Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Budget-Friendly Principle

"One day common people, endowed with common sense, are going to get bored with being inhuman or, rather, with being continually dehumanized by wealth. And they will get rid of it, even if philosophers and producers of the superfluous swear that they are wrong." - Alberto Moravia

Budget-FriendlyIt's not hard to understand why a low-budget wedding appeals to so many people as they contemplate marriage. Apart from all the hype about this being "the most important day of your life" (to which I always respond kindly that I certainly hope my life doesn't peak at twenty-eight), the fact is that most weddings are a step towards married life, family life, and all the dreams, plans and future expenses that those things entail.

Certainly there are a few people — by which I mean, mostly, a few women — who have dreamt of a huge, gorgeous wedding with half the town in attendance since they were children swooning over neighborhood boys and practicing signing their names Mrs. Right surrounded by doodles of hearts and flowers. But for many of us these days, the excess of the "Wedding Industrial Complex" — with all its designer gowns and endless remonstrations against the tacky and the trite — has already gotten old and tiresome long before we start thinking about walking down the aisle ourselves.

The WIC knows this, of course. Browse the wedding-themed section of your local bookstore, and you're bound to find at least a dozen books on how to throw an "elegant wedding under $10,00," or even some brave books proclaiming a do-it-yourself guide to a $5,000-or-less wedding complete with homemade favor ideas and tips on how to drive your kitchen-savvy future mother-in-law crazy trying to self-cater a reception for five-hundred guests. There are probably more books on how to throw an inexpensive wedding than on any other single wedding-related topic. Now, I love books, don't get me wrong. But it seems half these suggestions could land you in a deep hole of abandoned attempts at crafts and cooking, not to mention a bit of strife with your bridal party. And besides, spending money to save money never made much sense to me.

So when it came to thinking about finances, Jeff and I sat down and had a simple but serious discussion. It seemed obvious to us that a low-budget wedding was the way to go, for several reasons. The first was that this would be Jeff's second. And like many previously-married men, all those expenses of the forthcoming family life had, well, already come knocking. It wasn't a question of maybe perhaps possibly saving a little money to someday have maybe a kid or two; Jeff already had four of them. Setting money aside for family expenses absolutely had to take priority over any dream of a large, fancy wedding.

I was okay with that. After all, I'm not exactly the large-and-fancy type. Having worked as a waitress for the past five years, I have come to value a certain financial frugality embodied whole-heartedly in the old saying, "The best things in life are free!" You don't get by on a waitress's income by learning how to make your own applesauce and sew your own hippie skirts. You learn to make ends meet by learning how to prioritize: doing without the cable television and the gas-guzzling automobile and the weekly trips to the shopping mall. Especially if it means you have a bit of cash left over to treat yourself to a pint of organic, fair-trade chocolate ice cream after a particularly rough week at work.

That's right — even if the organic, fair-trade chocolate is a bit more expensive than the regular kind! Because we're not talking about miserly greed here, or an asceticism fed by middle-class guilt. We're talking about priorities: an approach to life and wealth that embraces with gratitude the natural, self-giving fecundity of the earth, an approach that affirms the connection between simplicity, prosperity and generosity not only for ourselves but for everyone who shares this world with us.

So that was how Jeff and I decided to approach the wedding budget. A wedding is, after all, a celebration and affirmation of our partnership and our shared values. One of those shared values is a sense of social justice and its expression in competing economic pressures. We share, too, a certain ambivalence towards the role of consumerism in the modern American life, and a dream that we might someday learn to live more generously and compassionately with our fellow human beings. We strive not only to live simply, but to live beautifully and graciously. So we thought, what better way to celebrate our future life together than to plan our wedding with these same principles in mind?

That, at least, is the idea. As we plunge ahead into wedding planning over the next year, we hope to make choices based on a balance between a modest attitude towards spending, and an appreciation for when things are worth the expense. That might mean we do without some of the more "traditional" wedding expenditures (goodbye, custom-designed, hand-calligraphed embossed silk wedding stationary with matching envelopes!). It definitely means we'll have to get creative in our planning, as we find ways to make our limited budget do double- and triple-duty.

When it comes times for the Big Day, though, we hope to craft an experience that will be simple, beautiful — dare I say, elegant? — and most importantly, memorable and full of joy!


  1. I know that your wedding day is going to be beautiful, because you are going to be in it. And I know it is going to be wonderful, because it is going to begin a marriage that is a Very Good Idea.

    I am so warmly glad for you both. *big shiny happy face*

  2. Yes, how and where we spend our money is simply a matter of prioritizing, we don't need to buy as many things as we want to.

    If only more people think about this when they spend.