Sunday, August 15, 2010

Enough About Chelsea’s Wedding

Okay, it is safe to rant now? Chelsea Clinton is safely married, and we can all relax. We didn’t get a last-minute invite to the Wedding of the Year (must’ve been a slow social year), so now we can go back to being middle class and getting scolded for every choice we make. Instead of talking about Chelsea, whose family is rich and does not need to think about setting a modest budget for a wedding, let’s talk about us.

I got married a long time ago but I paid for all the expenses myself out of current income. Did overtime, saved my extra pay, wrote a lot of checks, and paid for the honeymoon out of salary as the bills came in and the paychecks did, too. No wedding debt, and though no day is perfect, the wedding went off well. Best of all, we’re still happily married. I ended up with a fancier wedding than originally planned, because there were so many relatives to please, or not please, as the case may be. (And the flowers cost a fortune.) For most people, a big formal wedding is a once-in-a lifetime event. Sure, if you get married a second or third time, maybe that ceremony will be even more meaningful. Maybe not. Or maybe you’ll celebrate your long-lasting marriage by redoing it all as mature adults and repeating the vows. Regardless, a wedding is a major rite of passage, and people go all out to celebrate it.

I don’t know if I should give Brett Arends of the Wall Street Journal credit for at least trying to write a sensible article about Chelsea Clinton’s expensive wedding, or just jump all over him for how ridiculous his article is. His basic problem seems to be that he knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. My favorite line is, “But if your money earns, say, 4% a year above inflation, every dollar you save at age 20 will grow to about $6 by the time you retire. So that $17,500 will grow to about $100,000.” The $17,500 figure is the median cost of a wedding in America this year. It sounds as if we’re really missing out on a lot of financial growth by daring to spend big money on a wedding.

Here’s the problem with that kind of thinking: What investment reliably earns you 4% above inflation? In what dreamtime is he living? I’ve had a SEP IRA for almost a decade now, index funds, non-index funds, it doesn’t matter. That sick puppy of a stock market account has never yet made me a dollar. Never. Forget about a dollar over inflation. And 4% over? I’m hysterical with laughter. Wall Street mavens might make this kind of money by playing the market. Ordinary people who have other things to do with their lives besides follow the stock market do not make the profits he confidently claims that a wedding will do us out of.

In my book, paying for a wedding is a sure thing, unless there’s some question about whether either the groom or the bride will show up. You organize the affair, get the best of everything you can afford, pay back old social obligations, have a good time, and have a lovely set of memories, often captured on film, to remember. This frankly will be a lot more fun in our old age than the knowledge that there might be an extra few dollars in the bank account. Because it’s only going to be a few dollars, folks. A pitiful few.

So please, plan the biggest wedding you can afford. Invite everybody you know. (Don’t do a destination wedding unless all your pals are rich, because no one will come and all the invitees will hate you.) Enjoy your big day. I hope Chelsea enjoyed hers.

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