Thursday, June 7, 2012

In favor of simple weddings

It's June, which means that along with graduations and Father's Day planning there are some young brides and grooms out there about to get married. And they'll be spending even more than ever:

Despite a still weak economy, American couples are spending more on weddings. The average nuptials cost $27,021 in 2011, up from $26,984 in 2010, according to a survey by wedding planning website But weddings occur at every price point, and almost every couple (recently wed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg might be the exception) tries to make the most of limited dollars.

While there is great variety on what kind of wedding you can put on, Laura Ursin, a wedding consultant who runs Brides on a Budget, in Madison, Wisconsin, has a rule of thumb for figuring costs: "When you plan your wedding, add two zeros to your guest list." It typically costs more than that in bigger cities.

Many Catholic parishes these days simply assume that young Catholic couples are spending what everyone else is spending--which is why parishes think nothing of asking $600, $1000, or even more from a couple planning their wedding for "mandatory" parish fees. But what would happen if Catholic brides--and serious Christian brides as well--just walked away from the Wedding-Industrial Complex (and its slavering eagerness to start selling its services to gay couples because of all that lovely money they're currently missing out on)? What would happen if Catholic brides and grooms rose up en masse and said, "Enough!" to the ridiculous idea that one has to spend upwards of $27,000 on a one-day party to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with one's family and friends? What would happen if the bride and groom--or their parents--or both planned a simple celebration for the same sort of people they would invite to a family baptism, first communion, or confirmation instead of feeling pressured and/or obligated to invite casual acquaintances, business colleagues, third-cousins twice-removed who live three states over and haven't seen the bride since before she had teeth, and the groom's college roomate's extended family? If all of those people are truly close to the bride and groom such that they'll all show up for the baptism of the couple's first eventual baby, that's one thing--but why do so many people think that weddings must be some kind of extravaganzapalooza above and beyond any party the family would normally host or, indeed, can even afford?

And then there's all that other financial pressure: the groom should spend two month's salary on the bride's diamond (never mind the ethical issues involved in diamond-buying today, or the fact that diamonds are egregiously overpriced); the bride should treat herself to the most expensive dress that strikes her fancy; a limo to take the couple three miles from the church to the reception is a non-negotiable; the only meal appropriate to serve is a several-course, sit-down dinner preferably involving expensive meats and/or fish and/or both; even though it's possible to create and print your own invitations it's important to pay for engraved ones; the church and reception should resemble a flower garden no matter what the cost; and on and on and on.

The truth is that many couples--yes, even Catholic ones--get their priorities exactly backwards when it comes to getting married. They spend all or most of their time and effort (and money) planning for a big wedding party, and considerably less time and effort contemplating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony into which they are about to enter, the responsibilities, duties, and sacrifices required of their soon-to-be vocations, and the importance of their shared faith to their upcoming new reality as two-become-one. And when the lavish party is over and the guests have gone home, the couple has to face a pile of bills right at the outset of their new life together, bills for a wedding day that has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

I would love to see a movement in favor of simple weddings rise among Catholic couples. If we take our faith seriously, then we also take its view of materialism seriously. It is possible to throw a very real, heartfelt, sincere celebration of the entrance into Holy Matrimony of two young people without wasting thousands of dollars on things whose purpose is ostentation, showing off, creating envy or jealousy in others, or otherwise going beyond the mere desire to share convivial hospitality (for which no one ever needed an ice sculpture or monogrammed cocktail napkins). As our sick, secular culture of rampant materialism and naked greed continues to twist the meaning of "marriage" to the breaking-point, as people are sold an even bigger bill of goods about wedding "must-haves," wouldn't it behoove Catholics and other serious Christians to turn a contemptuous shoulder to all of this obscene triviality, and recreate weddings in which the dignity of the sacrament and the simple grace of good hospitality rise above the tacky din of the dove-releasing, "wedding as Oscar night," showy vulgarity of the "typical" wedding--you know, the one that now costs upwards of twenty-seven thousand dollars?


Alisha De Freitas said...

I didn't go for the big wedding. I spent about 100 bucks on my dress, my best friend did the flowers, my hair and makeup, and we paid our friend MJ to take pictures... For sixty bucks. No limo, no fancy reception, no crazy expenses. No debt.

My only regret- it was a civil affair. I'd like to get our marriage blessed at some point. But other than that, I'm glad. My heart's desire was for marriage, not a wedding.

Rebecca in ID said...

Wow, that is amazing. I think we spent something like $7000 total. The food was kind of a big expense because there were a lot of guests and I didn't want to put that on anyone to try to take care of, so we had pros. My uncle took the photos as a gift, my aunt did my hair, I wore my grandma's dress, the Church fee was not ridiculous and the reception was at my aunt's house...I think the other major expense was flying our priest in from Rome. The numbers you are listing are pretty shocking!

Rebecca in ID said...

I do have to say that I don't regret having invited all the people we did. My husband comes from a big family, so there is a lot of extended family, and we both had many friends from the small college we had attended. There were some people who weren't all that close to us but I like to think their lives were touched in a positive way. Some of them had never been to a Mass before and I am glad that their first experience of it was very reverent and beautiful. People still talk about what a wonderful time they had, reconnecting with people that day and over the next few days, and so forth, so I don't regret that we did spend that money on all the food and stuff. We didn't go into debt over it though and I don't think I would have been willing to do that.

L. said...

We had a cheap ceremony and I don't even know what the reception cost (it was in Kyoto, at a Japanese inn, in 1991) and I wore my grandmother's dress -- though paid over $100 for special dry-cleaning to get the 40-year old lipstick stains off of it.

The Catholic church charged us $1,200 for a 20-minute ceremony. At the last minute, the priest found out my husband had no intention of letting me raise the kids Catholic, so we couldn't have a mass with communion (and I was fine with that, of course), but was still got the "Catholic discount" because I was baptized. The non-Catholic rate was much higher, as I recall.

JMB said...

I think it is already happening. I live in the NE and I've noticed that people are just not spending the $ on entertainment venues as they did prior to the credit crunch. I do think that a lot of the over the top spending was fueled by easy credit. If parents of the bride cannot access their home equity line or tap into retirement accounts to pay 30K for a one day party, well, they're not going to do it. I do think you see older brides/grooms paying for their weddings, and it that case there seems to be more "destination" weddings, whereby the bride & groom expect their guests to join them and therefore, pick up the rooms, airfare, etc. on their own dime. The bride and groom are basically just paying for a small reception.

stitchinrose said...

Ok, I was married over 30 years ago, but still it was less than $100. Got my dress from Sears, it was a simple long dress on sale for around $40. My mom's friend made the cake, I wanted one you could eat and enjoy not taste like sugar and be pretty. It was lovely and had cream cheese frosting so tasty. The cost people now a days pay for a wedding would make a great down payment on a house. I just don't understand how they can do that.

rdcobb said...

I think our wedding was about in the $3000-$4000 range in 2000. Looking back I would have trimmed things down even more than I had already tried to do. My parents added to the expense by inviting extended relatives that I and they despised just to keep peace, but it was their money to waste.

I used to let my daughter watch shows like "Say Yes to the Dress" because I could see the appeal of seeing all the pretty dresses, but we had to eventually ban them. They were sending me into rages at the misplaced priorities of so many of the brides ("All my bridesmaids must agree to buy designer dresses and shoes.") Both of my bridesmaids and I just took the free shoes that my bridal shop offered with our purchases.

But I went to a wedding on New Year's Eve where the cost of the wedding cost more than my parents' first house. This was all at the instigation of the groom, not the bride. I had to bite my tongue a lot since my husband was an usher.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen "Like Mother, Like Daughter" blog? Simple, beautiful, fun, Catholic family wedding of one daughter (and I think inexpensive if you read the details). And there's another daughter's wedding this weekend. This is what I'll keep in mind for my girls down the road.


Anonymous said...

"Average" is NOT the same as "typical." The $27,000+ statistic is VERY misleading because a small percentage of high-cost weddings drive up the average when combined with a large percentage of lower-cost affairs. This article explains the difference very well:‘average’-cost-of-a-wedding-is-not-what-you-think-it-is/

A better reflection is the "median" cost -- the figure that 50 percent of the sample falls below and 50 percent are above. According to the article I linked the MEDIAN cost of weddings in 2009 was $14,352 -- still higher than what I would personally want to spend, but only about half the "average" figure.

Where you live also makes a big difference. All other things being equal, formal or semi-formal weddings on the coasts and in large cities are going to cost more than comparable affairs in rural areas or small towns.

My wedding in 1994 cost less than $5,000, for about 120 guests in a small town in Illinois. If I were attempting to stage the same event today in, say, Chicago or New York I would probably have to spend at least 2 or 3 times as much.

All that said, I do think we have developed a rather distorted idea of what a "traditional" wedding should look like due to the rise of the Wedding Industrial Complex in the post-World War II era.

Before that, what most people think of as a "traditional" wedding used to be confined to high society families; for most middle and working class couples weddings were strictly "family and close friends" affairs much like baptisms, First Communions, and graduation parties are today. Perhaps it's time Catholic couples returned to that approach.

Elaine said...

My parents had a big wedding, for their time and place (1954 in rural Dakota). Dad wore a suit, that he bought. Mom still has the dress. The sit-down reception was in the church hall; I have the feeling that the food was cooked by the extended families. No idea how much it cost.

eulogos said...

We just celebrated our 42nd anniversary. We were married in a Unitarian Church chapel. They didn't charge anything for use of the building. The minister asked for $50 and my mother thought that was really cheeky of him.

My dress was a "Mexican Peasant" wedding dress, with cotton lace at the top and the rest just white cotton. It is difficult to believe now, but I think it cost $10. (minimum wage was $1. 60/hr or maybe it had gone up to $1.75). I wore my every day sandals. My husband wore the one set of dressy clothes that he owned. Decorations were roses from my parents' garden. My parents and sister, his parents and siblings, and one couple as witnesses were all that were there. Afterwards we ate at a Japanese restaurant which cost the outstanding sum of $100. I remember apologizing to my father for the large bill!
We did have rings, one gold, one silver, and I can't remember how much they cost. It can't have been much because we paid the whole amount to the store on the morning of the wedding, and we wouldn't have been able to pay a large amount. Yes, we left the selection to that morning! I never had an engagement ring.

Since I have become a Catholic I have wished that I had a more religious wedding, but I have never wished for a fancier one.
Susan Peterson