Simple Weddings

For the most part, I don’t like reality television shows.  At the top of my “don’t like” list is one called, Say Yes to the Dress.  In case you haven’t seen it, the show is about women selecting their wedding dresses.  It’s filmed in an upscale bridal salon where the customer is fawned over and treated like the “princess” she envisions herself being on the day of her dream wedding.

Each woman tries on a dozen or more dresses, which they parade in front of an entourage of friends and family who accompany them to the store.  The selection process is deliberate and agonizing.  Frequently, the bride-to-be to bursts into tears from the stress.  It’s not uncommon to see a customer spend two to three times more for a dress than she had budgeted for.  Dresses costing over $10,000 are common and some cost more than twice this amount.

In my opinion, the show trivializes marriage and even worse, it demeans women.  Many of the poor ladies come out of their dress buying ordeal looking like mental midgets and as emotionally distraught as a Chihuahua with its head stuck in an empty peanut butter jar.

If the bride-to-be’s family and friends would spend as much time and energy scrutinizing her future spouse as they do scrutinizing her choice of wedding dress, perhaps the divorce rate for first marriages in America wouldn’t be hovering around 50%.

I’ll never forget the wedding story a coworker shared with me.  His sister and her future husband, both in their mid-30’s, were business professionals with good jobs. It was the first marriage for both, so they decided to have a dream wedding. Their dream ended up costing over $50,000.  The reception alone accounted for over half of the cost.  They borrowed about $30,000 to help pay for the wedding and a honeymoon at a Caribbean resort.

The couple’s wedding day was everything they had hoped for.  Two years later they divorced.  When their story was shared with me, they had been divorced for three years and both were still paying off their wedding loan as part of their divorce settlement.

Sadly, their story is not unusual.  While not every wedding costs $50,000, it is not uncommon for couples and/or their parents (traditionally the bride’s parents), to spend exorbitant amounts of money for a wedding, particularly for first marriages.  Is this really a good idea?  I think not.

Typically, couples entering a first marriage don’t have a lot of money to start with.  In all practicality, wouldn’t it be better for the parents to stroke the newlyweds a check for a cool ten grand than to spend that much or more on a lavish wedding and reception that’s over in a day? And let’s dispense with the worn out tradition that the bride’s parents should bear most of the financial burden of a wedding, as if paying a dowry to be released from the responsibility of providing for their daughter.

I’m not knocking wedding celebrations.  I just believe it’s possible to have a beautiful, memorable wedding day without breaking the bank.  Americans could take a couple of lessons from the Japanese, even though a typical Japanese weddings cost over $30,000.

While some Japanese women wear modern wedding dresses, many still choose to be married in traditional, ornately hand-embroidered silk Kimonos.  Some of these are handed down from generation to generation, but more and more they are simply rented for the wedding ceremony, much as American grooms typically rent tuxedos for their weddings.

Why is it OK for men to rent tuxedos while women have to buy their wedding dresses?  It is solely because wedding marketing and advertising is aimed at women.  If the truth be told, most grooms are more eager to see their bride out of her wedding dress than in it!

If you go to a Japanese wedding reception, you won’t see a table full of beautifully wrapped boxes containing toasters, electric blenders and other gifts.  Guests attending a Japanese wedding reception are expected to bring “Oshugi,” a cash gift in an elaborately decorated envelope. What a grand tradition!  Usually, the amount of Oshugi is based upon the wedding guest’s relationship with the couple.  It can amount to the equivalent of several hundred American dollars. Sometimes the amount to bring is listed right on the wedding invitation.  In this case, accepting the invitation implies acceptance of the recommended Oshugi

Here in western Pennsylvania we have a few great wedding traditions of our own.  It is not uncommon to see wedding receptions held at the church where the marriage ceremony takes place.  Typically, women of the church help with cooking and baking for the reception, significantly lowering the wedding cost.

If you’re looking for a reception that’s awash in booze, a church probably isn’t the reception venue for you.  But who says you have to spend a fortune on alcohol for a wedding?  The bar bill, even for a modest wedding, can be enormous.

Per her request, for our oldest daughter’s wedding the only alcohol served was champagne, which was poured for the traditional toasts.  There was plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks, lots of good music and dancing, and no drunks embarrassing themselves or bothering others. Several guests commented it was the most enjoyable reception they had ever attended.

Another common practice here in western Pennsylvania is to hold wedding receptions in fire halls or similar venues where you can arrange your own catering. Arranging your own catering can save you thousands on the cost of the reception.  As a cost cutter, you can also plan a late morning wedding followed by a lunch reception or even heavy hors d’oeuvres in lieu of a meal.

With today’s MP3 and other digital technologies, it is also becoming more common for couples to forgo a DJ and instead provide their own music.  Just remember to record the traditional entrance song and first dance music at the beginning of the tracks. You can connect to the venue’s sound system, rent a system, or bring one from home.

The bottom line for weddings is they shouldn’t cause anyone extreme financial hardship.  It’s possible to have a simple, yet elegant and memorable wedding without breaking the bank. Good planning is essential. The Internet has dozens of websites full of ideas on how to plan a low cost wedding without sacrificing quality.  Here are a few to get you started:

Cheap Ways to Have a Fabulous Reception

Have a Charming (and Cheap) Wedding

Seven Steps for an Awesome $2,500 Wedding

Ten Ways to Save Money and Have a Cheap Wedding

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rose Santos on June 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I wish I had seen this blog before my wedding. It is full of good advice.


  2. Thank you for this post! I just got engaged and will be getting married in either south-central Pa. or northeastern Pa. YES to fire halls, etc!


  3. Thank you for this advice! I just got engaged and will be getting married in south-central Pa. or northeastern Pa. YES to fire halls, etc.!


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