The Wedding Trap

Beach Wedding Cake Roger Kirby

The holiday season is coming, and with it will come scores of engagements. And with those will come a lot of planning. It's easy to get carried away, and it's important to know when to stop.

In the 1930s, DeBeers introduced the idea that men should spend one month's salary on a ring. With a good salary in the US in 1930, that would have been $2.400 per year, so we're talking $200 maximum, or $2,700 in today's money. In the 1980s, they upped that recommendation to two months' salary. Again, assuming a good salary, that would have been about $12,000, or $1,000 for a ring, which again, in today's money, would be about $2,700. (As it turns out, in 2007, the average price spent on an engagement ring was $2,100, so apparently DeBeers hasn't been throwing numbers out in the dark all this time.)

But whether you spend the equivalent of one month's salary or two, getting the biggest bang for your buck is the best idea. As such, we recommend checking rings out at Tiffany, then having a private jeweller make a ring based on the style you like best for you. Just make sure your diamond is certified by the GIA or IGI and there's no chance you'll get anything less than you're expecting. (And if your fiance demands a blue box with its 40% mark-up, we'd like to warn you that the years ahead might be a bit...tricky.)

Big ticket item aside, your next expenditure will cost as much if not several times as much. You'll start off wanting to invite everyone who has ever meant anything to you, until you realise that the cost of your ideal wedding is $1,000 a head (all in, of course, including the Vera Wang dress, sterling removable dice cufflinks to remind the groomsmen of the weekend in Vegas, and take-home Jo Malone Orange Blossom candles for all of the guests.

Your photographer alone could cost $10,000. But wait, isn't your cousin married to a professional photographer who might do it for a reduced fee plus expenses? Save where you can so you can put the money toward Veuve Clicquot Magnums, which will knock everyone's socks off. (OK, or the foie gras starter.)

In the US, the average price of a wedding is $27,000. And that's in a country where the median income is $50,000. In the UK, it's £16,000 (with a median income of around £24,000. But we feel strongly that you shouldn't spend more than what is comfortable for you (or for her parents, if you are so lucky).

We'll leave you with 10 cost-cutting tips that we've gleaned from our experience having, and attending, some very fun weddings:

  1. Have a jeweller make the ring. We've already said it, but it bears repeating.
  2. Buy Fabriano Medioevalis stationery, and design a stamp for your wedding. Have one side printed with the details, and stamp the other.
  3. Hit the sample sale at Vera Wang.
  4. Make sure you buy flowers that are in season and ideally locally grown.
  5. Get married on the Sunday of a long weekend (or any day but Saturday).
  6. Have a small wedding for your immediate family and friends, then big rager for your friends (with open bar and buffet, of course).
  7. Do you need a videographer, really?
  8. Limit your alcohol to a signature cocktail, then beer, wine and Prosecco.
  9. Yes, Prosecco. You need not spend it on Champagne. There are lots of great Proseccos (and other sparkling wines) out there.
  10. Instead of buying favours for your guests, how about giving away your CD collection in pre-packaged bundles, or getting your potter mother to make enough small pieces that each guest gets to take one home?

Don't blow it all on the wedding. Because then you're going to want to buy a new house, furnish it at Design Within Reach, have a kid or two, take family vacations in the Maldives, pay for your kids' private educations, and still have money leftover for a Friday night take away.