Bro, will you be my groomsman?

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My bridesmaids got personalized hangers when asked to be in my wedding. My fiancé, Devin, also wanted to do something special and unique for his groomsmen. With the help of Pinterest, he came up with DIY engraved boxes filled with goodies.

I must say I love having Devin involved in the whole wedding process. We are both very creative people so it’s fun working together on our wedding projects.

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First he engraved each box with their initials/nicknames. I completed the exterior look with a stain finish.  Included in each box was a bar of Shea Moisture soap, 2 small bottles of liquor, and cigars we picked up during our trip to Dominican Republic. We topped each one off with a personalized sign asking, ‘will you be my groomsman?.’ Each box cost us around $20 to make and was well worth it. The guys were really impressed and I’d recommend it to anyone.

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Materials

Wooden Book Box
Dark Wood Stain
Crinkle Paper
Peel & Stick Painting Stencils (for engraving names)
Stencil Cutter
Jute Cord
Shea Moisture Soap
Cigar
Hennessy
MamaJuana from the Dominican Republic

**Arts and Crafts materials bought at Michaels

We gave out the boxes when we went to Louisiana for Thanksgiving break. It was awesome to see each of their reactions when they opened their boxes. All of the them were really surprised and definitely appreciated all of Devin’s hard work especially the personalization of the boxes. I look forward to having all my fiancé best friends in our wedding.

You can see how I asked my bridesmaids to be a part of our wedding day, here.

Hang by my side on my wedding day

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Being a bridesmaid is a huge, expensive commitment. Been there, done that. Knowing this, I wanted to do something special for my bridesmaids to make them feel appreciated and to let them know it is an honor to have them in my wedding party.

I asked 8 very special women in my life if they would be willing to devote their time, love, DIY skills, ears, tears, advice, laughs, wallets, and everything else in between to Devin and I until September 12, 2015. I wanted to do something different rather calling them on the phone to ask. So, I combed through Pinterest for weeks. I came across so many fun ideas. I finally decided to go with the personalized hangers for their dresses and heartfelt letters reflecting how I felt about our friendship and sisterhood. I found both the hangers and the ‘I can’t say I do without you’ cards on Etsy.

I sent off 4 of hangers to my out of town bridesmaids and then personally gave the others to the ones in Atlanta. The reactions from my bridesmaids was awesome. They loved it! I’m happy that each woman accepted the the role as my bridesmaid, I was a little nervous about it, but it all worked out. I’m excited to experience the bridal journey with my bridesmaids, I know it’s going to be a fun, amazing ride! :)

Vendor credits:

Cards: marrygrams
Hangers: TheEliteBride

Photographer – BOOKED!

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My wedding planner gave me her recommended list of wedding photographers and I met with two photographers before making our decision. We decided to go with Bri McDaniel Photography. I think I fell for Bri right when I saw she had a fro and was tiny like me. Her wedding portfolio is amazing. She also has a great personality and made me and Devin very comfortable when we met with her.

Bri prides herself on romantic storytelling. I love how unique and timeless her photos are. I went through every single photo on her blog and I was mesmerized. Sometimes, I got teary eyed. She truly captures the love felt on her client’s wedding day.

We put down our deposit and signed the contract to secure her for our wedding. We then planned our engagement photos for November. A fall themed photoshoot. I’m so excited :)

Advice for picking a wedding photographer:

  1. Don’t go cheap on the photographer. Your photos are the most important thing you will receive after the wedding.
  2. Book your photographer early.
  3. Research! Use wedding wire to check their reviews.
  4. Meet with the photographer before booking. Get a feel for them. Will they make you feel comfortable in front of the camera?

Highlights & Lowlights of 28

Today is my last day as a twenty-eight year old. So, I decided to write a blog post to reflect on the past year and wish it a farewell to 28. There were definitely more highs than lows this year. Thank goodness! 28 was actually one of the best years of my life and I am sad to see it go. But I know this year set me up for greatness in my future. I can feel it coming!

My highlight/lowlight reel:

Went to Miami with my cousins for my birthday

Saw my first Bears game in Soldier Field with BF and parents

My cousin Daniel Squalls passed away :(

Got the opportunity to manage the Turner Women Today website

Spent Christmas in Chicago with my family

Did a 21-day financial fast

Gained seven pounds that went straight to my hips and butt

My friend and her family from San Antonio came to visit me

Celebrated my boyfriend’s 30th birthday

My cousin got her first real job!

Went to the Dogwood Festival

Visited my BF’s family in Louisiana in May

Went to the Atlanta Jazz Festival

Saw Trombone Shorty at the Candler Park Festival

Participated in the Dirty South Yoga Fest with my boyfriend

Went the DMV for 11 days to visit friends and family

Had front row seats the Beyonce concert

Went to Louisiana again for boyfriend’s BFF wedding reception

GOT ENGAGED! 

Finished my capstone and earned my web development certification

Found out one of my good friend’s was pregnant

Booked a venue for our wedding

Got a wedding planner

Cheers to 28 and many more wonderful moments for 29!

Venue booked!

Dekalb_History_Center_Magnum We booked the Dekalb History Center at the Historic DeKalb Courthouse in Downtown Decatur for our wedding on September 12, 2015. It’s a gorgeous venue and goes with the elegant feel we want for my wedding. Also, it’s only five minutes from my house. We visited three other venues, but I knew all along I wanted this place.

DeKalb_County_Courthouse_wedding_10_7_11.slide The average price to rent a venue in Atlanta on a Saturday is about $3,500 and that’s only for your reception. We booked the Courthouse for less and have it for 8 hours for the ceremony and reception. The main reason we picked the Courthouse is because it allows us to bring our own alcohol! Devin and I are some craft beer drinkers and we love that we have the option to bring whatever we want. This is also a plus since most venues charge $30 per person for open bar. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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THIRTY BEFORE 30: We’re getting married!

IMG_3554AHHHHH!!!! *Stripper kick all over this blog*

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It has been about a week since my boyfriend fiancé proposed to me and I’m still glowing.

Friday, July 25th will now go down as the happiest day of my life so far.  It was just normal hot summer day in Ruston, Louisiana (Devin’s hometown). I woke up like any other day except for the fact that I was on vacation and I didn’t have to go to work. My only priority of the day was to get a pedicure. My toes were looking borderline ratchet and we were going to a wedding reception the next day. Once we got to the nail salon I contemplated getting a manicure with my pedicure, but after looking at the prices, I decided to get only a pedicure. As I write this, I wish I had opted in for the manicure to go with my ring.

Devin then wanted to drive around his old stomping grounds, Grambling State University. I guess this was his way of amping himself up for the big moment. After that, we then drove to a park called Hideaway Park (perfect name!).  Devin said he had never been to this park and wanted to walk around. I said sure and thought nothing of it.   It was a very secluded park. We basically had it all to ourselves. We held hands and talked about life and our future. We noticed a tree that couples had engraved their initials in. It was quite lovely. I then wanted to go see the lake and skip rocks across it. We walked down the hill to see the lake and I started taking pictures. As I was admiring the lake, Devin hugged up on me from behind and put his chin on my shoulder. He then slipped a box in my hand. I was so confused at what was happening at that very moment. I eventually realized it was the moment I had been waiting for all year so I turned around and faced my moment. Devin got on one knee and said,”I don’t have a big speech because I don’t feel I need one. I know want to do this. I don’t have it all figured out, but I want to figure it out with you. Will you marry me?” Through my tears, I said YES!

It was perfect.

It was a special moment between just the both of us in his hometown. It was the moment I was waiting for and I’m so glad it finally happened. I’m so ready to go to the next stage in my life and to be Mrs. Smith.

Now, it’s time for the wedding planning. I have no idea where to start, but I think figuring out a budget is a smart, starting point. Come along with me on another money journey. I’m definitely going to need help with this one.

Young, Black Females Addicted to Retail Fast Food

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In January, I participated in Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary’s 21-day financial fast. It’s a financial challenge to only spend money on necessities for three weeks. The fast is all about curbing your need to consume. Michelle’s book, The 21 Day Financial Fast, helps you reel in your spending, break bad spending habits, reduce debt and track expenses with a budget.

The last assignment in the book calls for you to encourage at least one person to go through the fast. I went above and beyond encouraging four people to do the fast! All are working women with different backgrounds trying to achieve some kind of financial freedom. They shared their own personal journeys with me. For 21 days, I texted them with encouraging words, advice and tough love.

My friend Ricquel, a married homeowner expecting her first baby in June, wanted to do the fast because she was going crazy figuring out how she and her husband would be able to take on the extra cost of diapers and daycare. The other three are my co-workers/friends Lynette, Nicole and Valerie. Lynette did the fast to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, Nicole wanted to get out of credit card debt, and Valerie just wanted to go along for the ride.

Our financial fast experience taught us that we all had one thing in common — we all were addicted to eating out.

Ricquel

ricquelRicquel is a new mommy-to-be and is expecting her bundle of joy in June. She thought the fast would be a perfect way to figure out how to fit the baby into her financial budget. She also wanted to see if she could afford to move into a bigger house for her growing family. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average middle-income family will spend over $241,080 raising a child until the age 18 — and that does not include any college costs.

“Online shopping and eating out…The devil.” – Ricquel

Her biggest challenges on the fast were avoiding fatty foods, eating out and her preggo cravings. I know this was a real-life struggle for a pregnant woman. Before her pregnancy, she still ate whatever she wanted. She always ate out, and never brought her lunch to work, which she proclaimed added up financially. Her husband was very disgruntled when he learned they spent between $400 to $600 per month on fast food and restaurants.

Ricquel also struggled with online shopping while bored at work, and the daily sales emails from stores didn’t help either. At this moment, she is still debating whether or not to unsubscribe from the emails. She fears she will miss out on great deals.

From this fast, Ricquel learned the correct way to budget. Ricquel called the financial counselors that were listed in the book. I really commend her for doing this. She really took the extra step to navigate through her budget. The way she normally did a budget was just listing all of her typical monthly bills she had. For transportation, she only listed gas, her car note and insurance. She didn’t factor in things like oil changes, her car tag, new tires or windshield wipers. Those little things add up throughout the year and the counselor had her take the average of those things and divide it by 12 to add it into her monthly budget. The counselor also recommended a category for gifts such as birthday gifts for her husband and parents, baby showers and weddings. Ricquel also needed a category for her favorite thing to do – traveling.  She had to figure out how taking three or four trips a year affected her budget. Instead of taking a trip on a whim, she now knows she needs to diligently plan out her trips and look for the best prices. Plane tickets and hotels are to blame for her crazy credit card bills. At times she didn’t really understand where her money was going, but after speaking with the counselor, it made sense. She said seeing those dollars allocated and itemized was really an eye opening experience.

Ricquel opened separate savings accounts during the fast,  an emergency fund and regular savings. Money from paycheck is automatically transferred to those accounts. For her regular savings, she wants to save enough for a down payment on a bigger home.

The fast also got her thinking about her child’s future. Michelle Singletary mentioned a 529 college savings plan in the book. It is similar to a 401k in the sense that you can save money pre-tax dollars. After a little more research, she plans to start saving $50 a month into the account until the child graduates from high school. Depending on if her salary increases and if she has more babies, she plans to allocate more to that account.

“I am so ready to get back to and enjoy the simple life.” – Ricquel

Ricquel wants to make this a lifestyle change, rather than just a 21-day fast. She wants to try to live her life with her finances in mind. She never considered herself a spender because she didn’t buy stilettos, flat screens or purses, but she does love fine dining and to travel.

At the end of the fast, Ricquel had a surplus of $300.

Helpful Links for New Parents:

Lynette

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.06.33 PMMy dear friend Lynette was tired of counting her pennies every pay period, and wanted to get a firm understanding of where and how she was spending her money. On paper, she knew she got paid well, but just needed to figure out where all her money was going. Nearly half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck and according to an Essence’s poll 25% of the respondents say it’s due to overspending. Lynette said the hardest part of this fast was scaling back at the grocery store. She had never figured out how to buy food for just herself until this fast, even though she has lived by herself for years. She says it’s still a challenge for her, but she has gotten better.

“I learned that store solicitation emails can bankrupt me!!!” Lynette never noticed how tempting online coupons were such as group-on, living socials, BOGO emails until her financial fast. Those pesky emails were to blame for a lot of her “wants” for new dresses, shoes and purses. She solved that problem with just one simple click, UNSUBSCRIBE and says she does not miss those sales at all.

Lynette managed to pay off a dental bill during the fast. She would have normally spent her bonus check/tax return on something that she wanted, but not this year. After reading Michelle’s chapter on debt, she felt like she was stealing. She borrowed the money (credit), but was dragging her feet to pay it off.

Lynette said the fast opened her eyes on her spending habits and forced her to look at why she spent her money (lack of planning, emotionally, entitlement, etc.). A great story she shared was that she noticed that Netflix overcharged her .09 cents one month. That seems minor, but she realized every penny counts. She called Netflix and got her. 09 cents back.

Her goals are to continue to stay ahead of her financial responsibilities, continue to budget and to add to her rainy day account. She says she still has a ways to go with her goals, but now feels in control of her financial future.

Nicole

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Nicole participated in the financial fast to help her pay down her credit card debt. She has been trying to lower her debt for months, but has made very little progress. She was hoping for this fast to shed light on her spending habits to see if she had any extra cash available to get rid of her debt once and for all.

According to Prudential’s 2013 “African American Financial Experience” study, paying down debt remains the No. 1 financial priority for African Americans. African Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt (94%) compared with the general population (82%). Credit card debt, student loan debt, and personal loans are all significantly higher in the African-American community.

The hardest part of the fast for Nicole was preparing all her meals.  She didn’t realize how much she ate out.  Before the fast, she was purchasing at least one meal from a restaurant everyday.  The fast forced her to plan ahead and get creative with the use of ingredients.

Michelle Singletary’s chapter on entitlement was Nicole’s “AHA!” moment. She realized her attitude was causing her to overspend on food, and keep her in credit card debt. If she was hungry she ate wherever and whatever she wanted because her attitude was “you have to eat, right?”, instead of planning our her meals.  She often picked up overtime to increase her income, but after the extra shift, she felt like she deserved to go to the movies, go clubbing or buy a new dress. Instead of putting the extra money towards her debt reduction,  she would end up spending it frivolously and only putting $50 towards her debt.

The fast taught her to be mindful of her money. Last pay period, she made sure to check her pay stub and see exactly how much OT she made and put that amount toward her credit card. During the fast, she was able to pay off two of her cards with the lowest balances totaling $320.

In order to reach her goals, she knows that she’ll have to stay within her food budget. She has limited herself to eating out once a week and plans on packing all her lunches and dinners for work.

Valerie

valerieValerie likes to try out different fasts during Lenten season, and she saw that Lynette and I had just completed this financial fast. She knew it would be a big challenge for her, but she wanted to give it a try anyways.

Like Nicole, the hardest part about the fast for her was preparing and cooking her meals each day. She really missed going out for food and drinks at restaurants. Surprisingly, she didn’t mind not buying clothes or shoes during the fast.

While fasting, Valerie learned she was paying too much toward her rent. Michelle Singletary wrote that your housing should only be 26-36% of your income. Valerie learned that her rent was 46% of her income, and this was the exact wake-up call she needed to find a more affordable place to live. The fast also made her evaluate how much she should tithe to the church.

Now that she’s gone through the fast, she plans on finding a cheaper place, continuing to save money, adding to her emergency fund and paying down her student loan debt.

Valerie has also encouraged a friend to do the fast. I hope she is coaching him through it :)

Helpful Links for Apartment Hunting:

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I am so proud of all these ladies for attempting to get their financial lives on track. They may have broken the fast a few times, but they got right back on the wagon and kept riding. They all learned their own separate lessons which will lead to their financial freedom. I want to thank these ladies for taking the journey and letting me come along with them. Good Luck!!!

THIRTY BEFORE 30: Go bike-riding with my boyfriend

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Riding bikes with my boyfriend…DONE! This was a simple one to complete on my Thirty before 30 list. My boyfriend and I have been meaning to ride bikes in the park for about a year, but the weather and our schedules prevented us from doing it. We finally had a weekend off together and the weather was absolutely beautiful. We packed a blanket and our lunch before heading out. Our lunch consisted of sandwiches, grapes, chips, chocolate-covered almonds and bottled water. The bf has his own bike, and I had to rent one from Atlanta Beltline Bicycle for $10 for the full-day. It was a great deal and I highly recommend it. We rode on the path all through Piedmont Park, ate our lunch in the park and biked it back through Old Fourth Ward past Martin Luther King’s home. Even though I struggled up the hills (sometimes getting off the bike and walking it up the hill), I had not felt this active in years. It was a great feeling and it was nice to actually spend some nice, quality time together.

Cheap, budget friendly date idea :)

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THIRTY BEFORE 30: I’m out of credit card debt…again!

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 2.19.49 PMI entered 2014 with with $2,000 worth of credit card debt. On Friday, I paid my last payment of $381.31 to American Express. It was a great feeling to be able to get it down to zero in three months. BUT it had me thinking, how can I stay out of debt for the rest of the year? I was at this same point last year. In February 2013, I paid off my credit card, which started at $1,300+, but I got myself back into debt. Last August, I received a new shiny offer from American Express. The offer was 0% until November 2014 and spend $500, get $500 worth of plane tickets. By October, I was in over $1,000 in debt and counting. I got my free flights, but I kept spending. Yep, I fell for okey-doke.

This year I want to change that. I don’t want to enter another year with $2,000 worth of credit card debt. How am I going to do this? I need a plan.

1. Stick to my budget
2. Go on another financial fast in September to refocus on my financial goals
3. Don’t use credit card!
4. If I do use credit card, debt cannot stay on my card for more than 2 months.
5. Don’t use credit card!

Wish me luck! :)

 

Update: February Budget & Goals

Okay, I went my budget for February, but I feel great about this month’s budget. I had so much going on in February that I’m actually surprised I only with over by $129 without using my credit card. February was a good month…income-wise. I received my bonus check and over $175 in per diem for food from work due to our snow days.

I want to start with the good part of my budget.  I didn’t go over in the Food category for the first time EVERRRR. I am soooo proud of myself for getting this under control. I went grocery shopping once a week and packed my breakfast for work. I only ate fast food (Chick-Fli-A) once this month and that’s because I was stuck at work due to the snow. I received my money back for that food with my per diem. Although I went to several restaurants, I only went over by about $5. That’s partly thanks to my friend Heather who came into town and took me out to eat several times. I stayed on budget for restaurants until the last day of the month. I had to go to a last minute dinner with a friend who was in town (which was essential!).

I paid off my USAA credit card and got my AMEX debt under $1,000 this month. Woop woop! I plan to have my AMEX card paid off in April. I will be receiving my tax return this month which will be a pretty penny so I will put a lot toward that. I also saved $100 in my emergency fund and in my travel fund.

There was still a lot of RED in my February budget. My electric bill was something serious. Let’s just say it was a very cold month which featured two snow storms and freezing temperatures. It won’t be that high again. I will do better. Down in the life category, that’s where I did most of my damage. I had to add Valentine’s Day and my Taxes, which weren’t on my original budget. As you can see, I went over by $40 for V-Day. My boyfriend and I went to couple’s yoga for $28 and to Ted’s Montana Grill for dinner. It was soooo lovely. I didn’t mind going over due to the memorable experience. The same goes for my boyfriend’s “Po’ up for 30″ beer bash. It was such a great time. Anything for my boo ;) Lastly, the Misc. may need to be revised if I go over in March. I went over $50 the past two months.

Goals for this month

  • Stick to my budget FAIL I did good, but I still went over on my budget. Better luck in March
  • Practice Javascript FAIL At least I cracked opened the book this time. In March, I have an exam on this so I must do better
  • Attend at least 2 yoga classes a week PASS
  • Read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou FAIL This might not ever happen…
  • Organize pictures on hard drive. PASS
  • Throw a great, memorable 30th birthday for my boyfriend PASS Such a GREAT party! I overachieved on this goal. Loved seeing my boyfriend and friends having a good time :)

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