updated 11 Jan 2014, 08:36
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Tue, Jan 07, 2014
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Till debt do us part?
by Zaihan Mohamed Yusof and Maureen Koh

SINGAPORE - The couple wanted two separate weddings - one for each side of the family.

Yet, their finances just did not make the maths, recalls financial adviser Helmi Hakim from NTUC Income.

The couple, who had approached Mr Helmi last year, could barely muster $1,000 a month in savings towards their big day in 2015.

The bride-to-be was in her early 20s earning about $2,000 a month while her partner was still doing his national service.

"So naturally, I suggested the couple do a combined wedding to save money," says Mr Helmi, 28, who set up a blog listing the cost of an average Malay wedding in 2012. He estimates it to cost about $32,000.

"What I got instead was an earful from the woman who said that I shouldn't look down on her status. I just wanted to advise her not to go overboard if she can't afford it."

It is natural that couples want their once-in-a-lifetime event to be a day they will grow old and reminiscence happily over, a panel of experts tell The New Paper on Sunday.

But many fall into the trap of not planning prudently, often "led astray" by the ritzy choices, so much so that they do not work out their sums properly.

Ms Pink Cheong, 38, a wedding planner of 10 years, says the trend is fuelled by how TV shows and magazines celebrate glamorous weddings.

"In the past, we get couples coming in for the 'lowest-priced' packages, but now, we are often 'challenged' into topping the last best," she says.

Another wedding consultant, Miss Elisa Koh, 30, describes: "Often, couples will walk in with some samples of past weddings, then ask, 'Can you do something like this or better?'"

Miss Koh says she sometimes points out the costs to couples whom she thinks may be unaware of the rut they could get into.

"This is especially when I can sense apprehension in either one. You know what it is like, one - usually it's the woman - would be going on enthusiastically, while you can virtually see the man's mind trying to catch up with the calculations of how much they'd have to spend."

But it is not always couples who bear the responsibility of splurging on weddings.

Sometimes, it is about "face", says social psychologist Richard Lim.

"I think it is more of an issue with Asians - we are more concerned about impressing relatives and friends," he says.

"And if it's like the eldest or only child - more so, if it involves the son - parents tend to want to flaunt or show off even more."

Madam Nor Tan, 50, a wedding decorator who charges between $2,500 and $3,000 for simple weddings usually held at HDB void decks or community centres, says she has had pretty outlandish requests.

Couples, or rather their parents, ask for extra chandeliers to be hung from multi-purpose hall ceilings.

Others request for colourful pillar wrap-a-rounds and fresh flowers.

Says Madam Tan, who has been in the business for 21 years: "There are costs involved when you ask for extras. Flowers, for example, have a seasonal price. I feel that sometimes couples are pressured especially when their parents get involved."

Then there is the fad of having couples' clothes and weddings designed to follow fairy-tale themes, says Madam Fatimah Mohsin, owner of The Wedding Gallery.

Adds Madam Fatimah, who handles about three Malay weddings a week: "Some couples get into financial trouble when they think they can cover the costs of the wedding through the monetary gifts handed to them. "You just can't make a profit for a Malay wedding. In fact, you can expect to make a loss."

For a wedding that costs between $30,000 and $40,000, couples usually "take back" about $20,000, she adds.

Some hongbaos can be as little as the average being about $20 today for weddings held at void decks. "You just need to manage your expectations," she says.

There are those who face problems when it is time to pay up. Some usually find excuses to delay payment or simply disappear by changing their mobile phone numbers, says Madam Tan.

A few refuse to pay up.

This used to be a problem about five years ago for Madam Fatimah, who handles weddings for personalities and celebrities in the Malay community: "I even get blamed for rainy weather when guests don't show up. Some things are beyond our control."

But she has learnt to deal with such unreasonable demands by asking for most of the payments to be made in advance.

In a previous report, Ms Tan Huey Min, general manager of Credit Counselling Singapore, suggests that couples do their research so they can estimate how much they will spend on their wedding.

For example, rates for a wedding held on a weekday or weekend can differ greatly. Ms Tan also advises that couples should include a 10 to 20 per cent buffer for their estimated budget.

Mr Helmi says that in his experience, most young couples cannot afford the champagne options. This is when they take up loans or approach their parents for financial help.

He adds: "Therein lies the problem because most parents want grand weddings. They'll invite more people. And this will incur more spending."

Wedding costs can escalate by as much 50 per cent when couples ask for extras in terms of decorations and bridal costumes, or double the number of invited guests, says Madam Fatimah.

TNPS asked several couples on their budgets and thoughts of splurging on a wedding.

Mr Yang Zhimin, 35, a technician, who spent $10,000 on his wedding, says: "I did it only for my wife because my in-laws wanted it. I also didn't want them to look down on me since my wife (a website content producer) earns more than me."

Mr Jacob Lai, 43, an IT provisional director, says: "A marriage is between two people and their families. A wedding is just a performance for that marriage."

He spent $100,000 for his wedding three years ago. He says: "It was money that I could afford since I had saved up for it... but guess what, my wife and I are separated."

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