Posted on 3/30/2012 17:52 EST
With weddings, proms, and (finally!) summer vacations all around the corner, our bloggers have been hard at work to make sure you get the most for your money. In addition, a full update of our buying guide to Bluetooth headsets can help keep you connected on the go.
With communities around the country passing laws that make hands-free
devices the only option for talking on a cell phone while driving, we've updated our list of the best cheap Bluetooth headsets
. Our picks include three conventional earpieces but also one stereo headset that sits on the user's collar and vibrates when a call comes in.
New Blog Posts.
Planning a Wedding on a Budget.
Spring and summer are the most popular times of the year to get married. Whether you're sighing over your ring and looking ahead to next year or counting down the last few weeks, our budget wedding ideas
can help you cut costs on hair and makeup and more. If you're still in the early stages of planning, start with our first post on cheap wedding ideas
6 Cheap Summer Vacations.
You shouldn't have to save up all year long for a fun summer trip. Our top summer vacation ideas
take you to resorts, on canoe trips, or out on a rented houseboat -- all without breaking the bank.
Stores are already filling racks with pricey prom dresses. Avoid paying too much -- and showing up at the dance with the same dress as someone else -- by shopping elsewhere. Our guide to cheap prom dresses
shows you where to look.
Best Coupon Sites 2012.
Websites and blogs make couponing an option for even the busiest penny pincher. We revisited our favorite sites and scoured the internet for new ones to compile our list of the best coupon sites
10 Ways to Find a Bargain Online.
An infographic we posted this week illustrates the best tips for cheap online shopping,
including online coupons, price alerts, cash-back
sites, and more.
Posted on 3/30/2012 10:18 EST
If you've taken your first steps toward planning a cheap wedding (choosing a venue, setting a date), it's time to start thinking about vendors. Our second batch of budget wedding ideas centers on the services you need for the big day. Here's how to save on everything from a DJ to a caterer.
Students and novice DJs can make great cheap choices for wedding entertainment and ceremony music. Post on local school bulletin boards and scour Craigslist. Make sure to meet any aspirants and see that they can properly mix and play the type of music you want. A band is another option, but more than one person may cost extra. Each band member may also require a meal during the reception. If you still want to go this route, try auditioning student bands willing to trade a low price for publicity and practice.
The cheapest option is the iPod DJ, a popular budget wedding idea. Program playlists of songs you love and let your digital mixtape bring a crowd to the dance floor. (At least you can be sure this DJ has good taste in music.) Recruit a friend or family member to press play and pause -- and to make sure no one else tries to take over.
To really get "wow!" wedding photos, consider hiring an artist, as opposed to a wedding professional. A photography major at an art college can look beyond the typical wedding checklist (bride and groom with bride's family, bride and groom with groom's family) and capture more than just portraits. Check out portfolios from students and from photographers just starting out. You may see work worthy of magazine editorial spreads for less than half the cost of a self-described
Wedding hair and makeup.
Once you've chosen a cheap wedding dress
and accessories (see our buying guide for recommended retailers), you don't have to spend a lot to complete your look. The easiest way to save on hair and makeup is to do it yourself, or have a skilled friend help. With the wealth of online resources and tutorials on sites such as Pinterest
and YouTube, almost anyone can learn to pull off stunning makeup and hair with a little practice. Consult our guides to the best mascara
to save on supplies. Are any of your guests hairstylists or beauty school students? Ask them to share their expertise as their wedding gift to you.
Cut costs by sticking to flowers that are in season and choosing less expensive varieties. Gerbera daisies and greenery amount to less than calla lilies and peonies. To save even more, forgo a florist and buy in bulk online or from a source such as Costco. Turn the building of the bouquets into bridesmaid bonding time.
Rustic and minimal centerpieces, both popular recent trends, also make appealing budget wedding ideas. Think wildflowers in Mason jars or a few elegant blooms floating in water.
To save money on wedding catering, consider both the menu and the format of the meal. A family-style
dinner or a cocktail reception with passed canapes and food stations is generally cheaper than a formal, sit-down
dinner. These setups typically require fewer servers and eliminate time spent plating individual dishes. You also don't have to account for uninvited guests or last-minute
changes to entree preferences.
When you make up your menu, look to items that are low-cost but sure to please. Instead of the typical (and expensive) steak or chicken options, think macaroni and cheese, barbecue, or slider burgers. These types of food are a hit with guests, work for family-style meals or buffets, and -- best of all -- come cheap.
Posted on 3/29/2012 16:32 EST
Still basking in the afterglow of a holiday or Valentine's Day proposal? Sooner or later (preferably sooner), you'll have to start calculating how much the wedding is likely to cost -- and whether you can afford it. You may think you're planning a cheap wedding, but adding up everything from hors d'oeuvres to flower arrangements catapults the average total to beyond $27,000 (and, like many things, is typically much pricier in large metro areas). That's according to the recently released 2011 Real Weddings Survey by supersites The Knot and WeddingChannel.com. If this sounds like more than you can manage, Cheapism's resident newlyweds have put together some tips on planning a cheap wedding.
Part One: Date, Location, and Head Count
If you're in the early stages of planning a cheap wedding, think critically about the date, location, and size of your event. These big-picture
considerations can affect your bottom line far more profoundly than DIY centerpieces.
Set an off-peak date.
Summer is traditionally considered "wedding season," but the most popular month in which to marry is September, according to the Real Weddings Survey. Peak season means peak pricing on everything from venues to vendors, so choose another time of year if you're planning a cheap wedding. In December, for instance, family and friends are likely to be taking time off work for the holidays, and a site already decorated for the season can save you money on decor.
The day of the week also makes a difference, and a popular suggestion for frugal couples is to stay away from Saturdays. If you worry that guests won't feel free to let loose or stay till the last dance, look into a Sunday over a holiday weekend. It may cost more than a typical Sunday but less than a Saturday.
Keep your guest list short.
Between invitations and postage, dinner and dessert, drinks and favors -- not to mention plus-ones
-- each extra name can easily add $100 or more to your total. Make a list of friends and family whom you can't bear to be without and be strict about whom your parents can invite. A lean guest list can also broaden the selection of venues able to accommodate your head count, potentially letting you choose a cheaper and more intimate space.
Find a free venue.
Before you Google "cheap [your city here] wedding venues," try to brainstorm offbeat and original locations for a wedding. Your guests will be impressed at how beautiful a barn, garden, park, warehouse space, or family home can look when decorated. Inquire at locations with sentimental value, such as a favorite restaurant, a weekend getaway spot, or the site of your engagement or first date. Keep in mind that such venues may end up costing more once you factor in catering, furniture rental, portable restrooms, and the like.
Some venues are all-inclusive
, offering in-house
catering, bar service, tables, chairs, and flatware. This limits opportunities to find savings but may be less expensive than renting separately. While a restaurant may not let you bring in booze bought in bulk, you also don't have to pay for every open bottle -- unpoured liquor can go back behind the bar and be served to other patrons. With so many variables, the important thing is to ask questions and compare costs.
Shrink your wedding party.
As much as you might want to include every childhood friend and college roommate, bear in mind that you will be treating these VIPs to not just one night of dinner and drinks but two in a row. The rehearsal dinner can easily become the equivalent of a small wedding reception if you're not careful. Fewer bridesmaids and groomsmen also means fewer attendant gifts and flowers for bouquets and boutonnieres. This can add up to hundreds in savings.
Use free online tools.
Resources abound on the web for couples planning a cheap wedding. Commune with other budget-conscious
brides at Weddingbee
, seek inspiration from Style Me Pretty
, and track your spending at Project Wedding
is becoming a popular visual resource for ideas on everything from decorations to cakes to gowns. Use this "online pinboard" to find inspiring images, curate your own collections, and narrow down your wedding style and vision.
Posted on 3/29/2012 12:37 EST
If you're already on the hunt for cheap summer vacation ideas, you're a step ahead: Smart travelers know that scoring the best deals means starting their research early. And with spring already here, summer -- and summer vacations -- are just around the corner.
To save big bucks on your vacation, consider taking a less-traditional
trip this year. You'll save money and create lasting memories for your entire family. Here are six cheap summer vacation ideas that won't hit your wallet too hard:
Off-Season Ski Resorts.
If you or your family love the great outdoors, ski resorts offer great summer fun at cheap prices. Most resorts offer mountain biking and hiking, and depending on which resort you choose, you'll also find opportunities for horseback riding, river rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing. To entice travelers, resorts often offer package deals and promotions.
As far as cheap summer vacations go, a backpacking trip is about as inexpensive as it gets. You'll carry your food and tent on your back, as you explore some of the country's most amazing, unspoiled scenery, then settle in for the night in the great outdoors. If you're inexperienced, the magazine Backpacker
offers loads of information
. To save money, you can either borrow gear from a friend or rent it from an outfitter such as REI
. And while this trip requires a bit more research than a standard vacation, you're trading flight plans and hotel reservations for trails, campsites, and meal plans - and getting a true adventure in the bargain.
Staying on a houseboat, like renting a vacation home, allows you to save money by sharing expenses with other families and cooking your own meals. On the water, you'll have no temptations to eat out or spend money on entertainment. Instead, the lake becomes your playground and the scenery your entertainment. Many large U.S. lakes are magnets for houseboaters, with established rentals and harbors. Houseboats run the gamut, from luxury 70-foot boats that sleep more than a dozen to smaller rigs that will comfortably house a family of five. Visit HouseBoating.org
to begin your research.
In places like Minnesota, extended canoe trips are quite common. But you don't have to be from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" to enjoy a summer vacation in the great outdoors. As with a backpacking trip, you'll spend time in the wilderness, traveling with your own food and shelter. Canoe trips are best done on large bodies of water or in areas where many lakes are close together (because you'll have to carry, or "portage," your canoe from lake to lake). Besides Minnesota, popular destinations include New York, Maine, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Check out the North Forest Canoe Trail
or the site for Minnesota water trails
to help you plan for your trip.
Forest Service Cabins.
If camping seems like roughing it a bit too much and renting a house is too expensive, consider renting a Forest Service cabin. Rustic but affordable for those seeking cheap summer vacation ideas, these cabins are situated throughout the U.S. National Forests. They're often located in the backcountry, and while a few are road accessible, most are not and you'll have to backpack your way in with the food and clothing you'll need on your trip. Many cabins come with bunk beds and counter space for cooking; a few include wood stoves or propane heaters, rowboats (if lakeside), and incredible views. You can visit Recreation.gov
and research locations by state. It's worth noting that many state parks offer standard cabin rentals as well.
Summer camp: It's not just for kids anymore. Consider a week-long
adventure at a camp that caters to the whole family. Meals and lodging are included in the price, and you won't have to do any activity planning - or any planning, really. In general, the lodging is rustic with wall tents or bunkhouses, but that's part of the reason it's so affordable: You're not going to a resort!. The YMCA offers several family camps across the U.S. Start your research with the Merrimack Valley Camp site
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On prom night, you can look like a million bucks but spend just a fraction of that amount by scoring a fashionable but cheap prom dress for less than $100. Whether your style is edgy modern or evening elegant, snagging the perfect dress at a bargain price is easy with Cheapism's list of the best places to find cheap prom dresses.
If you're shopping online, surf right past the online sites of major, brick-and-mortar
clothing stores and check out the sites of smaller fashion retailers like ASOS and Modcloth. Fashionistas flock to the UK-based
ASOS for cutting-edge
street style, and its hundreds of affordable dresses run the gamut from racy to ruffled. The retailer sells dresses from its house label as well as other designers, such as this black evening dress
from Reverse with a hi-lo
hemline. For girls looking for vintage-inspired
or indie prom dresses, Modcloth's
prom dresses are incredibly cute and incredibly cheap. Its $90 Prettiest of All dress
mixes retro lace with a modern cut and of-the-moment
ombre trend. While you may not be able to try on the dresses before you buy, the huge selection of party dresses and low prices available on sites like these make up for it. Just be sure you understand the retailers' return policies and order well in advance of your prom's date to account for shipping delays or any necessary alterations.
designer styling at down-to-earth
prices by buying a dress from a collaborative collection between a designer and a lower-priced
retailer. Marni, Rodarte, Jason Wu, and Vera Wang are just a handful of the many clothing designers who've created collections for main street stores like Target, H&M, and Kohl's. Look for Alberta Ferretti's collaboration with Macy's
, which will be hitting stores this April - it features several, bold, prom-ready
dresses that look like they walked right off the runway.
Fast fashion stores.
Always a fantastic source for high style on a low budget, retailers like H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Topshop offer stylish cocktail and evening dresses all year round. Since part of these stores' appeal is their edgy, right-from-the-runway
styles, your prom dress will be on-trend
with current spring/summer fashions. And since they're not labeled as prom dresses, you'll score an affordable cocktail or party dress without the prom dress price tag.
Bridal and bridesmaid shops.
Very little differentiates a bridesmaid's dress from a prom dress, so scour local bridal shops and online bridesmaids' dress stores for a deal on a prom-ready
dress. David's Bridal
, for instance, is a popular destination for prom dress shoppers and offers a selection of prom looks for less than $100. Bridesmaids' dresses are an especially good fit if you're looking for a prom dress that reads "elegant."
Aside from their designer collaborations, department stores like Kohs's and Macy's also offer beautiful evening and formal dresses, and they ramp up their offerings for prom season. Nordstrom's
Prom Style Guide sorts prom looks by trend -- bold colors, neutrals, and shine and sparkle are hot categories this year -- and offers dozens of options under $100. Kohl's
Prom Shop showcases affordable prom dresses and matching accessories, including shoes and handbags, making your 2012 prom outfit a snap to put together.
Prom dress rentals.
If you need more than one prom dress for multiple prom nights (lucky you!) or only a designer dress will do for your big night, rent your prom dress online or from a local formalwear shop. Starting at $50 a pop, RentTheRunway
loans designer dresses, making high fashion affordable at a fraction of a dress's retail price. At Lending Luxury, you can choose from dozens of short or long dresses that rent for $100 or less. Renting your prom dress means you save big bucks -- and closet space, too.