The Control Your Cash Mailbag, Part I of II

Got a question? Submit it to info at Control Your Cash dot com. Today we discuss college education and weddings, two of our favorite topics. Our long-winded answers follow, with more mailbag goodness on Friday.

This pigeon has more financial sense than some of our readers


Dear CYC:

I’m a junior at a fairly prestigious (non-Ivy League) school in the northeast. I’m doing a double major in English and philosophy, and maintaining a 2.5 average. My student loan balance currently stands at $29,708.48.

Even though I still have another year to go, the problem is that all the job fairs around campus specify “engineering majors preferred” or “mathematics and business students only need apply” or some such thing. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s going to be a job for me once I graduate. I know that the average college graduate makes $1 million more over the course of his career than someone who never went to college, so I’m not worried. But a little advice would be nice.

Trenton in Ithaca

Dear Trenton:

Thanks for writing. You’re an imbecile. A college-educated one, but still. That old and misleading axiom about going to college being worth $1 million is an example of paying attention to the mean while ignoring the standard deviation, two relatively simple statistical concepts that they were teaching in the adjacent building while you were busy trying to make sense of William Faulkner. The students who earn marketable degrees each average well over $1 million more in earnings than their counterparts who never attended college. In fact, those students will make so much money that they’ll lift the average up, even though you and your fellow English and philosophy majors are dragging it down.

The hard sciences will always be in demand. There’s a reason they’re called “hard”, by the way. To learn chemistry or zoology, you can’t simply wait until the night before a paper’s due, spew 3000 words on the page, and hope that proper grammar and spelling will at least get you a C. Go into any Starbucks (or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or Seattle’s Best) and you’ll be greeted by college-educated employees who are thin, sallow, well-spoken and impoverished. Most of them are loath to admit the stark reality that they wasted (at least) 4 years of their lives and will never recoup the costs of their education.

Drop out now. Go to a local trade school and study to become an electrician or an HVAC tech. It’ll cost next to nothing compared to what you’ve wasted so far. You’re not going to listen to that, but if you run the numbers you’ll realize that you can still salvage your life and build some positive net worth before it’s too late.


Dear CYC:

My boyfriend finally proposed!!!!! I’m so excited!!!!! Sorry I know you hate excalamation points but I couldn’t help myself. Anyhow, we’re planning the wedding for next summer. I found the PERFECT dress and the PERFECT bridesmaid dresses. We’ve decided we’re going to hold the ceremony on Santa Catalina Island and maybe turn it into an all-week affair, invite all our friends and family. I hired a wedding planner (can’t start these things too soon!) and she estimates that it’s going to cost us around $50,000-$55,000. I don’t want to cut corners on what’s going to be the most important day of my life, but my fiance is already a little apprehensive about it. My parents have said they’d help out, and quite frankly I don’t see why “spare no expense” should be a bad philosophy to have for just one day. What do you think?

Kim in Laguna Beach

Dear Kim:

According to our estimates, 98% of indebted couples started off with ostentatious weddings. Look, the Duchess of Cambridge gets an obscenely expensive wedding. You don’t. You should have married a prince instead of a assistant quality control supervisor, but what’s done is done.

As for what’s not done, there are few financial decisions as dumb as that to spend money on a wedding ceremony. You’re getting married, so presumably you’re an adult now (unless you’re one of those Mohammedan child brides.) That means that you should have advanced past the immature belief that instant gratification is the most important thing in the world. For the opportunity to spend a few hours stroking your ego and being the center of attention among your friends and family, you’re committing to spending months if not years paying for the privilege.

Yes, your wedding planner is a friend of a friend and she’s just trying to make a living. Yes, you’ll look radiant in white taffeta (and more importantly, everyone will know it.) Yes, your bridesmaids will look hideous in that chartreuse ensemble that accentuates their belly fat, all the better to make you seem even more glamorous by comparison. Now let’s look at the other side of the equation:

That $50,000 estimate will get you a down payment on a quarter-million dollar residence. Granted, in Laguna Beach that probably means a condo the size of a matchbook cover, but this isn’t China: you can move wherever you want (except for Mercury, Nevada.)

If you spend the money on the wedding instead, you’ll have to rent, giving all of your residential expenses to someone else and receiving nothing of lasting value in return. Or you’ll have to borrow even more to buy a comparable place to live, which will be exceedingly difficult seeing as mortgage lenders aren’t in the habit of giving 100% loans to people anymore (and haven’t been for a few years now.) When you’re living in a squalid apartment a year after you’ve gotten married, seething with envy at your friends who bought houses and are building wealth right out of the gate, and wondering if you should extend your lease, you can look at the photo album of your wedding day and those memories will make it all better. Assuming you’re in the lucky half of couples who don’t divorce.

Part II Friday.

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