Are Weddings A Huge Waste of Money?

Last week, a fellow I know was lamenting to me the cost of his daughters’ weddings. He has three girls. Both he and his wife are very loving parents so I found it really quite odd that he was worrying about wedding plans. He even went so far as to express the hope that at least one of his daughters would be gay because that will “cut out 1/3 of my wedding costs.” (I politely refrained from reminding him that if his daughters wanted an expensive wedding, their sexuality would not necessarily be an impediment.)

His eldest daughter is only seven years old.

I can understand why parents might be concerned about wedding costs. The last wedding I attended was in 1993. The bride’s parents paid over $50,000 for the wedding which was attended by about 300 people, many of whom never even had a chance to speak with the wedding couple. In 1993, $50,000 would have purchased a home in many parts of America and it would have been a substantial down payment in those parts of the country where it would not have bought a house. More to the point, that money would have paid off all of the bride’s debt from law school. I shudder to think of what wedding reception costs must be like today.

My wife and I also married in the early 1990’s. We were a bit more pragmatic in our wedding plans, however. We eloped. We hired a justice of the peace, who performed a very nice ceremony, and he married us in the presence of two couples we knew from our office. We then went out for a nice dinner – just the six of us. We had a great night and then my wife and I went to a bed and breakfast to enjoy our first week of marital bliss. I will never forget a moment of that night. My wife was, as always, beautiful and I was, as I am today, the most fortunate man on this planet. She was the only person that I needed at my wedding and, I like to think, I was the only person she needed there.

Now that spring is here, several neighbors have announced the engagement of their sons and daughters. The weddings will take place next spring and both the betrothed young people and their respective mothers have started the endless hours of wedding planning. Meanwhile, more than a few fathers have started to worry about the wedding costs. Why is all that necessary?

Does it truly make sense for young people to embark on marriage with an expensive party that will add to the stress of their young relationship? Couldn’t that money be better spent by helping the young couple to get a start on their new life together, rather than using it to give them an expensive party to send them on their way? I think so.

I mentioned this to the fellow who was concerned about the costs of his seven year old daughter’s eventual wedding plans, and he rather liked the idea. Of course, he also admitted that he did not think that his wife or daughters would necessarily agree with him.

What do you think? Are huge weddings a waste of money or are they a necessary event that young couples should enjoy as the one great celebration that is truly about them? How can such celebrations be handled in a cost effective way? If you are planning a wedding now, how are you controlling costs or are costs not a focal point of your planning?

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36 Responses to Are Weddings A Huge Waste of Money?

  1. Jay Gatsby says:

    My wife and I had a wedding a few years ago that cost a significant amount, but we both are very well-compensated for our jobs and have no debt except for a small mortgage. Thus, we could afford a very nice wedding (though we only had 110 guests). However, I understand and agree with you that expensive weddings are a silly expense if the young couple could better use the money as a down payment on a house, student loan debt, or other high-level debt. Unfortunately, many brides and their mothers just don’t see it that way.

    The bride-to-be has probably dreamed of being a “princess for a day”, while her mother wants a do-over for her wedding (which may not have been all that grand of an affair). The father-of-the-bride has little to say in the wedding planning process, except to ask how he should address the check. In many cases, the father wants to give his little girl whatever she wants, since it will be the last big gift he will ever give her.

    I don’t mean to lay the blame for an expensive at the feet of the bride and mother-of-the-bride, but that’s usually where it lies. If the mother is on board (which is generally NOT the case), I would suggest that the father offer the betrothed couple a choice – big wedding or a small wedding (with the rest as a down payment on a house, payment of student loan debt, etc…)

  2. Lori says:

    A lavish wedding is certainly not a need, but our American culture sure doesn’t push that view. Just take a look at the majority of romantic comedies, where the final glorious love scene is… a fabulous wedding. The marriage beyond is not even worth noting.

    When I was a bride two years ago, my groom and I budgeted for a wedding we could afford on our own. My parents and his gave us a generous monetary gift, but it was our choice to either use it on the wedding or on other expenses. We spent a small portion upgrading our food, then put the rest into paying off our student loans.

    I would recommend this approach for parents, mostly because we were motivated to save the gift for practical purposes.

  3. Annie Jones says:

    Every bride (and sometimes the groom) has her idea about what is a perfect wedding.

    For us, it was a long weekend getaway to a resort town. It wasn’t exactly an elopement, because everyone knew we were going there to get married, but no one was invited to come along.

    Neither of us enjoys ceremony or pageantry, and we wanted to keep costs very reasonable. I’m sure our entire weekend…clothing, small wedding in the resort chapel (complete with Rent-A-Reverend), professional photography, rustic cabin rental, meals and a little shopping…came in at less than $1000 (in 2000).

    Every minute of it was memorable and enjoyable because there was absolutely no stress from having a huge ceremony.

    If/when my daughter gets married, we’ll encourage her to do something similar, for the sake of both money and nerves.

  4. Diane says:

    Ah… weddings. I think every bride needs to ask herself, is she doing this for her or to meet everyone else’s expectations? There are some brides who want the princess thing, but I’m sure there are more that don’t but get railroaded by culture/expectations and other “outside forces”.

    I’m a non-wedding person (nope, never wanted to be a princess, I wanted to be a professional soccer player) who got stuck throwing two weddings to satisfy/pacify other people. The first 300-person extravaganza my family and I had no say in and that should’ve told me something about what the marriage was going to be like.

    10 years later, a bit wiser from an early divorce, I was faced with another wedding that would involve blending two families. This one was small but still cost a couple thousand that I would have rather used to pave the driveway. However, upon the advice of a few wise people, we held a beautiful wedding with about 50 people to show the kids that our newly blended family was something to celebrate. (They had been getting quite different messages about our upcoming nuptials from our exes.)

    I regret the first for many reasons (despite the fact that at the time I could afford it much more than I could afford the second smallish one). But even as I look out at our still unpaved driveway one year later, I treasure the second where our friends and family rallied to show the kids that they were happy to celebrate our new family.

    I guess my view is that people forget what a wedding is about in all the hoopla. In the second wedding, we actually had friends pitch in which made it even more special. One friend played his guitar, one loaned us her house, one photographer friend took the pics, and another performed a hilarious mock ceremony involving all four kids (we had gotten married earlier at the courthouse with just the kids and my brother in attendance). Our only costs were the tent, flowers, bar and food. I kept the food costs down by telling the caterer that it was a “party” not a “wedding” … so no “wedding markup”. Although, I did cave in to the pressure of the florist who insisted I needed a bouquet. I spent $75 bucks on the d*mn thing only to forget it on the way to the courthouse and instead had to pick some wildflowers outside the courthouse. These were actually prettier and more my style … but see what I mean about “outside forces” …

    The best part is that I can wear the dress and shoes from the second wedding to all the weddings I have to go to this summer since it’s just a fabulous cocktail dress bought off the rack! I think that’s more fun than having a dress stored in a box somewhere …

  5. Eleanor says:

    Living in Atlanta, I have certainly been to the 50K+ weddings, but my favorite wedding occurred two years ago in TN. My cousin and her fiance decided to get married with three weeks notice. She had bought a cream skirt years ago that she loved and knew she would one day wear. She bought a turtleneck and a fitted cream vest with faux fur collar, as the wedding was outside in the fall garden of a home in which our grandfather’s cousins had grown up. The wedding and after party were outside in the crisp November air, lit by a full moon and two bonfires. An open bar and catered bbq dinner, with wedding cakes made by a friend completed the evening. Friends and family surrounded them in the garden as they took their vows. It was the most heartfelt wedding I have ever attended, and probably one of the least expensive.

  6. Julie says:

    I went to a $50,000 wedding and a year later, the couple divorced. I got married at home, served appetizers and bar drinks and had a little party. All in all, the wedding cost $100 and it was the best day of my life. (That was 32 years ago and we are still happy together)

  7. aa says:

    People who carry debt and can’t afford a house yet should not burn money for a 1-day wedding.

  8. Stephen Waits says:


  9. My husband and I eloped in 2002. We planned a wedding for a year later, but had to cancel for various personal reasons. My parents gave us half of what they would’ve spent on the wedding, and we used it to pay down some debt.

    Fast forward to today, and I still hope for a wedding. However, I don’t plan to have this huge blowout! A simple, small ceremony in the church and a modest reception afterwards is all we need, and honestly, I don’t need more than 100 people in attendance. Why would I invite my 4th cousins whom I only met once in my entire life? LOL

    When I think about it, though, I think a honeymoon (which we also never had) would be much more important to me, but I think that’s because we have 2 small children and no time together alone.

  10. persephone says:

    I wasn’t always practical growing up, but for some reason I had always thought an expensive wedding was a waste of money. When I married,my parents offered to pay for a large wedding. I politely declined and instead graciously accepted their gift of an all expense paid honeymoon. My soon-to-be husband and I had a small marriage ceremony with only immediate family and the very best of friends in attenance, after which my sisters served brunch at one of their homes. It was lovely.

  11. justme says:

    no weddings are not a waste of money
    renewing your vows now thats a waste of money 😉

    me and Dh are going to vegas next year and getting remarried in a chapel by elvis , now thats a waste of money !

  12. Greg says:

    I’m in the middle of planning my wedding, and both my fiancee and I are ready to tear our hair out. We’re currently 37 days away from THE DAY and while we have many things set, it seems like the closer we get to being ready, someone wants to change something.

    Since I work for a small-town radio station, I’m not as financially comfortable as I’d like. Luckily, my betrothed is an RN, and our money would have been enough for the wedding we wanted… just not the wedding we’re going to have.

    And for that, we can “thank” my parents, who insisted we be married in a church even though neither one of us is a big church-goer. And ever since that decision was made, it seems our prices have sky-rocketed. From flowers to music to other church-related fees… it makes it not worth it! We are ready for it all to be over with!

    My advice to any future knot-tiers… if you aren’t passionate about a church wedding, or if you prefer the spring/summer/fall colors of nature, avoid the church. You’ll see the green in the end!

  13. Slinky says:

    Depends on the couple. For myself, no, but I’m a hopeless romantic who loves all the thees and thous of a traditional ceremony. 🙂 I agree that a lot of brides get railroaded into traditional weddings when some other arrangement might suit them better. Couples should do whatever fits them best.

    For controlling costs, I recommend sitting down and writing out everything you can think of that you need/want for your wedding. These are the things that matter. Now figure out what you missed that you should have. These are the places you can cut costs to the minimum. Mostly, spend where it’s important to you and cut the rest where possible.

  14. Canada1 says:

    My husband and I had a more traditional wedding, married in a church, then a reception at a hotel, for about 80 of our friends and family. I would say it was quite reasonable as far as weddings go. I got to marry the man I love, I had a beautiful dress, all of our close friends and family were there to share our special day, and the rest was nice but not overboard. A fun day/ night but we still had our savings for a house.

    I really don’t understand these people spending fortunes for one day, it really comes down to them wanting to show off, there is no other reason. My brother had a ceremony with a justice of the peace at his wife’s parents house on the front veranda, and a reception in the backyard under a big tent, that was just as special and nice too.

    For parents that feel they have to foot the bill, they could simply offer a set amount that would cover a nice simple affair, and the couple can pay for any upgrades.

  15. spicoli says:

    I am not married and not likely to marry any time soon. The next time my girlfriend suggests marriage, I am going to point her to this article. Thanks for the ammunition!

  16. Jo says:

    Yes huge weddings are a waste of money!!!! The bride will still feel like a princess at small intimate gathering of close relatives and friends.

  17. Debbie M says:

    I think huge weddings are a waste of money, but I don’t think eloping is right, either. I know some people who would be disappointed if they could not come to my wedding, so they will get invited. And a wedding isn’t just about making promises to your future spouse; it’s about doing it in front of everyone and it’s about celebrating a big change in your life.

    Of course it doesn’t have to cost anything to invite people to a wedding or even to dress up (in your current best clothes), though it will probably cost something to feed everyone.

    That said, there are a lot of emotions and expectations involved, and paying extra to do something you don’t care about just to make someone else happy (especially if it’s their money) has something to say for it as well.

    In my case, my parents and siblings want to come, I want a yummy cake (with milk) and I want to dress up in a stupid way that you never get to dress up any other time, so I will have flowers tucked in my hair or something. I also like food and dancing and other activities (origami at all the tables?). The food could be potluck or pizza delivery, but hopefully yummy and plentiful. A good photo would be nice or maybe photos with all the guests. I don’t want so many guests that I can’t see them all, but then I’ve had friends with a whole week’s worth of activities such as slide shows from the parents, a waltz class, and other silliness to spread out the fun, and that would give you more time.

    (Given my obvious lack of taste, you can take my answer with a grain of salt.)

  18. Ann says:

    When I got married, my ex- and I wanted to elope, but thought it would be polite to invite our parents to the elopement. (A handful of close friends were coming along.) My mother insisted on the full-blown wedding with 125 people (roughly) to a sit-down dinner, open bar and all that hoopla.

    Being ornery (even back then), I told my mother that, if she wanted a full-blown wedding she could do everything for it with my input limited to the wedding dress and the right to say no regarding the people invited — no one under 16, for instance. She had 99% of the stress and, quite truthfully, I still would have preferred the smaller wedding.

    I’ve had friends who went WAY overboard and deeply into debt for both their wedding and for engagement rings and, basically, thought they were foolish. (You could do a whole other article on engagement/wedding rings! My opinion is to keep the original simple and, as your life together grows, celebrate with the bigger diamond THEN.)

    If (God forbid!) I remarried, it would definitely be VERY small with just a handful of close friends, a nice dress and a nice dinner. You can still have a beautiful dress and a church wedding without having to fill all the seats!

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  20. fern says:

    I am a woman, yet i CANNOT understand why ever other woman in the world is somehow genetically programmed to do ga-ga, no expense spared, when it comes to planning a wedding.

    Weddings in the US today are very much the product of the exceedingly successful wedding industry who want to rake in money from couples who confuse “love” and “sentimentality” with high price tags.

    Why is it such a freakin’ big deal? You can still marry your honey and make it a special day without losing all rationality.

  21. Gabriel says:

    I do remember a wedding of a Mexican actor in Aspen, CO a while ago, he sent the wedding invitation an also the information in how to reserve and pay for your ticket to the wedding, if i remember correct was about 5,000 dollars per couple, that way each person who like to attend will pay for it, I think the wedding expenses are just to much if you have the money well go and use it, the people that will work on it may need it, if you don’t have it or teh couple will be better keeping the money for any use I will say give the money to the couple so they use it for them instead of on 1 day party.

  22. Anne says:

    I think that the plan of giving the couple a set amount of money and letting them spend it usually works best in this day and age.

    My parents gave my sister and I about the same amount of money- she had the lavish reception with plated dinner, etc.

    I had the church hall lunch with money left over for the honeymoon.

    But that was what worked for each of us at the time.

    Also, many people feel obligated to invite a lot of people. We invited many, but only about 75 came. While feeling a little let down at the time, after the day was over, I decided that was just about right for us- we got to see everyone, talk to everyone, and really make good memories as we started our life together, rather than being “on display” all day.

  23. Lindsey says:

    I am currently planning my wedding and I believe that it can be done in a more frugal manner than most. I have a friend who rented me her beach cabin for the entire weekend for free so that we could get married on the beach. I have two bridesmaids and I paid under $100 dollars on dresses for both of them by waiting for them to go on sale. We are arranging the flowers and making the invitations ourselves. Our guest list is around 75 people and my fiance cashed in his air miles on his credit card for our honeymoon!

  24. Catherine Holmes says:

    It’s all relevant IMO. My parents spent about $30K on our wedding. I promised it would be a celebration and a happy time of planning w/ my mom. We never had a fight and I stayed sensible. My parents only allowed what they were willing to pay cash for and not go into any savings accounts. I have friends who have put their weddings on multiple credit cards or whose parents have stupidly emptied their retirement funds for. It’s just like anything else…if you can’t pay cash for it or if you have to be strapped to a budget down to the dollar, you don’t need it. My parents could have spent twice what they did, but I stayed sensible and made sure we were married w/in 6 months of becoming engaged so that I wouldn’t start seeing all kinds of things that I “needed” (sarcasm).

  25. Catherine Holmes says:

    I must also add that neither my husband nor I had any debt to our names, other than the homes that we separately owned at the time. If I had $50K in school loans then it would have been irresponsible to have a $30K wedding and would not have done so.

  26. Brenda says:

    Hi I am a mom and I do dream of My 17 year old looking like a princess when she gets married (After College of course!) BUT I also know that she can and will look like a princess without having to meet the national debt! 2 years ago we did a wedding for my niece with 100 people and we did it with $500 plus the 250 that her Mom paid for her dress, veil and shoes. All the women on each side got together and we each made or fixed the thing or things we were good at and you know she and her sister( Made of Honor) Looked like two princesses. Now yes at first she was wanting to spend ALOT of money but once she saw we could make the same thing for SO MUCH LESS she just enjoyed it and she wouldn’t have it any other way. In today’s economy I defintally say put more TIME in MAKING the Wedding of thier dreams and save the money to help them get the home to start living their dreams in. That’s how our princess will begin her new life when the time comes and I have NO Doubt she will cherish it always!

  27. Anne says:

    I used to be a pastor, which gives me a uniqued perspective on all of this.

    I cannot count how many times I’ve heard people say “It’s HER DAY – she should get whatever she wants” or “But this is supposed to be the happiest day of my life.”

    If it is HER day, a mature response is to think of all the other people who are arranging their schedules in order to attend and buy gifts, etc.

    And I sincerely hope – and I said this in every one of my wedding sermons – that this is not THE happiest day of the couple’s life, especially if they are only 25. I hope that they go on to have many more happy days.

    Having said that, rituals evolve for a reason. The big wedding used to make sense IMO, especially in a time when family members helped in making a lot of the food and the couple was so young that they were establishing their first household and needed all those gifts.

    All rituals are focused around a time in life that is important, a time of transition for a number of people, like the parents of the bride and groom. The event, planning the event, gives an opportunity to talk about things. A father may have dreamed for years about walking his beautiful daughter down the aisle.

    This doesn’t mean that they have to follow through on all those dreams and fantasies, but sharing them can be meaningful for everyone. And can ultimately suffice. Without the need for anyone to spend thousands of dollars that they can’t afford to spend. The ritual can still be meaningful. And that’s what matters in the end.

  28. Michelle says:

    Huge weddings are a choice – your friend & his wife should decide how much they’ll pay for their kids weddings (a round number equal for each) and stick to it. Also, traditions of who pays what are shifting – many couples don’t get any parental support. My parents told my siblings and me that they had set aside $10K in accounts for each of our post-college futures – and it was our choice whether we wanted to ‘spend’ it on a wedding, a house or a trip around the world. And by the way – none of us went to college on Mom & Dad’s dime – they paid 1/2, we had to work/get scholarships for the other 1/2. Of the 4 kids, one had a lavish wedding (she paid anything about the savings amount which was $13k by the time the money was withdrawn), one added that money to her house-savings and bought with 20% down and hauled the whole family down to the JP and then out for BBQ for her wedding (me – yeehaw!), and baby brother #2 is going to Asia for 2 months this summer and will have enough left to save for a future trip to Europe(his pot o’ money is now $19K since it’s had 8 more years to grow that young bugger). Bro #1 is still sitting on it, but knowing his fiancee, if she knows about it, she’d spend it ALL on a wedding in a heartbeat. He’ll probably not tell her and then use the money after they get married for a house. But back to your friend – it’s kinda rotten that he would be so unfair as to not support one daughter if that child chose not to be married! My parents were very fair to set that money aside for all kids – not just us girls! Though I wish they had done it sooner, as my little brothers got so many more years of the power of compounding interest!!

  29. Henrietta says:

    I got married and my husband paid me to let him sleep with another woman. I was fine with until I realized it was going to be everyday. I did make twenty bucks!

  30. Paula says:

    Honestly, yes I do think weddings can be a waste of money. I am married myself, but DH and I got married by a justice of the peace in a simple backyard ceremony and then took a four day cruise for our honeymoon in 2000. We did not run up a huge debt as we just couldn’t afford it. We did get some money that my father gave us and we used that as an emergency fund in our savings account.

    My younger sister and her fiance eloped about five years ago and got married in Vegas while they were both on leave from the Air Force. They are both very nontraditional and were able to do things the way they wanted–my sister got married in a metallic gown and black combat boots! I thought that was perfect for them and they are happy to this day. They have a cute little house in TN now.

    Unfortunately, several of my coworkers have planned big weddings and gone into considerable debt for their big day. One of them lives in a rented apartment and worries that her and her fiance will never be able to afford to buy a house!

  31. Heather Persellin says:

    As a wedding professional, I might have a bit of a unique outlook. I am an ordained minister and I perform the wedding ceremony itself. I have done weddings from just the couple and a witness to large affairs that the couple obviously spent many thousands of dollars on. When I have couples that are stressing about having a large wedding I try to remind them that it is THEIR day. I tell them that all they need for a wedding is each other, an officiant, and their love. (And a witness in most states!) I think my happiest couples have weddings that reflect exactly who they are and exactly what is important to them. The couples that have these huge affairs are often more stressed and don’t get to spend nearly as much time with each other and their family and friends.

  32. Julie P says:

    When I got married (9 years ago! :>), I had already been living on my own for a few years, and so had my fiance. We knew it was OUR responsibility to pay for the wedding. We did what we could, and decided to spend “more” money on nice things for our new home. We had a small wedding, with only 20 in attendance for the ceremony, and about 100 for the reception (which was held at my sister’s house). I agree, I only needed my new husband, and I love that we didn’t put a financial burden on anyone!

  33. Anonymous says:

    I am enagaged and do not want to have a wedding. I have no dreams of wearing a white dress or standing up in front of people and being the center of attention. A justice of the peace is all I need. I’m not getting married for everyone else. In fact, I do not want to have a reception. Everyone who we tell that we’ll probably just go away to get married says “you have to have a party when you come back.” I would love to tell them that if they want to have a party, then they can pay for it – don’t hold their breath for us to pay for it. We both have outstanding debt, and both own our own homes. He lives in a rural area and I live in the suburbs. Neither of us is willing to live at the other person’s house, which means that we plan to sell both of our homes and live somewhere we can both agree on. In this tough economy, a wedding seems like a waste of money. It’s not something that I’ve ever wanted. I want to pay off debt and have a comfortable home. A wedding shouldn’t push me several years away from that goal. I respect that many people want to have large wedding and be the center of attention, however, it’s just not for me.

  34. RJ says:

    almost everyone here feels that huge weddings are a waste of money.I am getting married in a few weeks and the cost is amazing!. I for one am trying to keep the cost low but cutting unnecessary expenses, however my bride to be has an idea of a perfect wedding and i dont want to disappoint her, but what annoys me is paying for things we both dont feel necessary but to keep up to the perception of others.I have tried to put my foot down and resist this, but try doing this in an Indian/Asian culture- where the perception of relatives to our parents are important.

  35. summer says:

    waste of money . the people who attends those weddings dont really care. everyone enjoys free food.

  36. Brunette Bianca says:

    Set a budget, it is a new debt.
    imagine inherit a new credit card debt of $10,000.

    graduation no such waste of ceremony.
    birthdays… anniversary…

    wedding overpriced party where bridge is spoiled into convincing all others that over priced is just fine.

    the emperor has no clothes because of wedding debt.

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