What our wedding was really worth

Guest post by jamieg
Jamieg and her husband on their wedding day. Photo by Mod4.
Jamieg and her husband on their wedding day. Photo by Mod4.

Shortly after we got engaged, around the time we realized how much work and money a wedding could be, we decided we wanted it to be neither. I was warned that a modest event could easily cost $20,000. Not even knowing the going rate for all things weddingish, that was unacceptable to me.

I have financial guilt the way my Catholic friends have sex guilt. I do spend money; they do have sex. But it's rare we're entirely comfortable during the act, and we almost always question ourselves after. I can imagine so many other things to spend money on — good things, things that will last longer, things more deserving, things more logical.

All this led to greater questions about why we were having a wedding in the first place. We could have gone to the courthouse on our lunch hours and sealed the deal with a dozen other couples for about $50. I didn't have any big daydreams about what I wanted my wedding to look like, and my then-fiance certainly didn't.

Remember how we decided that wedding planning should not feel like work, and that the event should not cost an extraneous amount? That was an impossible combination…

There was just this lingering feeling about it. We wanted to make a promise in front of our best friends, and the family members that helped make us who we are. We wanted everyone to understand how big a commitment this was for us, to see that we believed we were up to the challenge, and that they should hold us to it when we're down. We wanted to have an awesome party, one where people got to look good, feel good, eat great food, catch up with each other and experience joy the way we knew it.

The wedding machine allows for some of that, at least, but it comes with a lot of baggage. There were traditions I didn't understand, or didn't even know until someone was surprised we hadn't followed them. There were expectations I hadn't realized people held, and dreams they wanted to live or relive through my fiance and me. So many questions. A millions questions, for months and months.

I didn't have answers, but I didn't want to do anything without a decent reason why.

And every decision to do something, to not do something, to book now or put it off, to do it here, or there, or that other place you just found, every one of them required time and money.

This wasn't just about money, though. Not at all.

I quickly realized a few things:

  • We had to set priorities, even more than we needed to set a budget.
  • We set a guideline, more so than a budget: spend as close to $10,000 as possible and choose wisely.
  • And that keeping costs down required work.

Remember how we decided that wedding planning should not feel like work, and that the event should not cost an extraneous amount? That was an impossible combination if we were going to have something more than our immediate families over for a potluck after our courthouse wedding. We could have paid someone to do all of this, but it would have been expensive. We also could have done more on our own, and kept costs down that way.

I'm shocked to realize that [the price] was entirely worth it. Every penny. There is no guilt.

In the end, I was exhausted by the planning process, and all the other non-wedding craziness in the months leading up to it. For a hot minute, we considered ditching all of it and eloping. There were things that weren't exactly what I wanted — yep, the folding chairs were homely, the reception decorations didn't cover everything I thought they would and several guests canceled at the last minute — but, day-of, it didn't matter. Our wedding delivered everything that we'd set as a priority, and those are the things I remember so vividly.

The final cost to us was about $11,000. I'm shocked to realize that it was entirely worth it. Every penny. There is no guilt. I know not everybody agreed with all our decisions, but I'll be honest: The wedding was one of the most fun days I've ever had. Better still, I really feel like it started my husband and me off in a positive, forward-moving way. Friends and family are still telling us how much they enjoyed it. Even some who initially expressed disappointment at some of our choices said they had fun, and could really sense our personalities and values.

We got what we paid for: exactly the kind of wedding we would've wanted if we'd ever bothered to daydream about it.

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Comments on What our wedding was really worth

  1. That’s how I feel about spending money.
    My grandmother paid 800 dollars for our cake and all I could think about was how that 800 could have paid for the couch, bookshelf, dresser and coffee table that we’ve been wishing we had for the past year, but haven’t had the money to save up for it.
    It actually caused me some pain as I saw her swipe the card and sign her name. I wanted to jump in front and say “No it’s ok, I don’t care if we have a cake, I’ll make my own cake using boxes of $1 betty crocker mix, just GIVE ME THE COUCH!”
    However, we are expected to have the cake of our dreams. It’s going to be able to feed more than DOUBLE the amount of guests we will have, but my grandma had to go big and I couldn’t stop her.
    I just hope that cake is delicious and makes me forget that when I get home I’ll be sitting on my old couch, with my coffee in my hand and no place to put my clean laundry.

    • I think you should appreciate that your grandma wanted to buy you a new cake. It’s her money. If you want a couch go buy a cheap one at Ikea. Here in Ottawa we have usedottawa.com where you can buy nice used couches for cheap.

      • I’m pretty sure Ashleigh wasn’t saying she didn’t appreciate the cake, but that it was such a lot of money for something edible when compared to something practical like furniture. I think the point she is making just reflects how many of us feel about spending money on a wedding, it’s money that’s spent on one day when we often struggle to pay for practical items in our everyday lives (whether those items are cheap and secondhand or not).

    • I understand the pain. My Fiances grandmother and father are helping us out so much, and though we need it we’re both on the same “we need this that and the other” page. I’m doing as much DIY as possible for our wedding, and though stressful I love it. Our venue came with a cake, and I’m even going basic there and decorating it myself the day of.

  2. This is great perspective – in fact, hearing you say it helps me realize that it’s exactly how I feel! We never even added up our total costs – I’d guess it’s close to yours, but in the end, we did what we wanted, and savings here allowed spending there. Thanks for writing this!

  3. I couldnt have said it better myself! That is exactly how I felt during the whole process!

  4. I’m so glad to see this post. We had a similar reaction, made bigger when we got non-trivial and unexpected assistance from parents. We aimed for $10k, and blew far past that, including splurging on things like a second party for our out-of-town guests. We’re lucky that we could afford it comfortably…. but given that we could, it was *totally* the right answer. As you say, worth every penny. For all that my instincts are to spend on concrete stuff and not “just a day”, my mother’s also right: memories matter *way* more than things. And there is that recent research that says that experiences make people happier than stuff. So it’s not just in our heads!

    ….which will only do so much to stop the guilt. But it’s still good to hear.

    • Thank you for that message from your mom! I needed to hear that 🙂 I keep saying that I can’t justify spending so much money on 1 day, but that is a great way to think of it.. it’s not just one day, the memories will last. And also that the details don’t really matter as long as you’re with the people you love and you’re having a good time.

  5. Thank you for writing in! That was a good message to hear…(if you want to do it all yourself, awesome; if you pay for things towards the wedding also awesome. 🙂

    What all did you guys do yourselves?

    I loved the offbeatbride article about DIY fail…we’ve all been there.

  6. It’s Michigander. 🙂

    This is just the kind of thing I need to hear right now as I’m just beginning the planning process. Luckily we’ve got two years before the wedding (we’ve been engaged a week and a half). We have time to save some money and fund the things we want and it also gives me time to bargain hunt for other things.

    I’m hoping for a $10,000 budget and my parents have said they’ll help a little, but I’m not expecting any more than $2,000 from them and that alone would be a huge help. We always anticipated having to pay for it ourselves so anything extra I get I’m super grateful for.

    • Your story sounds so much like mine! I’m expecting probably about the same contribution from our families and have the same timeline. I like to tell people that we are waiting 2 years because we need 2 more tax returns and 2 more bonuses.

  7. I’m so glad to read this. I’ve never hear someone but my money compulsion into words so well.
    $10,000 is our goal as well and big families and lots of friends is the only way we would have it. We can keep cost down but hearing someone with same money guilt say to breath and let it happen is a god sent.

    • I don’t know how much of a difference it will make with your family/friends, but I only allowed +1 for those who didn’t know anybody. I was worried about how people would feel about it, but lots of friends and family (including my brother!) came alone and I didn’t hear one complaint. That saved a LOT of money.

  8. Great post. My wedding cost about $10,000 also (for about 100 guests), which I thought was a lot of money until I really got to the planning. Buying a $400 David’s Bridal dress gave me more money to spend on flowers. Even though I’m a bit of a shoe fanatic, I wore cheap dyeable sandals because my dress was so long you couldn’t see them. Having it on a Sunday afternoon meant we could afford a nicer reception hall. And our friends agreed to do the photography at a highly discounted price as a wedding gift to us. All the trade-offs were worth it.

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