The BEST Financial Decision We’ve Made So Far

Hint: It’s about a wedding.

The best financial decision the husband and I have made thus far in our relationship was one made years ago. Instead of having a wedding, we got married at a courthouse. With the money we saved, we put a down payment on our first home. Although we weren’t as financially literate as we are now, we knew that a wedding didn’t make financial sense. We knew that we wanted to spend our money more wisely than on a one day event, and we knew we could make our day special in a way that honored our goals of homeownership. 

We Want a House!

Soon after we got engaged, I started really wanting to buy a house. I had no clue how to do this, but I was hellbent on figuring it out. I downloaded the Zillow app, and looked at houses daily. My husband hesitated when I would get into ‘house talk’, thinking we couldn’t afford a home. I didn’t know how much house we could afford, but I knew we could afford to pay a mortgage. We were spending way less than 50% our income on housing, it was more like 15%, so we had room to spend more and still have enough left over every month to save and spend. But first, we had to learn more information.

I found out about a wonderful organization in Portland, Oregon called the African American Alliance for Homeownership. The staff here are amazing! Especially the staff that leads home-buying workshops. The first time homebuyer class costs $30 per participant for class materials. The class is an 8 hour weekend workshop, and if I recall correctly it takes place over the course of two Saturdays. I’m sure things look different now, as they are offering online workshops. But if you live in the Pacific Northwest, I can’t recommend this resource enough. Even if you aren’t located near Portland, don’t be deterred because these kinds of organizations are everywhere.

Once we took the class, we felt confident moving forward in our search. We started touring houses with our agent (who came highly recommended by a colleague who’d just purchased a home). When I walked into our current house, I knew this was the one. I just knew it. My husband was a lot more logical about it, but for me, it was a feeling. I imagined starting our family here. Three years later my vision has become my reality. 

One thing about our search that I am happy about: we didn’t get pre-approved for the maximum loan amount we could get. We knew that just because someone agreed to give us a loan for a high amount, doesn’t mean it’s what we can afford or what’s in our best interest. We didn’t want a loan that would translate into us buying a house that we had to spend 50% of our income on just to make the minimum monthly mortgage payment. We wanted to continue within our means. So before we got pre-approved for a loan, we looked at houses in the area that met my needs (husband was okay with any house) at the lowest price points possible, and decided our maximum mortgage amount. The home we purchased fell into that range, so we stayed in our budget. This process made me realize that having a budget is crucial when buying a home.

If I could do it again: We would have purchased a duplex as our first home, renting out the other unit. We live and we learn! On to the wedding wedding stuff…

Weddings Aren’t For Everyone

I am a private person. Hence why this blog is a big deal for me. My other half is the same. We like being cozy at home. So, when we got engaged, the anxiety of planning a wedding set in for me immediately. I have been known as Type A, a perfectionist, and rigid by those who know me well. Being such a regimented individual doesn’t bode well for event planning. I need everything to be absolutely mind-blowingly amazing, or I don’t want to do it at all. I knew that a wedding that would meet my standards would cost over $40,000. I couldn’t imagine other people spending money to help us with this, it didn’t seem right. We make good money, so I thought that whatever we did, we should pay for everything. Ultimately, I decided not to do it at all. Once I made the declaration that I didn’t want to plan a traditional wedding, my husband immediately agreed, and so we thought of alternatives. 

Not Quite a Wedding, Not an Elopement

For starters, I don’t know if I can call what we did a wedding. To get this figured out I had to Google the definition of wedding and elopement. A wedding is a commitment ceremony between two people, usually including an accompanying celebration. An elopement occurs without the knowledge of friends and family, especially parents. Our parents knew we were getting married, so it definitely wasn’t an elopement. I guess it was a wedding, minus the accompanying ‘celebration’ part. 

Our wedding consisted of us going to a courthouse, reciting vows, and going to dinner afterward. My mother flew out to be our witness, and that was very special to me. My mother-in-law planned a party for the following year for us to celebrate with extended family and friends. I knew an up-and-coming photographer who’d never done wedding photography, I took the risk and asked him to cover the ceremony. My husband already had a few nice formal suits to choose from, and I decided to get a dress for the occasion at the last minute. We got married on a Friday, after we got off of work. Although it wasn’t full of extravagance, it was real. It was special, it was intimate, it was us. 

We Spent Less Than $1,000 on our Courthouse “Wedding”

$140– new dress purchased from David’s Bridal the day of our wedding, it fit great so no alterations were needed. Since we went the informal route, this dress was much less expensive than the wedding gowns in the shop. 

$400– professional photographer 2 hour session 

$35– flowers purchased from grocery store, we made these into one large bouquet and a DIY wedding corsage for my husband

$117– judge fee, this was the fee the judge charged to officiate our wedding at the courthouse

$50– marriage license fee

$200– dinner, my husband paid for dinner for the 3 of us (including my mom) to dine at the fanciest restaurant in our city after our ceremony

FREE– My mom paid for me to get my nails done and purchased a cake for us. I did my own hair in 15 minutes, I just whipped out a flat iron and ran it through my hair, presto! I rarely wear make-up so I barely did anything in that department, so that was free as well. 

Total spent: $942

If we really wanted to be frugal for our wedding, we could have done DIY photos and made dinner at home, that would’ve decreased spending by another $500. But this was a very special occasion, so we splurged in the areas we knew would add to our happiness and keep our stress levels low. 

(Right after saying I DO)

BONUS: Honeymoon

Besides purchasing a home, we also had enough money to pay for our honeymoon in China a couple months after we got married. This was so cool! We went with a tour group.

(This was our tour group. They were so fun!)

(Tiananmen Square)

(Enjoying the Great Wall. Lots of people pee in the corners of the stairways, so yeah, it smells like urine)

I like that we didn’t have a big event, looking back on it, it still feels so right. It was just us, and that’s what our marriage is about, no one else, just us. I want a marriage that lasts. One that helps me become the best version of myself, as I help my partner become the best version of themselves. I don’t see day 1 of marriage as the day we ‘made it’, I see it as the first day of a very long journey. Maybe for our 20 year anniversary, or 50 year anniversary we will do something big. Knowing us, we probably won’t, being in a healthy marriage is enough for us. Who needs a party when you get to spend every day with your best friend? That IS the party!

One last thing: since we purchased our home 3 years ago it’s already increased in value by $60,000. We continue to reap the rewards of our good decision.

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