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Wedding saving tips: What to do, what not to do, and how to budget
Wedding season is here, and for those couples on a budget, you may be wondering how to have a big day without spending in a big way. We have some tips on how you can create the perfect moment of matrimonial bliss without going over your budget (and maybe even while staying under it).
Consult the experts
By experts, we mean bridal magazines and websites. There is no shortage of resources available to you by professionals whose job it is to plan beautiful weddings for a small amount of money. Look for these tips and make a list of your own— compare and contrast ideas, see which suggestions pop up most often, and keep an open mind about solutions you might not have otherwise considered. A lot of the work is already done for you, courtesy of these publications, so get to Googling for the best tips.
Talk to your friends
The odds are high that you know of someone who has gotten married within the last year or two. This is the perfect chance for you to ask for their help. Neither of you has to share your budget if you’re not comfortable doing so, but they can give a better idea of current flower prices and which bridal salon is offering the best deals. They can also give you insider tips on locations and what they did to save their pennies beforehand. Everyone’s wedding has a budget—some of them may be large; others are small, but even the grandest wedding can be scaled down to fit your needs.
We don’t want to step on any toes but do take the time to consider your wedding day versus the rest of your life. While weddings are wonderful events, they are also the start to something much more wonderful: your marriage. Keep this perspective in mind as you make financial decisions for your big day. In ten years, will you still remember going with the less expensive catering service? If so, that’s okay—everyone has different priorities. But at the end of the day, the highlight for most couples is that they finally get to begin their lives together.
Choose a less popular day
Fun fact: Saturday evening weddings are by far the most expensive weddings. This is because Saturday evening is the most highly-desired ceremony time for many couples, and venues charge a premium for reserving these dates. Look for other options, like a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon—this could save you nearly 20-50%. You can even take it a step further and get married in the middle of the week if you’re feeling really crazy. Be sure to avoid holiday weekends, as these also tend to drive up venue prices. Choosing a less popular day means choosing a less expensive day—and it all goes back to your budget!
Location, location, location
There are many gorgeous wedding venues in the area, but there are also a lot of equally beautiful options that don’t cost money to use. For instance, if some local friends have a large backyard, you might consider using it for either your ceremony or your reception. Do some research on how you could use your favorite park for your ceremony to keep the outdoor feel without the price tag. You can make any venue beautiful with some simple decorations, so look for the potential in each place you visit.
Don’t use so many fresh flowers
Flowers are wonderful and picking them out for your wedding is especially fun. Unfortunately, flowers are often expensive, too. Talk to your florist about adding a few fresh flowers to your bouquets and make the rest of them yourself out of silk flowers from your local craft shop. This combination will allow you to have a stunning look in your décor that keeps you well within your budget needs. Bonus: those silk flowers will last forever, which means you will get to keep your bouquet for as long as you want it. Or, if you don’t want to skip the fresh blooms, consider buying in bulk from a warehouse club and doing florals yourself.
If you have crafty friends, now is the time to call on them. Work together with your friends and wedding party to do some DIY projects as a group. You might be able to create your own invitations, make your own cake, and do your own makeup instead of paying a professional, which can add up to big savings. We know it’s a special day, so we aren’t asking you to break out a Betty Crocker box mix for your wedding cake—but you should consider looking for a local friend who could give you a break on the price of the cake if you choose a simple design.
Skip the limo ride
For many brides and grooms, it’s tradition to leave the reception in a big way. This might mean a ride in a limousine, or, if you’re super fancy, maybe a horse and buggy. Either way, consider skipping this step altogether to save a few hundred dollars. If you’re really set on not driving yourself to your post-reception destination, ask a friend to drive you, or look for a car service that offers options within your budget. Leaving in style is fun but having the extra cash to spend on your honeymoon is even better.
There are so many ways to make a wedding great without breaking the bank, so put on your thinking hat and look for creative ways to stay within your financial needs. Make a budget, decide which priorities are the highest for your big day, and plan to have an amazing, finances-friendly wedding that you will remember for years to come. But what should you do with all those savings? If you don’t already, consider opening a savings or Money Market account together, so you can get a head start on your financial goals.
5 money tips for new college graduates
So, you’re a college grad. Now what? Stepping into the real world can be scary, especially when you’re on your own financially. The mere thought of adulting is daunting enough—but don’t stress. Below are five tips for managing your money as a new college graduate:
1. Know the 50/30/20 budget rule
The thought of budgeting can be intimidating, and it’s hard to know where to begin. The 50/30/20 method is an excellent starting point, as the rules are pretty self-explanatory. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, you’ll start by dividing your after-tax income into three categories: needs, wants, and savings.
50% of your budget will be allocated for needs, like rent, groceries, transportation, utilities, and insurance. 30% of your budget will go towards wants, like shopping, gym memberships, dining out, or entertainment. Lastly, 20% will be set aside for savings, like an emergency fund or (eventually) a down payment on a house.
2. Practice small but good financial habits
Experts say it takes an average of 59 days to form a habit. So, for the next two months, start implementing small but good financial habits. Some examples:
- Monitor your accounts regularly. Set an alarm at the same time daily to review your accounts and ensure you know what money is coming in and what’s going out.
- Know (and monitor) your credit score. You’re entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus. Georgia residents are entitled to two additional free reports each year. Many credit card companies also offer the ability to check your score for free on a more frequent basis (without impacting your score). These scores give a basic level of insight to your score, so it can vary between the models other lenders use. It’s still worth monitoring, though, because it can alert you to any significant changes.
- Pay off your credit card as often as possible (and for the highest amount possible). Credit cards have higher interest rates compared to other loans, so it’s best to keep your balance low and pay as much as you can.
3. Start saving for retirement ASAP
You’re never too young to start saving for retirement. Does your job offer a 401(k) with employer matching? If so, you want to take advantage of that, or else you’re leaving free money on the table. When an employer matches your contributions, they add a certain amount in addition to what you contribute (often up to a certain limit).
For example, your company may elect to match 100% of your contributions up to a percentage of your compensation. Let’s say your organization offers a 100% match up to 6% of your annual income. If you earn $60,000 per year, the maximum amount your employer will contribute is $3,600. To maximize this, you must also contribute $3,600 annually. If you contribute more than 6% of your salary, the additional contributions are unmatched.
This varies by organization, so it’s best to refer to your employee handbook for your company’s policy.
If your company does not offer retirement benefits, you can also invest in a Roth or traditional IRA. A Roth IRA allows you to contribute after-tax dollars to a retirement account, so your account grows tax free. With a traditional IRA, you contribute pre- or after-tax dollars, but your money grows tax deferred. You would then pay taxes upon withdrawal. If you’re unsure about which account works best for you, consider speaking with a financial advisor. Georgia’s Own offers consultations with a financial advisor at no cost and with no obligation.
4. Build your credit score
Having a good credit score is essential for many tasks you’ll tackle as a recent graduate, like renting an apartment or opening a credit card. Your credit score is determined by the following factors:
- Payment history: Whether you’ve paid past accounts on time
- Amount owed: How much you owe across all accounts (this is also referred to as utilization, which you want to keep below 30%)
- Length of credit history
- New credit: How often you apply for new accounts
- Credit mix: The variety of credit products you have (credit cards, auto loans, student loans, etc.)
If you don’t have a good credit score, there are a few ways you can build your credit. You should pay your bills on time and lower your debt. You should also leave any old credit cards open, especially if they don’t have an annual fee. Closing credit cards can ding your credit score. You may need to make a purchase every six months or a year—some lenders will close credit cards if they have been inactive for a period of time, with or without notice. However, if you’re paying a large annual fee to keep the card open, it may be worth risking a slightly lower score instead of paying tons of money for a card you don’t use.
5. Don’t rent outside your means
Social media makes it easy to keep up with friends—but it also makes it easy to compare ourselves to others. You may see your friends showing off their fancy new apartments or condos and think you need to do the same, too. But, housing is an enormous expense and could derail your budget if you live above your means. Let’s face it, you want to have the option to go to dinner with friends or see your favorite band in concert, rather than throwing most of your paycheck towards rent to keep up with the Joneses!
Typically, you should spend no more than 30% of your gross (pre-tax) monthly income on housing. That said, housing costs vary regionally. Evaluate your budget and income to determine how much you can comfortably afford.
Graduating college is an exciting time, but navigating the real world can be challenging, especially with new added financial responsibility. The decisions you make now will shape your financial future—but with the above tips, you can take charge of your money and be confident in your adulting abilities in no time.
5 ways to spring clean your finances
Spring is the time when many people start thinking about purging clutter—that sounds good to us. We suggest expanding that purge to reducing your paperwork, trimming your expenses, and boosting your savings. Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Below are five tips to help you get a head start on spring cleaning your finances.
1. Cut spending
If it wasn’t one of your New Year’s resolutions, now is a great time to review your budget and see where you can tidy up your spending. Even if managing your budget was one of your resolutions, take the time to see how you’re doing so far. Are there other areas where you can cut spending?
Cutting the cord – The movement to replace cable or satellite service and opting for streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, is gaining momentum. If you already subscribe to a multitude of streaming services, evaluate your subscriptions and see which platforms you use the least.
Gym membership – If you have a gym membership, are you getting your money’s worth? If not, cancel it. There are other ways to burn those calories that don’t require a membership.
Cell phone – Consider changing your plan or even going pre-paid to free up some cash.
Dining out – Cook more meals at home, and pack lunches for work or school. Even though the cost of groceries has risen because of inflation, if you shop smart, you’ll still save money by prepping your meals at home instead of hitting the drive-thru.
2. Automate your savings
Saving is easy to forget, and money has a way of vanishing when it isn’t designated for a specific function. You have to be deliberate about saving to achieve your goals. By automating the process, you can put a plan in motion and let it take care of itself.
Set up automatic transfers – If your paycheck is direct deposit, have a set amount from each check go directly to savings. You’ll be less tempted to spend it if it never hits your checking account.
Round-up savings apps – Some apps will round up the change from each debit card transaction and deposit it into a savings or investment account. For example, swipe your card for $4.65, and $0.35 automatically gets transferred into a savings or investment account, depending on the app.
3. Set up automatic payments
Setting up automatic payments either through online bill pay or your service provider’s website (i.e., cell phone, credit cards, utilities, etc.) makes your finances more efficient and reduces the stress of remembering due dates or paying a late fee because you missed a payment. Keep an eye on your account to ensure you have sufficient funds to cover the automatic payments.
4. Organize or shred old documents
Reducing the clutter of old documents and paperwork can be refreshing—as long as you trash responsibly. The tips below can help you do it the right way:
Shred, don’t toss – Throwing old documents in the trash increases your risk of identity theft. Shred them in a shredder. If you don’t own a shredder, Georgia’s Own hosts shred day events for members to securely get rid of paperwork.
Tax documents – Don’t get too carried away with purging your documents. Remember, the IRS has up to six years to audit you. Hang on to tax returns and supporting documents for at least that long.
Scan or snap – If you’re unsure whether you’ll need a document, you can scan a copy to your computer or snap a photo of it with your phone.
5. Cut down on junk mail
One of the best ways to reduce paperwork is to keep it from ever showing up. You can opt out of pre-screened offers for credit cards and insurance at optoutprescreen.com. Less junk mail means less paperwork to shred.
Spam and subscription emails can also clog your inbox quickly. If you’re working on saving money, getting emails from your favorite stores advertising sales doesn’t help, either. A cluttered mailbox can be overwhelming, but unroll.me is a free tool that allows you to manage your inbox in one place.
- Manage your budget and cut spending where you can, like subscription services or gym memberships.
- Automate your savings to reach your goals and set up automatic payments to ensure you don’t miss bill due dates.
- Shred and organize old documents, and cut down on junk mail or clean your email inbox so you’re not tempted to spend when you should save.
6 easy financial New Year’s resolutions
It’s the start of a new year, and in keeping with tradition, it’s an ideal time to turn over a new leaf that will lead to positive change. Millions of people will resolve to lose weight, get organized, quit smoking, or spend more time with family.
Right in the middle of the most popular New Year’s resolution pack is financial fitness—in other words, save more, spend less. But, let’s face it. With the glow of the holiday season fading fast and the inevitable arrival of last month’s bills arriving in your mailbox, it’s an admirable goal, but a tough challenge.
Like exercising, though, financial health is something you need to visit every day. It’s not a one-and-done achievement. So, in the spirit of the resolution season, here are six easy financial resolutions you can set and keep in 2023:
1. Organize your finances
Before you can make any changes, you need to organize your finances. Use a spreadsheet to record your assets and liabilities including your home, car, savings and investment accounts, insurance policies, revolving credit, automated subscriptions, services like pest control, lawn maintenance, TV, internet, and phone charges…and anything else that involves money coming in or going out the door.
Now, what do you need and what can you do without? Talk with your insurance agent to make sure you have enough—or if you have too much—home or car insurance. Can you find a more reasonable internet/phone provider? Is your dental plan worth renewing or should you downgrade your medical coverage? Can you mow your own lawn? Is your Amazon Prime membership worth the annual cost?
Yes, it’ll take time, but knowing how much money you have, where it goes, and what value it brings will be the basis for almost every other financial decision you make this year.
2. Build up your emergency fund
An emergency fund is like insurance. You may not need to use it any time soon, but it’ll save your financial life if you do. You could be living comfortably at the moment, but whether it’s an unexpected home repair, sudden job loss, or large medical expense, it can cripple your financial stability. Start by saving a few dollars a week and keep building until you have at least three months of living expenses. And just so we’re clear, replacing your standard TV with a 65” flat screen does not qualify as a home repair. Just sayin’.
3. Create and stick to a budget
The old “stick-to-a-budget” advice is an extremely common financial resolution. But listen: the number of Americans who spend their hard-earned money without a budget in mind is astronomical, and it’s a big reason our finances are a major source of worry and concern.
Believe us, we know. In the beginning, budgets are tough. You’re used to whipping out a credit card at Starbucks, buying the newest technology because it’s cool, or spending money on your designer shoe habit. If those things are important to you, you don’t necessarily have to do without them—just budget for them.
A budget realistically balances your earnings with your spending, saving, and investment goals. It helps you avoid overspending, allows you to live within your means, and alleviates financial stress and worry.
When you’re aware of how much money is available, you’re able to make smarter financial decisions that lead to a much happier life. And we all want that, don’t we?
4. Pay down your debt
Life is expensive—you need certain things, everyone has it, so some amount of debt must be fine. Debt can be used for good, like when you need a mortgage, but, it can also spiral out of control.
Revolving debt that continues month after month after month can be detrimental to your financial health and could hinder any financial progress, whether it’s your emergency savings, investments, your mortgage, retirement, or even saving for a vacation.
Be diligent about paying it down every single month and track your progress. It may not be gone by the end of the year, but if you’re committed, you’ll not only make a significant dent, but you’ll be able to sleep a little better at night.
5. Stop buying stuff you don’t need
Selling your unnecessary or no longer used stuff is one way to recoup a small amount of what you’ve spent on these things, but the best way to regain that money is to avoid buying it altogether.
Do less shopping and more relaxing. Use that time for more constructive efforts, like investing it in a hobby or spending more time with friends. The next time you find yourself ready to make a purchase, ask yourself how often you’ll use it.
Impulse buying is an all-too-easy way to put a major dent in your budget—especially with thousands of items available online at our fingertips. Next time you find yourself impulsively adding items to your online shopping cart, wait 72 hours. If you find yourself still fawning over that new top or latest electronic after 72 hours has passed, then you can treat yourself (if you have room in your budget, of course).
6. Create an additional income stream
Any side hustle can help you pay down debt, increase savings, build your investment portfolio, or even retire at an earlier age. Turn a hobby into a small business, turn your talent into freelancing, sell your stuff on eBay, or list your creativity on Etsy.
Find something you love and figure out how to make money doing it. Be a personal shopper, a babysitter, or a handyman on weekends. One caution, though. Don’t sacrifice your performance at your full-time job, and be careful to balance your work and home life. Making extra money should be a bonus, not a dreaded chore.
It’s not an all-or-nothing mentality
Resolutions aren’t easy to keep. In fact, more than 80% of people give up by February, and we can understand that. When you set unreasonable expectations, the first sign of failure offers you the permission you need to return to your old habits. Each of these financial resolutions, though, is a work-in-progress. Did you this week’s emergency fund deposit on a Starbucks run for the office? Splurged on some after-Christmas shoe sale? Don’t give up—simply get back on track. Practice makes perfect, and one misstep doesn’t mean it’s all over.
Make the commitment, work on getting your finances in order, and 2023 will be a stellar year!
8 ways to save money during the holidays
The holiday season is a time for giving—but it’s also a time for spending. Due to the effects of inflation, the cost of everything has skyrocketed. Higher rates across the board don’t help, either. Despite the obstacles being hurled our way, it’s possible to still make the holiday season merry and bright while saving some cash, too. Here are eight ways you can save money during the holidays.
1. Stick to a budget
Before you begin shopping, create a budget. If you’re one of the savvy shoppers who opened a Holiday Savings account or a short-term certificate of deposit (CD), now’s the time to put those funds to use—but don’t go overboard. Plan how much you’ll spend on gifts, entertaining, travel, and other small expenses, like holiday cards and stamps. You should also add room for extra spending in case you want to treat yourself—or if you unexpectedly receive a gift from a co-worker and need to return the favor.
2. Create a holiday shopping list
It may be the season of giving, but that doesn’t mean you need to give to everyone. Create a holiday shopping list after establishing your budget, and stick to it. Shopping for only those who need gifts is a huge way to save money during the holidays. List the people you need to shop for and how much you plan to spend on their gift. If you’re over budget, the easiest way to trim your budget is by trimming the number of people.
3. Cut spending elsewhere
If you need wiggle room in your budget, cut spending elsewhere, like dining out or streaming services. Let’s face it—you don’t regularly use every streaming platform you subscribe to. Save an extra $10-$20 a month by pausing a couple of streaming services through the holidays, and resume your subscription in January. Or, if you find yourself dining out more often than necessary, save by shopping at the grocery store and planning meals at home.
4. Spend responsibly
When used responsibly, shopping with a credit card can be beneficial during the holidays. If you find a credit card with a great introductory bonus, you may meet the requirements just by checking off your holiday shopping list (depending on your budget, of course). If you’ve already racked up rewards points, you can cash in those points for gifts, airline tickets, or hotels. If you don’t trust yourself to stick within your budget while using a credit card, you can opt for cash. Whatever your budget is, withdraw that from your checking account and use that cash to shop—once it’s gone, it’s gone.
5. Shop strategically
When you shop is just as important as where you shop. Also, think about what you need to purchase. If you’re looking to score deals on TVs and other electronics, pre-Black Friday and Black Friday deals are your best bet. Cyber Monday is great for shopping for clothes and travel deals, and it’s often a repeat of Black Friday offers. As Christmas approaches, many retailers also discount toys and games to avoid getting stuck with them after the holidays. Super Saturday is the Saturday before Christmas and is filled with last-minute deals for those who haven’t finished their holiday shopping yet. These deals can be huge ways to save money during the holidays.
6. Consider non-monetary gifts
Experiences and favors for family and friends can sometimes be more meaningful than material gifts. If your budget is lower this year, opt for non-monetary gifts. Volunteer to watch your sister’s kids so she can have a night out. Or, help an elderly relative with housework and running errands. Even handmade gifts, like scrapbooks or a framed photo of a special memory, can be more meaningful than something expensive.
7. Give the gift of your time
Volunteering can be the greatest gift of all. If you and your family or friends have everything you need, why not volunteer during the holidays instead of exchanging gifts? Help out a local soup kitchen, host a coat drive, volunteer at a nursing home, or help wherever else you’re needed. Just a few hours of volunteering your time can brighten the holidays for dozens of people. If you’re stuck on ideas, volunteermatch.org posts various volunteer opportunities, and you can filter by category to find something that piques your interest.
8. Celebrate after the holidays
Traveling during the holidays can add up quickly between flights, transportation, and hotels. It can also be stressful and overwhelming due to the sheer volume of people. If you’re visiting family or want to travel during the holidays, celebrate after to help save big on travel costs. You’ll even save on gifts if you wait for post-holiday sales to shop. If you can’t wait until after the holidays to celebrate, try to book in advance and avoid high fares.
What to do after becoming debt-free
When you’re focused on getting out of debt, it’s easy to get caught up in the process and not think about what happens afterward. But, it’s necessary to establish a plan once you’ve eliminated your debt, or else you’ll slip back into the cycle again. Below are crucial steps you should take after becoming debt-free:
Organize your finances
Preparing for your new financial future starts with organizing your finances. The easiest first step is to automate your finances. Put any recurring bills, like your cell phone, electricity, or credit card on auto-pay, so you don’t miss a due date. You can even automate your retirement account and emergency savings contributions.
Now’s also the time to organize any financial paperwork you may have neglected while paying off debt. Sift through papers and shred anything you no longer need, like old cable bills. Keep only the most recent copies of items, like account statements or insurance policies. However, one exception to this rule is tax returns, which you should keep for at least three to seven years.
Build a solid emergency fund
Having a solid emergency fund covering at least three to six months of expenses is crucial—and something you may have neglected to save for while paying off debt. Now that you’re debt-free, it’s time to get back on track towards saving for the unexpected.
You may need to revisit your goals and figure out how much you should have saved in case of an emergency—and if you don’t have a savings account for unexpected expenses, you should open one now. The bigger your savings are, the more equipped you’ll be to financially handle an emergency (and avoid falling back into debt).
After spending months (or even years) sticking to a strict budget to pay off debt, it can be exciting to have extra cash—it can also be tempting to stray from your budget. But, if you stop budgeting entirely, you may become neck-deep in debt again.
With more money on hand your monthly income has changed, which means your budget should, too. Take the time to reevaluate your budget and see how you’re spending or where you can cut expenses.
Contribute to a retirement account
The sooner you start saving for retirement, the better—but it’s never too late. If you haven’t started saving for retirement, look into an employer-sponsored plan, plus additional options like a Roth IRA. If you’re self-employed, look for a SEP IRA, a Simple IRA, or an individual 401(k).
The most important thing is to be consistent with your contributions. If your employer offers matching, try to take advantage of that. Don’t touch your retirement fund until you reach retirement age, or else you’ll face tax penalties.
Start saving for major purchases
If tackling debt was a motivator to start saving for a home or a car, you’re one step closer to achieving that dream. Establish a separate savings account to reach your goal, and start contributing—you’ll get there before you know it! If you’re a first-time homebuyer or are applying for a car loan for the first time, Georgia’s Own has options to guide you through the process.
Review insurance coverage
You may have been skating by with the bare minimum insurance coverage while trying to pay off debt. Now that you have more money, you may consider increasing your insurance coverage. For example, if you don’t have life insurance coverage, you may want to look into that. Depending on your age, you may also want to consider additional coverage, like long-term care insurance if you’re in your 40s.
Refresh your financial plan
After making sure you’re covered for any future events (both good and bad), you can start refreshing your financial plan. As previously mentioned, now that your income has changed, your financial plan should change, too—your financial plan from two or three years ago may not work anymore.
Take the time to assess your financial goals and see where you should reevaluate. Start looking at your short-term goals and decide where you are with meeting them. If you’ve met them (or are close to meeting them), you may want to adjust them to your current financial circumstances.
Now that you’re debt-free (and if you have an established emergency fund) try diversifying your investments. You can consider financial products and other investment options with a higher risk that have higher earning potential, like stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.
If you’re new to investing, consider working with a financial planner. Georgia’s Own offers investment and retirement services to help you get on track and make the right choices when it comes to your money—and you can meet with one of our financial planners at no cost and with no obligation to discuss your options.
Being debt-free is an incredible feeling, so it’s only appropriate that you celebrate! Having a healthy financial plan is knowing when to be disciplined and when it’s okay to treat yourself. Have a party or take yourself to a fancy dinner—you deserve it after putting so much work into reaching your goal of becoming debt-free.