U.S. wants sick workers to stay home. Workers say ‘We can’t’

sick day struggle
Martin Ayala, who handles food, works even when he’s sick because he can’t take paid sick days off at his job in a supermarket.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

“Stay home if you’re sick.”

That’s the message to food industry workers from the nation’s public health watchdog, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem is staying home isn’t an option for food industry workers — 70% of whom are low wage employees with no paid sick days.

The health agency last month issued a bulletin that said the worst food-borne illnesses originated from contaminated food handled by sick workers.

It includes norovirus, the nasty stomach bug that is notorious for causing vomiting and diarrhea in cruise ship passengers. The virus also causes 20 million Americans in land to get sick every year. And infected food industry workers cause 70% of the cases.

But for most workers, taking off when sick means no pay, and at worse a lost job.

Related: Paid sick days won’t hurt businesses

“If I don’t get paid I get behind on rent and I have to go to the food bank,” said Martin Ayala, a clerk in the meat department of a large Los Angeles supermarket that caters to a booming Hispanic market.

For Ayala, working sick is a way of life. The Mexican immigrant, who has been in the United States for 25 years, admits that he’s unintentionally sneezed and coughed on food and has seen his co-workers do the same even while sick.

But with an hourly wage of $11.36 with which he supports a family, he says he can’t afford to miss a day.

Poverty’s vicious cycle

“Yesterday and today I had the flu. It’s very simple for me with four kids – I have to work,” said the 47-year-old father, who has worked at the El Super food market for five years.

Related: Sick days: A luxury many hourly workers don’t have

El Super, which owns 46 stores in California, Arizona, and Nevada, is currently negotiating with Ayala’s union to include paid sick days in a new contract.

The supermarket told CNNMoney that it has put fourth several proposals — including paid sick days — but they have been rejected. The union has said there are too many pre-conditions, so the negotiations continue.

Right now only one state, Connecticut, has a paid sick day law. But Ayala’s home state of California has a measure winding its way through the legislature. Voters in Massachusetts have one on the ballot in November and 7 cities have adopted earned paid sick day policies. More are expected to follow.

JPMorgan exec loves getting his hands dirty

bill eigen jp morgan

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

A check engine light went off inside Bill Eigen’s mind while listening to his auto and truck repair customers in 2007.

As Ben Bernanke assured lawmakers the U.S. would avoid an economic storm, Eigen’s clients were telling him the exact opposite. Truckers complained of slashed loads, canceled routes and delayed maintenance.

Those ominous conversations prompted Eigen, who oversees $38 billion at JPMorgan Asset Management, to get defensive ahead of many peers by moving heavily into cash heading into the financial crisis.

“It’s good to get your hands dirty and find a balance between what’s going on in the white collar world and the world of dirty hands and filthy fingernails,” Eigen told CNNMoney, while taking a break from changing the power steering pump on his 1995 Ford Bronco.

The Boston-based portfolio manager is a rare finance exec who spends his days off fixing up cars with mechanics and talking shop with truckers. In fact, Eigen believes his weekly conversations with truckers give him a leg up because they are among the most economically sensitive workers in the world.

“I don’t know why more people don’t do this stuff. So many people like proper historical charts. But you know what? We’ve never been in a period like this,” said Eigen, alluding to the trillions of dollars of artificial money the Federal Reserve has pumped into the economy.

Related: How a librarian taught herself to invest and retired early

Instant economic data: That’s why each Saturday Eigen and his seven-year-old son make a point to visit his Central Massachusetts repair shop, which has a staff of about 11 full-time employees, including a pair of managers who take care of the day-to-day operations.

“Those Saturday mornings are precious to me,” said Eigen, who has owned a majority stake in the profitable business for the past dozen years.

Related: I sold my startup to Cisco. Here’s why

They are also valuable to the clients in Eigen’s bond funds, including the Strategic Income Opportunities Fund (JSOAX), Eigen said clients are “fascinated’ by the on the ground insights he shares during monthly calls because “there’s nothing more valuable than real-time data.”

Open invitation to Janet Yellen: So what is Eigen’s side business telling him about the economy today?

“We saw business fall off a cliff in 2007. You have the complete opposite now. We’re booked solid,” he said, adding that the shop is enjoying its best year since 2003.

3 charts explain stocks’ bull run

Trucks are actually coming in ahead of schedule for maintenance, signaling they are running more frequent and heavier routes — a positive sign for the economy and likely stock prices.

“I’d love Janet Yellen to come into the shop one day and talk to these people instead of pooh-poohing how bad the economy is,” said Eigen, whose official title is chief investment officer for absolute return and opportunistic fixed income.

Related: From cancer survivor to millionaire

Check engine light is on’: The Fed chief’s recent comments suggest the easy money punch bowl fueling stock and bond prices isn’t going away just yet, despite healthier labor and inflation metrics.

That dynamic, coupled with low volatility and “awful” liquidity in the fixed income markets, has Eigen worried about a rapid rise in bond yields.

“The check engine light is on in the fixed income market, but no one wants to diagnose what the problem is. They continue to drive the car. That can lead to catastrophic failure,” he said.

Related: CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index signals greed

Unlike many on Wall Street, Eigen doesn’t feel the pressure to reach for returns because he is an absolute return manager. That means he’s focused on just generating positive returns and avoiding losses, compared with relative return fund managers who try to beat their peers or a given benchmark.

“I don’t want to run the world. I’m not trying to make history here,” said Eigen. “You have a lot of people stretching for yields — a lot of the same things you saw in 2007. But when you invest in fixed income, it should be preservation of capital first.”

Eigen said the rush to chase yields sometimes makes him feel like he’s the “only sane one in the room.”

Maybe. But he’s clearly one of the only ones in the conference room regularly sporting grease up to his biceps.

Should you raid your retirement savings to slash debt?

Save a million before you retire

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

If dipping into your retirement savings to finally pay off that pesky credit card bill sounds like a good idea, you should probably think twice.

Taking a 401(k) loan can seem attractive for a few reasons: You don’t have to qualify. You can get the funds quite quickly. Plus the interest rate is typically around 4% to 5%, far below the typical credit card interest rate.

Most 401(k) plans allow you to borrow 50% of your balance up to $50,000, which you then must pay back (plus interest) through automatic payroll deductions. Typically, the loan must be repaid within five years.

Nearly half of all retirement savers who had taken a 401(k) loan said they had borrowed the cash to pay down debt, according to a recent survey from retirement provider TIAA-CREF.

But there are a lot of things that can go wrong.

“The 401(k) always appears to be a pretty good place to borrow from…” said Margaret Starner, senior vice president of financial planning at Raymond James & Associates. “But it’s a slippery slope.”

Related: The hidden cost of retiring early

Not only are you raiding your current savings balance, but you could also miss out on possibly higher compound returns those funds could have gained over time.

Plus, like any other kind of borrowing, a 401(k) loan isn’t tax free. You’ll pay the loan back with after-tax dollars and then pay taxes again when you withdraw the savings in retirement.

And if you lose your job or switch to a new one, the timeframe to pay back the loan shrinks to as little as 60 days. If you’re unable to repay it by that deadline, you could be hit with another tax bill and a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re younger than 59 1/2.

#YourEconomy: Share your biggest retirement mistake

If you’re still thinking of taking a loan to tackle debt, here are some things to consider.

What kind of debt is it? The only kind of debt you should even consider raiding your nest egg to pay down is extremely costly debt, such as high-interest credit card bills or a payday loan, said Bruce Cacho-Negrete, a certified financial planner who specializes in helping clients manage their debt.

That means that you wouldn’t want to use retirement savings to pay down loans with lower interest rates and longer time spans, such as student loans or mortgage debt.

Do you have other options? A 401(k) loan should be a “loan of last resort,” according to Cacho-Negrete. First consider your alternatives.

For example, if you have a good credit score, you might be able to pay down higher-interest credit card debt with a personal loan from a bank or credit union, said Sophia Bera, a Minneapolis-based certified financial planner.

Related: Should you drain your 401(k) to start a business?

Or if you think you’ll be able to tackle the debt in the next year, consider taking advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer to transfer the debt to a different credit card and pay it off without any additional interest payments.

Do you have a plan? Your retirement savings is not a piggy bank. So if you do take a loan, you’ll need a strategy to make sure you don’t make it a habit, said Dan Keady, director of financial planning for TIAA-CREF.

If it was overspending that forced you to raid your savings, for example, commit to a budget to make sure you don’t just run up the card all over again.

If possible, you should also try to continue contributing to your 401(k) plan up to at least your employer match, on top of paying back the loan.

Did you not start saving early enough? Or make a bad investment decision? E-mail melanie.hicken@turner.com with your biggest retirement mistake and what you learned from it.

London calling: World’s top travel spot

Taxi wars: NYC vs. London

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

A foggy day in London town is quite all right for 18.7 million people.

That’s how many will visit the British capital this year, making it the world’s top international travel destination.

MasterCard, which compiles the list, says London will have 8% more overseas visitors this year. As a result, it will wrest the top spot from Bangkok, where political unrest will cut tourism by 11%. Paris and Singapore are the next two cities.

Related: Vacation experiences of a lifetime

Visitors give a big boost to local economies. International travelers will drop some serious coin in London — spending more than $19 billion on hotels, meals, taxis and sightseeing. Only New York, where they will spend $18.6 billion, approaches that level.

Related: Best travel sites reward programs

New York, which finished sixth among global destinations with 11.8 million visitors, was the only place in the United States to make the top 20 list, which covered 132 different international cities.

Related: 50 states, 50 spots for 2014

Dubai, the hard charging city in the United Arab Emirates, flew past the Big Apple into fifth place with 12 million international visitors. It is a tourism magnet for the Arab world. Its seaside location is a big attraction with much of its Persian Gulf shoreline developed for water parks, yacht clubs and theme parks.

Expedia CEO: Leisure travel flying high

The city, which has a population of about 2.2 million, will receive more than 4.8 visitors per resident, easily the highest ratio among the cities surveyed. And there’s a huge economic benefit: Travelers will spend nearly $3,900 per resident.

Business travel to London’s booming financial industry helped buoy the city’s numbers. The visitor volume coming from New York grew strongly, up 15% year-over-year to 867,000. Many of these travelers work in the financial industry and as that industry recovers, the business travel from New York has grown.

Still, two-thirds of London’s visitors arrive from other European cities.

The wrong folks get billions in tax dollars

money down drain
The government made about $106 billion in improper payments last year.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The federal government is continuing to dole out billions of dollars to people who shouldn’t get them.

A government watchdog agency said an estimated $106 billion in payments were made in error last year: meaning they were the wrong amount, went to the wrong person or lacked sufficient documentation.

These payments include tax refunds, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, and Medicare and Medicaid coverage.

The improper payments could be even higher since not all agencies reported to the Government Accountability Office.

The White House acknowledged that “the loss to the Federal Government is significant,” but it pointed to a declining overall error rate: Just 3.5% from 5% in 2009.

“[T]he Administration, working together with the Congress, has significantly reduced improper payments,” Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said in her testimony. “[W]e will continue to work closely with agencies to find the root causes of the improper payments.”

The Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast program, which provides free or reduced-price meals to needy students — had the highest error rate in 2013, at 25%.

Other programs with error rates above 15% include the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Assistance Loans program.

In congressional testimony Wednesday, government agencies said they have been working on better procedures and trying to recover improper payments already made.

The IRS said it is going to be challenging to make improvements, however, given its lack of adequate funding.

The agency says its 2014 budget of $11.29 billion is $850 million below the funding it received in 2010, despite the surging fraud and identity theft that is leading to many improper payments.

“I remain concerned about our ability to continue to make progress in all of these areas in light of our ongoing difficult budget environment,” IRS commissioner John Koskinen said in his testimony.

Chinese teens beat U.S. peers in money smarts

The college test that America fails

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Chinese teenagers in Shanghai know more about money than American kids. So do teens in Estonia.

In fact, in a recent test that measured financial literacy of 15 year olds, U.S. teens ranked in the middle of the pack, alongside Russia and Latvia.

The test, administered by the OECD, tested knowledge of everything from banking and taxes to how interest rates work, and was given to 29,000 students in 18 countries in 2012, in conjunction with a more widespread international assessment of math, science and reading (called the Program for International Student Assessment).

Related: Are you a better investor than a 13-year-old?

A sample question, for example, quizzes students on how to read a pay slip. In order to answer correctly, a student would have to know the difference between gross and net pay (or the difference between pay before and after deductions, like taxes).

Nearly 20% of U.S. students didn’t even reach the baseline level of proficiency, “or the basic skills that are needed for success later in life,” according to Michael Davidson, head of early childhood education at the OECD.

Chinese students scored the highest, with more than half of students labeled as top performers.

But it’s important to note that the only Chinese students tested were in the country’s largest and wealthier city of Shanghai, a distinction that has drawn controversy in the past.

Other top-ranking countries included Belgium, Estonia, Australia and New Zealand.

Related: Chinese students found cheating to get into U.S. colleges

In the United States, there is no national standard for financial education, with requirements and programs varying widely across the country.

By contrast, in Australia financial literacy lessons are included within math, English and science courses, while Estonian teacher training includes education on financial literacy issues.

“If we want to have young people who are globally competitive in 20 years, having a good solid basis of understanding their financial lives early is important,” said Ted Beck, president of the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education. “This should be a national priority.”

Want to study pot? There’s a school for that

Getting a degree growing pot

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

A new school is launching this fall that will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pot.

The Northeastern Institute of Cannabis, located in Natick, Mass., announced that it will soon start accepting applications and begin offering classes in late August or early September.

Founded by long-time pot activist Mickey Martin, the 12-course program will teach students about the medical uses of marijuana, growing techniques, the logistics of operating a dispensary, as well as the science, history and legal landscape of the industry.

As the cannabis industry continues to boom and a growing number of states legalize its use for medical purposes, the demand for knowledgeable workers in the field is greater than ever.

That’s what makes it the perfect time to launch an institute devoted to training people, says Martin, who once had his own medical marijuana edibles business before it was raided and shut down by the Drug Enforcement Administration. He has since started a pot consulting business and he recently wrote the book, Medical Marijuana 101.

Related: Want a job? Try the pot industry

“This is one of the largest growth industries in America, and it’s not just stoners and people who like weed anymore — it’s a business,” said Martin. “We’re targeting your basic worker, someone who wants to go to a dispensary and apply for a job, because these places want people who are trained.”

Martin chose Massachusetts because the state recently legalized medical marijuana. Funded by private investors, a 7,500 square-foot facility to host classes and meetings is currently under construction.

While Colorado and California are home to similar schools, Martin says he hopes the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis will be the first registered cannabis school in New England.

Related: How a marijuana ad went up in smoke

“You have new [marijuana] industries starting up in states all across New England but you have a virtually untrained workplace,” said Martin. “Most [training programs] are in Colorado and California, but for someone to travel that far to get trained is just not realistic.”

To get registered as an official trade school requires submitting an application and detailed financial records to the state — a process Martin is currently going through.

While he doesn’t anticipate any trouble getting licensed by mid-August, he says the school will still begin offering classes even if there is an unexpected delay with the application. If the school doesn’t get its license, it will simply mean it can’t advertise itself to applicants as a certified trade school, which is one of the ways the college hopes to attract students.

To enroll, students must have at least a GED or a high school diploma, and Martin says more than 500 people have already expressed interest in applying.

Students who complete the school’s full 12-course curriculum will receive a “Cannabis industry certification,” and tuition will cost $1,500. For people who want to take individual classes, each four-hour course will cost around $199.

Related: Smoking pot can still get you fired in Colorado

The classes will be held on nights and weekends to accommodate people with full-time jobs, and there will be between 25 and 30 students per class.

But if you’re looking to get your hands on some real pot, this isn’t the place for you. The school won’t be allowed to have any marijuana on campus. Since it isn’t a dispensary, having cannabis on its grounds would be illegal. Instead, instructional videos and photos from local dispensaries, kitchens and other facilities will be shown.

Colorado’s pot experiment, 6 months in

One more hitch: because of the murky legal landscape of the marijuana industry — marijuana is still considered illegal by the federal government — students will not be allowed to apply for federal financial aid for their tuition at this time.

“The federal interference into the industry at this point is still cumbersome,” he said. “It’s been quite a journey.”

House hunting? Download these apps first

Selling luxury homes using drones

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

From enabling us to virtually walk through an open house to instantly learning about the social scene in a neighborhood we’re thinking about moving to, a new generation of apps and other technologies are taking the real estate shopping experience to the next level.

“There’s been a revolution in innovation,” said Alex Perriello, CEO of Realogy Franchise Group, which sponsored a conference last month showcasing several new real estate technologies.

Matterport, of Mountain View, Calif., recently unveiled 3D Showcase, which produces high-quality, 3-D images of homes that can be embedded in online listings. Users can virtually walk room-to-room, behind sofas, around beds and past corners. (For an example, click here.)

Related: 10 Least Stressed Out Cities

Then, at a click of a button, walls peel away revealing a photographic image of the house with all the spaces exposed. The 3D image can be rotated, turned and zoomed in on.

Matterport’s CEO, Bill Brown, said that until now, listing sites usually contained slideshows of photos but, “There was no context to the space as a whole.”

Furniture can be erased, leaving empty space behind. Or, it can be replaced with other furniture to re-stage rooms. Homebuyers can see what the place would look like after they buy it and put in the sofas, chairs and table they choose.

“This takes the dreaming part of house hunting and takes it to the next level,” said Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate.

Related: How much house can you afford?

Meanwhiles, to avoid crowded open houses where you can’t get an answer to your questions, or agents who are unfamiliar with the property, a company called BrightDoor is offering Beamly.

It uses small Bluetooth-enabled devices located throughout the home to send home shoppers information via their mobile phones or other devices. When a buyer goes into the kitchen, for example, they can learn more about the appliances or wood cabinet options available to them.

$4M horse ranch just outside LA

With Boston-based CO Everywhere, users with Bluetooth-equipped mobile devices can draw boundaries around interactive maps of neighborhoods they are looking to move into and the site will display an array of local social media content from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from that area. It also posts local Meetup events and deals and coupons from local businesses through sites like YipIt.

“It’s like the NSA for real estate,” said Tony Longo, CEO of CO Everywhere.

Calculator: Cost of living: How far will my salary go?

Longo drew a two-block area of Greenwich Village in New York and found 49 people he could connect with at that moment. “The social intelligence that comes out of an area can be rich,” he said.

Zumper, which specializes in rentals, has produced the Zumper Pro app that enables agents to quickly create new online listings in a matter of minutes. Using their smartphones or tablets, agents can take photos, write descriptions and fill in details, such as the number of bedrooms, baths and square footage.

Then, even before they leave the apartment, agents can post the listing online and send alerts to prospective renters with the app that a new place is on the market.

Creative (and painless) ways I cut my wedding costs

wedding budgets
Melanie Hicken and Ryan, her fiancé, discovered several money-saving tips and tricks while planning their California beach wedding.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

When my fiancé Ryan and I got engaged almost two years ago, we knew a few things for certain: We wanted to get married on a beach in California, celebrate with as many of our friends and family as possible, and throw a rocking party.

But as we started the planning process, we quickly realized how easily the bills could get out of hand. Spending thousands of dollars on flowers or $20,000 on food and drink alone just didn’t make sense to us — or fit within our budget.

Ultimately, we were able to save thousands of dollars by making some relatively painless choices. Here’s how we did it, along with some added advice from the experts:

Trim your wedding, not your guest list: One of the most commonly employed tactics for cutting a wedding budget is to shrink the guest list. But Bay Area wedding planner Elizabeth Clayton says you shouldn’t let your budget force you to leave out loved ones: Settle on the people you want to celebrate with, then figure out how to make your budget accommodate those guests.

This often means rethinking the extras or even the fundamentals.

Clayton suggests reducing the options at the bar to just wine, champagne and beer, for example. That could save you several thousands of dollars for a 150-person wedding. Other tips: nixing the pricey red meat entree at dinner and replacing elaborate floral centerpieces with live potted plants or candles.

Related: Honeymoon hotspots

In our case, we are limiting our bar offerings and opting for tri-tip, a cut of steak popular in California, instead of pricier beef tenderloin. Those two decisions alone are saving us nearly $2,500.

“These are your closest friends and family,” said Clayton, founder of Lowe House Events. “They hopefully aren’t going to complain… A lot of times they won’t even notice.”

Watch out for hidden costs and fees: When my fiancé and I first started venue hunting, we were surprised to find that many places charged high “food and drink minimums” for Saturday weddings. So if a venue charged an $18,000 food and drink minimum, it meant we were on the hook for that amount even if our guests ate and drank just $12,000 worth of food and alcohol.

You can often avoid or lessen these charges by choosing a less popular time, such as a Friday or Sunday, or simply finding a venue that doesn’t charge minimums, which is what we did.

Wedding biz boost from same-sex marriage

Buck tradition: I’m lucky enough to have eight bridesmaids who will stand beside me in our outdoor wedding ceremony. But with that many ladies, the bill for bridesmaid bouquets could have easily been $500 or more.

Instead, I’m having them hold brightly colored parasols, which cost only $8 each, making the entire bunch around the cost of a single floral bouquet.

Related: Average wedding bill hits $30k

Other possible bouquet substitutes include: fans, paper pinwheels or clutches. And Anthony Navarro, a Chicago-based wedding planner and owner of Liven It Up Events said he’s coordinated an evening ceremony where the bridesmaids held lit candles, and others where brides made bouquets out of brooches.

Meanwhile paper goods, like programs or menus, and favors can be axed entirely or replaced with cheaper substitutes, Clayton said. For ours, we won’t be providing menus and will use a large chalkboard sign that I made to serve as our program.

Shop small: While a small business won’t necessarily be cheaper, they are often more willing to negotiate on price.

Plus, some startups are especially innovative. Instead of asking my bridesmaids to buy dresses they will never wear again, they are renting their dresses from Little Borrowed Dress. The company charges only $50 a dress (for the shorter styles) and simply requires them to pop the dresses in the mail after the wedding. Even with required insurance and shipping charges, the tab is under $70 per bridesmaid, less than half the price of a typical bridesmaid dress.

Related: We’re crowdfunding our wedding

In Chicago, Navarro recently worked with a business called Just Press Play that provides “iPod DJ services.” The couple provides the playlist, while the company provides speakers and an optional MC who controls the music and makes announcements throughout the night. At less than $600 for most wedding receptions, the cost is roughly half that of the typical DJ.

Step away from the glue gun: With websites like Pinterest providing ideas for thousands of wedding craft projects, it’s easy to catch the DIY bug. But all those trips to your local craft store can really add up.

In my case, I was able to make the wedding program chalkboard sign and a large wooden directional sign for less than $60 — far less than the price of some of the similar creations advertised on Etsy shops.

But I scrapped some other projects, like additional homemade signs and wine bottle table numbers, after realizing they just didn’t make financial sense.

“DIY can often be just as pricey or more than buying it, especially if you’re not an expert in that area,” said Jamie Miles, an editor at wedding website TheKnot.com.

‘We’re crowdfunding our wedding’

indiegogo funded wedding
Jamie McGonnigal and his husband Sean Carlson paid for almost a third of their wedding expenses with money they raised in a crowdfunding campaign.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

As weddings get more and more expensive, some couples are turning to friends, relatives and even strangers to help pay for their big day.

Unable to afford a wedding on their own or with the help of their parents, couples are mounting campaigns on crowdfunding websites asking for financial help.

Detroit resident Elizabeth Rodriquez, 22, and her fiancé Otoniel Cabrera, 26, turned to crowdfunding site GoFundMe in January — soon after Cabrera lost his job, leaving him out of work for months. So far, the couple has raised around $4,200 from seven donors, which will go towards their $28,000 wedding in April 2015.

“We’re trying to save as much as possible,” said Rodriguez, who said they cut their guest list from 200 to 135 in order to trim costs. “The rest is pretty much depending on our family and friends.”

Related: Creative (and painless) ways I cut my wedding costs

Their “Dream Wedding” campaign is one of more than 1,500 wedding-related campaigns that have been launched on GoFundMe.com since 2010.

GoFundMe would not provide fundraising totals, but said more than 16,000 donors have contributed to these wedding and honeymoon fundraising campaigns. But while some campaigns attract thousands of dollars, many receive only a few hundred, if any money at all.

Many campaigns are framed like a reverse registry, with couples asking friends and family to rethink the traditional wedding gift.

“We ask that any money you would spend on a gift goes towards our wedding expenses. Any little bit helps!” 21-year-old Ashlyn Walker wrote in May on her campaign on GoFundMe.

Walker and her fiancé, John Schneider, have received $500 from half a dozen people since starting their fundraising page in early May. With their parents unable to contribute much, the couple is hoping to stick to a $3,000 budget.

Related: Honeymoon hotspots

Beyond the online donations, Walker said many friends and family members are helping in other ways. Her wedding dress is a hand-me-down from Schneider’s aunt, while a family friend will provide catering services for just the cost of the food.

Etiquette expert Lizzie Post said that while “many a wedding has been thrown by a bunch of people pooling together resources,” the new trend of online fundraising could create “awkward”situations, where potential wedding guests feel pressured to contribute.

“I’m not yet convinced that the general population is ready to receive a link about crowdfunding a wedding they are invited to,” said Post, the great-great-granddaughter of now-deceased etiquette expert Emily Post and a spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute.

Related: Average wedding bill hits $30,000

Last year, LGBT rights activist Jamie McGonnigal and his now-husband Sean Carlson were overwhelmed when $5,225 poured in to their Indiegogo campaign from dozens of donors, including friends and family, and even some people they’d never met.

The funds they received covered around a third of the $15,000 in expenses they had for their Provincetown, Mass., wedding last May.

crowdfunded wedding instory
McGonnigal and Carlson (pictured in the center) at their wedding last year.

Still, McGonnigal said some people weren’t as supportive. “I definitely got a lot of push back from a few people,” he said. McGonnigal even found an online message board attacking the campaign.

But there are some cases where people are willing to chip in — especially when a couple is down on their luck.

Take, for example Brandi Ryans and R.J. Foster, who saw their wedding plans crumble in May when the owner of a popular Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant called reBar unexpectedly shut the place down after having taken more than $1 million in wedding deposits.

A month earlier, Ryans’ parents had written owner Jason Stevens a check for $16,500, which he had said would cover the entire cost of their December wedding.

The New York Attorney General’s Office estimates Stevens owes $1.8 million to around 150 couples. While Stevens has agreed to pay restitution to these couples, it’s unclear if or when he will have the money to pay them back.

Related: Same-sex marriage: ‘Our finances one year later’

Determined to help the couple salvage their wedding, Ryans’ friend Erin Telford launched a GoFundMe campaign, “Save Brandi & R.J.’s Wedding” which has received around $7,500 from 142 donors.

Ryans said their wedding will likely be “smaller and less frilly” than originally planned, but that the support they’re receiving is “literally saving the day.”

“It has been a roller coaster, but it’s hard to still be angry when this many people are doing such amazing things for you,” Ryans said. “It’s making this wedding that much more special knowing it was put together with so much love.”