But guess what? This is a lie. Just like how we all declare on New Year’s Day that we’ll “start exercising regularly”, what we say is dramatically different from what we actually do.
As Ramit Sethi writes in Why are we all hypocrites about weddings?, everyone pretends that they won’t spend huge fortunes on their weddings… until they actually do. Then they look back and say, “Ahhh crap. We spent that much?!”
Even yours truly – the cost-conscious personal finance blogger – fell into that trap. Today, I’m going to show you how much my wife and I actually spent on our wedding, why it busted our budget.
This could’ve turned into a “haha, I’m so stupid” blogpost, but there’s also a valuable, counterintuitive lesson to be learnt from all this.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Our Simplistic Cost Assumptions
Once my wife and I got engaged, we started budgeting for our wedding. Here’s how we estimated the cost:
- Step 1: Estimate that we’d invite 150 guests (small simple wedding, remember?)
- Step 2: Estimate the costs for holding a dinner at a restaurant = 150 x $130 = $19,500, rounded up to $20K
- Step 3: Add another 50% to account for “all the other stuff” = $20K x 1.5 = $30K
This syncs with GET.com’s estimate that most couples shell out an average of $30,000 – $50,000 for their weddings. We thought that since we were totally awesome at saving money, our budget would be no more than $30K – a large amount, but still prudent.
My preparations actually began even earlier: 3 years ago, I started putting aside $500 a month so that I could save up my share of $18K in time for the wedding. I thought I was sooooooo prepared.
The Real Cost Of Our Wedding
But here’s how much it really cost:
- Church solemnisation, catering and tea ceremony: $6,620
- Wedding dinners (we had two – one for family and one for close friends): $27,379
- All the other good stuff (Photographer, make-up, wedding dress, rings, angpaos, etc): $10,657
In total, we spent $44,656, close to 50% more than our initial budget. Woah, mama!
Fun, irrelevant fact: Fellow financial blogger Alvin from BFP also recently posted his wedding costs. While I ended up spending a lot more, most of our proportions were actually similar. F&B comprised 60% of the total cost, photographer+makeup+dress was about 11%, and so on.
Spending On Things That Matter To Us
I don’t post the numbers here to brag or to encourage comparisons. Instead, I wanted to show you why we splurged on certain areas and skimped on others. No couple will have the exact same preferences, but it’s useful to walk through the thought process.
Here’s what we splurged on:
- Dinners: For our families, we did the whole formal Chinese dinner thing which our relatives appreciated. For our friends, we kicked back in a cosy Japanese-French restaurant with lots and lots of alcohol. Although we could’ve saved some money by combining both events, we actually got to talk to our guests and eat the food, instead of rushing from table to table taking pictures.
- Catering: As Christians, the church solemnisation was the most important part of our wedding, so we wanted to celebrate it with as many of our friends as possible. We ended up inviting close to 300 guests, and spent a lot more on the catering – which the guests seemed to love!
- Photographer: We didn’t want to risk having our photos taken by a random photographer from a wedding package (especially after the recent wedding photo saga), so we handpicked our own photographer. He specialises in the type of genuine, candid shots that we were looking for, and provided such a great level of service and creativity that his higher price was well worth it. (photos aren’t out yet, but I know they’re gonna be awesome)
Here’s where we made a conscious decision to cut down:
- Decorations/bouquet:We had beautiful venues, so we didn’t need fancy decorations. My wife bought simple paper pom-poms and fairy lights from Taobao, and used cotton balls to fashion an elegant, handmade bouquet. Cost: $100
- Wedding invitations: Nobody reads paper invitations these days except for, well, older people. So my wife designed one on Fiverr, and printed just a small number for our relatives and parents’ friends. Cost: $140
- Wedding booklets: These just get thrown away after the event, so I created a super low-budget, all-paper version with no fancy cover. Cost: $440 for 300 booklets
- Videographer: Let’s get real: Nobody watches their wedding video after the wedding day. Besides, we hate seeing ourselves on video, so we decided not to hire a videographer. Cost: $0
- Suit: Tailor-made while on a work trip in Bangkok. Cost: $300 (And I get to wear it in the future too!)
- Dinner entertainment: Who needs a live band? We had a couple of polaroid cameras and some old school card games for the tables. We had our friend host a couple of stage games and gave out prizes. Total cost: Less than $50
- Wedding favours: We hate dumb gifts you can’t use. So we bought tea leaves from London, packed them all into test tubes, and gave them to each guest so they can each enjoy a cup of premium tea. Total cost: Less than $200.
When it comes to weddings, most people will have one of two completely different reactions:
- “Haha, they’re so dumb for spending that much. Don’t they realise that they’re throwing money away just for one day?”; or
- “I can’t believe they were so cheap for a once-in-a-lifetime event. Couldn’t they afford to splurge a little more for family?”
But today, I wanted to show you that the psychology behind planning a wedding is a little more nuanced than that.
First, what you spend on reflects what you value. My wife and I didn’t care so much about the aesthetics: The decorations, the flowers, the wedding favours, even our clothes weren’t that important. But we care deeply about God, our friends and family, and good food – and our spending reflected that.
A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event. When you’re deciding whether to go for the Dutch roses and the foie gras, you might surprise yourself at how much you’re willing to spend – especially if it’ll make your significant other happy.
On the other hand, it’s also about being responsible. It’s not a simple matter of “just splurge lah because YOLO!” We definitely busted our budget here. But before we whipped out our credit cards, we first made sure we could afford it out-of-pocket: We didn’t go into debt, and our decisions were made independent of how much angpao money we would collect. (A wedding is a couple’s choice – couples shouldn’t expect their guests to cover the cost of it)
Notice how this is the exact same psychology when it comes to managing money as a married couple: You’ll spend anything to make your family happy, but it’s also important to be responsible and make sure that there’s always food on the table.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you think $45K is a crazy amount to spend on your wedding? How much did you / will you spend on yours, and why?
Image credits: Sheryl, Deanna
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