The Princess Brides
I have to confess that when I'm channel-surfing in search of light entertainment, I often settle on Say Yes to the Dress on TLC. The show chronicles the emotional -- and financial -- highs and lows of brides as they shop for the perfect wedding gown at Kleinfeld, a trendy New York City bridal salon.
Astonishingly, many of them -- aided and abetted by their parents -- are prepared to spend thousands to fulfill what they say is their lifelong dream: to look like a princess on their wedding day. One woman actually accused her mother of being a cheapskate because she refused to pay $5,600 for a dress.
Now, I am foursquare behind the institution of marriage. But I get so many letters from young people who owe money on student loans or credit cards and who want to start married life debt-free. That $5,600 (and often more) would go a long way toward making it happen. And, as a viewer, I can assure those young women that, almost invariably, it's the simplest, least-expensive dress that is the most flattering.
The princess syndrome starts early, with lines of clothes for toddler girls emblazoned with the word princess. One of my friends watched in horror as her 5-year-old had an in-store meltdown because she wanted a Snow White outfit. As girls get older, it's easy for them to assume that there will be a prince to pay the bills. A recent study by Capital One found that among graduating high school seniors, two-thirds of the male students rated themselves "highly" or "very" knowledgeable about personal finance. That compares with slightly less than half of the female students -- which doesn't encourage young women to become financially independent.
When my twentysomething daughter recently considered relocating to a new city, I gave her the advice I'd give any young woman in her position: Don't move unless you have a job with a salary you can live on, and make plans to further your education. (She found a job, worked up a budget, and has decided to apply to graduate school for the fall of 2010.)
A recent study by Women & Co. is encouraging. It found that among affluent women, 94% are discussing financial topics with their daughters, and that mothers and daughters talk about finances more often than sex, drugs and politics.
Sidney James, who directs the Women's Philanthropy Board at Auburn University and is kind enough to use my book Money Smart Women to teach a class on personal finance, often passes along comments from her students. A typical response is, "This class is opening my eyes to what my future will be like financially."
A young woman whose eyes are wide open is unlikely to pay $5,600 or more for a wedding dress. Stacy Rapacon, one of my colleagues here at Kiplinger, is getting married in the fall and is feeling guilty about spending $700 on a custom-made gown.
Don't worry, Stacy. I'd say yes to that dress.
Janet Bodnar is editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan, $17.95) and Money Smart Women (Kaplan, $15.95). Send your questions and comments to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JanetBodnar.