My Big Fat Wedding

by Vered DeLeeuw · 19 comments

I’ll go ahead and confess: 17 years ago, I had a big, lavish wedding at a five-star hotel. The 400 guests were served a five-course gourmet dinner, enjoyed an extensive dessert buffet, and a slice of the 6-tier wedding cake. My designer wedding dress was spectacular, and cost a fortune. After the event, I ended up donating the dress to charity, as I had no use for something I will only wear once and keeping it seemed silly.

Was the event a $30,000 wedding? I don’t know. I didn’t foot the bill – my parents had split it with my in laws. But I’m guessing my big day wasn’t exactly what you would call a frugal wedding.

Back then, I was 22 years old, and frugality wasn’t a big priority for me. I was still in law school, getting my Masters in Law, and very much in the mindset of “my well-off parents are taking care of me, as they should!”

But my parents were not always well off. They had scrimped and saved for years, working hard, sometimes working two jobs at a time, until they managed to amass enough wealth to enable them to substantially improve their standard of living, travel, retire early, and – above all – give their children everything that they were denied as kids.

I was the classic product of such upbringing. Materialistic, demanding, and taking everything for granted.

Today I look at things very differently. I know that money is important as a tool that enables us to live life to the fullest and be in control of our own destiny. I also know that Mom was right and that money does not grow on trees. Money is the result of hard work, smart investing, often both. I know how easy it is to waste away a large sum of money until nothing is left, and how important it is to prioritize one’s spending, because most of us – even if we are wealthy – have limited resources.

There aren’t many things I regret in my life, but one of the things I do regret is my big fat wedding. Given the chance to do it all over again, I would take the money and spend it on a longer honeymoon, or on a bigger down payment on our first home. Today I would be more than happy with a small, intimate, backyard wedding at my in laws’ very lovely garden.

My own daughter will turn 12 this winter – a big milestone in Judaism. We’ve discussed her Bat Mitzvah celebration, and this is what I told her: Celebrating life’s big milestones is important, but we have a certain budget for each of these celebrations. If you want to use the entire budget for a big party, we’ll be happy to oblige. But when making your decision, remember that a big party comes with a price tag, and that you could choose to use the same amount of money in a different way and get other things that might be just as important to you. You could, for example, get a trip to a country you’ve never visited before, you could get a shiny new Apple gadget, or you could even stash some of it and allow the money to grow over the next few years.

She had thought about our conversation long and hard, and after about a week, she came to us with a proposal: we will throw her a relatively small party, take her on a trip to Argentina, allow her to get her ears pierced, and buy her gold stud earrings. She opted to forgo the saving part, which I more than understand – after all, the kid is barely 12.

A quick calculation showed that all of the above, combined, would still be cheaper than throwing one of those huge, wedding-like Bat Mitzvahs. So we accepted her proposal. She’s already helping me plan the trip and is so excited about the many ways she will celebrate this important milestone.

Going back to Thursday’s blog post, I liked the comment left by “Witty Artist.” He said, “Weddings are beautiful, and the couple is the only [ones] to decide what kind of celebration they like. Depending on their preferences they’d establish the budget.” Kathleen added, “What matters is that a couple not spend a nickel more than they can afford. Starting off your marriage with wedding debt is just flat-out silly.”

I agree with both. If what you really, truly want is a huge event, and you can afford it, or are willing to sacrifice in other areas in order to make it happen – by all means, enjoy your big day. But if you are going to get into debt, stretch yourself to the limit, and give up on other important goals because your big fat party had cost so much, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Ask yourself why you are going for such a big event in the first place. If you’re doing it to keep up with the Joneses, then you already know where I stand on this one. 🙂

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Peacechick says:

    In my culture, weddings are not just for two people, they are for the extended families to come together, and for old friends to reunite. (Sad reality is it often takes a wedding or a funeral to get people to make the effort.) In today’s individualistic culture, the trend now is to elope and do away with big receptions but have you considered that this makes the family very unhappy? From that perspective it is selfish. I had the big fat wedding my parents wanted. I invited my friends, and my parents invited theirs. We all had a great time, the best day of my life. No regrets 🙂

    So look away from celebrity weddings, and see that big community wedding dos have always existed throughout time. They are a rite of passage that deserve celebrating and not always about displays of wealth.

  • Lenore says:

    A few odd things jump out at me here. It would have been nice to grow up in a family where a trip to Argentina represented some sort of frugality. Lucky, lucky girl and I don’t begrudge the kid the opportunity. Just a perspective check.

    Next, really you regret a big fat wedding when you wound up with enough money to take your kid to Argentina? Be grateful for that experience, be thankful to your parents for that. They would not have done it were it not meaningful for them (whatever is said about sacrificing for kids, I still think such big fat weddings mostly delight parents when they pay for them).

  • Lotti says:

    I don’t want our wedding, if we have one, to be “sensible”- I want it to be beautiful, elegant, steampunk Victorian, lovely, atmospheric… but as far as actual costs go, my attitude towards marriage is what has the effect. As far as I’m concerned, there are no “levels” or “steps” in our relationship- we are together and have already started our lives together without the need to prove anything with a piece of paper.

    So if we have a wedding, it’ll be a celebration of our lives and those people that we love. I’m happy to spend time- months, years- gathering little pieces of jewelry, decorations, designing perfect paper invitations, buying individual clothing items and so on. I love to create and choose with not a budget, but limiting costs in mind anyway, even for parties or Christmas time! So then when we actually come around to having a wedding, the only costs will be location, catering, celebrant and license. Happy to spend my own time putting love into the little touches that can make a wedding unique. 🙂

  • My husband and I married 2 1/2 yrs ago (second marriage for me, first for him) Being a fair bit older and established in our own home, we paid for the wedding ourselves. We married on a mountain top overlooking the sea and had our reception in the tea rooms on the mountain. We married on a Sunday afternoon in late spring (most couples want Saturdays and the Sunday wedding saved 10% on the catering package. ) The whole wedding cost twelve and a half thousand dollars which included everything, even the honeymoon. To anyone planning a wedding, my advice is to research your options thoroughly. And never ever mention the word WEDDING – as soon as you do, everything will triple in price.

  • Christina says:

    We got married in May of this year. My husband and I saved around $1,000 a month between us for our year-and-a-half engagement. The just-under-20K we spent on our wedding was just enough to give us exactly the wedding we wanted. We didn’t go into debt, and we paid for everything ourselves. The amount we saved covered all of the wedding expenses including our rehearsal dinner and honeymoon. I spent a lot of time scouting out good deals and putting a lot of things together myself so that it appeared we had spent far more than we actually had.

    I say plan ahead, really think about what is important to you, spend what you can actually afford, and get what you want. Be willing to put in time and effort to make your wedding your own, (and if you’re not the DIY type, this could mean putting in the time to decide what you really want to put your money towards) and you won’t regret it.

  • Joe says:

    Married thirty years ago in the basement of a police station by the desk sargent. We gave him ten bucks. We’re still going strong.

  • Ali says:

    I think all couples should sit down and make a budget for their wedding first and foremost. We are 27 years old and own our own house. We are getting married in two months and have a budget of about $25k for our Hawaii wedding, including hotels, rings, etc. Since we are paying for it entirely ourselves (except for the rehearsal dinner and bridal shower), we decided to make it all about the guests by spending most of our budget on really great food and drinks and showing them what true Hawaii is (this means not having it in a Waikiki hotel!!). I think you need to really focus on what you are celebrating.

  • Joe says:

    My wife and I had already discussed a similar philosophy for our future kids’ birthday parties. Instead of a lavish sweet 16 party, I’ll push for a trip to Paris any day!

  • I can understand why some people would prefer a small wedding. Persenally I would prefer a big wedding. It’s a wonderfull thing, getting merried and would want to share it with the wordl if I could. But okay different people want different things.
    Okay.. A small wedding is acceptable, as long as the honeymoon is extra exclusive:)

    • Traci says:

      My friend had a huge wedding ceremony, exclusive reception for family only, and a huge dance party afterward. It was well done and we danced the night away. Friends who attended the ceremony dined out together while the family attended the reception. After catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in years, we arrived at the reception after-party and danced the night away!

      Some may consider this arrangement odd, but I completely supported the couple in this decision. With a combined family of 200 people, they came up with a creative solution to share this moment with friends and family.

      • Lenore says:

        “Exclusive reception for family only”? The wedding then should have been for family only. Saving money via horrific bad manners is not the way to go. Maybe you did not mind, but I can promise there were people who say that invite, thought “So basically, you want a wedding gift but you don’t want to pay to feed me at your reception” and threw the invite in the trash.

        Have only the wedding you can afford to include everyone on both reception and ceremony! I think that even the “private ceremony, come to the reception” invites are tacky unless the reason is religious – Mormons do that, for example.

        “Tiered” weddings are a big no.

  • Hubby & I had our wedding a month ago. We opted for a small, intimate courthouse wedding instead of the lavish ceremony our family and friends were expecting. We had 22 guests, all immediate family. Some of our family members were upset we didn’t tell them (we planned it in a week and spent $1,200), and our friends were hurt that they found out on Twitter & Facebook. We knew that if we told everyone, they’d be obligated to be in attendance. We may have a bigger reception later on, but that’s only if WE feel like it. We had been planning a big fat wedding, and it started becoming more of an event for others instead of an intimate moment for us. I don’t regret our decision at all.

  • Patricia says:

    My wedding and honeymoon cost a total of $1,000 US. Over 500 people attended and we had a lovely lunch buffet. The dress was soft yellow silk with hand batiked spring flowers at the cuffs and neck – a brand new design and made to fit just me and accent my beauty ( by an art student at the college). The money above included the license and extended costs of all events – including a champagne and lobster dinner at the ocean resort we stayed at. The $300 dress and the slightly burned nut cake cooked in an old wood stove and decorated with nasturtiums was $50 and was made for us – it was the very last time I ever saw my dear, dear friend…
    People still talk about how beautiful and lovely the words and the ceremony were and how we made everyone feel special who attended and yet…they all had time to go forth and enjoy the day on their own terms as the sun was shining and it was nearly 100 ‘F We felt the joy surrounding us….We paid the 4 clergy and the pianist well….
    We nearly went into debt, but in the end my parents and in-laws came up with the $46.50 we were short! as a gift…

    We threw out traditions and expectations and went for meaning and joy and 35 years later, well it was a great day that blesses us with great memories.

    I have officiated at over 300 weddings and only a few couples have not been happy with the event or the ceremony, but now 40 years into my work, I hear more and more folks say, “spending so much was just silly and wasteful.” I hear more regrets about the huge weddings – entertainments than the meaningful ones.
    I think your daughter has the right idea – Whoo hoo Argentina…lucky girl

  • khatlady says:

    I had a small wedding and it was wonderful. Had money left over to start our lives together. My niece had a large wedding and it nearly drove my sister nuts. Plus, it was expensive for us, the guests as we had to have travel expenses plus the wedding. I think because the wedding was so big, people didn’t come or bother to cancel thinking they wouldn’t be noticed. My sister had to pay for over 60 no shows. That caused more than a little rift in the family.

    The best advice I gave her – and she followed was to have people make their own hotel reservations. She was so thankful because she would have been paying for empty rooms too.

  • Icarus says:

    We’re getting married in a few months and I always thought of wedding costs as things like the venue, the dress, the photographer, deejay and flowers. My bride has pointed out that there are other costs as well such as our wedding bands, marriage license, rehearsal dinner — basically everything we are spending that we wouldn’t otherwise to get married.

    So when someone says a wedding cost $30K, it doesn’t necessarily mean they overspent — it could just be that they are including items in that cost that others omit.

    • KM says:

      You are right – things like the wedding bands and marriage license add up. Even for the cheapest ones, the prices are in the hundreds, and honestly, our wedding rings cost more than the rest of the wedding expenses combined, which included a dinner at a restaurant for our combined families. My dress cost $22 🙂

      • Slinky says:

        I hadn’t thought about it that way when comparing wedding costs. With the exception of flowers, we paid for EVERYTHING ourselves and that was all included in our total. Most people don’t include the rehearsal dinner, or hotel expenses, the price of the rings, etc.

        We didn’t have a terribly big wedding (~80 people, including wedding party), but we really, really wanted a beautiful, elegant, classy wedding. The thing we wanted most was a beautiful space. (And don’t say park because it was late November in Wisconsin). We fell in love with a beautiful, victorian downtown hotel’s back (and original) ballroom. I think the only other thing we really splurged on was my dress, which I paid for myself. The room/catering was what killed us, but on that score, I have absolutely no regrets.

  • M Meagher says:

    My husband and I had a small wedding only 16 total, we had a room at a beautiful New England tavern, and the cost was about $500 for the total dinner. That was back in 1981. I’d do it again. Small weddings and being cost effective are sensible. Fast forward, my daughter married in Russia three yrs ago, just a civil ceremony, no guests at all. She did this because she knew that the minute you tell someone, they want you to make it a bigger event to share your joy. Bigger and more expensive. My daughter and her Russian husband are very frugal, so upon returning to the states, they organized an open house for anyone and everyone to share their joy which included a buffet on the porch. Hours of fun and joy and a price tag of around $1000. It was magical.

  • KM says:

    I want a small backyard wedding too. I got married recently, but it happened very quickly and was with just our close families. Perhaps on our anniversary, we will invite some friends and have a small ceremony. I don’t want anything big because I think it’s a waste of money and because I don’t want to plan a big wedding or attend a big wedding. All I want is the important people in my life celebrating this milestone with me.

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