Back in the 1980s when I was ordained, there was a priest in the area who was famous (infamous) for the fact that he requested couples who were going to spend more than $5,000 on a wedding (more in those days than now) to pay a tithe, (one tenth) of what they spent on the wedding, to the poor. While he could not require this of couples, he made of it more than a casual suggestion, reminding them that, as they spent thousands on flowers that wilt and dresses worn only once, there were some in this world who had little to wear or eat. The priest has long since passed away now, but was famous for saying very little at diocesan meetings, except, “Gentlemen, what about the poor?”
The memory of this priest crossed my mind as a Facebook Friend passed on tho me an article entitled: Average Couple spends 26K on Wedding. The article goes on to describe the devastating debt that many families incur, (especially when paired with college debt, etc.), on account of the increasingly unreasonable expectations regarding weddings.
In indicating that $26,000 is the average, that means that half spend more, some a lot more. I actually have couples who are shacking up, (err… “cohabiting”) tell me that they can’t “afford” to get married. Some are surprised when I tell them they don’t have to spend a dime to get married in the Church. They can come to the Chapel with two witnesses and I’ll even buy them lunch. The usual push-back I get is that my suggestion offends against dreams (usually of the woman who wants a picture perfect “Church Wedding”). “So, for the sake of a party you will go offending God?” I ask. “Why not prepare for marriage now, get married in the Chapel, and have a 10th Anniversary bash?” suggest I. “We’ll get back to you on that Father.” Do I need to tell you my phone is not exactly ringing off the hook?
Disclaimer - As regards the cost of weddings, I realize that families do feel certain obligations to others. Further, there are some families that are prominent in the community, and either sense, or do in fact have, wider obligations. I do not, in this article mean to, or wish to, opine on particular weddings and I presume good faith on decisions that families make. However, at the cultural level we have questions to ask ourselves, in terms of the financial and personal costs we place on families. I have little doubt that weddings have always been relatively expensive, but 26K (average) is off the hook, and all of us do well to walk this whole thing back a bit, and ponder what fuels this. There are valid costs, but what part does vanity and dreaminess play on the part of the couple? And what part do unrealistic expectations and commercial hype play from the wider community side?
Permit me to give some excerpts from the article with my own commentary in red. The full article is written by Cathy Grossman of USA Today and is HERE
Call it Wedding Bill Blues. Even with a slight drop in “I Do” spending during recent tough economic years, many couples are beguiled beyond their budgets…..The average couple has a $26,989 wedding, according to Brides magazine. Even though that’s down from a peak of $28,082 in pre-recession 2008… remember this average number means that half of coupes spend more, some a lot more.
Couples are victimized by their own fantasies, cajoled by media visions of celebrity nuptials, and pressured by friends, family, even strangers posting idyllic photos on [wedding sites]…..Resisting is hard, say brides, citing wedding planners who overwhelm them with choices for décor and doo-dads that seem irresistible. Couples can also be lured off their financial feet by bank commercials that encourage borrowing for wedding costs. So the blame is collective, we ought not simply blame dreamy brides, or proud grooms, its all of us.
“It’s emotional. Practicality goes out the window,” says David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Jones [though savvy about the problem of debt] sees many ways debt entraps people. As a grandfather, Jones…found himself a shocked participant in runaway wedding spending for his granddaughter’s wedding…— a $6,000 gown, when $3,000 was planned..
Gosh, I just can’t imagine spending 6K for a dress worn only once.
I remember that my mother, to save money, went in on a dress that three of her friends shared (see photo above). Of course in those days women married rather predictably right out of college and such “team arrangements” were easier to make.
Today, does a dress have to be purchased? Can it not be rented? I DO know of some brides who find very lovely “used” gowns for a very reasonable price.
We also discussed last month, that, for those who purchase a dress, there is a very lovely custom of making baptismal gowns from it, or other holy garments.
At any rate, I’m sorry, 6K for a dress worn only once is crazy. Why not just say no to that sort of stuff? I know, I Know, I’m “a man” and wouldn’t understand.
While Jones and his wife contributed cash, their son, father of the bride, “had to work overtime for months after the March wedding to pay off the credit card bills,” Jones says…..Most people don’t have an emergency account or savings. The typical family has $50,000 for retirement.They don’t have six to nine months of savings set aside and even if they did, it wouldn’t be $26,000. Even if young couples are increasingly sharing the costs, they’re facing student loans and credit card debt even before the first wedding invitation flies out.
The crushing debt that couples carry into marriage, and then the debt they add buying homes much bigger than most of then need, is a huge factor in marital stress and divorce. I have had to counsel many a couple to reset their expectations of the “American Dream” and live much more simply.
My parents lived in an apartment for a good number of years before being able to afford a house. Too many couples forget that there is more to home expenses than a mortgage payment. There is insurance, repairs, taxes, utilities, etc.
So honestly, couples need to think carefully before spending a lot on a wedding. Most of them already bring debt into the marriage…and debt has a way of piling up so that it becomes crushing.
Careful! Debt is real. Too many think of debt is theoretical terms. But it’s pretty awful and real when cut-off notices come for utilities, and the “repo man” is ringing on the bell, and the credit card company is inquiring when the next payment will come.
Crystals everywhere. Flowers everywhere. Lots of drapery and fancy lighting, ice sculptures and all that jazz,”….The couple thought they would spend “about $30,000, but suddenly… looked up, and we had 200 people coming, and the costs were heading for $10,000 to $15,000 over budget…..We cut the up-lighting. We cut the draping. We cut the special wooden dance floor, and no one missed it.”
Hello….There are a lot of other things that won’t be missed too. In then, can we agree, it is the people, and togetherness that makes a wedding reception, not the “stuff.”
The article then details a number of cost savings to consider and couples getting married may find this part of the article helpful. The article then concludes:
Weddings bells sound like a cash register —Ka-ching! The average 2012 wedding (not including a honeymoon) will cost $26,989, up from $26,501 in 2011. A May 2012 survey of 1,272 Brides magazine and website readers found:
•91% of couples set a budget, but 32% overall, and 40% of those who plan a destination wedding, cross that line.
•72% of couples used savings to pay for their weddings. I presume they deplete it almost entirely? Not a good plan when starting a family.
•30% use credit cards, and most expect to pay off credit cards within six months of their wedding. Think again
•54% of couples said paying for a wedding would not hamper their plans for “buying a house or a car, starting a family, etc.” Think again
•62% of couples say they’re contributing or paying entirely for the reception costs, including 36% of couples who expect to pick up the entire tab themselves. Notice, that’s a big change from 25 years ago when the family of the bride footed most or all the bill. I wonder if parents still paid most of the bill if things would be this off the hook?
•Couples are almost as likely to have a sit-down plated meal at their reception (42%) as a buffet style meal (41%).
Perhaps we can end were we started. I wonder if a cash tithe were going to the poor, if couples and families might not also think a little more soberly. Maybe the older priest I remember had a spiritual insight. When everything isn’t about me, and when I think of others first, perhaps the Lord grants us a greater degree of sobriety.
It isn’t just about weddings, its about a lot of purchases. What if I were going to buy a camera, the latest SLR, and what if it costs $1100 dollars. When It’s just about me, its too easy to say, “Sure! Charge it!” But what if I am also going to have to write a check to overseas relief, of $110? Now I might think twice, or I might not buy the deluxe, or maybe I will buy it, but at least its not just about me.
Maybe, when we render our debt to the poor, first, our own debts are less. Something to think about in the extravaganza and boondoggle known as “the wedding.”