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paying for weddings

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I’m completely single, not just unmarried, but having no experience in an area doesn’t normally stop me either having an opinion, or wanting to learn more. My peers are getting into prime marriageable age, which is great, but always makes me wonder about how such things get paid for.

Most of my peers are like me (funnily enough) non-religious graduates, these are not people who balk at *living in sin*. But, this means that the people getting married now are having first weddings of the conventional variety. In England that means in either a C of E church, hotel or stately home, in the early afternoon with a sit-down three course meal for around 70 people with wine, followed by an evening do - disco, buffet and cash bar - for around 120 to 150. You can add to that a professional photographer, white wedding dress for the bride, morning suits for the groom and any ushers, flowers, three tiered cake, etc, etc.

I believe that the average cost of a wedding in the UK is in the £20k region (about $40k US). I’ve always thought that was a lot of money, but actually you can see how it adds up. Standard-ish prices in my area (outside London) for the things mentioned are:

  • wedding breakfast - £5,000
  • evening reception - £2,000
  • rings - £2000
  • photographer - £1,200
  • flowers - £1,000
  • cars - £500
  • wedding dress - £500
  • church - £300
  • suits - £300
  • cake - £250
  • stationery - £250
  • legal costs - £100

That’s well over £13k and I bet I haven’t nearly thought of everything. Plus there’s a fancy honeymoon. Actually the honeymoon is often the first thing that falls by the wayside when people are trying to cut costs. And people do cut back on the amounts that they spend, but mostly on the smaller things like making their own invitations, or non-professional flowers. But a traditional English wedding reception is just in the £7k range and upwards. That’s how much food, alcohol and pretty buildings cost.

So, how do people pay for it? I know my friends and they aren’t rolling in money. They have the same sorts of income that I do and I’m not sure that I could save up those sums over the course of one or two years which seems to be the typical length of an engagement. I do my best, but I’ve consistently found that it takes me about 3 years to save £6k, and given conversations that we’ve had about credit card debts, my friends and acquantainces are not all *sensible personal finance* people. I suspect that some of the money may be going on credit cards (yes, you’re right a wedding is a poor excuse for consumer debt). But I think more of it is being contributed by parents.

That I’m not a fan of. Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit unconventional. I don’t think that getting married is an achievement - certainly a very nice thing for the couple but not an achievement. I also don’t think that grown adults who moved out of home more than a couple of years ago who have good incomes should be accepting money from their parents to pay for a big party. Now, I understand that it’s a little difficult to refuse an unsolicited gifts, but expecting a contribution is definitely beyond the pale.

People who have these (very nice) conventional weddings often expect their parents to contribute probably because there’s no way they could afford a *standard* wedding otherwise. But I think that if you’re grown up enough to get married, you’re grown up enough to pay for it yourself, and to be satisfied with a wedding that you can afford yourselves. Of course people may find it difficult/impossible to refuse a no strings gift from their parents, but why use that to upgrade the experience? Why not save money to put towards something else?

Honestly it’s not me being bitter, and thinking that people shouldn’t get married at all. I’m always delighted when my friends get married and excited to send a card and gift, and to go if I’m invited. I just wish that spending less money on them was the norm.

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22 comments for “paying for weddings”

  1. I agree about the parents paying thing. As my fiance and I are already living together it would feel strange to expect our parents to pay for our wedding. The answer for us has been to save, save, save like CRAZY during our 18 month engagement. It means cutting back in other areas at the moment so all our extra cash is going into the wedding fund. Before we got engaged I would never have believed we could save so much in 18 months, but that’s what we want to do as we don’t want to wind up with debts after the big day. I think it’s totally personal preference; lots of people might rather spend all that money on something else, whereas we really want the big party to celebrate.

    Posted by FruGal | August 13, 2008, 1:34 pm
  2. It’s always been my belief that the wedding is not for the couple getting married but for everyone else. In which case, I can see why parents would chip in. :)
    But I think that is cultural. Where my family comes from, weddings are a community affair. It isn’t just a joining of two people, but a joining of two families/communities/bloodlines.

    All that being said - if the idea is of a big crazy wedding is yours (and not your parents), then yes, you should pay for it yourself.

    Posted by deepali | August 13, 2008, 2:22 pm
  3. My mother has said she’ll pay for a reception in the nice country house hotel near her, but I think that’s mainly a tactic to try and convince me to get married!
    All my friends who have gotten married so far have had substantial parental contributions. I know at least 2 cases the parents had specific “daughter’s wedding funds” that they had been saving- so refusal would have been hard, although I’m not sure they considered saying no.
    I can’t see myself doing the whole big wedding thing, it’s just not my or my partners style (although I enjoy going to others). If my mum offered the reception money for an extra few nights on honeymoon- I’m not sure I’d say no to be honest!

    Posted by Looby | August 13, 2008, 3:12 pm
  4. I don’t know how I feel about this. I would really like it if my parents helped out, but I definitely don’t expect them to foot the bill. I want a large wedding (something I’m sure Mr. Right will hate, where ever he is) and so any help would be appreciated but I don’t think that I would just assume that my parents were going to pay for everything.

    Posted by Maggie | August 13, 2008, 3:38 pm
  5. My wife and I married for about $4k (~£2k) which her parents provided. Our honeymoon ran us about $3k which we provided. I couldn’t have imagined spending $40k for a wedding. That is more than I make in an entire year!

    Our honeymoon was really nice and I am glad we spent the money that we did. I would have spent even more on it if we could have afforded it.

    Posted by Steward | August 13, 2008, 3:41 pm
  6. Just to confirm, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending lots of your own money on a really big party, if that’s what you want. People make different choices on this, like they do on everything else and all sensible choices are good ones.

    Brilliant. I think it goes to show what you can do when you put your mind to it.

    I actually sort of agree with you - I see weddings as being as much about families as about the couple. But, usually they are the ones that want to get married. If they are already living adult lives then they should be paying for the party. If the family thing is important, then I guess you just have to suck it up. On the other hand, if someone else is insisting that you throw a party and you don’t want to then I think it’s ok to either not do it, or get them to pay.

    I do appreciate the thing about not being able to refuse money. I tend to accept gifts from family even though it makes me uncomfortable. I find the concept of “daughter’s wedding funds” to be beyond weird. I hope that my dad (who can be oddly old-fashioned) hasn’t got anything like that.

    Honestly, in the nicest possible way, if *you* want a big wedding then I think you have to pay for it yourself. As a bonus, I believe it will lead to less stress in the long run.

    It’s definitely possible to have a much cheaper wedding. I think in the UK I’d put the minimum cost for a wedding that’s quasi-traditional at about £1k to £2k.

    There’s no tradition of having anything less than a full meal/buffet, so that automatically bumps up costs. That’s not to say you can’t do anything else, just that it would be unconventional in England.

    Posted by plonkee | August 13, 2008, 3:55 pm
  7. We were having this conversation @ work today after I mentioned a friend of mine spent $45K (US) on her wedding, had a baby 5 months later and couldn’t even afford to take maternity leave!! After the baby and then an unplanned pregnancy with twins when baby number 1 was less than 1 they will be paying for the wedding (they contributed about 10K) for years!

    I do agree with your stance. I’ve always thought a wedding is about 2 people. I do think that there’s nothing wrong with it being a family event based on culture or family etc, but I think if you’re grown up enough to get married you can pay for it yourself. I like the idea of parents contributing (only if they can afford it) I know my friend’s mum bought her dress and his Dad did the cars, it was a lovely thought and very much appreciated by them!

    I guess like everything in life it’s a balance - you need to define what would make it a “special day” vs. spending that will prevent you from building a home, having children etc. I’m sure there’s a happy medium in there!

    When I was in Canada and US I couldn’t believe the size of the weddings, 150-200 people for the whole day - sit down meal etc. They don’t just invite guests to the party @ the end!I went to some FAB weddings including a chinese one with something like 9 courses in the main meal!!

    Great post!

    Posted by Frugal Trenches | August 13, 2008, 8:43 pm
  8. I wonder if some of my feelings on the subject are prompted by the idea that if my sister was engaged, my dad would dearly love to pay for wedding stuff for, but I suspect that he doesn’t really have the money to do so.

    On the other hand, I still think that grown adults should be independent of their parents’ finances. Even if their parents can afford to give.

    Posted by plonkee | August 13, 2008, 8:52 pm
  9. re: the daughter fund - it doesn’t have to go towards a wedding. my friend used it for the downpayment on her house, because she knew she wouldn’t need it for a wedding.

    but where i come from, the parents never not want a big wedding (and usually the couples do too). half the guests are their friends anyway. i don’t imagine i know more than 100 or so people that i like enough to invite to a wedding, so if it were just my people, it wouldn’t be big (even with his people, that’s still only about 200).
    but add in my parents’ community (and his)… and then you’ve got a big wedding. and i ain’t paying for people i haven’t seen in years. ;)

    the upside - you get lots of gifts!

    Posted by deepali | August 14, 2008, 2:59 am
  10. We actually had this very discussion at work this week.

    My thoughts are: I’ve lived out of home longer than I actually lived at home, so I wouldn’t expect anything from my parents financially.

    In fact I wouldn’t even ask my Dad to walk me down the Aisle at this point, he’s hardly ‘giving me away’ is he?

    Posted by debtdieter | August 14, 2008, 3:01 am
  11. I got engaged this weekend, so it’s a really timely post - we’re hoping to get married reasonably cheaply, although we do want a lot of the things on your list, so it scares me a little. One way of minimising the cost is to cut down on the number of people attending - this can get out of hand very quickly.

    We will hopefully be getting some money from our parents to pay for it - I can see your point about grown adults should be able to pay for it themselves, but things are tight for us, less so for our parents. Wouldn’t expect them to fork out for the whole thing though.

    I’ll be interested to see how we can save money in the whole process.

    Posted by Rob Lewis | August 14, 2008, 10:03 am
  12. @Plonkee
    Honestly, what I want more than anything is a designer dress, which I already have a savings account set up so that I can cover the cost of whatever I end up getting without shooting the budget into the ground. And of course, anything that’s left over will go to other bits of the budget.

    Posted by Maggie | August 14, 2008, 4:31 pm
  13. My wedding cost a few hundred dollars. We only had 6 guests! We wanted the commitment, not the big party. I agree that grown adults should not expect their parents to shell out that kind of money (or any, really). It was different when girls would get married at 19 and had never lived on their own.

    Posted by Canadian | August 14, 2008, 9:32 pm
  14. You are absolutely spot on. Most people in my peer group have whacked the cost on tick! Such fools. I’m trying to talk my OH into a Tahiti style wedding on the beach. it’s unbelievabel that this can be cheaper than dreary old blightly but it’s true!

    Posted by Uncommonadvice | August 18, 2008, 1:13 pm
  15. More couples end up in debt because of overpriced weddings. That money could be used on a down payment for a house.

    Posted by Alabama Beach weddings | August 19, 2008, 7:55 pm
  16. From being part of friends’ and family members’ weddings I get the impression a lot of wedding costs can snowball very quickly. It’s really, really hard to overrule older and more forceful family members (and especially inlaws!) so suddenly a few months in it’s a big expensive event.

    We did it on the cheap (just me, him, a couple of witnesses and a very luxurious hotel stay) and have no regrets at all. My parents obviously didn’t contribute but gave us a large cheque as a gift a few months later which was both embarrassing and surprising.

    Posted by guinness416 | August 21, 2008, 12:37 pm
  17. We paid for our own wedding, and the final cost was around $15K. We made our own invites, programs, favors, etc - it saved a ton of money. We didn’t believe in spending a fortune to impress other people; after all, it was our day and that was what was most important - have a nice day with our family, not going broke for a 5 hour event!

    Posted by David | August 21, 2008, 2:44 pm
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