Growing up, if you had asked me about marriage, I would have told you there was no way I would be married before I was 30. I had too much to do with my life before I was going to “settle down,” nor did I expect to find someone I wanted to spend that much of my life with. Life doesn’t always go as you expect it to though, and I found myself engaged and married at 21, almost a decade sooner than planned.
My husband and I met at 14 and had a summer fling that ended soon after we started high school. We stayed in touch occasionally, but we weren’t close. High school graduation came and I went off to college and he to Marine Corps boot camp. He deployed, and we started talking more frequently via email and Facebook, and continued to do so once he returned. We found ourselves both single the next winter and the tone of our (now phone calls) changed, and when he came home on leave, we were inseparable.
I was in my final semester of college and set to graduate a year early, and suddenly I found myself researching jobs in South Carolina instead of near home or school. A few months into dating (and one long weekend trip out east), I found myself preparing to move across the country at graduation.
Straight out of college and he out of the military barracks, our apartment expectations were quite low, so we were able to find an affordable 2 bedroom and eventually moved in a roommate to drop the cost even more. $575/month split 3 ways ways affordable even to me on a below minimum wage naturalist internship (but I did end up finding a second job a month in to cover my student loan costs as well). After living together for a month and a half, we got engaged, and planned the wedding for 4 months after that.
This was pre-Pinterest, and my one friend who had gotten married had also been to a military man, so I was able to keep any desires of a fancy wedding in check. While even now I wouldn’t want to blow a ton of money on a large wedding, I probably would have seen that number slip up quite a bit just from lifestyle creep. Some things wouldn’t have changed though – we got married at my parents’ house and “catered” via Safeway and Costco (the Marines made it so we couldn’t count on a specific wedding date and put down a non refundable deposit, so that made the decision simple). I borrowed the bridesmaids’ bouquets from that same married friend who would be my matron of honor (who just recently celebrated her 8th anniversary!) which kept the cost and waste down, in addition to being gorgeous. My mother in law made my dress, my aunt made my necklace and earrings, and my other aunt and cousin made the cake, and that same cousin took the photographs.
My parents offered us $5000 toward the wedding, with the caveat that they would write us a check for anything that hadn’t been spent at the end (we of course took that challenge and got a $1500 check, which we put toward a future home down payment). We had a wonderful time and didn’t feel that our wedding lacked for anything – except maybe a huge bill after the fact, which we definitely didn’t miss.
We opened our first joint bank account on our honeymoon and deposited all of the cash wedding gifts we received into a savings account that we would not touch until we bought our house a year and a half later. By having a shared goal (and having married a spouse who was frugal by nature), we were able to buy well before anyone we knew, aided by the availability of a VA loan thanks to my husband’s military service. Having two people instead of one early on kept our costs low per person and definitely gave us an advantage over most of our friends and gave us a reason to save instead of spend.
Over the years we’ve traded off as main breadwinner, most notably allowing me to take the internship in South Carolina (which got me my first job once we moved back home) and later for my husband to go to school on the GI Bill and the GET program (Washington’s 529-like option that we won’t use for our son because it has so many limitations).
Home purchased, my student loans paid off, and no consumer debt, we were able to think about having a baby well before most of our friends had even settled down (many still haven’t), and I got pregnant when we were both 26 and had our son soon after our 27th birthdays. Marrying at 21, we had time to get to know each other as a couple and set ourselves up in a good financial situation before jumping into the life altering decision to become parents.
While getting married young isn’t for everyone, and most people aren’t lucky enough to find their person before they’ve even entered high school, it has really worked in our favor. We will celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary this winter, and I’m thankful to have such a partner by my side when we enter our 30s together.