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.


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.

Europe on a Budget – Tips for Traveling on the Cheap

This August Casco FCU teller-to-the-stars Paige went on the adventure of a lifetime. She and a group of friends went on a trip to visit her German exchange student from high school. While abroad Paige got to travel all around Europe – to Iceland, Germany, Italy, France, and Austria. It was a month-long trip jam-packed with fun. Trust me, I’ve seen the photos.

Paige & Friends at Eiffel Tower

Paige & Friends at the Eiffel Tower.

Because she works at a credit union, Paige was very well prepared financially for her vacation. She might have been gallivanting around Europe, but that doesn’t mean her bank account was left hurting. And now Paige has returned from her trip with more than just fancy German chocolates to share – she sat down with me to give me her 7 best tips for saving money while traveling. Here they are:

  1. Get your home finances in order – Step number one when you travel (even within the U.S.) is to let your financial institution know where you’re going and the dates. Your credit union or bank has fraud prevention systems that track your debit card use for unusual transactions. If out of the blue you start using your card in Switzerland when you’ve never made a purchase outside of Maine before, those systems might think someone has stolen your card. Your debit card might get frozen and you might not be able to access your money right away, which isn’t a problem you”l want to have while traveling overseas. If you notify your FI beforehand, however, they can often modify settings on your card to make sure it works correctly while you travel. Step two of financial prep for your trip is to make sure all of your bills will get paid while you’re gone. Set up auto payments to insure things like car payments, credit cards, student loans, and your rent are taken care of while you’re gone. Then you won’t have to deal with late fees or other hassles when you get back.
  2. Save more than you need – Paige estimated that she would need between $1,000 to $1,500 for her trip. This was based on the fact that she would be gone for 4 weeks and some research she did into accommodations, transportation, and activities. She began putting money into a savings account for her trip over a year before she left and aimed to save $3,000. Knowing she had more money than she would necessarily need to spend meant she was ready for any unexpected expenses that popped up along the way (like a $25, 5 minute cab drive when it started raining in Paris). Plus it meant that she knew she had wiggle room in her budget for splurges like one fancy hotel room in France or some clothes shopping at Michael Kors. Lastly, saving money beforehand meant that even if she charged things on her credit card while she was there, she would have the funds to payoff that card when she returned. You want to enjoy your trip, not be worried about how much money you’re spending. The more you can save beforehand, the more enjoyable your trip will be.
  3. Get creative with lodging – Hotels can often be a traveler’s biggest expense. You gotta sleep somewhere, right? Paige saved money on lodging by exploring other options. She stayed with a friend from Germany for a lot of the trip. She also stayed in hostels, which are usually much cheaper than hotels because the accommodations are less fancy and you often share a room with other travelers. Paige recommends using websites like booking.com to check out a hostel before you book, just to make sure it’s safe and clean. Another option that can save travelers money is AirBnB, a site which lets you stay in someone’s apartment or home while they are gone.
  4. Buy tickets early – Most people know that often the earlier you can book a plane ticket, the cheaper it is. But the same goes for other traveling tickets, like trains, subways, museums, tourist attractions, and more. Paige, for example, got a $10 ticket to visit the Vatican online in advance. Tickets on site the day of are $42. That’s a big difference! The only downside to buying in advance is that if you don’t end up making it to that city or site, it can end up being a waste. So just make sure you don’t overbook.

    Paige Venice

    Paige took this herself in Venice. Look how cool the reflection on the boat is!

  5. Travel like the natives – Whichever mode of transportation is most popular with the natives of that city is probably also the cheapest. Instead of renting a car or flying, try alternative modes of transportation like trains, boats, and subway systems. Paige traveled from city to city in Europe mostly by train, because it was the cheapest. What was the most common way she got around once she was in a city? By foot! Walking not only saves on cab fares, but it lets you see more of the city up close and personal. Plus it’s free. Can’t beat that.
  6. Bring snacks – Food is expensive, but you gotta eat. Especially after a long day of sight-seeing. Obviously eating out can be a huge part of travel experience, but if you only eat out for your whole trip it can also be expensive. Try having at least one meal a day be “homemade” or rather something you buy at a grocery store and prepare on your own. If you’re going to be out for a long time sightseeing, bring snacks so you’re not tempted to buy food while you’re out. Plus bringing snacks means you get to check out foreign grocery stores, which will look a lot different than your local one. Who knows what yummy treats you’ll find for less.
  7. Keep track – This last one might seem obvious, but as she was climbing the Eiffel Tower I’m sure Paige was not thinking about her current checking account balance. It’s easy to lose track of how much you spend when you’re busy and having fun. But it’s also integral to making sure you stay within your budget. Use your mobile app to check your balance and recent transactions. Compare receipts to your app to make sure you got charged the correct amounts. Keep a list of what you’ve bought for gifts and souvenirs so you don’t overspend. Lastly, if you use a debit or credit card even once while abroad, checking your account online will help you prevent fraud on your account. If you see a transaction on your account that you didn’t do, let your financial institution know ASAP.

Although it sounds like if she had been able to Paige would have stayed in Europe forever, her return to reality has been a little easier because she’s in such great financial shape. She came back with money to spare, rather than being over budget or worried about how she was going to make credit card payments. That sounds like the right way to pay for Europe if you ask me!

6 Tips for Spending Less as a Bridesmaid


“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!

Tips for Furnishing Your Home on the Cheap

Recently my roommate of two years moved out of my apartment. Mostly I am suffering from separation anxiety. I have to watch the Real Housewives alone?! Who will listen to my angry feminist rants?! Who will order an unnecessarily large amount of Chinese food take out with me?!

But I also had this frightening moment a few weeks ago when she started packing where I suddenly realized that all of the things in the apartment are hers. The couch, the coffee table, the dining room table, the TV, the plates, silverware, pots, pans . . . ALL THE THINGS. I looked around and was like, “What do I even actually own in here?!” The answer is a large, framed One Direction poster and a microwave. What else do you need in life, though? I’ll be fine.

Maybe I will just give up my apartment and start living under my desk at work.

Maybe I will just give up my apartment and start living under my desk at work. It’s comfortable there. 

Luckily my new roommate is a real adult who owns stuff like a couch and spoons so I won’t be living alone in a completely empty apartment. But the change in living arrangements did make me realize how expensive it is to live on your own. Besides being able to afford your rent or mortgage payment, you also have to pay for all of the stuff that goes inside your living space. If I had needed to start from scratch on my own here’s an estimate of the things I would have to purchase and their cost:

  • Couch – $299.00
  • Chair – $109.00
  • Coffee Table –  $49.99
  • Area Rug – $300.00
  • TV – $139.99
  • Dining Room Table & Chairs – $500.00
  • Pots/Pans – $29.99
  • Cups, Plates, Bowls – $9.99
  • Silverware – $19.99
  • Toaster – $19.99

Total Cost = $1,477.94

That’s a lot of money! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $1,500 just laying around. Here’s a few tips to help make the cost of filling your living space more manageable:

  • Ask family and friends – People are always moving, redecorating, and reorganizing. You never know who might be looking to get rid of just the item you need. And they most likely will be willing to sell it to you for much cheaper than you could buy it new. Or maybe they’ll even just give to you for free. The only household items I do own are all things that were donated to me by friends and family. That microwave was given to me by a coworker. My bed I “borrowed” from the spare room at my parent’s house. But the One Direction poster, I will have you know, I bought with my own hard-earned money.
  • Buy used – If no one you know has the household item you’re looking for, try a consignment store or website. They often have gently used items for a reasonable price. People tend to think places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army only have clothes, but they often get larger items donated too. And online sites like Craigslist make it easy to shop for what you want. Even yard sales can have the items you’re looking for. It doesn’t have to be brand new, just functional and clean!
  • Shop bargain stores – My best tip for buying household items is the Christmas Tree Shop. If you’ve never been there you are missing out. They have a ton of kitchenware, furniture, decorations, etc. for super cheap. That’s where I found the pricing for the stuff on my list like plates and silverware. They had an entire 21-piece set of plates, bowls, cups, and mugs for $9.99. It was plastic and bright red but hey, it’ll do the job just fine!
  • Prioritize – Furnishing an apartment or home can be costly. Like I said, I certainly don’t have the extra cash in my budget to buy all the stuff I listed above in big big shopping spree. So the solution might be to prioritize what stuff you can’t live without and buy those things first. I need plates and forks so I don’t have to eat with my hands. But a rug can probably wait until I can save up the money to purchase one. You don’t have to buy it all in one day. Pace your purchases so they are affordable.

Hopefully one day soon I will have my own furniture and kitchenware. But until then, I have my poster of One Direction to keep me company while I eat my microwaved meals with my fingers. 🙂

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


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!

No More Renting! A Q&A with a First-Time Home-Owner

I might be 26, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a real adult. I think to achieve adulthood status you might need to know how to cook something other than grilled cheese for dinner. And you probably can’t do your laundry at your parents house. Or watch Pretty Little Liars . . .

My friend Meg is also 26, but I’m fairly confident that she is a real adult. I have evidence to prove it. In the last couple of months she has done these three majorly impressive things:

1. She graduated from med school. So she’s a doctor. A real, medical doctor.

2. She got married. In a beautiful ceremony on the water. No eloping to Vegas here.

3. She bought her first home.

To say I am proud of her is an understatement. You go, girl! Doing any one of these things on their own would be an achievement but Meg is a rock star of the adult world and did all three in like six weeks. Almost two years ago, Meg and her then fiance were just starting to think about getting their own place. So to help her out, I wrote three posts about first-time home buying (you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

Flash forward to today – Meg and her now husband are now the proud owners of their very own home and I have decided to swoop in to take all the credit. Just kidding. But I did bribe Meg with free brunch so that I could ask her some questions about her experience buying her first place. She had some super smart advice to share with other twenty-somethings considering purchasing a home of their own.

She owns this home. Can you feel the excitement?!

She owns this home. Can you feel the excitement?!

Q. Did any tips from my blog posts help you during the home-buying process?

A. The answer to this, surprisingly, is yes! Maybe I have this adult thing down after all. There were two key things Meg learned from my blog that were really helpful to her: what earnest money is and that she should get a home inspection. Earnest Money is basically money you pledge to put down on a home to show the seller that you’re interested. Meg said it can be the difference between getting a place or not because the larger your earnest deposit, the more serious they know you are about the purchase. Meg also used my tip of getting a home inspection before they bought. It only cost them $325, but they found out about $1,500 of upgrades that need to be done to the fireplace. The home inspector was a neutral third-party who advised Meg on potential issues with the home that they could use when negotiating the purchase.

Q. What were you looking for in your first home? What were your must-haves? Did you and your husband agree on what you were looking for in a new place?

A. It is important to note early on in this blog that Meg is an incredibly organized individual. So it did not surprise me to hear that Meg and her husband started their home-buying process by making three lists: a “Must Have” list, a “Would Like to Have” list, and a “Couldn’t Care Less” list. Their Must-Haves included: location, 2 bedrooms, off-street parking, a tucked-away space for a litterbox, and a good kitchen (they cook a lot, because they are adults). They agreed that these were the 5 most important things to them and that they wouldn’t seriously consider anywhere that didn’t check all of those items off their list. Their Would-Like-to-Haves were things that they might consider paying extra for or things that they would be excited to have in addition to their Must-Haves. If a potential home had outdoor space, a second bathroom, or a dining room, those things might make them pick that place over another viable option. Then the “Couldn’t Care Less” list was stuff they agreed wouldn’t influence their decision at all, like crown-molding or stainless steel appliances. Getting on the same page before they even started looking at listings made the search process a lot smoother. Even if you’re a single-purchaser, give yourself some solid guidelines for what you want to help you differentiate a potential home from just another listing.

Q. Did you use a realtor?

A. Yes! And you should too! Meg and her husband specifically looked for a realtor who was their age, which they would recommend to any other first-timers. She said it helped to have someone who they could easily relate to, who had a similar work/ living situation, and who was at the same phase in his life. And even though Meg did a lot of research on her own looking for potential places online, she said it was super helpful to have a professional also helping with the search.

Q. How was financing with a small, local FI different from working with a mega-bank?

A. Because of the convenience factor, Meg has had her checking account at a mega-bank that shall remain nameless since college. She’s moved around a lot from undergrad to med school to residency, so it seemed like her best option. But when it came time to finance her first home, she went with a small, local financial institution. The biggest reason for the switch? The personal service. She was able to build a relationship with her mortgage officer that she wouldn’t get at a bigger bank. She had one person working on her mortgage from start to finish, she had his office and cell number, and she knew any time she had a question he was just a phone call away. If she had financed her home at the big bank she had been using, she would have called a mortgage hotline with her questions, would have talked to a different rep every time she called, and probably would have waited on hold a lot. Meg had such a good experience banking small that she switched all of her accounts over from the mega-bank. Yay for local banking!

Q. What was the best advice you got?

A. This advice came from me! And probably everyone else she talked to because it’s super important. Once you get pre-approved for a mortgage, leave your credit alone. Don’t apply for any other loans, credit cards, etc. Your pre-approval is an estimate of what your mortgage rate be and how much you can spend that’s based on your credit when it was created. If you do anything to change your credit, your pre-approval can change too. You don’t want to find your dream place only to find out that you are no longer able to finance it.

Q. Was there anything that surprised you about the home-buying process?

A. Meg definitely knew what she was getting into before she bought a home. She spent over a year researching and prepping before she even started looking. But even for someone as well researched as her, she was surprised at how different the cost of things in Maine were from what generic articles online suggested they might be. This is because the cost of everything, from housing to materials to labor, all varies depending on where you live. You might read online that it will cost about $1,000 to fix that leaky shower head, but your shower has unique parts or faulty plumbing so it ends up costing you $3,000. On the flip side, she was prepared to pay as much as $1,500 for a home inspection that only ended up costing her $325. Be aware that even the best planned budget can get thrown off a little during this process, so give yourself a little leeway if you can.

Q. What advice do you have for other twenty-somethings looking to buy their first home?

A. Do your homework. You can’t be too prepared (believe Meg, because she tried). The first step to this whole process should be doing research. Look into everything, from what you’ll need to do to finance the home to what the housing market is like in your area. There’s a ton of online resources out there, as well as professionals like mortgage officers and realtors who can help you along the way. Doing research beforehand helps you set realistic expectations for what kind of home you can afford, how long the process will take, and what you will need to do.

It took them a year or so of prep and several months of searching, but Meg and her husband just recently purchased a condo in the West End of Portland. It meets all of their Must-Have requirements and it even has a fireplace. #fancy. Looks like all of their hard work has finally paid off. Congrats!