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I don’t think I’ll ever have an elaborate wedding. This is partly due to the fact that I haven’t met the right guy, but also because I’m suspicious of weddings. So take my opinion with a coarse grain of bespoke Himalayan sea salt; maybe this’ll change when the man of my dreams proposes and I want to flaunt our love with the perfect hipster-bohemian barn wedding complete with locally-sourced cupcakes and flower crowns. I’m telling you, it is possible. But for now, I see weddings from the very pragmatic viewpoint of the financial writer and advocate of young people making smart money decisions.

The average cost of a wedding in Canada in 2014 was $31,000, according to a survey by Wedding Bells. A more recent survey done by The Knot in the United States show couples spending the equivalent of $42,000 CAD on their weddings in 2017, with the average cost running nearly $100,000 in Manhattan. No longer reserved for the wealthy, folks in every income bracket spend tens of thousands on a lavish wedding and “dream weekend.”

Whether you’re spending $30,000 or $40,000, this is an incredible amount of money for the average person. This is money that could be better spent in so, so many ways. But I also understand that this is difficult to understand amidst the excitement of an engagement. So while I genuinely believe that everyone should get a wonderful wedding day (the wealthy are not more deserving of a fabulous wedding than others), I’m going to take a harsh counter-stance in the argument against expensive weddings: In ten years, you will not think it was money well-spent and you’ll likely even regret it.

$31,000 is A Lot of Money for the Average Person

While plenty of people can swing a grand wedding, $31,000 is a number that the average Canadian cannot reasonably afford. The number is anxiety-inducing when laid over other financial statistics: The average Canadian already has $4,000 in credit card debt, lives paycheck to paycheck, and is $200 away from not being able to pay their bills.

In general, I try not to hammer on the way people spend their fun money. It’s none of my business. But it is also frustrating to see people spend a ludicrous amount of money on a one- or two-day party who in the same breath complain about their inability to afford a down payment. People seem to forget that a wedding is not a necessity and it’s also a terrible investment. But of course, saving for retirement doesn’t make you an Instagram All-Star.

There’s a helluva chance that you end up divorced. Seriously, even you. And personally, I don’t find this shameful. Our brains change, even in adulthood, and while lifelong relationships require perseverance, they also require luck. If you’ve known your partner for just a handful of years, frankly, you won’t know what they’ll be like in twenty more. Children, money, trauma, and boredom have the ability to change people. And then, you’re contending with the normal frustrations of two sentient beings with independent thoughts. 

Considering you have a 41% chance of getting divorced, does it really make sense to dump money that you may not even have into a party? No one wants to kick off their marriage off by assuming failure, but if this party is what defines your marriage, I implore you re-evaluate the tenets for which you’re building a lifelong relationship. A 2014 study on wedding spending and divorce rates by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, shows that couples who spend more than $20,000 USD on their weddings (not including the wedding ring) are 3.5 times more likely to get a divorce, while those that spend less than $5,000 USD have an 18% lesser chance of divorce. One theory is that people spending so much on a wedding are getting married for the wrong reasons. Additionally, spending such a large amount early in a relationship may cause financial hardship for years to come, putting unnecessary stress on the young relationship.

I’m only 33, and I’ve already heard so many married friends express some version of the sentiment, “Sure wish I had that extra $40,000 right now.” (I lived in San Francisco during my twenties, where the prices of weddings were high.) Because even if you’re on a great career track and feel financially confident, life is crazy. Just being alive is more expensive than ever. You’ll have so many needs for that money as life weaves through the good times and bad, as it always has. In ten years, you might seriously regret having spent so much on a wedding under the assumption that economies will always be good, that raises and bonuses happen every year, or that you and your children will always be healthy.

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

No one is ever willing to say this, but I’m going all-in today: To your guests, your wedding is the exact same as everyone else’s wedding. Yes, of course, it is “the best day ever” to you and your partner, and maybe your mother, but to all of us, it’s just one of a bazillion parties that we’ll attend during our lifetimes. So, how much of this wedding is to project some image to the world; for your small universe to see that you are, indeed, the most fabulous couple around? And while I am sure that you are fabulous, do you really need a $31,000 wedding—that is just like everyone else’s—to prove that you are so fabulous?

We should all be ruthlessly honest about the ramifications of an increasingly industrialized world; capitalism has commodified love and marriage. This commodification is exasperated by Pinterest, social media, and bridal magazines that insist on fairy-tale weddings; weddings have become as much about projecting an image as they are about celebrating love.

I can hear the naysayers clamoring now: It’s the most important day of our lives! True love is worth the money! I respectfully disagree. True love doesn’t need this display. And your wedding will not be the most important day of your life. If it is, you’re doing life wrong. Especially as it fades into distant memory, you will see marriage for what it really is; a work in progress, a journey of both joy and heartbreak, a collective effort worth so much more than one day of partying. A marriage is not a wedding. Yes, fun is fun and I’m an adamant believer in having as much of it as possible, but self-actualization and realization, compassion, and overcoming the hard times—this is what successful marriages (and lives) are truly made of. These accomplishments are what you will be proud of in 50 years.

How Do I Save Money on a Wedding?

Above everything, remember this one important thing: Aside from the official piece of paper from the government certifying your marriage, everything else is extra. Seriously. Everything. Tell yourself that, over and over. Nothing here is required of you. Not the white dress, not the flowers, not the catering for 220 people, not the rustic barn venue.

Related: Traditional vs Destination Weddings

I’m always in awe of how weddings have turned into this completely homogenized thing. There is such little variety or personal flair at weddings (and I’m sorry, but choosing an ivory dress over a white dress is not personal flair), and there is no creativity—in terms of both the style, agenda, and the cost. Because you must make hundreds of micro-decisions leading up to the wedding, it can feel like you’re doing a lot of personal interjection, but really you’re just choosing from a set of options as defined by The Wedding Industry.

If you really want to make a wedding affordable, there are two main routes: One, you pare your guest list down to your closest family and friends, or elope. Two, you eschew tradition. Tradition creates the premium you pay for at weddings. Wedding dresses, wedding flowers, wedding photographers, and wedding venues often come with a 200% to 300% markup over their non-wedding counterparts. Why? Because vendors can see what you want from miles away and so why wouldn’t they, as businesspeople, charge top dollar? 

As a third-party onlooker, here are a few of the questions I ask about weddings: Are printed save the dates and invitations necessary? (I personally deliver them directly into the trash-box.) Why feed everyone formal dinner and not just some late-night snacks? (Wedding dinners are generally lackluster.) Why don’t more couples have a small ceremony with family and a get-together for friends at a restaurant? (Long ceremonies are painful.) Why do people feel the need to host two or three events? (Overkill.) Why do women continue to wear white when the markup on white dresses is absurd? (Unless you’re still rocking the virginity status – and if you are, all the power to you – I don’t want to hear it.) Why not have friends chip in for an open bar instead of registry gifts? (I bet you have everything you need and no, you do not need that mahogany handle cheese plane.) Why have a photo booth when every person at your wedding will be capturing pictures on a smartphone?? Why make generic table gifts that your guests will most certainly not give a shit about?

Or, skip all of the questions about how to manage an absurd guest list and elope somewhere stunning, buy a five-star meal and hotel, drink ridiculously expensive champagne, buy a killer dress and suit and hire a photographer, all for under $4,000. In theory, it is great to celebrate with your every single person and their third cousin’s girlfriend, but your marriage is not about them. You’ll get to spend no more than a few minutes with each guest anyway. 

People deserve to have a day of their dreams, and love is worth celebrating. It’s just that our dreams have become so material-based, and science shows us that materialism isn’t what makes us happy. Ultimately, you get to decide how big of a priority this is to you, but allow me, your friend the money blogger, to remind you that in five or ten years, there is a chance that you will desperately want or need this money. This money could afford you a down payment, cover a spouse who stays out of work for a year with a sick child or parent, be an incredible start to a retirement savings plan (compound interest works best if you start in your twenties!), or put a child through university.

Love Blindly… but Spend Wisely!

Amanda’s blog is The Dumpster Dog Blog, which is scrappy, no B.S. finance education for young women.

Article comments

Anna says:

Great article. Totally agree with everything you wrote. Hoping my children find lifelong partners who have smart financial values and get this too!

Klair says:

I love your article! Thank you. In 2018 in Canada there is no reason why you need to spend that kind of money or even get married at all. I’ve been living with my ‘common law’ spouse for over 12 years and we’ve never been discriminated against for not being married. We are included on each others work benefits, we were able to purchase a home together, our families accept our relationship (without too much wedding pressure), we can name each other as beneficiaries should one of us die and if we were to ever split up I’m pretty sure we’d be paying similar lawyers fees.

Dr. MB says:

Hello Amanda,

I have been married for 21 years. I only bought my dress (off the half price rack), my shoes (19.99) and my cake (I love cake). My husband arranged all the rest. Yes ladies- find a man like that! (And he’s an awesome surgeon to boot) We got married at Cecile Green at UBC and total cost with catering was about 5K back in the mid 90’s. However, my in laws insisted on an evening dinner that was 15K!! Since I didn’t even know 90% of the people attending the evening event, I said I would not pay for it period- whether I could afford it or not was a moot issue.

I would have been perfectly happy with our daytime event at Cecile Green. After all these years, we BOTH agree that that was all we would have ever wanted. And yeah, I am soooo glad my dress was 400.00 cause even that was an utter waste of money. We are happily married and the wedding day was the LEAST important day of all of it.

Ken says:

From a man’s point of view — try to marry a sensible woman who shares your long-term financial goals (hopefully things like a mortgage-free home, no other debt, savings for future emergencies, kids, retirement, etc.); then agree to everything your fiancee wants because a happy wife is a happy life.

(I am happily married coming up to 29 years…no debt…mortgage-free home…great memories of a wedding that cost $6,000 for 75 guests all-in)

Sarah says:

Totally agree. No one cares how big, fancy, and whatever a wedding is. Its still one of a pile of weddings I’ll have attended in a lifetime. Its actually even a bit of a negative when people go way over the top, its like they are compensating for something, like what are you trying to prove? The best weddings, in my opinion, are the ones that reflect the couple’s interests and personal style. And if that’s a backyard BBQ yay, happy to be there, I think that’s just as perfect.

Laura says:

Great article! I love the distinction between a marriage and a wedding! You are just as married without a wedding. Another point I would add is that just because costs of weddings are going up doesn’t mean you have to spend that much. Your parents likely didn’t have half the extras we now include in every wedding! These each have to make the choices we can live with, for me that does not include an expensive wedding.