By Wynona Latham
Even though it rained when Musa and Lebo Zondi got married in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the celebrations lasted the whole weekend.
By the end of the weekend, they had spent R250 000. For Zondi and his wife, the wedding was a long-term investment. After they met in 2004, they began saving money for the ceremony in order to have the best possible wedding.
According to the financial director of the Sandton Debt Counselling (SDC), Nadia de Weerdt, Zondi’s case is unusual.
“Weddings should be a long term goal. It should be something you save towards. Too many times I see people who just take out loans for a wedding and regret it,” she said.
Being able to save allowed Zondi to afford a R250 000 wedding but de Weerdt argues that people are spending more on weddings without saving for them.
“These days weddings can be R100 000, and for most people even if mom and dad chip in, you still need a loan to get the wedding you want but can’t necessarily afford,” she said. Registered with the National Credit Regulator, SDC is part of SA Debt Counsellors, which has branches all over South Africa.
“I think that there is a serious issue of entitlement in South Africa. People want things; they want them now; and they want to pay for it later. I’ve seen people get a credit card just to travel overseas and then another card to pay off the first one. It’s terrifying,” said de Weerdt.
This tendency to overspend extends to weddings, de Weerdt notes. “When it comes to weddings, some people will just keep spending without looking at it realistically. Then imagine after the honeymoon, you open your credit card bill and you’re stuck with debt for the next ten years,” she said.
Wedding planner, Emily Lockhart believes that those who spend the most on weddings are people between 26 and 35 years old. “Usually it’s the parents who pay which means that the children feel free to spend more,” she said.
In terms of what people spend on, Lockhart argues that food is what places the biggest strain on a wedding budget. “It is the biggest thing they need to think about in terms of what they want. Some venues sound reasonable and then they hit you with hidden costs. Especially with things like bar tabs,” she said.
Fellow wedding planner, Pam Gray agrees with this noting that a wedding meal costs on average R300-R350 per person.
“It’s also about venue. Where you get married is very important because there are so many other costs in connection to that such as accommodation. For example, wine estates are expensive because they know they can be,” she said.
Both Gray and Lockhart note that spending on weddings has changed to also favour décor. “I have seen an increasing trend in choosing things such as flowers and decorations,” said Gray “People want to express themselves in their weddings so they are looking for something to make their wedding different”.
Lockhart notes that this rise in décor could be linked to the need for status. “People want their wedding to leave an impression. To show the world that they are a certain kind of person and that they have the money to back it up,” she said.
Lockhart argues that when it comes to spending on weddings people need to spend what they can afford.
“Don’t take out a loan rather be creative and have a picnic. Debt in the beginning of a marriage might cause depression and stress which could negatively impact the marriage,” she said.
When it comes to spending for the wedding, both Gray and Lockhart point out that whatever you buy, a wedding budget is also very important.
“It should be the first thing you think about. Do an estimate in the beginning on how much you should be spending. It’s important not to start your wedding in debt,” said Gray.
Zondi argues that its better financial planning that allowed them to have a great wedding.
“We both paid for the wedding. We had been saving up for it because a wedding is definitely a long term commitment. We avoided loans and simply waited. You should save for it or else the debt could ruin what the wedding is trying to build” he said.
Weerdt points out that the debt caused by a wedding does impact the future of the wedding.
“Long term debt creates problems like stress and depression. We worked with the South African Depression and Anxiety around how debt impacts you emotionally. People need to ask for help with debt and financially planning,” she said.
Editor of South African Weddings, Leozette Roode argues that assuming everyone is spending a lot on weddings in South Africa would be disingenuous.
“In South Africa you can get a lot more for your money than you could in most other countries. There are so many talented wedding professionals in South Africa and the options are so diverse that you can really have anything you want,” she said.
According to Roode, it is not about how you spend but it’s about what you want to portray.
“Weddings are a bespoke service, every wedding is different. People want to make their weddings unique and as a result the costs are higher than in most other functions. Again, it’s about what you as a couple want, dreams tend to be luxurious. It is also about the number of guests you need to entertain, costs can rise exponentially,” she said.
Another factor in the spending around a wedding is lobola.
“It is a very important part of our culture. It’s about seeing if this man will be able to look after my daughter. Sometimes people just want to make a quick buck which is not my understanding. Lobola is supposed to be about establishing a relationship. In the old days it was cattle which were used to plough and throw water. It’s an investment to build the family,” Zondi said.
His daughter, Phumzile, is planning to get married. “I have gotten the money. It’s not that I need the money but I now know that he is a hard worker and take responsibility for himself,” Zondi said.
“I think that people misunderstand how money is supposed to work in a relationship. There is a sense that we have to prove to other people that we can afford to do things even when we are not financially capable. Weddings are a sign of commitment to your partner, not to other people.” said Zondi.
* This article is part of a series produced to support the Heartlines Values & Money campaign to encourage South Africans to think about how they earn, spend, save, borrow and give away their money.
* This article was first published in The New Age on 15 January 2014.