When Jordan and Sharly Streiff of Atlanta exchanged vows last August, their white wedding started out in the red.
Sharly lost her job a month before the couple tied the knot. They splurged $700 on his suit and $1,200 on their wedding photography. Since Atlanta heat can reach into the upper 80s in August, they catered the affair with icy popsicles from King of Pops, one of Atlanta’s popular street-food vendors. While the frozen indulgence was a hit among their guests, it cost $500.
Although the couple held their ceremony in a public park for a $30 reservation fee, self-catered the reception, mailed out their own DIY invitations and the groom’s mother picked up the tab for the frozen treats, they charged most of their $6,000 wedding. Credit card debt, a personal loan and student loans swelled their combined debt to $28,000.
“When Sharly didn’t have a job, we were definitely living right on the edge and it hurt seeing almost $1,000 go out every month in debt payments,” said Jordan, a 28-year-old video editor for a news network. “My wife and I had talked about budgeting and paying down my debt, but hadn’t come up with a concrete plan.”
Financial experts often warn couples about plunging into considerable debt as a result of their weddings. While debt overwhelmed the newlyweds at first, they slashed that debt by more than half by scaling back on living and entertainment expenses and using a tandem bike instead of a car.
Their Combined Debt Spiked After the Wedding
Jordan says credit card debt was the unpleasant reminder that lingered from their memorable moment.
A 2012 survey conducted by theknot.com, a wedding website, estimated the national average cost of a wedding is $28,500. Their wedding was only a fraction of that amount, but it was still an overwhelming debt to carry a few months into their marriage.
“It was definitely one of the bigger catalysts. We hadn’t planned on accumulating any debt as a result of the wedding,” he said.
Their combined debt grew to $28,000 by January. It included:
- Subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans totaled $12,000.
- A personal loan for $8,000 at 9 percent interest rate.
- An $8,000 credit card balance at 13.24 percent APR.
“We were paying almost $100 a month in [credit card] interest for [wedding charges],” he said. “Paying every month for a single-day event that already passed kind of sucks.”
A study from TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com shows the national average wedding costs $28,427. The Streiffs spent $6,000 tying the knot by keeping some of the larger costs down, including the bridal gown, photographer and ceremony site.
Light Breaks Through the Dark Cloud of Debt
Sharly, 26, took a job in early 2013 as tech support for a startup company and that helped pay some of that credit card debt.
They paid the credit card off in early July. Now they’re working on the personal loan, which they expect to eliminate from their books before October. “Getting rid of the high interest credit card and loan debt was first priority,” Jordan explained. The couple also carries a credit card with zero percent interest in case of an emergency.
As soon as they have a better financial footing, they will put aside money for an emergency fund. “Once we get to a place where we’re not losing as much money each month to interest payments, I’ll feel much more comfortable building up our savings.”
The next step was starting a strict budget. Jordan posted his resolution on social media, writing “I announced my spending fast on Facebook for accountability’s sake.”
One of the hardest parts for the couple was figuring out the difference between a need and a want when they started budgeting.
“That took a lot of consultation before we came to a compromise that worked for both of us,” Jordan said. The couple agreed that healthcare, food, rent and existing bills are needs that could not be reduced.
Then they scaled back on wants like home decorations and clothes. They also sacrificed some entertainment, including cable, Hulu entertainment streaming service and their Spotify digital music account. The couple kept their Netflix account.
But there have been some obstacles in their quest to save money.
“The biggest change has been our dining habits, from eating out whenever we felt like it to cooking most nights and packing lunches,” he said. The couple tries buying fresh ingredients to encourage their desire to cook, but they still spend about $75 to $100 a week on groceries.
Riding a Tandem Bike Cut Travel Expenses
They consider Atlanta’s public transportation system decent, and since Jordan’s job is close to their home, they decided against owning two cars. He estimates that maintaining two vehicles could cost them $5,000 annually.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are now if we were a two-car household,” Jordan said. “I bike to work and around town, and that saves us at least $400 a month in gas, insurance and maintenance.”
Because Jordan loves cycling, the couple bought a tandem bike to enjoy activities together. Their clever cost-saving measure is the topic of many conversations around town.
“We really bought it so we could enjoy biking together,” he said. “We get lots of looks and comments, especially from kids.”
Plan Your Finances for the Entire Marriage
The traditional gift for the first anniversary is paper, and Jordan and Sharly are seeing more of it — dollar bills — in the bank.
Jordan says their decision to tackle debt had more to do with their long-term goals as a couple than anything else.
He wanted to travel, move to bigger place, and eventually have a child, but debt placed limitations on those goals. “Once I finally made a full assessment of what I owed and what it was keeping me from doing, I started to feel energized rather than scared,” he said.
Jordan credits his wife for helping them stick to their financial commitment.
“Sharly has made a lot of sacrifices while I took steps to pay down what is largely my debt,” Jordan said. “I’m lucky in that regard.”
Julian Hills is a content writer for Debt.org. His journalism career has taken him from newspapers to local television news stations and even a 24-hour cable network in the Southeast. Julian is a graduate of Florida State University who enjoys finding new ways of saving money for football season tickets.