Thursday, June 30, 2016

{Life on a Budget} San Francisco City Hall Wedding

We did it!
When Neal and I got engaged in November, we immediately knew we wanted something small and personal for our wedding.  For one, we were on a tight budget.  More importantly, we have been really trying to keep our focus on what is most important to us - our relationship, our little Ethan, and family.  All of the frills that come with typical weddings do not match either our budget or our values, so why bother with them?

At first we were thinking a small affair in a family member's backyard would be perfect.  We would buy the food ourselves, keep it to around 50 people, have friends help out where we could, etc. As I started adding everything up, even doing our simple little backyard barbecue wedding was getting close to $8,000.  We're in a stage of our life where we're trying to pay off debt, not add to it! And we just kept thinking, "Is this worth it?  What is most important to us about this wedding?"

What we decided meant the most to us was being together and making our family official.  With that, we decided to do a City Hall wedding in San Francisco with just the three of us - Neal, Ethan, and me (and our photographer, of course!).  Once everything was planned and sorted out, the wedding total came to $4,775.  That is including my engagement ring!

Our lovely little family.

Below I've listed out every single expense associated with our wedding, just in case anyone was curious.  I've also included lots of pics, just for fun! Our wedding could not have turned out more perfectly than it did.  I am so, so grateful for this life I'm living, and getting to share it with my two favorite boys.

Dancing while E enjoys his wedding cupcake.

Wedding Budget

  • Marriage License - $80
  • City Hall fee - $130
  • Neal's pants & vest - $125 (Nordstrom on sale)
  • Neal's tie - $150 (Nordstrom not on sale, lol)
  • Sara's dress - $199 (J. Crew on ebay! New with tags!)
  • Sara's sweater - $300 (BHLDN - hardly wore, hopefully I can wear it again at some point!)
  • Sara's tailoring - $120
  • Bracelet and earrings - $180 (Kate Spade from Nordstrom)
  • Hair - $40 (Rage Hair Salon, for a wash, dry, and curl)
  • Make Up - $85 (Benefit Cosmetics shop)
  • Cupcakes - $14 (Icing on the Cake, Los Gatos)
  • Ethan's vest, shirt, and socks - $45 (Gap Kids for the shirt and socks, Gymboree for the vest)
  • Photographer - $1,500 (Renee Marie Photography)
  • Engagement Ring - $1,100 (
  • Sara's Wedding Band - $100 (Kay's)
  • Neal's Wedding Band - $600 (Stone's and Gold Etsy shop)
  • Necklace for Ethan's stuffed cat - $7 (Target)
We added fun little touches to our wedding such as "cutting the cake" (sharing a cupcake) and having our first dance (to You Got It by Roy Orbison, played on Neal's phone!) in a hallway at City Hall.  Anything not listed above, such as my shoes, Neal's shirt, etc., were things we already owned. The shoes I wore were special to me, as I wore them as a bridesmaid for my dear friend Dawn's wedding only a couple years earlier.  I did my nails myself at home, and we skipped flowers to save money.  

This was E's favorite part of the wedding, natch.

Our first dance.
Could we have cut back and done the wedding even more cheaply? Of course! But part of the fun was having many of the elements of a big wedding (fancy dress! cake!) without going overboard.  My favorite part of the whole wedding was that our little family was all together, and Ethan was involved in every aspect of the ceremony and celebration afterwards.  He is so important to us, and we wanted him to have as big a part in our marriage as we had ourselves.

E held Meow Meow's paw while we held hands during the ceremony.

Giving his soon-to-be baby sister some love!

A walk wouldn't be complete without an Ethan swing.

Family kisses.

Can you believe this gorgeous building?! 

We clean up pretty nicely, if I do say so myself. ;)

Can you tell I'm a little excited to be his wife?

My favorite pic of Neal and me from the wedding.

Our rings.

Helping me down a grand staircase in City Hall.

Leaving City Hall after the ceremony.

All photos above are credited to Renee Marie Photography, who captured this special day in our lives for us, and acted as our witness at the wedding.  We are so grateful!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

{Life on a Budget} Day Trippin' - Point Lobos

Life can get pretty busy sometimes. Since this past week I've been on vacation, I decided to tackle a list of to-dos that have been lingering for forever. I cleaned out more of the house, organized the garage, we dropped off about fifteen bags worth of items at Goodwill, I cleaned out and organized the two hall closets, and I re-caulked the bathtub.  While it felt amazing to get so much accomplished, I definitely wasn't feeling very relaxed.  Neal was feeling similarly drained - he hadn't been on vacation, and was feeling just kinda "blah" and in need of a little break.  Since he always magically knows just what to do, he surprised me on Wednesday by telling me he had taken that coming Friday off of work, and that we were going on an adventure!

On Friday we dropped off E at school together, and then headed south to Santa Cruz.  We stopped at a little cafe for a delish breakfast ($30 total, including tip) that included homemade croissants, avocado, eggs, and bacon. So insanely good!  We then continued to head south some more until we reached Point Lobos.  We spent the next few hours hiking the entire outer rim of the park, taking in the incredible weather, clear skies, and the sound of waves crashing onto the shore.  It was such a wonderful time, and we got to just enjoy the nature surrounding us and each other's company, which obviously cost us nothing.

While the cost of living in the Bay Area is nothing short of absurdly astronomical, I will say that we at least have a ton of great things to do nearby that cost little or nothing.  For a mere $35 (I added $5 in for gas), we got to spend a sweet day together and got our hike on, one of Neal and my's favorite things to do.

View from our hike.

God bless Neal for putting up with my endless selfie requests!

{Year of Change} February Edition

Last month I began my "Year of Change," where I decided to tackle some of those big life "wants" that I never actually did anything about.  In January, I started by cleaning out and decluttering my home.  It went so super well, and I feel really good about all that I did.  To date, I've donated about 500 items to Goodwill, and thrown away about 25 items that are not able to be donated (no one wants a nasty old stained pillow, you know?).

For February, I aimed to give up drinking diet soda.  So far, not so good.  I started out the month very focused, aiming to cut back little by little.  I stuck to it for about five days, and then it just all went to hell.  At this point, February 20th, I'm no better off than the beginning of the month.  That being said, I am no quitter! I just read an article about Whole30 (which, spoiler alert, is my March goal) and in the article it said something that really struck me.  To paraphrase, the author wrote about how lots of things in life are hard, and giving up bad-for-you-food is NOT one of them.  Living a life in poverty is hard. Having a chronic illness is hard. Giving up diet soda is NOT! So, even though I only have nine days left in the month, I am still committed to giving up diet soda by the 29th.

In case you are curious about whether or not I've stuck to my previous month's goals, here is a quick update.

For decluttering, I mentioned above I have continued to do really well.  It felt so incredibly good to clear out so many useless items from my home. I'm still working on not buying so many clothes, but other than that I think I did really well on not bringing too much stuff back in to the house.  Neal and I had a really wonderful, cozy Valentine's Day without buying each other gifts, except Neal did get me a great card.  I decorated the house in post-its that each had a reason I loved him on them.  We then went out for a super not-fancy but none-the-less perfect dinner for Chinese food down the street from our house.

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up was an inspiring and refreshing read to help me this month.  I love Marie Kondo's first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and this is a follow up.  It helped me prioritize and evaluate literally hundreds of items that I had not had the discipline or courage to discard previously.

I have continued to be better with sugar, too.  I did have one two donuts this past month, but that's okay! I rarely eat donuts and I love them, so I didn't feel too bad indulging.  Other than that I haven't eaten any sweets that I can remember around the house, and Neal and I don't ever order dessert when we go out.

Outside the neighborhood donut shop with my little love. :)

March is going to be a really big month for the Year of Change, so stay tuned for lots more updates!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

{Year of Change} January Edition - Decluttering & De-sugaring

For so many years, I have repeated "wants" for my life.

I want to be thinner.
I want to be in shape.
I want to be healthier.
I want to eat better.
I want to live more simply.
I want to get rid of excess.

I want, I want, I want.  And from all of those "wants," I accomplished nothing.  Year after year, I just "wanted" things, without taking any actual steps to becoming the person I wanted to be.  

The past year has been enormous for me in regards to helping me realize that I can do so much more than I previously thought.  I met Neal in April of 2015, and he has been the most inspiring and supportive partner imaginable.  Without pressuring or expecting, he has motivated me to do things I couldn't have dreamed of doing before.  His motivation simply comes in the form of believing in me, and wanting me to accomplish the things I say I want to do.  In our nine months together, I have hiked an almost 6,000 foot mountain, driven hundreds of miles across the country, and started lifting weights heavier than my entire body weight.  I am so different than I was nine months ago, but have never felt more myself.  Instead of just wanting things, I've been really going after them - and actually getting them.

Neal and me on top of Angel's Landing, elevation 5,790 feet. 

With all that being said, I felt this year was the perfect time to tackle some of the other persistent wants that have plagued my thoughts for decades.  Each month this year, I'll be working on accomplishing my goals in a series of challenges.  These challenges won't necessarily end at the end of the month, but will help me get motivated and make serious lifestyle changes.

For January, I had two goals.  One was to get rid of excess, and the other was to cut out eating so many sweets.

My parents always laugh at me because to them, I seem like a minimalist.  I'm definitely not, but I do love to clean things out and get rid of things I'm not using.  I despise clutter and try to keep my home in order.  Since having Ethan I've relaxed a bit, since honestly with a toddler things aren't always going to stay the cleanest.  I still work hard to clean every day and do a big clean of the entire house every week.  With all of that in mind, I still feel that I could get rid of more.  I hate the idea of having things just lying around, not being used, taking up space.  Last year, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, and it was a huge inspiration.  The idea of only being surrounded by things you truly love and that spark joy in your heart spoke to me.  Since then, I've been trying to get rid of more and more, so that all that is left are the basic items that make me smile.  My wardrobe has been downsized to about 1/3 of what it previously was.  Over 50 garbage bags worth of "stuff" was donated to Goodwill. (You read that right, FIFTY).  And yet, I still feel I could do better.  So I decided to try the 2016 in 2016 challenge, where I aim to get rid of 2016 things this year.  In all honesty, I'm not sure I'll be able to do it.  Not because of a lack of trying, but because I'm just not sure I have that much stuff to get rid of, especially in light of my big clean out last year.  This month alone, I have gotten rid of about 150 items, so we'll see.  I'll keep you updated!

A sampling of the crap I got rid of so far.  That diaper box is full of stuff, and since taking this pic, I've added about 30 or so items to the pile.

On to the next challenge. Neal and I both have our vices - his is beer and mine is sugar.  The second challenge we embarked on was to cut both out in January.  I don't really drink (it's a very rare occurrence, like maybe once or twice a year), and Neal could care less about sweets.  We're in it together, though, so Neal gave up sweets and I gave up drinking, too.  I have to say this one went better than expected!  I didn't miss candy and desserts nearly as much as I thought I would.  The idea of giving up sweets seemed so overwhelming to me, but guess what - now I don't even crave them one bit.  I will always have a wicked sweet tooth, but from now on I think I'll leave desserts to special occasions only.  That way my body will look and feel better, and those desserts will taste that much better when I do indulge.  I have no plans to eat any sweets the next few months, either.  This is one habit I'm keeping! (Oh, and Neal has loved giving up beer. He said he's been sleeping better and feeling better than he has in a long time. He's keeping this lifestyle change, too!)

Cake, it was good while it lasted. I will not miss you, or the fat you added to my body!

I'm very hopeful that this year will bring about a new version of myself, the truest version yet.  I can't wait to look back on this post a year from now and see the changes!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

{Life on a Budget} Our Budget Nitty-Gritty

Last week I mentioned that Neal and I had decided to really dig into our budget and cut whatever we could.  We've got ambitious savings goals and are dedicated to reaching them.  I know that whenever I read a blog about living on a budget, I hate it when they don't share the actual details. I get why - your finances are very personal and sharing them makes you vulnerable to a lot of questioning and judgment.  That being said, I feel proud of the budget that we developed, and hopefully it can answer questions about how we're making things work and serve as potential inspiration for people who think they can't do it on what they make.

Before I share the actual numbers, please know that this is what works for our family.  I would never judge anyone for keeping things in their budget or taking other things away - we are all unique in our needs and wants and we differ in what we feel is necessary for quality living.  There are definitely line items in our budget that I know people will deem as "frivolous," and I'm okay with that.  We can achieve our goals with this plan, so we kept some things in.  We are also fully aware that once we get into the full swing of living on this budget, we may need to make adjustments.  Sometimes ideas seem so feasible on paper, but turn into disasters when they are applied to the messy, fabulous ride of "real life."

So, with all of that in mind, here is our actual budget.

Rent: $2600
Groceries: $500 - cash
Insurance: $250
Auto loans: $500
Internet: $75
Cell phones: $125
Gas: $150
Utilities: $250
Clothes: $50 – receipt jar
Entertainment/going out: $100 - cash
Animals: $100*
Miscellaneous: $325* (Haircut, Car Registration)
 Gym: $300
Gifts: $40*
Medical: $50
Student Loans: $545
Ethan: $50*

Netflix/Prime: $15

Total:  $6,025
Our total net income:  $9, 400
Monthly savings: $3,375

Our budget is based on a monthly schedule.  Bolded items are things we really can't do much about, and starred items we have set up savings accounts for.  

I thought I would touch on a few items I know would likely cause raised eyebrows, too.  Sometimes we'll look at others' budgets and gasp, but really, for where they live, it's totally normal. Let's take the mystery out of a few of our line items:

Rent - For where we live, this is a pretty good deal.  We have a two-bedroom duplex with a backyard and a garage.  I know some people in our area who have cheaper rent, but just to give you an idea, the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in a complex is $2700 - $3000 a month.  We are just not willing to commute 45 minutes a day to get something cheaper.  It takes away too much from our quality of life.

Gym - This one, I freely admit, is a luxury.  Neal and I love our gym and are just not willing to cut it out of our budget.  We go three - four times a week every single week.  It is a specific type of gym for the workouts we do (Powerlifting), and other, cheaper gyms just do not have the equipment we need.  Plus, the culture at our gym is amazing and we get a lot of coaching.  When you lift weights as heavy as Neal does (he's up to 455 pounds on his deadlift), you want to make sure you have the right equipment and can ask for help or guidance if you need it.  We're keeping this one, expensive or not.  

Miscellaneous - This category is pretty big, but it encompasses a lot.  I get my hair cut about four times a year, and as we ladies know, that costs a bit.  We put aside for our yearly car registration renewals, and other things like that.  As a teacher, I also have things that come up, like needing to bring in treats for the staff on my assigned day, or paying social committee dues.  This section is really the catch-all for random things like that.

Netflix/Prime - Another luxury, I know.  We gave up cable months ago and haven't missed it one bit, but we love our Netflix.  We watch it all the time - who else was hooked on Making a Murderer?! Anyway, for only $15 for the two of them, these were luxuries we use so often we felt they were worth keeping.

Animals - Juneau doesn't cost this much a month, but we thought we'd put in some extra just in case anything came up with her.  Vets can be expensive!

That's most of everything so far.  I can't wait to share more posts on ways we're having fun within our budget and how we're growing as a family learning to love living on less!

Monday, January 18, 2016

{Life on a Budget} Saving for Our Dream Life

Neal and I had a goal of buying a house in five years. Then we bumped it up to ten years since we also want to have more kids.  Even though we had expanded our timeline, we still liked to drive around neighborhoods and look at open houses, seeing what we could get for what price in what area.

Last weekend we were driving around and stopped by an open house on a whim. It turned out to be our dream house, right there in front of us.  Every single aspect was perfect.  The layout, the style, the fact that is was a fixer upper and we could make it into what we wanted.  Rooms for future babies and space for visiting parents.  A backyard to have barbecues in and watch the kids and Juneau run around.  A family room that was perfect for holidays and future sleepovers.  We were smitten.

The price, for our area, was actually really good.  It was $788,000.  I know for most areas of the country that is insane for a three bedroom fixer upper, but for the Bay Area, that is amazing.  The problem is, Neal and I don't have anything. We're starting at zero, or actually less than zero, since we're still paying off debt Neal got in his divorce.

We felt the sting of disappointment, and it hurt like a mother.  We both regret financial decisions we've made in the past, and are working hard to fix them.  Seeing this dream house that would have been within reach but wasn't was the exact kick in the pants we needed to refocus on our goals and get serious.

Months ago, we had hashed out a budget for when we finally move in together in April and eventually get married.  We had tightened things up, but were definitely letting ourselves be pretty comfortable. That budget was to accomplish getting a house and having another baby in five - ten years.  That is hardly getting real and trying to accomplish our dreams.

One thing I love about Neal, among many, is that he's a dreamer, like me.  And he's also a planner, like me.  When you put those two things together, you can really be unstoppable.  Neal and I decided that we are going to commit to saving $100,000 in twenty-six months, and we're going to get a house at the end of that time frame.  It means sacrifice, but we're dedicated.  It means no more clothes shopping, going out to dinner, and getting each other gifts.  It means stretching that grocery budget past what we'd probably like (hello, Kraft mac and cheese!).  Those things aren't hard to give up, though, if doing those things will get us to where we want so quickly.

I'll be posting our actual budget and expenses soon, and lots of updates on our progress.  This will be an adventure, for sure, but there's no one I'd rather do this with than Neal.  I'm excited and a little nervous!

Mostly excited. :)

Where all of the budget magic happens.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

{Color Crush} Pale Pink & Peach

It all started around Valentine's Day, when I was looking for a little something pink to wear.  So many shops had the sweetest pale pink items. Since I am a typical girl, and was jonesing on the Vday vibe, I of course loved them all.  Now, with Spring in the air, there are lots of new items in pretty pastel hues.  While the colors are pretty, I'm not much of a pastel person in general.  I do, however, love pale orange and peach colors, and happily for me, they seem to be pretty popular this season.

In keeping with current love of all things pale pink and peach, here is the color crush collection for February.

Long Time No See!

So, it's definitely been awhile!  To say things have changed in the past year and half would be a complete understatement.  Since my last post, I've gotten divorced, moved out on my own, gone back to work full time, and met the guy of my dreams. Yeah - a little different than before!  It has been one crazy, amazing, insane, fabulous ride.

I wanted to start updating the blog again for a few reasons, and hopefully these new themes will speak to some folks out there who might enjoy reading along with our family's new adventures.

It's great to be back guys!