Weddings are all about two people celebrating their love for each other. However, even modest celebrations cost money, and unless the betrothed or their parents are prepared for these costs, couples may enter marriage under a mountain of debt - which is a sure way to damage the best of relationships.

When Rosemary Leaver and Hylton Ball decided to get married after seven years of courtship, they set their hearts on an elegant, lavish wedding. Rosemary (28), who is doing her masters in economics at the University of Cape Town, and Hylton (27), who is a chemical engineer, realised that their wedding was going to be costly. But when Rosemary tallied up the costs, two months after their April 2 wedding day, even she was stunned by the grand total: R116 980, excluding a honeymoon in Mauritius, which set the couple back about R42 000.

"I was absolutely shocked to discover how much the basics came to in the end. You don't realise how the costs are adding up at the time, even if you have a budget, as we did," Rosemary says. Although her parents covered most of the costs, Rosemary and Hylton contributed what they could to the wedding and tried to save costs wherever possible. "We are just very lucky - and so grateful to our parents. I think my dad started saving some time ago," Rosemary says.

Robynne and Graeme Hastie, of Glenwood in Durban, tied the knot in September last year. Robynne (23) is a receptionist and Graeme (29) is a service adviser for a car dealership. When they announced that they were going to get married, Robynne's mother offered the couple money instead of a wedding. "But Robynne wanted the whole traditional thing," Diane Hempel, Robynne's mother, says. "She had always dreamed of a fairy-tale wedding, and we tried our best - on a limited budget - to give her this," Diane says.

The wedding cost R37 365. Robynne's father contributed R13 000 and Robynne and Graeme contributed R5 000.

Diane, who sells cars for a living, started saving for the wedding eight months before the big day. "Robynne and Graeme were both very stressed about how much it was costing me, but eventually relaxed about it.

"I have no regrets about what I spent," Diane says. "When you have only one child, you have only one opportunity to plan a wedding, and we thoroughly enjoyed it."

Not all couples are this fortunate. For many couples, their wedding is their first big joint expense. Karen Barnard (27) and Darius Agenbag (32) from Randpark Ridge, north of Johannesburg, got married in December last year. Karen, a project manager, and Darius, a sales manager, paid for their wedding themselves. Both self-confessed bargain hunters, they spent R21 868 on their wedding, and about R10 000 on a two-week honeymoon in Namibia.

Karen and Darius raised the money from their home loan and from their savings. "We decided that we wouldn't spend more than what we could comfortably pay back into the bond over three months," Karen says. "Considering we weren't willing to take on more debt than that, we had realistic expectations of what we could afford and didn't overspend."

Celebration House, a wedding information and exhibition centre in Cape Town, carries regular polls on its website (www.celebrationhouse.co.za), canvassing couples who are about to tie the knot. Judging from the respondents' answers, 40 percent of couples pay for their weddings themselves and about 45 percent of couples co-pay for the wedding along with both sets of parents. Perhaps for this reason, most couples (38 percent of those polled) plan to spend less than R25 000 on their wedding.

Pam Black, the owner of Celebration House, says many couples don't have a realistic idea of what an average wedding today costs. "Sadly, it is only once they start planning in earnest that they discover that it is the little things that quickly add up to a lot!

"Weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime celebration and I have witnessed people overlooking their allocated budget for the sake of creating a memorable occasion. When one does this with every detail, the results can often be scary - especially for the father of the bride!"

Black says that it is not uncommon for a wedding to cost in the region of R75 000 to R100 000.

Aleit Swanepoel, a Cape Town-based wedding and function co-ordinator, has been organising weddings in the Western Cape for the past 12 years. About 50 percent of Swanepoel's clients are local couples. He estimates that a wedding of no fewer than 30 guests can amount to about R2 000 a head (or R60 000 in total), and a wedding of at least 50 guests costs a minimum of R1 000 a head (or R50 000). This excludes the wedding attire, accommodation costs and transport.

"Our couples are more mature, and thus tend to cover all expenses themselves, without involving the parents. They are independent and in a lot of cases they earn more than their folks." He estimates, however, that when the bridal couple's parents do assist with the costs, the parents pay for about 40 percent of the wedding expenses.

Most of the couples surveyed on Celebration House's website planned to invite between 80 and 120 guests to their wedding. Rosemary and Hylton catered for 82 guests, Robynne and Graeme had 75, and Karen and Darius had 83. In each case, the biggest expense was the reception, followed by the wedding attire and the flowers.

Until debt us do part …

A wedding can cost you as much or as little as you have to spend. But, assuming the big day is in the not-too-distant future and you haven't saved enough - or any - money for the occasion, what options do you have to finance a wedding?

"Going the credit route, either by loan, credit card or overdraft, to finance your wedding is not a sound principle, as the burden of debt is likely to influence your future plans, for example, to buy a house," Janet Johnston, the chief operating officer of Core Banking Solutions at First National Bank, says.

She advises against a long-term credit option to finance a wedding, because you continue repaying capital and interest long after you have used the money.

Interest

Any form of credit will cost you interest. Whether you are accessing finance by way of a personal loan, overdraft, credit card or home loan, the interest rate that you will be charged will depend on your credit rating, the loan amount and the term of the loan.

Interest is linked to the prime lending rate, which is currently 10.5 percent, but it may range from prime minus two percent to as much as prime plus six-and-a-half percent.

In terms of the Usury Act, banks may not charge you more than a specified maximum under the Act, and the maximum is currently 17 percent.

Personal loan

Provided that you are creditworthy, most banks will grant you a personal loan, which you can use for whatever purpose you choose, including to finance your wedding. The amount that a bank is prepared to loan you will depend on your income, the risk that you pose to the bank and, in some cases, your relationship with the bank.

If you are granted a personal loan from one of the big four banks (Absa, First National Bank, Nedbank or Standard Bank), the minimum you can borrow ranges from R2 000 to R8 000, and the maximum ranges from R9 000 to R75 000, depending on the bank.

Standard Bank, for example, will lend you between one and three-and-a-half times your gross monthly income. The minimum amount it will lend you is R3 500 and the maximum amount you could qualify for is R75 000.

Overdraft

An overdraft is a loan facility that is usually linked to your current account. The amount you qualify for depends on your income and credit risk. You use as little or as much of the overdraft amount as you need, and pay interest only on that portion. The interest rate you pay depends on your credit risk and is calculated on your daily outstanding balance, but is charged to your account once a month. Rates usually vary between the prime rate and the Usury Act maximum.

Credit card

The interest rates levied on credit cards are not negotiable. They are determined by the type of credit card for which you qualify. For example, if you have a gold or platinum card, you would enjoy the best debit interest rate that the bank has on offer, which would be between 10.5 percent and 17 percent. But if you have a standard, bottom-of-the-range credit card, your interest rate would be between 16.75 percent and 20 percent. Interest charged on credit cards is high compared with interest on personal loans and overdrafts.

As a general rule, you should avoid spending on your credit card unless you have the intention and the means to pay it off in full at the end of each month.

If you don't pay it off each month, you will be charged interest on the full amount owing as reflected on your statement, and not the outstanding balance.

Home loan

The "cheapest" source of credit may well be your home loan. Home loans are classed as "secured" lending, because if you default on your payments, the bank can recover its money.

With a personal loan, overdraft or credit card, no security is required, and for that reason the interest is usually higher - prime plus up to six-and-a-half percent. With a home loan, on the other hand, you usually pay prime less up to two percent.

When borrowing from your home loan, you may only borrow as much as you have already paid off. The term of most home loans is 20 years, and the danger of borrowing from your home loan is that you can stretch your repayments over the term of your bond.

Not only is this very costly, but it can also result in you being perpetually in debt.

Advice

Debbie Netto-Jonker, a Cape Town-based financial planner, says she would strongly advise against borrowing to pay for a wedding.

"The willingness of young people to commit to debt contributes to the high divorce rate in South Africa. The stress associated with debt is subliminally strong," Netto-Jonker says.

"Couples these days have to be emotionally mature to withstand the pressure to have expensive weddings that they cannot afford," she says. "Rather than ‘marry now, pay later', I would like to see couples marrying now and playing later.

"By this I mean, couples should strive to be free of unreasonable debt (a property and a modest car can be termed as reasonable debt) and in a position to enjoy their money, rather than enjoying the bank's money, which only encourages you to live beyond your means," Netto-Jonker says.

Even if you have money to spend on your wedding, she says rather than blow it all on the "big day" you could put it to better use as a deposit on your home. "A marriage gets off to a bad start when under financial pressure. When you add children to the mix a few years later, it only adds to the financial pressure."

If you have no choice but to get married on credit, Netto-Jonker says your access bond is a much better bet than a credit card, because the interest rate is a lot lower. But this option is only worthwhile if you replenish the bond as fast as possible.

"If you are not disciplined, then a personal loan from a bank is a better option - but watch the interest rates - because you are forced to pay it back over a fixed period," Netto-Jonker says.

When she and her husband Dave got married in 1993, they paid for their wedding out of their savings.

"We had the wedding in our garden, brought in caterers, and had plenty of good food - and good friends and family. And that, to me, is what a wedding is all about: good friends and family - not dresses and smart venues.

"By having the wedding in our garden, we saved ourselves the cost of hiring a venue, a hotel's caterers and a big bar bill. And by saving on the wedding we were able to afford an overseas honeymoon."

Imagine returning home from your honeymoon to find a pile of wedding bills awaiting you. Not very romantic, is it?

Cut your costs

  • Have a morning or lunchtime wedding instead of an evening event. Evening weddings are more expensive because you host your guests for up to eight hours. Morning weddings are usually less elaborate and you save on food, beverages and music. Guests drink less in the morning and over lunch than they do in the evening

  • Have a cash bar instead of an open bar.

  • Keep the bridal party of bridesmaids and groomsmen to a minimum.

  • Slash that guest list. You don't really have to invite all of your parents' friends and business associates. Single people need not bring partners for the sake of it.

  • Choose flowers that are in season and avoid getting married around Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Christmas, when flowers will cost you more.

  • Some service providers offer winter specials, so keep an eye out for these.

    Tips courtesy of Celebration House

    THE R117 000 WEDDING

    Bride: Rosemary Leaver (28)

    Groom: Hylton Ball (27)

    of Claremont, Cape Town

    Married: April 2, 2005

    Number of guests: 82

    The church

    It is customary to pay the church and/or marriage officer who marries you. Rosemary and Hylton got married at St George the Martyr in Klein Drakenstein. They paid a donation of R1 000. The couple's antenuptial contract, drawn up by Fairbridges, Arderne and Lawton, in Cape Town, cost them R950. Total: R1 950

    The reception

    The Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl.

    Aperitifs and savoury canapes for 82 guests: R5 870

    Three-course dinner for 82: R28 290

    …drinks

    Rosemary and Hylton's bar bill came to R12 000.

    …and the music

    String quartet Musica Mundi played for guests while the couple had their photographs taken: R4 500. Later, DJ Gary took over. He charged R3 500 and the Grande Roche charged R3 762 for the dance floor itself. Total: R11 762

    Subtotal: R57 922

    Service fee of 10 percent: R5 792.20

    Total: R63 714.20

    The dress

    Rosemary's dress, veil, garter and handbag were made by Elbeth Gillis Bridal in Cape Town. The cost was R6 500. Elbeth Gillis also made both bridesmaids' dresses, which cost R1 600 each.

    Hair & make-up

    Norine Victor from Solutions Studio did Rosemary's hair and make-up, as well as Rosemary's mom's hair and the bridesmaids' hair: R2 550

    Total: R12 250

    The suits

    Hylton's suit, shirt, tie and shoes came to R6 390, and his groomsmen's shirts and ties cost R760. Total: R7 150

    Stationery

    By Blueprint Design Studio in Cape Town: Invitations, including map and gift registry details, order of service booklets, seating plan, table numbers and menus, guest book, thank you cards and photo albums. Total: R9 599.70

    The cake

    The wedding cake was a fruitcake, made by the bride's mother, covered in fondant icing - with monogram - by Frances Bell. Total: R1 235

    Flowers

    To-Nett's in Paarl did the bride's bouquet, bridesmaids' bouquets, corsages and buttonholes, as well as the flowers in the church and at the reception. The florist also supplied chair covers and decorations on the serviettes. Total: R10 881.30

    Photos

    By Jan Theron. R6 400

    Video

    By Theresa Theron. R3 800

    Karen and Darius Agenbag's wedding budget

    Bride: Karen Barnard (27)

    Groom: Darius Agenbag (32)

    Married: December 11, 2004

    of Randpark Ridge, Gauteng

    Number of guests: 83

    Antenuptial contract: Lawyer friend: R200

    Marriage officer's fee: Brother-in-law

    Wedding gown: Bridal Couture, Grandiflora flower market, City Deep: R3 200

    Bridesmaid's dresses: Bridesmaid paid R300 for her dress to be made

    Make-up: Bride did her own

    Hairstylist: Mai Lai, Randridge Mall, Randpark Ridge: R130

    Suit hire: Groom wore own suit. Bought shirt from Edgars: R130. Hired a suit for best man, Euro Suit, Bruma: R220

    Flowers: Grandiflora flower market, City Deep (2 of gerberas per table): R800

    Draping & chair covers: Gianni's function hire, Midrand: R838

    Venue (ceremony & reception): Gardenworld Nursery, Muldersdrift (champagne breakfast): R13 000

    Drinks: Juice and sparkling grape juice: R1 500

    Wedding cake: Cupcakes with butterflies: R250

    Music: Marc Maurel, wedding singer and friend of the couple

    Sound system and music: Friend

    Gifts for guests: Organza bag with chocolates: R500

    Photographer: Trevor Crighton, friend of a friend (charged for CD only): R500

    Photos: Disposable cameras on the tables: R300

    Video: Friend

    Wedding stationery: Bought paper from Herbert Evans and printed on own PC: R300

    TOTAL: R21 868

    Robynne and Graeme Hastie's wedding budget

    Bride: Robynne Hempel (23)

    Groom: Graeme Hastie (29)

    of Glenwood, Durban

    Married: September 11, 2004

    Number of guests: 75

    Antenuptial contract: Jeanne Vogel of Vogel Vandersandt, La Lucia: R595

    Church hire, minister, organist, etc: Lutheran church, Assagay: R1 030

    Wedding gown: Bridal Boutique, Musgrave: R3 000

    Tiara, veil, petticoat: Bridal Boutique, Musgrave: R400

    Bridesmaid's dress: Fabric and dressmaker: R1 450

    Hairstylist: For bride, bridesmaid, bride's mother and flower girls: R525

    Make-up artist: Karen Chan, Durban (bride and mom, including trial run): R450

    Suit hire: For groom, two bestmen and father, Debonairs: R720

    Flowers: Sweetpea, Umhlanga: R3 800

    Flowers in church: Supplied and arranged by a relative

    Vase and candle hire: Candles for Africa, Umhlanga: R660

    Fairy lights, draping/overlays: Party Decor, Briardene: R580

    Venue/reception: Stonehaven Castle, Shongweni (R150 per guest): R11 250

    Drinks: For reception only (wine, malt, cooldrinks and alcopops): R2 400

    Wedding cake: Lee Bayleaf & Brinjal, Durban North: R1 080

    Music/DJ: Glen Meaker, Natal DJs, Durban: R1 700

    Gifts for guests: Wix 'n Wax, Hillcrest (rose candles in organza): R420

    Photographer: Rob das Neaves, Durban: R5 700

    Video: Friend of the groom

    Wedding stationery: Des Potter of Very Inviting, Durban North: R895

    Seal and organza: For invites and candles: R180

    Extras: Bridesmaid's jewellery, bride's shoes, garter: R510

    TOTAL: R37 365


    This article was first published in Personal Finance magazine, 3rd Quarter 2005.
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