Chapter 9
Wedding Bells

In This Chapter
  • The high cost of a wedding
  • Understanding who pays for modern weddings
  • The biggest wedding costs
  • Cutting expenses to reduce wedding costs
  • Knowing when to stop spending

Your son or daughter is getting married, and you (hopefully) couldn’t be happier. Seeing your child in love and happily looking forward to a wonderful day is a rewarding and wonderful experience. Or perhaps you’re planning to tie the knot, whether for the first time, or not.

If you’re going to be involved with planning and paying for a wedding, you’ll no doubt experience some concerns about the cost of the event. Your concerns certainly are valid. The average cost of a wedding these days is $19,000, for an average of 200 guests, according to Brides magazine. Keep in mind, though, that $19,000 is the average cost. That certainly doesn’t mean you have to spend that much.

In this chapter, we’ll look at wedding costs, who pays for wedding costs, and some suggestions for keeping the wedding within budget.

Your Baby’s Getting Married

Your little girl (or boy) is getting married, and you just can’t believe it. How can your baby be old enough to be getting married? How can you be old enough to have a daughter who’s getting married? Whether you believe it or not, it’s happening.

Her brand-new ring sparkles as she shows it off to everyone she meets. Her face lights up as she talks about her dress, her flowers, who she and her fiancé plan to invite, which photographer they plan to hire, where the wedding and reception will be held, and what they’ll serve at the reception.

While your daughter’s head is filled with visions of beautiful dresses, flowers, guests, dinners, cocktails, appetizers, photographers, and so forth, your head is filled with images of writing checks, handing over credit cards, opening yet more accounts for bills, and counting out your cash. How in the world are you going to pay, or help to pay for this wedding? Don’t despair. Times have changed, and steadily increasing wedding costs have forced families to re-evaluate how they’ll pay for the events.

[image] Money Morsel
While the groom was traditionally responsible for paying for the honeymoon, some families of either the bride or groom now pay for the honeymoon as a wedding present to the couple.

Who Pays for a Wedding These Days?

As you probably know, tradition had it that the bride’s family paid the majority of the wedding costs. This was great for the groom’s family, but could cause serious pocketbook stress for the parents of the bride.

As tradition dictated, the bride’s family would cover the costs for goods and services listed as follows:

  • Engagement party
  • Cost of the ceremony, including location, music, rentals, and all other expenses
  • Entire cost of the reception, including location, food, beverage, entertainment, rental items, decorations, and wedding cake
  • Bride’s wedding dress, veil, and accessories
  • Wedding gift for the couple
  • Bridesmaids’ bouquets
  • Bridesmaids’ luncheon
  • Photography
  • Flowers

The groom’s family, on the other hand, was traditionally responsible these expenses:

  • Rehearsal dinner
  • Travel and accommodations for the groom’s family
  • Honeymoon
  • Wedding gift for bride and groom

As you can see, tradition was not financially kind to the bride’s family. Fortunately, at least if you’re looking at the situation from the viewpoint of that family, times have changed. Rather than burden one family with practically the entire cost of a wedding, it is common practice these days for both families—and sometimes the bride and groom—to share expenses.

Some modern options for paying for a wedding include:

  • The bride and groom pay for the entire wedding
  • Expenses are divided evenly between the couple, the bride’s family, and the groom’s family
  • Each family covers the cost for the number of guests it invites
  • The bride’s family and groom’s family split the expenses evenly

How you decide to divide the costs of your son’s or daughter’s wedding depends primarily on the financial situation of each family, and of the bride and groom themselves. Circumstances and common sense—not tradition—now dictate who will pay what for a wedding.

If your daughter is marrying a man who comes from a wealthy family, your future in-laws may offer to pay for the entire event. Or they might pick up one or two of the big costs, such as flowers or liquor at the reception.

Maybe you’ve been stashing away money ever since your daughter was born for the sole purpose of someday giving her a beautiful wedding. If so, you may want to cover most of the expenses.

If the bride and groom are older, as many couples are these days, they may each have been working for five years or more, have some money saved, and be perfectly willing to pick up some of the tab.

The best way to decide who will pay for what is for both families (or all the families that apply) and the couple to sit down together and have a frank discussion about what each party can afford to contribute. Some people are terribly uncomfortable discussing their finances in front of others, so be sensitive to that. Separate meetings are sometimes necessary, but it’s best if you can get everyone together at one time to brainstorm and share information.

Only when you learn how much money each family and the bride and groom can chip in can you know what kind of wedding to begin planning.

Don’t feel bad if you’re a parent of the bride and can’t afford to pay for the entire wedding. Very few people expect that anymore. And, don’t offer to pay for something you can’t afford. There’s no law that says every wedding has to cost more than $15,000, or $10,000, or even $5,000.

[image] Don’t Go There
Starting out thousands of dollars in debt is great stress for a newly married couple, who may still be paying off college loans or planning for a family. If your son or daughter is considering taking out a wedding loan, do everything you can to discourage him.

Some couples, or their families, decide they simply must pull out all the stops for a wedding. They want nothing but the best, even if they can’t afford to pay for it. To facilitate their dreams, they take out wedding loans.

Companies that offer wedding loans, such as the MBNA America Bank, will tell you that it’s great to take out a loan, so you can have exactly the wedding you want. Information on MBNA’s Web site (where you can actually apply online for a loan) tells the bride to go ahead and order beef for her guests, instead of chicken. She should get that designer gown, MBNA says, instead of buying one off the rack. As you can imagine there’s a catch involved, and it’s a huge one.

The small print at the bottom of the ad tells you that MBNA will set your interest rate at between 12.99 percent and 27.99 percent, depending on your credit rating. We’ll tell you right now that anyone who takes out a loan for a wedding at nearly 28 percent interest is crazy. She’d do better to charge the whole thing on a credit card and pay it off over time.

If you feel you absolutely must take a loan to pay for a wedding, don’t even think about a wedding loan. Look at a home equity loan instead, for which the interest rate would be much lower.

Wedding Costs

What are the main expenses involved with a wedding? The percentages probably haven’t changed much since your own wedding, although weddings today tend to be a bit more elaborate and include more extras than they did 20 or 30 years ago.

While it’s the big expenses—the food, liquor, music, photography, flowers, and so forth, that come to mind—remember that little costs can accumulate quickly, and every “extra” you choose will boost the cost of the wedding.

Consider a new fad, for instance—wedding bubbles. It used to be that guests showered the bride and groom with rice as they exited the place of the ceremony. Then we started substituting birdseed so our feathered friends could clean up the mess without risking their well-being.

Nowadays, guests are encouraged to surround the bride and groom with bubbles as they exit. Companies that sell wedding favors claim that bubbles are better because they’re ecologically safe, they don’t stain anything, and they’re much more fun for everyone. These bubbles come in a variety of containers, all of which can be enhanced by tying on ribbons that match the wedding colors.

Depending on where you buy them and what kind of container you choose, these wedding bubbles can be a little pricey. A box of 24 little bell-shaped plastic bottles of bubbles is available at an online wedding store for $12.95, plus shipping costs. You’d need five boxes for 200 guests, adding on about $65 plus shipping to the cost of the wedding. If you want to get fancy, you can pay extra for personalized labels to attach to the wedding bubbles.

[image] Don’t Go There
Don’t feel that you need to provide all kinds of favors to your guests. Most people already have more “stuff” than they know what to do with, and a little ceramic wedding couple is just something else to worry over.

Wedding costs vary tremendously, depending on the guests and what is important to the bride, groom, and their families. Typically, however, you can count on the percentages of costs listed as follows:

  • Reception: 40 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Honeymoon: 20 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Bridal attire: 10 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Flowers: 8 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Photographs: 7 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Miscellaneous (such as special parties, wedding bubbles, and so forth): 7 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Music: 3 percent of the total wedding budget
  • Stationery items: 3 percent of the total wedding budget

You can use these percentages as a guide when planning for your son’s or daughter’s wedding, or your own wedding, for that matter. If you know the amount of the total wedding budget, you can figure out roughly how much you’re likely to end up paying for each category of expenses.

Go Figure
Some insurance companies now offer wedding insurance, just in case the caterer decides to file for bankruptcy and go out of business two days before the event, or somebody steals all the wedding gifts. You even can buy insurance that pays you if it rains or snows on the day of the wedding. Check out Weddinguard at for an example of what’s available.

Saving on Wedding Costs

We think everyone should save money whenever possible. Money saved really is money earned, especially when it’s well invested.

If you’re paying for or contributing to your child’s wedding, remember that your donation buys you some say in how the money is spent. If she wants to hire limousines to transport herself, the groom, and the wedding party from the ceremony to the reception, and you think that some nice cars driven by special wedding guests will do just fine, be sure to make your opinion known.

If you’re paying the costs outright, you can simply refuse to shell out for limos, despite the fact that your daughter is likely to be upset with you. Or you can offer to give her a lump sum that she can use however she wishes. Do point out, however, that if she hires limos and drivers, she’ll need to cut back in another area.

Let’s take a few minutes to think of some creative ways to reduce the cost of a wedding. We understand that you want your child’s wedding to be beautiful and meaningful, and something from which she’ll have wonderful memories for the rest of her life. If you can help her understand that bigger is not always better, and that less sometimes is more, you’ll be ahead in the paying-for-the-wedding game.

  • Limit the number of guests. Inviting 150 people instead of 200 automatically cuts your wedding costs significantly. If you figure it will cost $80 per guest for food, drinks, and so forth, you’ll save $4,000 by reducing your guest list by 50 people.
  • Cut back on clothing costs. Your daughter will look as beautiful in a $500 dress as she will in one that cost $3,000. Or there’s a growing trend of borrowing a wedding dress from a friend or family member. We know a smart woman who wore her college roommate’s wedding dress, and even recycled the bridesmaid’s dresses from her roommate’s wedding for her own wedding. She ended up buying one bridesmaid’s dress instead of a wedding dress and three bridesmaid’s dresses. Borrow or make a headpiece instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars for one. Men can opt to wear their own, nice suits instead of tuxedos, saving rental costs.
  • Be nontraditional with the food. Not every wedding reception needs to feature sit-down dinner with a fruit cup and full meal. Think about a beautiful brunch, or an outdoor cocktail reception. Luncheons or teas also are options. Buffets can be less expensive than sit-down dinners because you don’t have to pay servers. If you still want the sit-down, stay away from the most expensive foods—usually seafood and beef. And, buy only a small, decorated wedding cake. This is the cake the bride and groom will cut and have their photos taken along side of. And it will feed the wedding party. The rest of the guests can eat slices of cake cut from large, plain cakes. They’ll never know the difference.
  • Consider the timing of the wedding. Wedding caterers—the good ones at least—are booked a year or more in advance for Saturdays in June, and often charge more for their services during these busy times. The same caterers in November, however, may be looking for business and willing to give you a break on their costs.
  • Watch the alcohol. Wedding receptions traditionally are festive affairs, complete with cocktails, wine, and champagne toasts. Unfortunately, all this festivity comes at a high price. Be prepared to pay more for booze than you will for food at a wedding reception. If you can, supply the alcohol yourself. Many places do not permit you to do that because they make a lot of money on liquor. If you’re having the reception outdoors, at your home, or in another private location, however, you probably will be able to supply your own refreshments. If not, consider limiting alcohol to a variety of beers and wines, and skip the champagne toast.
  • Get friends and family to help out. If you’ve got a great amateur photographer in the family, enlist her services. If your nephew is a flower designer, get him on board. Hit up friends and family to perform services such as singing, playing musical instruments, and videotaping. Use friends as drivers instead of paying people to drive.
  • Say no to the extras. You really don’t need wedding bubbles. Or a picture frame for each guest to take home. You don’t need embossed matchbooks or napkins, or elaborate flower arrangements on every table. Keep it simple and you can save significant money.

[image] Money Morsel
Check out the Unique Wedding Web site, where you can shop for new wedding dresses that cost up to 70 percent less than retail prices or find a used dress. The Web site is

There are many ways in which you can reduce the cost of a wedding and still have a lovely, classy event that will impress your guests and create wonderful memories for your son or daughter.

Avoiding Temptation

We understand that your baby’s wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event (hopefully), and that you want it to be perfect. We can’t stress, however, how important it is to be realistic about how much you can afford to spend to make those dreams come true.

Some families have no problem plunking down $20,000 or $25,000 for a wedding. Most of us, however, have to do some serious thinking and planning before we hand over that kind of money.

If you haven’t been great about saving for retirement, think long and hard before spending a good chunk of whatever amount of money you have. Your daughter can live without a big, fancy wedding, but you really can’t live without retirement money.

If you’re going to be paying for, or contributing to the wedding costs, set a limit on what you’re able to spend and stick to that amount. Do not yield to the temptation to add a first course to the wedding dinner, even if your best friend did for her daughter’s wedding. Understand that your daughter will be just as lovely in a $400 dress as she will in that $2,000 model, and that a champagne toast, while nice, is not a necessary part of a reception.

With careful planning and some well-placed restraint, you can help to give your son or daughter a great wedding. Don’t, however, put your future in jeopardy to do so.

The Least You Need to Know
  • Weddings are festive and wonderful events, for which the average cost these days is $19,000.
  • While the bride’s family traditionally paid for most of the wedding costs, it is common today for both families to share the cost and for the bride and groom to contribute some of their money.
  • The main costs of an average wedding are the reception, the honeymoon, bridal attire, and flowers.
  • With a bit of creativity and determination, you can significantly reduce the cost of a wedding.
  • We all want our kids to have wonderful weddings, but you should never spend money to do so that you’ll need for your own retirement.
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