The relative value of debt

12 Mar

Columnists and  commentators and students and parents have been wringing their hands and wailing painfully lately about college debt. Recent studies show that many college students finish with an average of $26,000 worth of education-related debt.

Not good — especially because many grads are having trouble finding work or are taking entry-level jobs that pay maybe $30,000 a year or sometime less.

But a story in today’s Omaha World-Herald says the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. today is $31,000 and that 60 percent of couples age 25-34 pay for their own weddings. If they don’t pay for it, their parents do. Same would be true of college debt. And I’m guessing many young couples getting married do not have the cash to just pay for that wedding on the spot, so at least most of the $31,000 becomes a debt that must be paid.

So which is relatively worse: paying off $26,000 for a four-year (at least) college degree that ought to have made you a more educated person and broadened not only your job opportunities but also, and just as importantly, made your world bigger OR paying off $31,000 for a one-night stand, so to speak?

Yes, I know the $31,000 goes for more than the wedding ceremony itself. It’s amazing and appalling how the wedding industry has expanded and raised expectations so that even families and couples of modest means now expect to throw a week’s worth of parties, buy a contemptuously expensive dress to be worn ONCE, pile on the booze, the flowers, the candies, the dinner, the gift-for-everyone-who attends, the limousine, the 600-photo album and the honeymoon to a dream destination.

Don’t get me wrong. I love weddings. I love seeing a couple pledge their lives to each other, surrounded by dozens or even hundreds of people they love. And I love celebrating with a (modest) party afterward. But $31,000? Give me a break.

I wonder if we’ve reached the point that, for some or perhaps many, having a wedding is more important  than having a marriage. After the excitement of the parties and the dancing and the honeymoon, could it be a bit difficult to settle into a life where you need to get up and go to work every day? Where you see each other cranky, bored or depressed and have to deal with it? Where you have to work — hard — at building a life together, not just planning an event together?

Which debt holds more value: the one incurred through years of studying and learning or the one incurred through a couple of weeks of partying? Hmmm. Not a hard decision for me.

If you think it’s worth spending $31,000 on a wedding, go for it. But I don’t want to hear any more whining about college debt. Wedding debt is an indulgence; education debt is an investment.

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