Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wedding Costs

Jack Davidov is the inspiration for my newest post. Jack wrote:
Can you please do a post about how much a reasonable chasuna should cost? My
wife's friend is convinced that she must borrow an exorbitant amount of money to
pay for her wedding. I've been trying to convince her to scale down, but she
would rather just borrow money for a one day event. I don't know if she is going
to do it or not, but I am sure that there are others like her out there.

What a great topic idea for a blog entitled "Orthonomics." To start off my post I will state unequivocally that going into debt for a wedding is a terrible idea. And, I believe that it is a terrible idea for either the couple or for their parents. As far as I am concerned it sets a bad tone at the beginning of the wedding, one of being unable to work within what is realistic and reasonable. In the worst case scenario, the debt lasts beyond the life of the marriage (unfortunately not unheard of). But, even in happy marriage, who wants to continue making payments on flowers that have long since wilted and ice sculptures that have long since melted.

While the general population show great variation when it comes to making a wedding, a wedding in the Orthodox world tends to follow a format that varies only within a small box. And many couples feel embarrassed to deviate from the established "minhag." While couples in the general population may choose a wedding format that includes everything and anything from a BBQ in their own backyard to a lavish wedding with all the trimmings in the Four Seasons, couples in the frum world feel tied to a format that seems practically engraved in stone.

The formula may appear to leave very little room to cut costs, but fortunately appearance can be deceiving. There is a lot of room to save money and keep costs down even while following the general format. While I have been to a handful of Orthodox weddings that broke with "tradition," I am not going to write about such weddings because I don't want my practical suggestions to fall upon deaf ears. Instead, I am going to work within the box and tell you how to trim the budget within it.

So what should a wedding cost? Obviously I cannot offer a solid figure because each city has it's own pricing structure and the cost of a wedding in Los Angeles is going to be more expensive than a wedding in Baltimore. I do think one should be able to make a wedding with some "extras" for approximately 150 people for under $15,000 even major cities. Bigger weddings are going to be more costly because the larger halls have the ability to charge a lot more and demand is high. So, I highly encourage trying to keep the guest list under control.

Here are my list of practical suggestions to keep the wedding costs and all the other costs affiliated with the wedding under control. Some are more radical, but I promise you that none of them will make your engagement and wedding appear outside the box:

1. Avoid making a Vort. The Vort has got to be the single biggest waste of money and time in the world of frum weddings. Whether the food and desserts for the wedding are baked at home, bought at your local bakery, or catered by a profession, it is all unnecessary. And, I am not even going to touch upon the travel costs sustained by the parents, the couple, and the siblings. I've been to "modest" vorts where there is a table of desserts and candies and I've been to vorts in rented halls with catered desserts, music and professional photography.

And no matter the format of the vort, no purpose is served (with the exception of the parents meeting each other in a rather artificial environment where they have little to no opportunity to actual speak with each other). If a couple throwing a vort pulled out a chuppah and just got married, the expenses would be justified. But, since I have yet to see that happen even when there is professional photography and the kallah's sisters have their hair and makeup done for the occassion, I'm afraid the vort serves little to no purpose.

If you want to have a celebration and have well wishers, just hold an improptu open house with a sheet cake and a few bottles of soda. But, there is no need for floral arrangements, professional photography, or anything else. If you want some nice pictures, I recommend Sear's or JC Penny's. With a coupon you can buy sheets for $3.99 a page.

2. Only pay for the engagement gifts that you can afford. (And, I know this is radical, but parents there is no need for you to provide gifts. If your kids are not of the means to buy each other the long litany of "required" gifts from the diamond, to the pearls, to the silver and more and more and more ad naseum, then they should not be buying each other such gifts. If you want, choose a nice gift or two for your future son-in-law or daughter-in-law and don't worry about what your friends or their friends will think.) Engagement gifts deserve a post of their own because they have their own culture and that culture is just out of control.

3. When seeking a wedding hall, do your homework. There are many shuls that have the capability to make wonderful weddings, but are underutilized because they do not seat large numbers of people. But, if you can keep your guest list under control or get creative with your guest list to do so, you can often find really great deals.

4. Not all things that are found at weddings are necessities and if you go without few these things, few if any will miss them. Some of the items that can be skipped, replaced, or parred down on: floral arrangements, liquor, the shmorg, monograms, stationary and bentchers, and matching dresses.

If you want fresh flowers, explore the grocery store or reliable internet floral shops. You might not get your dream, but you can still have fresh. If you can do without floral and still want a centerpiece, explore craft stores and the dollar stores.

A fancy shmorg is fun, but it is a short lived experience and a small dessert table with cakes, fresh fruit, and salads can keep the guests fed and not break the bank. Same for liquor. A full bar is just not necessary.

Watch out for the stationary expenses as they can add up quick. A monogram might "only" cost $100. But, oftentimes there are extra expenses for setting up the print or printing the monogram on the inviations. These expenses add up quickly. In our case the invitation printer provided a free monogram and we did not have it printed on anything else.

Matching dresses for all 10 sisters and sister-in-law are unnecessary. If you really want to have a color theme, do your pocket book a favor and just pick a color and let everyone find something they like and will wear more than once. If you are really brave, scrap the color scheme completely.

5. Bid different vendors against each other. Bargaining is allowed in the wedding business. And, make sure to draw up extremely detailed contracts and agreements. You need to think of everything because wedding vendors are notorious for surprises. You don't want to find out that there is an extra charge for napkins or an extra charge for cleanup. Make sure to inquire about tips and gratuities and get these written into the contract also if possible.

6. Make sure you know what each hall requires of your beyond the rent for the hall. If they are charging a kitchen fee for each meal served by your caterer, valet parking, or security you need to know in advance. I would try to avoid halls that nickel and dime you for each charge. Coordinating these various services is akin to coordinating the Olympics and time is money.

6. Put a chuppah only option on your invitations and hope that the people who are not planning to stay for the seudah feel comfortable selecting that option. Also, keep the break between the chuppah and the seudah as short as possible. It is so sad how many meals get paid for that are not eaten.

7. Limit the photography to certain hours. Most photographers include a few hours in their base fee. Chances are you will get the photos you want from the bedekin, chuppah, and the 1st dance set. The law of dimishing returns sets in after that. Make sure the photographer knows where to pick the check up after his time is up. Same for videography.

8. Photography and videography are tempting. Speak with your friends who have been married for a good few years and find out what they would pay for if they could go back in time. An album is nice. A few good photos for the mantle or the wall are nice. Chances are the video with the special features is collecting dust and a shorter video is more than enough.

9. Limit the band to certain hours also. Like photographers, bands usually provide enough hours to make it through the reception. Consider doing without for the bedekin and consider a single musician for the chuppah if you really want music there. And, like the photographer, make sure the band leader knows where to collect the already written check at the end of his contracted term.

10. Once the wedding is over, make sure sheva brachot are within control. There is no reason to hold another wedding on day 3 although I have seen that done, floral arrangements, 100 guests, and live music. If you are lucky, your friends will hold a pizza shop sheva brachot or a potluck and you will actually get to visit with your friends. But, like I said, once the wedding is over it is over. Enjoy sheva brachot, but don't try to make another wedding. That is completely unnecessary.

I'm interested to hear all of your ideas on how to limit wedding costs while still fitting in the box. I'm not opposed to stepping outside of the box in the least. But, for many people it is just not practical. And, I like to speak to a bigger audience rather than a smaller one.


orthomom said...

Great post. This is shaping up to be a fascinating blog.

Orthonomics said...

I'm all smiles Orthomom. And, I'm thankful to my readers for pointing me in great directions.

Yitzchak Jakobi said...

I agree with you 100%. My wife and I planned our own wedding and we cut costs wherever we could. A couple things that we did: A large percentage of the people that attended were invited to the chupah, we bought our own wine and liquor (the liquor consisted of two bottles of scotch for the Chasan's Tish), and used a bencher and flower gemach. We were also fortunate to get very good deals on the hall, catering, and band because of my wife's connections. We were both very happy with our wedding, and our family really enjoyed the event.

It just seems crazy to me that people spend a fortune that they could use to start their lives together on a single day.

Joe Schick said...

1. I like cutting out the vort. At most, a small l'chaim should suffice. My wife and I had no time for a vort so just cut it out completely.

2. On issue about wedding bands is that they can be very pushy. After the contract was signed - indeed, days before the wedding, the band I was using called me to request my agreement to add two people to the band (we had agreed to a 5 member band). I said no, it would cost too much. Then, they had the lead singer call me to say that without adding these two people, given the size of the wedding hall, etc., the music would be too loud and he would not be able to perform at an optimal level. I responded that in that case he should ask the company to give me the two people for free, since they irresponsibly agreed to sign a contract for performance at that hall with "only" five members. That was the last I heard of it. For what it's worth, I was 29 when I got married - I'd think many kids getting married at 22 or 23 may, in the same situation, run to mom and dad and asked for the $ to add more band members.

Orthonomics said...

Joe, We also were older when we married. I think that our life experience was extremely valuable in planning a wedding. We approached the vendors with an attitude of authority that one builds after a few years in the professional world.

Our vendors never tried to pull a fast one, if they did (like your band did) they wouldn't have got very far because Mommy and Daddy were not around the corner to rescue us from ourselves.

Thanks for adding your comments. I'm glad to see you coming around.

Yitzchak Jakobi said...

By the way, I went back and looked at my original comment - I really, really mispelled the word "exorbitant." Thank you for correcting my spelling, I would have felt pretty stupid if it was re-printed the way I spelled it.

Orthonomics said...

Exorbitant must be a really hard word to spell because I mispelled it also in my and the spellchecker couldn't even make a replacement suggestion because it was so bad.

Anonymous said...

1. Avoid making a Vort.

We didn't have one. Instead, some friends threw us a pot luck party with a boom box providing the music. Simple. No expense.

3. When seeking a wedding hall, do your homework.

We got married in her shul. I think it cost us $250. It was far more beautiful and memorable than the generic wedding halls most people rent.

4. Not all things that are found at weddings are necessities

We had no alcohol and went for the small dessert table. We served fish rather than meat, which saved money and allowed us to serve ice cream and dairy pastries for dessert! We didn't do matching dresses. I bought a new suit at Men's Wearhouse and Paula ordered a wedding dress for $500 or so from an internet site. (It wasn't easy to find a nearly tzinut wedding dress and even that one had to be altered a little. She gave it to a bridal gemachs after the wedding.)

8. Photography and videography are tempting.

We skipped the video but got very nice still pictures both from an official photographer and our friends.

10. Once the wedding is over, make sure sheva brachot

Amen! Basically, friends treated us to big pot luck meals every night but one for the next week -- and that was it!

I was 47 and she 44 when we got married. We really didn't want to be paying off the wedding with our social security checks. We had 140 guests and managed to pay just a little over $10,000 for everything.

And a year later we are still in love and have absolutely no regrets.

Ezzie said...

I really liked this post!

All right...

1. Avoid making a Vort.

I agree! We had one. I didn't understand it then, and I still don't. The "l'chaim" the night we got engaged was a) a lot more fun; b) cost almost nothing; and c) more friends were able to make it to the former, not the latter.

Even saying that, our vort was cheap: We have great pictures from my mom's camera and my MIL's, and we wore typical Shabbos clothes. Plus, our families did get to meet a bit more, as my parents came in for Shabbos and other family came early to the vort.

2) I don't understand why there are engagement gifts at all, save the ring. By us, each set of parents wanted to get the new s/d in-law something. My guess is each spent around $100. I still don't get it, but it made everyone happy, and wasn't breaking the bank. Fine.

3) Amen. We got one with a huge dance floor 3 minutes from my in-laws - it was nice, clean, and not too expensive (AFAIK).

4) We had no bar. Who needs it?! If the friends can't be 'b'simcha' without liquor, they shouldn't be your friends. A couple (more shy) friends have said it makes it easier to dance a little more or do shtick - I hear that, but then a couple bottles at the beginning should be fine for everybody.

We had just fruits-type stuff at the shmorg, IIRC. No hot foods at all, actually. Fish, pasta, fruits, etc. Nobody complained - some thought it was great. Saved a TON of $$.

My wife loves purple, but my mom already had something in gold. So the moms wore their own gold stuff, and the sisters et al wore whatever they found and liked in purple. No "matching" this or that, and they can wear the stuff again... except that most of them were borrowed, which is really cheap. :)

5) We did this for the band, and discovered that the band we loved from Baltimore (true mensch, Nussi Gross) was cheaper than the ones in NY - even to bring north. Plus, they don't play too loud, which is an obnoxious trait of most bands.

6) We got most pics out of the way early, and everyone was told in advance where to be for pics. They went quickly and smoothly.

7) You're right, to an extent - some of the better 'shtick' and pics are in the second set, for 2 reasons: It's mostly only good friends/family dancing by then, and people are more comfortable to do the shtick then.

8) Make sure that included in the contract is something about how long it will take to receive your pictures. We still haven't gotten ours. (almost 20 months) The video was great, though - especially because you can't see what goes on in the other rooms/side.

9) Amen. Nussi Gross was so nice (and no, I don't get commission), he didn't force anything. I'm pretty sure we only had 1-2 players for the badekin, 1 for the chuppah, and 5 for the wedding - and his 5 was cheaper than most people's 4.

10) Yes!! Our first one was a simple, casual, one at my wife's uncle; then came Shabbos at the in-laws and a neighbor of theirs - nice, nothing too fancy; then we went to my sister for a July 4th BBQ Sheva Brachos in Baltimore; then, our only one in Cleveland (where most hadn't been to the wedding), was dressy - which by Cle. standards meant Shabbos clothes in a neighbor's home. Our last one would've been 17 Tamuz, so we got out of one and rested. I'd guess that no Sheva Brachos cost more than a few hundred dollars - which isn't bad for like 20 people per.

(Sorry so long!! A fav topic of mine...!)

Ezzie said...

Oh, check out the pics, too - you can see that happiness comes without the $$

:) Engagement, Wedding.

Orthonomics said...

Thanks for adding Ezzie. As for photographers, they are notorious for not getting the photos back. I would get on the photographers back. I know someone who NEVER received their photos. After all that time taking the photos, one would like to get them back.

Ezzie said...

We have been on their back - each time, "We're waiting to get them back from the lab." Grrr...