Monday, September 27, 2010

How to get married

This is going to strike at the heart of many of my readers, but there's a right way to get married and a less than ideal way, at least according to The Minimalist. Let me first and foremost state that I have the privilege of presiding over three marriage ceremonies, and am thankful for each experience. So the first lesson is:

1.) Don't get married in a church, by a priest.

Why? Lots of reasons. Most importantly, marriage is a secular institution perpetuated by states. I find it weird that many people let someone they've never met teach them the rhythm method of birth control as a prerequisite to get married in front of a statue of a 1 CE execution. This secular paganist thinks that's just plain off the bizarro chart.

Also, it's really, really cheap.

2.) Get married by your friend or local magistrate.

City Hall rocks. Show up, raise your right hand, and boom, you're ready to move on to nuptials. Just put your name on the roster and the next available slot is yours. Really, do you need months to plan out flowers and decorations and cummerbunds for the friggin' chairs (!!!) just to say that yes, this other person is pretty cool and I can live with a legal contract that binds our fortunes and descendants (should we have any) together in a rather trite way, then sure, by all means, blow it on Mission San Diego with a get-away with a ballpark stop-over to watch the Angels lose and spend way to much on alcohol you don't even like. By the way, the wedding hasn't even begun.

I think I was off on a normal there, hang on, yes, ah, I see where we're at now. Friends are nice, too. They're fully capable of reciting lines, and may even provide quaint anecdotes. Plus, they're super cheap. My rate to be deputized for a day (less relevant county expenses): one dinner at a nice restaurant; the wine should be red. And I'm retired, so don't ask.

3.) The Wedding Industry hates you.

It has to be said. There's no way around it. David's Bridal personally hates you, the bride. The Men's Warehouse personally hates you, the groom. The are, however, in love with your credit card, and will graciously put you into high interest debt if you let them anywhere near said card. They want your money, not your happiness. It's an insane waste of money just to rent a tux.

4.) It's an insane waste of money, and your friends won't forgive you.

Talk to anyone whose had a "BIG WEDDING" and they will tell you how hard it was to keep their mother happy, their maid-of-honor happy, their groom happy, their in-laws happy (for non-white American weddings, add family lineages for which we have no adequate translation in English). F that. $50,000 in debt so you can feel bad about yourself? No way. I've paid off student loans bigger than that that didn't belong to me and at least I didn't feel like a cheap date.

Here's the financial run-down of a wedding done right. The rates are for Santa Clara County (where I live) and are a bit high relative to other counties. It includes a nice dinner after getting married at the couple's favorite fancy restaurant. Invitee's to the ceremony include close relatives (parents, siblings). After the ceremony, proceed to a nice park for pictures, then to the restaurant. Send the family home, and start the party at the couple's place of residence.

New suit $300.00
New dress $500.00
Marriage license $79.00
Marriage ceremony $80.00
Fancy post-nuptial dinner $100.00
Pictures by a competent relative $0.00 (Digital age is so cool)
Evite for party $0.00
Beer and wine for party $200.00
Food for party $100.00
Excederin $2.00
Total $1,361.00

That's the upper bound. Feel free to be even cheaper on whatever you want to skimp on. $1,300 vs $50,000.00 plus the loss of your best friend (for abusing her as the maid of honor). Your choice.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Interest rate change

Thanks to Mint, I was notified of an interest rate change on my ING Direct Electronic Orange Savings Account. Their rate dropped from 3.30% to 1.10%. This sucks, but there's nothing I can do about it.

Their 1 year CDs only get 1.25%, so there's not much point moving it there. My CD I currently have with them is coming up to maturation in December, and it's at 1.75%. Shopping around though, I can't find much with higher interest. If I'm willing to lock in for 4 years, then I can find over 2%, but that's not a commitment I'm willing to make yet.

There's no lesson today, just that it can pay to be diligent, and sometimes it doesn't.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Online Banking

If you're not using your bank's online banking, you're missing out. I do my online banking through Bank of America (that is the bank that holds the bulk of my accounts, including my small business accounts). I have a credit union, too, and I keep money with them, but their online banking and their entire online banking experience feels like GeoCities 1996. BofA, for as much as I hate their otherwise odious business practices, have an excellent online banking interface. Props were props are due. Well done.

The pros far outweight the cons.

1. Free online bill pay. Stick it to the post office, forever stamps be damned.

2. Immediate account access. I catch fraud this way, often before my bank does. As much as I'd love to buy a pool table (no space, no cash for it), I didn't buy it and I called the bank right away and the charge was reversed and new cards were issued.+

3. Account transfers. Loves this. I move my proceeds from my small business to my regular checking seamlessly without having to step into a bank or step up to an ATM.

4. Automatic Bill Pay. I used to never use this feature, but now that I have Mint monitoring my accounts, I feel safer setting up a few auto bill pays, like my DSL (It's fixed at $34 a month) and my credit cards. I'm still working out my comfort level with this one, but as long as I know what I'm paying and it comes within my pre-set Mint budgets, I'm doing OK.

5. Email statements. So much fewer paperwork to file. I set up my email to filter on the bank statements and file them away appropriately, usually never to be looked at again unless there's a dispute. (Or for my business checking, I print out the yearly statement and punch all that into TurboTax).

There are a couple of downsides:

1. False sense of security. It's still the banks. They can still screw you out of your money. Diligence and Rule Zero.

2. Inattentiveness. If I take a few weeks off from Banking (vacation, sickness, just sick of it), then I run the risk of missing something important or blowing a budget or overdrafting. True, this is a risk with paper accounting too, but I think the "out of sight, out of mind" factor runs higher in the tubes.

If your Bank or CU offers online banking, set it up and see what, if any, of the above features are right for you.

+ The bank still screwed this up, so BofA lost a couple of points for penalizing my credit for this fraud. It took three calls to the bank to figure out what was going on. Always Rule Zero: Banks are not your friends.