If you've watched TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress," you know that many a bride considers her gown to be the one crucial ingredient for a happy wedding, and by implication, marriage. Who wouldn't spend a small fortune to get that guarantee?
When New York wedding planner Mary Hines sits down with a bride and groom she tries to get them to change their perspectives, to ask, "What's going to matter in 30 years?" Most of her couples are Christians going through marriage counseling. They share her belief that marriage is a covenant and that vows should be at the forefront, but they also feel the pressure to have a gala event.
I asked Hines how she advises brides who have limited resources. What should they be thinking about? Her answer is simple: "Make the main thing the main thing. Spend your time and money on the things that are most important. Don't compare yourself with others. If your day is to honor God and the marriage, yes you want it to look nice, but it's not the most important thing."
What would that mean practically? She tells brides to concentrate on their vows, the photographs (since they'll want to remember the occasion), and their wedding night. "We get so caught up in decorating the house we forget what's actually happening," she says.
Many brides complain afterwards that they can't remember the day, so Hines advises them to pad their wedding day timelines, leaving enough time to enjoy friends, family, and out-of-town guests. "Plan for traffic," she says. She said in Florida more couples are taking photographs before the ceremony, renting a limo, and heading out with the bridal party to scenic locations around town before going to the church. (She says the superstition about grooms not seeing the bride until the ceremony comes from the days of arranged marriages when the bride's family feared the groom would bolt if he wasn't pleased with her looks.)
Getting photos out of the way before the ceremony allows the reception to start earlier, which means the newlyweds can leave before they are ready to pass out from exhaustion.
Places to economize? "I can't tell you the number of wedding favors I've thrown in the trash," she says. People rarely remember the music played before and after the ceremony. She recommends using the internet to find ideas-and getting married on Friday or Sunday, when venues are cheaper.
In Hines' 14 years in the business she's done 60 to 70 weddings with budgets ranging from $100 (family and friends donated just about everything) to $250,000. Nothing major has ever gone wrong, although a couple of episodes make for vivid movie scenes (and good memories). Once a mother-of-the-bride hired for $50 a videographer she met at a homeless shelter, thinking it was a good thing to do. When he showed up drunk and realized he'd missed the ceremony completely, he sat in a corner and cried.
Another time the couple forgot the rings. One of the attendants managed to tell Hines as they processed up the aisle. She had time to grab a fake silver ring out of her emergency bag, where she also carries smelling salts, along with her husband's wedding ring for use during the ceremony.
When one groom had his heart set on an outdoor reception in his backyard in Florida in September, Hines didn't argue with him. Instead, she arranged a planning meeting outdoors in the summer sun. When he wanted to move the meeting indoors with the air conditioner, she said no. Better yet, he should go inside and put on a suit and come back out. Once he realized how hot it was, and how tents with air conditioning would take away the charm of an outdoor wedding, he was able, Hines says, "to get over his idealism."
That's the point: "Getting through the idealism to realism and being content while realizing it won't matter in 30 years."
26 . . . Average bride age
28 . . . Average groom age
$50 billion . . . Amount spent yearly on wedding-related purchases
$22,000 . . . Average amount spent on a traditional American wedding
80% . . . Percentage of traditional weddings performed in churches or synagogues
60% . . . Percentage of brides who say they'll be changing their surnames