Wedding on a budget: Cake and Cake Topper

We purchased our wedding cake through the same vendor that cater our wedding. We can opt to pay a fee and purchased the cake somewhere else but chose to buy it from the same vendor to minimize the logistic of transporting the cake. I did not hire a wedding planner and I don’t want to coordinate anything during the day of the wedding.

Our cake cost $372.50. I chose to purchase a 2 tier wedding cake to cut and a sheet cake to serve the guests. To save, I purchased a sheet cake instead of a 4 tier wedding cake. It taste the same and half the price.

Another unnecessary expense is the cake topper. We provided our own to save some more. Looking online, the cake topper price varies from $10 – $50. I got lucky and saw a cake topper from Walmart for 75 cents. I painted it in gold to match our color theme.

Total cost, $373.25.

Weddings don’t need to be expensive. There are many ways to cut your expenses as long as you keep an open mind and prioritize. The rest don’t need to be perfect.

 

Checking Account Coupon Codes

I received a coupon code from chase, giving me an extra $300 dollars if I open a checking account. It looks too good to be true so I carefully read the fine print. Please, if you do receive one like this, read the fine print. There are very few banks that do not charge service fee, and chances are you’re signing up for one. Here’s the cost associated with opening a checking account:

1. I need to sign up for direct deposit – cost $0

2. I need to keep the account open for 6 months. At an interest rate of .01% APY, keeping $15,000 means that I’m foregoing $12 of interest every month if I keep it on my savings account at Capital One 360 at 1% APY. Total cost is $60.

3. I need to keep a balance of $15,000 in chase account or have an automatic payment to chase mortgage account, otherwise I will need to pay $25 for service fee. My mortgage is not from chase so that is not an option. Total fee for 6 months is $150.

Rationally, the best way to avoid the fee is to move money from my savings account to checking account. As long as interest rate keep at 1%, I’m better off opening a new bank account and hold on to it for less than 25 months or close it after 6 months.

For customers signing up without $15K, or mortgage from Chase, I will translate this marketing to this “Get $150 as a new Chase checking customer and make sure to close the account after 6 months”

This marketing scheme just didn’t work for me. I’m not a fan of multiple accounts and it is just not worth the hassle.

If you truly want a free savings and checking account, I recommend, Capital One 360. I’ve been a customer since 2006, when it was ING Direct. Capital One eventually acquired them. They lack physical location, but have an awesome interest rate. You can withdraw from any AllPoint ATMs. These are usually ATMs located in the gas station, 7-eleven, grocery stores, restaurants and bars — yes, I mean bars.

9 tips for buying a wedding dress online

According to this article, the average cost of a wedding dress is $1,259. Additional alterations can run from $200 – $400. I couldn’t justify the cost of buying a new gown, because I know that it will only be worn for a day. Instead, I bought my dress online and saved so much, not just with the dress but with the alterations. It took some time and a lot of research, but I ultimately found the dress. This will not work for all, especially if you’re set with a specific style, but if you keep an open mind, buying a dress online is easier than you think and can be a lot of fun.

Tip 1 – Try on some clothes in-store and check out what you like and what you don’t like

This is the fun part. I went to 5 different stores to check out their gowns. I tried on different styles. I realized that it’s a lot easier for me to decide on what I don’t want than what I want. Going through the iterations also made me realize what fits me well, and the style and fabric that is most comfortable with the venue

Tip 2 – Take some pictures of dresses you tried on

Once you tried it on, take a lot of pictures. Ask for the designer and the style number. Go back home and see if you can find it online. If not, look at the same designer and the year. Design and styles are very cohesive. There’s a big chance that you can find the same style. Use these photos while shopping online as a resource.

Tip 3 – Go to a reputable online store

I visited 3 online stores while shopping for a gown

  • Nearly Newlywed – this store curates the dresses and guarantee authenticity. The seller sends the dress to get inspected, which is then shipped to the buyer.  They also have a 5 day risk free return. You can order as much dress as you want for $25 return shipping fee. This is a good choice if you have a specific designer dress in mind. Since this is risk free, you basically pay for your peace of mind. Prices of the gown are only 20 to 30 percent off the original price.
  • Tradesy – this site sells high end designer items. They also guarantee authenticity but returns are set by the seller. The price are set by the seller. If you’re lucky you might find one on a good deal.
  • PreOwned Wedding dress – this site have thousands and thousands of wedding dresses. This is where I bought my dress. It can be overwhelming but if you know the style and size, it’s easy to filter it. You deal directly with the seller and can negotiate the price. I had a smooth transaction and only paid 20% of the original price, including shipping.

Tip 4 – Ask for receipt, both the original and dry cleaning purchase

If you’re dealing with the seller directly, ask if she kept the original receipt and the dry cleaner receipt. This is important if you are planning to sell the gown after.

Tip 5 – Get the wedding venue details

If the wedding is outdoors, chances are there will be some dirt in the gown, especially the hem. You can either plan for this to be included in the price or negotiate the price

Tip 6 – Ask for specific measurements, both street size and gown size.

This is very important to me. I want to save some money on alterations so I specifically look for the gown on my size, including the hemline with a shoe in mind. If the seller can’t give me measurements, I move on.

Tip 7 – Secure the shipment

Depending on the price of the gown, you can get some insurance to ship it. I personally didn’t bother. I just asked it to be delivered at the Fedex office to guarantee my signature

Tip 8 – Use secure payment

Paypal is the option at preownedweddingdresses. The seller will send you the invoice to pay. It’s the only way to file for a claim in case you had an issue with the seller.

Tip 9 – Be polite

Buying online is a very different experience. I don’t think you can be a bridezilla here. There will be sellers that don’t respond right away and you just have to be patient. Once you find a dress you like, contact the seller, but don’t rush into buying it. It took me about a month with some back and forth from the time I first contacted the seller. This is very important if there’s no return policy. At the end of it, I feel like I know the seller personally and it’s such a joy to give life to the dress once again.

Cost of my Gown: $436.00 (including shipping)

Enjoy and happy hunting!

 

Monthly Spending – September 2016

September is a pretty average month. I don’t have any big spending and it’s been consistent month over month. On average I’m spending a little more than $3K per month since I started tracking my spending every month. This month, I even purchase a “new to us” furniture for the house which led me to projects I wrote in here and here. Even with that, I didn’t really spend much. It was my sisters birthday month, so they also received some present. I used some gift cards to purchase that.

I did notice that I bought snacks 3 times this month – all the same large hershey milk chocolate bar. It’s not expensive, but I didn’t realize that I’m eating that much candy every month. The bar is only $1.79 per bar (the largest one) but I’m eating that whole thing almost every week. That’s a lot of sugar intake. This is one of the benefit at looking closely on your spending, regardless how little it is. I’m not against eating candy, but if I think about the times that I bought one, it acted more of stress reliever than me craving for a candy. As I said, I took on a new role and I’m still trying to navigate what it means and ways to handle stress. It’s good to see this pattern, so I can stop it.

My spending is just a little below August. I used mint and download it on excel. From there, I look at every line item and check if there’s something unusual. This month, I even spend $3 for an ATM fee – oops.

Repurposed Hutch to Media Tower

Continuing on to the month of interior decoration, my second project is finding a media tower. I searched around and saw something similar to this or this. After seeing the price (we’re talking about $700 – $1200), I knew that I have to be creative. I quickly search the internet for media tower DIY and behold all this projects on Pinterest. It took a couple of weeks of searching craigslist, before I found the hutch listed by a non-profit consignment store. It cost $80 + tax, but since we don’t have a truck, we have to pay for delivery — another $120 for delivery. I also got a $20 merman end table, and $20 arm chair. Since I know that we will have to rent a truck anyway, regardless where we get the hutch, I opted to pay the delivery and purchase the 3 items.
This is the hutch before. It’s old and dated, but it works. The size is perfect. You can see in the left that we’re using an older bookshelves from ikea. This is a very heavy hutch and it took us some time to move it from the living room to the spare room.

I decided to paint the hutch dutch white, similar to the old console table, which I painted before this project. Since I already have the paint, primer and materials, I didn’t have to buy a new one.

I used a shellac primer here. This is probably over kill but I already have it and don’t want to buy a different one. I used Behr Marquee Dutch White to paint the whole shelves. We also took out the doors from the upper cabinets and created a hole in the back. I thought about buying a new holder, but the old brass knobs looks great with the white cabinets.

Supplies:

  • shellac primer
  • paint (Behr Marquee Dutch White)
  • Sander (150 grit)
  • screw driver
  • 4 inch roller
  • brush (used a good one with smooth finish)

Since I already have the supplies, I only spent the $200 for this project. Without it, it will cost roughly $260. The hardest part of this project is moving the hutch from the living room since it is one piece and very heavy. There’s also a lot of waiting. It probably took a full 2 days. I sanded and prime for one afternoon, and painted the outside for another afternoon. I also painted the inside on a different day and waited a week for the paint to cure.

This is the hutch after

Just for fun, here’s the end table that I got with the purchase, for $20
. The makers mark shows mersman 8405. It’s the exact diameter that I’m looking at and I really feel that I scored a deal with this end table.

 

Repurposed Coffee Table

This months’s hobby (or as what my husband say, obsession) is redecorating our living room. When we move in our house about a year an half ago, we didn’t buy any additional furniture. We moved from a condo to house and I postponed any big purchase, aside from a pet and a wedding.

Recently, I’ve been looking around to see if there are little improvements I can do in terms of interior decoration, without necessarily breaking the bank. I started repurposing what we have. First project is repurposing an old coffee table.

Old coffee table

I inherited this piece of furniture from my parents. It’s actually a bit to big for my couch set, but I like the style and it is solid wood. I thought about refinishing it or painting it but decided to try and change it to an ottoman.

There’s a lot of instructions out on the web for this. I didn’t do anything special. It cost me $69.68 for materials and supplies. I shop on labor day and Joann’s fabric are having a huge sale. Otherwise, this will cost more. The foam alone is $35/yard and fabrics are not cheap.

Here’s a photo after:

ottoman

It took 2 half days with tufting being the most time consuming. It looks pretty good if you ask me and we’ve been using it for about a month now. The fury baby decided to take off the tufting, so those buttons are gone – you can tell that she’s planning on it from the very beginning.

Supplies

  • 2″ high density foam (I used a coupon and got this for 60% off)
  • batting
  • Button, tufting kit
  • Fabric
  • Staple Gun
  • Staples
  • Spray adhesive
  • Drill
  • 6″ needle (yes, it’s long)
  • upholstery thread

Step 1: Measure the table and decide placement of the buttons. I used a diamond tufting technique and drill 14 holes, starting with 3 holes, then 4, repeating it twice.

Step 2: using adhesive spray, place the 2″ high density foam

Step 3: Using the needle, mark the placement of the hole in the high density foam

Step 4: Cut the foam where the buttons will go

Step 5: Prepare the buttons. Follow the instructions from the kit

Step 6: Place the batting, pull it in and place it using a staple gun

Step 7: Place the fabric

Step 8: Sew in the buttons (tip, the more you cut into the foam, the easier it is to pull the buttons)

Step 9: Pull the fabric in and place it using a staple gun

Step 10: Admire your work!

 

Monthly Spending – August 2016

This post is late. One month late. August has been a whirlwind. New opportunity came in at work and that took some time. A lot of time which warrants a longer post. So, let’s just say that August was all about work.

At that same month, my sister went to college and we went on a good old road trip and drop her off. It was a fun trip and brought back all the memories back when I moved in to my dorm room. Our gift to her is a new laptop, which was split between my sister and I. She paid some part of it, since she decided to get a higher end.

img_0063Our fur baby also had her annual exam. We were lucky enough to find a vet that is walking distance. Reviews were pretty good and I was happy with the new doctor. Fur baby got all her immunization and the doctors recommended that she lose a couple of pounds. Fur baby was definitely spoiled by her grandparents when we’re gone, but she’s back to normal now.

I didn’t hit my spending goal this month. I think I lapse a bit for the last two months and didn’t really track my spending. Despite of this, I was surprised that aside from the gift, I was actually on track with my spending. This just let me know that I should also budget for gift.

So here you go – my spending for August (September to come next)….

 

My new found hobby is selling on eBay

Cute but I never used it.
My first sale

It all started when I was decluttering my closet and realized that I have too many pair of shoes. I accumulated quite a bit since college and I didn’t even use most of them. It took a while to accept the fact that my feet cannot handle heels or narrow shoes. I experimented for a while and brought some minimalist shoes. Finally after trial and error, I found one brand that have a wide toe box and have a very minimal support with Merrell. So in 2015, I started selling some shoes on eBay. It’s a fun hobby and it makes decluttering a lot easier because I know that I am getting some money back. After over a year and shipping at least a dozen pair of shoes, here are some things that I learned and the process along the way.

1. Signing Up

Signing up is straight forward. You need an e-mail address and complete your profile. Your address will estimate the shipping cost, so make sure that this is accurate. During sign up you will get a user id. You can use this ID as a marketing tool. I see some sellers that specializes on certain products and have their names associated with it.

2. Getting Paid

PayPal is the fastest way to get paid and chances are you already have an account. As a seller, I only accept PayPal.

3. Inventory

Legos - these are actually consider collectibles now
Legos – these are actually consider collectibles now

Start by going through your house. This hobby all started out while I was decluttering my closet. Aside from your closet, look around your house. I listed my old legos, nintendo, game boy, and business clothes – all of them just collecting dust. Now, my grandmother even asked me if I can sell her shoes on eBay. This month alone, I sold 4 of her shoes.

4. Listing the item

Once you create a draft, eBay will ask you for a title. Include as much detail as you can. Brand, size, gender, color. eBay has some features that will help you add more details. Title is important because search is index here.  You will also be able to add a detail description. I tend to include some personal anecdotes, and reasons for selling it. Being honest is key here. If the product has some flaws, put it here and note it in the photo. For clothes, include the detail measurement. Don’t rely on the brand size. Get a measuring tape and include all the details. This is also where you note if you are accepting returns

Tip: To save time, I create a draft in my computer all at once, then add a photo later using my iPhone.

5. Pricing

Be reasonable with the price. Forget the original price you paid for it. I know it can be hard, but you have to be realistic. Look for a comparable sale. I tend to lower my price for at least 10%. I like the auction style and I tend to not have a reserve price. Once, I sold 3 pair of bras for .99 and someone bought it for $10.

6. Photos

This used to take some time, but eBay definitely improved its sellers portal. It’s pretty easy to add photos now using your phone from the app.  A pro will probably used a mannequin to photograph clothes. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, I used my white wall and used a nice hanger. All my clothes are also ironed so it still looks nice in the photo. For shoes, I actually received a request to post a photo with my feet on it, so I started adding it.

7. End on a Sunday night

I start and end on a Sunday Night. I read that people tend to shop more on Sunday night. This also helps me since I can send the product the next day.

8. Shipping – pricing it right

I don’t include shipping in the price. This is actually hard since eBay will calculate the cost base on my location and the buyers location. I never had an issue yet. Once I did a free shipping and I barely made anything after eBay and PayPal Fees. Once you sold an item it is important to ship it fast.

Tip: Aside from changing the status to ship, make sure to add the tracking number and send the seller a note. It makes it more personal that way.

9. Provide feedback to the buyer.

I didn’t realize that this is important until I received some feedbacks from my buyers. Once I have some feedbacks, I saw activities of my listing grew.

Stock market and my way of investing

I recently read an article stating that majority of millennials (under age 30) don’t invest on stock market. In fact the survey suggested that only 26% own stocks. The market rallied the past 6 years and most millennials missed this opportunity.

Reading through the article, 53% of survey partcipants don’t invest because of lack of funds. I was not surprised there, given that our generation suffered from the financial crisis and had a hard time getting employment. What surprised me the most is the lack of knowledge about stock, with 23% citing this as a reason for not investing. Given that we are generation who grew up with information on our hands, I expect that millennials will have a way to know this. I can understand that millennials don’t trust the market or don’t want to take the risk. This is my reason for not investing and here’s how I overcome it.

Keeping it simple and calculate the risk you can take

My advice to my fellow millennials is to keep it simple. Unless you’re really serious with investing, there is no need to know about derivatives, stock options or other financial products.

If you’re employed, start with a tax deductible investments. This will limit the amount of research you need to do and hopefully, signing up is easy. Here’s how I allocate my money.

401K – I started investing through my company’s 401K. This is probably the easiest and most simple way to invest if your employer offer this. Investments can be limited. I started by looking at the cheapest ETFs and allocate my contributions evenly. I think of this investment as “money I never had” — hence lessening the perception of the risk. After a year, I saw my investment grew, I started getting excited which lead me to maxing out my contribution the following years.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) – After maxing out my 401K, I started contributing to an IRA. There are two types of IRA, traditional and roth. Traditional IRAs are tax deductible while roth IRAs are not. The amount of deductions for traditional IRAs phases out depending on your income. I started out with traditional IRA and now contribute to Roth. I do pick stocks on my Roth IRA. I take more risk on my Roth IRA and consider this as my emergency fund. The principal is not taxed if I need to withdraw it. If your company don’t offer 401K, you can still contribute to an IRA. Mad Fientist wrote a really good article, comparing Roth and Traditional IRA. I have my Roth IRA through Fidelity. I like that I can pick my own stocks.

Health Savings Account (HSA) – Another way to invest is through your HSA, if your company offers high deductible health plan. Individual contribution max out to 3,350 in 2016 tax year and is tax deductible.

Legos
Legos – investment?

Taking a bit more risk

Now, after maxing out your retirement account and you are more comfortable with investing, you can even try investing using an after tax dollar. I still keep it simple and here’s how I invest.

ETFs – After maxing out on tax deductible investments, I started buying ETFs. I chose Vanguard ETFs since the expense ratio is the lowest and it’s free to trade if you have a Vanguard account. I obviously have a Vanguard account. I chose 4 ETFs  and I contribute every month and buy it at market rate. I buy it every second Tuesday of the month. The process of investing every second Tuesday of the month started when I was in college. I signed up for Sharebuilder (now own by Capital One 360) and it cost $2 per trade if you trade every second Tuesday of the month. My initial investment was Apple, IBM and Costco. There was no minimum amount to invest at the time. I no longer have a Sharebuilder account but I continued with this process. I don’t even try to beat the market. I took the timing out of the equation, hold to my investments and make sure that it is diversified.

Choose a product you believe in and invest in the company – This only applies if you can handle the risk. I don’t read the annual statements but looked at the product. Some of the stocks I owned that performed well: Apple, Costco, FB and Amazon. I also lost quite a bit on Real 3D. I really thought that 3D was cool after watching Avatar, but I have to sell this at lost. Sometimes, instead of buying ETFs, I replaced it with stocks and invest on it for that Tuesday.

If you really don’t want to invest on stock, at least open a CD or a high percentage savings account. I like Capital One 360. But seriously, try out investing on stocks through retirement accounts. Think of tax deductions as gains  right away.

 

 

Monthly Spending – July 2016

Spending is finally going back to normal with all the wedding detail behind us. Marriage life, so far is a bliss.

I’m starting to see some effects of tracking my expenses line by line – instead of looking at the the total. For example, since the man and I can carpool to work and I can walk/take the bus back home, I don’t drive to work anymore and no longer have to pay for parking. I’ve been walking quite a bit now, at least 2.5 miles every weekday and it’s been part of my routine. The biggest advantage of this is actually not the savings, but the fact that I can incorporate exercise on  my daily routine.

I also made a trek to ikea this month. It’s quite a drive, so I combined a visit to my parents and a visit to ikea. My sister also wants to go and we made a day out of it. I enjoy the design in the showroom, though I’m not really a fan of their products. I returned some wedding items that were not used and got a frame, which sadly need to be return.

This month, has definitely been interesting. Despite of our trip to costco twice, the last one being July 31st, I still hit my spending goal. I didn’t really cut on anything. I even went out and forgot my lunch twice this month.