The Almighty Dollar

Restoring some fiscal sanity in our -- negative savings rate -- lives

3.31.2006

Trust me, we are not poor

Lately a number of bloggers have written about feeling poor. My Open Wallet's post garnered dozens of comments, and NYC Money described a recent conversation she had with her husband about this topic. Boston Gal's Open Wallet drew our attention to a site that calculates how rich you are based on salary compared to the rest of the world.

Some people wrote that not being able to pay the bills or being unable to afford a house made them feel poor. Others described feeling poor as a child growing up in a financially tight household, but less so once they were working and became independent. I was struck by the honesty and emotion behind these words.

But the comments also showed me how our perception of being poor is relative to the environment and people around us. And, boy, what a small world it is that we live in.

My family has always struggled financially, as do countless other lower and middle income households across the country. It's pretty easy to come up with instances that make you feel poorer than the next person. Someone has a nicer or newer shirt than you. The latest basketball shoes. A walkman when you only had a radio. Even the rich could probably come up with an example.

I still resent my parents for always pointing out ways they were unable to provide for me. Things like clothes, books, tapes, and cars that all of my peers had, but I didn't. I know it was partly because they felt guilty. They wanted me to have the best of everything. Since they couldn't give me that, it made them feel inadequate as parents.

Growing up, I believed I was extremely poor -- until I travelled to a third world country for the first time. Then I realized that I was rich. I apologize for the cliche, but that trip changed my life.

A salary calculator can compute how much wealthier you are in numbers, but there's nothing better than first-hand experience. Expand your world. Widen your vision. See how others survive on much less, but are easily the most generous people you will ever meet.

I think it's unhealthy to dwell too much on being poor. Some people can use these feelings to create better lives, but most are left feeling hard, unsatisfied, and especially bitter. It's natural for us to feel unfulfilled in some way or another, but I guarantee there is someone in this world who would love to have what you have.

3.29.2006

Admiration for young parents

Tonight after work, I'm heading over to our friends' house to babysit their two young children for the evening. Honestly, they never would have asked me if their normal babysitter hadn't cancelled at the last minute. I admit, I'm hopeless with kids and never know what to say or do around them! It just doesn't come naturally to me. Anyway, their kids are sweet, so I was happy to do it.

This gesture will also save my friends a bundle of money, since they normally have to dish out $75 for a babysitter before spending anything else for the night. I am amazed and always wonder how young parents do it. It makes me appreciate how my husband and I can go out to a restaurant for dinner on a whim, not have to make arrangements beforehand, without starting out the night in the hole.

A few weeks ago we invited these friends over to our house for a drink and then dinner at a nearby place. The dinner was reasonably priced, but with drinks and tip, it came out to atleast $75 per couple. But for our friends, the night was more even more expensive. They had to pay that amount just to leave the house for a few hours, plus the added cost of entertainment.

They tell me it's worth it, just so they can have a life and feel like adults once in a while. If I were in their situation, I'm sure I would do the same.

3.28.2006

More outrage about cars

I hate to harp on this subject again, but I really need your help to figure out why people care so much about their cars.

"It's a form of transportation to get you from point A to point B," my husband remarked last night. I agree with him. I take a crappy, run-down metrobus to and from work everyday. I could care less what the bus looks like, but I'm relieved that it allows me to stare out the window and veg first thing in the morning.

Why do people spend huge amounts of money on cars, even paying extra for personalized plates and such, for what is essentially a heap of metal and plastic painted in pretty colors?

Since my brother places a scary priority on what he drives, I asked him numerous times why his car is so important to him. His answer never satisfies me. He tells me that everyone cares about different things, and cars are important to him because he spends a lot of time in them. That's true, he lives in the 'burbs and has to drive everywhere.

I think his response is a bit dishonest. Plain and simple, the car represents his financial success. When he pulls up to a family function in his fancy car, he is seeking the wow factor and an opportunity to brag a little. And for some unexplicable reason, people are in awe of it.

Aren't we smart enough to know that many people carry upside-down loans or lease their cars? Most people don't really own their luxury wheels, and it's likely their net worth is not a source of pride, but one of concern.

It all seems superficial to me, and frankly, immature.

3.27.2006

Your clunker is my treasure

In my family, it all comes back to The Car. I've written about it before, but here I go again...

Last week, my brother declared Mom's 5-year-old Volvo a "piece of junk." The culprit this time was the check engine light. Well, it lit up. The mechanic quoted them a few thousand dollars to repair whatever he deemed was wrong with it. When I asked my brother what the exact problem was, he didn't know. But he said the car's suspension system was shot anyway, and that it was time to replace the clunker.

Clunker? Piece of junk? My Honda was 5 years old when I bought it, and I was thrilled to find it still on the lot. It was in good condition and had low mileage. Driving it, I finally felt like an adult. Before that, I had a 15-year-old car that despite its age, drove smoothly. In fact, I killed it by letting the oil run dry.

Since my parents paid off the car only 6 months ago, they were hesitant to take on new payments. This is actually a wise decision, considering how my parents are already overextended financially. My brother's solution was to lease a new car for 3 years and make the payments himself.

Now I suppose he just wants to do something nice for my parents, and that's thoughtful. But I wish he would help them out with something that seems more fiscally responsible. Perhaps pay for the repairs himself or shop for a reasonably-priced used car. By leasing a fancy car they cannot afford to buy just smacks of Keeping up with the Jones'. It's like playing pretend for the next 36 months.

3.26.2006

I'm back

Phew, it's been a busy week! I was called out of town on short notice, but I'm back and ready to blog some more.

3.19.2006

Don't blow that extra paycheck

Last night, I celebrated my friend's good news. He had accepted a great job offer -- and with it, a higher salary. The pay difference isn't huge, but it is significant considering my friend's financials.

He is single and makes good money. Despite that, he lives paycheck to paycheck, saves little, and can't seem to get rid of a few thousand dollars in credit card debt. He told me how his poor state has taken a toll on his self-esteem and confidence, particularly among his peers.

Knowing all of this, I was surprised to hear him announce that as a gift to himself, he was going to use the extra money towards guitar lessons. (I was relieved to know he already has a guitar and won't have to buy one.)

Now, I am all for learning new languages, pursuing hobbies, doing what makes you happy. But in my friend's case, I think he is being foolish for not paying off his debts first. The lessons should come later.

By enrolling in these classes, he wouldn't be lowering his debt burden, but rather, adding to it. Although he's avoided the expense of buying a new guitar, other things are required in order to play seriously. For starters, he mentioned needing to purchase a tuner. The list goes on and on.

It is decisions like his that make me unsympathetic to people who say, if they only made a bit more money, then they'd pay off the debt. Let's be honest here -- that's just an excuse. How you spend every dollar counts.

3.18.2006

Treating family -- when to say enough is enough

Consider me old-fashioned, but I think it's a matter of common courtesy to say thanks when someone is thoughtful enough to treat you, whether it be to a meal, a beer or a coffee. The more considerate among us will usually reciprocate the gesture at some point. But when it comes to family, are the rules the same?

For years, my husband and I had treated my brother and his fiance (now wife) to numerous lunches, dinners, and drinks. Since we live in different states, these instances would occur either when we were visiting family or when they came and stayed with us. Usually what happened was we would invite my parents to dinner, my brother and his fiance would join us, and we would end up footing the entire bill.

I enjoy treating my family and friends. I do it often, and they consider me to be quite generous. What bothered me was how my brother and his fiance always sat still when the bill came, never offered to pay even their share, nor offered to get it next time. And they never said thank you.

The last straw came during a visit over Thanksgiving, when my brother and fiance stayed with us for 4 days. We stocked the fridge, treated them at a nice restaurant upon arrival, cooked a masterful turkey dinner with all the fixin's, and had lined up plenty of fun things to do while they were here. One day, I ended up lunching and museum-hopping with his fiance, while the boys went to the hardware store for some home repair equipment. We went to a casual eatery, the kind of place where you order upfront, pay the cashier, and wait at a table until your number is called. After we each placed our orders, I was taking out my wallet and saw that my brother's fiance had already sat down. She assumed that I would be paying for this lunch, too.

Needless to say, I was incredulous. My brother is less than 2 years younger than me, and is certainly not bashful about his high salary (it's double what I make). His fiance does well, too. So we're not talking about young college grads surviving on pennies.

I held my tongue until he returned home -- and then battled with him over the phone. At first, he was defensive, stubborn, and called me cheap. But within days, he realized where I was coming from and admitted that he had been taking my generosity for granted. Now he is so insistent on paying for meals that it's become almost uncomfortable.

Ironically, my brother told me yesterday that he was having a similar problem with his sister-in-law (out of fairness, she is a recent college grad still trying to make it on her own). His wife is hesitant to say anything to her sister and hopes she will eventually come around.

I'm not so sure. I have no regrets about confronting my brother on such a sensitive matter. If I hadn't, I don't think he would have changed. It's hard to know where to draw the line, because you love 'em and they're family.

3.16.2006

How much money you make is important

There are two great posts by Financial Freedumb about revealing one's salary: why some people do it and others don't.

On The Almighty Dollar, I don't publicize any of my personal information, such as net worth, debt or income. Instead, I have written extensively about my history with money and how it has shaped my thoughts and opinions about spending.

I know there are bloggers who post all of their numbers, but then choose to keep their salaries secret. I suppose there is no harm in wanting some privacy. However, income is actually a significant factor for those who use their blogs to hold themselves accountable and to judge their progress.

Here's an example. Take two single people, both aged 30 with no debt. One makes $50K a year and has $150K in cash and retirement savings. The other makes double the salary and also has $150K in savings.

Indeed, they are both in great positions at their age. But I would be more impressed with the financial habits of the person making $50K than the one making $100K. Who do you think is doing better?

3.14.2006

New credit scores, but still the same faulty system

Our borrowing power lies in the hands of the 3 major credit bureaus. Today, they announced the creation of a new credit scoring system called VantageScore.

After reading this story, I still don't understand what the differences are:

Our scores will still be 3-digit numbers.
Our scores will still be categorized into ranges, the higher the better.

Only now, these agencies will be grading our credit histories. "A" is for the best among us, and "F" are failures. I guess I won't have to go to grad school to be a student again.

I find this announcement very frustrating, because it doesn't address the main problem with the scoring system.

My score differs by agency, because each one receives selective information about my credit. For example, some agencies have a record of one of my credit cards, but others do not. Thus, one agency has a more comprehensive picture of my credit history than another agency. So how does the new system ensure that every bureau receives all of my credit information in its entirety?

3.13.2006

Life is too short to live with debt

Last week I received an anonymous email from someone seeking non-professional advice on how to deal with a large amount of credit card debt.

Since I am not a financial expert, initially, I was reluctant to respond. But after giving it some thought, I provided my opinion about how I would handle the same situation, as I would to anyone who posted a question on a message board or a close friend in need.

What troubles me most about people struggling to become debt-free are their spending habits. I strongly emphasize taking an honest look at one's spending: Have you really cut out all non-essential costs? Are you paying more for goods that would be cheaper if you made them yourself?

A lot of debt-ridden people would admit they have not pared down spending enough.

I can't figure this one out. If you carry huge debt and feel stressed daily because of it, why aren't you doing everything possible to get rid of that stress?

If I had tons of credit card debt, I would eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. I would not go to movies or happy hours. I would not buy clothes or books. I would get rid of cable and other unimportant services. I would re-evaluate housing and auto expenses, and downsize if necessary. I would cut my spending to the bare minimum, because that is what I'd have to do to get out of debt.

Some of you might say life is too short for such extreme measures. But I think that debt-ridden folks probably feel even greater stress, because they haven't taken extreme measures. Thus, they feel helpless in their situation.

Take control of your spending, because life is too short to live with debt!

3.10.2006

Banks suck!

If any of you are fully satisfied with your bank's customer service, please tell me which bank you use.

My husband and I have multiple accounts at a local bricks-and-mortar bank and an online bank. I opened my online account years ago, mostly because I was so fed up with my local bank. The tellers were rude, they screwed up basic wire transfers (it was for my wedding, no less!), and miscellaneous service charges appeared sporadically on our statements.

At the time, I was uncomfortable moving all of my money online, especially since online banks were so new, and chose to keep my local bank account open. I only keep a minimal amount of cash in it and transfer most of my money to the online account. Still, I prefer having the option of physically walking into a bank, if necessary, but mine only has branches near work and none in our neighborhood.

This past weekend, we decided to move our accounts to a local bank that has a branch up the street from home. My husband went to the bank's Web site and saw it offered an online application. Great, that sounds easy! So he filled it out, hit submit, and received a message saying the application could not be fully processed and that a representative would call him.

Isn't the point of offering applications online so you can avoid having to speak to a person or physically go to the bank? Plus, we wanted to open a joint account, but apparently this option was not available online. The site never mentioned that.

For the next few days, my husband got annoyed at playing phone tag with the representative, and finally told him to forget about it. I guess if we want to open an account, we will have to go into the bank.

Now I'm not sure if I want to go through the hassle of changing banks, since this one seems little better than my current one. And I haven't been thrilled with my online bank either. Its Web site is fine, but could definitely use some improvements. And there are frequent technical problems, requiring me to wait for 10 minutes on the phone or 3 days by secure email, before they are addressed.

At this rate, I'm tempted just to stash my cash under the mattress!

3.09.2006

What does $100 mean to you?

To continue my examination of when money comes between friends, does each side have a rational point of view?

The Loaner's Logic:
"I casually mentioned the show to the Borrower, and he enthusiastically agreed to go together. I didn't pressure him at all. Since I would be passing by the ticket office later that day, I offered to get the tickets for us. That way, we could get the best available seats. Sure enough, ours were third row.

With each passing month, I avoided the topic of the tickets, because I did not want to make it a big deal. I know the Borrower has debt. And yes, he makes less money than me, but that doesn't mean he should get everything for free. Actually, I think it's wrong that the Borrower's friends are always treating him, just because they make more money and are aware of his credit card troubles. The Borrower is an adult, heck, we are nearly the same age. He makes a decent salary, but the main problem is his poor financial management. If friends are treating him all the time, the Borrower will never get his finances in order."


The Borrower's Defense:
"I heard great things about the show and really wanted to see it. The tickets were expensive at $100 a piece, but everyone's told me it was worth the price. I am tight on money now, but then again, when aren't I? I'm sure the Loaner won't mind if I pay him back later for the tickets. He makes way more money than I do, and it won't kill him if he doesn't get the $100 bucks immediately. The show is a few months away, and I can definitely get him the money by then.

Anyway, the Loaner knows I've been trying to be better with my money. I've already told him that I cut back on my 401K contributions to put more money towards my credit cards. He knows that I've had tons of expenses lately. I had to borrow money from my sister for that wedding, and there are three parking tickets in my inbox waiting to be paid. I'm trying hard to get rid of my debt, but I still have to live my life! Since I'm back in the dating game, I can't stay home every night. Plus, I save money in other ways, like bringing my lunch to work, going to happy hours for half-price beers, and only buying clothes on sale."


What Does $100 Mean to You?
Depending on your situation and how you value money, $100 may be a little or a lot. From my perspective, it is a lot.

As a one-time deal, I agree with It's Just Money that $100 is certainly not worth breaking up a friendship. But what if $100 becomes $1000, or one instance turns into multiple?

In all cases, it is the Borrower's responsibility to fork up the money as soon as possible. If the Borrower doesn't have it, let the Loaner know. Remember, this is your friend, not some slimy car dealer.

And for G*d's sake, do not put the Loaner in the position of having to ask for it!

I think most Loaners will agree this is the worst part about lending money to friends. The Borrower is being inconsiderate by spending money frivolously in the Loaner's company, and ignoring the loan will only foster deeper resentment.

Growing up, I turned down invitations to dinners and parties, because I didn't have the money and didn't want to borrow it. I hate feeling indebted to anyone, even if it's over a dollar. Borrowers, you can say NO.

In my adult life, I am finally in a position to loan money. I've lent small and large amounts, but do so conditionally and cautiously.

You may call me judgmental, but I have decided not to lend money to people I deem careless spenders or serial borrowers. Nor would I really want to be friends with them.

3.08.2006

When money comes between friends

To borrow or not to borrow? To lend or not to lend?

The Loaner makes good money, has saved up a sizeable emergency fund, but has put very little towards retirement.

The Borrower makes a salary that is modest but plenty for one person to live on, has credit card debt in the low thousands and no savings, but has put a significant amount towards retirement.

Both are in their early 30s, single, and sociable.

Last fall, a popular comedy show announced it was coming to town this spring, and advance tickets went on sale. My friends begged me to go, but I refused primarily for two reasons: the show didn't appeal to me, and I thought the tickets were too pricey at almost $100 per person. To get the best seats, the Loaner quickly bought tickets for the two of them, and the Borrower promised to pay him back.

Last week, they went to the show and had a fun time. But the Borrower still hasn't paid back his loan.

During the several months between purchasing the tickets and attending the show, these two friends frequented many bars and restaurants together and in groups. Yet no money for the ticket has exchanged hands.

The Borrower hasn't forgotten about the loan, but says he needs to pay off parking tickets and other debts first. The Loaner, who has since seen the Borrower spend money on social outings, is becoming increasingly annoyed by the excuses.

Surely you are shaking your heads, because at some point, we all have been the Loaner, the Borrower, or both.

Who do you think is at fault here? Is the Loaner wrong to be upset? Is the Borrower wrong for having fun instead of paying back the loan sooner?

In my next post, I want to examine the two perspectives. (Personal disclaimer: Having been burned before, I have decided not to loan money with the exception for emergencies.)

3.06.2006

Don't shortchange your honeymoon

A shout out to all couples in the wedding-planning stages: Don't shortchange your honeymoon -- it's the best part!

Let's face it. Planning a wedding is a stressful experience and one you don't want to repeat in the near future. You spend months worrying about annoying details, such as which chairs to rent for the reception (gold or silver) or should the centerpiece be a fruit or a flower? After it's all over, your guests won't care and neither will you.

What you will care about is putting that whole wedding business behind you and spending quality time getting reacquainted with your new spouse (yes, that person you pledged to be with your entire life). So doesn't it make sense to devote just as many resources to your post-wedding period as the ceremony itself?

I am surprised that the honeymoon seems to be an afterthought for so many couples. Call me crazy, but I think I began planning my honeymoon at the same time, if not before, my wedding! For those of you new to my series, I wrote earlier that my husband and I were married on the Amalfi Coast and from there took a train to the southernmost part of Italy for two weeks of R & R.

Although we are avid travelers, for most trips we keep a tight budget, stay in cheaper places and often dine out in grocery stores. For our honeymoon, we loosened our purse strings a bit and stayed in slightly better hotels and ordered wine with our meals without guilt. We foot the bill for our wedding and honeymoon, so naturally money was a concern and priorities had to be set.

In the end, we spent the same amount for both -- I think it came to about $2500 each. It was worth every dollar. When I look at my wedding pictures, they still make me smile. But when I look at my honeymoon pictures, I wonder when can I go back?

My first Carnival!

Just wanted to celebrate my first contribution to the 38th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Canadian Capitalist.

Check out my post on Why I Said No To An Engagement Ring!

P.S. Also many thanks to Free Money Finance for linking to my site and encouraging new visitors.

P.S.S. A much-belated thanks to Consumerism Commentary, who had faith in me and linked here early on.

3.05.2006

The typical American family has...

$3800 in the bank and an average credit card balance of $2200.

The Washington Post takes a look at new data released from the Federal Reserve about American families and savings. The article gives a detailed breakdown of the average household by life stage: young, mid-career, retired, lower income, and upper income. Some scary stats:

- Only 40% of households under 35 have a retirement account.

- More than half of mid-career households (45 to 54) have a retirement account, but the median value is just $55,000.

- Upper income folks make more money but only have a median value of $70,000 in their retirement accounts.

People, we need to save more!!!

3.03.2006

If you're on a tight budget, consider marrying in Europe

If you've been following my manual on getting married, here is my story about how we pulled off a beautiful wedding in Italy and saved money doing it.

I promise to be brief on the non-financial parts -- after all, this is a personal finance blog!

When considering a European wedding, you must first look into the legal requirements of each country and decide what works best for you. Once you've decided on the location, I highly recommend seeking out a local wedding coordinator who can assist you in satisfying the paperwork and other legal demands in country. With the growing popularity of overseas weddings, there is a wide range of agencies offering budget to luxury services. (I won't go into all the details here, but please e-mail me if you have questions!)

Now here is where the savings come in:

In most countries, you will be permitted to choose between a religious or civil ceremony. As those who have travelled to Europe know, the architecture of European buildings generally look spectacular. Luckily these buildings often house the city's town hall and its churches, where the wedding will take place. Our civil ceremony was held on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. The view was absolutely breathtaking. So there was no need to buy fresh flowers or other decorations to make it look beautiful -- it already was.

We selected a coordinator who specialized in the area and packaged their services. Typically you can add on or subtract services to your liking. We chose a basic package that included all of the legalities, and then added music (a violinist), upgraded the photos (everyone who sees them gawks), and transportation to and from the wedding and reception for all of our guests. For the reception, we hosted a dinner at a restaurant down the coast, where we have fond memories from a previous trip.

The entire cost of our wedding equals what some people here pay for their wedding dress or photographer alone.

Obviously, the more expensive costs are accommodations and airline tickets to your destination. You can easily find a decent price for tickets these days, especially if you are planning in advance. But consider part of your honeymoon paid for with those tickets, since you could extend your stay and hang with your honey for another week in Europe.

As for hotels, you are better off staying in one of the numerous independently-owned hotels or pensiones common in Europe. Not only are they way cheaper, but they ooze with character you will never find in the average American chain hotel.

If you are on a tight budget, consider marrying in Europe. I guarantee that your wedding will be affordable, unique and memorable for yourselves and your guests.

3.02.2006

Negative savings: How low can we go?

We're all living on equity and have no rainy day funds.

That's according to this USA Today story, which gives some insight as to why the national savings rate continues to remain in the red and how long our nation can sustain it.

How to plan a wedding and preserve your sanity

To all you bride-to-be bloggers, who are normally sane and happy people but whose dark sides have temporarily taken over, do not be concerned. Most of us already-marrieds will admit that at some point during the wedding planning process, we lost it, too.

Maybe it happened once, or even multiple times. Seriously, it's happened to the best of us. For those embarking on this journey, I have some advice for you: Just assume you will breakdown at least once, so you won't freak out when you do.

Having planned my own wedding (and consoled my friends during theirs), I've picked up a few methods on how to stay cool and still make it to the altar:

1. He proposed, you accepted -- yippee! Now before you do anything, sit down with your fiance and talk.

Discuss what the wedding means to you as a couple and what type of wedding each of you wants. Most importantly, be honest. Dream a little. You will be surprised what at first seems impossible may actually be very possible. My husband and I wanted to keep it small; a big white wedding in a church wasn't for us. We tossed around alternatives, like eloping or wouldn't it be great if we could do it overseas? Our idea of having an Italian wedding began as a wild fantasy, but after doing some research, it gradually became a reality.

2. DO NOT TELL YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS ABOUT YOUR PLANS until you have reached a decision.

This way, you will automatically have the upper hand from the start. It is astounding how many people think they have the right to tell you what kind of wedding you should have. Your best friend, your aunt, your neighbor, the cashier at the gas station -- they will let you know. And even though you may not care for that person's opinion, it will affect you.

My friend got married last year in a huge church ceremony. She and her fiance weren't religious and didn't want a large wedding, but went ahead with it anyway to please her mother. Throughout the process, everyone pushed them around. Because they never decided what they wanted, they were exposed to the mercy of others and got eaten alive.

3. Decide how to fund your wedding.

In an ideal world, you and fiance would have been saving up for this occasion for some time. If not, try your best to fund as much of the wedding yourselves. From experience, I can tell you it is much easier to maintain your ground when the bucks are coming from your wallet. Every time someone felt it necessary to butt in, I would remind them it was our money and our wedding. That usually shut them up fast.

4. Is bigger really better? As quickly as you discovered that you can't please everyone, you also can't invite everyone.

Friends of friends of your parents won't cry if they're not invited. I have a friend who nearly fought with his fiance over who exactly was considered family, since her side was much smaller than his. In the end they just agreed that each would invite 75 people. He followed my advice to pick his battles carefully. Obviously, money will be a factor in this decision as well. Please don't get stressed out because you can't invite all of your college friends and co-workers. Most reasonable people will understand and just be happy for you.

I strongly encourage you and your fiance to make the big decisions early on in the engagement. Otherwise, you will spend every stinkin' day leading up to the wedding stressing about this stuff!!!

3.01.2006

Why I said no to an engagement ring

Shortly after becoming engaged, I ran into a former female co-worker. We had been friendly but lost touch over the years. When I told her about my engagement, the first question she asked was about the ring. I told her that I didn't have one. Her reply, "Oh, I am soooo sorry, hon'."

Whoa! After that, when people inevitably asked about the ring (or why it was missing), I clearly stated that I didn't want one.

You ladies out there are probably shocked by this, while the gentlemen are quietly cheering.

It wasn't a feminist, women-empowerment thing. Nor was it due to a lack of funds. Nor was it because I'm the type who reserves wearing jewelry for special occasions.

I guess it was because I felt our relationship had already moved beyond what the ring is supposed to symbolize. Our commitment to one another was secure.

My husband and I dated for six years before getting married. Early on, we lived in different cities and conquered long distances with ridiculously high phone bills (this was before cheap cell phone plans and IM) and the occasional visit (we were newly-graduated and poor). Thankfully, he decided to move here, got his own apartment, and eventually we moved in together.

By then, we were completely open about our finances (gracias, Quicken) and what we wanted in our lives. We had been saving for a wedding and honeymoon, both of which we paid for ourselves, and a future downpayment on a home. With this knowledge, an expensive ring just seemed like, well, an expensive ring.

Throughout our year-long engagement, I fended off the sorry looks and societal pressure to get one. At first, my mother said she understood why I didn't want one. But she bowed under the pressure and recommended that I just get a "little stone," so people could see it and it would seem like we were really engaged. As if I was planning a wedding in Italy for pretend. Gosh, even after six years of dating, my husband confessed to being nervous when he proposed!

So it's okay not to have a ring. The wedding will go on without a ring. The marriage will last without a ring. In many ways, your relationship (and your bank account) will be richer because of it.