Thursday, April 3, 2014

Weddings, humor and a realistic attitude

So, weddings have been a topic of conversation in our house lately. My kids have a cousin getting married next month, combined with the recent announcement of average amount of money spent on a wedding in the US, have fueled these conversations. $30,000 is now the average amount spent on a wedding in the US!

The Humor

As my daughters were outlining just what they each wanted, one of them stopped mid-sentence and asked, "wait, who pays for the wedding? Oh shoot! The bride's parents!" I just thought that was so funny. The look on her face when she made the realization that she DID NOT have a $30,000 budget to spend on her future (far into the future) wedding, was priceless. She knows me all too well.

The Realistic Attitude

$30,000 is a lot of money. $30,000 can pay for a really good 4-year education. $30,000 can be a down payment on a house or a condo (depending on where you live). $30,000 can buy 2 cars. $30,000 can put a new roof not just on one house, but on a couple of houses. $30,000 is simply out of line for a one-day celebration, considering what else that $30,000 can buy.

Granted, a wedding is a big thing to be celebrated. But it needn't cost MY arm and MY leg. And it certainly should NOT put a newlywed couple into debt. Believe it or not, the bills for many of these expensive weddings aren't being footed by a Daddy Warbucks. But they're being charged on the couple's credit cards. Starting out a marriage in unnecessary debt could put a real strain on the relationship from the get-go. Ouch! My head hurts thinking about such foolishness!

When the dollar signs are in my kids eyes

So, how do I plan on handling this with my own kids? Well, I think we've laid the groundwork already, by talking about finances and value on a regular basis. When one daughter wanted an ipod nano (used, off of craigslist), she was spending her own money. Yet still I asked her, "will you get $45 or $50 worth of entertainment from that? What other entertainment could you get for that same $45 or $50? This is your money. Is there something bigger you'd like to save for? A car, perhaps?" I ask these kind of questions on a regular basis. Sometimes my kids stop and think, then change their minds. Sometimes they firm up their desire for spending their money. But in all cases, they think about it, and make a mindful choice in the end.

What I don't want for my kids is for them to feel that they have to "settle" for a poorman's wedding. Even though they are years away from any wedding plans, we've had a few conversations about what would make them feel special on their wedding day. Nothing has to be done a certain way. They can pick and choose just what elements would make memories to hold onto. And a small budget can indeed create a grand celebration with wonderful memories.

Too often, frugality can leave people (kids especially) feeling deprived and poor. In all areas, we've tried to demonstrate to our kids that we are constantly making choices about how to spend our money. Wedding planning offers a bazillion opportunities to talk about value for dollar spent. But the planning begins now, long before they lay eyes on their knight in shining armor. Discussions about thoughtful use of money aren't limited to wedding plans.

I ended the wedding conversation with a few sentences. "This is all fun to talk about, but for now, your focus is on your studies. Get an education that will lay the foundation for your career, first. Your opportunity for an education is right now, these 4 years. The opportunity to find a mate will span many, many years."

I don't know how much we'll actually contribute to any of our kids weddings. But I do know that the figure will be a fraction of the cost of the so-called average American wedding.

What ways have you seen or used yourself to reduce the cost of a wedding, while creating a lovely day to be remembered?

19 comments:

  1. Yes! I agree that wedding budgets these days are way out of control. I've been to a couple of nice weddings in the last few years that were very frugal, yet beautiful. My daughter is 18 and will graduate from our homeschool in May. We, too, have had several wedding conversations which are similar to the one you had with your daughters. I began dating the man who would become my husband my senior year at the U of W. We married shortly after graduation. We've been happily married for twenty years. Had I been only focusing on my future career, I would have completely missed the gift God was giving me in a life-long mate. I think one of the downfalls of our culture these days is encouraging young people to put off marriage. I know of young people who did that very thing and now that they're in their 30s, they're desperate to be married and have families. I'd love to read about your frugal wedding ideas when that day comes in your family.

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    1. I fully agree that one should be open to what God has in plan for our lives. We never know what that plan will be, until it unfolds.
      For myself, I didn't marry until my later 20s. I had some growing up to do before I was ready to be a wife and mother.

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  2. When my dd got married 10 years ago we were not in a good place financially and spending hundreds, let alone thousands just wasn't possible. The wedding was lovely though and it was pulled together on a very frugal budget. She found a dress for $100 on ebay and had it altered for less than $50. She made her own veil, found decorations for tables at thrift stores, had a friend do the cake which was small. Other friends brought additional cakes so people had their choices of a number of kinds of cake to eat. There were so many ways we found to save money and nobody thought it was a penny pinching wedding. It can be done and done well for a fraction of the "average" $30,000 price tag.

    As an aside I had a cousin who offered her dd $10,000 for her wedding about 15 years ago. She and her husband chose to use the money for a down payment on a house. Instead they got married in her backyard with only the immediate family present and later had a reception at their church. Her wedding was lovely and they had the opportunity of being able to buy a house immediately.

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    1. Hi Linda,
      I like the idea of buying a dress from ebay or a consignment, then having it altered. And what a great idea for a cake. It is wonderful that things don't have to be done in a certain way.

      Smart daughter of your cousin! My dad used to joke that he'd give us $10,000 if we'd elope and skip the wedding planning!

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  3. I come to this with a different perspective. I was almost 36 when I got married. In my family, this was considered odd, as my 2 sisters and brother met their spouses in college and married shortly after graduation. One of the advantages of getting married later in life is that you have a chance to observe marriage from an adult perspective and see what goes into making a successful marriage. One thing that stunned me was how much an industry weddings are. There is such a big push from our culture to have the "perfect" day, the day that is "all about you". I fully believe that a wedding is a cause for celebration and a little splurging is in order. A wedding, however, is not a marriage. A wedding is one day. Marriage is (or should be) for a lifetime. For many couples, the effort put into a wedding is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent at the wedding and reception. Days upon days of preparation ... yet how much time do they spend preparing for the marriage?

    That is the mindset my husband and I went into our marriage with. We had a lovely wedding but it wasn't fancy by any stretch of the imagination. We had our reception in the fellowship hall of our church (free), we had an 11:00 wedding with brunch following (which allowed us to serve a full meal but was less expensive than a dinner), a friend did our flowers and that was her wedding gift to us, I placed myself on a budget for a dress and stuck to it, I wore shoes I already had--they were dressy and comfortable and how many people were looking at my feet? I made a point of having my bridesmaids get dresses which they could wear again, I kept to a budget for decorations ... we both had family and friends traveling from a distance so the time of our wedding allowed many to make it a one-day affair and not have to get a hotel, and for those who traveled farther, they only had to spend 1 night, not two. Having a more modest wedding allowed us, a year later, to put a good down-payment on a home (investing in the marriage, not the wedding) and helped us buy new vehicles when ours died the first year of marriage. We also were able to go on a lovely honeymoon to Bermuda (I found a budget way to do that as well!) because I knew we would want to start a family before long and that would be the only "big" trip we would take for many a year.

    Lili, I think you have been smart to let your kids know up front that your financial contribution to their weddings will be modest. It will save trouble and hurt feelings later on. My husband and I paid for our wedding ourselves--funny thing was, the financial gifts we got from his parents and mine was equal to the amount we spent on the wedding. And I know you've been doing for years the most important thing--teaching them what a good marriage looks like. I didn't meet Mr. Right till later in life, but I knew enough to wait (I almost fell for a lesser man but that's a different story) for the one God meant for me to have. A lot of that was because my father and my brother were both good examples to me of how a man should treat a woman. My husband is 6 years younger than I am, so when I graduated from college, he was still in high school. You just never know. :)

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    1. Hi Kris,
      I married in my late 20s, but was considered "young" for my family. Both my brother and sister married in their 30s. I was needed to fill a special role in my mom's life in my early 20s (I was one of her caregivers in the last couple of years of her life). If I had married earlier, I wouldn't have been able to pick up my things and move back into my parent's home to do that for her. And those years I spent helping her, worked to help me grow up. I wasn't ready for a marriage before that time.

      But, for some people, getting married younger has worked so beautifully for them. My own mom was 19 when she and my dad were married. She was 20 when my sister was born. And she was a wonderful wife and mother from those very early years, on. And the pastor and his wife, from our church, were high school sweethearts, and married fairly young. They have a lovely marriage. I guess we're all different and are "ready" at different times.

      I like how you planned the wedding/reception to time with guests traveling from out of town. And it allowed you to serve a nice meal that was less costly than a full dinner reception.

      When I went shopping for my own wedding dress I was shocked by how expensive they could be. I chose to sew my own instead. I'll gladly sew dresses for my daughters if they'd like me to. I just had my sister as a maid of honor, no bridesmaids. But I told her to choose a dress that she could wear again sometime. I had to wear a couple of those really hideous, billowy, Little Bo Peep bridesmaid dresses myself. I did not want her to have anything like that.

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    2. I had one bridesmaid dress that looked like Snow White. My father saw it on me (NOT at the wedding--he behaved himself there!) and started whistling "heigh ho heigh ho ... ". I was determined not to pick out a horrible dress for my friends to wear in mine!

      We ARE all ready to marry at different times. I am biased in thinking that it's best to wait till after you receive your degree if you are going on to college, as I think you can concentrate more on studies and without the challenges of marriage, but there are a lot of variables that can go into it and shouldn't be a hard and fast rule. I think a lot of my reactions are similar to Catlady's below--probably because I have seen a number of people who have had a splashy wedding only to be divorced a few short years later--not everyone, of course, but enough to make me wonder what they were thinking marriage would be. Anyway, thanks for providing a fun reminder of all our weddings. This is my anniversary month!

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    3. Hmm, I'm not sure which one wins -- Snow White or Little Bo Peep!
      Happy Anniversary month! Celebrate all month long!

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  4. My BF and I expect to pay for our own wedding, and neither of us are into debt (although I have a mortgage...). That being said, we may get donations from family, it's not how we're planning it.

    Re: focus on your studies advice. I studied for six years (engineering), and since graduation, found it increasingly harder to date and find my knight. So whilst I do completely encourage a focus on one's studies, I also think university/school offers the greatest exposure to new people than work or other hobbies, and can be very useful for finding a partner!! I did not find the BF at uni though.

    I think both of us are attracted to the idea of 'running away' to get married. Sure, inviting everyone, but realistically knowing it'll be a small (and cheap) wedding. After being at a sit down dinner at a known wedding reception venue this week for work, I thought 'gosh, I do NOT want to be back here for a wedding'! Even shocked me, as I love all things wedding!

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    1. Hi Sarah,
      You're right in that college/university is probably the time of life when you'll meet the most people your own age. Part of my bias comes from being the one who is writing out those checks every quarter, for tuition and fees, combined with the amazing opportunities they have at this very small university. Plus they're still quite young, 19 years old.

      Something really intriguing, though, seems to be working as a solution to the problem of not meeting the "right one" later in life. Online dating and meeting sites have become increasingly popular. My nephew met his wife online at a Christian singles site several years ago. I know of several other young couples who met online, as well. The internet seems to provide that place to find someone else with common interests and life goals.

      I think I understand your response to that wedding venue. It's just not "you". Many of those large reception places seem so impersonal. My husband and I wanted something much more personal for our own wedding. We were married in a small chapel (my husband's father is a retired minister, he performed the ceremony), had an afternoon reception at my grandmother's house, and in the evening, a group of our family went to a lovely, intimate and secluded restaurant for dinner. All of it was very much "me". In retrospect, I really wouldn't change much of anything that we chose (except my bouquet -- it was HUGE, but this was the 80s).

      Best of wishes with your own wedding plans.

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  5. As the mom of five children - three of which are married, one engaged, and the last graduating from high school, I have tried to do weddings/receptions on a tight budget - and even if I had all the money in the world, I don't think it's necessary to indulge every whim for this special day. We were able to put on nice events by using resources available and borrowing items. For my oldest daughter's wedding, her in-laws happened to work for Dreyers ice cream. So guess what we served at the reception? And we were able to purchase it for a song - . The event was held at a home with a huge, beautiful yard so all I paid was a gift card given to the hosts.

    For my second daughter's wedding last spring, we rented a club house at a park. They don't require any particular caterer or flowers, so we were free to use what we wanted. We paid $300 for rental for both wedding and reception. They had the chairs and tables also. We (my sisters and myself) baked dozens of different cookies and borrowed clear glass cookie jars (a friend had these from her wedding) and had them labeled. We placed them on a long table with a torn fabric backdrop. We served little cartons of milk and my husband made a lemonade stand to serve lemonade from (which we can use at home now). We also borrowed a large commercial popcorn popper. For the flowers, I purchased about 4 flats of pansies and placed them on tables, etc. They then were planted in my garden and I also gave a flat to the generous gal that I borrowed the jars and other antiqueish display items from. The room looked great!

    I figure that the wedding/reception cost around $1500. I did make the bridesmaid dresses with fabric purchased 40% off and my mom bought her wedding dress.

    This summer my son is getting married to a nice girl. However, she has been indulged her whole life. I'm so glad to be on the boy's side. It is interesting to see how this is coming together. So many little details that cost $! And her mom just keeps paying!

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    1. Hi Ruthie,
      I love the idea for the cookies in jars. It sounds very cute. And using potted flowers for the tables, that you could then plant out is very smart (I will definitely remember that). I did mention to my daughters that I thought an evening wedding with a dessert buffet reception would be very nice, and I think very affordable. There are so many possibilities for putting on a lovely wedding without the huge price tag!

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  6. Hasn't the tradition of the bride's family paying for the wedding gone by the wayside yet? It really should be a joint effort starting with the couple and expanding out to the parents if they have money to contribute.

    My wedding was simple. In my little town, everyone I knew got married in church then went to the fellowship hall for the reception. I did something different because I went to new library's basement for the reception. That was a big deal. My dress cost $100 and friends and the church ladies provided food for the reception as well as the rehearsal dinner the night before. At the time, I got everything I wanted. That's what happens when you live a small town and don't have the more expensive things available to you. Also, my parents didn't have much money and I would have never dreamed about asking them for money for my wedding. My husband had already been working for a few months and I was soon to start a new job, so we paid for most things.

    I think Kris made some very good points about getting married as a well-established adult vs. someone younger. But for me, the bottom line is if someone has the money and wants a big wedding, they should go for it. However, if the money isn't there, they should have the wedding they can afford whatever that may be. That's what I think anyway.

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    1. I have a niece getting married this month and a nephew getting married in June and they both are following the traditional model of the bride's parents paying for the wedding and the groom's for the rehearsal dinner. I was the one who introduced my niece to her future husband so I'm getting the "inside track" on her wedding. It's very tricky--she grew up as a pastor's kid so finances were always tight and her family did things modestly. The fiance grew up with a mindset of a wedding should be celebrated in a big way. Neither viewpoint is right or wrong but it's been a difficult path for her to negotiate. And it seems like sometimes the parent's expectations overtake what the couple themselves want. Watching this evolve has made me so grateful for both my parents and my in-laws. They were quietly there to support whatever we wanted (neither of us are center-of-attention people so an extravagant wedding would have been wasted on us) but they didn't interfere at all.

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    2. Hi live and learn,
      I think who pays depends on a lot of things, these days. If the couple is older, it seems that they pay for more of the expenses, or even all of the costs. While a very young couple may rely on their parents to pay for most of it. When parents are paying, it seems to be mostly the bride's parents. But still, there are exceptions. I've heard of both sides of the family splitting the costs 50/50. Sometimes, one side of the family has greater means, and larger desires for the celebration and so they cover more of the expenses. It does seem to be a tricky negotiation of who will pay for what.

      And for what it's worth, your wedding sounds like it was wonderful, meaningful to you, and gave you memories to mark the day. That's what counts, right?

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  7. Well, I fear I am a tad bit cynical when it comes to weddings - especially the big fancy variety. This sounds horrible to say, but my general experience had been that the more elaborate and expensive the wedding, the nastier and more contentious the divorce. I often find myself shaking my head and thinking, you know... if they'd put half as much energy into their marriage as they did into their wedding, they'd probably be a lot better off.

    I dunno, I guess sometimes it just seems like people are more interested in acting out some sort of fairy tale fantasy than they are in the realities of committing themselves to a life-long relationship with another person. I do recognize that my views in this whole area are a bit extreme, and I don't expect other people to share them. CatMan and I have been together for 20+ years, and have no intention of ever marrying. I think people probably take that to mean that we're not committed to each other, but nothing could be further from the truth. We both just feel passionately that our relationship must be totally and completely real, and for us, that means removing many of the societal conventions and "pretty pictures" that so often cloud the reality.

    This doesn't mean that I don't think people should get married, or have a nice ceremony if that's important to them... I just think that in general people would be so much happier if they'd focus their energies on the stuff that's really important, and skip the big, elaborate, crazy, expensive, form over substance, put yourself deep into debt and create a huge amount of needless stress trying to make one day "perfect" part.

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    1. Hi Cat,
      there's some truth in what you say about money spent can equal level of contention in divorce. I don't think it's an absolute. But this is what I think. Some of these people who spend huge amounts of money on that one day, have been indulged in many areas of their lives. That's just the sort of person who is not immediately suited to working in a marriage. Some of these very-indulged individuals mature, despite having been indulged all their lives, and they do have successful marriages later on. But many of them are simply too spoiled to put someone else's needs first.
      Those are my thoughts on the personalities of those spending HUGE amounts on a wedding, anyway.
      Of course, there are many very lovely people, who wind up having very lovely marriages, that also spent large sums on the one day. So, there's no one hard and fast rule to this.

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  8. Congratulations on talking to your daughters, in advance, about what is and is not important for a wedding. When all is said and done, you are married no matter how large or small the wedding it. When we married (41 years ago) I drew the dress I wanted on a piece of scrap paper. I had never seen one like it and was pretty sure it was not available anywhere but it was what I wanted. A trip to Goodwill and 5 2nd hand bedsheets and lots of trial and error and my mother and I had a pattern to use. I think we spent under 50 dollars for fabric and lace and it took a couple of weeks to construct. (tons of handwork) and I had the perfect "for me" dress. The attendants dresses were made at home also, costing no one more than a couple of sewing hours and fabric. My aunt did the flowers and a good friend constructed a simple veil. We opted for a limited reception (finger foods and wedding cake rather than a meal) The only thing I really remember about the actual wedding other than seeing my husband standing at the altar are the friends and relatives who were there with us. All the other incidentals are only remembered through pictures. I would tell your daughters the fluff only lasts a few hours, but the marriage lasts a lifetime. If I had it to do again, I would still have a simple wedding, but I would scale it down even more so I could enjoy more time with each person there. I can have a fancy party anytime I want to, but I will never have time again with many people who were there. that day

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    1. Hi Anne,
      You brought up a really great point about weddings. They're often opportunities for extended families to gather. For my own wedding, it was the last time that all of my grandmother's brothers, sisters and their spouses could be together. That's priceless to me! And the dinner after the reception was the opportunity for me to spend a little bit of time with each one of them.
      Thanks for your comments. It sounds like you were able to have a meaningful day, on a small budget.

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I'm so glad that you stopped by today. Please comment, and let me know what you're thinking.