Now, in case you hadn’t figured it out, from an American perspective, I might as well be from another planet. I grew up in a small town in Canada, in a frugal and somewhat bizarre family where love, rather than manufactured products, was the chief currency. We also missed out on any concept of tradition, religion, and even most of polite society’s Social Norms. We are generally a clan of nerds, reading many books and practicing as Spock-like engineers and armchair scientists, but not often seen on Celeb magazine covers in the grocery store.
So when I came into adult life, I got to learn quite a few new things just like Starman or The Terminator did when they first came to Earth. I learned (or am still learning) that people love to be made to feel special on their birthday, a tradition I heartily accept. I also learned about some very bizarre traditions, like those practiced by the world’s various competing religions, and most significantly for this article, what people do when they get married.
What I learned is that it is entirely common for you humans to spend months preparing for a wedding, including renting special buildings, hiring various contractors to provide exotic services, buying clothes that will only be used once, inviting guests that are not people you speak with every day or even every month, and even trying to create “appropriate” appearances to various branches of the extended family.
Fellow aliens might read that paragraph, and say, “Well, yeah, you’re talking about the wedding ceremonies of the very rich, right? Like the Royal Wedding that happened in England this summer? Don’t try to understand Old Money, they have their own crazy Power Dynasty thing going.”
But no, it’s more interesting than that. Royal weddings started out in the domain of kings and queens, but they have trickled down into the realm of the middle class, such that it is now common for ordinary nonmillionaires to spend an average of $24,000 on their weddings.
As some icing on that wedding cake, I also learned the social norm is for a Man to spend “two months’ salary” for the engagement ring ($10,000 or so!?), and then immediately after the wedding, take off for an international honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort.
Some of these brides and grooms are the same people who have borrowed to pay for their cars, put less than 20% down on their houses, and claim to Mr. Money Mustache that retirement before 65 is impossible.
Like the first person to burp after a serious speech, it’s time for Mr. Money Mustache to be the first to say it: It’s Okay to break this tradition. These Ultraweddings are so ingrained (surely in part by the efforts of the profitable wedding industry itself) that people think they are having a “low-key” wedding if they only have 100 guests or only spend $5,000.
I’ll tell you how to have a wedding.
When my wife and I decided we were adult enough to get married (just before age 30, after 10 years of togetherness), we put on our best sandals and walked downtown. We went to the county clerk’s office, where they record important events like property transactions, births, deaths, and marriages, and we said we wanted to get married. “Congratulations!” said the nice lady there, and gave us a pretty diploma-like document to fill out, with a golden seal in the corner. A marriage license. We filled it out and submitted it.
The total cost was $10.
One of the paragraphs you have to initial says something like “I hereby agree to have a ceremony to declare this marriage effective”. So we hiked to the top of a mountain at the edge of Boulder, Colorado and under a towering arch of rock, declared, “We are married!”
Later we invited all the local friends over for drinks and nicely made food at our house. And the following summer, we repeated the party in Canada for friends and family who happen to live there.
The whole experience shines on as a golden memory, just like the marriage itself. Nobody had any less fun, or got any less married, despite the fact that we spent at least 98% less than the average. Even though we could have technically afforded to pay for even a rather fancy wedding without borrowing at that point in our lives.
In fact, not spending excessive money on a wedding provides a life-changing boost to a new couple’s financial situation. Quite a large portion of divorces are caused by financial problems. So it could be reasonably stated that it is far more romantic to have a low-cost wedding.
So here’s my prescription for marital bliss: Plan your wedding party just like you would plan any other phenomenal bash you would host at your house. That’s right, it will be at your house, or your parents’ house, or at a local mountain, forest, or other natural area. Don’t allow your friends to bring gifts – just as your friends should not ask for gifts from you when they get married. The photographer will be whichever of your friends has the nicest camera. The caterer will be your parents, or a large take-out order from your favorite local restaurant if you can afford it. You can buy beer and wine for everyone, and your heaviest-drinking friend or family member can be the unofficial bartender. Make sure everyone has a great time, and spend your energy talking and laughing with the people most dear to you rather than rehearsing elaborate walking patterns and selecting floral arrangements.
As you say your vows, Mr. Money Mustache himself will be blessing your union.
This amazing video on YouTube summarizes these points with much more style than my article ever could:
- Some kind person published a link to this article on Reddit. The ensuing comments reinforced my suspicion that even though this idea of “don’t spend twenty grand on a party until you are at least a multimillionaire” seems very reasonable to me, the rest of the world still thinks my idea is crazy. Either they don’t like the idea having the option of early retirement, or they have not yet made the connection between firehose spending and financial independence ;-)
- Today’s automatically generated ads at the side of the article are all for Royal Wedding type services. “Engagement Diamonds!, Bridal Registry! Macy’s! Tiffany! Limousine service!” Very amusing and ironic, but just reading them makes my Money Mustache ache.
- Because of this article, Mr. Money Mustache is now the world’s #1-ranking search result for the word “Shloyal”. Now that is status.