Tag Archives: wedding

How to Not Get Divorced and Have a Happy Marriage

Sorry, folks. I don’t know the silver bullet to a long, happy marriage. I do know that while 50% of Americans end up in a divorce, a large chunk of those who remain married do so unhappily. While marriage isn’t a requirement of a fulfilled, happy life – for many of us, having a lifelong partner is a key factor in our emotional and even financial stability. I used to be opposed to marriage as an old-fashioned idea steeped in religion and generally designed to make women a property of a man. Today, engaged to be married, I’m looking forward to that next stage of commitment. After nearly 10 years of dating, it’s time to lock this in forever.

Unfortunately, for MANY people, marriage isn’t forever. I spent last week “hanging out” with my 50-years young aunt and her either unhappily married or divorced besties. These women, all in their late 40s/early 50s, were all uniquely depressed, and the conversation reminded me why, if I have anything to do about it, I won’t be alone at that age (knock on wood.) It intrigues me how everyone is selfish by nature, and that happy marriages are largely the result of two people willing to be aware of their selfish tendencies and to compromise around many things that, in single life, would not be acceptable. Furthermore, the stress on a marriage that having kids brings is immense, and if the parents do not see eye-to-eye about this, they may be doomed to crumble – as no one wants to think about an intimate evening post fighting about their child’s behavior and what to do about it.

I grew up in a very unhappy, abusive household. My parents, now in their 60s, are still married – but rarely go a day without my father telling my mother, in a not-so-nice tone, that she’s a, and I quote, “fucking idiot.” They are not the spitting image of a good marriage or even a decent one. And both of my mother’s sisters are divorced and not remarried. This tells me a lot about the mentality in that side of the family – one which lacks empathy for others. It makes sense since the three sisters grew up with a very narcissistic mother and each of them have pretty much ended up with narcissists because it’s the only relationship dynamic which feels comfortable to them – the youngest, dating a man who is infinity self-absorbed and incapable of commitment; the middle sister, committed, not married to a man who is not exactly the warm and fuzzy type in terms of being open to people who do not fit his limited view on an acceptable human being (but maybe that’s just because he’s French); and my mother, of course, with my “can do no wrong” father who blames the world for all the problems but never can blame himself for anything.

Without self awareness, I don’t know if it’s possible for people like this to have a sustainable happy marriage. What we’re attracted to is not always best for such arduous happiness. Marriage is work, they say, and it’s true. I see some young couples I worry are headed in the wrong direction. I look at friends who do not seem to be able to talk about serious matters to each other. Friends who are married to men who are mama’s boys and who are worried that when their child is born they will be left alone to do all the housework along with childcare and returning to work. I worry about my friends who don’t talk about their finances, where one partner is stressed about work and the other is firmly committed to not worry about money or how it is spent. I worry about a couple who fight all the time with two young children present, who no longer find time to love each other, who maybe will never be fully happy, at least due to the presence of each other.

And then I look at my own relationship — nine-and-a-half  years is almost like marriage in its own right. We live together and split some of our bills, so it definitely feels like more than just dating despite nothing legally tying us together just yet. And I love him more than anything and we get into little tiffs every now and again but generally we can have open conversations about important things and we get along pretty well as long as I don’t focus too much on the serious all the time and we can enjoy musing on absurdities of the world together. I know that for my own marriage to work, it will be a lot of work. I have to change my ways – the many things I don’t like about myself to begin with, so I’m ok with that. First, I need to keep my household clean, and uncluttered. Second, I need to find a job where I can not constantly worry about getting fired and be super depressed all the time (he isn’t so much worried about the loss of the income as he is my constant bad mood about 5-6 months into any new job.) And I need to focus on trying to feel like a woman who can be desirable instead of sabotaging myself with my very low self esteem and body image. If I could do all three of these things and not chew so loudly (he is very sensitive to food noises) and be ready on time when we’re going out instead of always 10-15 minutes late, I think he’ll be very happy with me in our marriage. That’s really ALL I have to focus on doing. The rest comes naturally. Being aware of these things doesn’t mean they  are easy to do, but I know they are flaws in my character and things I need to work on anyway.

But marriages can fall apart when one person is aware of the things that upset the other person and feels they are putting an effort in to resolving these things, when the other person doesn’t make an effort or a strong enough effort to show the other person they are doing the same. This pain point in marriages can be exacerbated by the fact that so married couples just don’t talk about things. Sure, it’s easy to ask someone to clean the house, but it’s less easy for a working parent to share with a stay-at-home parent that they are too stressed out in their job and want to move into a position with less pay and less expectations. Or – things as silly as I miss when we used to get dressed up and go on dates, and now I only see you in your crappy clothes that don’t fit well at home because you’re tired all the time and quite frankly so am I. This is why marriages fall apart. People stop putting in the effort. They start becoming passive aggressive to each other on purpose or accident. That once-novel romance story has turned into a nightmare. And so many men and women get past the point of no return. They can no longer look at each other and understand how they were attracted to the other person in the first place. They long to move on to something new, something where the weight of all the years of passive aggression, poof, disappears, and they can start fresh. They can look at another person and see them not as the man who forgot to take the garbage out or the woman who was too tired from her job to be the exciting, passionate woman she once was. Starting fresh is easier than mending a wounded relationship, in theory, at least.

Divorcees are usually not happy either. Few people can manage being happy and being alone, especially after being in a committed relationship for many years. In spending time with these 40-year-old and 50-year-old divorced or unhappily married women, I wonder if there is any piece of the failings of their marriage that they see as their own faults, or if all the blame is on their former partners, or both. The common thread of conversation is that “he’s awful,” “he’s lazy,” “he’s unhelpful around the house,” et al. Or maybe there were just huge fights about how to raise the children that were unexpected which led to two people who couldn’t manage to love each other let alone spend time together. There’s a musical with a song that asks “When was Dividing Day” that is about divorce. No one goes into marriage wanting to or expecting to get a divorce, or to fall out of love. I wonder if it’s possible for two people to be so aware of their own flaws and especially the ones that rub the other person the wrong way, and to just hyperfocus on changing these behaviors as to always show the other person that you care to be the best person you can be for them. And, the second part of that is for the other person to do the same, all while being verbally appreciative of those changes in behavior, not just accepting them as part of the status quo, when the other person is still working very hard to be a better man/woman for the other person. If two people can do that, I think that a happy marriage is possible. But it requires us to go from our selfish, childish ways to becoming real adults — giving up our wants for the better of someone else, as long as that someone else is doing the very same for us. It won’t always be perfect, but as long as expectations are reasonable and two people really love each other, I want to believe it’s possible, and I want to try. I want to be the old couple that celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary with the same sparkle in our eyes that we have now when we look at each other, and see the man who I fell in love with, and who I’ll always love.

Saying I Do to the Wedding Industry…

This week I’m set to sign the contract for our wedding venue. It’s a lovely-but-not-perfect venue in a location that is somewhat convenient for guests traveling from all around the country and that will cost, at a minimum, if all we do is show up, about $23,000.

And as I frantically try to figure out how to cut down all the additional spend (which now is about $25k more), I ask myself over and over – WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?

Well, yes, yes I am crazy. I have to be to spend so much money on a half of a day.

As soon as that contract is signed, I have to go through with it. Really, though, I already have to go through with something. We have a date, we’ve informed others to unofficially save the date, and we’ve asked our officiant and a few members of the bridal party to prepare for the big day. So something will happen. I just wish I could make that something cost $10,000 vs $50,000.

I wish I could have a rational conversation with my parents about money, but I can’t. They want to spend the money on this wedding, even though they have a $200k in home equity debt, and even though they just bought a $60k condo (second home) with plans to do $50k+ renovations to it, and even though every day the stock market does poorly the worse the decision to take $45,000 out of their savings is…. I can’t have one moment of rational conversation with them. The second I bring up being cost efficient in anyway, my dad throws a fit. He wouldn’t want the wedding to seem cheap or anything.

If my fiance wanted a big wedding then maybe this would make sense. But he’d much prefer something quiet and mellow with good friends. Meanwhile the thought of planning a wedding right now in nine months gives me heaping amounts of heart attacks. All in all, this seems like a horrible no good idea.

Yet I still think I’ll regret NOT having this big wedding. Maybe I wouldn’t. I don’t know. I do feel like I either go all in, or we just seriously elope and that’s that. Maybe we have a little party with local friends and call it a day. We move on with our lives. If we need to, I ask my parents for $45k for a few cycles of IVF so I can have children… or perhaps for a kick start on their college tuition savings. Not a stupid party.

But that isn’t the options. I either get the money for a stupid party, or nothing. And the guilt of accepting this money is eating me up inside. Yes I can pay for some of it, but what I wanted to do is work with my parents to negotiate with vendors, especially the venue, so all the costs could come down a bit. My dad is too stubborn to do that. Too proud. All efforts of negotiating were thwarted by his refusal to play bad cop, to state that he didn’t want to pay so much for X or Y. Ok, so with the venue at $23,000 – we’re just starting so high, it’s hard to keep the entire event under $30k, which is my goal, because I think any more than that is completely batshit.

Of course, I can’t help but want a $6,000 photographer, a $4,000 videographer, $2k-$3k for flowers, and $4k-$5k for my dress, alterations, shoes, under garments, accessories, hair and makeup. And then there’s transportation and invites and this doesn’t even count the honeymoon or the rehearsal dinner et al.

If I could do the wedding in the off season it could be cheaper, but then so many people couldn’t come. I can’t figure out how to save money… how to get to that $30k budget that I’ve set as a goal…

Here is a tight budget based on what I’ve observed in the market, with the exception of my venue which isn’t the cheapest but also isn’t the most expensive.

$23k – venue
$5k – photography
$2k – video
$3k – dress
$2k – flowers
$1k – transport
$1k – invites
$3k – music (DJ)

Well that’s $40k right there. And I don’t feel like that’s a lavish wedding at all. How do I get this down to $35k at most?

Wedding Budget Woes and Excitement-Crippling Guilt

My father WANTS to pay for a $45,000 wedding. So many engaged couples planning their nuptials would love to have that generous offer. I do love it, but I also still feel ill when I think about it. $45,000 for ONE FREAKING DAY – AM I OUT OF MY MIND?

Well, yes, I am.

I’ve searched high and low, east and west for the ideal wedding venue. I’ve done tons of research and put together budget sheet after budget sheet to try to cut down on costs while pleasing all who need to be pleased — it can’t be on a Friday night because of religion, can’t be in the winter or spring or fall because people have kids in school, can’t be on a holiday, can’t be at a venue that doesn’t have lots of seats during the cocktail hour, can’t be at a venue that is too far from an airport, can’t be somewhere that only serves beer and wine because god forbid we ask people to come across the country and don’t even deliver an open bar…

At the end of the day, I realized I had two choices (ahem, have two choices) – one, I do a wedding that’s truly for “us” – I pay for it all out of my own pocket, I narrow the guest list down significantly, and heck maybe I do something totally non-traditional and just have a picnic or something in a park. I do it in the winter… on a weeknight… because who cares, the wedding isn’t about other people, it’s about us, getting, you know, married.

OR – this is an event for my family, namely my mother and father. My dad (who is equal parts terminally ill and obsessed with his daughter having a big fancy wedding and getting pregnant two seconds after the wedding ends) would be somewhat upset if I didn’t have a sizable shindig. To be fair to him, we don’t know how much longer he will live, and if he’s saved up money throughout his life then why not give him the party that he’d want, and hopefully also manage to put on an affair that stays true to my fiance and I.

But, come on, $45k on one night? I just… there are people who can’t afford to eat in this world… and I’m spending $45,000 for one stupid party?

The saddest thing of all (after the whole people in the world not being able to afford to eat) is that when I run the numbers, $45k isn’t really going to cover everything. I’ve already given up on a Saturday night wedding (minimums too high at the venues I like) and I’m doing a Sunday night, which is one of those things that all the frugal wedding blogs suggest. And I’ve already had a few people grumble about the Sunday night wedding saying they’ll leave early and not party as much (so, yea, there goes the value of that standard premium open bar.) The venue itself has a minimum of 135 people on a Sunday night, which is the one thing that may keep me from booking it — though at this point I have a hold on a date and I just want to book it and get on with my life! 135 minimum with $170 per person cost, plus some random extras that they don’t include but I consider necessary (on-site rehearsal for instance.)

For those of you who hate math, that’s $23,000-ish just for the minimum venue/catering fee. That’s BEFORE dress, band, photographer, videographer, florist, officiant, gifts, tips, rings, and the therapy I’ll need to survive all of this.

I am ridiculously torn between saying FUCK IT and eloping or saying FUCK IT and just closing my fiscal eyes to how ridiculous the entire situation is. I really wanted to figure out how to do the entire wedding for $30k and I thought Sunday night would help with that, but really there’s no way to do it for that price unless we either rent a hall and bring in catering (and have a smaller guest list) or… well, have a wedding somewhere in the middle of nowhere… and then no one will come, which is maybe for the better.

I really want someone to talk some sense into me and tell me that spending $45k+ on one day is the dumbest thing ever – even if it’s mostly my parent’s money and even if it’s money my parents want to spend. Someone knock some sense into me! I keep looking at all these wedding photos and videos and all I can think is how silly I’ll look in that set up. I feel too old for all that. And that money could be put to much better uses – either for my parents or for my future family.

The 135 minimum is really freaking me out now. I don’t know if I’ll get that many people. I’m inviting something like 150-175, but with people all around the country I bet RSVP rates will be 60% – which, for those of you who don’t like math, and who want to cringe with me, is 105 people. That means we’ll be paying $5100 for 30 people who aren’t even there.

Why are weddings a thing again?

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 fiancé 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 fiancé 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?

Should We Just Skip the Wedding?

The whole wedding ritual is so archaic that modern women like myself should not even consider partaking in such frivolous festivities. This it the one moment in my life where I’m incredibly torn – with all the drama that goes into planning a wedding with guests across the country, and the reality that a large chunk of them won’t be able to make it anyway, why should we bother with anything beyond a simple elopement? My parents seem surprisingly ok with that – they have saved the money to foot the bill for a relatively big wedding, but at this point in their lives they don’t seem as if they’d be heartbroken without the whole shcabang. They would have been a few years back, but now they’re pretty much fine with whatever will equate to grandchildren sooner than later. So why do it?

My fiancé wants to have a nice, romantic wedding. It’s important to him for the right reasons. To me, it’s a giant and costly production, even if I’m footing only the emotional half of the bill. Honestly, it feels incredibly foolish to contemplate spending $30k+ to be the center of attention for 5 hours that I’ll be too exhausted and stressed out over to even enjoy. But if I don’t have an actual wedding – won’t I massively regret that later? Or, will I massively regret the fact that my parents blew through a chunk of their retirement savings (which is sizable due to a pension and social security, but not exactly enough to ensure permanent financial independence)?

There are so many different ways to have a wedding. I know. There are plenty of ways to reduce costs and still have a lovely time. And, at the end of the day, who cares who shows up, as long as the bride and groom make it to the alter. I want to honestly believe that. But Ms. Devil sitting on my shoulder is screaming “throw a freaking crazy amazing party in a beautiful location that people will talk about forever.” Uh, hello narcissist.

But aren’t modern weddings narcissistic and ridiculous to begin with? Where does one draw the line? I understand the point of celebrating permanent devotion to another person, but in front of 200 of your “closest friends and family” seems a bit nutso. Of course, when you try to limit the guest list you can’t really do this and have the people you actually want there and then all those other people your parents are making you invite there. I refuse to have a wedding where I don’t invite certain friends because their seat gets filled by a third cousin twice removed, even if it means that I seriously need to consider footing the bill for my own event.

And that does make sense – I have a job. I have savings. I have a life. My parents paid for so much of it until I finally became an independent adult post college graduation. And now, this final “gift” looms over my head like some dark cloud that was supposed to be a rainbow. Knowing that my parents are both absolutely crazy will only add to the stress of the special day (but I wouldn’t want to get married without them there!) I’m actually seriously considering elopement, although it’s still unlikely. I wrote to my cousins today to ask them if they had a month that would be better for them to attend a wedding in 2016, just to see what sort of response I’d get. Many just won’t be able to make it no matter what. Some refuse to travel across the country. I understand it’s a financial issue for some of them as well, so I can’t get too upset. But what hurts more is knowing that I’m not that close to that many people – not even the people I grew up with, the people who once were my close family. I still consider them close family, but to them I’m a long lost relative.

So if I actually focus on the fact that the wedding is about my fiancé and I, and not about anyone else, then maybe we’d elope in Yosemite or something at the side of a lake, with a few guests surrounding us to share in the moment, and then we’d go camping for a week together. I’d prefer that over a super fancy wedding – so why am I destined to have this super fancy wedding that I’m not sure I actually want?

Introducing: Bridezilla

Reading articles about batshit brides who enamored over every detail of a wedding led me to pronouncing I would never, EVER earn the title “bridezilla.” And, yet, shortly thereafter my official engagement I’ve been called this at least two times – not yet once from my finance who surely has thought the term silently while watching me create a google spreadsheet of 20+ local venues to visit in order to find – THE ONE.

As a personal finance blogger, and someone who tends to toy around with compound interest calculators as a means to destress after a challenging day, weddings – as in, the modern American wedding with an average cost of $25k ($31k-$51k in my region) – are absolutely ridiculous.

$50,000 — over a 30 year period growing at 5% — amounts to $216k. Sure, that’s not enough to get one through retirement, but it’s an awful lot to spend on one 6-hour party. When down-payments for a starter home are $200k or more, spending any money on a wedding, no matter how high your income is (unless you already are financially independent) seems incredibly frivolous.

So far, we’ve done well to combat the frivolity of this phenomenon known as nuptials. I was verklempt when my man got down on one knee and, after going through a series of romantic gestures, asked me to marry him. When I noticed he had picked the $300 ring off my Pinterest, I took pride in being the type of future bride who didn’t buy into the “Three Months Salary” bullshit propagated by jewelry marketers – likely ones related to the same person who came up with “A Diamond is Forever.” The average cost of an engagement ring these days is $4000 — which is a lot considering most of America is in debt.

There was this little voice in the back of my mind, the little girl who dreamed of a fancier ring (not necessarily a diamond, but still, something above and beyond what I might purchase for myself) — and then I stopped that voice, told it to shut the fuck up, because the ring — beautiful, simple and unique — was perfect. And I wouldn’t want to be walking around with a $4000 sentimental target on my back for anyone who wanted to rob me. Ultimately, I’d rather have a house than a ring, so this was the right choice.

That doesn’t change the fact that the minute you tell people you are engaged the reflex of most Americans – male or female – is something along the lines of “let me see the rock.” Well, it’s a rock alright — a low-cost gemstone that may or may not be the one that we think it is. It was supposed to be peach but it’s actually clear which only bothers Bridezilla me because I feel like everyone “just knows” that it’s a fake diamond (which it wasn’t meant to be) and then I get nervous that others will look at it and think, oh god, does she not know it’s a fake? I was perfectly fine with a sapphire or alexandrite or something that didn’t look like a diamond, but when it almost looks like a diamond showing off your ring gets uncomfortable, so says Ms. Bridezilla.

The ring, however, is the least of the costs that go into having a wedding. Every ounce of my rational self is screaming ELOPE YOU DUMB IDIOT YOU! I’m definitely the type of girl that dreamed of having a large, fairytale wedding – but now that i’m nearly 32, I’m largely over that dream and much more practical. If I was paying for the entire thing myself, I’d be a whole lot of more practical – but with my parents wanting to foot the bill, I’m torn.

My dad – who worked his entire life in a job that he didn’t exactly love – was told eight years ago that he had two years to live from a very respectable doctor at Sloan Kettering in NYC. His late-stage prostate cancer had metastasized and while there were a number of treatments and trials to prolong his life, there was no cure. And, already dealing with numerous health issues, such as diabetes and morbid obesity, his prognosis wasn’t so optimistic.

Dad – as stubborn as he is – has lived much longer and is still kicking, knock on wood. Him and my mother purchased a condo in Boca which he’s now spending his days determining how to decorate – despite years of nagging me about getting married, he doesn’t seem to care too much about the wedding now. His response when I called to tell them I was engaged was “about time.”

My father has clearly stated, many times, that he has money put away for this shindig and that he’d cover the event. The budget, which was $30k, grew into $50k once I made a list of how much everything would cost (and this is with cutting out all of the items that would go into a dream wedding with a pricetag of about $100k.) He said $50k is fine.

I know he’s looking forward to his dream wedding. My mom’s mother made their wedding horrible, because she’s crazy. She wouldn’t let him invite most of his friends to the event because they needed to invite all of the Israeli relatives, and then not surprisingly those Israeli relatives didn’t show up leaving a lot of empty seats. If my finance had a large extended network of family and friends I’d almost  be ok with a large wedding, but it just doesn’t feel right to have a wedding with 30 people from his side and 150 from mine. That isn’t a wedding.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure someone like me where I am today in understanding finances can spend $50,000 on 5 hours – even if it’s not my money. To put perspective on that figure, for the last 5 years of my life I’ve been aiming to save $50,000 A YEAR after taxes, including interest from investments. It’s a lot of money, no matter how you slice it, and whose money it is.

Some of my friends say if your parents want to pay for the wedding, let them. But I’m almost ashamed of it. When I was 12 years old I had a lavish Bat Mitzvah which included custom-made t-shirts which I designed, musicians which included a band AND a dj, and a number of other items which led for one expensive coming of age ceremony. Back then I didn’t understand money at all. The party was fun and all, but it was ridiculous at the same time. How can a grown-ass woman rationally spend anywhere near $30k-$50k on one day? Well, this grown-ass woman might — but she’s still not sure.

I’m absolutely torn. The options seem to be accepting my parent’s gift and a world of compromise for throwing a party for 200 guests including many family friends/relatives who I don’t know that well, OR, paying for an event on our own which would be a lot smaller and cheaper. If we do an event on our own, most of the people I want to attend wouldn’t come, because it would be a smaller, less lavish affair. Maybe that’s not a terrible thing – but I feel like if you’re going to have a wedding to begin with, the point is introducing both families to each other – and with that, I would like to encourage a decent turnout from both of our sides. We have families across the country so a wine country venue with the promise of incredible dining and entertainment would do more to encourage an annual vacation vs a picnic in a park.

Yes, they say that whatever you do for a wedding, the people who want to be there will be. Those people don’t have tri-state area expectations. I definitely grew up in a culture where these fancy weddings are the norm. And, as privileged as I am to even be able to ponder what to do with a $30k+ budget, I should also just embrace the fact that my parents want to pay for this event – which will likely be a night that my finance and I will remember for the rest of our lives. So let’s just do this.

Even with a $50k budget (which is, again, ridiculous) there are still lots of cuts to be made. So a dream dress might be $10k. I looked on pre-owned wedding dress sites, where they sell one-night-worn dresses for 30% to 50% off. Well, buying a dress site-unseen for $5000 – even if it was a $10k dress – seems like a bad idea. Buying a used dress does intrigue me, however, since spending even $3000 on a dress to be worn one night is nuts, but spending $1500 on that same dress that was worn once makes a lot more sense (especially if you can resell it again, say, for $1000.)

At the moment, our decision du jour is the venue itself. Picking a venue and a date will make this a whole lot more real. My finance and I have similar ideas about what makes the perfect venue, but they aren’t always 100% aligned. We visited one venue yesterday that he adored – but it’s too expensive and honestly it was just not quite what I had in mind (paying $50k for a wedding which features fancy port-o-potties is not going to fly with my parents, and is also not on my preferred logistics list.) While we both love the idea of getting married outside in nature, I prefer a venue at the top of a hill with a view, he prefers one nestled in a valley. We both are hoping for some sort of water features — a lake, a stream, or ocean with dramatic cliffs. I prefer a venue where we are able to come set up in the morning, early, and he prefers one which enables late-night after partying well into the next day. We’re coming up empty handed.

All of this added stress should be fun, but planning a wedding is a lot of work. Yes, you can hire a planner (and I probably will) but that doesn’t solve everything – it doesn’t solve the issue of managing my parent’s expectations. If they are footing the bill, that will be another giant job on top of the FT job I already have, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to plan this shindig to begin with.

And I come back to thinking – isn’t this supposed to be a day about the joining of two people who are going to spend the rest of their lives together? Why should that cost $50,000?