Frugal or foolish? Our cruise-ship wedding

How much should you spend on a wedding? Well, that depends on who you're asking, I suppose. As I'm sure most of you are aware, the personal finance blogosphere tends to be divided into two main camps: those that are focused on investments and entrepreneurship and those that are focused on frugality.

In my experience, however, the entrepreneurship camp is pretty live-and-let-live. The whole “cut everything you don't care about so you can spend whatever you'd like on the things you do care about” school of thought. When you think about it, this makes sense for a few reasons.

  • We all have different skill sets to be utilized in our respective side hustles.
  • Different skills mean different pricing schemes.
  • We all have different work and family situations that we're fitting said side hustles in around.
  • We all care about spending our money on different things, and those things cost different amounts and reflect our tastes and values.

Long story short, what this means is that sometimes it's difficult to talk about investment and entrepreneurial issues in a way that applies to everyone.

  • Scenario 1: Someone who just graduated from college, hasn't been able to find a job yet, and doesn't have much work experience or professional contacts who is moving out of the dorms and trying to get a lease on an apartment.
  • Scenario 2: someone who has been in a stable job in their field for fifteen years and wants to start building up their side hustle so they can leave their nine to five and spend more time working from home now that their second child is on the way and their home is halfway paid off.

How do you give the meaningful advice to both folks at the same time? Not an easy task.

However, if I post a recipe for how to make your own laundry detergent and tell you it only takes 20 minutes to make a six-month supply, well — there's no reason everyone can't take advantage of that, right? As a result, frugalistas tend to be a little more “one size fits all” and, dare I say it, judgmental (in lots of blog communities, anyway, though blessedly less so at GRS).

What does all this have to do with my wedding? While my husband and I spent significantly less than the national average of $27,000, we did end up clocking in at what was — for me, anyway — a nearly heart-stopping $11,400.

However, there's more to this type of spending than pure number-crunching; psychology and social expectations play a huge role, and those who argue that those factors shouldn't play a part are in need of a serious reality check.

Expectations v. Reality

Contrary to stereotype, my idea of a wedding was eloping and sending out postcards to our holiday card list afterward telling people it happened. After all, we not only have school and consumer debt we're trying to pay off (more on that in another post), but we've been together for six years and living together for four of those years. In my eyes, it was a formality that didn't require a huge expense.

My fiancé, on the other hand, wanted the whole shebang: ceremony in a church (which I did manage to talk him out of — barely — by pointing out that we're atheists) and formal reception with a hundred and fifty guests. He'd literally been dreaming of his wedding day his entire life and had never once envisioned it without all the bells and whistles. I can't emphasize this enough; He wanted a black-tie affair and a string quartet, and that's just for starters.

After pointing out a few salient points, like:

  • I hadn't paid off over $10,000 in credit card debt just to rack it all up again, especially when my salary is only $40,000 per year.
  • He had just quit his extremely lucrative job at a mid-size law firm where he was well on his way to partner for a far more uncertain future starting his own firm with a friend who isn't exactly renowned for his work ethic.
  • Our parents were in no position to contribute to the costs: we were completely on our own as far as paying for the wedding.

He agreed with me that there was no way we could pull off a traditional wedding and honeymoon on our own. At first we didn't think this was going to be a big deal; after all, surely there were less-expensive packages offered by wedding vendors, right? We priced five vendors and, much to our surprise, struggled to find a single one that could provide us for a quote under $20,000. Which didn't even include the honeymoon. Gulp. Enter compromise. But where would we even start?

However, over the course of many conversations, priorities began to emerge.

First, neither of us are huge DIY-ers, meaning we weren't going to sit around for hours making invitations and table centerpieces from scratch. Second, having a formal event was non-negotiable; a pot-luck in the park wasn't going to cut it. Third, the event itself could be small, as long as all our friends and family were invited. Fourth, we weren't willing to forgo a honeymoon in favor of the ceremony. And finally, we wanted to go on a cruise for our honeymoon.

The Epiphany

Score! I don't even know where he came across it since it's not on the cruise company's main page, but somewhere in the endless Google searches my husband found what ended up being our solution: having the wedding itself on the cruise ship! While it sounds deliciously decadent, shockingly it ended up our most affordable option.

Here's a rough cost breakdown:

  • Ceremony and Reception: $2000 for up to 20 guests, $30/each thereafter. We ended up paying about $250 for going over the limit, so $2250 total. The reception was an open bar and included a selection of 10 appetizers.
  • DJ: $100. We provided the CDs with music, he was just the host.
  • Flowers: $100. Basic bouquets.
  • Bride's apparel: $600. I bought a sample dress for $110 and had it tailored. This amount also includes my accessories.
  • Groom's apparel: $200, tuxedo rental. Though pricey, a tux was one of his non-negotiables and going through the cruise company was cheaper than having to rent a tux for the entire week of the cruise.
  • Rings: $300 each, $600 total. My ring is white gold with CZ accent stones and his is white gold. We bought mine off a costume jewelry website and his off Amazon.
  • “Rehearsal” dinner: $400. There wasn't actually a rehearsal since the boat docked the morning of the ceremony, but we took our friends and family out for deep-fried seafood the night before we set sail.
  • Invitations: $500. Note: This is probably the expense I regret the most. Due to a pretty significant miscommunication, we waited until the last minute humanly possible to get invitations sorted out, and we paid for it. Ugh.
  • Postage: $100. Note: Don't forget to account for this expense! We had to buy 65-cent stamps for the invitations and then you have to also stamp the RSVP cards. Originally the plan was to do RSVP postcards to save a bit, but since we needed full legal names and birth dates with the RSVPs to comply with cruise ship regulations, this didn't end up being feasible.
  • Wedding website: $100. This was for one year of hosting service, which is about how far in advance you want to start notifying people of a cruise wedding anyway.
  • Bridesmaid's gifts: $300. I bought their jewelry for the wedding as well as took them out to a fancy brunch, since they planned the bridal shower in my state and a bachelorette party in the state where the wedding was held, despite the fact that neither of them lived in either of those states.
  • Favors: $150. This one was almost a fight, too, since the favors he wanted were really expensive. However, since we had fewer than 30 people attending when all was said and done, we could spring for this.
  • Photographs: $1000. Note: this seemed expensive to me, but apparently a professional wedding photographer usually runs $3000 or more. Our photographer was actually included in the cost of the wedding, so the $1000 is only for the prints we purchased and digital copies of those prints. He also turned them around in THREE DAYS, which is apparently unheard of in “normal” wedding photography circles. And everyone agrees that they're stunning.
  • Flights, hotel, and other transportation: $1500. We live in Arizona and the cruise departed from Florida, so we would have spent this regardless. It's also worth noting that my friends and family all are from Florida and having the wedding there was the only way a lot of them could afford to come. Additionally, we ended up having to pay the overweight luggage fees because we weren't willing to pack light for our own wedding.
  • Cruise: $2200. This was a seven-day western Caribbean cruise with four ports of call. We also stayed in one of the nicest cabins on the ship — we had a living area, plenty of closet space, and a balcony.
  • Spending while on cruise: $1300. This included excursions like snorkeling with sting rays, zip lining in Belize, tubing through ancient Mayan caves, alcoholic beverages while on the cruise, and all gratuities.

Total: $11,400

Since the wedding actually happened while the ship was in its home port, guests could attend even if they weren't coming on the cruise. Since they weren't obligated to cruise with us, and most of the guests would have had to travel to us even if we'd gotten married in our home state, the wedding was no more or less a burden to attend than it would have been otherwise. And four of our friends did end up joining us on the cruise, which ended up being even more fun than a honeymoon alone!

The Aftershocks Afterglow

We managed to pay for about half of these costs prior to the wedding, and ended up with credit card balances of approximately $5000 that still need to be paid off, or about $2500 apiece (we haven't combined finances yet). However, it's also worth noting that I fully paid off my last remaining $2500 in credit card debt during the year prior to the wedding. On the surface my balance hasn't changed, but this means I know I can pay off my share of wedding debt within a year, since I've basically done it before.

While I will admit that I started off resenting every penny and every minute of my time I spent on the experience (remember, I wanted to elope), I had an amazing time and appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends a lot more than I thought I would. And while he started off resenting that we weren't taking advantage of every upgrade available, after everything was said and done he agreed that everyone considered every aspect of our wedding to be very classy, indeed.

What Do You Think?

Are we heroes to be commended for spending less than half the national average? Complete and total fools duped by consumerism and the wedding racket into spending way more than we should have? Have you ever had an experience with a romantic partner where initial opinions differed so radically on an issue of such significance? If so, how did you resolve it?

More about...Budgeting

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