Your Take 
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Your Take: Would You Consider Wedding Insurance?

Down the Aisle!I’ve heard of a lot of wacky types of insurance but here’s one that surprised me – wedding insurance. It’s the subject of Cameron Huddleston’s latest Kip Tips column, which, (not) coincidentally, was published after to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Wedding insurance is “special event insurance that provides reimbursement for nonrefundable deposits if the wedding needs to be canceled or postponed due to a natural disaster, death, illness, serious injury or other catastrophe listed in the policy.”

When we were married, the thought of wedding insurance never crossed our mind. Our event was held indoors but it was also held in February, which risked Mother Nature’s snowy wrath in Maryland. While everything went off without a hitch, I’m not entirely sure insurance would’ve been something we seriously considered had we even known about it. The biggest worry is that a service provider (caterer, photographer, florist, DJ, etc.) doesn’t show up, but in those cases you have legal means to get your deposit back, and in those cases it pays to do your homework on the vendor.

As we ramp up wedding season, does wedding insurance seem like a good idea? I’m inclined to say no.

(Photo: pinreader)


 Your Take 
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Your Take: Taking Two Down The Aisle

Anime Wedding Cake TopA guest post on Techcrunch back in March talked about an idea I’ve never heard of – “taking two down the aisle.” In the guest post, Larry Chiang, founder of Duck9 and regular blogger for Business Week, is talking about organization events as a way to gain exposure and network. The article as a whole is great but the idea I wanted to discuss today was the idea that when you book venues.

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 Your Take 
22
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Your Take: Synthetic Diamond Engagement Rings

Diamond Engagement RingIs there still a stigma against “synthetic,” or man-made, diamonds?

Nearly a year ago I wrote about an ethically-sensitive fiance-to-be’s dilemma: should he buy a larger synthethic diamond engagement ring or go with a smaller but “real” diamond engagement ring? The experts naturally advised him to be honest but the question remains whether there still is a stigma over having a man-made diamond versus a Mother Earth-made diamond.

I think the movie Blood Diamond awakened many to the atrocities surrounding the mining of diamonds but I don’t think it has or can overcome the years of powerful marketing and “tradition.” (Many still drive SUVs, fail to recycle, and do other Earth-unfriendly things in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth) I bought a Mother Earth-made diamond (I was aware of the atrocities surrounding the mining of diamonds in certain areas of the world; for me, I wasn’t aware of man-made diamonds and so I never made a choice) for my man-made lovely wife to be, but given a choice I’m not sure what I’d do.

However ultimately (and sadly), it’s all about comparisons. When people with engagement rings get together, both men and women, the question of size, color, clarity, and cut always comes up. People say they aren’t comparing, but they are. Ladies want to know who has the biggest, sparkliest, etc. and men want to know who bought it. So which is better, a larger synthetic or a smaller natural? The ones with the larger synthetic can sleep knowing they have the larger one, the ones with the smaller natural can sleep knowing they have a real stone. (of course the real bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter, you can’t eat, live in, or drive a diamond)

What’s your take on diamond engagement rings, be it naturally occurring or man-made? Natural is best? Synthetic is best? Everyone is crazy about these sparkly stones and we should be focusing on other things? And when you get a chance, check out this Smithsonian article about how synthetic diamonds are now as good as real ones.

(And what’s up with diamonds anyway? If I was a woman, I’d prefer another gemstone with a little more color, life, vibrancy, character, I don’t know… but then again my opportunity to be different, my wedding ring, is a solid gold band so what do I know)

(Photo by fensterbme)


 Monthly Review 
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Return of Monthly Reviews!

It’s been over a year since my last Monthly Review and I believe it’s time to bring them back. While other bloggers have continued their monthly income statements and balance sheets, I stopped a year ago because I felt it had become counter-productive. The reality is that the numbers themselves are irrelevant because they don’t apply to anyone else and they don’t help people make better decisions or learn from my mistakes. In fact, I felt that the numbers may be a distraction from the ultimate purpose of my monthly reviews, which was the explain both the good choices I’ve made as well as the bad choices.

So, in this return of monthly reviews, I’m going to simply outline the good, the bad, and the ugly of the decisions thus far. From here we’ll see how the month to months go.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Personal Finance 
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Changing Your Maiden Name After Marriage

One of the tricky things about being “recently married” is that the missus was in name limbo. “Technically,” she’s my wife with my last name (that’s right!). “Legally,” she still retains her maiden name until she goes to the Social Security Administration to change her SS card name and the DMV or MVA to change her license name. So what happens when we get a check written out to her new name? Trickiness! Headaches! But not to fret, I’ll try to capture everything we’ve done so that it can be as painless as possible for all you newlyweds out there.

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 Credit 
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How We Got A $1608.43 Cash Back Rebate Check

Citi CashReturns(SM) MasterCard® That’s right, we recently received a $1,075.98 check from Citi to go with our $532.45 check last month, all part of the greatest cashback plan in the world. Okay okay, I’m only kidding, it’s probably not the greatest cashback plan in the world but the Citi CashReturns card but it certainly softened the blow of paying for a wedding and honeymoon. Citi recently cut the promotion on this card so it fell off my list of the best cash back credit cards but it was hot while it lasted!

For those of you keeping score at home, and motivated enough to divide 1608.43 by .05, the cash back rebate included not only our wedding and honeymoon but almost all the spending of the last three months as well… but weddings are pricey.

So, how do you leverage a 3 month 5% cashback program as best as possible? Don’t apply for it unless you know you have a large capital expenditure in the next three months! This is perfect for big family vacations, weddings, home improvement projects, or anything else that’s expensive. I think that if you’re thinking about spending $10,000 or more ($500 cashback), then applying for this card is a smart move. If you don’t have anything on that scale, don’t apply! You want to save it for when you will have a big expenditure.

One other great thing about this card is that they automatically send you the rebate check, you don’t have to request it. I think it’s ridiculous that all cards don’t do this.


 Personal Finance 
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Marriage and Money Advice for Newlyweds

Since Jim is newly married and off on his honeymoon, I thought I’d take the time to focus on marriage and money. I’ve been married almost 13 years, and though my husband and I don’t argue about money much these days, there are a few things I wish I would have realized at the beginning of my marriage. It would have made the first few years a lot easier.

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 Personal Finance 
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Simplifying Your Finances Interview with Liz Weston

I had the fantastic opportunity to email interview Liz Pulliam Weston, a personal finance columnist for MSN Money as well as the author of several books including Easy Money: How to Simplify Your Finances and Get What You Want out of Life and Your Credit Score: How to Fix, Improve, and Protect the 3-Digit Number that Shapes Your Financial Future. I’m going to be getting a review copy from her publicist after we get back from our honeymoon but I wanted to ask Liz a few questions about simplifying our finances and she was happy to oblige!

1. I recently got married and discussed how we were going to try to simplify our finances, consolidating accounts and reducing the number of mailers we received each month, did you have any tips or advice for us on how to best do this?

First of all, congratulations!! Not only are you embarking on a wonderful journey, but it’s bound to provide lots of great fodder for your blog.

My best advice with trying to combine married finances is to ease into it and figure out what works for you. I’ve noticed people have VERY strong opinions about what you SHOULD do, but the only thing that matters is what works for you and your spouse.

Also, what works for you now might not work in a few years, and that’s okay, since people’s needs evolve.

What’s worked for my husband and I is to have one joint account where our paychecks/income streams are deposited and from which the bills are paid. But we also have “no questions asked” money—an “allowance” that we’re allowed to spend whatever way we please. Will keeps his in a separate bank account—the money is transferred there automatically each week. I take mine out of the joint account.

As I mentioned in the book, technology makes it pretty easy to move money around in accounts, so you don’t necessarily have to combine everything at one bank.

I’m NOT a fan, however, of hidden accounts—credit cards or bank accounts that are kept secret from the other person. I think the accounts themselves should be transparent and available for both parties to see.

If both of you have good credit, then getting a joint credit card or two for household expenses is a good idea (or you can add each other as authorized users to existing cards). Just don’t close old accounts since that can hurt your credit scores.

To reduce credit card offers, sign up for the credit bureaus’ opt out service, www.optoutprescreen.com or 888 5 OPT OUT.

2. There isn’t a single person out there who isn’t happy to simplify their lives, personal finance or otherwise, but there is always the fear that in “simplifying,” you accidentally cut something out that you never intended. Is there a proper way to approach this so that you make sure you don’t cut out something that was actually quite important?

The biggest fear is probably that you’ll toss something that you’ll need later. But remember that in the rare instance that you’re likely to need financial paperwork, it’s probably “living” somewhere that’s relatively easy to access. Your bank is required to keep your statements for at least six years; ditto your credit card company.

Just take a moment to ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen if I consolidate or eliminate this?” If you don’t know the answer, call a pro (like your tax preparer) or post it online in a forum where there are some financially savvy folks.

I’ll reiterate that your simplification generally shouldn’t extend to shutting down credit cards, unless your FICO scores are over 750 and you’re only closing recently-opened, low-limit accounts. Always keep your oldest and highest-limit accounts, regardless of your scores, and don’t close anything if you’re in score-improvement mode.

3. I’m hardly a Luddite but what would you recommend for people who are less trusting of the internet or less able to navigate it when it comes to simplifying finances? Bill pay works great if you trust the system and yourself to set it up properly, but people make errors.

People who monitor their accounts online tend to catch fraud faster and limit the damage compared to folks who wait for their statements to arrive in the mail. And remember that the U.S. mail is not encrypted and there’s no electronic trail showing when a payment left your account and landed in your biller’s account—in contrast to when you’re using online bill pay or other electronic payments.

As with everything else, if you’re new to this, start slowly. Pay a few bills electronically to get the hang of it. Monitor your bank account so you see what’s getting paid. Don’t put everything on automatic all at once.

4. If I only had the time to do three things to simplify my finances, what would you recommend and why?

Use online bill pay. Safer, faster and more efficient than using checks.

Aggregate your accounts. It’s easier to track your money if you can see all your accounts in one place. If you use one bank for everything, you can use its Web site; some bank sites, including Bank of America, have an account aggregation feature that lets you add accounts from other institutions. Yodlee is another account aggregation option that’s been around for awhile and that has lots of features. If you’re wary of having a Web site store your financial info, then use Money or Quicken.

Consolidate to one or two credit cards. The fewer due dates, rates and terms you have to keep track of, the better. Pay off your credit card balances as soon as possible and get in the habit of paying your cards in full every month. Then consolidate to using one or at most two cards for your spending. Try not to use more than 30% of your credit limits at any point during the month to keep your credit scores healthy.


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