5 Money-Sucking Wedding Traditions And How They Came To Be

by Chris Tecmire

Bride & Groom

Did you know that the average American wedding costs $27,000?!  (Without the honeymoon)  At first I thought it was a misprint.  We’re talking about a single day here, right?

And yet, anyone who has endured all of the joy and stress of planning a wedding, fully understands how things could get out of hand quickly if you’re not careful.  Why?  Because there are so many components to the modern wedding!  So many things to consider.  The dress, flowers, music, invitations, reception, rehearsal dinner, wedding cake, and photography are just the start.  And don’t forget the Xanax for the stress and a restraining order for your mother-in-law.  See what I mean?

Here’s how we get to that $27,000 figure.  According to TheKnot.com, the following percentages are how it’s usually divvied up.

Wedding Expenses Chart


Obviously, the reception is the mother of all money-sucking wedding traditions.  That’s where everyone wants the most delicious food, the best DJ, the most elegant table settings, and the tallest cake.  The average venue will cost you around $2,500 – $4,000 on the low end, but it’s the grub that really hurts.  The average couple spends $6,000 – $9,000 on food and drinks!  That includes a bar.


Other reception expenses

  • The cake: $300 – $500
  • The decorations: $700 or more
  • DJ or band: $500 - $2,000

You can see why the reception tends to be such a big player in a wedding budget.


Other notable wedding expenses

  • The average wedding photography costs more than $2,000 when you throw in the cost of prints, etc.  That’s not including a videographer.
  • A full service wedding planner costs over $2,500 on average.
  • The perfect wedding dress will run you around $1,000.  Actually, that’s not true.  The PERFECT dress will cost you more like $5,000, but stay away from that one!
  • And the engagement rings cost more than $2,500 on average.  De Beers better be right about that diamond being forever!


So, the logical questions are…Who says that we have to spend at least 2 months’ salary on an engagement ring?  Why do brides have to buy an expensive white dress when they already have plenty of nice clothes at home?   Why can’t I have apple pie for my wedding instead?  I think it’s time we get to the bottom of this.


5 Money-Sucking Wedding Traditions and their Origins


1.  Diamond Engagement Ring

Fellas, you can blame the Archduke of Austria for the glimmer on your bride’s finger.  He gave his lady (Mary of Burgandy) the first known diamond engagement ring in 1477.

However, let’s not take all of our agression out on the Archduke Maximillian.  He may have been an innovator, but diamond engagement rings didn’t really catch on for another 470 years.  It’s De Beers that you’re REALLY mad at.  They formed in the late 19th century when the giant Kimberly diamond region was developed in South Africa.  Ironically, diamonds became so saturated in the market, that many engagement rings featured other gemstones instead of diamonds.

That all changed due to a brilliant marketing campaign in 1947, claiming that “a diamond is forever.”  They didn’t just happen on this slogan by chance.  It was a very strategic move.  In fact, according to their strategy plan, they sought to “strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring” and “make it a psychological necessity.”

Lecturers were sent to high schools across the country to talk to thousands of impressionable girls about what else…the diamond engagement ring.  De Beers also targeted Hollywood celebrities and provided descriptions of the diamonds worn by them to newspapers across the country.  Socialite “role models” were publicized to create a yearning in the poorer middle classes.  In order to overcome the fact that the lower classes wouldn’t be able to afford a diamond engagement ring, De Beers decided that “it is essential that these pressures be met by constant publicity to show that only the diamond is everywhere accepted and recognized as the symbol of betrothal.”

Talk about changing a nation’s mind.  They created a need for diamonds out of thin air!  They made us believe that we HAD to have a diamond to get engaged to the point where it was a part of our status and actually quite embarassing if you couldn’t pony up a diamond for your bride.  They even had jewelry salesmen educate men that women expect them to spend at least 2 – 3 months’ salary on the ring.  Where did that standard come from?  De Beers.  But we’ve bought into the hype hook, line, and sinker and now few men would even consider going an alternative route.  Why?  Because their brides-to-be wouldn’t let them.

Thanks a lot De Beers.

2.  A White Wedding Dress

Though there have been certain cultures throughout history that used white in wedding ceremonies, the white wedding dress that we know now wasn’t really introduced until 1499 by Anne of Brittany.  But, even then, white dresses weren’t the norm.  Most brides only had one or two good dresses, so they would simply wear their best dress, no matter what the color.  In fact, practicality often dictated that their best dress be black so that it could be worn at funerals too.  Not to mention, a white dress at this time wasn’t exactly easy to keep clean.  No dry cleaners and lots of mud.

Apparently it was Queen Victoria who made wearing a white wedding dress popular.  She married Prince Albert in 1840 in a white dress trimmed with orange blossoms, and since every little girl dreams to one day be a princess, the white dress began to catch on with impressionable minds everywhere.  Much later, as entrepreneurs realized that they could capitalize on a young woman’s princess aspirations, the wedding dress industry was born and there was no looking back.  Few brides today would even consider wearing anything but a new white dress, and $1000 is usually only the starting point for a dress you will wear only one time in your life.

3.  A Large Wedding

Most weddings in early America were simple family affairs held at the home of one of the parents.  Because of the space restrictions of an early home, there really wasn’t enough room to invite your 70 distant cousins anyway.  It was in the 1800′s that the upper class weddings began to become slightly more lavish in nature.  Not until the Industrial Revolution did the middle class begin to follow suit.  Just like the white dress and the diamond engagement ring, we tend to take most of our cues from royalty.  We want what they have.  And large, lavish weddings are no different.

Much of the cost of the modern wedding is tied to the number of people attending.  Especially if you’re catering the food and holding it at a fancy venue, a 300 person reception could cost a small fortune, while an intimate gathering of your very best friends and family would save you a bundle.  Maybe our ancestors were onto something.

4.  Professional Photography

My wife and I used to photograph weddings.  We recently retired due to the birth of our son and my wife’s desire to focus on him.  So, I have a lot of experience in this arena, and I’ve seen all sorts of weddings.  We used to charge $1250 for the wedding, including all the pictures edited on a disc.  Apparently that’s cheap compared to the average American cost for a professional photographer.  It’s on the higher side of our little town, but only 60 miles away we know plenty of people who charge double that or more.  We also know of photographers that charge over $10,000.

Wedding photography is very different than it used to be.  In the early days of the camera (1800′s), only a single photo of the bride and groom would be taken (if there were any photos at all).  As cameras became more commonplace in the early 1900′s, special events like weddings became prime targets for photography, but the number of pictures taken was still very limited.

In the 1950′s and 60′s, wedding photography began to round into the form that we’re more familiar with today.  However, when my parents got married in 1978, they said that it was really only the basic poses that were covered, along with a few fun shots of the bridal party.  The event would, of course, be captured (as long as the church allowed photography), the family photos would be taken, and some of the traditional poses as well.

Now?  Most of the couples (read: brides) that we dealt with wanted “the works.”  They expected every second of the wedding and reception to be documented, and in most cases, even the preparation for the wedding.  The traditional photos were taken of the families, marriage license, etc., and then we would head off-site to a number of different locations to take as many fun pictures of the bride, groom, and bridal party as they could handle.  When it was all said and done, we would be snapping photos from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm and end up with several thousand pictures to sort through.  That’s the norm now.

Before I started helping my wife with weddings, I used to think photographers were thieves charging what they did.  Now I know otherwise.  It’s exhausting, stressful, and can take weeks to sort through and edit that many photos.

It used to be different, but ever since the dawn of the digital era, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds and the number of photos and the complexity of the shoots has doubled or tripled in size.

5.  A Fancy Wedding Cake

The wedding cake evolved from…

1.  Throwing wheat at the bride and groom for luck and fertility to…

2.  Creating small, sweet cakes in Roman times to…

3.  Bringing your own biscuits or scones to the ceremony in the Middle Ages to…

4.  The cake that we have today.

During the Middle Ages, the small biscuits or cakes were often stacked up into a pile.  The bride and groom would then kiss over the pile.  The taller the stack, the more prosperity would come to the new couple.  Some French Chef in the 1660′s thought that was ridiculous and sloppy, so he began making multi-tiered cakes covered in icing instead.  He’s the reason your cake was so expensive.


What to Do?


There’s nothing wrong with a diamond ring or a fancy wedding cake.  And no, I’m not a wedding scrooge despite the tone of this article.  My point is that, contrary to popular belief, most wedding traditions are not set in stone.  They were usually invented by royalty and popularized by marketing, so don’t feel like you’re cornered into spending $27,000 on your wedding.  Have it at home with your family in a purple dress if you want to.  Exchange opal rings if you’d rather.  Take a single wedding picture like your great grandparents did if it floats your boat.

And if you still want to spend an arm and a leg on your wedding day, go for it.  Just remember that you have options.  I had a blast at our wedding and we spent somewhere around 10% of what the average American does.  At the end of the service, you’ll be deemed husband and wife no matter how pretty your invitations are.  And that’s the important part.


If you enjoyed this article, please share it with someone (or everyone) you know.  Thanks!

P.S.  We carry bouquets to ward off evil spirits and you don’t even want to know about the garter toss.  Many of our most common wedding traditions have some pretty odd origins.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Karl B (The Frugal Berry) September 27, 2012 at 7:40 am

Hold a contest to see which of the guests can take the best wedding photos, sweetened with a very nice prize. The winner will be announced at a later date. This can chop out the cost of the photographer.


Chris Tecmire September 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Good idea Karl. A lot of people are starting to have the guest take photos and share them with the bride and groom. They won’t be the same quality or have the same access as a professional photographer, but it’ll save a ton of money if you’re not super concerned about the photos.


Laura September 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

There are lots of options to reduce the cost of a wedding!
How timely as I’m getting married in December. I’m planning a beautiful church wedding with reception and I guarantee I’m not spending more than 1/4 of $27K! The largest part of the cost will still be food. If it were a summer wedding, I would have gone a cheaper route, but then I would have had to change out of my gown, LOL!
While I wanted the works this time (I’m a widow), I didn’t want to be paying for my wedding for the next 10 years. I also wanted to focus on Family! Which is what sharing your wedding should be about.


Chris Tecmire September 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Absolutely Laura. Weddings are a celebration of family and adding a new member. Thanks for the comment.


Laurel September 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Also when we got married in 1978, the reception was in the church with punch, coffee, cake, nuts and mints. Once in a while there might be a potluck but no hall, DJ or catering for sure! Think about those savings!!!


Janice September 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Elope – that’s what my sister did, she got married in a Mr. Bubbles sweatshirt. The attending guests had just returned from a hockey scrimmage & where 9 & 11, their dad was the pastor. Cost them the gas to get to the pastors house at 11 pm, which back then was 98 cents a gallon. She had a reception later on with a simple cake & ice cream. People focus too much on the ceremony and not on what they should be focusing on, making a vow to love this person forever. I look back at my wedding & although we had a ceremony, I would have rather eloped & gone on a nice honeymoon.


Chris Tecmire September 27, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I probably would have been Ok with eloping as well Janice, but my bride to be wasn’t quite as keen on it. She got her day as a princess, but fortunately for me and her parents, she knows how to be a princess for one tenth the price of the average girl. I’m a lucky dude.
Thanks for the comment.


Kim September 27, 2012 at 3:39 pm

37 years ago (today!) when I married, I “borrowed” my sister’s wedding dress (she was done with it anyway!), spent $11.00 on fabric, lace and buttons and re-worked the dress into one I liked, which also included a veil. The minister, the soloist, some silk flowers and my cake were all “gifted” back to us. A friend snapped the pictures and I had them developed and put in a lovely book I recieved as a shower gift. For months in advance my mother started buying and preparing and freezing food for the reception for 200 people and then friends offered to “fill” in with some of the salads etc…. I remember the cost of stamps was our biggest worry as the price increased to 10 cents just as we were mailing out invitations. I had a lovely church wedding and reception with a sit down meal in the church hall that was nicely decorated. My dad, in his wisdom, I believe, told me I (we) could have the wedding we always wanted – but we had to pay for it and on our 5th anniversary, he would pay us back – and he did! I remember the $250 check he wrote us in 1980 was like manna from Heaven. Over the past 37 yrs I have ocassionally looked at those snaphots of our special day, always grateful for the family and friends that made my “cheap” wedding beautiful.


Chris Tecmire September 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Thanks for sharing your story Kim! I enjoyed reading it :)


Karl B (The Frugal Berry) October 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm

My wife and I managed to keep our wedding costs below $5000. Of course that was happy 13 years ago. Times have changed. I don’t know if we could do the same today.


Loretta Dabs October 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

These things are so true ! If people want they can save a lot, but it’s the traditions and trends that, may, force them to do so….but after all money should be spent with car


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