My Wedding in a Week: Lessons Learned & The Little Extras

This is the fifth and final installment of my Wedding in a Week series. To read the rest of the saga, check out the other four installments, in which I talk about how we decided to get married within a week, got our food and decorations sorted out, got ourselves ready to get married, and finally walked down the aisle!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and buy anything, regardless of whether it’s the product linked, I will receive a commission. For more information, view my Disclosure.

After going through the receipts, I found some extra costs that I figured I should at least acknowledge in the interest of transparency.

The Marriage License

I realized I totally forgot to mention the fact that we got our marriage license at the court house on the Wednesday before our wedding. It was a quick process — we were in the court house for 11 minutes, and part of that time was just us walking around being lost — and didn’t cost much, but it still counts as a wedding expense. It was also probably the first moment I internalized what we were doing and got excited, haha.

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Oh Charlie, You’re Charming

I mentioned in the Bride & Groom post how I got several items in my bridal outfit from Charming Charlie. What I didn’t detail, however, was all the other fun little things I grabbed.

While there, I discovered the store had a section in the back full of wedding-related stuff. I bought some Bride and Bridesmaid socks and a hideous yet amazing travel mug that said “Miss to Mrs” on it. I didn’t NEED a bride mug, but since I wasn’t going to get an engagement party, bridal shower, or a big bachelorette party, I felt like a ridiculous mug was the LEAST I could gift myself.

Miss to Mrs Tumbler

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the tumbler is also iridescent. Amazing.

I also nabbed a box of props for our planned photo booth. I definitely could have found them cheaper online, but by the time we had decided to have a photo booth, there was no time! I paid for the convenience of getting them immediately.

Finally, when I was checking out, the saleswoman pitched me a tote bag filled with pampering goodies that was CC’s special deal that week. Normally I would have said nope to that nonsense; I hate being up-sold when I’m checking out. I realized, however, that I could use the pampering items as bridesmaid gifts, along with the socks, so I actually got the gold and hot pink tote. I have never felt more girly than I did leaving the store carrying that bag. It was pretty fun.

Decor Extras

Letters & Lights

In the week before the wedding, we went to Michael’s, where we bought the instant camera and film I mentioned in the Big Day post. While there, we also bought some wooden letters to represent our initials and a little string of battery-operated LEDs. Together, the letters wrapped with the lights made an adorable decoration that we now have in our home. It’s on a timer and makes me smile every time it turns on in the evening.

These are the same types of lights we used

A “Guestbook” That Wasn’t

 

I wanted some record of who was at our wedding, but neither Joe nor I was enthusiastic about a guestbook. Instead, our friend bought us a picture frame with wide matting. During the wedding, the matting was removed and put on a table to be signed by guests. We also grabbed a few archival ink pens from the craft store to make sure the signatures don’t fade over time. Now, we’ll be able to see our guests’ lovely messages all the time instead of hiding them in a book that would probably collect dust.

Archival ink pens keep signatures looking bright

The Cost

The marriage license was a quick but essential part but of the week! Cost: $30

Bridesmaid gifts: $32 for socks for 4, $50 for the tote bag with all the stuff inside. That’s $82 total, or about $27 each. If I’d had more time to prepare, I’d have gotten them something more personal, but they enjoyed the gifts anyway and everyone wore their socks while getting ready on the wedding day, which was adorable. Cost:$82

Bride mug for me! 100% unnecessary, 100% amazing. Cost: $12

The letters and lights from Michaels were a little splurge that is still giving us joy months later: Cost: $42

The frame/matting for our “guest list” was a wedding gift from one of my bridesmaids. Cost: $0

Archival pens will help our memory matting last. Cost: $10

Total wedding cost so far: $4,998

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson I took away from this experience is that, with the right help, amazing things can be done in a very short amount of time. If Joe and I had put our heads together, I’m sure we could have thrown a perfectly lovely celebration, but there’s no question that the party became a real wedding because of the help we had from friends and family.

Another major takeaway from our experience was that making any choice is often better than making no choice at all. I’ve agonized over so many decisions for longer than a week, but the week of my wedding, I was forced to make every decision quickly, which eliminated any time I might have spent second-guessing myself. From colors, to decorations, to invitees, our wedding was made up of a thousand little choices that could have stressed me out, but didn’t because I just didn’t have time to fret about them.

The last lesson was the reminder that of something that we all know, but sometimes forget in the panic to throw the perfect wedding or other celebration: it’s about the PEOPLE, not the THINGS. Did the things we bought add to the wedding? Absolutely. But when we first decided to get married, we were thinking we wouldn’t have those things, and that was okay. I’m so glad we had what we did, but I was more happy that our guests could come and that I was marrying my best friend. All the rest was icing on the wedding cake.

Wrap Up

All told, our wedding cost almost exactly $5,000 to put together. Some people might argue that this was still too much to drop on one day. Others might think it’s crazy cheap. However, when choices are limited, you go for what you think will work the best with the time you have.

Everything in this post except the marriage license could have easily been cut from our budget to save some extra cash. However, none of these items were priced beyond what we might have spent on some groceries or a nice dinner out, and they provided us with memories and fun that will last longer than either of those things.

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

This is the last of my Wedding in a Week series of posts. I hope they have inspired you to challenge what you think you HAVE to spend, whether it’s on your wedding or something else. I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve done something similar, whether it’s planning a wedding or something else you’ve managed to pull off quickly and cheaply.

Keep Learning, $aving, & Growing!

My Wedding in a Week: The Big Day

Welcome to the fourth installment in my Wedding in a Week series. If you want to know more about how we made the decision to get married in a week, took care of the decorations and food, and dressed ourselves with a week’s notice, check out the prior installments.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and buy anything, regardless of whether it’s the product linked, I will receive a commission. For more information, view my Disclosure.

After a whirlwind 6 days, it was finally time to actually do the deed and get married.

The Officiant

Our officiant, Aaron, had been recommended to us as a photographer, but it turns out he offers both services and actually specializes in elopements. We hired him to be the officiant and also take our official photos after the ceremony. He made the process so easy, and we had our finished photos just a few days after the event. If you live in Virginia and are looking to put together your own simple wedding, I’d recommend checking out Aaron’s site to see what he offers.

The Photographer

Although Aaron took our official photos, our friend Adam, who is also a photographer, offered to take some more candid and environmental shots, and I’m so glad he did. All the posed photos are lovely, but the candid ones bring a smile to my face every time I see them. There’s nothing like capturing people’s emotions in the moment. Also, if you’re the one getting married, believe me when I say that it’s such a whirlwind that you will want some shots to look back at and digest later.

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Candid first kiss photo!

The Vows

Joe and I elected to say standard vows but also add our own little twist. We each came up with something to say before the vows to personalize them to our relationship.

The Music

No wedding celebration is complete without a little goofy dancing. We didn’t really have the budget for a band or DJ, and it would have been yet another huge hurdle to jump in our limited time, so our music source had to be quick and dirty.

My now-husband and I enlisted the help of his sister and her fiancé to create a playlist of songs on Spotify for the dancing portion of the evening. We also chose songs for our entrance to and exit from the ceremony and for our first dance.

To play the music, we hooked an iPad into some speakers that Joe’s parents had in their house already, and voilà, the halls were alive with the sound of music! The only cost to all this was technically the subscription to Spotify, which we already had.

If someone who wasn’t a paying Spotify member wanted to take this approach to his or her playlist, I would recommend using a free trial of Premium during the month of the wedding, then canceling before the subscription kicks in. Free music, no ads, what’s not to love?

The Food-Wrangler Volunteers

I mentioned in the first Wedding in a Week post that we could never have pulled off the wedding without some serious help, and that is so true. The more time I have to think about it, the more I realize just how much everyone pitched in to make it happen.

From Joe’s parents offering their home as a venue, to the help from the rest of our family and friends to decorate, clothe us, and even play the music, we were surrounded by helpers. On the day of the actual wedding, however, two of the most valuable helpers were a couple of neighbors who volunteered to be the kitchen crew. My mother-in-law had made them some gorgeous cookies for another wedding not long before, so this was their way of returning the favor.

They set up the food and tables, cleared away dishes, and just generally made sure things went smoothly. That way, my mother-in-law wasn’t running around trying to feed everyone, and all of us could relax and have fun.

Many venues come with staff to help take care of these minor problems, but in this case, we didn’t have any built-in staff. It was amazing to have two extra helpers who weren’t guests but were willing to help. If they had not kindly volunteered, it would have been 100% worth it to pay people to come in and do the same work.

The Bonuses

The photo booth

Photo booths aren’t a new concept at weddings these day. We went back and forth on the idea a little bit, but when we ran by Michael’s craft store and saw they had a Fujifilm mini instant camera on sale, we went for it, and I’m so glad we did. With a box of accessories I grabbed at Charming Charlie and a few cute background decorations from Michael’s, we had a cute photo booth set up.

Having a portable camera proved to be a great choice, and luckily, I’d bought a twin-pack of extra film. Once the dancing started, we passed it around and got some great shots of our friends and family having a blast. I plan to put them in a photo album to cherish for years to come.

The hot cider bar

“Bars” of various kinds aren’t unusual at weddings either. Allowing your guests to personalize something delicious can be a great way to make sure everyone gets exactly what they want. Since all our food was taken care of already, we decided to go for a hot cider bar that was made available immediately after the ceremony, during the cocktail hour. It fit with our autumnal/Thanksgiving theme and made sure no one got too full before dinner was served. Boozy additions and orange slices were provided as options and the hot drink was so welcome as the evening temperatures dipped.

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Our hot cider bar. Photo by Adam Patterson Photography

The Cost

The officiant/photographer was super reasonable, plus the speed at which we had our photos was very impressive. Our friend offered his pictures as a wedding present, which was lovely. Cost: $600

I don’t count our Spotify subscription as a wedding expense because we would have paid for that regardless. Cost: $0

Our kitchen volunteers were invaluable, but offered their services for free, which was so sweet and much appreciated. Cost: $0 

The photo booth supplies were more costly than I would have liked, but we sacrificed a few dollars in order to buy the camera and film immediately. Had we decided to get them earlier and ordered online, they probably would have been cheaper. Cost: $120

The cider bar used a lot of items my in-laws already had. We did get some booze, fruit and cinnamon sticks, not to mention the cider itself. Cost: $50

Total wedding cost so far: $4,822

Wrap Up

For a wedding that was planned in less than a week, I think we did pretty darn well. It was truly a team effort and with some creativity and a lot of help, we got to have all the important parts of a wedding, and then some. Having a little extra time might have saved us a few bucks here and there, but it’s entirely possible that extra time would have allowed us to find other extras to spend all that money on anyway.

My Wedding in a Week: The Bride & Groom

Welcome to part 3 of our “My Wedding in a Week” series! If you haven’t read about how we decided to get married and tackled the decorations and food, I’d recommend catching up on those first, but all the parts can pretty much stand on their own. Today’s post will focus on how we, the bride and groom, prepared for our wedding!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and buy anything, regardless of whether it’s the product linked, I will receive a commission. For more information, view my Disclosure.

The Bride

The Dress

After we’d sorted out the bigger questions about the wedding, I realized I was missing a big part of the “bride” experience — the dress.

I obviously wasn’t going to have time to go through the whole rigamarole of going to a bunch of boutiques, trying on different gowns, and getting my favorite one altered to fit me perfectly. Cue desperate online searching.

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Basically a montage of me dress-shopping

I knew I wanted one with an A-line skirt and some lace, but other than that I really wasn’t sure what I should get. I found a couple of contenders, but some wouldn’t get here in time or would be cutting it close, and others had mediocre reviews. In the end, I took a flyer on this beauty from Modcloth. I ordered a size up, as reviews suggested, and crossed my fingers.

Honestly, I probably should have ordered more than one dress to hedge my bets, but I know myself and how bad I am at returning online purchases. (They tend to sit in a “to return” pile until they are well past their return deadline.) Plus, I figured I could run out to a department store and grab something in person if it came down to that. I also ordered a gold metallic belt as a statement piece.

Luckily, my gamble paid off and the dress fit perfectly. I was thrilled I got the aesthetic I wanted at an amazing price. The belt, on the other hand, wasn’t really a look I liked, but the dress definitely needed a little something to spice it up.

The Accessories

The day after Thanksgiving, I dragged Joe to Charming Charlie. If you’ve never been to this accessories chain, let me describe the glorious ridiculousness of it: every store is filled with jewelry, scarves, shoes, purses, and random stuff like mugs all organized by color. Nothing in there is super high quality, but the prices are good for what you get, especially since it’s all stuff that’s very affected by trends. Since it was Black Friday, they were allowing visitors to spin a wheel of coupons, and I got one for 10% off! Any little bit helps, right?

There’s a bridal section at the back of the store and there I found a couple of potential, blingy sashes to replace the metallic belt that didn’t work out. One of them worked perfectly and really took the dress from beautiful to bridal.

The next day, I actually returned to this den of accessories with my bridesmaids and found earrings and a sparkly comb for my hair. I spent way more in Charming Charlie than I ever have before, but considering what I got for it and how convenient it was to find all those things in one place, I was happy.

The Face

Makeup is yet another thing a bride has to think about! I had some basics, but I’d run out of my nice foundation, so I ran over to Sephora and grabbed some Makeup Forever foundation and their matte HD finishing powder, which I had heard helps make you look great on camera. Not a cheap combo, but way cheaper than hiring a makeup artist. My sister-in-law and my Maid of Honor did my makeup on the day, using these products and some we already had, and I think it turned out fabulously.

The Shoes

The saga of my wedding shoes is a sad one. I found the perfect pair of wine-colored heels at DSW two days before my wedding. Sadly, I left them behind in the rush and they spent my wedding day at my parents’ house instead of on my feet. Luckily, my sister-in-law lent me her black heels for the ceremony and photos, and I had brought a pair of black flats for dinner and dancing anyway, so it wasn’t the end of the world, but I was still bummed. I’m counting the shoes as an expense, since I’m keeping them and I wouldn’t have bought them if the wedding hadn’t been happening.

The Groom

The Outfit

On the Wednesday of our pre-wedding week, Joe and I headed to a mall near his parents’ house to hunt down his wedding outfit. Since he works from home, he hasn’t had to wear a suit since his brother’s wedding a few years ago, and that one didn’t fit with the color scheme we were going for.

Our first stop was Nordstrom Rack, which is one of our favorite stores to find sneaky deals, but nothing there quite fit. He needs a tall, wide-shouldered fit, and most average sizes just don’t cut it. Oh well, it was worth a shot, and we did find a nice white shirt on sale that we snapped up.

Next stop, Brooks Brothers, where we met a nice salesman who helped us narrow our choices and eventually decide on a navy blue suit that would look great with the fall color scheme of the wedding. It fit really well for an off-the-rack suit, which was key because we had no time to get it altered. Plus, there was a sale going on for the holidays that brought the price down a little, and now Joe has a suit he can wear in the future.

Finally, he needed a tie to match the burgundy that was going to be our base color. We bought three that might work and returned the two that he didn’t wear.

The Ring

The last piece of the groom puzzle was his wedding ring. I was just going to use a ring I had as my wedding ring, but Joe doesn’t wear jewelry normally, so we poked around in some stores looking for a cheap ring. No one wanted to sell us anything under $125, and since we knew this probably wouldn’t be his permanent ring, we weren’t willing to spend that much.

Then I realized we had overlooked maybe the most obvious option — buying the ring online. Amazon to the rescue! We found a white tungsten ring with great reviews for less than $14.

This is the one we chose, (click on the image to see it on Amazon) and it’s been great so far:

 

The Cost

Note: I’ve rounded all the prices to the nearest dollar to make the totals easy.

I paid for fast shipping for my dress and belt, which was an extra $20. Cost: $206

Makeup from Sephora is expensive, but I know I’ll keep these items for a while and get a lot of benefit from them, so at least it was a multi-use purchase. Cost: $83

Charming Charlie accessories for days! I’ll definitely wear the earrings again, and this includes some items that I’ll talk about in my next post. Cost: $144

The shoes I got are gorgeous, so despite the debacle, I’ll keep ’em. Cost: $36

Joe’s new suit was on sale for 30% off. Cost: $317

A nice, lightly patterned white shirt with French cuffs to wear with the suit was a nice find at Nordstrom Rack. Cost: $32

A burgundy tie rounded out the groom’s outfit. Cost: $15

Once we realized online was the way to get Joe’s ring, we bought it in about five minutes on Amazon and it arrived well before the wedding. Cost: $14

Overall outfits/jewelry cost: $847

Total wedding cost so far: $4,052

Wedding Photo

The final products! Not bad, if I do say so myself. Photo by Aaron Riddle, of Virginiaelope.com

My Wedding in a Week: The Decorations & Food

Welcome back to our Wedding in a Week series! This is the second part of the series, so if you missed the first one, check out how we decided to get married and found a venue, then meet back here.

Today we’re tackling how we decorated the venue and fed our guests, all accompanied by photos by our friend, the amazing Adam Patterson.

The Decorations

My in-laws had been amazingly kind to offer their home as the venue for our wedding, but we were still going to need to make it look like a wedding, rather than a dinner party. I hadn’t really thought too much about that sort of thing before, so when my mother-in-law asked what colors I wanted, I panicked for a second before thinking “Duh, it’s Thanksgiving, go with harvest colors.” Burgundy wine became the base color, and we added blues, oranges, yellows, greens, whites, and reds to the mix. They all screamed Autumn to me and I knew they’d probably look pretty good. From there, my in-laws worked magic.

To start, they ordered some long green garland from Costco. It arrived in a couple of days and they draped it around the living room/party room and on the decks outside. It already looked amazing and I started getting really excited.

The flowers were a worry until we remembered a neighbor of my in-laws, who happens to know my mother, is a florist. She leapt at the chance to do the arrangements, so we gave her the color list and let her do her thing. I didn’t see any flowers until the wedding day, which might sound crazy to anyone who’s spent hours agonizing over bouquets for events. Remember, though, that I didn’t have much time to be picky, and I trusted that any bouquets a professional could come up with would look beautiful. Flowers tend to do that no matter what. Check them out:

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One of the altar bouquets with the garland

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A closeup of my bridal bouquet

Since we were using the same space for the ceremony and reception, we had to make sure the furniture set-up could be clean and simple. My in-laws found a place that would rent us several round tables, a bunch of nice chairs, and the linens to go with. We’d put some tea lights and mini-bouquets on the tables and call it a day.

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The reception set-up

 

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Simple but pretty centerpieces

And that was basically it for decorations, although a few extras got added as people decided to chip in. My mother-in-law drew a beautiful welcome sign on a chalk-board, my husband’s aunts made us ADORABLE favors from chocolate-dipped pretzel rods, and my sister-in-law made us a cute, stenciled sign that reads “The Adventure Begins”. Even without those, the wedding would have been beautiful, but those personal touches really made it perfect.

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Our handmade favors!

The Food

Since our venue wasn’t a restaurant, we had to come up with food for our guests. I knew I wanted it to be buffet style because it would be easier for everyone involved and I just plain love buffets anyway.

When Joe’s mother asked what I wanted, the first thing that came to mind was barbecue. It’s a favorite of my family and it generally works well as a buffet meal. As it happens, Joe’s parents live close to a new, highly rated BBQ joint. Awesome. Decision made.

When we called them up, the restaurant was swamped with pre-Thanksgiving orders, so they asked us to get back to them on Friday, which we did, and it all worked out great. Brisket, pulled pork, beans, coleslaw, cornbread — we had the works. I shied away from ribs because I tend to get a little too messy with those, and with my white dress and all…yeah, not a good idea.

One of my favorite little additions we had was a hot cider bar that we put outside on a little deck. There were toppings and rum available, and the chill was kept at bay by a standing heater that we rented and a basket of cozy wraps for cold partiers.

Hot cider bar

A cozy hot cider bar!

We did have to provide the dishes, candles, silverware, glasses, and drinks for the wedding. Everything came from Ikea with the exception of the drinks, which came from Costco. My MIL picked up dishes, water glasses, and wine glasses for 20 people and champagne and silverware for 40. We also picked up a few throws to put in a basket outside next to the hot cider bar.

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to have a bundt cake as my wedding cake. Normal wedding cakes almost never taste as good as they look, but bundt cakes are the sleepers of the cake world: they look simple and taste amazing. My mum makes an amazing Black Russian bundt, so I asked if she’d make one for wedding. We stuffed a handful of flowers in the middle and it looked adorable while also being super delicious.

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So pretty and so delicious

The Cost

The decorations were the most expensive part of the wedding, even with a “friends and family” discount from our florist. However, I am so happy we allowed a professional to work her magic. It freed us up to worry about other, more personal, aspects of the wedding and people still got to add their own DIY flavor without the pressure of providing the only decorations. Cost: $950

The garland from Costco was gorgeous and really tied the room together. Even before the flowers arrived, it all felt very bridal. If we hadn’t had a florist contact who could do the arrangements at short notice, I definitely would have considered buying the flowers at Costco, too. Cost: $424

Renting furniture was a must. Bonus points for linens being included! Cost: $511

Silverware, glasses, plates, and throws from Ikea made everything uniform and professional-looking. A few unused ones were returned afterwards, so I subtracted the return amount from the total. Cost: $504

The food was another fairly high expense, but we got it fresh, hot, and as-advertised. Everyone thought it was delicious and we didn’t have to worry about cooking anything. Cost: $720

Champagne turned out to be the only wedding-focused booze expense. Most of the other purchases were simply refreshing bottles that were open or almost empty. Cost: $96

My mother making my cake lent a personal touch to it while also making it cost nothing for us. Since she already had the ingredients, it didn’t cost her much more than a little time, which she was happy to give free of charge. Cost: $0

Overall food/decoration cost: $3,205

Total cost so far: $3,205

Wrap Up

Whew! Well, it definitely wasn’t a free wedding anymore! All of the big-ticket items were out of the way, though. We had a gorgeously decorated venue, seats for our guests, and food and drink galore.

Up Next: The Bride and Groom — the dress, rings, suit, and more!

My Wedding in a Week: The Decision & The Venue

Holiday greetings, money nerdlings!

I know things have been pretty quiet in the L$G world over the past couple of weeks. There’s a lot going on at the moment, but a major reason it’s been so quiet is actually a pretty good reason: I got married!

Now, you might think I could have been a good blogger and set up some posts to cover my absence from the keyboard, and you’d be right, except that I didn’t know I would be getting married until less than a week before we said “I do”.

You read that right. Even though we got “engaged” on Monday, November 20th, we managed to have a wonderful wedding on Sunday, November 26th. I learned so much in that week about myself and weddings in general that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it with you all.

Hooked yet? Settle in, because I’m going to share all the delightful details with you over a series of posts I’m calling the My Wedding in a Week series. We’ll talk decisions, cost, and lessons learned. Enjoy!

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Making the decision

Health problems in my family prompted my lovely boyfriend, Joe, and I to pull the wedding trigger at breakneck speed. We’d been dating for 7 years, so it wasn’t like this was completely unexpected, but we’ve always been that couple that took things slowly and steadily, so we caught a lot of people off-guard with this decision.

We had been talking about getting married soon for a few months, and had even gone ring shopping. Then, on that Monday, we were on the phone talking about how everyone from both our immediate families was coming into town for Thanksgiving and it hit us: why not get married while everyone was here? It sounded crazy, but we decided to go for it.

Despite it being so last-minute, as soon as we told people the news, everyone — EVERYONE — immediately asked what they could do to help. I’m going to tell you right up front that this wedding would never have been the success it was without the help and support of our families and friends. This will be a theme in these posts, and the whole process just solidified how important a network is and how you really never know who you know until you need help.

We told our parents and siblings first, since we had to make sure they all were okay with the date and time we were aiming for. Once we had them on board, we messaged our friends to let them know. Every local friend we told was able to make it. Score!

At this point, we kind of thought we’d done what we could attendee-wise. Thanksgiving is a tough time for people to travel last minute and it was going to be a Sunday wedding, which meant most people would need to be back at work on Monday.

However, to our surprise and delight, several members of Joe’s family moved mountains to get here and what we thought would be a 20-person gathering turned into a 40-person celebration.

The Venue

This is probably the biggest obstacle when planning a wedding at short notice. Most professional venues require pre-booking and deposits. Restaurants are great options for small, quick weddings, but you might have to guarantee certain spending limits to make it worth the restaurant’s while and you’re stuck with whatever food they happen to make.

We got lucky: Joe’s parents offered their home as the venue.

Joe’s parents’ house is right on a body of water and their living room is open and gorgeous, with cathedral ceilings. They had even already thought through how they would host a wedding there since another family member is getting married next year and had considered their house as a venue. The choice was an easy one: a home wedding it would be!

The Cost

We didn’t pay for announcements/save-the-dates or invitations since we just called or emailed everyone with the information. Cost: $0

Since most of our guests were local and several others could stay with family, only a couple of people needed to resort to hotel rooms to stay, so we didn’t need to reserve a block of rooms or anything. Cost: $0

Our venue needed no reservation or pre-booking, and the food, drinks, furniture, and decorations were going to be separate. Cost: $0

I used a claddagh ring I already owned as an engagement ring, since we hadn’t finalized one yet, and it’s currently serving as my wedding band! This will be a future expense, since Joe wants to buy me something to represent our new milestone, but I love my placeholder. Cost: $0 (so far)

Wrap up

Of course the decision to get married and the announcement are easy. The venue worked out wonderfully, and we didn’t have to worry about a ring for me, but there was still so much to consider. Our so-far free wedding wasn’t going to stay that way!

Up next: Decorating the venue

How I paid 2 cents for 2 items of clothing

I love Nordstrom Rack. It’s one of my top go-to places when I need to replace something in my wardrobe. It has all the brands and quality of a department store at much lower prices. I especially love the clearance section. You never quite know what you’ll find and if you’re looking for something less classic and more trendy, it’s a great place to check. We all want to be on trend, but we definitely shouldn’t be shelling out full price for clothing that’s going to out of style in a season.

So, yeah, I love the Rack, but recently I had a bizarre and funny experience that I absolutely need to share.

The story

A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend, Joe, and I went shopping and stopped into the Rack near us. After a lot of poking around and hemming and hawing, we chose four items, all on clearance, and went to check out. One of the items I’d chosen was a bralette, and when the lady at checkout rang it up, she laughed.

“This only costs a penny!” she told me.

“What?” I asked, “How is that possible?”

What I learned is that when something has been marked down repeatedly in clearance, it sometimes gets dropped to a penny. Nordstrom Rack employees are supposed to regularly scan all the clearance items and remove any that show up as $0.01 from the rack entirely and send them to reject-clothing heaven (AKA the warehouse).

“But you found it before it was taken away!” she said, beaming at me.

Cool. I love a little money win. The bralette had only been about $4 anyway, but woo!

She continued to ring us up, and then gasped.

“It happened again!” she said. “I’ve never see it happen twice in one transaction!”

Joe and I exchanged confused glances. What she had just scanned was a thick wool shirt for him that had been marked at around $25.

“So…we get the shirt for a penny, too?” I asked.

The sales lady nodded excitedly at me. “Yep! You guys are so lucky!”

In the end, the four clothing items we bought that day totaled around $13. I might have done a little dance as we walked back to the car.

emma watson dancing

How to find your penny treasure

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed secret to finding those sneaky penny clearance items, but I feel like everyone should be aware that it’s a thing. I think a couple of factors helped us snag these deals.

  1. The bralette I bought had a weird top strap that I had to alter once I got home. I think most people just thought it looked silly and left it on the rack.
  2. Joe is tall and has long arms, so he often has trouble finding shirts that fit. The wool one was a bit of a unicorn for him. It’s also wool, and is thicker than a shirt but not as thick as a jacket, which might have made other people less willing to buy it.

If you decide to go hunting for a one-cent Rack bargain, I would recommend scouring the clearance section for anything with multiple red stickers on it, showing it’s been marked down repeatedly.

Keep in mind these might have been left on the rack for a reason. If you’re willing to accept a piece that is a little quirkier or might need some creativity to make it work, you’ll probably be more likely to hit gold.

Obviously, don’t buy things on the speculation that they MAY be a penny. Only buy the item if you’re sure you’ll still want it even if it rings up at its marked price. That way, whether or not you hit the penny jackpot, you’ll still be going home with something you’ll look forward to wearing.

6 Useful Freebies to Save You Cash

Every day, I see about a thousand ads for various subscription services, apps, or other products that sometone thinks I absolutely MUST have in order to be happy.

Some of them are very tempting, with their cute packaging and promises of never having to go to the store again, but I haven’t given in to very many of them (Netflix & Spotify are life, though).

If all of these services had been available when I was just starting out, however, I wonder if I’d have been able to resist those temptations. In case any of you are like me, I thought I’d share some fun and useful services I’ve found that are FREE — everyone’s favorite four-letter word!

free stuff

FREE STUFF!

Spotify & Pandora — Spotify has a free version that allows you to listen a ton of music, but it throws an advertisement in after a few songs. That’s pretty much all you can do, but if you just want to stream some jams, it’s worth checking out.

P.S. : If you’re a student, you might be eligible for Spotify’s student deal. It snags you Spotify Premium and Hulu for $4.99 a month. Five dollars to take care of all your entertainment needs ad-free is pretty good. It’s not free, but pretty close.

Pandora is a bit more like traditional radio than Spotify. It plays songs on stations based on genres, and you can give each song a thumbs up or thumbs down. Pandora will then use your ratings to play more music it thinks you will like. Ads play after every few songs on the free version, just as they do on Spotify.

Podcasts — Podcasts are slowly becoming more mainstream, but so many people still don’t know about them or how to access them. It’s like radio, except everything you listen to is something you like. Cars, languages, horror stories, TV — no matter what you’re into, there’s a podcast for you. You might even find some that will help you with your studies. Not sure how to get started? Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Download a free podcast player from the Apple Store or Google Play — Overcast is popular on iOS and Pocket Casts on Android.

Step 2: Search for podcasts on topics you like.

Step 3: Download or stream them and enjoy!

Netflix — As of this writing, T-Mobile is offering customers who sign up for a family unlimited plan a free Netflix subscription. The subscription is the $9.99/month version, but you can also apply that value to another subscription level and pay the difference through your T-Mobile bill. You have to have more than one line on your plan to qualify, but if it works out for your situation, it sounds like a decent deal. This is absolutely a limited-time-only kind of thing, though.

E-Books — I’m a huge book lover and am a big believer in supporting authors and the industry, but when you’re broke, it’s hard to justify shelling out twenty dollars for a novel. There are a ton of books out there you can grab, legally, for free.

Many out-of-copyright books are free as long as you don’t care about getting the fancy version. (It’s an e-book; it doesn’t need to be fancy!) Project Gutenberg has over 54,000 free e-books. If you’ve been assigned a classic novel or older piece of literature to read, see if you can snag a free online version before shelling out for the paperback.

Jones-ing for something newer? Check out OverDrive. It connects to libraries so you can check out digital or audio versions of books with just your library card number.

Of course, if you have a (FREE) Amazon account, you have a Kindle account, and there are oodles of free e-books in the Kindle store. Just search for free books in the genre you’re interested in. It might take some searching to find the good stuff, though. Because anyone can publish on Amazon, there are some pretty terribly-written books on there, but they are free.

Secret Library Access — Having a library card can open more doors to you than just the library’s. Services such as Lynda.com, which provides access to online software courses, and Ancestry.com, which allows you to research your family history, are free to use through many libraries. Since these sites often charge upwards of $20 a month for access, free use is an amazing deal. Check with your local or school library to see what services might be available to you for $0.

Furniture/Home Goods — Moving into a dorm or new apartment? Don’t go running to buy a bunch of brand new stuff just yet.

Check out the Facebook Marketplace. You’ll see the Marketplace button on the left side of the screen when you open Facebook (in the Menu on mobile). Click that “Free” button with the lightning bolt on it at the top of the page and you’ll see a list of items people are giving away near you. When I checked, I saw coffee tables, beds, and dressers up for grabs, along with wooden pallets, fabric, and other materials just begging to be made into something new.

Good old Craigslist also makes it easy to find free furniture.

Freecycle is a simple forum for people looking to acquire or get rid of all sorts of items. Everything on the site is free. If you’re looking for that special item, try putting up a Wanted post. If you’re just browsing, be prepared to snap up something that looks good!

Of course, whenever you’re getting free stuff from a stranger, be wary of giving out your personal details and never meet him/her alone. The stuff you find may not be the best quality ever, but it will do until you have the money to replace it with something new. I’m still using a dresser I picked up for free years ago, stripped, then repainted. It’s no showpiece, but it holds my clothes just fine.

Wrap Up

So there you have it — a bunch of ways to entertain yourself and maybe save some money on the expenses of living on your own. Students are in a particularly good position because many places provide discounts to people going to school full- or part-time. Always ask!

Whenever you think you just have to drop some cash for this or that, do a little searching first to see if there’s any way to snag that thing for FREE.

Got any secret ways to grab free stuff? Let us know!

Disclaimer: Learn, $ave, Grow has no financial relationship with any of the services or sites mentioned in the above post. Any use of the services mentioned is at your own risk. 

Road Tripping on A Budget

Did you see the recent eclipse in North America?

One of my friends was determined to see totality, but we don’t live in the right place.We COULD have flown, but because Nashville was one of the the most popular eclipse destinations, flights were more expensive than usual.

Our solution?

road-trip

Why road trip?

When you’re young and broke, traveling is not a thing of luxury. Road trips are usually cheaper than any other form of transportation, especially if you’re traveling in a group.

If you’re driving alone, the cost difference between driving and, say, taking the train or a budget airline might not be that great, but as soon as you start adding people to your travel group, the benefits grow by a huge amount. Gas for a road trip is a lot cheaper than four tickets on the bus or train.

Another benefit of road-tripping is that you have more control over your trip. You won’t be stuck in a station or on a runway waiting to leave, and you can usually find a way around unexpected traffic; not to mention finding fun little road-side places to stop along the way and taking as many pee breaks as you need to.

roadsideHIMYM

The downsides

Road trips are not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. They take longer than flights, and if something goes wrong with your car, you’ll have to deal with it yourself or call roadside assistance. And of course, someone has to be driving the car, which can be tiring and tedious. If these things don’t bother you, you might be a born road-tripper.

Budget-saving tips

Okay, so you’re sold on the idea of a road trip. However, if you aren’t careful, the costs of a road trip can sneak up on you. If you’re driving to save money, there are steps you can take to make sure you keep your expenditures low.

Food

Fast food and gas station purchases can be quite expensive, and when you’re tired and hungry, it’s hard to make good spending decisions. To minimize your impulse purchases, pack food to go.

I usually make a run to Trader Joe’s, Costco, or another grocery store a day or so before I head out on a road trip. Grab materials for sandwiches, or just a bunch of snack-food, and set out on your trip knowing that you won’t be forced to eat crappy gas-station food because you’re hangry.

Tried and true deliciousness:

Golden Island Korean BBQ Pork Jerky from Costco — It’s sold at other stores, too, but the Costco size is a great deal that works well for road trips

Popcorn (minimize toppings to keep greasy fingers off the car seats)

If you have a cooler: Sandwiches, boiled eggs, or a big tub of hummus with pita chips or veggies to dip.

Gas

Decide ahead of time how the cost of gas will be split among the road trippers. You can split it evenly, have those who drive pay less, or have one person pay for it all but then not pay for some other part of the trip. The point is, decide BEFORE you go, so no one gets surprised and everyone can plan their trip budget a little better.

Take the most gas-efficient vehicle possible, but remember that cramming a bunch of people into a tiny car just to save on gas might not be worth it if you are all miserable for the whole trip.

Download an app like Gas Buddy or consider joining a rewards program like Shell’s, which gets you 5¢ off every gallon. It’s not worth wasting more gas trying for a few cents off a gallon, but if you can minimize costs without wasting trip time, go for it.

Other car stuff:

Whoever owns the car you’re taking should do a quick once-over of the car before you take off. This includes checking the tires and fluids, and double-checking the insurance on it to see what’s covered.

Many credit cards come with a roadside assistance benefit. Everyone going on the trip should check his or her cards for this benefit so you will know what your options are if something does go wrong and you have to get towed.

If anyone in the group is a AAA member, you’re set, as AAA will tow any car you are in, regardless of who’s driving.

Entertainment

Longer road trips can be a real drag for those people not driving. Of course, you can chat and have fun together, but 6 or more hours is a long time to talk to anyone. Luckily, longer road trips can be improved by a little advanced prep.

Pre-download movies, shows, or books. Even if you have an unlimited data plan, you never know what service is going to be like along the way.

Bring some games. Sure, you can play the license plate game, but that tends to get old past the age of 10. With smart phones and tablets, there are tons of games that are playable on the road. Guessing games like Taboo and electronic versions of Trivial Pursuit or other board games are easy to play in the car, and the driver can be involved without taking his or her eyes off the road or hands off the wheel. Check out the app store before you hit the road.

Grab an audiobook or two. I know this might sound like an “old-person” thing to do, but a good book on tape can make those hours on the road fly by, plus they give everyone something else to talk about during the rest of the trip. I listened to all of the Cormoran Strike murder mystery novels during road trips and it was so fun to discuss and argue about whodunnit.

There are tons of places to get audiobooks, too. Libraries have lots of books on CD and the app OverDrive lets you borrow digital library copies, even on the road. Of course, Audible and Amazon have their own audiobook services, but they require a subscription, although someone in your group might be able to snag a free trial.

Check out some podcasts. Shorter than audiobooks, podcasts offer a vast assortment of free material on almost every subject you can think of. Take turns having everyone in the car pick a podcast to listen to, or start listening to a serialized one for an audiobook-like experience.

Podcast Suggestions: Serial and S-Town are both excellent, real-world stories, and The Black Tapes or Welcome to Night Vale are fun fiction podcasts. Criminal, The Moth, Something True, and so many more are also very popular. All the ones I’ve mentioned are for adults, however, so you might need to do some more looking if you’re traveling with kids.

Lodging

There are tons of ways to stay on a road trip.

Crashing with friends or family is usually the cheapest way to go. Couchsurfing is another (FREE!) option for solo travel, but it might not be an option if you’re traveling as part of a bigger group.

If you are in a group, it might be wise to look into getting an AirBnB or HomeAway. Splitting the cost of a full apartment often works out to be cheaper than renting several hotel rooms. I’ve used these sites for every trip I’ve taken for the last couple of years, and it’s been fantastic.

Money Stuff

Road trips are stressful enough without having everyone worrying about how their budget is faring. Know ahead of time what everyone is hoping to get out of this road trip. Are some people looking to sight-see while others are all about the night scene? Are people willing to pay for tours or are you planning to be self-guided? How much is everyone willing to pay for accommodation, food, etc.?

In our case, we knew where we’d be for the eclipse, but the rest of the time we were in Nashville, different members of our group went to different sights and did different activities based on our interests and budgets. No one wants to be grumpy the whole way home because he or she didn’t get to do that one special thing or had to spend too much. Try to be on the same page before heading off on your adventure.

Keep track of anything anyone spends on the group, like buying tickets or reserving your lodging, and use PayPal or Venmo to make everything even after the trip.

Wrap-up

I bet this is more than you ever thought you’d read or think about road trips, huh?

I hope you some of these ideas help you plan for your next road trip. Whether you’re prepping for Fall Break or you’re looking ahead to next summer, consider planning an awesome road trip with family or friends and save some pennies for future adventures!

Got any road trip tips of your own? Let me know and I may add them to the post!