How to Get a Happier Wedding: Back Off My Bride Budget

7 years ago
Laughing bride

You might know me from BlogHer's political section, but here I am writing about weddings. Why? Well, in exactly 57 days, I will be getting married in a big church wedding followed by a moderately expensive restaurant reception, and hopefully, you'll be following me through the last parts of the wedding planning process. I'm pretty excited about everything, I have to say -- much more than I thought I would be. The one thing I'm not excited about, however, is the price: The bill I'm going to be faced with paying after all of the festivities are through.

It's got me thinking -- is a big, fancy, expensive wedding really worth it?

I am not one of those girls who planned her wedding from the age of five. Not at all. My Barbies didn't have weddings. I would have gladly hopped a plane to Vegas, been married by Elvis and gotten on with my life. But when I found “the guy,” the wedding I thought I wanted ended up being nothing like the wedding that both of us planned together. It's a serious affair with complicated hairdos, undercooked prime rib, and fabulous red shoes; it'll be the best party I'd ever thrown for my grandparents.

But unlike my Vegas fantasy, it comes with a price tag. A HIGH price tag.

But I'm happy. I feel okay about this, dammit. I do. I really, really do. I think it will be awesome, reflective of us as a couple and fun for all of the (150) people who made us who were are, both family and friends. Because that's what matters, right? That the wedding is a celebration of our new life together, witnessed by everyone who made us who we are and soundtracked by the late 70s.

And then, of course, I saw this at Jezebel.

Weddings sucked up $42 billion last year. The average U.S. wedding cost $19,581. And that figure actually represents a decline: in 2007, before the recession, Americans spent nearly $29,000 on every single one of our 2 million-plus weddings.

Most of the couples who ended up spending more than the cost of a downpayment on a house in order to get initiated into an institution with a near-50 percent failure rate probably intended at one point to have small, simple weddings. Then they registered for gifts, and probably, and then every distant cousin had to be invited, and there was a deluge of bridal magazines and the apparent need to book a D.J. eight months in advance. They almost certainly, at one point or another, attended a weddings expo. And before they knew it, this couple was deep in the belly of the Wedding-Industrial Complex. They were toast.

Yes, it's old, but the comments are recent, and they all seem to be saying one thing: If you're spending $30,000 (the average) on a wedding, you're a spendthrift idiot who has no concept of reality. It's like “slut-shaming:” cutting down other women by attacking their individual choices.


Now, let me be clear. As far as I know, every single person I have talked to who planned or is planning a wedding didn't feel like they were sucked into the vast Wedding Industrial Complex against their will, the victim of countless bridal magazines, TLC shows and Martha Stewart Internet DIY videos. Even and its maze of pages designed to help you obsess over details isn't a mandatory activity. In every decision, in every situation, these women are making choices that are, in the end, very, very personal. Even the Bridal Expo that Jezebel is so quick to trash is a choice. You get free tickets to these things just by signing up on David's Bridal's website, and they ply you with sugar and alcohol until you can't think straight and -- shockingly -- they're pretty fun. But they're a choice to attend.

Every bride I know feared the moment they'd hear the word “Bridezilla” or be compared to WE's cadre of future Springer guests (picked for their tempers, not their budgets, oddly), and felt the need to defend every one of their actions and decisions, even overcompensate with kindness to accommodate the trigger fingers of friends, relatives and Internet strangers quick to ask condescending questions and make assumptions.

The real truth is that every wedding is different. Every couple makes decisions about what is important to them, and, absolutely, they should. For some, that means a backyard barbecue with twenty of their closest friends. For some, it means a Star Wars-themed extravaganza or a Jersey-esque feast of cannoli and tulle.

For us, it was good food, good music and lots of fun, but also that we communicated the solemnity of the vow we agreed to make to our guests and allowed them to participate in our union. So we made the decision to spend more there. We also, like Los Angeles Love, who took on the commenters in an open letter, we made the decision that our wedding was an investment -- a big-ticket item that marked a passage for us and our families and should be celebrated in a way that was personally meaningful. And we went on the cheap for everything, taking long swaths of time to research and interview vendors and get the best deals we could, shopping flea markets, eBay and ETSY and DIYing what we were capable of (which, given my artistic talent, is not much).

In terms of a Chicago wedding, just over $20K is cheap, just over $10K is scraping pennies.
But neither I, nor anyone else, shouldn't, in this day and age, even have to defend that. Because, as I said before, weddings are such a personal and intimate time for families -- so important -- that the decisions brides and grooms and their families make should be their decisions alone. The best advice I can give to anyone in the planning process is the same advice Ariel of Offbeat Bride (a God-send to anyone who wants to be affirmed in their quest to honor their own individuality in their wedding ceremony) gave recently: Make your wedding authentically your own. Support and honor the things you and your fiance care about and be true to yourselves, your tastes, your needs and your desires as a couple.

And don't let anyone tell you you're wrong.

Want more? Check out the How to Get a Happier Marriage archive.

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