I follow Humans of New York on Facebook and recently saw a photo of a bridal party at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in which none of the bridesmaids matched; not even remotely. And I wondered, will the marriage be doomed? Certainly there must be dire consequences for those who divert from the typically extravagant wedding production or why in the world would people do it?
A hundred years ago, the vast majority of people had simple family weddings that involved modest gatherings, typically at whichever relative’s home was the biggest. In the Victorian age, a bride would have worn her wedding dress throughout the first year of marriage. During WWII, weddings were certainly very modest due to rationing. There is a precedent for thrift. So when did the matrimonial event become so ostentatious?
When you consider that $50K is a decent down payment on a house, which will likely outlast your marriage, your life, and can be passed down to the next generation if desired, and that the divorce rate in the United States seems to hover around 50%, any sane person should reconsider going along with the typically required wedding bruhaha.
You know who doesn’t want you to reconsider an expensive wedding? The wedding industry, who records around $50 billion collectively in annual revenue. The industry doesn’t care about your marriage. The more weddings you have the better. That, which should be a personal and intimate celebration, is nothing but a cash cow to them.
It’s time to put the focus of the wedding back on the marriage where it belongs and to realign the wedding as a celebration of the beginning of a meaningful journey together. So, motivated by a photo in which it appears that the bridal party is doing their own thing and loving it, I put together a few concepts.
Set a Wedding Budget and Stick to It
There are two budgets every wedding has. The one that made sound financial sense. And the one that actually happened, putting undue strain on the newlyweds for the first few years, or longer, of their marriage. One of the most frequent arguments couples have is about money. Your marriage will thank you if you make a reasonable budget and stick to it.
For starters, your wedding should not require you to max out your credit cards at 20% interest or deplete your savings. It’s not unreasonable to anticipate getting laid off the month after your wedding, or needing to replace your car, or ending up in the hospital sick. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable. Remember, once you get married, there are two of you and twice the things that can go wrong.
Don’t Expect Monetary Gifts
It’s highly unlikely that you won’t get any money as a wedding gift. However, as unemployment and underemployment soar, fewer and fewer of your friends and family can be expected to cover the $150 a plate you paid for them. Ideally, you should plan the budget for your wedding as if no money will be received. If that leaves you with getting hot dogs outside of city hall and you were hoping for a little more than that, at least plan on no more than 50% of your guests being able to reimburse you. The days of making money on your wedding are over.
Review the Requirements of Marriage
Do you know what the requirements of a marriage are?
- Two people who want to spent the rest of their lives living together in the same house and enjoying intimate company, who want to share the benefits of being legally bound together.
- A license, which typically costs $50, more or less, depending on your city.
- Some patience as you wait for the paper work to go through.
- An officiant, who you usually can find at the same place you get the license.
- A witness or two.
Nowhere is it a requirement to have a party of any kind. Nowhere is it a requirement to buy clothing you’ll never wear again. Nowhere is it a requirement to let everyone know about your marriage with expensive stationery. Nowhere does it say you have to hire a DJ, or ride in a limo, or release doves into the sky. Nowhere does it say you need underpants that say “Bride” on them.
Focus on What’s Really Important
Even if you are fortunate enough to have a decent budget it’s a good idea to start with a completely blank slate. No themes, no colors, no clothing styles, nothing but the basics, which are mostly yes and no questions.
- Guests – immediate family, extended family, coworkers, friends?
- Bridal party – who?
- Church or a particular location?
- How to record the day – photos, video, both?
If you consider than everything beyond the requirements is an added bonus, even the smallest things become something to get excited about. Starting from the bottom up, from a clean slate, means you only gain, not sacrifice.
It’s your wedding and your marriage will have to live with the expense. No one says you have to have a ceremony followed by a reception and then a honeymoon. You could have a nice city hall justice of the peace ceremony followed by a big reception. You could skip the honeymoon so that more family may attend. You could invite fewer guests and choose a destination wedding / honeymoon combo.
Do Everything with Feeling
The only requirements for a marriage are the soon-to-be spouses, an officiant, a license, and a witness or two. Everything beyond that isn’t a requirement. So, when you add more things to your wedding, don’t make decisions based on obligation. If something doesn’t have deep meaning for you and your future spouse don’t do it. Nothing is worse than facing an expensive bill for something you didn’t really want anyway. The exception for this is if someone wants to pay for something, such as the dress, definitely consider their feelings and their budget.
Ask for and Accept Service as Gifts
This is my favorite. When we got married, we had no money. Luckily, we have some really awesome friends. Everyone took photos and sent us copies. What we got were a great assortment of staged and candid photos that a professional photographer couldn’t have done better. And, we didn’t have photographers overstepping boundaries. Another friend gave us the cake, which was delicious. Find out what your friends can do and ask. If your friends are economically challenged they will really appreciate the option.
Re-evaluate Your Wedding Wardrobe
For her, it’s just a dress. One dress, you are going to wear one time. Unless you envisioned your dream dress from the age of seven (Lady Diana anyone?) and absolutely have to have it, just get something reasonable. Consider having a dress made by a seamstress or choosing an evening gown instead. Two identical gowns can range wildly in price just because one is a wedding gown.
For him, skip the tuxedo and buy a nice suit he will get years of use out of. Every time he wears it, he’ll remember the day.
For them, consider that no one’s marriage ever failed because of a mismatched bridal party. No one ever wears the dresses again. Stop the insanity. You really only need one or two women to assist you. Let everyone else off the hook or let them wear what they want. You will be the coolest bride ever. As an aside, keep a tally in your head and make sure you’re not requiring your attendants to spend more than $1,000 to be in your wedding. If it’s unavoidable, consider allowing them to forgo or postpone a gift.
Plan a Reception People will Remember as Yours
Think of a place that really means something to you both. Or something you both really like to do. A place that your friends and family will say, this is so them! No one ever goes to one of those upscale reception halls and says, wow! this is so them, unless they do and then it’s worth the expense.
For the services and products you do decide to incorporate, choose small business and choose local. If you are going to contribute to the wedding industry, at least stimulate the local economy while you’re doing it.
Do Your Homework
Work the internet to compare prices religiously. Get the best deal possible. If it seems like too much of a bother, I promise you, marriage is 100 times more work. Your wedding is the first chance to really work together on a large-scale project. You will have to budget during your marriage and apply creative problem solving for years and years. Might as well establish good practices early on.