Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the Budget

Mr. Air at one time threw out the question of us just having a big party to celebrate instead of the whole wedding affair. is a big party! Just a ginormous party with a whole industry built around it to capitalize on every aspect. The problem with not calling it a wedding was that it wouldn't be a compelling reason for all his friends on the east coast to come out. So, yes, it was to be a wedding.

All the planning checklists tell you first things first, to set a budget. We were not sure what to do. "How much do weddings cost?", we asked. According to various mags or websites, the national average was something to the tune of $28-30k dollars.

That could be even compared to a wedding from the 1940's (ok this is probably extreme for the 40s, since the person was likely very rich). From the mint financial blog:
In an article published in the Saturday Evening Post on May 26, 1946 (a scan of which landed in our inbox thanks to Shane Murray of The Wedding Report), author Horace W. Osborne gives a humorous, if overly detailed account of his daughter’s wedding preparations — and all the costs involved.
His daughter’s wedding dress cost $191.45, the florist charged $220 and the wedding cake was $45. The total tab wedding tab ran at $2,238.47.
Adjusted for inflation:
Dress: $2,320.57 
Florist: $2,666.62
Wedding cake: $545.45
Total: $27,132.49.


But back to the future! Er, present day. $28-30k average? Holy cow, that's a lot of moolah. Our thoughts were "ok, guess we'll try to go for the average cost". Budget calculator, take 30k and make it so.

Our plan was - don't go crazy, or anything over the top, but just spend whatever was reasonable. Then I determined what I felt was important (and Air agreed of course):

the venue - most of the guests would be coming in from out of town (and a number of east coast flyers), so wanted some place nice that made their trip worthwhile. And I wanted somewhere outdoorsy that was not a country or athletic club. And definitely NOT a hotel (I PMed IT setups for work conferences, so I've spent a LOT of time in hotels).

the photographer - all you have left after the wedding are the photos, we both always play the part of photographers, so we don't really have any pictures. And since we're both photographers, it needed to be of quality stuff.

Photographer Aaron Morris
(sorry, there will be no garter getting for us)

the food - we are foodies. When I think of weddings, I think of 10 course Chinese banquets. That's what I wanted! Typical American food at weddings is always terrible! Dried out, overcooked pieces of bland steak, chicken or salmon. BLEH! Single entrees just does not work as well as Chinese family style for large groups.

Chinese New Year's Dinner at Chef Chu's 
one of the dishes with a fish carved out of a carrot! source: my cell phone

That's a whole entire wedding there! It was hard to see the whole financial picture when we started, since I just compared the costs to similar venues, or photographers, or caterers. None of the budget sheets gave me an idea of how must everything would really cost. So we made our own spreadsheet (a bit after we started the deposits for the big things).

Was 30k really an average cost for weddings in the SF Bay Area? Um no.

Costs in metropolitan areas, like the SF Bay Area where we live, costs even more.

The Knot (2009):
New York City and Long Island have the highest wedding budget ($56,999 and $55,877 respectively). Arkansas has the lowest wedding budget ($15,073), followed by Idaho and Utah ($15,276 and $16,030 respectively). 

San Francisco weddings are the most expensive in the country coming close to an average of $45,000. That's nearly three times more than Philadelphia and twice as much as Chicago. San Franciscans also spend more on engagement rings. The average ring is $6,525 compared to New York where it's $3,851. (2009):

For: 94043 Mountain View, CA
Wedding Cost by:
Estimated Cost: between $32,060 and $53,433 for guests of 100-150 (7/2010):
Estimated Cost: between $27,433 and $45,721 with guests of 100-150 and a Traditional wedding.

Well ok, maybe closer to that amount for the South Bay. It's still a lot.

And it's comparative to the highest rents in the country! My parents asked me why is our spending is so much more than so and so, who spent $15k on their wedding in Fresno...well, it's not Fresno, Dad! There's a reason why things are cheap there...

Well, we don't have any debt (Air has a car payment), so we are paying everything as we go (from cash savings) so we are not incurring any debt. It's just delaying our goal of buying a house. What I really, really, wonder is, how does everyone else pay for this stuff?

On Say Yes to the Dress it's not uncommon for a bride to be spending $4-5 thousand dollars on a dress! My high end of willingness to spend on a dress doesn't even reach the low budget end of the brides shopping at Kleinfelds. And these brides are elementary teachers or police officers or in a profession which doesn't say - I have a lot of money to spend on a dress. We live in an area that has a high cost of living, so we also make more than a number of people in the country (we are very lucky), yet they are okay with spending several thousand dollars on a dress for a few hours, where it's way beyond reasonable for me?

Air's favorite fashionista, Randy Fenoli source - FIT NYC
"The average cost of a wedding dress in the U.S. is $800; at Kleinfeld, it’s $4-5,000."

But I do realize it also depends what's important to the bride, if the dress is important, she'll spend more on the dress. And that Kleinfeld's has a certain But how do they pay for everything?!? It's not a walk in the park for us and we don't have have any debt, compared to the average US household which does carry debt. I saw a Craigslist ad recently looking for a 30k wedding loan. Oh boy...bad, bad idea.

Looking at all these wedding inspiration websites and magazines is bad in some aspects too. Although they are great for ideas, they in a way set this standard for wedding greatness and plant into your head that you need x and y and detail z. My advice in retrospect, would be to figure how much is a wedding worth to spend for YOU, then make everything fit into that. Well, I guess that's another way to say 'budget'. :) And it was a lot easier to think things are not so bad when you're paying them bit by bit.

But costs aside, we are really having things the way we want them to be and are looking so forward about having all of these great people in one place for one big (eating) party! It's going to be at this FANTASTIC venue with our closest friends and family and eating DELICIOUS food. LOTS of it.

And that's the reason why we wanted to have a wedding. To get our family and friends all together in one place, throw a party, and show them a good time!


  1. Great post. I totally agree. Budgeting and spending for a wedding can get crazy and it can be even harder to explain to people that have not been a part of a wedding recently.

    Enjoy your wedding at Nestldown! I recently went to a wedding there and it was so beautiful and fun. (a tip for your guests: Remind them to wear shoes that they can comfortably walk up/down hills & stairs in.)

  2. Thanks! If I knew how much we were spending at the onset of planning...I would have been incredulous at the amount...but several couples I've talked to seem to be spending about the same, crazy!