Q&A with author Meg Keene, author of 'A Practical Wedding'
By Melody Warnick
You can't put a price tag on true love. But you can put a price tag on making your true love official.
Try $26,542 -- the U.S. average for a wedding these days.
|Meg Keene, author,
'A Practical Wedding'
San Francisco resident Meg Keene started a blog to chronicle the planning of her wedding in 2009. According to her website, the blog "grew to include a lot of grounded smart-alecky women talking intelligently about their weddings and marriages." Her book is called "A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration."
It was the prospect of that enormous bill that sent author and blogger Meg Keene searching for a way to put on a fabulous wedding without busting the budget. She's chronicled her findings on her website APracticalWedding.com, and in her new book, "A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration." Just in time for Valentine's Day, CreditCards.com hit Keene up for some straight talk about love, money and that spendy engagement ring.
CreditCards.com: How long have you been married now?
Meg Keene: Two and a half years. But a couple weeks into planning my wedding, I was in tears -- again -- after finding a "budget" invitation option that was $2,000. The main option was $10,000 or something. I felt frustrated that our wedding was even being considered a budget wedding, because we were spending a lot of money.
CreditCards.com: How much?
Meg Keene: We were planning on spending $20,000, which in San Francisco at the time was half of the average. But it was more than I made at my first job out of college. I've never regretted what we spent, but I was still resentful of the idea that somehow $20,000 was a "budget" wedding. I felt that didn't reflect reality.
CreditCards.com: You say in your book that there are two questions to ask yourself: How much does a wedding cost, and how much does my wedding cost? What's the difference?
Meg Keene: I think those are the two most important questions to ask when you're planning a wedding, and you actually need answers to both of those questions. First of all, you need to know what the average wedding cost is in your area. (Go to CostofWedding.com and plug in your ZIP code to find out the norm for your town.) If your budget is $10,000, and the average wedding cost in your area is $30,000, there's no reason to despair, it's going to be fine, but you need to know that so you don't think, "I'm going to get the nicest place in town for a full steak dinner with waiters on Saturday night." Knowing the average cost helps you figure out the lay of the land.
But you don't have to make decisions based on what everyone else is spending. You don't want a deflated version of someone else's wedding. You want a wedding that's the fully functioning version of what you want to do.
CreditCards.com: So the idea is to figure out what matters to you.
Meg Keene: Exactly. I talk a lot in the book about starting with the core of what a wedding is. For instance, you can say, "It's going to be vows, the two of us, our families, our closest friends, and we're going to have really nice outfits." If you start there, then say, "I really want good music, and I really want a barbecue," and build out in a way that makes sense for who you are, you're going to end up with a wedding that's what you actually want, as opposed to starting with a $100,000 wedding and just subtracting things.
The best thing you can do is to focus your money on the things that matter to you. One of my favorite weddings was a friend's wedding. They didn't have a lot of money to spend, so they had a potluck reception. Then they spent all their money on a big band. The band was amazing. I remember it as this really fun, quirky wedding with great dancing. But if they had taken that exact sum of money and divided it between music and food, they would have ended up with nothing. They couldn't have afforded the music they wanted or the food they wanted. I think it's smart to completely remove items from your list that you don't care about, and put the money toward what you do care about.
CreditCards.com: What do you see people spending a lot of money on at weddings that you wish they wouldn't?
|More from Meg Keene
Note: Can't play? Download QuickTime player for free to listen.
Here's more of Melody Warnick's conversation with Meg Keene. In this clip, she tells why a money chat about the wedding can reveal a lot about your beloved's overall views on finances -- and she talks about how differently men and women can see the cost of a wedding.
Meg Keene: I think the dress is dangerous. I had planned on spending $1,500 on my wedding dress, and in my real life if I were to spend $1,500 on a dress, I'd expect it to be really nice. But when I realized that most of the $1,500 wedding dresses were poorly manufactured polyester, I said, "I'm not interested." I ended up spending $250 on a vintage dress instead. The wedding industry hopes your brain dissolves when it comes to lining up value with cost paid, which is why I think it's important to focus on the key decisions that make the biggest impact on your wedding. That's usually where your wedding is, who is there and what food you serve. Those are the main things people are going to remember in 20 years, not whether your favor was pink or blue. Think about it: You don't remember any centerpieces of any wedding you've ever been to. You could literally not have centerpieces and no one would notice.
CreditCards.com: For some young people, $30,000 is what they make in an entire year. How do you pay for such a pricey wedding? Are you finding that a lot of couples are going into debt?
Meg Keene: I don't see people going into debt. I think there's even more awareness, after the recent financial calamity, of that not being a good idea. Probably half of my readers are doing a wedding for $10,000 or less. We see a lot of people doing smaller and simpler weddings, like simply going to the courthouse and then going to dinner afterward. But the most common thing we see is people splitting the wedding costs among their families. We split our wedding four ways: My husband paid for 25 percent, I paid for 25 percent, then each of our families paid 25 percent. That was good because it felt fairly fair and no one person paid for a huge chunk.
If you're going to go into debt for something, I would suggest that you make sure it's not a lot of debt and that it's for something small and specific that you care about. I know someone who ended up realizing that it might rain on their wedding day, so they charged money for a tent at the last minute. It wasn't a huge amount of money, and they paid it off over the next few years. But for god's sake, don't add $20,000 in wedding debt if you already have $50,000 in consumer debt. And don't go into debt over the additional 20 people that your mother-in-law wanted to invite that you don't care about, because you'll be angry about that every time you write a check for that credit card debt every month.
CreditCards.com: Any last advice for couples?
Meg Keene: When you're talking about wedding budgets, it's really important to talk about your financial lives together in the future. They're related, so use talking about the wedding budget as a gateway to talk about how you feel about debt, how you're going to combine your finances, how you're going to pay off debt, and how you're going to prioritize your savings. And remember, the engagement ring ends up as shared debt! That $20,000 ring becomes a much less romantic gesture when you realize that both of you will be paying it off for the next five years.
See related: How to finance an engagement ring, Infographic: Most couples talk about money before wedding, survey says
Published: February 10, 2012