This is a story of how far I have come in my understanding of money, debt and wealth.
Once upon a time, I thought it was a perfectly reasonable option to take out a $40,000 loan to pay for a wedding. How long would it take to pay back -- a year, maybe two? My naivete about debt at that time was appalling and those of you who follow my blog know just where it lead me.
When I was in graduate school, I started to accumulate a considerable amount of credit card debt, unbeknownst to me (which is only partially true. I purchased a great many little things while saying "I'm already in debt, what's another $50?").
At the time, I was dating a big dumb, bo hunk I'll call Major Dork. There was nothing really wrong with him, except that he was not my intellectual equal... in any way. Amazing how much a great body will make you overlook cognitive deficiencies. But I digress...
We were at a very serious point in our relationship and I was waiting for him to pop the question at any time. I had even told him the type of engagement ring I wanted (emerald cut, brilliant, kind of like a princess cut only rectangular. Why? Because it was uncommon.)
First, he was a toy cop (security guard). I was a broke grad student. Engagement ring? With what money? But it never once occurred to me.
As I went through school, charging my gas, charging groceries at Harris Teeter four times a week, buying only brand name products, charging assorted school fees, I planned the next few years of my life: graduate, get married, land awesome job, have baby #1. It wasn't that I didn't care that I was building debt, I just honestly didn't know how much and I didn't know what to do about it if I DID know how much. I was hiding from it. Plus, I facilitated my denial with the fact that I never missed a car payment and never charged them, never missed the rent or utilities and always paid all bills on time and with cash, never credit. So, in my mind, I was managing the money okay.
On a chilly summer day in San Francisco, Major Dork proposed, with precisely the type of engagement ring I wanted. I called everyone. Thrilled. My girlfriends began to mail me magazines from which to pick out dresses, locations, flower arrangements. I started gown shopping at boutiques because David's Bridal turned me off. Then, I promptly signed up for wedding sites including theknot.com.
Who ever created these sites, hates women. Or no, excuse me, hates women of modest means. Before you sign up, there should be a disclaimer: Unless Dadums is writing a check for your nuptials and your family regularly vacations in Tuscany, this site is not for you. Please direct your browser elsewhere. Thank you.
I didn't know an article of clothing you wear once could cost more than $2,000... and that was the low end! Then the guest list went from 40 to 150 in about two hours. I need to have five bridesmaids because these friends would be insulted if I didn't ask them to be bridesmaids and of course my eldest cousin had to be in the wedding party and mother wants to be sure I invite a godparent I haven't seen or spoken to in 15 years. And wouldn't a wedding in Central Park be to diiie for? No, no, I am from Brooklyn, so the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was the place to do this. What does $250 a head mean?
I started to have nightmares about the planning and, mostly, the paying. But I was ever so excited. Theknot.com decided to help me. As I was messing with an online planning and budget calculator, a helpful ad popped up explaining that I could take out a loan to pay for wedding costs! I could?! I never thought of that! For how much? Up to $40,000. Oh pashaw! That would solve all my problems. How long would it take to pay off a $40,000 loan anyway? Something between no time and three shakes of a lamb's tail? (Now, ask me why it never occurred to me to consider that my car cost less than $20,000 and I had a five year loan...).
I called Major Dork and told him of this boon of useful information I had just discovered.
His reaction disappointed me. "Forty thousand dollars? Are you crazy? A downpayment on a house wouldn't be that much!"
I didn't get his horror. I told him it was no big deal. He proceeded to say Hell no. Party pooper.
In the end, none of it mattered. We broke up in a long, painful process. Close to the end, he said I was "getting on his bad side," but I later found out that he was involved with a lower budget version of me while he worked in California. I think they're married now. Thank God I didn't marry that dim bulb (he thought there were five continents on earth, that's why there were five rings in the Olympic logo... he actually argued with me when I told him "No doofus, there are SEVEN continents. I learned that in second grade." Trust me, it got way worse than that one incident.).
But about that $40,000 wedding loan, I was the moron there.
It wasn't until a year later, when I finally sat down to figure out just how much money trouble I was in, that I realized how long it would take and how much it would cost to pay off that loan making the minimum monthly payments. Suddenly, my fantasies of a glimmering white gown and a ballroom stuffed with every human I'd ever met flashed before me and a massive number with a big ole dollar sign in front of it dashed the images to pieces, while the number spiraled up like the national debt. I had heart palpitations. "Oh my God!" I said with my head in my hands. "What on earth was I thinking?!"
I wasn't thinking. That was the problem.
There were other red flags in our relationship that I was foolish enough to ignore. So, what if we HAD gotten married and taken out a loan. More than likely, the debt would have lasted longer than the marriage! Could you imagine continuing to pay off a wedding to someone you were no longer married to? I could imagine it. I almost did it and it makes me shake my head.
Today, it tickles me to think I was EVER that naive about money and debt. When I retell this story, I can only laugh at my 20-something self, who thought you could wham bam thank you ma'am a $40,000 debt. Who thought that it made sense to spend on a single day what I wouldn't, today, spend on a vehicle that lasted for 10 or more years.
And to any lady who wants a dream wedding consider this -- What really matters is that it's the man of your dreams. Then, any little shindig you have will be dreamy enough to make you happy for the rest of your days.
Today, the perfect wedding would be me, in a gown I loved and DIDN'T go into debt buying, my man, my immediate family and his in the church I grew up in, followed by dinner at a nice restaurant in New York City. The thought of planning anything more than that sends shivers of revulsion down my spine.
But hey, that's just me.