Retirement Savings: In Your 30s

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Saving for Retirement: In Your 30s.  Even if you missed the retirement savings boat in your 20s, it is not too late to get started.  You simply need different strategies.  Find out WHAT you need to do if you are in your 30s and starting to save for retirement.


Saving For Retirement: In Your 30s

For many of us, our 30s are a dynamic time in life. During these busy years, jobs turn into careers and relationships are solidified by marriage or transformed by children. And, according to the online real estate database website Zillow, most people are in their mid-30s when they buy their first home. These big changes often come with big price tags, but are also no excuse to slack on or avoid saving for retirement.


Work Smarter

Thirty-three percent of people ages 30 to 49 years old don’t have a retirement account. If you’re within this one-third of people, and in your 30s, you need to make retirement savings a priority. If your company offers retirement savings through a 401(k), start by discussing your options with someone in human resources. They can get you set up with a plan that works well with your income and goals.

If you already have a 401(k) in operation, consider making more aggressive investments. Since you are hopefully making more now than when you started working, it’s wise to consider changing or upping your retirement allocations with each raise. Even if it’s no more than a single percentage a year, keeping your savings in line with your earnings is a smart long-term plan.


Invest Time, Too

A 2014 survey conducted by Charles Schwab, found that only 11 percent of workers spent five hours or more assessing their 401(k) investment options. This is far less time than how long many of us spend researching a new car or a vacation! If the idea of investments and the terminology attached overwhelms, you might consider taking a course (choose from a free online class or a short unit at a community college to learn how to save that heard-earned money). Or, think about hiring someone to help.

A trained professional can ensure you are meeting your retirement goals. When you work with a financial planner, he or she will help you establish an account and assist with diversification – an important element to successful investment. A good financial planner can be invaluable when your accounts, and family, grow.


Steady As You Grow

Once children enter the picture, so do a host of excuses about why retirement saving is impossible. While it’s important to provide every avenue of support for your little ones, you must do so responsibly. For instance, starting a state-sponsored 529-college plan for your children is a great way to save for college expenses but it’s important to remember that they can always get a loan for school – you can’t for retirement.

What is your key takeaway for saving if you are in your 30s? Start putting more money away for retirement. While saving 10-15 percent of your income for retirement might be difficult, it will feel so good when you are comfortably retiring in your 60s.


Next week, we’ll delve deeper into saving for retirement in your 40s, while providing for your family. For more advice on navigating financials or saving for retirement, click here for friendly advice from the CommunityAmerica Credit Union Savin’ Mavens.




How to Start Investing

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If you want to start investing, you may not even know where to start!  Check out these strategies to help you learn HOW to get Started Investing!!!


You want to started investing but aren’t sure what steps to take. I’ll walk you through the basics and you’ll be ready to go soon.

First you should know that the stock market offers a great way to grow your wealth. However, the rewards of earning 5%, 8%, or even 12% per year on your investments comes with the risk of losing money. The dollar value of your investments may fall one year and then take years to recover from these losses before delivering gains.

Think about These Issues Before You Start Investing

Because of possible fluctuations in market value, investors are often urged to invest for the long term. Generally, you should invest only if you will not need your money for 5-7 years at a minimum. The time between now and when you’ll need your money for your children’s college education, retirement, the purchase of a vacation home, etc. is called the time horizon. For example, if you are investing toward buying a small cabin on the lake in 15 years, then your time horizon is 15 years.

Beyond establishing your time horizon, you should ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Am I investing for retirement, education, or another purpose?
  • How much do I have to invest, and is that money available in a lump sum, a regular monthly amount, or both?
  • How much time do I want to spend managing my investments?
  • How much money do I want to spend in investment fees?
  • How much fluctuation from the U.S. stock market performance am I willing to accept?

Your responses will guide your investing decisions, not only for the types of investments but also the brokerage firm you choose.

Consider Investing for Retirement with Low-Cost Index Funds

Let’s say you are investing for retirement, have an initial investment of $3,000 with $100 to add monthly to your investment, want to minimize the time and money you expend on investment management, and would like to closely match U.S. stock performance (either the S&P 500 or the entire market).

You can open an IRA with an online brokerage firm such as E*Trade, Fidelity, Schwab, TD Ameritrade, or Vanguard. To get started investing, you will need to fund your account. Typically, funding can be arranged by setting up a link between your checking account and the brokerage account, and making transfers. The initial process can take a few days but after the connection is established, you can move funds to purchase shares of stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs.

Next, purchase either commission-free, market-index exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or no-load, no-transaction-fee market-index mutual funds.

For example, you can buy shares in Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares (VTSMX) for a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and additional investments of at least $1 (be sure to sign up for paperless statements to get the $20 account fee waived); or you could purchase shares in commission-free Schwab U.S. Broad Market ETF (SCHB) for $1,000 (or any multiple of its market price, which is about $50 at this writing); and make additional minimum purchases that equal the fund’s share price.

Buy Individual Stocks If You Are Comfortable with Greater Risk

Alternatively, you may be interested in growing your wealth more aggressively and are willing to accept risks (and losses) associated with potentially greater rewards. You have plenty of time to spend evaluating and selecting individual stocks plus you don’t mind paying transaction fees associated with the purchase and sale of stocks (or sector or specialty mutual funds or ETFs).

Again, you could open a regular brokerage account with any of the online brokerage firms as long as you meet account minimums, such as $500 at E*Trade, $1,000 at Schwab, and $2,500 at Fidelity. You could choose stocks on your own or find ones using screening tools available on each firm’s website.

After determining what you’d like to buy and the approximate quantity, you’ll want to set a price to indicate how much you are willing to pay for shares and then place your order. Fees to place orders typically run about $9.99 or less.

Decide Whether Innovative Brokerage Firms Are Right for You

You might also consider investing with a newer firm, such as Betterment, Motif Investing, or Loyal3; these companies all have unique approaches to serving customers that may or may not meet your needs.

Betterment makes investment decisions on your behalf and charges an account management fee rather than individual transaction fees; you may like this approach if you don’t have time to invest on your own. Motif Investing offers fee-free investing through its Horizon Motifs, which are comprised primarily of market index ETFs, along with its specialty motifs that trade for a flat $9.95 fee. Loyal3 has a totally fee-free platform in which you can buy shares (or even fractional shares) of certain stocks with an investment of as little as $10.

If you are ready, now is the time to get started in investing, regardless of whether the market is up or down today. The sooner you start, the more your money can grow.


Julie Rains is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, mortgages, and investing. She writes for her own blogInvesting to Thrive as well as other media outlets including Wise Bread and Loans101
Julie holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Julie started investing soon after graduation and has continued to invest and learn over the past 20+ years. In her free time, she enjoys cycling with friends and spending time with her husband and nearly grown sons.

10 Ways To Score Free (or Pretty Inexpensive) Books!

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If you love to read, you know it can be expensive to purchase all of those books!  Find out these TEN secrets to help you score cheap (or even FREE) books!!!


My kids love to read.  My youngest can’t go to bed at night without her Dad or I reading her something from the pages of her latest library book — or one of those old standby favorites.  Our son loves to spend those last ten minutes at night reading before he turns out the lights.  The same holds true for our oldest daughter.

I love to read, but have to be careful because it seems that the minute I open the pages, I get sucked in and can’t stop until I reach the end!  Needless to say, I don’t read as much as I would like to because I don’t have the time.

Are you like my family?  If so, you know that this love of reading can get pretty expensive!  Here are TEN ways to score either free books — or at a discount!


1.  Free Kindle and/or Nook Books.  Each day, we post a round up of several books you can score for free.  We try to mix up the list as much as we can, but you can actually check them out yourself too!  Just visit the Cheap Reads page on Amazon to catch the latest freebies.

If you use a Nook reader, they also offer free books, but nearly as many (and they can be more difficult to actually look through to find them… many are just free previews).  You can visit THIS page on Barnes & Noble to see if you can find some which work for you.

Remember that you do not need to own a Kindle to read these books. You can download the free Kindle app to your tablet, smartphone or other electronic device and can read any Kindle books.


2.  Book Swaps.  This method can actually serve a dual purpose.  You set up a party so you can catch up with your friends (bonus 1) and you all bring the books you are through reading and then swap with one another (bonus 2).  You can get rid of those books you’ve finished with and get some new ones in the process — all for free!!


3.  OnLine Swap. is a great site where you can trade out your old paperbooks for new ones.  You just list a book you want to trade out and then send it to the person who asks for it.  You can then get another one in return!  You will need to pay postage on the books you send out, those which are sent to you are sent postage paid.  You can then keep the book, or turn around and swap it again when you are through!


4.  Skip the new release.  Rather than rush out and grab that newest title, you should wait for a while.  The price will drop after some time.  If you really need it, you might check your library to check it out for free.  There may be a wait list, but your patience can pay off in savings!


5.  Check Out Used Book Stores.  It is amazing what you can find when you visit your book store.  You may need to visit several of them to find the one that usually has the titles you want and then, add them to your “must frequently visit” list.  You can find these books at a much lower cost than if you purchased it brand new from a larger book store or even online.


6.  Review Before You Buy.  You probably do research on appliances, vehicles and more before you spend your hard earned money and the same holds true for books.  You can often preview pages on sites such as Amazon (even if you plan to purchase the book at your local store).  You will be able to make sure it is what you are looking for.

In addition, there are also other customer reviews you can look over too, in order to get an idea of what others had to say.  Of course, I don’t always rely upon them, unless it is overwhelmingly negative (simply because opinions can vary so greatly).


7.  Garage or Estate Sales.  You can often find books at amazingly low prices.  The only down side is that the selection may be more limited.  If you are visiting an Estate Sale, you have greater chances of finding some of the older titles you may want — especially some of the classics!


8.  Library. This seems obvious, but many times, people forget about this option!  Of course, if you do not return them timely, you will have to pay a late fee.

Make sure you also ask your library about Library Book Sales.  They will sometimes sell old books and movies, in order to make room for newer titles.  Sure, they are used, but that doesn’t mean they are not still perfect to read.


9.  Shop Online Outlets.  These can be a great way to find titles at reduced prices.  Many times, the books have been read only once, which makes them in excellent condition.  A couple of sites to check out are and  Both offer some really great discounts!


10.  Rent Books Monthly.  Here’s another way to score books at a discount.  You can actually RENT them.  Books Free is a service which is much like HuluPlus and other sites.  You pay a monthly fee and get to rent a select number of books.  When you are done, you return them and then get new ones back!
If you love to read, you know it can be expensive to purchase all of those books!  Find out these TEN secrets to help you score cheap (or even FREE) books!!!


20 Items You Should Always Buy at The Dollar Store

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Your local Dollar Store can be a hidden treasure trove of deals (as well as lots and lots of misses).  There are the twenty items I would always recommend you pick up at your local store -- and not pay more than $1 for anywhere else!

When it comes to shopping, I am a believer in getting my money’s worth.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still get those quality items you need at the Dollar Store — where you can find them priced at just $1 (or around that price).

I’ve shopped Dollar Stores for years and there are always items I buy there, which I usually don’t pick up elsewhere.  These are items which brand may not matter and/or those items which are disposable.  I mean, if you are going to throw it away, why pay more than you need to!

Here is my TOP 20 LIST of the items you should always try to buy at the Dollar Store.

Birthday Party Supplies - Buy the these at the Dollar Store at a FRACTION of the cost!



These are one of the items I always grab at the Dollar Store.  Of course, I usually stock up on tissue paper at the end of Christmas as that is usually even less than $1, but all other items?  I head to my local dollar store!

1. Gift Bags.  If you are giving gifts, you know that the person will probably open the item and toss the bag.  Why pay $4 (and more) at other stores, when you can find them for just $1 at your Dollar Store!

2. Gift Wrap.  This is usually a better deal – just always check the square footage.  Know what you pay per square foot at larger stores, so you can make sure that it is a bargain.  I usually find that it is a better bargain, but there have been a few rare times when I found a good deal at a larger store, which did cost less them my dollar store.

3. Cards.  These are always $1.  I know that when I give a card to someone (even sympathy, anniversary, thank you, etc), they will read it and then, it usually goes into the trash can.  I pay no more than $1 for my cards just for that reason.  If you price cards at other stores, they can be very expensive ($4 and more)!!

4. Decorations.  You can find balloons, table cloths, party hats, party favors and more — all priced at just $1!  These vary in price at other stores.  By the time you complete your decor, you could easily spend $30 and more at a larger store – compared to just $7 – $10 at your Dollar store!



I do not buy too many of these items at our Dollar store, as I usually find great deals at ALDI.  However, there are a few things I do pick up there – always!

5.  Movie Theatre Candy.  When my kids are on any type of break, we make stop there for them to each pick up one box of their favorite candy.  It is around $1.25 and more at other stores, so it is not a huge savings there.  However, if you pick it up and put it into your bag before you go to actual theater, you will notice HUGE savings.  Theaters charge upwards of $5 and more for the same box!!!

6.  Spices.  You can find all sorts of spices priced at around $1 at your Dollar store.  These same ones can cost much more at your grocery store – realizing instant savings.

Personal Care Products at the Dollar Store


Once again, you need to know the prices of the items you purchase at your regular store, to compare the prices.  These are the items I have found are less than other stores.

7.  Band-aids.  I don’t know about you, but my kids think they need a band-aid the minute that they hurt themselves (blood or no blood).  Needless to say, we go through a lot of them.  I pick them up for just $1 a box and keep them handy for those incidents.

8.  Pregnancy Tests.  While I do not need these personally now (whew!), I did many years ago.  It was so much more costly to pick up dollar store tests rather than pay $10 at other locations.  You may be surprised to know that they are pretty accurate too (at least mine always were).

9.  Reading glasses.  This is one I haven’t needed yet, but my mom sure has!  Rather than have just one pair that she has to take with her everywhere, she has multiples.  She keeps on her desk at work, another in her home office, another in her purse – and even one at my house!

10.  Hair accessories.  With two girls, we go through a LOT of hair bands.  (Seriously, where do those little things disappear to at night??).  We have picked up new combs and brushes for them too – and paid much less than at other stores.

11.  Q-Tips.  I’ve tried our dollar brand of q-tips and you know what – they work as well as the name brand!  I’ve even picked up cotton balls which work just the same too (at a fraction of the cost).

12.  Bar soap.  You can sometimes find 2 bar packages of soap for just $1  — much less expensive than elsewhere (and, if you are lucky enough to have a coupon that doesn’t exclude that size, you can save even more).

Home Decor at the Dollar Store


This may be surprising, but you really can find some great items!  The great thing is that when you pay less, you can afford to change it out with the seasons (or even as your mood strikes).

13. Seasonal decorations.  From Easter to Halloween to Christmas, you can find some great decor items at your Dollar store — for much less than you will pay elsewhere.  The only thing I would not purchase is anything that is electrical.  It is not worth the risk to pay less.

14.  Vases and bowls.  You can find adorable glass vases to hold your flowers or even bowls for potpourri, floating candles and more!  This is a great way to give flowers to someone and save.  Just pick up an inexpensive bouquet at your grocery store, grab a vase at your local dollar store and you’ve got a beautiful arrangement at a fraction of the cost!

15.  Picture frames.  I’ve found some really pretty frames at our local store.  It is a great way to give a photo of our kids to grandparents — or even spruce up the home with different looks!  I’ve even purchased the cheap wooden frames, sprayed them with silver paint, and turned the cheap one into something fabulous for a gift for my mom!!

Household Items at the Dollar Store -- pay MUCH less!!!!


I’ve also had pretty good luck with many different household items.  Again, watch the quality so that you don’t get anything TOO cheap.

16.  Dishware.  What I love is that you can find open stock dishware to purchase to spruce up your table for that special dinner.  Keep in mind that it is not the best quality, but it can be a fun way to bring in unique decor or colors to your table,

17.  Glassware.  These seem to chip and break all of the time.  You can find all sorts of glassware (and even coffee mugs) at your local dollar store.  These are also sold individually so that you only need to purchase the number you need, instead of an entire box.

18.  Dish cloths and Dish Towels.  No matter how well you launder your dish clothes and/or towels, they tend to wear out.  Don’t spend more than you need to — just pick up a package at the dollar store.  Then, when they wear out or you need to throw them away, you have a new supply of cleaning rags!

19.  Envelopes.  Have you priced envelopes at your local store?  You can pick up a box for much less — just around $1 when other stores may charge $3 and more!

20. Gloves.  I don’t wear gloves that often, but there are times when I need to.  These are around $1 at your dollar store.  Compare these to $3 and more at other stores and you’ve got a bargain!

Saving for Retirement: Your Wake Up Call!

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retirement series

Saving For Retirement: This is Your Wake Up Call

When it comes to retirement, the sooner you start saving, the better. It’s an undeniable truth that the younger a person is when they begin putting away money for retirement, the easier it is to create a sizable, sustainable nest egg for the post-work years. It’s not always easy and life can get in the way. However, setting financial goals and sticking to them – no matter what age you are – will ensure that the end of your career is something to look forward to, not dread.


Face The Facts

The average age of retirement has risen in the last decade, from 63 in 2002 to age 66, and these numbers are expected to continue rising. Financial concerns are at the top of the list of reasons for this change. Thirty-three percent of homeowners aged 30-59 years old have stated that they won’t have enough money to retire until age 70. For some, retirement isn’t even something they’re considering. In fact, a 2011 AARP study found that 40 percent of Baby Boomers plan to work “until they drop.”


With the unknown future of Social Security and the needs of an aging population to address, taking steps to ensure that you (and often times, your partner) will be financially stable is an investment you must make. Not only will it give you peace of mind, these savings can sustain you no matter what happens. Because, for many, it’s not only how much, it’s what the savings are for in retirement.


Covering The Bases

It’s not easy to guess what costs you’ll need to cover, but without a doubt, retirement savings are used for more than just daily living. Health care costs are a major expense. A study by Fidelity found that “a 65-year old couple retiring this year will need an average a total of $220,000 (in today’s dollars) to cover medical expenses throughout retirement.”


Add those kind of big numbers to expenses such as mortgages or existing debt and adding to an HSA or IRA looks more appealing every year. However, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, fewer than half of Americans have calculated how much they need to save for retirement.


Reality Doesn’t Have to be Intimidating

This six-part series will cover methods for retirement saving for every decade of a working person’s life. We’ll also examine the perceived roadblocks (or – ahem, excuses) that come up throughout life. Stayed tuned for tried-and-true information and methods for navigating your way to financial success that can serve you until your golden years.


We know this is scary. We know it might be hard. But we know, together, we can make this happen. How can we be so sure? We’ve done it for hundreds of our members already. So consider this your retirement wake up call.


The sooner you start saving, the better. Next week, we’ll discuss different ways 20-somethings can start saving for retirement (even if it does seem a long way away). For more advice on navigating financials or saving for retirement, click here for friendly advice from the CommunityAmerica Credit Union Savin’ Mavens. 


15 Tips to Planning Your Wedding On A Budget

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If you are getting married, you know how expensive weddings can be!  Check out these tips to help you plan your wedding on a budget


You are getting married!!  Congrats!!  As you get ready to plan your big day, it can be very overwhelming – and very expensive!  You might some ideas as to what you want but your beer budget doesn’t quite add up to that champagne wedding you have in mind.  While your wedding should be your dream come true, it should also not send you into mountains of debt either!  Here are some things you can do to keep your wedding budget in check, while still getting those things you want!



Before you even begin planing, you must have a budget in mind.  Don’t forget to include your venue, flowers, cake, invitations, decor and your gown when coming up with your amount.

So, how much should you spend on your wedding?  There is not a “right” amount.  It is only what you can afford.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that you do not allow yourself to go into debt.  Yes, this is a magical day, but don’t spend so much getting caught up in the day and focus more on the life changing event — you are getting married!

If, after you write down everything you want for your day, you find that you are overspending, it comes the time to prioritize.  What matters most to you? Do you have your heart set on the dream dress?  Then, make that priority one.  Perhaps you are not as picky about the food for the meal, then you might be able to spend less on this.  What is important to each person will vary, so don’t compare yourself to others and follow your heart.



This is the easiest way to overspend – trying to invite everyone to you wedding.  While you do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, your budget really is something that matters.  If you can only afford for 50 people to attend, then just pair down the list and have only that many there on your wedding.

Then, when you can do later is have a get together with those friends you couldn’t invite.  You can celebrate the wedding, share the photos and even watch the video of your day with all of them!



The typical “wedding season” is the spring and summer months. If you change your date to be “off-season” you might find that venues might charge less.  Plan a November wedding and you can incorporate those gorgeous fall colors and might get that hotel ballroom you want – and still stay in budget!

The one thing to keep in mind if you are doing a destination wedding, however, is that summer is often off-season in these areas.  You may want to consult with a travel agent to find the time of the year when the costs might be lower.

You can also use the time of the year to take care of decorations for you!  For instance, if you get married in December or January, many churches are beautifully decorated with flowers, trees and lights – bringing in FREE decor!  The same may hold true for your venue.  They might have trees or other items decorating the space – and you won’t pay anything for them!



Rather than the usual hotel ballroom, why not try a different location?  Perhaps an aquarium or historic site has a great location for your event.  You might even know a friend with a beautiful backyard and garden.  Think outside of the box for your venue location and you might find something which costs much less (or is even free).



You can use online sites such as or even VistaPrint to order your Save the Date and Invitations, rather than using local printers.  They sometimes offer discount codes to knock down those costs.

You can even find beautiful fonts online and can create your own invitations. Then, purchase heavy card stock so you can print them yourself. If you do not find them in the size you want (some card stock will even come 5×7), you can just pay a service to cut them for you. You can go to Pinterest and search Wedding Fonts and you will see hundreds of options pop up!  Download the font and create your own custom invitation.  Add ribbon, stamping or even colored card stock to them to make them truly your own!

While Save the Date cards are not always necessary, they can absolutely be helpful if you are having your wedding during a busy time of the year.  You can create your own on sites like PicMonkey or even Canva and then just pay to get them printed, at a minimal cost!



One way to save is to skip some of the things you may see at other weddings.  By not having a program, you can knock some money off of your budget. You might even be able to bypass assigned seating, which can also save costs on those tags (but also stress of trying to figure out where everyone will sit at the reception).


If large elaborate floral centerpieces are just out of your budget, you can still have beautiful tables, for a lot less!  Go to Pinterest and search.   Check out these few simple ideas:

  • If you want floral, why not go with mostly greenery with some floral accents (much less expensive).
  • Use small plants or florals for your centerpieces.  We did this with green plants and then, we sent them home with family and friends as a THANK YOU for being a part of our day.  That turned those plants into a 2-for-1 deal!
  • You might even be able to find mason jars with ribbon tied around them and candle lit inside – for little to nothing per table!
  • Mirrors with tea light candles (reflects the light up and gives a great illusion.



When it comes to decor such as table cloths and even centerpieces, you can find retailers who will rent these items to you! These companies have already paid for the items and you just use them for a nominal fee.  They will sometimes even drop them off, set it up and even do the clean up for you!  This is a great way to bring in the design elements you want, without hurting your budget.



The number one way to save here is to buy in season.  When flowers are not in season, you will pay a premium rate to get them sent to your florist to be used for your wedding.  Instead, ask your florist which are available at a lower cost.

If you really want those special flowers, use them sparingly. Instead of full bouquets filled with your favorite blooms, use other flowers and then add the expensive ones sparingly.  That way, the flowers are included, but you knock down the cost.

Another way to save money on your bouquets is to use a bit more greenery than flowers.  They will still look gorgeous, but since greenery costs less, you can save money this way as well!

You can also use larger flowers.  By doing so, it will take fewer flowers to make the bouquet, which can really drop the price of your flowers.

If you want flowers to adorn your tables, you can use plants with a few flowers mixed in or even lanterns with one or two flowers with a candle in them.  Scaling back on the flowers on your tables is an easy way save on your wedding budget.

Have your bouquets serve double duty!  When I got married, my bridesmaids and I all placed our bouquets across the head table.  We had instant floral decor – without spending any more money!  Then, when the day was over, they just grabbed their bouquets to take home with them.

Check with your grocery store rather than a flower shop.  Our wedding flowers were absolutely beautiful – and no one knew that they came from our grocery store floral department!  In fact, our floral bill ended up being around 1/3 of the quote from the florist!!!

If you feel silk flowers is the way you want to go, that is always an option.  Keep in mind that if you have to hire someone to make them into bouquets and more, you may quickly be at the same total you would be if you purchased real.  However, if you have a friend who can do this for you, maybe you could swap her work in return for babysitting her kids for her!  Where there is a will – there is a way!


10. GOWN

This is where a lot of money can be spent.  Make sure you walk in and tell your sales person exactly what you can afford to spend.  A good salesclerk will NOT show you anything outside of your budget (as you would hate to fall in love with something you can not afford).

When looking at your gown budget, make sure you also include the costs for your veil or headpiece, earrings, necklace, shoes and alterations.  These other items often get overlooked and can make that dress budget shoot higher in a minute!

If your mother or grandmother have a gown you want to wear, that would probably mean the world to them.  For the cost of alterations and a good cleaning, you can not only get a free gown, but also wear something of sentimental value.

Borrow jewelry and accessories.  Wear your grandmother’s pearls and your mom’s diamond earrings.  This will not only save you money, but also will instantly be your “something old AND something borrowed.”

Shop the sale racks.  There are times when bridal stores will sell off last season’s dresses.  Contact your store to find out when they will offer this and try to get in on that sale if you can.  You can do a search for a store near you to learn more.

Visit a mass retailer, like David’s Bridal, Macy’s, JCPenney, etc.  These stores sell gowns and sometimes, have prices which are much lower than higher end designers.  I actually bought my own gown (many years ago) at David’s Bridal and paid just $250!

Consider buying pre-owned.  This may not be the most ideal, but it is a fit for some women.  They don’t need or want a brand new gown, but have a dress in mind.  One such site is  You can search by style, size, etc, to find the dress that will work.  Keep in mind that you will need to know what you want before you buy from here and will need to also pay for alterations to make sure it fits properly.

You might even want to just rent your wedding gown.  After all, your guy will rent his tuxedo, so why not rent your gown too?  You can visit (for example) and find a gown you can rent at a fraction of the cost! (You can also do this for your bridesmaids too – so they aren’t stuck with a dress they will never wear again).



This is the one area where you don’t want to just hire “anyone.”  These are your memories of the day, so you want to make sure you use a good photographer (and videographer if you want one).

You don’t have to purchase a large album right away.  Just hire a good photographer for his or her time and see if you can’t pay for the images so you can print them yourself ( is a great site).  You can even order your own wedding photobook or album at a later date (when your budget allows).  You may pay a bit more for the rights to the photos, but it can be worth it to purchase add on items and prints as you can afford it.

Find someone who is just getting started doing photography.  These people usually charge much less than big name photographers, because they are getting started.  You may also find that they take even more photos since they are newer and want to ensure that they do what you want  (rather than higher end professionals, who are often set in their ways).

If you have your wedding on a weekday evening, you might save a bit on the cost of photographer, as you are not competing for the prime wedding time (which is Saturday).

Make sure you visit with several photographers and get their estimates. Make sure it is all spelled out in writing for you.  Are there hidden fees such as travel expenses?  Does the cost include any prints?  Do you get to the prints on CD to own yourself?  Does the fee include a set number of hours?  Then, don’t be afraid to negotiate.  If you find one person will charge $200 more than someone else will, try to negotiate the price down by offering to pay in cash or seeing if you can swap out an hours worth of time taking the photos to some prints instead.

When you send your thank you notes to your family and friends, include your email or create a DropBox folder which is open to sharing, and ask them to send the photos they took to you.  You might find some of the best shots were taken by someone other than your photographer.  In fact, they might get something your photographer missed!



There is nothing like a live band playing at your reception.  However, that can be very expensive.   If you opt for a DJ, you can often cut the costs by more than 50%.

Make sure you know the time you want them to perform or play.  If you stick with 4 hours, that is pretty average. If you want them longer than that, they may charge higher fees.  For that reason, let your DJ or Band know what time to start playing and when to play that final song.

Some musicians/DJs may offer a discount if you pay in advance and/or pay in cash.  It is always worth asking to see if they are willing to negotiate the price if you try this method of payment.

If you can’t afford a larger DJ or band, you might check with your local college music department. There are sometimes groups who will provide your musical entertainment at a fraction of the cost (just make sure you get references and check into them before you book them for your wedding).


13. FOOD

There is a misconception that appetizers will cost less than an actual meal.  That may not be the case.  It is best to compare the cost of appetizers only, sit down meal or even buffet to find out which one is the lower priced option.  When my husband I got married, the buffet cost less than the meal.

This goes back with your venue, but if you can find one which allows you to use your own caterer, you might be able to save. This will allow you to visit with caterers and possibly even negotiate your price down.  If you go through a hotel, you will have to use their restaurant and will be stuck paying the price that they charge.

Have your family cook the meal.  If you have a family member who LOVES to cook, or perhaps even does some catering on the side, ask them to help!  Even if they do not cover the entire meal, you might be able to save on some appetizers or even desserts!


14. CAKE

This is the centerpiece of the reception.  Cutting the cake with your spouse and feeding one another a slice.  These can get very pricey rather quickly!!!

Have a smaller “real” cake and then have sheet cakes to serve guests.  There is no rule that says your guests have to be served cake from the tiered version.  Sheet cakes cost much less than a large cake, and are an easy way to save.

Opt for cupcakes.  This is an option which can be used along with the smaller wedding cake.  Have your cake in the center of your table and suround it by a sea of cupcakes for your guests.  Best part is no one has to cut or serve the cake as they are already served up for you!

Cut smaller slices.  If you do want everyone to have a slice of your cake, have the person serving cut the pieces a bit smaller.  The cake will go further to serve more.

Check with your local grocery store.  These bakers do a beautiful job making all sorts of cakes – including wedding cakes!  They often charge much less for them as well.

Visit your local culinary school.  This is great way for chefs in training to practice those skills.  They have an expert chef helping them so that your cake will still look absolutely perfect, so no worries that it will look like your 5 year old niece did the decorating.

Hire someone just getting started. Someone who has just started their own business will often charge a lower price for newer customers, as it helps give them experience, references and even advertising!  If you can find a local baker instead of hitting up a large bakery shop, you might find your cake for much less.

Stick with buttercream or whipped icing.  Fondant is very expensive. It looks very sleek on a cake, but it is the most expensive option when it comes to decorating.

You might also use a few small flowers as the topper and even to embellish the sides – saving you costs on decorating.



Rather than pay for a high priced limo to whisk you away from the ceremony, have a friend drive you in a nice car.  We had a friend with a convertible which was gorgeous.  He decorated it and we were driven away in it rather than paying  hundreds for a limo.

Skip the honeymoon suite.  While it is romantic, it is also very expensive.  You can get a regular hotel room or even suite (outside of honeymoon) and save.  After the long day and all you’ve experienced, you will probably arrive late and get up to be checked out by noon.  Save the additional money towards your honeymoon, where you will be able to enjoy it more!


What other tips do you have to help save on a wedding?  We’d love to hear from you!

If you are getting married, you know how expensive weddings can be!  Check out these tips to help you plan your wedding on a budget

Three NOT So Obvious Things To Know About Investing

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If you are new to investing there are many things you need to learn.  We've got THREE Not So Obvious Things You Need To Know About Investing -- so you get started on the right track!


Three Not So Obvious Things To Know About Investing

Investing can be scary. In fact, the number one reason people don’t invest doesn’t have to do with education, but fear. Almost everyone agrees you should invest. You see “market recaps” on the nightly news before dinner. You know you should be doing it… but you’re not. You’ve saved, scrimped, and built a nice little nest egg, and you know you should be doing more with it.

This fear…it comes from the thought that other people know more; or I might lose my money; or I don’t have time to do the work required; or I don’t know where to start.

But it’s easier than that – and here’s three things that aren’t very obvious, but will help you pave the path to investing success. Investing isn’t a “once and done” thing – it’s a journey, so let’s get started.


Make Investing Painless By Automating It

The best way to force yourself to start investing (while also making it super-easy) is to just automate the process.

For most Americans, you have access to a 401k or 403b through your employer. Take advantage of these plans. You can set it up to automatically take a small percentage of your paycheck and invest it. Plus, many employers offer matching contributions – that’s free money!

If your employer doesn’t offer a 401k, you can still automate your investing. You can setup an investing account to automatically invest a certain amount each week/bi-weekly/month, based on your preference. Some of the more popular options for this include Sharebuilder or Betterment.

The great thing about automating your investing is that you never have to worry about it again, and you have peace of mind that you’re building wealth for your future.


Don’t Pay More Than You Need To

The next not-so-obvious tactic to help you get started investing and overcome your fear is to never pay more than you need to.

Investing has a bad reputation as being a fee-sucking adventure. You have to pay advisors, you have to pay other commissions, you have account fees, and then you have fees on the actual investments you choose.

I’m here to tell you that, for most of you, you don’t need any of that stuff. If you use the services mentioned above (Sharebuilder and Betterment), they are both low cost and low fee options to get started.

If you want to have more control and do a little bit yourself, you can save even more by choosing a discount brokerage like Fidelity or Scottrade.

The important thing to remember here is that fees eat away your profits. The higher fees you pay, the less money you’ll earn. So your goal should always be to find the company with low fees that matches what you’re looking for.


Time Is Your Best Friend

One of my favorite quotes in life is “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second best time is today.The premise is that if you want to have a full-grown tree, you should have planted it a long time ago. But, if you didn’t do that, there is no better time to start than right now.

The same is true for investing. The longer you invest for, the more money you’ll have – it’s pretty simply math. But don’t kick yourself if you didn’t start investing when you were 22 years old. Just get started now.

Millennial have a very unique advantage when it comes to investing – time. If you’re 40 or 50, you can’t go back to your 20s and start again. But millennials have this time on their side, so the more money they invest, the bigger their nest egg will grow as they approach retirement.


What’s Holding You Back?

Now that you know a little bit more about investing, including some less obvious tactics, what’s holding you back? Don’t let fear prevent you from living a rich life. Share your story with me in the comments!


This is a guest post by Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor. He is America’s Millennial Money Expert, and he helps millennials and young adults build wealth in their 20s.

Seven Different Types of Retirement Accounts

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Saving for retirement is extremely important.  However, how do you go about doing so?  There are several different saving vehicles.  Check out SEVEN types of retirement accounts.


We all know we should save for retirement, but how and where should we do it?

There are multiple types of retirement accounts, from the 401(k) or 403(b) you may have at work, to an individual IRA and a number of 401(k) equivalents for the self-employed. Which account is right for you depends on your personal situation.

You can open any one of these accounts at any number of financial services providers, including your bank, a brokerage service or sometimes even your credit union. Once you have the account, you can invest your money in a number of ways, including via mutual funds and individual stocks and bonds. When you open the account, make sure you understand the fees involved, both with the account and with the investments within the account. High fees can eat away at your profits.

The IRS has rules for all these kinds of account, as well as contribution limits. You can see those here. If your financial life is complicated, an accountant can help you determine which retirement savings option is best.

Here are seven types of retirement accounts to consider.

401(k) or 403(b) offered by your employer. This the best place to start saving for retirement. You can set up payroll deductions to save before you even see the money. In 2015, you can save up to $18,000 of your pretax income ($24,000 if you are 50 or older). If you change jobs, you can roll the money over into your new employer’s program or your IRA. You are likely to be offered a 401(k) if you work at a for-profit company and a 403(b) if you work for the government or nonprofit.

IRA. In 2015 you can contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re over 50) to an IRA. If you have both an IRA and a 401(k), you can’t deduct your IRA contributions if you earn more than $71,000 annually (for single filers) or $118,000 (married filing jointly). Those earning $61,000 (single) and $98,000 (married) get only a partial deduction. However, the income limits don’t apply if you’re not covered by a retirement plan at work — unless you file jointly with a spouse who is.

SEP IRA. An SEP (simplified employee pension) is for small business owners and the self-employed. You can contribute up to 25 percent of your income or $53,000, whichever is less, in 2015. If the business has employees, the employer is required to make contributions for all who meet certain requirements.

Solo 401(k). If you own your own business as a sole proprietor, you can set up an individual 401(k) and make contributions as both the employee and employer. The contribution limit is a total of $53,000 in 2015 (or $59,000 if you’re over 50).

Simple IRA. With a Simple IRA, employers with fewer than 100 employees can set up IRAs with less paperwork. The contribution limit for employees in 2015 is $12,500 in ($15,500 for those over 50). Employers can make either matched or unmatched contributions.

Roth IRA. Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible, because you are contributing after-tax dollars. But, the money you earn grows tax-free. Unlike with a regular IRA, you pay no tax on withdrawals after 59 1/2. You also don’t have to withdraw anything at age 70, as you do with a regular IRA. Plus, even before you’re 59 ½, you can withdraw your contributions (but not your earnings) without taxes or penalties. You have to meet income limits to contribute to a Roth IRA. In 2015, you must make less than $131,000 (single) or $193,000 (married filing jointly). Your contribution is reduced if you make more than $116,000 (single) or $183,000 (married filing jointly. Some people whose income doesn’t allow them to contribute to a Roth IRA make contributions to a regular IRA and convert the account into a Roth later.

Health savings account. This isn’t considered a traditional requirement account, but it is a way to save for retirement expenses. To have an HSA, you must choose a high-deductible health insurance plan that allows for one. An individual can contribute up to $3,350 a year in 2015; a family can contribute $6,650. Those 55 or older can add $1,000. Before you retire, you can withdraw money for certain medical expenses – but you don’t have to withdraw it. Any money you don’t spend stays in your account, and you can invest it. Until you’re 65, you can take money only only for allowed medical expenses, but after 65 you can use the money for anything you want, though you’ll pay taxes on those withdrawals. If you withdraw money for medical expenses in retirement, the withdrawals are tax-free. Before you turn 65, any money withdrawn for anything but medical expenses requires taxes and a 20 percent penalty. However, if you save your receipts for medical expenses you don’t reimburse yourself for at the time (eyeglasses, co-pays, etc), you can reimburse yourself years later without penalty or tax liability.

Teresa Mears is a personal finance writer and executive editor of Living on the Cheap, a website that helps readers live better on less. She specializes in writing about real estate and retirement.

Use Ibotta — Get Paid When You Shop!!

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An easy way to save money -- without clipping coupons -- is to use your phone!  One of the most popular (and easiest to use) apps is Ibotta!  We break this app down to explain how it works!

We talk about a lot of different ways to stack offers and to save on those items you purchase at the store.  These can be very overwhelming to understand.  I wanted to just take some time to revisit these and explain them to you, so that if you have not yet started using them, you can do so.

Today’s app is Ibotta yet?  This is a rebate app.  You make the purchase of the various items and they will give you cash back (yes – actual cash).  So, you won’t see the savings instantly at the grocery store, but you still are being paid when you shop!

Does this app work on all devices?

This is an app which you can access from your device.  Those included (as of February 2, 2015) include:

  • iPhone 4 and newer
  • iPod Touch 4th Gen and newer
  • iPad 2 and newer
  • Android devices (certain specs apply)
  • Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Sorry, but at this time, Ibbota is not compatible with Windows or Blackberry devices.  You will want to click on the HELP screen of Ibotta to learn more if you are not sure you can use this with your device.

How do you use the app to save?

Once you have the app on your device, you are ready to use it!  Scroll through the Rebates.  You will see them divided by category, so you can look for those you can use towards groceries, pet and more!  Just click on the category you want to review.

From there, you will see the various retailers listed and the offers you can use at those stores.  Keep in mind that sometimes offers are available anywhere, but there are some which are limited to redemption only at the store listed.  Therefore, it is important that you review the offer at the store where you will shop.

Once you select the store you will be visiting, you can review the offers.  You will see the product image and below it, the amount of the rebate.  Click on the offer you want to redeem.  You will find smaller buttons which show dollar amounts. You will click on each one of those and do what it says to save.  Sometimes, you need to watch a short video and other times you need to share it with a friend.  The more you do, the more you will be able to save!  It is up to you!!  Complete all required steps and you will claim the maximum offer.

For instance, Target has a rebate for a 12 count box of Pop Tarts.  You see that if you watch a video you will earn $0.50 and if you get a recipe from them, you will earn another $0.25 – for a maximum rebate of $0.50 on  your purchase!


You will visit the store and purchase the item on the app.  If you are not sure that you are buying the correct item, you can visit the offer on your phone while shopping and click on the Verify Product Barcode button.  Then, scan the product to make sure it qualifies for the rebate.

Once you are done shopping, click on the Redeem button on the bottom of the screen.  Click on verify purchases and follow the steps to upload your receipt.  Within 7 – 10 days the rebate is in your account!

How do I get my money?

At the time you are ready to get the cash, you will click the Cash Out button (from the bottom menu).  It will show you your balance.  You can now opt to get it sent to you via Paypal or use it towards the purchase of a gift card or other methods.

The minimum payout amount is $10, so you will not be able to request your money until your account reaches this balance.

That’s it!  It is really that simple to use!  I know many of our readers love this app and have made some amazing cash back by use ing!  So, what are you waiting for? Create your account with Ibotta and get started saving!

Lunchtime Money Saving Tips (Great Ideas for Shift and Emergency Workers)

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lunchtime at work

There are many times when your job may prevent you from grabbing something to eat at the “normal” times of the day.  For instance, first responders and emergency workers may be on the scene of an accident which happens right at lunchtime.  They can’t stop working to eat because their focus is on the incident.  This can mean that they have to quickly stop by a convenience store to grab something to eat when they can — which can quickly hurt the budget!

I previously asked this question on my Facebook page as one of my readers was asking for ideas for her spouse.  We had some GREAT ones shared by our readers!!!  Check these out:

1. Gift cards.  When it comes time to ask for gifts for any occasion, opt for gift cards for dining out.  This is a great idea for parents and friends  — and even your kids.  As you get older, you really want the things you need more often than not.  This is an easy way to do just that!!

2. Coupons / Entertainment Book.  We recently received an Entertainment Book.  This is FILLED with coupons to various restaurants, stores and more!  Many times, they are a buy one get one offer, so you could find a co-worker and split the cost of your meal – which helps you both!  You can pick up a book for just $21 shipped right now (a savings of 40% off of retail) — from Reader Julie.

3. Pack some snacks.  Pick up granola bars or other small items which you can place in your pocket or vehicle, so you can grab a quick bite when you are away.

4. Invest in a vacuum sealer and make meals.  Reader Teresa had a great idea!  She recommends investing in a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System.  You can take left over meals and seal them.  Make sure they are small enough packages where they can fit into a travel mug.  Then, when you stop by a convenience store, just fill the mug with hot water, which will warm your meal.  Then, you can pull it out and have something to eat!!

5. Think quick meals.  Create items such as wraps.  Make them ahead of time and keep them in your refrigerator so you can grab and take them with you.  Great idea from fellow Law Enforcement Officer JulieAnn and her husband!!!

There are even more great ideas on our Facebook page.  Thanks to our readers for adding some great ideas to this discussion!