Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud …” – I’m certain most of us have heard this often referenced passage from Corinthians while attending the wedding ceremony of a family member or close friend. Love, of course, is the multi-faceted foundation of any marriage and the popularity of citing this passage during wedding ceremonies is undoubtedly a result of the light that this passage shines upon the true meaning and nature of Love (physical love, emotional love, and spiritual love).

Now – If you can, I want you to try and reconcile the meaning of this popular biblical passage – the idea of Love it outlines and the celebration of marriage – with the financial reality of today’s average wedding. Here is a look at the average wedding cost since 1945. 

Stumped? Me too.

Never mind the downward trend in wedding spending the last few years – the average wedding at the end of  2009 still cost over $22,000 !?!?   And according to the good folks at The Wedding Report that doesn’t take into account the cost of either the engagement ring or the honeymoon.

And in an effort to dissuade you from jumping to the “another old man stuck in the good old days, disconnected with today’s reality and rattling on about kids these days” conclusion, let me say that I’ve been fortunate enough to have four married children – each of whom has filled me in at length about the importance of a ‘proper’ wedding celebration.

But what exactly is a wedding intended to celebrate? Is it the celebration of the bringing together of two individuals in the sacrament of marriage? An excuse to have a big party? The opportunity to impress family and friends and publicly display a couple’s love for each other? The first of many steps in a lifelong partnership that is sustained by a set of shared principles and values?

Does the fact that the average couple spends $20,000 on a wedding provide us with any clues as to what today’s marriages are intended to celebrate? Is it the ‘love’ referenced in Corinthians? And is their any insight here as to why a significant portion of these marriages don’t last? Is this financial excess of today’s marriages symptomatic of a larger issue? I’m willing to bet most newlyweds are NOT paying for these weddings with cash and are very frequently going into debt not only for their wedding, but the mortgage for the new house they have to buy, the furniture and appliances they need to fill it, the new care, the student loans that are no longer deferred … the list goes on.

And as parents what kind of message our we sending and what kind of financial education did we provide our children when we stand idly by, if not encouragingly, and let our children begin one of the most important steps in their life – Marriage – with a mountain of debt?

Any study or serious discussion regarding the primary cause for marriages ending this country will ultimately include household finances – couples arguing about spending, debt, and money. If we are to proponents of the sacrament of marriage, shouldn’t we also be proponents of the groundwork necessary to begin and sustain a healthy marriage?

To provide an example of the financial ‘groundwork’ our children are building their marriages on, let us look at the example of my recently married niece: while certainly not a one size fits all scenario, I think this could be considered a relatively common situation.

Rachel (my niece): age 23, RN in the Midwest, annual salary $48,000
David (her husband): age 25, Accountant in the Midwest, annual salary $44,000

Cost of new home: $240,000 (equity $8400)
Rachel’s certified pre-owned car: $16,500
Rachel & David’s Student Loans: $52,000
Wedding Reception & Ceremony: $22,000
Wedding/Engagment Rings and Honeymoon: $15,000

Total Debt: $345,500

* Rachel and David shared this information with me a few months after their wedding. Knowing that I am a stubborn advocate of budgets, eliminating debt, and sound investments, they came to me and asked for help organizing their financial situation.

And while Rachel and David did receive some help with the cost of their wedding, given their other outstanding debts can anyone argue that that $22,000 wedding was the most sensible expenditure? With an interest rate of 7.2% on the car, less than 20% equity in their home (incurring PMI payments) and over $70,000 of student loans, might Rachel and David have secured a more solid financial foundation for their marriage by opting for a more budget conscious wedding? Is a young couple starting off with a negative net worth of $345,000 putting themselves in the best position to grow and nurture love in their marriage?

What do you think? Am I off base in suggesting we do our children a disservice by not promoting financial frugality? I would be interested in hearing about your experiences or those of your children.

One Response to “Marriage: I Love You to Debt?!”

  1. Lee says:

    Weddings are an expense most couples regret when they realize down the road how much better use that money could have had.
    They used it to entertain a lot of people they will hardly see again instead of building for the future or eliminating other debts. For every dollar spend on the wedding at least another dollar should go to removing debt or into savings, this is a forced method of pricing a wedding cost :)

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