Young. Just out of college. No full-time jobs.
Most couples wouldn't hear the tolling of wedding bells under such circumstances. But we had our eyes on a big, lavish wedding, and we were ready to pay for it.
More willing than ready, actually.
In March, Katherin, my girlfriend of six years, and I got married in a beautiful ceremony in Coral Gables. The reception was held in the 6,000-square-foot, Mediterranean-style rotunda of the Westin Colonnade Hotel near Miracle Mile. It featured ice sculptures and a chocolate fondue fountain. All our closest friends and family members were there: 150 people in total.
Let me modify an old cliché to say it was the happiest -- and most expensive -- day of our lives. The price tag: $37,480.
We wanted to celebrate in one night many landmark achievements: our church union (we had a civil ceremony some months before), our college graduations and our families coming together after years of separation. The wedding was also a gift to ourselves -- that one luxury, a statement of how far we've come and how far we plan to go.
So how did we do it?
The short answer is plastic. Although it's still common for the family of the bride to pick up the tab, especially among Hispanics, we didn't want our relatives to jeopardize their savings and retirement plans.
Yet we'd both always been debt-free. So we took a solemn vow, calculators in hand, to get back that way as soon as possible. We decided to put away 40 percent of our salaries and pay off our debt within 10 months of the pouring of the last champagne glass.
PAYING THE PRICE
Weddings are an expensive business -- the average wedding costs $28,000. The wedding industry is worth about $85 billion in the United States, according to the Association of Wedding Professionals, and that doesn't count honeymoons.
And we didn't have a lot of money. Katherin, 25, had emigrated with her family from Colombia seven years ago. Thanks to discipline and hard work, her parents today have a house in Kendall and helped Kathy through the University of Miami for her degree in biomedical engineering.
I am 24 now, and had moved to Miami from Caracas to live with my grandmother and aunt while attending journalism school at Florida International University. I was on a student visa, unable to work until I got a special permit.
Kathy and I met as freshmen in college. For many years our fanciest dates consisted of renting a movie, or when we couldn't afford that, watching reruns of Friends and The Simpsons. Some weekends I couldn't drive to her house because I did not have enough money for gas, even back when it cost little more than $1 a gallon.
Katherin was the financial mastermind of our wedding and payback plan -- she is frugal by nature, organized with money and likes to keep a tight budget. She made sure to use cards with very low interest rates -- 0 to 1.99 percent -- so our payments would have an effect on the balance.
The big-ticket items were location, photo and video, and, of course, the dress.
The rotunda of the Westin Colonnade is one of the most beautiful wedding sites in South Florida. People from all over the country and even Latin America book it months in advance. They have an in-house wedding planner who takes care of food and logistics.
The photo album and wedding video retell the experience, so we decided to put some money into that memory bank. The company we hired binds albums in leather and uses magazine-style, glossy pages for the pictures and even adds some origami for 3D effects.