The Cost of Calling Off an Engagement

Run Julia Run
Everyone knows how painful and expensive divorces can be, especially when two people can’t agree on amicable parting terms. But what about the costs associated with a broken engagement, or a case-of-cold feet?

The average American wedding costs about $30,000. I’d argue for restraint, or for couples to seriously reflect upon the commitment before taking a $30K plunge, but with deposits paid at the outset of any engagement (not to mention a diamond ring) getting engaged is already a financially loaded endeavor, even more so than divorce in some cases. Many couples continue to go along with an engagement even when it doesn’t feel right because of the “sunk costs” associated with what is arguably the biggest investment of your life: your heart.


Losing Money on the Wedding That Wasn’t

Kassondra Miller, 30, had her fiancé call off their 2013 wedding just seventeen days before the event. “Because we were so close to the date, I lost most of the money,” she said. Miller estimates that she lost over $25,000 of her own money between the venue, catering, her dress, musicians, and invitations. “What little I recovered was through arrangements with my vendors.”

Even after calling off my own engagement last year after a scant 90 days, I lost $2,500 in deposits for a photographer, videographer, wedding stationery and a wedding planner. I was planning to have the event at my parents’ home, which saved me from having to do a venue and catering deposit straight away to reserve the date.

And then there are the engagement rings, which rarely re-sell at full retail value.


The Non-Event Related Costs

There are also other expenses associated with preparing to join your lives before you legally marry. For example, some engaged couples look to purchase a home before the big day.

What I didn’t lose in event related deposits; I lost in the home I purchased for myself and my significant other. Even though I lumped in the $58,000 in renovation costs to my mortgage (via a 203k loan), I still had to pay close to $10,000 out of pocket when the renovation went over budget, as renovations tend to do. Once we called it off I desperately wished we had bought a condo with less upkeep and overhead, rather than the 2,000-square-foot fixer-upper he wanted. I wonder if I would still have my savings nest egg if I hadn’t let him choose the house.

I never received any help or refund from my ex for the lost wedding expenses, and since the house was always in my name, I didn’t expect him to help with those costs. When we split, I reimbursed him the $1,700 he’d put into the house, and gave him back the ring.

Kassondra Miller gave her fiancé the ring back, but says, “I wish I had kept the ring my ex gave me as collateral for the money he owed me. All of the $25,000 lost on the event was money that my parents had given me to start our lives. He never paid for any of it, despite always promising he would.”


Some Ways to Recoup Expenses

Miller has some advice for the newly engaged. “Keep a wedding account that is separate from your personal finances. Each party should contribute to it evenly, so that way if the event is cancelled, no one person is more responsible for the costs than the other.”

My advice for couples preparing to purchase a home before marriage is to get the home in one person’s name, and keep your finances separate until marriage. Names can always be added to deeds once a legal marriage takes place, but in the event of a broken engagement, it is far easier to become legally untangled if two technically “single” individuals do not co-own a home. Purchasing a home on a single income also ensures that couples buy a house that truly fits their budget, and can provide benefits from an interest rate and down payment perspective.

For those who spent a large amount of money (like Kassondra) there is legal recourse available, like this woman who sued her fiancé for nearly $100k in damages after he called off their wedding. Other ex-brides and -grooms can now sell their broken dreams on Bridal Brokerage to try and make their money back as well. Miller is selling her never-worn wedding dress on Borrowing Magnolia, a site where brides can sell or rent previous or never worn gowns, to try and earn some of her lost money back.

Or people can be cool like this guy, who turned his reception into a charity event. Turn your misfortune into someone else’s fortune.


Lauren Bowling is the blogger behind L Bee and the Money Tree, a diary of her triumphs and successes with personal finance. Her writing has been featured on Learnvest, The Huffington Post, and Yahoo! Finance. She’s also been featured as a source on HGTV Front Door and Lauren currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.



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