‘I do’… not want to spend a fortune: Planning an affordable wedding

Plenty of space for party tents, with a gorgeous, natural backdrop of the Koolau Mountains!

It’s way too easy to spend a lot on a wedding. There are plenty of ways that the industry has shaped people’s expectations and offers every type of service and product to help you celebrate. But before the wedding planning ball starts rolling too fast, try to figure out what you want most for your ceremony.  Write down a few sentences about how you want to feel, and what you value most about your ceremony and reception.

I want to get married close to home so it’s an easy drive for relatives. I want beautiful natural views in the autumn. I want a private, all-inclusive space so I can feel like royalty.

When my fiance and I started talking about getting married just about a year ago, we actually planned the honeymoon first. Since we live in Hawaii, yet have close family members scattered across many regions of the US as well as a few countries in Europe, we thought that visiting them during our honeymoon made a lot of sense. We shaped our trip around the ‘honeymoon’ part (a visit to Cape Town and wildlife safari in South Africa) and numerous stops in Minnesota, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest to see relatives.

In order to be able to afford our elaborate trip, we wanted to save money on our actual ceremony and reception here in Hawaii. Most hotels and venues offer packages in the tens of thousands of dollars, but we thought: why stay inside a ballroom when Hawaii offers so much natural beauty?

Check state parks, county parks, and other natural areas as potential venues. Since my fiance’s coworker was registered to perform weddings in the state of Hawaii, he offered to marry us for free, at a city park near Waikiki. Our parents attended, and our friends took some beautiful photos of us all (again, for free).

As for our reception, we rented a large outdoor tent from a local business and had the event catered for around 100 people. Total cost? $400 for the tent, $2,500 for the food and drinks. We set up a permit for a space at a beautiful county park on the windward side of Oahu, with plenty of parking spots for everyone. The permit was free. Our friend baked us a selection of cakes as her wedding present to us, and everyone raved about the delicious desserts she brought.  Do you know anyone with a large yard, garden, or home that might be willing to host a party? We asked my friend who has a lovely yard next to a stream if she could host us, but she said that her boyfriend had thought their own wedding could be held there at some point in the future and preferred not to host. Ask around, and maybe you’ll get lucky!

So we made the conscious choice to go for free venues and arranged for friends to help us, and that enabled us to put our money toward our month-long honeymoon. If you and your soon-to-be-spouse are on the same page about what your priorities are, then do your best to stick to your guns to ensure your wedding is what you envisioned.




How not to fall into the cookie cutter trap: Planning our wedding our way

My boyfriend of 2 1/2 years, Michael, proposed to me last Christmas morning. I said yes, accepted a beautiful engagement ring, and started planning in late January.

People ask us questions about the wedding all the time these days: What are your wedding colors? Are you having a bachelorette party? Are you going to have an emcee, DJ, or band? What will your song be?

These are questions that have nothing to do with our wedding. I don’t blame people for asking us these things though; the wedding industry has shaped how Americans think a wedding should be. People have their own expectations.

Questions that do relate to our wedding include: How many cities are you visiting during your trip? Is it ok if I come to more than one celebration? What is your actual wedding date?

We’re going to have a small, private ceremony somewhere on the beach with just our parents, and going out to dinner later that evening. The following day, we’re throwing a big picnic for family, friends, and coworkers in a large park on scenic windward Oahu, complete with a tent if the weather shouldn’t cooperate and caterers serving a big buffet. Later that week, Michael and I depart on a month-long trip that includes ten days in South Africa (that’s our honeymoon), as well as stops in 4 cities in the mainland US and London to see friends and family and take them out for fancy dinners.

We decided early on in our process to focus on what we value for our wedding. We are only including what we want– a focus on delicious food! We will not need a fancy DJ or things in certain ‘colors’. Saving in some areas will enable us to celebrate in many more cities during our epic trip. Keeping it simple for us has meant drawing a line and making sure we stick to our guns.

Stay tuned for future blog posts about:

  • Selecting an affordable venue in Hawaii
  • Budgeting and matching your budget to your priorities
  • Managing others’ expectations for your wedding

If you have specific questions about our wedding planning process, leave a comment down below!

Me and Michael on Kailua Beach, Oahu

Freebie: Monthly Budget spreadsheet

I’m sharing my monthly budget spreadsheet. See below for a link!

Budget Spreadsheet Screenshot

How to use this spreadsheet:

  1. Download a copy so you have it on your own computer. Copy the blank spreadsheet so you have a blank one for the next month. Fill in the month and year on the tab at the bottom, as well as on the top row.
  2. Add your take home pay for the month in the light orange box at the top where it says ‘total incoming’.
  3. The boxes in Row C are labeled according to when I pay them during the month– the first few white boxes are paid early, the middle multi-colored boxes accrue throughout the month, and the last white boxes are paid toward the end of the month. You can change these categories to reflect your own budget needs: change mortgage/HOA to rent. If you have renters insurance or debt payments, add those in.
  4. The boxes without a zero in them can be filled in with the amounts you pay each month. For me, life insurance is $125. Fill in everything you know.
  5. The blue non-monthly savings boxes are a way to save up for expenses that only come around once a year or a few times a year. These categories can be changes to reflect your needs– birthdays, club dues, medical check up costs. How much do you expect you’ll need over the course of a year to cover each of those? Fill in that amount. For me, I try to set aside $400 by Christmas time for presents. It costs $90 each time we bring a cat for their annual checkup. As you fill in these boxes, the annual total and the monthly contribution to reach that goal will automatically update. The monthly contribution is what you should save each month to meet that annual goal.
  6. The boxes that have zeroes in them are linked to the corresponding colors in other boxes: Blue non-monthly savings are linked to those blue boxes, yellow essentials are linked to the yellow boxes below. As you fill in the light yellow, purple, and green boxes at the bottom throughout the month, the total will automatically total it up. The bottom blue boxes for ‘non-monthly expenses’ are for when you spend money in one of your non-monthly categories in that month. This might not happen each month, and it will remain zero. That will subtract from the monthly contribution you would have made to that non-monthly total, and ensure you have enough money to cover those expenses.
  7. The light orange ‘total outgoing’ at the bottom will automatically update as well, and the darker orange box will show you your potential ‘savings’, or leftover money that you will have at the end of the month. You can use that as a buffer in your account, or devote it to a savings goal, to paying off debt, or to treat yourself.

Free Monthly Budget Spreadsheet

Any questions? Ask in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them. Good luck, and happy budgeting!

Budget Update (June 2017)


Long time, no blog!  It’s been a while since I posted on my blog, but I wanted to let you know that the system I put in place at the beginning of the year is working well!

I wanted to be one month ahead in all my bills– that is, the paychecks I earn in June will cover all my expenses for July.  Last year, I was still allocating a certain amount to cover a range of non-monthly expenses (such as Christmas gifts and club dues that are only paid twice a year), but I didn’t physically move that money into another account as savings.  It just stayed in my main account and theoretically I’d have enough in there to cover any non-monthly expense that popped up.  The trouble was, these expenses aren’t all on the same schedule, and paying for my professional certification maintenance or cat’s medical expenses wouldn’t happen all at the end of the calendar year, so it wasn’t certain that I’d have enough saved when each of them needed to be paid.

So, starting after Christmas I would transfer that amount, along with regular savings toward an emergency fund, into a separate account.  The money in that savings account is for both non-monthly expenses as well as emergencies.  Currently, that account has enough money to cover three months’ worth of my regular living expenses (not counting any personal savings contributions, but still including life insurance and retirement contributions).

This month we’ve got one cat’s annual checkup and vaccine booster, and we need to stock up on the monthly drops we put on our two cats so they don’t get fleas/ear mites/other nasty bugs.  So if that amount is more than my monthly contribution to the non-monthly expenses (which is $107), then I’ll transfer the difference from my savings account back into my regular account to cover it.  This system of being one month ahead on bills, and non-monthly expenses transferred to a separate account so they don’t comingle with my regular balance, makes a lot of sense for me!

How is your budget working out for you? Let me know if you have any questions about budgeting in the comments below and I’ll be glad to chime in! 😀

Personal Budget 2.0

I posted a Youtube video a while back which outlined how I budget.

Since then, I realized that the assumptions I was making in executing my budget weren’t working for me.  The ‘non-monthly’ expenses that I saved for each month weren’t all on the same schedule, and I wasn’t actually moving the money each month into a dedicated place for those expenses.  Theoretically, after a year the non-monthly expenses such as credit card fees ($89) and membership dues for Toastmasters ($80) and a professional certification ($400+) would be covered by the money in my main account.  In actuality, it wasn’t that easy to track or ensure I’d have enough in the main account to cover each non-monthly expense when it would pop up.

So I decided to include the non-monthly expense total each month (now $107) as a transfer to a separate account that I make each month.  Then, when one of those expenses comes along, I can transfer the needed amount back into my main account from my savings.

That’s another thing worth mentioning– I used to have two separate accounts, one for emergencies and one for travel.  After we returned from our big trip to Europe last year, I wanted to simplify my finances and decided to close one of the accounts and just have one general savings account.  Emergency funds, money available for using to cover non-monthly expenses, and money to devote to travel are all co-mingled in that one account.  My goal is to maintain a hefty, healthy balance and pad it whenever possible.

In order to ensure my financial peace of mind, I decided to use what I had in my old emergency fund to pay off bills and expenses one month early.  Then I started building up my savings again, but this time it was with actual money that can be saved, not money that could have paid off my credit card expenses for the month.  I never carry a balance on my credit cards, but this way, each paycheck is devoted partly to paying off the next month’s expenses, partly to savings.  Being a month ahead gives me assurance that I’ll have enough in my main account to cover everything.

Finance YouTubers I Watch

If you have trouble budgeting, I highly recommend finding some budget-related YouTubers to follow.  With some fresh ideas and guidance from them, you’ll get an extra dose of enthusiasm and feel inspired to re-commit to your financial goals.

Especially during this season of high spending, getting real with your budget is critical.

The finance YouTubers I watch regularly include:

  • Dave Ramsey  Of course Americans who budget know who this guy is.  While sometimes rather rigid in his advice, he has a system that works for many people. If you’re just starting out, check him out.
  • Budget Girl  A gal who’s putting Dave Ramsey’s system into practice.  I’ve been watching her videos for a long time now, and appreciate her energy and commitment.  As a journalist, her income isn’t super high but she makes it work for herself and has really put a dent in her debt.  Some videos are on meal prep.
  • FrugalChicLife  She’s got a ton of great, short videos about budgeting and how she runs her family’s finances.  Also some videos on simplifying.
  • Sugar Mamma  An Australian single mom who’s a financial planner by profession.  Lots of guidance on buying stocks and something she calls the $1,000 Project which is a way to create a passive income stream.
  • Miss Be Helpful  I just found her on YouTube this week and love her energy!  Budgeting basics and really great advice on ways to save money.

What YouTubers do you watch to get financial inspiration?  I recently revamped my budgeting system and will post on that soon.  P1010257.JPG

Budgeting to Move Abroad

It was our European vacation in August/September that gave us the itch to move abroad.  No sooner had we returned home after our 3 week trip that we started talking about our next trip, or rather, the idea of moving abroad for a few years.

Being financially able to move abroad is a big consideration before we’re ready.  Some of the things we’d need to pay for include: savings to cover our transition abroad, an emergency fund in case we need to get home fast at any time during our stay, expenses to cover the time we’re finding a job abroad, which should enable us to afford our basic expenses as well as ‘extras’ like regional travel, language classes, covering storage of things we leave at home, or other expenses in our home country.  These are all things that must be accounted for before it makes financial sense to move abroad.

Besides the less fun financial planning and saving, there are the questions of what you’ll do abroad, where, and for how long.  Once you have the main game plan sketched out, you will know how much you need to save up.

These are details that might be easy to figure out, or you might need a lot of discussion and research to iron out the details.  Since it will be both my boyfriend and I moving abroad, along with our two cats, we both need to be included in the decision making and financial preparations.

Cozy lights shine from shops in Kyoto, Japan (March 2015)

Have you ever thought about moving abroad?  How did you decide where to go, for how long, and how did you afford it?  Let me know in the comments below!