Thursday, December 04, 2008

What Does a Wedding Need?

The comments on my last two posts make me dare to open a can of worms: what does a wedding need? In particular, what are the big ticket items that drive up wedding costs so spectacularly?

When Mrs. G. and I got married, we had a great and cheap wedding. We got married on campus, in the equivalent of the college chapel, on graduation weekend. My mother made the dress, my father lettered the wedding certificate, the bride's uncle took the pictures, the wedding party wore their own clothes, and everyone pitched in to make the food. We had a Quaker wedding (a really great kind -- everyone should be a Quaker long enough to get married :-) ), so there was no minister or other officiant. The reception was in the function room attached to the chapel. We drove away in a borrowed car, and spent the night in a motel. The only thing I would change was that I should have taken her to a nicer hotel.

We bought the rings, license, invitations, flowers, cake, ingredients for reception quiches and finger food, a suit and shoes for me from a thrift store, shoes for the bride, and the motel.

We had a wonderful wedding with 140 guests.

Total cost: about $2,500 in today's prices.

So where were our big savings? The venue for wedding and reception were very inexpensive, because we were part of the church and college. We had a great seamstress who donated her work. We also had a great calligrapher donating his work for the wedding certificate that everyone signed, which is our equivalent of a minister. Our friends pitched in on making the food. A fine photographer donated his work. We had no alcohol, which also allowed us to have the reception at the church. And, of course, no wedding planner.

Except maybe for the dress, the officiant, and the photographer, couldn't everyone do it this way without scrimping? I realize that alcohol is a sticking point for many people, but even doubling this budget, wouldn't that give you enough margin to solve that problem?

I am not (simply) being a curmudgeon here, but trying to get a realistic view of where wedding costs come from - before my own children's someday-in-the-future weddings.


Rev Dave said...

What does a wedding need? Depends on the state, but here, a bride and groom, an officiant, and two witnesses make it legal.

Everything else is just window dressing. And since until recently in human history, most weddings were local, do it yourself affairs, most of us are the result of marriages done under pretty spartan conditions by today's standards. It is only in the past half century or so that the average wedding has become so overblown.

Real Live Preacher had an excellent post on this a while back: (sorry, no html skills). Favorite line: "You don't have to give in to the sharks of the love industry."

The sheer idolatry of this whole process bothers me to no end.

I wish people would remember that the wedding industry is just that, an industry; designed to separate you (or your parents') from your hard earned dollars to sell you some sort of exotic wedding experience. Just say no. Stop watching "Dream Weddings" (or whatever the show is) on the WE network to get your ideas for decorations and flowers. Brides: stop telling yourself "it's MY day and everything should revolve around ME."

I'll stop before I really start ranting...

Anonymous said...

The food!!! I think that we payed around $40 a Danville! I can only image the cost for a seated meal in larger cities.

I also think that a big contributing factor to the expense of weddings today is that our extended families now tend to be spread all over the country. When almost your entire guest list has shelled out hundreds of dollars for plane tickets and hotel rooms, you feel obligated to show them a decent time in exchange.

Peter Hoh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Hoh said...

Family and friends.

And you don't need anyone who won't come to your wedding and/or reception because you aren't serving alcohol.

Anonymous said...

My wedding in 1991 sounds similar to yours. We were married in my Baptist church. The reception was going to be in the church hall, but we "splurged" and rented the Women's Club which is an old victorian house...not very expensive though. Finger food and the no alcohol. It was great.

My teenage daughter and I have caught a few episodes of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress", where girls (and I do mean girls...these are not mature women) whine when they can't get their dream dress...budgets for the dress run anywhere from $1500 - 10,000 and higher. Whenever a whining bride comes on we roll our eyes at each other and say...there's another marriage that won't last!

SPWeston said...

Rev Dave,

I agree about what a wedding needs, but I don't think friends and family are window dressing. To invite them, get a chance to see them, and not have them starving by the time you've hugged them all means spending something.

Indeed, as I look back on the Gruntled reception and its budget, I remember the bride, her mother, and her grandmother producing all that quiche in a borrowed kitchen--and I think paying someone else to cook is a worthy use of money.

I also remember a hundred people of many ages and conditions standing up for most of two hours--and I think paying for a space that large enough for tables and chairs is also responsible.

To add those two things to a future wedding would mean either spending more or sharing with fewer people.

Spending that extra money seems right to me, so long as the priority is a comfortable time with loved ones on a very happy day.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Dear Anon,

"blah...blah...blah"?!?! If you don't enjoy the conversation, it far better to excuse yourself than announce that you're bored.

While you might not think that these last few posts are worthy of your time, please keep in mind that Dr. Weston has been blogging about one of his student's papers. It is surely exciting for her to have her hard work and findings discussed here on this blog (and many of us are enjoying the conversation). And, it's impressive and touching that a professor would take the time to share his students' findings on his own blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. Please forgive me Katie.

Rev Kim said...

Rev Dave's wife here...

A wedding needs the bride & groom, the officiant, family friends, music, Scripture readings, sermon or homily. In short, it needs to be a worship service.

Almost two years ago, our wedding cost about $5,000. We wanted to keep things simple and took some pride in bucking the wedding sharks. The wedding & reception were at my home church, and they didn't charge us since I was a member before I was ordained. Luncheon was simple, the cake was reasonably priced. Our friend and colleague drove all the way from Northeast Wyoming to Southern California to marry us, and refused payment (though we did get him and his wife a gift certificate for their favorite restaurant). Our friends and families had a delightful time, and many appreciated the focus on a Service of Christian Marriage (which we had printed on the bulletin) verses a wedding. Two people said it was the most Reformed wedding they had ever seen (high praise from them). We hoped that in a subtle way we did some teaching as to what this day was about.

The highest priced items by far were the photographer and the florist. I still choke a little when I think of how much we paid for the photographer. He is a friend who is also a professional photographer, and he discounted his hourly rate for us. We ended up just paying for his time and didn't get a fancy album - which were extremely pricey. He gave us a cd of all 450 pictures, and asked that we only go through him if we wanted 8 x 10s or larger prints.

Because I was aware of the costs of weddings and the exhorbitant figures you quoted in your posts, I wasn't surprised of the costs we encountered.

I was surprised by the wedding coordinator at the church, though, who didn't respect that our focus on the marriage service was that it was first and foremost a worship service. She was shocked that we didn't want a unity candle and shocked that we wanted Communion, and that the service would be about one hour long. We used Rite I from the BCW - the Service for the Lord's Day incl. Communion. I had five conversations with her - four too many - about not moving the Communion Table from its front and center position in the sanctuary. She kept wanting to move it off to the side "because otherwise people won't be able to see you." Well, they could see us, but that wasn't the point. No matter how much we explained the theology behind this, she never got it. While I know she would have adhered to the church's wedding policies if we had wanted to go against them, she leaned toward "this is your day and all about you", instead of "this is a worship service and all is focused on God." Working with her made me think that we were likely one of the only couples she had encountered who didn't just want to get married in a beautiful space. I have experience with the latter approach, because now that I'm the one marrying people, the couples focus seems to be just the wedding day and not the marriage. Because loving each other is enough, right?

Well, this comment is waay tooo long...can you tell that I'm a newlywed who still likes talking about our wedding?

Gruntled said...

This is a rich conversation. Some of you had wedding coordinators, and some not. It seems to me that wedding coordinators increase the cost dramatically, because they are likely to get everything done by professionals. Judging just from the stories here, I think that one factor may be the difference between a four-figure wedding and a five-figure wedding.

virginia said...

I'm too far away from my own wedding to know what it "needs," but I can definitely tell you what it doesn't: An advice columnist in my daily paper fielded a question recently from a bride who wanted to know if she could ask all of her guests to wear yellow, so that everyone would match in the reception photos. That was the moment that I knew, without a doubt, that the Bridezilla is more than a myth!

Rev Kim said...

Just to clear this up - our wedding coordinator was from the church, not an outside coordinator whom we hired who picked the florist, photographer, cake baker, etc. We chose those ourselves. The role of a church's wedding coordinator and an "outside" wedding coordinator are very different. Most medium- and large-sized churches have wedding coordinators that coordinate those things that relate directly to the wedding service, and make sure that the church's wedding policy is adhered to. Church's require the couples to work with them, and there is normally a nominal fee for the coordinator's time. At a small church, like mine, where I'm a solo pastor, the pastor normally requires those duties!

Rev Kim said...

I meant to say, "At a small church, like mine, where I'm a solo pastor, the pastor normally performs those duties.