The Wedding 'Scrimp.'

Chalk this up to male ignorance or whatever, but reading this in a Big Money piece on the dominance of budget-wedding retailer David’s Bridal made me curse out loud:

While the recession hasn’t deterred couples from tying the knot, it has shrunken their budgets substantially. The average cost of getting married in the United States slipped in the first quarter to $19,212, according to the Wedding Report, a market research firm. That’s down from $21,814 last year and $26,450 in 2005. Brides-to-be are opting for cupcakes instead of wedding cakes, downsizing their guest lists, and, yes, compromising on what may have been the dress of their girlhood dreams. According to a recent survey, 55 percent of brides plan to spend no more than $600 on their dresses.

19k is cutting back???  The mind reels. The median American income was $50, 2333 last year, which means that lots of people are taking on mountains of debt to finance their nuptials. That’s their prerogative, obviously. I’m just sort of blown.

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

31 comments to The Wedding 'Scrimp.'

  • Lemu

    Does this factor in the engagement ring also?

    I just got back from a destination wedding in DR 3 weeks ago, and I must say that might be th route I take. You can invite the world, but only a small percentage will actually come, keeping your wedding costs smaller than it would be if it had been done domestically. Its a lot more relaxed (its hard to be stressed @sunset on a beach), and when people leave you can just stay there for your honeymoon.

    I think weddings should use a similar formula as engagement rings (3 months worth of paychecks). Your wedding shouldn’t cost you half your yearly income. Unless daddy invented the blender and is swimming in dough, its just irresponsible.

  • belleisa

    You obviously haven’t watched the plethora of wedding reality TV.

    19K is definitely cutting back, inappropriate as that may be. Weddings are big business and people are willing to pay for the fantasy. I much rather have a house…but when that time comes we’ll see if I’m willing to sacrifice the fantasy for practicality.

  • Lemu

    Of course I don’t watch wedding TV, I have a penis.

  • Jackie

    A breath of fresh air to anyone reading and I hear the wallets and credit cards sigh as I tell this.

    My husband and I were married two and a half years ago in a nice little place in Gatlinburg Tennessee called Sydney James Mountain Lodge.Many couples go to Gatlinburg just to get married and it’s a major attraction for tourism.Dolly Wood,Splash Country, all sorts of mountain attractions.We didn’t choose Gatlinburg for this reason, it simply reminded me of my childhood home in Upstate New York near Lake Placid.
    We decided on what out budget would be and stuck with it.My matron of honor and I did all the planning, cooking , decorating, for this wedding.
    Here’s the kicker…
    Wedding Dress….was a GIFT from a retailer!= $0.00
    Rings… on sale and perfect! =$900.00

    Complete accommodations for all my wedding party and guests including the Pastor and his wife as well as his fee as well as reception hall on New Years Eve =$1,900.00
    The rest was food and decorations, and nothing went undone, we had drink & chocolate fountains, plenty to eat and drink!
    27 guests, 10 wedding party attendees, and we bought ALL the dresses and shoes for the women and some of the dress shirts for the groomsmen.
    How’s that?
    $4,000.00 grand total!

  • robynj

    $19K is absurd but are we assuming that these folks are paying for the wedding themselves?

  • I think the point of this thread is less about us comparing what we’d do (though maybe it is, actually), but questioning how much Americans spend on weddings compare to our incomes. I watch obsessively this show on WE called Platinum Weddings, which shows you weddings that cost at least $500k, give or take. Most of the weddings are paid for by extremely wealthy parents, and everyone’s just super rich and $$’s no object and blah blah blah (and so far, most of them appear to hail from FL, TX & NJ).

    But I’ve seen a few where the couples are spending left and right, and it’s never clear exactly where the $$ is coming from (bride & groom job titles, e.g., “marketing manager”, are usually vague) and I just start to worry, is this one of these couples that is fulfilling some sort of fantasy that they definitely cannot afford? Because I think that’s the craziness about weddings.

    That and when your parents offer you $30k for a house, and you say, no, I want the wedding. Now that’s an ingrained cultural influence.

  • $19K = about 3 years worth of car payments. it’s a lot, but not impossible to dig yourself out of within a few years. or you can pay as you go, and not realize that you’ve just paid the equivalent of a new base model honda accord.

    i priced a wedding just for kicks, and found that it was easy to reach $10K just with the dress and the reception hall. catering is easily a couple more thousand and a cake for 150 people that isn’t from Publix can run up to $700.

    throw in a DJ, open bar, accessories for the dress (jewelry and shoes), flowers, bridal party gifts, invitations (that can be $800), chair rental, and a professional photographer and i see how $19K would be a “scaled down” wedding. shoot, i can see how $25K is an average wedding.

  • i’ll never understand it. a wedding is pomp and circumstance for one day, and it has nothing to do with the marriage. meanwhile regular people – which is most folks, ’cause most folks ain’t rich – are starting off their marriages in debt. and to top it off, many of them are renting instead of owning, saving, or investing. just seems shortsighted to me.

    i’m having a small cheap destination wedding. later, after we’ve saved enough to pay for it outright, we’ll have something modest for the family.

    i can’t see how $25K is an average wedding. i just can’t.

  • Oh weddings…

    My wife and I got some, shall we say, ‘well-priced’ engagement rings back in China (which also doubles as our wedding bands). I refuse to buy diamonds of any sort and we settled for stuff based on color rather than material (I dig silvers and grays, she likes anything with purple).

    As for our wedding, the better question is which one? We are going to have three, one in the US, one in China, and one in Argentina (for all our families), and no wedding is going to cost more than 3k each (our plane tickets are another matter). Still, we got married last year and just had an open air picnic in the park nearby and I facebooked/emailed the invitations. Classy. But hey we do not really need the pomp (except for the Chinese wedding, which will be epic and should take place this coming Spring).

    Out of all the things to blow money on, a wedding is mos def not one of them. They are the rims of life.

  • Here’s the thing: until you go through the process, you have *no idea* what the wedding-industrial complex is like. It’s freaking insane, and the “little extras” add up astonishingly quickly.

    The way to avoid them is to keep in mind that you are essentially *hosting* a party for your *guests*, and thinking about what they will care about and not bothering with the stupid shit they won’t (like silver cake servers, or embossed jordan almonds, or whether or not your flowers are mostly greenery, or what “your colors” are). My wedding cost $5k (including, okay, a $700 dress), and I don’t think anyone “missed” anything. Most of my friends’ weddings cost less, and most of them have been awesome. The few weddings I’ve attended that cost more were mostly pretty godawful: all about show, not a lot of thought about what the guests would actually enjoy.

    So I can easily see how people spend a ton of money, but I admit I’m not really sympathetic to the self-indulgent “big wedding” expenses.

  • (Also, re. engagement ring, I have one but I admit I no longer wear it. First of all, it’s freaking rude to ask what someone spent on a gift for you, let alone “demand” that someone spend x, y, or z, so again: not sympathetic to the idea of demanding an expensive ring, or complying with such a demand. Second of all, I confess to having been so rude as to ask, and being reassured that Mr. B. only spent $500.)

  • Aisha

    When I read this post on Friday night I just happened to be watching a show about buying wedding dresses. The budget brides were spending $3000. I couldn’t understand it. When I do get married I was thinking about spending $500. If $3000 budget I’m screwed…. My mom got married in a traditional African dress so maybe I need to go that way.

  • i was just talking to a friend who said that she spent 5k on the whole deal, and hers was on a beach in Jamaica. If you have to do it, that would seem like the move.

    btw, the 3 months of paychecks thing is a DeBeers contrivance. besides creating the “tradition” of giving engagement ring out of whole cloth — the practice didn’t exist until the 1930′s, when they started bankrolling Hollywood films and having it written into the scripts — they came up with the “3 month” figure as a way to give men looking for rings a scale to work (because they wouldn’t have a frame of reference). The number also assured that that scale was sufficiently cost-prohibitive that it reaffirmed the “prestige” of diamonds.

  • ladyfresh

    Unless daddy invented the blender and is swimming in dough, its just irresponsible. someone’s been watching royal pains…

  • Lemu

    interesting fact.

    I’d love to see some rationale behind engagement rings, because whenever I ask women why the engagement ring should cost as much as it does or be so large, the answers I hear all sound like the nanny from peanuts.

  • I guess the thing re: size and price is basically just that big car, big house thing: “look at what I got.” And obviously, there are a lot of dudes who want to brag about being able to provide that for their fiancees.

    I remember getting into a conversation on “synthetic” diamonds with some friends who suggested that they would never wear them. nevermind that they have less “flaws” than diamonds that would be mined from the ground and would necessarily be “conflict-free.” the idea that they were made in a machine and not pulled from the ground made them unacceptable.

  • belleisa

    There’s a fabulous scene in Mad Men where the main character is on a date, and I can’t recall exactly what he says, but he makes a snarky remark to the lady he’s eating with, that “love is what guys like me (ad men) make up to sell you pantyhose.”

    It’s the same with diamonds. And although I’ve never heard anyone remark on being offended by a “conflict-free” diamond there’s a lot of pressure on men to supply one and women to show it off to each other. It’s the first thing an onlooker (probably female) may require of your wife-to-be.

    Perversely it’s also a way, the buyer (husband-to-be) is sized up. It’s as if the entire ritual is meant to indicate how much your fiancé really loves you.

  • quadmoniker

    That’s amazing, but I’d still rather spend $4,000 backpacking through South East Asia for a month. With my loved one. Obviously.

  • Lemu

    I think I’m gonna try something new and get my girl an engagement downpayment on a house.

    If thats not love, i don’t know what is :)

  • See, I’m of the mind that it would be much easier to elope or have a small, inexpensive wedding than throw a big she-bang. But my fiance is not down with eloping and I have a large, Southern family that wants to see us get it done in a traditional sort of way.

    But yeah, I’d rather throw most of our money at a great, two-week honeymoon in Australia and Southeast Asia or traipse through the Caribbean for a bit.

    $19K, or even $15K, would set us back in a big way.

  • belleisa

    That sounds lovely…

    But Ummm…did i mention that these traditions are so entrenched that to not participate isn’t exactly the answer (i’d hate to have planted the “no engagement ring seed” in your head and contribute to the loss of your fiance-to-be.)

  • quadmoniker

    Yeah, I’d rather elope too. Luckily, that’s what everyone else in my family does. I’ve never had to go to a family wedding. Now I realize they couldn’t afford it.

  • ladyfresh

    I’m so not down with this and I’m hoping whoever I marry understands. If they don’t (family included) they can pay for it.

  • Ugh, the engagement ring thing irks me to no end. (But then again, I have no intention on wearing one unless my intended wore one as well.)

  • quadmoniker

    You’re probably right, there are probably a lot of parents involved that have a wedding savings account.

  • Lemu

    Is the wedding account the runover college saving account? lol

  • I have really mixed feelings about weddings in general, incl. the ring. My ‘rents split when I was 3, and were the 1st generation in their family to earn any $$. So we’re not a family that has any kind of family “heirlooms” or anything (unless you count this old gold t-shirt of my mom’s from the 70s that I wore the hell out of the last few years).

    So I’d like my fiance and I to purchase a ring together as the notion that we might pass it on someday. The fact that it will be – by choice and necessity – small may not jibe with that notion, but that’s the romanticism I have around it. A keepsake.

    That said, we’re planning a wedding for this October, and the wedding-industrial complex is structured that if you want to go renegade and do things independently/uniquely, it takes WAY more work. So of reminds me being in biz school, where they were like, you can totally pursue non-profit work w/your MBA? Ok, can you help me with networking? No, we don’t know anyone in that field. Ok…

    I’m not crafty nor want to obsess over our wedding, but have a big, traditional enough family (on both sides) that we want a big party that includes them all. So we went with a banquet hall that has its own chef, so we (I?) wouldn’t have to sweat the small stuff. But now we’re subject to mass tastes and choices, and so much of it (coconut shrimp) just ain’t us. So you spend energy disentangling yourself from the wedding complex.

    This rant has become not exactly about the cost of weddings, but there’s a relationship there…

  • ladyfresh

    aand i replied in the wrong spot lol

  • They are the rims of life.

    COMEDY.

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