Budget & Money Tips From a Middle Income Duo

My Mother taught me a lot growing up: how to plant tomatoes, how to pluck my eyebrows (bless her), how to write a proper thank you note, and how to be frugal as heck. My Mother couponed and made lists and constantly said “no, put that back it’s not on sale”. My clothes didn’t come from the mall till I could buy them  for myself and I only bought my school lunch on pizza day – otherwise it was a lunchbox full of food that had been BOGO at Publix.

My family simply didn’t have money to burn so it was spent very thoughtfully. I was given $3 allowance each week (then eventually in middle school I think it was bumped up to $5, big spender big spender) and the rule was I had to save one dollar, give one away at church or to the relief aid organization my mom supported, and then I could spend the other as I wanted. I remember counting my “savings” which was kept in a purple crayola crayon shaped bank and feeling like a millionaire. I saved up for my own bike, roller skates, a CD player – all the essentials for a kid born in 1990. This super basic rule really taught me important lessons about managing money. That simple guideline along with watching my mom has turned me into an adult who loves budgeting.

And I mean lovvvvvvvves budgeting. I eat it up. I’m constantly checking our accounts and spreadsheets to make sure that the money that Timothy and I make is working for us. At any given time I can tell you precisely how much we have in our checking and savings accounts and which bills come out this week and how much they’ll be. I’m by no means an accountant or financial expert, but when it comes to the finances of our little family, forgetaboutit #girlboss. And this is why I wanted to write a few posts about budgeting: because it’s one of my favorite nerdy-ass hobbies.

A few months ago I wrote a post about some of the ways we saved money on our wedding (Click here to read how we had our special day for $6k) and I wanted to do a few more likeminded posts. This space won’t turn into a budgeting blog (though hey, I know a good one by a super cute friend of mine), but I do want to write about it here and there.

fullsizerenderTo start, I wanted to just share some of the basic ways that Timothy and I budget and save our money. Easy Peasy.

And obviously, these are just things that have worked for us. I would never tell someone else how to budget their money because frankly, I’m not qualified  – but I hope you find a tip or two helpful or encouraging! 

what we’re working with:

IMG_1052.jpgThis is us: Kathryn and Timothy. Two Star Wars loving, late twenty year olds (sobbing over now having to add that “late” part) with some super “middle income” paying jobs. If you were to look on Wikipedia at the average American household income, you would basically see our exact yearly income. I don’t know what its like to do a budget with a six figure income, but I do know that even having just half of that, we’re able to work our money in a way that covers every single thing we need, and quite a bit of what we want (I’m looking at you, Disney annual passes).  If we are able to spend money wisely and stretch those dollars out, absolutely anybody can. We learned a lot from folks like Dave Ramsey and I definitely recommend reading a book or two of his or taking his Financial Peace University class. His jokes are corny as heck, but his money management tips are golden. We for sure follow his “baby steps” and have a 3 month emergency fund saved up (and we’ll bump that up to 6 months once we’re rid of our debt), we are majorly snowballing our debt (we were debt free, but we had to buy and finance a car in June of last year, but because we have thrown 1/3 of our income towards that debt every month we will pay it off next month! A six year lease paid off in just 10 months is pretty sweet – and is saving us several thousands by not having long term interest), and we are serious about the envelope system. So if you’re new to the money management game, Dave is a good place to start.

how we budget (in a teeny tiny nut shell):

I don’t want to get into super specifics in this post, but I want to share a teensy bit about how we budget. Basically, part of our money hangs out in the bank and the other we keep as cash in our envelope system. Our bills – like rent, utilities, and our car payment – are all paid online so the amount that we need to cover those (I could go a lot more in depth about this but I’m trying to be brief… its a challenge) we leave in the bank but the rest I take out every other Friday. These amounts were figured out by of course adding up all our bills and expenses (including things like donating to our church each month, which isn’t technically a bill but something we do monthly) and then allotting what was left towards different items. Because we’re working on paying off our car pretty aggressively, after we added up the necessities for each month, we basically took 70% of what was left for the car payment. The remaining 30% went to things like spending money, date nights, money we spend on hanging out with the child we’re mentoring through BBBS, etc.

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We have set amounts for everything in our budget and we don’t move the money around. For example: we budget $180 for groceries each month, so every two weeks I take out $90 and that is all I spend on groceries. Also, Timothy and I have a set amount that we each get for spending money every two weeks that we can use however we want: most of Timothy’s money goes towards coffee and most of mine goes to Target. We do $60/each every two weeks and once it gets spent… thats it. If we want to buy something that costs more than that $60 we save our spending money till we have enough. My haircuts cost about $50 so for the last few weeks I’ve been putting $10 aside each time I got my spending money so that when I have my appointment next week, I’ll have it covered and it won’t take all my money for those two weeks.

how we save:

Obviously the most important way to save money is by taking ownership of your money and spending / saving wisely, knowing exactly where all your money is going and having a good budget that you stick to. Blind spending is no bueno. But I wanted to share some of the things that I believe have helped Timothy and I save some of our green:

  • The Ancient Art of Cash: People hate it, but I really believe the reason we don’t overspend is because we use cash. Physically seeing how much money you have in your wallet keeps you accountable, and when that wallet is empty… you know to just go home. I hear a lot that people don’t want to have to go to the bank so often to get cash out and I feel you, but for us the hassle of going is nothing compared to how it has helped us spend smartly. I know exactly what I’m taking out when I go to the bank (I’m even specific down to number of each size bill I need) and an unexpected plus is that since I go every other Friday I have the same teller every time and we kind of have a friend thing going on. That doesn’t suck. She’s a cutie and doesn’t think I’m weird for needing such oddly specific withdrawal amounts. Or if she does she’s good at not showing it. That’s all I need in a friend.
  • Aldi: This is going to make some people laugh because folks know I’m obsessed with Aldi, but seriously shopping there has made a gigantic difference in our grocery budget. Like I mentioned above, we spend just $180 a month on groceries and that really isn’t very much. Obviously we don’t have children and that makes a big difference, but before I started shopping at Aldi I spent $150 a month on groceries for just myself. And the thing is, everything we get at Aldi is delicious. They have a more limited selection (and its true that they don’t carry all items – especially speciality items) (and its also true that some things I still prefer from Publix, like fresh deli meat and cheese) but we still get 90% of our groceries there and are 100% satisfied with the quality of what we get. They have LOTS of organic products too, so you don’t have to sacrifice quality. Yes, you need to bring your own bags and a quarter for the cart (which you get back) but I’m thrilled at the ways that Aldi saves money because it saves ME money. And I’m always looking out for #1.
  • Grocery Shop Smart: You’ve heard it before thumbnail_img_1530
    but I’ll say it again – the best way to grocery shop is with a list. And honestly I hate making lists. Its boring. I groan the whole time. But if you make a plan you will be able to stick to your budget. I personally only do one big shopping trip every two weeks so I really have to plan ahead so that I can get everything I need for a two week span in one trip. And, moreover, while I’m shopping I keep track of how much I’m spending. My grocery list turns into a mile long addition problem and I add every single thing I put into my cart. Does it take a little more time? Yep. Do I ever go over my budget? Nope, because once I start reaching that limit I know I’m done, or I know that I need to put some of those non necessity treats back (Oreos, how I love you).
  • Do a Cartwheel: Like many women my age, I have quite the love affair with Target going on. Because I’m there literally always, I use their Cartwheel app which is full of mobile coupons. Since getting the app back in February of 2015, I’ve saved $91. Not a ton of money considering its been two years, but every little bit counts. If I did grocery shopping at Target it would certainly be more: I have a friend who does all her grocery shopping (plus toiletries, clothes, etc) at Target for her family of 5 and she’s saved over $700 since May of 2014. So, it can add. Of course the thing about coupons is that if you buy something you wouldn’t normally buy just because you have a coupon… you aren’t saving money at all. So what I do is after I’m done shopping I pull out the app and search for what I have in my basket to see if the app has any coupons for the things I am already buying. Usually it does, even if its just a small 5% off coupon. Sometimes you’ll see a sign in the store for a Cartwheel coupon but not always so definitely take half a second to search in the app before checking out!
  • Car Insurance in Bulk: Not all car insurance companies do this, but we have our cars insured through Progressive and if we pay our premium 6 months at a time, we pay $297 less in total than if we paid monthly – which means saving nearly $50 a month (and $600 a year). This is actually easier to do than it sounds because we still budget for the insurance every month. We simply divided our total premium by 6 and each month I take out that amount and set it aside. Then, when it comes time to pay that premium again I simply deposit that money. It doesn’t feel like a big chunk is being taken from our account, because it’s not.
  • No Credit, No Problem: We do have a credit card but we only use it in very specific instances. We got a SouthWest card because they fly directly between Tampa and Memphis and that’s a flight we do often. So, we wanted to get some miles here and there for airline travel. First thing, of course, is we never use the credit card for something we don’t already have the money for in our bank account. We don’t use it as a loan by any means because paying interest is our nemesis. Our motto is, if we can’t afford it we don’t need it. For a while we were using the card for all of our gas purchases, but when we decided to switch things up and only use it for big things. It keeps us from getting used to using it a lot, and it gets us more miles. We only used the credit card once in January, but it was for a $500 table. We only used it once, but we still got 500 miles in that one transaction. And, we had saved for that table and had the money already so we paid the card off the very next day. fullsizerender
  • Count Every Dollar: Dave Ramsey has a money tracking website called Every Dollar that we also use (I’m mentioning Dave Ramsey a lot but I swear I’m not getting paid to) (but man that’d be cool). Its very similar to Mint, which I know a lot of people use – I just personally like the set up of Every Dollar better. It shows you different graphs and the percentages of how much of your monthly income goes towards different areas. There is a free option which is what we use (OBVIOUSLY, I mean have you not been reading my 2000+ word post on saving money?!) but you can also pay to have it track your bank transactions (Mint does this too but its free). Because we use cash, we don’t need our bank transactions tracked. We use it is because I’m a super visual person and I like feeling like a Queen in control of my kingdom, watching our money  go where we demand it to.

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Whew, I’m exhausted. I hope that something in this 2,400+ word post was helpful and encouraging for you! I’d love to hear from you if so, as well as from any other Kings and Queens out there ruling over their budgets!

I’m not sure what other budget themed posts I will do in the future, but if you have a suggestion feel free to let me know!

Our $6,000 Wedding; Or How We’re Penny Pinchers

Typically my blog posts consist of me just emoting all over the place: talking about feelings and friends and wine and all that is lovely. I’m a feelings person – it’s what I do. But since Timothy and I got married a year and a half ago, I’ve wanted to do a post that shared how we saved money on our wedding. Saving money and budgeting is my life long hobby (mama didn’t raise no fool) and it was really thrilling to watch everything come together.. and under budget. So, this is how we had our wedding for (just under) $6,000.

I will say, this wasn’t our dream wedding. Our dream wedding would have been outside, mountainside, in a meadow of wildflowers. Unfortunately, living in Tampa, that would have meant oodles of money flying to said mountainside and expecting all our friends and family to also spend oodles of money flying to said mountainside. During the planning process I would say “If someone gave me $50,000 and said I HAD to use it on our wedding… I could easily use it on our wedding.” But we didn’t have $50,000. We had $6,000. And as our idol Tim Gunn says, we made it work. Having a budget friendly wedding can absolutely mean cutting back on some of your “dreams” but for Timothy and I, we chose not having any kind of financial burden (for us or our family) over having that wildflower wedding.

I will also say it is incredibly possible to have a wedding for a lot less than we spent too. We could have done more DIY, a potluck instead of catering, a cheaper wedding dress, etc. Our goal wasn’t to have the cheapest wedding in the world, but rather a wedding that fit into the budget we felt good about spending, and for us that number was 6k.

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All photos are from our wonderful photographer, Sindy Gonzalez 

 

WHERE MOST OF OUR MONEY WENT: Three things took up about half of our budget – our venue, the food, and my dress. We chose to get married in our church here in Tampa, Watermark, entirely because of sentimental reasons. Watermark has been a big part of my life for about 7 years and getting married in that space (that space where so many other big things in my life had happened- good big and bad big) was really satisfying to my soul. We had both the ceremony and the reception there to save money, and to make it easier on us. We didn’t hire any kind of coordinator or staff to help with the transition, so we just set up the tables for the reception ahead of time and our guests just transitioned from the ceremony side of the church to the already decorated reception side of the church. The church (plus officiant) was $1,000.

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We were originally going to do the food ourselves (seriously trying to save money) but my dad graciously offered to pay for catering from this local, delicious Mexican restaurant called Taco Bus. I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING… “Taco Bus” doesn’t sound very sophisticated. But the thing is, we’re not that sophisticated and we really love tacos. And so did our guests, it turns out, because folks were going up for thirds. It worked out to being $10 a person which is infinitely cheaper than most catering, but frankly it was also a lot more delicious than many catering options. And, it was a very “Tampa” decision. Half our guests weren’t from Tampa so they got to try a local delicacy… in the form of tacos. Friends made home made salsa & guac to go along with the tacos and we bought big bags of chips when they were BOGO. Drinks weren’t a big budget item – we didn’t do alcohol for personal reasons and we just stocked up drinks as they were on sale at Publix before the wedding. Since we didn’t pay servers, I had three detail oriented friends (and even one of their mothers!) come to the church before the ceremony when the food arrived and they put together the food tables and made those last minute set ups look lovely. We purchased some affordable drink dispensers and no one went thirsty. In total, we spent about $950 on food and drinks

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I expected to spend $200 on a wedding dress. I spent more than that. By a lot. The wedding dress was easily the thing that was the most important to me – which was surprising because if you see how I dress normally, fashion is OBVI not my life blood. But for whatever reason, this dress was really important. Because of how important it was, Timothy and I agreed that we didn’t have to be set at $200. If I saw something  I loved that cost more  we could nix something else on our list. So, renting chairs and having flowers on every table, got nixed because the dress that I fell in love with was four times that measly $200. Everything about buying a dress surprised me: I found it the very first time I was out looking (I went out with two trusted friends who ended up being honest enough to say “yeah that dress makes you look Amish” and “you look extra pale in ivory”, bless them). I didn’t even like this dress when the girl at the store showed it to me, I only tried it on to be polite because blush and embroidered flowers? Too much. And then I put it on… and I kind of liked it. So I went out and showed my gal pals.. and they kind of liked it. And then I walked around in it … and we all kind of loved it. And the loving grew exponentially over the next half hour as I tried on other dresses that made me feel like I was wrapped in toilet paper. So I bought it. And we used chairs that were already at the church and didn’t put flowers on the reception tables. Additionally, since the dress was so pricey, I wore shoes I already owned. My dress was very billowy as it was so no one noticed I was wearing nude flats from Target I had owned for a year.

WHAT WE DIDN’T DO: There were several traditional wedding customs / expectations we decided weren’t worth our money and thus didn’t do.

We didn’t have favors because of one main reason: we have never cared about favors at any wedding we have ever attended. I have enough koozies already, I don’t like plastic ray ban sunglasses, and I really don’t need a mug with two names on it from a wedding I went to one time. Favors, I’m sorry, are unnecessary. And can seriously add up in cost. Because Timothy’s last name is Dills, we did think for about two minutes that it would be cute to have homemade pickles in small jars for people to take, but then we thought about the price, how half the guests wouldn’t take them – leaving us with more pickles than we would know what to do with.. OH, and also that we had never made pickles before and didn’t want our tiny apartment turned into a pickle factory.

We didn’t have a bridal party. This I think was the strangest to people (though I suspect no one missed watching people they didn’t know walk down the aisle) but there were a lot of reasons for this decision. Firstly, I wouldn’t have known how to pick just a few friends. I’m sentimental as heck and I would have wanted to include every friend who ever had even the slightest impact on my life.. and that’s a lot of friends. Basically my guest list. More over, I have had my feelings hurt on a few occasions when I wasn’t asked to be someone’s bridesmaid and I really didn’t want to accidentally do that too. There was also a money saving angle: bouquets, bridesmaid gifts (because apparently you have to give bridesmaid gifts), longer photography time… small things add up. Plus my friends would have also had to spend money on dresses and maybe even shoes. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by not having bridesmaids. My closest friend still threw me a bridal shower and a bachelorette party, so many incredible friends helped with setting up and steaming table cloths and making home made salsa. They all understood the decision to not have bridesmaids, and they all knew that if I had had a bridal party.. they would have been it. Turns out they didn’t need to be in my wedding to know I loved them.

HOW WE SAVED $$$: There’s infinite ways to save money on your wedding but a few things that we did are as follows.

When we made our guest list we were really strict – more so than we wanted to be. We wanted to invite every single person we like, but the more people you have the more money you’re spending. So, we listed our families first then only the friends who we had actively spent time with the last year (or friends who I have known since first grade and had to be there). This was a bummer to do, but it was a good rule for us. Total we had about 75 guests attend.

I hunted the internet for fake peonies and found a bouquet I really liked for $13. I then got a bouquet of greenery from Trader Joes, put it together and had a bouquet I really loved for a grand total of $17. I had greenery on the reception tables as well, some from the same $4 Trader Joes bouquets, but also from a big pretty bush at my parents house. I had a floral garland on our altar  (pictured below) that I made entirely from stems from my parents home, so it cost $0. Total, I spent $25 on flowers. Yet, according to a survey from The Knot, the average amount brides spend on a florist—including personal flowers, centerpieces and other decorations—was $2,141. So yeah, I like my number better.

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Timothy isn’t a suit guy and I saw no reason to make him be one on his wedding day. We bought him a nice pair of Express pants and a button down he liked a lot when the store was having a 40% off everything type sale and he wore a pair of Clarks shoes he already had and loved. Easy, affordable, and he was really comfortable.

Our photographer, Sindy, was a friend of ours who we adored and she gave us a rate that she shouldn’t have because she’s incredibly talented. We only had her come for 4 hours because it was a few hundred dollars cheaper. That meant we had to be really particular with our time, so Timothy and I did our first looks before the ceremony and had pictures taken beforehand. This ended up being really sweet and intimate and I’m glad we did it. When we saw each other for the first time it was just us… and Sindy. We were able to cry and freak out “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING” together, and we hugged a lot. The pictures from this moment are some of my favorite from the day.

We didn’t use a DJ and just made a playlist on our iPod. It was really fun picking out the songs with Timothy and deciding what order they should be. When we needed things to be announced (like time to eat, time for our first dance) we just asked a friend with a good speaking voice to grab the mic for a second and do it. If you give the people music – even on just an iPod – they will dance.

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Our wedding invitations were actually free, besides printing. I found them as a free template online (from http://www.weddingchicks.com – but there are SO many sites with really nice free templates) and our friend who is wildly helpful and a designer tweaked them for us so they were perfect. She even coordinated them to be printed for us at a local print shop and I believe we only spent $40 to print them. Because we were only engaged for 5 months, we didn’t do Save The Dates which also saved us money. We sent out invitations out about three months in advanced (earlier than miss manners would say to send out invitations) but we did that to take the place of save the dates.

I really wanted to attempt our wedding cake myself.. but even I know my limits, so we decided to ask a friend who bakes to make it. We still paid for it, but it feels nicer paying a friend than someone at a bakery you don’t know. We didn’t pay for an extra top layer to bring home to save for our anniversary (freezer burn cake? Gee no thanks) and I had my sister who had worked in a bakery cut it when it came time to serve. Both choices saved us some green. Plus, my sister had strict instructions to bring me the first piece because I wasn’t going to be one of those brides who was so swept up in the day she didn’t get a piece of cake at her wedding. I wanted the cake. We spent $150 on a strawberry cake with buttercream frosting (drooling at the thought) that fed 80. And for those of you who remembered that we only had 75 people come.. yeah, we took home the leftovers from our wedding cake and ate it all week.

I paid $12 for hair and make up thanks to two kind friends. The hair style I wanted was really simple so one of my sweet friends came over that morning and helped me with it. The $12 was for a gold hair piece that I found online that I used in place of a veil (seen below). I was going to do my make up myself – even though I knew it wasn’t going to be amazing – because getting it done professionally seemed to be at least $100 (and remember my dress was over budget so other things got cut). A few weeks before my wedding, a caring friend and the wife of my pastor, told me that she wanted to do my makeup for me as a wedding present. I’m pretty sure I cried. This was particularly exciting because she is literally a make up artist by trade and someone I absolutely couldn’t have afforded. My mother and I went over to her house the morning of my wedding and she did my make up in the same room where I attended house church for years. “Sentimental” really was the theme of our wedding.

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It took a lot of work (which wouldn’t have gotten done without our amazing support system called friends and family) and the closer to the wedding we got, the more my apartment looked like a storage unit with boxes full of sodas and decorations. But.. our day was our style, fun, free of financial burdens, and really full of love. Voila!