How an Administrative Assistant Saving for a Wedding Does Money

Photo credit: Robert Ashworth, CC BY 2.0.

Heidi (not her real name) is a 33-year-old administrative assistant working in education in Portland.

So, Heidi, how much are you making?

I make $34,600 a year before taxes.

How does that compare to your expenses?

Not well, honestly.

I’m in the process of paying back student loans and just trying to stay afloat in a high cost-of-living area. I started budgeting seriously about a year ago and it has helped a lot. Most my money is going towards rent and loans… oh and my upcoming wedding.

Congratulations on the upcoming wedding!

Thank you! We are excited to get this show on the road.

I’d love to get into how much you’re planning to spend on your nuptials, but I’m also curious if you can share a general “rent/loans/food/wedding/savings?” budget, so we know how much you’re paying for your major expenses.


Rent is $1,225 split with my fiancé. Note this is for a 450 square foot apartment that has seen better days — probably back when it was built in 1895. My loan payments each month are $267, I budget $125 for groceries and about $75 for eating out (my fiancé spends a little more on groceries but not much), $75 for pet food and supplies, $75 for my bus passes, $100 for our phone plan and $50 for internet. My fiancé pays for utilities.

Personally I’ve saved $2,500 for the wedding.

That’s impressive!

I wish I could have saved more for the wedding but an unexpected vet bill came up last December and so I was paying off that credit card bill until May.

Do you have any kind of emergency fund, or do all major unexpected expenses go on the credit card?

Mostly things have gone on the credit card, but I recently cashed in some bonds from my grandma from the early 90s and got $600 so currently that’s my emergency fund. I’ll want that to be higher though.

Do you have retirement savings at all? A TIAA plan?

I have about $1,000 in a Roth IRA and I contribute 2 percent of my check to a 403(b) Vanguard fund (no match). If I stay with my company for five years I’ll be vested and get a pension when I retire. I’ve been there a little over a year.

A pension’s not bad! Assuming the program will still be around when you retire.

True, it seems like every other week someone else is retiring in my office.

On the subject of big life transitions: the wedding! And the subsequent marriage! Are you anticipating your financial situation to change after you’re married?

Yes, we’ve opened a joint banking account (we will still keep our own accounts too) but we plan to combine most our money once we get married. I don’t feel totally clear on how that will feel emotionally though. I’ve always taken care of myself (or better for for worse). I’m excited to have goals that can hopefully be bigger because we are a team.

For example: we both have about $5,000 each of smaller debts that we can pay off a lot faster together. I’ve looked at the numbers and I think we can get rid of those debts by next May.

I am curious how the math works on that! If you’re both living together now, it’s not like your day-to-day expenses will change after marriage. How will you pay off your debts faster?

Well, we can move what we had been budgeting for our wedding towards our debts (I’ve been saving $700 each month, he has been saving $800). We weren’t trying to pay our debts off aggressively before, but now that we know we can budget that much, I want to keep that momentum going.

Oh, of course. How long have you been saving for the wedding?

We both have been saving since this May (because we were focusing on paying off credit cards). My parents very generously gave us $7,000 and his mom gave us $1,000. We expect the wedding to cost hopefully no more than $15,000.

That sounds reasonable.

I wish it was lower but we both have big families.

I get how big families can drive up the expense. But you’re also coming in much lower than many people pay fo their weddings. Did you do any “wedding hacks” to keep costs down?

Oh my god yes! We didn’t know how we would have a wedding by paying the typical $5K for the reception venue so I started to think about community halls and I found one that didn’t host weddings but knew of a clubhouse that did. We are renting it for $275 for the whole weekend.


We are also using my mom’s ring for my wedding band, I made our invites, my mom is sewing all the napkins, and our food vendor is someone my fiancé used to work with so we will get a little discount there. Oh, and I’ve been scouting estate sales all summer for vases and candlesticks!

Weddings add up so fast, though.

For sure.

And you want everyone to have a good time.

I bet they will! And if they don’t, it’s because of them, not you. Even if something “goes wrong” or whatever at the wedding. It’s about what the guests bring to the event, not about, like, how nice the party favors are.

So true!

Two more questions, then: first, what do you think you do really well financially and what do you wish you could do better?

I’m good at staying motivated and making a plan. When I feel my motivation falling short I turn to outside resources:  The Billfold, podcasts, other blogs to get my head back in the game. I also really enjoy talking about money with my friends.

I could do better in valuing myself. I need to learn to advocate for myself: negotiate my salary, go after higher-paying jobs, believe in how much value I can bring to a job and get paid for it.

But hey, if you stay at your current job for five years you get vested for that pension!

Yes, if I want to stay at this job.

I bet there’s some math you could do on how much the pension is worth compared to a higher salary at a different job.

Oh, I’m looking into that. I may also get my loans forgiven if I stay for ten years and the forgiveness program is still in place. But if I can make more in the private sector, it might be worth it to leave.

I’m sure our commenters will have a lot of thoughts on that!

With that in mind, last question: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

My advice is to try and live with less than you think you can. I think it’s good for perspective, for the environment and for your bank account.

If you’re interested in being a Doing Money interview subject or in conducting an interview with someone who might have a good story, email

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