I’m a pretty frugal guy. I call myself “financially efficient,” but my wife calls me “cheap.” I own an inexpensive car that gets great gas mileage and I do as many home repairs as possible to save on costs.
When my wife and I first got engaged in 2015 and started the wedding planning process, I started freaking out as our wedding budget kept ratcheting up… and up… and up. Getting married in Maine is a relatively good value because the costs of Maine wedding venues and professional vendors are lower than others in New England. But even in Maine, the average wedding costs over $30,000, or something around $150-200 per guest. Here is a recent blog post on the cost of Maine weddings.
“Why the hell are weddings so expensive?” I asked her. “Can’t we do something cheaper?”
Well, after marrying my wonderful bride in the wedding of our dreams, I can finally answer these questions. But first, here are some common objections:
1. Let’s just get married at a church and then take our guests to a restaurant!
If you’ve ever picked up the tab for your friends at a decent restaurant, after appetizers, entrees, dessert, alcoholic beverages, and tip, you’re at $60-80 a person. But remember that when you go to a restaurant, you’re sharing the space with lots of strangers, you can only stay while you’re eating, and there’s no dance floor, DJ, or fun party afterward. Also, no restaurant is going to take a reservation for 150 guests – they just don’t have the kitchen staff to handle that many simultaneous orders. So if you want your reception at a restaurant, you’ll have to rent out the whole place for 4-8 hours, and no restaurant will do that without a hefty fee or guaranteed minimum. For example, Grace Restaurant in Portland is a beautiful location for wedding ceremonies and receptions, but you’ll have to drop $25,000 or more in food and beverage to guarantee the spot.
2. Let’s forget the whole reception idea and just treat our guests to something fun!
Unfortunately, fun isn’t cheap. How about a day at Disney World? Oh – that’s $107 a ticket. How about a winter wedding and a day of skiing at a Maine resort? Well, lift tickets can run $95 a person and that doesn’t include rentals! How about some decent seats at a Red Sox game? $76 each?! And don’t forget, you’ll still have to feed everyone!
3. Hmmm. How about getting a cheap venue?
The problem is that a “cheap venue” often means the dated banquet room of a 2- or 3-star hotel, complete with fluorescent lighting and industrial carpet. Every venue has its own fixed and overhead costs, and the more a venue has invested in its ambiance and beauty, the more that venue must charge. Your wedding day is just one day, and your only keepsake will be memories and photographs. If you’re already spending many thousands of dollars to feed and entertain your guests, why not spend a few thousand more for an elegant venue and stunning photographs?
4. OK, well what about finding cheap vendors? My uncle once took a photography class, so he can be our photographer. My brother can bring an iPod to be our DJ, and we’ll find a cheap caterer.
I know it’s hard to believe – and again, I am speaking as a very frugal groom – but quality wedding vendors really do matter. Your wedding is just one day, so from a photography standpoint, you literally only have one shot. Your photographs are all that will remain after the champagne is spent is the sparklers are out, and an amateur photographer can really ruin some great photo ops.
A professional DJ does much more than play music. The DJ acts as the master of ceremonies, announcing the wedding party, first dances, and so forth, but also is responsible for making sure all your guests are having fun.
And a cheap caterer – well, you get what you pay for. Often the difference between a so-so or even bad meal and a really delicious meal might only be $10 a plate. So if you’re going to provide your guests with great entertainment in a beautiful venue, you may as well feed them well!
5. OK, then how about majorly trimming the guest list?
The average couple can name 200-400 people who are important in their lives – family members, friends, and coworkers – and trimming the list down to 150 or 200 is already difficult. A wedding is a social investment. It’s an opportunity to strengthen old friendships, reconnect with relatives, and dance and celebrate with your closest friends. But it’s also a business investment. Whether you’re looking for a new job, new clients, or just an opportunity for career growth within your current company, you’ll make and reinforce connections at your wedding that are good for you financially. The ties you make at your own wedding might open doors that are worth far more than your wedding costs.
So there you have it. The reason that weddings are so expensive is because they are fully personalized events in beautiful locations where you provide food, beverages, and entertainment to hundreds of friends and family members.
As a frugal guy who was always skeptical of the high costs of weddings, I can say three things with confidence about my wedding last year:
- It was expensive…
- It was the best day of my life…
- And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Here I am with my wonderful new wife at our wedding at the Agora Grand Event Center in Lewiston, Maine.