ringThe church is filled with row upon row of the couples’ closest friends and family.  The bride looks stunning, her hair, makeup, and gown are immaculate.  The flowers fill the air with the scent of spring.  Everybody is smiling, most of all the bride and groom.  This is the day she dreamed about since she first watched Cinderella as a child

No Royal Wedding, this one time event costs an average of $27,000 in the US.  The honeymoon is an additional $4,500.  This is her special day, so no expense is spared.  The wedding planner ensured everything was perfect, from the color scheme, to the icing on the cake, to the limo driver’s boutonniere.  The photographer captured every moment so the couple could relive the event for years to come through photo books and slide shows

Traditionally, the bride and groom’s families paid for the cost of a wedding, but in modern times the costs are often being assumed by the couple themselves.  In a country where 50% of marriages end in divorce, and finances being an oft cited reason, what better way to get a new family started than with a huge financial obligation?

Before Winnie moved to the US, we got together with about 30 of her friends at a coffee shop in Taipei.  I had lived in Taipei for 2 years, so I knew nearly everybody.  Most were super excited for us, and wished us the best of luck.  Some asked me to take good care of her and politely teased that they would eke revenge if I didn’t.  A select few asked some probing questions…  What are you going to do for the wedding?  Where will you go for your honeymoon?  Where is her ring? (Perhaps Winnie had asked her friends in advance to inquire about these things? ;) )

My favorite comment in response to our answers was, in a shocked voice:  “What are you going to tell your grandchildren?”  It was as if these unborn children would be very curious about these events, and we were already letting them down

Our wedding was fairly simple.  We got married at the Seattle courthouse.  2 close friends acted as witnesses, and then joined us for a toast back at our place.  Our total wedding cost was $134; $64 for a marriage license, $50 for the judge, and $20 for cake and champagne.  Immigration expenses added another $1,970, but aren’t typical.

Our honeymoon was a 10 day, 100-mile hike around Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail, with a total cost of about $0.  Winnie prepared our own delicious dehydrated food for the trip, because she is amazing.  We saw baby black bears playing on the trail, washed our clothes in frigid glacial runoff in fields of wild flowers, and enjoyed some of the best scenery and freshest air on the planet.

To understand part of the reasoning on why we chose this path, let’s compare 3 cases:

  • A common case:  The couple gets a loan for the full cost of the wedding
  • The traditional case:  The parents pay for everything, or the couple pays for everything with cash savings
  • Our case:  The couple can afford a typical wedding and honeymoon, but chooses something more simple and frugal

A total sum spent on wedding and honeymoon of $31,500 borrowed at 6% interest over 10 years, would have a monthly payment of $349.71.  At the end of 10 years, the couple has no savings

In the traditional case, the couple spends their parents money on the wedding, and then invests the same $349.71 monthly, earning 6%.  After 10 years, they have nearly $58,000.

In our case, we invest the $31,500 and the $349.71 monthly, and in 10 years have almost $115,000.

Is one day worth $50,000 to $100,000 in retirement savings?  It’s an individual choice.  For us, it just didn’t make sense

Neither one of us wears jewelry on a regular basis and we don’t have an affinity for rings, so neither of us wears a wedding band.  And what is a diamond really worth?  In truth, not much.  There is in theory an infinite supply of diamonds, but for the illusion of scarcity created by DeBeers.  The tradition of wearing diamond engagement rings, the whole diamond trade, and the emotional connection to diamonds are all creations of the DeBeers diamond cartel and the result of billions of dollars in advertising over the past 100 years.  Why do you think that a diamond is better than a ruby, or even cubic zirconia?  DeBeers.  Why do you think you should spend 2 months salary on a ring?  DeBeers.  It’s a textbook example of how advertising influences purchasing decisions.

So what would we tell our (mythical) grandchildren?  Assuming they cared… that we chose to spend time with each other instead of with coworkers, that instead of a traditional honeymoon of 2 weeks we chose a honeymoon of decades, and that real love shines brighter than any pretty rock.  I think they would be pleased with the answers

Now given the choice, have a traditional wedding or have $100,000 in your bank account in 10 years, do you know which you would choose?

I do