Avoid The Wedding Debt Trap, Pt 2

Let’s talk about wedding debt. I had previously written about credit card debt back in January 2005, in the Avoid The Wedding Debt Trap article and offered some alternatives to paying for your wedding.

A recent article at Yahoo Finance, “What Credit Card Companies Don’t Want You To Know”, reminded me to talk about wedding debt again because it’s not openly discussed enough.

While you’re being fed the over-the-top, bash-of-a-lifetime dream there’s a dark underbelly to the industry. And that’s debt. Deep, soul-sucking, relationship-wrecking, stress-inducing debt.

While many couples are fortunate and get abundant financial gifts from relatives, many of us pay for at least part of our weddings. With the average wedding exceeding $27,000, and the average US household income at something like $45,000, it’s likely you’ll put some of that wedding expense on your plastic pal … and then pay for it for the next several years. Yes, years. A $5k loan at 14% interest will take 30 months to pay off with $200/month payments. Miss a payment and your interest rate balloons to, say, 27% (not uncommon at all) and the payoff will take forever.

As a cautionary tale, I want to share my own wedding debt story. My then-fiance (now-husband) and I went into debt to pay for our wedding – even with generous financial help from parents – and it turned into a struggle we never could’ve imagined.

We didn’t plan on long-term debt. In fact, we had a solid plan for getting debt-free ASAP after the wedding. I was working a cushy, Silicon Valley tech job at the height of the never-ending boom. He had a stable, long-term job (still does, even though the pay is low for our area). We’d both probably be getting raises soon. I had stock options that were about to mature. Heck, we might’ve been able to buy a house in a year (not an easy thing in Silicon Valley). No problem! What could possibly go wrong? … Ha.

After early-2002, I was unemployed and underemployed for an extended amount of time, which put a burden not only on my household finances but with my marriage as well. There were no fat raises, no stock options, no house, no job. We never, ever thought such hard times could ever happen to us. And that’s precisely why they did. We didn’t plan for, prepare for, or know how to deal with financial adversity.

You know how stats say that most couples’ arguments over finances? They don’t lie. Being poor, in debt, and stressed is pure misery for both partners.

It took years for us to get out of the debt we incurred for our wedding day (and subsequent unemployment, to be fair) – something I would NOT do over if I had the chance to relive the moment. While our wedding day was beautiful and amazing and utterly awesome, it wasn’t worth the amount of pain, sacrifice, and fear we lived in while digging ourselves out of that financial hole. Today, 6 years after the wedding, we have zero credit card debt but it was a long road to get here and to be able to maintain that status.

Some of the lessons we’ve learned and want to share:

* You cannot control how the economy will affect your job or business or your ability to find a new source of employment.
* There is no such thing as job security. You can be fired, downsized, laid off, outsourced, replaced, or your job can simply disappear. It happens every single day. Plan accordingly.
* Living beyond your means – even by a little bit – is dangerous.
* Borrowing money from the ‘rents to buy food for the next week is humbling.
* Poverty sucks. A lot.
* The more you make, the more you spend. Save more and pay off debt faster instead.
* No amount of perceived wedding day goodness is worth sacrificing the well-being of the marriage/relationship.
* You can have an utterly awesome, beautiful, gorgeous wedding on a small budget. It’s not how much you spend that makes a wedding great. Repeat that every day.
* The wedding is a teeny, tiny part of the marriage. Put all of your stock in the long-term things like financial security, personal integrity, respect for each other, and healthy communication skills because those are the only things that will get you through the tough times. And start building those things now, before the wedding.

For a long time I carried a lot of shame around this part of my life. Even now, it’s a little hard to talk about, especially in an open forum such as this. Today I’m speaking up because I see a lot of you heading down that same path to misery and I’d love nothing more than to guide you away from that.

And I think wedding finances should be something that are openly discussed, without judgment or shame, to empower every couple to make the best decisions (for them) on where/how/why to spend their budget.

So, with that, I close this chapter of my story and, in turn, open up an ongoing discussion about finances and budgets here at DIY Bride.

10 thoughts on “Avoid The Wedding Debt Trap, Pt 2”

  1. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and never would’ve guessed you went through hard times. Thanks for sharing your story. That was brave.

  2. I’m going through the ongoing pain of finding an affordable reception location for my 200+ wedding while reading this. It’s so true, all of it. I keep telling myself not to pressure myself to have the “perfect” wedding.

  3. How do you NOT get into debt and still have a wedding that you love?

    We have a $15,000 allowance from our parents and $2,200 of our own. My FI can get a $9,000 loan from his credit union at 8%. He’s hesitant to do it even though we make over $60,000 combined.

    We can’t have a decent wedding without more “help”. That’s the reality.

  4. I just got married in June. We had a lovely wedding in a local state park, and it was beautiful. Total bill: $3500

    Some tips:
    We had silk flowers
    My father used to be a DJ so he planned all the music
    One of the guys I work with caters on the side
    Guests gave us copies of videos (and pictures), which we then edited together
    My aunt was in charge of taking the formal pictures and the event pictures (first dance, cake cutting…)

  5. Thank you for sharing this story, Khris! You are so right about all of it. It’s so tempting to live outside of our means on a daily basis and especially with our weddings. But it is possible to plan an elegant wedding within your means. My wedding totalled $11,000 four years ago. It was a gorgeous outdoor wedding and reception in an apple orchard on the water! Really it is do-able, but you have to be willing to think creatively. We made our own invites, had a friend cater and make the cake, had a friend DJ, had a friend officiate, we got a steal on the venue, made our own centerpiece which doubled as favors, had a photographer friend take photos, etc… And the list goes on. I had the time of my life that day! And we still get compliments about how amazing our wedding was and how personal it felt. Anyway, I’m with you 100%! And thanks again for sharing. Your story serves as an inspiration for us all!

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. We am currently planning our wedding and it has been a struggle to find a “perfect place” to celebrate our special day. We’ve been debating on whether to go with a banquet hall or a traditional Chinese restuarant. The only thing about a restaurant is that it’s pretty cheap where we live, but the place itself isn’t too nice, but it’s decent (no decorations at all). We talked about having it at a restaurant in Toronto, which would be nicer, but then it would cost approximately the same as having it at a banquet hall. But in the end, we think that the most important thing (aside from food) is that the guests are there to celebrate our wedding with us. I guess that’s what all couples should keep in mind and definitely live within your means. Afterall, it’s only 1 day and so what if guests are seated in chairs without the chair covers, that’s just an extra luxury that they will have to live without for a couple of hours.

  7. Just to add to my previous comment. My fiance and I started a Mutual Fund account and set an approximate goal for what we think our wedding will cost us and money is directly deposited into that account from each pay. We don’t want our parents to pay for our wedding so this is how we decided to save for it.

    Hope this helps!


  8. I’d love to have an outdoors wedding, but here in the UK the weather is utterly unpredictable, so trying to find a cheap/free location to get married in is really difficult.

    Thanks for the great advice on this blog – I think people need to be thinking a lot harder about spending lavishly, particularly in financial crunch times like now.

  9. Thanks for the link to the Yahoo! Finance article & also (especially) your lessons learned. You can’t really put a price on personal experience!

    Thanks again!

  10. I am sooooo going back and forth with this same issue right now. I lost my job in July, right before a one month vacation that we had been planning for years. I came back to a 3-month temporary job, that pays practically zilch. I’ve incurred about $5,000 in debt just dealing with life and things that keep coming up! And my usually great credit score is sinking – despite that fact that I have never before allowed myself to be in debt this far.

    And now, nine months away from the wedding, I’m so worried. And debt makes me lose sleep at night. It already is. What will another $5,000 of debt do to us?

    Reading this entry was really helpful, and showed me that I’m not alone. Thank you so much for taking the time, and having the courage to share it!

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