Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Feminist Wedding: The Budget

When I got engaged, I think I secretly thought that somehow the amazing-party-planner inside me would just emerge. That I would know whether my invitations look better printed on white or ecru, how to pick a good florist, plan a party with perfect flow, and learn all the secrets of Photoshop. I quickly learned, however, that my little ring was not full of magical powers. And that the only thing you really learn when you get engaged is that weddings are insanely expensive.

I think I also assumed that if I went into the wedding planning process not demanding the most expensive things and not buying into the idea that I had to buy all the things (customized hangars! garters! sparklers! mustache props!) that my wedding wouldn't cost that much. But the problem is, no matter how much you don't want the most expensive things or think it shouldn't cost too much, the people in the wedding industry think that it should cost an absolute ton. Around $27,000 to be exact.

According to USA Today, the Knot.com, and the Wedding Channel, the average couple spends around $27,000 on their wedding. $27,000! That is the average. And that is a ton of money! Here is where they say that money goes:

Because the average couple spends $27,000 on their wedding, people stare at you like you are some kind of crazy person when you say that $3,000 for photography is out of your budget, that $1,000 for a DJ seems ridiculous, or that $35 for a bouquet of baby's breath seems like a little much (they are $5 a bunch at Whole Foods people). I thought spending less on flowers would be easy, but when I started looking at florists, half of them had minimums of $1,500. I couldn't even choose to use less flowers or use less expensive flowers. It felt like I was being forced into spending money I didn't want to spend on things I didn't even want. And indeed, isn't that half the point of the wedding industrial complex? To make you feel like you HAVE TO spend a ton of money (or set ridiculous minimums and prices to basically force you into spending it)?

Brett and I knew from the beginning that we didn't want to spend a ton of money on our wedding. And that we absolutely would not accrue any credit card debt to pay for the wedding. One of the first things we did after getting engaged - before I looked at a single dress or venue - was think about what we wanted our wedding budget to look like. For us, that meant not just thinking about what we could afford, but also what we thought was an ethical amount to spend on what is essentially one night and one party (albeit a very meaningful and special party). For us, $27,000 just seemed to high. And to be honest, for Brett, almost any amount was too high. We had a few difficult conversations about what seemed ethical and right for both of us and struggled with the fact that what seemed "reasonable" to us was still probably considered a waste of money to people all over the world. We both felt guilty that we were spending money on a party when other people lack food, shelter, and clothing.

But ultimately, we want a wedding. We want to be able to invite our closest family and friends, feed them yummy food, give them a space and some music to dance their little hearts out, and dress up a little. And that costs money. So we came up with a number much lower than $27,000 that we felt comfortable with and that, luckily, our parents felt comfortable contributing. Because let's be honest, Brett and I have no money and quite a bit of student loans. If our parents weren't contributing to our wedding, this wedding blog series would go something like: "I bought a little white dress. Brett put on a blazer. I picked up a bouquet of flowers. We went to the courthouse and got married. We celebrated by drinking margaritas and eating lots of cake." And while that actually sounds quite awesome, it wouldn't involve all the people, yummy food, and dancing that we'd like to have.

So, thanks to our parents, we can still have the wedding we want without going into debt. I'm happy that we're resisting the idea that we have to spend $30,000 on a wedding and hope that our wedding can be an example to others that you can have a wedding for less than that (if everybody refuses to spend a ton, i have a small flicker of hope that the wedding industry might change). I enjoy the process of thinking creatively about how to spend less, prioritizing what is important to us, and have been overwhelmed by the amazingly crafty and generous things friends and family have offered to do and make for the wedding. I'm ridiculously excited about getting married, about crafting a meaningful ceremony, and about throwing a fun and pretty party. Whenever I get sad that I can't afford something (which does happen from time to time) or think that it wouldn't be that big of a deal if I go way over budget on something, I remind myself that this does not have to be the wedding to end all weddings, that this is not the only time in our lives we'll host a party, that we are not planning a photo shoot but a wedding (they're not the same!), and that this doesn't have to be the most magical, wonderful, happiest, and most perfect day of our lives. Because if, at the end of the day, we end up married, I know we'll have a magical, wonderful, and happy life together. And that's what really matters.

P.S. If you were hoping that this post would actually include some helpful tips about budgeting, I recommend downloading the budget template from Google's wedding spreadsheets. I've found it really useful (although I totally ignored all the recommended percentages/amounts). I also highly recommend an idea that I picked up in the book A Practical Wedding: make a list of things you care about and things you don't care about before you do any wedding planning. When you start thinking that you have to have letterpress stationery or get bummed that you can't afford to have flowers absolutely everywhere, it is nice to look back at that list and remind yourself that a few months ago you didn't care that much about paper or flowers.

15 comments:

  1. Yes! We got married while we were still in graduate school and paid for everything ourselves, so a $30,000 wedding was absolutely out of the question.

    I think the thing that made me the most crazy was when I went to my hair appointment the morning of the wedding. I had my hair put into an up-do and when I went to pay, I saw a list of their prices on the counter. An up-do was $40. Then the clerk told me my total was $65. I pointed to the price list and she said, "Oh, but you got a WEDDING up-do. Those are more." Oh really? Did they sprinkle magic wedding dust on my hair? The wedding industry is a giant scam. You can often find the exact same decorations, stationary, etc. for less if you just look for it without the word "wedding" attached to it.

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    1. Yes! I was at Publix looking at their wedding cakes. And they had a 12-inch round cake that was $20.00. I wanted the 12-inch round with a 10-inch round on top of it. The cost? $150. I was like, "this cake is $20! A smaller cake on top should be max another $20. How did we get to $150?!" I even wanted to have less decoration than the $20 cake. But the woman from Publix just kept saying "but you want a wedding cake!"

      Ridiculous.

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  2. I feel you on the flowers. I was able to spend less than $500 on what probably would have be $2000ish worth of flowers by ordering them through a wholesaler (using my former boss's florist friend's information). My boss (who owned a flower shop for 22 years) did the bouquets, boutonnieres, and arrangements with the help of myself and friends. We also picked a lot of wild flowers and grasses (fo' free, but my friend did risk injury by climbing down a steep, muddy hill in flip flops and I lost my green covered cell phone in a green field - where no one had reception - for 20 minutes).

    Anyhow, if possible, I highly recommend trying to order flowers wholesale or buying them at a local flower market and having a creatively inclined friend, ideally who isn't in the wedding party, be in charge of the flowers along with some helpers.

    Or maybe you can find a florist with a lower (or no) minimum outside of the city?

    I also regret not hiring a wedding planner, even just for the day of or week before. I resisted mostly because of how they are depicted in movies. I also hate the word "wedding" and tried to avoid it at all costs. Our "venue" was out in the middle of nowhere and it would have been nice to have someone else coordinate everything. As an extreme introvert, I slow down when things get very stressful. Fortunately, friend who risked injury stepped in, carried a clipboard around all week, made phone calls, told people what to do, and helped things run smoothly. Wedding planners can also order flowers through a wholesaler and help save money in various ways.

    I designed my own invitations, but if you are still in the market, I highly recommend carolinemcgahdesign.com for any custom paper things.

    Good luck!

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    1. Hunting for flowers with your friends, even in the mud, sounds fun!

      I had a family friend offer to do my flowers and was so excited because I really think that is the best route to go. Since then, she has offered to host my rehearsal/welcome dinner and I just think it would be too stressful to do both. Since we're doing a lot of DIY projects and will be setting up the day of the wedding, I felt like it was too much to do flowers too. Thankfully, I found a florist who doesn't cost too much and who I really like (and who didn't roll her eyes when I asked her to think of a creative way to get the cost of my bouquet down). We'll spend more than what we would have if we'd done the flowers ourselves, but sometimes you just can't do it all. I'm glad yours worked out so well though!

      Thanks for the advice about the wedding planner. Fortunately, one of my bridesmaids has done some event planning and can be very bossy (hi Gaux!), so she will be stage managing our wedding. I'm looking forward to letting her tell everyone what to do so I don't have to. :-)

      And thanks for the tip re: paper design!

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  3. you are a hipster bridezilla

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    1. I've never been called a hipster before!

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  4. Yeah, sounds like you want a traditional lavish wedding, can't afford it, so you go the alternate "hipster" route make your own flowers etc... just wear a wedding dress and dont pick up used clothes and combat boots at a thrift store to try to fit in

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    1. I don't want a traditional or excessively lavish wedding at all.

      And people have been doing their own flowers for hundreds of years (if they chose to use them, like for some type of flower crown). That isn't necessarily "hipster." And it isn't "hipster" to try and be conservative with your wedding budget.

      Also, I'm not sure what world you live in where wearing a wedding dress is considered "standing out" and wearing combat boots is considered "trying to fit in." But thank you for the advice on my attire!

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  5. I don't understand why this post is getting so many controversial comments... is it really "unconventional" and "hipster" to resist being ripped off? My super Republican military family would be all about this!! -BK

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    1. your super republican military family probably hates gays though so that's that

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    2. My super republican family also enjoys saving money. :-)

      And anonymous, while gay rights are always important, your comment is an unnecessary attack on a family you don't even know and really has nothing to do with this comment thread.

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    3. are you a republican?

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  6. Wow...we spent just over 1000 pounds on our wedding. It was half food/reception venue, a quarter clothes and a quarter other random costs like actually marrying. We bought flower bouquets from the supermarket.

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  7. I truly love your site.. Great colors & theme. Did you develop this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m planning to create my own site and would like to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Appreciate it!

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  8. My whole wedding was around $4000 - including unlimited food and drinks for over 100 guests at a neighborhood bar. Not sure how people come away having spent over $20,000.

    The thing that mattered most to us was music; we picked our favorite local band and paid them $1,000. The rest was pretty easy and cheap.

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