Weddings. What does that bring to mind?
Weddings have been on my mind a lot lately because my brother is getting married in the fall – up in Maine. This means I have to drive my family of five from CT up to Maine (about 6 or 7 hours), and they want everyone to stay in a campground for a few days. If it were just my husband and I, that would be fine, but with the three boys I’m honestly not sure how that’s going to go. Supposedly they’re going to be having activities and things to do up there. We’ll see how that goes.
But of course having his wedding come up is making me think back to my own, which happened over 15 years ago now. I was never the kind of girl that dreamed about a wedding. To be honest I would have been happy going to a courthouse, spending $50 on a marriage certificate, and being done with it.
My now husband, however, was not like me. Growing up he had always been to big, fancy, expensive weddings with hundreds of people in attendance. So when we got engaged, this was obviously a huge topic of discussion. He wanted the big fancy bash and I couldn’t care less. Yeah, I know, usually the gender roles here would be reversed with the woman wanting the fancy wedding and the man not caring. We’ve never really been a “usual” couple, which is probably why today I’m the breadwinner and he’s a stay at home dad. I wanted to spend what savings we had on a fun, non-traditional honeymoon – not on the wedding. Side note – we went to Japan for our honeymoon, and it was much more fun than a bigger or fancier wedding would have been
To me, the most important part was having the opportunity to get together with friends and family to celebrate the start of our new life together. I have a special reason for being particularly passionate about this – read to the end to see why.
So how did we come to an agreement, and what did we do for our wedding? And how did I do it for under $2,000? Read on.
My Wedding Story
Back then we couldn’t have afforded a big fancy wedding anyway, which is part of what drove my side of the discussion. We had some savings, but certainly not enough to afford the “average” wedding of the time, and not enough to go on a cool honeymoon in addition to an expensive wedding. We were very young and had a low income. I was 20 during most of the planning, turning 21 a few months before the wedding, and my husband was 26.
I was still working at the call center full time to work my way through college debt free, and he worked in a factory. We were making under $50k a year – COMBINED. We made so little that we qualified for the retirement savings credit on our taxes. So even if I had wanted a big bash, there weren’t tens of thousands of dollars sitting around to pay for the wedding. And no one was going to pay for it for us – we were on our own.
So when you’re young and broke what do you do? And how do you compromise between a courthouse and a giant, fancy, elegant wedding?
I can tell you what we did on the compromise part – we had a lot of discussions over a long period of time. Communication is key whenever there’s a financial disagreement, or when you’re not aligned on financial priorities. Neither of us wanted to force our opinion on the other and make for an unhappy wedding day. After many discussions, we came to a compromise between the $50 courthouse wedding and a big fancy shindig with hundreds of people. It was one that still left us with enough savings to go on that honeymoon to Japan, with a total out of pocket cost under $2,000.
Here’s the breakdown of our wedding choices and their respective costs:
Guest list: We kept this to around 50 people total. My husband has a big extended family and I have a smaller one, so we only invited immediate family, close extended family, and two friends.
Invitations: I made the invitations out of kimono-shaped cards, origami paper, and a stamp. I then wrote the information on the inside of the invite, and popped them in the mail. Total cost – around $50. I got all the supplies at a store like AC Moore/JoAnn Fabrics/Michaels et. all.
Wedding dress: I got the dress at Hot Topic, believe it or not. And then I had to get another dress because the cats scratched up my first one. And no, it wasn’t black, it was a white renaissance-style wedding dress. Total cost for both dresses? $200. This dress has since been used for several Halloweens as an angel costume, and I wore it again for my 15th anniversary party recently. Reuse for the win!!
Venue: We picked a local park to get married in. They had a lovely gazebo you could rent out for parties or weddings. Total cost was going to be $50, but they kept losing our check. After we sent in two checks they finally said forget it so this was free. It’s always good when you can benefit from, rather than be hurt by, for government incompetence!
Officiant: I picked out a justice of the peace from the phone book (this was back when phone books were actually a thing). Cost was about $200
Flowers: All I got was a fall bouquet and a flower head wreath. Did you know that if you buy beautiful flowers that are for a “wedding”, somehow they magically cost twice as much (or more!) than flowers for other reasons? Total cost was $50
Pictures: I bought disposable cameras for all the tables – again, back when those were a thing. Plus, there was this stuff called film that needed to be developed to get your picture. And you had to print all the pictures, even if they were blurry or bad. I am grateful for the invention of digital cameras and cell phone cameras. Cost was $100 or so
For my younger readers – here’s what a “disposable camera” and “film” looks like
Wedding cake: My mother in law made this. Cost = free
Favors: I bought little paper umbrellas for all the tables, and handmade individual bars of soap that had tags with our names & wedding date. Cost was maybe $50
Music: The restaurant where we had our wedding reception had a band every Saturday night. Free band! Cost = free
Hair & makeup: I did my own with stuff I already had in the house. Cost = Free
Shoes: I bought a pair of white shoes somewhere (I think Payless) for $30
Food: We went to a local restaurant, and saved some major money. Did you know that most places that hold weddings also hold parties? And that they have “party” packages and “wedding” packages, with the “wedding” ones being twice (or more!) the cost of the “party”? Guess what? The food is the same. The people that will serve it are the same. The restrauant is the same. So what are you paying extra for? For the pleasure of the word “wedding”. So I told the restaurant I wanted to buy a party package at $15 a plate, instead of the “wedding” package for almost $50 a plate. We didn’t have an open bar – my family doesn’t drink, my husband and I didn’t want to drink, and about 10% of the guests weren’t of drinking age anyway. Cost was $750 plus tax & tip, plus about $150 for drinks.
Add in the rings, and the entire thing cost under $2,000.
Are Inexpensive Weddings Still Possible?
“Now CMO,” you may be thinking , “that was 15 years ago! Surely you couldn’t do the same thing today. Costs have gone up, etc.”. And you’d be right – things have changed a lot. So let’s see how the costs stack up if I were doing it again today:
|Category||2001 Cost||2017 Cost||2017 Difference Notes|
|Invites||$50||$100||Today I would use Shutterfly instead of making my own. For 50 people I probably needed 30 invites and RSVP cards. With coupons like Shutterfly always has I wouldn’t need to pay more than $100, and it would be much less work than handmaking all those cards|
|Wedding dress||$200||$200||I’m still not spending a ton of money on a dress. Although Hot Topic sadly doesn’t seem to sell wedding dresses anymore (darn it!), I was able to find a similar dress for the same price. This time I would make sure the cats didn’t destroy it.|
|Venue||Free||$100||Assuming they wouldn’t lose my check this time, the price has increased to $100|
|Officiant||$200||$250||Looks like justices of the peace cost about the same as they did back in the day. Either that or I’m remembering the cost back in 2001 as way too high. This is without a rehearsal, because we didn’t rehearse back in 2001 (although we probably should have)|
|Flowers||$50||$75||Florists are still doing the same thing they were 15 years ago. You put “wedding” in front of something and they triple the price! I just ranted to my husband for 10 minutes about how ridiculous this is. A “wedding” bouquet is $200! But there are plenty of beautiful “love and romance”, “fall flowers”, and other bouquets for $50. If I really wanted roses I would go to BJ’s and buy two dozen for $20 and make my own bouquet|
|Pictures||$100||$200||You can get cheap digital cameras for $20 each. If I got one for every table, and there were 10 tables like I had back in the day, it would be $200.|
|Wedding cake||Free||Free||I would make my own. I make fancy cakes now for all my kids birthdays, I certainly could make a wedding cake.|
|Favors||$50||$105||Soap mold – $7
Soap – 12 pounds for $40
Soap Coloring – $12 ($2 each)
Fabric bags with ribbons – $31
Tags – $10
Umbrellas – $5
Origami paper – $20
|Music||Free||Free||iPod for the win!|
|Hair & Makeup||Free||Free||Still not paying for this|
|Shoes||$30||$70||I’d spring for fancy white shoes so I could also wear them to work|
|Food||$1000||$1500||Dinner prices have gone up quite a bit. Sit down dinner at the same restaurant we had our wedding at is an average of $25 per person, so $1,250. This includes an appetizer, salad, bread, pasta, dinner, and dessert. They still rip you off on the wedding package with it being twice the price for the same food – they just add in extras like hors d’oeuvres and champagne, fancier desserts, soda and bar service, and wine. Lets say that soda and the few drinks people would get cost $250-almost double the cost of 15 years ago.|
So today, to have the same kind of wedding I had 15 years ago, would cost $2,600. Adding in $400 for jewelry costs, it would come to $3k. A great deal if you ask me!
How This Stacks Up – A Typical Wedding
Now let’s compare this to a “typical” wedding.
- The average cost of a wedding is $26,645, but most couples spend under $10,000. As usual, when the average is higher than what the majority of people pay, that means that there are some huge outliers at the “very expensive” end that are skewing the numbers higher. In this case there are probably weddings costing $100k or more that bring the average up.
- I did a quick search in my area, and if you have under 50 guests the average cost in my region is between $11k and $18k. Enough to buy a brand new car (I mean, not a fancy brand new car. But still, a basic new car).
- Here’s a side by side comparison of “CMO Costs” versus “Average Wedding Costs” (using that same link above in the first bullet).
|Category||Today CMO Cost||Today Average Cost||CMO Comment|
|Invites||$100||$792||People are just going to throw this in the trash, you know. Want a fancy invite for your wedding scrapbook? Get ONE fancy one, and use Shutterfly for the ones that will get thrown in the garbage|
|Wedding dress and Shoes (Attire & accessories)||$270||$1,628||Wow|
|Venue, Food, Wedding Cake, Officiant (Venue, Catering and Rentals)||$1,850||$11,908||Holy wow|
|Flowers (Flowers and Decorations)||$75||$1,568||Almost $1600 for something stuff that will die in a week?|
|Pictures (Photography and Video)||$200||$2,789||That’s pricy.|
|Favors (Gifts & Favors)||$105||$698||Expensive favors here!|
|Hair & Makeup (Beauty & Spa)||$0||$130||This ones not too bad|
Fifteen Years Later – Party On!
Recently I had a surprise party for my husband to celebrate our 15th anniversary. Almost half of our original wedding guests, plus some new family members from the last 15 years, came to the party. I surprised him at the same park where we originally got married, got the party catered with food from the same restaurant we had our reception, and I even wore my wedding dress (yes, the same wedding dress from 15 years ago). The total cost for 30 people was $400 for everything. If I had a fancier wedding, I couldn’t have done this kind of celebration party.
The honeymoon is another story for another day – sometime I’ll tell you about our honeymoon trip to Japan one week after 9/11*
*P.S. Did I forget to mention the day we got married? September 15th, 2001 – only four days after 9/11. That really put the important parts of a wedding into perspective. My brother-in-law was in the air flying to CT on 9/11 coming up for our wedding – he was grounded a few states away and my in-laws had to drive to get him. My sister in law from Florida was unable to fly up, and had to listen to the wedding via 2001 cell phone (aka a large brick). My husband’s uncle and aunt from CA couldn’t fly in either. Living in Connecticut, both my husband and I both know real people who were impacted by 9/11. One of my former co-workers had a sister in the towers, and another had a brother in law who was a NY firefighter and didn’t make it out.
So you see, I’m serious when I say that the most important part was just getting together with family to celebrate-not the dress, the food, the favors, the invites, or the ring.
I Want To Hear From You!
Everyone has different financial priorities – and that’s fine! Really, if you’ve always dreamed of a beautiful wedding, and you can afford it without sacrificing your other goals, then I’m all for it. Financial freedom isn’t achieved just by saving the absolute most money on every last thing – it’s about making sure you’re spending on what’s really important to you (not to your family, or to impress others).
What’s your opinion on today’s weddings – are they too expensive? Or is it a day worth spending a lot of money on? Let me know in the comments.
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