I was delighted when my daughter and her fiancé (two working thirty-somethings) announced their engagement, but braced for one of life’s large, required expenditures: the wedding. [The average cost of a wedding climbed to a record high of $35,329 last year, according to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings study. That’s up 8% from the 2015 average.] I was thrilled for them, of course, and just accepted the fact that paying for the wedding was one of those expensive life events one can neither afford nor avoid.
To my delight, the couple, with determination, ingenuity, knowledge, skills and a wide network of loving friends, family members, work colleagues and fellow congregants, arranged themselves a fantastic wedding ceremony, reception and dinner (55 attendees) for an absurdly low cost (to me). I have attended many weddings over the years, including several that easily surpassed the $100,000 threshold. In every respect, this one felt like one of those lavish events. The venue (and ceremony) were beautiful, the food exquisite, the service impeccable. There was room to dance. There was an open bar all night. Valet parking was included.
Total cost to me, the father of the bride: $6,000. Now, that is still not a small amount, and well above the $400 threshold that 47% of Americans cannot come up with to cover an emergency room visit. I put it on my credit card (I get miles!). But still, what a bargain!
How did they do it?
Well, first of all I have to say, this couple are two of the loveliest (and dearly loved) people I know. This is important, because the biggest part of their strategy was to draw upon the skills, knowledge, experience and connections of their wide circle of friends, family, colleagues and fellow congregants. Many components of the wedding they provided themselves or were provided at steep discounts to them, or for no charge at all.
It got me to thinking. If you look over the dozens of pieces I have had published on the NewGeographic.com site over the last eight years, one theme you will detect is a changing American economy, society and culture that is leaving a lot of people behind. [See in particular “Why We Should Nourish Strong Families” and “Are We Unraveling?”.]
We are a divided nation, as last year’s election and events since attest. Where do we go from here? This wedding showed me that maybe the way forward is closer to home than we realize.
The second thing I have to point out about this couple is that to take the route they did indicates priorities in order. They have both been through enough in their lives to know what’s important. They have become independent, smart and strong. Their values are solid, their faith important. They know well that previous generations made do with much less (as do billions of people all over the world today). Also, they enjoyed the challenge!
Upon their engagement, these networks I mentioned – family, friends, co-workers, fellow congregants (these “little platoons,” in the words of Edmund Burke) – sprang into action. This cousin is an event planner who can help negotiate the price of the venue; this friend is a photographer who offered to take engagement photos for free; this acquaintance from church is a budding videographer who wants to record a weddingfor his resume (free of charge, of course!). And so it went.
The venue for the rehearsal dinner (a co-working space in Hollywood) was provided at no charge, since the groom had previously volunteered his time there by painting the walls and helping the creative community move into the space. And oh yes,the bride’s grandmother wants to help pay for the wedding dress, and these tech-savvy young Americans know web sites where you can buy a beautiful one that has been used only once, and then re-sell it back!
Here are some more of the “how did they do it” specifics: They found a restaurant that was just the right size and layout to be utilized for the ceremony, dinner and celebration all, and booked it for the night. This was, of course, after meeting with the owner and chef over a tasting dinner to discuss menu and logistics. On the night of the event, the main room was set up for the ceremony. Attendees were greeted with a flute of champagne and mingled in the bar and all other corners of the place. The photographer and videography roamed; the bride was preparing in an anteroom.
The ceremony was announced. Guests took their seats and the ceremony commenced. We steadied each other when I walked her down the aisle.Their own pastor officiated, which made it personal. One of their friends read a Hebrew blessing over the couple as they stared into each other’s eyes.
After the ceremony, everyone went into the bar area. Drinks and hor d’oeuvres were available. The staff transformed the main area from the ceremony set-up to the dining set-up. Dinner was announced and everyone preceded to the buffet. A rollicking good time was had by all. Afterwards we headed back to the bar area for dancing and celebration.
By doing the wedding in this manner, a separate facility fee was avoided, saving thousands of dollars. The dinner was buffet, saving thousands on wait staff. The couple assembled their own play list on an iPod and played it through the PA system, saving thousands on a band. Regular linens were used – no specials or extras required! The couple negotiated to have everything included: alcohol, parking, tax and gratuity, you name it. The restaurant owner/chef loved it: he cleared more than a regular night’s revenue, and proudly served at the buffet himself!
Further: The bride did her own hair and makeup. The couple borrowed a small microphone and speaker from their church. They made their own centerpieces out of the free engagement photos and $2 frames from IKEA. The venue was beautiful so didn’t need any decorations; the only flowers were the bride’s bouquet and a few boutonnières and corsages (and the free garlands of flowers left by the wedding that rented out the restaurant that morning!). The groom’s suit was bought on sale at a J. Crew outlet store. Instead of a big expensive wedding cake, there were delicious cupcakes that were $1 each. The newlyweds stayed at an Airbnb Hollywood bungalow on their wedding night, and honeymooned at a cheap romantic cabin in the mountains in Ojai.
The night was a fantastic success. Everyone loved it, and the love in the room for the newlyweds was, well, life-affirming. People were coming up to me all night to congratulate the father of the bride. Not knowing the couple had handled (or delegated) everything with such cost-consciousness, they must have been impressed I could afford such an affair!
Can I take any credit? Well, my wife and I (and the groom’s parents too, I might add) are simply passing down what we have learned and experienced from our own families, communities, friends, co-workers and fellow congregants. That’s all, but that’s a lot. When one is part of such networks, one contributes as possible and relies as necessary.
Is this not a prescription for us all as Americans – family, community, work, faith – just as Charles Murray has been telling us? Is this not the way for us to find that elusive unity and solidarity (however paradoxical, ironic, or counterintuitive): national unity through a more local, decentralized, personal environment? Is this not the best of our heritage, and the best hope for the future?
Wait a minute – from each according to ability and to each according to need – isn’t that socialism? No, there’s no government involved: it’s all voluntary, local and small-scale. Politics shouldn’t matter, folks; our support networks make life.