Financial Expert Urges Wedding Season’s Newlyweds to Avoid Debt

As wedding season approaches, the big day can bring great joy, but also sobering financial burdens.

The key, says UT Dallas personal finance expert Jared Pickens, is to avoid piling on debt just as a new marriage begins.

Jared Pickens

The average cost of a wedding is $28,000 according to a recent survey (by The Knot). Good financial decisions can save newlyweds from the stress of paying off a wedding, said Pickens, director of the Undergraduate Finance Program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management and senior lecturer in finance and managerial economics.

“It’s one big important day, but it’s not worth the financial struggles,” Pickens said. ”The first year of marriage is hard enough already.”

Don't Borrow

Pickens advises couples to think twice if they plan to borrow to pay for their wedding.

Piling on more credit card debt is not the answer. Neither is a 401K loan, he says. He also cautioned that student loans should only be used for education.

He said the average college student carries between $3,000 and $4,000 in credit card debt and $20,000 in student loans.

“Each individual is coming out of school with $25,000 in debt apiece that is already putting them in a tight position,” he said.

If you must borrow, consider asking a family member for a loan, Pickens said.

The cost of the average wedding is $28,000, but good financial decisions can help newlyweds avoid debt.

“This is one of those situations where reaching out to mom and dad and paying back over a certain amount of time is going to be a lot better than any type of credit card debt or other type of loan,” Pickens said.

Or, couples could ask family members to help with the wedding costs rather than buying wedding presents, he said.

Keep It Small

Instead of borrowing money, limit wedding costs by keeping the event small, Pickens advised.

“Keeping the head count down is important,” he said. “Interview different churches, if you want. Usually, the biggest expense is the after-party. People can have fun without the upscale party. They can have one day that’s great or they can have 30 years that are great.”

Downsize Your Life

Instead of taking on debt, make big and small changes that can add up in months before the wedding, Pickens said.

On the small side: “Trying to eat meals at home and taking leftovers to work the next day saves a lot of money,” he said.

As for a larger change, couples may want to consider downsizing to one car to reduce car payments and insurance costs.

Temporarily reducing 401k contributions is another option that’s better than going into debt, he said.

Many couples want to buy a house after the wedding. Pickens suggests waiting.

“The housing decision is going to make the biggest financial impact in the first two to three years of marriage,” he said. “I’d really discourage buying a house even though interest rates are low. Many of these people are young in careers and the last thing I’d want to do is get stuck in a house.”

He suggests renting a place that costs no more than 20 percent of your gross income to provide flexibility. Also, resist the urge to spend a lot of money on furnishings.

“It’s OK to slowly buy a few new things at a time,” Pickens said. “Otherwise, you’re going to be sitting on that chair a year from now and still paying interest on it.”

Pay It Off

For couples carrying existing debt, Pickens advises paying it as soon as possible, without consolidating.               

“Consolidation doesn’t encourage them to pay it off faster; it encourages them to pay it off slower. When they consolidate, they want collateral such as a car. Now, if you don’t make a payment, guess what? You lose your car.”

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