Advice To Myself At 18-Years-Old

Last Friday G and I were leaving the county clerk’s office to apply for our marriage license when we ran into one of my high school teachers. Even though I graduated eight years ago (O.M.G. has it truly been that long ago?!) we recognized one another right away. Partly due to me working for him at summer camp for several years, but also because I come from a high school boasting an average of 30 graduating students each year. In other words, there aren’t that many students to forget.

After a bit of catching up, I asked him how his school year had gone and how many more days until summer break. I don’t keep up with my old high school so I was surprised to hear the senior class would be graduating the next day. The whole encounter had me vaguely reminiscing on the past and all the changes which have happened since I stood on the stage myself in my cap and gown.

Then today my Facebook’s daily memory was of my graduation. Looking through my FB photo album of that day in 2010 had so many memories flowing.  I could recall the feelings on that day: the fears of the future, the thrill of college looming, the excitement of my first summer as an “adult.” It was like looking into the life of a stranger. There have been many lessons learned since that day. So many experiences have brought me to where I am today and molded me into this 26-year-old Ashley.

The memories continued as I was lazily scrolling one of my nightly go-to apps and came across a great question posted by RobbeVermont. The user asked,  “What is something you wished you knew when you were 18 years old?” And as I read through the vast majority of the 10,800+ comments I realized so many of the life advice being provided were 110% on the money. Pulling all three discoveries together — the run-in with my teacher, the flashback of my graduation, and this Reddit question — I started listing a few key topics I wished I’d known upon leaving high school and considered what difference hearing that advice as an 18-year-old would have made. Perhaps none, but then again, maybe some…

You’re going to make mistakes, and that is okay.

Mistakes are a daily way of life for everyone whether they want to fess or not. Every day you are going to make a decision that may or may not work out in the way you intended. You might hurt someone’s feelings or say something without thinking or forget an important to-do item that causes stress to you or someone or something further down the line of time. The only daily guarantee is that every single person on this planet is not omniscient when it comes to how Life works.

This can be a humbling thought: that no matter how much experience or knowledge you receive, there will always be something you know nothing about. However, this can also be empowering. Use your lack of skill to better yourself, better those around you, and better the world. Making mistakes teaches you a new lesson every single time. Don’t get down on yourself for not being perfect because no one in this world is! Learning and teaching is an ongoing struggle, so throw yourself into the fight.

Apply yourself in the present and let the future worry about itself (especially if you choose the college track.)

I was that student in high school who skated through. Every class was easy for me and I excelled. By the time I made it to college though, I was tired of school. I was tired of homework and reading textbooks and listening to boring lectures that did not apply to my future aspirations. I was just plain tired of the norm I’d played for the past twelve years.

College could care less if I was tired though. College is the metaphoric high school bully who beats you up, laughs at you, and steals your lunch money. Except the beating lasts at least four years, the laughing can follow you through your career path, and your lunch money is thousands of dollars for a paper certificate. High school can never fully prepare you for what college is about to do to your health, sanity, and wallet.

Looking back, I realize I held a high disregard when it came to college. I was tired of school so I did not care about my college career. I didn’t apply myself while in college. In high school, I was the “the know-it-all” who could study five minutes for an exam and pass with flying colors and I expected the same results once I started at my university. However, college requires you to actually apply yourself and study and work hard. My main concern became my future — what would be my career, where would I end up, who would I be with, and how would I pay for it all. My current courses, and ultimately my present grades, took second seat to the future because I relied too heavily on my past successes.

If I could go back in time, I’d do everything differently. I would apply myself completely in every single one of my classes because each adds up in the long run. If you drop or fail one course in your early years of college, it is a big deal. Not only do you lose GPA status (which is incredibly important when job seeking or applying for graduate school), but you also lose credits necessary for graduation AND money for those credits. Can I express the importance of money in adulthood? The vast majority of college students come into their minimum-paying careers with $50,000 or more in student debt. Do not increase that debt by giving up credits or prolonging your graduation by forcing yourself into more semesters of college. Seriously. Be mindful of your present situation and go into college knowing every credit, class, homework, exam, extracurricular, etc. are preparing you for the best future possible.

Time moves at an alarming speed, so enjoy what moments you have.

They say time flies when you’re having fun. These last nine months of my engagement have flown for sure. But before I was engaged, time still flew through both the good and bad times. It seemed once I graduated high school, time started to slip by faster and faster. Sometimes I wonder where that time has gone, but then I reflect on all I’ve gone through and am thankful for each and every minute. Some were happy, some were sad, but all have helped me become who I am today.

Do not rush anything in your life. Enjoy the good times, learn from the bad times, and embrace everything in between. Everything shifts and changes, people come and go, and the memories we have of our time spent in this world are what we have to hold onto.  Remember we’re all given only a certain amount of seconds during our lifetimes, so why push any faster than another? Relish every second!

And relish every person who shares your time with you. Those in your life are what are most important, not the adventures, toys, or anything else. Tell your loved ones you love them because today will never come again and you are not promised tomorrow.

Heartbreak is a part of life. Use the situation to better yourself and your life.

Another constant in Life: you’re going to be hurt. Again and again and again. One of the pieces of marriage advice which G and I have been told multiple times (and depresses me each time I hear it) is even in marriage you’re going to have your heart broken. In any relationship where two imperfect individuals interact there is going to have differing opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds. You will never see eye-to-eye on every subject and that means someone is bound to be hurt somewhere along the line.

When I graduated high school, I also entered into a new romantic relationship. My first relationship actually. And over the past eight years I have had my heart broken by my first love, my second love, my third, and so many others. Heartbreak sucks, but heartache is a very real part of Life that we all must pass through.

One of the best pieces of advice I could give my 18-year-old self is each time your heart is broken use the situation to better yourself and your life. It was not until after my first break up that I began to discover who I am as a person. I was forced out of my comfort zones to make those discoveries, but that shove into reality was exactly what I needed. I found my courage and flexibility and fierce independence. I learned what I wanted for myself without the shadow of someone else in my mind. I tried new hobbies and met new people and placed myself into new situations all to discover who I wanted to be and what made me tick.

And most of all, I learned to love myself, something which you must do before you honestly and unconditionally love someone else.

In the same way I fell in love with myself, I also learned a lot of my faults through reflection of failed relationships. It is easy to look back on your exes and call them out for what they did wrong, but it’s much harder to reveal your own mistakes and failures. But you know what? You have them.

When I look back on my relationship with X, I realize I was too dependent on my significant other and was demanding on my expectations for him. When I look back on Wilbur, I see how I allowed myself to be quiet on topics that deeply hurt me and cast a blind eye to the reality of the relationship. Light has been shed on issues I had never noticed during the relationships. Issues either in my own personality or in the make-up of the relationship. As I’ve come to take responsibility for my own faults, I can work to better myself to not only have a happy life but also a healthy relationship with G. And that is worth the heartaches of my past, and the heartbreaks of my future — knowing I’m continuously growing and moving forward to be the best person I can be for my loved ones.

Also, remember relationships do not necessarily mean romantic. Relationships can be friendships, partnerships, colleagues relations, etc. All of the above are going to break your heart in some way and it is on you for your reactions and transformation. (Which brings me back to #1 above in that we all make mistakes. Live and learn, friend, none of us are perfect in this process.)

High school really isn’t that important.

In the end, I wish I would have known at 18 that high school doesn’t have a huge impact on the person I am today or the position I am in now. I was the stigma of a nerd in high school, but I was also a hopeless romantic with low self-esteem and no clue on where I wanted to go in my future. My closest friends in high school contact me maybe once or twice a year nowadays with the exception of Saki, who is my monthly wine date. I have no urge to return to my high school for alumni sporting events or host a class reunion or any other nostalgic reason. High school is strictly a short, four-year blurb in the past. A blink in your life, honestly.

Once you leave high school, you begin again. You start fresh in college or trade school or a career. High school labels stay in the past and you can create the persona for which you want to be known for the future and the things you did in high school no longer matter. If you were homecoming queen or a spectator in the stands, if you were valedictorian or 150th in your class, if you shot baskets or skipped classes or played trumpet or, or, or… None of that matters once you graduate. You’re now a nobody who can make a new name for yourself and become who you want.

So enjoy the celebrations and your summer before launching into the next stage of Life. Make memories, make mistakes, and most of all, make yourself who you want to be.

And for my personal favorite piece of advice shared on the AskReddit thread:

It doesn’t get easier. You get better. – mastercadium

Life never gets easier. The trials you had in high school will be replaced with trials of college or work or relationships or simple Life. It’s just a fact. So work with what you have and learn from every experience to become the best person you can. That’s the Human Project after all, right? We’re all just rambling through Life with no clue on how to obtain the ultimate goal, but we’ll get there though, friends. We aren’t alone in our attempts and we all have people to help support us, encourage us, and teach us.

Love the Life you have and know high school were not the best years — those are yet to come!

Is there anything you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self? What is it?Please feel free to share here or on RobbeVermont’s growing thread. You never know who is reading and who may need that little nugget of advice as they begin their adult life.

Warmest wishes for a happy Life, blogosphere, 

6 Steps To The Wedding (And Budget) Of Your Dreams

Figuring out your wedding budget is one of the worst parts of wedding planning. Finances are difficult alone, but now you’re taking the first steps into merging your lives together and things may get sticky. You might have lavish dreams, but are they realistic for both your and your future hubby? According to Brides American Wedding Study, the average wedding costs $26,522! If that doesn’t make you bat an eye, then hey, have at all those details you’ve always dreamed about. But if you’re like me and are wanting to cry into a bottle of wine while analyzing that down-payment on a house/one year’s worth of student debt/brand new car then I have some advice for you.

Like nearly half of the couples getting married this year, G and I are covering the majority of expenses for our wedding. However, did you know that one in three couples actually goes over their wedding budget? This was not an option for us so we opted for setting a solid budget before doing anything else in the planning process. We began by tallying up all assets, listing our must-haves for the day-of, creating and maintaining a detailed spreadsheet, and being realistic throughout our engagement when it came to costs. It was hard work, but was so worth the time and energy to be wedding-debt free come post-nuptials. Here is exactly what we did on setting up our wedding budget:

Step 1: Add up your cash

When you are considering how much you have to spend on your wedding, there are two big sources to consider: you and your fiance’s individual savings accounts and the amount you can set aside over your engagement from your current income. Communication is key to a happy marriage and that communicating should begin now. Discuss with one another monthly expenses, monthly allowances, and what each can realistically contribute to the “wedding fund.”

G and I opted to open a joint wedding account to begin pooling our funds into for our wedding. After necessary payments for rent, student loans, and groceries, we decided on a set amount we each would directly deposit into this account for wedding expenses. We could not rely on the fact of having our wedding fund be a “catch-all” for any leftover dollars each month; instead we made a pact to contribute every month and held one another accountable. Sometimes this meant being unable to partake in a specific event or not buy a certain item, but we have met our budgeting needs and will have that peace in mind come our wedding day.

Step 2: Any contributions from loved ones?

One of the greatest pieces of advice I can give you is to never assume your parents (or any loved one) are able to help cover your wedding costs.  While some couples’ families may still pick up the entire tab, The Knot’s 2017 Real Wedding Study revealed this is not the case. On average, the bride and groom now contribute at least 41% of the wedding fee and 10% of all couples cover all the costs themselves.

So what does that mean for you and your fiance? You need to ask your families if they are willing to assist you in your budgeting. I know, I know, that is not a fun subject to cover with anyone, especially your parents. (Trust me, our pride was strong on this front too.) But knowing an exact dollar amount is crucial and will help you determine your total budget. Some parents may prefer to cover specific parts of the wedding (such as the food or photography fee), and other sets may give you a set amount of dollars as a gift. No matter what your loved ones can or cannot contribute, be grateful and courteous of their gestures.

Step 3: List your priorities

Before finalizing our final budget, G and I sat down and listed our top three aspects of the wedding we felt were make-or-breaks for our Big Day. For me, I wanted a good photographer, good food, and a fun reception. For G, a church ceremony, family-oriented theme, and “as cheap as possible” were his criteria. (Yes, we had to have a long conversation on why a $100 wedding was simply not feasible in matching our dreams.)

In the same respect, we also discussed things that weren’t so important to either us. Knowing what mattered most allowed us to set priorities when it came to researching vendors and customizing a budget to fit BOTH our needs.

Step 4: Create a budget spreadsheet

Next came the creation of our budget spreadsheet. I am an Excel-ohlic and honestly loved this part of the budgeting process. My own personal budget is a colorful, detailed masterpiece and I made sure to make our wedding budget similar. To keep it simple for those who not as enamored by spreadsheets, there is an easy rule-of-thumb you’ll find across most wedding budgeting templates:

  • Title three expense columns: Estimated Budget, Modified Budget, and Actual Costs
  • Amounts under Estimated Budget will be driven by researching the costs associated with your total budget — here is a little diagram of typical wedding averages I created off of the Bride’s 2016 report:
  • For Modified Budget amounts, the proposals you receive from vendors and/or estimated costs pertaining to costs in your area should be used. Be sure to include taxes as well!
  • Actual Costs are pretty self-explanatory

For those who prefer to skip the hassle of setting up their own spreadsheet, please feel free to use this one by Uncorking Peonies: Wedding Budget Template

I’ve included Payments Made and Gifted Amount columns as well. These both came in handy for my own budgeting needs. If a down payment had to be made, I could track that amount and still know how much was owed. (I always placed the final due date in the Notes column.) Tracking our monetary gifts from family was also useful when we had to narrow down exactly how much we still needed to contribute come crunch-time.

Step 5: Start tracking

With your total budget, research on local vendors, and priorities in hand, it is pretty easy to start putting everything together for your customized wedding budget. You’ll need to tweak the budget to fit your needs throughout planning, but overall you now have a goal to work with which fulfills your needs. Stick to your set budget and aim to set aside a little extra money for last-minute expenses.

Step 6: Be realistic

My last nugget of advice is to be realistic as you move through your budget. You may have always dreamed of having steaks served at your wedding, but can you realistically afford $40+ per plate with your 200 guest list and $10,000 budget? Probably not unless you have no other priorities. Some of your “dreams” may have to be eliminated to make way for some unexpected surprises that throw a little addition sign into your budget. Small expenses can add up quickly! So if the total of a line item isn’t in your overall budget, you need to either cut it or cut somewhere else.

All in all, I’ll resort to my usual saying: your wedding is only eight hours of your entire marriage. Don’t start your marriage on a rocky foundation with wedding debt. Instead, focus on saving during your engagement (like limiting your weekly spending to save more in the wedding fund) and begin putting aside as much of your income as possible. If you don’t use your entire wedding fund, then great! You have a nice little chunk of savings to move into married life with now.

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There are a lot of sources out there which can help with ideas on how to cut costs and stretch your wedding budget. USE THEM! G and I are huge proponents for these — we ended up dropping our $12,500 estimated budget to $10,000. And I am so proud of us for looking past the wedding and wanting to be best prepared for a happily ever after.

Do you have any savings tips or budget stretching advice for my readers? Please share them below in the comments area or DM me on Instagram. I would love to hear from you!

Until next time, 

 

How To Build An Awe-Inspiring Charcuterie Spread On Budget

When it comes to hosting a great dinner party, there are staples to the night that I cannot skip: excellent food, great (quantities of) wine, and the perfect blend of friends. My secret weapon for any gathering is one thing: a perfectly curated charcuterie board. Not only does it appease guests’ pre-dinner appetites but it’s also chic, classy, and fun to put together!

So today I’m going to share a few of my secrets on how to make a crowd-pleasing charcuterie board and how to do so on a limited budget.

In case you’re unfamiliar, charcuterie (pronounced shar-kood-eree) are meat and cheese boards that typically include a variety of other foods that can be paired for palate-pleasing combinations. The ingredients all complement the meats and cheeses present, and guests can have a fun do-it-yourself appetizer. Plus, charcuterie can be created any time of the year utilizing a lot of different seasonal foods to continue making a unique and special selection.

Choose a variety

Meats and cheeses are the key components to any charcuterie. However, any good spread needs a solid amount of choice, and I recommend going with a mixture of textures to please the palate. This means finding meats and cheeses which offer a variety of softness, hardness, chewiness, dryness, etc.

For meats, I generally go with aged meats rather than sliced deli meat because they’re full of flavor and tend to pair easier. Look for a few different options such as prosciutto, cured ham, pâté, or salamis. I typically shop at Aldi for my meat and cheese needs because their selection is amazing! One of my go-tos is the Specially Selected Prosciutto Panino which offers a soft mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto. I could eat this by itself but it makes an awesome pairing partner to a variety of other ingredients in a spread too.

Now let’s talk cheese — my favorite part of the charcuterie. I typically select at least four cheeses: a mild, medium, and sharp cheese along with a goat milk cheese. I absolutely love goat cheese and having a bit in your charcuterie offers a non-dairy option. It’s a win-win for any group! For my mild cheese, I typically find a smooth Brie and it seems to always be a favorite among my guests. I go for a Gouda or cheddar as my medium-bodied cheese. As long as it pairs well with both white and red wine (and beer sometimes) then I’m happy. And finally, I love to bring a blue cheese out as my sharp cheese as it pairs so well with bolder meats and heavy red wines. One of my ride-or-dies is Kenny’s Farmhouse Bleu Gouda (ohmigoodness, I’m salivating just thinking about this cheese.) When feeling especially adventurous I’ll also throw together a wedge or two of hand-crafted specialty cheese such as the Roasted Garlic with Tomato and Basil Cheese by Specially Selected.

Sweet, spice, and everything nice

Salty is good up to a point. Since many of your meat options are cured, they will be very salty. So it is good practice to balance things out with milder flavors. Serve up a sweet complement such as fresh or dried fruit, jams, or mustards. Working at a winery for so many years, my charcuterie boards are lacking if I do not have some bunches of grapes decorating them. I also love adding a bit of softness to the board through Southern Grove Dried Apricots.

Two other additions every single one of my charcuterie spreads include which have guests raving? The first is adding strawberry preserves (preferably homemade) to the top of my Brie and warming it enough to make it just the slightest bit gooey. The second — and the highest praise-worthy inclusion — is goat cheese with apricot preserves. Either create a base of apricot preserves topped with crumbled goat cheese or a bowl of layering the two ingredients, but your guests are going to go crazy for this flavor explosion!

Get creative with your add-ons

Depending on whether your charcuterie is the main event or simply a pre-dinner snack, you’ll want to alter the amount of meat and cheese you buy. (Though overbuying wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.) My rule of thumb is three ounces per person as an appetizer and doubled portions if your board is the food focus. Charcuterie is a rich foodie project and will be overly satisfying.

Feel free to go basic or wild in your varieties of meat, cheeses, condiments, garnishments, and add-ins though. Along with the salty and sweet options, I love to add some savory notes to my boards. Olives are a great choice, and nuts come in so many varieties and add a nice crunch. Go with pistachios, cashews, or a trail mix. And bread! Bread is a must. Serve a couple of different breads such as a strong sourdough alongside a simple ciabatta or an assortment of crackers and you’ll be good to go.

Do not feel obligated to stick with “traditional charcuterie” options though. Sometimes I’ll add a little seasonal twist and weave pumpkin seeds across my board. Last Halloween I had a glorious charcuterie arrayed around a centerpiece of Sour Patch Straws. (Which were surprisingly good with a bit of dry Riesling…)

Budget-friendly tip: Typically a spread like those I have pictured throughout this post cost around $50 at Aldi and filled the bellies of 30+ people during my wine club events. Find your key elements (meat and cheeses), choose an assortment of crackers of breads, and then find a few tasty add-ins.

The only piece of charcuterie you should rely to remain the same each and every time is the great company it brings to your table. One of my favorite parts about hosting a get-together featuring a charcuterie board is we all inevitably end up discussing our favorite flavor profiles. And in turn drink a lot of good wine. Simple evenings like those are usually the most relaxing and memorable.

And that is it, friends. Get out there and try your own charcuterie spreads! I would love to hear what your favorite charcuterie items are — what have you tried that really packed a flavor punch? Please share your ideas with me!

Happy snacking,