Getting Back On Track - Black Enterprise

Getting Back On Track

The Virginia Beach country club wedding of LaToya and David Griffin left a lifetime of memories, but the couple’s $11,000 bill has yet to vanish. They had their dream wedding last August. Now, the newlyweds are trying to dig out from under an already heavy debt load. The wedding bill has exacerbated financial hurdles the young couple is facing, particularly their different styles of handling money.

The Griffins, who met in 2002 at a U.S. Navy training facility, lived together for five years before their nuptials; the last two were free of credit-card debt. David is a saver and LaToya says she is still working on it. “He handles the finances and I just go along,” she says. Still, LaToya knows he’s worth listening to. When they first met she was $10,000 in credit card debt and David helped her get disciplined and pay it off. Now, their wedding expenses have put them right back where they were.

“We ran over our budget for the wedding,” says David, 25. Their budget of $7,000 almost doubled when costs such as hotel and car arrangements for the 12-member wedding party began to add up. A large portion also went toward the 115-guest reception. The couple charged about 80% of the wedding costs on two jointly owned credit cards. The first card, obtained specifically for the wedding, has a 5% interest rate; and the second, their general use card, is the rate on 11%.

“We’re giving ourselves two years to pay the cards off,” David adds. That’s a laudable goal for the couple, as they transition from single to joint finances. David earns $46,000 as a technician at Thomas Jefferson Laboratories, a nuclear research facility, and LaToya, 26, earns $55,000 as a chief machinery operator in the U.S. Navy. The Griffins purchased a $170,000, three-bedroom home in Hampton, Virginia, with no money down at an interest rate of 6.5% last February.

In addition to their full-time jobs, both attend college. LaToya will receive a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics at the end of the year from Old Dominion University and David is finishing an associate’s degree in engineering from Thomas Nelson Community College. While LaToya still owes $9,000 in student loans for course work in mechanical engineering at Alabama A&M University, they won’t incur more debt. The Navy provides $250 per credit hour, up to 16 credits per year, for LaToya. David receives $600 a month for college under the Montgomery G.I. Bill.

This low college debt should help the couple save enough to reach their goal of partial retirement at age 55. David has $16,000 in a Roth IRA, $23,000 in mutual funds, and $6,000 in his 403(b). His employer doubles his contributions up to 5% because the company does not offer a pension.

As for future plans, the Griffins hope to start a family, but they want to be able to afford comfortably to do so. David, who has a 6-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, pays $700 in monthly child support which equals a total