The Price of Love

Popping the Question

There I found myself—all of a sudden, heart pounding—down on one knee.

It was a cloudy (and somewhat rainy) Spring afternoon. But it had to be this day, in this place. At an old park bench that we had claimed as our own; the one where we first had “the relationship” talk, six short years ago.

Everyone, my parents included, had lost hope on me ever popping the question. Little did they know, for eight agonizing months I had the ring carefully hidden from sight in my night table drawer. Let’s just say I was waiting for the right moment…

But all that mattered now was the question and the response. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it would be a yes. Ms. Flash’s parents had been awaiting this day—quite vocally—for quite some time. So thankfully, it was more a question of “when” rather than a question of “if.”

But what type of “yes” would it be? An emphatic one? A took-you-long-enough one? A tear-filled one?

To be honest, those few minutes of my life are a bit of a blur. But from what I remember, it was a joyful mix of all three.

Okay, okay. I know that’s not what you’re here for. This is a finance blog, after all. So, what is the price of love?

Where’s the Price Tag?!

Like I mentioned earlier, I had the ring for an entire eight months before popping the question. Unfortunately, Coronavirus and other life events temporarily delayed my plans to propose.

Without explicitly saying so beforehand, both Ms. Flash and myself had the tacit understanding that 2021 was the year. So, given that it was already the tail end of Spring 2020 when I proposed, there was little time to waste before we had to start planning.

What followed was a sequence of discoveries that were a lot less fun than the proposal and the celebration of our engagement. What did I discover, you ask?

The horrors of the wedding industry. That’s what.

Unfortunately, most wedding vendors—whether it be venues or flower boutiques—know that this is your special day, and that no expense shall be spared. So, they freely price gouge you left and right until you’re blue in the face and sent looking for quarters under couch cushions.

That’s not all. There’s also an utter lack of cost transparency. Not a single website has price listings. For that, we had to send an inquiry email. And what we got in response wasn’t always much better. The first number next to a dollar sign that we saw was almost guaranteed not to be what we’d pay. Or, it could’ve been—if we were okay with no tablecloths or dessert.

Venue Options

Ms. Flash and I were very flexible when it came to how and where we would get married. Ideally, both the ceremony and reception would be at the same place. But that was about it. So, that meant almost all wedding venues were on the table.

1. Classic Country Club

The first few places we looked were your standard country clubs. Their wedding packages were typically all-inclusive—meaning the price per person included food, open bar, and many of the nice-to-have amenities. But boy would we be paying for it.

The average cost of the country clubs we looked was around $150 to $200 per person, with a hefty $20,000 or so required minimum balance. So, if we didn’t have enough people to meet that minimum, we’d be expected to purchase an upgraded flower or alcohol package.

Or, maybe we’d want the nice white fabric seat coverings to mask the stained 50-year old chairs. That would only set us back an additional $7 per person. Are you joking?!

All of that is just for the reception. The ceremony itself would likely run us an additional one or two thousand dollars. So let’s see a theoretical breakdown of what these venues would cost Ms. Flash and myself for a 120 person wedding:

  • $175 average cost per person * 120 people = $21,000

  • $7 seat coverings to hide the antique stained furniture * 120 people = $840

  • Dessert (which is not included!) @ $6 per person = $720

  • $1,500 flat ceremony fee = $1,500

Add it all up and that comes out to $24,060. Well, the good news is that we reached the minimum. The bad news is that I’m not even including the cost of a DJ, photographer, flowers, etc.!

2. Barns & Vineyards

Appalled at the average cost of a country club wedding, we decided to look in the opposite direction: a barn! While it might sound crazy to those unfamiliar, barns are actually a fairly common wedding venue. Really, it’s just a large indoor space that can easily accommodate numerous tables and a dance floor. What more do you need?

The important thing we learned about barns—and to a similar extent, vineyards—is that they’re almost entirely DIY. In many cases, quite literally, all the venue owners supply is the space and tables/chairs. Everything else would be up to us. Yes, that includes tablecloths and silverware.

We would have to find our own caterer (something that we actually got pretty excited about… pig roast, anyone?!), beverage supplier (if not included with the catering), and ceremony facilitators. Honestly, this didn’t sound too bad. We’d be able to customize every aspect of our wedding, all while saving a boatload of money.

That’s what we thought, anyway. When we actually ran the numbers, barns and vineyards started to look much less appealing. The average rental cost for the space itself was about $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the size and location. (Unfortunately, the cheaper places were all at least two hours away, which would be hard for some of our family members).

A little pricey, we thought, but okay. We can save some money on food and drinks. Again, so we thought… Turns out, catering on its own is very expensive. Especially when the caterers are also tasked with bringing the tablecloths, plates, glasses, and silverware.

So, for our 120 person wedding, how much would it cost to have it at a barn or vineyard? Here’s the breakdown:

  • $8,000 flat venue fee = $8,000

  • Catering at an average of $60 per person * 120 people = $7,200

  • Include a drink package for an additional $30 * 120 people = $3,600

  • $800 event coordinator (would be a disaster otherwise) = $800

  • $600 wedding officiate = $600

  • $1,000 for transportation (these places are typically far from the nearest hotel) = $1,000

All together that adds up to $21,200. Wow. That’s not much cheaper than the “all-inclusive” country club! Again, we’re not even including a DJ and photographer here, let alone any kind of flowers or decorations.

3. Banquet Halls

“Can we at least keep this to under $20,000,” I thought to myself with a little desperation. Long gone were the days I believed we could get away with the $10,000 DIY-style shindig.

Both of us feeling discouraged, we kept chugging along. Finally, we landed upon some venues that I would classify as “country club light.” They weren’t quite so fancy; some had golf courses attached, while others only had a ceremony space plus reception area. But they were far more affordable.

Instead of the $150 to $200 per person price tag we came across earlier, these venues sported prices ranging from $100 to $150. Not cheap, by any means. But at this point, my expectations had certainly changed, and finding any venue that offered the possibility of a sub-$20,000 wedding suddenly sounded very appealing.

Not only was the per person price lower, these banquet halls had far lower minimum spend requirements and didn’t try to swindle us out of an additional $7 per person for stupid chair coverings. We were finally on to something.

So, while nothing is finalized, here’s what we’re looking at for the ceremony plus reception:

  • $135 per person reception fee * 120 people = $16,200

  • $6 per person ceremony fee * 120 people = $720

That’s it! $16,920. Far from my hypothesized $10,000, but hey, at least it’s below $20,000. With this package, all food, drinks, and table arrangements are included. We even get our own event coordinator at no additional cost. Not too bad!

Now, will we actually be able to keep our wedding to below $20,000? Who knows. We still need to factor in a DJ ($1,000?), a photographer ($1,500?), decorations ($500?), and our tux/wedding dress ($???).

To Be Continued

Okay, fine. I know $20,000 is a long shot. But we can dream, right?

So, what about you? Have you already had a wedding or are you planning to have one shortly? What type of venue did you use and how much did it cost? Ms. Flash and I would be very interested to hear all about it in the comments below!

As for us, we’ll be sure to post again once everything is finalized and we actually get to picking a DJ, photographer, and all of the other miscellaneous expenses I haven’t thought of yet. Stay tuned!

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