For some insane reason last weekend, I started Googling for the average cost of weddings in the United States of America. I got a hit through the Huffington Post, so I clicked – and read. Holy crap, I could hardly contain my bowels when I discovered the amount of cash that we are blowing for our weddings these days: almost $30,000.
And that’s just the average.
$30 grand for a single bloody wedding? Surely this is a bad study, or one that just surveyed rich Manhatten folks who can afford to throw down some people’s yearly salary for one night of dancing in uncomfortable clothing, so I continued my search.
Oh shit, now I really wish I hadn’t done this.
CostOfWedding.com says the average cost is $25,000. A CNN article confirmed the Huffington Post number of $30,000. A TheKnot.com study found damn close to $30,000 was the average cost of weddings in this country as well.
And these numbers are all not including the honeymoon. Or, quite frankly, the rings.
Warning: What follows is going to feel like a narrative written by an incredibly judgmental prick (that would be me in this case). But, I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to wedding costs, so I include myself in this discussion. I’m bashing myself as well. More on my wedding below.
Maybe I could understand if the average cost of rich weddings were $30k or more. But no, this is the number that the average person spends on a one-night celebration of their wedding.
People love to make themselves feel special in this country. Girls dream of an extravagant wedding from a very early age, drilled into their heads by television and magazines. We’re talking the best venue at the best time of year, fine china, expensive catering and white table cloths. Even some men want their weddings to be the best fucking bash of their lives, complete with top-shelf liquor, live music and all that “jazz”.
Of course, the big night comes after months of meticulous preparation. Trying on dresses and suits that will probably only be worn once, figuring out how much equipment like tables and chairs to rent, inviting people that you probably haven’t spoken to in years, spending hours decorating the venue with various trinkets. Don’t forget a ton of coordination of vendors and making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time with the right equipment so everything just falls into place. If anything goes wrong, it quickly becomes a nightmare.
I tell you, it’s expensive and exhausting, all for a one-night blitz bash.
But hey, I get it – this is a wedding. This is supposed to be the best day of a newly married couple’s lives. Everything perfect. Everything elegant. Everything they thought it could be. You only get married once (in theory), and wedding day is their opportunity to go wild and have some fun. So, why not spend a little?
So far I’m with you. But, does it really need to take an average of $30 grand and months of preparation to celebrate a wedding? Does it take the price of a mid-sized car to truly enjoy the thought of spending the rest of your life together with someone? How about another 5 years working at a job that you hate? Is one night of presumed bliss worth years of getting up at 6am for a job because you blew through a portion of savings?
How about planning a wedding the same way that you’d plan a dinner party or BBQ at your place? Really, what’s a wedding party consist of…drinks and food, right? Maybe a band, but the low, low cost of streaming Pandora can easily make up for the needless cost of a collection of live human beings banging on drums or strumming guitars. Would you ever spend $30k for a dinner party?
Probably not. But it’s a wedding, damnit, not a dinner party!
But we aren’t Donald Trump, either. We aren’t Bill Gates. We don’t have millions of dollars lying around doing nothing. We don’t have $30k of extra cash that needs to be frivolously spent on one evening of unabashed drinking and embarrassing dancing.
On the contrary, we are probably still working for a living. We get up every morning and commute to a job site in order to earn a pay check and pay for life’s needs, as well as lots of luxuries in our lives. We don’t have $30k to spend, but it’s spent anyway.
Even if it’s our parents doing the spending, it doesn’t really matter. Money spent is money spent, and a bill of $30,000 for a one-night party is, however you slice it and whomever picks up the check, just damn ridiculous.
What about YOUR wedding, Steve?
Good question. We spent close to $20k on our southwest-themed wedding, which is still a damn ridiculous expense for a one night celebration. Worse, this cost was after stripping out a lot of what makes most weddings so expensive, like the venue and drinks.
Instead of renting out a resort somewhere, or having one of those “destination weddings”, my wife and I got married at my in law’s house in Scottsdale, AZ. Hardly a small place. We also personally picked out all the alcohol in the form of beer and wine and hand-delivered that stuff to the house days before the wedding. No hard liquor. Just beer and wine…and a few bottles of margarita mix with the alcohol already added in.
But, we also had a live band. That costs big money. We went with cupcakes instead of a traditional wedding cake. Catering was from Macayo’s restaurant. We also ordained my brother-in-law and he delivered the reading at the ceremony and officially married us.
Even still, with the costs of the rental equipment needed for the wedding, food and drinks, the live band, the outfits, the photographer…basically, everything that goes into a wedding, we were still pushing the $20k mark for that night.
In the end, I am just as guilty of the extravagance of wedding spending as the next. We had a great time at our wedding, but what if we had a simple BBQ for a few of our friends and family members instead of the traditional celebration – complete with food and drinks? Guests would still have a good time. They could get completely hammered and enjoy the evening whether $1500 or $15000 was spent. Whomever brings the biggest camera can be the designated photographer. Whomever drinks the most beer can bring a few extra 6-packs cause, well, why not?
That friend who makes a killer risotto? Cool, that’s one of the main dishes. That dude who makes an insanely large plate of nachos for his Superbowl parties? Yup, he brings the appetizer. Order some chicken wings or pizza for takeout if you can afford it and want some extra party foods.
In the end, you’re still married. Guests still have fun. But, the bride and groom also deal with much, much less stress. If it rains, just bring the chicken wings inside and let that drunk guy dance around in the rain and have fun by himself.
It’s a win-win, everyone’s happy. And best of all, you get married and have fun for a small fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding…free of expensive fancy schmancy-ness.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.