Can you afford not to?
When you graduated from college, you probably did everything you could to become self-sufficient. You put an end to gifts and short-term loans that made you still seem like a dependent child. You survived dating while broke, but now you want to get married. What do you do?
So many things have to be paid for to meet the cultural requirements of a wedding, and unless neither person has more than fifty people to invite, it will be expensive. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $25,000 and even half of that is not chump change. You know you can’t afford it, and your retirement can’t afford for you to spend that kind of money in one place either. You have two options: wait and save money or ask for help.
To Beg or Not To Beg
Personally I don’t like waiting, and don’t recommend it. The idea of postponing important life decisions because of money is a dangerous one because other things matter much more. If you are a working adult and have a hard time raising $10,000 or $20,000, then it will probably take years to afford your own wedding. Unless you can save more than $500 consistently each month, waiting for someone else (the economy, your employer) can be brutal psychologically—especially on men. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have a shot at raising children by the age of fifty-five?
At first, asking for money doesn’t appear like a good idea. It might imply that you are incapable of taking care of yourself. Your older relatives might be in the position to help, but that might seem a slippery slope. Will you call them when you want a house and can’t afford the down payment? Will you call them when you get pregnant? Will these people think their gifts give them the right to influence how you live your lives? When will it end and you become a real adult?
I think your marriage partnership should be founded solely on your own finances … but it’s hard to know where to draw the line.
Go Ahead. Jump.
I think if the time is right for you to get married, then you should do so with whatever you have. You should be prepared to marry, have kids, live in an apartment, or whatever—with your own money. If you dated with the same level of wealth, and are self-supporting adults, then why not? Some people will have a wedding where only ten people are present—it is what it is.
It is crucial that an adult stand on his or her own two feet, however wobbly. On the financial end, you have to learn how to live on your income, and commit to doing it. If two young adults make $50,000 a year, they should be prepared to live in the neighborhood that people who make that much can afford.
On the other hand, independence can be toxic. Maybe you’re like me and don’t like to beg. You want desperately to assert your manhood by being able to take care of yourself (and your new spouse) on your own. If so, then you like the previous paragraph. I believe this mindset is fundamental, but it is not enough. Many successful adult children of wealthy people have had college paid for, weddings paid for, and even home down payments given them. Who pays for your wedding doesn’t matter as much as a broke person might think. Regardless of who writes the checks, weddings are opportunities for friends and families to get together and celebrate their bonds. Memories made at weddings last a lifetime.
You Can’t Afford Not To Ask
After you are committed to making it work on your own income, you should call every person your age or older and ask them for help. Why? Because that’s how relationships work. Your uncle needs the good feeling of giving a few hundred dollars toward your wedding. So does your super-successful brother, your aunt, and your grandfather. Crazy as it sounds, you would be denying the people who care about you if you had a smaller wedding than they can collectively afford. Again, if 99% of the time you never ask for money, they will be honored that you asked them.
One of the greatest weaknesses of our modern capitalistic society is that people stop relying on each other. Being able to go and borrow money from the bank for college or weddings gives autonomy, but kills relationships at the same time. You don’t want to get to the point where nobody wants favors from you because they don’t think they have a right to ask you for anything.
Think of it as part of your retirement fund. Some of these people (or their children) will be the ones to take care of you when you age—the seniors who have regular visits at the nursing home are the ones nurses and doctors take the best care of. Vulnerability is an important part of relationship building and in your youth, financial vulnerability is the only kind you have. While you must always have a plan for making do on your own resources, you should use a major life event like your wedding as an opportunity to get closer to the people who already care about you. Some of them will offer money, others will offer time. Your rich uncle might give you his timeshare points for your honeymoon.
So it turns out that you can’t afford NOT to ask for help in paying for your wedding. When you start budgeting for your wedding, remember that money is probably the least important part of the picture. The future of your relationships depends on this.
Image credit: BIZZITONE.COM/Flickr