Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Friends Without Money

I just took the Financial Fitness Quiz on the Charles Schwab Community Services website and ended up with a score of 59, which puts me in the "Middle of the Road", according to the website.

When you're broke, you think about money a lot. For the past six years I have always worked at least two or three jobs at the same time, mainly because I can't afford to live off what I get paid at just one of those jobs. And I can't work full-time because of graduate school; even before I went into the Ph.D. program, I couldn't get a full-time college teaching job with just an M.A, so I had several part-time adjunct jobs instead.

Normally I earn just enough to pay my rent and other bills and pay for other essentials, like groceries and Britney Spears' albums. But when a big event like a wedding comes up, I don't think, "Hooray for the happy couple!" or "Why aren't I getting married? Do they have such a thing as mail-order husbands?" No. I think, "GREAT. This is going to be expensive."

I think that being a member of a wedding party is a rite of passage for practically every single girl in her twenties. Two years ago, I was asked to be a member of a friend's large wedding party. I hadn't actually been in touch with this friend for several years, though we had grown up together. But our families were friends, so it was expected that I would participate. I was happy for my friend. I was not happy about the money I would have to spend for a dress that I would never wear again, the plane ticket to the wedding, the wedding gift, or a fancy haircut. Because I had to spend so much money for this wedding, I couldn't afford to make a contribution to my Roth IRA fund that year.

But this wedding wasn't about me. It was about the bride and groom. Fortunately, the bride wasn't your typical Bridezilla, with insane expectations about centerpieces or making sure that the other women in the wedding party didn't look better than she did. (Side note: I bet that's why so many bridesmaid dresses are so weird-looking.) The bride was nice and let us pick our own dresses.

The maid of honor and the best man were planning pre-wedding parties, and they sent out e-mails asking other members of the wedding party to suggest places we could go. I asked the maid of honor how much it would cost, and she said, "Oh, not that much! It'll probably be only about $500 or $600." Oh, is that all? No biggie. I don't need to eat this month. I'm sure that my landlord won't mind if I'm short on rent. Maybe if I break out in song and start dancing like the cast of Rent did, I won't have to pay for anything. But then again, I was the only member of the wedding party who was still working minimum-wage jobs while attending graduate school, while everyone else was working white-collar jobs with their own assistants to blow their noses for them.

I tried not to think about the fact that the wedding would cost somewhere in the six-figure range, and how I could live for years on what they were spending for one day. I tried not to be resentful as I trekked all over the city to various bridal shops, trying in vain to find a dress. I made the mistake of shopping for a dress less than five months before the big day. The women who worked in the shop raised their eyebrows and shook their heads at me, saying that I couldn't get a dress less than six months beforehand. I resisted the urge to say, "Well, EXCU-U-USE ME, Snooty Bridal Shop Lady!"

Finally, I found a dress at Kasia's Bridal, a store run by a very nice young woman who helped me find a good dress. I tried in vain to think of other places that I could wear the dress, but I figured I might stand out if I went to the grocery store or taught a class in a floor-length strapless gown.

Before the wedding, the women of the wedding party got ready together. I found out that the bachelor/bachelorette parties had gone ahead as scheduled, and that I had not been included.

The bride was so happy, and I was happy for her. Her life was so different from mine, and represented a path I could have taken, both professionally and personally. But I didn't envy her, even though my bank account was now several hundred dollars emptier. Even though I've wanted to give up on being a college teacher hundreds of times, I know that I would regret it if I did quit. Pursuing a career in academia means paying a LOT of dues and making sacrifices, including the prospect of making a lot of money. But the work itself makes it worth it. Usually.

This experience did make me think a lot about weddings, though. Nothing personal against people who have expensive weddings; I figure if it's your money, you have the right to spend it how you want. But I always thought that a wedding was supposed to be about the marriage and the fact that you were promising yourself to that one person til death do you part, and everything else about the wedding day was just extra. I tried to picture myself having my own six-figure wedding. I couldn't. And it wasn't just because I wouldn't be able to afford it.

Disclaimer: This post is part of the 20SB Blog Carnival: Friends & Money, sponsored by Charles Schwab. Prizes may be awarded to selected posts. The information and opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the views or opinions of Charles Schwab. Details on the event, eligibility, and a complete list of participating bloggers can be found here.


  1. Woot woot! I got 78 Points!
    "You're close! Add a few more good habits to your financial life, and you'll be in great shape."
    I feel successful now!

  2. Oh, I HEAR YOU!

    This is such a hard one, because often people don't think about things like this. And why should they? They're just so damn happy.

    But for people like me and you, who don't have a surplus of money to throw around, these events can be really stressful. I really wish people would be a bit more sensitive to that...

  3. I have to say, the cost factor is one thing I'm grateful for that I've never been in anyone else's wedding but mine. But even when friends are getting married and you're not in the wedding there are major costs involved. Shower gifts, wedding gifts, bachelorette party night out costs, etc.

    It might not be the best etiquette, but when I'm invited to multiple showers or a shower and the wedding, I often only buy one gift and give it at the shower. I'm not made of money...

    Hub's been in two weddings and one required us to fly halfway across the country where plane tix cost $400 each! :(

  4. i'm the kind of person who would much rather spend the money on a great vacation than have a big wedding. and i've had some amazing vacations on shoe-string budgets!

    but whenever i think of people spending insane amounts of money of their wedding i always think of this:

  5. It's amazing what people will spend on a wedding. But I can understand where you are as you only have so much money & that needs to be spent carefully. I also think that you have a great idea about getting something that will be able to be worn elsewhere. I hope you're able to find the right gift--have you shopped at any thrift stores in your area? You never know what you might find for a gift, sometimes donated items are still brand new or close.

    Hope you have fun at the wedding & see the movie '4 Weddings & a Funeral' before you go! :)

  6. Totally identify with this post. I'm also a grad student and am now seeing tons of friends having babies. Most are already married. LOL. I love them to DEATH. It's rough because something I wonder, "Why can't I have a party to celebrate being hard working, single, fabulous and independent?"
    I am totally sending out announcements when I finish the MS part of my PhD. I mean... having an MS is like having a baby. And having a PhD is like having quadruplets. For serious.

  7. I must say I was invited to be in a wedding of a roomate, but I ended up having to bail because I was going to be in England during the time the wedding was taking place. But I can imagine it gets expensive...however, I've not had the rite of passage either, which is probably ok because I'd cry and be jealous that I wasn't getting married...but that's another issue :)

  8. You make so many good points. I can't even put all the comments I have about people's tunnel vision about their own weddings. It is such a burden that it causes anxiety for many in the wedding party.

  9. Hi Mei,
    Wow, your score is pretty good! I still need to work on mine...

    Hi Talli,
    I know; it's like, I don't want to rain on their parade (or in this case, wedding day), but it can be pretty expensive.

    Hi Kara,
    I think the one gift idea is a good one; I only gave one gift because I figured that I was spending enough money on everything else already.
    And a $400 ticket, eeps!

    Hi mi,
    Those pictures from that website are hilarious! Fortunately, I got to pick out my own dress, so I didn't have to wear anything like those bridesmaids did.

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    Actually, the wedding already happened, but I wrote about it as a submission for 20 Something Bloggers' Blog Carnival; the theme was Friends and Money. And I love 4 Weddings and a Funeral! That movie's awesome. I do wish they had shown how Hugh Grant and the woman he was going to marry ended up together, because she was kind of scary at first. :)

    Hi pixie658,
    It would be great if we could throw parties celebrating the single life. That would be fun. And you should throw a party when you finish the MS; you'll have earned it.

    Hi catherine,
    I wish I could've gone to England too.
    I wouldn't have minded spending money on that. :)

    Hi Theresa,
    Weddings can totally cause tunnel vision. I don't know how wedding planners do it, because they have to deal with that kind of stuff every day.