Welcome to Let’s Talk Money, where you’ll hear about the small changes you can make to build sustainable money habits, reduce your stress, and set yourself up for financial and personal well-being. We never seem to hear about the critical connection between our financial well-being and our whole human well-being. But money is a top cause of significant stress for Americans, according to the American Psychological Association, and unchecked stress levels have been linked to issues from heart disease to diabetes to depression. What’s more, 82% of individuals feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a bigger negative impact on their financial stress and well-being than any other event in recent history, according to a Thrive Global original survey of 1,000 Americans. The good news is that there’s a powerful, impactful approach to managing our finances and our health, based on the latest behavioral science showing that starting small — with too-small-to-fail Microsteps — is the most effective way to make habits stick. Read on for advice on how to take control of your financial and overall health, one small step at a time.
Suzanna Gal Gombos and Alex Stankiewicz knew their July 2020 wedding would present a bit of a challenge. But they expected the strain to be a result of planning a celebration in Lake Como, Italy, while living across the ocean in Boston. “We worked with a wedding planner who helped us navigate the Italian wedding complex,” says Gombos, an architect. “We booked our catering, florist, band, venue, even a boat cruise for the rehearsal dinner. We planned our perfect wedding in the most beautiful place.”
Then the coronavirus hit. Gombos nervously tracked the news as it spread in Italy. Her mother advised her to come up with a backup plan. Meanwhile, Stankiewicz, a life science consultant, and his family were optimistic that things would be back to normal by the summer. But a wait-and-see approach was quickly proving to be unrealistic. “During the first week of the advisory to shelter in place, we were on a Zoom call with friends who said they saw cheap flights to Italy they wanted to book for our wedding,” Gombos says. “I knew then: We couldn’t wait any longer.” The duo made a decision to get legally married this summer but save the party until next year.
The decision came with tears and mourning. “I cried — a lot,” admits Gombos. “It’s incredibly important for people to allow themselves to grieve the loss of special events or celebrations that had to be postponed and altered,” says Jennifer Douglas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Yes, even during a pandemic. “When we only compare our difficulties to those who have it ‘harder,’ we invalidate our own emotional experience, which will only drive more stress and negative emotion into our lives.”
Of course, the emotional fallout isn’t the only aspect couples are forced to manage when postponing milestones like weddings — there can also be significant money stress and confusion. “I’ve heard of couples who aren’t in a great financial position backing down easily when negotiating with wedding vendors,” Cheryl Nelson Boyd, a certified financial planner with Chrysalis Wealth Management in Englewood, CO, tells Thrive. “They’ll say, ‘OK, you need this money more than I do,’ and forfeit their deposit.”
Her advice? Don’t put your own financial situation in jeopardy out of guilt. Here, Nelson Boyd and other experts offer their best tips to help you manage the money stress if you’re forced to go from “I do” to “I will… at a later date.”
Dig up all your contracts
Before you make your calls, dig up and review any contracts you’ve signed, so you know what policies you’re dealing with. Then, make a list of all your vendors, along with how much they’ve been paid so far. Often, trying to reschedule with a vendor (rather than canceling) may be your best bet. And since it’s unlikely that all of your vendors will have availability for the same reschedule date, you can prioritize those holding your biggest deposit (or the ones with the most inflexible contract terms).
The sooner you talk to your vendors, the better — they’ll have more dates available to reschedule, so you’ll be less likely to have to find a new photographer, D.J., venue, or other piece of the puzzle, say experts. MK Andersen, owner of Your Day by MK, a wedding and event planning firm in Chicago, recommends contacting your vendors even if you haven’t yet made the decision to postpone. “That way, if you do need to go to Plan B, you have started the conversation and don’t have to scramble,” she says. What’s more, these early conversations will give you answers to your financial questions — like how much money, if any, you’ll lose if you do have to change the date. If the cause of your money stress is uncertainty, this strategy should bring you a lot of relief.
Do your research
Before you call your vendors, ask around to see what other people and venues are doing in this scenario, Daniella Kahane, executive director of Women In Negotiation, an organization that builds women’s bargaining skills, tells Thrive. “The more information you have, the more empowered you’ll be during those conversations,” Kahane says.
Be flexible (and kind)
Yes, it’s your wedding. But making demands of vendors or threatening them with bad reviews could backfire — plus, business owners are stressed out, too. Start out by thanking the people you’ve been working with (and being empathetic to any financial strain they’re feeling, too), then asking how they’re handling postponements and cancellations. “When you come in and put your guard up, you’re generally going to be met with that energy back,” Kahane says. “If the other party feels heard, they’re much more likely to hear you, and to be flexible or be willing to bend the rules.”
Keep a trail of your correspondence
Try to communicate over email where possible, so everyone has it in writing. If you speak to vendors on the phone, take notes and send a recap confirming what you spoke about. “If you do run into a really challenging situation, remember that a credit card company can, in many cases, help,” Nelson Boyd says. For example, you can dispute a credit card charge and ask for a chargeback, or a reversal of the credit card transaction, if you believe the charge was unauthorized or outside of the terms of your contract. Essentially, your credit card company can investigate your claims and act as an ally to you. “That’s why we use a card for big investments instead of big piles of cash.” And if you do have a wedding planner, outsource as much of this as you can to them. “If you’re already paying someone to plan for you, let them do their job,” Nelson Boyd says. They also may be negotiating for multiple clients, giving them more leverage.
Reconnect with your values
When you’re planning a wedding, it can be easy to get swept up in expectations and fantasies. Sometimes, couples end up planning an event that’s far more extravagant than they even wanted. A postponement presents an opportunity to revisit your vision for your wedding. “Take time to think about why you’re doing this, what you want, and what values you want to reflect,” says Nelson Boyd. She suggests starting by checking in with your partner and expressing how you’re both feeling about the situation. Listen to each other without judgment. Then calmly discuss the changes you’d like to make. What aspects of the wedding are really important to you? Does having six more months or another year actually make things easier, because it gives you more time to save? Have you realized you want a smaller, more intimate (and less expensive) wedding than you originally planned?
Trim your wedding budget
If you were overstretching in the first place or need to make up for lost deposits because you’re facing financial difficulties, there are ways to cut wedding costs without making big sacrifices. For instance, you can reschedule the wedding for a weekday or a Friday night instead of a weekend — which will also mean your vendors are more likely to be available. You can simplify the catering or limit the alcohol to beer and wine. And changing the date doesn’t mean you need to pay for the invitations twice, says Meggie Francisco, a destination wedding planner in the Midwest. “Is an invitation reprint really necessary when loved ones will understand a tasteful sticker placed over the original date?” she says. Your guests may be so happy to have something to celebrate, they won’t even notice.
Prepare for a “latermoon”
As weddings around the country have been thrown into limbo, so have honeymoons. But as with so many things these days, it’s not black and white. If your flight has been canceled or service to your destination has been suspended due to coronavirus-related restrictions, you should submit a refund request and be prepared to wait at least a few weeks for resolution, says Craig Pieters, a travel consultant with the Karell Group in Hollywood, FL. If your airline issues you a credit instead of a refund, be sure to check the “fly by” date since it likely isn’t open-ended. And if your trip is still scheduled for July or August (or later), be aware that airlines aren’t obliged to give money back unless they do end up canceling the flight — so patience (and more patience) is key. As for your hotel bookings, reach to the property or your travel advisor ASAP to see what your options are. Accommodations and refunds may depend on where you’re traveling and, in the case of international travel, what that country’s situation is in regards to open borders and lockdown. Trying to postpone the date of your travel versus canceling entirely may be your best bargaining tool.