It’s Time to Stop Comparing Wedding Costs to Car Payments


'Cause maybe you don't want to spend that money on a car, anyway

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

guests dancing at wedding reception

Iwas late to the car-buying game. With nearly a decade in New York followed by a gift of an impractical low-value car, I didn’t buy a car till I was in my thirties (and pregnant). I followed up that act two years ago with the purchase of a car big enough to haul nine-foot seamless backdrops, small sets, and passels of children who needed to go to soccer games. It was my Hail Mary attempt to not have to buy a car for another decade. It’s also how I ended up realizing I had more than the value of my wedding sitting in the driveway on wheels. In fact, because I waited so long to buy those cars, I’d spent more than the value of my wedding in cash on those vehicles combined.

Shame On Your Wedding Budget, Shame

When you’re planning a wedding, you tend to get a lot of guilting comments about what people spend on weddings these days—as if you, the bride/groom to be, is particularly enthused about what weddings cost. The two things I heard most often during my wedding planning were, “You could buy a car with what a wedding costs these days.” And, “Some people would rather have a down payment than a big wedding.” I, apparently, was not part of the wise and frugal “some people.”

The down payment comment was always easy enough for me to dismiss. Our wedding was partially paid for by contributions from parents—contributions they were making toward our wedding, not toward whatever we felt like spending it on. Second, the cost of a reasonable wedding is nowhere close to the size of a down payment in the expensive Bay Area.

But. The car logic. We actually could have bought a pretty decent car for what we spent on our wedding. And cars are practical, right? And weddings are… not. Right?

Except this week, I woke up to a wedding’s worth of cars in my driveway. And it turns out a driveway full of cars feels nothing like our wedding.

Cars Are Good, Experiences Are Better

Let’s say you are spending an amount on your wedding that could result in a car (or even a down payment). Do you feel guilty? Do you make comparisons? Do you ponder the vast number of things you could be doing with this money that seem more legitimate and more responsible than throwing this party to celebrate your union? If you’re a woman living in the Western world, the answer is: Of course you are. Because you’re trapped. On one hand, there is the significant cost of even a scaled-back modern wedding, and trying to somehow manage everyone’s expectations. And on the other hand, there is the endless guilt in the form of articles, eyebrow raises, and elevator-ride lectures on how insane the cost of weddings is these days.

There are a few events in life that are so singular, they can’t be compared to other things. Weddings can be one of those things. At the time I wished our wedding had cost less. But I don’t regret it, because it ended up creating a glowing memory of one wonderful and imperfect day. It wasn’t the only wedding we could have had (in some other universe, we had a cake and punch on the church synagogue lawn kind of wedding). But given a confluence of circumstances, it was the wedding we got. It was our one particular, shockingly hot day in the Bay Area in August, under a chuppah. It was the day we made huge promises, and I dropped David’s ring, and he drank beers on the windowsill with his best friend, and I did the electric slide to Dolly Parton. It was ours. It’s the moment we tied our lives together, legally and religiously. It’s the moment we revisit in our minds when the going gets tough.

Seven years later, no part of me wishes that wedding were instead the two cars in our driveway, practical as they are.

We don’t live on bread alone. Or even cars, as it turns out.

This piece originally ran on APW in April 2014.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com. #NASTY

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  • Amy March

    And it’s such a judgment- like, I don’t need a new car, but thanks for your concern? My 2004 VW is running just fine, and I’d rather not spend $40,000 on a luxury new car that adds nothing to my happiness?

    • Lisa

      Right? We’re even talking about selling and downgrading my 2007 Honda Accord for something more fuel efficient in the next year or so depending on where we end up, and my husband plans to drive his ’89 Mercedes E-class until it dies. We don’t need new cars, and I suppose we didn’t need a wedding either, but if it was a choice between the two, I would take our wedding every day.

      • emmers

        I feel the same way! My ’03 civic is starting to die a sad death (no a/c!!), but I wouldn’t trade my wedding for a car. I also think there’s no shame in a cheap, simple wedding, so mixed feelings, maybe? Money & feelings are complicated!

        • Lisa

          It’s all about priorities! As the anon commenter mentioned, she’s feeling pressure to spend more or people are assuming she’s saving for something else. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending what you want to on a wedding. (Though I wouldn’t recommend taking on debt to accommodate it, but I don’t take debt lightly at all.)

      • Eenie

        I really really really like my ford fusion hybrid though… And if we went back in time I wouldn’t do the wedding again. I’d elope like I wanted to. Which isn’t to say our wedding wasn’t awesome or meaningful, it was just a lot of work and a lot of money. Our ford fusion hybrid is our future vehicle for all the awesome road trips we’re going to take as a family.

        • Lisa

          That’s great! Everyone has different priorities. I get very little joy from my car other than it can take me to the places I want to go, but if your car makes you happy, then I think that’s a better investment of your money.

          • Eenie

            I feel like if I had been driving a reliable car before, it would not be such a stark contrast. But after a horrible track record with my old car (stranded at least once every six months due to a wide variety of issues), just having one that starts up every single time feels like such a luxury. Plus the 44 MPG is just so sweet :)

          • Lisa

            That’s awesome. My car’s MPG is pretty meh (19/29), which is why we’re considering getting something with better mileage when we move. We don’t have any problems with my car, and I bet it could last another 10 years, but I’m sick of a new-ish car getting the same gas mileage as my husband’s ’89.

          • Eenie

            Cause it’s a hybrid we have competitions to see who can get the highest MPG on a trip! Our other car is a truck that’s lucky to get 19 MPG, so we’re looking forward to getting a third car at some point in the future.

    • I have no desire to buy a car (and have never owned one). It saves me thousands of dollars a year and I’m happy to spend some of those on a joyous celebration with all my family and friends. So yeah, the car-buying commentary on wedding costs is silly.

    • Yep. I got rid of my beloved car that was 21 years old two years ago and joined a car-sharing program. And I love it! I hope to put off being a car for a long time…or maybe permanently! Who knows? (But I have the luxury of working in walking distance and living in a place with decent public transport and a car-sharing program, so that means this is an actual feasible possibility for me…)

  • A great reminder about the trade-offs that we face when spending money. It’s not even just a wedding or a car thing – we make trade-offs constantly with all purchases, big or small. Whenever I debate spending money on organic blueberries versus normal ones for example, it comes down to the trade-off between a pricier but potentially healthier item now and the cost of a potential illness later. Not going on a bucket list trip now means that I might not get to experience that destination with my loved one later. The values that drive our spending decisions and how we manage the trade-offs matter so much – definitely something to hammer out early on.

  • savannnah

    This is hitting me in all kinds of places. Our “unacceptable” initial budget of $20k is looking much closer to $30k and my MIL words of “why are you spending a down payment on a house for 5 hours of your life” keep playing in my head- esp as we have the upcoming ‘great parental meet and greet of 2016’ on the horizon for labor day weekend. I hate the morality behind spending or not spending money- its all terrible and anxiety producing and everyone could just chill, that would be great. (again, not that even 30K could get us a house where we live)
    Also I somewhat recently moved outside of a large city for the first time and had to learn how to drive and buy a car and I hate both driving and spending any money on my car.

    • Amy March

      Ewwwww. “Because you aren’t offering to pay for our wedding for us?” Either put your money where your mouth is or close it!

      • savannnah

        yeah..neither her or her ex will be contributing to our wedding so its been…interesting to watch them get upset about the budget. They come from a very different socioeconomic and religious background than my family so I am trying to be zen about it.

        • Amy March

          And at this point, sounds like they don’t need to know anything more about the budget, or the cost of anything else. Sorry, preaching to the choir I’m sure. Total pet peeve of mine when parents don’t want to contribute but also want to have tons of opinions about how much things cost.

          • savannnah

            YES- that has been a little difficult for my fiance since he wants to ‘keep his parents in the loop’ but I’m hoping I was persuasive enough. There are lots of other great details to share!

    • Jessica

      It’s funny–hearing the overall number of what we spent made people react like this, but me fretting about how much to spend on the wedding dress I would only wear once and didn’t care as much about compared to other parts of the wedding got the reaction “well, think of the dress in terms of how many years you’ll be married! It’ll be totally worth it then!” Like…no. I don’t have emotional returns on my dress every year of marriage, but I do have kickass emotional returns on dancing with all my friends and continually hearing what a great time they had is worth every penny.

      Also, I love my house, but I love those memories more.

      • savannnah

        I think that’s a great point tho, everyone places different values on different aspects of life and even different aspects of a wedding so the best thing might be no judgement any which way.

        Caveat: we recently went to a wedding where the brides mother took out a second mortgage on her house for 300K and they spent all of it, multiple ice fountains and 2 live painters included. That one I did judge.

        • Sarah

          That is so sad to me.

      • idkmybffjill

        Ugh, yes!!! The friend who “couldn’t imagine paying for a wedding” shamed me SO HARD for our budget cap on photographer.

  • Anon

    As someone who had a seriously big-budget wedding and is now actively saving for a downpayment on a house *and* is paying off a new higher-end car, there have been some times that I’ve felt like we were idiots for using so much money on one celebration. There have been some times that I feel like we lacked the foresight for better ways to use that money in our marriage, rather than on our wedding. I think these are valid feelings.

    It’s also a valid feeling, though, to think back on that day and feel nothing but pure joy. To remember being surrounded by all of our closest yet far-flung friends and family members in our favorite place in the world, and to know in a bittersweet way that we probably won’t be that lucky to have all those people together again. To know that honoring our traditions and our milestones is and always has been very important to us. To gratefully think on how we have been financially VERY lucky ourselves, as well as *extremely* lucky to have had an unexpected outpouring of financial help from others. To acknowlege that, yeah, it was ephemeral, but *life* is ephemeral and goddamn, did we throw a great party.

    If we did it again, there are things we might have scaled down, knowing what was to come. But for the most part, we wouldn’t change a thing, even knowing that we’ll be a couple years from affording the nice home we’d like now. Instead, we focus on ensuring we practice gratitude each day and give back to our amazing community where we can, though we can never truly repay them for the memory of that weekend.

    (And, yeah, we save a lot more money and focus on more practical stuff too now, since that’s where our priorities are. It’s not where they used to be and that’s okay. It’s all about balance.)

    • emmers

      You’re so right- there were things I’d forgo if I redid it (etsy cake topper, I’m looking at you!), but it’s such a moment in time. Our decisions then represented us/our feelings at the time. It makes sense that they’re not timeless, even priorities-wise.

      • Lisa

        This is what I just said in my comment, too! Sure, there are things I might have cut or made cheaper in retrospect, but I think we made the best decisions we could with the information and priorities we had at the time. I love our wedding and would do 99% of it again in a heartbeat.

      • Keri

        Plus, on the other side of it, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I could have found a less expensive dress” or whatever, but while it’s happening, your time and sanity might be worth the financial cost of making a decision and having it be done. Sure, I could have saved money on things if I wanted to spend way more time looking and hunting, but I didn’t, and that worked out for me.

        • Sarah

          Yes to this!! I bought my dress about three months ago and it was $5 under my $1000 budget. With four months to go till my wedding, I sometimes think maybe I should have tried harder to find a cheaper dress so some of that money could be going towards our florist etc. But I LOVE my dress and spent hours on hours researching affordable dresses.. And at some point you need to move on.

        • Cathi

          I definitely regret spending so much money on my dress. I liked it but didn’t love it and probably could have spent many hundreds less on something I liked just as much.

          But you know what? I probably would have blown through those many-hundred dollars in a year on dinners and drinks. I wouldn’t still have that money anyway, so I’m not terribly fussed about it. Those dollars would have gone toward something that gave me pleasure either way.

          • Keri

            Same. My dress is nice, I think it will be good, but it’s not my “dream dress” because I never had one. But, I won’t be naked on my wedding day, and that’s worth something!

        • Kayjayoh

          Add me to the list of “probably not that dress,” but mostly because that dress also caused me a lot of stress in the days leading up to the wedding.

          (However, I’ve worn it twice since the wedding, and have plans for one more, so I guess I can now amortize the cost over four-wearings?)

        • the cupboard under the stairs

          Thank you for this! I started wedding planning with the idea of finding a white dress at a regular clothing store rather than spending $$$ at a bridal store. Turns out…hunting for long white dresses in every store under the sun until you find the right one takes a CRAP TON of time and effort. So I gave up, went to BHLDN and spent all of 30 minutes picking out a great (albeit four-figure) dress. Worth it.

    • macaroni

      AMEN. I had a higher-budget wedding and for the longest time I felt this secret shame about it, because of a lot of the reasons you listed. But it was an amazing, absolutely magical day filled with love, dancing, and good food with those we love most in the world. I have literally never felt more enveloped in love than I did on our wedding day, and I’ll never forget that feeling.

    • aimer

      Those ARE valid feelings – and smart too. A house is an investment, stability, security. A wedding is a giant headache for 6 months to a year, stressful for people who feel obligated to attend, with all the expense it costs them (a gift, travel, hotel, clothing) and even more so for the wedding party. A lot of people seem to lose focus on the marriage and instead are blinded by The Big Day. I have a little different pov because I facilitate pre-marriage classes and see so many different attitudes. When I check in 5 years down the line, those who kept it simple seem to be in a better place financially and in their marriage. We started planning a big wedding but we are both frugal and decided instead to have a small, intimate but very meaningful ceremony and a bit nicer honeymoon and still had enough for a down payment on a home, paid off student loans and 2 new (under 2 years old) cars. We’re debt free now which has allowed me to be home with our children for as long as I wanted, vacation twice a year and investments. For us, this was a wise financial move. But to some may seem too practical and they might feel like they “missed out” on the party.

  • Sara

    As someone who has terrible luck with cars in general and is happily leasing the most recent one – I would rather spend the large amount on an event that I can control (to an extent, obvi) than a machine that is a mystery to me. My last car got infested with BUGS off all things!

  • AP

    I cringed a few weeks ago when an older female colleague told me that she questioned her daughter’s choice to have a wedding when she could be using the money for *anything* (*anything* = anything would be better than a wedding.) I didn’t want to poke my nose in her business, but I tried to gently point out that her daughter is managing a lot of people’s expectations right now and doing the best she can. I’m not sure it got through, though. Some people just don’t see the value in weddings and think they’re frivolous, and my colleague is one of those people. I’m hoping she makes it through her daughter’s wedding with their relationship intact, because from the sound of it she’s had all her planning responsibilities revoked (I think they’re both happier for it, but having just planned a wedding myself I can imagine what her daughter must be feeling right now.)

  • anon

    There’s a weird corollary to this, too — we’re spending very little on the wedding – just under 5k – and when people find that out they just assume we’re using it for a down payment or a car. Well, no, we already own a place and no, we’re not going to buy a new car when the used beater is still running. At which point I get weird looks because why wouldn’t we have a nicer wedding at that point?
    I think a lot of it overall is people can only mentally imagine committing to a purchase as large as a big wedding / new car a few times in their lives, so they assume you’d want to spend it however they would. I guess.

    • emmers

      People just like to judge. I think they forget (or never knew?) how it feels to be on the receiving end of all those Opinions.

      • emmers

        Also, some people are just assholes.

    • tr

      I’ve definitely gotten similar reactions! At every turn, people keep encouraging me to “treat myself” by ordering the fancier centerpieces or the more expensive dress…nobody can seem to fathom that I don’t WANT to spend $50k on a wedding!

    • EF

      man, people did that to us to in a real budget shaming way. i started responding bluntly: ‘well, it’s what we can afford.’ ‘but you’re a lawyer and he’s a scientist!’ ‘uh, we both work for nonprofits…’

      but whatever man, haters gonna hate.

      (edit to add, we also spent a little under $5K, or about £3K at that time’s exchange rates)

  • Lisa

    Our wedding was partially paid for by contributions from parents—contributions they were making toward our wedding, not toward whatever we felt like spending it on.

    I love this. My parents actually gave us a lump sum of money and said we could do what we wanted to with it, but we chose to have a wedding that reflected our values at the time, surrounded by the people we love in a place that we loved. Even as I’ve had a mind-shift to being even more frugal in my day-to-day life, I don’t regret the money we spent on that day.

  • ruth

    We were fortunate that our families paid for our wedding, but we definitely paid the cost of a car on our honeymoon. And I don’t regret it at all. As Meg said, “….experiences.” At the time, we were fortunate to be making great money so that honeymoon expenditure wasn’t a big deal. Cut to three years later and my husband lost his job, so our income got cut in half. There are times when I’ve fleetingly wished we had all that money we spent on the honeymoon now that our finances are tight – but then I think again, and realize…no. Our honeymoon was an amazing adventure (we went to the French Polynesia) and sometimes when I’m feeling stressed working in Manhattan, I think back to the days we spent cuddling in our bungalow hammock with the vanilla scented breeze wafting over the water, and I’m like, yep that was totally worth it! Someday my husband is going to find another job, we’ll replenish our savings account etc… – but I know years from now, we probably won’t even think about this financial downturn – but we will always remember that trip. We live in a workaholic culture that values money but doesn’t value vacations for the soul-restorative experiences they are. But my friend who works as a hospice nurse tells me that people’s number one regret is that they didn’t prioritize experiences or spending quality time with the people they love. So don’t let people guilt trip you. Cars are useful. But experiences last a lifetime, and there’s nothing like shared experiences with the one you love.

    • stephanie

      “There are times when I’ve fleetingly wished we had all that money we spent on the honeymoon now that our finances are tight – but then I think again, and realize…no.” THIS! I think this perspective is so important.

    • Jessica

      “But experiences last a lifetime, and there’s nothing like shared experiences with the one you love.” THIS. Yes. Every memory of our wedding & New Zealand honeymoon is sprinkled in fairy dust. The memories of those 2.5 weeks I treasure, every day – and especially when things are tough.

  • Eenie

    I hate people who budget shame. The only thing I will ever mention with budgets and weddings is that they’re not worth going into debt for.

    I don’t feel guilty about the money we spent on our wedding. I wouldn’t plan or spend it again if we went back in time. I’m very glad we have the memories. I would spend the money again on our car. It was something that I saved up for years, researched, and negotiated for myself. I love driving it every day. I look forward to spending many more hours in the car on road trips with just the two of us and our future potential kids.

    • Sarah

      Agree. I see a picture of a father and bride daughter on my Wells Fargo bank account log in page that is promoting wedding days loans. NOOOOO you do not finance a party (or jewelry for that matter). I suppose financing a car is a similarly bad idea money wise but for most people they are necessities.

      • Eenie

        No debt is always better than debt, but I have two car payments that are very affordable. The one is zero interest. I can always sell the car back to recoup the costs (because we put enough down, we will never be under water and have collision insurance), I can’t do that with a wedding/marriage.

        • Sarah

          I heard a friend of a friend story about brides parents borrowing money for her wedding and still paying back after the divorce. And I’m not trying to money shame cars or anything else so apologies if I sounded judgy.

          • Eenie

            No worries :) That’s just where I draw my line. If someone was buying a car, I wouldn’t say “You should really pay cash!” But if someone is talking about their wedding and how they don’t know if they can afford it, I always say “Pay for the wedding you can afford now, or wait until you can save up some more.” I don’t like telling people what to do with their money, but this is the one exception I make unless they’re specifically asking for advice.

          • And also: if parents/family are offering to pay for part of it, get the money from them before signing the contracts. ‘Goes right along with paying for the wedding you can afford now.

          • Eenie

            Yes! Or still just assume it isn’t ever going to materialize, and then it’s a happy surprise! Neither of our parents were in a great spot financially, and they each gave us a very generous gifts regardless. One was way before the wedding, the other one was a really nice surprise in the card on the day of. Neither impacted our budget, we just had more left over in the pot at the end!

          • tr

            As weird as it sounds, I’m starting to think there’s a very real correlation between borrowing money for a wedding and divorcing a short time later! I feel like a disproportionate number of the people I’ve known who borrowed for the wedding got divorced within a few years.
            Then again, I suppose it makes sense. Borrowing indicates that you’re living above your means, and that’s a HUGE stressor on relationships! Also, I think people in questionable relationships tend to try to overcompensate out of an illogical hope that the perfect wedding will somehow make everything else better.

      • KEA1

        To be the optimistic benefit-of-the-doubt person here, doesn’t Wells Fargo offer savings, not just loans? So that maybe they’re suggesting saving for a wedding, not borrowing for one?

        (I hope?)

        • Sarah

          Could be. Just went to their site today and didn’t see the image…but it may have been awhile since I saw it last.

    • AP

      “I don’t feel guilty about the money we spent on our wedding. I wouldn’t plan or spend it again if we went back in time.”

      This 1000%.

  • Keri

    Well, and there’s a big difference between what you *could* buy and what you *would* buy. If someone gave you $5,000 right now, would you buy a car? Maybe, if you need a car right now. But if you’re planning a wedding, well, you’re probably going to spend it on a wedding. Or just put it in your bank account. You COULD buy 5,000 lollipops, but you probably wouldn’t. Basically I don’t like the “you could…” argument unless it equals the “you would” argument.

  • laddibugg

    I’m getting people saying that we should not spend so much on our already small, low cost wedding plans since we have a little one now. It boggles my mind because
    1. we’re not spending his ‘college fund’. But if you’d like to contribute…
    2. This money was earmarked for a wedding before I even found out I was pregnant.

    We have ok jobs and can manage splurging a few grand (4 digits!) on a nice affair. Why should we not just because we did things in a different order than some?

    I really want a wedding and reception and the whole thing now since I missed my baby shower :-/

  • I hate that whenever I’m on Facebook or Twitter & the topic of weddings comes up, there’s always a chorus of “well I’d rather have a down payment on a house”. There’s always this air of “you’re an irresponsible person if you spend $X on a one day event and I’m so much more responsible than you”. Which drives me crazy, cause rational people know it’s not a down payment OR a house situation, it’s a down payment AND a wedding situation. Saving for our wedding didn’t stop us from now saving for a house. And who says that everyone wants (or should want) a house anyway??? Ugh it all just irks me.

    • the cupboard under the stairs

      Your last sentence is spot on! The world has changed so much recently. Housing prices are insane, especially in and around major cities. Many people are staying in urban areas rather than spreading out in the suburbs as they get older. Can we put to rest this outdated idea that home and car ownership is the ultimate American dream? What if I just want to stay childless, live in a condo and spend all my money on travel? That doesn’t make me bad or wrong.

  • emilyg25

    I’m all for transparency about money, but you don’t have to tell anyone what your wedding costs. Then no one can comment!

    • idkmybffjill

      I’ve found that people comment just appropos of nothing! They’ll just bring it up when they find out I’m engaged. It leaves me in a weird place of wanting to say, “Ours isn’t costing THAT much” and “So what if it was!”

      • Cathi

        Yep, some people will look around at the thing you’ve planned and make logical leaps about how much it costs (or who is paying for it, or whatever).

        My step brother got really snotty with my little sister in this way when she was planning her wedding. She told him they were having it at Fancy Venue and he looked completely taken aback and said in a pretty judgmental tone “Wow, that place is REALLY nice. I wish I had the help and ability to be able do do something like that when I got married.”

        Nevermind they were having it on a Sunday night in the dead of winter so as to be able to afford Fancy Venue on a Mediocre Venue budget. Nevermind our dad and stepmom contributed equally to all seven of our weddings, step- and birth-kid alike.

        *grumble grumble* My sister has long since let this go but I’m still doing my older sister duties and holding her grudge for her.

        • idkmybffjill

          Ugh for real! Mine has happened with like… grocery check out people/strangers in the elevator/brand new aquaintances. They will see my ring, say congratulations and (without further input from me) say something like “just don’t spend the downpayment for a house on your wedding!”. I’m always like… okay?

    • macaroni

      I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Our wedding was up there, budget-wise, mainly due to size and things that my parents insisted on (and they were paying, so…), and I made the mistake of telling a very money-conscious friend what it wound up costing. Her reaction was so overwhelming negative that there are very few people I would share that information with at this point.

      • Lisa

        Yeah, I think I’m done sharing my budget with people I don’t know too well or whom I don’t know how they’ll react. One of my co-workers at my retail job just got engaged, and when she asked if I would mind sharing how much my Chicago wedding cost, I thought it would be helpful for me to tell her since she’s from there and might be considering planning a wedding in that area. Her eyes went huge, and she exclaimed over and over how that was more than double what she would EVER consider spending on a wedding. It made me feel pretty awful to the point where I don’t think I’ll share that information as casually anymore.

        • idkmybffjill

          Some of that is newly engaged dumbness too (I’m describing myself here). We are getting married in Chicago and I was SURE I could make a reception for 130 happen for 7500 including venue, dinner, and drinks. Lol.

          • Lisa

            Sorry, I almost laughed out loud because that sounds just like my husband. I’d planned events for my Chicago job in the area so I had at least a vague understanding of how much things could run, but my husband kept saying, “I don’t understand how we could possibly spend over $10-15k on this.” Once he started helping with venue research and realized that a downtown space for approximately 100 guests could cost $7000 on a Saturday night (before anything else), he realized that I’d been much more on-target with a budget of $20-25k. (Our final number was about $24k.)

          • idkmybffjill

            It’s absolutely laughable.

            What’s most embarassing is that I also plan events. But I work in finance so I was accustomed to having like… at least a 50K+ budget (with, let’s be real, a very flexible Oh Crap fund) and usually very large events (400+) – so when I scaled down the guest list I made some stupid assumptions.

            I mean, theoretically we could’ve done it. There’s this venue called Kitchen that has a 2K rental fee, we could have had pizzas and beer and made it happen/asked a friend to coordinate.

            But when I started adding up all the moving parts (furniture rentals, pizza delivery, getting the drinks to the venue) I was like… WHY. So much work. Must have coordinator. (I am the friend in our group that one would ask to stage manage their wedding). And after the pro coordinator cost we’d have gone over budget anyway!

            We are getting married at Revolution Brewing on a Saturday for about 13K all in reception/ceremony (not including photography, everything else) and there’s an event coordinator that essentially does all the things a wedding stage manager would do AND has a whole team (We straight up just drop off our decor the day before, pick it up the day after, she made a timeline, etc). Our final number will be right about where you are (including gifts, dress, clothes, everything). Worth it for us.

            Pre-engaged me would’ve smugly rolled her eyes at our final numbers and assumed we hadn’t found the best budget solutions. But engaged me has realized some solutions are more cost on my sanity than the dollar amount is to my pocket book.

          • Lisa

            Love discussing Chicago weddings because I know exactly all of the places you’re talking about!!

            We looked at both Kitchen and Rev Brew for our wedding, but they were booked up on the date our church (St. Vincent de Paul’s) was available. We were between Volo and Hubbard Inn and eventually went with the latter because they had enough seating for all our guests (vs. the high tops and seating mixture at Volo). I think we paid about the same amount for Hubbard Inn as you guys are, and we had to do absolutely nothing to the space because it was gorgeous as-is. Throw in the bonus of not having to contract every piece out, I think it was worth it to go with something all-inclusive to save ourselves the headache. (Plus, I don’t think we would have saved all that much money by going with a space like Kitchen, AND we would have had to deal with multiple vendors. Definitely not worth it.)

          • idkmybffjill

            Amen! Both to discussing Chicago weddings and for no headaches! Loved both those locations as well. Hubbard Inn IS gorgeous.

            Did you guys have family in town? Because that was another decider for us in terms of like….what we were willing to wrangle on our own. If I’d had the forces of my mom and stepmom in town for the months leading up we could’ve done more. But both of our families are from out of state, so it would’ve been on us and our friends, and although I know weddings are about community I have (probably silly) anxiety about asking for alot of favors / being a perfectionist and an itense organizer and possibly annoying people with too many details!

            We are definitely privileged to both have good jobs/lots of savings and contributions from our families. But if there were cheaper/more inclusive options I could not find them for the life of me. I honestly couldn’t even find a space to do a cake and punch reception (I’m sure we could’ve just done that at Kitchen but with the reception hours starting late it would’ve been strange not to feed people!).

          • Preengaged Chicago

            This thread is so goals/ relatable. Hubbard Inn is gorgeous and Revolution is so fun.

            Pre-engaged here and nosely Googling BYOB/vendors venues every week just so I can walk in armed when the time comes for family budget conversations.

            I’m sure your big day at Rev will be great and no shame for $ well spent on the experience. (People always see to love visiting Chi, too!) My judgement can frankly come from a place of jealousy. Small weddings = I have a super large family and wish I could pull it off. Large weddings = wish I had the budget. Each one is unique and I’m learning to appreciate them. I’ve seen 100K dropped at Bridgeport Art Center and, though that’s not feasible for me, it was gorgeous!!

          • idkmybffjill

            This actually made me teary! (What up, engaged emotions) – Thank you for the validation!!

            If you ever would like spreadsheets chock full of quotes let me know :).

          • Preengaged Chicago

            Aw thank you! And CONGRATS on your new engagement / upcoming wedding!

            FWIW – I’ve been a bridesmaid in weddings with and without DOC and the brides with one have generally seemed MUCH more calm during the morning/ lead up. I think the cost of convenience/peace of mind, considering a lot of out-of-town guests, is 1) totally worth it in the small and grand schemes 2) not for other’s to judge! (ex: we don’t judge friends for cleaning ladies, grocery delivery, laundry service, etc.) ( “Personal care” as my budget app calls it.)

            Hope the day goes off perfectly and enjoy every second!

          • Lisa

            We were in a very similar situation to you guys. We both went to grad school in Chicago and stayed for a year after before moving to Badtown. Our wedding was back in Chicago about 2 months after my husband had started school and 3 weeks after my move. My family is from Indiana, and his is from the Bay Area so we didn’t have anyone to help coordinate for us. We also had to be able to organize the last minute details from afar since neither of us could have “boots on the ground” so to speak.

            The only thing we put our friends in charge of was music (ceremony and reception). We are both classically-trained musicians and asked a lot of our friends to give us their talents as a wedding present. One of our friends (who we met at a C&B registry event!) is a hobby DJ, and he put together and managed the playlists for the entire reception.

            We could probably have done a cake and punch reception at the DePaul Alumni Center, a venue we considered very early on, for cheap, but with his family coming from so far away, it felt like the least we could do would be to serve some great food/alcohol and have some dancing. Since it was essentially a destination wedding for all involved, we wanted to make them feel like they’d had a great Chicago experience.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes! We felt the same way re: travel and experience. I felt like alot of my family would be annoyed that I didn’t just have a reception back home if we did cake & punch. That’s so awesome re: musical gifts! We found a cool DIY DJ service “Just Press Play” so we have to put together the playlists but my dude is into that. It’s funny cause I FEEL like we’re having a very budget conscious wedding, but then other people are shocked by the number. Perspective!

          • Lisa

            We joked all of the time how we were essentially planning a “budget” Chicago wedding while my sister was planning a “fancy” Ohio one, and hers still probably cost $10k less than ours.

          • idkmybffjill

            Sobbing face emoji. So real.

    • sofar

      eehhh…. people always found a way to make those comments to me, even though I was super tight-lipped about the money aspect. They’ll ask you, “How many people are going?” and “What city are you having it in?” The really sneaky ones will say, “Oh, which venues have you toured? My sister is looking, and I’d love to know what you thought about the venues in our city.” And when you answer, they’ll make the “could have bought a house/trip around the world/car” comments.

      Sure, you could answer all those questions with “MY WEDDING IS TOP SECRET!” but that would be awkward. And saying, “Oh, we don’t really know yet, we haven’t started planning” doesn’t really work when it’s two weeks before your wedding.

      This is just a long-winded way of saying that some people will ALWAYS find a way to cost-shame you.

  • JLily

    I like to think that it’s not just an experience for the bride and groom, but also the gift of an experience to your community–which you don’t get with a personal vehicle–maybe a bit more so with a house. I’m thinking of it like, yeah, sometimes I buy birthday presents for people, and no one says I should have saved that money for a car or a house (I might have even bought a new dress for the bday party–who cares?). And sometimes I pick up the whole check for dinner and drinks to say hey, I like you! It’s just that you are giving gifts to everyone at ONCE, so yeah of course its going to get esspenssive (and if that’s what you want and can afford, it’s ok)!

    • sofar

      This! When I got engaged, the outpouring of support was nice, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Well gosh none of you gave a crap when I finished grad school.” But the thing about weddings is that they’re something everyone gets to celebrate *with* you. We had several deaths in my family in the year prior to my wedding, and, hell, everyone NEEDED a big fun party!

  • JenC

    My feelings on the cost of our wedding have evolved as time has gone on. At the beginning, I felt the guilt really intensely because all of our friends were doing the sensible thing and buying houses. We decided to keep renting and have a wedding. So we’re currently the only ones without a mortgage but that are married. It really got to me that we weren’t doing the sensible thing, we were being young and impulsive by having a party. A party is not an investment like a house is. I still sometimes think about how much we could have put towards a mortgage, especially when I get frustrated with renting but I know we’re on track to get on the property ladder within the next year and I just have to remind myself that we’ve done things in a slightly different order.

    When we were in the thick of wedding planning and knew how much everything was going to cost us, I felt sick at the amount. But that amount could be broken down into three separate categories – honeymoon and rings, reception and ceremony, everything else (dress, suits, whatever). Each category worked out about roughly a third of the budget. Which meant that we spent roughly the same amount on our honeymoon and rings as we did our church ceremony with the bells and a three course meal for 60 and an evening buffet for 100. We went into ring shopping knowing we were picking more expensive rings because we wanted to like them for forever. We picked an amazing honeymoon knowing that this was our first and last big holiday for several years. I don’t regret the money I spent on my wedding ring, I went with the right decision. I do not regret the money we spent on the honeymoon. More importantly I wasn’t regretting them before I’d experienced them. I knew I’d love my ring, I had it custom made and I knew we’d love our honeymoon because we’d picked a pretty prefect resort. So why should I regret the money on the ceremony and reception. Why should I question it before I’ve even given it a chance to give me the experiences of the day?

    Now, after the wedding, as I said I still have moments when I think “I could have put that towards a house” but I think the same about my masters degree or the dress I treated myself to. That won’t stop once we’ve bought a house because there’s always something else I could have spent my money on. However, since our wedding a lot has happened. I lost my aunt a few months after our wedding and I hadn’t had a chance to see her since. My last memories of her (not in hospital) are at my wedding dancing the night away. I didn’t plan the big wedding for her (I thought it would be needed for my grandfather instead) but she passed unexpectedly and now there isn’t a limit to what I would spend to have those memories. Even if I needed a car, I need those memories more. Obviously, not everyone suffers the loss of a close relative three months after their wediding but we never seem to place a value on surrounding ourselves with our loved ones. We often hear that it’s priceless but if it is really is priceless then surely it doesn’t matter if we a 5k, 10k, 50k or 100k wedding because we will be creating memories with our loved ones? Ok I sound like a MasterCard advert now.

    • Amy March

      Also, since when are we assuming a) real estate is a good investment, or b) buying real estate with a partner-to-whom-you-are-not-legally-bound is wise? Sure, it might be a great idea, but it strikes me as a strange assumption that one set of choices is clearly the correct practical way.

      • tr

        Also, even when houses are good investments, they tend to be MASSIVE money pits! If you’re just barely scraping together the money for the down payment, odds are, you can’t really afford it, anyway! (Particularly true of places with cheap housing…I suppose that if you’re in a position to “scrape together” $150,000 for a down payment, coming up with money for a new furnace in six months is less of an issue.)

    • Sosuli

      I totally relate. We’ve had a lot of “when are you buying a house” questions from husband’s family (who we live very close to atm), with people assuming that since we can afford a wedding we must have deposit money stowed away too. Try telling them we’re not interest in staying in the area permanently so we’d rather rent for now…may as well be speaking another language.

  • Another Meg

    This particular part of the Never Ending Circus of Guilt is kind of funny to me because, as a Chicagoan, so many people here guilt me for *owning* a car. As in, “Oh yeah, I don’t even understand why you’d want one. It’s such a waste of space! I just take the L.”

    That’s lovely, dear. I’m sure grocery shopping is fun for you.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I live in Boston and I am that asshole you describe. And we just got a car. No one else has judged us, but I judge us. It was such a source of pride for me that I didn’t need a car (having come from Texas, where everyone needs a car). I still don’t *need* it so I feel guilty having it. But also… it’s awesome! We can leave town just for the hell of it! We can go to Ikea! And yeah – our grocery game is way improved.

      • aon

        Being able to get down to Stoughton for the Ikea is almost worth having one all by itself. We use ours to go out to to the Berkshires / up to NH a lot, too, it really expands your daytrip mini-vacation possibilities.

  • CrazyCatLibrarian

    I will freely admit that I used to be one of the budget-shaming types (in my head, which still kind of makes me an asshole but I never criticized someone’s choices to their face, at least). When we were discussing engagements and I was doing some pre-planning, I had myself convinced that I could plan an awesome wedding in the Baltimore/DC area for around 10K, if not less. Then I got engaged. And now I can see my initial budget receding into the background as I get concrete estimates for the things that I want, and I can’t find it in me to care. Maybe an iTunes playlist would be great, but spending the money to have my college stand partner and friend’s string quartet play, even if only for 2 hours, seems like a worthwhile investment all of a sudden. I’m lucky that my parents are contributing financially, but we’re still paying for a good chunk of it. I thought the idea of spending the money would stress me out more, because I do have a car payment and student loans, and we want to buy a house someday, but as long as spending the money of my wedding doesn’t interfere with making the regular scheduled payments I already am making, investing in a community experience seems just as worthwhile. Sure, I could save money, but my mom is stupidly excited to do even the tedious things like folding a million paper cranes because I want to string them up (it’s really only a thousand, but right now it feels like a million), and having her call me excited because “Michael’s is having a sale on twinkle lights!!” and going with her to buy out their stock is worth the money, because it makes us both really happy (and hell, I can return them if I don’t use them). I never really wanted birthday parties growing up, because I was painfully shy, and I didn’t have a graduation party for high school, college, or graduate school, because I was stuck in the idea that graduation wasn’t some huge achievement worth asking people to make a big deal out of. It took a long time for me to come to the realization that I (and my partner) are worth celebrating, and if that takes more money than some people think is reasonable, then they can stay home.

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    • APracticalKiki

      I’m doing paper cranes too!! Or more accurately, my mom and aunt are. They’ve spent months working on them, and are having so much fun with it!

  • NolaJael

    Generally, I’m a big proponent of experiences but we’re having a *very* small frill-free wedding–and if I’m being honest the main reason is because I can’t justify even a “normal” wedding with the amount of student loans we have (and only limited parental contributions). We are textbook examples of Millennials who got chewed up and spit out in the Great Recession. And since between the two of us we have $250,000 in student loans (from allegedly useful graduate degrees) some days I get really depressed and feel like it will be a decade or more before I can afford guilt-free “experiences” again. I can sympathize with those who are prioritizing a wedding over a hypothetical future expense, but since we had that very real existing expense with compounding interest growing by the day, I couldn’t personally justify spending more on a wedding.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I FEEL THIS. It’s tough to be in this position, because even though people love to guffaw at the expense of it, the cultural narrative around weddings will make you feel like having a low-budget wedding is not A Real Wedding. But you have to do what works best for you with your resources. And I bet your small frill-free wedding kicks ass too.

  • Julia Schnell

    I’m having a hard time balancing the amount I’d like to set as our budget with the number of people we’re “supposed” to invite.

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  • Sarah Danielle

    I needed to read this today! In the midst of planning our wedding now and it has snowballed into what we keep referring to as “more than we wanted to spend” and I have a little shame about that. But I’m also excited about the wedding we’re planning and it helps to have this perspective :).

  • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

    I love this! I had a lot of guilt when we started paying for our wedding, even though our budget is relatively low. At a point, I realized it was going to cost what it would cost to throw a dinner/dancing bash for 200 people. Our summer camp venue and tent are the bulk of the budget, and those combined still ended up being less than half the price of a hall near us. We’re being frugal when we can. I had dreams of a gorgeous Dolly Couture dress, but I ended up foregoing it for a Modcloth one that I liked just fine, because the dress was lower on my priorities than the venue.
    Frankly, I wanted the big wedding because the only other time all these people in my life would be together would be at my funeral, and I don’t want to have to haunt it to enjoy my people.

  • AmandaBee

    Our wedding was a bit “budget” but when I think of how much we ended up paying it’s…still way more than anything we’ve ever paid for in our lives and I feel a bit silly sometimes. We don’t have nice cars (oldass hondas, FTW), we don’t have a nice apartment, we live really frugally – but we paid for our wedding in cash (some from family, some from our savings) and it definitely felt like a splurge.

    But looking back (a whole two weeks), we LOVED our wedding, we had so much fun, and were able to bring our whole community of people together for a day. Plus, it challenged us: to be serious about our budget as a unit rather than two individuals, to deal with emotional and family stuff that seems uniquely tied to having a wedding, to have conversations about what marriage really meant and how we could reflect that in our vows. We certainly could’ve done so for less money, but we decided to splurge and enjoyed every single minute of it, so at least at this point I don’t think I’d use the money for a car/down payment/vacation/anything else you might compare it with.

  • Alexandra

    Justifying life choices about anything, but in particular monetary expenditures, is a fool’s errand. Haters gonna hate.

    The one thing I would say is just be mindful of your priorities and try to live by your true values. Everybody’s priorities and values are different. Where wedding spending leads to problems is when people don’t keep track of the expenses and wind up going overboard on something that might not have assumed that level of value if they had thought it through.

    My mom wrote us a check for $10k to be used however we wanted. We spent every penny and not one cent more. We had $45k in student loans and ignored them in the equation. A lot of people would have gotten married at the courthouse and thrown the money at the debt. A lot of other people would have spent 10K plus lots more. There will always be people who would have spent more or less money than you. We wanted a big wedding and we wanted to feed everybody. It mattered to us. We don’t regret it at all. And nobody will ever make me feel anything but happy about it.

  • Jen

    Yes, a wedding is just one day, but in the course of a lifetime, some days are very, very significant. There’s a reason that everyone from our family, to our childhood friends, to our coworkers, to our academic advisers are super excited to attend our wedding. Weddings, births, graduations, funerals – these are the big events of which life is made. Life is also made of many small events, and those are sometimes helped by having a car, but events can be worth just as much as things.

    I have a nice car, and I do like it. But we only share one car between the two of us. We also each have a bike and my fiance has a bus pass. Someday we may even decide that the car isn’t for us. It’s like a bumper sticker that I saw. In big letters it said “I don’t have another car.” And then in small letters it said, “To be perfectly honest I kind of wish I didn’t have this one.” Not everyone has the same material goals.

  • Caroline

    To be honest, I find the “but you could buy a car!” logic so shallow. I just generally thing experiences and memories are worth so much more than stuff. And you know, it costs a fortune to feed your Aunt Sally and your friend Sam you haven’t seen since college and your cousin’s kid who you haven’t met because they live halfway around the world. But I remember every wedding I’ve ever been to, and especially mine. I think memories and experiences are FAR more worthy of spending money on than stuff. I’ve spent more than a used car on travel in the last two years. I did not buy a new car. I will remember the travel forever, and it was amazing. I don’t NEED a new car. Our car is reasonably functional and when my husband has the car, the transit system works well.

    I just think prioritizing theoretical stuff (i.e. You could buy a car, even though you don’t need one right now) over experiences is shallow and short sighted. If you need a new car, spend the money on a car. Otherwise? Make the memories.

  • etegration

    oh please, your car prices is nothing compared to us in Singapore. hahahaa

  • tr

    To me, the real litmus test for whether a wedding budget is reasonable is to ask “Is there a better use of this amount of money in my life right now?”. If so, keep on keeping on. If not, time to think about scaling back. Of course, that means wildly different things for different people. If you’re Paris Hilton, no, you do not have a more pressing use for half a million. If you’re literally barely scraping by, you may have a more important use for $2,000.
    I could buy a mediocre used car for what I’m spending, but the fiance and I each have a perfectly adequate car sitting in the driveway. We already have a house, but even with the home equity we’ve built, the amount we’ve spent on the wedding wouldn’t come close to helping finance even a modest upgrade. It would be enough for a fairly nice trip to Europe, but that’s not really our thing, anyway. We could maybe do a modest renovation of one of our bathrooms, but particularly in light of all of our aging relatives, that seems less pressing than celebrating with our loved ones.
    I have seen some weddings that truly do strike me as a horrible waste of money, but that’s only when people totally ignore their financial reality in order to make every single Pinterest dream come to life! If you’re living within your means, and you aren’t totally ignoring your other financial goals in pursuit of the perfect party, there’s nothing wrong with spending a decent chunk of change on a wedding.

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  • APracticalKiki

    Longtime reader, first time commenter…I try to remember that the $ we are spending on the wedding is going to real people and businesses that we want to support, too. For example, we are totally splurging on a catering company that’s family owned, uses organic, amazing ingredients and is committed to recycling and green operations…I wouldn’t be ok with going into debt for it, but since we have the resources to spend more in that area I feel good about that choice.

    • rachiepoo

      I like this point that your money is contributing to something beyond yourself — there are real people making their living by facilitating these celebrations. And this celebration serves to bring your community together in support and celebration of your marriage, strengthening culture and family ties, creating beauty and joy, etc.

      When I think about money, an integral consideration is what that money could do in general (for society, for the environment), not just for me. I spend more time feeling guilty about this than actually giving my money away or spending it consciously, and I’m working on finding a better balance of being more generous while still practicing self-care. But while we’re discussing how to use our resources, I wanted to bring up this idea that my resources are not just about me.

      By this I mean that I think about the world’s resources as one big shared pot. I’m certainly grateful that I have plenty of money and I get to decide what to do with it, but I don’t think of my money as only impacting me. I don’t think that “Is there a better use of this amount of money in my life right now?” is the only question we should be asking about money.

      The theme of this discussion seems to be “you do you, no guilt!” and I don’t want to imply that there is one right way to come up with your wedding budget, or that budget shaming is productive. My wedding will cost $10,000 even though my (retired) mom is DIY-ing a lot of it, so I am no leader in wedding frugality, and I’m also no leader in making peace with the cost of your wedding. My guilt is not a very productive way to deal with this issue; I’m open to suggestions! I’m also not trying to call out any one commenter — most of the comments have the same perspective of making wedding budget decisions within the context of your family budget only. But APW is one of the best places I’ve found for discussing our values around money, so I wanted to bring this value (that our money is part of the world’s shared resources, and so how we spend it doesn’t only affect us) into the conversation.

      • APracticalKiki

        Totally – one of the things I love about this site is the discussions about the values behind how we spend money, rather than just blindly spending on things because it’s “expected” (whether for a wedding or anything else in life). I remember trying to talk with a friend about some of my musings about what was worth spending money on for the wedding, and she just awkwardly said, “Maybe you shouldn’t think about it so hard.” Which is fine, many people feel uncomfortable talking about money in any way, but I’m really grateful for the forum here.

  • MrsRalphWaldo

    This post is everything. I’m so tired of being made to feel guilty for wanting my dream wedding. My fiance and I are paying for almost everything ourselves, but every decision still comes with some sort of judgement. Thank you for putting it into words.

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  • Deify Plums

    I think this is so important. Your money, your choice.

    This post reminded me of this artcle at the Billfold: https://thebillfold.com/how-we-spend-our-money-is-none-of-your-business-ea650f2dc51e?source=rss—-cd5e31c1d068—4&gi=9b4c415add76

  • Frank K

    Heaven forbid that cupcake not have her princess day!