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: