As you live through your 20s, it sometimes feels like the universe is playing a cruel joke on your finances.
Not only are you burdened with student debt, starting on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, and struggling for independence from those who raised you, you’re also obligated to celebrate life’s big moments with every one of your friends.
While it’s an honor to share in the joy as your peers get engaged, married and start families, it can drain what little cash you’ve stored away.
“I’m getting married and I want you to be my maid of honor … And the wedding is on a remote island …and we’re staying at luxury villas…,” your college roommate tells you as you eat your brown bag lunch, trying to make a dent in your student loans.
You’re ecstatic, of course, but you’ve also seen this movie, realizing your loved ones’ happiest moments can leave your finances in shambles.
When you put your budget together, you don’t expect to see hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars exit your life without any warning. And you certainly don’t expect the trigger to come in the form of others’ happiness. From bridal showers to destination weddings, you need a strategy that allows you to enjoy the events as they’re occurring and accept your spending after the euphoria fades.
Buzzkill or buried in debt
The moment you receive the ecstatic phone call (emoji-filled text message), whether you’re a friend of the couple or simply an extended family member, you should take the time to put together a budget. Is that a buzzkill? Sure. But it’s less of a buzzkill than finding yourself buried in debt and regret after the fact. The next part will determine whether or not a back of the napkin budget will solve your problem. You must not only determine how much this event will cost you, but you must also determine what other expense category will get shortchanged to fund the event, and for how long.
For instance, if your niece is getting married, and some sort of perceived social contract has you attending her wedding five states away (despite the fact she lives in your state), let the math commence. Flights, airport parking, rental car, hotel room, wedding gift, and pet boarding are a good place to start. But remembering shower gifts, meals on the road, and miscellaneous, unforeseen expenses are equally important. If the grand total is $1,900 (or some other number), how will you afford it?
There are four ways a person can fund an expected expense, but if your financial life is currently unstable, the options quickly shrink. When faced with a new expense, you could hypothetically reduce the amount of money you spend in another category, reduce the amount of money you save in a given month, withdraw money from savings or go into debt.
Anecdotally, most people don’t take the time to make this decision. Instead, they just try to magically absorb the additional expenses into their budgets. This is a bad idea if your financial life is stable, and it’s a horrible strategy if your financial life is unstable.
Ultimately, the wedding (event) budget will allow you to make tough but important decisions, and in some situations, lead you to tough but important conversations.
If you’re part of the wedding party, the economics get much worse. Tux rental/purchase, dress purchase, bachelor/bachelorette party, and everything else that comes with being in close proximity to the epicenter of marital bliss, make it even more imperative for you to accept the true cost of your involvement. “Figuring it out” as you go is not a viable solution.
Your focus should be on enjoying yourself and celebrating your friend’s special day, and you can better accomplish this goal by making it about money from the outset.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.