Saturday, August 23, 2014

So Where the Hell Have I Been?

Things have been pretty quiet since the wedding, blog-wise.  I'd like to say that's because I've been honeymooning in some exotic location, but actually, I've just been busy with work.  The summer slump finally gave way and now I'm quite busy trying to catch up on all my owed work. 

I've also been busy writing something special for you, Lean Times readers: 

What it says on the tin: This is a book that will walk you through the process of establishing a freelance writing career with zero experience and no contacts.  It gives practical, actionable tips for starting out as an internet content writer, then how to branch out into professional copywriting or writing for magazines.  It also touches on the business aspects of the job, from time management skills to managing taxes and how to get insurance. 

Part of my mission at Lean Times is to give people the skills they need to live comfortably at the income level they choose.  In my case, I've chosen a simple lifestyle so that I can afford to work a job I love.  Because I do something I'm so passionate about, a lot of people have contacted me asking for help and direction on how to get started. 

This guide is by no means exhaustive, but I do believe that anyone who reads it should be able to put those tips to work immediately.  If you put in the work, I absolutely believe that you will be able to quit your day job and pursue writing full-time after reading this book -- as long as you couple the tips inside with the lifestyle changes I try to advocate here. 

Quit Your Day Job is currently undergoing its final round of editorial changes.  I'll let you know when it's ready for pre-orders.  Due to the cost of production (and my desire to keep costs low for my frugal readers) this book will only be available in ebook format -- but I'll try to get it up in as many different formats as possible, including a .pdf that you can print at home. 

I'm really excited about this, and I hope you all get some value out of it, too!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Frugal Non-Consumer Wedding

So, I got married recently!

I'm still reeling with the joy and excitement of the event.  I'm probably a little biased, but I think it was probably the most fun wedding I've ever been to (and I have attended quite a few).  It helps that David and I have been together for a very long time, and we know each other's families quite well, and most of the guests also knew each other very well -- so it absolutely had the atmosphere of a huge party.

I could talk on and on about how awesome everything was, but I wanted to take a couple minutes to share some of the non-consumer touches.  Part of what made the day so special for me was just how very "us" it was, and that includes the way it conformed to our values as a couple.  Hopefully any other soon-to-be brides and grooms out there can get some inspiration from our experiences!

Our Vision

So going into this thing, we laid out a few ground rules.  We wanted to keep it affordable, we wanted to prioritize food and fun to make sure everybody had a great time, and we wanted to be sure that everything reflected us as a couple -- both our passions and our values.  I'm an atheist and he comes from a devout religious background, so we blended that with a secular ceremony and a prayer from his father and a reading from my mom that would honor my family's ethnic heritage (Irish, French, Cherokee). Because I'm a writer, it was important to me that I write my own vows, and David stepped up to write his as well although he was very nervous about it. 

It was also super important to me that, as much as possible, we kept things organic, local, fair-trade, etc. without breaking our budget.  So with that in mind...

The Venue

David and I are foodies, and food was our #1 priority.  So with that in mine, we chose to get married at a restaurant that offered a full-service wedding package.  This simplified the planning a lot because the wedding and reception were all in one place, with one set of vendors to work with.  It also made budgeting easier: They charged a flat fee per guest, so managing the guest list automatically kept the price in check.

The specific restaurant we chose won out for two reasons: the food was delicious, and the place was gorgeous.  Choosing a beautiful venue saved us a lot of time, effort and money on decorations.  We just had to put up a few center pieces and decorating was done.  If you're in the planning stages, I seriously recommend that you put some thought into choosing a place that's meaningful and beautiful all on its own.  Everything else will fall into place easily from there.

The Rings

I made it clear early in our relationship that I was not a fan of diamonds.  Aside from the ethical concerns, I just don't like the look of them and I can't see the point in paying a huge sum of money for a piece of jewelry.  We both wanted something unique and beautiful without the cost.

We shopped together on Etsy and found a handcrafted copper and peridot engagement ring, as well as a pair of matching copper wedding bands.  They're totally "us" and very unique and comfortable.  Altogether, the three rings cost us around $150 (including the cost of resizing his band, which turned out to be a little small when it arrived).

The Attire

 Since we were getting married outside in August heat in New Mexico, we wanted clothes that would be comfortable and not too formal.  We opted to put the groomsmen in just shirtsleeves and suspenders, a look I've always thought was timeless and adorable.  The groom wore a shirt and vest, no jacket.  We actually found a great vest in a thrift store for $12 but it was too small and we weren't able to get alterations done in time.  We opted instead to just rent one for $60.

For the girls, I asked all of my bridesmaids what dresses they already owned and put together a mix-and-match ensemble based on that.  I figured it would be criminal to force any of my fellow strapped-for-cash ladies into buying a dress they'd only wear once, and we were such a diverse group of body types that no single style would have suited us all anyway.  It worked out perfectly that we had black, blue and purple -- it created a sort of ombre effect and really allowed everyone to show of their strengths.

My dress took a bit of searching.  I briefly considered doing the "say yes to the dress" experience and trying on a bunch of dresses at a bridal shop, but I realized that actually seemed super stressful.  As a "plus-size" bride, I had very little interest in trying on a bunch of things that might not look good on me and feeling that my body was being critiqued.  I also didn't like the price tag attached to designer dresses or the sweat shop labor behind the more affordable ones.

So I set out to find an affordable, ethical alternative.  After searching in vain for a used dress I liked (difficult in my size), I was recommended a website called HolyClothing.  It's a family-owned business set up in India but with ethical working conditions and extremely reasonable prices.  Their style is very Bohemian, which totally fits my aesthetic, and they carry sizes all the way up to 4X.

I absolutely loved my dress.  It was comfortable, easy to wear, figure-flattering and just 100% "me."  I got lots of compliments on it and felt totally awesome all night.  Best of all?  It cost me $50, a HUGE savings over a more traditional dress.  If you're shopping for a wedding dress, seriously do not be afraid to look outside of traditional venues and choose something that isn't a "wedding" dress! 

I opted out of wearing a veil and instead made a floral crown with silk flowers purchased at Michael's.  I had enough flowers for me and my flower girl as well as boutonnieres for all of the boys.  Altogether I think my supplies ran me around $30 and I still have leftovers if I'm feeling crafty in the future.

The Decor

Like I said earlier, I kept things simple by choosing a venue that was naturally stunning.  The restaurant had an outdoor arbor under trees, so there was lots of lush greenery and flowers growing everywhere.  Inside was also pretty lush, with a waterfall and tons of plants.  Since everything was already so festive, we opted just to do some simple centerpieces and bouquets.

We did all of our flowers ourselves.  I went to Trader Joe's and picked up several bunches of flowers.  All of them were certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which was very important to me, and they were very affordable -- all told, it came out to about $70 for all of the centerpieces and bouquets.  For the centerpieces, I found some great mismatched long-stem vases at Goodwill for 99 cents each.  I added some aquarium rocks to that and paid about $20 for all of those accessories.  My maid of honor did most of the arranging; I picked out blooms I thought looked nice together, and she made it look gorgeous.

The leftover flowers were used to decorate the cake, which also turned out beautiful.  We just left all of our scraps out for the cake lady, who put this together in a few minutes and pretty effortlessly made it look like we'd planned it that way all along.

Other Touches

  • We did our own music with an iPod and the venue's PA system.  I put together a playlist that was meaningful to us (in our case, theme songs from every anime we've watched together as a couple) and it required minimal tinkering to keep things going smoothly.  
  • I skipped the wedding favors and nobody seemed to notice or care.  Lots of people brought home flowers at the end of the night, which made me happy since they got some extra use.  
  • I bought all of the invitations through VistaPrint, spending about $70 for 100 invitations.  They turned out great and were much less work than the home-printed route I had originally planned.  
  • I wrote and designed the wedding program myself, printing it and our guest tree at FedEx for about $80.  We got the tree mounted so it could be hung up.  I will say that the finished product certainly didn't look like the ones on Pinterest, but it has a lot of personality :) 
Anyway, that's a glance at how we did things.  I hope this gave you a bit of inspiration.  If you have any experiences you'd like to share, please feel free to drop them in the comments!