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Cheaper weddings: Tying the knot doesn't have to tie you up in debt

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 8:17 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Eric Bell met his fiancee on a Delaware beach over a Memorial Day weekend.

When he came back to Washington, D.C., where he is pursuing an MBA at Georgetown University, he received a text message: "When are you going to take me on a proper date?"

He did. Now, many dates later, he is engaged to be married.

And getting married costs a fortune — which presents a bit of a dilemma, because Bell is the founder and editor-in-chief of yobucko.com, a personal finance website "dedicated to helping the next generation learn how to build wealth."

Bell doesn't think people will build wealth if they spend all they have on a wedding. "We are trying to get as much value for as little money as possible," he said of his own plans.

A recent survey by theknot.com and weddingchannel.com queried 18,000 brides and found the average 2011 wedding budget (excluding the honeymoon) was $27,021. This is only $37 more than last year, but is the first time since 2008 that the average cost has increased. Back in 1990, the average cost was about half as much at $15,208, according to the American Wedding Survey. And if you go back to pre-WWII America, the average wedding cost $392.30 — about $6,486 in today's dollars, as documented in the book "One Perfect Day" by Rebecca Mead.

Searching for a venue

According to the survey, the biggest chunk of a wedding budget goes for the venue (or reception hall), at an average cost of $12,116.

No way were Bell and his fiancee going to spend that much on a venue.

Bell said his fiancee had a vision in her mind of what she wanted, and not surprisingly, considering where they met, it was on a beach. But the prices were too high for their budget, and the venues were booked. "So we had to compromise," Bell said.

The couple looked in Washington, D.C., and found they could book a little church and a reception venue for $7,000. Food would cost about $70 per guest and alcohol about $30 per guest.

But in his fiancee's hometown of Kingsport, Tenn., they found a venue that could handle both the wedding and reception, all for just $500. Food was only $25 per guest, and they could save by bringing their own alcohol.

"Between trying to get ready for graduation and repaying student loans, we are thinking, 'Is the value added of $6,500 really worth all the struggle it would take to pay it back if we had to borrow money?'"

So, come next July, the wedding will be in Tennessee.

The wedding venue was also important to Meg Schneider, who was married in 1999 and, because of a bankruptcy, had to do it on the cheap.

Her mother, however, had one demand. "My mother was adamant that we not have our reception at a fire hall," said Schneider, who was married at Embassy Suites in East Syracuse, N.Y. "So we had to get really creative, and we had a beautiful wedding."

The experience helped Schneider when she later wrote "Budget Weddings For Dummies."

'White blindness'

People have dreams for their perfect wedding day — dreams that override rational budgets. Schneider said the wedding industry calls that fantasy and enthusiasm "white blindness."

"They are not selling you an actual dress or an actual cake or an actual venue," Schneider said. "They are selling you a fairy tale."

The industry ties the various expensive elements of the wedding to love.

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