Wedding Ramblings

In honor of Valentine's Day, today's post addresses the true cost of a lavish wedding. In addition to the Dartmouth participants, several of K's girlfriends have recently gotten engaged, and thus she has had the opportunity to play wedding planner and dress consultant. One friend is clearly going to have a very high-end wedding, but the other three are going to have what I would call a "more reasonable" budget.

Of course, the key here is the extreme subjectivity of what is "reasonable". Popular wedding website reports that the average wedding is now about $27,800. According to Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. (in 2008) fell between $21,000 and $24,000. Clearly location matters as well, but let's work from a conservative value of $20k.

A friend of ours got married in a very elegant $99 dress, and last year we attended a wedding where the bride's dress was upwards of $15k. I honestly would not have known the difference, and I think that many guys would say the same. However, I'm sure that most women in attendance could tell, and most importantly the brides themselves knew the cost. The "bride-as-center-of-the-universe" is not something that I understand 100%, but from my own experience I know that I wanted my wife to be perfectly happy on her/our big day, and if happiness cost a little bit (or, honestly, a lot) of money, then I was pleased to pull out the checkbook.

First, the grinch-y perspective: the cost of a wedding is a decent start on a down payment on a house or condo. Alternatively, if the cost of your wedding were instead invested towards retirement, that $20,000 would grown into $160,000 (assume 8% APY over 35 years), and $8k-worth-of-dress would grow to $64,000.

On the other hand, who is to say that we can assume that the stock market will approach an 8% return? Multiple previous posts have highlighted my skepticism; accounting for inflation and taxes, honestly I think that 5% is more reasonable, if itself rather optimistic. If the kind/size cake doesn't matter, that can save you $1,000. Make your own invitations, or select a less elegant design, hire a younger photographer, or (here's the tricky one) invite fewer people. Want to trim some fat off the catering bill? Don't serve meat. Don't be cheap or leave your guests feeling mistreated, but thriftiness is making a comeback these days, and if you and your fiance(e) are on a tight budget, your friends and family will understand and support you.

This is my point; prioritize your expenses and try to save money on details that don't matter as much to the two of you... but don't be afraid to pay full price on the wedding elements that really matter most. Yes it's possible that every dollar you spend now could be invested and turn into $10 in 40 years, but do you really want to postpone happiness for 40 years? Moderation, people.


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"O Whisky! soul o' plays and pranks! Accept a bardie's gratfu' thanks! When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks Are my poor verses! Thou comes-they rattle in their ranks, At ither's a-s!" Robert Burns - "Scotch Drink" 1785

3 thoughts on “Wedding Ramblings”

  1. Kathy and I definitely went for the budget. Our philosophy was that we would rather spend our money on a kick ass honeymoon than the wedding.

    Our eighteen days in Ireland was waaaaaay better than some seated affair in a reception hall.

    I think we spent ~$4000 wedding, but we got a lot of comps like: cheap venue (our college chapel), cheap reception hall (my mom's house), a cheap chauffer (my sister in her pimped out ride), a bartender who worked for tips (sister's friend), we bought all the liquor ourselves in bulk to stock the bar (~$500), a photog who worked for free (Kathy's aunt), Kathy bought her dress for ~$100 and made all her flower arrangements from flowers bought in bulk.

    Really the most expensive thing was the catering, which came to ~$2000 for 90 or so people.

    Probably the best thing I could recommend for those on a budget is to not skimp on the booze. You have enough beer and mixed drinks and everyone will have the time of their lives.

  2. We did things fairly inexpensively... the location and reception were $50 each because we got married on campus. We had music at both the ceremony and reception, but I think together it was ~$400 because it was a couple of people from the local orchestra at the ceremony and a jazz band of professors at the reception. We had salmon, but it was a gift from some Alaska friends who are commercial fisherman. The wedding cake was $100 from a local guy who really didn't understand how much he should be charging. The food was by campus food service (which does a much better job with catering than they do with everyday food). Kirsten's brother bought the wine at some local wineries as a wedding present. Kirsten got her dress off the rack at a discount place and paid maybe $300. The only thing we didn't scrimp on were flowers and photography, they were around $2K each. The end result though was that the wedding, including two weeks in Fiji and Australia for the honeymoon, came in under $10K.

  3. I wonder if the knot's number is the median or mean wedding cost. I'd imagine that for every two or three of us that had a $4000 wedding, there was someone who had a $100k wedding, and that there are strongly non-gaussian tails in the distribution. So a report of median and quartiles would be much more informative than the mean expenditure.

    Related to Ryan's recommendation re: booze, I have to agree that, hangovers aside, having a basically inexhaustible supply seemed to contribute to the enjoyment of at least a hefty fraction of guests (including Brandon who unfortunately didn't realize the cider was alcoholic until he'd had something like 5 of them).
    I made about 20 gallons of 8.5% ABV hard cider for our wedding, which came out to between seven and eight cases. (A five gallon batch of homebrew of any kind will generally fill either two cases of 12oz beer bottles at 24 bottles/case or 2 cases of 750ml champagne bottles at 12bottles/case). Total cost was around $200, excluding reusable equipment and bottles, which I mostly already had. Comparing that to seven cases of Korbel at $140/case or Farnum Hill Cider at $118/case translates to a pretty major cost savings. So I highly recommend the DIY booze approach. We didn't even finish the leftover cases until around 18 months after the wedding.

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