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Money Diaries: The 20-something trying to pay for a wedding AND save for a house AND pay off student loans

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In today’s latest installment of The Money Diaries, Christine is paying down tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and paying for her upcoming wedding and planning ahead for a down payment on a house.

Read today’s diary and share your #1 tip for Christine in the comments below.

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Day 1

09:00 a.m.: “Breakfast” = Slim Fast shake. I have 2 months till the wedding and I am going to do my best to not gain weight. Losing a few pounds wouldn’t be bad either. I don’t need to loose any, but everyone wants to look best for their wedding day. Working from home today so I don’t think I will have too many temptations to eat out, but how to motivate myself to actually work out is another matter.
12:30 p.m.: $40 for deposit for wedding dress alternations, cash only and will have to remember to bring the rest of the bill when I come for my second fitting ($148 on Sept 8th). Never have cash on me, so it takes a big effort for me to actually remember to get out of the ATM. It semi makes me feel like this not the most legitimate business when they only accept cash.
04:00 p.m.: $138 for wedding favors, Tea Forte for everyone and another thing I can check off of my wedding list. Thank goodness Amazon has free shipping. We will print our own labels so we don’t have to go through an overpriced wedding website. Those places seem to love to gouge you whenever you specifically look for anything for a wedding.
05:00 p.m.: Utilities due ($51.73). My fiancée (MF) and I split the bills, but I usually cover the utilities and electric and we split the cost at later.

Day 2

05:00 p.m.: Yet more yeses on the response cards for the wedding. Is it bad that I want more people to start saying no to coming to the wedding?  I just would like to keep it smaller, but my mother added quite a few guests before the invites went out. I had wanted a 100-120 person wedding, but it might be closer to 150. Thank goodness my parents are taking care of the reception. Still, I need to cover the flowers and décor so I hope I have enough!
08:00 p.m.: MF and I discuss getting a house after the wedding. Frankly, I could live in an apartment for a couple more years and be fine, but he is two years older then me and feels it is time for a house. He does make some good arguments for a house, and supposedly the market is good for buyers. We do decide to live in the apartment for another 1 ½ after marriage so that will give us time to save, and find a good deal.

Day 3

10:00 a.m.: Out running errands, had to do a detour so decided to pick up an iced latte and some more coffee from the roaster. I am not a huge coffee drinker but when I do have some I like have some good beans on hand. ($7.25). I don’t feel bad paying extra for good beans, since I will have this during the week and it will prevent me from grabbing coffee on the way to the office.

Day 4

06:00 p.m.: My turn to pick up dinner and since I have been doing nominally good on the diet it is time for a splurge, so it is off to the golden arches ($9.07).
07:00 p.m.: Grocery shopping for the week ($43.59). We switch off making dinner each night. We are both trying to eat healthier so we don’t eat red meat too often, and I try to sneak in some vegetarian meals into to mix.

Day 5

09:00 a.m.: Still trying to find a pianist for the ceremony, I know this is a bit late to still be looking but my other musician I had booked can’t do it anymore. So I have a dilemma I can pay about $300 for a professional I found online, or keep looking for maybe a cheaper option such as a teacher or college student. Hmmm seems like this is going to be a quality over price debate.
11:45 a.m.: Looking over my budget (MF and I have separate budgets and maybe this will change when we get married) at lunch (leftovers) and looks like I am doing good. I have pretty much all my finances automatic (thanks Ramit) so there really isn’t much for me to do besides check and make sure everything is on track. My IRA, savings and wedding savings went through last week, and the only thing I need to manually do is my student loan payment. I have $13,000 outstanding student loan debt, but otherwise I’m debt free. I’ve already paid down the debt from $24,000 in 4 years and I’ve also paid off my car. I’ve got plenty of leeway in my budget, so I do a double payment on my student loan payment this month ($327.04).

Day 6

11:30 a.m.: Had an early meeting and now I am starving. Leftovers are just not going to cut it. I feel a bit guilty about buying lunch but the office cafeteria really isn’t too pricey. $3.50 for a chicken sandwich and veggies. Most days I bring leftovers, but lately I have been feeling kinda isolated because I then tend to eat at my desk. I think that I am going to start scheduling some more time and budget to eating out, so I get more time with my coworkers.

Day 7

10:00 a.m.: My friends and I want to start a long distance book club using webcams but my laptop webcam is not functional so I will have to get one for my desktop. CNET gives plenty of highly rated choices, but do I really need true HD for google chat?  Decide to go with a decent webcam on the lower price range end and also pick up a new mouse because mine has been really skippy lately ($43.05).
01:00 p.m.: Checked the checking account because it’s pay day ($1506 on 15th and 30th). I usually only check in on my account to make sure everything is running ok. Back when I first got out of college, I used to have worry about the amount in my account and if it was getting too low, but nowadays with my budget and automated withdrawals, I can keep a good eye on it without checking in all the time.
05:00 p.m.: Coworkers going away party at the local bar. Good networking opportunity plus a lot of former coworkers were around. It is always nice to see some of the guys who I used to work with. Just $4.29 for a beer + tip, I do like hitting the bars but I am just at a place where paying close to $5 for one beer seems a bit ridiculous.

In Sum

Total Credit: $667.52
Total Debit: $1506

I actually feel I did good this week. One of my trouble spots is impulse online shopping, and being an Amazon prime member doesn’t help be with this problem. I probably didn’t need a new mouse; the old one still works but it is getting to a point where it is getting difficult to use.

I am still pretty nervous about having too large of wedding, the food will cost more, and I don’t know if I have enough decorations. MF keeps on reminding me to look at the big picture, and as long as all our family and friends have a great time that is all that matters. I am at a point savings and budget wise that I am flexible if any sort of emergency comes up, but I know that if MF and I are going to be getting a house in a year or so I have to step it up so we can put a good chunk down on a down payment.

* * *

The Money Diaries series is based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries. We collect stories from real people about their spending habits over seven days, anonymize them, and post them here. To be featured anonymously in a future Money Diary, click here.

What would you do if you were in Christine’s shoes?

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  1. It’s hard to make many firm judgments here. Maybe a fancy wedding with 150 guests and a pianist is this woman’s lifelong dream and so for her it’s worth it to delay paying off those student loans. Maybe her and her fiancé are committed to living in the same place and buying enough house to last them more than a decade, and they relish the joys of homeownership. But, there’s very little in here about how she feels about these things. If she really values these things, then spending her money on them does fit in with Ramit’s ideas on conscious spending.

    However, people often spend on things they feel obligated or expected to do without even thinking about it. I can’t tell which position she’s in.

    The only suggestion I’d have is to take a look at the interest rate on those student loans and ask herself how probable it is that the return on her IRA is going to be greater than the interest accumulating on those loans. She might do better by paying the student loans off first.

    Her food choices raised my eyebrows, but this is a Money Diary, not a Food Diary.

  2. Christine seems to be doing well, especially paying off her car and a good chunk of her loans. The one thing that caught my attention were the (so far) mini disagreements with her fiance about financial things.
    -He wants a house sooner than she does.
    -He’s OK with the bigger wedding when she’s worried.

    Disagreements are fine, but I wonder if these little things are part of an overall different perspective on money that could be an issue for them going forward.
    (Or I’m overreacting and everything is fine.)

  3. Not much to quibble with here, if $40 for a new webcam and mouse is her big splurge for the week that’s not bad. The only thing I would watch is getting distracted from their big goal(s). I would sit down with the fiancee and figure out the priority of 1) buying a house or 2) paying off student loan and put a plan in place to accomplish one so both don’t get derailed by inaction. (It sounds like the wedding is already pretty well decided, so not much they can change now.)

  4. About socializing with co-workers: Ramit had a post about inviting people over for dinner.

    To cut spending at restaurants, some tips I’ve heard: pre-eat, and order and appetizer; share an entree; take leftovers home; avoid ordering drinks.

  5. I had a big wedding last year and a word to the bride that might make her feel a little better about the guest list: Not everyone who RSVP’s will show up! Pay the caterer the final RSVP number, but the day before you make your final deposit I would make a few phone calls, especially to out-of-towners, to ensure that they have made travel arrangements and are 100% going. In my case, 10 people out of 120 were no-shows, 5 had legitimate reasons, but at $75/plate, I was a little peeved that 5 of the no-shows didn’t have the courtesy to tell me they weren’t coming.

    Also, Costco sells BEAUTIFUL prearranged flower arrangements – I ordered the rose and calla lilly package online and was so pleased with how it turned out, and they were much more affordable than the local florist. All you have to purchase are the vases.

    Enjoy your wedding and keep the focus on getting debt free!

  6. End the Amazon prime membership. It doesn’t cost much, like she said, it makes it much easier to go for impulsive buys. I tried it for one year, and I end up buying several times as much as I usually do. Without prime, I tend to let things sit in my checkout until I crossed the minimum free shipping amount. The reason for that wasn’t to save the 4$ shipping (which is just latte), but because after a few days, I’d realize that most things I wanted I actually didn’t really want.

    Besides that, there is information missing that would make this more complete. Which city / state does she live in? Buying a house in San Francisco is VERY different from buying a house in Dallas. Does their credit score work in their favor? If not, what is affecting it the most – student loans?

    Finally, 3000$ salary (after tax) / month is kind of low. Maybe look into negotiating a raise at work …

    • Agreed on the Prime! I let it lapse because I got annoyed with Amazon for some reason, and found it saved me hundreds of dollars a year not to have it. Partly it’s the checkout issue (after things sit for a while, half the time I don’t want them), but it also made me look for cheaper used book options, even if they required payment for shipping. Often a lot less expensive than the new book sent via Prime.

  7. Where does she live? If close to $5 for a beer seems ridiculous, she must not live in a major city – I was thinking 4.29 + tip for a beer seemed like quite the bargain…

  8. Student Loans would be the last of my worries. Yeah, it’s nice to pay them off, but their percentage rates are typically so low that it doesn’t make THAT big of a difference if you pay them off sooner rather than later. Instead of racing to pay those down maybe put that extra money aside for a house.

    You’ll definitely have enough flowers and decor. No one but the bride really cares about that stuff anyway. So long as she’s happy, everyone else will be too!

  9. I almost quit reading after ”We are both trying to eat healthier so we don’t eat red meat too often”

    • Agree on the red meat and I almost quit after reading she’s using SlimFast to maintain/lose weight! Oh well, I didn’t learn about or employ proper eating habits until after my wedding either. Lots of stress during that time.