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Ask Dave

Put Limits on Wedding Spending

Joe is on Baby Step 2 and has $33,000 left to pay off. One of his daughters is getting married in about a year. How does this fit into the Baby Steps?

QUESTION: Joe in Anchorage is on Baby Step 2 and has $33,000 left to pay off. One of his daughters is getting married in about a year. He knows he has a responsibility to pay for the wedding. How does this fit into the Baby Steps? Dave talks through the wedding scenario with Joe.

ANSWER: If you temporarily put your debt snowball on hold and save up some cash for the wedding, then pushed play on the debt snowball again, that would be one way to budget for the wedding and make that a priority. Let’s go ahead and knock it out sooner rather than later because some of the purchases are going to require deposits up front and those kinds of things.

There are a lot of different ways to do weddings, as you know. There’s everything from the justice of the peace with a bubblegum-machine ring and doesn’t cost much of anything all the way to . . . It’s amazing if everyone gets really creative and calls in favors and does a lot of homemade things and stuff how fabulous a wedding you can have for $10,000. I can’t see you guys going much over $20,000, and it making any sense.

Let me just tell you. I’ve had two daughters get married. There is no limitation on what can be spent on a wedding. We didn’t, but I have seen people spend $200,000 on a wedding. It boggles my mind from Antioch, Tennessee, that that can happen, but it does. It’s okay if somebody makes $10 million a year and they want to do that, but you’re not in that bracket today. Just looking at your numbers, I’m saying $10,000 to $20,000 is your range.

My point is since you can always spend more, then the thing you’ve got to keep in mind is no matter what number you give them, they’re always going to have to learn to say no. To the number of people, how big the reception is, how fancy the dress is, and so on. No matter what the number is, there’s always something more you can spend. There’s always another person you wished you could’ve invited that you just don’t have room for and so on. You need to get everybody braced for the idea that this budget is going to be a limiting factor, and it’s going to feel very constraining whether it’s $10,000 or $20,000. Then, together, the four of you—you and your wife and the young couple—set a number and then save toward that number in cash. Then help them lay out a wedding budget for the deal.

You can actually read online—there are ratios of what percentage of your wedding budget ought to be spent on the dress on average, what percentage is spent on the reception, what percentage is spent on the photographer, and so on. Then you can apply those percentages to that and say, “Okay, our number is $17,000. Our number is $15,000.” Whatever your number is and say, “Okay, that means you’re looking for a dress in this range, and you’re looking for a photographer in this range. And you’ve got this much to spend on the reception,” if you do a wedding that has typical ratios, but then you can change that if you want to change it. But still, at the end of the day, whatever you change it to, the total is still the total. This is the number we’re going to set, then save up and do that. Get that behind you quickly in the spring, and then push play on your debt snowball again. That’s what I would do.