Liam Croke: Getting hitched? Budget first, then save, save, save

I knew it was only a matter of time.

I knew it was only a matter of time.

It was May 2012, and I was in the company of a couple I knew very well.

I had heard the good news of their engagement six months earlier and because I hadn’t seen them since it happened, I congratulated them and enquired about the big day. Had they begun making plans?

I was expecting them to tell me they hadn’t or that it was going to happen sometime in 2013. I don’t know why I thought this. Maybe I was thinking back to 1994 when myself and Roseann got engaged and estimated it would take us about 18 months before we had saved enough to fund our big day.

We were both living at home so it made saving that bit easier, but we were very keen to get a place of our own and get married so we lived like hermits and saved like mad.

So, I was a bit surprised when they said they were getting married in mid-July, in just two months’ time – eight months from the date of their engagement. Wow, that’s great, I said. A fast engagement – well done.

“We are going to get married in the Algarve and we are bringing our immediate families with us,” they told me. “We are going to have a party back here in Ireland when we get back for of all our friends so we hope you and Roseann will be able to make it.”

I said we would, of course. And I thought that maybe a lot of couples are getting married like this nowadays, so they can cut back on the expense of having a wedding here in Ireland. It’s the only way some couples can afford to get married.

Fair play to you, I thought. But I had another question.

“So, how many of you are making the trip over?”

I know one family better than the other so I thought maybe 10 or 12 – max.

“Twenty-seven,” came the reply.

Wow, that was a lot, I thought. Fantastic but I wasn’t expecting what they said next.

They were going to pay for everyone to go over with them: flights, accommodation and a meal in a really nice restaurant the day they were getting married. They were going to be in Portugal for a total of five days and four nights.

On their return, they were going to have a big celebratory night for those who weren’t in Portugal, and they were going to have to cater for about 100 people. Now whilst there wasn’t going to be a sit-down meal, they were having a barbecue, sandwiches and finger food. Alocal band were going to provide the entertainment, followed by a DJ.

Now this couple are incredibly nice, and I’m very happy to have them as friends – but there was one of three possiblilities here.

1. They’d won the lottery, which I knew they hadn’t.

2. They had lots of savings, which I knew they hadn’t.

3. They were going to borrow the money.

They told me they had some money with a credit union and they borrowed money against those savings. He also took out a separate personal loan with his bank as well.

Their mantra was you only live once – and we could be dead in the morning. Live life now and we can deal with what comes our way if it ever does.

Anyway, they said, none of that would happen because they had done their sums, they could afford the monthly repayments based on their current income – and paying for everything was just something they wanted to do. I guess they wanted to make a big deal of it – and it’s nice to be the centre of attention for a couple of weeks.

Fast forward to November 2015. The call I had been expecting for a while came through.

“Hi Liam, we need to see you when you have some time please. Everything is fine at work and our incomes haven’t gone down but they haven’t gone up that much either. Our mortgage is up to date but our biggest problem are two loans we have that are killing us each month and we’re at breaking point.

“We need your help to figure this out because we don’t see any way we can sustain them going forward – we really don’t. I can’t sleep, and we have no idea what to do. Will you help?”

They are friends and of course I’ll help. I will do all I can. Maybe I would have been a much better friend if I had counselled them three years ago and advised them to think twice about taking on all of that needless debt. But how would they have reacted if I had? It probably wasn’t my place to do this; we were friends, but not close enough for me to take them aside and give them that reality check – to tell them what they were doing would have an impact on them and their finances for years to come.

The average cost of getting married in Ireland today is about €21,135 – which is insane. Then again, I am using the cost of my wedding 20-odd years ago as a benchmark and things have moved on. Maybe I’m just getting old and old-fashioned but the thoughts of borrowing lots of money or exhausting all of your savings to get married quickly or to impress people is just something I find hard to comprehend.

I am writing this article for people who are thinking of getting engaged or married because the months of November, December and January are the ones when most couples get engaged. In fact, according to one survey, these three months account for 43% of all proposals.

Don’t make the mistake that my friends and others make – starting off life in debt from borrowing for a ring, or throwing a lavish wedding here or abroad.

Budget, budget and budget for the expense of a wedding; set yourself a limit. Know what it is and don’t deviate from it. It can be easy to stray and it can be easy to borrow a bit here and there or put something on the credit card, but please don’t.

Then, when you know how much you need, save, save, save. And save some more.