We attended a lovely anniversary party this weekend. Eric’s uncle and aunt have been married for fifty years so their sons and daughters-in-law threw them a bash to celebrate. One of the granddaughters had lovingly pieced together over four hundred old family photos to make a scrolling slide show, which I happily plopped down to watch when my small talk skills grew lame.

Out of control wedding costsI was enjoying the retro photos (bouffants! poofy dresses!) when all of a sudden I noticed a few odd things in the reception pictures. Things like heating ducts and a concrete wall. I turned to my father-in-law. “Did they have the reception in the church basement?” I asked in a tone that was meant to sound curious but probably came out astonished.

They did. They did indeed. Heating ducts and tiny windows and concrete walls and all. They somehow managed to greet guests, nibble cake, and open gifts below ground level. And from those humble beginnings they moved forward to build a life together. They had good careers, invested in their community, raised their sons, and traveled the world.

What the heck has happened to wedding standards, good people of the world? Cake and punch in a church basement just isn’t done any more. It was good enough for our parents’ generation, but not for us.

I ventured this thought to my father-in-law, and he (ever the teller of truth) shrugged and said, “Eh. It could have been nicer.” I laughed out loud, because he was probably right. There’s probably a happy medium between the basement and needing to rent a lesser French estate and flying 200 people across the Atlantic, which is probably what our daughter will want when she gets married.

I did some in-depth research, and by in-depth I mean that I quizzed our moms. Eric’s parents were married in their church and then had the reception right there, but not in the basement. They also served only cake and punch. Cheryl reports that by the time she got married (in 1973) that tradition was falling out of favor and more couples were having larger meals at their receptions.

Later that same year my parents were married in a Catholic church, had the reception at a little hall, then moved the party to my grandmother’s home where she and the Polish Aunties had prepared a traditional Polish feast. Also, my father’s Ford Pinto was loaded to the gills with booze he’d brought from across the state. The merry making was quite, quite merry, I’ve been told.

Picture these guys, but in 1973 suits and hair.
Picture these guys, but in 1973 suits and hair.

Contrast that with this week, when my sister’s getting married. She and her fiancé quickly determined that wedding costs are out of control, especially if you want to have something nice for guests. Who knows if it’s even legal to drive a Pinto loaded with hooch across county lines any more, what with their tendency to explode at any moment (plus I think most of the Pintos have actually exploded and it’s hard to find them anymore), but I do know the places Beth wanted to have the wedding wouldn’t have allowed such a thing.

Grown up guests expect a nice meal and a nice bar, and those things do not come cheaply. If Beth walks down the aisle and guests are directed to the basement where streamers hang from the heating ducts, eyebrows would lift.

Because Gary and Wilma were in full party mode this weekend, greeting their guests and politely feeding each other bites of cake, I didn’t have a chance to ask them about their wedding. But I can venture this guess– the wedding was exactly what they could afford. They didn’t borrow money for it like so many couples do today. Cake and punch in the church basement was what they and their families could afford, so they joyfully celebrated with what they had.

I think that celebration might be pretty much perfect.

Could we follow their lead? Is it possible for us to change the tone of modern expectations?

The wedding is just one day, the beginning of a life together. Could we as couples, but also as family and guests, help lower the standards to a more reasonable tone? A lot of the current standards are just plain dumb (Pinterest, I’m blaming you), but so many of the brides and grooms don’t want to disappoint their guests.

Maybe it’s time to give them more reasonable options. Maybe it’s time to tell them the church on the corner has a lovely basement and the concrete is quite cool in the summer. Maybe it’s time to suggest a potluck dinner or take out from the Lebanese place across from the gas station.

I just want to celebrate with them, knowing the fun isn’t going to put them or their parents in debt for ten years.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them.


23 Comments on Why we need to rethink wedding costs and find realistic expectations for the big day

  1. Julie
    August 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm (1 year ago)

    I agree Jessie! And it’s not just weddings, but birthday’s and graduations, and the list goes on…. People are just so used to slapping it on their credit card and think they can worry about it later. They forget that that bill will come due one day. It’s a sad state of financial affairs that we put ourselves in when the cost of a wedding dress could pay for a car. Our priorities are soooo messed up. Who needs to begin their marriage with the added strain of a huge debt? That is definitely starting off on the wrong foot. Invest in your marriage, there will be less divorces!

  2. Marguerite Hammond
    August 22, 2016 at 6:01 pm (1 year ago)

    My first wedding, 1965, was in the First Baptist Church with the cake and punch reception following in the basement. It was pretty typical for the times and guests seemed to be happy.

  3. Kristen E
    August 22, 2016 at 6:18 pm (1 year ago)

    When I got married almost 19 years ago, (how come I feel much younger than that sounds?) I just wanted a simple wedding and reception. We ate in the church’s multipurpose room – no alcohol & no music. We didn’t decorate that room, nor did we decorate the church much – I think we rented plants and put out a few bows. We didn’t give the people who stood up in our wedding elaborate, expenisve gifts (just a small gift). My mom made lasanga for the rehersal dinner. I am not much for hoopla and the wedding was just what we wanted. It does mean that we don’t have much to add to the conversation when people talk about their extravagant weddings. 😀

    My big splurge was spending over $500 on my dress. Woohoo! I felt like a princess.

    I have enjoyed many weddings of all sorts, but I wouldn’t have traded my simple wedding.

  4. photoprincess15
    August 22, 2016 at 6:26 pm (1 year ago)

    Yes, yes, yes! Bigger, more expensive weddings do not necessarily make wonderful, longer lasting marriages. As for being happy with what you can afford, I totally agree, but I think that sentiment is not shared by the nation as a whole. We base our worth on the price tags of what we have. Did our parents have a new car every two years? Mine certainly didn’t. In fact, at one point our family had not one, but TWO Pintos! Until we realize that money really, truly doesn’t but happiness, these events are going to get crazier and crazier! If you haven’t, check out Party Mamas or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding!

  5. Jerry Dickson
    August 22, 2016 at 7:01 pm (1 year ago)

    Ah, yes, those old weddings. My now deceased wife and I did it the same way in 1954. After the ceremony we all retreated to the church basement for the celebration which was greeted about half way through to a blackout due to a Minnesota thunderstorm. Had plenty of candles though so no big problem. My two kids, now 60 and 58 did it the same way, sans storms. And I remember we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. For our 50th Anniversary we invited our immediate family to spend a three day all expense paid mini-vacation with us at DisneyLand. Again, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, this time watching our then fourteen offspring having a ball. Who says you have to spend the big bucks to get married and have fun.

  6. Jessie Clemence
    August 22, 2016 at 8:24 pm (1 year ago)

    Absolutely. It’s nice to have the money to be more spendy, but being creative and reasonable are also pretty wonderful.

  7. Jessie Clemence
    August 22, 2016 at 8:25 pm (1 year ago)

    Our family had a succession of small Ford, but not two at once!

  8. Jessie Clemence
    August 22, 2016 at 8:26 pm (1 year ago)

    I can imagine that the wedding was exactly your style– simple and perfect. 🙂

  9. Jessie Clemence
    August 22, 2016 at 8:27 pm (1 year ago)

    I wish our we could go back that way, at least a bit. Plus, bouffants!

  10. memyselfandkids.com
    August 22, 2016 at 11:02 pm (1 year ago)

    It’s a different world, Jessie. It’s different in so many ways. Btw, this thought meshes with your desire to simplify and live in a small home. This goes against where the mass majority of people are these days.

  11. Jessie Clemence
    August 23, 2016 at 6:23 am (1 year ago)

    Yeah, I get it. I’m just hoping by having the discussion that some readers will start to think differently.

  12. David
    August 23, 2016 at 6:29 am (1 year ago)

    We got married in 1979. The bridesmaid dresses were made by a friend. We paid for a car and for a professional photographer. Marilyn found her dress in a sale – it cost £40. We self-catered our reception in a church hall. I think it went well. We are still married and talking to each other!

    When friends of ours got married last year we managed to do the same thing. Immediately the service had finished we moved people out of the sanctuary and a small army of us from church transformed the sanctuary in the reception venue – once again the meal was self-catered. The feedback the married couple received from non-Christian friends and family was that folk were amazed that a church would do that for two church members. Hearing that made it all worthwhile.

  13. memyselfandkids.com
    August 23, 2016 at 7:49 am (1 year ago)

    That’s cool. I hope the Clemence influence is felt.

  14. Jessie Clemence
    August 23, 2016 at 11:44 am (1 year ago)

    Now THAT is a great idea. Showing love through the church family and keeping costs down is fantastic.

  15. Anne
    August 24, 2016 at 9:47 am (1 year ago)

    We’re coming to B&D’s wedding! I’ll be the enormous one… 😉

  16. kmned@aol.com
    August 24, 2016 at 1:00 pm (1 year ago)

    My oldest son got married this past weekend, for the second time. First time was at our expense 11 years ago, so cake and punch in the church basement worked just fine. Thank goodness Pinterest wasn’t in vogue then!

    This time, was also at our expense. Good grief! But, at his request, the wedding was at our home, along with the reception. So, it was lovely, even though I had total knee replacement two weeks prior. I just sat back and watched from the recliner. A few appetizers and simple sheet cake. Their wedding pictures might show the baby toy box, a wilted plant, maybe some stacks of paper, and a bookcase with unsorted books of various heights.

    There are three rules to all weddings. 1. Someone is going to be offended 2. Something is going to go terribly wrong, and 3. At the end of the day, they will still be married. All 3 rules played out this last weekend, and yes, Jon, and his wife Nikki, are now married.

    Deb Franklin Sent from my iPhone


  17. Jessie Clemence
    August 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm (1 year ago)

    Yay times a million! I can’t wait to catch up with all the Baby B plans you’re making.

  18. Jessie Clemence
    August 24, 2016 at 4:31 pm (1 year ago)

    Well, you’re on a wedding roll, I guess. Reasonable standards times two! I hope your knee is holding up okay.

  19. SimpleLivingOver50
    August 26, 2016 at 8:19 am (1 year ago)

    I remember when my daughter graduated middle school there were other parents at the graduation who hired limo’s, professional photographers and even film crews to capture the event. Some even followed up the event with gifts of flying their children to exotic islands for a get away.

  20. Jessie Clemence
    August 28, 2016 at 8:35 pm (1 year ago)

    You’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING. Where do you live? Graduation from middle school? That’s completely nuts.

  21. SimpleLivingOver50
    August 28, 2016 at 8:39 pm (1 year ago)

    This was in a town called Toms River, New Jersey. I lived in a smaller town but we were attached to the Toms River School District. It’s an area famous for the residence of members of the Jersey Mob.

  22. Jessie Clemence
    August 30, 2016 at 5:08 pm (1 year ago)

    Well, that only makes the story more interesting! 🙂