Eloping Sounds Really Good Right About Now

I seriously underestimated the amount of stress a wedding would churn up. It’s an excuse to throw an awesome party for my friends and family, I thought, unaware of the guilt and guilt trips I’d experience from those friends and family alike, as well as myself. At this point, eloping is looking like a pretty darned good option.

The challenge with a Jewish east coast wedding is that you pretty much go big or go home (well, go home meaning you have your wedding at home, like in your backyard, and unless you’re going to decorate the entire property in gold and diamonds, people will think you’re cheap and your family will never live that down.)

…For example, I’ve been seriously pondering a Sunday night wedding which would be by no means cheap, but which would bring down the minimums of the guest counts and the price per person a bit. I’ve estimated with 150 people it would save about $10k on the food/venue (at some venues a bit more at others less, but averages out to that at most of the nicer venues where on a Sat night you’re spending $35k+ on this basic cost alone before getting to everything else.) But an aunt of mine made a comment about how she doesn’t like Sunday night weddings because then people can’t drink and have fun – they have to go to work the next morning. While I’d like to just say/think – so what? It’s my wedding and I don’t care if people leave early or don’t have that much fun… but, I mean, if we’re throwing a party that costs more than $5,000 I’d like people to have some fun — more than $30k and I hope I can create an entertaining occasion.

That gets me back to wondering when weddings became about entertaining guests with the fancy venues and amazing food. I’m admittedly caught up in the nice venues (not ballrooms but really elegant, modern or rustic, historic places) and wanting to have amazing food that everyone is taking about and an incredible DJ with the perfect color scheme and yadayada. It’s fucking ridiculous. I’m not 12. I’m not working with a party planner to create my lavish Bat Mitzvah centerpieces and custom t-shirts. Why do I feel like my wedding has to be some big, impressive affair? Well, I’ll tell you why.

My parents care more about what other people think (about them) than what I want. And who the fork knows what I want right now anyway. Ms. Devil says “just throw an amazing, relatively expensive ($45,000) wedding and if you need to chip in more of your own money to make it even better. Yes, it’s one night but it’s THE night. YOUR night. If you don’t have some big wedding now you’ll regret it later. I’m not taking 200 people but even 100 people can seem big and be pricey.

But I think I’ve also gotten too carried away, looking at venues designed for people with parents who are multi-millionaires, not just $1.something millionaires. For people who have parents that don’t need to worry about their money one day running out due to a father’s illness or a mother’s penchant for television shopping networks and clothing salespeople’s oh-so-sage advice. The reality is most people, especially people who grew up near me, didn’t have super lavish saturday night weddings. They maybe had saturday or sunday afternoon weddings – which, even at nicer venues, can significantly reduce the cost.

My mother, of course, says no afternoon weddings – she doesn’t wake up before 10am and she needs a lot of time to get ready. She pretty much will boycott my wedding if it’s in the afternoon. I also don’t love afternoon weddings because people really don’t celebrate in the same way they do in the evening. I’ve been to a wedding that had a lovely ceremony at a historic mission followed by a brunch – no music or anything, and then there was an after party at the beach at night. It was nice and good thing it wasn’t that expensive because two years later and the couple is divorced – but, still, given the expectations of my family, doing something like that would actually embarrass my father. He might be ok with the earlier wedding time but he still wants a band and a party. AND GOD FORBID I HAVE A WEDDING IN THE WINTER “OFF PEAK.”

Meanwhile I’m having fantasies about getting married at our favorite spot in Yosemite. They apparently do ceremonies for up to 50 people and you can have a picnic lunch afterwards. At this point my dream wedding would be all my good friends and family flying to Yosemite, being there for the ceremony, and then staying with us to camp for a few days and bond. It’s a fantasy because it could never happen. I just think we’d feel more comfortable with a small ceremony that is meaningful versus something big that is more of a theatrical production than exchanging of a lifelong commitment. I used to be a complete attention whore but now I don’t really want all eyes on me anyway. My s/o and my relationship is quite, ahem, special — and by that I mean odd — and by that I mean I don’t really know how to share that relationship publicly with people who aren’t close friends and family… and even that, well, it’s kind of terrifying, when I think about it.

And… I can’t help but feel like the entire wedding experience is completely lopsided. Not that I really care how much my engagement ring was worth — but it is one of those wedding costs that comes out of the groom’s budget. When my family is facing a $45k bill for the wedding itself, having an engagement ring worth <$500, even though I don’t care how much the ring cost and I like my ring, seems off kilter. I mean, the average cost of an engagement ring in the US is $4000 and some people spend $10k or more. So then you can say ok, the groom’s side is paying for the $10k engagement ring + rehearsal dinner ($2k) + honeymoon ($3k) and so the groom is paying for $15k and then the bride’s side is paying $25k+ for the wedding itself, but at least the costs come out a little more evenly. Not that anyone splits things this way anymore, but with a $500 ring I feel like having a wedding over $10k makes absolutely no sense. At least you wear the ring for the rest of your life and can pass it down to your children! (*note, I tend to misplace jewelry and other items so my fiancĂ© didn’t want to get me anything too expensive that I might lose, which is understandable.)

Lately I’ve been browsing local hotels and their wedding package prices… they seem to be on the lower cost side. It’s so frustrating trying to talk wedding budget with my parents because my mother is always clueless when it comes to money (I can’t help but tell her that it’s a bad idea for her to spend $45,000 of the money she will likely need as she gets older) and my father, well, he starts to throw a temper tantrum whenever I mention hat I’d like to find some place that is more “cost effective.” He certainly doesn’t know the difference between a wedding venue that I’d like ($30k-$40k price range for venue/food) and a $20k-$30k venue at a hotel or country club, and he’d consider both nice (as long as the food was good enough and there was nothing super tacky about the place.) But, really, $20k is STILL too much to spend on a venue/food for a one-night event. And this would be the somewhat lower cost venues that I’ve looked at so far. I can find cheaper ones still — even airport hotels host weddings(!) — but then I start thinking if the wedding is going to be at a crappy hotel in some god-awful conference-style ballroom then why bother doing that at all?

I do feel rather alone in all this, which is silly but still sucks. I can’t have a rational conversation with mom and dad about the wedding and my fiancĂ© is in the mindset that our wedding should cost no more than $10k, but he’s fine if my parents want to throw a bigger affair than that – he just won’t chip in more than $5k of the whole thing. And the frugal, personal finance blogger side of me can’t even make the argument that he should be putting more of his savings into this wedding, because really he shouldn’t. No one family or person or two families should be spending this much for 5.5 hours. But still in me is that little girl who loved disney fairytales and dreamed of her wedding day… the same girl who is pinning a bunch of wedding stuff on pinterest (and has been long before she was engaged) and who now knows enough about wedding venues and dresses to start her own wedding planning business.

Anyway, this is all just super stressful.

Going to the Chapel and We’re Gonna Spend M-O-N-E-Y

Jewsus Crust, weddings are expensive. While my father has offered to pay for the entire thing up to $45k, that offer hasn’t been sitting well with me as I’ve shopped around for everything from venues to gowns. I’m a grown-ass woman and I should pay for my own g’damn wedding… or at least a reasonable, sizable chunk of it. And so, tonight I had a bit of a epiphany — I’m going to pay for my own wedding (catering/venue) for the guest list I feel comfortable with (100-120 attendees.) Any additional attendees my parents want to invite (their friends, distant family) they can invite but they would cover.

The whole bride’s family pays for the entire thing and the groom’s family pays nothing is completely outdated and actually offensive. Sure, most brides want a wedding that’s a bit bigger and grander than what a groom would select, but that doesn’t mean that the entire wedding is a bride-only affair.

My father is very traditional – to a fault. He expected to pay for his daughter’s weddings and has theoretically saved for the big day. However, that money should be kept for my father’s medical bills over his hopefully long life to come and my mother’s wellbeing throughout her retirement. Spending their money on five hours of my life at this age is a concept that makes me physically ill.

I feel really good about my latest idea — that I’ll pay at least for the venue and catering. It seems a little more stomachable to accept a gift of a dress or band for the event, vs having parents pay the whole thing. Really the gifts from people attending should partially repay for the actual cost of the reception, so if I pay for the reception then some of that cost would be recovered in gifts. It doesn’t make my sense for my parents to pay for the reception and then the gifts to go to us. I know that’s the traditional way of doing things but it’s all sorts of wrong.

Paying for my own wedding does mean that I won’t reach my networth goal of $500k before I have kids — but at this point I’m pretty much retracting that goal and just focused on having a happy, healthy life. I’ll probably move somewhere with a lower cost of living in the next few years and hopefully be able to start a family. My priorities have definitely changed since I went from being sad and single to part A of a happily home-bodied couplehood. Paying for my own wedding also makes it feel more real and meaningful, vs just a big fancy party.

I’m just not sure how I’m going to tell my parents yet that I plan to pay. I figure I can just put down a deposit somewhere and then let them know that the venue and food are taken care of. Will my dad be offended? Probably – but that’s because he’s always offended over anything that goes against anything he thinks or offers. But then he’ll probably be happy to see I’m no longer relying on him to pay for any part of my life. And if he wants to provide a gift towards the total cost of the remaining items in the wedding, I’ll gladly accept. That just feels way more right, and brings my stress levels back to moderate.

When a Woman Requests a Prenup…

So I’ve spent my 20s acquiring a decent sum of savings. I’m not a millionaire (yet) but I have managed to save $350,000 – not immense wealth, but not pocket change either. I have no idea where my career will take me over the course of my life, but I admit as a person who thinks a lot about finances the idea of merging my financial future with another person – irregardless of how much I love him – terrifies me more than, say, jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Or my dress ripping apart in the middle of my wedding leaving me in my birthday suit.

When doing some preliminary prenup research on Google the links are all the same — dudes who are trying to figure out how to convince their fiancees to sign a prenup without completely destroying their relationship. I haven’t found one link (at least in the top few pages) where a woman is the one who wants the prenup. And do I really want a prenup? I don’t know. It just seems wise, especially with the 50% divorce rate, even though I don’t have any remote intention of ever getting divorced.

The reality is that my hubs-to-be is unlikely to save or earn as much as I do. He also is very adamant about us keeping separate accounts as we do today, though maybe splitting a bit more of our costs beyond just our rent (which I already pay more for) and our food (which we split 50/50.) I don’t know — I always come back to the fact that marriage is a business contract. It’s MORE a business contract than some lovey-dovey festival of forever commitment. You can commit without a marriage license. But if you plan to have kids in the near-term future then marriage does make sense. It at least provides some stability – theoretically.

I admit I’m worried about financial issues going into marriage. Luckily we both have no debt and if anyone’s got a spending habit it’s me. If anything I’m probably better off without a prenup as over time I may end up in a looney bin and should he decide not to be wed to a loon at the time, I’ll need the alimony to survive. Worst case scenario, of course, but it could happen.

Why does it feel so cringe-inducing to even bring up a prenuptial agreement? When I did, he quickly changed the subject, and I could tell he was very hurt at the suggestion. He wasn’t surprised that I asked, but he certainly wouldn’t give the request any serious consideration. And that leaves me with basically two choices — get married without a prenup, or don’t get married.

They say prenups are much more important in second marriages where kids are involved, et al, but if you have a sizable sum of money going into a marriage or expect an inheritance then they may be useful in the first. It just seems like this whole marriage thing is VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS and I’m not equipped with the necessary advice to enter into such a legal agreement. I wish the government made premarital and financial counseling a requirement before getting a marriage license, because at least then it would force us to address these issues like mature adults. But I guess that’s too much to ask in my relationship. And if I were in his shoes, I’m sure I’d feel a tinge of betrayal as well if I were asked to sign a prenup, so I can’t blame him for being so upset at my initial ask. I just wish we could have an adult conversation about it and make a rational decision — but how rational can a decision be if it’s based around the “what if we get divorced” question before we’re even married?

How Much Should a Wedding Cost?

$10k? $20k? $100k? I’ve now gotten to the point past wedding enthusiast and I can say I’ve become a wedding connoisseur – at least when it comes to venue and catering costs. Venues in major metropolitan areas on a Saturday night, on peak, seem to range from about $25k on the low end to $55k and up on the high end. Most clock in at speeds of quickly draining your or your loved ones networth by $35k before you even go shopping for a DJ, dress or photographer (for a 150 person wedding.) By golly gee, that’s absofantasticaliously ridiculous. And yet, here I am, still planning my “not cheap” wedding.

Today, I have my heart set on a venue that costs $15,000 to rent BEFORE catering. Well, I’m totally willing to compromise for a Sunday so it may be closer to $10k. And I hear ever dollar after $3.5k is tax deductible since it’s a donation to the arts center, so that’s totes reasonable right? Right?? Someone agree with me here, I’m about to have a heart attack over accepting that I may just go through with spending about what I can save in one year on 6 hours.

The only reason I feel remotely ok with this concept is that my father – who was told he had 2 years to live 7 years ago – really wants to experience a lovely wedding party for his daughter(s). It’s as much his event as it is mine, and if he’s paying for it than I’m ok with that (assuming he lets me invite my full friends guest list.) Still, I can’t help but bang my head against the wall knowing how much these things cost. Of course they don’t HAVE to cost that much, but let’s face it – I have expensive tastes and I’m not a cheap wedding type of bride.

That said, I’m trying to be creative about how to save on non-venue costs. I don’t need tons of flowers for centerpieces (esp not at such a beautiful venue) and I’ll deal with the basic chairs the venue offers versus renting more expensive ones that look better in photographs (sigh, I’ll deal.) The budget for the wedding is $45,000. Which – is a lot of money – seems like a lot of money and is a lot of money. But it’s also the budget my dad has given me for what he wants to spend. When I mention things to him like “I can find a cheaper venue” or “I have ideas on how to cut the cost” he starts to throw a fit – he doesn’t want to have a cheap wedding. Of course, he doesn’t really understand how easy it is to spend $100k when you’re not paying attention to a budget.

Wedding Estimate for 150 Guests (Sun night at fancier venue or Sat at lower cost one)

Venue/Food — $30k
Band — $7k
Photo — $4k
Video — $4k
Dress/Makeup/Hair — $4k
Flowers — $5k
=============
$54k… plus tax 7% – $57k

So – as you see, $45k is actually not a HUGE budget if you’re throwing a “not cheap” style wedding. Yes, you can cut the videographer entirely, opt for a DJ instead of a band, buy a dress that’s $1k vs $2.5k (which is, btw, the low end of designer wedding dresses – if you really want to go fancy they’re about $6k or more.)

Another thought…

Venue/Food — $30k
DJ — $3k
Photo — $4k
Video — $2k (crap package)
Dress/Makeup/Hair — $2k
Flowers — $3k
——————
$45,000(ish) wedding

Why not just get a cheaper venue, you ask? Surely many of my readers will, mouths agape, explain to me that they got married in a local park and had their family members cater the entire affair. $5000 wedding are not unheard of. Take the other $40k and spend it on – oh, I don’t know – a downpayment on a house… feeding impoverished children in Africa… a really nice car (that is not a good investment but that you’ll enjoy for longer than 6 hours)… a trip around the world… IVF that you’ll prob need for your future child… rent for when you do have that future child…

Well, it’s a possibility, but I’m at the point where I just want to say fuck it I want a nice – well, super nice – wedding. Not a $100k wedding (which would be my dream wedding) but one half that price. It still requires a lot of compromises to spend “just” $45k on a wedding, surprisingly enough. And that’s the story of my life these days… trying to figure out how to spend less on the wedding. I’d love to come in under $35k – but based on the above budget, that’s just not possible.

Say Yes to the Dress – Or Say No to the Wedding Industry?

If you’re like me (and clearly enough of the population to keep a reality tv show on the air for years AND inspire a spinoff series), you spend too much time watching Say Yes to the Dress marathons. If you’re a die-hard SYTTD fan like I am, you know that one of the first questions asked before they step foot in a sample dress is “what’s your budget?” To be honest, before seeing this show, it never occurred to me that a wedding dress would cost more than $1000. I know, I know, how naive I was! If figured I spent about $300 on my prom dress (which was a very elegant and beaded ballgown) so a wedding dress should cost approximately 3x that. Of course that was 10 years ago now(!) but, still – the moment someone on the show said $3000 and I uncovered that $3k is really on the lower end of dresses I’ve been both pining for and pinning, my jaw dropped.

On SYTTD, the average dress budget is somewhere between $3000 and $5000. These brides don’t all seem to come from super wealthy families. Who knows, maybe some are in massive debt, they just don’t get into that on the show. They ask the your budget because it’s no use trying to a $5000 dress when you plan to spend $3000 and, you know, buy a fancy laptop computer that year that you need.

Ok, HEEC, why don’t you just spend $1000 on a dress then, surely there are decent $1000 wedding dresses out there – maybe not at Kleinfields or Brides by Lori, but not EVERYONE spends $3000+ on their wedding dresses! The problem with the wedding industry is that the second something is remotely tied to a wedding, the price multiples by more than rationally makes any sense at all. A $1000 wedding dress is often more like a $100 dress in white. What I learned in my first trip to try on wedding dresses is – a $5000 dress with hug your curves in ways that no “$100″ $1000 dress every will. Skinny girls can look good in just about anything, but ladies with curves, well we need all the help we can get to look the very best on our wedding day.

I suddenly became overwhelmed about trying on wedding dresses. While I used to love shopping, these days it’s just a necessary activity. I’m not that satisfied with my 168lb, 5’3 figure (attempting to get down to 120-130lbs for the wedding, hoping to keep the later half of the equation the same!) I also learned a few even more nerve-wracking things about trying on wedding dresses at stores, some of which I vaguely understood before in concept but not in practice.

1. To start, wedding dresses at stores are only carried in one size – then they clip you in so you can kind of / sort of get an idea of what the dress would look like custom made to your sizing. You would think, then, the sample size available would be on the larger end. I mean, this is America, not China. But, no, sample sizes are usually really small. Like size 6 small or smaller.

2. To make matters worse, wedding dress sizes are more “real” sizes, which means a size 12 is actually a size 8 and so on. So those samples that you thought maybe you could squeeze into – to just get an idea – that were a size 6 are the ones you end up getting stuck in, suffocating, convinced your salesperson was going to have to cut you out once you fainted due to the heat and claustrophobia (yes, people, that did happen to yours truly.)

3. Bridal dress samples come in ivory, cream or beige, not white. This isn’t that big of a deal, but you basically have to order a $3000-$5000 dress site unseen anyway, trusting that it will look good in another subtle variation of an acceptable bridal hue. That doesn’t seem so odd with the exception of the fact you’re spending $5000 on a dress — I would think I could try on the exact dress in my size before putting down two months rent on a garment I’ll wear one day of my life.

4. Wedding dresses take 9 months to make and fit, give or take. So if you’re thinking of getting married in “about a year from now” you need to pick your dress really freaking soon. Ideally tomorrow.

5. Simple dresses AREN’T cheaper. I don’t know why I had in my head that my dress was going to be even cheaper because I’d be okay with something simple instead of some ridiculous ballgown. Well, actually, it’s the construction and fabric in a simple dress that can make it either look super cheap or like a million bucks. Unfortunately, the dresses that do look like a million bucks almost cost that much in proportion to their lifetime usage.

6. Unlike regular shopping, you typically can’t browse the racks to look for THE dress. You have to share your tastes with a bridal consultant who they pulls dresses for you. So your dream dress may be in the store, you just have to hope they find it. And, of course, in most cases sales people are compensation-based and might not be incentivized to sell you the cheapest dress in the store that happens to be just perfect for you!

I went in to my first appointment with an open mind, unsure of what would look remotely good or acceptable on me. The appointment I booked for try #1 was at a Nordstrom Bridal Suite, which I figured would be a lower pressure environment then a typical bridal studio. A good friend came with me and watched me try on dress after dress. Most looked completely horrible. A few were acceptable. The two front runners were similar styles, so it was extremely interesting to experience the difference in construction between a $3000 dress and a $5000 dress (yes, my favorite so far is a $5000 Reem Acra dress. Now I understand why they say don’t try on dresses out of your price range, because pretty much wedding dresses only start feeling like luxury in the $5000 ballpark.)

While I shared text messages of me in the dresses with a few trusted girlfriends, most were just for kicks (here’s me looking like a wedding cake that’s starting to melt! Here’s me in a $6500 flowing, hand-embroidered, empire-waist dress that looks incredible on the rack but makes me look like I’m about to turn in for a long nap and possibly give birth.) The success of the appointment was finding the general style I like (which is not at all what I thought I would like), which helps narrow down what I ask to see in other stores.

I’ve thought back to other friend’s weddings I’ve attended in the last 10 years. Most of my friends do not come from families that are as “middle class wealthy” as mine. One good friend spent $150 and wore a grass-green dress with white lace that she purchased handmade from China, which fit her beautifully and was just so her. Another friend, with no relation to the first own, sewed her own dress from scratch in an emerald green fabric with black texture. Both wed in a park, and I’m sure both weddings were under $10k, if not $5k.

For the more traditional weddings I’ve attended, I’m unaware of the cost of the wedding dresses. The only one I know for sure is a good friend who got married in wine country. While she saved a lot of money on the overall wedding due to her industry connections (she’s a wedding florist), she spent about $3000 on her designer dress, which is a typical price for a lovely dress like that. But knowing that somehow makes me feel like it’s even more ok to spend that much money on a wedding dress, despite knowing that spending that much on a dress that can only be worn one day in one’s life is kind of, well, beyond rationality.

So I’m not sure what to do. This whole wedding thing is turning into a bit of a nightmare with a devil and angel sitting on my shoulders saying “splurge, girl, splurge!” and “save, bitch, save!” at the very same time. I’m trying to consider the overall wedding cost and the dress as part of this, as thinking of the dress as a “costume” and “entertainment” for the event makes it seem more appropriate to put that much money towards the dress as part of a $30k-$50k one-night-only production staring yours truly and her BFF, tying the knot in wedding bliss and banter for eternity.

How much did you (or your wife or your friend’s) spend on their wedding dresses? What do you think is a reasonable cost to spend on a wedding dress without being “too cheap” for the big day?