I’m a big fan of marriage. It has been very good to me. And despite the bad rap it usually gets in our popular culture, marriage really is a terrific arrangement – especially, but not surprisingly, for men. Married men earn 20% more than their single counterparts, report higher levels of happiness, and live longer. If men could get those results in a pill it would outsell Viagara ten to one.
What isn’t so beneficial is the ridiculously elaborate ceremony our culture demands to commemorate the occasion. Reuters recently reported that the average U.S. wedding now costs a staggering $27,021. A wedding in high-price Manhattan averages $65,824.
You’d think young couples would have far better uses for $27,000 than a single day’s celebration. In case they need help breaking with tradition, here are six life-changing suggestions for how to use that cash.
1) Travel around the world for an entire year
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, a year traveling the world can cost far less than a year of staying at home.
Warren and Betsy Talbot of Married with Luggage, for example, set out in 2010 with a $100 per day budget. After traveling through South America, spending five months in high-cost Europe, and many more months in Asia, they’ve shattered their budget. And by shatter, I mean they spent about 40% less than they originally planned.
Their first full year of travel cost them $24,140, about three thousand less than the typical U.S. wedding.
Rather than a fancy dress, flowers and a D.J., a young couple could experience the world in a way few people do. Along the way, they’ll accumulate the kinds of memories and experiences that bind couples together and make their relationships stronger. They’ll discover things about each other that takes others decades to learn.
It’s hard to imagine a better way than this to begin the life-long journey called marriage.
2) Fund a $500,000 retirement portfolio
Only 40% of American workers have accumulated savings of at least $25,000. Simply banking the cost of a wedding makes you wealthier than 60% of the U.S. population. Left untouched and invested in a diversified portfolio of mutual funds, that balance can reasonably grow into a $500,000 retirement portfolio by the time these newlyweds reach age 65.
Considering that money troubles are the number one source of conflict among couples, that financial cushion may go a long way toward insuring the marriage stays happy long after the “big” day.
3) Buy a house
With a median home price of $158,000, our wedding budget gets us pretty close to a 20% down payment on the average American house.
But we at EverywhereOnce don’t strive for average. If we did, we’d have spent a fortune on our wedding and be struggling to make mortgage payments on the largest house we could afford. Instead, we prefer the less conventional approach of Billy and Akaisha of Retire Early Lifestyle who retired at the age of 38 and have spent the past two decades traveling the world.
They solved the problem of high overhead U.S. housing with what they call a “low maintenance, high amenity, humble abode.” Their fully paid for pad in an active adult resort community cost them tens of thousands instead of hundreds. Their low cost, secure community allows them to travel several months each year while also keeping an affordable home base here in the states.
Of course their manufactured housing doesn’t have the same cache most Americans expect from their homes. But once you start viewing housing as mere shelter instead of a status symbol, it becomes obvious that paying more doesn’t really get you more. In fact, we’re far happier living in a 300 sqf motor home than we would be in a house ten times its size.
4) Pay for 4 years of in-state college tuition
According to the College Board, average annual in-state tuition for a bachelor’s degree at public universities was $6,604 in 2011, or $26,416 for the four year program.
While it’s true that a college degree no longer guarantees you a job, college grads still earn nearly 70% more on average than someone with only a high school diploma. Even in a tough economy that has led many to question the value of higher education, the unemployment rate for those with at least a bachelor’s degree is half that of those who just graduated high school (4.0% versus 7.9%).
You won’t get that kind of return on investment paying for a wedding hall.
5) Be the boss
Why work for the man when you can work for yourself?
Starting a business can be expensive. Not only do you need to pay for supplies but, if you’re working at it full time, you need to feed yourself during the initial stages. $27,000 buys a lot of Ramen noodles to keep you going during those early lean years.
One way to jumpstart your entrepreneurial ambitions is with a franchise. Franchises give you a ready-made blueprint for an already successful business, but these too have upfront costs. This list of 10 low-cost franchises has many that come in below our wedding budget.
For more help getting started, have a gander at our piece How to build a Mobile Business.
Now get to work!
6) Transform a community
About half the world’s population lives on an annual income of $1,250 or less. For the price of one U.S. wedding, you could support a median income individual for 22 years.
There are dozens of worthy organizations that would make better use of our wedding dollars than do caterers and florists. One we’ve highlighted in the past is Heifer International. They provide livestock and training to some of the world’s neediest communities. They then multiply each donation’s impact by requiring recipients to gift some of the livestock offspring to other eligible families. They’re an organization that, we believe, is making meaningful differences in people’s lives.
For the price of a floral arrangement ($500), Heifer can deliver a cow to a hungry family.
“A good dairy cow can produce four gallons of milk a day – enough for a family to drink and share with neighbors. Milk protein transforms sick, malnourished children into healthy boys and girls. The sale of surplus milk earns money for school fees, medicine, clothing and home improvements.
Better still, every gift multiplies, as the animal’s first offspring is passed on to another family – then they also agree to pass on an animal, and so on.
And because a healthy cow can produce a calf every year, every gift will be passed on and eventually help an entire community move from poverty to self reliance. Now that’s a gift worth giving!”
For $25K Heifer can deliver the “Gift of Transformation;” basically an entire farm with the training needed to maintain and grow it. For the cost of their wedding, newlyweds can feed and promote the economic development of an entire community for generations to come. That is a truly awe inspiring thing. And a pretty terrific wedding present, too.