Category Archives: Money

Wedding Gift Etiquette – Buy A Gift or Write A Check?

Wedding Gift Etiquette“So what do you want for a wedding gift?”

I remember peopled asked me this a ton right before our wedding, and I’m sure all engaged couples get this question.When people pose it, they’re looking for a simple answer. “Please buy me four Egyptian cotton towels in mushroom from Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” they’d like me to tell them. Or, “We really like the copper pots from Williams-Sonoma,” they want me to say.

But most people don’t say that.

First of all, if they really wanted to know, they shouldn’t be asking the guy in the first place. They should ask the woman instead. My wife would have the perfect answer. She’d be able to tell them exactly what we (read: she) wants, exactly where to find it, and exactly how much it costs. It was the same with our engagement gifts. I usually replied with a generic, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll love whatever you get! We’re just thrilled you’ll be there to celebrate with us.” Why? Because wedding gift etiquette makes me cringe. The gifts aren’t the reason we’re getting married, so asking what I want makes me uncomfortable.

How Much Should I Spend On A Wedding Gift?

This is my main apprehension to doling out any truly useful wedding gift advice. I don’t know how much my fiancée’s friends from college can afford to spend, and it’s downright tacky to ask. In many cases, our friends are young(ish) professionals, just finding their professional footing. I’d hate to tell them that a $60 waffle iron was what we were eyeing, only to find out later that the money spent on the gift severely stretched their budget. In other cases, I have a general idea of what someone can afford – say, family members like aunts, uncles, or cousins. I know my cousin, a lawyer, is doing well in his career, but that doesn’t mean I should take advantage of it.

The answer to the question, “How much should I spend on a wedding gift?” is inherently personal – and, inherently intangible. A 2009 article from CBS News broke down suggested wedding gift expenses this way:

Co-worker and/or distant family friend or relative: $50-$75
Relative or friend: $75-$100
Close relative or close friend: $100-$150

That’s the average, though. According to proper wedding gift etiquette, the scale of the affair is not supposed to factor into the gift-giving decision. That is to say, if one of your co-workers has a five-course, sit-down dinner at a country club while another has a buffet reception at the local VFW hall, but you’re equally close with each, it shouldn’t affect what you buy (ie, you don’t have to “pay for your plate”). However, the cost of living is far higher in Washington, DC, than it is in Roanoke, Virginia – meaning the same $75 gift may look thrifty in the Capitol and simultaneously luxurious three hours to the south.

Buy A Gift

Another question I’m getting a lot these days has to do with exactly what type of gift my fiancée and I want to receive. Namely, do we want a physical gift or just money?

The easiest answer is to simply point guests to the wedding registry. After all, that’s what it’s there for. Months ago, we spent a painful (don’t tell my fiancée I said that) afternoon using one of those barcode-scanner-things to load up our registry. Now, while I can’t say I paid all that much attention to what my fiancée actually scanned, I can tell you – with certainty – that there’s a lot on that registry. Some of the items were cheap; things like place mats and hand towels and napkin rings were less than $5 each, and some were these great gifts.. Other items, like our bedding set and cutlery, were far pricier. Some of my friends who have gotten married have even registered for furniture or their honeymoon, allowing guests to donate an amount they’re comfortable with to the newlyweds.

That’s what makes registries so ideal. They’re kind of like a matchmaker, a gift middle-man, ensuring that the bride and groom get exactly what they want while giving the guest the opportunity to select the ultimate price tag without broaching wedding gift etiquette.

Write A Check

The fact is, the decision to buy a gift isn’t for everyone. For one, guests traveling from out of town may be encumbered by a bulky gift. For others, like a cousin with a new baby, it’s just another thing to add to an already busy to-do list. And I realize that other than to me and her, this isn’t the biggest day in world.

That’s where giving money as a gift comes in to play. A friend of mine let it be known through word of mouth that she and her husband-to-be wanted cash for a wedding present. When it was all said and done, their extensive guest list of more than 200 had given them a whopping $15,000 in cold, hard cash (and slightly less-cold, less-hard personal checks). A college buddy and his wife intentionally created a small bridal registry, so their wedding guests would have no alternative but to hand over a check.

Some wedding guests don’t like giving money as a gift because it feels impersonal, sterile, antiseptic. Likewise, many engaged couples don’t like asking for money because it’s perceived as tacky, uncouth, and greedy. The bottom line, however, is that for many couples, cash is king. For a couple starting their lives together heavily in debt, it can be far more freeing than a food processor ever could be. For a couple looking to buy a house, the windfall of several thousand dollars in wedding gifts can mean the difference between a loan approval or denial – unless, of course, banks are now accepting bone china as part of an acceptable down payment.

Readers, what are your rules for giving wedding gifts? Do you follow a specific formula?

Updated August 17, 2015 and originally published May 7, 2012.

How to Rent an Apartment with Your Bad Credit History

How to Rent an Apartment with Your Bad Credit HistoryThe rental office didn’t call you back and it looks like you won’t be getting that apartment. Is it your credit score? It wouldn’t be the first time bad credit parked its fat butt on top of an aspiring tenants dreams. The tricks that follow won’t guarantee you your next apartment, but they’ll get you back in the race.

Increase The Security Deposit

People like free things—this is the only absolute truth in the universe. And fortunately for you and me, landlords are people (even if they don’t always act like them). One sure-fire way to make them double-take is to offer them free stuff.

While you don’t want to increase the monthly rent, you do have another card up your sleeve that you can play: you can increase the size of the security deposit. Yes, you’ll pay more now, but when you leave, you’ll get more back. The landlord will feel more secure knowing that if you don’t pay for some reason, they aren’t completely out of luck. If you offer and extra month’s rent in the form of the deposit, that’s one less month they have to worry about if you don’t pay your bills.

Find A Guarantor

At the end of the day, the landlord just wants to be guaranteed his money. The best way to do that is to bring in a fall-guy. A guarantor (or co-signer) is exactly what it sounds like. If you’re unable to pay rent, your landlord goes to your guarantor and requests payment. Simple, right?

Kind of, but this isn’t a decision to take lightly. If your guarantor is unable to pay then you’ll both likely end up in court. So it’s important to consider who your guarantor will be; will your relationship hold strong in the event that you both wind up in court?

Sublet From Your Friend

What is subletting? Simply put it means that your friend has leased an apartment in the same way that you’re attempting to. Then she subleases the apartment to a third party (in this case: you). It is extremely important to know whether or not the landlord has approved this sublease—if they haven’t, it’s very illegal. Always call and make sure with the landlord before signing.

The benefit to subletting is not only the flexibility of the lease itself, but that not every landlord will do background, and credit checks on you.

Explain And Show Progress

Like I said before, landlords are people and are therefore governed by emotions. And if you’re lucky, they may have been blessed with reason too.

A great way to have your landlord look past your bad credit is to explain your situation, and, if you can, show progress you’ve made toward mending it. Bring credit statements along with you, and show them that you’ve been steadily improving your score and haven’t missed a payment in a year or two. We’ve all been through hard times—even your landlord—and showing that you’ve been able to improve shows that you’re now responsible.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a quick fix. What I’ve found though, is that coupling these tricks together makes for a great impression. You won’t always find a landlord who takes your side, but these tips give you a great chance of snagging the apartment you would have otherwise been rejected from.

5 Things You Waste Money on Every Day, Week, and Month

5 Things You Waste Money on Every Day, Week, and MonthWhether it’s our morning multi-vitamin or the cable TV we unwind with after a long day, the opportunities to waste money are everywhere. By simply changing our routine or doing a little research, the daily cost of our most essential comforts and necessities can be cut in two. Read on to learn about 5 ways you can save more without much effort.

Your Daily Coffee Run

Oh, sweet addiction. For many of us, this one can be a hard habit to break. But getting your morning fix doesn’t have to break the bank. With the average cup of coffee costing around 2 or 3 dollars, the monthly cost of your daily coffee break can really add up. Once you start brewing it yourself, you’ll find that you not only save more money — but you can get a much better cup of coffee as well. Our simple tip: brew it yourself to pay less than a quarter for every cup.

Don’t Waste Money on Investment Fees

So you’ve managed to save some money, you have a healthy emergency fund, and you’ve even been able to put some of your savings to work on the stock market. If you’ve decided on an index fund, maximize your investment by remaining wary of management fees and other hidden charges. Understand exactly the product you’re buying. With index funds, for example, expense ratios vary widely despite the fact that the “management” of an index fund is relatively hands off. If you’re investing in an index fund with a 1% management fee, consider Vanguard, where an S&P 500 index fund has fees as low as 0.05%. Over the course of time, this would add up to tens of thousands of dollars wasted. It’s the same exact product, don’t get ripped off.

Cable TV

First question: Do you pay for cable? Second question: Do you watch TV every day? If you’re anything like the average media consumer — chances are you do a lot less channel surfing and a lot more streaming. In fact, streaming has become so popular that cable networks are being forced to reassess the way they do business. If you find yourself streaming more than watching live TV, think about how much you’re paying a month for a service you rarely use and consider “cutting the cord”. There are plenty of resources online to learn more about cord cutting, start with “Cord Cutting 101” from Digital Trends to shave your monthly entertainment bill in half without sacrificing the programs you typically watch on live TV.

Forgetting about the Thermostat

Did you know that you can save up to 15% by adjusting your thermostat a few degrees? If you lower your thermostat for just eight hours a day, you’ll find that the energy savings you make will have a very real impact on your bill, leaving you with more money to stash away. A basic programmable thermostat will cost you under $50 and can ensure that you’re not wasting money. Or, consider investing in one of the new, smart thermostats being introduced to the market to put the process on autopilot.

Over-Insuring Your Vehicle or Home

Having a low deductible can sound like a nice thing, and most insurance providers will do their best to sell it to you by reminding you of the “potential” cost of a claim down the line. When the insurance salesman is describing all the possible things that can go wrong, take it with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that you’ll pay quite a bit more in higher premiums with a low deductible. If you’ve done your financial-planning homework, you’ll have an emergency fund that makes paying a higher-deductible no problem. Our tip? Pay less and save more. Raising your deductible to $500 or $1,000 can help you save from 15% to 40% on your auto insurance. If you can handle the deductible expense, don’t waste money by paying more for insurance each month.

The seemingly small amounts of money that we waste every day, week, or month really do add up. By making a few small tweaks, you can save quite a bit of money.