The word “wedding” is a magical word.

When uttered, it immediately brings forth to mind a special day where a happy couple are surrounded by their family and friends. The beauty of the ceremony, the joy of the union, and the potential awesomeness and/or awkwardness that is the reception are all invoked by those who have ever accepted an invitation. Popular culture has given us stories and images of lavish affairs, loving exchanges, and the happy couple riding off into the sunset.

It is also a magical word as it acts as an event cost multiplier. Three tier cakes magically change from $150 to $500, banquet hall rentals magically shift from $900 to $1400, and simple entrees magically double in price. It’s small wonder that the average wedding cost in the United State is just north of $25,000. To put this in perspective for myself, this is about three times what I paid for my car back in 2007. (Sadly, I wouldn’t get three cars because New Jersey auto insurance rates are adjusted to stay slight below “blackmail” levels at amount that is commonly known as “completely screwed”.) As soon as the word “wedding” comes out while making appointments to visit potential venues, you can hear the faint chorus of cash registers go off in the distance.

On top of that, my fiancé and I seem to trying to do this on Hard Mode. We’d like a small wedding with roughly thirty people. That doesn’t seem too tough, right? The venues we’ve looked at so far either have a fifty person minimum or a Byzantine catering price menu that has so many options I feel like I need a guide. This seemingly innocuous dilemma is really just a frustrating “pick your poison” decision point.

As anyone who has been married before can tell you (and this is not my first rodeo, as they say), increasing the guest list can be a social tightrope act through mine laden family and friend territory. With the current list, we have the “absolutely essential people” plus an iron clad “sorry we do love/like you but we didn’t invite you” explanation. In moving beyond that list, the debate for those seats begins to loom larger as the potential for hurt feelings increases. Your wedding then becomes a focus point of short and long term grudges and (as the horror stories I have heard go) you spend more time on soothing people who weren’t invited than on decisions that will affect the people who are attending. It’s a social quagmire that we are trying to avoid.

The average banquet menu doesn’t offer much solace either. You start out with a simple price per person, but then there are the options. These multitude of a la carte items are really a nickel and diming guilt trip trap set by the caterer. Sure, you love your family and friends, but don’t you love them enough to add a champagne toast? Tiny mac ‘n cheese appetizers? Veal might be cruel, but would be crueler not to offer it? All of these tiny monetary mousetraps have costs like “$4 a person” which doesn’t seem so bad until you start doing the math. Suddenly turns your $45-a-person meals into a budgetary death spiral. And that’s before gratuity and sales tax. 

All this roams the background as the anxiety of finding a place that has dates available pushes forward. We’d like to get hitched in October of this year which apparently is going to be an issue in itself. Not because it is only seven months away, but according to one wedding vendor we’ve talked to October is “the new June”. I guess we have arrived in time to experience some sort of wedding date rebellion where one time of year has become so cliché so that people must take the opposite season. Since we are late getting into the game here (we were engaged on Valentine’s day), the choice of dates has dwindled considerably.

I do have faith that we will be able to find a place and make it work. Though the preparation and planning can be a drag at times (like right now), these are still all fun decisions to make. When the day comes, the days of stress and running around will slip away in the magic of the moment. I’m looking forward to that day, whenever and wherever it may be.

But I can’t help but think of the wedding planning advice I’ve offered couples over the years, both solicited and not. Like all advice, it seems to be something I will give to others but not practice myself. It’s a one word piece of advice and perhaps the best and least stressful thing a couple can do for their wedding:


19 thoughts on “Mawwiage

    • Thanks Ryan! Yeah, it’s not the smallest wedding I’ve heard of, but it is one that has all the people we want at it for a small wedding.

  1. Congratulations! As a 2nd-Rodeo clown myself, my wife and I decided to skip all that crap & just have the County Judge Executive perform the service in his office. I don’t know the area in which you live, but there is an abundance of beautiful, scenic municipal parks around here that have served as wedding venues for little or no cost, not to mention state parks. And of course, since we live in a rural area with lots of small lakes & creeks, outdoor weddings in a gazebo at so-and-so’s house are fairly common.

    You just gotta be really creative to have a wedding on the cheap these days.

    • You really do have to be creative with the expenditures. We aren’t going for cheap, but we are going for “whatever money we don’t spend can be used on a house” kind of budgeting. While we want something nice, we also don’t want to go nuts. It’s a real fine line.

  2. I know that feeling. We had a 30-35 person wedding in May. What helped us (and I’m sure you already know this) is going to places that don’t usually do weddings. We went to our favorite bar/restaurant where they did a custom menu (while letting the kids eat off the kids menu), open bar, and didn’t charge us for the room since it was a Sunday and they were slow. I think the whole thing, including an open bar (we only paid for things that people actually drank, not for the whole bottle), came to less than $3,000. We got married in front of our friends and family, ate curry and nachos, and then drank. At first there was a lot of trouble with family, but eventually they came around and everyone agreed that the day was very us.

    Stick to your guns – it’s your wedding and if you’re paying for it, they don’t get to complain.

    • Yeah, I think part of our strategy will be getting the word out through the family channels that we are aiming for a small wedding. (So for my family members who read my blog and the comments, you have been told. :D) We would like something with an outdoor component because she wants the fall foliage and the pictures to match. So, we’ll have to see how it shakes out.

  3. The wedding business — like the baby business and the funeral business — is specifically designed to prey on people’s emotions at a vulnerable time. And to make them want ot keep up with the Joneses. Instead, have the family/friends donate all that cash to the couple and forget the big wedding bash. Maybe cynical, but especially in this age of high divorce rates, why waste all that money that could go toward establishing the young couple’s home?

  4. As per Liz P and Jim Peterson’s comments, I say get creative and stay far away from anything typical. I got married for under $5000 by having the ceremony in a public park (in autumn with beautiful trees colors as background). We carried candles (no pricey flowers) and kept costs low by having friends/family give us personal services instead of gifts; i.e. photos, video of ceremony, wedding cake, officiate of wedding, etc. REception was at an Irish pub and since they never hosted a wedding before, we created a fabulous party for a fraction of the typical cost that had plenty of great food, drinks, and live music. And the pub recieved a lot a business that night as our party drew in outsiders. It was a blast! Have fun planning this and keep thinking outside the box. Go with what is important to the two of you!

    • The first time I got married was a lot like that; we got a bunch of wedding services as gifts. It was great and I really appreciated it. This time, well, we’ll see.

    • I just want to second the pub idea; we held our reception at our favorite art gallery/bar (The Cass Cafe) and we managed to invite about 150 for a total cost less than $5000. It was almost totally DIY: the “DJ” was my iPod, beer on tap from the local brewery (exposure = discount), cash bar, photos by friends, culinary school hors d’oeuvres, 8:00 p.m. reception = no need for dinner, decorations ourselves, etc. It helped that we both worked in service, so we had tons of friends offer to tend bar, wait, cook, etc. as their wedding gifts. Really, the only downside was that we had to spend our first day as newlyweds cleaning up the place. Anyway, congratulations and remember that if your wedding is too much like other weddings, no one will remember it. So, do something crazy to stand-out from lame-ass weddings…I heard you were a “rockstar” after all.

  5. Can you do it on a Friday or a Sunday? You’ll have more openings, and sometimes even a discount for doing it on a “non-wedding” date (our DJ was cheaper, as was something else but I can’t remember what). My husband and I (both librarians) got married on a Friday at 5:00. No one we invited had to decline because of a work schedule.

  6. I can’t imagine a wedding the size of 30 people. I just did a quick tally in my head of the invites I would have to send out just to family on my side and I’m at 57 and I think I missed a few cousin’s significant others. I saw my brother struggle with this when he got married and it’s tricky with our family so I have already told my mother I’m eloping and she has thanked me.

  7. I second (or third) the park/free outdoor venue idea. My husband and I actually got married in a friend’s backyard and that was free. We also did a Sunday morning to give people Saturday and Sunday afternoon to travel, but it also made booking a photographer and caterer easier. I know invites are a slippery slope in so many ways, but don’t feel bad about not inviting people- they aren’t footing the bill. Good luck and congratulations!

  8. We went through a lot of stress trying to plan a destination wedding, then gave up and did it locally. Even limiting to family we had 45 people, but we got married in a park overlooking the beach (beautiful and cheap), and then took everyone to dinner at a restaurant that we loved. They did a more limited version of their regular menu for us, which kept the costs down. People had the option of salad or soup, and 4 entrees to choose from. We had a tower of profiteroles instead of a cake. We had a couple of amateur photographers in the family take our photos. The restaurant already had live music, so we got that without having to pay extra (the musician switched off between piano and accordion. He was fantastic and it added a little extra whimsy to the whole event).

    It was lovely. We got to talk to everyone there without feeling crazy rushed. It was almost totally stress-free and we were able to focus on the important part, which was getting married surrounded by people that we loved.

    Oh, and we used the money we saved on the wedding to pay off my car and start married life debt-free – woohoo! We skipped some of the traditional wedding stuff, but it worked well for us and we’ve never regretted it.

    If you and your fiance haven’t already, sit down together and figure out what elements are essential and what you can live without. It will make it much easier to keep both costs and stress under control.

  9. You can do it! It’s a challenge, but by using some of your excellent research skills, you can still have a small, simple wedding. We had about 25 people at ours, and the “not-inviteds” just had to understand that it was basically immediate family and very close friends only, period. A friend of mine did the honors of marrying us, on an outside deck (overlooking an ocean harbor) of a large indoor venue usually rented out for much more money. After the ceremony we all walked maybe a block to a very special Italian restaurant for an amazing dinner which everyone – from age 2 to 82 – thoroughly enjoyed. When you invite fewer people, you can spend more per person for a higher quality meal. It worked out wonderfully for us – I hope it does for you, too.

  10. My sister had nearly 200 guests (gosh darn large Italian family she married into!), seven bridesmaids, and the whole shebang cost upwards of $20,000 – $25,000. And yes, my parents paid for it because my dad cashed in some stock options from his former company at the right time (before 2001 market crash).

    I’m still in therapy over the year long planning process. Smaller is better.

    • Ha ha! I can relate. I lived through the planning of 3 big weddings (family/close friends) the year before I got engaged. By the end of that year I had ZERO desire to have a big wedding myself.

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