It’s wedding season, folks! With the onset of summer, the wedding bells have started to ring. Over the next four weeks, my husband and I will be attending a wedding or wedding-related event on every weekend. I imagine I’ll shed many happy tears, sip multiple glasses of champagne, and hear every rendition of “Canon in D.” And, I’m hoping we get to dance to “Gangnam Style” a few times, as well.
As I look forward to these weddings, I also think back to our own wedding last fall. When Mr. W. and I started planning our nuptials, we already had the basics figured out. We knew we wanted to be married in his childhood parish, and we knew that we wanted a September or October wedding date. The big question was “How much should we spend on this shindig?” It wasn’t an easy question to answer. (See what Tina, Jordann and Michelle have to say about the subject). We had heard the statistics and they were a bit daunting. We knew that the national average in the U.S. was reported to be $27,000-$29,000*. We also knew that the average where we lived, Northern New Jersey, was significantly higher (check out that graphic below).
|Infographic source: http://blog.theknot.com/2013/03/11/25-most-expensive-places-to-marry/|
These statistics weren’t especially helpful in determining how much we should spend on our own wedding. I wish there were some formula that said, “a wedding should cost x% of the couple’s combined salary.” But the equation wouldn’t be that simple. There are too many other factors to consider. Weddings – and wedding budgets – will never be a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It doesn’t matter what everyone else spends because the only ones getting married on your wedding day are you and your spouse-to-be.
For us, there were several questions that we considered when determining our wedding budget
1. How much can we afford? This was the primary question. We never considered going into debt or depleting our savings accounts for the wedding. This was a non-negotiable decision for each of us. Before we were engaged, Mr. W. and I had a good sense of each other’s financial positions. We knew each other’s salaries and had a rough idea – within $1,000 – of how much the other person had in his/her bank accounts. When we started planning the wedding, we had more detailed discussions regarding our combined assets as well as our regular monthly expenses. This helped us to create a very accurate projection of how much we could comfortably afford to spend on our wedding.
2. What are our other financial goals? When it comes to finances, Mr. W. and I are both risk averse. We want to have a sizable nest egg at all times in case of emergencies or job loss. When planning our wedding budget, we asked, “How much do we want to have left in our savings account(s) after we’ve paid for our wedding and honeymoon?” We decided that $10,000-$12,000 was a reasonable amount (after getting married, we have since increased this to $25,000-$30,000). In addition, we were planning to buy a car for Mr. W. He had been driving an 18-year old vehicle that was rapidly becoming unfit for the road. We would need to save enough to pay for the down payment on the car, again without diminishing the nest egg. Finally, we knew that our 4-5 year goals included purchasing a modest starter home. Given the high cost of housing in our area, we will need to save aggressively and consistently before owning a home can become a reality. We agreed on a wedding budget that would not hinder or delay these other financial goals.
3. Will others be contributing to our wedding? Both of our families were quite generous and provided significant monetary contributions towards our wedding. Mr. W and I were extremely grateful and rather humbled by their generosity. We almost felt guilty for accepting the money. After all, we were grown adults. Shouldn’t we pay for our own wedding? Wasn’t this our responsibility as two individuals who had decided to start a life together? Yes, we should be able to pay for our wedding. And we were. If our parents hadn’t contributed a single dime to our wedding, we still would have been able to foot the bill. We may have trimmed the guest list, selected a less expensive venue, or delayed our honeymoon if we hadn’t had the additional financial support. However, it was very important to our parents to contribute to our wedding, and something that they had planned for years. Because we did not cover the entire cost ourselves, we were able to spend more on our wedding without compromising our other financial goals. That’s not to say that we spent wastefully or carelessly after receiving money from our parents. If anything, I think we were more careful with our wedding budget because our parents had contributed. We would have been devastated if they felt that we had wasted their hard-earned money.
4. What aspects of the wedding are most important to us and our family? Our primary goal on our wedding day, of course, was to finish the day as a married couple. Other than that, we wanted our friends and family to enjoy the affair as much as possible. Given that our families had been so generous, we felt it was important to honor their preferences and our respective cultural traditions. In Mr. W’s family, love and gratitude are demonstrated through hospitality. For our wedding, this meant that we wanted to offer our guests an abundance of food and drink to thank them for celebrating with us. In my mother’s culture, the bride wears a white dress during the ceremony and changes into a red silk dress for the reception. The red dress is often more elaborate than the white dress. To honor my mother’s culture, I had a red dress custom-made from fabric that my grandmother purchased for me years ago. I also had a second pair of shoes and a second set of accessories to coordinate with my red dress. In addition, Mr. W. and I wanted our wedding to be as stress-free as possible for us, our bridal party, and our guests. We chose a reception venue that was also a hotel, so that it would be convenient for our out-of-town guests. Our venue was pricier than some of the other options we had considered, but our guests loved that they could simply walk to their rooms once the reception had ended. There was no need for our guests to brave the hostile New Jersey driving conditions in the wee hours of the morning. None of these expenses – food/drink, red dress, or fancy venue – were strictly mandatory. However, they were important priorities to us so we created a budget that would allow us to accommodate these desires.
Once we had answered these four questions, it was much easier to determine an appropriate wedding budget. To be completely honest, we spent a hefty sum on our wedding. There is no sugar coating it: we had an expensive wedding. And you know what? We don’t regret it, or feel guilty, or worry that we squandered our money. As I’ve said before, I believe that life is worth celebrating. I would not be exaggerating to say that our wedding day was the happiest, most memorable day of my life thus far. I don’t want to speak for Mr. W, but I imagine he feels the same. It was the one and only occasion when all of our loved ones were in the same place, at the same time. And they were all there because they wanted to support us as we started our life together. That’s an extraordinary, remarkable feeling. I imagine our wedding day will maintain this title of “best day yet” until the time when Mr. W. and I have our first child (assuming that’s in the cards for us).
So, how much should you spend on your wedding? As with most tough questions, there is no single “right” answer. Having the wedding of your dreams may leave you with a priceless feeling. However, your bank account(s) will be keenly aware of just how much the wedding truly cost. Each couple will have to do what is right for them. In my opinion, a couple should feel free to spend enough to truly celebrate the occasion in whatever manner they deem appropriate. But – and this is a big “but” – I don’t think that anyone should go into debt for a wedding or spend more than they can comfortably afford. A wedding is often the first major joint expense that a couple incurs, and I don’t think it would be wise to set a precedent for living beyond your means. It’s simply not worth the financial insecurity.
Friends, what are your thoughts on wedding budgets? If you are married or engaged, how did you and your spouse determine how much to spend?
*Will Oremus of Slate.com argues that the reported average wedding cost may be misleading because of selection bias. In addition, Mr. Oremus discovered that the median wedding cost in 2012 was $18,000 – more than a third lower than the reported average. The median, rather than the average, more accurately represents actual wedding costs because it excludes the statistical outliers which would skew the average.