Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living (and Thriving) as a Single Income Household

When Brandon and I got married (Jan. 2014), we were both working full-time. At that point, our plan was to put as much of our income towards debt as possible. Although we were both working, we really only "lived" on my income (the lower one) to be able to push towards our debt goals. Within 6 months we had paid off both of our cars and my undergraduate student loans - what a great feeling! 

In September my federal clerkship ended and we re-located to Minnesota. At this point, knowing that I had back surgery scheduled, I took a very loose approach to job searching and instead embraced being a stay-at-home-wife (which will get a whole post of its own another day - God truly blessed us with my months at home!). During this period our financial plan switched a little bit - now we really were living off one income, while still putting money towards debt, as well as saving for the medical bills we knew were coming our way.

Next week I'm headed back to working away from home. Again, God showed us his perfect timing and I'm going to be working for a local non-profit. Although we will essentially be a dual income household once again, our plan is to stick with our current budget while setting aside my entire paycheck for savings and a down-payment on a house. Someday, Lord willing, I will stay home with our children, and in the meantime we want to focus on making the most out of this season of dual incomes while still committing to living a one-income lifestyle.

Over the last year we have learned to embrace being a single income household. We have more than we need and have actually had a lot of fun figuring out how to make the most out of the gifts God has given us. 

Here are some of our favorite tips for living and thriving on a single income:

1. Budget

This is a no brainer. Brandon is the budget king in our household. I hate numbers and balancing the checkbook makes me sweat, so he has graciously taken on this task! One thing I have learned (as the primary spender on fluctuating expenses - food, clothes, gas, housing necessities, etc.) is to treat our budget as a max. Instead of thinking, "I can spend x$ on groceries this month" I like to think, "how can I spend less than x$ on groceries this month."

Additionally, continually re-evaluate your budget. After a few months of marriage, Brandon realized we were budgeting more than we really needed to in certain areas. Cutting back allowed us to have a little more wiggle room in other categories, and put more towards savings.

Tip: To make sure I'm sticking to my budget (and make calculations even easier), I like to take my receipts and highlight the items according to category (i.e. food, Julianne, Brandon, gas, household, etc.). This helps me know (and be able to easily see) where our money is going. I have found this to be especially helpful for when I shop at Target, which can often be a bottomless spending pit!

2. Meal Plan

This goes hand-in-hand with budgeting, but it has been such a great tool! Thankfully, my mom was a great example of this, so it was something I started doing from day 1 of our marriage. By meal planning, buying in bulk (yes even for just the 2 of us!), and shopping around the sales/seasons I can easily feed our family for less than what Brandon was spending on food during his bachelor days!

3. Avoid Making Comparisons

While we were engaged (actually even before that), Brandon and I talked a lot about our values and goals for the future. We knew that what was most important to us was living a life serving God and others and raising a family to love and seek the Lord. That mindset directs all of the choices we make for our family - including how we spend the money that God has entrusted us with. 

That said, it can be tough to avoid the "wants" or feeling sorry for yourself when money seems to be tight. Beautiful houses, fashionable clothes, exotic trips - some people just seem to be able to have it all. But if you are going to thrive on a single income - you have to stop comparing. Embrace where you are are what you do have, not what you don't. Focus on investing in things that are "free" - relationships and your spiritual walk.

Tip: I have a really hard time with this at times. One thing I do that helps keep me in check is to limit social media. While I want to be happy for others, jealously surfing through another's exotic vacation pictures isn't helpful when I need to get my heart in check!

4. Creativity

Need something? Is there a way you can get it without going to the store? I'm learning to love buying used, give homemade gifts, and finding out how to repurpose what I already have. 

5. Cheaper isn't Always Better

This is one of those lessons my dad taught me. When it came time to make a medium/large purchase in the Cole household the process was typically (1) research, research, research (2) purchase (3) use purchased item until it literally fell apart! From cars to clothes, I've learned that just because something is cheaper, doesn't necessarily make it a better option. Do your research, read reviews, talk to others, etc. before making a big purchase.

6. Keep Talking

Once a month Brandon and I sit down and go over our budget together. How did we do? Where can we improve? Are their any expenses we need to prepare for for the upcoming month? When we are on the same page, everything flows smoother!

7. Give

No matter what your income is, remember that everything we receive is a gift from above. We are only stewards of gifts that God provides. As stewards, it is biblical that we give a portion of what we have received - to the church and to others (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Brandon and I have found that when we give back to God first, and with a cheerful heart, blessings abound. 

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Matthew 6:24

Sunday, January 11, 2015

One Year

1 year
12 months
52.17 weeks
365.24 days
8765.81 hours
525949 minutes
31536000 seconds
....and counting!

I truly have the most INCREDIBLE husband. We frequently get asked how our first year of marriage has gone. Truthfully, from a life standpoint, the year has been incredibly difficult - but our marriage has been amazing.

When I had surgery two months ago, I was blown away by Brandon (although I'm not really sure why...). His strength, compassion, tenderheartedness, and sacrificial spirit brought me to tears. 

Every day I just feel so blessed to wake up as Brandon's wife. Even this past week when I woke up in our Minnesota home to negative 10+ temperatures :) There is no where else I'd rather be.

I love you honey! Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Let's Toast and Eat Cake

While I was flipping through some of my old wedding posts, I realized that I had never posted pictures of our reception. Better late than never, so here are a few favorites and highlights - 2 days shy of our 1st anniversary :)

Heading from the wedding to the reception as Mr. and Mrs!

Brandon and I spent a few minutes taking some portrait downstairs in the library and then joined our guests for cocktail hour. This was where our one major snafu came in. We were supposed to have cocktail hour in the lobby downstairs - but a major snowstorm followed by 2 days of unusually warm weather had led to some flooding in the intended space. We were able to flip flop things and used the entrance area to the ballroom instead (which was where I had wanted to be all along, so things ultimately worked out just fine :)).

Oh the cake. 3 days before the wedding we realized we didn't have a cake stand. Well, actually we knew all along that we didn't have a stand, but I think it was about 3 days before that I finally realized the perfect stand wasn't going to magically appear. I was too frugal to shell out the $100 our cake place wanted to rent a cake stand so my mom spray painted a box at (literally) the last minute. I wasn't the biggest fan of the finished product (I feel like it would have worked a little better if the cake had been square), but hey, it served it's purpose.

This gives you an idea of how the room was set up - we had about 170 guests split between either side of the ballroom with room for dancing/the cake in the middle. There was a small stage opposite where the head table was where our DJ and his equipment/lighting set up. There was also a grand piano that we used for background music during the cocktail hour....which no one could hear (a downside of having to relocate at the last minute since there was a piano downstairs we were planning on using and the sound would have been much better).

Instead of waiting to do our first dance later on in the evening, as soon as our guests were seated and our wedding party announced, we did our first dance and cut the cake. We attempted to waltz to Ashokan Farewell (neither of us are dancers at all :)). Brandon was fully in charge of music choices and Ashokan has always been a favorite of his, plus to make it a little extra special, it was the first song we ever danced to!

When our wedding party was announced, we had them come in and make a semi circle in front of the stage area where the DJ was. This covered up the DJ for pictures :) and made for a fun atmosphere to have our first dance in - surrounded by the ones we love so much.

The final step before dinner was served was my dad's toast and prayer. This picture is one of my absolute FAVORITES. I love how I am watching the two most precious men in my life share an embrace.

As for dinner itself - we had a served menu of salmon, stuffed chicken, and a vegetarian option. When talking about a menu option with your vendor be sure to ask about the difference between plated and a buffet. I was convinced during a buffet would be less expensive, but at our reception hall it wasn't at all! So we went with plated, which, in my opinion is a more elegant option and was ultimately a better fit for our intended ambience  (we did a black-tie optional dress code for the evening).

My OCD kicks in a litte here. This is the guest book table at the reception and those vases (filled with Christmas ornaments and glass beads) were supposed to have the ties facing backwards... 

A table commemorating our grandparents.

This was a little seating area in the cocktail space. One of the ways we saved on decorations at the reception was by having our wedding coordinator move many of the decorations we used at the ceremony over the the reception hall - including the sign you see above the fireplace.

Sidenote - if you have a last minute change (like we did with our cocktail hour space), don't be afraid to ask what your vendor can do to accommodate the inconvenience. Our reception hall moved seating, added uplights and additional high top tables, etc. to make up for the relocation.

So we did play one game at the reception. When people started clinking glasses we had our DJ draw a name from a fishbowl full of married couples names. The married couple then had to demonstrate how an experienced couple kisses and Brandon and I would recreate the kiss. In actuality, our DJ had a list of preselected names of couples we knew who would be comfortable participating :) Above is our Master and Mistress of Ceremonies kiss (notice Jamie is pretty much horizontal) and below is our attempted recreation in my limiting wedding dress!

I wasn't going to let a wedding dress limit me from some cuddles from this cutie!

This was another kiss recreation where the wife's shoe had gone flying into another guests lap (a few tables over!). I just too my shoe off first.

After dinner our best man and matron of honor gave their speeches - and then my oldest brother got up and surprised us with an incredibly heartfelt toast.

Which made me cry :)

One last minute addition we made to the reception hall space was adding some uplighting. We just went with a candlelight color to warm up the large ballroom and it really came out nicely.

Father-daughter dance to My Little Girl.

Mother-Son dance.

Love those parents of mine!

We did homemade hot-chocolate as our favor for the evening. We figured the evening needed some law tie-in, so we decorated the table with a bunch of our old law school books and this fun light we borrowed from a friend. Earlier in the evening this was the table that held the escort cards.

I just wish would could go back and do it all again! I know I'm bias, but it really was the perfect night!