Far too often, people spend based on their feelings rather than what makes financial sense in the long term.
Pre-pandemic, I struggled to convince couples that dropping thousands of dollars on a wedding they really couldn’t afford was financially irresponsible.
You can’t put a price on your happiness, or on a lifetime memory, they would argue.
Oh yes you can.
Others proudly pointed out that they had saved for their big day. But such proclamations don’t impress me if you have five- or six-figure student loan debt awaiting upon your return from a Caribbean honeymoon. A wedding shouldn’t wipe out your emergency fund.
So, with this in mind, I was intrigued by a new Netflix show debuting Wednesday called “Marriage or Mortgage.”
The reality show involves a friendly competition between a wedding planner, Sarah Miller, and a real estate agent, Nichole Holmes. In each episode, the Nashville-based professionals help couples decide between the wedding of their dreams and their dream home.
The show was filmed before coronavirus-related shutdowns and restrictions, but once things return to normal, couples will again face the decision of whether to shell out money for a wedding or use their savings as a down payment on a home, the hosts told me during an interview.
As I sat down to preview the 10-part series, I was sure I would hate it, but I was mesmerized waiting to see what people would do. If I didn’t fear breaking my TV, I would have thrown my shoe at the screen several times during the viewing. Kudos to the producers and hosts, because you will be surprised by which couples opt for the wedding and which ones go for the home.
My husband and 25-year-old daughter watched “Marriage or Mortgage” with me. About 15 minutes into Episode 8, my daughter couldn’t take any more. She grabbed the remote to fast-forward to the end to see whether one couple, together eight years and living in a two-bedroom apartment, would choose to spend $20,000 on a wedding, including $4,900 budgeted for a bridal dress.
In the interest of full disclosure, I bought my wedding dress at a consignment shop for less than $200. There was no open bar. I told guests who complained that they could go home and drink their own liquor.
It was so funny how frustrated my daughter became, struggling to understand how a sales operation specialist and an Uber driver would choose a pricey wedding celebration instead of taking the $20,000 and using it as a down payment on a four-bedroom home with a spacious backyard for them and their two young sons. Saving that much money couldn’t have been easy for them, my daughter fumed.
My husband left the room at the same point, muttering: “Crazy concept. It’s a no-brainer. I’m out.”
Mortgage rates are near historical lows. As of Thursday, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.02 percent, according to Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage investor.
The choice between a one-day party and wealth-building homeownership seemed obvious to us.
It clearly wasn’t so simple for the profiled couples, who had saved up as much as $35,000.
“How do we pick from the day that we want and the future?” says Nicholas. He and his fiancee, Denise, are torn between having an Elvis Presley-themed wedding and taking the $25,000 they’ve saved and buying a home.
One bride-to-be says, “My head and my heart are going in two different directions.”
Cue scream from me: “Choose your head, you fool!”
Those of us in the business of helping people make wise financial choices are often flummoxed when folks let their feelings drive such an important financial decision.
Miller, the wedding planner, almost had me understanding why couples would go for the wedding.
“You get to learn these couples and what’s important to them,” she said. “I’m not in this industry to make people make bad decisions and go broke or in debt. The people who come to me, we try to expand their budget as best as possible and really kind of help them and guide them in the direction so they’re not going over their means.”
I’ll admit, I became invested in the series. I wanted to see how each couple arrived at the decision that they did. In so many respects, this show is all about behavioral economics, a field of study that looks at the psychology behind the decision-making processes of individuals. People often make choices that are not in their financial best interest.
“Speaking from the more realist, linear-thinking person that I am, I just see taking that lump sum of money and investing it in property with the possibility of growing that is a no-brainer,” Holmes said. “But that’s why this show is so amazing and why I think it’s going to have so many people rooting for the mortgage, or the hopeless romantics of the world saying: ‘How could you give up your big day for a mortgage? That doesn’t seem very fun.’”
So where do I stand on “Marriage or Mortgage”?
I think it will delight romantics and disgust penny pinchers.