When a Woman Requests a Prenup…

So I’ve spent my 20s acquiring a decent sum of savings. I’m not a millionaire (yet) but I have managed to save $350,000 – not immense wealth, but not pocket change either. I have no idea where my career will take me over the course of my life, but I admit as a person who thinks a lot about finances the idea of merging my financial future with another person – irregardless of how much I love him – terrifies me more than, say, jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Or my dress ripping apart in the middle of my wedding leaving me in my birthday suit.

When doing some preliminary prenup research on Google the links are all the same — dudes who are trying to figure out how to convince their fiancees to sign a prenup without completely destroying their relationship. I haven’t found one link (at least in the top few pages) where a woman is the one who wants the prenup. And do I really want a prenup? I don’t know. It just seems wise, especially with the 50% divorce rate, even though I don’t have any remote intention of ever getting divorced.

The reality is that my hubs-to-be is unlikely to save or earn as much as I do. He also is very adamant about us keeping separate accounts as we do today, though maybe splitting a bit more of our costs beyond just our rent (which I already pay more for) and our food (which we split 50/50.) I don’t know — I always come back to the fact that marriage is a business contract. It’s MORE a business contract than some lovey-dovey festival of forever commitment. You can commit without a marriage license. But if you plan to have kids in the near-term future then marriage does make sense. It at least provides some stability – theoretically.

I admit I’m worried about financial issues going into marriage. Luckily we both have no debt and if anyone’s got a spending habit it’s me. If anything I’m probably better off without a prenup as over time I may end up in a looney bin and should he decide not to be wed to a loon at the time, I’ll need the alimony to survive. Worst case scenario, of course, but it could happen.

Why does it feel so cringe-inducing to even bring up a prenuptial agreement? When I did, he quickly changed the subject, and I could tell he was very hurt at the suggestion. He wasn’t surprised that I asked, but he certainly wouldn’t give the request any serious consideration. And that leaves me with basically two choices — get married without a prenup, or don’t get married.

They say prenups are much more important in second marriages where kids are involved, et al, but if you have a sizable sum of money going into a marriage or expect an inheritance then they may be useful in the first. It just seems like this whole marriage thing is VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS and I’m not equipped with the necessary advice to enter into such a legal agreement. I wish the government made premarital and financial counseling a requirement before getting a marriage license, because at least then it would force us to address these issues like mature adults. But I guess that’s too much to ask in my relationship. And if I were in his shoes, I’m sure I’d feel a tinge of betrayal as well if I were asked to sign a prenup, so I can’t blame him for being so upset at my initial ask. I just wish we could have an adult conversation about it and make a rational decision — but how rational can a decision be if it’s based around the “what if we get divorced” question before we’re even married?

How Much Should a Wedding Cost?

$10k? $20k? $100k? I’ve now gotten to the point past wedding enthusiast and I can say I’ve become a wedding connoisseur – at least when it comes to venue and catering costs. Venues in major metropolitan areas on a Saturday night, on peak, seem to range from about $25k on the low end to $55k and up on the high end. Most clock in at speeds of quickly draining your or your loved ones networth by $35k before you even go shopping for a DJ, dress or photographer (for a 150 person wedding.) By golly gee, that’s absofantasticaliously ridiculous. And yet, here I am, still planning my “not cheap” wedding.

Today, I have my heart set on a venue that costs $15,000 to rent BEFORE catering. Well, I’m totally willing to compromise for a Sunday so it may be closer to $10k. And I hear ever dollar after $3.5k is tax deductible since it’s a donation to the arts center, so that’s totes reasonable right? Right?? Someone agree with me here, I’m about to have a heart attack over accepting that I may just go through with spending about what I can save in one year on 6 hours.

The only reason I feel remotely ok with this concept is that my father – who was told he had 2 years to live 7 years ago – really wants to experience a lovely wedding party for his daughter(s). It’s as much his event as it is mine, and if he’s paying for it than I’m ok with that (assuming he lets me invite my full friends guest list.) Still, I can’t help but bang my head against the wall knowing how much these things cost. Of course they don’t HAVE to cost that much, but let’s face it – I have expensive tastes and I’m not a cheap wedding type of bride.

That said, I’m trying to be creative about how to save on non-venue costs. I don’t need tons of flowers for centerpieces (esp not at such a beautiful venue) and I’ll deal with the basic chairs the venue offers versus renting more expensive ones that look better in photographs (sigh, I’ll deal.) The budget for the wedding is $45,000. Which – is a lot of money – seems like a lot of money and is a lot of money. But it’s also the budget my dad has given me for what he wants to spend. When I mention things to him like “I can find a cheaper venue” or “I have ideas on how to cut the cost” he starts to throw a fit – he doesn’t want to have a cheap wedding. Of course, he doesn’t really understand how easy it is to spend $100k when you’re not paying attention to a budget.

Wedding Estimate for 150 Guests (Sun night at fancier venue or Sat at lower cost one)

Venue/Food — $30k
Band — $7k
Photo — $4k
Video — $4k
Dress/Makeup/Hair — $4k
Flowers — $5k
=============
$54k… plus tax 7% – $57k

So – as you see, $45k is actually not a HUGE budget if you’re throwing a “not cheap” style wedding. Yes, you can cut the videographer entirely, opt for a DJ instead of a band, buy a dress that’s $1k vs $2.5k (which is, btw, the low end of designer wedding dresses – if you really want to go fancy they’re about $6k or more.)

Another thought…

Venue/Food — $30k
DJ — $3k
Photo — $4k
Video — $2k (crap package)
Dress/Makeup/Hair — $2k
Flowers — $3k
——————
$45,000(ish) wedding

Why not just get a cheaper venue, you ask? Surely many of my readers will, mouths agape, explain to me that they got married in a local park and had their family members cater the entire affair. $5000 wedding are not unheard of. Take the other $40k and spend it on – oh, I don’t know – a downpayment on a house… feeding impoverished children in Africa… a really nice car (that is not a good investment but that you’ll enjoy for longer than 6 hours)… a trip around the world… IVF that you’ll prob need for your future child… rent for when you do have that future child…

Well, it’s a possibility, but I’m at the point where I just want to say fuck it I want a nice – well, super nice – wedding. Not a $100k wedding (which would be my dream wedding) but one half that price. It still requires a lot of compromises to spend “just” $45k on a wedding, surprisingly enough. And that’s the story of my life these days… trying to figure out how to spend less on the wedding. I’d love to come in under $35k – but based on the above budget, that’s just not possible.

Say Yes to the Dress – Or Say No to the Wedding Industry?

If you’re like me (and clearly enough of the population to keep a reality tv show on the air for years AND inspire a spinoff series), you spend too much time watching Say Yes to the Dress marathons. If you’re a die-hard SYTTD fan like I am, you know that one of the first questions asked before they step foot in a sample dress is “what’s your budget?” To be honest, before seeing this show, it never occurred to me that a wedding dress would cost more than $1000. I know, I know, how naive I was! If figured I spent about $300 on my prom dress (which was a very elegant and beaded ballgown) so a wedding dress should cost approximately 3x that. Of course that was 10 years ago now(!) but, still – the moment someone on the show said $3000 and I uncovered that $3k is really on the lower end of dresses I’ve been both pining for and pinning, my jaw dropped.

On SYTTD, the average dress budget is somewhere between $3000 and $5000. These brides don’t all seem to come from super wealthy families. Who knows, maybe some are in massive debt, they just don’t get into that on the show. They ask the your budget because it’s no use trying to a $5000 dress when you plan to spend $3000 and, you know, buy a fancy laptop computer that year that you need.

Ok, HEEC, why don’t you just spend $1000 on a dress then, surely there are decent $1000 wedding dresses out there – maybe not at Kleinfields or Brides by Lori, but not EVERYONE spends $3000+ on their wedding dresses! The problem with the wedding industry is that the second something is remotely tied to a wedding, the price multiples by more than rationally makes any sense at all. A $1000 wedding dress is often more like a $100 dress in white. What I learned in my first trip to try on wedding dresses is – a $5000 dress with hug your curves in ways that no “$100″ $1000 dress every will. Skinny girls can look good in just about anything, but ladies with curves, well we need all the help we can get to look the very best on our wedding day.

I suddenly became overwhelmed about trying on wedding dresses. While I used to love shopping, these days it’s just a necessary activity. I’m not that satisfied with my 168lb, 5’3 figure (attempting to get down to 120-130lbs for the wedding, hoping to keep the later half of the equation the same!) I also learned a few even more nerve-wracking things about trying on wedding dresses at stores, some of which I vaguely understood before in concept but not in practice.

1. To start, wedding dresses at stores are only carried in one size – then they clip you in so you can kind of / sort of get an idea of what the dress would look like custom made to your sizing. You would think, then, the sample size available would be on the larger end. I mean, this is America, not China. But, no, sample sizes are usually really small. Like size 6 small or smaller.

2. To make matters worse, wedding dress sizes are more “real” sizes, which means a size 12 is actually a size 8 and so on. So those samples that you thought maybe you could squeeze into – to just get an idea – that were a size 6 are the ones you end up getting stuck in, suffocating, convinced your salesperson was going to have to cut you out once you fainted due to the heat and claustrophobia (yes, people, that did happen to yours truly.)

3. Bridal dress samples come in ivory, cream or beige, not white. This isn’t that big of a deal, but you basically have to order a $3000-$5000 dress site unseen anyway, trusting that it will look good in another subtle variation of an acceptable bridal hue. That doesn’t seem so odd with the exception of the fact you’re spending $5000 on a dress — I would think I could try on the exact dress in my size before putting down two months rent on a garment I’ll wear one day of my life.

4. Wedding dresses take 9 months to make and fit, give or take. So if you’re thinking of getting married in “about a year from now” you need to pick your dress really freaking soon. Ideally tomorrow.

5. Simple dresses AREN’T cheaper. I don’t know why I had in my head that my dress was going to be even cheaper because I’d be okay with something simple instead of some ridiculous ballgown. Well, actually, it’s the construction and fabric in a simple dress that can make it either look super cheap or like a million bucks. Unfortunately, the dresses that do look like a million bucks almost cost that much in proportion to their lifetime usage.

6. Unlike regular shopping, you typically can’t browse the racks to look for THE dress. You have to share your tastes with a bridal consultant who they pulls dresses for you. So your dream dress may be in the store, you just have to hope they find it. And, of course, in most cases sales people are compensation-based and might not be incentivized to sell you the cheapest dress in the store that happens to be just perfect for you!

I went in to my first appointment with an open mind, unsure of what would look remotely good or acceptable on me. The appointment I booked for try #1 was at a Nordstrom Bridal Suite, which I figured would be a lower pressure environment then a typical bridal studio. A good friend came with me and watched me try on dress after dress. Most looked completely horrible. A few were acceptable. The two front runners were similar styles, so it was extremely interesting to experience the difference in construction between a $3000 dress and a $5000 dress (yes, my favorite so far is a $5000 Reem Acra dress. Now I understand why they say don’t try on dresses out of your price range, because pretty much wedding dresses only start feeling like luxury in the $5000 ballpark.)

While I shared text messages of me in the dresses with a few trusted girlfriends, most were just for kicks (here’s me looking like a wedding cake that’s starting to melt! Here’s me in a $6500 flowing, hand-embroidered, empire-waist dress that looks incredible on the rack but makes me look like I’m about to turn in for a long nap and possibly give birth.) The success of the appointment was finding the general style I like (which is not at all what I thought I would like), which helps narrow down what I ask to see in other stores.

I’ve thought back to other friend’s weddings I’ve attended in the last 10 years. Most of my friends do not come from families that are as “middle class wealthy” as mine. One good friend spent $150 and wore a grass-green dress with white lace that she purchased handmade from China, which fit her beautifully and was just so her. Another friend, with no relation to the first own, sewed her own dress from scratch in an emerald green fabric with black texture. Both wed in a park, and I’m sure both weddings were under $10k, if not $5k.

For the more traditional weddings I’ve attended, I’m unaware of the cost of the wedding dresses. The only one I know for sure is a good friend who got married in wine country. While she saved a lot of money on the overall wedding due to her industry connections (she’s a wedding florist), she spent about $3000 on her designer dress, which is a typical price for a lovely dress like that. But knowing that somehow makes me feel like it’s even more ok to spend that much money on a wedding dress, despite knowing that spending that much on a dress that can only be worn one day in one’s life is kind of, well, beyond rationality.

So I’m not sure what to do. This whole wedding thing is turning into a bit of a nightmare with a devil and angel sitting on my shoulders saying “splurge, girl, splurge!” and “save, bitch, save!” at the very same time. I’m trying to consider the overall wedding cost and the dress as part of this, as thinking of the dress as a “costume” and “entertainment” for the event makes it seem more appropriate to put that much money towards the dress as part of a $30k-$50k one-night-only production staring yours truly and her BFF, tying the knot in wedding bliss and banter for eternity.

How much did you (or your wife or your friend’s) spend on their wedding dresses? What do you think is a reasonable cost to spend on a wedding dress without being “too cheap” for the big day?

Should We Just Skip the Wedding?

The whole wedding ritual is so archaic that modern women like myself should not even consider partaking in such frivolous festivities. This it the one moment in my life where I’m incredibly torn – with all the drama that goes into planning a wedding with guests across the country, and the reality that a large chunk of them won’t be able to make it anyway, why should we bother with anything beyond a simple elopement? My parents seem surprisingly ok with that – they have saved the money to foot the bill for a relatively big wedding, but at this point in their lives they don’t seem as if they’d be heartbroken without the whole shcabang. They would have been a few years back, but now they’re pretty much fine with whatever will equate to grandchildren sooner than later. So why do it?

My fiancé wants to have a nice, romantic wedding. It’s important to him for the right reasons. To me, it’s a giant and costly production, even if I’m footing only the emotional half of the bill. Honestly, it feels incredibly foolish to contemplate spending $30k+ to be the center of attention for 5 hours that I’ll be too exhausted and stressed out over to even enjoy. But if I don’t have an actual wedding – won’t I massively regret that later? Or, will I massively regret the fact that my parents blew through a chunk of their retirement savings (which is sizable due to a pension and social security, but not exactly enough to ensure permanent financial independence)?

There are so many different ways to have a wedding. I know. There are plenty of ways to reduce costs and still have a lovely time. And, at the end of the day, who cares who shows up, as long as the bride and groom make it to the alter. I want to honestly believe that. But Ms. Devil sitting on my shoulder is screaming “throw a freaking crazy amazing party in a beautiful location that people will talk about forever.” Uh, hello narcissist.

But aren’t modern weddings narcissistic and ridiculous to begin with? Where does one draw the line? I understand the point of celebrating permanent devotion to another person, but in front of 200 of your “closest friends and family” seems a bit nutso. Of course, when you try to limit the guest list you can’t really do this and have the people you actually want there and then all those other people your parents are making you invite there. I refuse to have a wedding where I don’t invite certain friends because their seat gets filled by a third cousin twice removed, even if it means that I seriously need to consider footing the bill for my own event.

And that does make sense – I have a job. I have savings. I have a life. My parents paid for so much of it until I finally became an independent adult post college graduation. And now, this final “gift” looms over my head like some dark cloud that was supposed to be a rainbow. Knowing that my parents are both absolutely crazy will only add to the stress of the special day (but I wouldn’t want to get married without them there!) I’m actually seriously considering elopement, although it’s still unlikely. I wrote to my cousins today to ask them if they had a month that would be better for them to attend a wedding in 2016, just to see what sort of response I’d get. Many just won’t be able to make it no matter what. Some refuse to travel across the country. I understand it’s a financial issue for some of them as well, so I can’t get too upset. But what hurts more is knowing that I’m not that close to that many people – not even the people I grew up with, the people who once were my close family. I still consider them close family, but to them I’m a long lost relative.

So if I actually focus on the fact that the wedding is about my fiancé and I, and not about anyone else, then maybe we’d elope in Yosemite or something at the side of a lake, with a few guests surrounding us to share in the moment, and then we’d go camping for a week together. I’d prefer that over a super fancy wedding – so why am I destined to have this super fancy wedding that I’m not sure I actually want?

Introducing: Bridezilla

Reading articles about batshit brides who enamored over every detail of a wedding led me to pronouncing I would never, EVER earn the title “bridezilla.” And, yet, shortly thereafter my official engagement I’ve been called this at least two times – not yet once from my finance who surely has thought the term silently while watching me create a google spreadsheet of 20+ local venues to visit in order to find – THE ONE.

As a personal finance blogger, and someone who tends to toy around with compound interest calculators as a means to destress after a challenging day, weddings – as in, the modern American wedding with an average cost of $25k ($31k-$51k in my region) - are absolutely ridiculous.

$50,000 — over a 30 year period growing at 5% — amounts to $216k. Sure, that’s not enough to get one through retirement, but it’s an awful lot to spend on one 6-hour party. When down-payments for a starter home are $200k or more, spending any money on a wedding, no matter how high your income is (unless you already are financially independent) seems incredibly frivolous.

So far, we’ve done well to combat the frivolity of this phenomenon known as nuptials. I was verklempt when my man got down on one knee and, after going through a series of romantic gestures, asked me to marry him. When I noticed he had picked the $300 ring off my Pinterest, I took pride in being the type of future bride who didn’t buy into the “Three Months Salary” bullshit propagated by jewelry marketers – likely ones related to the same person who came up with “A Diamond is Forever.” The average cost of an engagement ring these days is $4000 — which is a lot considering most of America is in debt.

There was this little voice in the back of my mind, the little girl who dreamed of a fancier ring (not necessarily a diamond, but still, something above and beyond what I might purchase for myself) — and then I stopped that voice, told it to shut the fuck up, because the ring — beautiful, simple and unique — was perfect. And I wouldn’t want to be walking around with a $4000 sentimental target on my back for anyone who wanted to rob me. Ultimately, I’d rather have a house than a ring, so this was the right choice.

That doesn’t change the fact that the minute you tell people you are engaged the reflex of most Americans – male or female – is something along the lines of “let me see the rock.” Well, it’s a rock alright — a low-cost gemstone that may or may not be the one that we think it is. It was supposed to be peach but it’s actually clear which only bothers Bridezilla me because I feel like everyone “just knows” that it’s a fake diamond (which it wasn’t meant to be) and then I get nervous that others will look at it and think, oh god, does she not know it’s a fake? I was perfectly fine with a sapphire or alexandrite or something that didn’t look like a diamond, but when it almost looks like a diamond showing off your ring gets uncomfortable, so says Ms. Bridezilla.

The ring, however, is the least of the costs that go into having a wedding. Every ounce of my rational self is screaming ELOPE YOU DUMB IDIOT YOU! I’m definitely the type of girl that dreamed of having a large, fairytale wedding – but now that i’m nearly 32, I’m largely over that dream and much more practical. If I was paying for the entire thing myself, I’d be a whole lot of more practical – but with my parents wanting to foot the bill, I’m torn.

My dad – who worked his entire life in a job that he didn’t exactly love – was told eight years ago that he had two years to live from a very respectable doctor at Sloan Kettering in NYC. His late-stage prostate cancer had metastasized and while there were a number of treatments and trials to prolong his life, there was no cure. And, already dealing with numerous health issues, such as diabetes and morbid obesity, his prognosis wasn’t so optimistic.

Dad – as stubborn as he is – has lived much longer and is still kicking, knock on wood. Him and my mother purchased a condo in Boca which he’s now spending his days determining how to decorate – despite years of nagging me about getting married, he doesn’t seem to care too much about the wedding now. His response when I called to tell them I was engaged was “about time.”

My father has clearly stated, many times, that he has money put away for this shindig and that he’d cover the event. The budget, which was $30k, grew into $50k once I made a list of how much everything would cost (and this is with cutting out all of the items that would go into a dream wedding with a pricetag of about $100k.) He said $50k is fine.

I know he’s looking forward to his dream wedding. My mom’s mother made their wedding horrible, because she’s crazy. She wouldn’t let him invite most of his friends to the event because they needed to invite all of the Israeli relatives, and then not surprisingly those Israeli relatives didn’t show up leaving a lot of empty seats. If my finance had a large extended network of family and friends I’d almost  be ok with a large wedding, but it just doesn’t feel right to have a wedding with 30 people from his side and 150 from mine. That isn’t a wedding.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure someone like me where I am today in understanding finances can spend $50,000 on 5 hours – even if it’s not my money. To put perspective on that figure, for the last 5 years of my life I’ve been aiming to save $50,000 A YEAR after taxes, including interest from investments. It’s a lot of money, no matter how you slice it, and whose money it is.

Some of my friends say if your parents want to pay for the wedding, let them. But I’m almost ashamed of it. When I was 12 years old I had a lavish Bat Mitzvah which included custom-made t-shirts which I designed, musicians which included a band AND a dj, and a number of other items which led for one expensive coming of age ceremony. Back then I didn’t understand money at all. The party was fun and all, but it was ridiculous at the same time. How can a grown-ass woman rationally spend anywhere near $30k-$50k on one day? Well, this grown-ass woman might — but she’s still not sure.

I’m absolutely torn. The options seem to be accepting my parent’s gift and a world of compromise for throwing a party for 200 guests including many family friends/relatives who I don’t know that well, OR, paying for an event on our own which would be a lot smaller and cheaper. If we do an event on our own, most of the people I want to attend wouldn’t come, because it would be a smaller, less lavish affair. Maybe that’s not a terrible thing – but I feel like if you’re going to have a wedding to begin with, the point is introducing both families to each other – and with that, I would like to encourage a decent turnout from both of our sides. We have families across the country so a wine country venue with the promise of incredible dining and entertainment would do more to encourage an annual vacation vs a picnic in a park.

Yes, they say that whatever you do for a wedding, the people who want to be there will be. Those people don’t have tri-state area expectations. I definitely grew up in a culture where these fancy weddings are the norm. And, as privileged as I am to even be able to ponder what to do with a $30k+ budget, I should also just embrace the fact that my parents want to pay for this event – which will likely be a night that my finance and I will remember for the rest of our lives. So let’s just do this.

Even with a $50k budget (which is, again, ridiculous) there are still lots of cuts to be made. So a dream dress might be $10k. I looked on pre-owned wedding dress sites, where they sell one-night-worn dresses for 30% to 50% off. Well, buying a dress site-unseen for $5000 – even if it was a $10k dress – seems like a bad idea. Buying a used dress does intrigue me, however, since spending even $3000 on a dress to be worn one night is nuts, but spending $1500 on that same dress that was worn once makes a lot more sense (especially if you can resell it again, say, for $1000.)

At the moment, our decision du jour is the venue itself. Picking a venue and a date will make this a whole lot more real. My finance and I have similar ideas about what makes the perfect venue, but they aren’t always 100% aligned. We visited one venue yesterday that he adored – but it’s too expensive and honestly it was just not quite what I had in mind (paying $50k for a wedding which features fancy port-o-potties is not going to fly with my parents, and is also not on my preferred logistics list.) While we both love the idea of getting married outside in nature, I prefer a venue at the top of a hill with a view, he prefers one nestled in a valley. We both are hoping for some sort of water features — a lake, a stream, or ocean with dramatic cliffs. I prefer a venue where we are able to come set up in the morning, early, and he prefers one which enables late-night after partying well into the next day. We’re coming up empty handed.

All of this added stress should be fun, but planning a wedding is a lot of work. Yes, you can hire a planner (and I probably will) but that doesn’t solve everything – it doesn’t solve the issue of managing my parent’s expectations. If they are footing the bill, that will be another giant job on top of the FT job I already have, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to plan this shindig to begin with.

And I come back to thinking – isn’t this supposed to be a day about the joining of two people who are going to spend the rest of their lives together? Why should that cost $50,000?