Money and Weddings

weddingThis just might be a case of anecdote passing as science, or correlation passing as causation.  But here is a recent study on how the expenditures of a wedding (the ring, the head count, the total bill, the honeymoon, etc) correlate with divorce rates. The study said that you should date for at least three years before you marry, then spend less than 2k on an engagement ring.  Now have a big but inexpensive wedding, then go on a honeymoon.  Also, if you’re a woman don’t prioritize wealth, and if you’re a man don’t prioritize attractiveness. That about sums it up;)  Mazel Tov.

Also, it reminds me of a funny quote from Rabbi Blake in the HBO documentary 112 weddings… “The wedding is day one, and it’s the easiest day to make happy.  You’ve just thrown a ton of money at it, and liquor.  A marriage is hard to make happy because when you throw a ton of money and liquor at it, it often makes things worse.”


Another case of who the hell knows, but it is interesting to think about how money impacts marriage.  I think the most relevant advice seems like if you’re a woman don’t prioritize wealth, and if you’re a man don’t prioritize beauty.  If you’re gorgeous – great!  If you’re rich – great!  If that’s the glue for your marriage, though, not great.

[image 1, image 2]

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10 Money Questions With: Michelle Vaught

michelle-vaught-1Michelle hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail last year…

On the trail, people make friends quickly.  Plus locals and day hikers leave “trail magic” for the thru-hikers: coolers of beer, cash, fresh baked cookies.  Some even show up to cook a fresh meal for the hikers.  It’s sounds like a little stretch of utopia.

Michelle’s tumbler from the trip has more pictures and stories.

Here are Michelle’s answers to my money questions for her:

1) What was it like to sell your stuff and take to the trail?

MV: Selling a huge chunk of my stuff in order to simplify and raise money for the trail was fantastic. It definitely helped in the sort term because we were able to leave less stuff in a friend’s basement while we were gone and now trying to live a simpler life, I am glad I don’t have all of that stuff that for whatever reason I had previously. 

2) Is there anything that you regret getting rid of?

MV: You know, for the majority of that stuff that I got rid of I have no regrets. I don’t even remember what the bulk of it was. I will say though that I wish I would have given my sister my sleeping bag and my rain jacket. I sold those in order to be able to afford a better and lighter sleeping bag and rain jacket, but a year later when my sister is in the market for those things I wish I had them for her.

michelle-vaught-23) Has your approach to buying things or your attitude towards ‘things’ in general shifted since that experience of getting rid of most of your stuff?

MV: Absolutely. I’ve always tended to spend money on experiences rather than possessions. But with traveling, especially overseas, I had a habit of buying a lot of souvenirs and I have a knack for accumulating stuff from thrift stores and used bookstores. But now, after spending four months of literally having carried everything I needed to survive outdoors over 2,500 miles across three states, I find myself feeling really overwhelmed by the stuff I have in my apartment.  Most of it is just kitchen stuff, books and clothes but it feels stifling. I really don’t buy anything other than food and I save my money up for trips- whether they be weekend trips, week long trips, or overseas trips. And of course there is the occasional gear purchase but honestly I take a good hard look at anything that I might buy and generally the thought doesn’t even cross my mind.

4) Fill in the blank:  If I was rich I would ___________

MV: …live in a sweet van, travel the world and eventually open a bed and breakfast focusing on community, organic gardening and cultural exchange

5) What are you saving for?

MV: Short term: an upcoming trip to Nepal.  Long term: enough money to hike the Continental Divide Trail and then travel to Central and South America for hopefully a year or more.

michelle-vaught-56) What is something that you consider a staple but others might consider a luxury?

MV:  My Achilles heel is definitely food and I spend a lot of money on organic food which really adds up.  I buy pasture raised eggs, goat yogurt and other items which can be definitely considered luxury items but I tend to justify these purchases with sayings like, “it’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”

7) Do you have any budget or saving tricks?

MV: Having clear goals and keeping in mind my personal values helps me to stay in line with what I actually want out of my money… for the most part. It was pretty easy to save money and simplify when I decided that I was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

michelle-vaught-38) What is the last thing you bought?

MV: Two quart mason jars for a class I took on fermenting vegetables.

9)  Fill in the blank: I _____ my money

MV: need to keep a better eye on  my money  in order achieve my financial goals and travel dreams .

michelle-vaught-410) How do you balance travel with things like paying down debt or saving?

MV: Spending money on experiences is way more important to me than anything else… even paying down debt. I will never regret for a single second that I got rid of most my possessions, got rid of my job, and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I want to live life to the fullest and feel deeply about my days and I don’t want to wait until I retire to do the things I dream about doing. I am lucky because I have a lot of freedom and being part of the generation of millennials who gradated from college in a bad job market, I don’t have a lot of things tying me down. Paying down my debt is very important to me but I don’t want to put my life on hold in order to do that sooner rather than later.  I want to take the middle path of being financial responsible and truly living my life now and indulging in my wanderlust.


Thank you so much, Michelle.  This is giving me a little wanderlust, too.

If you want to be interviewed here send me an email – it’s fun!

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Money: There’s More Where That Came From

spend-out-1We spend an awful lot of energy worrying about how to get and then to keep our money.  Here’s a different perspective to add to the pot:  Spend out.  Trust in abundance.  Don’t save your good ideas, don’t hoard your resources, don’t worry about not having enough.

The more you give away, the more you share, the more you trust in abundance… the more you will have.  There’s always enough food, and love, and money (when it matters) to go around.  Cut the flowers and bring them in.   When you do – only when you do – more will grow.  You’ll see it when you believe it.


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Raising Rich Kids

rich-kids-1My 4 year old boy Jules is intent that when he grows up I will help him build a helipad on his roof (I love that he can imagine a future with his own helipad, but he can’t imagine a future where his mom is not personally responsible for everything that happens).  He is also sure I will live next door to him so that he and I can continue to cook dinner together every night.  I mean, a mom and her four-year-old can dream, right?  But I also have girls in grade school.  Getting grades.  And so all this fanciful dreaming is starting to seem a little more real.  How do we get from here to the helipad?

I want my kids to have everything that they want in this world.  I know that’s not my responsibility, exactly, but I want to send them off well-positioned at least.  To be people who know things, have confidence, can add, shake hands, and don’t screw up their grammar.

All of which is making me wonder: what’s my responsibility in all of this?  Do I raise the successful kids, or do they just happen?  Do I need to help with homework, or put the pressure on, or build up their confidence, or set a high uncompromising bar, or just let them do their thing and cast a sideways glance when it’s called for?

What comes most naturally to me is a “hoe your own row” approach; kind of a you-do-first-grade-and-all-accompanying-tasks-and-I-will-do-my-life-and-all-accompanying-tasks attitude.  Unfortunately, even as a pie-baking stay-at-home-mom this approach feels negligent in the context of my community.  I love having kids in grade school, but I don’t want to DO grade school.  I don’t want to spend my mornings volunteering in the classroom, my afternoons shuttling to activities, and my nights making festive allergy-free treats for the non-denominational holiday parties.  Is that going to doom my kids?

rich-kids-2Well, the ever-controversial Tiger Mom and Harvard Professor Amy Chua published a book that studied why certain cultural groups are succeeding in America, and the arc of that success over generations.  The book is The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

According to Chua, the traits in a group that promotes success for it’s children are: a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control. Basically, according to Chua’s research, the groups that are very successful are saying to their kids: you belong to a special group that is better than everyone else, but you individually need to prove yourself, and you have to exercise self-control to do so.  Let’s just say that’s not the predominate message being doled out to kids around here.  Here it’s more like “nobody is better than anybody else, you are already a brilliant success just for existing, and here have a cookie before dinner”

Of course, who really knows the answer?  Probably if you’re a happy and loving parent and you get your kids to bed on time with a full belly they’ll have a fair shot at being as successful as they want to be.  And you should be a good example; you know – hoe your own row.

[image 1, image 2]

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When Plenty is Too Much

plentyIsn’t it funny how when you have a lot of something they just aren’t as sweet?  We have a big apple tree in our yard, and our neighborhood is similarly filled with apple trees.  There are millions of apples all around us right now.  And I love apples.  But I just can’t get excited about the apples.  No apple pie / sauce / butter it happening right now in my kitchen.  The kids won’t even pack them in their lunches.  We’ll pick a few when we are playing outside, take a few bites, then toss them back into the yard.  I’m not even trying to cellar them.  And they are pretty good apples!

Anyway, that’s my confession and my observation of human behavior.  When there’s plenty, you don’t want any.  Once the apples are gone from the trees, I know I’ll be back to eying the apples at the grocery store and thinking how nice some apple pie with caramel sauce would taste.

This is why, according to the studies about how to use money to buy you happiness, you have to make your indulgences a treat.  If you give yourself something all the time, you just can’t enjoy it.  Also, the hedonic treadmill.

p.s. did you guys enjoy the long weekend?  I decided any holiday of the government is a holiday of mine!

[follow this link for the image above and a beautiful pablo neruda poem.  And I know those are pears, but like I said: I'm kind of over apples right now]

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Five Ways to Enjoy Paying The Bills

paying-bill-writing-checksHa!  I am the bill payer around these parts, as with most wives, I think.  But I kind of enjoy it, and here’s why:

1) I feel appreciative that we have the money to pay our bills

2) I use beautiful tools that I keep organized and enjoy

3) I keep the bills in a file so I can pay them all at once when I feel like it

4) Mindlessly productive work is a nice antidote to creative or stressful work

5) I feel in control of the flow of finances in a way that I don’t when I pay online

So, call me crazy.  But here are my choice bill tools, worth the investment, all:


[cute tape b/c because licking envelopes is grody, return address stamp b/c writing your address is boring, plenty of cute pens, and a visual calendar so you aren't late.]

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Reverse Retirement

reverse-retirement-beachHave you heard of doing a “reverse retirement”?

You graduate from college, you work hard for ten years, then you retire until you’re forty.  Ideally you have a house that you can rent out for passive income, as well as some savings that you can stretch to pay for your “retirement”.  And according to the principle of permanent income, you could borrow to finance your retirement since you would be earning more in subsequent decades.  Then you work until you’re 70 and retire again.  Crazy?  Brilliant?  Lazy?

reverse-retirement-paddleHow about – as an alternative to this pretty drastic fix – aiming to live a long balanced life with just enough work and plenty of play?  Sometimes your life swings towards more work, other times towards more leisure, but you never stop doing either.  I think a good rule of thumb is to work hard AND say yes to every opportunity to vacation, play, and adventure.

not-how-or-when-or-why-but-yesThere’s no sense in “saving up” for some future fun-explosion that you think will happen when you retire.  Don’t wait for a second chance, say yes now even if it doesn’t make logistical or financial sense.   When you’re seventy you are going to have different opportunities and different ideas about what’s fun.  So do it now – whatever it is.  Then get back to your desk;)

reverse-retirement-dance[the mom dance - done in public to elicit laughs from embarrassed children]

[images from vogue: 1, 2, 3, and the best ever Mike Mills Scarf]

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