Tag Archives: Manifesto

Manifesto: The meaning of frugal

When I told my mom I was going to start a blog, and I was going to call it Frugal Wedding, she said, “Frugal?” in the exact same tone she would say “Are you nuts?”

“Why not call it Stingy Wedding? Mean Wedding?” she says (laughing, because she is very much enjoying her own wit). So I try to explain that no, Mom, frugal doesn’t mean stingy. It does generally mean not expensive, sure, but it’s so much more than that.

And then other day I was telling her about how much I want dancing at my wedding. “Well, that’s not very frugal. You’d need a place to dance, so you’d need to pay for a venue that has that. And you’d need to pay for the music. It’s very expensive to dance.”

Well, I disagree that a frugal wedding can’t have dancing (also, my mom has not heard of iPod weddings). So let me clear up exactly what is meant by frugal, and why it’s in the name of this blog.

1. Frugal does not mean cheap, it means rationally within your means.

It doesn’t mean ‘as thrifty as I can possibly get away with’. It’s not Spartan. It just means something you can sensibly afford.

2. Frugal is not the opposite of abundant, it is the opposite of wasteful.

In fact frugality is the rejection of the wasteful. Being frugal means choosing to have fewer things, and have them be of real substance, over choosing lots of things without much substance.

This applies to all sorts of things. For example, food: frugal is buying high-quality ingredients, or growing some of your own food, and maybe not eating meat as often if it’s not in your budget. Cheap is buying and living off junk food. Or how about, pots and pans: frugal is saving up to buy high quality ones that will last a lifetime and you will never have to replace. Cheap is buying crappy ones that don’t last.

It’s no surprise that the term frugal has been co-opted by the environmental movement, which is largely about living a less wasteful lifestyle. Frugal is a positive, not a negative!

3. Frugality is not incompatible with celebration.

Celebration and frugality go together hand in hand. Living a frugal life, day to day, is what makes the celebration special, and hence gives it meaning. If you eat cake every day of the year, it’s no big deal when you celebrate your birthday with a cake. But if birthday parties were the only days you ate cake, I bet your birthday would feel extra magical.

So, when I say a wedding should be frugal, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an out-of-the-ordinary celebration that you spend a lot of time and effort preparing and saving for. I’m saying lets put that into perspective, and make it a special celebration that’s in keeping with the scale of the rest of your life, both culturally and financially.

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Frugal Wedding Manifesto: In search of authenticity

Judith Martin, who writes etiquette advice under the nym Miss Manners (she is right about almost everything, and is funny while she does it), discusses the conundrum of formal wear: what is formal, what is not? A hundred or so years ago, she tells us, “people wore evening clothes in the evening. It didn’t take a lot of agonizing to figure that one out — evening, evening clothes; daytime, day clothes – so no instructions were necessary.”

And of course back then all the women were wearing long dresses all the time, both for day and evening. The men, on the other hand, were wearing tails at night, and lounge suits – aka modern business suits – were very casual attire on a par with wearing a tracksuit today.

(As an aside, it’s interesting that men’s clothes, for the last two hundred years or so, have been following a basic cycle of a new casual outfit being invented, and then that outfit rising up through the ranks of formality, while the ones at the height of formality get ousted into extinction. Current example: jeans. A garment that started as strictly casual is now getting adopted more and more into business settings. Meanwhile tails are so close to extinction only royal weddings seem to warrant them anymore.)

Whenever people back then had evening social occasions, this was what they did. Similarly, ‘formal’ invitations were just the way that people invited each other to parties back then.

In fact, the entire wedding reception itself was not very different from the usual parties – albeit perhaps extra special parties – that people used to have. The brides and grooms used to just be attired in their nicest clothes, and it wasn’t unusual for the party to be held in the family home.

These days, the old-school way of doing things has been romanticised through the lens of nostalgia, with people perhaps forgetting that the old forms don’t necessarily have anything to do with our 21st century lives. For instance, the long bridal dress has sustained, while everyone else at the wedding stopped wearing long dresses decades ago.

So what would a wedding look like these days if it just resembled other big, special parties we have?

Personally, I’ve never hosted a party where 100 people attended. I do sometimes have small dinner parties though, though the vast majority of social occasions for Marc and I look more like this:

Poolside BBQ = good times

Actually, in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia (though not in US, I’m given to understand), 21st birthdays are special occasions where a dedicated, and often pretty large, party is held. There will usually be friends as well as family, and there will generally be some speeches involved. Overall, pretty comparable to what you might want in a wedding reception really. Let’s take a look at how a typical 21st party in NZ goes down:

–       Often held at the parents home (in Auckland, most local undergrads still live with their parents), though sometimes a venue, such as a bar, was rented out.

–       Everyone attired along similar lines to how we would dress to go to pub, ie, slightly dressed-up casual.

–       Food would be buffet-style, and sometimes professionally catered, sometimes not.

–       Drinks aplenty!

–       Occasionally a professional DJ is hired.

(There’s also the part where the birthday boy ritually downs a yardie with his best man assisting, but we’ll put that aside.)

Standard Weddings today are inauthentic. First, they are financially inauthentic, because as I have said before, how in the world are people paying for these weddings? They are also inauthentic to the type of lives we lead, and the types of parties we have – only a minority of people give actual balls, involving a large number of guests eating a formal sit-down meal of several courses, and people dancing while wearing ball gowns.  They’re also internal inconsistent, with the bride dressed much more formally than any of the other women there.

All of this bugs me.

Say it with me now: We need a new paradigm!

Frugal Wedding Manifesto: We need a new paradigm

I’ve been pouring over wedding magazines, or really mostly wedding dresses, practically ever since I can remember. But it’s been a waste of time, because the kind of things showcased in wedding magazines are only relevant to the lives of a richer minority.

I’m searching for something, something that speaks to me in just the right way. It’s a quest for a certain aesthetic. I’m sure lots of people experience it, whether it’s about dresses, or furniture, or really any art : you get a vision of how you want it to be, only the vision is very hazy. You can feel the vibe, and maybe some of the macro aspects of the design (art deco!), but the details remain hazy. And so you search and search, all the while trying to hang onto the original feeling and trying not to pollute it with all the new pictures you’re seeing.  You keep looking, mostly assessing each new item in terms of the ways it doesn’t fit. And then, sometimes, you find it, and you think, This! This is what I’m talking about!

Today I happened to come across a wedding in a magazine that fit like that, with everything I think I want, and more amazingly, almost no element I didn’t like. Want to see what my fantasy wedding looks like? It’s in the May 2011 of Country Living (British Version). Let’s dive in, with a selection of excerpts:

“..farmhouse…courtyard…rose garden…orchard…” Yay! A country setting! Very The Shire*-like . Tell me more!

“…linen napkins tied with pink ribbon…swags of ivy…” Yay! How rustically pretty!

“…favours for every guest – small lavender pillows made from old French linen…” Wait, what?

“…summer vegetables supplied by a neighbouring organic farmer…”Crap. I don’t have one of those.

Ah dammit, let’s just cut to the chase and see what this wedding cost.

Well, of course the magazine doesn’t talk about the budget, silly chickens! It does say the dress is from Pronovias though. Also the entire thing hinges on one of the couple having a family holiday farmhouse in Normandy. Dammit, I don’t have one of those either! Looking on Once Wed, I can see second-hand Pronovius dresses going for about US$1000…let’s be conservative and say a new one cost about $1500. Reversing-engineering from this online calculator, we can estimate the whole wedding cost about $25k. To reasonably pay for a wedding that expensive, you’re looking at a couple with $250k in income a year. Or ok, say if for an entire year the couple doesn’t buy anything else big ticket-ish (a honeymoon maybe?), they need to be making about $125k in combined income.

Guess what the median income of marrying couples in your country is not?

So where, oh where, are the weddings for the all the people that aren’t higher end earners? How in the world is everyone paying for their weddings, for goodness sakes? Why is the Standard Wedding something that is not achievable on a standard income?

We need a new paradigm!

*As in, where the hobbits live. It forms the basis of my personal version of Utopia. Go ahead and laugh, I’m not ashamed!

Frugal Wedding Manifesto: Let’s talk about actual numbers

Let’s say you have just decided to start planning a wedding (congratulations!), and let’s say you want to be financially responsible about it. One of the first things you might do is start searching for budget weddings online, to look for inspiring examples and get some good advice. Here’s what you will find:

–          Lists of things not to include in your wedding

Gee thanks internet! I couldn’t figure out on my own that an off-peak season wedding would be cheaper, or that second hand things are cheaper. Who knew?

 –          Featured weddings calling themselves budget, that really aren’t

 Singularly unhelpful, internet. And please stop making me feel poor.

 –          Featured weddings that look and claim to be budget, but they haven’t told you how much was spent

Except on Style Me Pretty, where even the featured $5000 wedding (the only “Budget Beautiful” one that has a number attached) looks expensive. You too can fake being rich!

Here’s what you won’t find very easily:

–          Featured weddings that detail how much was actually spent on each item

Unless you were reading A Practical Wedding on the day back in 2010 that Meg got everyone to comment anonymously with their budgets. 491 comments! Score! Except, now we don’t have pictures…sad face.

Here’s what you won’t find at all:

–          Featured weddings that discuss how the in the world it was paid for

–          A discussion about how to fit financing the wedding into the rest of your financial life

The absence of this one is especially frustrating on the blogs that are supposed to be all about kicking the ubiquitously unrealistic Wedding Industrial Complex to the curb.

So Frugal Wedding is here to fix that. Frugal Wedding is your destination on the web where we can talk about the actual numbers.