Tag Archives: budget

How to pay for everything else that isn’t the wedding

As much as I love discussions about wedding budgets, and I think there’s not nearly enough of that going on, I also think they’re a bit misleading. In the bigger financial picture, there is so much more to getting married than putting on a wedding.

Things that are not in my official wedding budget, but are marriage related include:
Rings. And I didn’t even have an engagement ring, which let’s face it, is common practice and tends to be costly. We are having wedding rings though, and those things are important to me and something we intend to wear forever. So it’s not a trivial cost.
Honeymoon. Hello. WHY does no one talk  about how they financed the honeymoon.
A physical photo album. Turns out, digital files get corrupted. I’ve got my eye on A La Carte Albums*.
Makeup, shoes, jewellery or any other thing that will get re-used but still has to be bought for the wedding.
A thousand incidental costs that will occur close to the wedding. Stuff like picking people up from the airport, making sure we have enough sheets, pillows etc. for everyone who’s staying over, taking visitors out on site seeing excursions. Giving them lots of cups of tea.

In addition, many like to indulge in such pleasures as
A rehearsal dinner, which is evidently A Thing in the States, but happily is yet to become A Thing in other places, as far as I can tell (long may this last!).
An engagement party.
An engagement
‘sesh’ oh god that term is like nails on chalkboards. Please just say session. While we’re at it, please tell me that I am not the only one who finds the term ‘adorbz’ to be kind of, irritz. It’s just really annoyz.  It makes me want to have a stomping sesh.  
Honeymoon attire. 

And probably a bunch of things I couldn’t even think of. Oh yeah, and I also just remembered that some time next year, M and I will be having a second wedding reception in our hometown, Auckland, for all the peeps there that couldn’t make it.

So that’s all quite a lot. And if you are following the guidelines of basic personal finance advice, you should be doing all of this without a) going into debt, or b), sacrificing your long term savings.

Back when I wrote the How to Decide on Your Wedding Budget series, I talked about the fact that typically you might have 10-20% of your annual post-tax income to spend on stuff that isn’t bills and other day to day expenses. So I reckoned 10-20% was a reasonable wedding cost, and chose 10% as the benchmark to use as a way of erring on the cautious side. But now I realise that it wasn’t cautious at all: you’re probably going to need the entire other 10% to fund all this other stuff. And this is assuming you don’t have even more financial demands the year leading up to your wedding – student loans, an emergency, a friend’s wedding in Bali to attend. A period of unemployment. Gah!

There’s really no way around it. The year before your marriage is going to be expensive. Your options are going to be to keep the actual wedding costs at 10% or less of your income, and watch what you’re doing with the engagement, honeymoon plans, and rings whilst hoping to have no emergencies, to keep the total under 20%, OR since a lot of people are already under a lot of financial pressure and don’t have that money to spare, do without all those extras. Though you probably still want rings. In light of my revelation the other week that plenty of people can’t really manage even just the wedding without family help, all of this is pretty bleak.

Ultimate moral of this story: I wish the majority of wedding blogs were about small budget weddings.  Sigh, what’s new.

*This company will edit your wedding photos and compile them into an album.  I really dig this because it meshes perfectly with the idea that your wedding photos are going to be taken by lots of people (ie, a few by professionals plus lots by multiple guests). A La Carte Albums will put them into a coherent narrative. Such a great option for those of us who can’t afford/refuse to buy the big packages from photographers.

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Affording catering for small budget weddings: It’s a problem

Food is a problem for low budget weddings.

Let’s say you have $2500 to spend on your wedding. Let’s say you have 75 guests – not a modest amount, not a crowd. The first thing is, with this many people, your wedding will take quite a few hours. In order to host 75 people without snubbing any of them, you’re probably looking at at least 8 hours of wedding. And because there is no 8 hour stretch of wakefulness that doesn’t involve at least one meal, you’re going to have to give them, at a minimum, one meal’s worth of food. And because this is a celebration, odds are very high that you want to give them some booze too.

So there is no getting out of doing a lot of food, unless you have a really low number of guests. If you had say 35 guests or less, you could get away with just having them for a few hours, and if that’s not during a meal time, you can all just eat some cake and call it done.

But back to the 75 scenario, because I think it’s a good benchmark of wedding averageness. If you put $2500 into my favourite toy, the wedding budget calculator, and uncheck a bunch of stuff, because this is a budget wedding, and we don’t have room for a day-of coordinator, the result is a suggested breakdown that goes like this:

Celebrant: 52
Flowers: 330
Other decoration: 108
Drinks: 289
Food: 722
Bride’s dress: 309
Attendants gifts: 62
Groom’s outfit: 52
Photography: 505
Invitations: 72

This is assuming you somehow have a free venue to host 75 people (you probably don’t), you forgo cake or use it as the dessert for your meal, you don’t buy special shoes, etc etc. There is $722 for food here, and $289 for drinks. That’s $9.63 and $3.85 per person, for food and drinks and respectively. I don’t even need to write a punchline here.

Or let’s say you have 75 guests and $2500, and the couple wears clothes they already own, and they DIY decorations for free, and they email their invitations, and don’t have a photographer, and they get rid of all expenses except food and drink. $2500/75 = $33.33 per person, for a meal and drinks. Which maybe is just enough, if you self-cater, and are very shrewd about your drink offerings.

But this is a wedding. You want to make it meaningful, by having some of the common trappings of weddings, which is going to cost you at least a little bit of money.

The $2500 figure is based on being half of what the median income wedding-haver can afford by saving 10% of their post-tax income for a year. But it’s just not all that possible to have an average size wedding on that amount. Some variable is going to have to give.

Have a smaller wedding? People shouldn’t have to miss out on celebrating with a reasonable number of guests just because they have a small budget.
Save a greater portion of your income? But if your income is low, that’s hard to do.
Have a longer engagement, so you can save for a longer time? Maybe. But 12 months is already a long time to be saving for a consumable.

Maybe this post is just about grumbling a little about the cost of living in NZ. If we had higher wages or cheaper food, this wouldn’t be an issue!

The only solutions I can think of are: 1) Parents help fund the wedding, or 2) Make the wedding a bring-and-share event where guests each contribute ‘a plate of eats’, as they always used to be called in my childhood (do people still say that? A plate of eats? Sounds so old fashioned now).

I’m sure Miss Manners would be aghast at the idea of asking guests to contribute to the wedding like this. I mean, she’s already made herself very clear on the issue of cash bars. And I see her point: getting a wedding invitation would be more like a demand than getting invited to something. You can’t demand gifts. The only way a community chipping in could work, as far as I can see, is if the guests spontaneously self-organise a kind of surprise wedding reception. (And yet, we do see potluck weddings on blogs fairly often. How did these couples break that to the guests?)

So we’re left with parents contributing. I’m becoming more and more ok with that idea.

Purpose of weddings: It’s not about the legalities

Alternative titles for this post:

A case for multi-wedding marriages
or
A dress! You guys, check at this dress!*

M and I are New Zealanders. In New Zealand, once two people have been living together as a couple for three years, the de facto partnership they are in has practically the same legalities around it as an actual marriage. For instance, if you break up, assets would be split fifty-fifty. You enter this phase of financial union without doing a thing – the couple doesn’t have to go somewhere, or sign something, or make any declarations. It just becomes a truth that everything is now jointly owned.

We reached our three year mark right about the same time that we moved to Singapore. Before that though, we’d already completely merged our finances anyway. We were in it together, man. And then Singapore happened, which just further cemented the fact that as a couple, we were a done deal. Obviously emotionally, yes: if following your partner to a foreign country because he got a job there isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is. But also legally: the way the visa  situation works, M is here by what is known as an employment pass, while I am here as his dependent. The paperwork included going to the NZ High Commission to write signed statements, witnessed by an official, about how long we’ve had joint bank accounts and the like. We are officially recognised in Singapore as having a common-law marriage, and it’s what allows me to stay here with him.

It gets worse. For years we’ve had the habit of referring to each other as each other’s partner, but here in Asia, a lot of people don’t get that. And most people I’ve come across really don’t get living together before marriage.  Seriously, the number of times I’ve had to explain that we’re not married, but we live together, but it’s like being married, and actually, this is very common in NZ and it would be unusual not to live together first. So for the almost two years we’ve been living here, we’ve gotten used to just calling each other husband and wife when talking to locals. Makes conversation with a chatty cab driver that much simpler.

So why are we even getting married, when it doesn’t really change much? Well, for one, its going to be a bit more convenient to actually have a marriage certificate instead of having to prove our commitment in other ways. But for us, getting married, or more accurately, having a wedding, is not about the legal stuff at all. We’re doing it for two main reasons:

1. Making explicit all the implicit promises that we have already made to each other, and doing it in a way that our community recognises. I hate to be quoting Sex and The City, but Miranda put it perfectly, in the episode where she marries Steve: “I do actually wanna say those vows, out loud, to Steve. In front of the people I care about”

2. Acknowledging, along with our family and friends, that loving each other so much that we want to share the entire rest if our lives together, is awesome. We’ve been lucky enough to find our person, and that’s amazing, frankly, even if it is a miracle that happens to lots of people. It’s worthy of a big-ass celebration.

So once I figured out that the legal part of this wedding will be much easier to handle in Singapore than in Indonesia (for starters, Singaporeans use English), we made the decision to get the meaningless, five minute, registry office ceremony done a few days before the emotional, poignant readings, personalized vows, ring exchange ceremony at the resort.

My intention was to approach the legal thing as much like paperwork formality as possible – we’d show up in whatever we were wearing that day, sign what we needed to sign, and be done. But, it turns out, we need two witnesses. And there’s a dress code. The info online literally specifies that shorts and flip flops aren’t appropriate. What up, we live in those things.

So that means my man can wear his office wear, and I…well, I don’t look my best in my formal office wear. The thing is, for men, formal professional wear and formal social wear are the same thing. For women, they are kind of vastly different. Miss Manners discusses this issue here. And since our legal ceremony will be socially formal, and not professionally formal, I was instantly launched into fashion fantasies of a Kate Middleton-like nature.

Which brings me to this dress. I won’t bore you with listing the ways it is perfection, I’ll just let you see for yourself:

Karen Millen, I salute you.

I tend to be uber fussy, I mean discerning, about my clothes, but this one is hitting so many nails on so many heads, that when it comes to this dress, I just can’t. I just can’t not obsess over it. 

You complete me.

The only nailhead it doesn’t hit is the price.

Don’t speak. I know just what you’re saying.

You’re saying, “Lindsay, I thought this was a frugal wedding, you sell out.”

Yeah, the dress is over SG$500, and that’s not even addressing the shoe issue. So here’s the deal: it’s not coming out of my wedding budget, it’s coming out of my everyday budget. Plus I can totally wear it again. Right?! Also, you know how I just said my taste is very discerning? When my local friends just read that, they were all surprised and thought about how my ubiquitous plain t-shirt with denim shorts does not exactly reflect a keen sartorial eye. Here’s the sad truth: I’m so damn fussy about clothes, that I almost never find something that fits the bill, and hence I almost never buy new stuff, and hence, I mostly wear pretty old things that were acquired as gifts, or purchased in the days before my fussiness went stratospheric. The upshot is, I spend so little on clothes, that I can actually justify this.

Then there’s the witnesses issue for the legal ceremony. M wants his brother to be his, and I would like my mother to be mine. But since I’m all dressed up and such, and all our immediate family members will be in town, it doesn’t seem right to leave them out. We’re allowed to bring up to 20 guests to the registry office. So we’re going have all our immediate family come. And since we’re doing that, well, maybe we should all go to TWG afterwards and drink champagne and eat a macaroon or two.

Suddenly, it appears I’m having two weddings. But I don’t want to look at it like that. I still consider our non-legal ceremony on the beach to be our real wedding, the one that’s important. Now we just also have a fancy family morning tea to go with it. And the fact that I get to have both beach party princess, and elegant urbanite dresses, well, I’m not too sad about that.

*Yes, check at. That’s how we spoke where I grew up, mmkay?

Purpose of weddings: Wealth transfer?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of weddings, and I think I’ve thought my way into reconciling the fact that M and I can’t afford our wedding – my dad gifted us the funds for it. I tend to strongly align myself with the “if you can’t pay for it yourself, you can’t have it” camp, so this new perspective comes somewhat as a surprise to me.

Modern western family economics is based on a premise of independence. Once we’re officially adult (say, 21? 18?), the ideal out there is that we’re supposed to be completely self-sufficient. And I pretty much buy into this ideal. Except, it turns out, I also think it’s a kind of screwed up model.

If I want to have a kid or two (I do), and I want to raise them in a house and generally give them things that kids should have, the way things work these days is that I’ll need to take on a mortgage that could take decades to pay off. Meanwhile, raise your hand if your boomer parents live alone or with their partner, in a 3 bedroom house that is bigger than the one you’ll get when you finally finish scraping a house deposit together. I mean, does this make sense? The point at which I’ll have what I need to raise a kid will be the point at which the kid is an adult themself.

Back when the global economy was still growing, there was some logic to the model. Each generation could expect to make more money than the one before them. But now that the global economy is screwed* and contracting, the days of doing better than your parents, as a generation, have ended. The boomers are probably the most economically lucky generation that will ever have existed (cue any boomer reading this to start griping about how tough they had it in their 20s).

So, back to weddings. When my dad married my mom, he lived with his parents until his wedding day. Getting married was a major marker of entering adulthood. And part of the function of weddings those days was for the community to help the couple set up their new household, by giving them gifts of basic necessary household stuff. I think some kind of ceremonial marker of adulthood, in which the new adult is given economic help, makes a lot of sense. That this takes the form of a wedding, of course, is not fair (assumes everyone gets married; assumes everyone gets married at a convenient youngish age).

These days, marriage and weddings are different. I’ve been independent from my parents for years. I’ve been living with M for years. People are asking us what they can get us as wedding presents, because giving us kitchen appliances and such makes no sense. But man, how useful would have been, when I was say 22, if there was some kind of big celebration that involved the people who could afford it giving me a few sheets and a blender? Young people still need help, and probably we need it more than our parents did, but the cultural mechanism for a bit of inter-generational wealth transfer has disappeared.

All of which is to say, I now feel better about the fact that almost everyone I know is getting parental help to pay for their wedding. It goes against the independence ideal which is the backbone of all personal finance advice, but maybe that’s ok. It doesn’t excuse the decadence of the average wedding though. Seriously, if you need financial help and your parents are providing it, that money needs to be going towards a house deposit fund, or paying off student loans, or some other thing that affects long term net wealth. Weddings are still a consumption item.

*In my opinion, the global economy is going to stay screwed. But some people think it’s going to turn around. Dog knows that’s a massive debate that will go on forever. For now, I’m not interested in having that debate on my blog.

Here’s my wedding budget

So after all my budget theory preaching, you’re probably thinking it’s about time I revealed my actual wedding budget.   I’ll do you one better: the line by line breakdown! Aren’t you excited? Doesn’t the prospect of looking at other people’s budgets get you all amped up? No? You don’t find it fun to obsess over numbers?

Jeez. Tough crowd.

I live in Singapore, so my mind thinks in Singapore dollars. Our wedding budget is (*fanfare*) SG$5000.

You probably don’t think in Singapore dollars, so you’re wondering how much money that really is. I’d go ahead and covert the currencies for you, but you know, cost of living stuff in a given area is always relative to incomes in the given area, and if you translated the cost of houses in South Africa into your local currency you’d be all, “I could have a mansion”. Plus, in Thailand you could have an amazing and massive meal for a dollar.

So refrain from using direct currency exchange as a converter, and use the Big Mac Index instead, which isn’t perfect, but at least does try to reflect the actual cost of living. I’ll tell you how many Big Macs I could buy in Singapore with that money, and then you work out how much of your local currency it would take to buy that many Big Mac’s where you live.

One Big Mac round here costs $4.85, So, my wedding budget is 1031 of them.

Ok, alright, fine, I’ll do the work for you. Here is my wedding budget translated into the currencies of various places using the Big Mac converter:

USA: $4.20 x 1031 =  US$4330

Canada: $4.73 x 1031 = CA$4877

New Zealand: $5.10 x 1031 = NZ$5258

Australia: $4.80 x 1031 = AU$4949

South Africa: R19.95 x 1031 = R20568
(see what I’m saying? One US Big Mac would buy you 4.75 South African ones, but the actual exchange rate between US dollars and South African rand is  like 7.8)

Attention England and Spain: Sorry, I couldn’t find the prices you guys have. I really wanted to know how my budget figures in pounds and euros. Maybe you could let me know your local Big Mac price?

Who else is craving a burger all of a sudden?

Ok, now for the line by line break down. I put this together, predictably, using that wedding budget calculator thing you are sick of me talking about. Then I started checking off all the things I know I don’t want to include, which was a substantial number of things (Get lost, Unity Candle!),  and filled in the fixed estimates I do already have.

Actually that last bit was interesting because it drastically changed the picture. The calculator wanted me to spend $1207 on food and $483 on booze. I’m having almost 50 people, so that’s like 10 bucks per person on drinks, which is totally laughable in all scenarios, except maybe if you home brew something, and then it gets downgraded to only pretty laughable. The amount for food is probably somewhat achievable if you’re self-catering too, but is almost half of the price I managed to get for catering.

I just want to quickly say two things here, and then I’ll move on.
1. I have a hunch that booze is much cheaper in parts of the world that aren’t Australia, NZ, and Singapore. How many Big Macs does a beer cost you, USAians?
2.  Nevertheless, these numbers and their apparent break from reality is evidence of the desperate need for a wedding paradigm shift, as I discussed in the podcast. What’s interesting is that this same iteration of the budget also allocated $733 all up for ceremony and reception decor and flowers, which seems excessive. If we’re going to afford our weddings, the paradigm shift is going to have to include a Step Away From the Pricey Decor clause. It’s a major component of wedding spending, and it needs to stop being standard and expected.

Based on the actual prices for food and drinks my venue gave me, I adjusted the catering to $1905, and $1000 for booze. I also already know that transport (ferry to the island) is going to cost about double what the calculator indicated, and I’m going to put our three nights’ stay at the resort down as the ‘facility rental’, and that’s going to be about 550 bucks.

I’m also allowing myself to cheat by not including it in the wedding budget if it’s something I’m going to use again (stay tuned for much more discussion about this in a future post).

So here, finally, is the result:

FrugallyWed’s Goal Wedding Budget

Facility rental                        550
Flowers and decorations  388
Drinks                                    1000
Food                                        1905
Bride’s wedding outfit        297
Attendants’ gifts                      55
Groom’s outfit                         46
Groomsmen outfits             119
Transport                                130
Photography                         447
Invitations                                64

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Everything else we’re either not having, or it’s already included in the catering price (fire torches), or it’s something we’ll use again and thus I’m filing it under general life expense and not wedding expense. The main wiggle room comes from the flower and decor allocation – I plan to spend more than $55 on attendants’ gifts.

There you have it folks. Was that, or was that not, a whirlwind of excitement? Whew. Come, let me take you all out for burgers now.

Podcast: Me talking wedding budgets with Rogue Bride and Hindsight Bride

I’m not saying this is exactly what went down, but when I remember recording this podcast with Rogue Bride and Christie from Hindsight Bride, these are the words I recall being said:

Christie: Lindsay writes an angry, righteous blog…
Me: What? No, I’m a nice person, I swear!

Me: Wedding budget calculator. Income. Wedding budget calculator. Percentage. Calculator.
Them: You’re a massive nerd.

Them: Wait, is it REE-dill, or rye-DELL?
Me: What the hell are you guys talking about.

All of us: Sha-vari chairs? Key-uh-vari? What is that anyway, frikkin Italian or something?

Christie: Rainbows and sausages.

Rogue: I’m going to punch myself in the face.

Them:*giving me compliments*
Me: You guys are the nicest people ever!
Them: What? No, we’re badass, we swear!

Shorter version:
Them: It’s nice that you’re badass.
Me: It’s badass that you’re nice.
(Thank you Robyn Sherbotsky and Ted Mosby.)

According to Rogue and Christie, my South African – Kiwi mongrel of an accent sounds sexy to the American ear. I’m not sure I believe them. Certainly I don’t think either saffas or kiwis enjoy my deviations from their norms much. So it’s possible they were just being super nice to me again. They’re tricksy like that. They keep saying nice things to you and offering to do nice things for you, and then also doing them, and then the next thing you know, you really really like them and start to feel like doing nice things back. It’s how they suck you in. They’re selfish like that.

You can listen to the podcast and assess my accent for yourself here.

How to make your wedding special without spending money

I think one of the fundamental reasons why weddings have gotten financially out of hand is that people want their weddings to feel special and meaningful, and they mistakenly believe that the way to make that happen is to spend a lot of money.

There is actually some validity to the idea that money makes things special. Here’s a great example of how stupid our human minds are: things that are rare or expensive become regarded as wonderful luxury items that speak of status and are to be coveted. Critical to note: it’s not that the inherent awesomeness of the item in question pushes up demand and price. It’s that an item that is hard for the average person to obtain becomes a symbol of luxury, and therefore everyone starts to covet it.

Like when the Dutch used to have to pay taxes on stairs, and so then the fanciest houses in Amsterdam started having two staircases leading up to their front doors. Or eating shark’s fin – it’s a tasteless piece of cartilage that originally only the rich families in China could afford to eat, because it takes days of labour from a skilled cook to do the preparation that makes that crap approach edible. And then the general population got the message that shark’s fin is a luxury, and next thing you know it’s become a wedding staple in Chinese culture.

But there are other ways that our pathetically manipulatable human minds assign specialness and meaning to things: the time, effort, and skill to make something (a proxy for money), sentimental association, and ritual and ceremony. Though of course these things get muddled up, for instance you’re likely to have have a sentimental association with certain rituals. And things that were originally valued for their hard-to-make-ness have become commonly regarded as ceremonial necessity. I’m looking at you, Wedding Cake. Also you, Thousand Dollar Wedding Dress. But the upshot is, you can still make your wedding feel, uh, properly weddingy, even if you can’t afford a wedding cake that costs $5 per slice.

Here are some ideas.

1. Time, effort, and skill

For my wedding, the biggest deposit of specialness in this area is going to come from the fact that various family members, from a variety of continents, will take the time and effort to come be gathered together in one place. It’s something that our family only ever gets to experience any more at weddings. Time was when all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived in the same country. We saw each other regularly and had Christmases together. No more. Now I go years without seeing cousins I saw all the time growing up. Being reunited with some of them at my wedding is a big, meaningful deal.

Other ways people might implement this idea could include taking the time to sew an exquisite dress, spending the effort to make a really special cake, having a bunch of people pitch in to put the centrepieces together.

2. Sentimental association

This is when you include objects that belonged to a loved one, or do things that remind you of your love for someone, or something that just means a lot to you. Playing a song that is meaningful to you. Giving speeches and toasts also falls into this category – they serve to spark emotion, maybe get a bit nostalgic, and bring love to the surface.

I plan to do all these things. My wedding ring is going to have a diamond that my mom’s grandfather gave to her. And we will play the songs, and we will have the speeches.

3. Ritual and ceremony

This is the heart of what makes something a wedding and not a family reunion with centrepieces and speeches. This one is cultural. I was raised in an Anglican community. For the people I come from, this means there are certain way weddings are done, and if they’re not done this way, they’re not as much of a wedding. Plus the stuff that is not part of the religion but has become definitive (you know what I’m talking about – veils, white dresses, and so on).

The tricky part here is when you’ve already rejected some parts of the culture that make no sense to you. For instance, I am no longer religious, so having religion be any part of my wedding is not something I want. Also I just don’t really like veils. And also I don’t dig myself in white. But I still want it traditionally weddingy enough that everyone there feels that it’s meaningful.

Everyone will strike their own balance here. For us, there will be no priest, no prayers, and no sermon, but there will still be an aisle walk, readings, vows, a ring exchange, and a kiss. I won’t wear a long white dress or a veil, but I will carry a bouquet, wear a light coloured dress, and probably have something nice in my hair.

So, I offer this as hope for any engaged couples out there who might be despairing the difference between their original wedding fantasies and what it turns out they can afford. The beauty of your wedding does not come from money. You can still go ahead and have something incredible. And stay financially solvent to boot.