Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

De-professionalizing as much of your wedding as possible accomplishes three major goals - it gets your community much more involved in the planning and execution of your wedding celebration; it can take a lot of responsibility off your shoulders (if you let it); and it will save you a TON of money.

You can imagine how lovely the uncensored version of this
invitation looked - and the bride did it herself.

De-professionalizing as much as possible was one of the reasons why we were able to have a fantastic wedding and throw three (3!) separate parties celebrating our marriage for about 1/3 the cost of just the average US wedding ceremony and reception.

Part of de-professionalizing is decentralizing. We gave away entire swaths of our wedding to other people to plan and execute with minimal attention from us, so we could focus on what was most important to us - having a great time with our family and friends. This also gave our family a good excuse to come a couple days early, so we got to spend more time with everyone.

We de-professionalized (and decentralized) our wedding in many, many ways:
  1. We didn't have a professional wedding planner. We were our wedding planners. Everyone should do this - it's a bit of work, yes, but it will save you a ton of money, and you'll have a much better chance to put together the wedding that you want to have.
  2. Ali did our invitations (see above), with a little spare time and a couple of free fonts we liked. You can do this, or you have a friend who knows enough PhotoShop or InDesign to do this in exchange for dinner or a bottle of wine. You then get them printed yourself and have beautiful invitations at a fraction of the cost of paying a professional to do it all.
  3. Ali also did the program for our ceremony.
  4. Ali's mom planned and catered the rehearsal dinner.
  5. My mom planned and (with the help of her female relatives) executed most of the post-ceremony reception.
  6. My mom baked the bride's cake.
  7. One of Ali's best friends decorated the bride's cake.
  8. A family friend baked and decorated the groom's cake.
  9. A family friend decorated the reception space.
  10. A former high school teacher/mentor did the flowers.
  11. Church friends provided the music.
All of these were done by non-professionals for our wedding. You know people who can do stuff like this too.

I'm probably missing a few, but you get the idea. Granted, we paid some money towards some of the things on the above list, but they cost us far less than if we had paid professionals to do everything for us. As an added bonus, our whole community was involved in and excited about our wedding, and they were (or at least acted like they were!) happy and glad to help us out and be involved. We couldn't have done it without them, and we wouldn't have had nearly as much fun without their contributions.

Your community has an enormous pool of talent you can tap, and they have friends and family who are also talented - just ask them to contribute their talents to help you celebrate your wedding. Of course, I expect you'll give them general boundaries, parameters, guidelines, etc. - but within those boundaries, leave them the creative license (remember: it's not all about you) to see what they come up with to help celebrate your union.

Many people think it’ll just be easier to hire someone, but that's often simply wrong. That person you hire has to be directed (by you) and is only going to do exactly what you are able to direct them to do (how much do you know about flower arrangements or cake decorating?). Furthermore, they don’t care about you personally - it’s their job, so why would/should they go the extra mile for you? Your community cares, and their contribution will make the day more meaningful and less about money.

Tomorrow, we'll delve into the details of a part of the wedding that is often misguided - food and drinks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wedding Week, Day #5 - Write Your Own Ceremony, Pretty Much from Scratch

Our rings, and our wedding ceremony (which we wrote ourselves).

Whether you get married in a church, at a courthouse, outside, or at city hall, we think it's critical that you write your own ceremony - pretty much from scratch. And customize it however you want! It's hard work - we spent several weeks combing the web and our favorite books for what we wanted to include, picking the music, rearranging the order - and after we'd finished, we realized that we'd changed the Christian ceremony that we'd picked as our starting point into a largely Jewish ceremony. Go figure.

We also had a lot of fun talking about what we wanted in the ceremony and why - it helped us learn more about each other and grow together as a couple. Customizing the ceremony (especially writing our own vows) also gave us an understanding of what was most important to each of us as we began a life together. We also took out outdated parts of the ceremony, such as "who gives this bride away" and "speak now or forever hold your peace" - if these things are in your wedding ceremony, I'll think that you didn't work on it very hard. (Or, I suppose you could carefully consider the options and decide that you really do want to give someone the opportunity to protest your union in front of all your friends and family - but I'd find allowing that rather odd.)

We also involved our community a good deal in the ceremony itself - my parents sang a duet; Ali's parents gave us a blessing; a family friend played the trumpet; our attendants did readings; and we sang some songs/hymns (upbeat ones!). We tried to give our community as much opportunity to be involved and celebrate with us as possible (or as much opportunity as they wanted, anyway). Your community is bursting with talent, and you should take advantage of that by inviting them to participate in your ceremony and celebrations! Some folks might decline, but most people will jump at the opportunity to play a special role in your special day.

Perhaps more so than with any other part of the wedding, you only get out of your wedding ceremony as much as you put into it - though it's true that you end up just as married all the same. However, if you overlook this part of the wedding and don't customize it to fit you as a couple, you're missing a serious opportunity to get to know your future spouse more deeply, in a way that is difficult to replicate in a different setting, and you're missing an opportunity to knit your community together more tightly. So, get to work!

Tomorrow, we'll talk even more about getting your community involved in your wedding, in ways that will save you serious time, stress, and money and will get them excited to participate in your celebration - a major win-win-win-win!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

One of many fantastic things that would not have happened if we'd had a destination wedding - because few (if any) of these wonderful people would have been able to come.

According to the latest statistics, 24% of you out there decide to have destination weddings. Our apologies to anyone who had/is having a destination wedding, but we think it was/is a bad idea. Personally, I don't think that "do not have a destination wedding" should be advice - I think it should be a rule.

Destination weddings embody the epitome of the "it's all about me" mentality. Think about it - you're essentially forcing your friends and family to take extra time off work and take a vacation to somewhere not of their own choosing while you're the center of attention for the whole vacation. It's so preposterous that I'm surprised this trend ever got started in the first place.

In addition to not being very considerate of the (probably relatively few) friends and family who will be able to afford to attend a destination wedding, you are (unless you run in fabulously wealthy circles) probably cutting most of your friends and family out of celebrating your wedding with you - and remember that they want to celebrate with you; they just don't want to celebrate completely on your terms.

Personally, we have only attended one destination wedding (at a picturesque lake somewhere in Europe), and honestly, we only attended because we just happened to be living in an adjoining country at the time - we never would have come if we'd had to travel from the USA like the rest of the wedding party. The only people who could attend were a few family members and one friend - even the parents of the bride couldn't attend!

By contrast, we held our wedding in our hometown, and we were able to host a gigantic party for 80 of our family members and closest friends - all for far less than what the airfare alone would cost for a destination wedding.

From our (limited) experience, in addition to being a significant time and financial burden on the few people who can attend and shutting out most of your friends and family from coming, having a destination wedding adds even more stress to the engaged couple. After all, you're adding vacation stress (travel and logistics in an unfamiliar place; not knowing the language; dealing with strange food; dealing with strange hairdressers and tailors in a foreign language; etc.) to the normal wedding stress - not a good combination. And unless you're going somewhere so remote that your wedding party is the only group around, everyone else at your destination wedding location will be conspicuously gawking at the bizarre spectacle unfolding before them - I am remembering a town full of Europeans who watched this American girl run around their tiny town in street clothes and a veil, and then in a wedding dress, for an entire day - they were utterly perplexed, and they did not try to hide their confusion.

Please please please, save everyone time, nerves, and money - don't have a destination wedding. Hold your wedding in one of your hometowns (even if you rarely go there anymore, like us), or if you really can't stand either of your hometowns, in an easily accessible, neutral third location, preferably somewhere about halfway between where your respective families live. Trust me - you'll thank me.

I'm guessing at least 24% of you vehemently disagree with this post; feel free to explain in the comments why a destination wedding was the only thing that made sense for you. And please go into a little more depth than "it was the only way to limit the number of guests" - while that may be true, I hope that's not all there is to it, since it's easy enough to limit guest numbers in other ways. (My new favorite way of limiting the number of guests is to hold the wedding on a random day, like a Tuesday.)

*NOTE TO COMMENTERS [8-25-2014]: I'm thrilled that this post continues to draw passionate comments three years after I originally put it up - but the number of comments on this post has revealed some problems with Blogger's commenting system. To see all the comments on this post, you'll need to push "Load more comments" at the bottom of the page below the comments - probably more than once, until you no longer see the option to "Load more comments". You'll also probably have to do this to see your own comment after you post it. Thanks for commenting!*

So, after a big "don't" today, tomorrow we'll get back into the swing of things with a big "do."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

What's more important to you in your wedding? You should decide up-front - it will make decisions easier later.

Before you do anything else, decide how much money you have to spend, and what's most important to you in the wedding - what you're willing to spend your money on is the best indication of what's really important to you in your wedding. For us, the most important thing was throwing a fantastic, huge dinner and party for all of our family, close friends, and out-of-town guests, so that's what we spent a plurality of our money on. The least important thing was probably the clothes that we and our attendants wore - Ali's wedding dress was a dress she already owned (!), the bridesmaids' dresses were reasonable, and I didn't make my attendants rent/buy tuxes - they just wore dark suits they already owned, and we bought them different but matching ties as part of the attendant thank-you package.

You should know whether your flowers are more important than your cake, or your music more important than renting a car to drive you to the reception (we skipped this and just walked to our reception), and so on - you'll be making tradeoffs as you plan your wedding, and it's important to know what's most important to both of you.

In addition, when setting a budget and prioritizing what's important to you, keep the budgets of your attendants in mind - for example, if your attendants are a bunch of students or underemployed writers, expecting for them to attend a shower or bachelor's/bachelorette's party at a resort in Cabo is probably going to cause some ill will. A recent (positive) trend is letting bridesmaids pull out the trusted old LBD (little black dress) as a no-cost clothing alternative, which should match the tuxes/black suits of the groomsmen nicely. Just a suggestion. Remember - it's not all about you.

When doing your budget, keep in mind these people's budgets too - they hold the power to make your wedding awesome or to make it suck, so don't piss them off!

Come back tomorrow for another critical piece of advice - one that, statistically speaking, should deeply offend at least 24% of you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

See all these people? Your wedding is about all of them, too - it's not just about you. (These are Grant's family members who made it to the wedding.)

This will be hard for some people to swallow, but our first and most important Wedding Week lesson here at The Angry Bureaucrat is that your wedding isn't actually all about you ("you" singular or "the two of you"). If you approach your wedding in this way, you're already setting yourself up for disaster and/or disappointment. Our experience was that the most fun we had planning our wedding was when we were coming up with fun, creative ways for it to be a community-wide celebration of our joy, love, and union - and that we fought the most when we focused too much on us, on doing things this way or that, or otherwise being caught up in the details.

The whole "fairytale wedding," "princess for a day" bullsh*t was made up by the cynical princess wedding industry to make you feel entitled to everything and to separate you from your money. The truth is that, unless you're eloping, your wedding is bringing together a community of people who love you and care about you - friends and family, whether a few or a few hundred - in order to celebrate your joy, love, and union. You wouldn't be who you are without all of these people; that's why they're at your wedding. When planning your wedding and all the celebrations that surround it, you will have more fun (and everyone else will be happier) if you take into account their need and desire to celebrate with you, instead of focusing solely on your own selfish needs and desires. Much of the rest of these posts will be specific examples of how to implement the guiding principle of "it's not all about you."

(Note: Based on a dinner conversation I had after I wrote the first draft of this post, I want to add that, of course, your wedding should and will fulfill your need to celebrate in the way you want as well. The point of this post is not to say that you should work to please everyone else above and beyond yourselves - that's certainly not the case. Nonetheless, this post is a strong recommendation to take the needs and wants of the people you love and care about into account when planning your wedding. I assume that your needs will be well-represented in your wedding - my experience has been that most couples don't need much help asserting their own wishes in their wedding planning. But, you and everyone around you will be much happier if you take into account the needs, wants, and feelings of your community as you plan your wedding - and this is something that I think people often lose, forget about, or are even told is wrong when planning a wedding.)

OK - that's plenty to take in on the second day of Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat - come back tomorrow and we'll start talking dollars and (common) sense.

The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Two Years in the Making

Happy Wedding Week, Everyone!

In something somewhat out of character for this blog, we're celebrating Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat!

Two years ago this week, my wife and I were in the throes of wedding joy (and stress). Since that time, as we’ve read and heard about weddings being planned or happening, both of us have from time to time talked about writing a wedding advice column - because we both think our wedding rocked, and it rocked for a lot less money than many other people pay for far crappier weddings. As we prepared to celebrate our second anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to share some hard won wisdom. As an added bonus, the whole series is illustrated with actual pictures from our wedding, for those of you who are curious as to what it/we/our accessories looked like.

Before I start this series, my wife requests that she be given a disclaimer. She’s more tactful than I am, and although she generally supports my assertions in this series, she would probably not say things the same way I’ll state them. She would also say something to the effect of, “just because something was right for us doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.” So, there, she is indemnified. I also recognize that not all of these pieces of advice will hold for absolutely everyone, but we think that if most people were to abide by them, everyone (bride and groom included) would have a lot more fun at weddings and would waste a lot less money on them. But, my sincerest apologies in advance, if any of our advice offends anyone out there.

So, we'll spend the next week sharing my/our advice on how to have an awesome wedding that won't break the bank. (Feel free to donate a portion of the money you save to support this site, via the Google Checkout button on the right ;) ). Tomorrow, we'll start with a critical guiding principle that everyone getting married should follow (and perhaps have temporary-tattooed on their foreheads), and then each day this week, we’ll dive into a new detail. Tune in tomorrow for what will perhaps be my most controversial piece of advice!

P.S. I'm sorry for this, but I felt the need to add a small legal disclaimer - I retain all rights to all the photos and text in this post and in subsequent posts. No one is allowed to use the photos or text without my written permission.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pie Chart of the Day - What do the Unemployed Spend Their Time Doing?

Most people who pay attention to what's going on know that the unemployment rate is high - just over 9% at the moment. In addition, another 16% of workers are underemployed - i.e. they are only working part-time when they'd like to be working full time. So, 25% of workers have a lot of time that they'd like to be working but aren't - what do all of these people spend their time doing?

The picture, painted by a recently released NBER working paper, is worrisome - unemployed people spend almost 50% of their foregone working hours on sleeping, watching TV, and "other leisure" activities, and only 2% on looking for a job or earning money on the side:

Thanks to the Atlantic Wire for putting together the chart.

Granted, a lot of the rest of the time is going into relatively productive activities around the house, and given that most Americans don't get enough sleep, I'm not sure that the unemployed using some of their down time to overcome sleep deprivation is a terrible thing. But still, I'm surprised by this time distribution, and I'm not sure what to make of this. Are the unemployed just really lazy? Are they depressed? Do they not know that looking for a job is, itself, a nearly full time job? (To be fair, looking for a job does suck, however.) Interesting stuff ....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Case Civilization Collapes - How to Live Off the Land, Illustrated

So, unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you're aware that the stock market has been going crazy, in ways that portend rather negatively for the economy in general over the next few years (or the next decade ....):

Been a bit of a wild ride as of late ....

Now, for most people, the only smart way to invest in the market is by investing in low-fee index funds through cost averaging. However, some people have started fearing the end of days on account of the recent financial craziness (some people close to me have even invested in urban survival tool kits), so I wanted to post the following helpful information, in case civilization really does collapse, via Daily Infographic:

Click on image for huge version. Source.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reminder - The USA is a Very Low-Tax Country

From the Globe and Mail, we see just how low-tax a country the USA is, when compared with its fellow industrialized countries:

Depending on your perspective, you may see this as good, bad, or unimportant, but let's all be clear when talking about US tax policy: Americans pay far less in taxes than most people in the industrialized / rich world. They are not, nor have they ever been, taxed to death.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Mapped by Stereotypes

This has been posted on just about every DC blog today, so I figured I should join the bandwagon, as it is a pretty entertaining map. You can tell I'm still a relative newbie to the area - even I don't get all the references in this map. I'm proud to live on the cusp of "Let Teddy Win!" and "Pool Parties."

From Social Studies DC:

Click on the map for the huge version.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'm In Wikipedia?

That little paper of mine on electric cars that was published a couple of weeks ago continues to have a wider resonance than I ever thought it would - I've been cited in Wikipedia (for the first time, I'm pretty sure) on a few different pages, all having to do with electric cars.

Here's a screenshot of part of the longest excerpt, in case I get edited out sometime. Someone took some of our results and put them into a nifty table:

It's not quite like receiving an invitation to the White House to talk policy and priorities with the President, but I find it pretty cool, nonetheless!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What Do All the Numbers on Your Credit Card Mean?

I've been dealing with credit cards a good deal the past couple of weeks, so I've sort of got credit cards on the brain, in case you haven't noticed. Also, I need something to post quickly, since I'm about to run out to dinner - huzzah for DC Restaurant Week!

From, we have an infographic that cracks the code on your credit card, telling you what all those numbers really mean:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why You Should Pay Off Your Credit Cards ASAP, Visualized

From Visualizing Economics, we have an infographic that shows why you should pay off your credit card debt ASAP:

Scary stuff. And that, boys and girls, is why credit cards should only be used as convenient ways to pay and for their perks, not as actual loans.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dumb Decisions - Congress Continues to Ignore Cheaper-Than-Free Money

It's official - the U.S. government can make more money by borrowing than the average person can by saving.

Wait ... what?

Let me repeat myself:

The U.S. government can make more money by borrowing than the average person can by saving!

The 5-year TIPS rate crossed -1% on August 10:

This chart only goes until August 8 or so, but you see where it's headed. Source.

Meanwhile, only the highest-yielding savings accounts pay 1% at the moment:

In similar news, real interest rates on U.S. Treasuries are negative out to 10 YEARS:

There have been times in the past week when even nominal interest rates on short-term U.S. debt have been negative.

If you're interested, here's an interesting, non-technical explanation of how something like this even happens.

I, of course, am more interested in the economic and policy ramifications of this extraordinary situation than in the technical details, however.

The fact that the U.S. government can borrow money for cheaper-than-free, even after the ratings downgrade, comes about from a combination of two factors (and no, I have no idea what the relative strength of each factor is in the mix):
  1. There is not enough U.S. debt to satisfy the market's appetite for U.S. debt. Since there's not enough supply to meet demand, the price of U.S. debt (which is inverse to the interest rate) increases.
  2. The market thinks that the long-term growth prospects of both the U.S. and world economies are dismal. A negative real 10-year interest rate says that investors are expecting a "lost decade."
So, what should the U.S. be doing? As I said in a previous post, the U.S. should be borrowing and spending a lot more money than it currently is (in the short-term).

The utterly bizarre thing about this situation is that, from the perspective of economic efficiency, the money doesn't even have to be spent on anything productive - it just needs to be spent on something that's not destructive:
The bad thing about cutting the federal deficit is that unemployment is very high and interest rates are very low. Given that, taxing productive activity to pay down debt is really obviously the wrong thing to do, and borrowing money to employ currently unemployed resources is really obviously the right thing to do.
Obviously, I would advocate putting money towards productive uses (rebuilding infrastructure, research and development, etc.) and towards programs that have large economic multiplier effects (food stamps, unemployment benefits, WIC, etc.), since those activities would stimulate demand and the economy now, while also laying the foundations for increased growth in the future. But, from an economic point of view, the government should just be borrowing and doing ANYTHING with the money, since it's cheaper-than-free - right now, borrowing money to give huge (temporary) tax refunds to everyone or even just hiring unemployed people to dig holes and fill them back up again would be a net economic gain.

The bottom line is, the U.S. should be borrowing and spending way more money in the short-term in order to boost growth and decrease unemployment, but both Congress and the White House are focusing on the totally wrong issues (i.e. cutting spending). And the most frustrating thing is that at least the White House knows better - Robert Reich, talking to people in the administration, says that there has been a deliberate decision to focus on the wrong issues, knowing that they’re the wrong issues:
So rather than fight for a bold jobs plan, the White House has apparently decided it’s politically wiser to continue fighting about the deficit. The idea is to keep the public focused on the deficit drama – to convince them their current economic woes have something to do with it, decry Washington’s paralysis over fixing it, and then claim victory over whatever outcome emerges from the process recently negotiated to fix it. They hope all this will distract the public’s attention from the President’s failure to do anything about continuing high unemployment and economic anemia.
I am deeply disappointed by the cynicism of the White House and the lack of imagination, will, and leadership in Congress. Once again, our elected representatives never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

With U.S. Downgrade, Only Countries With Universal Health Care Are AAA-Rated

An interesting side-note from the whole U.S. downgrade debacle - all countries currently rated AAA by S&P have universal health care:

Source: NYTimes.

Hmmm - perhaps the private market (as represented by S&P) doesn't think that providing universal health care is a recipe for governmental fiscal disaster.

Now, I will be the first to point out that correlation does not equal causation (well, perhaps I'll be the second, after xkcd):

Note: the original purpose of this chart was to show how the budget balances itself if Congress does nothing, but it also shows what a large part of the budget healthcare costs are projected to become.

In addition, the U.S.'s health care system is astoundingly inefficent compared to all of these universal coverage systems:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Back to Basics: 10 Words That Do Not Mean What You Think They Mean

Sorry for the posting hiatus - my home internet was down for a few days. Usually, I'm pretty satisfied with Comcast Business (even though I pay too much for it), but waiting for repairs is always frustrating.

Anyway, I need to lay off thinking about politics, for at least a week or two - perhaps longer. In the meantime, I'm going to get back to my more traditional blog fare, such as the below infographic, from via Daily Infographic. Enjoy!

And when posting about the word "literally," I just have to link to this comic from the Oatmeal. The Gayroller 2000 makes me laugh every time.