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The Budget Bridesmaid: How to Pinch Your Pennies and Keep Your Sanity through 27 Weddings

I am used to big life events happening at the same time as all my friends: graduating from elementary to middle school/high school/college together. In the past, when these events happened at the same time I was always happy (i.e., “Yay! Let’s have one big college graduation party to celebrate all of our success!”)

Buuuuut, when all of your friends get MARRIED at the same time? That is when it can become a bit overwhelming.

Take it from me: a professional bridesmaid and wedding attendee. This year alone I will have attended nearly a dozen weddings, and I’ll have served as a bridesmaid in many of them. Here are some tips to help you budget for all of the travel, tears, dresses, and dramas that come right along with the rockin’ parties and joyous nuptials. Tried and true, my friends, I am an expert.

Manage Expectations: Tell the bride upfront what your budget is and what you are willing to spend. I was so honored and excited to be asked to be in the weddings, I didn’t want to damper the moment with the dreaded money talk. But, truthfully, I should have because some of my brides lived far away and had many expectations about dress fittings, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and more. I didn’t have the money talk with them until things came to a head (they expected me to pay for travel, events, flowers, hair, makeup, and accomodations that I just couldn’t afford), and it wasn’t a fun conversation. Money talks can really put a damper on even the strongest friendships, so have them early and often so no one is surprised when you set your financial boundaries.

Camping Chic: Last month I went to a wedding in Monterey, California and most of my friends were staying at a swanky hotel. As much as I would have loved to stay there, the cost was just too high. Instead my bf and I ended up finding a camp site on the beach and pitching a tent and making a fire for one night. The hotel-stayers were jealous – they didn’t get to wake up to the sound of crashing waves! The second day of our trip (the night of the wedding) we checked into a charmingly affordable bed and breakfast in the afternoon, got ready for the wedding there, and stumbled back to our warm little room after the festivities ended. For two nights in one of the most expensive tourist destinations in California we spent less than $75 on accommodations…and we got a free breakfast!

Re-wear Dresses: This is more about being an attendee than a maid, but re-wear dresses! Really. It is okay to wear the same dress to different weddings. Who cares if your pictures look the same? The event is about the couple getting married not your dress. It took me a while to get on board with this one. Mostly because I love dresses and shopping for special occasions. But, if you have a few weddings in a year you can save big bucks by wearing the same dress to all of them. This year I estimated that I saved $700 by not buying dresses for every single wedding I attended.

Renting Vacation Houses: Whether with a group of girls for a bachelorette party, or a group of friends attending a wedding, VRBO is cheaper and often nicer than a hotel! They have houses all across the country and often include amenities like a private pool or jacuzzi!

DIY Presents: Instead of buying a present for the bride for her bridal shower or bachelorette party, why not make her something? For one of my friend’s bachelorette parties I asked all of her nearest-and-dearest ladies (friends and relatives alike) to secretly email me their favorite recipes. I made a little recipe book (you can bind it at Kinkos or use cute ribbon) and the bride loved it! Also, I gave a copy to all of the girls who attended the bachelorette party as a fun souvenir (because who doesn’t love a cookbook?) Here is the cover of a cookbook I recently made on Picassa for a friend’s bachelorette party favor.

Do Your Own Hair and Makeup: You can do your hair and makeup like the professionals! Just check out YouTube for hair and makeup tutorials and you will save yourself a pretty chunk of change, and no one will be the wiser. My advice would be to practice it at least once before the big day, but before long your hair will be just as fabulous as if you had it done at a salon. Don’t believe me? Check out this YouTube creation I did for a wedding.

Hope these tips are helpful! May your weddings be merry, bright, and budget-chic!

(*)Author’s photo note: The photos above are dramatizations. Two of my closest friends have recently gotten married, and since they love me so much, I know they don’t mind that I use photos from their wedding or their bachelorette favors for my blog. Those particular brides are absolutely gracious, but not every bride has the same compromising outlook. 🙂

The Key to Balancing is Never Looking Down

Balancing priorities in life has to be one of the biggest challenges of adulthood for me.

For example, I want to blog every minute of every day, I want to breathe blogging, and sing blogging, and listen and learn from blogging. And yet, I have to make choices. I go to work to pay the bills (luckily I like my job too), I attend graduate school, I have homework for said graduate school, I have a bf, and friends, and two cats, and a blog. Blogging always gets pushed to the end of the list. It’s the tough choice that I have to make, and let me tell you, it is a choice based on survival and not on preference:

Must.work.to.pay.bills.Must.go.to.class.Must.Sleep.

But that is part of being an adult I guess — putting aside dreams for pragmatism. Realizing that responsibilities trump pastimes.

Lately, I am balancing not only my responsibilities, but also my checkbook. One of my best friends is getting married in July and her wedding involves travel and is going to be very expensive for me. And I love her and adore her, but sometimes I don’t think she realizes how hard it is to balance. How I have to choose between eating, paying rent, or putting aside money for her wedding and events. Must.eat.Must.pay.rent.

Being an adult also means you can’t please everyone. You just have to do your best and hope your blog-friends and your soon-to-be-married friends like you enough to understand.

How does everyone else cope with balancing life? Do you have any advice to offer those of us who struggle every day? How do you approach your friends who may not understand your balancing act? How do you find time for doing the things you enjoy? Discuss.

Cheap Chic: Being Beautiful on a Budget

This entry will begin my series of entries in a topic of adulthood that we all know too well: BUDGETING.

In the midst of the shiny covers of bridal store magazines, with beautiful air-brushed brides in $8,000 Vera Wang wedding dresses, we must strive to find something real. For most of us, spending lavishly on a wedding isn’t an option, and thus, we must make due to make our day beautiful and special on a budget.

Granted, I am not married, so I haven’t had to tackle these kinds of issues yet. But certainly, as an adult, budgeting becomes really important. I budget carefully every month, so that my bills can get paid, my rent can get paid, my lights can stay on, my school can get paid, and maybe I might have a little money left over for a date with my boyfriend, or a trip once in a while to visit my one of my friends who live far away.

I understand the constraints of having to make hard decisions on what to spend money on, but I can’t imagine what it must be like after paying your bills (the bills that make it possible to continue to live) to have to then make decisions on planning a thrify wedding. You want it beautiful like the magazines, but you don’t have funds, is there any way to still get what you want?

I think the way it would go for me would be: eat or buy a few extra flowers for the wedding? I would be tempted to pick the latter because I love flowers. (I could live on Raman Noodles, if need be…)

Well, I now know it is possible to eat AND have pretty flowers. My friends Adam and Kim recently got married. They had a small wedding in La Jolla, California, at a park overlooking the Pacific. And guess what? They had tons of flowers. And guess what else? The flowers cost less than $200! And guess what else? They got most of them at Costco!

You don’t believe me? Check it out!

Kim and her two friends (one of which was yours truly) and her mom put these flower arrangements together the night before the wedding. They were easy and fun! Let me show you how the process went.

Kim and I ventured to the wholesale flower shop in San Diego. They have buckets and buckets of flowers! We picked some that we liked, and got some tools: styrophome green blocks that absorb water, some wire, and some green tape to wrap the stems. That’s it! The rest of the flowers she got from four spring bouquets at Costco.

So, this is all to say that budgeting can fuel creativity, and can actually be pretty bonding! We had a lot of fun putting those bouquets and arrangements together. Sometimes it can be a challenge in deciding whether to buy something we want or to buy something we need. And sometimes, we settle for buying something we need, and find out that we actually got more out of it than we expected.

Because, as I see it, that is what a wedding is all about anyway, whether you spend $500 for your wedding or $5 million dollars: it is about two people sharing their love with the friends and family and community who have loved and supported them along the way. It’s not the amount you spend, but the amount of love that you give and receive to your partner, your friends, and family.

Paying a professional florist to do your wedding flowers, $972. Buying your own flowers wholesale and at Costco, $200. Having wine and spaghetti and good music and friends together while arranging said wholesale and Costco flowers, PRICELESS.

More to come on our budgeting series. I will point you to some of the best blogs out there for spotting deals(@SuperSavingSara, that is you!) that WILL save you money at your favorite store. AND we will also tackle some tougher issues like what do when your friends expect you to spend money you don’t have, difficult decisions to make when unemployed, and more! Stay tuned…

Guest Blog: New Year’s Resolution Confession of a Compulsive Target Shopper

Well, I promised a sassy guest blogger, and I have delivered! Kaitlan Capalbo is the kind of person that when you meet her, you decide immediately that you really want to be friends with her. She is super fun and witty, and always has a sassy response for every question or quandary. She is a person who is not afraid: to laugh loudly, to sing karaoke, to speak her mind. Her confidence is contagious and her wit is absolutely magnetic. That said, it didn’t surprise me that she sent me this little essay that is as introspective as it is sassy. It takes a strong person to honestly reveal little chinks in their armor, and discuss ways for self-improvement. I like it because it reminds me that we are all on this earth to learn from every experience. This year, The Epic New Year’s Resolution Project asks us to do just that: to look closely at ourselves and resolve to be better (whatever that means for you.) That, my friends, is a brave undertaking upon itself. Enjoy our little resident sassy’s piece…let’s continue our discussions about an epic resolution for 2010, and show Kaitlan some love in the comments.

New Year’s Resolution Confession of a Compulsive Target Shopper

By Kaitlan Capalbo

I can always think of a reason to go to Target. I love Target. My boyfriend says my demeanor and attitude lightens the moment I walk into a Target, like I am passing through the pearly gates of heaven. I just love it. And it’s not just Target — I love to shop. For anything: clothes, shoes, Swifter products, or cat litter. I can always think of something I need. This is why I am writing this blog, to introduce my New Year’s resolution and put it out there for the world to see and, maybe, hold me accountable. My resolution is to want less. To ask myself, before I get the bug up my butt to go buy the new Pledge Fabric Sweeper literally 8 seconds after I see the commercial, ‘Do you really need this’?

I didn’t map out a plan to measure my progress in achieving this goal, which probably isn’t good for someone like me, who needs a trainer to hold her accountable for what she eats on a weekly basis or to motivate me to workout. (“Kaitlan, you have to go to the gym cause Susan is going to yell at you if she doesn’t see you there every day.”) My loose plan is really to dig deeper when I get the urge to run to Target, or go buy some new jeans at the mall. I resolve to ask myself the tough questions: you don’t have a job, do you really need those $200 jeans? Is it absolutely essential to buy your cats three different kinds of wet food? I realize I am making myself sound like a shopaholic, but I am really not. Denial? Maybe.

I am just hoping to become a better person by making this resolution. I have caught myself saying ‘I want, I need, get me’ an awful lot lately and I don’t like the way that sounds coming out of my mouth. I sound like a spoiled little brat. I’ll keep you posted on my failures and successes (through hopefully more of these writings.) Happy new year!

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