Recently, I happened across an article bemoaning the high cost of weddings. In general, I think that critics of expensive weddings make some good points — the median cost of a wedding in America is $17,500, people could use that money for other things, the wedding-industrial complex has lots of arbitrary "musts" designed to fleece consumers, we don't need no piece of paper from the city hall, etc. I certainly understand the appeal of eloping and then spending nearly 20k on a fabulous trip (that $ wouldn't buy you a garden shed in my city, so I won't say "or house").
Yet, I will speak in defense of spending serious money on a wedding.
When FB and I got married in 2007, we spent nearly $10,000 on our wedding and it was totally worth it. If I could live that day over again for a mere 10k, I would do it in a heartbeat.
We did not have a fancy wedding — we got married in the little church up the street from my aunt's house and had the reception in her back yard. I bought most of my flowers at Stop & Shop and cut many of the rest in my mom's and aunts' gardens. Another aunt made the invitations. I bought my dress for $110 off the rack at Macy's. The bridesmaids' dresses were $100 at the mall. We played music off of FB's iPod over a sound system borrowed from my uncle.
So where did all that money go?
We spent money on the things that would make the day great for our 150+ guests. We wanted to give our families and friends one wonderful day of enjoying one another and I think we succeeded in that.
About $1,000 went to cake. Rather than get an elaborate wedding cake, we bought about 30 cakes from our favorite bakery (Pastiche in Providence, RI) and had a cake buffet. Rather than choose one or two flavors, we ordered a bit of everything: cheesecake, carrot cake, lemon chiffon, chocolate, fruit tart, chocolate-raspberry torte, etc.:
Another $1,000 went to drinks: beer, wine, soda, water, and coffee. Three kegs of Sam Adams (lager, stout, and summer ale) took up a chunk of that, as did 2 or three cases of wine. There's a local soda maker up the street from my parents' house, so we got a dozen different flavors of soda in glass bottles. We filled some big tubs with ice and put pitchers on a table and people helped themselves.
About $3,000 went to food. My mother and aunts made vats of pasta salad and potato salad, piles of cookies, and vast fruit plates. The bulk of this money went to a friend-of-a-friend who is a BBQ competition champ — we hired him to bring his setup and make pulled pork, spare ribs, bbq chicken, and grilled vegetables:
An additional $1,500 went to two large canopies. It turned out to be a spectacular day, weather-wise, but you can never tell in New England. If it had been drizzly, we would have been very thankful that we had those tents, so I can't regret the money we spent on them.
About $2,000 went to the photographer. It was a big expense, but we treasure the pictures we have from that day. We had her take family portraits of all of the nuclear families and extended families, with everyone looking their best and all together in the same place. We gave those pictures as Christmas presents and everyone has them framed in their houses now.
There were other expenses here and there that made up the last little bit — church fees, gifts for the bridesmaids and groomsmen, a few hundred dollars on flowers, etc. In general, we didn't spend much on anything that wasn't directly related to making this a good party. I've been to plenty of un-fun weddings where I have eaten overcooked chicken and cardboard cake while attempting to avoid the dance floor, and I didn't think my family would appreciate enduring that on my behalf. Instead, we blew 10 grand on the best barbecue ever and it was awesome.
Perhaps I remember my wedding with affection because my beloved grandfather had a devastating stroke a few weeks later, so it was the last time we were really all together as a family. When I look back at the pictures, I see my mom talking to my mother-in-law's friends and my grandmothers eating lunch together while my high school friends play badminton with Pete's cousins and the younger kids splash in the pool. Both of our families are musically inclined and many people brought instruments, leading to an hours-long cross-family, friend-inclusive jam session. Everyone got to chat with everyone else and enjoy free beer and good food.
So, I suppose it's true that if we had eloped and saved that $10,000, we could have invested it and spent it on Snapdragon's college education in 18 years. But we wouldn't have had that day, and we would have been the poorer for it.