(cont’d from an earlier post) …I had saved literally dollars and cents since September to purchase that ring and when I picked it up at the start of December I was able to pay cash for it and walk away knowing it was possible!

We weren’t sure at this point when we might get married or where we might get married or how we might get married. We knew we wanted something on or near the mountains or the beach. Crystal knew she didn’t want a traditional dress. I knew I didn’t want a tuxedo at all. We knew we wanted to involve some friends and hopefully some family. We also knew we didn’t want to spend a ton of money because

  1. We didn’t have a lot of money.
  2. Why start off our new life together in debt?

Wedding Debt

Did you know that according to a March 27, 2014 survey published by TheKnow for its annual Real Weddings Study, (for which, 13,000 brides and grooms across the country were polled and statistics were pulled on topics from “location fees” to tuxedo costs) the average wedding cost in 2013 was the highest since the website began monitoring prices in 2007. In 2013 the average wedding cost $29,858. In 2009 when we were married that total was already a hefty $21,480. The increase has been attributed to a rise on bride-themed “reality” shows, wedding-themed magazines, recent over-the-top celebrity weddings, misunderstood recoveries from the recession, and the gross availability of financing and unsecured credit. Just to further WOW you here are some numbers broken down from that survey:

  • $5,598 – average cost of engagement ring
  • $1,281 – average cost of wedding dress
  • $1,083 – reception DJ
  • $1,700 – videographer
  • $66/person – catering

3. PLAN, BUDGET, STICK TO IT

We didn’t have a lot of money to spend. That was our wedding theme, so to speak. We didn’t want to add to our debt because of a wedding. We wanted to pay cash-on-the-barrel and, quite frankly, after my recent success with paying cash I was more than adamant about this. Because of these over-arching guidelines we chose to get married in a quaint little ceremony at a cabin in the north Georgia mountains. One of my best buddies was our officiant. Another buddy was our photographer (we actually asked if he and our officiant would help us in lieu of a wedding gift). Crystal wore a beautiful dress she found on eBay. I wore off-the-rack clothes from Target. Our reception was 100% organic, our cake was gluten-free, and the finger foods were home made. The cost of the reception was part of the wedding package. The champagne was from CostCo and totally served its purpose. My folks were able to attend. We had some friends there. All-in-all, it was no less memorable than a wedding we would have spent 30x as much for. Total cost of our nuptials (excluding the engagement ring)? $987. We spent hours planning the wedding ceremony and talking through ideas that were reasonable. We set a top budget of $1,000 and we stuck to it. It isn’t about the top dollar, per se. It isn’t about our thriftiness. It is about restraint, expectations, and reality. Why would a young couple want to start their life together thousands of dollars in debt? Why would a parent want to have to take out a loan or – and yes, I have heard of this – a 2nd mortgage to pay for a wedding? And this holds true for so many other things including college education, the purchase of a car, a vacation, etc. Be real and understand that short of being King Midas you have a budget. The reality is that a few minutes of fun is absolutely not worth years of financial damage by way of interest rates, payment plans, and robbing Peter to pay Paul. We would continue to come back to this method time and time again in everything from the purchase of a family car, the birth (and accompanying gifts) of our daughter, and even our vacations.

As 2009 became 2010 we were in a position that would test us financially and test my ideas about money in general. For almost my entire lifetime I had heard “you’re gonna die in debt so why worry about it now?” It was like some sort of poor mans mantra or a paupers mea culpa. But for me it just didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to die in debt. But here we were, a young couple looking to make the ‘next step.’

If you aren’t Southern you probably don’t realize the steps of life. Allow me to lay them out (in order):

Birth > Formative Years > Puberty (wherein you become a woman or a man and can now start making money) > Teenage Years (in which you can raise a little hell and get away with it because you are learning) > High School Graduation (preferably with a 2.5 GPA or better) > Decent College (preferably a state school with a strong athletic program) > Good Job > Marriage > Starter House Purchase > First Youngin > Accumulation (more kids, bigger house, new car, vacation house, boat, etc) > Grandkids > Death

Pretty formulaic, huh? Granted it is just an overview but it is reality to many of us in one way or the other. But at 31 years old and on my second marriage with still over $40k in consumer debt I had all but vomited on the life steps of a redneck. Our ‘next step’ as we saw it was the purchase of a house. I was working a job making $10/hour with no benefits. Crystal was working a seasonal job at the local college. We had no savings. Crystal had just put everything she had made at the college into paying back a personal loan I spoke of earlier. But we went house hunting anyway. We were looking for a “starter house” as they call it. And as luck would have it, we found one in the form of a 50-year old, asbestos sided, sagging floored, non-working fireplace, cute-as-a-button-still, bungalow in town. The asking price was just north of $80k and it seemed like something we could make a go of. The day after we saw it we visited a mortgage broker who ran our financials and assured us that there were programs out there for folks just like us. She was right. Two days later she contacted me to tell me we had qualified for up to $182,000 for the purchase of a house. I was ecstatic. The machismo within me felt like I had accomplished something. I was going to provide for my wife. I didn’t once think about the monthly numbers though. I was lost in my own hunter-gatherer idea of provider. I told Crystal and I maintain now that I could immediately see the numbers pressing into her skull. As the story goes a day or so later she offered me good news and bad news. I chose the good. “We can buy the house,” she calmly said. I pumped my fist and may even have let out a sort of neanderthalic grunt. Daddy was taking care of business. “The bad news,” I asked? “We can buy the house but we won’t have electricity, water, or Internet. We’ll need to park our truck, drop our insurance, and eat every meal at someone else’s house.” My head immediately throbbed as if I had ridden on the hood of a semi who found his breaks just after the brick wall. I was stunned. A few hours later though when I picked my pride up somewhere off the compost pile out back I swallowed a bitter pill.

2. KNOW YOUR LIMITS 

We could have bought the house. We could have eaten at my folks house all the time. We could have done this or done that but none of it would have offset the ridiculous decision of purchasing that house under those sort of economic conditions. The reason we were approved for so much was because the loan was a 50-year mortgage being offered by the government with a 6.2% fixed interest rate. That means that in the course of 50 years we would have paid a total of $193,000 for that “starter house.” What kind of investment is that and why would anyone want to make it? Obviously we passed on the house and continued our search. We ultimately fell upon the idea of building a tiny house trailer using cash-on-the-barrel. But in understanding our limits we learned that because I had made no real effort to pay off my lingering debt, it remained. Because I was not actively looking for a new job or pushing myself to be more I was locked in to a job that was getting me nowhere and making me miserable along the way. In order to find financial freedom you have to know your limits. You have to ask yourself on a regular basis:

  • How unhappy can I be to exchange time in life for money earned?
  • Can I afford to purchase this with cash?
  • Can I add $5 more to this monthly payment?
  • If I invest in this when can I expect a return on my investment?
EDITORS NOTE: There is 1 tip to go. Come back tomorrow to read more about how I claimed my financial freedom and how you can too!