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

Thinking about moving abroad? Read this!

Ever since the presidential election in America picked up steam, many people have joked about moving to Canada if the ‘wrong’ person gets elected.

But seriously, have you thought about living in another country?

For many Americans, a brief vacation overseas or a semester abroad during college is the extent of their time spent outside their native country. As a thirty-something who has lived abroad in Europe and Asia for a total of 6 years, I know what’s necessary to successfully work, study, make friends, and learn to live in a foreign country.  The benefits of living abroad are many and far-reaching, and I want to help others explore the idea of living abroad. We can act as informal ambassadors of our country, building bridges across languages, religions, and cultures.

Last week I published my Guide to Living Abroad on Amazon, which helps you approach living abroad in a holistic way, preparing you to reach your goals and have an enriching time.  The e-book takes you from when you first have the idea, all the way through your return home with useful worksheets and flowcharts as well as anecdotes from my own time abroad.  Some of the ideas covered in the book include:

  • Is moving abroad the right idea for you?  What can you do to prepare?
  • What should you take care of before departing?
  • What things will help ease the transition to your new home?
  • What can you do to align your daily life abroad to your bigger picture goals?
  • How can you ease your transition when you head home?

My e-book is available both for purchase and as a loan through Kindle Unlimited.

Why not try a new way of life abroad? (Venice, Italy 2016)


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!

Budget Update: Rolling with the Punches

We returned from our trip to Europe with suitcases full of chocolate.  It’s been really great to share Swedish, Swiss and German goodies with friends and coworkers back here in Hawaii.  We had a wonderful time with my parents and sister and her fiance, and highlights of the trip included spending time on the farm, seeing some larger cities by boat, biking around picturesque Reichenau Island in Lake Constance, and going on an amazing food tour in Venice.

But one thing that hasn’t been the most fun has been dealing with the aftermath of the trip’s effect on my budget.

I think I did very well budgeting and saving for the trip, and overall the expenses we ran up were only over my saved amount by $125.  I’ve decided to devote half of this month’s regular monthly transfer to my travel account to covering this overage, and by the time my second paycheck is deposited, the credit card bill should show up.  So I won’t carry a balance on my credit card, which is great!

The thing I didn’t take into account was the effect my vacation would have on my paycheck.  Because of some rules regarding when my vacation hours can be spent, the hours I earned in August and September couldn’t be used on my vacation that took place in August and September.  So I had to take leave without pay for nearly five days of work!  This means that essentially my first paycheck for this month is 3/4 of what I would normally get.

In order to deal with this sudden lack of income, I decided to not contribute to my travel fund (which had already been reduced to half to cover the trip overages) or my emergency fund for the month.  All my other costs are covered, which is good in terms of feeling secure, but it’s a little disheartening that my goal of fully funding my emergency fund (of 3 months’ worth of living expenses) will be delayed by a month.

For an overview of my budgeting system, see my video and original post on fikaflicka on my one number budget.  How do you budget, both on a regular basis and for a goal such as going on a trip?


Original Budget Post


Photos from Europe 

Copenhagen: a good choice was to see the city by boat. Beautiful weather, a little cool but perfect with a windbreaker!

Småland, Sweden: treasures found in the forest! Very lucky to have wild blueberries, lingon berries, chantrelle mushrooms and Karl Johan mushrooms available for the picking.

Stockholm, Sweden: another city you should see by boat! We took a ferry into town from Drottningholm palace, and had my friend Christina with us who could explain the different islands. Perfect, sunny weather.

Venice, Italy: such a fascinating city that has no cars or bikes! Loved walking here, where every crumbling building and canal was so picturesque.

Zurich, Switzerland: we spent an afternoon here to meet up with a friend who originally stayed with me in Honolulu as a couchsurfer a few years ago. Very fun to check out the city’s fancy shopping area.

Reichenau Island, Lake Constance: perfect place and time for a bike ride. So. Many. Flowers. Great fish sandwiches and iced coffee at a few cafes.

Pre-Vacation Prep

walking iris

The countdown to our European vacation is on!  The suitcases are half-full of presents for the family and random things I’ll need on the trip, such as socks.  Living in Hawaii, I rarely wear socks so I had to unearth them from the closet.  Clothing and toiletries still need to be packed.

What else am I getting done in these last 3 days before we leave?

  • Funds: Call the credit card and regular debit card companies to let them know about the trip so they don’t flag my card when I charge something or take out cash at ATMs in Rejkjavik or Venice. Check with the debit card company on their rate (turns out mine is 1% for cash withdrawals), so we can compare that rate to another possible card that isn’t connected to my personal accounts.
  • Work: Wrapping up work projects feels good.  To do: hand off details, locations of files and paperwork to coworkers who are taking over my projects while I’m gone.
  • Insurance: Do we need travel insurance?  It might be a good idea.  We had a friend recommend Allianz Global Assistance to us.  She had to make a claim when her luggage was damaged and said they were responsive.  Need to check if my medical insurance works abroad as well, and note down the numbers for contacting them in case I need to see a doctor or visit an ER abroad.

While the above items seem boring, I think having this information ready if needed will save a few headaches and even some money by avoiding paying more for changing money or going to a non-participating partner hospital.

Euro Fund 2016: Budgeting for Our European Vacation

We’re headed to Europe in less than 4 weeks!

Pics 163
Sunset over Freiburg, Germany (2010)

The last time I went to Europe was 3 years ago, and Michael has yet to visit Continental Europe, so I think this upcoming trip needs to be thoughtfully budgeted for and planned. You don’t fly halfway around the world only to skimp or skip something because it’s too expensive. I’m going to be want to get that fancy cheese at the Swiss grocery store!

Besides the amount that we’ll need to cover our transportation, lodging, and food, I’m planning on designating two pots of money: the Mac Nut fund, and the Eurochic Fund.

  • Mac Nut Fund:  Living in Hawaii, I feel like bringing macadamia nuts and Kona coffee and other tropical goodies is a no-brainer when I travel.  Things we’re used to seeing at the grocery store are so exotic and fun for other people!  Dried mango and pineapple, li hing mui, random Japanese rice cracker snacks… the list could go on!  I want to bring a nice selection with me to share with family, friends, and random people we meet and we’d like to share some aloha with.
  • Eurochic Fund:  My sister and I love the movie The Devil Wears Prada, especially the opening sequence.  The contrast between the fashionistas and the lead character who chooses comfort over style is something my sister and I often refer to.  We’re both pretty far from fashionistas, but aspire to be stylish and put together.  So while in Europe, I want to have some money to play with to enhance my wardrobe with some classy, ‘eurochic’ pieces from European stores.  Shopping for Hawaii-appropriate clothing in September makes a lot of sense too, since I think summer things will be on sale!

You can either work backwards or forwards when budgeting for a trip. Working backwards means you have a date or amount of money in mind and you work back to today.  That way you’ll see how much you’d have to set aside from each paycheck in order to reach your goal. Working forwards means you decide how much you can spare in your budget now and start socking away that much from every paycheck. I’ve been forward budgeting ever since I got my job 3 1/2 years ago, knowing that travel was a priority for me.  I’ve used these funds for a number of trips.

We have the following budget so far for two adult travelers:

  • Flights: $1990 (and 110,000 miles on Hawaiian Airlines; roundtrip flight from Honolulu to New York, roundtrip flight from New York via Iceland to Copenhagen; one-way flights from Stockholm to Venice, Venice to Zurich, and Zurich to Copenhagen)
  • Hotels/BnBs: $582 (2 nights in Venice, one night in Copenhagen, one night in NYC)

We’re also taking the train from Copenhagen to my family’s place in southern Sweden and from there to Stockholm.  We’ll be staying with my parents and then my sister and her fiance for most of the time, and some friends in Stockholm for two nights.  These are not represented in our budget since we won’t pay for them, although I’m excited to bring presents (from the Mac Nut Fund!) and treat our hosts to dinner while we’re staying with them.  We’ll also need to think about local train/bus transportation costs for day trips to Switzerland, Austria, and within Sweden.

Leave a comment below on what specifically you’re interested in hearing about regarding our upcoming trip!  (Route? Planning tools? Top 10 list?)  

Or, if you’d be interested in a post outlining how we planned our last big international trip, which was to Japan, then let me know! Arigato!