Don't let the cost of a wedding keep you from getting married

I once put together a wedding for some friends in one week. They had no time or money and were going to show up at a small chapel with only two witnesses.

So I got on the phone, called 60 friends, had everyone bring a side dish and a bottle of wine. I cooked platters of meat, ordered a sheet cake, decorated a beautiful room in the church with candles and white helium balloons.

The bride and groom were honored. They felt loved, and were absolutely thrilled.

Marriage rates have dropped drastically in the last few decades. Today, 53 percent of all babies born to women under-age-30 are outside of marriage. Yet marriage lifts women and children out of poverty. Research shows that children raised by their married parents have more opportunities and are more successful.


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Friday, February 7, marks the beginning of National Marriage Week. As the executive director of this yearly, nationwide effort to strengthen the institution of marriage, I’ve run across so many couples recently who put off their wedding because of pressure to save an exorbitant amount for a brief and costly wedding.

Many already have massive school debt. The amount they would spend on a wedding could go toward a down payment on their first home, or a new car.

Members of the Millennial generation are feeling financially challenged. Meanwhile, research shows that 70% of cohabiting couples break up. Marriage actually does provide more stability both financial and relational, so it’s time to re-think current wedding spending habits.

Obviously if a bride’s family can afford a lovely wedding, then it’s great to celebrate with all the affection and bon vivant one can muster. But times used to be different.

My parent’s generation had beautiful church ceremonies followed by a cake reception in the church social hall.

During wartime, couples just showed up at City Hall.

I live in New York City (where weddings can look like those in movies,) but several decades ago I was a bridesmaid in a large Southern wedding and the bride’s father was the most prominent lawyer in the state. Attending were 800 people, but they had only a cake and dessert reception in the grand social hall of a very large church. The bride’s father bought the young couple a brand new car instead of a dinner for even a smaller guest list. Smart, huh?

Just like any other appetite we’ve gotten from Hollywood, advertising, or reality TV, those with modest or limited means have been victimized by new expectations of what it takes to make a bride “happy.” But there are other ways to create intimate, joyful, and poignant wedding experiences.

As we approach Valentine’s Day, many couples are on the verge of getting engaged or making summer wedding plans.

So I’ve captured on video a few ideas I hope will encourage couples to think about innovative ways to create meaningful, affordable marriage celebrations. (90-second and 5-minute clips viewable for free at national marriage week/ affordable weddings.)

One bride tells how she created a truly elegant wedding for $8,000. She bartered her time with a local florist in exchange for wedding flowers, a taco truck placed $3 burritos in chafing dishes, and her friends brought side dishes and desserts.

She had a superb venue because she chose a winter wedding on a Friday night. Her 90-second video tells her other tips—the groom’s wedding band for $30 on Overstock, a new wedding app to make your own dance playlist, plus more.

Another couple shared how they got married in a home with an elegant dinner hosting their closest friends. “It was so intimate and moving, and everyone was crying,” the bride said.

For National Marriage Week USA -- February 7 to 14 -- we want to encourage clergy, congregations, and friends to provide more free services to low income couples (organize donated wedding dresses, low cost receptions) and find ways to help people move ahead with their marriage.

Editor's note: To watch the Affordable Wedding videos, visit