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COMMENT:

THE story about a credit financing company giving loans of up to RM100,000 to couples who intend to get married became the topic of conversation during a dinner with my close friends.

According to one of my pals, even those who earned RM800 monthly qualified, and the statement prompted another chap to lament how bad the economy must be these days when one had to take a loan just to get married.

Taking a loan for marriage is nothing new, I told my friends. In the early 1970s, while living in a Chinese village on the fringe of the city, I remember hearing stories of parents joining tontine schemes to finance their sons’ and daughters’ marriages.

Mothers would start contributing to the coffers of tontine schemes from the time their children entered adolescence. If the money was not used by the eldest child when he decides not to get married, it would be passed on to their siblings to get married.

Tales of tontine organisers absconding with the money were also common and so were the woes of heartbroken parents who became the laughing stock of the village.

Some parents even pawned their jewellery and other prized possessions to hold a reasonably impressive marriage reception and for the dowry, with the hope that the spending would be offset by the “gate collection” of ang pow.

There were also cases of parents having to service their children’s marriage loans long after their first grandchildren learnt how to walk.

Even those days, things were not cheap, what more now. A reasonably priced dinner for a table of 10 persons two decades ago was between RM350 and RM900 at restaurants — higher if the wedding reception was held at hotels, especially those with ballrooms fit for a king.

An unavoidable cost at the time was usually the wedding photography package which ran between RM900 and RM3,500 (inclusive of wedding gowns, make-up for the bride and wedding car decoration).

Brides-to-be would often demand a reasonable package, with several albums full of photos, two waxed portraits for the bridal room, and several dozens of 4R prints to be given away.

If you had been to a Chinese marriage ceremony and wedding dinner recently, you would realise that the amount spent two decades ago for 10-table reception was hardly enough to pay for one photography package now, especially those that included on-location photo shoots and multimedia video recording as well.

I don’t know how much Malay weddings cost and I wonder if an Indian wedding ceremony racks up similarly huge bills.

I know of a businessman who had just purchased a RM450,000 condo and furnished it for his son as a wedding gift. His wife would be paying for the dinner at a five-star hotel ballroom for at least 300 guests.

The chap admitted that he also planned to finance the marriage of his two younger sons and a daughter when the time came.

The chap reasoned he was doing it so that his children would get a good head start in life. And since he had the means, why not, he argued. After all, he had spent quite a fortune on their education already.

It isn’t wrong, of course, but if traditionally, I believe that when one is man enough to get married, then he should do so within his means. At least, that was the way it was for me and most of my peers at the time.

The day we started working, we began saving for the eventful day should we meet someone whom we decided to share our lives with.

Many of us made do with what we had. Even if the reception was not big and the guest list was limited to family members and relatives, we would be more worried about having enough for the future when more mouths had to be fed.

The unavoidable wedding photography was restricted to the most basic one and understanding friends would rally around to lend us their cars for the wedding if we did not have one. Some would gladly be our chauffeurs to help us tide over this once-in-a-lifetime affair.

For many, it wasn’t easy. Those who were lucky had a family house to live in after their marriage. For many, they had to rent a room and later, when the kids came, rent a house.

But thinking back, by forcing us to lead a life of frugality, it also prepared us for the responsibilities ahead, to provide for our family without pawning our lives to the company store.

People say that a marriage is made in heaven. But for those who are generous to a fault with the excuse that this is a once-in-a-lifetime affair and are not afraid of getting loans to impress those around them, they had better remember to also not create their hell on earth.

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