Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Days...hours, in fact

It turns out that starting a hairy, new job and planning a wedding make blogging about said wedding nearly impossible. A few things I want to share in case I never blog again:

Google "Captiva, Florida" and click on the satellite view. You'll appreciate the value in being willing to ask family to stay in their free vacation home as a way to save money.

Go to Et Cetera Shop in Newton. They let Brant cull through their inventory of ties so he could find coordinating $1 ties for the groomsmen, ushers and dads. It has turned out to be a great idea -- the ties are very fun and eclectic and will add some visual interest to the "same old" wedding poses in our photos.

If you need to buy a new tie, Kohl's has them for $13. Ask Brant. He's the world's best Menno shopper.

We continue to feel very good about our choices of where to spend and where to save. For example, the food and booze for the reception will cost more than $3,000. That feels worth it to us because we will gather and break bread with all the friends and family who have joined us on our special day -- and that's among the primary reasons we didn't just run down to the courthouse to get hitched. On the other hand, the $45 we spent on table favors (170 of them to be exact) is exactly in line with the idea that we don't desire to infiltrate the world with more STUFF that nobody uses again anyway. (The table favors are little bundles of sparklers sold to us by a fireworks stand owner in bulk. So they're even usable!)

So as I look toward the next three days, I am completely at peace about the financial side of this wedding. We have enjoyed a lot of support in so many ways from everyone around us, including a lot of encouragement for our efforts to spend according to our values (which means NOT spending more than we make) on this wedding celebration. Praise, as always, belongs the Lord who brought us both to the place in our hearts where these were/are our desires.



Monday, May 17, 2010

Ring Around a Shoe String 2.0

In our ongoing quest to save money, Brant shopped for wedding rings that were in the "less expensive than white gold" category. That was made easy by the fact that we did not feel compelled to have our rings match, and also by the abundance of such products on the market.

We visited our friends at MuCullen Jewelry to look at their steel and tungston rings. Brant's research revealed that titanium would be more than he wanted to spend. However, they pulled out a titanium ring and it look great (similar to the picture below), was very light weight, and was only $116! Perfect!

So not only have we taken care of both our rings, but we did so for less than $500! AND we stayed committed to shopping locally. (Depending on where we're at with the wedding budget closer to the wedding, we may buy a very small band for me to wear next to my diamond engagement band. As with all things related to the actual wedding, it's all about the budget!)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another Win for Brant

Once again, Brant demonstrates his uncanny ability to go above and beyond, and to excel at everything he does. (Seriously, people. It's a lot of pressure. I'm just trying to keep up with the guy.)

We needed to stamp and address wedding invitations this last weekend. During my very stressful and exhausting first week at my new job last week, I breathlessly ordered him to find stamps, and with some demanding specifications. They had to be non-wedding-y, non-cheesy, no animals or Disney characters, no human faces. They could be flowers or art. No charitable causes. Nothing political.
God bless him. He went to three post offices -- after researching on the internet to find the best stamp -- in order to find these. And I'll be darned if they didn't match our awesome invitation design exactly. (Shout out once again to Frances MacLeod for the invitation design; see a few posts below.) Seriously. The USPS has never MADE stamps so perfect as these.
Thank you, Brant, for being the most loving, involved, engaged, present, helpful, thoughtful groom I've ever heard of. I STILL don't know what I did to deserve you.

By the way, the only way this relates to saving money is that we kept the invitation list so short, that postage wasn't very expensive. $72 to be exact. Not bad!

The Good, The Bad & The Thrifty

Well, it's two months until the wedding date. Brant and I are busy with a lot of things, but very little is related to wedding planning. So much of the "heavy lifting" planning is already done! (Hence, the lack of blog posts.)

In fact, I've told people (and I believe it's true) that if the wedding were this Saturday, it'd be messy, but it would get done. So, I suppose in that way, I'm grateful we have two more months to work out the minute details, so that it will not only "get done", but will take place with as little stress on everyone as possible. As a career event planner, my goal for this wedding is to have so many details in place by July 3rd that all of us just get to sail through the day, enjoying the moment and each other and the gifts the good Lord has given us.

Now. While we don't have much wedding planning to do right now, we DO have a lot of financial planning to do. I'm tempted to leave out the parts about how we've experienced stress regarding money and the wedding, but then, that wouldn't be real. The truth is that we've been tempted to choose debt several times throughout this process, and we struggle to continue choosing to proceed in such a way that we'll only pay cash. While that challenge is hard sometimes, we know the rewards and freedoms waiting for us on the other side of the wedding day will be worth it.

Of course, we continue to work toward income streams that will keep "flush" in our wedding fund. Brant is able to sock away a very healthy sum every two weeks thanks to his overload teaching and the online classes he teaches. (On the flip side, his teaching schedule is described well by the illustration below.)

We did have a garage sale. Well, actually my step-dad and aunt and uncle had a garage sale, and they let us include our stuff in it. This served two positive purposes: It helped us clean out more of our belongings in anticipation of joining households on July 3rd, and it netted us around $180. Every little bit counts!

I have a couple of lucrative house/dog-sitting gigs between now and July 3rd, and that's always double the fun because not only do I get paid, but my parents and I get a break from living with each other. Below is Callie Chenoweth, my most frequent customer. We loooooove each other. :)

As I've switched jobs (which means a change in health insurance coverage, which equals less take-home pay) and Brant was hit with a big tax bill and some other unexpected expenses...and as I pay the City of Wichita for a diversion on a speeding ticket I got so that it doesn't go on my record and cause my car insurance to go up...and while Brant and I dissect our budgets for the sake of our pre-marital counseling sessions (which, I might add, was such a joy because the Lord has blessed us with incredible "unity of spirit" on all matters financial)...we continue to work toward putting our trust in the Lord and listening for the right balance between spending on the wedding and spending on things that are probably more important in the long run. Like food. And friends. And towel racks for our future married master bathroom. (Because nothing says love....)

Monday, March 29, 2010

As for us and our home...

There are many reasons Mennos have gravitated toward certain areas of the country. Though I'm sure they could not have predicted the incredible chasm between home prices on the coasts vs the Mid-West, I am willing to bet that's one reason why they've stayed in these areas!

In Wichita, KS, a couple can buy a three bedroom, two full bath home with a garage, a fenced-in back yard and several other great amenities for just over $100,000. You need only watch HGTV on a Saturday afternoon for a few hours (or live somewhere other than the middle of the country) to know how freakin' awesome that is.

In fact, those same two people can live in an amazing house like that, and after spending a year paying off every last debt except the mortgage -- including both cars! -- that same couple can live comfortably on one income, and save the other person's WHOLE INCOME!

We are so excited and blessed and grateful to be one of those couples. When Brant and I met, he was in an apartment. Before we were engaged (but when we knew engagement was eminent) we started searching for a home. And we both agreed (hallelujah!) that the home should be inexpensive enough for us to be able to pay our house payment and ALL our bills on one income, so we could save and give away the rest. Praise God and thank you, Brant!

That means we can save mightily for Emily's college fund, be generous to our church and other causes about which we're passionate, pay cash for our next cars (after we've driven these two until they're dead -- thank you, Dave Ramsey) and many other opportunities to create and give away wealth. Personally, I've never known such freedom. And we both know ALL OF THIS BELONGS TO THE LORD who can and does give and take away in His perfect timing; we hold all this lightly, and gratefully. But we're already setting ourselves up to live a life of freedom from financial debt, and we so appreciate that both of us have been called by God into the same ways of thinking about money.

So here's the house!

As an additional blessing, Brant and I discovered early a shared love of mid-century architecture and design. So this house just so happens to match our tastes perfectly. Who could ask for more??

Here's the front of the house; the front door is on the side.

Here's looking onto the back deck, which is really cool and wraps around from the area between the house and the garage, and the back yard. Lots of trees!

This is looking into the back yard from the opposite direction. There's a nice shed and plenty of room for entertaining guests, for Izzy and Emily to run and play, and for just enjoying Kansas evenings by ourselves.

Here's the living room portion of the uber-open floor plan. Note Brant's awesome vintage furniture, including the coffee table, end table and lamp. The house is all hardwood or tile. Not a stitch of carpet in the place! (We're shopping for area rugs.)

This is moving to the right from the living room area. Brant and his dad built these fabulous shelves for all our books and I went ahead and moved in my books last weekend. (It was fun to do some pre-nesting!) Eventually this will be a reading corner, complete with lamp, end table and 1 or 2 chairs.

Moving again to the right, this is the dining area. (Note again: Brant's vintage dining set.) There's a corner that was meant to house a wood-burning stove, but we don't see ourselves going that direction so we're trying to decide what to do with the big concrete thingy in that corner. The tile work sure is nice!

Moving along to where the dining area meets the kitchen. This is all one, big U shape, separated only by the half wall you see on the far right. We both really love the floor plan and it's very conducive to preparing meals, interacting with each other and Emily, hosting guests, etc. Lots of sunlight. Awesome floors. We love it!

And here's the kitchen! It's not a great picture b/c it doesn't really capture all the cool, fun aspects of the space. But you get the idea. The countertops are concrete. There's plenty of cabinet space on both sides, even after previous cabinets were replaced with those dark wood shelves. The tiling and backsplash are really great colors. We just instantly loved this kitchen, and still do! We're looking forward to preparing lots and lots of meals here!

We hope you enjoyed this photo tour and look forward to having you over in person soon!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nothin' But Grace

As of this week, I have nothing but empathy and grace for all those friends and family who have gone before us and who chose to use credit cards to pay for parts of their weddings. We're staying strong! But the temptation is great.

Brant's overload teaching is doing a fine job of padding our "wedding account," and my little house-sitting jobs make fractional contributions to it, as well. But with 99 days left until W-Day -- and with lots of unpaid cells in the budget spreadsheet -- I'm admittedly feeling the pressure. It's amazing to me to that we can be as conscientious as we're being about costs and savings, and still feel this pinched.

For the record, I believe the main reason for this is that real life does not yield to wedding planning (the nerve!) I need four new tires; Brant received some unpleasant surprises regarding his taxes; we are putting a high priority on end-of-life and estate planning with an attorney (something about which I'm very passionate and could be a blog post of its own); we've mindfully committed to giving extra to our church right now as they invest in the future of our youth by creating a middle school/high school space in an unfinished part of the church building; and sometime before the wedding, we'd really like to take a trip to North Dallas to IKEA for a few inexpensive modern furniture pieces.

So, of course, most of these and other expenses are choices we're making (though the taxes aren't a choice and the tires are close to making the choice for me) and therefore there is nothing "unfair" about them. They're choices we'd be making quite comfortably were it not for that pesky wedding day! But it's amazing and challenging -- and transformative even -- when we commit to paying cash only for all expenses because it forces us to discern and agree on priority status for everything that comes up.

There is no conclusion or tidy ending to this blog post. More of an observation, and maybe a bit of a confession. I confess that I desire more than I can afford, and that I struggle to choose wisdom and the "things of heaven over the things of this earth." I suspect I always will. Thank God for the grace of Jesus...and for the fact that my credit card is hidden in someone else's house! :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Menno Friendly Wedding Invitations

Please forgive the long absence. Everyone asking, "So, how's the wedding planning going?" has gotten the same response: All the planning is done! Now we just have to hurry up and wait to get married. This long mid-western winter has definitely felt longer since we're counting the days until our wedding. I believe we're at something like 106 or 107. Whatever it is, it feels like a LOT!

Anyway, we really haven't had to work on anything so there hasn't been much to blog about.

I can share, however, that we're ready to go to print with our invitations, and the story of those invitations is one any Menno would love.

First, there's the piece itself.

With years of event planning experience under my belt, I know how expensive invitations can be. Even if one wants a simple invitation, outer envelope, reply card and inner envelope -- that ain't cheap! I was inspired by another woman's invitation, therefore, to go with a folding self-mailer. Our invitation folds up and the reply card is perforated at the bottom so when invitees open it up, all the information will be right there and they can tear out the reply card to send it back. No envelopes, no extra reply card. It's all printed two per sheet, and then cut, perf'ed and folded. Voila!

Second, there's the printing.

I realize not everyone's mother works for a print shop, but mine does and I'm not ashamed to ask for favors. (See honeymoon post.) We were able to pick out a beautiful linen paper, of which we'll only pay the cost, not the mark up. And I'm hoping we'll get a discount on the printing, folding, etc. AND I know their work is great. Check 'em out.

Lastly, there's design.

One of my favorite people in the whole world is a young woman I met when she was attending "Real Life" high school ministry at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, and I was a volunteer adult leader. I knew the second I met Frances MacLeod that she was special, but I really had no idea. Over the years, Frances and I have hung out in some of America's coolest cities -- Chicago, Kansas City, Boston...Andover, KS. She's got the kindest, most loving heart I've ever known. If you want to meet someone who embodies the 1 Corinthians 13 scripture that gets overused at weddings, find a way to introduce yourself to Frances.

She also happens to be a very talented designer.

She is in her second year at Columbia College in Chicago studying design/art direction and she's rockin' it out. Brant and I humbly asked her if she would consider designing our invitations, program and any other printed pieces and SHE AGREED! I'm not going to reveal the AMAZING AWESOME COOLEST-WEDDING-INVITATION-I'VE-EVER-SEEN invitation, but I will leave you with some fun examples of her work. Keep an eye on this one. "Great things" doesn't even begin to describe what she's going to do.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cake, A Correction

It turns out there is a Cake Lady, and there's a cake lady. There is a business in McPherson, KS, called "The Cake Lady." I'm sure she's fabulous. However, our cake maker is a family friend without a formal business who works off of word of mouth, and Brant's family just happens to call her "the cake lady."

Please forgive the error.

Our cake lady is June Young in Halstead and her phone number is 316-835-3253.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cake, A Philosophy

Cake rocks. Sweet food in general rocks. We are fans of cake.

However, we are not fans of paying a crap ton of cash for something to be beautiful and elaborate when it will just end up...well...where all food ends up.

So we're pulling a Sarah Palin and we're GOING ROGUE on the cake. Instead of doing the tall, layered formal wedding cake thing, we're ordering sheet cakes and skipping the "cake photo opp" portion of the ceremony altogether. Guests will still be served cake! But they''ll be served cake in the same manner as the rest of the food: In the buffet line, with zero fanfare (other than how awesome it will all taste, of course).

We're using The Cake Lady out of McPherson, a woman Brant's family knows and has worked with before. She's awesome. And so very inexpensive!

We will be able to serve every guest with very tasty cake for around $100 total. And we're very big fans of THAT.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Phone a Friend

Brant and I are blessed with a ton of talented, generous friends. Talented, generous friends can sometimes equal cost savings.

One such friend is Chad Glenn. Chad and I have been friends for many years and Brant easily became his friend, as well. We three hang out often, we have a lot in common, we're in similar places in life. We even asked him to be an usher in our wedding. (He was honored to accept.)

Chad is an architect by day, but is a very accomplished photographer on the side. Traditionally he's taken a lot of pictures of buildings and things, but we knew he'd do an amazing job with our engagement photos. And we were correct!

Now for the record, we tried to pay Chad. We tried to pay him in cash. But for six hours of snapping photos and untold hours of culling through and editing those photos, he did not let us pay him. WHAT A GIFT!! I'd be posting about this even if he hadn't given us this incredible gift because we would have paid a lot less using a friend for this project than if we'd used a professional, and we would have wanted to share this idea with others. But Chad -- in every way -- went above and beyond and made it even more affordable! :)

Moral of the cost savings story: In every bride or groom's life, there is probably a friend who is either a professional willing to give a "friends and family discount" or an amateur interested in building his/her experience base and portfolio. DO IT!

Here are some favorites from our photo shoot:

Enjoy! And thank you, Chad!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Say Yes to the [Inexpensive] Dress!

My Top Five Suggestions for Saving Money on a Dress:

#5: Borrow one. Seriously. None of us are wealthy enough to afford some crazy one-of-a-kind gown, which means you're inevitably going to be wearing one that lots of other women have worn this year anyway. Why not pay anything more than the dry cleaning costs??

#4: Craig's List and eBay. I actually located some really lovely dresses on eBay and would have considered ordering one if they weren't so far from my own dress size that I would have spent as much on alterations (plus shipping and the cost of the dress) as I would have on a new dress. That said, if it had come down to it, I would have continued looking if I hadn't found something by this spring.

#3: David's Bridal clearance and outlet. I'm not going to lie: I'm not brave enough to order a new dress off the internet. My tech savvy friends give me well-deserved crap for my elderly-woman-in-fear-of-a-scam-esque ways, but it is what it is. However, I spent a LOT of time browsing those dresses (thanks to Vanessa) and would have gladly gotten over my fear if I hadn't found the right dress in a store.

#2: Hit the department stores and their websites. Macy's, White House Black Market, and Nordstrum's were all places where I found really great dresses. However, most if not all were only available online. See point #3.

And my #1 favorite bargain dress shopping discovery: Find a bridesmaid dress you like and order it in WHITE! (Or ivory, or champagne, or whatever you're looking for.) Some stores don't carry bridesmaids dresses that can be ordered in white because they've wisely caught onto this loop hole. The fact is, there are a crap ton of awesome floor-, tea- and knee-length bridesmaids dresses that would make perfect bridal dresses, but because they're not called "bridal" dresses, they're rarely more than $200. Word.

A runner up would be "Do not try on a dress unless it's in your price range." Really, why torture/tempt yourself like that? My mom offered to buy my dress and I gave her a much lower budget than she would have given me, but we compromised and my dress cost $250. And we're both very happy.

And speaking of my dress...

All told, I went to "I Do" in Old Town, "Dress Gallery" in Delano, "David's Bridal" (as if it needs quotes), and "Parrot-Fa-Nalia" in south Wichita. We hit those last two stores this last Saturday in hopes of finding THE dress. And we did!! It was really fun and I loved having many of the the amazing women God's put in my life around me to shoot me straight. My mom, my step mom, my future mother-in-law, and three of my bridesmaids were there for some or all of the day, and for the record, all those who were present when I came out in THE dress got all misty eyed and verclempt. Always a good sign. :)

Of course, I'm not going to show you THE dress. But I will show you some of the rejects. Now PLEASE FOR THE LOVE, these dresses are only "rejects" because they weren't right for me, for me and Brant, for this wedding. Not because they're not beautiful.

That said, feel free to vote on whichever one of the following three you think looks least flattering on me...or you can vote for whichever facial expression is most telling...

This is me and my mom carrying my dress out of David's. (Quick David's plug: Our experience was awesome. If you go, ask for Tiffanie. Best. Retail. Salesperson. Ever.) Since I'm not much of a foofy dress girl, my mom wanted a picture of the equivalent of her getting to carry my train...since this is the closest she'll ever get. It's immortalized forever now, Mom! Thanks for the kick ass wedding dress! I love you and appreciate you!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

As Vanessa Would Say: You're Welcome

This is my new favorite blog.

Check out the color palettes. It's a very long scroll, but very worth it. Lots of doable DIY ideas. There's a Memphis wedding near the bottom that's very similar in look and feel to what Brant and I will be going for. FUN!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Important Stuff (Part 1)

Now, no one needs to tell me that "the most important stuff to happen on my wedding day are God shows up and two people get married." I've been singing that song all my life. So let's go ahead and agree that those two things will happen on July 3, 2010. No need to rank the importance of those two elements; they're the hub of the wheel. Everything else? Spokes.

Well, there are a couple of spokes in particular that are of utmost importance to me, and fortunately my beloved agrees. One of them is food.

That's right folks. My dress could be from a thrift store rack. Our flowers could be from Mr. Crawford's floor. But the food better be freakin' awesome, because we love to eat, and we love to break bread with others!

Thanks to the aforementioned, long-standing relationship with Bella Luna Cafe in Wichita, there was really no other place to bother going. Our menu of heavy hors d'oeuvres will include hummus (yeah, baby!), chicken kabobs, stuff mushrooms, chicken salad in filo dough "bird's nests," and some other fun goodies. Seriously, I couldn't be more excited.
I'm not putting the price per person BLC is charging us because I don't want to put them in a bad place with ever having to match it, but you'll just have to believe me when I tell you we're getting a pretty serious friends-and-family discount for the incredible variety and quality of food we'll be enjoying at the reception. We love you, Bella Luna!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Heart Dave Ramsey

Money is a very emotional subject. It's impolite to talk about it. Heck, did you notice I started off this blog by revealing what we paid for our wedding stuff and then stopped? Why did I do that? Because money and spending is deeply personal. We're more likely to talk about our sex lives than our financial lives. (For the record, we're paying $1,300 for the photographer -- which, sadly, is very reasonable considering what we're getting. And I paid $22.95+tax for the Mennonite in a Little Black Dress book.)

But I am going to go ahead and be uber-transparent on this blog moving forward. It was the transparency and humility demonstrated by others, which the Lord used to change my heart about money. And I hope to pay it forward.

So this is kind of a "Pause for the Cause" post. After college, I spent more than I made. This made me exactly like the vast majority of middle class Americans. I need only look to the current amount of consumer debt spread across America to know we've got a problem: $2.5 trillion. I contributed significantly to that figure by single-handedly racking up $24,000 in credit card debt.

Twenty. Four. Thousand. Dollars.

Like so many Americans, I got it in my head and my heart that I needed to live a life that looked like that of my friends...friends with spouses (read: two incomes)...friends with whom I interacted professionally (read: older, way higher salaries and two incomes). So I bought stuff and gave extravagant gifts and went on trips and ate out like it was my second job. And racked up all that debt. I lived a life where I had to serve the masters of Citi and Visa, which kept me from being able to serve the Sovereign Master of Creation. (Matthew 6:24)

There were several steps along the way that brought me financial sanity. There was the Crown Financial Ministries class I took with my BFF's Chris & Amanda. There was also the day when my BFF's Josh & Jessica broke free from their own debt, and I got to see how God used that freedom to allow them to adopt Jadon and lots of other blessings.

But it was Dave Ramsey who made it simple for someone like me to understand that I could and should get out of debt and live at or below my means. His "Steps to Financial Freedom" and his podcasts led me to make some drastic decisions: Namely, moving back from Boston to live with my parents for 18 months so I could pay off ALL my debt. To date, I am down to about $7,500 in debt and it will be paid off completely by the time I become Mrs. Brant Benninga. Praise God!! (And THANK YOU, Mom & Richard!!!)

You can watch a five minute video on Dave Ramsey's philosophy here:

To bring it back to the wedding planning...

One thing I learned from Dave is that when expenses get higher than income (and my "income" is altered by the equation: Gross Income - Debt Snowball Payments = Net Income) then it's time to MAKE MORE MONEY! For many years I've enjoyed a nice relationship with Bella Luna Cafe such that I can come in and wait tables whenever I needed to. However, at this time, it would be super-stressful in an already-stressful season to work on the weekends, so I'm trying to pull in as many house- and dog-sitting gigs as I can.

But Brant takes the prize. He's overload teaching again this semester, which means for the second semester in a row, he's teaching more than the full load of classes with no break and no planning period during the day. This results in some stress for him, but also some SERIOUS extra cash (way more than my housesitting!) and it means we will definitely be able to pay for some wedding stuff we'd been stressing about. YAY Brant and YAY God! We will also be having a spring garage sale and selling some stuff on eBay.

The moral of the story for anyone wanting to pay cash for a wedding: If you don't have the cash for something you really want, don't put it on a credit card, MAKE MORE CASH! (Thank you, Dave Ramsey.)

I hope writing about something so personal isn't making anyone uncomfortable. However, if my story of how God changed my heart about money inspires anyone else to think differently about how they live and work and spend and save, then it's worth it.