We [...] have $23k in debt left now ($10k car and $13k student loans). [T]he plan currently is to be debt-free in 21 months. We want to get married. We are committed to not go into any debt for anything.
Are you saying you are committed to not going further into debt for the wedding, or you want to be debt-free after
the wedding? Those are two very different things. If it's the first case, then the answer is to reduce the monthly payments you're paying on your current debts so that you're only making minimum payments, and bank the extra cash until you have enough to pay for the wedding you want. If it's the latter case, then I'm afraid the answer is obvious: you'd have to wait 21 months to pay off your existing debts, then start saving up for your wedding.
Personally, I'd recommend somewhere in the middle. I'd continue your current path to paying off your debt, and start planning the wedding. In 21 months, when your last debt is paid off, direct that $1100/month into a "wedding" account and keep saving until you have half
the amount you need for your wedding. Use a line of credit (not
credit cards!) for the other half, and let your relatives know that cash gifts are welcome as wedding presents (instead of appliances, etc.). Ideally, when it's all over, you should only be in debt for 1/4 of your wedding cost, which should only take a few months to pay back at your $1100/month rate. Then, start putting that money toward a home down payment. Easy breezy.
As dreams go, it's stupid. It's essentially a big party. It lasts one day. Nobody honestly cares that it was beautiful
Well, dtr, you're obviously just a hopeless romantic, aren't you!
A wedding is not just "a big party", in my opinion. It's a celebration of the joining of 2 lives, the birth of a new family, and a family reunion, all rolled into one. It's a chance to reconnect with distant relatives. It's a chance to meet new relatives. If it weren't for my wedding, there are several of my wife's relatives I might never have met.
Not to get too morbid, but as a wedding photographer I've also learned that quite often, photos taken at a wedding are often the last really "nice" photo of elderly relatives, and end up getting used at funerals. It sure beats a snapshot from a Bingo night when nobody has a really nice
recent picture of grandma.
That said, I don't think weddings are for the couple. I think they're for the whole family
. A lot of couples say "Why should I pay for a big party where I'm just going to spend the whole night smiling and shaking hands? Sounds expensive and exhausting! We're eloping." I tend to consider that attitude selfish. Your family raised you and wants a wedding to celebrate your marriage (along with all the familial benefits I listed above), and to rob them of that seems very self-centered, in my opinion. Of course, this perspective also expects the family to pitch in with the wedding, since it is in large part for their
benefit. In my case, my family did an enormous amount of work to help us with the wedding, so if one night of exhausting socializing is what I have to endure to give them the opportunity to spend some time with cousins they haven't seen in years, then I was more than happy to do that for them. That's what family is for, in my opinion.