wedding season!

My wedding is coming up on October 13th. I proposed to my now-fiance back in December, and we’ve been very chill about the engagement. It is a tiny wedding (you’ll see, below), and while I would not classify it is as frugal by any means, I still think some of the decisions we’ve made are quirky or interesting from a personal finance perspective. feel free to read, or not, depending on whether you like weddings.:)

{note: no financial ties to anything we chose below, I just really liked the ones I mentioned and wanted to share}.

location: san francisco, ca (where we first met)

guest list: we are each inviting immediate family, and 4 or 5 friends, for a total of between 15-20 people. right away, this made for an interesting decision financially: I liked the idea of getting married in sf for sentimental reasons, but his friends have typically much shorter travel distances, and much higher paying jobs than my friends. I thought that was kind of backwards, and we decided that we wanted to pay for the plane tickets and accommodations for my four friends. this is more expensive than any other single piece of the wedding, which I am very pleased by actually, since the people coming are the most important thing to me.

wedding ceremony: public park. me, groom, officiant, 1-2 witnesses each. vows we write. really simple.

flowers: only whatever is growing in the park

wedding party: we are not having bridesmaids or groomsmen

wedding reception: dinner at an italian restaurant in our old sf neighborhood for guests. we didn’t rent out the whole restaurant, but we made a reservation that will probably fill about half of the place. I’ll have to work with them on a prix fixe menu, just because their kitchen can’t handle that much chaos, but I think that will be great. we ate there a few weeks ago (my first time, though not his), and I am so excited for the food.

dj/videographer: nope

photographer: undecided; my dad takes great photos, but if I want him to be able to relax, I am thinking about flying another friend out to take our photos. we shall see.

wedding registry: don’t have one, have asked for no gifts; really, sincerely hope people comply

dress: I am not very girly or formal, so I wanted a dress that looked nice, but that was also in a color that both sort of insinuated a wedding dress, but could be worn for other formal occasions. I chose light gray because I’m all about the cool neutrals, and I found this really cool shop on etsy that I highly recommend if you ever want a nice semi-formal dress. they only make this one style of convertible dress, but you get to choose fabric, length, and many details about its construction. the fabric samples they sent were super nice, and they have been great to work with.

accessories: I bought a pair of earrings (I only got my ears pierced a year ago and I have exactly 2 pairs), and I will buy a pair of flat shoes (probably a pop of color) and a pashmina-type wrap. it should not be too cold during the daytime, but I might want a little warmth at night.

hair/makeup: I had a pixie cut as of two years ago, so my main focus has just been growing my hair as long and healthy as possible so that I have options. I have been doing no shampoo, and haven’t so much as put a blowdryer to it for months. lots of buns and ponytails. I am planning to splurge for a nice haircut (maybe a color touch up to cover up the ghosts of highlights past) a couple of weeks before the wedding, and I will be doing styling myself. for makeup, I am going to use a coupon I have to get a free makeover at sephora to figure out what my makeup will look like, and I am budgeting to buy some of the products that I like. I will want pretty natural-looking makeup, so these will also be things I can use after the wedding.

rings: we went with a website I saw recommended on a practical wedding called bario neal. they use ethically sourced and reclaimed materials to make their rings, and we got simple, matching silver bands. there was no engagement ring, although very soon we are going to be getting small inside-ring-finger tattoos (my first ink!). we came up with that idea because my fiance knows I’m not much of a jewelry person (plus I proposed to him so he wasn’t like planning to surprise me), and he was like “you know, I really don’t like the idea anyway that you wear a ring before the wedding and I don’t – I am just a ‘taken’ as you, and I want to make a decision to do things a little differently.” I thought that was really cool – very much our style.

groom’s clothing: fiance is going on the faculty job market in the fall, so he needs a serious suit for that anyway. I’ve suggested what I think is the LBD of mens’ suits (charcoal gray, two-button suit), which would probably be the only suit he would need for ten years if he stays the same size. I’m not sure how to count this into our budget, because it’s not totally a wedding expense – I am thinking of putting 50% of the cost of the suit, plus the cost of any accessories, as wedding-related. does anyone have suggestions whose been in the same situation on this?

invitations: one of the friends who is coming used to work at a letterpress-printing museum, and has access to the equipment. she is making our invitations as a thank you for flying her to the wedding, although I am still going to at least give her a gift card or something.

miscellaneous: since the ceremony and reception are so small, we still wanted to include a lot of other people, but in a less formal way. we are going to host happy hours at bars in both boston and sf where we will invite a wider swath of friends, and pay for drinks & maybe a few apps, and just get the chance to talk to people.

honeymoon: monterey, ca and niagara falls, ontario. (where we each respectively vacationed as children). mostly staying at airbnb places, including some really cool ones thrown in there (sf apartment with rooftop jacuzzi, yacht in monterey, house boat). the whole thing (wedding, honeymoon) will be 10 days. I’m so excited.

I know there are still details to work out, but I am pretty excited and it hasn’t been stressful to plan at all. using pretty conservative (i.e. high) estimates, I think our wedding + honeymoon will cost about $15,000. that is about perfect for what I was hoping.

any questions? anything major I’m forgetting? people seem to like talking about weddings, and it’s all very new to me, so I don’t know what’s interesting about them and what isn’t. I will share a detailed budget breakdown after the wedding, for sure, as well as a few pictures! does anyone want to see a more detailed budget breakdown than I gave above so they can set me straight? let me know!

Student Loans are Gone!

Today I paid an extra $375, and my student loans are gone for good. They were not originally my largest debt — $6,000 — but they were last debt remaining that had any significant interest accruing on them, so I am pumped. I’ll be a little tight the rest of this month because of the somewhat-spontaneous decision to pay them off, but it’s totally worth it.

Is it possible that I am a year or less from debt freedom?

$$ DEENA $$

Times, They Are A-Changin’

There is a ton going on in my life right now. I will try to do a jam packed update for ya’ll!

Trueeeee Loveeeee

In December, I proposed to my boyfriend, who is now my fiance. We were on a trip out to San Francisco where we first met, and I proposed to him. We celebrated by going to the bar where we had our first (blind internet) date. It was really special. Everyone has been asking me to see the ring, and I joke that he has it because I proposed. In reality, he and I talked about this before we actually got engaged. I am not a huge jewelry person (I just got my ears pierced about six months ago, and I’ve been wearing the same silver studs since then and that’s just about the only jewelry I own!) Moreover, he did not like the idea that I would have a ring or visible symbol that I was “taken” while he wouldn’t until we got married. After considering the idea of us both wearing rings during the engagement, we instead decided to get small tattoos on the inside of our ring fingers instead. We haven’t done it yet, but I am really excited! (Also pumped that I won’t be able to lose it…):) We don’t have a wedding date planned yet, but it will likely be in Summer 2015, and we are planning courthouse wedding + backyard barbecue style. Financially, we will probably not do a great deal of damage on the wedding, but we are planning to take a serious honeymoon, so that will be something I’ll start to save for relatively soon.


I’ve been up and down with depression, this winter has been pretty difficult. I have not been taking as good care of myself physically as I know I need to, so I’ve been gradually stepping that up, and it’s helping. Work is going great, and I’m really hopeful I’ll get to take on a new role soon.


I am still paying down my debts like a boss! Started from $55,000 on January 1st 2013, my debt is now slightly under $17,500. I have $600 left to go on my student loan, and then I will only owe myself (401(k) loan) and my family member (which, now I feel comfortable revealing is actually my fiance even though my original post sneakily referred to the person as “she”).

My retirement savings are also looking great; I just crossed the $30,000 mark, and I will get my employer match for the year soon, pushing me up to something in the $35,000 – $38,000 range. Given that when I left grad school in June 2012 I had less than $16,000 saved, I’m really excited that it will soon be more than double that.

I have felt fairly undisciplined lately with discretionary spending, so I am going to make that a focus in March. At the beginning of April, I will be taking my first trip to the UK with the fiance — he is going for a work trip, so our hotel is covered, and on our last trip a week ago, we took a flight delay to the next day for $600 in airline vouchers. I still think I will be spending about $1,000 for the balance of my plane ticket + food, but I think that’s quite reasonable for a week in the UK!

That’s all for now, more soon!

$$ DEENA $$

401(k) loan options

Personal finance confession time: I have twice borrowed from my 401(k) to pay down credit card debt. (Note I did not run the CCs back up in the interim, there was just a rule that you could only borrow 50% of your 401(k) balance, so I took a second loan a year later when my balance had gone up.)

I know that this sounds like a complete mess, but let me say that for me, it has been a really great financial move. I’m credit card debt free, and steadily dropping my other debts. However, you might be thinking that the first rule of personal finance (or maybe the third rule after “track your spending” and “keep an emergency fund?”) is “don’t touch your retirement savings.” So, let me explain a little….

I did not take a disbursement, I took a loan — so there is no 20% tax penalty for this like the horror stories you hear. The loan repayment comes directly out of my paycheck, so I cannot mess that up at all. I cannot run the loan up any higher, because I’ve taken the maximum (2) loans, so there’s no risk there. I have done a lot of research on my personal situation, and the 3.25% interest I pay gets added to my 401(k) balance when I pay it — so I am paying myself interest, which is both cool and weird. In addition, the earnings are accruing on the full balance of my 401(k), which did not make sense to me, but I have confirmed this to be true with HR and with my 401(k) administrator.

So, two things are less than ideal about this situation:
(1) My outstanding loan balance is about $10,000.

(2) Up until today, there was the risk that if I ever left my job for any reason, I would either (a) have to repay the full balance of the loan within a month, or (b) at tax time, I would owe 20% of the loan value to the IRS, and the loan balance would be treated as if I had taken a “disbursement.”

Even though these two facts are sucky, I only have $2,100 to go on my student loan (which is at a higher interest rate of 6.55%), and then saving up to pay off the 401(k) loan in full was going to be my very next priority. The risk of fact #2 above feels mitigated by the fact that my emergency fund could cover $2,000 (20% of the $10,000 loan balance) if I lost my job and needed to pay up at tax time.

Then, last week, a curve ball: our HR rep sent us an email telling us that the terms have now changed, and if you do leave the company for any reason, there is an additional option available, which is to sign up for auto-pay from your checking account and finish out the term of your loan. My loan payment is $285/month, so I think that would be more than manageable if all of my other debts were paid off, as my monthly expenses are fairly reasonable. I love my job and it is quite stable, so this is a pretty outside chance, anyway.

So, with this new option, my question to all of you is can you see any reason why I should be aggressive on this loan for any reason other than being able to declare myself debt-free? While I do still want that, I’m weighing the wisdom of attacking that loan versus upping my savings after I pay off my other loans. Does anyone have thoughts? What would you do?

$$ DEENA $$

new direction for the bloggy

My mental health has wreaked havoc on my finances over the years, and I am going to spend this post talking about that. I take full personal responsibility for my choices, and I would never say that “it’s not my fault because I have mental health issues!” but I am starting to see more and more how they contributed, and I hope that by sharing my story, it might help me understand myself better. And hey, if it resonates with at least one other person even a little, I will feel incredibly happy.

My Financial Back Story
I completed a four-year degree at a private, liberal arts college with $0 in debt. My parents were generous to me by saving money in a 529 for me since I was a child, and I also worked hard in high school and college to maintain my scholarships. While my passion was sociology, I took on economics as a double major in order to have good job prospects. I started my first job two months after graduation in 2007 with a reasonable ($40,000) salary. I made some financial mistakes early on, but three years later I was almost back to debt $0 (thanks PF community!), and I got paid to complete my master’s degree. This is because I started as a PhD student (which included free tuition/health insurance, as well as a $30,000/year stipend), and eventually chose to leave before I had completed my PhD. I truly believe I could have exited my program with $0 in debt again, but I didn’t – it was more like $55,000. I am on the road to righting this situation, but it’s a doozy.

So, What the H#*& Happened?!
Depression, generalized anxiety, ADHD, panic disorder, social phobia, and PTSD – I’ve been diagnosed with all of them at various times. I do not believe I got incredibly unlucky and just happen to have six different, co-occurring conditions randomly; they are all connected and create terrible feedback loops, and it’s really hard to untangle what is what. I’ve made many questionable choices as a result of feeling hopeless, and having very little energy to take care of my most basic needs. When it takes everything in me to put my (probably dirty) pants on in the morning to go to work and get through the day, that’s nice that grocery shopping is cheaper than eating out constantly, but realistically I am going to get takeout. When I was doing what I now recognize as re-traumatizing myself because of my PTSD, I found myself choosing relationships that were terrible for me emotionally (and consequently, financially). I will not go into detail, but an ex-boyfriend owes me several thousand dollars, and I am never going to see that money. He had a hand in this, but it is at least 50% my own choices that led to that situation. That’s not self-hatred talking, that is me being realistic with where I was at the time and the decisions I made.

How This Connects to This Blog and Its Direction
Mental health disorders are very real things, and you cannot snap your fingers and will yourself to be better. However, I have found ways to stitch together a patchwork quilt of things that provide me support, and every day is a journey toward doing things just slightly better and being slightly healthier. One thing that got me motivated to start blogging again is the opportunity to talk about some of these things. I know that I have almost nothing to contribute to the personal finance conversation in terms of budgeting, emergency funds, or debt repayment, because I am not uniquely knowledgeable about any of that. I have learned to do okay, but that’s not compelling enough for me to keep blogging.

However, I think I am uniquely knowledgeable about making the best out of my particular mental health situation that has persisted for 10-15 years. I know about making lifestyle and financial changes that probably do not apply completely to most people, although I think almost anyone could listen to them and consider how nuggets might apply to their situation, whether or not they have a diagnosable mental health disorder. We all suffer, we all have stress – and thinking about a few things other than math is necessary for some of us to succeed financially.

Maybe these ideas are relevant to no one. Maybe there are a few people who’d be interested. Either way, I’m mostly doing this for myself to record my  journey, but it would be a lot easier on me to cover these heavy topics if I knew I had your support. I want to know from my readers, would you be open to hearing this type of discussion, even though it won’t be standard PF fare? Please tell me in the comments.

$$ DEENA $$

better financial habit #1: cheaper smart phone bill

*** This blog post was in no way endorsed by Ting, I was not compensated in any way, and the opinions given are solely my own.

I want to reflect on some of the changes that I have made to make such good financial progress. One huge savings: switching to a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) for my cell phone service called Ting. I wrote about this idea when I first set the plan up, but now that I have several months of billing data with our Ting account, I thought it was time to report how the service has worked out. In one word: amazing. If you’d like more detail, continue on!


Before we switched to Ting, BF was on a Verizon smart phone plan with an Android phone, and I was on an AT&T plan with an iPhone. With my company discount, the cheapest plan I could have with that setup was $92/month on AT&T, and BF’s charges were often in excess of that. He likely had his plan miscalibrated for his needs, but our finances were totally separate at that time, so I don’t know why his bill was so darn high. At any rate, we were spending well over $200 a month on our cell phones.

Now, let’s look at my last eight months of Ting bills. I am only including my portion of these bills, since I don’t want to put BF’s info out there on the ‘net without permission, but his are within a couple of dollars of mine, as he uses more minutes than me and I use more data than him.

Show me the money!


That’s eight months of smart phone service for $265.59, suckas!

Eight months of my AT&T plan would have been $736, so this graph shows a savings of $470.41. Notice that even the outlier months are still over $30 less than my AT&T plan! (Since I have gotten used to the service and figured out a few tricks, I won’t see bills that high again). Also there’s no contract, so anytime I needed or wanted to save even more money, I could cancel my cell phone altogether with no penalty, and re-activate it later.

Okay, but have I changed my usage behavior to drive the bill lower? Isn’t having to worry about how much cell service I am consuming a pain? Is it really worth the savings?

Have I changed my behavior? Yes and no. I don’t restrain myself when I am out and about and want to make a phone call. If I have a phone date set up in advance with one of my friends who I know I will end up talking to for an hour or more, I tend to make the calls from my laptop. This works fine because I get crappy service inside my apartment anyway. The great thing about the way I have Ting set up is that it integrates my Google voice, so whether I call from my computer or my cell phone, people see the same number they are familiar with pop up.

Data-wise, I have noticed myself being more judicious, but not in a way that feels negatively restrictive. Leslie has talked about this before in regards to ditching her smart phone: it feels freeing not to be compulsively refreshing Facebook on my phone every ten seconds on the bus just because I can. The result of knowing that mindless data consumption on my phone is costing me something (even if it’s just pennies), I find myself reaching for my phone slightly less. In turn, I feel more mindful of my surroundings, more peaceful, and more engaged with the world around me.

My texting behavior has not changed at all, because I have texts set up to go through Google voice so they use 0 text messages from Ting’s perspective and only use a miniscule amount of data. I can leave my phone off at work and still get my texts online, which is really nice, too.

The two changes that feel like small sacrifices (neither necessitated by Ting AT ALL), but ones I don’t mind making for the additional savings, are:

(1) I bought a FreedomSpot Overdrive Pro for $60, which gives me 500 mB of free data per month over 3G or 4G signal. It’s palm-sized and fits in my purse. The service doesn’t cost you anything, unless you go over your data cap (I set alerts so this doesn’t happen, and even if it does rates are reasonable) or if you don’t use the account for a full month it charges you $0.99. (h/t to Mr. Money Mustache on this idea). I have to be a little more consistent about keeping this thing on me, because I usually use less than 500 mB of data per month total, so the cost savings would be a few bucks if I used this 90% of the time.

(2) I used to like to listen to Pandora on my phone because that’s what I listen to at work, but that was a huge data suck and I would lose reception on the subway. This was just a matter of laziness of not wanting to put all my iTunes songs onto my Android phone. I had a brilliant idea, though! I realized my Android phone didn’t fit well into my running tights anyway, so one day I fished out my original iPhone circa 2007 (man those metal ones were pretty!), and I use it as an iPod on public transit and while running. Voila, no more Pandora data suck!

Otherwise, I use my phone basically however I want and have seen that my bill has gone down way lower than I even expected.

If I have piqued any of your interest, please feel free click here for a referral code that will save you $25 on your monthly bill (or in buying a new device). In the interests of full disclosure, I also get a $25 credit for this if you use it, but NO PRESSURE WHATSOEVER! I just think Ting is the bomb and wanted to spread the word.

Do you have any tips or tricks for saving money on your cell phone bill?

$$ DEENA $$

let’s get the (debt repayment) party started

Hey ya’ll, been awhile. I’m working on letting go of my extreme perfectionism, and I miss my little PF blog so i’m going to try to start playing with it again. It can suck for awhile until I get my stride back, I’m sure my four readers left will forgive me.:)

A couple of major updates since last I wrote:

(1) My financial situation has continued to improve greatly (details below).

(2) I moved with my boyfriend to a larger apartment. Who knew sharing 500 square feet with someone else would be so uncomfortable?! This move increased my rent by more than I care to admit, but everything else about the quality of life improvement is worth it to me. I’ve been more careful with money elsewhere to accommodate the rent increase, and I m happy with this decision.  I hope to post some pictures soon.

So, here’s some numbers, folks!


Retirement (401(k), company stock): $26,132.11
Freedom Fund: $225
Total: $26,357.11


Student Loan (@ 6.55%): $2,136.81
401(k) Loan (@ 3.25% that I pay back to myself): $10,165.00
Family Member Loan (@ 0%): $10,692.96
Total: $22,994.77

Net Worth: $3,362.34

A few salient things I want to point out:

* I have three balances left. Two of them are ginormous, but at my worst, I had 11 different debts, so this feels like serious progress.  I have no more credit card debt whatsoever.

* I had completed my emergency fund to my interim goal of 1 month expenses ($2,500), but I got punchy when my credit card debt was $2,500 away from zero, and I ended up draining my emergency fund to finish that off. I have noticed how much more stressed I’ve been with so little cushion, and I am making it a priority to get this back to where it needs to be in the next few months. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve actually come around to saving while in debt, because I was so anti for so long.

* My net worth is in the black for the first time since I graduated college.

Can I get a WOO-HOO?:) I will talk soon about the changes I’ve made to my habits to help expedite my debt repayment. For now, let me just say it feels great to be back!

$$ DEENA $$


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