December 11, 2008

Weddings: The Money Pit of All Money Pits

If you think the stock market is the quickest way to lose vast sums of money, then you've never thrown a wedding. One of my closest friends is getting married in three months, and he invited me to be one of his groomsman. As a result, I have had a (terrifying) inside glimpse into the costs associated with throwing a wedding. If the divorce rate wasn't enough to put you off from marriage, then maybe the catering bill will.

My friend and his soon-to-be wife both have very good jobs (dentist and lawyer), and their parents are middle-to-upper class, so they can afford a really nice wedding, but I was still shocked at the costs. I used to think that maybe $30,000 would get you a really, really nice wedding... but now I’m starting to think that the number is more like $60,000 and possibly $90,000. I’m not even sure how that is possible, but it is.

I'm sure there are many of you reading this thinking, "$30,000?! I would never spend $30,000 on a wedding... let alone $60,000! That’s insane! Me and my hubby, Billy Bob, had a great wedding at Cracker Barrel a couple of years ago for $7,000, and it was great." OK, OK, I'm sure that the Cracker Barrel wedding was great and, yes, I will admit that each couple has their own spending budget for a wedding. However, I'm telling you that you cannot have a standard wedding for 200 people in a metropolitan city, in a real facility, with real food, real entertainment, real flowers, and a real cake, for less than $30,000. And, I'm horrified to say, it's probably closer to $60,000.

The wedding industry is a scam. It's shocking to think that people spend THAT much money ($9,000... $30,000... $60,000... whatever) on a party for ONE night. I know it is an important day, but tens of thousands of dollars? Really?? It's gotten to the point where you have to ask, "Who can afford to even get married anymore?"

As I mentioned, my friend and his fiancee can afford the big wedding they want, even as the United States is rapidly becoming a third-world country. But what about the 99% of "other" Americans out there? Most of us have normal jobs making a normal salary, and we don't have $5,000 lying around, let alone $60,000. Our parents may have some money, but that is still a massive chunk of coin, right? So how do these young couples pay for it all?

I think that many couples end up paying for it through credit cards. Maybe not the whole thing, but there is likely some difference between what they get from parents, what little they may have to contribute themselves and what they get in gifts. (By the way, you will NEVER recover your wedding costs through gifts from guests. If you have any question about that, take a look at one of my earlier blogs, called Hosting Weddings Sucks on 8/21/08.) Perhaps a couple may "only" put $5,000 of the wedding expenses on a credit card, or maybe it's more like $15,000 or more... but either way, it's a massive amount of debt that could prove crippling.

[By the way, the photo above is from a real wedding loan website. I love how she has a tatoo on her hand... you just know she is a dirty slut (great for a night, but bad for a marriage!) Why on earth did they pick her to be the model? I find that so amusing.]

Can you think of a WORSE way for a new, young couple to start off in life other than mired in credit card debt after the wedding?? Credit card debt that bought (literally) NOTHING. It bought a party. A party that the wedding couple didn't even enjoy, because they were running around hosting everyone. There is no hard asset to offset the debt they have incurred. The cost of a wedding could have been a substantial down payment on a house, or paid for school, or paid off pre-existing debt, or saved for retirement. Those who understand the "present value of money" from finance classes can appreciate the magnitude that this debt will have on a young couple.

It gets you to thinking... the divorce rate is about 50%, and the most common reason why couples argue (and why they get divorced) is money. You have to wonder how many marriages were ironically destroyed by the very event that formed them – a wedding (and the subsequent horrible financial position it can create). Now, I'm not saying that if we abolish weddings then we will prevent all the money problems and arguing in a marriage. However, I am saying that a lot of hardship could probably be avoided if there wasn't the societal pressures to have a big fancy wedding – especially if the couple can't really afford it. Am I off base here, or did some of you get married and have to take on tons of debt to do so? How expensive were your weddings, and was it worth it when you look back years later?


  1. i think you can have a big wedding or a small wedding but the pressure some people face to spend too much is wrong

  2. Yes my wedding cost a TON!!! And we had to pay it all oursevles. It's not easy and you shouldnt overdo it if you can.

  3. I think they wedding you can afford is the wedding that you should have!

  4. I think many brides and grooms out there have a sense of entitlement to what kind of wedding they should have when really, if they want to get married then they should be intelligent enough to say, okay, this is our budget and this is the wedding we can afford and stick to it. (Holy run on sentence).

    Couples should NOT go into debt over a wedding, that is a bad financial decision that they are making. They shouldn’t expect mommy and daddy to pay for it either – if you are old enough to get married, then you are old enough to pay for it yourselves. Now if someone offers, you can accept. It would be pretty tacky to ask for money though (yes, even from your parents).

    Affordable weddings can be had. They may not be as easy to plan or coordinate, but they are worth it. You have to do a lot of research and cut out a lot of unnecessary (let’s face it) crap. You don’t need to do favors (a few hundred right there) – trinkets get left behind, no one wants them. If you give them a piece of chocolate, okay yay? Really, it’s a nice gesture but wouldn’t be missed. You don’t have to have a limo. Set up an ipod for music. Have a friend take the pictures. Make your own cake. Have the wedding on a Friday. Have the wedding “off season.” Make the invites yourself. Do the flowers yourself. Keep it small.

  5. My mom got married on a beach, just her and her husband. My friend just got married in the courts. I plan on having a small wedding with close family and friends. I don't want 200 people that I barely know to feel obligated to show up. Chances are I wouldn't even notice half the people there. If there aren't a lot of people, then you don't have to worry about cost of food or an area big enough to hold the wedding.

    I guess it just depends on a person's preference. Not everybody has extravagant weddings that break the bank though.