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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

#101: What is the Wedding Budget Sweet Spot?

So apparently, $75,000 is the annual income that gives families the most joy for their buck. Or at least that's what I learned in this article over at the world's most awesome personal finance blog EVER, Get Rich Slowly.

The further people's salary was from $75k (in either direction, by the way - under or over), the "less happy" surveyed people reported to be. Those who made less than the "salary sweet spot" suffered from the stress of striving to keep their house and feed their kids, while those who made more suffered from the stress of competition and the overseeing of big investments. (Mo' money, mo' problems, as they say.)


And of course, being that I talk about weddings here, you probably already know what I'm going to ask: what if a similar phenomenon existed with wedding budgets? What amount brings couples the most emotional bang for their buck? Is there a "wedding budget sweet spot"?

Now before I start theorizing, let me be clear: no couple's budget is "better" than anyone elses. You're not classier than I am because you spent 100k on a fireworks display at your waterfront castle venue, and you're not holier than I am because you only spent $500 for your entire homemade eco-friendly sha-bang. Everyone's budget is based on a number of factors (savings, debt, salary, financial assistance from family, etc.), none of which should contribute to the couple's sense of self-worth, nor reflect their true character. The amount you spend is not as telling as how you spend it - wisely, kindly, and with integrity, I hope.

Having said that, ain't ya dying to know if there's wedding budget sweet spot, and how the price tag of YOUR wedding compares??? I know. Me, too.

I don't have a team of Princeton researchers to help me out with this study, so I'm just going to take a wild stab in the dark with this. In other words, all I can really do is speak from personal experience.

Let's look at the following 3 categories (which I've stolen from that Get Rich Slowly article), to outline a couple's financial priorities when it comes to their wedding:
  • Laying a foundation. These are the essentials: attire and someone to make your marriage legal. But for those who are not eloping at the courthouse, you could put a venue and food in this category, too.
  • Quality of life. This includes what we value but don't *need* in order to get married, like a cool or fancy venue, lip-smackin' good food, a guest list that could would include most of the people you want to celebrate with, alcohol, dessert, and music. You'd be unhappy without spending money these things, but you could definitely get married without them.
  • Beyond the basics. If Oprah gave away dream weddings you might include the following perks: a live performance by your favorite artist, celebrity stylists for your hair and makeup, a guest list that includes everyone you love (and his/ her plus-one), a big donation to your favorite charity under each guest's name, and of course, a plane ticket and luxury accommodations for each guest who RSVP'd yes to your wedding (which is in Italy, obviously).
Based on my experience planning a $10k wedding, I strongly feel that an extra $2,000-$5,000 would have increased my level of fulfillment and joy during the day. No, not because I could have afforded more "fluff", but because I literally would have had more fun had I had the extra cash to spend. (I had my share of disappointments with my wedding reception, remember?) While we came close to executing our vision, the reception fell short for both of us, especially me.*

So my guess for the wedding budget sweet spot? Considering that our $10k budget does not include the $2,000 worth in gifts from my parents (my gown and the tent rental), the fact that I'm kicking myself for not hiring a day-of coordinator and possibly a DJ, and the fact that I didn't have a rich uncle who could lend me his beachfront property (or even just a middle class aunt with a huge backyard) so that we could scratch off the venue price tag...

I'd say $15,000. 
That's enough to have given me all of the elements in the aforementioned "laying a foundation" and "quality of life" categories, which is what I believe bring people the most emotional bang for their buck. If I had $23,000 to spend (which is just about the average wedding budget in the country these days), I think I would have started to feel more stressed during the planning, yet not necessarily happier during the wedding.

Why? Because then I would have started worrying about things like favors, bridesmaids dresses, centerpieces, and limousines - things that were automatically eliminated from my to-do list when we decided on a (relatively) modest budget. I'd start stressing over trying to afford as many items as possible in the "beyond the basics" category. The focus of the wedding would go from hosting an incredible celebration of love to that PLUS "fluff"- fun stuff that would not necessarily contribute to my amount of joy.

What do you guys think? Could you have spent less on your wedding but been happier/ less stressed because of it? Could spending more than your intended budget increase the amount of joy you experienced at your wedding while decreasing your amount of stress during the planning?

*If I were a GUEST at my own wedding I think I would have had a total blast. Hosting a $10k wedding without a coordinator, however, is another story!
(PS. Did see the poll I put up yesterday? It's on the right, just above my profile picture. Cast your vote!)
    Photo credit


    1. Really really loved this comment --> "The amount you spend is not as telling as how you spend it - wisely, kindly with integrity, I hope."

      I was right around the national average with what I spent on my wedding (our own money + generous donations from my parents). I've felt a little embarassed about this for a while, because originally we had wanted to spend a lot less. Ben and I both believed our wedding was an important day, but also recognized that in the end it was only ONE DAY out of our (hopefully) long and fulfilling life together. We didn't want to spend frivolously or go into debt over one day.
      And we didn't. There were a few things we could have done away with, more than a few people we could have cut from the guest list (but adding them meant a lot to certain family members who were footing the bill), but in the end I do feel like how we spent the money was wise, kind and with integrety.
      We mostly chose to follow traditions, but we did so in a way that was true to ourselves. And we didn't spend money we didn't have.
      Thank you for making me feel a little less
      guilty about the price tag, even though it was higher than both your wedding, and the sweet spot your mentioned.

    2. We, like so many others started with a $10K goal. Because of loving parents and solid penny-pinching, we can afford more but it seemed like a good starting place. As of right now it looks like we'll wind up around the $12 to $15K mark.

      This is less than we can afford, but more than we budgeted. I feel ok, knowing we're not going crazy on frivolities and happy that I've been able to go above budget on a few line items without having to feel super guilty.

      So from my inconsequential perspective, $15K sounds like a sweet spot to me, too. (But still, a heck of a lot of dough!!!)

    3. We planned on spending a few thousand (we're having two ceremonies) but decided to splurge on photography, which brought our total to about $4,000. Then we stumbled onto an AMAZING videographer - we hadn't even considered a wedding video - and that brought our total to about $6,000.

      It looks like a lot of money, seeing that 6 followed by 3 zeroes, but we've made peace with our decision. Our splurges are on the things whose quality we care most about (for example, my dress cost $60...I love it, absolutely, but I didn't consider spending thousands for a custom design or special fabric...just not a priority for me like the pictures are - besides, I plan to destroy the crap out of it in the mud and waterfalls, Eee!).

      I'm terribly, terribly, wonderfully excited for our wedding day! I think, when you feel that way, it means you're doin' it right.

    4. Cool, we've got representatives from a good range of weddings here!

      @ Steph - I agree that the fact that you spent your money wisely, kindly, and with integrity (without spending money that you didn't have), adequately cancels out any guilt you originally had about the price tag. :)

      @ Carolyn - You win! Hehe, Kidding of course. Although you make me feel like maybe I'm a genius and totally right about my $15k guess. I'd love if someone did research on this!

      @ Erika - I think those are great areas in which to splurge! Clearly you do, too, so I'm happy to hear that you've come to peace with your changing budget.

      PS. I'm "terribly, terribly, wonderfully excited" about your wedding day, too! Hope you'll keep me posted. :)

    5. I rather agree that $15,000 is about right. We spent abuot $18,000 and I was REALLY happy with how it all turned out (you saw the was sooo nice and not foofy and not stuffy and not overdone)...but I think if I lived in the area where my wedding took place and had more energy to devote to budget-cutting, we could have gotten it to $13-$15,000 without losing any of the sweet stuff.

    6. Our wedding cost $20K but between my mom paying for my gown and Gabe's mom paying for the flowers we spent around $18k. I tried to do everything cheap. I had candles instead of flowers for centerpieces, I didn't have a limo, I didn't hire a videographer (big mistake IMO since I'm still waiting for one video and the other is shaky and you can't hear it), I got married on a Sunday which is much cheaper than Saturday, etc. I can send you the spreadsheet if you're that interested. Yes I did stress about the favors which is stupid because we ended up having at least 40 leftover. If I could do it over I would have: made my seamstress take in my dress more and not give in when she told me it was better to have it loose, do my hair differently (when I did the hair trial people said it was too plain in the front so I got a curl which annoyed me the entire day), I would have left in the morning without my dad since he caused me to be 45 minutes late and the guys in the bridal party kept texting me and texting me asking where I was. I guess I also would have invited more people since we paid for 5 people more than showed up to the wedding. We had some no shows which kind of sucks. My biggest regret: the ten pounds I gained from all the stress of the wedding planning. My wedding was a lot of fun but I think it would have been better had it been on a Saturday night instead of a Sunday afternoon but Saturday night was $125 a person and Sunday afternoon was $65 a person. That's a huge difference.


    Babbling about weddings is so much more fun when people babble back. :)

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