plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

December 23, 2008

saving money: conventionally or unconventionally?

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , — plonkee @ 8:54 pm

There’s a thread in the GRS forums where some nice seeming dude is asking for suggestions as to what he should do with his finances. He has a reasonable amount of consumer debt (including $3k on wedding bands), and wants to save for a wedding and a house deposit plus he has good cashflow. As usual on the forums lots of people have chimed in with good suggestions (including me!).

Also, as usual on any personal finance blog or forum when the topic is ever mentioned, a few people have made frugal wedding-y type suggestions. Typically people say something like “you don’t have to have a big fancy party to get married, you can just go to a Justice of the Peace and do it small and quiet”. Methinks that in this particular example someone who has spent $3k on wedding bands might actually really want the big wedding.

the wedding example

Weddings are amazing things. They are important rites of passage and are always connected both to the couple getting married and the culture around them. I am middle class and English and there are certain things that I expect from a traditional or conventional wedding, including special invitations, bride in a white dress, attractive location, sit down meal with alcohol. I’ve previously worked out that a traditional English wedding costs in the region of £13k and up.

You might come from a different background to me and have a different view of what a conventional wedding looks like, but I bet there’s still something that you can judge every wedding against as more, or less conventional.

When it comes to getting married frugally, tips essentially fall into two categories:

  1. ways to be conventional more cheaply
  2. ways to not be conventional that save money

Naturally, where you place a particular tip depends on your idea of what conventional is. For example, I would say that having a fork buffet would be within conventional but possibly cheaper, whereas (for me) self-catering a wedding is not  conventional. Similarly, for me eloping or having a very small wedding are not traditional, having one bridesmaid* would be traditional but cheaper.

*In England it is legal requirement to have two witnesses at a marriage ceremony, traditionally one is the bridesmaid and the other the best man – even if they’re not dressed in fancy clothes, that’s basically who the witnesses are going to be.

There’s nothing wrong with either way of saving money, but which one you pick for the most part will depend on a lot of things about you and your family that have nothing to do with your budget. If I was getting married, I could be deeply unconventional about say, the colour of my dress (which clearly would be purple), but a wedding is all about the ceremony and the big party – there would have to be really unusual circumstances for me to consider a quick registry office thing.

things other than weddings

What’s true about weddings is true about lots of things. Whenever you’re looking to cut costs, there are two ways of approaching things:

  1. do what everyone else does, but cheaper
  2. be different, in a way that saves money

Both are equally valid and acceptable but have completely different results and require different mindsets.

I use both where I can – or at least I try to consider both – but in this sort of thing I can be fairly conventional. I tend to trim money from the standard expenses wherever I can rather than really going for the jugular and asking if I should reconsider more fundamentally.

An example of this, is probably my phone and internet use. I have a phone line, a mobile phone and a broadband internet package. I shop around to get the best deal on these, but I rarely really revisit whether I need all three, or whether or not there might be a completely different solution to the problems of staying in contact with people important to me, and blogging. Most of my purchasing decisions are like this.

The only one thing I’m doing at the moment where I think I really am being different, is in my lack of a car. The transport problems I face on a regular basis are getting to and from work, running errands, and travelling to see friends and family. Since I can do all of those without a car (although it is more hassle) I just don’t own a car. A fundamentally different attitude is required.

What about you? Where do you think you are being unconventional in a way that saves money? Where do you just do the standard stuff but cheaper? Let me know in the comments.

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