Couples Don’t Need Wedding Loans. They Need More Modest Weddings

It’s been fifty-four years since Jessica Mitford skewered the funeral industry in The American Way of Death, and twenty-five years since she followed up with The American Way of Birth, which was equally scathing.

Unfortunately, Mitford died without writing the third part of what should have been a trilogy. Missing is an exploration of the American Way of Marriage, or, as she might have called it, “Nuptials for People with More Borrowed Money Than Sense.”

Although Mitford, a British journalist who died in 1996, was born only once, she was married twice, so she had plenty of opportunity to become ill-acquainted with the business of weddings. In her day, however, there wasn’t such a thing as a destination wedding or a performance wedding, and no commercial market for wedding loans, so there was not yet a need for a scathing exposé of an industry that makes both of these things seem necessary.

Now, alas, there is, and wedding loans are a “thing” for couples who find that their combined student-loan debt doesn’t concentrate the mind wonderfully enough. “You shouldn’t let your finances or your credit keep you from having the wedding you’ve always wanted,” chirps the website Bridalloans.com, encouragingly. (Note to brides: Actually, yes, you should. It’s called living within one’s means, and those who do it fare better on every scale of physical and emotional health than those who don’t).

Another website, myweddingloans.com, frets with brides-to-be over the cost of the photographer ($2,000!), the caterer ($65 per person!), and the “Historic church you’ve always dreamed of exchanging your vows in” ($4,000!).  You know, in case the Mandarin Oriental isn’t available. At least we now know what churches will be used for when the secularization of America is complete and the last Christians have chosen “The Benedict Option” that author Rod Dreher suggests.

Another trending feature of today’s wedding industry is a honeymoon that precedes the wedding, called an “earlymoon.” Brides and grooms say these are necessary breaks from the stress of planning their wedding and honeymoon.

ABC News recently reported on the phenomenon, having found one couple from Columbia, South Carolina, who dealt with the pressure of their upcoming nuptials and planned honeymoon in Spain by jetting off for an “earlymoon” to Paris. It gave them “the time and space to gain perspective” on their wedding, the couple said.

In ages past, that’s what a period of engagement was for. There was also a hoary thing called premarital counseling, which is still required for the dwindling number of couples who regularly attend services at a church or a temple, and plan to be married there by a minister or rabbi that at least one of them has known for a couple of years.

But that was before “premarital” became a bad word, something judgmental associated with sex out of wedlock or, like “prenuptial,” associated with the possibility of future divorce. A premarital or prenuptial honeymoon sounds sort of icky. An “earlymoon”, however, conjures happiness, using the same trick of semantics that makes a blizzard sound exciting even though it’s technically just four hours of wind and snow.

To the “earlymoon” couple from South Carolina, let me respectfully suggest: If you need to leave the country to gain perspective on your wedding, perhaps, just perhaps, you shouldn’t be getting married just yet. And if it’s not marriage, but the wedding itself that’s stressing you out, perhaps you could dispense with the party and the party loan, and the pre-party loan, and just go off on a boat and exchange vows like Pam and Jim did on The Office.

Ridiculous as a “wedding loan” for young people carrying record levels of debt is, a “party loan” is even more absurd.  But that’s what a wedding is, once you’ve dispensed with the sacred parts of the service.

How did we get here? It’s easy to point fingers at bridezillas and their mothers for creating a culture in which a $35,000 wedding is the norm, but that lets other guilty people off the hook, such as the folks who throw elaborate themed parties for one-year-olds, or those who turn dignified, purposeful old barns into “party barns“.

“Any excuse for a party” used to be a joke; now it’s a lifestyle for the perpetually deserving. One woman writing in defense of the “earlymoon” in The Telegraph (UK) registered disappointment that she and her fiancé didn’t get the VIP service that sometimes accompanies an actual honeymoon.  “Neither the airline staff nor hotel clerks we encountered seemed particularly moved whenever I animatedly (and pointedly) informed them we were on a pre-wedding honeymoon, resulting in a palpable lack of upgrades,” she wrote.

One would think it’s common sense that a stressful, expensive wedding that requires a loan and a pre-wedding vacation isn’t a good idea for anyone involved.  Also, a “pre-wedding honeymoon,” which used to be something done privately, sometimes in seedy motels, perhaps isn’t something one should brag about either.

“You might not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty,” Mitford famously said.  That, too, has changed since she died, and not for the better.

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  • Candice Haase

    As a professional photographer $2,000 is not at all un reasonable or excessive for the amount of work that goes into a 10-12 hour event. 2 photographers on their feet almost constantly for 12 hours shooting between 1200-2000 photos then the 50 work hours of editing time of those images and at that price point a photographer designs a professional album over 50 hours. $2,000 / 110 hours is roughly 18.00 per hour. Subtract the out the cost to pay the se ond phitographer, for the photographer to travel from venue to venue, and out of pocket cost for products delivered and it is less than 12.00 an hour for the professional trying to run a business. Photography is the one tangle thing that remains after a wedding. Even a wedding in a tent on the farm all hone made can be ellagant through the lens of a professional photographer. The dress will never be worn again, the tuxes returned, memories fade, the food eaten. The rings and photogtaphy will be the only reminder. I regret not choosing a high quality professional. My photos are simply bad at times. They are all I have left along with my ring. My husband damaged his and we had to replace it. My dress is in a tote in my parents basement rotting. 18 years later the photos are what I use to remember.

    Stop discouraging brides to not get a quality photographer. It is a major disservice to your readers.

  • Grandma

    Fools and their money are soon parted. I can only admire the wedding industry’s ingenuity in fleecing these idiots.

    • The Observer

      Fools and their money are soon partying.

      • Micha_Elyi

        I thought the college student loan was the “party loan”.
        Just looking at what they do, not what they say.

  • Mack

    Well said.

    The most beautiful wedding I’ve ever attended was in our local parish. The bride wore a beautiful pale yellow dress and in her hair wildflowers from the family farm. The groom wore a new business suit. Both sets of parents got together to give the bride and groom a pilgrimage in Spain instead of junk.

    • InklingBooks

      When I lived in Seattle, one of my PT jobs included doing inside security at a very pricey event venue. It was depressing to how much some people pay for their wedding. The catered food was about $3 a bite.

      Add catering from a local fast-food eatery with the dining held on benches at a local park and you’ve got the perfect wedding.

      And having saved all that money, you can afford to suggest gifts at a good charity in lieu of gifts.

  • aberqueen

    Hamstring your marriage by starting it with massive, unnecessary debt? Nice….

    • V10_Rob

      Sets the tone for the rest of the marriage, don’t it?

  • If you’re considering taking out a loan to pay for your wedding, reconsider getting married. You’re not mature enough.

  • HansonBro

    Amen.

  • 2+2=4andalwayswill

    One of the many things – like student loans for useless degrees – that have become completely detached from reality in our culture. A couple of years ago a British woman suggested that women take the money they would spend on university and use it as a down payment on a house instead, if what they wanted was to raise a family. The internet ran out of pitchforks.

  • DudeAbiding

    Our church is a “destination church” for people wanting to get married and have funerals. But we limit weddings and funerals to those who actually attend our church. And we only allow non-secular music. Almost every week-end we still host a wedding, but we aren’t a destination for people who’ve never seen the inside of a church or understand why they’re there.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Sounds very Catholic.

      • DudeAbiding

        Nope

  • koblog

    As a former wedding photographer, I have seen for the most part an inverse relationship between the cost of the wedding and the length of the marriage.

    The pricier the wedding, the shorter the marriage.

    • ELC

      Yes, as marriage has become less significant, weddings have become more important. Go figure.

      • Micha_Elyi

        Easy. Females today don’t really want to marry but they still want weddings–aka ‘her special day’. All the rest follows from that.

    • Arch

      At age 21, we took off and got married by a Justice of the Peace. In 1965, the whole thing – blood test, license, wedding and fondue dinner – cost us $25. we are still married, with 2 sons and 6 grandchildren.

    • Larry J

      My wife and I got married when we were still in college. That same week, one of the big three news magazines had “Big Weddings, They’re Back” as the cover story. Money was tight for us. We spent about $100 on everything, went out to eat, and were back in class the following Monday. That was 34 years ago last month. I wonder how many of those couples from the magazine article are still together. IMO, people should concentrate on their marriage far more than on their wedding.

  • koblog

    Like ridiculous and unnecessary home remodels based on the latest fads on HGTV
    — “Yes, honey, we need a $100,000 kitchen. Don’t you love me? Now get the loan.”…

    …nose jobs, boob jobs, tummy tucks and facelifts driven by the latest plastic surgeon’s infomercial masquerading as a weekly cable show
    — “Any cost is acceptable if it makes you feel better about yourself.”…

    …and expensive wardrobe purchases from tony boutiques pushed by snooty New Yorkers who claim authority to dress America in “What Not To Wear”…

    … the damage done by the cable TV show “Say Yes To The [$30,000] Dress” is wrecking the financial futures of young couples everywhere, for a gown worn precisely once for a few hours.

  • Sniglet66

    I used to work at a historical mansion/garden that hosted weddings. My job had nothing to do with them, but being on site meant I would be asked to assist from time to time. Weddings bring the worst out in people, and the fact that people pay so much to bring out their worst selves is astounding. Also, what kind of expectation for married life is being set up here with every step being a dramatic event worthy of FB posts: creative public proposal involving dozens of people, “save the date” postcards, the website, the pre whatever (first I am hearing of a pre-honeymoon), on and on and on….? One wonders what happens on Day One of these marriages once the newly married couple returns to “normal life”.

    And to top it all off, the couple usually has been LIVING together for years, making the ceremony itself an awkward even (IMHO) where one proclaims “MY LIFE IS ABOUT TO CHANGE IN A HUGE WAY” except that….it’s not. Now we have couples spending $$$$$$$$ simply because they changed their legal status.

  • There will always be a certain small percentage who act this way, while the rest of us get on with our lives with little or no drama.

  • I only needed one thing for my wedding, and he was there. Brides who focus on anything else do not have their priorities straight.

  • jtdavies

    The blame for spending too much on weddings rests on the narrow shoulders of the ball-less grooms. They should be saying that they do not want to go into years of debt to throw a party.

    That’s also why their marriages don’t last. No balls.

    • Sometimes, true. For others, they like the idea of a splendorific bash to impress their circle.

  • An_A_C

    Every engaged couple, repeat this loudly ten times:
    “It’s not the wedding, it’s the marriage.”
    Too many marriages that begin as expensive weddings end in costly divorces, too. Usually a very high emotional cost.

  • Alicia Westberry

    Innocent, little girls are pumped with fairy tales that end in “…. and they lived happily ever after.” They never depict the courtship, planning of the wedding, or, most importantly, everything AFTER the wedding. Even the British royals spend other people’s money to have extravagance 24/7.

  • Well, I did have a bit of a celebration – ALL of it, dress, flowers, meal, honeymoon, pictures, etc. – less than $1000. My husband and I paid for all of it.
    That was 43 years ago. We didn’t go into debt, we didn’t need a loan.
    We followed the same idea a few years later when our daughter got married – for that, we budgeted $4000. Had a great reception, and really had fun. Still, it was not excessive, given our financial position. We wouldn’t have spent the money if we had to borrow it. We DID put some of the expenses on a credit card (which probably upped the amount we would eventually spend), but that card was paid off in a short time. Using it was more of a convenience.
    We had, at that time, an income of over $100,000/year, and little debt. It was affordable.
    I can’t say the same for many of the couples. Our daughter’s requests were modest (her dress cost less than $200), and the guest list was small. She and her husband did have a church wedding, not for the ambience, but because they are both Catholic.
    I am skeptical of the many who put off the wedding, because they want a “big” one. They sacrifice the stability of the bond, including, many times, having children without a marriage. Yes, it does make a difference to the family.
    I’ve thought for some time that churches and community leaders ought to offer to assist with a modest ceremony/party for family and immediate friendship circle for young families. Such a wedding could involve everyone in the family/friends donating a small part of the cost – using borrowed flowers from local churches, a recycled/donated dress, a suit for the groom that could double as job-hunting clothing in the future, everyone using their smartphone for pictures, followed by a pot-luck reception in a church hall/community center.
    Focus on the marriage, not the wedding.

  • notmyfirstnamechoice

    I blame Facebook and the illusion of happiness in superficiality.

  • Unreal

    The new thing is people selling tickets to their wedding, as much as $100 a pop. Shameless.