hope these tips about the money-side of being a bridesmaid makes your work a little easier.

More reading:

https://kelseyatcascofcu.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/the-hangover-meets-bridesmaids/

http://www.amazon.com/The-Knot-Bridesmaid-Handbook-Without/dp/0307462048

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/05/downton-abbey-bridal-show_n_4538308.html

The Hangover Meets Bridesmaids

Last week I had quite possible the best idea ever. Literally. I’m a genius.

I was sitting at home, casually eating dinner while flipping through the channels when I landed on an E! News Special “I Am Britney Jean.” This gem of a television program is all about Britney Spears, her new album, and how she now lives at the Planet Hollywood Casino in Las Vegas where she preforms almost nightly. And then all of the sudden it hit me – SEEING BRITNEY SPEARS IN VEGAS WOULD BE THE BEST BACHELORETTE PARTY EVER!

I immediately text my sister, feeling only 35% confident that she would think I was being serious. Lucky for me, her inner 16 year-old came through and she liked the idea enough to start checking when they had concert tickets available. I should have had more faith in her because she did spend most of her high school years in our living room wearing a head set and pleather pants and dancing to Britney, but then again she laughed me off when I suggested that she have a bacon bar at her cocktail hour so you just never can tell with her (I mean it’s a bacon bar. BACON.)

So, after much looking at tickets, hotels, and flights online, debating whether it was crazy of us to go through with it, and me sending pleading/threatening e-mails to the other bridesmaids, we made it official. We are going to Las Vegas in April to see Britney Spears for what will be the greatest bachelorette party in the history of weddings! Even if I do nothing else for the rest of the wedding, I feel like this contribution should get me some sort of “World’s Best Maid of Honor” award.

Legend . . . wait for it . . . DARY!

Legen . . . wait for it . . . DARY!

The purpose of this post is not just to brag about how great of a little sister I am. Although someday they will make a combination “Hangover”/ “Bridesmaids” type movie about our Vegas weekend, I think I learned a few money-saving tips in the process of booking the trip that are probably more applicable to your everyday needs.

I am by no ones a frequent flier, but I’d say on average I fly once or twice a year, which is just enough to be familiar with buying plane tickets but not enough to be a pro. I’m never 100% confident that I got the best deal on a plane ticket. So I’ve done some research and complied a few useful tips for purchasing flights on the cheap. I think they helped me find tickets to Las Vegas that didn’t totally empty out my “Darcie’s Wedding” Account (I think I have $0.25 in there 🙂 ).

1. Book Early – most sites seem to recommend booking your flight 6-8 weeks before you plan to travel. If you’re last minute, airlines can charge you more because there are less seats available and they know you need the ticket. Buying early gives you time to comparison shop for the price as well as the flight itinerary that best meets your schedule and your wallet.

2. Use Bing.com Travel – http://www.bing.com/travel/?FORM=L8SP22 The great thing about using Bing to help book your flights is that they actually seem to want you to get the best price! You type in your travel information (departing, arriving, date, etc.) and it not only lists possible flights but also gives you an indicator of whether or not now is a good time to buy. It gives you a green upwards arrow if prices are expected to rise and now is a good time to buy, or a downwards red arrow if you should wait because prices will drop. It also automatically pulls up results from travel sites like Priceline or Orbitz when you search with Bing so you can compare prices. It’s a great place to start your search.

3. Search Alternate Routes – Is you travel route flexible? How about your destination? Are you flexible about the dates of your trip? The more flexible your travel schedule, the better your chances are of finding a low-cost deal on flights. For example, it is way cheaper to fly on a Tuesday than on a Friday. Or having one or two lay-overs might be less expensive than a direct flight. Be open to different travel routes and you may save yourself some money. If you aren’t set on a certain date or location, maybe just looking into a vacation, try the Kayak Exlpore feature http://www.kayak.com/explore/. It lets you view a map of different locations around the world and deals on travel based on the date you fly. Very cool and great for the whimsical adventurer.

Where do you want to go?

Where do you want to go?

4.Get a Refund if Fares Go Down – Don’t be shy! If you booked a flight and a few days later you see it go down in price, ask the airline for a refund for the difference. They might not give it to you, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Orbitz even has a “Best Price Guarantee” where they pledge to refund you the difference  if another user books the same itinerary as you for less. Check it out here: http://www.orbitz.com/mktg/best-price-guarantee/.

Even if your next trip doesn’t take you to see Britney in Sin City, it can still be cheap and easy! Hope these trips help you travel happier.

The Thrifty Bridesmaid: Saving for a Special Event

Next June, my older sister will be getting married. I was super excited and flattered when she asked me to be her maid of honor; I think I said yes almost as quickly as she said yes to her boyfriend. But after my initial fantasies of having an elaborate Downtown Abbey themed bridal shower where everyone drinks from porcelain teacups and wears a fancy hat started to wear off, I realized that such an elegant affair might be out of my price range.  As anyone who has ever been in one knows – WEDDINGS ARE CRAZY EXPENSIVE! Here is a list of the things that I will have to pay (or at least chip in) for as the maid of honor:

– Dress & shoes for the wedding

– Hair & make-up on wedding day

– Dress for the rehearsal dinner

– Hotel room for the weekend of the wedding

– Gift for the bride & groom

– Bachelorette party

– Travel to bachelorette (since she lives in California)

– Bridal Shower

Although I would never want to miss out on my sister’s wedding just because it was going to cost me a few bucks, I definitely don’t have enough cash to pay for all of those wedding expenses without a little planning.  Luckily for me, my sister wanted to give herself plenty of time to plan her wedding so she wouldn’t be stressed out – which means plenty of time for me to SAVE-UP for the big day!

Back in January, I opened up at club account at my credit union to start saving.  For those of you who don’t know, a club account is a special type of secondary savings offered by most credit unions; it is typically related to your primary savings account and the money is designated for a specific expense.  For example, you may have heard the term “Christmas Clubs”, which is an account created to save up for holiday shopping.  Usually, your credit union will let you have as many club accounts as you want and you can label them for all sorts of different things; I have seen members with club accounts to save up to buy shoes, for traveling, to save money for college . . . the list goes on and on. These accounts are a great way to budget out your savings and they help you keep track of how much you spend on certain items.

My club account is called “Darcie’s Wedding.” Once a month I automatically transfer $25 from my primary savings into this club account.  I also add in change every time someone pays me back for a coffee and every time I have less than $5 in bills in my wallet.  It might not seem like a lot, but after following that saving plan for just a few months, I already have well over $400.

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This weekend I went shopping for bridesmaid dress in Boston.  We were lucky to find just the right dress (they only had one left in my size and it was on sale!).  Even better, I didn’t have to stress about how I was going to pay for it because I knew I had the money saved up.  Since I had been keeping my wedding funds separate from my regular savings and checking, I didn’t feel like my daily budget was taking a big hit when I splurged on the dress – I knew I had already been paying for it piece by piece for the last few months.

If this wedding had happened a year or two ago, before I became a budgeting wizard who works at a credit union, I probably would have paid for this dress a lot differently.  My first option would have been to try to convince my mom to pay for it (“Help me, I’m poor!”).  If she resisted my efforts, I might have had to resort to putting it on my credit card, which has an interest rate of approximately 1,875% and would have taken me a decade to pay-off (those numbers are not exactly accurate but you get the idea 🙂 ).

The lesson I learned is this: a little bit of planning goes a long way. If you have a big event to save up for, whether it’s a wedding, a vacation, or something else you’re looking forward to, create a club account a start saving money specifically for that purpose.  Labeling the account will motivate you to add to it – “General Savings” sounds boring but “Spring Break Cancun!” is something I would want to out money towards every day.  If your club account has a name and a special purpose, you will be less likely to take money out of it for things you don’t need.

Are you saving for a special event?  Tell me your tips for stashing up cash.

– Kelsey at Casco FCU