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. 🙂