That Time I Hacked My Own Gmail Account

Preface: Because this post deals with a topic for which I don’t really have pictures, I decided to spice it up with photos of animals.

For years, all I have wanted is an email address that is [firstname][lastname]@gmail.com (or my own domain, but I’ve been too lazy to set that up).

You see, back on September 4, 2004, when I created my first Gmail account (when Gmail was still in beta testing and you had to be invited, because I’m so 1337), we still believed in internet anonymity. Most people were not using the [firstname][lastname] convention; most were simply migrating over their old AOL/AIM handles. However, having created my meowzer18 AOL screen-name at age 8, I couldn’t possibly keep that dream alive as a 17-year-old. I settled for my name and a random number, and thus my first Gmail account was born.

But as times changed, we collectively decided that we wanted to be able to be found on the web. As social media crept into our lives, we wanted our friends to find us (and be able to tag us appropriately in an inappropriate amount of questionably appropriate photos, duh!), and as email became more important to our job searches, we began creating email addresses that reflected our real names. (And though we’re slowly starting to desire a bit of anonymity again, most people maintain a [firstname][lastname] email address for professional purposes.)

Of course, when I finally saw the need for a more professional email address, the other Carly Roaches of the world had already taken carlyroach@gmail.com. I created a few variations of my first and last names just to have something more serious to use on job applications, but everything I came up with required a number to be unique — something that I detested. Having a number in your email address had gone out of fashion. No one takes you seriously if you are jonsnow1@gmail.com. It looks like you weren’t forward-thinking enough to jump on the email train early and ensure your rightful [firstname][lastname] address. Sure, I could have gone to Yahoo or AOL or Hotmail, but everyone knows that your email address domain reflects your computer skills, and I couldn’t risk looking like a n00b.

I knew my only option was marriage.

Dobby, Peanut, and their cousin Arya

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was so driven by my desire for a [firstname][lastname] email address that I created a new email address every time I dated a guy who might be “the one.” Let’s just say I have many an abandoned email address based on past, unsuccessful relationships. Sensing a pattern (date guy + make email address = get dumped), and also knowing that no one in the entire world would ever be named Carly Hublou, I put off creating an email address when I met Kevin until we were engaged, reasoning, as most sports fans do, that something irrelevant that I was doing was affecting the outcome of my relationships. (It doesn’t matter if you wear your lucky socks, sports fanatics; you do not affect the outcome of the game!) I didn’t want to jinx this relationship with my unlucky email-address-making!

I say all that to make my point: I saw carlyhublou@gmail as something I had earned and something that I needed. Changing my name was so much more exciting knowing that I would finally enter the ranks of those with the [firstname][lastname] email-address scheme that I had coveted for so long (11 years, to be exact). I would do anything to protect it, and I would be devastated if I lost it.

Fast forward to June 2, 2016.

In addition to my original and married-name email addresses, I have many other Gmail addresses (because reasons). But I don’t check them all; that would be crazy. I stay signed in to my main account and simply have all of my other addresses forward the mail they receive to the inbox of that main account. Usually, I also tell Gmail to delete all copies of incoming emails from the other accounts after it forwards them to my main account. This way, I’ll never reach my storage limit on these accounts that I never check.

But on June 2, as I was doing some maintenance on my beloved carlyhublou account, I noticed that Gmail had not been deleting the emails in this inbox. I had thousands of emails taking up quite a bit of space. I checked my settings, fixed the problem, and decided to delete everything in my inbox to save space and because I had copies of it all in my main inbox.

Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back, this was a very stupid thing to do.

Here’s a hawk that lands in my backyard sometimes. Probably large enough to carry away Dobby.

Why?

Because Google thought I was a hacker.

It’s not uncommon for hackers to steal users’ accounts, immediately change the password and set up two-factor authentication to keep the rightful user out, and then do asinine things like delete all the emails from an inbox (perhaps after gathering whatever information they may have wanted from your emails).

So when Google saw that thousands of emails had been deleted in a matter of seconds, it disabled my account.

Not locked. Not suspended. Disabled.

“No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll just walk through the recovery process.”

But to recover a Google/Gmail account, you have to be able to verify your identity to a computer — a computer that you can’t plead with or reason with. It knows what answers it needs, and if you don’t provide them exactly as it is expecting to receive them, you’re simply not the owner of that account. To recover a disabled account, you need:

  • The last password you remember having for the compromised account.
  • The date of the last time you were able to log in.
  • The date when you created your account.
  • Five frequent contacts (and these should be contacts to whom you’ve sent mail and from whom you’ve received mail).
  • Four labels you created (not the defaults).
  • Knowledge of all of the other Google services this account has used (e.g., Google Calendar, YouTube).

And you have to match precisely what the computer expects as input. No wiggle room.

Providing this information was problematic for me. Because carlyhublou is an email address that I don’t use via its actual inbox (I receive and send emails for it through my main Gmail account), I never created labels for it, I never used other services with it, and I had never technically contacted anyone with it. (Sending email as carlyhublou via my main Gmail account adds those recipients to the frequently contacted list for my main account, not for carlyhublou.) Despite submitting the form at least 20 times, the computer didn’t believe I was me.

“That’s OK,” I thought. “I’ll call Google’s help desk.”

EXCEPT THERE IS NO GOOGLE HELP DESK.

That’s right; one of (if not the) biggest tech company in the world has no user support (unless you are a Google Apps paid user). I even called Google’s main number, listened carefully  (as their menu options had changed), and found myself listening to an automated man telling me that I can only unlock my Gmail account by completing the account-recovery process.

Now, I understand. Google has millions of users. It’s not probable to staff a help desk to support a user base of this magnitude. Google’s solution is to provide an internet help forum, which is moderated by non-Google-employees who have somehow risen through the ranks of the forum to achieve the status of super loser user. They answer questions and also have access to Google employees if they can’t solve the problems themselves.

The very best friends.

But if you read through the Gmail forum, you’ll see that most users post to complain about the same problem I was having: their accounts got disabled for one reason or another and the account-recovery process isn’t working. Most times, there is no help for these people; they are told their accounts are lost forever, or they are provided a link to a blog that someone created to walk others through the recovery process.

Those are the only options.

(Dear Googs: If that many users are experiencing the same problem with your only option to recover their accounts, perhaps the process for recovering accounts is flawed. Love, Carly, beta tester circa 2004)

Think about it: What else in your life is that secure? Not even your credit-card account is that secure. You can recover a credit-card account by giving a human the last four of your Social Security number and the answers to a few not-so-difficult-to-hack-if-you’re-really-trying security challenges. That doesn’t even come close to the level of scrutiny programmed into Google’s account-recovery process.

Having exhausted my options, I called Kevin, nearly in tears.

Why was I in tears over an email address? Part of it was because I had waited so long to have this email address and now I might never have it again. Part of it was because this was the address through which most of my professional communications took place, and I did not want to have to send that email of shame: “My email address has been disabled and I cannot retrieve it. Please update your records with my new one.” (How embarrassing!)

And part of it was that I realized how much I relied on Google — on one company — just to function every day. Between Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive, a huge chunk of my life belongs in the Google suite of services. How uncanny it felt to have part of my internet identity so abruptly revoked and not be able to get it back. It was a partial glimpse into what life might be like if my real identity were to ever be stolen. I felt lost and helpless.

I called Kevin for emotional support. As he listened to me describe the day’s events to him, he gawked at the ridiculousness of Google’s user help solution. And then from his mouth — er, the phone speaker — poured the most beautiful, romantic words he’s ever uttered to me: “I’ll call Google directly.”

Kevin will be upset if I end this post without a picture of his beloved bird.

To make a long saga shorter, Kevin used a little wizardry (i.e., his sys-admin powers) to find a human at Google and alohomora my account.

As the dark skies over my first-world problems cleared, I felt eternally grateful for all the wonderful things in my cyber life, like Google Play Music curated playlists, the fact that I can add 2GB of storage to my Google Drive each year by completing a security check, and how Gmail adds events to my Google calendar when it senses dates in emails. Google had treated me like a boyfriend who says, “I want to take a break,” and then decides that he really does want to be with me after all (which is never how that story actually goes, by the way), and I felt no shame in running back to its login page.

After the makeup, I got down to business. Google had Scrooged me, and it was time to make sure this never happened again. So, for all of my Google accounts, I made sure I could answer all of those bullet-point criteria I listed above. I created four labels, found the dates the accounts had been created, turned on two-step verification, sent emails to my other accounts so that I would have frequent contacts, etc.

And then I slept soundly that night knowing I wasn’t stuck in another super-depressing episode of Black Mirror.

We Did

Almost exactly one-point-five years ago, I started this blog and discussed our intentions to plan our wedding, and exactly one year ago (and, ironically, on our third anniversary), I wrote about our decision to be indefinitely engaged.

Today, on the fourth anniversary of our first date, I get to write about our wedding.

(So, I did write the introduction and half of this post when the above was true, but then I put off writing the rest, and so technically none of that is true now.)

Sometime in December 2014, Kevin and I finally agreed that A) we needed to get married (for financial reasons, of course), B) we wanted to get married (for love reasons), and C) we wanted to keep it simple.

We went through several iterations of what “simple” meant and finally landed on a three-course wedding format—one that would please our family, friends, and financials.

And, when we discovered that 2015 would include a Super Pi Day, and also that this day fell on a Saturday, we knew we had to get married on that date.

But it was December, and no one knew of our plans but us.

On January 4, 2015, while lunching with some of our friends at Bangkok Square (best Thai in GNV!), we discussed our wedding date and were disappointed to learn that half of the people at the table were busy on Pi Day. Dismayed, we realized that, if we wanted people to attend, we had to get to work right away. Since I don’t believe in save-the-dates, and since paper invitations would have taken too long (oh yeah, and would have been ridiculously expensive), we used Facebook to invite our friends and an email blast to invite our family and non-Facebook-using friends. Imperfect? Maybe, but we didn’t care; it was cost-effective, and it allowed us to easily track who could come.

Part 1: The Ceremony

Having been to many weddings, I knew that the ceremony was not something that everyone would want to attend, no matter how short we made it. Also—and this is just me being weird—it felt arrogant to expect people to come watch me parade around in a pretty dress and say some fancy things. So, while we told our friends about the ceremony, we let them know that it was 100% optional. To our surprise, many of our friends still came, which truly warmed my heart.

Covered pavilion at Bivens Arm looking toward the seating area.

We held the ceremony at Bivens Arm Nature Park, a gorgeous, free park near downtown Gainesville. Originally, I wanted to get married at Cellon Oak Park, which is about 20 minutes north of Gainesville and boasts the largest oak tree in Florida (though when I drove Kevin there in 2014, the park was closed because one of the tree’s largest limbs had fallen, so who knows if it’s still the grand champion), but it’s devoid of seating, which meant we would have had to rent chairs and truck them out to the site. Since we planned to have a very short ceremony, it didn’t seem worth the cost to do this. While I had been to Bivens Arm before, it had been several years since my last visit. When I Googled it and saw that it provided comfortable seating and a pavilion perfect for a ceremony, I knew it was perfect for our event.

While I was content with the decorous natural setting, Kevin and his friend from work, Lina (who graciously volunteered to be our day-of ceremony coordinator), thought the site could use a bit of sprucing. Together, we scoured Michael’s for cheap wedding decor. I found some amazing owl vases (50% off!), which we planned to rest on our newly purchased bar stools (a gift from Kevin’s parents) from our bar, white tulle (buy one, get one 50% off), and blue and white fake flowers (50% off)—just enough decoration to add a personal touch without detracting from the rustic beauty of the park. And, better yet, after the big day, we had so much tulle left over that I returned one of the rolls to Michael’s, and while we did keep the owl vases and some of the fake flowers as decorations in our house, I sold the used tulle and half of the flowers on Craigslist for $20!

As for the colors, my preference would have been seafoam green (my oddly specific favorite color), but since my sister was my only bridesmaid (actually, my matrón of honor), and since she also had to buy a flower-girl dress and a ring-bearer suit, I told her to pick any dress she wanted in any color (except red) and that would be my color. I wanted the dress to be something she would actually wear again (and not something the bride tells you you could actually wear again but then never do), and though she chose a super fancy floor-length gown, I think she goes on enough cruises to reuse that baby at least once on those fancy-schmancy dinner nights.

For the officiant, well, that’s a funny story that involves me and the Internet and being creepy (or really good at the Google, depending on how you look at it), but we ended up finding the fiance of our wedding photographer, who happened to be a notary and who happened to have never officiated a wedding. But, he did have a lovely baritone voice, and I had no problem gambling on his ability to read words from a piece of paper and sign his name nicely. In the end, he did a great job, and now we’re actually friends in real life.

As for the ceremony itself, it was really important to Kevin and me to write it ourselves and make it meaningful to us, even if it did not adhere to customs or the religious beliefs of anyone other than us. We loved what we came up with; it was traditional enough to follow but uniquely us. Lina, who is from India, told us that in traditional Indian weddings, people close to the bride and groom speak during the ceremony to honor the couple. Kevin really latched on to this idea, so we asked his dad and brother and my sister and aunt to prepare a little something. At first, I wasn’t fond of the idea, but I’m glad Kevin insisted on it, because I think it turned out well and made the ceremony even more personal.

Wide shot of the site.

Our beautiful ceremony venue.

I know everyone says this, but the ceremony really did go by in a blur. Though we spent hours writing our wedding ceremony, it took only a few minutes to complete, and it felt like a surreal, out-of-body experience. But it happened and, in under 15 minutes, we were husband and wife.

After the ceremony, we spent a few minutes chatting with our friends and taking family photos before we headed into the woods for a brief photo shoot of just us. The one thing I regret is not budgeting more time here, as we felt very rushed to get photographs in before heading to our next event, but in the end, our photographer (Tyler K. Reed Photography) got plenty of great shots. (I mean, let’s be honest; how many photos does anyone really need of their wedding day? The answer is not that many.)

Part 2: Family Luncheon

Because all of our family came from other cities (and some from other states), we wanted to do something nice and a little fancy for them as a thank-you (which is why this event was called a luncheon and not simply a lunch). We decided to treat our family to a meal at Francesca’s Trattoria, my favorite Italian restaurant in GNV and one of the first restaurants Kevin and I visited for a date.

This turned out to be the single most expensive transaction for the entire wedding, but it was worth it. The food was great and we had the chance to hang out with our families before the chaos of the party began.

Part 3: House Party

Homemade fire pit and wood benches.

While we always knew we wanted to host a party in lieu of the traditional, formal reception, we originally planned to rent a house or venue and throw the party there. In the end, however, we decided that it would be more advantageous to host it at our house. We had never thrown a housewarming party when we purchased the house, and we thought we could make better use of the money we would have needed to rent a place to make some small improvements to our own abode, like building the bar and adding a permanent, homemade fire pit with benches.

When we first started dating, Kevin (though he swore he never wanted to get married) told me that the best wedding he had ever attended was one that was held in a park and included hot dogs and beer. Having been to many weddings myself, I knew that the real recipe for success/fun was not how cute and clever the table centerpieces and party favors could be (and the last thing I wanted to do was throw the same uninspired, “look what I found on Pinterest,” rustic-chic wedding that every other female human is throwing these days); all we really needed was alcohol and food.

So we rented a keg, picked up some handles of liquor and mixers, concocted a red sangria, and made lime-infused water for the DDs. In honor of Pi Day, we ordered 25+ pizzas from Domino’s and 8 freshly made pies from Publix, and we also served some appetizers/finger foods.

We converted most of the rooms in our house into seating areas to give people different areas to roam. We set up dual beer pong tables on the side of the house, and we had a bonfire going (at least for a little bit) in the backyard. We put up minimal decorations but enough to feel festive, and we had a diverse playlist (curated by yours truly) going while Darren Aronofsky’s film Pi played on our TV in the background. (Looking back, I should have played Life of Pi instead, as Pi ended up being an obscure choice.)

For our guest book, we agreed that we did not want a framed photo, painting, or other physical object that we would then feel obligated to tote around with us for the rest of our lives. Instead, I used Google Forms to create a fun survey, the results from which are more fun than signatures and will last until the sun blows up and destroys the Earth (and thus the Internet). We were also then able to email a link to the guest book to everyone subscribed to the Facebook event for those that missed their opportunity to fill it out at the party.

What I loved most about our party, though, was how generous people were. We had asked our guests to not bring gifts (since we were not throwing a traditional, costly reception); we just wanted people to come have fun with us. Though several of our friends still contributed to our honeymoon fund, others brought us homemade gifts, like a giant jug of cherry-infused kombucha, a pitcher of white sangria, and fried chicken. Kevin’s aunts took it upon themselves to purchase all of our paper decorations and even lit up our driveway with luminaries. These were unexpected surprises and made us feel very loved.

The downside of the party was that only a few people took photos, so I don’t have much to show for it. But the experience was a blast and exactly what we had hoped it would be. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and most of the food and beer disappeared. I’d call that a success.

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The Rundown

Here’s a breakdown of everything we spent money on and our grand total for our wedding. While we missed our $1,000 goal, I’m satisfied with what we spent. In the end, we both agree that it was exactly what we wanted: our friends and family hanging out, having some drinks, and being merry. In truth, I can’t imagine the evening being anything else other than what is was: perfect for us.

  • Marriage license: Alachua County, $94
  • Invitations/guest book: Facebook/Google Forms, free
  • Music: Various playlists curated by us using Google Play All Access, free (though we did pay $30 for a Bluetooth player to have music at the ceremony, and we pay a monthly subscription fee of $8 for Google Play)
  • Ceremony:
    • Venue: Bivens Arm Nature Park, free
    • Photography: Tyler K. Reed Photography, $188
    • Notary: Kody Latham, free
    • Planner: Lina Khan, free
    • Decorations (tulle, owl vases, flowers): Michael’s, $60 – $20 resale on Craigslist – $7 returned tulle = $33 net
    • Bouquets and boutonnieres: Alix Mathia, free
    • Flower girl basket: Amazon, $10
    • Flower girl flowers: Random person’s hibiscus bush on my way to the ceremony, free 😀
  • Attire:
    • Kevin’s suit: Already owned, free
    • Wedding dress: David’s Bridal, $212
    • Shoes: Amazon, free (generously gifted by my mom)
    • Jewelery: Amazon, $35
    • Hair & Makeup: Did my own, free
  • Lunch venue: Francesca’s Trattoria, $351
  • Reception:
    • Venue: Our house, free
    • Snacks and accessories: Sam’s Club/Dollar Store, $160
    • Liquor, wine, and keg: Sam’s Club/Publix, $180 (and we had extra beer, which we delivered to local friends the next day, and tons of extra liquor, which we will just keep for future use :D)
    • Dinner: Domino’s Pizza, $190 (and we had extra, which we donated to a few friends but mostly to our little brother, Tim, who is in college and lives off of pizza)
    • Dessert: Publix pies, $57
    • Decorations, plates/cups, favors: Oriental Trading, free (generously gifted by Kevin’s parents and aunts)
    • Serving dishes: TJMaxx/Goodwill, $50

Total: $1,615

How We Saved Money

Obviously, our style of wedding isn’t for everyone, and I know a lot of brides spend years dreaming up their perfect day, no expense spared. But here are the major ways that we saved money, and maybe future brides will find just one or two of these (rather than all of them) helpful in planning their own weddings.

  • We held the party at our house (instead of renting a venue).
  • We served pizza and pie (instead of serving an elaborate, multi-course meal).
  • We used electronic resources for our invitations and guest book (instead of using paper, stamps, knick-knacks, etc.).
  • We made our own playlist and used our own sound system (instead of booking a DJ).
  • We scoured the Internet for a talented but flexible photographer and then booked her only for the amount of time (and photos) we really needed (instead of booking an all-day, thousands-of-photos affair).
  • We used a notary to marry us (instead of using an officiant). (By Florida law, notaries cannot charge more than $30 for marriage ceremonies, though many do them for free.)
  • We used minimal decorations and fake flowers that we arranged ourselves (instead of buying real flowers and maximum decorations).
  • We used paper flowers for the bouquets/boutonnieres (which we still have and will have forever), and we stole a few petals from a random bush for the flower girl basket (instead of paying for real flower arrangements that die in a few days).
  • We used what we already had (when appropriate) for our attire, hair, and makeup (instead of renting tuxes or having a professional stylist slather my face and hair with products).
  • We uses paper plates and cups, and we raided Goodwill for serving dishes and then filled in the gaps with inexpensive items from TJMaxx (instead of buying high-end dishes that no one would notice).

To wrap up this post, Kevin and I would like to extend a very humble thank-you to everyone who helped make our day special. We couldn’t have done it without the love and support of our family and friends, and we are very grateful to all of you. Thank you!!

(In)Definitely Engaged

It’s been an unforgivably long time since my last post, and I know (read: hope) you all have missed me so much. You may be wondering what we have been up to since my last post. Well, we’ve mulched the yard, scraped and re-painted our bathroom ceiling, started the summer garden, cut the grass, planted new flowers, attended our friends Sam and Knight’s wedding, traveled to our respective homes a few times, replaced our garbage disposal, removed a few gigantic trees, etc.

What we have not done is plan a wedding.

Yes, 14 months since Kevin gave me a ring and 7 months before “the date,” and nothing is planned.

We are much better at wedding speculating. Sure, I have thought about wedding plans—everything from photography (I did manage to find someone who would do a wedding for Kevin’s strict $1,000 photography budget) to colors to themes to playlists. And I can’t even quantify the number of hours we have spent debating the pros and cons of eloping versus having a small wedding (family only) versus having a wedding extravaganza. To me, the latter two options seem trite and not worth the headache. My dream wedding is the one that costs very little stress and—more importantly—very little money.

(Plot twist: Kevin—the one who never wanted to get married—is the one who is pushing for a real wedding, while I am leaning more toward a romantic getaway elopement.)

My problem is this: I believe our input (money + time + stress) would not return a gain for the output (presents + fun – wedding day stress). We might break even, but I think the reality is that we would see a negative return. I’m sure many people think this is a terrible way to look at “the happiest day of your life,” but to me, happiness is financial security and making sound investment choices. I very rarely squander my money on myself, so why would I change my spending habits for a wedding—a one-day event that probably won’t be the happiest day of my life? (And I have always considered this a ridiculous colloquialism; I would prefer that my days only get happier as I age, so that every day is the happiest day of my life.)

So, for now, the October 25 wedding is off (you’re welcome, sports-fan friends), and instead we are indefinitely engaged (but still definitely engaged!).

Kevin’s opinion (via creatively formatted Google Hangout today) defines our struggle rather accurately:

I just…
I
don’t know
I don’t know what I want
I don’t want to get married in some secret shotgun ceremony like a heathen
but
on
the
flipside
having a wedding that’s big and beautiful and not heathen
is
very
expensive
and I don’t care
because the truth is that
We are both kind of heathen

Needless to say, he melted my heart.

Planning Poor Does House Hunters

In September, Kevin came up with his worst idea yet: buying a house. (And it’s the worst because it has required the most amount of effort on my part and has resulted in five new gray hairs.) Throughout our relationship, we have debated the pros and cons of homeownership, and each conversation eventually concluded that it is better to rent; if nothing else, it’s certainly easier than owning a home. However, the financial guru in Kevin couldn’t ignore the falling interest rates and the low home prices, both of which are only going to rise in the coming months. And as long as we live in the home for at least 5 years, it will be cheaper than renting in the long run. So after days of debate, I too became convinced that buying a home is the right thing to do right now. And who doesn’t love looking at houses?? (The correct answer is Kevin.)

So, in October, after doing my research, we chose a Realtor (a local husband-wife team) and began looking at houses. Overall, we only saw six properties before we found “the one.” I know I dogged House Hunters in my previous post, but in truth, I love the show and applied to be on it. Since they never called me back (grrr), I have devised my own HH experience for your reading pleasure. Here are three houses we saw, one of which we chose. See if you can figure out which one we picked! (And no telling if you already know the answer!)

House #1

House #1

3 beds, 2 baths
Price: $94,900
Year Built: 1957
Square Footage: 1,401
Area of Town: NE Gainesville near Waldo Road and NE 23rd Ave

The Realtors chose this house for us based on similarities to other homes we picked out. It has some nice upgrades, like a bonus room, newer kitchen appliances, and an updated guest bathroom, and the owners were offering to replace the roof as long as they received a competitive offer. It has a nice flow and a great backyard, which includes a storage shed and a tree house (much to Kevin’s delight). Plus, this house is way under our budget, so we could easily make a competitive offer and get the new roof.

Updated kitchen

However, although I loved this house, Kevin really didn’t like it.

Nice backyard, and an unimpressed Kevin

It has little curb appeal, the A/C unit needs to be replaced, there is no screened porch (one of my wish-list items), and the bonus room seems more like a strange attachment. We both dislike the neighborhood; it is just outside our favorite area (downtown/Duckpond) and yet not really walkable or bikeable. Also, the schools are not the best, and the area is so residential that we would be driving some distance for everything—groceries, movies, restaurants, etc. I also dislike that the laundry area is outside of the house in the carport, though it is something I could live with.

House #2

House #2 (really bad picture but it’s the only one I took of the front exterior)

3 beds, 1.5 baths
Price: $109,000
Year Built: 1956
Square Footage: 1,080
Area of Town: NW Gainesville near University & NW 34th Street

Before seeing this house in person, I thought we would really love it—and we do, for the most part. It has a great updated kitchen with porcelain tile floors, new roof, newer piping, beautiful parquet wood floors throughout, neat built-ins, great natural light, and a lot of that vintage charm we are looking for. It is within walking distance to the movies, Publix, restaurants, and a gym, and it is so close to the university, so renting it would be really easy in the future. Although it has only one full bathroom, the half bath is good enough for us and adds a little extra value.

Living area with beautiful floors

Updated kitchen

Weird bonus room as viewed from the backyard

While Kevin and I both like this house a lot, we have some concerns. First, the backyard needs a ton of work, and several trees overhanging the roof need to be cut back. Also, the house has a very strange bonus room that can’t be accessed from the main house (we had to go through the carport to get to it), and yet this room is the only way to get to the backyard. So, if I wanted to let Peanut outside to do her business, I would have to walk her out of the house via the kitchen, into the carport, through the weird bonus room, and out the bonus room back door to the backyard. I also don’t like that there is no screened-in porch or outdoor space. The weird bonus room could be converted to a porch and connected to the house by replacing the wood siding with screen and replacing some interior windows with doors, but that would be a lot of work, effort, and money. We also don’t like the windows; except for the windows in the bonus room, all of the windows are the slatted kind (which are very energy inefficient), and they aren’t screened. This is one of the smaller houses we saw, and we wouldn’t gain much more square footage than we currently have in our townhouse. To top it off, there are dead bugs and rodent droppings everywhere and weird, not-to-code construction problems (like a cable wire running from the outside, through a hole in the slatted window, into a bedroom). Despite its charm, it seems like it may be more than we can handle in a first home.

Yet, we love the bones of the house and the area, and we think we could really make it our own (with a good cleaning and some porch construction!).

House #3

House #3

3 beds, 2 baths
Price: $129,000
Year Built: 1969
Square Footage: 1,476
Area of Town: NW Gainesville near the intersection of Newberry Road and NW 8th Ave

We decided to view this house, even though it was above the price range we set for ourselves. However, everything is negotiable in real estate, so we figured we could make a deal if we chose this house. There is so much to like about this house: huge backyard, fantastic curb appeal, new roof, new A/C unit, updated kitchen (with gas range, which Kevin swooned over), and a cute screened-in porch with brick flooring and a metal roof. It has more than enough space for us, but I’m sure we would find ways to fill the house. I really like the flow of the house (it reminds me a lot of the house I grew up in), and there are several fruit trees in the backyard (fig, kumquat, and orange!). There would be very little we would have to compromise on here, and yet there are plenty of opportunities for us to make small improvements to really make the house our own. Plus, the house is close to the mall, the highway, North Florida Regional Hospital, shopping, restaurants, and the university, so we could probably rent it to a family or serious student down the road.

Kitchen and dining area with screened-in porch access

Bonus room (formerly a carport)

View of backyard from porch (and shed in disrepair)

As for negatives, it’s not my favorite area of town. The main road nearby can get congested during rush hour because of its proximity to the highway, but the house is still within a short drive to most of the places we visit. We would be further from downtown, which we really dislike, and we would probably have to cancel our downtown gym memberships, because we would never go. The street the house is on is quiet, though we could hear some noise from the main road when standing in the yard (but we live in a city, so this doesn’t really bother us). Also, I don’t like the carpet. It’s in good condition and seems newer, but it’s not a color I would choose. We also discovered a minor electrical problem, and there is a shed in the backyard and a few trees that would need to come down ASAP. And, of course, it’s above our preferred price point.

So…which house do you think we chose? We are closing on one of these houses soon (assuming there are no issues with the financing…fingers crossed), and I will update later with the answer!

Also, I’m pleased to report that Kevin did not mention “man cave” once in our search! I doubt the thought even crossed his mind, though our Realtor did mention it in one of the houses we looked at, and I had to give him an abbreviated spiel about the idiocy of the man cave.

Planning Poor: What It Means and Inspiration for Blogging

First things first: I’m getting married.

Never-before-released photo of me, immediately after the Q pop.

Never-before-released photo of me, immediately after the Q pop.

Second, the idea of blogging while planning the wedding has crossed my mind multiple times, but I have always been under the impression that if you’re going to blog about something, you have to start right away. By the time I had thought about blogging (about a month or two after getting engaged), too much time had already elapsed, too many ideas had been discussed, and none of it had been blogged. I had missed my opportunity (read: planning poorly).

Today, eight months after getting engaged, Kevin tells me he has come up with a brilliant plan: “I think we should blog about the wedding planning.” Like all of Kevin’s wedding ideas, this one was free and involved lots and lots of my time. His proposal surprised me (not quite as much as the one that got us here), and I told him that I had already thought of this but that, yes, it was a great thought.  (Good job, Kevin!)  After Googling “best sites for blogging,” we landed here.

We argued for days about the title. Several iterations of “[Adjective] Bride” were thrown around, my favorite being “Bickering Bride,” because nearly every wedding idea or decision results in a bickering match between Kevin and me. Second-runner-up was “Cynical Bride” (which was ditched after a close reading of the Dictionary.com definition of cynical), followed by “Bittersweet Bride” (which sounded more like I was only so-so about marrying Kevin rather than apathetic toward the planning process). It wasn’t until WordPress demanded a blog name that I tried “Poor Planning” (which of course was taken) and then–in a genius act of wordplay–“Planning Poor.”

While the grammarist in me resits the urge to slap myself on the wrist for this blatant misuse of an adverb, the intent of the title is to reflect our philosophy toward wedding planning: plan as though you are poorer than you are. The poorer, the better.

Kevin and I are very frugal. His philosophy toward money and his spending/saving habits are two of the reasons I knew I could spend the rest of my miserly life with him. (We’re still working on aligning our coffee-brewing-strength preferences, but some things just take time.) I don’t know about him, but every time I purchase anything for myself that is not essential (essential items being food, gas, rent, and animal supplies), I feel guilty for days (weeks if the purchase was really expensive or I’m being a downer). So when I read that the average cost of a wedding in 2012 was $25,000, my immediate reaction was, “Screw this. Let’s elope.”–a thought that resurfaces every other week, even now that we have made some slight planning progress.

Women of the world: I don’t care for how long you’ve dreamed about your picture-perfect, fairy-tale wedding; NO wedding is worth going into debt for. (Hell, if you make a ton of money, or you’ve got a rich dad who has saved his entire life to fund your event, milk that shit for all it’s worth.) But, to me, it is financially irresponsible to squander my hard-earned savings on a one-day event for which the costs have been grossly inflated by the industry to turn a profit. Talk about a losing investment! You spend $25,000 and get a lifetime of…memories? How is that going to pay for my retirement when I’m 95 and showing signs of memory loss?

Your money is much better spent when it is working for you–whether that be in a retirement fund or a stock-market investment–to save for your future goals (e.g., buying a house, saving for retirement, planning for those savings-draining life-suckers we affectionately call “children”) (read: planning smartly). Using $25,000 to pay for a wedding is nothing but a hedonistic act of financial un-intelligence.

A year after the wedding, I want to be reminiscing about the fun event we threw; I don’t want to be paying my twelfth bill on the no-interest credit card we opened to pay for an over-the-top event that no one but us is thinking about. Since I never imagined that Kevin would pop the Q, and since I spent literally zero hours dreaming up my perfect wedding before getting engaged, I have no preconceived notions of my wedding day going into this. Hopefully, this will save us a lot of money when all is said and done.

*Steps down from soap box.*

So that’s the gist of our blog: With no expectation of financial assistance from family members, we are planning the wedding as though we are very, very poor. Like, “Can I make a dress out of my cardboard panhandler sign?” poor.