Living Frugally: The Wedding Blues

Wedding Bells BluesDon’t let your failure to manage your green lead to the wedding blues. The wedding industry is booming.

Everything from the bride’s dress, the photographer, and of course – my personal pet peeve – the wedding planner. All are big money. Brides-to-be have been convinced, “It’s the most important day of your life, spare no expense.”

And many a groom, wanting to please their soon to be wife, have fallen for the idea that the engagement ring should cost at least three month’s salary. Seriously, who came up with this stuff?

I’m about to say something that will probably be very unpopular. Both those pieces of advice are very unwise and financially unsound! We have become a society that will spend thousands and thousands of dollars for an occasion that lasts a few hours, tops. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a momentous occasion for both bride and groom; and their families.

It is a day that should be treated with respect. However, so should the actual marriage. You know, all those days that come after the rice is thrown? Yep, they are important also.

Wedding Costs [The Huffington Post]

I have a family member who spent over $10,000 on her wedding. She had food catered, a huge dress, and a dress covering I can’t even begin to describe. There were a few limos involved, a huge bride’s cake, a groom’s cake, a reception at a fancy eatery on the bay, a cruise on a boat and tons of other stuff that still boggles my mind.

Imagine that $10,000 invested wisely for the next thirty years. Compound interest and time are amazing allies. Use them!

My wife and I spent less than $200 on our wedding. The cost of the location was zilch, zero nada. It was held at my oldest sister-in-law’s house. The mayor of Shelly, Idaho performed the ceremony for free in exchange for us donating at least a whopping $5 to a certain charity. We donated $15. The cost of food was minimal. It was a pot luck! Invitations were ordered online and I doubt we spent $100.00.

The number one cause of tension between man and wife, and the eventual cause of many divorces, are money related problems and a couple’s differing perspectives on money. The fact that society encourages such a large expenditure of funds from the very beginning is then more than a little disturbing.

Imagine the positive economic impact if the soon-to-be-joined were encouraged to spend as little as possible so they would have more for their future together. Doesn’t it make more sense to begin the marriage voyage with a healthier money outlook, helping to avoid the one thing that’s proven to end marriages the world over?

Let’s not set up future couples for failure. Teach youth to ignore the advertising ploys of the wedding industry. Teach them to consider their financial futures. Let’s encourage them to treat their marriage with even more respect than the wedding by fueling the marriage with the gift of financial freedom.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. We got married last summer, and spent less than $1,000 on our wedding. Called a few places to check for prices, and was shocked when I was quoted $10,000 for a 4 hour reception! I said no way, and we had an awesome back-yard party with only close family and a few friends. We did spend a few thousands on a honeymoon in Italy, but it was still cheaper than a 4 h reception would have been and we love to travel anyway.

    • Congrats on your relatively recent wedding. Like you, the wife and I kept our expenses low. It was more important for us to get married and share the day with friends and family than to see how much money we could spend on one function.

  2. My wife “the lovely Mrs C” and I have you all beat, Justice of the Peace for $25.00 and we’re still happily married 23 year later! Might I also add the cost difference between a state university and a private university. Our daughter will graduate with her BS debt free from the Univ of Arizona ($18k per year) versus my brothers three kids that paid $50-60k per year at private universities. All three have the same job prospects. Maybe an interesting future discussion topic for your readers Savvy James?

    • Great story … and you are right, public versus private universities, and the associated costs, would be a good discussion topic.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this one. When Ed and I married both our wedding rings together were less than $500, the ceremony was in a local rose garden, and friends helped me cater the wedding reception at our home. My dress? A lovely ‘gently used’ taffeta that I received many compliments on. We focused on enjoying the moment with our family and friends — I have never felt deprived for not having a glitzy ceremony.

    Our older son’s wedding was a pretty big ceremony, but to my daughter-in-law’s credit she and her mom did the bulk of it (decorating, food, etc) themselves. I would be shocked if the total wedding cost her parents more than $5,000 — and in their case they had saved up to be able to pay for it.

    Money challenges are such a stress on a marriage. Anything you can do to start it without adding debt is a worthwhile investment in a happy future.

    • Yep, both of my weddings were modest affairs, particularly the first one. I believe the second totaled somewhere around $5,500, similar to your older son’s wedding. The important thing, if you choose to have anything beyond something very basic – such as a civil ceremony with a Justice of the Peace – is to have family and friends share in the experience. Starting a marriage with $0 in the bank because you spent everything on the wedding or still paying off credit card costs associated with the wedding two years later is not the desired beginning.

  4. We married at the courthouse and then went for dinner. Nothing fancy. What shocks me now is that younger relatives want fancy weddings and ask us to contribute to the cost. If you can’t afford it, don’t do it!

    • “If you can’t afford it, don’t do it.” Absolutely. That practice should apply to all activities, including weddings. Much smarter to have a more modest wedding and start the marriage off on more solid ground.

    • Well said Tre. I fully believe that one should pay for the fancy stuff yourself if you insist on having it. The smarter choice is to put that money towards an emergency fund, college fund or retirement. I believe it shows financial maturity to have a simple ceremony and a dinner. Great job!

  5. I can tell you who came up with the 3 months salary number… De Beers!

  6. I’m glad I found your space James, often frustrated with friends or acquaintances who feel like we need to “ball out.” The same friends who needed help with some aspect of their own personal finances.

    I married young my first time, we exchanged vows in front of the Justice of the Peace with my older sister as a witness. We purchased modest rings via layaway and were able to pay for within a few months. Funny that we had this mentality at the beginning but struggled with money [mainly how to spend it] all of our marriage. I am about to propose to my current love, I am much older and we still maintain the same approach. Although I have not formerly proposed we have already begun making plans that include a church wedding with family only, a small wedding party of my 2 sons & father, her daughter and 2 best friends. All in all total cost should be under $1500.

    • Thanks for the kind words and being an early, avid supporter of the site. While a wedding is certainly a joyous occasion, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to affirm that. The vows themselves – and sharing it all with family – is really what it is about. Better to spend modestly on the wedding and put yourself in a better position financially for the post-nuptials. An early congratulations, my friend and best of luck the second time around…somebody queue up Shalamar.

    • I have to agree Brian Tramuel, Jame’s site is a pleasure. I’m glad to be a writer for his blog and loved wiring this particular article. It’s nice to see there is a community of folks who understand that a wedding can be fun & memorable without spending away their financial futures.

      • No doubt the ‘Living Frugally’ series has been well received.

    • It’s nice to see there is a community of folks who understand that a wedding can be fun & memorable without spending away their financial futures.

  7. I must agree, the amount people spend on weddings is outrageous. My first wedding cost $175 total. I bought a brand new wedding dress for $25 at Montgomery Wards. My auntie was a cake decorator so that was our wedding gift from her. The preacher requested a donation of $50 and we had the reception at a friend’s house.

    My 2nd and last wedding was originally going to be performed by the Justice of the Peace. A family member did not like that idea and my husband ended up spending more money than we had expected to, to appease this family member. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time, but it really was an unnecessary expense. But it just shows that we do these types of things for others, they truly are not for us.

    • Great points, Karen. Sometimes wedding decisions are made for others, yet the long-term consequences – the resulting debt – is left with the newlywed couple.

  8. Oh, don’t get me started on the wedding industry! I’m sure your family member who spent $10,000 on a wedding thought that she was getting a bargain since the average amount spent in this country is closer to $20,000 and even higher in certain regions. Many couples start their lives together in debt due to wedding expenses, it’s such a shame. My husband and I paid for our wedding with cash, of course. It was a very different style of wedding from the perspective of my in-laws who live in a region where $30,000 – $50,000 weddings is the norm. But I had exactly the wedding I wanted, we had a great day, and we did not have to over extend ourselves financially to pay for it.

    You are right – the most important part of your marriage begins after the wedding day. Couples should focus more on this. Sounds like you did a great job on your own frugal wedding!

    • I believe you hit the nail on the head when you note that “Many couples start their lives together in debt due to wedding expenses.” They would be so much better served by having a more modest wedding and using the money that would have otherwise disappeared as wedding costs to fund something like an emergency fund. Thanks for stopping by, Kay.

    • I love your response to this article Green Money Stream! I’m glad you found ways to spend so little on your wedding ceremony. That sets the stage for a couple’s spending habits thru out their marriage.

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