Is spending money on a large wedding worth it?
August 8, 2016 10:41 AM   Subscribe

We just got engaged and are now in the research/planning process for our wedding. We are considering many options, from destination wedding (not likely, but in the running), large local wedding, small local wedding, or anything in between. The question that keeps popping up is: Is spending a huge chunk of money on our wedding worth it?

Not necessarily WHAT is worth spending money on (we often hear "photographers" as the answer to this), but is it even worth considering spending the money in the first place?

We've asked a few friends, and most say that the expense of the wedding was worth the cost, but I'm not yet convinced.

If you hosted a wedding, please tell me whether or not you feel like the cost was "worth it" in the end, particularly if your wedding happened to be expensive.

PS I'm aware that "expensive" is relative, so for the purposes of this question, "expensive" can mean anything that felt expensive to you at the time of your wedding.
posted by brynna to Work & Money (74 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a ton of money on the party for my wedding (probably nearly five thousand bucks all in, which is expensive for a party among my peer group). What this got me is that all my friends and family were there for, by far, the best and most important day of my life so far. What a joy - very well worth it, 5 years later.
posted by ftm at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Depends on where you are in your life, I would say. If your budget can handle it, if you are will to prioritze a party/celebration with your loved ones ahead of buying a home/a car/education/other really expensive life goals. Then sure. I really love my family and friends, we spent what we consider is expensive but ultimately pulled mostly from savings and were okay to prioritize it. If not then don't and its still okay.
posted by xicana63 at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2016

It comes down to what you value, and enjoy. A lot of people say "people are the most important thing", and I agree with that - in principle. But when it came to our wedding I knew neither of us (nor our families) would enjoy a big wedding. So we kept it to a small local wedding (~40 people). We care about food, but not photography, so we had friends and family take pictures but spent a lot of money on more delicious food. It was worth every penny!

That said, my inexpensive, small wedding cost a lot more than $5k. So everything is relative, and it all comes down to what you can afford and what will make you, your spouse, and your families happy. A resource that I first found through askme that helped me figure out what we wanted was A Practical Wedding.
posted by ldthomps at 10:50 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

My wife and I in no way whatsoever regret our wedding (we still talk about how nice it was and have photos of it up everywhere) but we've talked about this and given the option of going back in time and having to make the choice again, I don't think we would do it again.

It's not so much that it wasn't worth the expense in time and money -- it was rather expensive for us as we paid for it entirely ourselves and went extremely DIY so every dollar was stretched -- as we could've probably thrown a much smaller party and done something more fun for us with the time and money.

Just dear sweet lord almighty do not go into debt for a wedding. Not going into debt was one of the big reasons why we don't regret it.
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on August 8, 2016 [17 favorites]

Also keep in mind a lot of whether it is "worth" it depends on what you get. Neither of us particularly cared about flowers, so we didn't really have any flowers. I cared a lot about music, so we sprung for a good DJ. Other friends had flowers and used iPod playlists instead of a DJ. Roughly the same expense, completely different priorities. The more in line your spending is with your priorities (as opposed to Someone telling you that you should have this and you should have that and not offering to pay for any of it) the more you will consider it to be your wedding.
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hey! We just got engaged in May, and so we have been pondering the same questions.

Our original budget was about $5k, and we've paid more than that in deposits so far. The reasons for that included wanting to be able to walk from our apartment (NYC) to the ceremony, and from there to the reception, and then home, wanting to be able to share the day with as many friends and family as possible, and we were not willing to compromise about quality of food (not willing to book a venue that all they do is weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs.)

It's very likely we're going to come in north of $20k for a six hour wedding, but we have tailored the entire day to celebrating our friends, our family, and us as a couple. We're not having a Pinterest wedding. We are having a wedding that reflects one day where our entire circles will have nothing to do but enjoy each other's company.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:54 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

My wedding just happened and it was $13k including photographer, flowers, and outfits. If it was my second wedding I'd say it didn't need to be that much planning effort but for a first and presumably only wedding yes it was worth it - the venue was *gorgeous* and we love looking at the photos. You're bringing a lot of people together and marking a special occasion so I'm glad we went fancy instead of budget. Especially the flowers which people talked about for days afterwards. Memories are important. Having a nice party for your loved ones is important.

But it depends on your style - my sibling had an ultra casual Beach wedding for under $5k and 10 years later her only complaint was (you guessed it) don't skimp on the photographer (she agrees her photos were horrendous).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, worth it - if it's what you want.
I had my wedding last year, we had about 75 people there. The venue was the most expensive part, because the venue was the most important thing to me.

Everything else was "No Frills" but it was still $1500 here, $2000 there.

I mean, wedding's are Big Business. Things that should be SO CHEAP are stupidly expensive.
Things that NO-ONE cares about HAVE to be considered (Party favours anyone???)

All of this being said, it was the most amazing day of my life. It was FANTASTIC to have all of my family, my husband's family and all of our friends there together. That will never happen again and it was such an amazing day.

I do not regret the cost of the wedding one bit. I wouldn't change anything. I would highly recommend it to you - IF it's important to you!
posted by JenThePro at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2016

Good food and wine: worth it.
Good band: worth it.
Nice venue: worth it.
Nice flowers: yeah, okay, but don't go crazy.
Fancy photographer... not so much, really.
posted by jon1270 at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2016

I absolutely am happy that we had a wedding. It fit very much into what I imagined as a joyful party to celebrate our marriage. It cost us $15K, which was a huge amount at the time, and we DIY'd so much stuff, but we paid in cash and I have never regretted it or wished we had done any part of it differently. It was not my first marriage, but it was my first wedding, and it felt worth celebrating. However, we agreed that having a wedding was something we really wanted. If you don't feel like you want one, there's no reason to have one.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:57 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not exactly the question you asked but maybe our experience would be helpful. We significantly underspent on our wedding relative to what we could afford and in the 12 years we have been married, we have *never* regretted it at all. We used the money to have an extra financial cushion and more flexibility during the early years of our marriage. We would make the same choice again.
posted by limagringo at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2016 [19 favorites]

Absolutely not worth it. We went to city hall and later on had a barbecue in a state park and paid $7000 total for about 200 people (camping, food and drinks). I could have done without the party, bringing our budget down to $500 or so.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

We had a fairly traditional wedding and reception with about 75 guests 10 years ago. I really liked having all our friends and family there. Everyone in my family and friend circle has moved a lot for work (mostly academics) and so it was really great to see everyone in one place. There are some people I remain reasonably close to via email/Facebook/phone who I have not seen in the flesh since our wedding. The importance of all the other "stuff" (dress, ceremony location, bridesmaids dresses, etc.) has kind of paled in retrospect, although I still like our photos. We could afford it (it was somewhere between 15 and 20K), but in retrospect I sort of wish we had spent less on things like the dress and having a band and stuff like that just because it doesn't really seem important anymore. My brother and his wife got married outdoors at a park and then had their reception at an excellent restaurant and I kind of wish we'd done that.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2016

Our regrets are entirely that we should have hired better bartenders. Having all the families and such wonderful friends together, just being happy and looking posh with good food and good drinks and a joyful reason to be together is a wonderful thing.

Our biggest expense was the food--we lucked out because our incredibly gorgeous venue was a city-owned property and rental was $1500. We held the guest list to 75, but because we had only a reception and no wedding traditions (no vows, no ceremony, no attendants, no rehearsal dinner, no brunch), our wedding was likely unconventional in a lot of ways, but still an expensive party (around $12k I think). Because it was so unconventional in terms of what we were not doing and did not need photographed, we also got really lucky and got very high quality event photography for much cheaper than "wedding" photography.

In descending order of cost, our costs were: catering (this is just expensive--I price this for work all the time and it's just expensive); booze, my ring, venue, jazz piano player, photographer, spouse's suit, spouse's ring, my dress & hat, my shoes, invitations. Had I to do it again, I'd be comfortable with this.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2016

Spend as much as you can afford and feel comfortable with. DO NOT go into debt for a wedding.

We spent $25k to get married in a place that is said to have the most expensive weddings so this was actually considered a "low-budget" wedding to any vendors we talked to. We are really happy we did, spending that day with our entire families and so many friends was amazing.

Just make a list now of what is really important to you and what isn't. Then refer to that whenever thinking about wedding planning. Just keep that list as your bible and ignore what other people tell you is important.

For example, jon1270 says that a good band was worth it. I really couldn't care less about music or dancing so an itunes playlist was perfect for us. Nice flowers? I made my bouquet from flowers purchased at Trader Joes the day before, no other purchased flowers were present. But fancy photographer? Hell yes, I LOVE those pictures. But everyone has different priorities.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Nthing the part about not going into debt. If you really really want to get married and have ideas about what you want to do and can afford them, it's hard to see how you'll ever regret that.

I will say, though, that my wedding cost us less than $1500, and it was still a perfect day. So if your question is also "do I need to spend a bunch of money to make this day special and memorable," the answer is definitely no.
posted by something something at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Absolutely not worth it. We went to city hall and later on had a barbecue in a state park and paid $7000 total for about 200 people (camping, food and drinks).

I passed by a wedding in Letchworth State Park this summer, just families gathered in an old picnic shelter, with a dancing tent beside it, and it looked like a delight. Kids playing at the playground, people milling around on the considerable lawn, everything low key. Just family and friends all enjoying themselves with a minimum of fuss.

A few years ago, I was walking through Central Park, and came across a small wedding party which was being led down the paths by some small New Orleans type band, and that also looked super-enjoyable and memorable.

The best wedding I've been to was a white water rafting wedding, three boats, bride side boat, groom side boat, wedding party boat. Pulled over onto a shoal, the reverend got out a Bible from a ziploc bag, did the ceremony, and then we sailed on. At the end of the rafting, we got out and had BBQ with an ice cream wedding cake, and then had a softball game. Friends of the bride vs. friends of the groom, with the game deciding whether the bride would take the groom's last name or not. Amazing, amazing time, and (rafting component aside), I doubt it would have been on the expensive side of things.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that More Expensive = More Formal = Probably Less Relaxed And Fun. Go nice, go simple, and the good time is what everyone will remember.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:14 AM on August 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

A few years ago, I was walking through Central Park, and came across a small wedding party which was being led down the paths by some small New Orleans type band, and that also looked super-enjoyable and memorable.

We are also getting married in Central Park -- be advised that it can be costly. Our coordinator, permit, officiant, etc., is upwards of $2k for the ceremony.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:16 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

It was one of the happiest single days of my life. I am by no means someone who expected that to be the case, and in fact I was really dreading being the center of attention and so nervous things would go wrong...but it turns out that it's really wonderful to have a big party with tons of people you love all there celebrating you and the relationship you've built. Having a wedding was so, so worth it.

I agree that what you'll end up regretting is spending on stuff you think is stupid. I paid for a nice florist and I still kind of resent it. My flowers were beautiful but not so much more beautiful than a bouquet from Whole Foods the morning of would have been.
posted by town of cats at 11:17 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

You don't have to spend the tens of thousands of dollars that some people do. But as someone who put on a mostly out of state wedding for about 20 people with basically no money, you do have to have something to spend to keep you and your guests comfortable so that you can enjoy your day. Unless you're talking about going a route that's all sunk costs - using a space you already have access to (someone's house/yard), things you already own (tables/chairs), clothes you already have, relationships you already have (photography, catering, officiation) - and nobody is coming from out of town for you to entertain, you do need some budget. And this budget will go up per guest.

My wedding was very small and simple but there was still a shit ton of work involved. It took place at a free park but the tables, chairs, canopy, pizza/salad, beverages, cupcakes, all needed to be coordinated, schlepped, set up, and taken down. We got some beautiful inexpensive flowers at Whole Foods but they still had to be bought and arranged. The photos were very chaotic and everyone is looking in a different direction in every photo cause there was a wall of smartphones going off at us. And also we were hosting most of the guests from out of town so keeping them fed, coordinated and entertained the whole weekend was also on me. Everything came out ok and people had a good time, but a little bit more money to throw around would have cut down the stress levels and the labor intensity by a lot.
posted by bleep at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Incurring a ton of debt for the sake of one day is a stupid way to start a marriage, especially considering money problems is one of the main stressors for a marriage. I'm married and did a low-key wedding thing that was filled with elements that were very personal and "us" and don't regret it at all. Some of the most spendy weddings I have attended have also been the most generic and less representative of the couple.

Almost no-one looks back on their wedding day and says "Gee, I wish I had spent more" but a LOT of people look back on their wedding day and say "Gee, I wish I had spent less."
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:30 AM on August 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

Here's the thing. Most people love their own weddings--both people who spend a lot on their wedding, and people who didn't spend a lot on their weddings. Why would you want to be in the former category if the results are mostly the same? Unless you're only satisfied if things are fancy, perfect, and expensive. But then you wouldn't be asking this question.

I would vote to keep it simple-- it'll still cost more than you think.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2016 [15 favorites]

Only you can answer this question. We eloped on our combination honeymoon. There were 4 people at our wedding ceremony -- us, the priest and a photographer we hired at the last moment. We spent <$500 for the ceremony, license + photographer.

Not for one second have my wife or I ever wished we'd spent more, invited our families (which we are on fantastic terms with, they understood/know we're weird), had more people, had a bigger wedding, etc. For us it was perfect, for others it would have been awful.

But whatever you chose, remember that it's just a party celebrating something awesome. Getting hitched to your partner will make you infinitely happy, sharing it with your friends and family probably will too, buying more expensive table pieces won't.
posted by so fucking future at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think the inclusion of lots of people that we care about was a great thing. Early on in the planning process, I saw that my husband was inviting all kinds of rando friends I had never even met, and I decided not to whine about it and instead to make the budget stretch by paring down fanciness and unnecessary aspects. I think this was a very good decision and I would do it again.

In fact, I would go even further in that direction, avoiding dinner service entirely, and instead doing either a dessert reception later in the evening or a brunch in a park or a beach. So in my book "big" = worth it, because those are the ties you affirm as you start off your public life together. But "fancy" is not something I'd pay for again.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was just at a family wedding a week ago that had to have been north of $25K. My wife and I reflected on whether or not we regretted eloping to HI 25 years ago - total cost of the actual wedding (not including travel costs) was $800. Our unanimous and very quick answer was "nope." The family wedding was beautiful and a lot of fun, but we don't miss not going that route at all. But I can totally see how it becomes a cherished memory for those that do.
posted by COD at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

For us, having a big formal fancy pants wedding was totally worth it. It was amazing. Having all those people there for us was brilliant. Seeing my aunt talking to my friends from college. Having high school friends meet my cousins. Having my husbands and my friends who live in different cities finally meet. Holy moly it was soo soo soo much fun and brought so much joy.
Just because it's big and fancy doesn't mean it has to be high stress. We hired vendors and gave them clearance to do their jobs. We didn't micromanage anything. We spent our wedding day super chilled and relaxed, hanging out with friends and family.
That being said: 1) we enthusiastically wanted a big fancy wedding with a ton of people there and 2) we did not go into any debt to do this, nor did it impact our future plans (we didn't put off buying a house or car or whatever because of the wedding).

Be true to yourself and what you want.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

For our wedding:
- we controlled the budget (saved for over a year for it)
- we had final say on all decisions
- we only invited people we really wanted to be there, including the guests of our parents
- we only adhered to the "traditions" we wanted to (yes to bridesmaids, no to wedding cake)

And it was completely worth it and I would be happy to spend more to do it again just like that.
posted by like_neon at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2016

This is going to be a totally personal decision, but remember that money is one of the top things couples fight over and starting a marriage in debt is just asking for trouble.
posted by sockermom at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

The two largest expenses at most "party weddings" are venue and catering. You can do these cheaply or expensively, but generally speaking you can basically buy three things with your wedding money: time, guests, and "frills".

Time. You may decide to go with a more expensive catering setup because you want a bartender and someone bringing and setting up the food, rather than corralling your family members to slice sandwiches and lay it out on a table. Or you may decide that you want to do something cheaper that's more work for you / your family and friends.

Guests. You may decide to have more or fewer guests depending on your budget. Again, you can buy different "levels" of catering, but twice as many guests means twice as much food, and perhaps a more expensive venue. Maybe there are many important people you really want in attendance. Or you limit the guest list by telling a parent "I've never spoken to your spin class instructor, I'm afraid we can't invite them."

"Frills" I would call things like decorations, physical objects, etc. This is a small part of most weddings, except maybe for photography. But in a lot of cases you might be buying time, like if you pay someone to arrange and deliver and set up any flowers.

So it's up to you to decide where you want to expand and contract your wedding.

Or do city hall with a very small party and take them to lunch.
posted by Hypatia at 11:55 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Short answer: I had an expensive wedding, and nope, not worth it.

Longer answer: I've been married twice. First wedding was a large (120+ guests), standard affair at a fancy NYC restaurant. Cost: somewhere north of $30,000. Second wedding was at City Hall and we took our guests (14 of them) out for dim sum in nearby Chinatown afterwards. Cost: around $350. Totally no contest as to which I'd do again. Not even close. I still practically burst into tears when I think that I threw away $30,000+ on a big party that was basically just like all the other big parties people throw when they get married and that probably a lot of people attended out of a feeling of social obligation, nothing more.

So no, I don't think the big wedding was worth it at all, and I'm sorry I did it. (Naturally, I might be a lot less sorry if the marriage had lasted, but even in the honeymoon period in the first few months of the marriage I would get upset thinking about how much money we spent on a party.)
posted by holborne at 11:56 AM on August 8, 2016 [23 favorites]

For me the money we spent on tasks that reduced stress on the day of our wedding was well worth it. We had a package reception at a hotel, so nothing unique but also nothing for us to stress about on the day. The things that we did ourselves in order to save $ were save-the-dates, invitations, programs, centerpieces, boutineers and placecards because we could do them ahead of time.
posted by soelo at 11:57 AM on August 8, 2016

I've gotten married twice now, both times we had full weddings. Commonalities between the two: Around 75 guests; Buffet supper, cheap drinks; DIY decorations, favours; Wedding dress was less than $750 ; DIY'd the music for dancing, no DJ ; Hired photographers that were family friends, so good price for the quality.

The first one was at our university's faculty club (catered, staffed by them too) and fairly high-end - I don't know what it ultimately cost because our parents paid the venue bill and didn't tell us the final amount, but I know it was *a lot*. Probably because we subsidized the drinks so they only cost our guests $2 each. But it was very easy for the wedding party to enjoy ourselves, as the venue handled everything including clean-up.

The second one was in my backyard, so we had to handle nearly everything, but it was less than $7,000 all-in, including wedding attire. We had a caterer bring the food, because we did not feel up to doing it ourselves. It was a very nice buffet, for a good price, and accommodated a lot of dietary restrictions. Rented chairs/tables, bought flowers to make arrangements. Friends of mine bartended for free (so very kind of them) and did a great job - we charged $2 per drink. Bought ice cream cakes from the local store for wedding cake. We partied until the wee hours. This was a much more stressful wedding to host, because of having to coordinate everything ourselves.

At both weddings, everyone said afterwards it was the nicest, most fun and relaxing wedding they'd ever been to - so no, cost doesn't necessarily make a difference to guests' enjoyment, but paying to have the work done for you can be worth it, if you want the full wedding. The smaller the wedding, the less any of it matters - so you have to decide what YOU want for your wedding.

It's been my experience that to make a wedding enjoyable, guests care most about the food and drink. I've been to some pretty large and lavish weddings which weren't that fun, for the following reasons:
- They had table service so were only allowed a fixed portion of food, no seconds. Bad for guests with dietary restrictions who could only eat part of the food on their plates, they got hangry.
- Either it was a dry wedding or drinks were not subsidized (so $6.00 per drink), ended the party pretty early.
- Guests had to wait hours at the venue while the wedding party's photographs were done, bar wasn't opened for a while, no snacks even so people got hangry... supper was late getting served.
posted by lizbunny at 12:05 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Take that money, invest it. In 10 or 20 years you can have an awesome party and have plenty of money left over. The amounts that people spend on weddings just stun me. Starting married life with a sweet down payment on a house seems better than the most awesome cake, flowers and photographers.
posted by fixedgear at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

A bit of anecdata from someone who's a bit past where you are: I'm recently engaged and our plan is "go to city hall (just us and a photographer), go for tacos (just us), and get on a plane to our destination of choice". When telling people of our plans, every married person I've spoken with except one has said something along the lines of "oh, man, I wish we'd done that. The party was great but..." with "but" followed by comments about stress, expense, or the lack of memories from that day.

It really comes down to what you want and what works best for you, though. My sweetie and I didn't make these plans because we didn't want to spend the money - we did it because we are profoundly uncomfortable in large groups of people, or being the center of attention at any gathering. Our celebrations - birthdays, holidays, Tuesdays, whatever, are always quiet affairs custom-made for the kinds of introverts we are, and we didn't see a reason why our wedding should be any different.
posted by okayokayigive at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

We got married fairly late -- 35 -- and did everything ourselves; there was no meaningful parental contribution on day-of (though my mother and step-dad DID insist on throwing the rehearsal dinner as per tradition, which we appreciated).

We had about 70 people at the ceremony, and about 125 at the reception.

All in, I think we were at about $11-12K, which is a lot of money, but apparently about half of "par" if you believe what you read about American weddings. (Now, reading this thread, it seems like we weren't shockingly more expensive than some of the "backyard BBQ" weddings.)

Anyway: we feel like, even 11 years later, that we had a pretty goddamn great wedding. The (secular) ceremony was simple and fairly quick, and we did that part in a gorgeous Quaker church designed by James Turrell; the honoraria there was pretty reasonable ($500, I think?).

We spent nearly the whole rest of the budget on the reception itself, which was held in a very informal indoor/outdoor space in a funky area of Houston. We got a great hookup with an outstanding caterer who also handled the bar. We also saved money by limiting it to beer, wine, and a "signature" cocktail she did for us in bulk, which also kept the bar line down. (Said caterer also had a staffer who was basically responsible for bringing us food and drink as we bounced around the party; that seems extravagant, but let me tell you IT TOTALLY IS NOT. Appoint someone to do this.)

A dear friend is also a photographer, and I'd done a lot of (free) software development for his nonprofit, so he did our photos as a wedding present. That was awesome. (His wife also married us, which was cool.)

We did not do a sit-down meal; food was finger-able, but still filling. My wife hit on a "spruced up comfort food" theme, so we actually had grill cheese sandwiches (but with gruyere and prosciutto) and the like.

We did not go into debt. The outlay was a lot of money for us, but it was carefully planned and stretched to get the most value. We felt okay about it because we both had good jobs, and we wanted our wedding day to be fun and memorable for our friends and family while also being very "us". I feel like we hit that mark.

I will say that, even though we were CERTAIN we didn't want a cheesy video, we both wish now that there WAS video of the ceremony, because we were both so keyed up and excited that neither of us remember it very clearly AT ALL. Make of this what you will; in 2016, with ubiquitous HD cameras in everyone's pockets, getting a reference clip of that bit oughta be dead easy.
posted by uberchet at 12:21 PM on August 8, 2016

Totally not worth it. Spent what was a lot of money for us at the time, on a reception to keep the future inlaws happy. Everyone left pretty much straight after they ate. Hubby was happy his parents where happy though so for him it was worth it for me it was a pain in the neck to organise & arrange for a bunch of ungrateful people that barely said 2 words to me, scarfed down all the food, ate the parts of the wedding cake before the official wedding cake cutting. Drank all the wine or took the unopened bottles with them as they all ran out the door.

The only person that talked to me all night was my husband or the 2 members of my family that actually made the wedding, was a distant workfriend of my husbands.

Yes I am still bitter as fuck. . .elope. Actually we had a courthouse ceremony months earlier for immigration purposes & my husband wanted a church blessing. I much preferred the courthouse wedding with chinese take out afterwards & would highly recommend it.
posted by wwax at 12:35 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

My husband and I got married last year. We had basically one of the smallest weddings you can possibly do - it was just us, and 4 of our closest family members. We had the county judge marry us in the park outside the courthouse. My one bridesmaid and me held flowers I picked up from Safeway that morning. The lady in the store did them beautifully and I loved them. All told, it cost us a couple hundred. That includes the marriage license/judge fees, and afterwards we all went out to dinner at a nice restaurant. We do not regret this in the slightest. We both look back on that day as one of our happiest, and we are so happy that we didn't start our marriage by going into debt.

Now - whether this is a waste for you totally depends on your values and priorities as a couple. My husband and I never even really considered a large wedding - it just wasn't something we wanted.

Do you want to buy a house, have a bunch of kids, have money for travel, etc. etc? Then spending 30K on a wedding is probably not what you want to do. But, if you've both always wanted something large, and you can afford it, then go for it. Just - make sure you guys do what you both want, not what your family or friends want or expect. The day should be about you two, the commitment you are making to each other, and your marriage. The day should not be about what everyone else wants. And fuck anyone who tries to get you to do something you don't want. This is your day - the BOTH of you. Do what makes you happy, and is within your budget. Absolutely do NOT go into debt for a wedding though.

Good luck and CONGRATS!
posted by FireFountain at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Married ten years ago, about 50-70 guests. Happy to have spent money on catering and cake; both of them were delicious and we still talk about it. Unhappy to have spent money on our photographer, but it may just have been the one we got; he was not that good (he took exactly one picture of groom and family, and it's terrible, people blinking, looking wrong way, etc) and it took us AGES to get our photos back, several people who ordered them never received them, etc.

If I had to do it over I'd spend more money than I did on the musicians - we hired an internet acquaintance who was part of a string quartet to do the ceremony music (had barely spoken to her before or since), and because I am a music nerd I heard every single wrong note coming down the aisle and it grated. I should have either used a CD or gotten someone I knew better and paid more money for it.
posted by agress at 12:46 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, I would say first sit down with your fiance and do some serious thinking of what your ideal wedding would be without thinking about budget. Think about what your top priorities would be. Then think about what you have available to comfortably spend without going into debt, and see how you can reconcile that ideal wedding with your priorities and your budget.

For example, I know some people for whom their ideal wedding was eloping or a very small gathering, and that's really truly what they preferred regardless of cost. Great! Their weddings were probably cheaper than ours, and they were really happy so that is awesome. For my husband and me, we have a lot of close family and friends and for us it was a priority to have those people there to be part of our committment to each other. But, also those people lived all around the country and would be travelling to celebrate with us, so we knew we needed to feed them more than punch and cookies. :) We ended up going with a local restaurant that we love rather than a formal caterer, and also making the decision to only serve beer or wine rather than doing an open bar, which helped us keep our budget smaller, but at the same time I still felt the food and beverage bill was a LOT of money. That said, I would never have wanted to have a wedding without "our people" there -- so the cost was worth it to me. If I'd spent that money on a really expensive dress, it would have not been worth it because I don't care that much about fashion and most wedding dresses look horribly uncomfortable to me (I ended up with an inexpensive non-traditional wedding dress that made me really happy). For some people, I can totally see it being the opposite -- they've always dreamed of a specific gown and that's what will truly make them happy, but they hate big crowds so it would not be worth it to pay for dinner for 150 people.

Basically I think it's all about figuring out what would make YOU happy, what's most important TO YOU, and then figuring out how you can get those things given the amount of money you can reasonably afford. I don't regret any of the money we spent for our wedding, because we spent it on the things we really cared about (really tasty food/drinks for a large number of guests, photos, paying travel expenses for some guests who wouldn't have been able to afford the trip otherwise) and not on the things we didn't care about (flowers, dress/shoes, fancy invitations). I can imagine spending the exact same amount of money but really regretting it if we'd spent it on things we didn't really care about.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:50 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

NB: I am a lifelong spinster, but maybe that gives me a certain outside perspective on sharing my RL friends' experiences.

The only times I've known people to truly regret having a wedding was when things weren't really right between the couple and the marriage ended up being unhappy and not lasting.

The weddings that were the most enjoyable both for the couple and the guests are the ones where whoever was planning focused on the things they really enjoyed and not so much on things other people expected of them.

I don't know if your family is anything like this, but whenever somebody gets married the first question on everybody's lips is, "What can I do to help?" Someone will be able to, say, get a good rate on the Masonic hall or VFW, someone else will be good at decorating cakes, someone else plays the piano, etc. At the very least, people are generally willing to spread tablecloths and make centerpieces.

There's an old saying that goes, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." As long as you have it to spend, I think the same thing can be applied to money or other resources, in the name of bringing your loved ones together to share your joy.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:58 PM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

We had a big, expensive (for us), somewhat traditional wedding, but we did not go into debt and were very fortunate to have a ton of family connections to lean on. We are not at all religious, and I had wanted a small courthouse ceremony, but my husband very much wanted an excuse to bring our geographically separate families and friends together in one place, because he couldn't imagine it happening for any other reason. I think he was 100% correct, and despite the cost and stress, I do not regret my wedding. It was a great party, and because we'd been somewhat nomadic in the years leading up to the big day, publicly affirming our union in front of our collected loved ones was surprisingly meaningful for me. We had a wonderful time, and other people still remember it fondly years later, even trivial details, like the dessert we served.

I will add that although the wedding was local to my family, it was not local to us or most of our wedding party, so planning the wedding from 3000 miles away really beefed up my conflict management and general event planning skills, skills which have served me well on number of occasions, both personal and professional.

My brother had a tiny courthouse ceremony about a year after our wedding, and I think that was probably the right choice for him too. He's had to field a lot of grief from family members who were disappointed he didn't have a big wedding, but he was able to buy a house right afterwards, which made him very happy. I think he regrets not having any photos, and I regret not getting more sleep the night before our wedding, but I think we're both satisfied with the choices we made, and we both have, I think, pretty happy marriages.

A wedding doesn't make a marriage, but whatever you do should be right for you and your betrothed.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:01 PM on August 8, 2016

Our wedding was relatively expensive (although considered cheap to mid-range for our area...) and I do not regret it at all. My parents generously gifted us a lump sum which ended up being about 1/3 of our budget and we saved up the rest ourselves, so no going into debt for it.

We live in a different city to 95% of our friends/family (who are scattered around the US and UK) so it meant a lot to us to be able to host a really nice weekend for everyone to catch up, meet each other, etc. I can't think of a single cost area where I wish I had spent less. In fact I might be one of the crazy people who wishes I had spent more - we actually came in "under budget" to what we expected to spend and I wish we had thrown that leftover money at some extra nice things for our guests that I half meant to do but didn't have time to organize.

In my experience, these questions about what is "expensive" and what is "worth it," for weddings, are absolutely fraught with judgement and smugness (on both sides) and not understanding things like regional differences or the cost of time/emotional labor or family expectations or the availability of help. I second A Practical Wedding, mentioned above, as a great resource for looking through all sorts of weddings and some level-headed and judgement free commentary.
posted by cpatterson at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

TLDR: Have a big wedding, but do it on the cheap.

I will add: Do not borrow to cover it and if you have a few $10k in the bank to cover a big shindig, buy a house or stocks and bonds instead.

I eloped. My wedding was under $300. The biggest wedding I ever personally attended ended in divorce like a year later, before the debts for it could be paid off. So, I looked up studies for you because I am a cranky, curmudgeonly anti-wedding-ist to the max.
posted by Michele in California at 1:34 PM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

My husband and I chose to spend almost no money on our wedding. A friend of the family who is a judge married us. We went out to a beautiful private spot in the desert. Only immediate family were invited. Afterwards we had a lovely meal at a fancy restaraunt. My Dad was our photographer. It was PERFECT (for us) and we have always been glad we avoided the pressure to have a big, expensive wedding.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I just want to add, btw, that my large wedding that I regretted was, objectively, very nice. The rabbi was lovely, the flowers looked great, no drunken guests, the food was good, etc. I don't regret it because anything went wrong. It pretty much went off without a hitch. I regret it because I could have done something so much more useful with that money than throw a big party.
posted by holborne at 1:41 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm from a culture that spends an absurd amount of money on weddings, so that kind of colours my perspective on weddings. That said, absolutely the most important thing is to figure out what YOU want, and go from there. For instance, I know I want a teeny wedding, with just a couple of witnesses, but I'd likely splurge on a videographer so people who can't attend can still see the ceremony if they want to. (I have family on four continents and several elderly relatives. This is a much more sensible expenditure FOR ME than, say, flowers or a shitload of expensive-but-ugly jewellery.)

I recommend reading A Practical Wedding and using the worksheets in the book to a) figure out what, exactly, you want out of your wedding, and b) how to get there in a way that makes sense to you. It's (fingers crossed) a once-in-a-lifetime occasion and one of the best days of your life, so you do you!
posted by Tamanna at 1:42 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

We eloped to Iceland with a handful of friends and threw a reception for about 60 upon our return. Our primary expenses were photographers, catering, and table/chair rental - all of which were carefully considered and super worth it. Second tier expenses like flight upgrades, our lodging and transportation, etc were comparable to what you might have for a regular vacation. We had invitations letterpressed, could have used a cheaper printing option but ours came out great.

Having solid photographers was critical, they scouted locations for us and worked with us to plan an itinerary for the day of the wedding. About a month later we had our photos - we were worried because our close friends had a wedding last November and are still waiting on their final edits and their wedding video.

Notable things we opted not to do:
- Use an 'official' wedding venue; we borrowed a friend's river house and went early to set it up, along with ensuring our catering and party rental would provide everything they needed to perform. This sounds a little "free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can't" but we had three or four friends who offered their farmhouse/property/river house since we were planning something less traditional on a budget - not being constrained by needing lodging on site or a big dance hall opened up possibilities.
- Hire a DJ or a band; we built a LONG playlist on Spotify and plugged into some speakers. We're not the dancing type so we didn't need those accoutrements.
- Photographers or a photo booth at the reception; our venue was picturesque enough and everyone has a camera in their pocket.
- Fresh flowers; we made small ceramic planters and asked a friend to plant succulents in them, which we placed on the tables and everyone got to take one home.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:45 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Got married last year, cost $7000 or so, with added costs because everyone had to travel to the venue (although it wasn't super far). I don't regret it, it was completely wonderful and spending a third of that on food was 100% the right call, but, and this is going to sound silly, I wish we had spent less on cake. We didn't even spend that much in the grand scheme of things, but by cake time I wasn't even hungry and really I only had the one bite that my husband fed me. And it was . . . cake, nothing special. AND we ended up having to dump all the extra cake on my husband's family because we had to turn around and leave and they were staying at the beach house for another 4 days. Should have gotten a sheet cake from the grocery store and saved $200 . . .

Incidentally, I feel the same way about the flowers. For all the joy I got out of them: meh!
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:13 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wedding: outdoor, low-stress, DIY, buffet of restaurant-takeout catering on rented chafing dishes with "nice" plastic plates. 100 people, $3-4000. Could not have been any lower-budget, really, given our constraints. It was a lot of fun, I very much enjoyed the day, as did my friends and family. My aunts went to weddings for 4 of us cousings in a 5-year span, and they talked about how each wedding was really different but perfectly suited to each of us.

There are some things that in retrospect, I see someone else doing a great job of and I kind of wish I'd had. Photos for one - I don't think of us as a very photogenic couple and we did a lot of group shots with various families, but very few "photoshoot" poses, so there's not a romantic photo on my desk at work, for example. If I could time-travel and fix one thing, it would be to hire a real photographer instead of saying yes to my friend who was launching into photography semi-professionally but had not done weddings at all.

I've had moments of wishing we'd splurged on the cake a bit more; I did made us a personalized cake topper, so nobody remembers the actual cake anyway, but when I see photos of the topper, they also include the basic acceptable cake with slightly wobbly decor lines from the low-end bakery on the corner. But I know that bothers nobody but me.

I still love my $350 dress that is not silk or high-end fabrics or even tailored to fit me since it was good enough off the rack (from a standard big-box-bridal place) I see photos and my hair looks great in some of them and a bit weird in others, but one of the things I wanted was to look like myself not like a bridal magazine model. I did my own hair and makeup, but it's only now years later that I can actually see why you might want to hire someone. On the other hand, an excellent photographer would have solved that problem by giving me so many photos of my good hair moments that I wouldn't care about the less-good ones.

We did have a friend take video, but I am not a video-watching type, I honestly don't care and I either have never watched it, or we watched it once soon after. I forget.

Anyway, all these choices were absolutely perfect for us at the time, and it's only now that I'm making 2x my previous salary that I can afford to wish I'd done anything differently.
posted by aimedwander at 2:17 PM on August 8, 2016

Here's how I figured it. I've been to, say, 30 weddings in my adult life so far. And although I bought gifts and sometimes traveled, I didn't pay for those weddings, but I did benefit from the time spent with friends and family in a lovely atmosphere with flowers and food and wine and dancing.

When it came my turn, I threw the wedding and it cost some money (maybe around $22k for 135 people, almost 10 years ago - this wedding would cost more today for sure) - we had a good time, it was everything I could have wanted in real life. When I amortize the cost of my wedding over the weddings that I and my spouse have gone to and will go to, I think in broad strokes it was worth it. Luckily, we had some money saved and our families pitched in, so it wasn't a hardship. I also planned my wedding in the city I live in and felt good about supporting local individuals who go on to spend money in my community. So.
posted by vunder at 2:25 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

My sister and I planned her wedding 10 years ago and DIYed as much as we could while still creating a traditional event (budget was about 20K for 130 guests - we did flowers, decorations, wedding cake, and rehearsal dinner ourselves; catering, venue rental, open wine and beer bar were the big ticket items; and photographer, DJ, and wedding dress were procured at waaaay under retail prices.) It was still very expensive considering the extraordinary amount we did ourselves. Even though it was fun and beautiful, it wasn't worth the stress or the money. When it came time for me to get married, we did City Hall and went and had champagne and food at a famous hotel with sweeping views. No stress and very budget friendly.

It's a tremendous amount of money to spend on one day that will fly by like a whirlwind even if you're not stressed and overwhelmed by the whole thing. Absolutely do not go into debt to throw a party.
posted by quince at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

we have always been glad we avoided the pressure to have a big, expensive wedding

I think this is a key element. It's hard to enjoy yourselves if the only reason for the celebration is because someone else thinks it should happen.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:43 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'll say, from a slightly different perspective, that as someone who has seen number of weddings at a huge variety of price points up close, there is a strong, direct connection between how much I have enjoyed being a part of the wedding and the overall cost of the wedding. In my experience, the more expensive the wedding is, the more of a miserable stressfest it becomes for everyone involved. As the cost spirals up, and more vendors become involved, the stakes on small choices are raised dramatically and anxiety levels skyrocket.

It's also important to note that expensive weddings tend to become expensive for everyone involved - your wedding planner will pressure you to have your bridesmaids choose more expensive dresses; your guests will feel more pressure to spend money on their outfits if they're attending a black tie event, etc.

My advice to you is to set a very low budget for your wedding and do something small and informal - and then to feel happy when you've got the cash to, say, fly in a relative who otherwise might not be able to come, or to buy your way out of a last-minute catering disaster without feeling overly stressed about it.

posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I didn't read all the answers, but I'll chime in. I'd say we had an expensive wedding given the number of people who attended. (Almost $40k for 75 attendees in Orange County, CA)

I don't regret spending the money if you have enough to float it and not go into your emergency savings or debt. The reason is this: we picked vendors who we liked and trusted to do a good job, without having to do a whole bunch of price comparison because of budget. The whole day and the planning process leading up to the day went smoothly because I believe we paid for good customer service and reputation. All the vendors were on time (or early), super professional, and very familiar with the venue. The catalyst was probably a unique and pricey venue who had a list of preferred vendors. I'd say they were preferred for a reason. And they all worked well with each other.

We didn't set out to spend a crapton of money, but it did sort of end up that it was $1k here and $2k there and it added up in the end. But i am forever grateful that everything went smoothly and completely stress-free. (The total opposite of vendor horror stories you read online)
posted by watch out for turtles at 3:16 PM on August 8, 2016

there is a strong, direct connection between how much I have enjoyed being a part of the wedding and the overall cost of the wedding

In my experience this is true of lavish weddings where the expense is conspicuous, but at least here in California, those 'casual and charming' weddings all still cost a ton. The DIY/everyone helps out weddings have been exhausting and stressful sometimes.
posted by vunder at 3:24 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

We set a budget - way higher than I would have set had all three sets of parents not wanted to chip in for a bigger wedding than I would have planned left to my own devices, but still high end of average at the time we were married. We stuck to that budget, fiercely. We set priorities (like, we wanted a nice cake but didn't care much about the flowers) and skimped on the things that didn't matter so we could enjoy the things that did. Had we gone into debt for that day, I would have regretted it. It was definitely worth it to have the rite of passage, shared with our families and friends, but keeping it in a manageable budget was part of why it was not so stressful an experience. It also helped to keep in mind that the wedding and the marriage are not the same thing. That made us able to focus on what aspects of the wedding actually mattered to us.

(I've long joked that I can throw a great party with time or with money, but I've got to have one of the two.)
posted by AliceBlue at 4:02 PM on August 8, 2016

My wedding was tiny in terms of guest list but not budget. We turned down financial assistance from family and planned something meaningful for us and those we are close to, about $8k. I have no regrets.

We spent money on stuff that mattered to us: treating beloved family and friends to excellent food, and doing something fun together. We didn't have bridesmaids/groomsmen, or decorate beyond having a floral centerpiece at dinner, and I bought a dress (not a gown) off the rack and my fella wore a suit he already owned. We had 12 guests for the wedding itself, and 40 for a reception the next day. The ceremony and a post-ceremony dinner was at a swanky waterfront restaurant, and the reception was at a glass-blowing studio (hands on, everyone made something) catered by a mobile wood-fired pizza oven. We had a photographer for about an hour at each event and the only DIY was bringing our own alcohol and homemade pie for the reception dessert.
posted by esoterrica at 4:14 PM on August 8, 2016

This is my wedding writeup on A Practical Wedding. It was a lot-ish to us, though we already own a small apartment, make decent money, and our parents gave us maybe 1/3 of the cost. It was worth it for sure: the food was great, the photographer was great, the drinks were great and free for all our friends, and my flowers were so great and are dried at home and even though I started off thinking flowers were ridiculous, I do not regret them. We saved by not having dancing and by having only 40 people. Anyways, there is a ton more about the decisions we made and why I still feel like they were right in that link.

One thing I do want to mention here is to be careful about people who seem to have cheap! effortless! weddings and pressure you may feel because of that. I scoured wedding sites and basically if a wedding is super cheap, it is because the couple has access to resources you may not — and you shouldn't feel bad about paying for them. If you have to pay for a venue because your parents don't have a summerhouse on an island or a huge backyard or you don't want to force people to camp for you or whatever — that is ok; you aren't being wasteful or spoiled. If you would rather spend a year eating ramen and wearing a sack than have a cash bar at your wedding (and trust me I would) — that is legit. And if you don't want to spend a million years making paper flowers, Jesus H Christ, don't. But do start looking for dresses at David's, cause snobbery aside that shizz was great.

And congrats!
posted by dame at 7:39 PM on August 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

Uh, sorry, I am obviously obsessed with how terrible cash bars are.
posted by dame at 7:41 PM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

No, it's not worth it.
posted by a strong female character at 8:11 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wanted to have a potluck-in-the-backyard wedding, but was vetoed by a parent who then paid for a considerably fancier shindig. And the wedding turned out awesome, but I bet it would have been awesome in the backyard too.

People have different feelings about this, but I think two parts of a wedding are magic. The gathering (it's so great to see all those people in one room, even though you don't get to spend hardly any time with any of them), and the ceremony -- the promising, the reading of poems, singing of songs, tying of wrists, breaking of glasses etc. So if I were in a position to get married again, I might shell out big money for plane tickets for people I loved who couldn't come otherwise. But for fancy venues, food, clothes, rings? Nope!
posted by hungrytiger at 9:04 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's such a difficult question to answer because only you and your fiancé can know what it means to you emotionally whether to have a large wedding or not.

It also really depends on where you are financially in life, and what your financial goals are.

In our case, it was super important to my husband and to his family particularly to have a large wedding. We tried to keep it on the simpler side but we spent $10K. Okay, everyone got their emotional needs met. Great. We already owned a house at that point. Great. We did not go into debt. Great.

But the thought of spending the equivalent of the down payment on a home if we didn't already have one on a party instead would have a total non-starter for me. Same with going into debt for a party. No way.

So you guys need to be honest with yourselves and with each other about your emotional needs both around the wedding day and around what your financial goals are and go from there.
posted by vignettist at 12:14 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

NO! Do what feels right for you. It's just one day. And just to say, your wedding day should not be the best day of your life. If it is, you're not doing marriage right (don't get me wrong, marriage is tough, but if it peaks at the start? That's not how it's supposed to be.)
posted by finding.perdita at 2:24 AM on August 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think that maybe you can refine the question a little bit.
So, is an expensive wedding worth it, the answer is.. maybe? Because as you point out, expensive can mean a lot of different things and wedding can mean a lot of different things.

Instead ask yourself more specifics:
(there are no wrong answers to these)
Is it worth it to me to spend a lot on the venue? (do you really hanker after a wedding in a castle on a lake?)
Is it worth it to hire expensive caterers?
Is it worth it to invite everyone I've ever known or do I only want close family / dearest friends?
Is it worth it for me to uphold my traditions? (maybe your particular culture has traditions and there is social cost to ignore that)
and so on and on.

And when you consider each of these questions, when it starts to feel expensive is the point where it is worth it to you.
If you find that you've always wanted to get married in a castle with a million guests, then.. maybe it doesn't feel expensive to you.

For my wedding we decided we wanted to invite a reasonably large amount of people, but also that it was important to us that they all had as much food and drink as they could eat and or drink. So to me the food wasn't expensive and the drink wasn't expensive.
Early on we decided we didn't care about an elegant venue, so when we went to look at one and they pointed out seat coverings and table dressings, those felt expensive to us.

But the key thing is, don't think of it as a wedding, whole and actual, think of it as the specific things that make it up, and see what they mean to you.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:17 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of great advice above, but I'll share my two cents as someone who's getting married in less than 60 days. We (mid-30s, financially comfortable introverts) talked about having a Tiny Wedding - think 15 people in a park, immediate families and best friends only. We weren't comfortable with spending "a lot" (whatever that means) on a wedding. But the more we talked about it, the sadder I got at the thought of having to pick and choose among aunts and old friends.

So we scaled up - to a 70ish person wedding, in a public park/pavilion, with BBQ catering, an iPod playlist, and all our families coming from near and far. Though it's a lot of work, so far, I'm very excited about sharing the day with the people who have been most important to us, from childhood friends and cousins to the friends we see regularly now. It's not cheap - we had hoped to stay under $5k, but realistically, we'll end up closer to $7k - but we can cover it entirely out of savings without really affecting our other priorities.

I heartily recommend the "A Practical Wedding" recommendation. Reading it helped me shift my mind and say "no" to the things I really do care about, and made me confident enough in my decisions that I can tell my mom, "No, I'm not having a bridal party/doing wrist corsages for the grandmas/giving out favors/sending formal save-the-dates," or other stuff we don't care about. It also helped my fiance and I talk through our assumptions about what's important to us, what we've liked at weddings we've attended, etc - and there were fortunately on the same page about many things. We are splurging on a decent photographer (not super high-end, but not a kid building a portfolio), because it's SO RARE that family gets together in one place. And be willing to negotiate - in the photographer case, we knew we didn't want 2 photographers for a 12 hour commitment, which is often billed as the "standard" wedding package, so we got one great photographer for 6 hours who will be there for the ceremony and most of the reception, which is all we really need.

Another thought: We've been engaged nearly a year, but really only began planning our October wedding in June. Doing so on a compressed timeline has simplified things quite a bit by limiting our choices. We narrowed it down to a few weekends in Sept/Oct, then called around and found a couple good venue options, picking the second one we visited. Several photographers were already booked, but the one who had recently done a friend's wedding had a cancellation, so we scooped him up. The Wedding Industrial Complex will tell you that you need a year+ and $15k+ to plan a wedding. You don't, not at all. Just decide what matters to you, and stick to your guns.

Congratulations, and good luck!
posted by writermcwriterson at 7:27 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

We did not spend a lot on our wedding and were so thankful we didn't. We rented a house on Cape Cod with a large yard by the ocean. I cooked. We rented tables and chairs. We got their two days earlier and decorated. Instead of a cake we got cupcakes. The ceremony was at a lighthouse nearby. We requested no gifts to make it easier for people to come. Music was through an ipod playlist and we did a karaoke thing that we set up. All of this, for us, was perfect. I hate expensive wedding bands, food, venues, etc. Our wedding was much more special and fun without that. The one splurge we made was on a photographer... who took horrible pictures. Thank God our friends took pictures too which we made into an album. We had about 40 people there. Perfect day.
posted by xammerboy at 8:14 AM on August 9, 2016

I should point out that we didn't compromise on anything. We could not have had a better venue, food, music, etc. I'll also admit some satisfaction on not going broke.

Also, DO HAVE A WEDDING of some kind. It really is a special and deeply meaningful day. It means something to share your commitment with family and friends. I smiled so much that day my face hurt after.
posted by xammerboy at 8:17 AM on August 9, 2016

I've been a part time wedding photographer for the past 10 years. I've done 30 person weddings, and 450 person weddings celebrated over 3 days.

The expense doesn't seem to me to be a big factor in how much the couple appreciate and enjoy the wedding. I see two factors:

Make the wedding yours. I've done a number of weddings where the couple's family seems to be driving the bus. Giant extended families arrive who the bride and groom don't know. Tables of parents' work friends, a church the couple don't belong to (but their parents do), a officiant who thinks the wedding is about them, speeches by people who barely know the bride and groom. The list goes on. Don't do this stuff. Its your party, make it yours. Include the people who matter to you. Your parents had their wedding. You get yours. Pick the size you want, the venue you want, the dress you want, the music you want, etc. Write your own vows, if you can. It's not about what a wedding ought to be, it's about what your wedding will be.

The people who come to your wedding are guests. The bad weddings I've done almost always have the ceremony at like 2pm in one part of the city, and the dinner at like a golf course 90 minutes away that doesn't start until 6. The out of town guests look around after the ceremony and try to figure out what to do with themselves for 3 hours. Don't do that. Your guests are your guests. Make it easy for them to enjoy themselves. Ceremony at 4 or 5, cocktails, dinner at 6. All at one location. Tight, short speeches by people who really know you. Either open bar or subsidized booze. A venue near transit, if possible. The 10pm taco/noodle/sliders thing is a hit every time I've seen it. It helps people reenergize and stay a bit later. Throw the kind of wedding you'd want to go to as a guest, even if you barely knew anyone.

The two factors conflict sometimes, I get that. It's not always easy to navigate. Taking family money makes it more difficult. (This is a HUGE argument for making it less expensive.) Having a really big family makes it difficult. Try writing some stuff down as early in the process as possible before you start to get calls from friends and family about what you should do. The two factors above tend to lead to less expensive, smaller weddings.

If I could nuke the destination wedding from orbit, I would. Inevitably, no matter how well you think you know the guests there will be people who will make the trip despite not really having the time or money to do it. And they won't tell you how big a sacrifice it is to them. Be mindful that doing one may prompt others in your social circle to do them, too. How many do you want to go to in the next few years? It's hard to say no when they came to yours.

Think about how you celebrate with your friends and family now. Birthdays, New Year's etc. Does it cost a lot of money? Is it formal?
posted by thenormshow at 8:43 AM on August 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

Just a note about spending money on me, a basic professional photographer is going to do way better than I or a friend would do, and the incredibly artsy fine points were not anything I would notice, and therefore not worth paying for. But to an artist's eye, maybe that would be totally worth it! The main thing I would make sure you're getting if you spend a lot of money on a photographer is the ACTUAL PHOTOS. Often you're paying just for the person for the day and then actually getting the digital files is a whole extra cost. I really wanted to own the photos afterwards, and that's often expensive. So make sure you price out all the details to compare. Congrats and good luck!
posted by reksb at 9:37 AM on August 9, 2016

We're in the throes of this right now and I'm learning that what I may have originally wanted (backyard potluck ceremony OR private elopement OR courthouse + restaurant for family) are not options at all. Don't beat yourselves up about it if your life circumstances don't permit these popularly charming DIY cheap options. For us, it's that we don't own or have easy access to a large home with a large lawn. And my fiance has kids from his previous marriage that we want to include. That's non-negotiable. And with the rest of our immediate family, it's more than 20 people, and I will absolutely not consider a family-only (no friends?!) wedding so here we are with 100+ guests on the list.

Even if you want to do it cheap, you should probably round up on everything. The big fixed costs here in Western North Carolina, like venue ($3,000-8,000), furniture/fixtures/tent/lighting/electronic rentals ($3,000), and catering ($2,500-15,000) need to be chunked out before things get optional. I can't contemplate photography, dresses, rings, flowers, favors, DJ, booze, or cake yet.

So currently, I'm feeling bummed out every day that even the cheapest option is so much more expensive than I thought. It's not a matter of going extravagant, but of spending the bare minimum to have all your people there and feed them and give them a place to sit. I'm crossing my fingers that it will be worth it, and I am thankful to you for asking this question. And will be following the thread with interest! PS CONGRATULATIONS!!!!
posted by witchen at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2016

If you want to take the cynical perspective, the main reason weddings are so expensive today—when they used to be small, quick, cheap affairs about 100 years ago—is because early retail stores figured out that aspirational marketing aimed at non-wealthy people is very effective:
posted by a strong female character at 12:34 PM on August 9, 2016

I just got married last weekend so I'm still feeling a lot of the honeymoon buzz, and oddly none of the buyer's remorse. Our wedding was 150 people and definitely felt expensive. It was very much worth it, but I know that I feel that because we didn't sacrifice a lot to have it. I agree with a lot of the advice already given in this thread:

- don't go into debt for your wedding
- don't setback any of your other goals around buying a house or paying off student loans
- have a clear idea about what you want and why you want to have a wedding
- know the -minimum- viable version of the wedding that you want to have and make decisions on what to spend on based on how it adds to that minimum.

Specifically, you should realize that you don't need to spend a lot of money to be married. That's just a thing you can do at the courthouse with a few friends. That's a reason for elopement. That's great and totally valid. When my spouse and I first talked about getting married, she essentially advocated for elopement, but we both also had a wide and interesting collection of friends and family that were scattered around the world, and a wedding would've been a perfect reunion for them; and that was the main reason why we went this route.

You should choose a wedding if you want to have a party. You should decide what that party should be, and you shouldn't let anyone else tell you that you're doing it wrong. Don't think of a wedding as a bunch of traditions that straitjacket you into doing a bunch of things a certain way, but of a big celebration where you're permitted to indulge in things that you've wanted to do. Don't like flowers? Don't hire a florist. Always dreamed of having a big dinner with crazy floral centerpieces, but felt like those flowers would be over the top? Nothing is ever over the top for a wedding. You do all of you.

For us, the big objective was to get all of our friends and family together in one place and facilitate a hundred new introductions and dozens of new Facebook friend requests and Twitter followers. We basically had a destination wedding weekend in our home city: Friday night cocktail reception, Saturday ceremony followed by buffet lunch reception, Saturday evening house party, Sunday pay-for-yourself farewell breakfast. Priority was on food, drinks, and being able to afford multiple events.

Our minimum vision was to get 150 people together for quality time on the weekend, with priority on involving people from out-of-town rather than including more in-town people. Having an event like a potluck after party at a house with no guest limit helped with bridging in more in-town people into our gathering, but we specifically added it because it wasn't a huge stretch for our budget, and we were lucky to have generous friends with an acre lot, a huge yard, and a bunch of other friends willing to carpool strangers. For our Friday cocktail reception, we just did a small batch of drink tickets so that people did feel taken care of, but could also buy themselves one or two more drinks for not a lot more money if they wanted to continue carousing.

We skimped on the ceremony itself, getting the cheapest tent that would fit our guests for an outdoor event, DIYing the decorations and A/V, and having a friend officiate. People weren't there for an opulent ceremony. They were there to witness us being in love, and my bride and I could be happy and gushing with love in a phone booth if we had to. We also didn't do a wedding cake. I didn't bother with new clothes. She got her sister in law to design and craft her dress. She skipped hair and makeup. We went light on the flowers.

We were lucky in that we have a friend who was a former semi-pro wedding photographer, and she gifted us her services, so that saved us a bunch of cash, but we also didn't pay for a day of coordinator or wedding planner, because we were happy with planning it ourselves and had fun doing so. My Best Ma'am also loves being The Person With The Checklist and was happy to be our person in charge.

The wedding itself was epic, and fun, and just really amazing, largely because it was 150 of our genuinely favorite people gathered in one place, getting to meet each other and coming away with 10 new friends. We had no formal seating at the lunch reception, just a big pig roast, a bunch of vegetarian sides, a whole lot of chairs for people to mingle, and a generously open bar. That's what we wanted and that was all worthwhile, but we spent as much as we thought we needed for what we wanted, and we always held the line when the quotes were going to threaten things like our house down payment fund.

We did take some cash from our families, but as others have said, that can be fraught. Be clear with your parents about what they want for a wedding and why they want to support you. Letting them come into our event in partnership meant that we could push back a bit on traditions that they wanted but which we disagreed with, and that we could negotiate about guest list invites. We all found solutions that made each other happy, but remember that at the end of the day, the wedding is YOUR event, and any support you that you accept for it has to be aligned with what you want.

Also, nthing A Practical Wedding. Their variant articles on "Essential questions to ask a wedding venue" or "Essential questions for interviewing caterers" were great in helping us focus our initial search. Their budget spreadsheet was essential for our early planning. I used their Day Of Timetable spreadsheet to consolidate all of the notes and plans from our various vendors into one master timetable that I shared with all of them and our wedding party and everyone was all like, "OMG! That spreadsheet! So clutch! We've never worked with a wedding couple that was so good. And it made us feel like we were part of a real team." Their community definitely tilts to a certain type of indie wedding person, but all of their advice and tools are solid and universally useful.
posted by bl1nk at 6:45 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

oh, also for a wedding with as many moving parts as ours, it was amazingly stress free and fun, and for us that was because we had a very solid crew of family and friends backing us up. We picked our wedding party less because of sentimental reasons but more because they were reliable and willing to help with anything. I lost count of the number of times I thought of something that we had to do and found a friend who was already doing the thing because they knew the plan and they were just the sort of person who would just take care of it.

I think a lot of people have good points about how big budgets breed complexity, which leads to stress, but in my one bit of experience, it's possible to reduce stress by just making good early decisions about who you'll involve in the wedding planning, and being ruthlessly pragmatic about it. Less of the best friend who's known you since you were 5, but is a bit of a flake, and more of the person you'd rather have with you when the zombie apocalypse hits.
posted by bl1nk at 7:09 PM on August 9, 2016

I had a very nice (to me) wedding, with 120 people, including friends and family that I don't get to see very often. It would have been expensive if I had had to pay for it, but family picked up the bill. While I loved the venue, flowers, and food, I don't think it was worth the money. In fact, I can't imagine a wedding expensive enough to make it qualify for the happiest day of my life. I'd rather go to the Galagos or see the Pyramids. Or buy plane tickets to spend quality time with the wedding guests. Weddings go by too fast!

posted by pizzazz at 4:16 PM on August 15, 2016

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