The save the dates are in and the invitations on their way. In just a few short weeks, wedding season will be in full swing, along with the stress of the average $31,213 price tag for the happy couple and $592 average cost for guests. That’s according to the annual wedding report from The Knot and a recent survey by American Express.
With weddings and pre-wedding events already crowding the planner pages of every other spring and summer weekend, it’s time to think budget.
Every year, the same financial concerns come up, and despite the whispered misgivings of the budget-conscious and financially-strapped, the unreasonable wedding culture continues. Even the most grounded and low-key brides-to-be eventually fall prey to the hysteria of wedding mania, as the most frugal guests get caught up in unreasonable expectations and fears of violating misguided laws of etiquette.
Social, cultural and familial precedents, along with high emotions and unrealistic expectations set by media and pop culture, fuel the continuous escalation of a simple celebration into a high-cost, high-stress event.
What the wedding industry seems to be suffering from is a gross lack of perspective. Practices that are completely and entirely optional have become thought of as must-have staples, driving many couples either further into debt or farther from major financial goals such as buying a home or starting a family.
While every bride and groom will have his or her own priorities when it comes to planning the big day, it helps to start with the bare bones of what’s required – a marriage license and officiant. Remembering that everything else is optional might help infuse a long overdue dose of reason into the wedding industry.
Here are some prime examples of optional wedding rituals turned overblown staples that you might be better off without.
The engagement ring: After the reception, the engagement ring is the second biggest wedding expense, coming in at an average of $5,598 in 2013. What couples seem to have forgotten is that it’s the commitment to marry that makes them engaged, not the money spent on a piece of jewelry that will become redundant once wedding bands are exchanged. The standard three months’ salary spent on a ring could be used to fund so many alternate, shared endeavors, such as furnishing a home or kick starting future college saving. Buying into an artificially controlled diamond supply will not make your love or relationship any more valuable, but it certainly can result in a significant hit to your net worth.
The pricey wedding dress. You don’t have to skip the dress entirely, but you can certainly pass on the several thousand-dollar price tag. Wedding dresses are for one day only. Affordable alternatives can be found online, through resale sites and dress rental companies. You might even be able to borrow a dress from a family member or close friend.
Paper: It’s the thick of the digital age and despite a slight decline in average spending on invites, the 2014 mean price tag still sat at $439. Given the ubiquity of digital correspondence, including five different pieces of paper in one invitation that already references an online website for more information seems awful wasteful, both financially and environmentally.
Pre-wedding events: What started as a singular precursor to the big day has evolved into an engagement party, lingerie party, spa day, bachelorette party and goodness knows what else, each with its own set of commitments and fiscal expectations. The tab for these cumulative events tacked onto wedding day costs can easily soar into the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Add to that a destination event, an increasingly common choice among couples, and you can pretty much count on kissing at least one of your personal financial goals goodbye.
Gifts: With so much spending required for guests to simply attend nuptial celebrations, a return to “presence as the present” might be in order. The $592 average cost of attendance doesn’t even include gifts that often follow the misguided “cover the cost of your plate” myth – easily tacking on an extra hundred bucks or two. As the etiquette experts say, an invitation is not an invoice.Give in line with your budget and in a way that makes for you and your relationship with the happy couple.
A wedding is a celebration, and stressing over overblown costs is a total buzz kill. It’s time to strip away the many so-called staples and redefine weddings, building from the ground up, prioritizing what’s most important. While expectations and emotions run high, you can stay grounded in your fiscal reality by connecting with what’s ultimately the most important part of your big day – your new relationship.
Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com and her book, “The Broke and Beautiful Life,” is now available.