Wedding Budgets

Photo credit: edited from  Jenifer Corea  on flikr

Photo credit: edited from Jenifer Corea on flikr

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a local journalist who was curious about the book and interested in possibly doing a story on it. I, in turn, was curious about his interest. So we phone tag, then I emailed him some weddings as examples of what our purpose is in the book. In the end, his response was the following:

Thanks for responding. I think I had the wrong impression. I thought this was about trimming down the extravagant trappings of the modern wedding. Thanks for the help. 

Now, I certainly can't blame him for not wanting to do a story on having a Christ-centered wedding. In fact, the thought scared me a bit. I didn't want it to be some odd cultural phenomenon, equivalent to people staring at a circus side-show. Because the truth is that the world isn't going to understand what makes a couple include confession of sin in their wedding ceremony, or wash one another's feet, or reverse the order of ceremony and reception to make the ceremony the main focus. 

But what was most interesting to me was the idea that he thought the book was about "trimming down the extravagant trappings." On the one hand, I totally get it. Much of the marketing content surrounding the book describes modern weddings as "circuses" and discusses the high costs ($29,000 on average, at last count). 

But I think it's a common misconception that we are advocating just trimming down, saving money, and doing away with all the show. To be certain, usually all of those things are needed. But not as an end in and of themselves.

We have to be about more than just cutting back for the ever-elusive sake of "simplicity." 

There must be a greater vision steering the whole ship.

The following is an excerpt from the book, written by my sister-in-law, who, in service of the bride of Christ, graciously shared her own story:

Jennifer’s Story

I was so excited to get married.  In all honesty, I didn't care too much for the planning, but I did want a nice, simple-ish wedding.  To tell the truth though, I just wanted to be married.  When I began to read that the average American wedding cost more than $25,000 (in 2005 anyway), all I could think was, "Not only can I spend less than that, I bet I could get away with only spending a few thousand dollars."  After all, how would I explain to my future children and grandchildren the importance of saving money, if I couldn't do it?

So I set off to have the cheapest, er, least expensive wedding out of anyone I knew.  When I found my dress on sale for $100, it sealed the deal.  I knew for sure I could do it.  So I began to ask friends for favors ("You kind of make cakes?  Excellent, you're in!"  "You got a new camera?  Wonderful! You're our photographer!").  I probably even secretly looked down on my friends who were spending more (“Oh wow, you only spent $2000 for your photographer??  Great job!"--a.k.a "mine was free").

It wasn't until some years later that I attended a wedding that was so gospel centered that I may have sobbed out of happiness (and guilt) throughout the entire ceremony.  I wanted to get married again, and not just because I love my husband, but because I wanted a second chance to highlight the truly important part of a wedding--the display of God's kindness, His grace upon grace, the picture of His love for His bride, His glory.  In the few moments after the ceremony, I mourned the loss of an exceptional opportunity.  Did this couple spend more than we did?  Yes.  Did it matter?  No.  Did the people attending the ceremony (and reception) think about things other than the glory of Christ?  It's a possibility, but it would have been difficult to do so.  

My husband and I talked that night…discussing things that we would have done differently.  The overwhelming change would have been to rid the ceremony of us and to fill it with the undeniable glory of Christ.  I made a vow in my heart that evening to make sure that God's glory would be displayed in my marriage.  I missed the opportunity on my wedding day…may God give me the grace to show His glory in my marriage daily.

I think Jen's story is telling of what we frequently do--we see all the nonsense that goes on it modern wedding planning (and, to be sure, there is plenty of nonsense), and so we think we must distance ourselves from that by being against something--spending money.

But what if, instead, we defined our wedding by what we were for? What if every decision was put not just through the filter of "What does it cost?" but "What is the purpose?"

Sometimes, in an effort to save money and yet still achieve our idea of wedding perfection, we end up exhausting everyone around us. We ask friends and family to DIY everything, and everyone ends up too tired to enjoy the wedding. Of course, it's not wrong to ask for help. But sometimes we need to either be willing to spend more, or to ask God to change our expectations of what our wedding will look like.

The truth is, a wedding is a worthy cause on which to spend money. It is a celebration of God's good gift of love to His image-bearers, and it is a representation of a far greater reality--His own love for us, manifested in His Son, our true Bridegroom. So it is fitting to spend some of our resources on this event, bearing in mind the true purpose of it all.

We don't give a lot of firm rules in the book. In fact, I can only think of a couple. And one is this: Don't go into debt to pay for a wedding. There are so many options to have a beautiful, meaningful wedding, without it costing a fortune. It might mean altering expectations and dreams, but when the focus shifts to the glory of God and rejoicing in the gospel, some of the other things fade away. 

So we encourage couples in this: It is right and good to plan a wedding and to spend some resources on it. The amount and percentage will differ from family to family, and couple to couple. But the guiding principle is the same--this is a day on which we can rejoice, with family and friends, at the grace of God in bringing two people, from two families, to this point in time, with a vision of making much of Him. 

What about you? Have you seen couples strike this tone well--focusing on the purpose, rather than going to financial extremes?