The color of money

Michelle Singletary: A wedding isn’t a license to take on massive debt


Washington Post Service

Every year about this time I get questions from people wondering about the high cost of weddings. Here are some that came up during a recent online discussion.

Q. Can you explain why people plan on spending the equivalent of) a down payment on a house or the cost of new car on a single big party when they still have student loans, and then want to buy a house? I find such thinking insane.

If you took the word “wedding” out of the equation, you would get, “I want to invite 100-plus people for a big party at a posh location, and — usually — I want my parents to pay for it.”

A: I get it. Pressure, or people have been waiting for the big day where they are the center of attention, etc.

I wouldn’t spend on a lavish wedding if I had debt, but I understand how it happens. For my part, I just try my best to talk good financial sense into people.

Q: My fiancé and I are 25, and we are not in the financial position to pay for a wedding.

Our families do not support us getting married for myriad reasons, one being we’re 25 and “haven’t lived.”

What would you suggest we do?

A: Despite the family’s objections to the marriage, the reader also implied that there was pressure to “go into debt for a wedding to satisfy the desires of our family/friends.”

If you have done all the right things to make sure you are ready for marriage, then have the wedding you can afford. People will want you to do a lot of things — but they aren’t going to help you pay for it — out of tradition or their desire to be sure relatives or friends aren’t left out of the celebration.

You can get married without the big bill. The bottom line, don’t go into debt to satisfy anyone.

Q: I am getting married! I’m so excited, and we are thrilled to be able to spend our lives together. Neither of us comes from a lot of money, and we are working hard to pay things off and get our financial house in order before we wed.

Recently, my father passed away and left “a few dollars” for me and my sister. Well, I’d like to have my wedding in a place that may be a bit costly, and I’d like to tap into a bit of what was left for me to do it. I think if my dad were here, he’d move heaven and earth to make this happen for me, but after going through Prosperity Partners, I just know there are better ways to spend money than on one day of a wedding celebration. I am paying a mortgage and have student loans, and my fiancé has plenty of debt. So, what say you?

A: Prosperity Partners is the financial ministry I direct at my church.

Look. I do understand. Wedding. Family. Friends. Your big day. You’ve finally got a good “boo” (for you non-Baltimoreans, that’s a honey, snooky, etc.). You want to celebrate.

But you have DEBT. Yup, in all-caps not because I’m yelling but to really accentuate your financial situation. Unless you have no debt, you can’t afford to spend much on a wedding. I’m talking have the reception at your mama’s house with red Kool-Aid, hot wings and grocery-store wedding cake. And certainly rule out a wedding at a bit more costly place.

If you were my daughter, I would move heaven and earth to help you become debt-free. Use the money your dad left to start your married life off as free of that burden as possible. Most of what you spend is on the reception, which is just a party, and a one-day party at that. Debt can live on for many days and decades.

Maybe someday you should ask all of us who had nice but inexpensive weddings how it went.

Take my case. I have been married for more than 30 years. We were married in the garden of my mother’s home. Our plain gold rings came from W. Bell, a now defunct catalogue store. I think we paid $50 total. Our wedding cake came from Woodward & Lothrop. It was on sale and cost about $100. We had champagne from the corner liquor store and a few little “finger” sandwiches. That was it!

Oh, and my dress was an antique, found in my grandmother’s attic. I think it was from a distant relative’s confirmation. Flowers were from my mother’s garden. We had about 75 people. It was really nice, and everyone had a great time.

I hear you. I had a frugal wedding. I also purchased a second-hand dress. (I figured the bride who wore it before me wasn’t going to be at my wedding.)

But I still understand that people want their big day. I don’t begrudge them that if they have the money to pay for it — but not at the expense of getting out of debt.

Hear Michelle Singletary’s personal finance reports on Readers may write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington DC 20081.

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