Makeover needed: Weddings

The average wedding in America will cost $28,704 in 2008, according to industry watcher The Wedding Report. That's a slight dip from 2007, but the group predicts by 2013, the bill will rise to $33,552. That's way too much for a one day event, no matter how magical, romantic and life changing.

According to the Census Bureau the median age (as of 2004) for a first time bride was 25 and a groom 27. That's way too young to be spending that kind of money on a party. Money is one of the top things couples fight about. You know what's life-changing: starting a marriage with $30,000 of debt.

I got married about three years ago, so I know how easy it is to get swept up in the notion of this once in a lifetime event. We were planning to be engaged for a year, get married in Chicago and only spend what we had saved. Then my now-husband's father got sick, we moved up the wedding to two months and had it in New York, where we live. Our budget went out the window but we still worked hard to keep every expense under control.

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One of the things we've found was that costs magically doubled whenever we said we were planning a wedding--especially for caterers. The solution: don't say it's a wedding unless you have to. We didn't go for any package. We patched together food from our favorite BBQ place, Blue Smoke; servers from an agency; a chef we liked. We bought a lot of stuff online--including my wedding dress. True I got one dress I didn't like, but I just donated it to charity and still came out way ahead of the bridal boutique price. We also shopped online for the bridesmaid dresses, the nostalgic candies and heartnut trees we gave away instead of almonds, and the bow-tie our dog Jolly wore. My friend Cora joked that the theme of our wedding was buy it online. The result was that we had a fun wedding that was truly our own.

Rebecca Mead has written an entire book One Fine Day: The Selling of the American Wedding about how the $161 billion wedding industry gets couples young and old to buy a fairy tale experience. I've noticed that the older and more financially savvy my friends are, the less likely they are to have a full-blown, pre-packaged wedding. And it doesn't make them any less romantic.
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