Friday, May 20, 2011

Is it okay to proceed without any money?

Dear ESB,

Never thought I'd be writing this, but here it is....

I am currently planning two weddings for the end of this year, one in Shanghai and one in Singapore. Two weddings, because my family lives in Singapore, the man's extended family in Shanghai, and the both of us in Australia.

We've only been out of uni 3 years now, and aren't earning big bucks at all. And, we have a 4 year old mortgage. Why so soon, you ask? It's a long, complex story involving his parents that I won't go into because this email is going to be long enough on its own, and basically there was very little choice for him but to do it. His family has always been quite money-poor, and he worked very hard to rustle up the initial deposit, working 5 hours a day while attending uni full time. At that point, I was not involved in any of this - we were still just dating, albeit very seriously, and he didn't ask for any financial contribution on my part (not that I would have been able to afford it!) When we eventually moved in together, we were already discussing marriage. Naturally, I began contributing toward the mortgage, and with our combined earnings we got by very smoothly.

We had a registry marriage a year ago and have since combined our savings into a joint account, which is where our salaries go and where bill payments, mortgage repayments etc. come out of. Neither of us have savings anywhere else. Basically, the two overseas weddings are for our families - it is not negotiable, we are expected to have them. I didn't mind so much, as we were maintaining a good savings rate and have sufficient equity now to borrow against should we need more money for the wedding. I'd been planning and organising everything with confidence because in the back of my mind, I KNEW we had a lump of money sitting in our account and could definitely pay for the photographer, the gown, the flowers, the smaller things like that y'know. The massive wedding dinners were another matter, but because everything else was sufficiently covered, I didn't feel too bad about borrowing to pay for them.

And then! Two days ago he comes and tells me that he actually borrowed a substantial amount of money from his aunt when he initially bought the house, and that she wants to collect her dues because she's going to invest in some real estate. So we needed to pay her. It was like being hit in the face with a brick. Suddenly, our bank account balance is sitting at the frighteningly meagre sum of $560, and I can't help but feel like crying or running into a wall every time I think about it.

We have booked the church, the priest, and a 20-table restaurant in Singapore at the cost of $1,000 a table. I have spent $500 so far just on getting the lining fabric for my wedding gown and securing the dressmaker's services, and will need to spend another $500 on the remainder of the fabric alone, not to mention the remaining $500 I will owe the dressmaker at the end of it all. Last week, I signed the contract with the photographer for his services, which will cost us $2,300, minus the $500 deposit. I have already started to tackle the invitations, floral arrangements and bridal party attire. I am freaking out now, wondering how we're going to pull this off.

Our combined earnings is $6,000 a month, currently, and our mortgage repayments are $2,000 a month. Typically, credit card bills amount to another $2,000 (includes utilities, transport, food etc.) That leaves us with a savings of $2,000 a month, if we don't spend on anything extraneous, which would mean at best we would have $14,000 by the end of November. Why couldn't he have told this me before so that I could have planned accordingly?? We can't borrow money from his parents because they have almost nothing. We can't borrow money from my parents because they've just lent a bucketload to my eldest sister for the down payment on a $1.2 million apartment, who incidentally also just got engaged, and they are still supporting my younger brother who is still in school. I honestly wouldn't mind scaling down the wedding at this point, except we've BOOKED things, we've laid down oodles of cash as DEPOSITS, we've informed family members who have cleared calendars and booked plane tickets and arranged accommodation etc.!!!!

Am I being unreasonable for freaking out like this? Is this really okay to proceed without any money like this? Or should I cut our losses: dump whatever we've booked and postpone the whole bloody thing (we HAVE to have the weddings, both our families have made no bones about it)? Also, is it fair of me to fly off the handle at him for this? He didn't intentionally keep it from me, it's just that when he did it I was not involved, and when I did start contributing he didn't realise that I didn't know. And her asking for it now is just really, really bad timing. But I FEEL like screaming at him and I FEEL like chucking the whole thing out the window. I'm so angry and upset I can't even think straight. Please help!

Losing it


When I got this email I knew that a) you needed not to cancel your wedding(s) but to streamline and b) I was in no way qualified to tell you how to do that.

So I tracked down Becca of A Los Angeles Love, who dealt with a lot of money + family issues when she was planning her own wedding. And who (lucky you) turns out to be a whole lot more patient and nurturing than I am.

Anyhoo. Here's the wee response Becca dashed off on her way to New York yesterday:

Dear Losing It,

First of all, you’re clearly NOT being unreasonable about freaking out like this. In fact, if you didn’t have a bit of a crying/screaming meltdown, I’d assume you either had superhuman control or a hidden trust fund you aren’t telling me about. So. Rant and scream a bit and, once you’re done, let’s pick apart this tangle of issues and emotions. Because, from what you wrote, I actually think there are two big-picture problems and it would be best to address them separately:

    The breach of trust between you and your husband
    The complicated mess of a wedding, which included:

    The cost of the wedding/lack of money
    The pressure of family expectations and obligation

Trust Stuff
Finances are about more than accounting. Having savings is about feeling secure. Having joint finances requires complete trust in your partner. It’s no wonder you want to scream at your husband, because this situation violated both of those emotions. Luckily, it doesn’t sound like he meant to keep anything from you, but you probably can’t get rid of the feeling of betrayal until you both clear the air.

Therefore, you need to have a come-clean session about finances. It has to include all debt (private, school-related, or family-related) and all assets and accounts. You need to both be on the same page that you’re really in this together by developing a full repayment plan and defining your joint long-term goals. You need to create entirely transparent histories and financial systems. Mostly, you need to feel like you’re working as a team again so you can move on.

Wedding Stuff
Since you HAVE to have the weddings (and I know something about family obligation and weddings you’re paying for yourself) I’d recommend just getting it over with. There’s no perfect answer here. If you postpone, you’ll have more time to save money. However, a) people will be upset about changed travel plans/costs, b) you may lose deposits anyhow and, most importantly, c) you don’t sound that enthusiastic about these weddings, so you’ll probably be resentful that you have to scrimp and save for a whole damn year to throw these two shindigs in the style you originally planned (I also know something about long engagements due to saving up for a wedding. ie, they blow.) Don’t postpone, just get realistic and creative about the budget you have.

Wedding Budget/Expenses
Focus On What You Have: $14,000 by November isn’t chump change, and you’ve already partially paid for some vendors. You also said your original plan included debt/borrow against the house. Figure out the real amount you're comfortable borrowing. $14,000 plus your borrowing is your new budget. The resulting event may look a lot different than the wedding you imagined, but you can absolutely throw a wedding (or two) for $14,000+.

Start Over: You have to cut back. $14,000+ buys you a wildly different wedding than your original budget, so you need to start over again. You need to redefine your wedding priorities from the ground up. You can mourn the weddings you lost, but it’s time to move forward with a new vision without clinging to the downmarket leftover remnants of the original vision. Get excited about something new.

Reevaluate Each Vendor: In the process of redefining, you may realize that a photographer isn’t important to you anymore. In that case, ditch the deposit. Yes, you already spent $500, but forget about it. It’s already gone and this decision saves you $1800. Research cheaper alternatives and do some big-picture math to figure out if you’d lose/gain more by cutting your loses.

Ask For Help: It sounds like you’ve taken on the whole burden of this yourselves and you’ve assumed your families can’t help. Stop assuming, especially since you’re doing this for them. See if family (including extended family – like that inconvenient aunt) can help with paying for a specific aspect of the wedding as their wedding gift (paying for the dress, paying for the invitations, paying for the booze, whatever). People like to feel involved with weddings and like giving gifts, especially when the gift feels so concrete.

Don't Assume Help is Only Monetary: Reach out to your friends and family and tell people what you’re struggling with. See if they have any creative ideas or skills. See if they have connections. I assumed my friends were busy, bored, and not crafty. That was before friends played our ceremony music, baked us a three-tiered cake, cut flowers for centerpieces, stamped placecards, and did boatloads of other insane wedding crap that saved us lots of money and (even better) made our wedding so much more personal and special. It can't hurt to ask.

The situation is different now. If they are requiring you to have these weddings, they should either help with the weddings or get comfortable with your changed circumstances and pared down wedding. They aren’t paying for this – YOU are, and you need to put your financial health first, or no one else will do it for you. And frankly, if they love you, they don’t want to see you in massive debt for a party on their behalf. Period.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. I’m reading between the lines here but, if your sister just bought a $1.2mil apartment, your family is probably in an income bracket that has some weighty expectations for The Way Weddings Are Done. And that means their wedding pressure on you is really about the social pressure on them. Battling expectations, social pressure, and financial reality is hard stuff, so tread carefully but remain firm. Because the reality is you simply can’t afford the wedding you had originally planned on and, apparently, neither can they. That may be hard for your parents to accept, but having these hard conversations is the real point of a wedding. Redefining family obligations (your primary obligation is to your husband and your new couple-family, and not to your parents' pressures) is a hard adjustment and doesn't happen without some painful battles. But you have to do it now, or these pressures can haunt you for the rest of your married life.

You have to remind them (again and again if necessary) that having two weddings, even two inexpensive-ish weddings, is honoring their wishes and your family. To honor family, you do not need to pay $100 per person for a restaurant bill. And if they honor and respect you, they shouldn’t expect you to go into tons of debt for a wedding you can’t afford.

Good luck.

(+ ♥'s from me)

Anna Selezneva by Mariano Vivanco for Vogue Russia June 2011 via Fashion Gone Rogue via {this is glamorous} via cevd


  1. GOD it is SO refreshing to not read "i'm not really a froofy girl" "i never thought i'd write this" "you are the queen of all badass weddings" in a dear esb (and i've read them all).

    i REALLY loved this post, loved the thoughtful (literate!) question, loved the advice.

    and to you, losing it, just know that you do not *have to* do anything. if they want you to have the weddings, they can them. i know i don't know the parameters of your situation, but that is where i'm leaning towards laying the blame. the issue with your guy sucks, shitty timing on the aunts part. but you'll work it out.

  2. I just wanted to say that Becca's response is solid gold awesome.

    I also wanted to say YEESH for the poor questioner. Best wishes for getting through this!

  3. I agree. Becca's response is nearly perfect. Especially the part about making boundaries as a married couple.

    I will say this, which is something 99% of people probably won't do: do not do not do not DO NOT borrow money for this wedding. That's insane. What I learned after our wedding is that people will throw fits in front of you about the way they want your wedding to be and you stress and anguish over it, and all the while those other people are living their OWN damn lives. Hissy fits, then they move the fuck on much more quickly than you or I will. It seems like a big deal now, but YOU and your husband will be the ones who will be left with the financial mess after the wedding. It is much, much, MUCH easier to deal with people throwing hissy fits for a few weeks (even months) than to stare down that home equity line of credit, credit card payments, and mortgage afterward.

    What if (God forbid) either one of you lost your job? Your financial situation is solid now (aside from the wedding), but with a mortgage at 1/3 of your combined take-home pay already, that could end in trouble very quickly. And that's without the wedding. I would HATE to see you go through any more stress or (God forbid) foreclosure just so you could please other people for a few months. Not trying to be a downer, just cautious and realistic.

    I say cancel everything that you can eat a small deposit on (like the photog and hopefully that insane $20,000 restaurant), and start over with whatever gets you to $14,000. Even if that means one backyard Australian wedding (people are already flying anyway, right?). If that means people have to cancel their plane tickets WHO CARES. YOU are paying for all of this, and canceling flights is NOT that big of a deal. As the nice person you are, you are putting everyone else before yourself. Stop. Please. :-)

    Like Becca said, money comes down to trust and communication between the two of you. Plus it is more important for you to learn to put your marriage first than to please family. If you can't do it now, it will just be more difficult later. Hugs hugs hugs from Texas.

  4. Great question, great response. Finances are one of those huge relationship issues that couples don't talk about nearly enough (and one of the #1 reasons for divorce, might I add). When my fiance and I merged households, finances definitely generated a lot of anxiety for me. I worried about reconciling our spending habits, saving habits, and goals. We bit the bullet and paid for advice from a well-regarded financial advisor, which was expensive but totally worth it. As a first step, there are free tools out there to help you make a financial inventory on your own, such as,

    If nothing else, these could help you get a greater sense of control over your financial future. Good luck!

  5. Nicely done, ESB and Becca.

    Weddings are an excellent time to set boundaries with your natal families. You and your fiance are going to be the new family, and you have to take care of that family first. Debt is too high a price for pleasing your parents, particularly at a moment when you need to be redefining those relationships.

  6. Agree with Chesapeake, except I don't think you have to have these weddings at all.

    What kind of brave new world is this where so many parents don't pay for weddings, but feel entitled to tell young people starting out in a terrible economy that they owe them a wedding?

    It's bull shit.

  7. Agree with Chesapeake, except I don't think you have to have these weddings at all.

    What kind of brave new world is this where so many parents don't pay for weddings, but feel entitled to tell young people starting out in a terrible economy that they owe them a wedding?

    It's bull shit.

  8. GREAT advice, and dang girl, I feel for you, and I am sorry you're going through this over something that is supposed to be about celebrating you and your man and your new life together. :( Not fair. I also agree with Lauren: If the folks can't help you pay for the weddings, then they can't insist that you have to have them. I understand wanting to honor your families, but going into debt and giving yourself MAJOR stress over it?? I can't believe your families could honestly want a wedding more than they want you to maintain your sanity and your financial security!! Talk to them and make sure they know the situation, and if they still insist on these weddings, then follow Lauren's advice and scale WAY back on everything so you don't go into debt over it. Good luck!!! Sending you hugs.

  9. @Chesapeake, Lauren and others talking about debt: I actually agree that - IN GENERAL - taking on debt for a wedding is a VERY bad idea. But I happen to know there are a few well-loved bloggers out here who put their fabulous shoes on a credit card. Or took out a minimal loan (under $5K) to help pay for their very modest weddings. And their experiences and continued insistence that *it was worth it* makes me think that small, manageable debt (under $5K) works for some people (not me, because I get debt heebie jeebies. But that's me). But you need to understand what debt means. And you need to limit it, because more than a small amount is just asking for trouble and tempting the unemployment/f*ck me gods.

  10. I agree with Lauren - I find it terribly obnoxious that parents who don't pay for weddings insist upon them.

    But I know that's not helpful at all, so thank god Becca has this under control :)

  11. First all, your parents are NOT entitled to a wedding they aren't paying for. Like Lauren said, that's bull shit.

    I know they're pressuring you, but you know what? You are an adult. You can say no. And yes, it really is that simple. (Believe me, I know a thing or two about family pressure + wedding madness.)

    That being said, I agree with Becca's response. Scale everything back to a cost that you can handle. You need to put you and your husband's finances before your parents' expectations. If your families are upset with the change of plans, all you have to say is, "This is how things are going to go, because this is what we can afford." They can't argue with that statement unless they offer to chip in some $$.

  12. "the unemployment/f*ck me gods"

    That's a good one, Becca. And those are real gods!

    And I want to add that the original letter-writer mentioned that the family in Shanghai has always been "money-poor".

    If they are demanding a wedding in spite of the financial realities, then they still have learned nothing about money and would have their offspring continue the family pattern of being money-poor.

    I am of no help because this whole scenario chaps my ass.

  13. ESB + Becca. Amazing.

    I agree with Chesapeake; please don't borrow money for two weddings that your parents insist upon you having BUT won't pay for. That's absurd. Stand up for yourself, your fiance and your future.

    I think this is do-able, only if you scale waaaay back - sorry, but you don't need a $1,500+ gown and that restaurant/sit-down dinner-thingie sounds extortionate! Go ahead, and lose the deposit on that one immediately. Like Becca said, you have GOT to give up on your Dream Weddings and plan Weddings That Won't Put Us In The Poor House For All Of Eternity. Good luck. xo.

    p.s. READ THIS. It helps. This couple planned a wedding for less than $2,000.

  14. well done, becca; i concur completely. Losing It, my condolences; this can be done (though that $20K restaurant business needs to go and fast).

    in utterly superficial news, i would like that tee and green belt.

  15. I think this is a very thoughtful response, and I enjoyed reading it. Also, it is very possible to plan two weddings for $14,000. I an currently planning my October wedding for under $5,000, and I am just as excited about it as I would be if it were a huge $30,000 affair. I do not have the kind of family obligations we are talking about here though.

  16. Dude. To put it bluntly (and a tad rudely) your parents and your fiance's parents need to put up or shut up. If they can't afford to contribute anything at all, how can they expect 2 young 20-somethings to finance TWO elaborate weddings? $20,000 just for one reception venue/food?! That is insane! If ever there was a situation screaming for an elopement THIS IS IT.

  17. I'm sorry you're in such a bind - that sucks during what is supposed to be such a fun time.

    HOWEVER- You said in your letter that you had a lump sum set aside for the little things, but were planning on borrowing for the "massive wedding dinners"

    If I'm reading this correctly, you were planning on borrowing $20,000 RIGHT FROM THE START. That was crazy irresponsible BEFORE hubby threw a wrench in the works and cleaned out your bank account.

    It seems to me that the two of you have a taste for things you simply can't afford. (hubby borrowed for a down payment now you're borrowing for a wedding)

    Suze Orman and financial/lending institutions recommend a Debt to Income (DTI) ratio of something like 38%

    Based on your math, you two have been living at something like 66%!!!! That's tempting the *fuck you gods* even without a wedding (or two)

    I think you two need less sympathy and more tough love. LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS!!!

  18. For all the people advocating eloping or saying flat-out NO to parents on these weddings... the letter writer pretty clearly stated that wasn't an option. Heck, they're already legally married, so this is all about family obligation. Given that she's planning weddings in Singapore and Shanghai, I think it's important to be aware of the cultural differences. If they don't have these weddings, the long-term family ramifications are a lot worse than in some Western families (and I'm coming from a Western in-law family that had some pretty hardcore expectations). That's also because family bonds/structure/culture are a lot different. It may chafe some of us who are used to other ways of interacting with our families, but it's worth respecting.

    Yes, they need to say no to the overly expensive weddings. That's going to be a massive enough challenge to existing family relationships and expectations.

  19. So. Beck's advice is spot on, of course. I wanted to add a little something as a bride who recently canceled my dream wedding (invitations sent out) in order to scale back and accommodate family needs: it CAN be done. We ate about $1400 in deposits when we canceled our original wedding and scaled back our budget considerably. And I do mourn the wedding we canceled. It would have been fantastic. It just wasn't in the cards for us. Life happened.

    The key has been an incomplete re-imaging of our wedding. I'm keeping some things (no sense buying a new dress, foe instance), but we mostly started over with a new vision more in keeping with our new venue and new budget. So, don't despair. There are many of us who plan one wedding and find we have to scrap it and start over.

  20. I'm glad Becca posted that last comment on cultural differences, as I'm not sure that everyone knows that a lot of Asian weddings absolutely have-to-have-to-have huge banquets! And since most restaurants are pretty uniform in that respect, I'm guessing there aren't huge deals to be had/discovered, only thing you can do is cut the menu (and yes, Asian guests who've probably been to a ton of these will notice).

    I feel for you, Losing It! I'm sure you and your fiance will get through it, so chin up, and maybe send us all an update further down the line :)

  21. Wow, go forth with the stellar advice, Losing It, and be awesome. YOUR WAY. And by that, I mean, be true to you and your boundaries and only go as far as you're truly comfortable with.

  22. Cultural differences or not, I still feel that it's not OK to REQUIRE your children to spend beyond their means and put themselves in a bad spot financially, all so that the family can appear a certain way to the larger community.

    I come from a very traditional Italian family with plenty of obligations and expectations and such, but when something doesn't make sense or is just plain WRONG (like my Catholic grandfather telling my cousin that she can't marry the Jewish boy she's dating) it is our DUTY as the younger generation to stand up against it. My cousins and I have never regretted standing up for what is right, and our family still loves each other and is better for it.

    Change and growth is an essential part of a functional family, as is respect and tradition. The balance is tricky, but there needs to be a balance.

  23. I did consider the cultural component. I was too disgusted to care to be honest.

    You know, weddings are over-the-top in India, and the excess has lead to actual murders of brides by the inlaws. Many leaders in India and their own government are urging citizens to stop the madness.

  24. Wait-together they bring in $6,000 a month? And they have money issues? Sorry but as someone who works very hard and makes in a month what they bring home in a week, I'm with Lanie J and think this couple needs some tough financial love. Yeow.

  25. Alycia, the couple are living in Australia, and as a fellow Aussie, I think that how far $6,000 will get you in a month in Australia isn't necessarily the same as in the States. That kind of income would definitely not be seen as high in Australia, particularly if you're in Sydney which is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in (seriously!). As a side note, the fact that the bride to be is making mortgage repayments for the groom's mortgage threw up a red flag for me - as I lawyer I would recommend getting legal advice about your position.

    Fabulous advice Becca and ESB. Love it!

  26. I find it a little hard to believe that your fiancé didn't realize that you didn't know about the loan from his aunt, and I'd be seriously pissed about the omission. I think he's getting off a little too easy here. I agree with Becca that you guys need to be on the same page financially to help head off future issues. Good luck!

  27. Is the $6,000 per month meant to represent U.S. currency or Australian currency? They are different.

  28. Wowza. What a shitstorm. Excellent advise Becca, you are a wise wise lady. And I admit that my first response was 'fuck them, you don't need to have the weddings at all.' but you clearly do, they're your family and you know what you need to do and thank you Becca and ESB for not just giving her the shitty advice that I might have done.

    Good luck Losing It.

  29. I get the feeling we're talking Australian dollars, but the Aussie dollar is super mega strong at the moment (XE says AUD$1 = USD$1.06, which means INTERNET SPREE, FELLOW AUSSIES!)... right when I move to Europe and start earning Euros, sigh.

  30. I had two, terrifyingly strong knee-jerk reactions to this:
    1. DO NOT borrow. Do not. And honestly, I'm wondering if you could even qualify for a loan based on current economic standings.
    2. Being from Singapore and Shanghai, I'm betting the Asian culture has much to do with this "must have" wedding.

    Since many people have already commented on these two things, I can only add my emotional responses to this.
    1. Starting off a new marriage in debt, with a issue of trust already breached is no way to start. Follow the advice Becca and these other smartie pants have given. Let go of the expensive dress/fabric/photographer, etc. and go back to the drawing board. Definitely enlist help financial and otherwise from the families demanding these weddings.
    2. I understand the Asian culture and family obligations. I do. It sounds like the parents involved aren't taking YOUR financial needs into consideration. Times are changing and even old school Asian cultures are understanding financial strains. If parents are helping to buy million dollar real estate, my guess is there actually might be some money laying around. However, real estate in Singapore/Shanghai is OFF THE HOOK expensive, so in reality, this isn't very much money to spend.

    Lots of folks here are advocating holding onto this wedding and making changes to it. I say that if you incur any kind of serious debt (anything over $5K), you're doing a massive disservice to yourselves, your marriage and even your family by not telling them what's what. Having everyone on board with your financial situation and the reality of what you and your husband can manage seems the better route to me. Is it hard? Yes. Does it suck? Yes. But if the bottom falls out financially, you're going to have a lot more problems than just some slighted family members who live half-way around the world.

    Check out the Cheap 'n Chic Living
    AImee planned her NYC wedding plus her Singapore wedding on a serious time and financial budget. She's super cool and might hav some advice for you.

    Also, Life a la Mode's blog
    Tabitha planned US wedding and a Singapore wedding. She also helped plan my wedding. She too is super cool and could have some budget planning tips for you.

    Good luck!

  31. I'm wondering if there's a way to satisfy this. Is it an option to say to your families, "Look, we understand that it's important to you/your communities to have this, but we can't afford to do two. We can only do one. And since we don't want to choose between Shanghai and Singapore, we're doing it in Australia. If you want to have something closer to home, we will come and do that, too, but you will have to pay for it."

    I realize that may cause a shit-storm, but have you had this conversation with your families? They may be more receptive than you're giving them credit for.

    (If you have had a conversation, and there was foot stomping and finger-pointing and accusations and the like, then scratch this comment ... I just want to make sure you've had it first.)

  32. you are already technically married, right. So why can't you just hold low-key receptions? Why do you need the fancy dress and expensive photographer, or is it vital to reinact the ceremony?
    And I thought the point of having it in two locations was because family were there, who is flying? and if they are already flying, I agree with whoever said have them fly to Australia in that case.

  33. By dating an Asian dude for years now, it's amazing to see the types of pressures Asian families place on their kids.
    You wanna know why it cost's $1000 per table? Because they literally give you like 10+ course (something insane like that) of all sorts of expensive seafood, etc. I'm sorry, I'm all about the different Asian culture, but who okay-ed this? $20,000?!
    And having to throw 2 ASIAN WEDDING?! Dear God help them...