TMMO April 2009 Progress & YNAB Pro Preview

Attending Dave Ramsey’s Town Hall for Hope web cast at the same church where Chris and I took the Financial Peace University course last year reminded me that I hadn’t reported on our progress towards debt-free status in a while. The truth is that things have pretty much been running on autopilot without much need for tinkering on our parts since we set up all of the automatic transfers through our banks and lenders.

Since October 2007, we have gotten quite a bit done, though not necessarily with what Dave Ramsey would dub gazelle intensity.

Continue reading »

Expanded Baby Steps to Financial Peace

I typed up the following overview of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to Financial Peace last year after taking the FPU course. It’s based on an existing expanded baby steps list, some quotes from the DaveRamsey.com site, and some of my favorite related links and resources. If your finances need an overhaul in 2009, check out the steps below and give some thought to giving them a try.

The Expanded Baby Steps to Financial Peace

Both Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course and his Total Money Makeover book are based on the premise of following seven Baby Steps to Financial Peace. These steps are to be completed in order for best results, but inevitably questions like “Where in the Baby Steps should I start saving for a house downpayment?” and “When do I get life insurance?” that are not covered specifically in the original seven steps always come up.

Luckily, the folks over at the MyTotalMoneyMakeover.com forums have come up with a pretty comprehensive list of expanded Baby Steps for us to use. In the unlikely event that your particular situation is not included in these expanded steps, try posting your question in the free Living Like No One Else forum.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the Expanded Baby Steps!

Baby Steps 0.X: Before You Begin

These are the “pre-Baby Steps” that should be taken care of before you begin the official program. Your chances of success will improve greatly if you can set the stage by making sure you are adequately insured, knowing where you money is coming from and going to every month, getting rid of unnecessary expenses and possessions, and completing as many of these items as possible.

  • 0.1 Commit to NEVER borrow money EVER for ANYTHING other than possibly a house.
  • 0.2 Talk with spouse and get him/her on the same page as you concerning finances.
  • 0.3 Do a written budget.
  • 0.4 Temporarily stop all retirement contributions.
  • 0.5 Get current on all bills. (You MUST have Shelter, Food, Utilities, Basic clothing)
  • 0.6 Get Health insurance NOW (chances of getting sick w/ major medical bills are larger than that of death), especially if you have children.
  • 0.7 Get Life insurance NOW if you have considerable debt/your family couldn’t make it financially if you died. Especially important if you have children !! Social Insecurity provides only a small amount of coverage if you have dependents.
  • 0.8 Amputate “toys” (bikes, boats, ATV’s etc) if they will keep you from completing the snowball within 12 months
  • 0.9 Cut lifestyle (Cut CATV, Cellphone, Regular phone “extra’s”, Internet, Eating out, etc) and/or take second job if $1000 EF will take more than 30-90 days. (depending on income)

Tools & Resources:

* If you do not have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer, you can download OpenOffice.org for free to view the spreadsheet or use Google Docs online.

Baby Step 1: Save $1000 in a starter emergency fund

This is the first official Baby Step. Dave Ramsey states that most families can come up with this amount in around a month. Save only the $1000 for now (or $500 if your annual household income is under $20,000), then move onto Baby Step 2. The $1000 starter emergency fund (EF) should take care of the most common unexpected expenses like car repairs that would normally send you back into credit card use when you are trying to pay down your debts.

From Daveramsey.com:

An emergency fund is for those unexpected events that are not regularly planned for happening in life – you lose your job, there’s an unexpected pregnancy, the car’s transmission goes out, or, or, or. Something like this WILL happen. Money magazine says that 78% of us will have a major negative event happen in any given 10-year period of time. So get a rainy-day fund, an umbrella.

This beginning emergency fund will keep life’s little Murphies from turning into new debt while you work off the old debt. If a real emergency happens, you can handle it with your emergency fund.

It’s also the perfect time to get in the great habit of budgeting. John Maxwell says, “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.” You don’t have to start a household budget with a perfect month. Start where you are. Write down what you have today. Income and expenses. From then on, spend all your income on paper with purpose before the month begins.

No more borrowing! It’s time to break the cycle of debt!

How do you get this $1000 together?

  • Hold a garage sale!
  • List smaller, easily-shipped items (tech items do well) on eBay, Amazon, or Half.com.
  • List bigger items on your local Craigslist for pick up ONLY, and watch out for scammers!
  • Get a second job in the evenings or on the weekends. This isn’t forever–just until you power through Baby Step 2.
  • Cut back on non-essential spending.
  • Cancel subscriptions to luxury services.
  • Visit the IRS Withholding Calculator and see if you have been overpaying your income tax each month. (Hint: If you usually get a big, fat refund every April, chances are you can free up a lot of money by just changing your withholding for the rest of the year.)

Expanded Baby Step 1 Actions:

  • 1.1 Chop up your credit cards (CC’s). You have an EF now, no NEED to keep those CC’s !!
  • 1.2 Amputate cars that you can’t pay off within 24 months (You have an EF to fix the “bondo buggy” if something should happen.)
  • 1.3 Consider raising insurance deductibles to $500 or $1000 and dropping full coverage on paid-for “bondo buggy” (You have an EF ya know!)

Baby Step 2: Pay off debt using Debt Snowball

2.0 Pay off all debt except for the house using Debt Snowball

From Daveramsey.com:

The math seems to lean more toward paying the highest interest debts first, but what I have learned is that personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior. The principle is to stop everything except minimum payments and focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, nothing gets accomplished because all your effort is diluted.

You need some quick wins in order to stay pumped enough to get out of debt completely. When you start knocking off the easier debts, you will start to see results and you will start to win in debt reduction.

So list your debts in order with the smallest payoff or balance first (excluding the house). Do not be concerned with interest rates or terms unless two debts have similar payoffs, then list the higher interest rate debt first.

Expanded Baby Step 2 Actions:

  • 2.1 Start car replacement fund (do not PURCHASE car until step 3 is done or old car dies)

Tools:
Use the Lloyd’s Debt Snowball spreadsheet to plan your Debt Snowball payments. If you do not have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer, you can download OpenOffice.org for free to view the spreadsheet or use Google Docs online.

Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Once you’ve paid off all of your debt except for the house, it’s time to pad that $1000 starter emergency fund up to a full three to six months of basic living expenses so you will be truly ready for the bigger emergencies that may crop up: job loss, extended illness or injury, etc.

Having a fully-funded EF will also allow you to reduce the cost of certain types of insurance (esp. car and medical) by increasing your deductibles.

From Daveramsey.com:

Congrats! Now that you’ve completed the first two Baby Steps, you have momentum! But wait… don’t start throwing all your “extra” money into investments quite yet.

It’s time to build up your full emergency fund.

Ask yourself, “Self, what would it take for you to live for 3 to 6 months if you lost your income?” Your answer to that question is how much you should save.

An emergency is something you had no way of knowing it was coming, something that has a major impact on you and your family if you don’t cover it. A great place to keep this money is in a money market account.

Remember, this stash of money is NOT an investment; it is insurance you’re paying to yourself, a buffer between you and life.

Expanded Baby Step 3 Actions:

  • 3.1 Start furniture or other non-essential stuff replacement fund
  • 3.2 Move up in car if you still feel the need to (must pay cash for it)

Tools & Resources:
Dave recommends keeping your emergency fund in a money market account or other liquid bank account that pays a decent amount of interest but is NOT an investment account. Here are some reliable online savings accounts and a frequently-updated list of high-yield checking accounts:

Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

From Daveramsey.com:

If you’ve reached this step, you have no payments (but the house) and have saved 3 to 6 months of your living expenses.

It’s finally time to get serious about building wealth.

I don’t suggest investing more than 15% because the extra money will help you complete the next two steps – college savings and paying off your home early.

Well, why not less than 15%? Some people want to invest less or none so they can get a child through school or pay off the home super-fast. I hate to tell you, but the kids’ degrees won’t feed you at retirement, and if you throw all your money into your house, you’ll end up having to sell it to eat and buy the book 72 Ways to Prepare Alpo and Love It. Bad plan.

Expanded Baby Step 4 Actions:

  • 4.1 Take your first vacation since finding Dave if you can pay cash for it. (No using the EF !!!)
  • 4.2 Save up 20% for home purchase OR pay down existing mortgage to the point you can drop PMI.

Tools & Resources
It’s possible that you already know everything about opening a retirement account and investing in mutual funds, but on the off chance that you need some pointers, here are some excellent starting points:

Baby Step 5: College funding for children

From Daveramsey.com:

Whether you are saving to go college or you’re saving for your child to go, the important principle is to start NOW! You should have already started Baby Step 4 – investing 15% of your income – before saving for college.

In order to have enough money saved for college, you must aim at something. Your assignment is to determine how much per month you should be saving at 12% interest in order to have enough for college. If you save at 12% and inflation is at 4%, then you are moving ahead of inflation at a net of 8% per year!

NEVER save for college using:

  1. Insurance
  2. Savings bonds (only 5-6% growth)
  3. Zero-coupon bonds. (only 6-8% growth)
  4. Pre-paid college tuition (only 7% inflation rate)

The best ways to save for college are with Education Savings Account (ESAs) and 529 plans.

Remember, college IS possible without loans!

Tools & Resources
Here are a few quick links to education calculators, general information, and low-cost mutual fund companies offering ESAs and 529 plans:

Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early!

From Daveramsey.com:

Can you imagine what life would be like if you had absolutely no payments – not even a house payment?!

You’re not too far from making that a reality! You’ve come this far in the Baby Steps; now it’s time to throw all that “extra” money into the largest investment you’ve probably ever made: real estate.

As you attack this last debt, you will gain momentum much like you did back in Baby Step 2 with the Debt Snowball. Remember, having ABSOLUTELY NO PAYMENTS is totally within your reach!

Remember:

  • When selling a home, think like a retailer.
  • When buying a home, think like an investor.
  • Never get more than a 15-year fixed mortgage.
  • Don’t tie up more than 25% of your income in house payments.

Tools & Resources:
Check out the calculators and sites below to help you determine the value of your home and how much can be saved by paying it off early!

Baby Step 7: Build wealth and GIVE!

From Daveramsey.com:

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. – Golda Meir

HOORAY! You are now debt free, house and all! Doesn’t it feel… weird?

“What am I going to do now that all this money isn’t tied up in debt and house payments?” you may be asking yourself.

Build wealth and give like never before. Continue to work toward leaving an inheritance for generations to come. Bless others now with your excess. It’s really the only way to live!

Vow to never have a fistful of dollars held so tightly that those precious dollars never get away. Some people think if they clutch those dollars tightly enough, never giving, they are on the path to wealth. The real world teaches that the opposite is true.

Just try it. Let me know if it doesn’t work.

Tools & Resources:
While many people will choose to give to their religious organization first, those who also wish to give to secular charities might be interested in the following sites which evaluate and/or provide information about legitimate, registered charities or provide you with investment opportunities that will help disadvantaged individuals worldwide via microloans:

  • Charity Navigator – Impartial ratings of charities and charity search engine
  • GuideStar – Another charity rating site (Free registration required)
  • Zopa CDs – Invest in a guaranteed rate CD and help someone out at the same time!
  • eBay’s MicroPlace – Your investment dollars fund organizations that make loans to the world’s working poor.
  • Kiva.org – Lend directly to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world – empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

M&F W4D1: Accepted at Last…

…by USAA!

Woohoo!

I’m not sure if anyone reading this would find the information helpful, but about a month ago USAA expanded its list of eligible members to include military personnel who received honorable discharges on or after January 1, 1996. Up until this point, I had been unable to qualify for USAA membership despite my four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army and honorable discharge because I didn’t join USAA while I was still on active duty. This has bummed me out quite a lot, since I kept hearing great things about the quality of their customer service, the reasonable premiums for their auto and home insurance products, and the excellent rates on their home mortgages.

It also totally got my knickers in a bunch to know that my 100% civilian DH has had a USAA membership since birth just by virtue of being a military brat! He didn’t have to survive boot camp or do a million push ups to earn it, but because I didn’t need USAA’s services while I was wearing my BDUs and carrying an M16, I’d only be able to get my foot in the door now as a member’s SPOUSE.

GRRRRR.

Anyway, with this change in eligibility requirements, I am now able to qualify for membership on my own merit, and so will any of you who were denied membership in the past for the same reason.

(From the announcement on the USAA site)

USAA is opening membership to include the following:
* Military retirees who served honorably, regardless of when they retired
* Military personnel honorably discharged on or after Jan. 1, 1996
* Widows and widowers of military members killed in action while eligible

If you now qualify and have always wanted to see what USAA can offer you in terms of insurance rates, mortgages, investments, etc., check out their web site at USAA.com and sign up for membership now.

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TODAY’S EATS
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1. 60g raisins, cranberries, and oats, 3 eggs, 1 T. ketchup
2. 3 oz. chicken breast, 1 c. green beans and brussels sprouts, 1 c. strawberries
3. 1/2 T. cocoa, 1/2 c. 2% cottage cheese, 1 packet Splenda, 1 T. chocolate chips
4. 1/2 WW pita, 1 slice pepper jack cheese, 1 large slice honey roasted turkey breast
5. 3 oz. sirloin, 1 c. mixed veggies, 1 small apple
6. 4 oz. flounder, 1/2 c. broccoli

Water: 16 cups
Supplements: multivitamin, calcium 600+D

============================
TODAY’S WORKOUT
============================
* HIIT Run (20 min; 3.5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 mph @ 0% incline)
* Elliptical (20 min; levels 8-10 with 5 minutes in reverse)
* 1-mile walk (15 min)

My Day As A Dave Ramsey TMMO Live! Volunteer: A Review

I just got back from my volunteer stint in Tampa for the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover live event on September 6, 2008, and I am tired! I’ve been up since 5:45, and it’s now almost midnight. Needless to say, no workout today, and I was at the mercy of the benevolent TMMO volunteer management staff as far as food went because we weren’t allowed to bring so much as a bottle of water into the St. Pete Times Forum where the event was held.

From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa

My friend and fellow Financial Peace University classmate Colleen and I left Orlando around 7:30 AM and arrived at the venue in downtown Tampa just after 9:00 AM. We were given our choice of Large or X-Large volunteer t-shirts in the lobby (the early birds snagged all of the smaller sizes) and handed some pre-printed name tags, a TMMO Live workbook, and a voucher for one item (~$20-$30 value) from the Dave Ramsey product line. From there, we joined the rest of the volunteers on the stadium floor to get our general orientation regarding duties, meals, and the show, then split up for specific training on our assigned tasks.

From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa

While the primary duty of each volunteer was to man one of the many product tables selling FPU kits and non-FPU Dave Ramsey books, CDs, DVDs, software, and product bundles, some of us also were drafted to scan the tickets of incoming attendees, hand out pens, flyers, and workbooks, and sell bundled kits as walking vendors in the stands. At the end of the event, the women, armed with latex gloves and trash bags, were assigned to trash detail in the stands while the men packed up the remaining merchandise and loaded the boxes on the trucks.

We were given a lunch break around 1:00 PM when the event started, and dinner was provided at around 7:00 PM when the show was over.

From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa

All in all, the food was pretty good, and I survived the long gaps between lunch and dinner without collapsing in a heap. We were on our feet for much of the day (including many trots up and down the Forum’s back stairs and around the perimeter of the bowl), so I know that my total calorie burn was higher than an average sedentary work day even without dedicated exercise.

We were expected to man our product tables for an hour and a half prior to the start of the show, during the two 20-30 minute intermissions, and immediately after the show. The rest of the time, we were free to find our own seats in the stadium to watch the event ourselves. Because we weren’t limited to the paid seating areas, we actually got so sit VERY close to the stage at the front left.

From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa

The material covered was like a Cliffs Notes version of the same things I’ve learned in greater detail already in FPU and from the TMMO book, but it was really interesting to watch Dave Ramsey perform live and see how folks who were new to his personal finance philosophy reacted to his mix of humor, plain-speaking, and common sense–very entertaining as a whole. I’m sure he changed a lot of minds today about the nature of credit, debt, and sound financial practices. At the very least, he gave many people the hope that, however bad their money issues may be at the moment, there was a workable plan to get them to a better place within 2-5 years as long as they were willing to take responsibility for their own fates.

Now for the stuff you really wanted to know — What we got for donating our time!

As one of the cadre of over 100 volunteers, I scored:

  • free admission to the show ($35 value) when I wasn’t passing out workbooks to entering guests or working at the book bundle table; we missed the first 30 minutes of the show while we were at lunch, and about 8-10 minutes before and after each intermission.
  • a heather blue volunteer ringer t-shirt (size L) with “Live Like No One Else” printed on the back and a “Dave Ramsey Volunteer” logo on the front left pocket position
  • a coupon for one $20-$30 value item from the merch tables (I got one of the deluxe envelope systems. Other options included a Financial Peace Jr. kit, a choice of one of DR’s books, $30 off the $99 FPU kit, the financial management software, and several other items in the same price range.)
  • a box lunch (sandwich, chips, oatmeal raisin cookie, peach, and ham or turkey submarine sandwich) with ice water or iced tea
  • a catered dinner (strawberry cheesecake, salad, bread, bean casserole thingie, seasoned new potato wedges, and sliced pork loin) with water, iced tea, and coffee
  • the opportunity to chat with lots of other motivated people working through the same financial baby steps
  • a real live handshake with Dave Ramsey himself, LOL! 😉 (He came around to greet and shake hands with all of the volunteers about 30 minutes before the doors opened.)

(Alas, no pics with the Dave since my camera was at the product table with Colleen when he came by to shake the hands of the volunteers handing out course materials at the entrance.)

It was a great experience overall, and very much worth the $15 in gas and parking money Colleen and I both chipped in for the trip.

Back to regular workouts (including a catch up back/bi/abs one) tomorrow morning!

I’m going to do my 100 Push Ups workout now and then hit the sack.

If you are at all interested in seeing DR live for free, and there is a TMMO Live! event coming to your town, look into volunteering like I did. The staff members are very cool and friendly, you’ll get to watch a good 80-85% of the show, you will be fed two meals, you will get to meet and possibly help a lot of folks on their journeys to financial prosperity, and hey–SWAG!

Some more random pics from the event:

From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa
From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa
From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa
From 20080906_TMMO LiveTampa

TMMO June 2008 Update: So long, student loan…

It is time to rejoice, for my dear husband’s student loan is vanquished at last!

I never even set eyes on our $1200 stimulus check because Chris snagged it from the mailbox while I was at work and deposited it to our shared checking account before I got home. When the check posted the next day, it was immediately sent right back out of the account along with an additional $200 to pay off the last of his student loan.

Easy come, easy go, but I do wish I could have held the check for a minute or two while dancing happily around the house mumbling, “My precccccccccciooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuus!” to myself.

Well, thanks much, GDub. I know that as tax-paying American citizens we will wind up paying for your profligate ways and extravagant borrowing from other nations in the future, but for now I am glad to use your handouts to reduce our debt tally. Someone else will have to stimulate the economy, though. 😛

We are almost six full months into 2008, and we are now about halfway through our Debt Snowball with $24,196 paid off and just our second mortgage left before we are debt-free except for our primary mortgage. At this point a strict Ramsey-ite would continue to work on the snowball and immediately tackle the second mortgage, but we are going to stick with our strategy of putting that off until we complete Baby Steps 3 (fully fund emergency savings) and 4 (save 15% of gross income for retirement).

After doing the math, I’m just not willing to be out of the stock market with our Roth IRAs from January 2008-June 2009, the amount of time it would take us to complete our full Debt Snowball the traditional way. In fact, I’m not even willing to wait until early 2009 to make catch up contributions to our 2008 Roths since we would be missing out on some of the cheapest mutual fund prices in the past few years.

Ramsey claims that women have a so-called security gland that makes them want to have a huge heap of money sitting in plain old savings for emergencies while men want their money to be active and doing something to earn them more money. Apparently I have a combination security/action gland, because I want a huge heap of money in my retirement account actively earning me money via mutual funds. Honestly, stopping my Roth contributions for five months gave me more indigestion and anxiety than any other part of the Total Money Makeover plan.

We are also getting some of our friends on the Dave Ramsey bandwagon. We signed up for a local Financial Peace University session starting next month and running through the end of September, and paid for some friends who could use a no-nonsense, comprehensive personal finance primer to go with us: a newlywed couple who will be house hunting and starting a family soon and a friend whose preventable history of serious financial missteps has been completely maddening to watch for a logic-oriented INTJ like me.

My only concern is that the course coordinators will be annoyingly pushy about the Bible references in the materials or feel compelled to try to convert the irreverent Asian chick with no religious preference on her dog tags and her spiritual-but-not-religious husband. (I have a semi-regular Jehovah’s Witness who swings by on Saturday mornings every month to hand me pamphlets and attempt to talk me into submission. I am tempted to join the Unitarian church in Orlando as a Taoist/Buddhist just to say I have an affiliation.) Ramsey is very open about his Christianity in his radio show and in his books, but he limits himself to specific quotes from the Bible that support his common-sense approach to personal finance without getting preachy or implying that one needs to be a baptized holy roller in order to win with money.

Baby
Step
Amount
Target
Complete
Actions
1. $1000 to start emergency fund
$1000
1/25/08
1/25/08
Contributed
a combination of wedding gift money, personal savings, and bonus
commissions to a shared savings account earning 2.75% APY
2. Pay off all debt (except the home) using a Debt Snowball
$49612
2/1/10
2008
Debt Snowball


2009
Debt Snowball
  • Maggie Visa
$600
9/1/07
9/1/07
Made
two $300 payments to clear the balance, then retired card to safe.
  • Discover (Leftover wedding expenses)
$862
1/10/08
1/12/08
Paid
balance in full in January 2008; card still actively used for gasoline
ONLY. Balance paid in full each month going forward.
  • Chris Visa
$1000
1/15/08
1/15/08
Paid
balance in full in January 2008. Card retired to safe.
  • Amex (travel, Ikea couches…)
$1944
1/21/08
1/20/08
Paid
statement balance in full in January 2008. Card still actively used for
recurring utility bills, but will be paid in full each month going
forward.
  • HELOC (new A/C in 6/07)
$4200
1/23/08
1/23/08
Chris
and I both cut off federal income tax withholding from 9/07 – 12/07
after calculating that we were both overpaying. The excess money in our
paychecks was used to make aggressive $1000 payments on the HELOC every
month.
  • Maggie Car Loan
$3490
5/1/08
5/7/08
Paid
extra $1500 from 2007 tax refund and $500 from personal checking
account on 4/17/08. Paid final $559 in May 2008. I already made a large
extra payment of $1500 on the car soon after the initial purchase.
  • Chris Student Loan
$12000
6/1/08
6/17/08
Added
another $1200 to the monthly payment from the economic stimulus check
on 6/17/08. Chris paid the remaining balance out of his own checking
account. Chris was able to contribute an additional $2100 on top of his
originally-budgeted payments these past few months.
  • 2nd Mortgage
$25516
12/1/09
Remaining
amount: $25310

Putting this one on hold until after the $10,000 emergency savings
account and 2008 Roth IRAs are fully funded. Regular minimum payments
of $205 through 12/2008, then payments of $1941 from 1/2009 until
12/2009

3. Three to six months of expenses in savings
$10000
12/1/08
Six
deposits of $1607/month and one deposit of $458
4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
accounts
15% of
gross income
12/1/08
(ongoing)
Fully
retroactively fund both household Roth IRAs for 2008 at $5000/each from
6/08-12/08. Reinstate monthly Roth IRA contributions for 2009 going
forward @ $416.67/month each from 1/2009. Increase 401(k) contribution
to 5% (currently at 4%).
5. College funding for children
TBD
…Er…No
kids yet. Need to see if an education savings account can be started
without actual offspring.
6. Pay off home early
$135880
3/1/16
Research
refinance into 15 year fixed rate mortgage and/or set up extra
principal only payments of $1400/month to pay off home within 6 years.
7. Build wealth by investing
TBD

Economic Stimulus Check Recap: Did you spend it according to plan?

Because my husband and I requested a split tax refund earlier this year, we didn’t receive our paper economic stimulus check from Uncle Sam until today, but I know that most of you have already gotten your money and distributed it either to savings, debt repayment, or, in a few cases, out into the economy as GDub had intended. Chris and I are sticking with our original plan to use the money to pay off the last of his student loan this month.

So here are my questions for you:

What did you originally plan to do with your stimulus payment?

Did you actually use the money as you had planned, or did something else come up?

How much did you spend on your wedding?

Cakes!

As our first wedding anniversary approaches in July and the official summer wedding season kicks off down here in central Florida, I’ve been reflecting back on our wedding last year and looking over the budget spreadsheet to see if there was anything I regretted on it.

Chris and I were married last year for just under $9000 (including the rehearsal dinner, rings, clothing, marriage license, all vendor fees, decorations, and food) for a wedding with around 120 guests. We fully planned on paying for the entire wedding ourselves with a budget of $5000-$7000 and a guest list of around 80 people, but our parents surprised us by contributing lump sum gifts ($5000 from my parents, and $1800 from DH’s parents) for us to use as we chose and by picking up the costs of the cakes ($175 from my parents) and rehearsal dinner (~$800 from DH’s parents). I know that a lot of people would simply add the parental contributions to their original budget and up the total for the wedding to $11800-$13800, but we opted instead to stay as close to our original amount as possible while squeezing in the 40 additional guests that our parents more or less made us invite, LOL. Between the unexpected help from our parents and the monetary gifts received from our guests, our out of pocket cost for the wedding was only $704. We are definitely not one of those couples who will still be paying off the wedding 10 years down the road.

Since I have more of a frugal male geek’s attitude toward most things, including weddings, I would have been perfectly happy with a rented dress (bridal gown rentals are pretty popular in my birth country of Taiwan–my mother wore a rental on her wedding day) for myself, origami flowers, 30 guests from my side, a reception dinner held at my favorite Asian fusion buffet at $16.99/person, and a DJ that could also provide karaoke services. Alas, DH is apparently more romantic and traditional about this sort of thing than I am, and I ended up buying a dress after all ($99 David’s Bridal clearance with free minor alterations from my younger sister; it pays to be a stock size 6), paying for flowers (I almost threw up when I placed the order at the florist 2 weeks before the ceremony–I will NEVER spend that much on plant material that I can’t plant in the ground and eat later again), extra required guests, and a reception and ceremony at our local country club that was $25 per guest plus beer, wine, and appetizers.

Well, at least I did get my karaoke DJ. 😛

Centerpieces and favors

We did a lot of things ourselves and shopped around for the best bargains on venue (a friend of the family was a member of the country club and got us the $25 per guest rate; the regular price was $30 per guest), favors, decorations, jewelry, and apparel. We used friends for photography and videography, designed and printed our own invitations, ordered many supplies online with coupon codes and free shipping, ordered half a dozen delicious, regular-sized cakes in different flavors from the local Asian bakery and Publix grocery store instead of paying hundreds for an overpriced tower of dry cake coated with fondant, and generally tried to make things nice without paying inflated wedding industry prices.

The only thing I’d change if I could do it all again is to allot some time to learn how to do flower arrangements myself. And maybe to have the wait staff set aside some of those yummy cakes for us. The desserts must have been great, because there was absolutely none left by the time Chris and I finished talking to all of the tables and had a chance to look for some, LOL.

I plan to do what my parents did and contribute a lump sum amount of around $5000 (adjusted for inflation) to the weddings of any children DH and I may have, but we won’t be paying for a $20k extravaganza even if we have a daughter and our finances allow for it. I like the idea of letting the kids know early that they need to foot most of the bill for the extras in their lives and at least half of the bill for grown up things like college and weddings as well. If we do have more to give beyond $5000, we would prefer to earmark that as a gift to help the couple get a start on a downpayment on their home.

Oh, and I will teach myself how to do flowers WAY ahead of time so I can handle that portion of the wedding for my kids and spare them the nauseating “OMG, I just squandered $823 on flowers that will die in 3 days. ARGH!” feeling that I had last July! I may even take up cake decorating.

😉

How much did you pay for your wedding, and is there anything you regret purchasing for it? Did you receive any help from your family and/or friends (monetary or service)? Do you plan on helping your children out with their wedding expenses?