Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I do, but I don’t want debt

Robyn Davis Sekula is a freelance writer and public relations consultant who helps us with a variety of tasks. She helps maintain this blog and writes posts on occasion. This week, Robyn wrote about her own experience paying for her wedding and her tips for how to have a great wedding on a budget.

By Robyn Davis Sekula

In 1996, I did something that others consider to be a bit unusual. I got married, and my fiancé and I paid for almost the entire wedding out of our own pocket. My parents gave me $1,000, and my in-laws paid for the rehearsal dinner. But the wedding itself, and the honeymoon, came out of our own pockets, without debt, and without some sort of crazy corporate sponsorship scheme (which, if I had thought of it, I might have tried).

I’d like to share a few thoughts on how we did it, and why, in hopes of helping those who are getting ready to get married themselves.

To appreciate our story, you need to understand that my future husband and I made a combined $40,000 or so, and we did not live together. I moved in with a married couple I knew, mostly to save money. Greg was a homeowner. We had separate living expenses, and no second jobs. To this day, I can’t tell you exactly how we came up with $10,000 for the wedding and honeymoon in a year. I know that we are both cheapskates at heart, and my rent was crazy cheap. Those things helped. It also helped that we both wanted the same things in a wedding.

Our first cheapskate stunt was buying an engagement ring at a pawnshop. Greg had shared with a friend who knew a lot about jewelry that he wanted to propose, and she called one day to say she had been to a pawnshop and spotted a very good three-diamond ring for $500 that was worth far more. Greg filled me in, and we looked together. He didn’t want to make such a huge purchase without my endorsement. I loved it, and it fit. So we bought it. Next stop was a jewelry store, where we asked if we had gotten ripped off. They said, “We could not sell you one diamond for what you paid for this ring.” In my mind, this story illustrates why we get along so well. Greg likes a bargain, and thought nothing wrong with buying an engagement ring in a pawnshop. I’m a girl who loves a bargain, and sees nothing wrong with receiving a ring that was purchased in a pawn shop. I don't believe that "stuff" carries bad vibes. It's an object.

Then we began talking about what type of wedding we wanted. I was raised Baptist. Baptists generally think a wedding, including reception, should be over in about 90 minutes. You have a short service in the sanctuary, go to the basement fellowship hall for mints and peanuts and you’re outta there. No alcohol, because Baptists typically do not drink. Seriously, Baptist weddings are cheap. Greg, however, is from a Catholic family, all of whom would be traveling, and they would expect to drink and be fed. How to combine those two competing interests?

We started with a list. We each made a separate list of what was important to us in a wedding. We both had good music at the ceremony as high on the list. We also both wanted to have a full meal at the reception. Low-ranking were flowers and cake. I also had high on my list quality photographs. Personally, I think one of the worst trends in weddings is dispensing with professional photography. That is the ONE keepsake you get from your wedding. You’ll want good photos, and so will your kids and grandkids. Spend the money on good photography. I can’t tell you how many friends have forehead-smacked themselves for foregoing this. Anyone who has been married will likely tell you that this matters.

Another item that really mattered to me was helping to pay for my bridesmaids’ transportation and dresses. I’ve always felt that making people buy a dress and shoes they’d never wear again and then pay for travel to get to the wedding site, and lodging while they were there, is a tall order, especially for the young people usually in the wedding party. For one bridesmaid who was a grad student, I bought her dress, plane ticket and found a friend for her to stay with. If you’re going to spend $10,000 on a wedding, I see no reason why $200 for a plane ticket and $125 for a dress is a problem.

Everything else we did I saw as open to negotiation. I met my mom at a bridal dress outlet and found a dress I loved for $500 (a bargain even then). I love the dress, and still do. But I didn’t have any interest in paying retail. Instead of a limo, I talked to rental car agencies to see if I could rent a white Cadillac for the day of the ceremony. Sure, they told me, and they got it for me. $40 for the entire day, and a friend relished the idea of being the driver. It was fun, elegant, and nice. I called many florists, and found one in a small town 30 minutes away who was willing to work with my budget. Another friend of mine hired a florist who regularly displayed at her local farmer's market - another great tip. The florist was less expensive and the bouquets wonderfully natural. I found a new caterer who was just learning her craft and I’m pretty sure gave me a good discount on food.

I also selected a time of day for the wedding that I thought would absolve me of the responsibility of having a full bar: 11 a.m. We had a beautiful morning wedding, and served wine only at the reception. I personally hate cash bars at weddings. I think it’s tacky. But I also understand it is incredibly expensive to offer a full bar to guests.

Yes, a wedding is your day. But it’s A DAY. Do not, under any circumstances, go into debt for a wedding. And by the way, you aren’t owed a wedding. No one is required to pay for it for you. Presumably, if you’re getting married, you should be ready for paying your own way through life. If your parents pay for your wedding, it is a wonderful gift. Be grateful.

A wedding is a great way to try your hand at budgeting, perhaps for the first time, with a future spouse. If you can’t agree on this, though, think about whether or not you have what it takes to go long-term. It only gets harder, particularly if you don’t agree about money.


  1. It is unavoidable to have debts but it must be managed responsibly and never let it crash your life. Spend more on basic needs and have a realistic budget. Always be cautious on the things you buy that is something worth of your money.
    Avoiding, Understanding and Surviving Bankruptcy

  2. I think that's the key is responsbile management. I think sometimes people have an expectation that they're entitled to something particular - like a lavish wedding or a new car - when they're not. I just think people ought to consider more the long-term consequences of spending.


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