How College Grads Can Inexpensively Recreate The Feeling Of College Life

Posted on September 16, 2014 by:

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Bacon, Eggs, and Hash Brown

Swap expensive dinners out for breakfasts. You’re used to getting up early now anyway, right?

As much as you might hate it, the back-to-school whirlwind hit this month. For those of you lucky enough to still be in college, I assume you have that special feeling in your stomach that marks the beginning of a new semester.

But for those of us who have graduated, that feeling isn’t coming back. We had our time in the sun, and it seems over for us. I don’t want to accept that, though. I want to bring that feeling back. And as always, I want to do so without spending a pile of money.

***

Sure, my friends and I could fly to Fiji for a week, and things might start to feel like college again. But as much as I might yearn for that, it’s not worth breaking the bank over—especially with loan payments, cellphone plans, and other new, real-world costs to deal with.

Instead, let’s explore some affordable options to develop some fun college nostalgia.

Talk To Your Friends

This suggestion seems obvious, right? I acknowledge that. But specificity will clear up my point.

Texting, Facebook posts, and other online interaction are all great ways to keep in touch with friends from school, though none of them will feel true to the actual experience of friendship.

So, take things further. Set up a Skype date with a friend. Even better, my friends and I have done a couple Google Hangouts with a big group, including one for our fantasy football draft (another great way to keep in touch).

We laughed and bantered like we used to when we lived together, and none of us had to spend any extra money to do so.

Keep Learning

Your education is the most important part of college, but when you get nostalgic about your time there, it’s rarely for academic reasons. More likely, your academic memories feature late-night study sessions and stressful essay experiences.

I certainly had my fair share of those, yet I also miss the feeling of a really great class. Whether it was a course you couldn’t wait for every week or a particularly interesting lecture or reading assignment, experiencing the feeling of learning something brand new is special.

How can you match it? There are lots of ways you can continue your education. My favorite? Go read some fascinating non-fiction, or find a documentary on a subject that’s new to you. And for maximum points, tell your friends to read or watch the same thing and host a Google Hangout to talk about it.

The Most Important Meal Of The Day

I miss the late nights out in college, but I miss the mornings after even more. Having breakfast with all my roommates, recapping the previous night and looking forward to more, was always a joy.

While I no longer have a meal plan to pay for it, going out to breakfast is still a cost-effective option. It’s certainly cheaper than going out to dinner with a group of friends.

So, gather up a group and head to brunch. You’ll spend less than if that same group went out to dinner, and your bellies will fill with eggs, bacon, and that fleeting feeling of college days.

How do you carry that “college feeling” into your post-college life? Share your tips in the comments.

(Photo: www.bluewaikiki.com)

Are You Taking Advantage Of These 5 Employer Benefits?

Posted on September 12, 2014 by:

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Plate of bagels

Bagel Friday!

A little while ago, my fellow SALT™ blogger Bridget wrote a great piece about considering total compensation when comparing job offers.

I’d like to take it a step further and talk about maximizing those benefits after you’ve started your job. After all, just because they offer the benefits doesn’t mean your employer will remind (or require) you to use them.

Here are five you’ll want to make sure you take advantage of.

***

1. Retirement Contributions And Matches

Many firms offer some type of retirement compensation, typically in the form of direct or vested contributions. At some companies, this will happen “automatically”; you’ll notice the deduction directly from your gross pay. Others, however, may require you to contribute a certain amount (say 5%) before they contribute (most likely less than or equal to your personal contribution, percentage wise).

If you’re struggling with how much to contribute to your retirement plan, selecting the maximum your company matches is a good idea. I mean, if you take nothing else from this article, remember this: If your employer offers a matching contribution, take it … all of it. It’s literally free money. No joke.

2. Tuition Reimbursement

Many companies offer some level of tuition reimbursement to further your education. Sure, maybe you just got out of college, but what else are you going to do with all your new “free time”?

The rules and amount reimbursed will vary greatly. To take advantage of this benefit, start by checking if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, how much notification they need beforehand, when they distribute the reimbursement (either directly to you or to your school, which could affect your decision to borrow student loans), and which courses/programs the benefit includes.

Also, check if there are restrictions placed on the reimbursement. The most common of these is committing to work for your current employer “x” number of years after receiving the benefit.

3. “Other” Reimbursements

If your job requires travel, check your company’s travel reimbursement policy to know what you can/can’t expense and any limits.

Some “lesser known” reimbursements? Your cell phone (the portion used for work), home utilities (the portion used during work hours if you work from home), and commuter expenses. Not all of these will apply to each company, so make sure and check.

Most important, have a system for tracking and submitting your expenses. Personally, I save receipts and dedicate every other Friday (with a reminder on my calendar) to submit my expenses.

4. Vacation

Might seem like a “no brainer”; however, according to Glassdoor.com, the average U.S. employee only takes half of their vacation time. Can you believe it? Not this guy—I love vacation!

Make sure you understand your company’s vacation policy. How much advance notice do you need to give? Do vacation days rollover each year? What are “peak times” for your industry (FYI … asking for time off during these peaks might be frowned upon).

I try to submit my vacation as early as possible. This helps me avoid any last minute requests AND ensures I maximize my time off.

5. Freebies

From pizza parties, ice cream socials, and bagels on Fridays to the more extreme (wheeee!!!), free perks around the office are awesome. Seriously, they are.

Not to mention, these “freebies” typically accompany some type of event (e.g., a “lunch and learn”) or networking opportunity. Looking to move up in your company and meet some “higher ups”? Attend these events.

And unlike college, don’t show up just for the food. Interact with people and ask questions. You are a professional, after all. (Don’t let that stop you from snagging a cookie for later, though.)

What benefits does your company offer that surprised you? 

(Photo: dearbarbz)

How To Stock Your First Kitchen On A Budget

Posted on September 5, 2014 by:

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Fleamarket at Hötorget, Stockholm: old plates.

For your first place, a cheap dining set is better than a matching one.

September is here, and across the country, students are moving into new apartments. For many of you, this marks the first time with your own kitchen. If you and your roommates are still debating who’s going to buy what, be careful—it can be quite expensive to stock the cabinets and drawers.

If you start with a well-stocked kitchen, and you learn to use all of your kitchen supplies, you can save money on food forever. Cooking cheap and easy meals at home is my number one way to cut down on living expenses. Follow these tips to get everything you need on the cheap.

***

1. Ask Parents And Relatives For Kitchen Goods

The best way to stock your kitchen is for free. I’ve gotten the majority of my kitchen supplies from my parents or grandparents, after they buy new things.

My dad saved an old dish set in the attic for me for years. My mom had enough utensils for 50 people to eat at once in her utensil drawer, so she had no problem sparing a set for me. Make sure your roommates check if their parents have any spare kitchenware, too.

Once you figure out what you already have, then you’ll know what to buy as a group. It’s best to divide the kitchen supply list, so you don’t have any duplicates. When I moved in to my last apartment, we had six cheese graters, but no can opener. Buying separately will also help you figure out who should take which items when you move out later.

2. Buy Secondhand Kitchen Goods

If you can’t stock the cabinets with your parents’ used stuff, the next cheapest way is to get other people’s used stuff at thrift stores and yard sales. Buying at yard sales is probably the cheapest way, and there will still be plenty of these even after move-in time. Look on Craigslist for sales in your area.

You can also shop for cookware at thrift stores like Salvation Army and Goodwill. Keep in mind: branches of these stores in small towns will be cheaper than those in big cities.

3. Buy New Kitchen Goods At Discount Stores Or Online

Many people instinctually head to Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, or some other department store to get their home goods when they move in to a new place. However, even if you don’t like the idea of second-hand kitchen supplies, there are cheaper ways to get new things.

In the Greater Boston Area, my favorite places to do cheap shopping are discount retailers like Family Dollar, Ocean State Job Lot, and Ikea. I’m sure you have similar places where you live.

Another option is to order stuff online. Amazon.com is a magical place, which usually offers low prices and free shipping. Wayfair is another great online retail site for home goods. You can also check out deals for things like knife sets or cookware on subscription shopping sites by becoming a member of Groupon Goods and Gilt. You can also join mailing lists for your favorite online retailers and brand websites, so you can get special deals emailed to you.

4. Get Only What You Need

So, now that we’ve highlighted where to get stuff, what should actually be on your shopping list? Here’s a list of my essentials that you and your roommates can work off of to ensure you don’t forget anything:

  • Silverware
  • Silverware drawer organizer
  • Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Wooden stirring spoons
  • Can opener
  • Sharp knives
  • Dishes
  • 2-3 different sized cooking pots
  • 2-3 different sized frying pans
  • Assorted sizes of baking sheets and baking pans
  • Liquid and dry measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Cheese grater
  • Microwave
  • Toaster and/or toaster oven
  • Coffeemaker

Cleaning/Other Kitchen Supplies

  • Dish soap
  • Sponges
  • Scrub brush
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Dish drying rack
  • Dish towels
  • Oven mitts/potholders
  • All purpose cleaning spray
  • Mop/bucket
  • Broom/dust pan

Optional Conveniences

  • Immersion blender and/or regular blender
  • Hand mixer
  • Electric Kettle

Where do you buy your cheap kitchen goods? Share in the comments. 

(Photo: vilseskogen)

4 Free Ways To Continue Your Education After College

Posted on August 11, 2014 by:

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Three presenters on stage with projection screen, room full of people seated at conference

Attending a conference is a great way to learn more about your field, and your employer might even pay for it.

During my time in undergrad, I learned that school is more than sitting in a classroom. So, even if you’re not heading back to school in the fall, that doesn’t mean you can’t nurture your love for learning into your adulthood!

You can further your education without filing that FAFSA all over again. Get resourceful, and use your connections and community to improve your skill set and beef up your résumé. Or heck—just learn something new because you think it’s cool. That works too. Here are four ways you can do it for free.

***

1. Start At “Home”

You need a place to begin your journey. Why not choose the place where your last education ended: your alma mater!

You are a walking ambassador for future generations, so contact your university’s alumni center and see if any networking events are coming up. The college experience was more than just a piece of paper in an expensive frame; it’s a ticket to meet people that you otherwise never would have.

My journalism professors were editors of the Washington Post, NY Times best-selling authors, respected academics, and activists. It’s their job to help the next wave of people in their industry. Shoot them an email, and ask for book suggestions from past syllabi, any industry events, or just to keep you in mind for any opportunities they see pop up.

Professors know that students rarely do the work to follow up and engage, so the fact that you circle back and contact them shows initiative.

2. Ask Your Job

If you currently work in your desired field, approach your employer and start a conversation about how they can help you achieve your goals.

Is there a conference you’d like to attend across the country? A 6-week online course? If it will help you excel at work, your employer may foot the bill! Everyone’s company culture is different, but it’s always a good idea to prepare a formal proposal detailing how their investment will benefit them and the company goals.

Is the convention, class, or trip unrelated to your job? Get creative! Since I work for a hair website, I usually promise to be an ambassador for NaturallyCurly.com wherever I go. I post relevant pictures to social media and even contribute relevant written pieces, like showing how curly haired women in different industries rock their natural hair with pride.

3. Use The Internet

Be a self-starter! Log on and get some learnin’!

I’ve learned how to use film editing software, self-publish a book, and improve my social media marketing strategy—all relevant things to my field. Millions of YouTube tutorials and blog posts can guide you. Vimeo has a Film 101 section perfect for budding filmmakers. Google is your friend!

You’ll need to do some research on your own, but for the creative fields that I’m interested in, I subscribe to email newsletters from The Create Daily, 99u.com, and Poynters News Univeristy. They send regular updates on classes, conventions, and webinars. Sometimes they’re free. And if not, refer to tip #2.

4. Crowdsource

Hey—if you can get your friends and family to cover the expenses for some continuing education, go for it!

We all know the heavy hitters like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but have you tried Patreon? If you have creative endeavors, it’s a way to let your supporters, fans, and customers help you fundraise!

We live in a time when information is at our fingertips. Take these steps, and treat your education just like you would any other college class. Stay focused, and reap the benefits.

What do you want to learn next, and where will you learn it? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: wikimedia)

These Effortless Shortcuts Could Equal Big Savings For You

Posted on August 6, 2014 by:

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Pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters in pile

Save your change from fun purchases, and within a year you could have enough to make a huge student loan payment. (Don’t pay it off in pennies, though.)

I’m all about maximizing efficiencies at school and work, so it’s no surprise I look for ways to replicate these efforts in my financial life.

I’m always looking for financial life-hacks, and below are my three most effective ones for saving and paying off debt.

***

1. Make Your Credit Card Company Pay You

OK, so last time we talked, I said that using credit instead of cash is a budgeting mistake you should avoid. That’s still true if you’ve been using your credit card for unnecessary spending. In that case, skip this tip until you get your shopping habits under control

However, if you’ve mastered the art of not treating available credit like extra income, using a credit card can be an excellent way to organize your bills and get some free money. All you have to do is find a no-fee, cash-back rewards card and then automate your regular bills, like your cellphone, Netflix, and utilities, to it. This will not only ensure you never miss a due date (and face late fees), but it will also earn you cash back on things you’re buying anyway.

I get a check for $50 from my cash-back credit card about every 2 months, and I always set it aside for my emergency fund. That $50 is not a huge amount on its own, but it equals an extra $300 per year in savings—without working any extra hours or cutting spending elsewhere.

2. Use Cash, Then Keep The Change

Now that I have a regular income, I take out cash from my bank account every week for “fun” spending on things like coffee and dinners out. When the cash runs out, so does my fun. But more importantly, I save the change and small bills in an old-school piggy bank to use against my MBA student loans when I graduate.

Because Canada uses both $1 and $2 coins, a little bit of change will go a long way a year from now! My piggy bank holds about $400 to $600 when full, so if I drop in whatever weighs down my wallet every week, I’ll be able to make a big payment against my small graduate school loan a year from now without feeling the pinch.

Commit to putting away anything smaller than a $5 bill, and you’ll have hundreds of dollars in a matter of months.

3. Shop Where There’s Cash Back

You might already look online for deals and coupons, but have you tried rebate websites like Ebates?

Ebates offers you 1% to 5% cash back for shopping online at stores you probably already visit frequently, like Amazon. Couple this with a cash-back credit card, and next time you buy textbooks for school or a gift for mom and dad, you’ll likely earn 2%+ cash back on purchases you had to make anyway.

***

When it comes to spending, there’s never any reason to pay more than you have to; however, sometimes the secret isn’t finding a sale, but getting money back. Pocketing extra change and cash-back rewards will help you meet your savings and debt repayment goals faster without having to change any of your behavior.

Who said money management can’t be effortless?

What’s your favorite financial life-hack? Share it in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

3 Ways That Apps Can Help You Survive Long-Distance Friendships

Posted on August 5, 2014 by:

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White sphere with symbols for apps

Using free apps to stay in touch makes the world seem a little smaller.

In high school, I counted down the days until summer vacation. But now that I’m in college, I’m really starting to understand the “Summertime Sadness.”

With classes and homework out of the way for 3 months, there’s plenty of time to hang out with friends. In high school, most of my friends were a short drive away, so pool parties and bonfires were weekly events for us. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in college.

***

I’m in touch with a few high school friends but much closer with people from college. By closer, however, I mean emotionally, not geographically. Financially, I can’t travel to New York or Maryland every weekend (or Australia … at all), so I’ve had to find ways to connect with the people I love without emptying my bank account.

You probably know that free apps like Skype and Snapchat can help with this. However, even with great services like these, you can still lose touch—if you don’t have a plan. If you’re in a similar situation, follow these three steps to ensure your relationships can go the distance.

1. Put It On The Calendar

Video chatting, especially through Skype, is hands down my favorite method of communication this summer. Until hologram technology takes off, video chatting with friends is the closest thing to hanging out in person. But with summer internships and plans keeping you busy, it’s easy to tell your friends, “Oh, we should Skype soon!” and never actually do it.

Instead, schedule weekly virtual dates with your friends. You might think you don’t have time for these, but if you mark them on your calendar like you’d schedule gym time or lunch plans, staying in touch gets easier. My best friend and I have a weekly Skype date, and that half-hour is one of the highlights of my week. It makes the distance between Massachusetts and Maryland seem just a little smaller.

2. Share Moments And Messages

When I first got Snapchat, I was all about just sending and receiving selfies. Now, my friends and I use it to share moments with each other from our everyday lives: pictures of our vacation spots, Frisbee games, and jury duty (hey, it can’t all be fun).

While you can use Facebook or Instagram to share photos, Snapchat is different because your pictures go to individuals—making them more personal than a public post. You can also add text on top of the pictures, captioning them with a heartfelt note or an inside joke.

So, this summer, send pictures of the fun things you do to your friends, but be sure to add a message to let them know you miss them. Think of it as like a postcard (without the cost of postage!) telling your friends you wish they were with you.

3. Remember You’ll Be Together Soon!

You can find a ton of free apps to count down the days until you see your friends. A countdown is a good reminder that while this summer may seem endless, you’ll reunited be soon enough. I use Dreamdays Lite because it’s pretty and I can customize my countdowns with my own pictures.

Pick an app and set up a countdown until the next time you’ll see your friends. By keeping busy and staying in touch, the days will fly by, and that’s the best cure for “Summertime Sadness” I’ve found.

How do you stay in touch with your friends over the long summer break? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Not-So-Common Ways To Cut Your Utility Bills

Posted on July 30, 2014 by:

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Brown cat in washing machine

To make laundry on a Friday night more fun, have your cat help.

I found my dream apartment. Inexpensive, great location, and it allows cats. The only drawback? I have to pay my own utilities.

Until this point, I didn’t even know people paid for “sewage.” Now, it’s on my roster of monthly expenses.

***

After doing some research, I learned that the average one-bedroom apartment spends about $200 a month on utilities (sans cable). That’s enough to cover coffee out every day and a gym membership! Or, ahem, to take a chunk out of my student debt every month.

Fortunately, my parents’ frugal utility habits stuck with me. Hopefully, I don’t need to tell you college-educated individuals that turning things off when you’re not using them saves money. However, here are some less common ways you could be reducing your bills.

Do Your Laundry At Night

Some energy companies charge less for using water during off-peak hours. Call your energy providers and ask if they offer this discount. If they do, find out what “off peak” means to them. It’s different for each company but usually means sometime after dark. When you talk to them, ask about any additional discounts too.

Doing laundry at night has saved me money in another way too: Friday night laundry is a great excuse to stay in at night in my PJs with a bowl of ice cream and a good book (Netflix = energy).

Set Your Water Heater To 120 Degrees

This temperature is toasty enough to kill the germs on your dishes, wash your clothes squeaky clean, and even take a nice hot shower. It also prevents you from making things too hot and spending unnecessary cash … oh, and scalding yourself.

Fill In The Cracks

The more cracks and spaces in your apartment, that more difficult it is to heat or cool. If you don’t have a spastic cat (like I do) that tears apart everything hanging from anything, put towels along the base and frame of windows and doors to help with this. If you do have a feline like this, or if you simply want something more heavy duty, foam lining is a cheap purchase to save money in the long term.

Use A Fan … In Every Season

Heat rises. So, if you’re blessed with a ceiling fan, use it in the summer to suck the hot up and out, then keep it on in the winter to push that heat down. This will keep you and your thermostat happy. Just make sure your fan’s blades rotate in the proper direction for both.

If you don’t have a ceiling fan, consider other fans and how you can place them to evenly distribute the air. My friend tells me this piece of advice is common sense and should be omitted from this post; I say she’s a smarty-pants, and I don’t think so. So, I’m including it.

Install A Low-Flow Shower Head

Water gets expensive fast—especially when your roommate insists on splitting the shower bill, even though you take a 5-minute shower and he takes a 40-minute shower every day.

One way to cut the bill (other than finding a non-aquatic roommate) is buying a low-flow showerhead. This will cut shower water usage in half and make your roommate’s shower time much less enjoyable. That will teach him.

Have A “No Electricity Night”

Make your electricity-saving endeavors into a party. Pick a night to tell stories over a flashlight and under a pillow fort, or enjoy some time by a fire outside. Invite people over for a no-electric potluck. People will get creative with what they can bring that doesn’t need to be heated—and you’ll eat for free! Win-win!

How do you save on your utility costs? Share your tips in the comments.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Why Summer Is The Best Time To Save On Winter Costs

Posted on July 25, 2014 by:

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Snowman on snowy roof with wooden sign that says "Frozen"

Don’t let the cold bother you anyway. Get ready for winter costs in summer, and you’ll be a happy snowman!

All right, so who is ready for winter? Most likely, no one. Except for those of you who “like” winter (I’m exceedingly skeptical that you people are actually telling the truth).

Despite our most adamant efforts to avoid winter, it will be upon us before you know it.

But why am I killing your summertime buzz with this winter talk? Because summer is the perfect time to begin winterizing your home/apartment—and your wallet will thank you for the forethought and commitment to planning ahead. Here are three things you can do to get started.

***

1. Set Up A Home Energy Audit

If you’re looking to save some money this winter, you might want to begin with a home energy assessment or audit. Many states even offer a free assessment along with rebates or incentives if you decide to upgrade your heating, add insulation, etc. We had an energy assessment when we first moved into our home. Although we didn’t take advantage of any offers, we still got a free programmable thermostat … not too shabby.

Why do this in the summer? For starters, many solutions help with heating and cooling your home. Also, if you do decide to upgrade, starting in the summer provides more lead-time. Not to mention, a lot of people wait until the first signs of winter to take action, which could make it more difficult (and costly) to find someone to complete the work. Beat the crowd.

2. Consider Alternative Heating Options

Like many older New England homes, our house’s primary heating source is oil—a costly (and dirty) option. Last winter, my wife and I began researching alternative heating options, and we landed on inserting a pellet stove insert into our fireplace (which, ironically, is another heat “drain”).

While the initial upfront cost is high (anywhere from $2,000-$4,500, depending on the stove), operation and maintenance are very reasonable. Depending on how long you plan on staying in your home/apartment, your current heating source, and (of course) where you live, you could expect to see a return on investment in as little as 3 years.

Since the beginning of summer, we’ve noticed prices for these stoves dropping, as companies try to clear way for new inventory. This also put us in a great negotiating position.

3. Don’t Overlook House “Projects”

I put projects in quotes mainly because I love using quotes, but also because some of these aren’t your traditional, large-scale “projects” (see, there I go again). Quick fixes are important to maximize your winter savings. For instance, cleaning the filter in your furnace. No doubt a dirty job, but the yearly maintenance is necessary (especially after a long winter) to ensure it runs efficiently. And an efficient furnace is a less expensive one.

Or how about insulating your water pipes? Energy.gov, which has illustrated instructions for this easy job, estimates that homeowners who spend $10 to $15 and 3 hours insulating pipes on a small home will save $8 to $12 a year in energy costs.

***

So while you are wasting away in Margaritaville this summer, remember to channel some inner resolve and ask yourself “WWBVD”?

Do you plan on getting ready for winter early? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Can You Afford To Get Married?

Posted on July 23, 2014 by:

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Cupcakes and cookies on a table

Cupcakes and cookies won’t cost as much as a big wedding cake, and they’re just as delicious.

You may not be able to afford the wedding of your dreams. You may not be able to afford the wedding of your mother’s dreams. You may feel like you can’t even afford to be a guest at someone else’s wedding.

But you can afford to get married—even if you have student loans.

A marriage license and a trip to City Hall or the chapel don’t actually cost that much. It’s the big party that goes over budget. But there are ways to do it on the cheap without feeling like you’re cheaping out.

***

I don’t just mean looking on Pinterest for DIY wedding decorations, although that will save you some cash too. I mean changing your attitude about what a wedding means.

The bridal industry loves to quote the price of an average wedding at about $25,000. But remember, giant celebrity weddings are included in that kind of figure. Most weddings cost a lot less. Mine was under half that, and we could probably have gotten it lower if we really tried much more. Here’s what worked for us:

1. Keep it small and plan quickly: Fewer people and less planning time means a small affair. We thought of it as a large dinner party rather than a small wedding. We managed to keep it under 60 guests.

2. Know your priorities: Everyone’s got one thing they think is most important. For us, it was food. We cut way back on the invitations, the dress, the ring, the entertainment, the transportation, the wedding party … everything but food and drink for the guests.

I know one couple who wanted lots of friends at the wedding, so they set up a big tent out in the country, did all their own decorations, and had the groom’s college roommate’s band play the reception. The band was awful and the food was forgettable, but everyone had a great time.

3. Pay for it yourselves: If it’s your money on the line, you’ll find it a lot easier to pay for what you want, and not pay for what you don’t want. If someone’s parents are paying the bill, they’re also calling the shots.

Bucking Expensive Traditions

We also saved money by skipping out on some traditions we didn’t feel especially attached to. You may find it hard to give up on some things, but try to remind yourself that no wedding can have the whole shebang.

Cake: Almost any other pastry costs less than a four-tier wedding cake. Some people do regular cakes, or cupcakes or cookies or selections of pastries. We opted for pie.

Ring: The pressure to buy a diamond, and to buy a big one, is immense. But the diamond engagement ring was largely invented by the diamond cartels and their ad agencies in the 1930s. Consider a beautiful ring that’s not a diamond—you can find great value in sapphires and rubies these days.

If you must have a diamond, consider practicality before you go for the biggest one you can afford: AskMen points out that a big solitaire is actually kind of hard to wear every day. In fact, I know one woman stopped wearing her ring when she accidentally scratched her daughter’s face with it. My wife still wears her ring, but it’s a low profile setting. Not coincidentally, we paid less than a thousand for the engagement ring and matching wedding band.

If you do want a diamond, shop wisely, and look to estate sales and vintage stores, where diamond rings sell for a fraction of their original price.

Clothing: Wedding dresses are absurdly expensive. A good party dress tends to be cheaper and looks just as nice. Dresses in with prints or in colors other than white are especially useful, because you can wear them again. Grooms look as good in a suit as in a tuxedo, and will find they can wear them on more occasions—like job interviews.

Managing Money for a New Couple

Of course, the cost of the wedding isn’t the only reason people say they’re afraid they can’t afford to get married.  And if you’re reluctant to get married because you have cold feet and are just using the cost as an excuse, we can’t help you.

But if you worry that you and your sweetheart have different amounts of student loan debt, or fear that your debt will hold your partner back, check out these articles on couples and finance:

Are you planning a wedding on a small budget? Tell us about it in the comments!

(Photo: thingsarebetterwithaparrott)

Save On Travel Accommodations By Staying With Locals

Posted on July 18, 2014 by:

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red couch in living room with bookshelf, plants, and lamps.

A couch may not be as comfortable as a hotel bed, but it will save you a lot of money.

When traveling, one of the biggest expenses is usually accommodations.

If you’re backpacking in Europe, you’ll likely find that hotels are out your price range—even budget ones usually cost at least $70 per night. Hostels could fit your budget better, but their prices vary greatly, with the minimum usually about $20 per night.

Fortunately, savvy travelers can find lodging that’s cheaper than this—or even free! As long as you do your research, maintain an open mind, and stay safety-conscious, you can stretch your cash by staying with locals. Here are different ways to do it.

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Stay With Someone You Know

The most obvious one, right? On my first big Eurotrip, my friend and I planned most of our travels around where we would have a place to stay with people we know. Now that I’m back in Europe, I’ve met up and stayed with several people I met that previous trip. Because that’s the secret here: Make friends while traveling.

Two summers ago, I stayed for a night with a local resident I befriended in Berlin after I checked out of my hostel. She welcomed me into her home for a full week when I returned to Berlin this summer. This trip, I also stayed in a Berlin hostel for a few days, and then visited someone I met there, at his house outside London. Just be friendly and offer other travelers a place to stay with you if they ever make it to your home. They will likely do the same for you!

Surf Couches

The international Couchsurfing network links travelers with local hosts who have a spare sleeping surface. You can request a place to stay by sending personalized messages to potential hosts. Network users fill out detailed profiles and review the other Couchsurfers they meet, in order for people to get an idea of other members’ personalities and past couch-surfing experiences.

Joining is technically free, but some hosts ask that surfers bring some small contribution to the household, like groceries for a shared meal or toilet paper. You can also spend $25 for an optional “verification” that supposedly improves your odds of getting accepted as a host or guest. However, most of the hosts I’ve stayed with weren’t verified—I relied on user reviews instead!

In my experience, the Couchsurfing philosophy is all about social and cultural exchange—it’s not the best for people who simply want a free bed when they come home from a long day of sightseeing. Couch hosts are also more likely to welcome other couch hosts, so if you want to surf, consider having travelers stay at your home first!

Volunteer

Several online networks facilitate homestays for travelers to take a “working holiday.” Organizations such as WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), HelpX, and Workaway match willing and able workers with hosts who need help during the day, in exchange for a place to sleep and some meals.

Members pay a small fee to join some of these sites, but it costs around the same amount as one or two nights in a hostel. Many of these volunteer exchanges have a minimum stay of about 2 weeks.

Again, this is not a typical tourist vacation option; however, for those looking for an interesting, immersive experience, a volunteer exchange is something to investigate. The most common type of working holiday is farm work, but other opportunities include working at a hostel, cooking for other volunteers, babysitting, website work, and much more.

Save A Few Bucks On Hostels

The arrangements above aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If none of them is possible for you, I can offer one pro tip for getting a slightly cheaper night at a hostel: Do not use any of the popular hostel booking sites. These are all a bit more expensive than booking directly through the hostel’s personal website.

You can use these booking sites to find a hostel with available beds, but then book through the hostel website. You may need to send an email or make a phone call, which seems like more work, but it’s worth it if you want to save a few dollars!

How do you save on accommodations when traveling? Share your tips in the comments!

(Photo: rabi)