Money Moments

I’m glad I was broke when I got married

By: Elamin Abdelmahmoud on August 15, 2019
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Money is a funny thing. It’s tangled up with just about every aspect of our lives — from where we live, to what we eat and the quality of our relationships — so it’s no wonder that all of us have opinions on what we should do with it. But what shaped our approach to money in the first place? What pivotal moment forever changed the way we think about our finances? To explore these questions, we’re introducing MONEY MOMENTS — a regular series where Canadians reflect on a moment in their lives that shaped their attitudes toward money. 


My wife and I married during a financially tumultuous time in our lives in 2012. It was months after I graduated university, and my then-fiancé and I decided — with no plan — to move from Kingston to Toronto. She had limited grad student funding, but we figured, Yeah, that’ll cover us until I find a job. You know, the thing that grows on job trees.

We’d set the August date for our wedding before we moved, committing to it before we had a complete financial picture. But because we were crazy about one another and excited to be married, we used our lack of financial stability to our advantage: since we were young and barely out of university, expectations for our wedding would be in accordance with that reality.

In other words, no one expected us to be able to afford a lavish affair.  

But increasingly, a lavish affair is what weddings have become. The numbers will make you grimace. In 2014, the average Canadian wedding cost $31,685. That number is no doubt higher now than it was back then.

This country’s $5 billion-dollar wedding industry happily comes prepared to take your money with services ranging from pricey photographers (probably worth it) to pricey social media concierges who will live-Instagram your wedding (probably not worth it).

If I’m being honest, I actually would want to spend that kind of money on our big day, if we were to do it all over again. Have you seen how fun wedding photobooths are? But the fact that we couldn’t ended up saving us from financial peril. I know couples who chose not to rein in their spending, and are still in credit card debt from their weddings, years later.

Now, further into our careers, we’ve noticed a massive shift as we’ve started attending weddings of friends who are more established. With extraordinary venues and extensive decorations and magnificent light shows, it’s become apparent that it’s easy to spend a lot of money on a wedding, even when you weren’t planning to.

I actually would want to spend that kind of money on our big day, if we were to do it all over again. But the fact that we couldn’t ended up saving us from financial peril

The hard truth is, as I attend these breathtaking weddings, I often think about how hard it would’ve been to escape the expectations to meet the bar they set.

For us, that wasn’t an option. Though we moved to Toronto with ample hopes of finding work easily, the reality wasn’t so simple. It took months of searching before I finally landed a job and ultimately, it turned out not to be a great fit. (Never take a position you have a foreboding feeling about.) Then, the week before I got married, after just one month on the job, I got fired. Sure, the work paid poorly, required me to get up at 4:45 a.m. and commute 1.5 hours each way, but still: it was a job, and suddenly, nine days before we were to get hitched, it was gone.

Losing a job I disliked was not a tragedy. Losing a job before we were about to throw a party for 140 guests, however, was panic-inducing. Family offered to assist with the expenses of our already modest wedding, including paying for things like the flowers. We accepted, unsure of what the future would bring.

But we steadied ourselves with reminders that we were making sure not to go wild with the cost of our wedding. We relied on two brilliant friends to serve as our photographers; the wedding party assembled the centrepieces the night before; a generous friend prepared our wedding cake; we even got the DJ using a coupon from Groupon. All in all, we spent less than half of what the average Canadian wedding cost at that time. It didn’t even enter our minds to spend more.

By necessity (but also because we are blessed with a community of talented and giving friends), we drew on others’ generosity to make the most special parts of our wedding happen — and boy did they deliver.

We didn’t have the luxury to make that choice back then; we kept the wedding bare bones simply because we had to. And, ultimately, that helped us focus on the joy and the presence of our loved ones instead of the luxuries. It helped us avoid long-term money problems, too.

That might seem like a disadvantage, but I see it differently. Our wedding was absolutely brilliant, and one of the best nights of our lives. There was joy and dancing and love, celebrations with our closest friends and family, howls of laughter and tears of tenderness. 

It was, truly, everything we could’ve asked for.

Illustration by Janice Wu.