I got married right out of college to my high school sweetheart. Both of us were broke after graduation, but fortunately, our combined student loan debt was less than $10,000.
We chose to have a small wedding because we wanted to get married right away. We didn’t want to take on more debt and we felt that our parents had given plenty to help us with college.
There was no need for them to be dipping into their savings for a fancy wedding.
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Our family and closest friends celebrated a wonderful day with us and we started our life as a married couple.
Our honeymoon was a long-weekend trip to the mountains a few hours away. We rented a small cabin and hiked during the day and sat by the campfire at night.
We even splurged on a few nice dinners to celebrate the start of our new life together.
The wedding gifts we received covered the trip and the remainder was put into an emergency fund.
Later that summer, my first teaching job offer came and my husband started working in commercial loans at a bank.
We lived very frugally so we could pay off our loans as quickly as possible. We knew we wanted kids soon and we didn’t want student loan debt hanging over us as we started to raise a family.
For our first anniversary, we made our last loan payment. And a few months later, we found out we were going to have twins! After a healthy pregnancy, we became a family of four.
Because we rented an apartment and drove older used cars, we were 100% debt free. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to stay debt free with two little ones but we were committed to it.
Since we were the first couple amongst our friends to marry, wedding invitations arrived frequently over the next few years.
We never wanted to miss a wedding and luckily our parents stepped in and took care of our boys so we could attend.
We had to stay in a hotel a few times for out of town weddings but it was never a big stress on our budget. And we learned to increase our gift and travel budget, putting any extra we didn’t spend into our emergency fund.
We weren’t making much progress on growing our net worth but we stayed out of debt for almost four years. And we were damn proud of it too!
And then the invitation to my best friend’s wedding arrived. She was the last of my close friends to get married. I remember her talking about her dream wedding all the time as we grew up.
She hand-delivered the invitation and asked me if I’d stand up with her – just like she did for me. But she also said she’d understand if I couldn’t – which confused me at first.
The invitation should have given it away but I was still shocked to see she was getting married on an island in the Caribbean. We hadn’t talked “dream weddings” in a while and her new dream was now a destination wedding.
As excited as I was for her, my heart sank a little bit. We’ve been close since 1st grade and we were inseparable for most of high school. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be in the wedding. But how were we going to afford it?
I said yes right away without hesitation. I’d talk to my husband later and if we decided we really couldn’t do it – I’d let my friend know right away.
We had never taken a trip like that and we were coming up on our five-year anniversary. Maybe the wedding could double as our anniversary present too.
After discussions and checking with our parents about watching the kids, we agreed we’d do it. We had about six months to plan for it and we’d save up as much as we could.
Spending Before the Big Day
My friend sent a breakdown of the costs for the four-day trip and with everything included (airfare, hotels, and food), it was going to cost us about $2500.
If we could set $400-500 a month aside for the next six months, we could stay out of debt and have a wonderful vacation. We weren’t sure it was doable but we’d certainly try.
My friend shared her ideas for what I could wear for the wedding and luckily I found a nice summer dress for less than $100 that she loved.
A month or so later, the bridal shower was held. Fortunately, it was put on by her family and I found something affordable on the registry to gift at a cost of $50.
About six weeks before the trip, we set aside the date for the bachelorette party.
My friend wanted a night on the town in a limo hitting a few clubs with a bunch of our friends who weren’t traveling to the wedding. The bride-to-be paid for the limo but I bought a round of drinks and dinner and that cost me $75.
My husband and I didn’t buy anything new to take on the trip but from the minute we arrived on the island, it was one expense after another.
We were the last ones from the wedding party to fly in so we had to pay $25 for a ride to the resort.
We ended up paying that at the end of the trip too because we had an early flight. Another $25. And we don’t live close to an airport, so we had to park our car there. A $40 expense we forgot about.
By now, you can probably figure out where I’m going with this story. There were a lot of expenses not part of the $2500 figure we were using as our budget. I should have known better.
Destination Wedding Trip Spending
We had prepaid our room at the all-inclusive but we were reminded that the gratuity had not been included. This would be almost $200.
At least we didn’t have to carry around cash to tip people. And we hoped there wouldn’t be many extra expenses.
Both the weather and the resort were amazing! We were definitely getting our money’s worth in terms of food and drinks. I spent most of the first day with a fancy umbrella drink in hand.
At some point during that day, I signed up for a massage and manicure. They’d do this in addition to the make-up and hair before the wedding ceremony. There goes another $175. The unlimited booze wasn’t helping our budget one bit.
But the wedding was fantastic! The sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze and the sound of the ocean waves on the beach created the dream setting my best friend wanted. And we all danced the night away!
We’d signed up for an excursion the next afternoon. And we had such a great time, we took one on the last day we were there too.
We might never come back again – right? There went another $300. But we’d stopped counting by this point. We were celebrating and we’d get back on track next week.
We didn’t check our flight status before we left the resort and our plane was delayed because of bad weather.
The cancellation came after a few hours. We got to spend an extra day in paradise but between airport transportation, another night in a hotel, and food – we were out another $250.
I'd also used two personal days from work to go on the trip and ended up needing to take an unpaid day when we couldn’t return on time (luckily my husband could use another vacation day.)
We were out $225 in my salary now too. My mom also had to miss a day of work at her part-time job to get the boys to preschool.
It Adds Up!
When our credit card statements came, we added up all the wedding and trip expenses.
If you’ve added the extra costs up as you read along – you figured out we spent almost $1500 MORE than what we had budgeted for those four days.
If I add in the cute little T-shirts I bought the boys and a treat for my parents, it was just over $4000 for the five days away.
$4000 for FIVE days.
We had saved enough to cover the original $2500 we thought we’d spend. Our emergency fund could have covered the extra $1500 if the transmission wouldn’t have gone on our car the next week.
Since it was too old to bother fixing, we had to find a new (used) car too. And before we knew it, we had $8000 worth of new debt between the car and the extra trip costs.
We know this was our fault and we’re not too proud to admit it. I’m happy we went and supported my best friend but we made some major money errors.
The lessons? Spend time breaking down the real costs of a vacation, and plan for last-minute extras and some emergencies.
And in our case, we should have seriously considered travel insurance too. We had prepaid almost all of the $2500 for the trip. Which was in the winter, and we have two little ones. We definitely had some “risks” for losing money if we had to cancel.
We should have cut back some on the trip too. And we didn’t even get to do many of the things included in the resort price because we left on excursions.
We also should have had a “new car” fund built into our budget so that we were accumulating some money to put toward a ‘newer' car.
I hope that sharing my money story with you helps you avoid going into more debt than you planned on for a fun celebration. We now have the debt paid off again and we’ve changed how we budget. Lesson learned.