Financial Wellness: Make Smart Choices

February 13, 2017

Recently I’ve been talking a lot about wellness, especially personal wellness. However, something that I haven’t mentioned recently–even though I’ve been thinking about it a lot–is money and financial wellness.

Without financial wellness, and especially financial stability, it is impossible to achieve overall balance and wellness in our lives. I have always been a person who thinks carefully about money–and as a mother to two little ones, I especially do so now. Sure, I’ve made a few rash spending decisions in my lifetime; but overall, I am responsible and thoughtful when it comes to money.

If you are interested in some ideas for saving, check out one of my oldest and most popular posts–How I Saved $10,000 in Six Months. Whenever I start to stress about money or “get off track” I return to that post and I’m reminded of some great ways to save.

I also want to introduce which offers a financial tool that empowers people to use credit cards the right way. I am a strong believer in using credit cards–the right way. Credit cards should not be abused. They are not “free cash.” Getting into the habit of using cards to spend money that you don’t have is dangerous, and a quick road to financial disaster. However, using cards intelligently and finding cards that make your life easier–and even offer benefits and rewards–is a fantastic idea.

For me, as a busy mom, I need a credit card that I can trust and rely on. I almost always forget to carry cash and depending on the time of month, there are certainly days when my checking account will not cover necessary purchases. At those times, it’s critical that I have a credit card that I can depend on.

My favorite card, and the one that I’ve been using the longest, is my Discover card. The Discover customer service team is top notch. Additionally, I love the benefits and rewards programs that my card offers–like cash back bonuses, 0% balance transfers (so clutch when you’re paying down debt!), discounted event tickets, and more.

If you’re in the market for a new card for yourself, I definitely recommend checking out the CardMatch tool. CardMatch securely matches you with offers in less than 60 seconds without impacting your credit score in any way. //

The tool is quick, easy to use, and secure. //

Whether you’re a busy parent, a recent college grad, or a senior ready to retire–it doesn’t matter–financial stability is a necessity in order to be your best self. Making smart choices when it comes to spending, saving, and credit cards is always a good idea.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


Simplicity // motherhood & finances

June 12, 2014

glass flowers

This summer will mark two years since I resigned from my last “job.” At the time, I couldn’t imagine what “being home” would look like. I started working when I was fifteen, and from that time until my maternity leave, I had never been without a job. I worked… and worked… and worked. In my nearly twenty-year work history, I never knew what unemployment felt like.

In my mid-twenties, I got serious about paying off the debt that I had accumulated in college. After paying off that debt, (not including my student loans), I got serious about saving. I did well—at one point, saving up to $10,000 in six months.

I have a fickle relationship with money. I like having it, (who doesn’t?!), but I’ve never had a desire to be wealthy. I enjoy being able to afford the things that I need. I like eating out at nice places occasionally. I love to experience new things and do a bit of traveling. Gratefully, I have always been able to do all of these things. I have a healthy relationship with money. I’ve worked hard in my lifetime and I’ve never faced serious financial struggles.

I attribute this to a simple, yet incredibly valuable, lesson that I learned at a young age: DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN YOU MAKE. It really is that simple. If you live within your means, you will never run into financial difficulties. Of course, the realities of life are more complex than this, but no matter how complex things get—that simple truth remains.

Keep a budget. Monitor what you spend. If at any point what you spend becomes greater than what you bring in, make adjustments.

I believe that people run into financial difficulties because they are not paying attention. Most people know what their salary is; but it’s alarming how many people have no idea how much money they spend in a given week, month, or year. When you’re not paying attention, it’s so easy for things to quickly spiral out of control.

When I became a stay-at-home mom, my family changed to a single-income household. For the first time in my (adult) life, I was mostly financially dependent on someone other than myself. It was scary. I had to make some major lifestyle adjustments. When I was working, I thought nothing of eating lunch out five days a week, planning epic vacations twice a year, and upgrading my technology regularly. Today, any such expenditures have to be carefully thought out. We don’t have much disposable income.

That said, we still live comfortably—this is because we live within our means. We know what we can afford to spend and we stay within those bounds. Monitoring our spending with budgeting tools is one of the most helpful ways to do this. (The Internet makes this so easy!) For us, it is healthy and humbling to know what money comes into our home, and what money goes out.

I’m sure that this post will seem trite and obvious to some, but I hope that someone will benefit from this simple advice. If you’re not keeping a budget, give it a try. Knowledge is power and the more that you know about your spending habits, the more power you have to create a healthy financial situation in your own life.

I will close this post by letting you in on a little “money secret” that I’ve been practicing since 2006. I believe in the power of mantras. I believe that we all move in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. At least once a week, and especially when I feel my financial belt getting a bit too tight, I repeat this mantra to myself, “Money is coming at me from all directions. I am surrounded by wealth and abundance.”

Once again, this might sound a little silly and “hocus pocus,” but I promise you that it has worked wonders for me. When things are tight, repeat that mantra to yourself as many times as feels comfortable. Don’t simply say it, but believe it.

We live in a society of endless opportunity. And more, most of us have no idea what it really means to “go without.” We are blessed because in a world where there are so many who do go without, we truly are surrounded by wealth, abundance, and opportunity. I encourage you to give this little mantra a try and just watch what happens. In my own life, I have witnessed it create miracles.

Wishing you light, love, and prosperity!

At SunTrust Bank their purpose is lighting the way to financial well being. They help you get organized, make a plan, and stay on track so you can get and stay in control of your finances. When you are confident about your money, you can save for your goals and splurge knowingly on what matters most to you.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The opinions and text are all mine.

Some people are so poor.

May 8, 2012 / money

artist unknown

Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

Wedding Planning on a Budget

February 27, 2012 | budget wedding

To those of us who have planned or are planning a wedding, it sounds silly to even put the words “Wedding” and “Budget” together, doesn’t it? The average wedding in the United States costs about $26,000. This shocked me, but as I started planning my own wedding, I realized that planning a $25,000+ wedding is easy! Still, as I began planning our wedding last Spring, I was determined to cut that number in half—at least. I started planning with a $10,000 budget in mind which has been… wobbly… at times. But with some poking, prodding, and a little begging… we should come in right around our target. 😉

Here are my tips for wedding planning on a budget.

1. Research, research, research. Plan early, plan often! We got engaged last April and I can honestly say that not a day has passed that I haven’t been planning (whether in my head or in reality). The process has consumed me, but not in a crazy “Bridezilla” way (in fact I think I am the antithesis of a Bridezilla! I only tried on 4 dresses for crying out loud) but it has consumed me in the best way possible.

When I talk about my wedding planning process, I always tell people how much fun I have had. I started by browsing wedding blogs, my favourites are Green Wedding Shoes, Snippet and Ink, Style Me Pretty, and 100 Layer Cake. Then I created my Wedding Inspiration board on Pinterest. I pinned all of the things that inspired me until my vision came into focus.

Once I knew what I wanted, I started the real planning phase. All of the pre-work that I had done was a huge help. I was well-informed and I knew exactly what I wanted.

2. Get creative with your venue. There have only been two stressful parts of wedding planning for me. The first was narrowing down our guest list. The second was choosing a venue. This was so hard because I knew what I wanted: a somewhat laid back location, but classically beautiful, with a place for the ceremony on the water. If that sounds like a lot to ask, well apparently it is! I spent entire weekends driving around the state of New Jersey. Every place was either too “rustic” (see also: dirty); too expensive; too far; too small; too big; etc.

One day, after about a month of this state, I was on the phone with my mother and she said, “Dena, I think you are asking for too much.” That was the best thing she could have said. I realized that I was searching for the perfect venue, when really I should have been searching for the “perfect for us” venue. Within a week after that conversation, I made a few compromises and made my choice.

One of the things that I love about our venue is that it isn’t all-inclusive. We are simply renting the space and they are providing the bar. Other than that we have been free to choose everything ourselves which has been amazing. It’s really given me the opportunity to make it exactly what we want it to be, from the caterer, to the decor, and everything in between.

I will get my ceremony on the lake after all. And the bonus is that we’ll have the ceremony and the reception at a single location. This was really important to us since we’re having a quick ceremony.

3. Decide on your uncompromisables. It’s important to decide early on what things you will not compromise. There are all sorts of concessions to be made when planning a budget wedding. Figure out what matters the most and work from there. For us, I knew right away that our sticking points were a waterside ceremony; AMAZING food; an open bar; and a photo booth. I wasn’t going to budge on those pieces because, for me, those are the elements of a great party—and that’s what we want our wedding to be!

Once you know what your uncompromisables are—and how much they will cost—you can start to fill in the pieces.

4. Seek out the best prices and bargain with vendors. One of the things that has allowed me to plan my dream wedding on a $10K budget has been my ruthless negotiating skill. I’ve not paid full price for more than a handful of our wedding purchases. I bargain with whatever I’ve got on my side. For example, in exchange for services like decorating and photography, I traded advertising space on my website and social media accounts for reduced rates. In exchange for Etsy purchases, I traded high-quality product photographs for reduced prices. I’ve even seen photographers and caterers willing to trade for handy-work, carpentry, and things like that. If you or your partner is crafty—take advantage. Do not be afraid to offer a trade with whatever you have. The worst the vendor can say is no (and I’ve had a few of those) but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Sometimes securing the best prices means holding out. For example, I thought I’d found a great price on a photo booth, but I decided to hold off.  A couple of weeks later, I got a Groupon for the same package at half the price! Give yourself enough time so that you have the luxury to hold out.

5. Etsy & local shops. I have used Etsy for so much. I am really obsessed with it. A few of the things that I’ve gotten on Etsy so far are: my bridesmaids gifts (custom clutches & custom rose petal earrings); various buntings; my wedding ring; the grooms & groomsmen ties; and a few other things that I am probably forgetting!

Also check out local shops & don’t buy at the first place you look. For example, I’ve been scouring antique shops for vintage glass bottles. In the first few places I looked bottles were starting at $10 a piece. But later I found a shop where I got 20 bottles for $15! I was ecstatic. I’ve gotten lots more stuff from there, as well, like a vintage Pepsi Cola case and vintage cigar cases. Once you find a place with bargains, check back in once in awhile to see what new treasures come in.

6. DIY Projects. “Do what you can with what you’ve got” is one of my favourite phrases and it’s as applicable to wedding planning as it is to life. If you have any skills or family/friends with skills—now is the time to take advantage of that. My father is a gifted artist so I am having him do all of the lettering on our place cards; invitations; and signs. We had a lot of scrap wood leftover from remodeling our deck last summer, so we are using those boards for our directional signs. I’ve been collecting every empty sauce & jam jar to use for our centerpieces.

There are lots of little ways to be resourceful and save cash. Think outside of the box.

7. Buy your flowers wholesale. If flowers are one of your non-negotiables then it may be wise to invest in a florist; but if you are flexible and have a more laid back vision (like me!) then buying flowers wholesale can be a super smart move. I ordered heaps of pink garden roses; light pink & white carnations; and bunches of baby’s breath for an absolute steal! It’s going to take some effort (the flowers will be shipped to my house a couple of days beforehand and I still have to figure out how I’m going to get them to the venue!) and I’ll have some work on the evening before the wedding putting bouquets and boutonnieres together; but doing it this way has saved me a lot(!) of money. And I am still going to have all of the beautiful flowers that I’ve been dreaming of.

8. Invest in a Day of Coordinator. Investing in a Day of Coordinator has been one of my best decisions. Although I had not originally budgeted for her, she has actually helped me to save money overall and there is no telling how much time/stress she has saved (and will save) me.

I really, truly love wedding planning. Don’t let me fool you though—as much as I LOVE it—it’s a lot of work, a real labor of love. I am officially exhausted just making this list! 😉

Life Update: The Next Chapter

January 23, 2012 | gypsy wagon

Sometimes life gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. It can be hard to recognize. Life crashes in on us in frenzied waves. It feels like we’re drowning. But when we slow down, count our blessings, and breathe—often, we find that we are surrounded with everything that we need.

The past couple of years have been a roller coaster for me. In September 2010 I left my career in association management and hopped on a plane to Paris. I pursued my passion for motivational speaking. I traveled around the country for speaking engagements & had an amazing time. It was an incredible experience but I realized that motivational speaking is not for me—at least not full-time. I will continue to book “select” speaking engagements but I don’t want to make a career of it.

I also thought about going back to school to become a teacher. I have my Bachelor’s degree in English Writing and felt that teaching would be a great fit. I’m getting married in June and with each day that passes I become more of a homebody. I love our little home on our little mountain. Teaching would offer me a good schedule, close to home and I could focus on English language and literature—things that I am passionate about. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that jumping through the graduate school hoops and acquiring more debt less than a year before I get married/try to start a family, isn’t such a great idea.

For all of these reasons and a few others, I started job hunting about six months ago. I found out that the job market is as terrible as everybody says it is. I had a really hard time getting even a call back. Friends and family tried to help but nothing was panning out. I had a job but it wasn’t sustainable for the long-term and my finances were slipping deeper into the red every month.

Then one day I heard about an opening at an association not too far away. When I read the job description I was floored to find that it was so similar to what I’d been doing for the three years after graduating college that I was, indeed, the perfect candidate. I scored an interview and the rest was history. Tomorrow (by the time this is posted it will be today) is my first day at the new job.

Just when I started to feel scared and confused, the Universe opened a beautiful new door for me. There are so many wonderful things about this new opportunity. I will be getting to work with volunteers again which is something that I truly love to do and am very good at. It is a step up professionally (a mid-senior level position) and I will be making a nice salary which will allow me to pay down my student loan debt (within a year if I practice a frugal lifestyle!).

There is a small part of me that worries about going back into the Monday to Friday cubicle nation, but in the end, I know that this is exactly what I need at this stage in my life’s journey. I have learned so much about myself in the last two years that I do not run the risk of falling into the auto-pilot, corporate zombie lifestyle. Conscious, thoughtful living is a part of me now. I am so excited about this next chapter of my path! Wish me luck, friends.


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