Why I’ll Never Have a Big Wedding

For as much as I love shows like Four Weddings and Say Yes to the Dress, as well as marathons of romantic comedies, I don’t think I’ll ever want to have a big wedding. (Valentine’s Day is over, so I’m allowed to say things like this now, right!?) Today, I hope you’ll let me explain why, without thinking I’m a total jerk.

First of all, I should say that my general feeling about weddings is that the event is full of “supposed to”s. If you get engaged, you’re supposed to have a wedding. You’re supposed to supply a meal and entertainment for your guests (and it would be nice if that included free, unlimited drinks). Your guests are supposed to bring gifts to any parties or showers leading up to the big day and, of course, one to your actual wedding. And you’re supposed to come out of this $26,984* event with some really great pictures to remember it by.

But, unless you have rich parents who are willing to help out, you’re also supposed to pay for this day yourself. And that’s where I feel a disconnect between wanting to create memories and what those memories could actually cost. I suppose that sounds ridiculous, right? The girl who once put $2,000 of furniture on her credit card can’t imagine saving up and forking out for a beautiful day with loved ones? But the new and much more practical me just doesn’t get it.

I’ve watched couples spend $900 on cupcakes you’d rather take pictures of than eat. And thousands on flowers that, yes, are beautiful, but wilt within a week. I’ve seen a cheque for a venue and catering that was so close to $20,000 I wanted to steal it and use it as a down payment on a condo. That’s when I knew that money would always be one of the deciding factors in whether or not I would have a wedding. And with good reason.

I live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, where you can hardly find a 2-bedroom home for under $400,000. If I saved $20,000 (which is difficult enough, when rent is so expensive) I would make myself use it as a down payment. I guess some people think (and may know from experience) that if you were to spend $20,000 on a wedding, you could end up with that much back in cash and gifts. But can you guess where that leaves you? Yep, right back where you started.

I can already feel you all wanting to tell me that you can plan a wedding for less than $20,000… and I’m sure that’s true! But if you want a big wedding – and I’m talking 130+ guests – your venue and catering costs are not going to be cheap. You can cut costs and DIY until your fingers bleed but a big wedding at a cheap price is not going to come easy (especially in Victoria, BC). And I just can’t imagine it will ever be a priority for me.

Now, does this mean I hate weddings? Not at all. The weddings I’ve been to that were for close family and friends have been beautiful, memory-filled days. And I think I would love to get married one day. But, if I’m being totally honest here, elopement feels much more… me. A simple ceremony followed by dinner with immediate family and close friends; that sounds about as romantic as it can get. No planning stress. No “supposed to”s. And since I wouldn’t be paying for a big venue or food for 130+ people, I could feel better about spending a few hundred dollars on a gorgeous dress.

Or I could always join the 24% who plan destination weddings, so I could make a vacation out of it. (In February, of course, to save everyone a few bucks.)

Do you hear that, future husband? We’re going to save thousands! ;)

wedding infographic

  • I definitely don’t plan on spending a lot, but I do want a wedding. I mainly want a wedding because I’m in a family that does nothing traditional and I would like to do something happy and that will hopefully bring everyone together.

    However, our wedding will be massive. The BF has around 200-300 family members of which he is REALLY close to. His whole family is really close and they all get together probably 50 times a year. So our wedding will obviously be huge. But we do want to get married on his grandmother’s property so that will cut our cost down a lot.

  • Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for posting this. Some days, I feel like the only girl in the world who feels this way! Like, how is it worth it to go into debt for ONE DAY? It just makes no sense to me. These families who pressure their kids into having opulent wedding days are basically encouraging them to start a new life together on shaky financial ground. I have never understood it. Plus, I feel like when you start telling yourself, “I need this” or “I deserve this” a day that should be about love and your future becomes incredibly egotistical.

    I worry because my boyfriend comes from a big family and has about a million close friends, so I just know wedding size/cost is going to be an issue. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but yes thank you for posting this. It feels weird to be a girl who doesn’t dream of an extravagant “big day” but I’d also much rather have a house.

    • Kate, my dad always tells me, “you better elope! I don’t want you wasting a penny.” So he agrees with us too. I do understand wanting a day that’s all about you and your love but I just don’t think it needs to come at a huge sticker price. A backyard BBQ would be just fine with me!

    • I’m with you both! I can’t imagine buying a dress that costs thousands of dollars that you’ll only be wearing for one day. The worst thing to hear on a wedding show is a bride saying “It’s MY day”… Ummm hello? What about the groom?! It’s about the both of you starting a life together, and last time I checked you BOTH are involved in the ceremony!

  • I’m generally of the opinion that weddings are extremely wasteful. It seems like such a ridiculous way to spend money. That said, I generally really enjoy attending weddings (and who doesn’t? you get to dress up, get a free dinner, and there’s an open bar).

    The only thing that’ll make me have any sort of wedding is I’m a sucker for tradition. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the event is a potluck in my grandparent’s backyard.

  • We didn’t have a big wedding. We decided we would rather have a big life than a big day. We didn’t stress or worry about the day. It is meant to be a celebration of love!

  • I hate destination weddings. 90% of the time they’re kind of tacky, but that’s not the issue – the issue is that lots of the people that want to be there can’t afford it! My cousin had one and my aunt couldn’t come because she couldn’t afford to take her six kids to Mexico. Her dad couldn’t even come because he’s on disability and couldn’t fly or afford it! It’s unfair to people that want to celebrate with the couple.

    On that note, I’d cry if my wedding cost more than $10000.

    • I don’t think it’s “unfair” to others. “Disappointing” for them might be a better word. I’ve had friends whom I would have loved to have seen get married, but they chose a private ceremony on a beach and I respected that! Most people don’t want to intentionally exclude anyone. There are lots of reasons for choosing a destination wedding.

      • Agreed. I don’t think there’s anything tacky about wanting to get married on a beach at sunset. And I think destination weddings are about as intimate as it gets. Am I sad I missed two of my best friends marry each other in 2008, because I couldn’t afford the trip? Of course. But I see them weekly and experience the love in their family every time I do.

    • No matter how hard you try to please, there will always be some aspects of everyone’s wedding that one person will find tacky. It might feel like it’s unfair to the people that want to celebrate with the couple, but it’s probably not intended to make people feel excluded. Destination weddings are generally cheaper than weddings at home, and for people that want a nice wedding on a budget it’s a great compromise.

  • Whoah whoah whoah, there are ‘Wedding Loans’ available?! I can’t believe I just read that. That is the most insane thing I have ever heard of.

    I am with you, I’m not a big wedding girl. I couldn’t imagine spending $26,000 on one day. I’d much rather have a simple to-do, bbq-barn-party type event should I ever get married. The only thing I wouldn’t want to cheap out on would be a photographer, the rest of it, whatever.

  • I got married over the summer and we managed to keep our budget to $10,000 (US dollars) even though we had 185 people. It took a TON of searching on the internet, but there are places out there that don’t try to charge you a ridiculous sum just because you’re having a wedding (seriously, most places will have a “party” price and a separate “wedding” price which is two to three times more even though it’s just a venue and they’re doing the same thing). In the end we found an awesome farm house in New Hampshire that let us rent out the place for the whole weekend, so the wedding party got to have a little vacation in New Hampshire, and we found a place nearby that had delicious barbeque to do the food on the cheap. Planning the wedding was completely insane and really stressful, but in the end we had a blast so it was totally worth it.

  • We had a 120 person wedding back in June of 08. Both sets of parents, but especially my mom, were insistent that we have a big shindig. Luckily both sets of parents split the cost (J & I only had to pay for our rehearsal dinner, which we held at our very favorite restaurant). We were extremely fortunate in that regard. But I would have rather been given a check and told to spend it how we wanted. I would have had a smaller wedding and kept the cash for a downpayment on a house. Oh well. We did have a lovely wedding! My mom planned pretty much the whole thing – and was thrilled to be given the reins – and we basically showed up and enjoyed it. I didn’t mind at all.

    We went to Greece in July 2010 for a good friend’s wedding. It was extremely expensive but it was the best trip we’ve taken thus far. Only 2 friends from each side were invited (plus spouses) and I think there were 15 people total who went. We bought our plane tickets and the bride’s father covered all lodging for the entire two weeks. That’s the only way we were able to afford to go. It still cost us $7500 but it was totally worth it! I would love to go back someday! (And we managed to save the money before we went, so we came back with not a penny of debt.)

    • Greece? Dang, A, that’s definitely on my bucket list! Even though the cost was high, a vacation like that is one-of-a-kind. Good for you two to save up for it.

      • Yeah, they got married in Santorini at sunset, overlooking the caldera, and it was just SO BEAUTIFUL. I was like “why didn’t *we* do this?!” I’ll email you a picture :]

        Santorini was on my bucket list, too, and the Parthenon was on J’s, so we figured we’d kill a few birds with one stone. We both definitely want to go back!

  • I got engaged recently and we are definitely leaning toward elopement of some sort. Neither one of us has ever wanted a big wedding, and we are not planners, to say the least. :) I know that some people will be disappointed, but we don’t want to spend that kind of money on one day. And we’re private people who dislike being the center of attention. It’s been enough pressure just being engaged–I don’t think I have the constitution for planning even a moderate-size wedding, to be honest! When I think about our ‘wedding,’ I keep coming back to: just the two of us on a beach in Southern California (a place we both love) or City Hall, perhaps with a barbeque reception in someone’s backyard.

    • Agreed. I’m all about a BBQ reception in my parents’ backyard. String lights around all the fruit trees, turn on some tunes… sounds pretty perfect.

  • we didn’t have a big wedding, not by choice though. and while i sometimes get a ping of regret thinking of all the things i didn’t have that i wanted, you eventually get over it, and remember that the marriage is more important than the wedding anyway.

    • Not sure if you were trying to argue that big weddings can be cheap but Kerry’s is what I would consider a very small wedding. That being said, it’s right up my alley. An intimate afternoon with family and friends? Sounds good to me.

  • This post has two of my favourite things: wedding shows and infographics! I love wedding shows, but I think exactly the way you do as far as the cost goes. I love gawking as people shell out thousands of dollars (and freak out when one little thing doesn’t go according to plan) for things they won’t even remember 20 years from now. Here in Edmonton, the average cost of an average house in a decent neighbourhood is $350K and if I managed to save up $35,000 I don’t think I could part with the majority on one day. It’s insane. And you’re right, you can DIY until your eyes go crossed but you need to value your time as well – would you rather spend 18 months and countless hours of your time putting together your own centrepieces or would you rather have a life and a quickie little wedding?

    Luckily my family is small, but if I were going to have a wedding I’d do it in a park near my childhood home and have the reception at my friend’s aunt’s restaurant. Done! However, I don’t think that would be super cheap either. The wedding industrial complex is a fickle mistress! A good read on the subject is “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding” by Rebecca Mead.

  • I had a big wedding on
    Y because it was what I was “supposed” to do. When I look back now I always wish we had just run off to Vegas and got married by Elvis. I know it sounds corny but that how we are. We aren’t interested in big to do’s so that kind of a wedding would be more us. The big wedding didnt feel right then and it still doesn’t 10 years later. If you want small, charming and quaint, then that’s is what you should have. And there should be no shame in that.
    By the way, I am a new reader of your site, and I get so excited when there is a new post. Love your writing style and admire your honesty. It’s already made it to the top of my favorites list. Thanks

  • Disclaimer: I’m the money-conscious one. He is the one that “hates budgets” and would rather increase income than decrease frivolous (IMO) spending. My fiancé and I are having a massive wedding (400 initial invitees, with 225 people on the 2nd and 3rd round invite lists). We began planning 2 years in advance, and as a couple we will be paying for it in full to the tune of $40,000 USD (NO credit or wedding loans for us). I couldn’t be more excited, and the only thing I’m coming to regret from this day is that we can’t afford to fly out our friends from around the states who can’t afford the airfare.

    It seems I feel the same way about being a homeowner as everyone else does about weddings. I don’t see shelling out a ton of money for home, plus the cost of decorating and upkeep, taxes, and a lengthy mortgage if you can’t pay all upfront, as something I’d ever do. I’d rather pay for one big weekend over the course of a year, than have a mortgage at age 24 when I don’t even know where I want to live forever yet!

    My fiancé and I agree that we value experiences over stuff. We both just happen to put “house” in the stuff category and “wedding” in the experience category. This means our wedding budget will be large, but all of those budget categories that constitute as “stuff” – rings, dresses, tuxes, expensive photography packages, will become the lowest priority/cost, while the venue, the lodging for some special cash-strapped guests, the catering, open bar, and band will all get extra monetary attention.

    In the end, what matters is that you and your significant other agree on where your money as a couple is spent, and on a budget- be that a maximum wedding cost or a maximum down payment you can afford that results in a mortgage payment you can sustain as a couple.

    P.S. I WISH we’d get 40k back in gifts/cash! Not a chance.

    • I totally agree that a wedding (for me at least) fits into that experience category. I loved our wedding so much and wouldn’t trade it for the world! Of course, it helps that I fit into the “Utah” cheap wedding category on the infographic, even though I live in Canada. Mormons have the cheapest weddings because there’s no charge for your reception site if you have a religious ceremony in your local temple and if you don’t mind dancing over lines for a basketball court, ditto for a reception hall. It’s all free! It also doesn’t hurt that we had a ton of people from our church community volunteer to help decorate, etc. The one thing we didn’t cheap out on was the photographer. That’s the part of the day that helps the memories, which for me was the reason we bothered with a big wedding at all.

      I think the reason we loved our day so much was the sense of community we had there. It wasn’t about having the fanciest food or the most beautiful reception hall (no matter how you dress it up with cheap paper lanterns from the internet, a gym is still a gym), but it was about seeing all the people we love (over 300 of them). And we did it for under $10,000.

  • I had about 160 guests at my wedding, and it cost under 10,000 USD. Of course, I got married in a small town, where we could get “friends and family” type discounts for a lot of stuff- like the photographer, the cake, and the DJ…and the ceremony part was cheap because we had it at my family’s church. I would have been happy to cut back on a few of the things even more, because that still seems like an awful lot of money for a wedding, but my mom wanted to go all out.

    Overall, I was glad we had a wedding of the size we did. We both have pretty large families, so it was nice to be able to gather all of them together, as well as some of our friends. I was also happy that people described our wedding using words like “sweet”, or “joyful”, instead of “crazy” or “awesome party” like some of our friend’s weddings.

    But I totally hear you- I would have been happy with a smaller, less expensive celebration, and if you don’t want all the expenses and craziness, some sort of small, intimate gathering, or an elopement, would be totally awesome too :)

  • I had a small small wedding. It wasn’t really frugal, but it was what I wanted. I love attending weddings, big ones and small alike. But like the above commentor, I didn’t want to “throw an awesome party” like so many brides do. I just wanted a special day for me and my husband, and for the closest people to have fun. It was quaint.

    The thing about weddings is you do get to do what you want. A lot of it i did because it was expected and I didn’t mind (and sometimes I’d rather do what was expected than explain to people why I didn’t want to). But it is 100% in your hands.

    • Yes, I love both of your comments about not just wanting to “throw an awesome party.” The day is so much more than a party. :)

  • TOTALLY AGREE. I’ve told my boyfriend multiple times that I’d rather just elope…my dad would be totally ok with it, since he and my mom almost did…but I know Kristian’s parents and family would be so sad if we did that. I see it being either a destination wedding with a few close friends and family, or something SO simple on the beach, followed by a nice BBQ meal after :) Great post!!

  • BF and I are super cheap and we’ve already agreed that we’re doing a super ghetto wedding :D That being said, I wouldn’t mind running off to Vegas because it’s just about the cheapest most romantic thing that I can think of, to have a spontaneous wedding ;)

  • I definitely want a wedding with family, friends, etc – but not too big, and I’m very non-traditional in HOW I want my wedding, so I don’t think it would cost an astronomical amount. My dream wedding involves the ceremony outside in the fall, making my own cupcakes/cake, a cute white bridesmaid dress as a wedding dress (I hate the big and poofy and prefer bridesmaid styles to brides!), an awesome buffet instead of a served meal, and a cover band. I’d probably get a friend or friend-of-a-friend to do the photography/video (I know a lot of them!)… and DIY invites, favours, etc. I like crafts, and I love the DIY touch at weddings. Also I’m a perfectionist and I’m usually not happy unless I’m running the show… if I could be in more than one place at once, I’d probably be the photographer, videographer, officiant, DJ, decorator, and bride all at the same time haha. Oh, and I want a ferris wheel, but I know how much a rental costs and figure the $$ I’m saving on the dress can pay for that ;)

  • Along those lines, here is a true story. I was at a lunch with my colleagues; one had just gotten engaged. We were teasing her, good-naturedly, about not the fact that he didn’t buy her a ring. She was quiet, with a little smile on her face, and then said “He bought me a house instead.”

    It shut us all up.

  • We had over 200 guests at our wedding. A great time was had by all. I sang in a church choir for a year (I stayed on for 8 more years) and got the venue in exchange. My wife found a lovely dress in a consignment store for $100. My mom did the alterations on it. Flowers came out of my mothers’ garden. I spent $1000 on a 7 piece dance band. I spent under $500 on pop, juice and punch. A friend with a good camera took pictures. Guests brought food and their own booze instead of presents (saved them the hassle and expense). Total, under 2K for the whole wonderful day. Planning required, almost none. Stress, none.

    p.s. if many of your guests come from out of town, you’ll have to cook up enough extra food to make up the difference. (still no presents needed)

  • I’m very happily married and now own my 2 bedroom condo in the most expensive city in canada, in a trendy neighbourhood.
    Our wedding, the best day of my life, albeit my 30 fun years, was the best day of my life bar none. It still cost a car, but a smaller car than what the average wedding dollar can get you.

    I’m glad this article was posted, and, for myself, did a few things differently to ensure I could have all of the key important items checked off my list, and forego the other ones.

    A) The engagement ring. Ladies: I know it’s not your decision, but 2 months salary before tax??? Come on. I do appreciate that a long time saving shows that your hubby-to-be is serious about you, but imagine for one moment that this money can go toward a dream wedding. A smaller rock may be a great alternative. Also, let’s remember that size isn’t all that matters. It’s the 4C’s but also the sustainability and ethics behind it. Go for a sustainable diamond, another stone, or a thoughtful ring, hand carved during months also show a true commitement.

    B) The dress. I love clothes, and I love shoes. I know a really fancy mainstream dress can easily be upward of $5,ooo but I got mine on ebay, through an asian seamstress. I sent my measurements, colours, and pictures of styles I like. I also gave guidance on materials. When it was delivered by mail, it fit almost perfectly. After 1 alteration here, I was set with a really georgous dress, and got it for less than $400, all in.

    Flowers: Buy in season (on the global scale, that is) Ask your florist what flowers are in season during your weedding, and work with that. Most flowers come in a variety of colours and shapes anyways.

    Car: Really? Is a luxury brand car what defines you? If so, go ahead and splurge, if not, its money thrown out the window.

    MC: Don’t you have a friend who’s always wanted to be a rock star? What an honnor it will be for them to take the front stage at your big day…and what a privilege it will be for you to have an MC who knows you. This can appear like a saving, but in reality, even if it costs a big share of your W-day, it’s priceless.

    Music: I love music, but couldn’t justify a live band if it meant cutting guests I cared about. However, if you ave friends who are in a band, and are good…ask them to play.

    Cake: Shop around. By outside of the city, and think about serving it in lieu of dessert.

    Memories: It all depends how you live. In the past, present, or if you’re a dreamer. If you’re the type who lives in the past…don’t cut on this. I live in the present and am a dreamer, which makes me (a) remember my wedding (except for the ceremony since I was so afraid to cry I did ‘la-la-las’ in my head during the whole time) (b) focus on the wonderful life ahead with my better half.

    Honeymoon: I’m such a traveller…I splurged, but in a different fasion. Save your trip to Europe for next time. Try a cruise, a back pack experience to central america, or an uber road trip. In this case, it truly is about the journey.

    And last but not least…

    The venue: Pick something that resembles you. Seek alternative spaces. If you want a party, it might not be the most formal places that win. Think a vineyard, a loft, a restaurant, etc. Filet mignon may not be the right choice.

    Booze: I think it’s ok to offer the cocktail and wine at dinner, and to have a cash bar at the end, but see what works with everyone.

    Last but not least: It’s your day. By your, I mean the 2 of you’s. It’s a team work…not war. A great first start to your new life together.

    • On A): Thank goodness someone agrees with me on this ring nonsense! Lots of girls I’ve met are completely willing to compromise on a budget wedding but never to compromise on a budget ring! My hubby bought me a gorgeous ring from Diamond Nexus (a simulated diamond company – better quality than CZ, but way cheaper than mined diamonds) for less than $800, and I get compliments on it almost every day. He showed how serious he was by paying off our student loans, not by buying an expensive, shiny rock for my finger.

  • I photograph weddings professionally and one of the nicest weddings I’ve been too was a fellow weddings photographers vow renewal. It was in the same back yard that they got married in 10 years ago with around 40 people under a tent. The event was catered and had music running from a laptop. They did pay someone to play guitar as people came in. It was really nice and I would be surprised if the total spent was more than about $4000. What made their day really nice was the intimacy of it and I was really happy to be part of it.

    My sister is getting married this year and it will also be a back yard wedding and I’m really excited for that as well for the same reasons as the aforementioned wedding. Thanks to sites like pinterest, she is able to still make many ideas come together on a budget. One of my fondest memories of my own wedding is watching friends and family come together and help put our day together (building center pieces, etc). If you have time, you can really put together a nice wedding (it’s all in the details) for cheap. However if your time is better spend earning money, you can usually afford paying to have it all done for you. It seems that people forget this and fall into the trap of paying to have it all done.

    Nice site, good post!

  • You really have to dig in your heels as a bride, as everyone keeps telling you what you’re “supposed” to do. I think that’s where brides get lost. The strongest person is going to eventually cave to one of those “supposed tos”. Especially when it comes from close family. Lots of family bug out over traditional ideas (whether or not they’re real tradition), and that’s where things really start spiraling out of control from the original simple wedding idea. And of course preparing to actually be married (as in the years after) gets lost.

    People say “well I just want a buffet and a cake” but it’s surprising how much those things add up! Food doesn’t just mean a meal, it means renting tables, chairs, plates, silverware, tablecloths, and napkins. Whew! I DIYed a lot of stuff, had an inexpensive cake, dress, and photographer, but it was still $10k (DC area)! No wedding loans here – what a crazy idea!

  • So glad that someone finally said what I have been wondering about! The cost of weddings has gotten out of control! (I am a boomer with sons.) Thanks for the excellent read.

  • Thank you thank you thank you! It’s nice to know I’m not the only girl who doesn’t want a lavish wedding. I could honestly care less. I thought I wanted one but it’s suppose to be a celebration of two people coming together, not a deeper in debt money pit. My boyfriend and I have been together for over 6 years. I don’t think we need some huge shin dig. I’m emailing this to him! lol

    Thank you!!!

  • I completely agree with you! There is so much more useful things you could be using the money for! And you are so right, for what? A couple pictures and momentos that; come on really, who wants to display those things forever? Im glad there are other women out there who feel the same way. And i dont really think we will be missing out at all. :)

  • I’m new to your blog and just started reading so I am starting from the beginning and reading on… I agree with you that spending nearly $30,000 on one day is not worth it. However, I hosted a wedding for 125 people for $7500. It can be done. We had the ceremony at a church and rented a venue for the reception. We paid for everything ourselves and had a lot of physical help from family. That price included food, venue, tux, dress, DJ, photographer, beer and champagne, favors, and flowers, and we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, also an expensive place. It can be done, it just takes a lot of planning. And of course, as you said, it has to be what you want. If you want an “elopement” it would be the perfect wedding for you!

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