Years ago, I went to France for the first time. And while I was there, I visited the Palace at Versailles.
It was incredible. Room after room of the most mind-blowing opulence you can imagine. I was absolutely spellbound.
For about an hour.
Then I hit my saturation point and stopped being impressed, or even caring at all. I found myself shuffling from room to room, walking over priceless mosaic floors just looking for the gift shop. And I suddenly realized the original occupants must have felt the same burnout. That's why each room was more over-the-top than the last—it was the only way they'd feel anything at all.
That's the downside of luxury: At some point you reach a plateau, and it's all the same. There might be a difference between 900- and 1,000- thread-count sheets, but who can feel it?
I think this is a very real trap people fall into when they plan a wedding. You can only have so many flowers. The steak can only be so big. The linens can only be so fine. You hit a wall after a certain point, so the spending itself becomes the gesture. And ultimately, it's meaningless.
Of course, there are people on the opposite side of the spectrum. A friend of mine recently told me about a wedding invitation she'd received that said guests were welcome, but they'd have to pay $20 at the door. They were also asked to bring cash for their own food, and cash for the couple, to help fund their trip to Burning Man (naturally, family and special friends were given wristbands allowing them "access to a VIP area with seating").
Like most of you, I'm somewhere in the middle. I'm not going to fly everyone to Tahiti, but I'm also not going to make them sit at card tables and eat Hot Pockets. It's all very nice to be a bride, but to have a great wedding you also have to be a gracious host and a relaxed guest. And that's all about attitude—not a mile-long list of things you have to have.
Here's my wedding wish list:
1. A nice dress
2. A picturesque location
3. A good meal
That's it. No attendants, no separate gown for the reception, no unicorn. Just a nice, middle-of-the-road event for about 100 people. So imagine my surprise when the hotel cheerfully quoted me $600 per person.
I don't know about you, but I've never eaten a $600 meal. The most I ever paid was around $1,000, and that was for five people. With drinks. A lot of drinks.
But let's just say, for argument's sake, that the hotel can reasonably charge $200 a plate. In fact, let's say they can get it up to $300 by putting pearl earrings in the mashed potatoes. Every guest would still have to drink $300 worth of alcohol. I don't even think that's scientifically possible. In fact, I don't think you could get up to $600 apiece if you catered the whole thing out of the mini bar.
And this is when the hotel explained that the price they'd quoted didn't really reflect the food or drink as much as it did the day of the week. This same wedding on a Friday would be $20,000 less. And there's your plateau: The extra $200 per person doesn't get you anything except the privilege of writing a bigger check on a Saturday.
My search for cost-cutting ideas also turned up another surprise: Saving money is as subjective as spending it. My reasonable expense might be your ridiculous extravagance. Your sensible cost-cutter might give me a headache from rolling my eyes. For example:
- "Fake your cake with an icing-covered foam cake rental. You'll get the look you want, and you can purchase a sheet cake from a bakery that can be cut up in the kitchen." *
This is insanity. It's like that Twilight Zone episode where Carol Lynley and her husband wake up after a party and find themselves in an alien child's dollhouse [spoiler alert].
To me, the tiered wedding cake is nonnegotiable. You have to keep the top so you can eat it on your first anniversary, or your husband will leave you for a massage therapist. Or something like that. I'm not clear on the subtleties.
*"Toast with white wine instead of Champagne: Champagne can get expensive, and not everyone likes the carbonation." *
I'm sure lots of people will strenuously object to toasting your marriage with Champagne. "How was the wedding?" "It was okay, except for the carbonation. That was a downer."
You know, some people don't like dressing up, either. Maybe you should ask everyone to come in sweatpants, and you can all eat pizza over the sink.
- "Do you have a friend who brews their own beer? Ask them to provide beer for your wedding at cost!" *
Fantastic. You can get your uncle to make up a batch in his bathroom, and when people start complaining of lead poisoning and blindness, you can blame it on the foam-rubber cake.
"Better yet, do away with alcohol altogether and have a coffee bar! Guests can get cappuccinos, espressos, or even decaf."
Sheet cake and decaf! It's like Saturday night at the nursing home, only not as fun.
And now that you've ruined dinner, how about saving the planet?
"Instead of wasting paper, send your announcement via email!"
Your wedding invitation is a waste of paper. It's perfectly okay for the Thai restaurant down the street to shove menus in your mailbox every day, but those wedding invitations of yours are going to turn this planet into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Okay, maybe the five cards with two envelopes is a bit much, and I can do without that weird, arcane piece of blotting paper that looks like you're supposed to roll your own cigarette with it. But the wedding invitation is a wonderful keepsake for some people—what are they supposed to do, print it out at Kinko's? Oh wait, that would be a waste of paper. Well, maybe you can just send it to their iPhone and they can look at it while they're on the bus.
"Don't pay your florist big bucks to put together your centerpieces. Make your own with supplies from the dollar store and a little ingenuity."
Finally, a sensible idea! After all, they have so many high-quality materials at the dollar store. How about a car-deodorizer centerpiece for the bride's table? And with "a little ingenuity" I'm sure you could work in a few pencils and a bottle of discontinued shampoo.
"Share decorating costs: Find out if another bride books your venue for the same weekend, split costs on shared flowers, décor and other expenses."
I love the idea of another woman's used, wilted flowers at my wedding. But why stop there? Use her bridesmaids and none of your friends will have to buy dresses. Serve leftover Champagne from her reception—it'll be flat, so that'll please the carbonation haters. What the hell, why not marry the same guy? You can all chip in on a family compound and lower your mortgage.
- "Consider an intimate destination wedding: You'll be able to slash the guest list and combine it with your honeymoon."*
Combine your wedding with your honeymoon, so everyone you know will be there the whole time. Won't that be fun? You and your husband can have a romantic dinner while your entire family sits at the table behind you. Then you can all go back to your room and watch Grown Ups on pay-per-view. Better yet, get some roll-away beds and your parents can split the room with you.
To be fair, I did learn something from these horrible ideas: It all comes down to what you can live with. It's the same strategy I use when I vote: I choose the candidate who's the closest to my way of thinking on things that really matter to me, then just try to let the other stuff go.
Revised wedding wish list:
1. A nice dress
2. A picturesque location
3. A good meal
4. Paper invitations
5. Real cake
- April Winchell has been a talk radio host, a sitcom writer, an advertising executive and the voice of hundreds of animated Disney characters. In October of 2009, she created the hit website Regretsy.com, which led to the publication of "Regretsy: Where DIY meets WTF" in April of 2010. Even though she has been writing professionally since 1989, she still finds talking about herself in the third person really uncomfortable.*