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When It Comes To Planning A Wedding, It's OK To Say 'I Don't'

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(Connor Wells/Unsplash)

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We interrupt the gloomy news about inequality, trade wars and travel bans to talk about that wonderful summer staple: the wedding.

The news there is gloomy, too.

It’s not that June, supposedly the most popular month to tie the knot, was eclipsed last year by October and September. Summer remains a lovely time for marriage, but the bad news is that you’ll honeymoon in bankruptcy court if you’re not careful.

Last year, the average wedding cost just south of $26,000. If you’re from Atlanta, don’t read this next sentence: Wedding planner Summer McLane, based there, told WBUR’s Here & Now that “I don’t have clients who even would come to me with that budget at this point,” since the average Atlanta nuptials run $46,000.

My wedding was among the happiest days of my life, but these sticker prices beg the question: In this era of inequality and middle-class angst, what possesses people to dump the equivalent of a new Miata’s cost on matrimony? “People watch these [TV wedding] shows,” McLane said, “and they see magazines and they see the royal wedding. People forget that that stuff costs money.”

Okayyyy.

Don’t you want the best for your dear bride/groom/departed? This appeal is not a summons to love. It’s marketing.

Clearly, all the media celebrity-gazing at Harry and Meghan’s union overlooked its baleful influence on our enduring, and enduringly mindless, keeping up with the Jones. The Reagan Era had "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"; the Trump tenure has "Platinum Weddings." As we commoners don’t have the British royal family to hit up for love’s tab, we need to ratchet down expectations.

You can pay someone like McLane to help with that, and almost one-quarter of marrying couples do. Or you can choose the more old-fashioned but infinitely cheaper alternative: be a deep enough adult to realize that “happily ever after” doesn’t come from a store. Herewith, a (free) wedding plan for those who want to keep their budget, and sanity, intact.

To start with, do you really need to invite a crowd with the aim of filling St. George’s Chapel? It says something that my and my wife’s wedding, with 50 guests, was rare, in my experience anyway, for its small size. It’s not that we couldn’t have invited more; my Irish Catholic mother was one of seven siblings.

But as I rarely saw most of those aunts, uncles, and cousins, there was no need to invite most, and no offense taken when several we did invite politely declined. The eventual turnout comprised our truly dear family and friends.

“You can get a wedding cake for $2,200, and you could get the same cake for a 16th birthday party for probably $800.”

It’s also worth remembering that entire industries have developed to part you from your purse at life’s highly emotional moments (weddings, funerals), when you’re vulnerable to sales pitches: Don’t you want the best for your dear bride/groom/departed? This appeal is not a summons to love. It’s marketing.

McLane offered a probative example: “You can get a wedding cake for $2,200, and you could get the same cake for a 16th birthday party for probably $800.” (Count me among those who think that charging even $800 for a cake should be illegal.) Nature’s simple flowers similarly are marked up for weddings.

Again, there are alternatives. Here & Now’s Robin Young mentioned her family is growing their own flowers for an upcoming wedding. My wife’s then-landlord, a gifted baker, made a beautiful cake as her wedding gift to us. Similarly, friends who were professional photographers shot our happy day gratis as their gift. Yes, we still had a registry, but in-kind wedding services as presents were just as valuable.

These suggestions aren’t exhaustive but rather illustrate the big point: Social convention, shaped by consumerism and materialism, can be the source of budget-busting stress on what should be a couple’s joyful day. Don’t leave the idea of outdoing the royal wedding at the altar; leave it long before you get there.

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.

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