Saturday, August 27, 2011

Honeymoon Pt.2: Managing Your Honeymoon Budget

Although wedding budgets are a frequent topic of conversation in planning, causing much stress and sacrifice, the budget for a honeymoon has less attention paid to it. This vacation for the new husband and wife is a time for relaxation and luxury. However, between travel fare, hotel charges, and general spending, costs for a honeymoon can quickly add up. This blog entry is dedicated to providing helpful tips for how to save money on a honeymoon, or for travel and vacations in general.

Honeymoons, like all else, have been stereotyped in to what a traditional post-wedding vacation for the bride and groom typically is. However, like weddings, honeymoons can be designed to fit the styles and personalities of the couple. For newlyweds who do not have a large budget to spend on a honeymoon, there are many options for budgeting on a honeymoon that still promise a fun, luxurious, and romantic time away. One of the most costly aspects of a honeymoon is the traveling; as plane fare for both international and domestic flights continues to rise, more and more couples are opting for closer-to-home honeymoons accessible by car. Within only a few hours from many people’s homes are big cities, ski resorts, historic landmarks, beaches, and other areas waiting to be explored. Canada and parts of Mexico are also accessible via ground transportation, if you’re determined to honeymoon outside of the country.

To save money on flying, try booking a flight using frequent flier miles. If you don’t have enough on your own, then you can request some from family and friends. Many airline companies allow members with frequent flier miles to transfer miles to another person for a small fee. Many travel websites, such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, offer package deals combining flights and hotel stays. However, the best deals are often not featured on travel sites; instead, look at the prices through the individual companies directly, since the lowest prices may not be advertised elsewhere. Discounts may also be applicable based on your profession, your insurance and credit card, or the holiday you’re celebrating – your honeymoon!
Individuals that work in the travel industry, such as at a hotel, for an airline, etc. may be eligible for certain discounts with companies in their field. The same goes for government employees, who may be able to receive up to 40% off at hotels and airlines. Talk to your employer while you’re still in the planning stages of your honeymoon and find out if individuals in your field get special offers on travel. Also inquire if your particular company has any deals or special rates worked out with specific travel companies (if you work for a large business, then your company may have negotiated special rates with a hotel or airline with whom they frequently do business).
If that doesn’t work, members of organizations such as AAA or individuals with a particular credit card may get special rates when traveling. You can search for special deals online, or you can speak to a representative of the hotel or airline directly and inquire as to if you are eligible for any special rates being offered at the moment. These types of rates will not be advertised on travel websites, but doing the research yourself could end up saving you a great deal of money.
         Above all else, call your hotel or airline in advance and tell them that you’re going on your honeymoon! Many companies will upgrade your seat on a plane or your hotel room based on availability if they are aware that you’re on your honeymoon. Even without the availability of an upgrade, advertising that you’re on your honeymoon may garner you extra attention, faster service, or free goodies while on vacation.

Of course you need a means of travel and a place to sleep, but you also need to eat! In areas with high tourism, restaurants near hotels frequently jack up prices on food in order to make money off of tourists unfamiliar with the area. Therefore, one’s budget for food while away may quickly disappear. The easy way to solve this problem is to stay at an all-inclusive resort. However, if one opts not to do this, then there are many ways of eating great, inexpensive food while on vacation. Before leaving, or if you have internet in your hotel, check out sites like Urbanspoon or Tripadvisor, both of which have international reviews available for restaurants. Instead of dining at a hotel restaurant, eat like a local! Visit restaurants that are highly rated online, but not advertised in tourist-heavy areas. These restaurants are very likely to be less expensive and more authentic. A quick tip from my own experience: if the restaurant is full of what are clearly locals, then it’s probably delicious and super authentic. Eating at local restaurants also means that menu items are made from local ingredients and inspired by recipes from that culture. Restaurants based in the USA but featured throughout the world, like the Hard Rock Café, charge much more for food and drinks than local eateries.
When looking for a place to eat, beware of asking a concierge or front desk person at the hotel for help finding a restaurant. Hotel staff frequently receive kick-backs, or rewards, from restaurants and tourism companies for referring guests to these businesses. Online sources, like the ones listed before, are unbiased and updated by real visitors without an agenda or anything to gain from reviewing.

Food spending can often get out-of-hand when there are unnecessary purchases and fees incurred. Fees can include delivery/tray charges for room service, corkage fees for bringing your own wine out to dinner, or tipping on top of a bill that already has the tip included. For room service, which is often the same food served in the hotel restaurant but twice the price, see if you can make your way aaaaaall the way downstairs and get the food as take-away. This will save you delivery fees and the extra cost of room service food versus food in the restaurant.
If you plan on having wine at dinner in a restaurant, consider if you are going to be able to finish an entire bottle. If you plan on it, then look at wine lists for the restaurant online, since buying your own wine and incurring a corkage fee in the restaurant might cost more than ordering a bottle there.
Fees regarding tipping differ from country to country, as tipping standards change depending on the culture. In the United States, it is customary to tip 20% of the bill (pre-tax) in a restaurant since servers are paid much less than minimum wage. In Australia, however, the minimum wage is $15.51/hour, which makes tipping not only unnecessary but also unexpected. In France, there is a service charge of 15% automatically added to your bill, so any tip you leave in addition is extra. 

The budget you normally have for food when at home does not translate well when on vacation, unless at home you eat out at a restaurant for every meal. Instead of cooking yourself and saving $30 a meal, you’re going to restaurants to eat. A quick way to save some cash is if you prefer smaller breakfasts, such as cereal, fresh fruit, or a muffin, is to purchase breakfast food from a local grocery mart instead of from the hotel. Normally, a light breakfast may only be available if the entire breakfast buffet is purchased, or fruit delivered to the room will be much more expensive than if prepared by the guest rather than staff. You can ask to have your mini fridge emptied if you don’t plan on having anything from the fridge (again, it’s so expensive you might as well buy that soda or candy bar from a local store), and then fill the fridge with milk, bread, jam, fruit, or anything else you like to have for breakfast.

When shopping for souvenirs, be sure that you’re shopping wisely. Many souvenir shops in tourist-heavy areas will carry the same products, and based on location, foot traffic, and other factors, prices will vary from store to store. If you have the opportunity, shop around before making purchases for yourself or friends and family back home. Even though the items between shops may only differ by a couple of dollars, these differences can add up quickly when buying multiple gifts. The same advice goes for activities or tourist attractions; many times the companies that advertise the most, or the companies with information featured in the hotel lobby, will charge more for an activity than others. Check out Tripadvisor to find out which companies exist, charge the least amount, and have the best records of safety and enjoyment.

Spending smart carries over to how you handle your money. Although couples that honeymoon domestically won’t have this problem, using your money internationally will incur many extra fees if not used appropriately. Using a credit card to make purchases or to pay for hotel charges may make you vulnerable to additional charges made by the location of purchase, and will also result in an international transaction fee from your bank. If you withdraw cash from an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank back home, then you’ll receive both a fee from the ATM that you’re using and your bank. To avoid these problems, simply find out what international affiliates or sister banks that your bank has abroad and use their ATMs. For example, Bank of America customers can use WesPac ATMs worldwide, and are able to check their balance for free and withdraw international currency without receiving any extra charges.

Two great ways of saving money can be accomplished before you even leave for your honeymoon. If you’re waffling on where to go, look at conversion rates. The GBP and Euro are much stronger than the USD, and so couples will be paying more for hotels and food in countries that use either of these currencies than in Mexico or Fiji, where the exchange rate heavily favors the USD. Another awesome way of saving money on a honeymoon is registering for activities for your vacation. Many sites offer honeymoon registries, in which you can register, like you would at Target or Pottery Barn, for hotels, activities, shopping, transport, and food. Guests can then purchase items off of your registry, so that you can enjoy your honeymoon without spending a penny.

Bottom Line: No matter how budgeted your honeymoon, the important thing is that you’re having some well-deserved time to relax with your new spouse. Unless you have money to burn, literally, then it couldn’t hurt to save some money during your vacation. Shop around for prices, do your research ahead of time, and spend wisely and you should end up returning from your trip with a good amount of extra money to begin your married life.

Special thanks to my husband, Brandon Morris, for his help on putting together this blog and getting us around our honeymoon on a budget. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Celebrity Weddings

God bless you if you don’t know this already, but today (August 20, 2011) is Kim Kardashian’s wedding day. Kim Kardashian is a reality star phenomenon, popular for her television show Keeping Up with the Kardashians and her role as a socialite and fashionista. Today, she is getting married to NBA power forward Kris Humphries of the New Jersey Nets. I have never met Kim Kardashian, nor any other celebrity, but I, like many Americans, have followed the wedding plans for this celebrity wedding for months.

The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton attracted more than 2 million viewers to the live showing of the event on television, and even more to news channels and online pages showing recordings of the marriage. The event was not only a landmark occasion in history, introducing a future queen into the royal family, but was also a real-life example of a fairy tale wedding. Although Kim Kardashian’s wedding will not be broadcasted live, it will be covered in a four-hour special aired in October. So what is it about these weddings that make us tune-in?

“Celebrities are people, just like you and me!” Well, unlike me, they have personal assistants, designer closets, and mansions. Celebrities, although mortal, seem to live in a bubble high above the rest of us. However, the stress of planning a wedding and the nerves that come with being a bride apply to everyone, famous or not. Perhaps some may enjoy watching celebrity weddings because they showcase the humanity in these seemingly super-human beings.

The second theory I have on why we are obsessed with celebrity weddings involves the details and the budget. The estimated cost of William and Kate’s dream wedding was approximately $30 million – in fact, the inside of the church was lined with tall trees to give an outdoor feel to the inside location; this detail alone cost more than $80,000. Unlike us normal folks with budgets, celebrity weddings are so extensive that we get to see what a wedding would be like with no limitations. It’s one thing to see a designer cake featured in a magazine, and it’s an entirely different thing to see Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries cutting into a $20,000 cake (yes, that’s right, $20,000). Maybe the royal princess theme isn’t your style, nor is the Hollywood glamour that is to be featured at the Kardashian wedding, but could you imagine what you would do/would have done if your wedding had no budget?
Image of Kim Kardashian's wedding cake courtesy of E! Online

The final thought that I had in why I have become so enchanted by the Kardashian-Humpries wedding, as well as most other celebrity marriages, is that I would really love to see the behavior displayed in the stressful pre-wedding moments. Although we brides may showcase a huge smile on our wedding day, you can bet your bottom dollar that we had a complete meltdown just a few days before. The television specials, interviews, and paparazzi sightings that follow the celebrity bride will catch every moment of the pre-wedding jitters, and I am just so curious to see how Kim Kardashian handles the inevitable enormous amount of stress.

Bottom Line: Celebrity weddings are one of the most commonly shared guilty pleasures in western culture. Each person that watches these heavily anticipated shows will tune-in for a different reason, and the ratings continue to fuel more and more televised marriages – and that’s just fine with me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue

One of the most popular customs in any religious or civil wedding is the bride carrying items on her wedding day that are old, new, borrowed, or blue. Not only is this tradition well respected because it rhymes (and rhyming is fun), but the meaning behind it also has ties to the family, the couple, and the love surrounding the union.

Old: The ‘old’ item that is carried by the bride signifies the bride’s family, her heritage, and the continuation of her family’s lineage. This particular item that the bride carries shows her connection to her family, and how she will incorporate her own history into her marriage. Old items can include jewelry, a handkerchief, or the wedding dress, if passed down from mother or grandmother.
         Ex. My ‘old’ item was the earrings I wore with my dress, which were the same earrings that my mom wore with her wedding dress in 1985.

New: This item represents the bride’s new life with her husband, and her dreams for the future. The ‘new’ item will be very easy to find since the bride’s dress, wedding ring, shoes, bouquet, or accessories will probably be new.
         Ex. My ‘new’ item was my dress, but it could have also been my shoes, bouquet, head piece, etc.

Borrowed: Borrowing an item from a loved one shows that through past, present, and future, family and friends will be there to lend their support and affection. The ‘borrowed’ item should typically come from a happily married woman that the bride knows, so that luck and love is shared from her successful relationship to the bride's blossoming one. ‘Borrowed’ items can include jewelry or a veil. One important aspect of this particular part of the tradition is that the item must be returned after it’s borrowed or else it’s not… well… borrowed.
         Ex. My ‘borrowed’ item was a necklace from my mom that I wore as a bracelet. My mom has been happily married for 26 years, and I hope that some of the love from her and my dad’s marriage rubs off on my new marriage.

Blue: The ‘blue’ item is symbolic of loyalty, purity, joy and fertility. The ‘blue’ item the bride carries acts as a good luck charm in her upcoming marriage. If blue is one of colors involved in the wedding, then the bride can carry blue flowers, wear blue jewelry, or a blue sash with her dress. However, since many brides will not have the color blue featured in her wedding’s color palette, retailers make up for this by making blue undergarments. Garters frequently feature the color blue, and wedding day underwear can be found in blue. Brides looking for quirkier options can also paint their toenails blue or wear a blue temporary tattoo.
         Ex. My garter was white with a blue ribbon in the middle, which was purchased from Michaels for only $5.

An even older version of the rhyme goes “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a silver sixpence in your shoe”. This addition symbolizes wealth – financially and emotionally. Although it may be hard to get ahold of a silver sixpence, if one can be found, why not take advantage of this addition to the tradition?

Bottom Line: The wedding tradition of “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” is usable by a large number of brides since it’s applicable in both religious and civil weddings. Gathering the different items involves friends and family and incorporates their own histories into the bride’s new marriage. This particular wedding-day custom is fun to put together, and may actually work to bring a little luck to the bride and her groom.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Keeping Your Maiden Name

Many brides find that the dilemma of taking their new husband’s last name is the most difficult decision to make in marriage. As women, we have grown up with one name that represented our family, our heritage, and our history. Now, we are deciding between the name that we’ve gone by since childhood and the name that has been newly introduced by our husbands’ families, history, and traditions. So, the topic of debate is whether to keep our maiden names or to take our husbands' names.

In choosing whether or not to keep my maiden name, I asked a few of my unwed friends for their advice on the matter. I got some mixed answers, but there were a couple of responses given without hesitation in support of taking the man's name, as these ladies had made up their minds long ago. It could be because they don’t like their maiden names, or because they believe in the tradition, but for whatever the reason, to them it is an unquestionable step in the process of getting married.

I, however, was not so easily convinced. The decision to either keep my maiden name or take my new husband’s last name involved much research, advice-gathering, and deep consideration. I found many compelling arguments for both sides, which influenced my decision and eventually allowed me to come to a conclusion.

Statistically, taking the husband’s last name is by far the most popular option. Although keeping one’s maiden name has gained popularity over the past forty years, approximately 80-90% of brides today take their husband’s last name[1].  Other than simply following tradition, brides may choose to take their husbands’ last name because a) they like their husbands’ last name more than their own (wouldn’t you take “Smith” if your maiden name was “Smellie-Butts”?), b) they want to have the same name to avoid confusion once they have children, c) legal and tax reasons, or d) many other personal reasons. There are also very strong reasons for keeping one’s last name, as well.

The least popular option is rarely the celebrated one. Like most things that go against the grain, the idea of keeping one’s maiden name has been met with harsh criticism from many standpoints. Wives who do not take their husbands’ last names are sometimes considered to be radical feminists or disloyal wives, but there are many reasons besides politics that would make a woman keep her maiden name. These include a) if you prefer your own name to your husband’s (Julia Gulia, anyone?), b) if you want to hold on to the link to your family’s history and heritage, or c) if your career or networking is built around your family name (do you think “Ivanka Kushner” shoes would sell as well as her given name? You had to Google what that was, didn’t you?). Career women who have built a reputation around their birth name have a particularly hard time giving up their maiden name due to the career-affiliated implications.

Research shows that women who keep their maiden names after marriage earn significantly more money in their lifetime than new wives who take their husbands’ last names (about $500,000 more). This is because work produced under a maiden name can often not be traced back to a woman after she takes her husband’s name. Therefore, women who do not change their name following marriage are able to keep their careers on track and do not experience setbacks due to the inevitable restructuring of their reputation under a new name. Not surprisingly, the most common age group to take their husbands’ last name is brides under the age of 24, because their careers have most likely not developed to the extent of those that brides 25+ have.

If you are unsure whether or not you want to take your husband’s last name, then you can consider many different options in regards to changing your name. These include:
·      Having a hyphenated name or two last names (ex. Jane Doe-Smith, Jane Doe Smith)
·      Taking his name as a middle name (ex. Jane Smith Doe)
·      Having your husband take your last name, or add your maiden name as a middle name
·      Keeping your maiden name, and giving that name to your child as a middle or hyphenated last name (ex. Junior Doe Smith)

If you decide to keep your maiden name, there is no harm in occasionally using your husband’s last name if it is beneficial to your current situation. If making a reservation at a restaurant under Jane Smith instead of Jane Doe gets you a table, then do it! Many women who keep their maiden name make it a non-issue when it comes to addressing cards, referring to the family as a whole, etc. Demi Moore may have kept her maiden name due to her film career being based on that identity, but her Twitter name is, after all, mrskutcher.

Bottom Line:  Hopefully you’re one of the lucky women who don’t stress over the idea of keeping their maiden names. However, if you are having trouble deciding whether or not to take your husband’s last name, be sure to invest time and deep consideration in to the decision. The deadline you face (your wedding) is not the last chance you have to take your husband’s name – with all the paperwork that needs to be filed, there is no rush. Remember that you are not the only person involved in this big decision – talk to your fiancé about his priorities. Is it important to him that you have his last name? Does he believe that it is your right as his wife and partner to keep your maiden name? Your fiancé’s perspective on the subject might help you make a decision. Don’t feel like you have to conform to any orthodox or feminist ideals, but instead pick the name that best works for you based on your own priorities and feelings. With or without your husband’s last name, you’re still a family.