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Color of Money

Love and Money: Financing a Wedding

Michelle Singletary
Post Business Columnist
Wednesday, July 30, 2003; 1:00 PM

Weddings carry a hefty price tag these days. The cost of rehearsal dinners, photographs of the momentous occasion, the bride's wedding dress and the honeymoon can all run up the bill.

On average the wedding reception alone can cost a whopping $7,630, according to Conde Nast. Unless the parents are picking up the tab, the costs for most couples can be overwhelming. The key is to produce a wedding that doesn't bog them down in debt.

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Join personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary on Wednesday, July 30 at 1 p.m. ET takes your questions about financing a wedding.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Michelle Singletary: Welcome. I'm so excited about this chat today. I love trying to talk couples out of spending money they don't have for a wedding. So let's get started.


Somewhere, USA -- Everything costs MORE: I don't know what type of reception Conde Nast is looking at but unfortunately $7600 in a medium-sized city of Pittsburgh where I will be married, will basically get me appetizers and drinks.

In any case, I have read all the Bridal Bargains and Budget Wedding books, (which consequently were only published less than 3 years ago) and not only are the prices way off, (and I realize they are only averages and the number of people and location make a difference) but everytime I try to use their hints and tricks to lower the cost of services, I get snooty responses from vendors who are appalled that I am even asking such questions!;

I have taken the approach that weddings are a business. Vendors are not my friends, they want to make money off of my services so why should I give in to their pressures? I am by no means too forward in my approach as I figure you can go further with sugar than you can with spice, but every book I read and tactic I try is useless and the costs keep going up, up, up. I haven't rushed and actually taken my time so I can make educated decisions, but geesh, COME ON vendors, this is basically a big party, why are prices jacked up?


Dayana Yochim: You are so right about the costs associated with weddings being sky high. Just add the word "wedding" to anything ("dress," "cake," "tablecloth," "ring pillow") and watch the price shoot up 30% to 50%. My suggestion? Keep the word "wedding" to yourself whenever you can. Look for non-traditional venues (a barn, an art gallery, your rich cousin's manse) and do as much of the buying on your own. Have your best friend's brother bartend. Chance are he won't charge you a corking fee.


Culpeper, Va.: How much should couples expect parents to pay for their wedding? Should parents be liable for the whole tab, even if they can afford it? I personally believe that couples should be responsible to pay for at least 1/3 of there own wedding!! Concerned father of the bride!! Please comment!

Michelle Singletary: Well dad, you aren't "liable" for any of the tab. If you CHOOSE to pay for the wedding it's out of the kindness of your heart. If you're a parent and you can't afford to help with the wedding say so. I was raised by my grandmother and she couldn't afford to help pay for anything when I got married. So my husband and I paid for everything without going into debt. So, if you're a parent and you want to and can afford to pay for your adult child's wedding great. If not, take your front row seat and enjoy the ceremony as a guest. What do you think Dayana?

Dayana Yochim: I wholeheartedly agree with Michelle on this. "Entitlement" is an ugly word. Couples getting married these days have different financial realities that they're dealing with. For instance, mom and dad might not be able to afford to live on their pension. They are relying on their investments to get them through their golden years. Shelling out $20,000 for a wedding right after they retire can be a big financial burden. Think of it this way: Ask your kids if they'd rather pay for your long-term care, or their wedding. I bet I know what the answer will be.


Alexandria, Va.: If we are getting minimal help from our parents, is it foolish to finance most of our wedding through credit cards? I am not finding a whole lot of ways to cut costs and still have an elegant, classy wedding. We could use a credit card with a return, such as the GM card, and then put that towards a car in the future. What is your opinion? Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Foolish, foolish, foolish. Did I mention foolish. Your turn Dayana?

Dayana Yochim: Ha! I think Michelle means "foolish" with a lower-case "f." In The Motley Fool world, being "Foolish" (note capital "F") means contrarian thinking -- finding the truth in the muddle of information from people who would much rather that you not ask questions.

That said, I understand wanting to have an elegant and classy wedding. But think of it in these terms. When you pay for something on a credit card (especially one with even an "average" interest rate -- which right now is around 14%), you are stealing from your future to pay for your present. When it comes to rewards cards, you have to carefully weigh the costs of those rewards against what you are giving up. In this case, you might be sacrificing a blissful debt-free beginning to your new married life.

Find ways to cut costs. I'm sure we'll have a few ideas in the next hour. : )


Austin, Tex.: Just a hint--my honey and I paid for our own wedding (with cash), and our wedding reception costs were cut way down when we decided to do a mid-morning wedding with brunch, rather than an evening wedding with dinner. Cheap champagne mixes fine with OJ, brunch is yummy, and then we had the rest of the day to hang out with our friends and not stress about the wedding, because it was already done!

Dayana Yochim: To the reader who posed the previous question. Please see Austin, Tex's budget wedding solution. Beautiful. And fiscally brilliant.


Silver Spring, Md.: Thank you so much for addressing this topic! When my boyfriend proposed to me, practically the first thing that entered my mind (beyond the lovey stuff), was AACCK--I don’t want to have to plan a huge wedding!! How sad is that? We have decided that even though my parents would pay we are keeping it small for the sake of our wallet and sanity. Even participating in other people's weddings these days is getting expensive. How do we stop the madness? Thanks again, Michelle, for being the constant Voice of Reason.

Michelle Singletary: Reason is my middle name (which is good cuz I hate the one my mama gave me). Anyway, you stop the madness by stopping the madness. Have some financial integrity. Don't spend what either you or your parents don't have. It's one day. It doesn't cost much of anything to get married (by the I mean the license is pretty cheap) and you could have a simple ceremony in the church or courthouse with very little cost. It kills me when people say they can't afford to get married. So they spend years living together or saving a fortunate to get married. Crazy! And those of you getting married please think about the poor folk that will be in the wedding. Have mercy on their wallets too!

Dayana Yochim: Michelle's middle name is "Reason," and mine is "Oh, Puhleeze!" I agree -- stop the madness, especially when it comes to wedding expenses. In fact, even before the marriage, I think it's wise to question those "guidelines" about engagement rings. Did you know that the "two months salary" rule was made up by marketers? Marketers for the diamond industry. In fact, diamond engagement rings for the masses didn't really exist until the 1920s. We've been conditioned over decades to think that this is a hard-and-fast rule. Unfortunately, it's a rule that has left many couples in financial straightjackets before they even walk down the aisle.

So have mercy on your wallets when it comes to these things. And when someone says that you have to spend at least $25,000 for a decent wedding, say "Oh, Puhleeze."


New York, N.Y.: What are the consequences of a prenuptial agreement?

Dayana Yochim: Well, using the word "consequences" when raising the issue of a prenup leads me to believe that this is not something you've discussed with your honey. Indeed, it is a topic to be approached gingerly given the whole "happily ever after" expectations that I hope are in both of your minds as you enter into a union. Money can be a conversational third rail in relationships. The whole "mine," "yours," "ours" issue can be a month long fight alone. If you're worried about commingling your finances, keep some of your money in separate accounts. If there's a family inheritance involved, that needs to be discussed. But start talking soon. And prepare some conversational ground rules before you even start talking.


Falls Church, Va.: What is the best way to ask family members to assist in the cost of the wedding. We are planning a visit with my fiancé’s mom this weekend and want to approach her for help. Any thoughts are much appreciated as it is such a delicate topic. Thanks.

Michelle Singletary: Just ask -- nicely. And in my opinion only ask your parents or a relative that raised you. Otherwise foot the bill yourself.

Dayana Yochim: I'd just add to that, ask very, very nicely. Michelle told the couple that we talked to the other day that if the family members have strong opinions about how the wedding should be, then just say: "Sounds great! How can you help with that." Great advice.


Maryland: For the woman trying to create a "classy" wedding - I've been to weddings ranging from $3000 to $150,000. I've had the most fun at the cheaper weddings, mostly because these weddings were about the people, and not about trying to impress anyone. Had a friend who insisted on wearing evening gloves because they were classy - great argument until we realized she'd cut the finger off of one glove in order to get the ring ceremony done. Most of us don't live in a world of glitz and glamour - why make your wedding day part of that world instead of the one you really live in.

PS: favorite wedding reception of ALL time was the one a friend had the night BEFORE the wedding. A bbq/picnic on the beach with a swing band in the background. We were all in shorts and t-shirts and barefoot and having a phenom time. The wedding itself was short and sweet with a tea and cake reception afterwards, where we all couldn't stop talking about how much more fun we had the night before. break out of the mold, and go have some fun.

Dayana Yochim: Friendship, reality, love and yummy cake (I prefer carrot, for what it's worth) are what weddings should be about. One of the loveliest weddings I attended was a nighttime affair at a small art gallery. The wedding was at 8 p.m., and the reception was in the gallery where the couple served desserts, wine and had a three-piece jazz band they met at local coffee house playing background music. There were vases of single calla lilies on the tables. The artwork was enough adornment. I think the whole bill was about $5,000.


Arlington, Va.: I'm getting married in a few months, and one tip I have for dresses is to look at consignment shops, internet sites, and even eBay. I saved $300+ and got my brand-new, never worn or altered dream dress on eBay.

Dayana Yochim: Excellent suggestion. The whole wedding prices issue goes double when it comes to "dress." So before you shell out for a beaded frock, consider looking at the department stores in the fancy dress section first. And for local bridesmaids, please email me should you need a horrific gown for the lovely day. I have several from which you can choose.


Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Md.: What should couples do when one part has really bad credit (from making poor decisions in college and then ignoring the bills, hoping they would just go away..)? We love each other, but not our credit scores, and one of us will be needing a new car shortly after getting hitched. Should we try to keep our finances separate until the credit mess is taken care of?

Michelle Singletary: You should try to get the credit mess worked out BEFORE you get hitched.

Dayana Yochim: At least you're talking about your credit conundrums and still love each other, credit boo-boos and all. Unfortunately, the only things that can cure bad credit are time and demonstrating the proper use of credit. Don't even bother with those credit fixer-upper companies. What you need to do is:
1. Pay your bills on time -- EVERY TIME
2. Pay off your debts ASAP
3. Work with your lenders and the credit agencies to fix any errors on your credit reports

The good news is that your recent credit activity counts more towards your score than past blunders. While I don't want to tell you to wait 7 years to get hitched (and Michelle might be shaking her fist at me right now), I do suggest that you at least start working on fixing your credit now.

As for buying a car -- don't. If you absolutely need a new car, buy used. A car is a depreciating asset. It loses a huge chunk of its value the moment you drive it off the lot. Get by with whatever clunker you can. We won't think less of you if you arrive to the wedding in a beat-up El Camino.


Somewhere, USA: Post-Wedding Wondering: Love these chats - keep up the great work! A quick question: my boo boo and I married in June and wound up putting about $4K each on our credit cards. We received quite a bit of money as wedding gifts. Do we use the cash to pay off the cards or save it for a down payment on a house (which we hope to buy this fall)? If we pay off the cards we're left with about $2K in cash ...


Michelle Singletary: Well I won't fuss about that $8,000. That's wedding cake under the table. But I would pay off the debt and wait to buy the house until I saved up more money. Trust me, once you get the house there will be so much you will want to get and may need. You don't want to start off homeownership with a massive amount of debt. What do you think Dayana?

Dayana Yochim: Pay off the cards. Why let the lenders earn interest on your wedding? Michelle is right -- along with a house come a bundle of expenses, many of which you would never even anticipate. Start saving now with each paycheck. Have it automatically sent from your checking to your savings account each month. Trust me, you won't miss it. If you need some incentive, hang a picture of your dream house on the fridge and inside of the medicine cabinet. While you brush your teeth you can be smug in how financially savvy you are. : )


Virginia: Michelle -

I just wanted to say Thanks! Last Sat. my finance & I sat down and added up the guest list & prices for a wedding we had planned. Even at the no cost venue & limited guest list the bill would be about $3K for everything - not much to some - but a lot for us - especially since I had to burn though all my savings during a long unemployment. So we changed our minds - we are getting married & having the reception in a friend's condo party room ($25 to rent) and doing a mix of catering and party planners (we luvvv Costco!). New total cost - under $1K - and we get to invite more people we care about.

When I saw your column on Sunday it made me smile and feel even better about our decision. Thanks again.

BTW - For any doubters - our wedding will have between 60 & 75 people, wine, beer & tons of food. If our friend hadn't offered the party room we would have just done it at our apartment.

Michelle Singletary: Oh, you make me wanna cry. Thank you. I love it when people are helped by my advice. And what you did is called having FINANCIAL INTEGRITY. Good for you!

Dayana Yochim: Standing ovation to you! You actually sat down and DID THE MATH! See, it wasn't scary? And then you came up with a solution that was within your means. Best of luck to you both. (Michelle -- here's a tissue.)


Somewhere, USA: Michelle and Dayana,
I enjoyed the wedding video and commentary. My boyfriend and I are planning on getting married at some point in the next year or so, but of course money is a huge issue. We don't have much, and neither do our parents. We're not into a big fancy wedding (I don't even want a gown or veil, he wants to wear shorts) which helps, but anything in this area is pricey (we definitely want to have it around here). I would much rather use that money on a down payment for a house, but eloping isn't really a possibility since I definitely want a wedding. Is that too much to ask for? We have a joint savings account for our house fund, though we don't have too much in it right now. Any suggestions about how we could possibly save up to accomplish both goals- inexpensive wedding and a house? -SurlyGirl

washingtonpost.com: Weddings and Money video.

Michelle Singletary: Get married in your church or courthouse and have a small dinner party at someone's home. Or do what a cousin of mine did. They had a very small ceremony at Howard University's chapel and then took their guests (about 10 people I think) to a nice restaurant afterwards. That was it. And from the photos it was lovely. I didn't go but I understood. So, stop stressing. It's the ceremony that is supposed to be the important thing about getting married. If you can't afford a wedding (i.e. reception, flowers, cake, etc.) don't do it. You can afford a wedding (marriage license, getting hitched by a minister, priest, rabbi or judge).

Dayana Yochim: The only thing I'd add to Michelle's suggestions is to enlist the help of talented friends and family wherever possible. Potluck reception. The neighbor's kid as DJ. There are plenty of before-the-wedding things you can do yourself -- bake the cake, design and print your own invitations.

I'm glad to see that you are thinking about post-wedding life, too. Saving for a house, college for future critters, paying cash for a vacation -- it's great to think about these things before writing a check for your wedding gown.


Rockville, Md.: I am already sure that I want a small wedding with a nice dinner with family and friends at a restaurant that evening...BUT, and this is a true concern, how do you stop from falling prey to the "wedding mentality" and the societal pressures women have on them to have these snazzy affairs. My BF's mother has $50,000 saved for his wedding and I feel a bit miffed with that sort of pressure to "perform". Everyone makes this about them and it's really about a couple's commitment. She's mad that I want a small wedding and thinks I should acquiesce to her desire to show Sonny Boy off!

Michelle Singletary: Are you going to be a girl or a wife? If you choose wife then have the wedding you want. However, it might mean not taking mommy's money.

Dayana Yochim: Michelle has spoken. (Mental note: Never cross Michelle!) Print out this page (after we're done chatting, of course), and when the pressure is on, re-read her advice.


Germantown, Md.: Hello Michelle and Dayana...this is Sharon. If Frank and I have the "destination wedding", is it expected that we will help to pay for guests accommodations or flight?

Michelle Singletary: Good question. I wouldn't expect for a bride and groom to pay for my travel and hotel accommodations if I choose to attend their destination wedding. But you should make this very, very clear when inviting folk.

Dayana Yochim: Hi Sharon. I think no matter where you choose to have your wedding, it is up to guests to decide if attending it is within their means. And I agree that you should make that clear -- even to the maid-of-honor and best man.

And for those who are invited to a litany of weddings: Choose wisely. No need for you to go bankrupt attending every affair. For the endless wedding shower gift, may I suggest homemade sachets and candles? Just declare one Friday night "Craft Night" and invite your nieces over to help assemble gifts.


Maryland: I have no science to back me up on this one, but I think the reason wedding costs are out of sight are (in no particular order):

1. mom and dad often pay (easy to run up the cost when someone else is footing the bill)
2. guilt associated with never having spent enough time with the kids combined with trying to "one-up" the neighbors/relatives/whoever hosted the last wedding
3. Wedding planners (get a real job!)
4. charging the costs (you'll think a lot harder about what you are paying when you take it out of an investment account rather than plunking down a credit card)
5. The ridiculous notion that a wedding day is "the most important day of my life" (get real, and get OVER yourself)
6. The idea that you must have (and pay for) a "perfect" wedding (it just ain't gonna happen)

No, I've never been married. Might never happen (I'm female, if that matters). But if it does, I just cannot justify the huge costs for a dress you wear once, a cake you take two bites of, pictures you hardly look at after the first anniversary, etc.

Having seen 1 friend have a $100,000+ (not a typo - that was one hundred grand) wedding for a marriage that lasted 11 months and another spend $25,000 for a marriage of just over a year, I think I speak for many of the sane singletons out there - JUST SAY NO.

Michelle Singletary: Couldn't have summarized it better myself.

Dayana Yochim: I see a book in the making: "The 'Get Real' Guide to Weddings."


Olney, Md.: I never thought it would happen, but for once I have to disagree with you both. I don't think Falls Church should ask for money. If the parents are going to offer, they're going to offer. But unless you can't even come up with the license fee, it sounds like s/he just wants to have a wedding beyond their means, and needs mommy and daddy to foot the bill.

(In case you're wondering, my in-laws did pay for most of our wedding, but they offered as soon as we told them we were engaged, and we stayed well under what they offered to pay. If they hadn't offered, we would have just done something smaller.)

Michelle Singletary: Disagree with me? What were you thinking (smile)? These days some parents don't want to interfere and may be waiting to be asked. There is nothing wrong with asking. And nothing wrong with the parents saying no.

Dayana Yochim: I think it all depends on the family dynamics: Whether we are comfortable talking about money with our families; how often finances were discussed in the household, etc. The ages/life stage of the bride and groom may also come into play. In my experience, parents of younger couples almost expect to foot the bill. Older, established couples -- that's a different story. Either way, money should not be a taboo topic. Heck, hardly anything seems to be taboo these days. So start talking, folks!


Washington, D.C.: What perfect timing- I am getting married this October - engaged this past June. We are not wasting anytime! I am doing pretty will keeping costs down- only one type of flower, consignment dress package deal for honeymoon, Mom making veil & huppa, etc.

So my question- the groom thinks that $800 for a platinum wedding band is too much. Is it?

Also, we are combining our money - we have talk about it and have the same savings goals, etc. He has school loans and I have credit card debt- we both realize that the sooner we get rid of mine & his- we will be in better standing.

Dayana Yochim: Okay, this may seem weird, but my mother has something like five wedding rings. And she has been married just once -- to my father for 45 years. If you can't afford a ring you want right now, who says you can't upgrade in later years? As for $800 for a platinum wedding band, you and your groom have to prioritize. It may mean cutting back $800 elsewhere.

For your second question, I hate to do the shameless plug thang, but I will! Couples & Cash will help you organize, prioritize and plan your finances -- together. Check it out. Maybe you can get Michelle to send you a copy.


Bethesda, Md.: My father gave me a budget of $25,000 but I am starting to think this isn't going to be enough for a DC Metro wedding. I was thinking of putting some of the smaller items i.e. wedding party gifts, favors, incidentals on my credit card. My question is how much debt is okay when paying for a wedding?

Michelle Singletary: Child please! How much debt is okay when paying for a wedding? None!!!! Your daddy is going to GIVE you $25,000 and you're still thinking about going into debt for your wedding? What's your number because you need a good talking to.

Dayana Yochim: I'll just reiterate what Michelle said. Your budget is $25,000. Period. Enough said.


The purpose of a wedding...: Another trend I'm noticing is couples living together for a time, often years, and saving up for a big wedding. Sometimes the house, cars, and kids come before the actual wedding. I know Michelle often argues that people shouldn't live together before being married - but is this a good way to save for the elegant wedding rather than go into debt?

Michelle Singletary: No. First comes marriage then the baby carriage is what my Big Mama always told me.

Dayana Yochim: Q: "Is this a good way to save for the elegant wedding rather than go into debt?"

A: Is this a good way to start your life together? (Rhetorical.) No. Nor is starting off with a bundle of debt. The answer is to decide to commit to each other with all your hearts to a loving, financially responsible future together. Forego the expensive wedding.


Michelle Singletary: Well, there are so many questions and so little time. So sorry but we've got to go. Clearly, I have to do another discussion on this topic. Thanks to all who submitted questions. If I didn't get to yours e-mail me. I might do another wedding budget column with answers. But folks remember a wedding is all about you and your intended. You can get married without spending much at all. There are some people who split up before the wedding debt has been paid. Just keep saying: "It's just one day. One party." Have fun and stay out of debt. See you in two weeks!


washingtonpost.com: Here is the list of winners for this month's book club selection, "The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples and Cash: How to Handle Money with Your Honey" by Dayana Yochim.

1. Alison Taylor Duvall, WA
2. Anita MacMaster Montgomery Village, MD
3. Ann Marie Salomone Alexandria, VA
4. Ashley Beard Virginia Beach, VA
5. Barbara Chapman Bowie, MD
6. Brad Stewart Gaithersburg, MD
7. Brian Smith Florissant, MO
8. Carol Ziegelmeier Kenosha, WI
9. Christianne Orear North Bethesda, MD
10. Connie Roos Gaithersburg, MD
11. Creighton Becker Winston-Salem, NC
12. Dedra Fischer-Dobson Camarillo, CA
13. Diane Wills King George, VA
14. Don Kassel Fredericksburg, VA
15. Don Reed Bucyrus, OH
16. Donna Wagner Staten Island, NY
17. Erma Torrance Chesapeake, VA
18. Frances Seroka Kenosha, WI
19. Hunt Henderson Bloomington, IL
20. James Yuan Wichita, KS
21. Jas Boyd Columbus, OH
22. Joan Cornell Delaware, OH
23. Justing Bates Irving, TX
24. K.A. Reimers Pleasant Hill, CA
25. Karen Kuniyoshi Normal, IL
26. Kathern Pyburn Huntsville, AL
27. Kourtney Browing Wisnton-Salem, NC
28. Lorri Woods Pinole, CA
29. Lucy Lehner Depew, NJ
30. Marcia Allen Washington, DC
31. Marilyn Pukmel Chambersburg, PA
32. Martin Cybulski White Post, VA
33. Mitch Farris Rockford, IL
34. Monny and Bindu Saini Burtonsville, MD
35. Nevada Riggar Steelville, MO
36. Stephen V. King Evanston, IL
37. Tanisha Muse Piscataway, NJ
38. Tanya Giles Woodbridge, VA
39. Tricia King Vienna, VA
40. Samantha Vogeley and James A. Ketler Laurel, MD


washingtonpost.com: That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.


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