Yeah, me neither. But some people will spend that much – or more – on their nuptials.While researching a wedding article for MSN Money Frugal Nation, I learned that:
- The average wedding cost $28,427.
- The average income for a U.S. resident is $39,959.
Do the math.
Incidentally, that average wedding price does not include the cost of a honeymoon.
And yes, I know that “averages” lie. But even if they can’t tell the whole truth, they can give pretty good approximations of trends. The averages in this case came from more than 17,500 brides surveyed by TheKnot.com for its annual “Real Weddings Study.”
Although the recession isn’t over, only 26% of the women surveyed said that the economy affected their plans. Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) didn’t even have a specific budget, and about 1 in 8 women (13%) said they spent more than $40,000 on their weddings.
I wonder if there were a survey question that read like this: What would you do differently/what did you wish you’d known before you planned this shindig?
And if there were, I wonder if any of the women answered: I wish I’d known that the color of the place cards doesn’t really matter, that half the guests were going to leave those expensive “favors” on the tables and that we could have spent a lot less and still have been just as married.
We all dream differently
Some people wonder if they can afford to get hitched. Well, sure. Marriage licenses are cheap and so are civil ceremonies. If by “afford” you mean “go into debt to satisfy other people’s expectations,” that’s a question that only you can answer.
I think you can stick to a budget and still get married in style. But it’s up to you to set that style, rather than let wedding planners and bridal magazines tell you what you want. Or, more to the point, sell you what they want.
Many of the commenters on my MSN Money article shared their frugal-nuptials tips. Some were extremely frugal, the “went to City Hall and out for pizza afterward.” Others explained how they stuck to a specific budget but still created memorable weddings.
We all dream differently. Sometimes those dreams are cultural: If your parents can’t pay for it and invite approximately 3,000 relatives then they would never forgive themselves. Some of us are extremely pragmatic: We’d rather do a small ceremony with light refreshments so we could put $20,000-plus down on a house or throw it toward student loans.
Sometimes the limits are imposed by circumstance. When my daughter got married she was on disability and the two of them were paying off medical debts. Their long engagement (two years) allowed them to make inroads on the bills and to plan and shop very, very carefully. Think “Craigslist.” Think “yard sale.” Think “dollar store.”
Keeping it real
A relative was ordained via mail-order in order to perform the ceremony. Both the wedding and reception took place at a social hall that another family member procured for free. Its no-alcohol policy made the choice of beverages pretty simple: sparkling cider, soft drinks and bottled water.
The reception: sliced meats, cheeses, potato salad, vegetable trays, five kinds of fresh fruit, rolls, crackers, hummus, salsa and chips. Most of the food and drink were paid for with gift cards earned through rewards programs like MyPoints and Inbox Dollars. About $90 out of pocket paid for everything else on the menu.
The most delicious cake I have ever eaten was contributed by a friend as his wedding gift. On top stood a vintage ceramic bride and groom that Abby bought for a quarter at an estate sale. (She later found this figure selling for $45 on eBay.) Estate and yard sales also turned up serving pieces and decorations for as little as 50 cents apiece.
On the tables were scattered Hershey’s “Bliss” chocolates — appropriate for a wedding, we thought — and Ghirardelli chocolate squares. The Hershey’s candy was free after rebate; I got the Ghirardelli free by trading in inkjet cartridges.
Abby and I each signed up for credit cards that started us off with 20,000 miles. We charged almost every purchase we made for one year and, for a total of $150 in annual fees wound up with enough mileage to pay for their honeymoon tickets.
That honeymoon was in the Orlando area; they figured they’d be so wrought-up after all the planning that it would be fun and cathartic to scream their heads off on roller coasters. They searched hard on the Internet for the best park deals and for an extremely cheap hotel room with a kitchenette. (They also learned a useful, if icky, frugal hack: If you throw up on yourself on a ride at Disney World, you can get a free replacement shirt at one of the park’s gift shops.)
Many hands make light work
The total number of frugal hacks are too numerous to mention. I’ve almost certainly forgotten some of them. But the money they saved let her have some girly splurges, such as a professional makeup artist ($65), pedicures for her bridesmaids ($17.95 each at a Seattle beauty school) and an elaborate wedding gown ($500 from a breast-cancer charity, of which she paid $250 and I paid $250).
Abby also hired a photographer for a few hours instead of relying on shutterbug friends and family. The results made me smile, and sigh and, yeah, weep. She looks like my mother in some of them. How I wish Mom could have been there.
This kind of wedding isn’t for everyone, but it was a delightful occasion. “Handmade” doesn’t mean “second-rate” any more than “expensive” means “quality.” And as it turned out, it’s a damned good thing they were practical: One month before the wedding, Tim got laid off.
It took a dozen friends and family members to engineer the day. This made the wedding more special, since we all had a hand in making sure Abby and Tim had a memorable day. And we were working with our hearts as well as our hands.
Readers: If you could give a newly engaged couple advice about wedding planning, what would it be?