By: Revanche


March 28, 2009

There are a billion and one articles in the pf blogosphere on saving (or not) money when planning a wedding. That’s not what this is about. I’ve linked to a few of the more recent conversations, some controversial, some not, about weddings below if you want the juicier stuff.

I’ve put weddings out of my mind for the foreseeable future, but my family has a few cultural traditions that amuse me. I’m opting out of most, but they’re still fun to editorialize on.

1. Invitations: Seeing invitations on the kitchen table is what prompted this post. In all the ways money is saved or spent in wedding planning, the bride and groom can count on the clumping of families to save on mailing costs. They pick one person who can be relied on in each branch of the family, and send all the invitations in bulk to that one person. Cost of sending ten invitations to my family for distribution: $1.85. I’m betting there aren’t even RSVPs in there because they depend on the family grapevine to deliver that news since people are terrible about RSVPing. (This would drive the plannerly side of me insane.)

2. Wedding gifts: We’re Asian. We give cold hard cash, enough to “cover” the plate just means about $50/person, now. My family does not impose this expectation on guests from other cultures, so you can invite your bosses, coworkers or other ethnically inclined friends without having to shun them afterward for improper gift giving. (There’s never a registry though, so that doesn’t make it easier on the non-family guests.) Anyway, as my parents explained it, there are two parts to the traditional wedding, and the money involved.

3. The morning ceremony: This is the “religious” part of the wedding, generally only family and very close friends are invited to this session. Most of my family is Buddhist or just observe Confucianism, so it involves the groom’s family bringing the representative symbols of the bride’s dowry in the form of a roast pig, fresh fruit, and bottles of wine or liquor. Also, jewelry for the bride. I know it’s awful, but it’s one way to see how much the groom’s family likes the bride. If they break out awesome sparkles, they love you lots. If the necklace and earrings are lackluster, watch out, your in-laws are not cool with the marriage (or you). Good time to find out, eh?

At the tea ceremony, the red envelopes stuffed with cash are presented to the bride and groom as the new couple share a cup of tea with the guest. A rule of thumb: the older the guest, the closer the relationship, the more money you’re expected to fork out. My parents had to give her siblings upwards of $500-$700 each, back in the day, in addition to paying for parts of the wedding. Then again, we don’t keep track of who gave what (I don’t think we do). It’s all put into a bag or basket anyway, so if the guest wants to remain anonymous, that’s fine.

Traditionally, the bride’s family hosts this part of the day, and serves lunch to all the guests. The bride’s parents get to keep all that money from the morning ceremony. It’s “repayment” for all the weddings they attended in the community. I always wondered what the groom’s parents got their share. If everyone followed these rules, they seem to get gypped.

4. The evening portion is the reception. Guest lists can easily surpass 400-500 people if you’re so inclined, and with an extended family like mine, we could fill that many seats on my side alone. Again, the gift expectation is cash, but the bride and groom get to keep that money. It usually goes towards covering the cost of the wedding, reception, etc. Some people, in Eastern European countries or Asian countries, actually plan to make money off their wedding. It’s part of their accepted cultural practice, and it’s all very interesting to see that kind of planning. One girlfriend used to call me and tell me in hushed tones what her brother in law was doing this time to minimize expenses and maximize profits from his upcoming wedding. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard my uncle dismiss my wish for a small wedding to reduce costs, “Pf, why make it small? To save money? Don’t worry! Invite everyone you want, the gifts will help pay for the wedding.”

Well, no. *shrug* I hate being the center of attention, and my guests are not cash cows so the whole thing is not my bag, but I know they think I’m being silly. Shhh, they don’t know that if I’m getting married, I’m doing it my way!

5. Thank yous: If you’re going totally traditional, you don’t send thank you cards. Most weddings will have photographers taking your photo with the couple at the reception’s receiving line, and some will print those out for you to take home. Just like Medieval Times.

Makes sense, if everyone gave you cash. What would you say? “Dear Auntie, thank you for the lovely $200, we’ll display it on the mantle”? “It’ll be a great part of our down payment”? I’m kidding, of course you could write a lovely thank you note for their attendance. Really, the potential anonymity of the gift-giving plays into this part of the tradition, as well as the usually outsized guest lists that can frequently include more than 100 guests you’ve never met or haven’t seen since you were three. It happens.

Oh, and the photos have a “thank you for attending” printed on them. Sooo … free pass! ๐Ÿ™‚


Obviously, all of these little traditions and accepted practices are specific to our family. The reason they “work” is because most weddings are still considered formal affairs that include negotiations, love match or not. Weird? Yeah. Definitely. But it does makes sense to discuss all the expectations when there’s obviously so much emotion, time and money invested. From my parents’ generation, I’ve even witnessed the debates over acceptable negotiators! My dad was frequently requested as a go-between for the bride or groom, to speak on their behalf to the other side’s parents and work out the details of how the wedding would be handled, so I heard more about the nuances than most kids.

Still, I’d like to make my own path because after being involved in so many traditions, it feels like a bit of an ordeal. I want to be able to sit and talk with my family and friends, and know that the people attending actually cared. Bratly it may be, I’ve paid my family dues so I’d like to have a bit of fun for my wedding.

Wedding talk

Paranoid Asteroid: 10 frugal things I’m not doing for my wedding
When people ask how you can spend $30K on a weddingโ€ฆ
FruGal: Fresh off the plane, and newly wed!
DogAteMyFinances: Lost of stuff here on Cheap Gifts, Bridesmaid Dresses, a wedding budget.
Living Almost Large: Her take on the gifts thing.
Ramit Sethi: Practicality! A man after my own heart with The $28,000 question: Why are we all hypocrites about weddings?

10 Responses to “Weddings”

  1. Miss M says:

    Very interesting, it’s a neat look inside your culture. It must have been strange to hear weddings and marriage discussed in such a business like manner. Is that what convinced you to shun some of those traditions?

  2. Sense says:

    ha ha HA, Medieval Times. ๐Ÿ™‚

    this was hella interesting…and I totally understand your wish for a small wedding!

  3. I know on a another blog the author commented on the low balance gift cards she got as a wedding present. I know a bunch of folks thought her saying a $20 gift card was tacky and she got slammed about it. but hey, IT IS a cultural thing! Plus the closer your family is to the motherland,(first or second generation immigrants) the more ingrain the traditions. My ethnic tradition is to give cold hard cash (not even checks) at the wedding and to use a registry for the bridal shower. I can remember my grandmother almost 30 years ago asking my older cousin how much money he got at his wedding from various folks. Same cousin had a son get married and as far as I know, he never asked who gave what in terms of cash and checks.

  4. Sounds about right…

    But that’s way back in traditional customs for me. Nowadays, when my siblings got married we didn’t do any of that. Nor did they get money. *shrug*

    I’d definitely NOT want to participate in such a huge ceremony and shindig. Gives me a headache. Such a lot of money for a big party. And although your uncle says that gifts will cover the cost, he was thinking of back in the day, in the ‘hood.

    Not today. Not now.

    Cultural traditions are getting mixed, confused with Western traditions and not everyone knows the old and new rules and what is appropriate (re: DogAteMyFinances $20 Target card)

  5. Thanks for sharing this! It sounds… complicated!

    It is quite easy (for me) to forget how recent the “modern” wedding concept is, where marriages are less about the whole families and more about a bride and a groom.

  6. Thanks for the link!

    This is actually an interesting look inside the cultural trappings. I loved the bit about the jewelry!

  7. Revanche says:

    Miss M: A little bit, yes, that sense that weddings were business-like was offputting when I was younger. Now, though, it’s because I hate being the center of attention. I can’t stand the idea of All Those People Staring.

    That, and the fact that a really traditional ceremony starts at dark o’clock in the morning and ends after 10pm. It can be a good 16 hour day, when all’s said and done. So by the time you get to the “fun” part? You’re dead on your feet. I remember seeing so many brides blank-faced and empty-eyed from exhaustion, it did NOT seem worth it.

    Sense: If you asked me right now? I’m all over elopement. You know, IF I had to get married. But I’m just an old grump right now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Bouncing Back: Oh yeah, I forgot that we don’t get bridal showers or bachelorette parties, either.

    It’s funny how easily people seem to forget that ethnic customs don’t disappear that easily in a concentrated ethnic community.

    Which leads me to ….

    FB: Much of my family’s still stuck back in the day. I mean, I won’t be doing that, but my cousin (4 years older) went through exactly every single step as “prescribed” in her wedding 4 years ago. Down to the negotiations and everything. And oh yeah, making sure that the gifts from the reception covered their costs. Igh.

    She wasn’t well-liked, though, at least 10% of her RSVPed guests didn’t show, and she had a 75% turnover in bridesmaids (me included.) So very Bridezilla. But that’s neither here nor there. ๐Ÿ˜€

    stackingpennies: Yeah, it’s got a lot of moving parts, but to compensate, it’s formulaic. And as mentioned above, there’s still always room for a Bridezilla to develop for individualism’s sake. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Revanche says:

    paranoidasteroid: You’re welcome! I wondered if the jewelry bit was a little too mean to include, but it’s … true. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. 1001 Petals says:

    I must have missed this post before. Funny how Europeans and Asians have some things in common! I’m eastern European but even Italians and Greeks do the cash thing. We give gifts at the wedding shower, and cash at the wedding itself. It makes sense to me, weddings are very expensive and you want to help the couple starting out (though so many already live together and have ‘started out’ by the time they get married :))

    That said, my last wedding (heh, I’ve been married twice. . ..) was immediate family only. We didn’t even have a wedding shower, we did the whole thing for under a thousand dollars. It was actually quite pleasant and refreshing. My sister had a HUGE wedding recently, with smoke machines on the dance floor (so tacky), a few hundred guests. . .even shipped in massive palm trees (we live in Canada!! lol). It was ridiculous, but I am sure she made tens of thousands of dollars.

  10. […] Budget? I Have No Ideaย – Getting her feet wet in establishing her budget expectations. My take: ย Traditionally, my family expects you to spend between $20-30K on a wedding for a standard 300-400 guests (“they pay for themselves” etc). “Thank goodness […]

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