Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On the Cost of Weddings

I know it's a total cliche, but having a wedding is so much more expensive than I realized. I had been interested in weddings for quite a while, read a lot of wedding blogs, saw a lot of budgets, and thought I had a good idea of how much things cost. On principle, I have never wanted to have an expensive wedding. Even spending $10,000 - $15,000 seemed to me like a lot for one event, but I had reconciled myself to the idea of spending that much and thought it was totally possible.

But after we got engaged and I started researching specific rental companies and caterers in the area, I realized I had radically underestimated those costs - more on that in another post. The wedding that we are currently planning is looking to cost around $30,000. I feel weird just writing that. Me, who won't even buy myself new clothes, have an expensive wedding? It does not compute. I've looked at my budget over and over again, trying to find a way for the numbers to add up differently, but they won't.

Yet, when I contemplate each individual cost, they all seem worthy. Of course we want to have our wedding on Evan's family farm, so we don't want to look for another, more all-inclusive venue. Of course we want to have all of our family and friends there (and Evan has a lot of friends), so we can't cut the guest list. Of course we want to have a DJ, because having a great dance party is important to us. Of course we want the food to be as local and organic as possible.

This is despite taking certain measures to save. We're not paying for a venue. I'm hopefully altering a family dress rather than buying a new one. My mom is going to do the flowers. We're going to do mostly electronic invitations. We're not going to have a cake. We don't care about having photography as art. But all that is somewhat inconsequential next to the cost of catering and rentals.

I am vacillating between just accepting that this is how it must be, and wondering if there's some other way. No one else seems to care besides me. Evan has already reached the acceptance stage. My parents, who taught me my frugal values, are incongruously unbothered by the cost. I should also add that we are lucky to be in a position that we, and our families, can afford to spend this much on our wedding. Yet, that $30,000 still stands there. It's enough to live on for a full year. It's enough for closing costs (in New York) or a downpayment (in other places). Not to mention all the philanthropic good it could do. It doesn't quite make sense to me that people are willing to spend so much on a wedding, when most people, myself included, don't think to spend that much on solving their life problems or improving their day to day quality of life.

Maybe I should think of it as an investment in building our lives together. It's important to us to have a wedding, to recognize our newly combined family, to acknowledge our close loved ones, and to gather our community together to help marry us and commit to supporting our lives together. And we also are excited to throw a fun party. Who knows, maybe (hopefully?) it won't end up being that much.

You hear that the average wedding is around $28,000, and I guess it's for a reason. I always thought it was because of the lavish, expensive weddings throwing off the average (what journalists should really share are the median wedding costs). Or I self-righteously thought it was because a lot of people are willing to splurge on things that seem silly to me, like expensive wedding gowns, letterpress invitations, favors, chivari chairs, twee decorations, etc. However, reflecting on it from this new perspective, I suppose that most people don't set out wanting to spend that much and wouldn't if there were more ways not to.

So tell me, what are your experience with how much weddings cost and how do you feel about it?

UPDATE: Literally a day after I wrote this I finally found two good catering options who cost 5k less than most caterers and will therefore bring the wedding total down to $25,000. Still not cheap, but certainly better than $30,000!


  1. I was shocked as well when we started planning, for similar reasons. Everything "wedding" is about a zillion times more expensive, just because it's "wedding". Our big expenditures were photography and venue cuz that's what was important to us. We saved on DIY invitations, letting go of having a jazz band (ipod dj) and having a small guest list.

    From what you are wanting, the guest list being large is the kicker- since you need to feed them all the great, organic stuff.

    I feel that although you may get some judgement from ppl, spending money on parts of the wedding that are important to you and your partner is VALID. I don't regret for one little minute the money we spent on our wedding. (there are things I do regret about the process, but that's a different story).

    A way that made us feel better about the cost was asking people to donate to a few local charities (we named them in the invite) in our names AND instead of favours we also made a donation. In the end, when I wrote thank you cards I wrote out how much our wedding had raised for the Canadian Cancer Association. just a thought :)

  2. Holy crap, Batman! Would you save any money buying the things you're renting? I suppose you've already thought of that, though. xx

  3. Oh, dear. Weddings. I had my last one in the magistrates office at the courthouse. If only you could talk everyone into a potluck style feast. They do that sort of thing around here, but I'm not so sure that would go over in your neck of the woods. Also, I had a cousin who, instead of renting tables and chairs, borrowed them from friends and family and a local antique dealing friend. They had a huge mismatched collection and it was beautiful! Just an idea.

  4. First of all - right after I wrote this, I finally got a more reasonable caterer quote that brings the cost of the wedding down by 5k to around 25k. Yay that' s something at least.

    Eco Yogini - I'm thinking about whether we want to incorporate donations, either instead of favors or on our registry. I dunno if it would be cheesy or self serving to ask for donations to the same organization I work for, but it is the cause dearest to my heart

    Meag, I haven't actually looked into buying instead of renting. I prefer the idea of renting because it's more eco-friendly. And it's also like, what do you do with all that stuff afterward? Would be a pain to clean and store and sell.

    Miz November - borrowing the tables and chairs sounds like a charming idea, but i think it would be too hard for us logistically. we had contemplated potluck food, but you still have to find and pay someone reliable who can serve it...

  5. We worked out a great catering deal with a gormet mobile pizza company (they brought a beautiful wood-fired oven and cook station to our farm location). We had just under 100 guests, and people loved it! We rented tables/chairs/dinnerware/glassware from a separate company, then hired a couple extra people from the pizza company to serve and bartend. If you're into it, mobile food (like food trucks/carts) is a fun option which can save you money :)

  6. Oh, I feel your pain! I thought I was going to spend $10K on our wedding (and it was giving me heart palpitations) and then we started actually getting quotes and realized it was going to be closer to $20K and I nearly died/considered calling it off. We weren't doing anything crazy! I wasn't ordering hand embroidered vintage hankies! But I had to remind myself that just hosting a nice party where you feed well over a hundred people is something that probably should be expensive.

    I chose to look at it as "hosting our friends and family" rather than "our wedding". Just a slight wording difference, but it made it feel less selfish and reminded me that the bulk of the money should be spent where my priorities lay - making sure our guests were comfortable and enjoying themselves and that we felt like ourselves. Knowing what my goals are in a concrete way always makes decision making easier for me. And since we approached the wedding as a dinner party on a big scale, it also ended up feeling very "us".

    Congratulations!!!! And hopefully once the budget shock trickles away you can really enjoy the planning.

  7. Anonymous - thanks for the suggestion. I knkow the food truck thing works well for a lot of people, but it seems unlikely we could find a food truck out in or willing to go to rural NJ.

    Rachel - I've pretty much made peace with the cost at this point, since I understand that it's worth it spend money on each of the component costs, and I feel like I'm shopping around enough to get a good deal on things. Although I still don't understand why feeding a hundred people costs more than it does at a restaurant.

  8. Hi Julia, My husband Mark and I are friends with Evan's parents. Jim and Mark were roommates in college and Mark was in Jim and Kathleen's wedding. When our daughter got married, we had the wedding at our home here in NH. Beautiful setting on a beautiful day. Much like yours is going to be. We spent around $28,000. We were also shocked at what costs were. But, I will tell you this. When it was all over and done with we could not have been happier. It felt like one big happy party. Mark said it was money well spent and we do not regret spending one dime.

    So, while this is going to cost a lot of money, just come to terms with it (which I think you have) and get ready to relax and enjoy a very fun and special day.

    Can't wait to meet you!

    Kathy Terry

  9. I don't see spending $30K for what is essentially a big party to be an investment in the future. You can have a fun time and celebrate your love with family and friends without going into debt. If someone gave you $30K on any other day, would you say "I'm going to spend it all on a few hours of fun" or would you say "wow I'm going to use that as a down payment on a house, or sock it away for retirement, or something else more far-reaching"? All I can say is make sure your marriage is taking center stage - if it's going to cost you to go into debt, is it really worth it in five years when you're still paying for it and you could have spent that on a remodel or five vacations or had that in the bank for emergencies? Costs are what you allow them to be, plain and simple :)

  10. EcoGrrl - if our families could not afford 25-30k for a wedding, we most certainly would just cut things down to what we could afford. my parents taught me the importance of not going into debt. when i was young, they hardly used credit cards and only paid for things they could afford at the time. i do agree with you that there's a lot else that 30k could pay for. at this point in the wedding planning stage, it is what it is, and i've come to terms with it. because 1) as i mentioned, we are lucky enough that everyone involved can afford to spend on this without having to go into debt and still have plenty of savings leftover. and because 2) it's hard to care about saving for a home when we live in NYC where the problem is that even those in comfortable financial positions like us cannot afford a 2br home.