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Planning a Wedding on a Budget

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Should a dream wedding mean delaying a down payment on a home? That’s a tradeoff many couples make these days.

The Knot, a wedding planning and publishing company, recently released its Real Weddings study of average wedding costs for 2014, setting a national average price tag of $31,213 (not including the honeymoon). If the average cost of a U.S. wedding now tops $30,000, that’s a substantial sum for many couples to balance against other major financial goals. Despite getting married to my wife at family home 15 years ago, I still remember the sticker shock for all the wedding costs — a whopping $15,000 for the entire event from tux, dress, flowers, food and honeymoon.

Consider that the average price of a new home in America is now $200,000. A 20 percent down payment on that home would be $40,000. With the average price of a new vehicle at $32,500 and the average used car around $16,000, couples with on-road transportation needs might be tempted to trade in a wedding fund to replace one car — or two.

Couples can save considerable money through creative scheduling, direct planning and most important, treating their wedding as just one of many financial issues they’ll navigate in a lifetime. That’s why they might want to consider a little financial planning before the wedding planning starts.

At minimum, couples might begin with a first-time or repeat viewing of their current spending and credit status. A meeting with a qualified financial advisor can provide additional guidance on how the couple could handle all their money issues after marriage. Such big-picture financial advice might set a more realistic framework for wedding planning. After all, The Knot reports that more than half of weddings go over budget.

How can you keep it cheap while still enjoying an event of a lifetime? Here are some ideas:

Marry off-season. The most popular wedding months are now June and October, with longtime leader June losing a bit of ground. The most popular day to get married is Saturday and nighttime is the most competitive time slot for receptions. Consider a January wedding when the post-holiday rush is over — cold weather wedding venues are generally empty and priced to move. Weekday weddings have the potential added bonus of guests drinking less on a work night and weekend brunch weddings can be served buffet-style with more reasonably priced menu choices.

Consider alternative venues. Farms, barns, warehouses, art galleries and of course, family property can be cheaper venues for a wedding, but don’t stop your due diligence at catering issues. Insurance is a big issue — liability related to alcohol, food or other party-related risks may not be covered in the owner’s conventional homeowners or business coverage and the event may require the purchase of a special policy for the night of the event. Also, in many communities, party venues must be properly licensed and/or zoned to avoid fines or legal action.

Watch the extras. From flowers to photography, wedding cake to wedding planners, look for affordable options. If a venue will let you supply your own flowers and decorations, plan far enough in advance to comparison shop and do your own pick-up and set-up if possible. Consider professional photographers or skilled amateurs who meet your tastes and budget.

Consider an alternative online gift registry. You don’t have to settle for three of the same toasters anymore. Today’s couples can set up online gift registries that allow guests to directly fund honeymoon trips or specific expenses associated with the wedding.

Become your own wedding planner. If you are very organized and adept at pricing, negotiating and setting up all venue, food, service and entertainment aspects of your wedding, you’ll see significant savings. Just don’t let the workload overwhelm your big day.

Plan a destination wedding. If you have a tight-knit group of friends and family members who can afford to travel — or if you can pick up everyone’s bill — a destination wedding might turn out to be significantly cheaper option than an in-town wedding with dozens of guests, per-plate dining and entertainment. Resorts around the world and well-known domestic wedding/travel destinations like Las Vegas or Hawaii offer wedding packages that blend a ceremony and vacation getaway.

Be flexible. Spur-of-the-moment decisions may save money. If you have a venue in mind, put your name on a call list and see if you can negotiate a cheaper price if the venue has a cancellation.

Bottom line: As weddings get more expensive, searching for bargains and untraditional venues and services can help couples who don’t want their celebration to overwhelm other important financial goals like buying their first home.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

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Top 10 Travel Destinations to the Start the New Decade

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For many, traveling offers an opportunity to disconnect from the everyday and experience new places and cultures. With the beginning of a new decade, it is the perfect time to start deciding your next travel adventures.

When booking your future destinations, consider these spots and tips recommended by travel expert and Bank of America ambassador, Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit every country plus the North and South Poles.

1. Australia

From its deserts to tropical beaches, Australia is a beautiful country to explore. While many people might be familiar with the Sydney Opera House and the unique wildlife, there are many hidden gems in Australia.

“I’ve been to Australia 10 times and I still can’t get enough,” Abbamonte said. “One of my favorite cities is Melbourne. While it’s one of the largest cities in Australia, the heart of the city is hidden and secretive. It comes to life when you visit the alleys, laneways and arcades. The vibrant city has so much to offer: cafes, a unique street culture and street art.”

2. New Zealand

If you are going to New Zealand for the first time, Abbamonte recommends boogie boarding down the sand dunes, hiking up a volcano and visiting the Moeraki Boulders. However, if you are really interested in getting the blood pumping, take a leap from Nevis Bungy near Queenstown. It is among the highest bungy jumping experiences in the world, measuring 440 feet.

3. Mexico

“Mexico City has two of my favorite things – great food and sports,” Abbamonte said. “The street tacos are to die for, and I love going to soccer games at Estadio Azteca.”

In 2020, there will be many festivals to explore. The city is a cultural hub with music, theater, dance and food events throughout the year. While experiencing the festivities, it is also an opportune time to take a step back and enjoy Chapultepec Park.

4. Brazil

One of Abbamonte’s favorite waterfalls is Iguazu Falls located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. While Iguazu Falls might be well known, the falls themselves are truly unique. The waterfall system consists of 275 falls that stretch over approximately 1.68 miles. The Devil’s Throat is the tallest fall with a drop of more than 262 feet.

While traveling internationally can be fun and exhilarating, there are also places throughout the United States that offer memorable activities:

5. Scottsdale, Arizona

If you enjoy being outdoors, Scottsdale is an ideal place to visit. There are many trails to explore in Camelback Mountain, Papago Park and Hole in the Rock. After hiking, follow Abbamonte’s example and golf at The Short Course at Mountain Shadows.

“Scottsdale has some of the most beautiful sunsets in the States, and from The Short Course at Mountain Shadows, I get to enjoy the view while practicing my swing,” he said.

6. Boston, Massachusetts

“I love sports, so I visit Boston regularly for the professional games,” Abbamonte said. “I’m also fortunate that Boston is a beautiful city I can enjoy along the way.”

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the country. Founded in 1630, Boston is filled with history, museums and universities. If you are interested in a more unique attraction, check out the Warren Anatomical Museum, which is one of the last of its kind in the United States.

7. Portland, Oregon

What makes Portland unique are the bizarre and wonderful things you can do when you visit. For example, you can try bone marrow ice cream, stop by Mill Ends Park (the world’s smallest park) or attach your wish to The Wishing Tree.

“Portland is absolutely beautiful,” Abbamonte said. “It has a bit of everything – restaurants, bars, parks – and I enjoy the people watching. Portland has some of the nicest people while maintaining an edgy vibe.”

8. Tampa, Florida

Tampa might be known for its spring break party scene, but it has so much more to offer. For example, the city’s zoos and aquariums provide opportunities to interact directly with animals. Then you can take a break at Clearwater Beach, which is known for its soft, white sand and calm waters.

9. Santa Barbara, California

“I go to Santa Barbara when I want to recharge,” Abbamonte said. “I enjoy the food, walking around, talking to the locals and even watching a football game or two.”

There are wine tours, zoos, beaches, museums and restaurants. While taking in the city, also make time to visit the hidden gems such as Knapp’s Castle ruins.

10. England, Germany, Scotland, Azerbaijan and more

While technically more than one place, these locations have one thing in common: Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Euro 2020. The international soccer event marks the first time the games will be held across the continent in 12 host cities.

“The year is a big one for sports,” Abbamonte said. “From sporting events in Europe to Japan, it is a fun year for travel and to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

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US Vows 100% Tariffs on French Champagne, Cheese, Handbags Over Digital tax

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Image via Shutterstock
By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

The US government on Monday said it may slap punitive duties of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in imports from France of Champagne, handbags, cheese and other products, after concluding that France’s new digital services tax would harm US tech companies.

The US Trade Representative’s office said its “Section 301” investigation found that the French tax was “inconsistent with prevailing principles of international tax policy, and is unusually burdensome for affected US companies,” including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the government was exploring whether to open similar investigations into the digital services taxes of Austria, Italy and Turkey.

“The USTR is focused on countering the growing protectionism of EU member states, which unfairly targets US companies,” Lighthizer said. His statement made no mention of proposed digital taxes in Canada or Britain.

The US trade agency said it would collect public comments through Jan. 14 on its proposed tariff list as well as the option of imposing fees or restrictions on French services, with a public hearing scheduled for January 7.

It did not specify an effective date for the proposed 100% duties.

CHAMPAGNE, ROUGE AND GRUYERE

The list targets some products that were spared from 25 percent tariffs imposed by the United States over disputed European Union aircraft subsidies, including sparkling wines, handbags and make-up preparations – products that would hit French luxury goods giant and cosmetics maker L’Oreal hard.

Gruyere cheese, also spared from the USTR aircraft tariffs levied in October, featured prominently in the list of French products targeted for 100 percent duties, along with numerous other cheeses.

The findings won favor from US lawmakers and US tech industry groups, who have long argued that the tax unfairly targets US firms.

“The French digital services tax is unreasonable, protectionist and discriminatory,” Senators Charles Grassley and Ron Wyden, the top Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a joint statement.

Spokespeople for the French embassy and the European Union delegation in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

But prior to the release of the USTR’s report, a French official said that France would dispute the trade agency’s findings, repeating Paris’ contention that the digital tax is not aimed specifically at US technology companies.

“We will not give up on taxation” of digital firms, the official said.

France’s 3 percent levy applies to revenue from digital services earned by firms with more than €25 million ($27.86 million) in French revenue and €750 million (£644 million) worldwide.

The USTR’s report and proposed tariff list follow months of negotiations between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over a global overhaul of digital tax rules.

The two struck a compromise in August at a G7 summit in France that would refund US firms the difference between the French tax and a new mechanism being drawn up through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But Trump never formally endorsed that deal and declined to say whether his French tariff threat was off the table.

Reuters

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Andrew Yang Wants You to Make Money Off Your Data by Making it Your Personal Property

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Andrew Yang, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, plans to regulate the tech industry by prioritizing in giving people the right to own their personal data (“data as a property right”), thus allowing them to make money by sharing it with companies. Currently, companies entirely own users’ data – users do not have much control over it.

Yang said, “our data is now worth more than oil” and gave emphasis to the great amount of data people create and how companies make money over it. “By implementing measures to increase transparency in the data collection and monetization process, individuals can begin to reclaim ownership of what’s theirs,” he said.

He also cited a report saying that the collection and use of Americans’ personal data has become a $198 billion industry. Yang believes that people should have more control over their data, such as being able to see how their data is being used and having the freedom to opt out if they choose.

Yang added that we need politicians “who understand technology and a modern way to regulate it,” as reported by Engadget. “In order to regulate technology effectively, our government needs to understand it. It’s embarrassing to see the ignorance some members of Congress display when talking about technology, and anyone who watched Congress question Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of this,” said Yang.

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